Streaming Giants Battle for Market Share in Africa

The South African series “Blood and water” produced by Netflix.

Video on demand (VOD) platforms are multiplying partnerships with African production studios and filmmakers.

A film that "will mark the beginning of a new era in storytelling" by showcasing "the full power of Nigerian and African voices." For Prime Video, the Amazon video on demand service, superlatives were used when announcing the release on April 7th of the platform's first original African film, Gangs of Lagos. This thriller directed by Nigerian Jadesola Osiberu testifies to "our continued commitment to the local television and film industry," insisted Ned Mitchell, head of original programming for Africa and the Middle East at Prime Video.

Like Gangs of Lagos, "African stories," in films, series or shows, are blooming on VOD platforms. This offer aims to win over new subscribers as Africa, with its growing population increasingly connected to the Internet, emerges as a new battleground for streaming giants. "Their traditional markets in North America or Europe are saturated. In contrast, Africa is still untapped," describes Sipho Fakela, a South African consultant in the media industry.

"The penetration rate of subscription services in Africa averaged just over 2% of households in 2022, compared to 71% in North America and 52% in Western Europe, which represents a significant expansion margin if broadcasters are able to adapt their strategies to the African market," adds Sam Young, an analyst with the London-based research firm Ampere Analysis. According to this firm, the African VOD market is expected to reach 12.8 million subscribers by the end of 2027, generating over one billion dollars in revenue, three times more than in 2022.

Local content

In addition to Amazon and especially Netflix, which has been expanding in Africa since 2016, Disney+ has launched in South Africa and several North African countries in 2022. The global leaders are facing competition from South African Showmax, owned by Multichoice Group, present in around forty African countries, or Canal+ and its MyCanal platform, well developed in francophone Africa. Players who have been relying on African production for years.

Because local content is one of the keys to the game. In the last fifteen months, Prime Video has signed multi-year licensing agreements with Nigerian studios Inkblot and Anthill, betting on the vitality of the local film industry, Nollywood, to expand its catalog. Amazon's service is following in the footsteps of Netflix, which has been multiplying partnerships with production companies and African filmmakers for the past three years and would have, according to some estimates, between 2.5 and 3 million subscribers on the continent.

After the success of South African series Queen Sono and Blood and Water, the group has also bet on reality TV with Young, Famous and African, which features African stars, their private jets, love stories and extravagant outfits in Johannesburg (South Africa). In recent months, subscribers have been able to watch The King's Horseman, a film adaptation of Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka's novel Death and the King's Horseman; season 2 of the South African series Kings of Jo'burg; or Anikulapo, a fantastic drama by Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan. And, as part of a partnership with UNESCO, Netflix is broadcasting eight short films imagined by young screenwriters from Mauritania, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa from March 29th.

"It's important because Africans have been waiting to see their own stories told by Africans and shown on screen for a long time," says Sipho Fakela. The Ampere Analysis firm arrives at the same conclusion: in a survey conducted in the first quarter of 2023 in South Africa, "more than half of VOD subscribers indicated that they chose a service because they found the best local TV shows there," says analyst Sam Young.

"The dilemma is to improve quality without ever losing sight of the African audience. This audience wants to see programs that look like them," says Fabrice Faux, program director at Canal+ International. To develop its local content, the French audiovisual group has acquired the Nigerian studio ROK in 2019 and the Rwandan company Zacu Entertainment in 2022, and established the production company Plan A in Ivory Coast. More than 2,000 hours of African series are broadcast each year on its various channels and platform, some in vernacular languages, and all resolutely aimed at viewers on the continent. In contrast, Netflix's African blockbusters, whose shots and direction often meet American standards, also aim to seduce subscribers in the United States or Europe.

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