Afrostream, the subscription video-on-demand service that set itself the goal of being the ‘Netflix of Afro-American and French films’, will tomorrow kick off a major international expansion that will see it launch in 24 countries across French-speaking Africa.
The expansion of Afrostream’s availability marks its first major move outside Europe, where it is available in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, as well as the French overseas DOM-TOMs.
The service, which delivers a mix of Afro-American, Caribbean, African and French content for a monthly fee, will henceforth be available in Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Cormoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, the and Togo.
“From the beginning, we’ve had the content rights for these countries,” Afrostream co-founder Tonjé Bakang told Digital TV Europe in an exclusive interview, adding that the service would be able to distribute about 95% of its line-up across all territories. Afrostream’s content deals include agreements with Disney, Warner Bros, Lionsgate and Viacom as well as local broadcasters – such as RTI in Côte d’Ivoire, where the service was soft-launched in June.
In addition to on-demand content, Afrostream is also offering live streamed TV, including, thanks to its partnership with Viacom, a live stream of the French-language version of US black channel BET. “We are the only platform with on-demand and live streaming together,” said Bakang. Following the live-stream of BET, he said that Afrostream is now in talks with five other players, including national TV channels in Africa, to stream their content live too, Bakang said.
Afrostream will be available from XOF500 (€0.75) for a day pass or XOF1,000 for a week pass, with monthly subscriptions also available. Payment will be by credit card in the initial phase – a payment mechanism with minimal penetration in the region – but Bakang said that payment via Orange Money and other mobile payment systems would be available within a couple of weeks.
Bakang said that he also expected some revenue would come from members of the African diaspora purchasing the service as a gift for relatives back home. “People from the diaspora can pay a subscription via an account for their families anywhere in Africa,” he said.
Afrostream will also team up with telecom operators to provide easier access to the service in a region where cost of data and availability of adequate bandwidth are generally seen as major obstacles to OTT TV delivery. “Orange is one of our major investors and we’ll soon have special data plans with them,” said Bakang. To overcome bandwidth issues, some titles will be available for download, but Bakang sees this as an interim measure. “The quality of the internet is improving, and while download is necessary for now, there are other ways to distribute, for example by providing WiFi or in partnership with mobile telecom operators,” he said. “We are a technology company and we are working on ways to provide smaller sized files to stream movies and series more efficiently.”
Afrostream is aiming to provide a broad-based entertainment offering, and this will include an investment in original production. Bakang said that two series are currently in development – a Nigerian-set drama featuring “a young poor guy who ends up by accident with a rich Nigerian family” and another, bigger budget project set among the Nigerian diaspora in the UK. While those two projects are being developed in-house, he said that Afrostream is also currently talking to potential partners about co-production opportunities.
Bakang said that Afrostream would focus on expanding its reach in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa initially, but that an expansion to other parts of the continent, including English-speaking markets, could follow within months.
“Our goal for the next five years is to increase subscribers in Africa. It is a growing market – there is huge potential in West and Central Africa, in both French and English-speaking markets,” said Bakang. “I know what the demand is in France, the UK and the US, but in terms of opportunities I think that Africa is where we have to put all our energy.”