France’s Canal+ Group has announced the acquisition of Rwanda’s first digital streaming platform, ZACU TV, as it entrenches its position in East Africa. After recent ventures into film production in West Africa, this latest move is further evidence that the French media giant recognises the latent potential of independent African film production as a draw for the continent’s growing on-demand viewership.
The decision to branch out into local content creation follows a path already trodden by Canal+ subsidiaries in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire.
Following the successful acquisition of Nigeria’s ROK Studios, which has since distinguished itself in a saturated Nollywood market, this latest venture is forecast to drive public engagement with Rwanda’s fast-growing audiovisual sector by improving production quality and building upon the success of previous domestically produced sitcoms.
Expanding across Africa
Canal+ already has an established footprint in Africa. Boasting 23.7m subscribers worldwide, the media conglomerate already caters to audiences across both Francophone and Anglophone West Africa. Its content has been available via Rwandan terrestrial TV for a decade and gained a dedicated channel, Canal+Rwanda, in 2020.
Founded in 2017, ZACU has fast risen to become one of East Africa’s leading providers of online streaming. Subscribers can access 700 hours of video content on demand and, for S$30 per year, can stream shows in high definition, free of adverts, or even offline.
“I’m very excited to continue the journey with Canal+ Group”, says ZACU CEO Wilson Misago. “Rwanda has enormous talent… it’s time to take made-in-Rwanda content to the world!”
Streaming content for a digital age
The acquisition of ZACU presents an opportunity for Canal+ to break the bonds of TV broadcasting and take advantage of Rwanda’s high internet connectivity rates. In 2019, just 19% of Rwandan households owned a TV set, meaning that the country’s 9.37m mobile phone users present a far more viable market for digital content producers.
With 4G coverage in major cities and a high level of broadband internet penetration, Rwandan subscribers have to date been able to stream low quality content – ZACU TV boasts a minimum requirement of 150 kilobytes/second to watch its shows. Higher-value productions, often designed for larger screens with strong internet connections, may fall flat or find themselves prey to digital piracy, which consumes an estimated 50-75% of creative revenues in the country according to a UNESCO report on the African film industry.
Strong long-term prospects
Canal+ and ZACU will benefit from governmental support for the country’s nascent film industry. Announced in 2016, a five-year plan for the promotion of cultural and creative industries has introduced tax breaks on production equipment and other financial incentives for a sector deemed crucial to Rwanda’s development as an international tourist destination.
If this venture enjoys similar success to Canal+ investments in West Africa, then it is likely that Rwanda’s film industry will continue to expand upon the 1,000 direct and 6,000 indirect jobs that it has created since 1994, while delivering increasingly high-quality content on a national and regional scale.
Industry leaders will hope that “Hillywood” can take its place alongside Nollywood at the forefront of a burgeoning continental market, fulfilling Rwanda Film Festival founder Eric Kabera’s dream of “taking Hollywood to the thousand hills of Rwanda”.