The entertainment industry has undergone a seismic shift over the last year and with streaming now at the forefront of its future, the African streaming market is set to grow five-fold in the next five years.
Looking back at 2020, there’s no need to reiterate just how much has changed on a global level as we’ve had to adapt to a radical new lifestyle involving lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing.
The impact on the entertainment industry, particularly the streaming industry, has been extraordinary. With millions of people around the world stuck at home, unable to go to church, weddings, funerals, the shops, the cinema or even to meet up with friends and family, the adoption of streaming services has accelerated rapidly.
In 2020 globally, we saw the launch of AT&T’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. Disney+ grew from 20 million to 73 million subscribers between February and October. Netflix crossed the 200 million subscriber mark. Apple TV+ launched heavy-hitting new titles, and the billion-dollar short-format mobile gamble Quibi folded in December.
Additionally, the line between traditional and over-the-top (OTT) platforms became increasingly blurry, with Warner Bros. opting to release its biggest titles on HBO Max as well as in theatres, a move that could threaten the survival of cinemas. One just has to take a look at the number of streaming titles nominated for Golden Globes to see how much the power dynamic has shifted from traditional Hollywood to the big streaming players.
On the continent
When it comes to Africa, we are seeing similar trends. The reality is that doing business in Africa is challenging, something that MultiChoice has learned over the last 30 years. Infrastructural issues aside, the complexities of multiple languages, cultures, currencies, banking systems and regulatory frameworks make it a complex continent in which to thrive. This is our home, however, and we continue to thrive and learn how best to navigate the challenges that are inherent to the opportunities.
External analysts at Digital TV Research predict that the African streaming market is set to grow five times larger by 2025, maturing to 12.96 million subscribers, up from 2.75 million in 2019. These numbers point to a great opportunity before us, and we remain bullish.
Bringing global trends closer to home, in South Africa the impact of 2020’s Covid-related lockdowns on Showmax was dramatic. There was a 50% spike in active users and a doubling in play events on the platform in South Africa during the strictest lockdown period across all categories – international series and movies as well as local movies, series and kids’ content.
Rather than changing what people were watching, lockdowns changed how people watched. For those individuals who may have been curious about streaming before, lockdown saw them take the plunge and sign up to see what streaming on-demand was really all about.
What all of this has meant for us as a fundamentally African streaming business – operating in 46 African countries and a number of diaspora markets – is that we’ve had to change the way we work. We’ve had to become more agile, more strategic and have had to push the boundaries of innovation.
It remains essential that we address consumer needs, create excellent content that Africans love, and deliver it to our customers in the way they want to watch it, with best-in-class technology and a compelling, personalised streaming experience.
Last year, a big focus was launching Showmax Pro, which adds live sports streaming from SuperSport as well as live music channels and news to the existing entertainment offering. We are seeing positive uptake in South Africa as well as key markets including Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.
Showmax also became the first streaming service to make mobile downloads possible for offline viewing and to launch a mobile-only plan, a move that has since been followed by the other key players.
The MultiChoice group has also had to innovate, with 2020 seeing the release of the DStv Explorer Ultra and the announcement of the DStv Streama. Both devices allow users to add streaming apps like Showmax, Netflix and Amazon Prime in addition to DStv.
Ultimately, people want to be entertained with stories that reflect their lives, languages, hopes and fears, so it’s not just in our technology that our business has had to adapt to a growing streaming African market. Showmax has put a lot of energy into growing and curating our South African and African catalogues, and have seen steady growth in local content viewership across the continent over the last 12 months as a result.
Hyper-local content remains a strategic differentiator for the MultiChoice Group, with close to 2 000 hours produced in the first half of the current financial year, bringing the group’s total local content library to around 60 000 hours.
As streaming continues to accelerate, we’re in the exciting position of leading the way with an Africa-first OTT offering that is designed for local markets.
Yolisa Phahle is CEO of General Entertainment for MultiChoice Group Africa. She oversees entertainment strategy for MultiChoice, including channel acquisition, channel production, sales and distribution, and local production. With roots in South Africa, but born in the UK, Phahle was a successful musician before returning to South Africa in 2005, taking on M-Net’s Channel 0 and turning it into Africa’s leading music channel.
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