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'The right time for VoD in Kenya'

'The right time for VoD in Kenya'

The acquisition of Video on Demand (VoD) platform by Trace TV this year did not signal the demise of Kenya's VoD service market. On the contrary, it was a disruption that was expected and bodes well for the immediate future of the VoD services industry.

This is according to Peter Wainaina Kibachia, founder and MD of Kenya-based digital firm Clicked Ltd., the company behind newly established VoD service Clicked TV. The service is looking to capitalise on growth in African diaspora residents, the mobile market, as well as renewed efforts to bolster Kenya's film industry.

Kibachia says was the first VoD service to have a major focus on Kenyan film makers and it played a significant role in exposing local talent and in helping to raise the country's profile in the international domain.

News of the acquisition by French music video television network Trace TV ahead of the launch of its VoD platform Trace Play was expected and will result in the shutdown of four-year-old service by November this year.

Kibachia says the move was strategic and being part of Trace TV will expose to several opportunities – including wider exposer, cheaper content and more of it, as well as a bigger budget to compete with market leaders.

"The list is long and if well leveraged it could easily turn Trace Play into a success story - not forgetting the experience the Buni tv team has on the Africa VoD space," he says. "From my perspective I can say the market expected a new disruption if not bigger than that of Buni tv, having in mind the new government legislation of 40% local content for all local free to air channels. It was also time to give the market an alternative not only to the viewer, but also the film makers in a bid extend distribution of their content across multiple platforms for greater economies of scale."

Clicked TV ready to compete

This is where Kibachia believes Clicked TV can make early inroads into an ultra-competitive market, one in which all service providers – unlike their counterparts in regions like Nigeria and South Africa – struggle with content.

"If you look closely at South Africa and Nigeria where there are numerous VoD services, it is not only about the internet and connectivity but they also have a thriving film industry to feed the VoD services. The under-developed film industry in Kenya means a constant stream of quality content is hard to find making content very expensive, this was also among the issues raised by broadcasters during the implementation of the 40% local content legislation."

He says competition is very stiff in the market, from other African VoD services as well as Western VoD services that are either already established or close to entering the market because of the high internet penetration rate and the rapid adoption of FTTH (Fibre to the Home).

According to the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA), the country's internet penetration rate stands at approximately 85.3%, with some 37.7 million people connected to the internet. Mobile penetration for the period July to September 2015 stood at 88.1%.

However, Kibachia acknowledges the impact of the cost of connectivity on the adoption of VoD services, both from an end-user and service provider perspective. He says this has resulted in collaboration between service VoD service providers and telcos in an attempt to lower the cost of accessing content.

"In regards to Kenya, internet is continuously becoming cheaper due to the ever growing competition in the telecommunication industry. Unlimited internet bundles by most telecommunication firms has provided an opportunity that VoD services can leverage without even having the need to partner with the telcos; and with other telcos charging as little as 9cents per MB it will definitely encourage bulk use of data a move that will definitely impact adoption of VoD services. Though the internet is considered as the backbone of the sector, innovative payment options and content also play a vital role in the growth of the VoD sector,"

Content and cost are not the only challenges to more widespread adoption of VoD. Service providers also need to keep abreast of regulation, specifically legislation and the contentious Film, Stage Plays and Publication Act 2016 as drafted by the Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB).

"Kenya's film classification board recently convened a meeting with industry stakeholders but the controversy its draft bill has generated is yet to be put to rest. Actually just after the meeting a petition was raised to disband Kenya Film and Classification Board with the petitioner claiming the bill was going against freedom of expression in the country," says Kibachia.

Mobile force

Despite the challenges the Clicked TV executive is optimistic about the short-term future of VoD in Kenya – particularly given the country's strength in mobile payment services. He says payment flexibility has facilitated adoption of many other innovative services, including VoD – since even the unbanked population have access to mobile money which is instant, secure and easy to transact.

"From our market research, we have realised that handheld devices play a vital role in the lives of most internet users in Kenya. According to communication Authority of Kenya December 2015 Quarter report, out of the 23.9 million total internet subscriptions in the country 23.8 million were mobile data subscription. As much as we might agree that fixed internet subscription is mostly shared by several people like in the office or at home, we cannot sideline the impact handheld devices pose to internet services. It then goes without saying that most VoD services in Africa and mostly in Kenya are accessed through handheld devices," says Kibachia.

While it will take time, Kibachia believes a combination of factors – including the introduction of 4G by some mobile operators, internet enabled set top boxes, FTTH adoption, the focus on content and rapid internet traffic growth – new entrants to the VoD market, like Clicked TV, have a solid opportunity to sustain themselves, add value and make a profit.

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