Econet founder and executive chairman Strive Masiyiwa has helped drive mobile and pay TV expansion across Sub Saharan Africa.
Pan African pay TV operator Kwesé has taken a sizeable undisclosed stake in iflix, a leading provider of SVoD services in the developing world, highlighting the rapid growth in video services across the region. This extends an existing relationship between the two companies established in August 2017 with Kwesé’s launch of iflix services on its TV platform, which spans most Sub-Saharan countries.
Both iflix and Kwesé, which is the pay TV arm of the Econet telecommunications group headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, have been expanding rapidly recently. Kwesé is the brand of Econet Media, the Econet group subsidiary set up to provide pay TV services starting off with a satellite service to compete with the region’s dominant provider Multichoice. The company focused chiefly at first on premium live sports from major rights holders such as the English Premier League (EPL), the National Basketball Association (NBA),) and the National Football League (NFL). But then in 2017 Econet Media expanded into OTT, mobile TV and TV Everywhere under its Kwesé brand because its sister company called Liquid Telecom had developed the largest fiber network in Africa, as well as satellite backhaul capacity. This provided the backbone for Econet Media to roll out a Content Delivery Network (CDN) across Africa to transport its services.
Econet Media had also become exclusive distributor for Roku, which gave the operator an end-to-end platform including relatively inexpensive hardware and a wide range of channels for its streaming services. The operator has now deployed its TV Everywhere service in 17 Sub Saharan countries, as well as services delivered via mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices, alongside the Roku app for fixed line access. The latter works similarly to Sky’s Now TV service in the UK and Ireland, or AT&T’s DirecTV Now in the US.
On the technology front, a key move was Econet Media’s adoption of encoders from AWS Elemental along with content security from Verimatrix. These two had already integrated their software tightly so that they dovetailed together almost as a single coherent software platform combining the security management, encryption and encoding processes. This integration was a key factor in the choice of the combined package, according to Econet Media.
Meanwhile iflix has become the developing world’s answer to Netflix, although it is also a significant force in some of South East Asia’s leading economies such as South Korea. Having grown up in Malaysia and headquartered in the capital Kuala Lumpur, iflix now offers access to a wide range of content spanning that region, spanning Bollywood and Nollywood as well as Hollywood and taking in dramas from Turkey, South Korea and its home country. It is now producing content for Sub-Saharan African countries, where it is competing with Netflix.
Indeed Econet Media became a distributor for Netflix as part of the exclusive Roku deal. This means that only Econet Media through its Roku-based set top box called Kwesé Play can distribute Netflix content over a Roku device in the region. It will be interesting therefore to see how Netflix is positioned alongside iflix within the Econet Media services, as the two are competitors with some overlap in content.
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