A South African produced YouTube cooking show, called Bunnies in the Burbs, went live in Nigeria this week via MTN Shortz, a mobile short-form video content platform. And it will soon be available in other countries, such as India and Kenya.
Bunnies in the Burbs is hosted by Taynita Harilal, a 21-year-old BA International Relations student at Wits. While she cooks, Harilal interviews South Africans of all persuasions, having an easy conversation in a comfortable, ‘in the kitchen’ environment.
The show is a “response and platform created out of sheer frustration more than anything else”, says JT Comms managing director, Vanessa Perumal. “Until we as Africans are able to tell our own stories, and own the narrative, we will remain isolated… we will never set the trend, but always follow the pace.”
Bunnies in the Burbs was originally funded by JT Comms, and was hosted solely on YouTube. But a pioneering partnership with Antos Stella’s Content Connect Africa delivered an opportunity to create an authentic Pan-African business model and platform to “tell our African Stories in a global village”, says Perumal.
Stella says CCA funds small budget projects from time to time, “and having followed Bunnies for some time on social media – we reached out and offered to subsidise a series to test for our mobile television channel Viva Nation TV”, she says. “We are currently looking at rolling out in Uganda, Nigeria, Swaziland and Zambia and in negotiations for representation in Asia.”
Perumal says the concept came about through lots of reading and following global trends on how innovators had the guts to trust their “crazy ideas mostly through innovating… Also we love to eat and cooking up a storm is such a great connector to share stories in a family kitchen.”
Since JT Comms launched 14 years, the company aligned its business offerings to create the new futures enabled by technology, Perumal says. “Collaborating with Content Connect on their Viva Nation TV channel allows us to enterprise, scale our business and access new markets. It aligns with our passion and vision to create positive narratives about our continent and shift barriers,” she says.
Viva Nation TV
A new season of Bunnies in the Burbs going live in Nigeria on Viva Nation TV‘s MTN Shortz “is an affirmation that through collaboration, we can new business markets though digital technology, Perumal says. “The fact that we connected with an influencer and a business developer with an impressive track record who is South African and a woman entrepreneur like me makes this partnership for me on a personal level a highly valuable business proposition.”
Mobile TV and distribution is opening up the airwaves to thousands of new entrants previously hampered by the costs and barriers to accessing public broadcasters and pay TV.
“We believe that mobile television is the future and are looking at scaling Viva Nation to be a channel that creates opportunities and revenue for content creators who often do not get the chance on traditional TV,” says Stella. “Digital creates an environment for entrepreneurs and creators to reinvest in their businesses to increase sustainability.”
Perumal adds, “We have also always known that mobile TV and new media platforms are an innovative and easy way of creating platforms to share stories mainstream media will never cover”.
“As visionaries it made sense for us to create a model that could influence market access and allow us to share our stories and remain relevant in business. That we could take advantage of a lifestyle model using a cooking show to share African stories of our culture, cuisine and conversation and also be able to tap into technology, is visionary and demonstrates that we have to be custodians of how we create future jobs, connect to markets and use technology,” she explains.
Building viable audiences
It might be easier to create video content for YouTube and other platforms, but it certainly isn’t cheap or even that easy to build viable audiences. Perumal says the process of taking Bunnies in the Burbs to the market had obstacles, including funding and capital investment. Then there is the issue of clearing rights, the high cost of data, which can be prohibitive, certainly in South Africa. “Generating revenue is about creating a market. If you don’t have a market (viewers, advertisers, legitimacy to broadcast) it becomes a barrier,” she says.
Stella adds, “The network operators have a captive audience by way of their subscribers we hope that we can reach their subscribers via joint marketing efforts.
“Social media and network marketing is prime to awareness of content. The opportunity that has been created with CCA and JT Communications partnership is that both parties bring elements of expertise to the table and also create new job opportunities for people across the continent,” Stella says.
To lead and connect you need an audience and building an ecosystem matters, says Perumal. “Africans are not kind to innovators from the continent,” she says, adding that the trick is to keep moving and building an audience one click at a time. Platforms like this will hopefully also connect audiences to opportunities
Nevertheless, she says, digital distribution remains an under-used opportunity by so many Africans who can tap into the platforms but don’t.
“Our view is that the digital distribution will scale on our continent particularly with the network operators and that data costs will be driven down with consumer’s massive appetite for content,” says Stella. “The key issue is to ensure that you have your content registered and represented by a reputable company that will ensure that revenue is received.”
The limitations are often self-imposed, Perumal reckons. “The challenges in a technology era should really mean barriers to entry should not exist but I reckon the biggest barrier is that so many Africans are disconnected, have no knowledge of how to [do it] and expensive data adds to the limitations,” she says. “Connectivity, data and building ecosystems are essential and creating awareness is also a challenge.”