Gold Rush

Distributors eyeing Africa for future opportunities are finding a growing market with varied tastes.

While African heritage and the stories of the African Diaspora often serve as markers of diversity, it would be wise to consider the diversity within the world’s second-largest continent itself. Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people across 54 countries, observing dozens of religions and spiritualties and speaking a variety of Indigenous languages alongside those of its colonizers. Even with this admittedly rudimentary sketch of Africa’s demographics, it’s clear that the continent and its tastes for content cannot be painted with a single broad brushstroke.

“African countries’ colonial and pre-colonial heritage is very different from country to country, and this has had an important impact on the language and culture of each nation; hence, we tackle each country like a different market,” says Paloma García, international sales director for Europe and Africa at Caracol Television. “Doing business in Africa requires understanding that you can’t see the continent as one single block or market, and this is why our content offer varies from country to country in terms of languages and storylines.”

Caracol has sent series dubbed in French and English to such sub-Saharan African countries as Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda; series dubbed in Portuguese to Angola and Mozambique; and its Spanish-language content to Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius. The White Slave’s “high production values allow its success in sales everywhere in Africa,” according to García, who believes that Bolívar will see a similar reception. (The former centers on a white woman named Victoria who is raised by an enslaved couple following the assassination of her family, while the latter tells the story of Simón Bolívar, a revolutionary who led the liberation of Latin American countries from the Spanish empire.)

Viacom18/IndiaCast Media Distribution has dubbed into English a number of its series that air in early prime or prime time in Africa. Balika Vadhu (The Young Bride) and Uttaran (Second Hand) have been syndicated in sub-Saharan and Southern Africa, while the first season of the fantasy series Naagin (The Serpent) has been syndicated across the continent. Debkumar Dasgupta, senior VP of syndication and the Middle East and Africa at Viacom18/IndiaCast, says, “Our drama series have proven to be extremely successful in every market that we have licensed to, especially Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Mauritius, Southern Africa, Egypt and Francophone African countries.”

Viacom18/IndiaCast isn’t stopping there. “We are looking at introducing our series in Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Morocco and others,” adds Dasgupta.

From the Philippines’s GMA Worldwide, My Destiny, which tells the story of two sisters who fall in love with the same man, has sold into Kenya and Zambia. “This title combines the themes of familial and romantic love that are relatable across different territories, including Africa,” says Roxanne J. Barcelona, GMA Worldwide’s VP. My Faithful Husband has also sold into Kenya and Zambia. Beautiful Strangers is available dubbed in French “and has received interest from broadcasters in French-speaking countries in Africa,” according to Barcelona.

Record TV’s latest launch into Africa has been Jezebel, which tells the story of a Phoenician princess. According to Delmar Andrade, international sales director at the company, “In its premiere in Mozambique, Jezebel recorded by itself the audience of all the other main TV channels together, and guaranteed for the broadcaster a share of 50 percent in the time slot.”

Even more successful for Record TV has been Jesus, a retelling of the Christian prophet’s story. “The telenovela reached an audience record in the history of Mozambican television, reaching more than 6 million viewers in its debut, with an 87-percent share for TV Miramar,” says Andrade.

Calinos Entertainment entered Africa with The Girl Named Feriha, which follows a girl stuck between the world of her humble beginnings and that of her upper-class university classmates, who include a rich and handsome playboy. “This series is very successful in all regions that we distribute in,” says Ebru Mercan, sales executive for Africa at Calinos. “It is a market-opener for us, and it has proven to be a success in the African region too.” Also being distributed into Africa are Calinos’s Forbidden Fruit, Our Story and Woman.

“There is still a long way to go in Africa; the audiences are just discovering Turkish content. We cannot access all African countries at the same level,” says Mercan, explaining that in some countries in the region, only households with a pay-TV subscription can currently access Turkish titles.

In addition to South Africa, Mauritius, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Nigeria have been big markets for Italy-based Mondo TV’s output. The CGI-animated comedy-adventure series Robot Trains has sold into Portuguese-speaking Africa, Mauritius and South Africa; Sissi the Young Empress, which centers on a free-spirited princess and her many animal friends, has also sold into Portuguese-speaking Africa as well as French-speaking regions. The Netflix original YooHoo to the Rescue, about a crew of magical forest creatures fighting threats to nature and wildlife on Earth, is available in most territories.

“Thanks to our large catalog of classic series and movies and strong background in distribution, we have done a lot of business with countries north and south of the Sahara over a long time,” says Theo Kouroglou, international content sales manager for Mondo TV. “Today, we have solid long-term relationships with several broadcasters in the region, established for over ten years.”

Among Mondo TV’s forthcoming releases is MeteoHeroes, which the company expects will fare well in African markets.

When it comes to genre, the titles that are selling well across Africa’s landscape are those that already appeal to diverse audiences. As Kouroglou puts it, “In many ways, this market is not massively different from any other,” adding that the types of kids’ content the company offers—adventure stories, magic and romance, fantasy for preschoolers and tween drama with music at its core—can all find their place.

For more mature audiences on the continent, human stories are winning the day. “Traditional melodramas with themes of familial and romantic love are popular among the African audience,” says GMA’s Barcelona.

The series that Viacom18/IndiaCast has dubbed into English and sent to Africa, according to Dasgupta, “are a perfect blend of emotion, romance, family and socially relevant issues that will immediately resonate with the mainstream audiences.”

Calinos’s Mercan has found that “love stories are always the most preferred.”

While Caracol’s García likewise observes the consistent selling power of a good love story, the company is also looking to bring action and comedy and other universal themes to local markets in Africa.

Record TV sees the universality in its catalog of biblical telenovelas. “The telenovelas based on the biblical stories, apart from religiosity, collaborate to understand a vision of the world in which we live,” says Andrade. “That is part of the success achieved by these super productions in Brazil and around the world. On Record TV, we continue along this path with biblical stories that also include all the ingredients that a telenovela must have: passion, hatred, envy and solidarity.”

From Latin America and India, Turkey, the Philippines and Italy, these series find common ground in their commitment to internationally appealing themes and genres while also being rooted in the unique heritage of the lands from whence they came.

“Filipino dramas promote the values of hard work, courage and persistence against adversity, which are also values of the African audience,” says Barcelona of the ethos that’s foundational to the dramas in GMA’s library.

The themes at the center of Calinos’s Turkish titles “are both unique and similar to the African audiences,” says Mercan. “Unique because of the way that acting, lifestyles and landscapes are all very different. Similar because love, family and conflicts are very much the same.”

For Record TV, Andrade credits “the ability to speak with love, passion, action and all the necessary requirements for a good telenovela” as well as offering “the public what can make them think and arouse a deep interest.”

“‘Indian-ness’ appeals magnificently across Africa, and we seek to captivate audiences from all walks of life—in India and overseas—with our compelling storytelling,” says Viacom18/IndiaCast’s Dasgupta. “Our series are a perfect blend of emotion, drama and variety, which are synonymous [with] almost all cultures in the world.”

García of Caracol says that the company’s “stories show strong women who fight to get ahead in their lives, which we think is a positive message that resonates among African female audiences.”

A nascent streaming sector is presenting a wave of opportunities, as is a still-growing base of pay-TV subs. GMA Worldwide is already reaping the benefits of the growth of Africa’s television market. “We increased our revenue in this territory by more than 50 percent versus last year,” says Barcelona. All of GMA’s current clients in Africa are linear channels—free and pay TV—packaged with VOD rights for their owned-and-operated platforms. That could change, though, in the near future as nonlinear platforms establish more of a presence across the continent.

“As in most places in the world, we expect nonlinear platforms to continue growing as the internet becomes increasingly accessible,” says Caracol’s García.

Calinos’s Mercan echoes this forward-looking viewpoint. “Currently we are discussing some of our programs with nonlinear platforms as well. This year, or next year at the latest, we plan to make good sales.”

Mondo TV is also keeping an eye on Africa’s nonlinear platforms. “OTT, in particular, offers opportunities for mobile platforms, although [access to affordable data packages], which varies from market to market and which may affect the reach of OTT, is key to take-up,” says Kouroglou. “However, nonlinear does seem to be a strong future business trend in this part of the world.”

The internet’s lack of ubiquity in Africa at present is unquestionably among the challenges of establishing a foothold on the continent. As Mercan explains, “the technological infrastructure is not very good in most of the African countries.” There’s also the matter of prices, she says.

“Like any other territory, Africa has its own ups and downs,” says Viacom18/IndiaCast’s Dasgupta. “There are issues with remittances, differing deals due to budgetary issues from a few countries, but overall, there has been a healthy trend in our syndication business.”

At Mondo TV, Kouroglou also sees reasons to be optimistic for the maturation of the market as certain conditions improve. “Viewing habits will be interesting,” he says. “One wonders if the region will have more strongly nonlinear viewing behaviors than many others that have access to fixed-line communications.”

The sorts of challenges that establishing sales across Africa currently present are, by the observation of industry execs, the kind that foretell a future of greater opportunity.

Viacom18/IndiaCast now syndicates content to more than 25 African countries across three languages that are dubbed or subtitled either in English or the local language, and that’s just the start, according to Dasgupta. “We strongly believe our content has enormous potential in Africa, and we look forward to introducing our latest offering in fiction categories to a larger audience base,” he says.

Kouroglou believes that Mondo TV’s “diverse output and its strength in entertainment production, distribution and licensing to children, tweens, teens and families” will give the company opportunities among many age groups.

“We are confident our experience and expertise will continue placing us amongst Africa’s preferred content providers,” says Caracol’s García, who sees further opportunity in the region in co-productions. “We are starting to explore cooperation opportunities with local content producers as we believe that there is high potential in co-producing with local players. A mix of finished-production sales and cooperation with local players is key for our plans on the African continent.”

But the greatest opportunity, according to Calinos’s Mercan, is “building bridges between continents. This sector opens the ways for other sectors.”