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    African Streaming Bloodbath: Startups Fall Like Dominoes

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    BritBox, the UK-based streaming service, has announced its departure from South Africa by August 2024, adding another name to the growing list of video-on-demand (VoD) platforms that have struggled to thrive in the African market. The company cited a need to focus on “more established markets with higher growth opportunities.”

    BritBox’s exit comes as a surprise to some, given its early success in the country. In 2022, South Africa contributed significantly to BritBox’s 2.5 million international subscribers. Reemah Sakaan, the company’s global CEO, even noted South Africans’ “rabid” consumption of the service.

    However, the South African streaming landscape is fiercely competitive, with major players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Showmax, and DStv vying for subscribers. BritBox, despite offering popular British content, failed to capture a substantial enough share of the market.

    From a historical point of view, this failure is not unique to BritBox. Several other streaming platforms have met a similar fate in Africa:

    • Kwese Play, Iflix (Zimbabwe)
    • Buni.tv (Kenya)
    • Black (Owned by Cell C) (South Africa)
    • MTN VU (South Africa)
    • ONTAPTv (Owned by Hong Kong’s PCCW) (South Africa)
    • Vidi (Owned by Times Media Group) (South Africa)
    • Altech Node (South Africa)
    • Wabona (Kenya)
    • Afrostream (backed by Y Combinator) (24 African countries, mostly French-speaking)

    The challenges faced by BritBox and these other platforms highlight broader issues plaguing the African VoD industry. 

    The High Cost of Doing Business

    Launching and maintaining a VoD service in Africa is a costly endeavor. Licensing fees for international content, infrastructure costs, and marketing expenses quickly add up. For many startups, generating enough revenue to cover these costs, let alone turn a profit, is a significant hurdle.

    Afrostream, a streaming platform targeting Francophone Africa, shuttered in 2017 after burning through over $4 million in investment. The company’s founder, Tonje Bakang, cited the exorbitant cost of licensing content and the difficulty of attracting enough subscribers as major factors in its downfall.

    Similarly, iROKOtv, once a leading Nollywood streaming platform, has scaled back its African operations. CEO Jason Njoku pointed to Nigeria’s fluctuating currency and high operating costs as reasons for focusing on international markets.

    The Internet Accessibility Barrier

    Another significant challenge is the cost and reliability of internet access across much of Africa. While internet penetration is growing, high data costs and inconsistent connectivity remain barriers to widespread adoption of streaming services.

    In 2019, the average cost of 1GB of mobile data in Africa was the highest globally. This makes streaming video, a data-intensive activity, prohibitively expensive for many potential subscribers.

    A Glimmer of Hope?

    Despite the challenges, the African streaming market shows potential for growth. Statista projects the South African market alone will reach $4.9 million by 2028. Additionally, Africa’s young and increasingly tech-savvy population presents a significant opportunity for platforms that can adapt to the continent’s unique conditions.

    Success stories like Showmax, which has leveraged local content and affordable pricing to attract subscribers, offer a roadmap for other players. Strategic partnerships, like MultiChoice’s collaboration with Netflix and Amazon, can also help smaller platforms gain a foothold in the market.

    The Road Ahead

    As the African VoD landscape continues to evolve, the key to success will likely lie in a combination of factors. Platforms must find ways to reduce operating costs, offer compelling content tailored to local tastes, and adapt to the challenges of internet accessibility.

    The story of BritBox’s exit serves as a cautionary tale for the video streaming industry in Africa. While the potential for growth is evident, the path to profitability in Africa’s streaming market remains a steep and winding one.

    Charles Rapulu Udoh isn’t your typical lawyer. Based in Lagos, he’s carved a niche at the forefront of Africa’s booming tech scene. With years of experience, Udoh has become a go-to expert for multi-million dollar deals in venture capital, private equity, and intellectual property across a vast landscape — from Delaware and New York to Singapore and South Africa. But his expertise extends beyond just the legalese. Udoh is also a corporate governance, data privacy, and tax whiz. An award-winning writer and researcher, he’s passionate about chronicling Africa’s startup story, cementing his position as a true pioneer in the field.

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