Strive Masiyiwa is Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, owner of Kwesé Play.
Econet Media has been awarded the IBC 2018 Judges’ Prize for pioneering OTT and especially mobile TV in southern Africa through its Kwesé Play streaming service.
This comes just a year after launch of the service in September 2017 as a spin off from Econet’s DTH service Kwesé TV, which competed with Multichoice, the South African based dominant Sub Saharan pay TV service. This failed to make the hoped-for impact largely through a lack of premium content such as English Premier League football, but in recent months Kwesé Play has been gaining traction with a mix of local and international content.
This has been achieved through a partnership with Roku whose technology drives the Kwesé Play streaming box, which works similarly to Apple TV or Chromecast. This means it has access to a lot of content through Roku, such as YouTube, NBA League Pass and RED BULL TV among over 100 channels. However, because of geo-restrictions some popular channels available through Roku in the US are blocked in Africa, notably HBO. It does though provide access to Netflix through an exclusive partnership. It needs an Internet connection, preferably with unlimited data.
The IBC judges took heed of the content available and also praised Econet’s technology partners in working harmoniously to roll the service out under sometimes challenging conditions. “In our discussions, we recognized that the way the technology partners had collaborated on this project was innovative and successful, but we also felt that the outcome transcended the technology, delivering social change by connecting local people to global content,” said Michael Lumley, Chair of the IBC Judging Panel.
Apart from Roku itself, key technology partners were Verimatrix for content security and AWS Elemental for encoding the content to a single streaming format and DRM. In fact, the ability of Verimatrix and AWS Elemental to work closely together was instrumental in their selection for the contract in the first place, according to Anton Lokotsch, Head of Technical, Kwesé Play, quoted in an earlier case study. Verimatrix and AWS Elemental had already integrated their respective products tightly into a single coherent solution that combines the content security management, encryption and encoding processes.
Another important component on the infrastructure side is Africa’s largest fiber network developed by Econet Media’s sister company, Liquid Telecom. This provided a backbone for Econet Media to roll out its private content delivery network (CDN) to transport its services. Econet can then deliver OTT content at low latency to mobile or broadband access networks across central and southern Africa.
Back on the content front, a significant advance was made in February 2018 when Kwesé acquired a large stake in iflix Africa, whose catalogue was then added to its broadcast offering. iflix is a subscription VoD service focused on emerging markets and headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sometimes billed as Asia’s Netflix, it provides content through partnerships with over 150 studios and content distributors globally, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, NBC Universal, Fox, CBS, BBC, Sony Pictures and Discovery. Kwesé distributes the iflix pay-as-you-watch pay TV service in 13 African countries.
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