Every time a new player comes to South Africa to provide video-on-demand (VoD) services there is great fanfare, but with little success so far.
The much-vaunted binge-watching is still confined to a few viewers with access to expensive, high-speed broadband.
Some of South Africa’s largest companies – MTN, Tiso Blackstar Group (formerly Times Media) and Altron – with deep pockets have unsuccessfully tried to deliver VoD services.
They failed to win over local consumers to their VoD services, which were plagued by slow download speeds and the high cost of Internet access. They all ended up closing their platforms.
Now, Econet Media appears to have cracked the code at a time when the broadband market is maturing.
Econet Media – a subsidiary of Econet Group, a Pan African company founded by Strive Masiyiwa – has invested in a multi-platform content distribution model, which it has expanded to include Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service – the Kwesé Play.
The Kwesé Play experience promises to be slicker and faster than anything available on the African continent.
“The Internet is very different to the DTH (Direct-to-Home broadcasting service via satellite) world,” explained Ryan Solovei, executive VP of Econet Media and CEO of Kwesé Play.
“So, we thought about this long and hard. We said South Africa is a very important territory for us.
“There are many connected homes in South Africa and the number is growing quicker than any country on the continent right now.”
Kwesé wants to leverage its access to Africa’s largest fibre network covering 50,000km, available through sister company Liquid Telecom, which concluded its acquisition of Neotel last year. Neotel holds leading-edge 4G and 5G LTE spectrum capability that is being configured to carry video content.
Globally, video streaming is more dominant than DTH and is affordable.
Econet Media relies on the benefits of extra bandwidth filtering to homes in the country.
There are more than 2.5 million homes connected to broadband in South Africa and the number is growing as the roll out of fibre infrastructure continues.
A range of wholesale providers, including Dark Fibre Africa, Openserve, Vumatel and Vox are rolling out massive fibre infrastructure.
This provides an exciting opportunity for Kwesé Play.
“We want to get into as many homes as possible and offer customers a world-class streaming experience, second to none,” explains Solovei.
“We want to offer an unbuffered TV viewing experience. We are very much aligned with our distribution partners in bringing data services into homes cheaper and in offering an affordable TV experience.”
Econet may set the bar for video streaming platforms on the African continent
Rather than building its own VoD platform, Econet has taken a different approach and invested in building a platform to house some of the biggest names in VoD globally.
In a bid to turn the ambitious plan into reality, Kwesé has VOD content offering with more than 100 VOD services – such as Netflix, iflix, YouTube, RedBull TV, TED, and HappyKids2 – delivered on a single platform.
Kwesé is the exclusive African partner for Roku, the largest streaming platform in the US.
“It’s an exciting journey ahead,” explains Solovei.
At the other end of the scale, Kwesé has lined-up some great Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to be its partners.
Kwesé has teamed up with South Africa’s Vox to provide customers who purchase the Roku box with 300GB of free data per month for three months’ worth R897.00.
“This product (Kwesé Play) is a data driver, which means that ISPs embrace it … it is also an opportunity for ISPs to have a very interesting content proposition,” explains Solovei.
“The intention for fibre operators and ISPs is to come up with value propositions that really make consumers shift their mindsets to say that I need the Internet in my house.”
He believes that this will force data prices to come down further as ISPs seek to compete on volumes rather price.
Asked whether Kwesé is planning to dismantle the monopoly of DStv, a subsidiary of DTH platform MultiChoice Africa, Solovei said: “We are not saying (Kwesé Play) is a replacement for DStv. This is not a replacement for football or rugby. This is not a replacement for cricket.”
Kwesé doesn’t see DStv as a competitor, he explains, adding that the company is saying to South Africans there’s a place for two set top boxes in their homes.
“At some point in time, consumers will make a decision on whether this service offers them more value for money and more value for entertainment than DStv,” said Solovei.
“But, at the moment, we’ve got a service which is the most successful streaming service in the world, Netflix.”
The Kwesé Play streaming box is the first set-top box in Africa to officially include the Netflix service and is powered by Roku.
This means it has “a best in class user interface”, and there is a dedicated Netflix button on the remote control giving consumers the ability to access their favourite show with a simple click.
“We were very careful going into South Africa without something as powerful as Netflix. So, this changes everything.
“This means that our business model for Kwesé Play starts in South Africa with a strong content offering and we will then take this product across Africa as well.”
Kwesé is offering customers several free services on the platform such as YouTube and RedBull TV.
Kwesé may also benefit from South African fibre-to-the-home operator Vumatel’s plans to offer uncapped 100Mbit/s fibre to the home in townships across South Africa – at just R89/month.
This move may open more opportunities for Kwesé Play to provide affordable video streaming services to the townships.
“So, what we are saying is we are combining the world’s greatest content service, Netflix, with the world’s most successful streaming device Roku,” said Solovei.
“We are working very closely with our Liquid Telecoms fibre network, working very closely with operators such as Vumatel and Vox to introduce well-priced offerings combined with content to the market.”
With more fibre infrastructure being built, data prices coming down, and more people accessing broadband the opportunity for video streaming in Africa has never been better.