A new US-based streaming service has burst onto the scene, with a mission to bring pan-African stories to the world and explode stereotypes of Africa seen on mainstream TV shows, writes Adaora Oramah.
“Our stories are for everyone” is boldly brandished on AfroLandTV’s website, the Dallas-based media streaming startup. Touted by the 2020 Berlinale International Film Festival in Germany as the new Netflix or Disney+ for Africa, the platforms Afrocentric content library invites you into a world of drama, comedy, thriller and romance, all played by African talent.
Founded by Zimbabwean actor turned entrepreneur, Michael Maponga, the service is a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) streaming platform featuring and curating Pan-African film and television content. ”We’re bridging Pan-African stories globally. Now someone in Brazil can watch Nollywood or a film from Uganda and enjoy it on one platform.”
This month the Texan startup was selected for the latest cohort of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, a 13-week tech-focused programme. The $160,000 in seed funding will help the platform pierce a market that is crowded with suitors. Netflix, with 1.4m subscribers on the continent, has poured money into local productions. Another long-established pay-TV player, South Africa’s Multichoice, has almost 20m continental viewers, the bulk of which are in its domestic market, according to Digital TV research.
AfrolandTV are also arriving on the scene at a time when key competitor i-Roko TV, the world’s largest legal digital distributor of African movies, has scaled down its growth plans in Africa and Nigeria specifically following the downturn caused by the pandemic. A surge in subscriber numbers at the beginning of lockdown was soon foreshadowed by falling incomes and a flagging naira at home, even though the majority of i-Roko’s TV’s revenues come from outside of Africa, targeting the diaspora in the US, UK and Europe.
Unlike Iroko TV, which only offers Nollywood titles, AfroLandTV offers African, African-American, black European, Caribbean, and Afro-Latino content. Better broadband, decreasing data costs and expanding networks are also making streamed content more accessible to the continent at large.
In a television market dominated by giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney, DSTV, AfroLandTV claims that it challenges non-African interpretations of Africa. As a result, Maponga reveals the company’s strict vetting and submissions process for content creators.
“We don’t showcase titles surrounding any wars, poverty, and sickness. The big platforms are already doing that,” said Maponga.
Similar to digitally native platforms like For Africans By Africans, there is a conscious effort by African content-driven platforms to counter and reject imagery that some claim have harmed Africa in the global media.
“TV is the biggest influencer and programmer in the world,” says Maponga. Developing thrillers as well as showcasing historical documentaries and fictional stories on Africa’s pre-colonial era are important components of the platform’s content offerings.
Taking on giants
While the startup lacks the funds to licence content, they have “grown from nothing to something with very limited resources,” said Maponga. Afrocentric VOD start-ups have previously grappled with the cost-intensive process of licensing content, which contributed to the premature demise of Afrostream, as it struggled to license major Hollywood, European and African titles.
“This approach was detrimental to the cash flow, said Maponga. “Licensing Hollywood content is very expensive especially for a start-up and requires large upfront cash investments,” Maponga added.
AfroLandTV says it adopts a leaner approach to its business development strategies. It is instead dedicated to developing a loyal following by distributing and monetising smaller, local African productions.
“We are not trying to be like Netflix,” said Maponga. “We’re collecting these stories globally. You can consider us a niche platform, but we are a global niche platform.”
AfroLandTV also does not aim to acquire market share from large TV and streaming corporations. New entrants in the digital streaming and TV market have struggled to compete against South Africa’s TV giant DSTV’s reign in the African media landscape due to over ambitious licensing deals. It has become increasingly difficult given the popularity of its VOD platform DSTV Now.
SVOD start-ups also face the disruptive nature of illegal streaming sites that offer content for free. AfroLandTV’s value proposition rests on its dedication to providing original content at what it considers to be an affordable price of $3.99 per month, allowing users to diversify their streaming content. “On average people subscribe to 2-3 video streaming services. People are building streaming bundles for what they like to watch,” said Maponga. “We picked this price point because we want to make it easy for people to add AfroLandTV to their streaming bundle.”
This compares to Netflix’s recently launched a $3-a-month mobile-only subscriptions in Nigeria (less than a third of its US subscription price) and iRoko’s less than $1 a month charge.
Adaora Oramah is a Nigerian-American writing about business developments and trends in Africa’s cultural and creative industries.