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Digital Distribution in Africa (EFM Industry Session)

Festival Coverage (English only)

A proliferation of local VOD platforms will ensure more local voices and perspectives are shared. This was a constant thread during the EFM Berlinale Industry Session titled, The Digital Landscape In Africa. Organised by IEFTA and EFM, the discussion was moderated by Tiny Mungwe, (Producer & Founder, STEPS & ENGAGE)
In conversation were Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube (Director, Stained Glass, South Africa), Tigist Kebede (Co-founder, Habeshaview, Ehthiopia), Mohammed Hefzy (Founder, Film Clinic Indie Distribution, Egypt),  and Wilfred Kiumi (Founding Director, Africa Digital Media Studios/Vumi Central, Kenya/UK).

Taking control
According to the industry experts, streaming platforms would reduce the bureaucracy experienced with public broadcasting, and provide filmmakers opportunities to negotiate potentially better deals, including ownership of their work. For Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube, streamers hold much promise for audience diversity and development; niche audiences can easily be reached rather than having to compete with commercial fare aimed at mostly mainstream-leaning audiences.

According to Wilfred Kiumi, “It’s hard to convince people to put their films on a local platform. Everyone wants to open their films in the cinemas, but we need to take into consideration how we can maximise the audiences for their content.”

Underscoring this comment, film distributor Mohammed Hefzy mentioned the scarcity of screens on the continent. Streamers, he said, open up additional income sources for filmmakers who have enjoyed little or no support from government agencies. Local sources are however equally important, especially as sole reliance on international co-productions might not be sustainable.
With growing interest in foreign language films, producers were also encouraged to think more about positioning their films with a wider market in mind.

Technology
The panel on digital distribution wouldn’t be complete without discussing the software and new technologies available on the continent. Taking the specific needs of film practitioners into consideration, Habeshaview decided to invest in its own technology, developing a white-label OTT platform that ensures that the target market enjoys a seamless user experience and a limitless number of translation options. According to its co-founder and operations director, Tigist Kibede, the goal is to make it a one-stop shop where everyone can access African-made content. The streamer has integrated numerous payment methods available in Africa, and users can pay for both short-term and long-term passes. Geo-blocking is available, and films can be searched for by region, country or language. The new platform will launch on April 1st.

For Kebede, it is important that Habeshaview suits content creators, and that the software be available to broadcasters who are interested in using similar technologies to expand access to Afrocentric content.

Kiumi's Vumi Central, on its part, is also looking into blockchain technology particularly in relation to decentralising content ownership. IP Protection being an incentive for most producers, Hefzy added, as well as first-look deals among other such options. 

All the guests agreed on the importance of intra-continental collaborations rather than competition. They also stressed the need for training and knowledge exchange, particularly in response to growing demand for expertise from the continent. Sustained training would hugely reduce the pressure of trying to meet such demand for talent, Zuma-Ncube said. In the same vein, Hefzy recommended spending sufficient time, resources and talents on developing projects.

At Africa Digital Media Institute, their student films are exhibited on Vumi Central, while for Habeshaview, constantly re-evaluating how to promote its services is paramount.

Indeed, the digital landscape in Africa is full of opportunities.