Tonjé Bakang is the founder of the Afrostream platform, a video-on-demand (VOD) service which exclusively offers “afro” content. “Films and series” – on a social media partnered with the French channel TF1. Today, the start-up has fifteen workers and expects to perform a crucial role in a booming African audiovisual market. Interview
How do you analyze the pan-African audiovisual market?
The audiovisual market offers more and more opportunities to private actors. We had a single or national chain model which is now opening up and therefore more and more competitive. More specifically in Africa, piracy by selling CDs or USB sticks, allows the public to access American and European fiction. Thus, the viewers expect to have a similar quality. And this is a serious challenge for local producers: how, with poor resources, could we have acceptable production quality while creating local histories… It is a serious challenge which is, finally, not easy to address.
What role does Afrostream play in this market?
Afrostream already includes 200 000 members because, in addition to being a subscription service with a fee, it is also the social media of Afro creativity. We have a freemium service, Afrostream Life, which offers first free access to articles on series, actors and fictional news … For premium subscribers, we have more than 1500 hours of content, whether movies, series or documentaries. We also have TV channels, such as the American channel BET (Black Entertainment Television) or a streaming music channel. Actually, we want to accumulate video on demand and «classic» TV in the same platform. We think it is important to be a kind of hub that offers various types of media. That is why we have just launched our first radio podcasts on demand.
Your main partner is TF1. Why did the group decide to support you?
This partnership is now two and a half years old, and it has accelerated the development of Afrostream. It was a great mark of confidence when the European leader decided to join our young start-up … The group is seeking our expertise on African and Afro-American themes, and hosts our on-demand service, Afrostream VOD, which is only available in France. However, our global service, which does not depend on TF1, is available in 28 countries, including 4 in Europe and 24 in Africa.
Precisely, with such coverage, are you targeting the continent or the Diasporas?
First, as we are established in France, we all target the French people, whether Diaspora or not. Then we make our efforts towards Africa… for example, if you are a subscriber in Gabon, you can access the website and download the application. But it must be noted that African markets are slow to adopt VOD, and that without fieldwork it will not be easy to convert them to this type of purchase. The fact that we have added a free social media to our platform helps us for the moment advertise our brand and may help us penetrate these markets faster than others. In a nutshell, we are targeting all Afro-descendants, whether they live in Africa, Europe, Brazil and why not in the United States.
To return to the continental market, what do you think about other VOD platforms such as Netflix, iRoko or Nuvu?
I would say that we are all looking for a model. The use is still limited compared to the potential of African legal streaming. For example, if Netflix has established in Africa, its use has not yet been democratized… so for now we are all at the same level, regardless of our notoriety or our international financing. I think the African market must be deciphered and for the moment no one has really gained ascendancy over the others.
And to gain ascendancy, are you thinking about becoming a producer?
Yes, because we are already working with the largest American studios from which we buy content… But the next Ivorian premium film will not be produced by an American studio! So we intend to try to co-finance local producers to provide original content to our subscribers. Whether they live in big or small cities, whether in French-speaking Africa or in Nigeria, our public, mainly female, is looking towards international production but which is not found in their region. Our challenge is therefore to bring, as soon as possible, something special, exclusive, local and recognized at the international level, but with a Pan African background.