Costly data slows Africa’s internet TV’s growth: Naspers’ Showmax

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Global entertainment group Naspers is trying to persuade telecoms operators in Africa to offer customers unlimited data to help boost the growth of internet television on the continent.

The high cost of data in Africa has hampered the take up of internet TV, even though the number of internet users in the region has grown rapidly.

While Showmax is seeing “healthy usage” in South Africa, the internet TV business elsewhere in the region is at a nascent stage, Naspers’ Showmax spokesman Richard Boorman said, citing data costs that are among the world’s highest.

“The catalyst will be the provision of uncapped mobile data,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.

The high data costs are limiting customer growth for Showmax, which launched in South Africa in 2015 and has since expanded to a total of 40 countries on the continent.

The number of internet users in Africa has risen from 15 million in 2005 to 213 million in 2017, according to the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union. But affordability is still catching up.

Mobile ownership – encompassing both the cost of the phone and of data, voice and messaging services — as a share of monthly income is at 11% in Africa, far higher than other regions, according to a 2016 GMSA report, the global mobile operators association.

Nanjira Sambuli, who leads the World Wide Web Foundation’s advocacy efforts to promote digital equality in access to and use of the Web, said internet costs are quite prohibitive for unlocking meaningful use of the web in Africa.

The Foundation’s definition of affordable internet is 1GB of data not costing more than 2% of monthly income, which it found only 5 countries studied met that target.

“1GB costs an average of 18% of monthly income,” Sambuli said. “So you can imagine that prioritising video-on-demand might not too high on the list of things to do with limited affordability.”

To bridge this gap Showmax is lobbying telecoms companies operating in Africa to start offering unlimited data to users, Boorman said, adding that the company was using data from other regions to make the case.

Showmax’s partnership in Poland with T-mobile, which offers subscribers Showmax content without deducting data from their accounts, shows that the economics of uncapped data can work in other countries, he said.

Showmax’s parent Naspers, which was founded in 1915 and has transformed itself from an apartheid-era newspaper publisher into a R1.5 trillion multinational. .

It has about 30 000 TV shows, movies, and documentaries through deals with companies such as HBO and Disney, among others.

It mixes international offerings with local productions to differentiate itself from competitors including Netflix , also available across Africa.

IROKOtv, a Nigerian platform focused on Nollywood content, said that its business was also challenged by data costs.

“We’ve had to go offline, and work with our customers to find other ways and means to bring them online,” IROKOtv’s CEO Jason Njoku said.

Boorman says mass adoption of internet TV in Africa is still some ways off, “but we know it’s coming, we are getting ready for it.”

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Samson Gbenga Salau [Editorial Board Adviser] Gbenga Samuel Salau is a professional journalist with over 17 years experience in journalism, he is a graduate of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan. On completion of his youth service, he joined The Guardian as a freelance journalist and was later absorbed as a staff. While in the University, he was a campus journalist reporting for the Independence Hall and Faculty of Arts Press Clubs. As a campus journalist, he won the following awards; Independence Hall Press Best News writer; University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best News Reporter/Writer; First Runner-up, Reuben Abati Award for Investigative Journalism; Association of Faculty of Arts Students’ Press Best Reporter; University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best Political Writer; Winner, Reuben Abati Award for Investigative Journalism, and University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best Interviewer. He served the Association of Communication and Language Arts Students, as the Public Relation Officer, the same year he was appointed the News Editor of the Association of Faculty of Arts Students Press. The following session, he was made the General Editor, and a member of the 13-man University of Ibadan Students’ Union Transition Committee. As a reporter in The Guardian, in 2014, he won the Promasidor Quill Award Best Report on Nutrition and DAME Business Reporting category. In the 2015 edition of the Promasidor Quill Award, he won the best Report on Nutrition and Brand Advocate Categories, while in 2016, he won the NMMA Print Journalist of the Year, first runner-up Golden Pen Reporter of the Year and SERAs CSR Awards. Gbenga Salau loves traveling, reading, and listening to songs with good lyrics no matter the genre.

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