New Frontiers

Surveys a range of content distributors about the wealth of opportunity they’re finding across the African continent.

If there was any doubt about the current health of the television market in Africa, the fact that Basic Lead is launching two new DISCOP markets on the continent is a clear indication that business is good. Over the summer, the event organizer announced its plans to kick off DISCOP Zanzibar, which will concentrate on East Africa, in 2018, and the Nigeria-focused DISCOP Lagos the following year.

These events will complement the two DISCOP markets that are already held in Africa: DISCOP Abidjan, which takes place in the spring, and DISCOP Johannesburg in the fall. The Sandton Convention Center is hosting this year’s edition of DISCOP Johannesburg from October 25 to 27. During those three days, more than 1,000 acquisition, development and distribution execs from 70-plus countries will gather for deal-making and networking opportunities. The event will be attended by more than 250 public and commercial broadcasters, cable, satellite and mobile pay-TV operators, as well as VOD platforms and regional distributors serving Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Digital TV Research’s Sub-Saharan Africa OTT TV & Video Forecasts report, OTT movie and TV episode revenues are forecast to reach $640 million from 35 countries across the region in 2022, up from $52 million last year. South Africa will generate about 40 percent of revenues, followed by Nigeria with 21 percent. SVOD will remain the primary driver, reaching $475 million—74 percent of revenues—in 2022, followed by download-to-own, AVOD and then rentals. The SVOD base is forecast to hit 10.12 million, with South Africa (2.7 million) and Nigeria (2.64 million) again the largest markets.

Realizing the power of OTT in the region, SVOD services like iflix are rolling out across Africa, with a new headquarters in Cape Town and launches planned for Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

“As WiFi and the internet get stronger, there are going to be more and more nonlinear platforms” in Africa, says Liz Levenson, the VP of international acquisitions and sales at GRB Entertainment. “We’ve done some deals with Netflix, which has a feed in South Africa, and we’ve been in talks with iflix and Afrostream about content for them.”

Levenson adds: “What’s happened in the U.S. with the emergence of nonlinear platforms is that high-end scripted programming is starting to really take off for shows that can be completely bingeable. To that end, we’re bringing two brand-new scripted series to DISCOP this year, Day 5 and Crunch Time, which I think could be a really good fit in that space.”

“We are currently in talks with a number of new SVOD platforms and operators in Africa about our content,” says Paula Cohen McHarg, senior sales manager for Iberia, Italy, CEE, CIS, Africa and the Middle East at Keshet International (KI). “Our youth-skewed scripted series from digital entertainment studio New Form could work well, particularly the high school comedy Mr. Student Body President and chilling thriller Cold, both of which have been sold to other SVOD platforms across the world.”

Caracol Internacional first started securing nonlinear sales in Africa more than a year ago. “We are committed and want to increase our presence with [SVOD services],” says Paloma García, the company’s international sales executive for Europe and Africa.

While on the rise, selling to nonlinear platforms in Africa is still an emerging area for many companies. “We have not closed any deals [yet] but are currently in negotiations with some nonlinear platforms for the sale of a number of our series and feature films,” notes Can Okan, the founder and CEO of Inter Medya.

GMA Worldwide also has yet to do business with nonlinear platforms on the continent. “All of our clients are free- and pay-TV channels in the English-speaking countries of Africa,” notes Manuel Paolo Laurena, the company’s senior sales manager.

Scripted shows, including novelas, continue to be very appealing in the region. “Fiction is the best-selling genre in Africa for us right now, and we produce it in two formats: telenovelas and super series,” says Caracol’s García. “For both formats, the key element is the plot’s perspective, which focuses on emotional stories, appealing characters and universal feelings. These are key for productions that perform well in prime time and have good results in the African television market, which is one of the toughest in the world.”

She continues: “Our titles cover all types of genres, from the very classic female-targeting The Sweetest Love, to romantic comedy The Secretary, family comedy Digging for Love, sagas and musical bios such as Emeralds and The Voice of Freedom and male titles with action and detective elements such as our well-known series Pablo Escobar, the Drug Lord, The Cartel, or the more recent Fugitives and Made in Cartagena.” García notes that Caracol is also enjoying success in the region with The White Slave, River of Passions and The Girl.

GMA Worldwide’s family dramas and melodramas are currently what’s selling best from the company’s catalog in Africa. “Our clients find that these kinds of dramas appeal to their audience,” says Laurena. He highlights Carmela, My Destiny and My Faithful Husband, which “were sold to at least four countries in Africa.”

The widespread demand for Turkish drama has also made its way to Africa. “Turkish drama series have been extremely popular around the world because of their high-production qualities, intriguing and dramatic storylines and well-known casts,” says Inter Medya’s Okan. “Recently, they have also started to attract a lot of interest from buyers throughout Africa.” Among the company’s best-selling titles on the continent are Ay Yapim’s Black Money Love and 20 Minutes.

GRB has been having scripted success in Africa with titles such as Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse, Love Thy Neighbor and The Haves and the Have Nots. The company has also been seeing a significant increase in interest for unscripted programming to air in prime time in the region, according to Levenson. “We did a deal for a show called On the Case, which is a very long-running crime series that GRB has with, and we’re going to be launching some pretty big new crime properties at DISCOP, including a show called Exposed.” Also at the market in Johannesburg, GRB will be showcasing a number of newly acquired TV One titles, including the scripted series Born Again Virgin and Here We Go Again, and the factual programs For My Man, For My Woman, Justice by Any Means, Thou Shalt Not, #Murder, Rickey Smiley for Real, The Next 15, Deceived and Find Our Missing.

In addition, celebrity-driven docuseries have been strong performers for GRB in Africa. “Anything with an aspirational spin seems to do quite well,” says Levenson. “That’s something that resonates with a lot of African viewers, the idea of building your own business, creating your own destiny, seeing how you can build a project or build a world with someone. A lot of our shows reflect that, like Tamar & Vince, Braxton Family Values, Cleveland Hustles and Flex & Shanice.”

KI, meanwhile, has noticed a growing appetite for entertainment formats. “There has been a recent resurgence of big entertainment formats across the region,” says Cohen McHarg. “We have high hopes for our new format Masters of Dance. It’s such a big and vibrant studio-based show—perfect for prime time.” KI is also betting on #TheFeed, a new cooking/travel hybrid. Other successes for the company in Africa are the game shows BOOM! and Trade Up, the hidden-camera prank series Deal with It! and the drama The A Word.

Although there is a limited amount of funding and space for kids’ programming among African broadcasters, Mondo TV has managed to secure sales for such titles as YooHoo & Friends, GON, Gormiti and Angel’s Friends, as well as back-catalog classics like Simba the King Lion, Cinderella, Robin Hood and The Legend of Snow White. Hoping to boost the presence of children’s content on the continent, the company is planning to establish its own kids’ channel in Africa next year. “The idea has been well-received from a lot of platforms,” says Micheline Azoury, Mondo TV’s head of acquisitions and television sales. “They are looking for kids’ channels because this area is lacking in Africa.”

Mondo TV has also inked a number of package deals for religious-themed content in the region. “A lot of African countries have space for religion on their channels,” notes Azoury. “We have a small catalog of nearly 200 hours of Christian [programming].”

According to KI’s Cohen McHarg, “South Africa and Nigeria pretty much dominate the African TV market, but different regions are starting to become bigger players.”

“Broadcasters and aggregators in Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana and Uganda are regular clients,” says GMA Worldwide’s Laurena. “In our experience, Kenya and Nigeria have developed TV markets. We have sold almost all of our available English-dubbed dramas in these territories. We foresee that Zambia and Ghana will also open up more.”

Inter Medya has been selling finished content to FOXlife, which broadcasts in South Africa. “We are currently finalizing a deal with Canal+, which is on air in many French-speaking territories,” notes Okan. “Kana TV, based in Ethiopia, has also been one of our good clients in the region.”

“Most of our deals are with South Africa-based pan-regional broadcasters,” says GRB’s Levenson. “But we’re starting to see more interest from some other countries: Mauritius, Seychelles, Botswana, Nigeria.” She adds: “There’s also really strong production coming out of Nigeria and the same with Kenya…. There’s a lot that’s emerging, but South Africa, for sure, is the most developed.”

Mondo TV’s Azoury echoes the sentiment that South Africa is one of the most important television markets on the continent, but says the company has also been signing small volume deals in Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, and has additionally conducted business in Senegal, Botswana and Namibia.

“For many years we have maintained good relationships with clients in Sub-Saharan English-speaking territories with pay-TV multi-territory operators,” adds Caracol’s García. “In Portuguese-speaking territories, we are increasing our presence with TV channels in major markets such as Angola and Mozambique. We are also entering the French-speaking African territories.”

KI’s Cohen McHarg says the biggest trend she has been noticing in Africa as of late is that broadcasters are “moving away from acquiring English-language content to focus on local content and local stories.” She adds, “Budgets are a major challenge as audiences want to see high-quality programming that reflects their tastes and stories. Scripted formats could be the answer, as they allow producers to save on development and localize according to their audience.”

“Historically, Africa has mainly been a finished-tape market; however, we have seen more and more formats being licensed across the region lately,” adds Cohen McHarg. “We look to nurture more partnerships with local producers and broadcasters in Africa to co-develop our formats—both scripted and non-scripted.”

GRB’s Levenson notes: “There’s so much localized African production that I think there are a lot of partnerships to be made with Africa-based production companies, whether it’s on the format side or potentially co-producing.”

Caracol’s García agrees that there is “increasing local production for all the programming slots” in this market. She has also noticed a higher demand for sponsored programming on the continent.

As a result of the transition from analog to digital TV signals in the region, García says “networks needed more programming hours,” and new players arrived in the market. As a result, García says, there have been greater demands for content and an increasing appetite for scripted series from outside of Latin America. She sees heightened interest in local productions as well.

KI’s Cohen McHarg notes that the digital migration has meant “a lot more TV buyers and platforms are now looking for higher-quality content. Better access to viewers and the rapidly increasing number of TV households has also led to a much bigger audience base.”

“Since the transition, households need to shoulder the cost of a new digital box,” adds GMA Worldwide’s Laurena. “Further, the high investment cost of producing HD content resulted in higher license fees.”

Looking ahead, Laurena foresees “the influx of more local and foreign content providers offering a wide array of content with best price offerings.” He adds: “In the future, broadcasters will air more African telenovelas. This may affect our business in Africa. However, we think there will still be room for our dramas since our stories appeal to African audiences.”

“I think we’re going to see more bingeable, high-end scripted content coming out of Africa and going into Africa,” notes GRB’s Levenson.

KI’s Cohen McHarg says: “The growing appetite for scripted formats and adaptations across the region is a positive signal. This change in attitude will inevitably offer new, exciting opportunities for production companies and local broadcasters to provide more high-quality, universal content, but with localized stories and sensibilities that speak to their particular audiences. With the emergence of new markets, there will also be greater export opportunities.”

Inter Medya is hopeful that Africa will be receptive to the company’s new formats slate. “In addition to distributing series and feature films, we have started to develop, produce and distribute reality and game-show formats in the past couple of years,” notes Okan. “As our creative team is continuously working on fresh projects, we think the African region will prove to be very fruitful for our format business.”

Moving forward, Caracol will be bracing for increased rivalry in the African TV business, and it would probably be wise for other distributors to follow suit. “Every day there is going to be more competition in this territory, so we will have to reinforce the stability, constant success and innovation that our titles have,” says García. “The future is all about taking risks while maintaining strong stories.”