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AfricaCom, the biggest Africa-focused technology, media, and telecom event in the world, took place on November 7-9, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. With this year being the 20th edition of the event, it themed around the fourth Industrial Revolution and attracted a record number of over 13,000 attendees.
AfricaCom united 18 conference streams dealing with technology and business on the African continent. The seven main streams covered major themes, such as Visions for Africa Keynotes, Connecting Africa, Mobile Finance and Commerce, IoT, LTE, TV Connect, and SDN & NFV. This year’s event also included a technology arena situated in one of the two exhibition halls housing an Innovation Stage, AfricaCom 20/20 that focused on digital transformation, IoT, cyber security, and AI, as well as the AHUB – the meeting place for Africa's start-up community aiming to link entrepreneurs, developers, and start-ups with accelerators, investors, VCs, and business mentors.
S&P Global Market Intelligence moderated a panel at the TV Connect stream with representatives from MTN, Econet Media (parent of Kwese TV pay-TV and OTT service), iflix, and Akamai Technologies. The panel discussed investments in New Media services, focusing on challenges and opportunities of establishing and operating OTT video services in Africa. The panelists agreed that despite low multichannel penetration, African consumers are willing to pay for content as long as the content is relevant to them and subscription is affordable.
To improve service affordability, online streaming services in Africa offer variable bitrate, allowing users to choose how much data they want to use, download content during off-peak hours, and watch offline, as well as pick from daily and weekly subscription options. A number of speakers across several TV Connect panels also agreed that more homegrown African content needs to be produced as demand for it is strong. Furthermore, African content needs to be exported because it will resonate with both African expats abroad and foreign audiences.
Wachira Waruru, the group managing director of Royal Media Services, Kenya, stated that “the problem with the current model is the insistence in continuing to feed Africa with global content ... but because the Hollywood model is so successful elsewhere, broadcasters are not willing to invest in other content models.”Under the banner of the fourth Industrial Revolution, many AfricaCom keynote sessions focused on the importance of ICT education in Africa, as the continent cannot capitalize on all of the technology and digital advancement available to it if the people lack the knowledge and expertise to use it appropriately. The education theme echoed across other conference streams, with conversations centering on enabling the African people to get up to speed with the latest technological advancements and empowering them to use this knowledge to speed up the continent’s social and economic development. Global tech giants Ericsson and Microsoft shared the success of ICT education programs they implemented, particularly focusing on women.
The topic of education related closely to entrepreneurship topics. Speakers and panelists discussed how to develop a winning ICT strategy, how digital disruption is dislodging established business models and creating new opportunities for African startups, as well as how the mobile network operator's role is evolving in response to a rapidly shifting digital landscape. Notably, mobile operators were among the first to engage with African start-ups, according to Vodafone Ghana CEO Yolanda Zoleka Cuba. MTN Group’s Chief Digital Officer, Herman Singh stated that “today, MTN, through the start-up Jumia, is the largest eCommerce player in Africa.”
Data costs and speeds remain a hurdle for the development of digital businesses in Africa and people’s participation in the digital economy. Several speakers accused mobile networks of wanting to retain all the profits from data consumption when they were getting all the content for free from broadcasters across Africa, leading to the high data consumption patterns across mobile devices. Furthermore, Safaricom's chief innovation officer Kamal Bhattacharya has acknowledged that his company's desire to maximize profits and its resistance to change are partly to blame for the affordability crisis in Africa's mobile data market.