Mobile phones are driving an OTT video boom in Sub Saharan Africa.
OTT video consumption via smartphones is escalating in Sub Saharan Africa as premium satellite TV services decline, although the two trends are only partly connected.
While cable TV and IPTV have some presence in the Arab nations in the north of the continent, they are almost absent south of the Sahara, especially in rural areas where until recently satellite was the only distribution option. But costs have constrained access to DTH services, primarily from Multichoice and Econet Wireless’s Kwesé TV, to the middle classes whose numbers have been fairly static. At the same time fixed broadband penetration has been patchy with unreliable quality such that neither IPTV nor conventional OTT have been options, while there has been little cable deployed.
Meanwhile though smartphone penetration has ballooned as mobile operators promote pay as you go business models aimed at the many potential subscribers without bank accounts or credit histories and now these are being targeted with mobile OTT services.
Econet began in 2017 by becoming 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. Econet deployed its TV Everywhere service on the back of its satellite offering 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 like Sky’s Now TV service in the UK and Ireland, or AT&T’s DirecTV Now in the US.
Another key move came in March 2018 when Kwesé took 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 extended 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.
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.
Then on the technology front, Econet took a major step forward by adopting 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.
However, Kwesé TV has failed to make much headway against Multichoice and as a result has just closed down its DTH service to concentrate on mobile and fixed OTT delivery. This leaves Multichoice as virtually the monopoly provider of premium satellite-based TV services across Sub Saharan Africa.
Kwesé TV is still upbeat though about plans around its iflix subsidiary which it hopes will score through greater emphasis than Multichoice on local content, including African scripted drama, docu-series and regional alternative news coverage. Indeed, its exit from satellite follows the premiere of the Kwesé iflix Original series in Kenya, Nganya, a 13-part drama series that users across Africa can stream and download exclusively on the platform. There are also originals being launched in Tanzanian, as well as Nigeria, which recently overtook South Africa as the continent’s largest pay TV market in subscriber numbers.
Iflix is well placed to become a dominant force in Africa as it puts distance between itself and Netflix with its focus on local content and on what it calls “digital-savvy younger demographic groups”. It is also investing in live sports distribution capability in Africa by building a hub with live streaming infrastructure and capabilities, designed to facilitate high-quality streaming of major events, especially football matches whose popularity dwarfs other sports in the region.
Kwesé iflix original series in Kenya, Nganya, a 13-part drama series that users across Africa can stream and download exclusively on the platform.
Multichoice itself is experiencing the same forces having lost 100,000 satellite subscribers over the last year, blaming Netflix. This led it to follow the rush into OTT with plans to launch an online-only version of its service in 2019.
At the same time the OTT trend has attracted a new arrival in Czech Republic based moTV, to develop a secure platform for OTT or hybrid services in Sub Saharan Africa, again mostly mobile-delivered in practice. This involves integrating Intertrust’s package of content protection technologies under the ExpressPlay uDRM and XCA brands into moTV’s platform.
MoTV has built an ecosystem for pay TV operators to transcode content for set tops, PCs or mobiles. It has been optimized for rapid low-cost set-up and delivery, which is where the Intertrust ExpressPlay and cloud DRM fit in.
This comes at a time of some revival for Intertrust and its Marlin, a name associated with the early history of DRM when there was hope of establishing a common global standard. Intertrust was a pioneer of DRM in the late 1990s and might long have disappeared but for taking the brave decision to sue Microsoft successfully for patent infringement in 2001. The case rumbled on for three years before being settled for $440 million in 2004. This enabled Intertrust to pursue its ambition of bringing out an independent standard DRM called Marlin and attract four key partners in Sony, Samsung, Philips, and Panasonic. This group of five then launched Marlin DRM in 2005 and given this ancestry it was not surprising Marlin enjoyed greatest traction in Japan. It was adopted as the national IPTV standard there in 2007 and deployed by web portal Actvila at the same time, which was backed by Hitachi, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba, all contributing Internet-enabled TVs. Sony then used Marlin in its PlayStation Network to enforce rights for sharing purchased or rented content on PS3, PS4 and PSP systems after download. Philips also stepped in by implementing Marlin within its Net TV service.
This kept the Marlin interoperable DRM afloat, but it almost expired in other regions. However, it benefited from the death in 2012 of its former rival Coral which had taken a different approach facilitating interoperability between existing DRMs rather than proposing a new universal one. That left Marlin as the only substantial open DRM around the time the field crystallized around the big three of FairPlay, PlayReady and Widevine. It therefore became an attractive option for platforms and services that want to reach most target devices that need to support all three, as well as Adobe Access in some legacy cases.
Then over the last few years video content security has expanded beyond its roots in CA and DRM to become increasingly entangled with other aspects of video service delivery, especially analytics and monetization. This is partly because security systems themselves are valuable sources of audience and service data but also reflects the rising prominence of privacy and compliance. The other factor is the emergence of content redistribution over the Internet as a major medium for piracy, coupled with forensic watermarking as an essential component in tracing illicit streams quickly back to their source.
Many believe that the synergy between OTT and UHD, especially around live sports streaming, will help Intertrust solidify it's marketplace position. Image Intertrust.
This has led to development of larger packages that have multi-DRM support at their core but have built upon this to converge with CA and add all those other components to create a complete video service package. Traditional CA vendors, notably Irdeto, Kudelski’s Nagra and Verimatrix, have come in with such packages in the hope of compensating for declining margins in their traditional business, while Intertrust is also competing with various offerings built around Marlin.
Intertrust had pre-empted such developments with launch of its cloud-based ExpressWay DRM around 2014, which is now the brand enveloping the underlying Marlin technology in various guises. This was enhanced, or hardened, in April 2015 with a hardware-based extension to support UHD content and meet MovieLabs’ specifications, including a licensing framework that is supported by major content providers. This helped re-establish Marlin as a force under a new brand, with four modules under the ExpressPlay portfolio, starting with the Universal DRM, which supports Adobe Access, Apple FairPlay, Google Widevine, Microsoft PlayReady and its own Marlin. This eliminates need to distribute multiple versions of protected assets and helps address the diverse device landscape.
This set the stage for moTV’s adoption of ExpressPlay. It has also led to growing traction for Intertrust outside Africa, with both the UK’s Freesat and Italy’s Tivù endorsing it at IBC 2018. In fact, Freesat, a UK subscription-free satellite TV platform offering over 200 channels, selected ExpressPlay CA in January 2018 to manage and protect emerging ultraHD content in 2018 as further evidence of this factor aiding Intertrust’s recent revival.
To some extend the synergy between OTT and UHD, especially around live sports streaming, is helping Intertrust’s cause. Another wrinkle then was the announcement in September 2018 that UK based watermarking technology developer Friend MTS had integrated its ASiD OTT subscriber-level watermarking with the ExpressPlay DRM client SDK as part of its OTT video player platform. Intertrust cited live sports content as a primary motivator for this partnership since watermarking is a missing piece of its portfolio here to help locate infringing streams quickly in near real time.