Growth of Pay-TV Market in Africa Slowed by Lack of Internet Connectivity

By Hans Geldenhuys, Intelsat’s Managing Sales Director, Africa

The way in which people in Africa watch television is as varied and diverse as the continent itself. Families with cable might gather around a large flat-screen television in a suburban living room.  Young people in cities stream programming to cell phones or watch it on tablet computers connected to Wi-Fi networks. And it’s not uncommon in rural areas to see a TV set with a rabbit-ear antenna by the side of the road with 40 men gathered around watching a live football match.

As the economies of Africa’s 50-plus countries grow, so too does an emerging middle class of consumers willing to pay for a wider range of television programming. Streaming content providers like Amazon and Netflix are expanding in a number of countries as consumers become more willing to pay for content. At the same time, major media companies like South Africa’s MultiChoice have expanded throughout the continent, offering subscriptions plans for local content, movies, sports and entertainment programming in a wide range of countries.

Often called over-the-top (OTT) television, the distribution of this on-demand pay-TV content requires a viewer to be connected to the Internet. In general, Africa lags the rest of the world in Internet access, and it is this lack of infrastructure that will slow the growth of the market for pay-TV in a number of countries. At the end of 2017, an estimated 35% of Africa’s 1.3 billion residents had access to the Internet, compared to 58% in the rest of the world. This percentage of Internet users in Africa varies widely by country, from more than half the population in more developed nations such Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria, and down to the single digits in countries like Somalia, Liberia and Eritrea.

Internet connectivity tends to be concentrated around more urban areas, where wired infrastructures has been built to deliver broadband connectivity to large segments of the population. Content providers will focus on these markets in the coming years to grow the subscriber base for pay-TV. These markets will develop around the regional and local interests, with religious programming being important to some segments of the population while sports or movies might appeal more to others.

MultiChoice, one of the largest media companies in Africa, provides an example of how a company can expand its offerings to meet the varied demand across a broad segment of the continent. MultiChoice has developed a pay-TV service called Showmax that gives subscribers access to thousands of hours of local and international movies and TV series. The service streams on-demand programming to personal computers, tablets, smart phones and even Xbox and PlayStation game consoles. Subscribers can watch different programs on two devices simultaneously, or a subscriber can stop watching on one device and pick up where he or she left off on another platform.

Showmax is available not only in most of the countries in Africa but also throughout Europe, North America and Oceania for people living in those regions who might have economic or cultural ties to Africa. The Intelsat 36 satellite launched in 2016 was designed with a Ku-band payload specifically to support MultiChoice’s video delivery in Africa. As a premier direct-to-home video neighborhood, Intelsat 36 enables MultiChoice to deliver HD throughout the region.

Demand for local content is also proving to be a market driver. The robust film industry in Nigeria, colloquially called “Nollywood,” is creating video content that needs an audience, yet Africa has only one movie screen for every one million people, among the lowest penetrations in the world. Nigeria’s Envivo Communications announced plans last fall to create an OTT video streaming service to deliver Nollywood and other content in Nigeria and across Africa.

International content providers like Netflix and Amazon are moving more slowly into the more developed regions of Africa, learning what sort of programming attracts subscribers in one area before moving on to others.

The market for pay-TV in Africa will begin to grow more quickly as Internet connectivity becomes more widely available in the coming years, and Intelsat will continue to support the expansion of pay-TV services in Africa by delivering satellite services across our global distribution network that will help major broadcasters like MultiChoice accelerate their speed to market and reach more viewers.

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