A tale of how the physical media still rules Africa, Uganda in particular
Netflix is flying high in the US and many analysts are predicting that it will disrupt the movie and television space. Some further emphasize that it has already done so! The service has popularized phrases like binge-watch resulting from its streaming video on demand services (SVOD). It should be noted Netflix wasn’t the first player in this space but it surely has the lions’ share when it comes to SVOD subscribers. This has seen it venture into critically acclaimed original productions like House Of Cards ( Which I am a fan of by the way), Orange Is The New Black and many more that have even gone ahead to win Emmy nods which are predominantly ruled by traditional TV programmes. Other notable players worth a mention are Amazon Instant video and Hulu but they are geographically not available in this part of the world.
Enough said about the US now let’s come back home in Africa; with proven start-ups that have replicated successes only achieved by these US based juggernauts. Talk of Nigeria’s iRoko TV and Buni TV just a stone’s throw away in neighboring Kenya. These are well proven African successes and still growing thanks to the growing internet trends and consumption across sub-Saharan Africa and the advent of cheap smartphones mushrooming across the great continent. And surprisingly these are flying high on home grown content. On the other hand, most of their clients especially iRoko are in the diaspora.
Is Uganda ready to embrace streaming?
Drawing back to the streets of Kampala and the country at large, the internet penetration is growing and this can be reflected in the decreasing revenue in voice services by telcos and an uptake in data services. This owing to many telecom companies looking at expanding their product portfolio to include data services and money transfer services, the former seeing a significant boost in recent times with increased investments. Unfortunately most of the internet users are mainly concentrated in urban areas leaving out rural folks and they mostly devote most of their time on social media and sports sites but at the expense of video sites. Most users shun streaming due to costs involved which draws me to a question if we’re ready to embrace streaming.
According to a report by Analysys Masons, where as fixed broadband subscriptions (FWA) have remained flat, and extremely low compared to mobile SIMs, at 93 000 in 2012 and 92 684 in 1H 2013, Fixed wireless access (FWA) dominates the fixed broadband market, while DSL access is declining. The problem that still remains is that internet access is expensive to ordinary citizens though measures are underway to address this.
As a result the masses have picked interest in internet services but continue to be drawn back by the rather expensive offerings from many internet service providers (ISPs). These are some of the constraints as to why binge-watching shows via streaming remains a no go area for many Ugandan internet users fearing for their dear average data subscriptions. If it’s not for the sake of public Wi-Fi (which is also rare to find, as we still wait for Google to pull through if ever), and connected work places, rarely do Ugandans watch videos using data purchased from their hard earned monies. This makes physical media as the best alternative like I am going to further explains later.
DVD CDs still main stream
The quality and reliable internet services remain to urban dwellers only but they too come at a price. This makes the cheap offerings rather crowdy leading to bad network reception and slow connections. All the said hindrances have left many Ugandans consuming much of their content offline. Newspapers, radios and TV stations remain Kings in this space. On the other hand DVDs rule shelves and thanks to the Chinese, everyone can sit back relaxed in their sofa and catch that pirated Blacklist, White Collar or those other popular TV productions since DVD players are cheaper than when they were the in thing. Long ago when the VCR ruled the living room, it was a prized luxury not until the laser disks came knocking at the door that we were finally introduced to an era of DVDs. Then came Bluray and DVD HD but with all due respect, I doubt if majority of my countrymen can differentiate between the above. The DVD first as a luxury but finally started to encroach on the VCRs territory and became the undisputed king of the living room in many homes across the country. Thanks to Chinese knockoffs that flooded our market cutting prices down. These forced major distributors of fine brands to lower prices that these “prized luxuries” finally saw doors opened to homes of average Ugandans. This cemented the market for physical media especially CDs. It also happened to PCs too — as the influx of Chinese made desktops lowered prices and many ordinary folks acquired themselves one.
Since most Ugandans own these DVD players and to a certain degree desktops, most of the content consumed is on physical media like CDs & DVDs as other technologies like VHS tapes became obsolete. They rule the streets not only downtown but also many uptown malls have seen video stalls being installed to rake in from this booming business of DVD.
And thanks for movies being cheap now days that for a meager UGX 1,000 ($0.4) you can grab yourself a copy of any Hollywood blockbuster or a complete season of our favourite TV show like The Big Bang Theory (how geeky of me). It doesn’t stop on movies; it cuts across music and software. I don’t intend to preach about piracy and its unprecedented rise in Africa but it turns out that whatever I said above proves the title right that the physical media is here to stay ( For now) in Africa.
A Netflix for Africa
On reaching out to a few respondents, here is what they had to say about this whole idea when I put the query in front of their faces. Kyeyune, a one trader said he couldn’t spend $8 dollars to watch a movie in a top theater around town when he can pay a fraction of that to local movie dealers and he enjoys the same quality entertainment at the comfort of his home in Naalya.
Ian a fellow student went by the same words regarding software purchases. He said all he had to do was to visit a local video store as they normally specialize in movies and software. Here he could choose from the different racks of DVDs at the cheapest price. He only Pays a few shillings upfront and he wins himself a copy of his choice. When asked about streaming, their concern was about the exorbitant or rather high prices charged by telecos for data services.
And many internet users being prepaid customers, they are price cautious on where they spend their money and they often switch ISPs basing on the benefits and promotions offered by the different providers. This entails the long journey that it will take for most people in Africa to finally phase out physical media like DVDs.
The long journey that will see streaming companies finally enjoy a large chunk of users on the African mainland. If the said issues are addressed, may be the question will then become how to retain the users on the streaming services they subscribed too. It all comes down to economics as to why we don’t have a Netflix of Africa. Ones that are trying to break out in this market are mostly fed by dollars from the diaspora since Africans off the continent can’t find some local content in host countries.