By Eng. Wainaina Mungai
Innovation on Kenya’s video-on-demand media landscape is gathering pace and the shakeup has left viewers wondering where their subscription fees will end up and what content they will be able to access once the dust settles. With the launch of different models of video on demand like Royal Media’s Viusasa, Multichoice’s Showmax, Netflix, iFlix, the past two years have seen seismic shifts which will have a flow-on effect on almost anyone who watches subscription-based television.
In 2019, Disney is expected to launch its very own streaming service called Disney+ that will host several new Disney series as well as exclusive Disney movies and all the Disney content that’s currently streaming elsewhere. Industry watchers have hailed it as a smart move that will deliver Disney content directly to consumers. In Africa, prior to Netflix entry, Showmax had launched in the continent and the two Video on Demand (VoD) providers have revolutionised the way Africans consume media via subscription. What has been more amazing and incredible is the rate of change of consumer behaviour in markets like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. Looking at the penetration, the South African market has around 18 million households and the penetration of subscription VoD services is around one million.
In Kenya, out of 8 million households, only 100,000 households have access to the subscription VoD. With the rise of streaming, Kenyans, particularly those who use streaming services, are watching more television in total. There’s a large amount of incremental viewing because of this mass of amazing, high quality content that’s being availed to consumers.
It is predicted that binge watching will become common in Kenyan households with all of the major television networks planning to launch their own ad-supported video on demand services to cater for changing consumer habits. To achieve positive results, Kenyan streaming solution providers will need to move quickly and customise the services and tailor the interface for each client. But what does it take to succeed in the VoD business? The important measure of success and sustainability is service provider’s conversion rate. Stickiness of subscriber base in terms of the longer-term retention is critical.
Viusasa is undoubtedly the local market leader in this category today and the only other major local subscription VoD. Initially, the people behind the Viusasa business plan took a very bullish view to the rate of growth of this category in the Kenyan market. It is a business plan one would argue was created before there was a market and they had to take a view on how quickly the market would grow from virtually zero over time. The marketing investment, one of Viusasa’s largest areas of spend, has focused across multiple channels, including TV, print, radio, outdoor, digital and more. The backing of Royal Media Services has been critical in allowing Viusasa the freedom to make large content and marketing plays. They made investment in content, but started with a brand that had no equity and no awareness but now it is a brand that has 50% awareness in the Kenyan market. It has to be one of the fastest growing consumer brands that we’ve seen in any category in Kenya from zero to nearly complete awareness. The biggest challenge has been building a consumer brand and co-pioneering a category with international players like Showmax, iFlix, Netflix moving the needle for Kenyan consumer behaviour from doing what they have done on television for years and shifting that to a new form of consumption.
While marketing is fundamentally important to helping grow the video on demand business, it all amounts to nothing without the right content strategy. The critical element should be to have a content strategy with exclusive content output delivering first-run, fast-track exclusive content.
Another element to consider is sports streaming which is poised as the next battleground in video streaming, VoD and video subscriptions and the battle will become even more intense. What can set a “Kenyan Netflix” apart from the foreign giants is producing and distributing their own original productions which will help them carve out a very successful space that is sustainable. This content strategy should also be agile and responsive to consumer feedback. New shows will be rolled out with in response to the consumer preferences rather than long-term content plans.
Technologically, they need to invest in sleek and commercially viable platforms that eliminate challenges facing current video on demand subscribers in Kenya including buffering, content availability, loading time and crashes among others.
As more streaming services launch in Kenya, a demanding audience will all be too happy to turn off and find entertainment elsewhere if their expectations are not met. Few would tolerate buffering especially when watching live TV. The abundance of streaming and VoD options available in Kenya will mean that viewers can afford to be fussy. Going forward, we are likely to see the introduction of an ever-growing number of streaming services, an increase in original content and exclusive deals, the move towards aggregator sites offering free and paid content, and the debut of immersive content.
However, the biggest challenge is that Kenyan viewers will have a near zero-tolerance policy to poor streaming experiences and will expect industry players to meet their growing demands, or face being left behind. When it comes to advertising VoD, poor advert insertion, poor timing of their appearance, repetition, and seeing too many per hour of viewing has to be addressed using effective technology to smooth out advertisement. It will be a congested space in months and years to come and understanding key pitfalls within Kenya’s streaming landscape will give the industry as a whole, a better idea of how to keep consumers engaged.
As more service providers plan to launch their services, they must be prepared to address technical challenges like monetising their content while providing audiences the perfect viewing experience. This will involve deploying their services with the right platforms which enable demographic targeting of the right audiences with streamed adverts, accuracy required of the metadata attached to content as well as the ability to keep pace with the proliferation of new devices and platforms. It is crucial for searching and finding of the correct programs, and for the measurement and analysis of audiences who are using different and multiple devices.
With the volume of content rapidly escalating, metadata will be used for micro-genre descriptions content to assist quicker identification. This requires them to identify a reputable technology partner. They will also have to contend with multiple sources of content and adverts, a lack of information consistency, and therefore, a lot of integration will have to be managed. Again, technology partner they work with will make a difference. This will mean a technology provider capable of maintaining the platform end-to-end from source to viewer and with the skills and experience relevant to the target market.