Africa: Multichoice Seeks to Ride the Video Streaming ‘Tiger’ Through an Aggregation Strategy and Unique Local Content

London — Although MultiChoice’s Pay TV subscriber numbers grew in its FY 22 results, the average amount per subscriber fell. But despite strong headwinds it remains confident about the future. Russell Southwood spoke to Yolisa Phahle, CEO of General Entertainment and Connected Video at MultiChoice about its online streaming strategy.

Phahle is responsible for Connected Video in the Multichoice Group which covers both the online streaming services for their existing Pay TV subscribers and its standalone streaming platform Showmax. There is a different content strategy for each of these two areas. Over the last year she overseen 68% growth and says that there are “significant numbers from a low base.’

She clearly believes that content is central to this growth. Existing Pay TV subscribers can add Showmax to their subscription and “get the best international content with things like exclusive access to HBO”. There is also Showmax Pro which offers big local and international sports features.

But the real kicker is African, home produced content: “Local is the big differentiator. Wer’re really proud of The Wife.” This is a Showmax original telenovela inspired by the novel Hlomu the Wife, a bestseller by Dudu Busani-Dube. It follows the lives of the eight Zulu brothers, a formidable crime family, through the eyes of the women they marry.

She also cites the successful ‘Real Housewives of… ‘ series: “We’ve done Real Housewives of Lagos and Durban and are now doing Nairobi. People in the USA can now see all of them via the Bravo Network and on Showmax in the UK.” She points to the recent SAFTAs, where it won 45 awards, 17 of which were Showmax originals. Its film Glasshouse a dystopian thriller which won 5 awards. Showmax has also been responsible for Devilsdorp, a four-part true crime documentary.

But how does she see the ever-more active competition from Amazon and Netflix? She points out that Netflix no longer has access to the range of international content it did now that the ‘studios’ have pulled their content to launch their own platforms. It has recently done a deal with NBCUniversal to feature its Universal+ service on its platform and already has Disney+ as part of its offer. This ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach is a key “part of our aggregation strategy.” For the studios it offers them a slightly less financially painful way of acquiring subscribers.

And what chance of local competitors?: “I don’t fear them especially. It’s an incredibly tough business model and is difficult for anyone without deep pockets or an extensive library. We have that library in more local languages and genres than anyone else.” Currently it has 60,000 hours of local content.

Its top 4 Sub-Saharan African markets – South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana – are driven by access to fibre and Wi-Fi: “Data penetration in South Africa is growing year on year. With the size of its population Nigeria is a hugely important market. Kenya is interesting because we actually pivoted to digital early there and it’s a very savvy market. We’ve originals for all of these markets.”

But how do you overcome fear of data costs in these markets?: “The MNOs have been following what’s happening globally and know it’s a big opportunity for them. We’re working with MTN in Nigeria and South Africa and with Safaricom in Kenya. It’s a lot about timing and we’re not totally in control of that. We’re getting them to see the value of what we have through popular shows like Big Brother and Real Housewives and to point out it will take off at some point.”

And what about the transition away from Pay TV subscribers that seems to threaten globally?: “Africa is one of two regions where pay TV subscribers are growing. This is because of the cost of data and the state of fibre roll-out but we are prepared for the future. SVOD margins are lower than Pay TV ones.”

“We are a Group, not separate organizations. So we say if we’re going to lose a Pay TV subscriber, let’s move that person to another platform in our group. We’re not going to cause cannibalization. We’re able to promote to lapsed subscribers and add value to existing Pay TV subscribers. A huge percentage of existing subscribers have Connected Video that gives them additional content. We are completely focused on African viewers. We are hyper-local. If you’re a Swahili-speaking Tanzanian and you want to enjoy content in your local language, only Showmax can do it.”

In Brief

Nigeria: The High Court in Lagos, Nigeria, has extended the order to stop President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission from cancelling the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting down the stations for allegedly failing to renew their licenses.

Uganda: The National Association of Broadcasters (Nab) has advised Discovery Sports Limited (DSL), the company claiming rights to the audio broadcast of the English Premier League (EPL) matches in the country, to go back to talkSPORT and clear some ambiguities before discussions can proceed. According to Nab, local radio stations will continue broadcasting English Premier League (EPL) matches in Uganda uninterrupted until the issue of rights is fully addressed with the reported licensee in the United Kingdom. This follows Discovery Sports Limited (DSL) and the National Association Broadcasters (Nab) disagreeing on how to implement anything, with reported ambiguities in the rights agreement.

Ghana: The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) has won their case at a High Court in Ghana against the planned inclusion of Conditional Access System (CAS) in FTA receivers by the National Communications Authority. The Court held that the Conditional (Controlled) Access System, which the NCA has made a necessity for the importation of television sets and set-top-boxes, enables it to impose and collect an electronic tax in the form of TV License Fees in the absence of any substantive or subsidiary legislation to that effect, amounts to Jurisdictional Error by Excess of Jurisdiction. Therefore, the provision for the inclusion of a Conditional Access System for Free-to-Air TV receivers was illegal and consequently quashed.

South Africa: In South Africa, Cape Town TV, popularly known as CTV, has reported that it will be available on the digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) network in the Cape Town region and beyond. According to media reports, the channel was broadcast free-to-air in Cape Town from a single transmitter on Tygerberg hills. However, with digital transmissions, the channel will be carried on 12 transmitters. CTV station director Karen Thorne explained in a statement, “The DTT transmissions extend CTV’s broadcast footprint considerably. It now reaches up to Yzerfontein on the West Coast, covering all the areas on the southern peninsula that previously could not receive the signal from Tygerberg.”

Meta (www.Facebook.com) announced the launch of ‘Creators of Tomorrow’ (https://www.CreatorsofTomorrow.com/), a new campaign that celebrates emerging talents from around the world who are inspiring a new movement of creative content online. The campaign spotlights creators in Sub- Saharan Africa from East Africa, Southern Africa and Francophone Africa. The selected Creators of Tomorrow are breaking out amongst their communities online, and are showcasing a best-in-class approach to video formats, technology and interactive entertainment. The global campaign is the first of its kind, starting in Europe, The Middle East and Africa, and expanding to more countries around the world in the coming months. Meta will be working closely with these creators over the next year, as they continue to grow their audience and turn their passions into professions across Meta technologies.