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The African digital entertainment explosion

By Com Series staff writer Valentine Gachambi, @First Communications

Mirroring that of other regions in the world, there has been a digital entertainment explosion on the African continent. This has largely been due to the increase in smartphone ownership, expansion of 3G/4G networks and WiFi, as well as unlimited data plans by various operators in order to spur increased data usage.

To date, Africa has over 334 million internet users representing 28% of the population and 9.4% of the global internet community, according to the Africa Internet Usage and 2016 Population Stats. Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya lead by the number of internet users, while the Western Sahara and Comoros have the fewest. By country, Kenya has the highest internet penetration at 69.9%, followed by Morocco at 60.6% and Mauritania at 60%, while Niger and Eritrea have the lowest penetration at 2% and 1% respectively.

This big bang data usage of recent years is largely due to the soar in popularity of online television, video streaming, gaming and social media. 

Smartphone Ownership

The sharp increase in internet use on the continent is down to the rise in popularity of the smartphone. Smartphone uptake is gaining further momentum as the average selling price of handsets continue to decrease, improving the affordability of mobile services for Africans.

"Cheaper smartphone devices and increased access to more affordable broadband internet access is fueling the digital entertainment explosion in Africa"

Sub $100 smartphones have meant that many Africans, who could otherwise not afford other devices such as desktop computers, laptops and tablets to access the internet, can now access data through smartphones, resulting in their mass market adoption.

This affordability is expected to lead to a three-fold growth in smartphone devices available on the continent to 540 million devices in 2020. Mobile broadband connections in Sub-Saharan Africa are also set to increase from 24% in 2015 to 57% by 2020.

“Cheaper smartphone devices and increased access to more affordable broadband internet access is undeniably fueling the digital entertainment explosion not only in Africa, but across the world,” says Founder and CEO of Nichestreem, Catherine Lückhoff.

Internet Access

With the increase in smartphones comes the demand for fast and accessible data by consumers, with telecommunication operators and other internet service providers having had to enhance their networks through provision of mobile broadband and WiFi access. 

In Africa, countries have been continuously developing high performance networks with at least 41 countries already using commercial 3G networks, and 23 countries having access to 4G networks. 

 “By 2020, about three-quarters of all mobile connections will be on 3G or 4G, and thereafter the focus for operators will be on making use of released spectrum to expand the reach of LTE networks beyond the major cities,” cites the 2014 Africa Mobile Broadband Market research report.

"There are at least 41 countries already using commercial 3G networks, and 23 countries having access to 4G networks"

Globally 4G networks are now available in 151 countries with the global 4G connection base passing the 1 billion mark in late 2015.

In addition, WiFi has made the internet more accessible, with various cities and towns in Africa providing wireless internet as a way to increase attractiveness for businesses and visitors. In Africa, a number of towns and cities provide free WiFi including: Tshwane, Cape Town and Stellenbosch in South Africa; Nakuru in Kenya; Kigali in Rwanda and Lagos in Nigeria, to name but a few.

Where internet is charged, various operators have diversified unlimited data plans that can also be bundled with other products such as airtime and SMS. These plans have allowed the internet to be more affordable and encouraged growth in traffic.


Whereas various forms of digital entertainment have been slow in adapting to the local market, the continent’s younger generation have adopted gaming on mobile phones first, due to the availability of games made in Africa that is both culturally relevant and available on both budget and high end devices.

According to mobile gaming in Africa and the Middle East has seen double digit growth with 2015 figures standing at $228.6 million, which is expected to jump to $261 million in 2016.By age segmentation the 25-34 age group form the largest fragment of the 23.8 million global mobile gaming community, while the 45 years and over segment are the least.

These figures relate to similar numbers reported by PriceWaterHouseCoopers, who put the continent’s gaming market worth at about $217 million.

To gain more users, many developers have created games that ride on social media platforms, with a large percent of mobile internet usage in Africa coming from social media. 

Among popular game creators on the continent are Gamsole, founded by Nigerian developer Abiola Elijah Olaniran, Leti Arts with offices in Ghana and Kenya,  I-Imagine Interactive from South Africa and Kola Studios from Uganda.

Other than local game developers there has been the emergence of smartphone games that were only previously available on consoles such as Playstation and Xbox. The new augmented realism embraced by creators of games such as Pokémon is expected to attract more Africans to the gaming field.

Online Television Streaming

In this internet age, most traditional television stations have online channels which offers their content globally. This adaptation is to suit the market needs where more and more viewers are seeking content online in order to fight off new age television players such as Netflix and Amazon, that have led to a decrease in viewer ratings of traditional media, leading to falling revenues. 

“As sales of physical media continues to decline, globally expanding services such as Spotify and Netflix are managing to build a sizeable paying audience for content delivered over the Internet,” states the Entertainment and Media Outlook Report.

"The availability of fibre to offices and the home can be attributed to the major developments that have led to the online television streaming boom in Africa"

Another exciting dimension witnessed this September is when SuperSport announced it would start its first live TV broadcast on Facebook by offering a live stream of the Varsity Football Final between Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg - an innovative way for online television streaming to utilise a popular social media platform.

“We hope this appeals to people on the move and unable to watch on the traditional television platform," said Gideon Khobane, Chief Executive of SuperSport.

The availability of fibre to offices and the home can be attributed to the major developments that have led to the online television streaming boom in Africa.

Video Streaming

The growth of African video streaming has been immense, especially since the rise in popularity of videos in social media such as Facebook, which has over 125 million users in Africa as per 2015 figures. Now with the introduction of Facebook streaming, African content creation is expected to erupt. The video explosion can also be attributed to the fact that most network operators have various data plans that allow free unlimited access to social media platforms.

Facebook is also planning to provide free internet to the continent through drones under the organisation.

"The video explosion can also be attributed to the fact that most network operators have various data plans that allow free unlimited access to social media platforms"

Other traditional video streaming platforms such as YouTube continue to play a dominant role in this segment, especially due to the continent’s vibrant music industry with a number of music videos channels having received a wide audience internationally. This platform has seen increased collaboration between local and international artists and made the African market an exporter of internationally adopted cultural practices from dancing to fashion.

Music Streaming

Whilst this form of digital entertainment is big in other regions of the world, Africa is one of the last frontiers in this front. Nichstreem’s Catherine Lückhoff attributes this to the diversity found in Africa that would require big companies to custom make content for various groups or that the players are too focused on winning the developed markets first.

“Streaming giants have either been too risk averse to enter such a complex and nuanced market and/or preoccupied with winning the streaming war in more established markets and or the one-size-fits-all model is simply not a good fit for a continent that is so diverse.”

"The biggest barrier left is the perception of the cost of data"

That being said, the opportunity and demand exists for a player willing to study and understand the continent and create content that is appealing to the cross section between music and culture, building for an emerging economy, adapting price points and localising not only in terms of catalogue, but also language.

“Consumers don't really care about back office technology and anyway our video streams work on all networks, even EDGE. The biggest barrier left is the perception of the cost of data (not the actual cost of data). The market needs to be educated some more,” concludes Founder & CEO of Tuluntulu, Pierre van der Hoven.

Digital Entertainment at AfricaCom 2016:

This year's AfricaCom, taking place between the 14-18 November 2016, will be showcasing all the latest trends in African digital entertainment. The Digital Entertainment stream on the 15 November will comprise of Key Note Panels and discussions around the explosion in digital entertainment services, looking at the sectors of gaming, music and video streaming. 

Some of the key speakers include MTN's Vikash Barath, PWC's Vicki Myburgh, Deezer's Gillian Ezra, Tuluntulu's Pierre van der Hoven and Nichestreem's Catherine Luckhoff.

To find out more about the largest tech and telco event in Africa and book you tickets, click here.

Be part of the African tech and telco conversation, here:

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