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Operators are missing video opportunity, says StClair

Mobile operators in Africa have an audience that wants to consume video but currently does not deliver the connectivity necessary to support it, according to Brett StClair, head of new products, sub-Saharan Africa at Google South Africa. 

Speaking on the AfricaCast stream at the AfricaCom conference, StClair said that a business model for mobile video, which would be based on advertising, had still to be worked out. However, he said operators need to act to deliver connectivity to enable the market to take off.

“Let’s get the service and the access right and open up the access speeds,” said StClair. “The opportunity is guys with smart devices that want to consume video but just can’t use the service at the moment.”

Asked whether Google could not stimulate the infrastructure market itself by investing in access networks, StClair said that Google has invested in its Google Fiber project in the US, which has been running for six months, and is also investing in TV White Space technology in Africa and encouraging the opening up of spectrum.

However, he said he said Google has to focus on what it does best. “Do we want to play in the connectivity space? We are only 50,000 people and we are a software company. I don’t think we want to be a connectivity company.”

Over 70% of Africa is now covered by Google’s local caches, said StClair, bringing video closer to where it needs to be delivered.

StClair said that Africa’s “Gen C” – YouTube’s core audience – is interested in local content, but the creation of African content for a diaspora audience is the key initial money-making opportunity. Providers including iROKUtv, which started out on YouTube, has tapped into the diaspora audience, he said.

YouTube can also deliver international content to an African audience, he said.

StClair said online video distribution in Africa is not just about mobile devices but about a multi-device strategy. Cloud computing, taking the processing away from the end-user devices, can accelerate this development, he said, citing the ability of Google’s ChromeCast devices to enable any TV to become a connected screen.