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Examining Technology’s Role in Helping Netflix and Amazon Prime Export African Content to the World

Examining Technology’s Role in Helping Netflix and Amazon Prime Export African Content to the World

Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming, powered by technology services

The arrival of streaming platforms in Africa has opened up several possibilities for the industry, particularly how we consume content with technology.

By Michael Akuchie 

In 2020, the popular South African mystery-drama series, Blood and Water, made it into Netflix’s worldwide Top 10 list. It was also number 1 in countries such as South Africa, France, and The Bahamas. Another important fact about Blood and Water is that it was the second Netflix African original series to be released, following the success of Queen Sono, a story about a female spy from South Africa. 

Both shows are the by-products of Netflix’s investments in showcasing African stories to the rest of the world. Four years after the premiere of Blood and Water, a long list of African content, including both original and cinema releases, has been added to the streaming service’s growing library. A few notable names include Shanty Town, Kings of Jo’burg, Lionheart, and Aníkúlápó.

Similarly, Amazon Prime, another heavyweight in the streaming industry, has also committed resources towards promoting African content in recent years. Some of its released original African content included Gangs of Lagos, LOL: Last One Laughing Naija, and She Must Be Obeyed.

Gangs of Lagos - Afrocritik
Gangs of Lagos

Per the United Nations, Africa has 54 countries with each nation boasting at least one tribe, language, and culture. A culturally diverse region like Africa is a goldmine for filmmakers as it boasts several rich stories that can be developed for the big screen. Blood and Water is an excellent example of an African show that demonstrates the continent’s vast number of languages. Characters in the show spoke English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Swahili, Xhosa, amongst others. 

The arrival of streaming platforms in Africa has opened up several possibilities for the industry, particularly how content is consumed. Before streaming platforms, we had to watch movies through traditional methods such as live TV, programming, cinemas, VCDs, and DVDs. Unlike any of those aforementioned methods, streaming technology allows us to easily switch from one movie to another thanks to a user-friendly interface. Users can search for shows using the virtual keyboard or voice search feature.

A smart TV remote with voice feature enabled, powered by technology
Voice search enabled-remote, powered by technology. Source: Times of India

These platforms come with algorithms that also recommend content to viewers based on previously watched content. That means after watching a few African original shows on Netflix, you’re likely to see similar original shows among your recommendations. 

Unlike traditional means that were limited to the TV or cinema screen, streaming services have made it possible for us to watch across different platforms such as TV, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The ability to watch movies and shows on the go via mobile phones and tablets is a great strategy, seeing Africa as a smartphone-first continent. Africa’s growing interest in smartphones can be traced to the fact that the continent has one of the youngest populations who find those mini-computers to be feature-rich and easy to carry around. 

Regarding distribution, streaming platforms boast a huge number of followers which puts them in the right position to get more viewers for local content. For context, findings from international data gathering platform Statista shows that Netflix had around 269.6 million paid subscriptions as of Q1 2024. 

Interestingly, the report further said that a significant number of paid subscriptions originated from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. As of Q1 2024, Amazon Prime Video had gained over 230 million subscribers worldwide. With a combined total of nearly 500 million subscribers shared between both platforms, exporting African content through these channels is a smart strategy. The influence of social media marketing deserves mention, especially as Netflix and Amazon have repeatedly leveraged platforms such as X, Facebook, and Instagram to promote upcoming releases and tease sections from newly released content in an attempt to drive interest and potential subscriptions.

Although streaming platforms have enjoyed overwhelming success in the African market so far, there have been some hiccups. The most noticeable challenge is the announcement from Amazon Prime Video earlier this year that said it would be pausing the production of new African and Middle Eastern content. While both regions would still see investments from Amazon Prime Video, the resources sent to both markets would be slashed. The statement further said that it would be redirecting its resources to producing and marketing original European content. Many staffers in the African and Middle Eastern offices were laid off as a result of the company’s new-found restructuring plan.

While it is true that the African smartphone market size is steadily growing, users still face issues affecting the quality of service they enjoy. One of these issues is the high cost of internet data in the region which, according to a Statista report, is among the highest worldwide. Seeing as the continent is plagued by rising inflation coupled with growing unemployment, buying internet data to stream or download the latest Netflix or Prime Video original may not be the first thing that comes to mind. 

Even though the way we consume content has changed, thanks to streaming platforms, the age-long enemy that is piracy still exists. Sites such as NetNaija have been known to upload content including originals from Netflix and Amazon Prime which its audience can download or stream for free. This bypasses the subscription process which is a major revenue source for streaming platforms.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming, powered by technology services
Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming platforms. Source: Variety

Last year, NetNaija announced that it was shutting down its movie upload operations. Even though this announcement was viewed as a victory for streaming services, a tweet urged Netflix to go after Telegram group admins who upload content for members to access for free. Telegram, a popular instant messaging site, has become a hub for movie piracy due to factors such as users being able to stay anonymous and the ability to upload large-size files. 

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Also, the fact that a Telegram group can have up to 20,000 members means that a newly released movie can be distributed to a wide audience for free. Not only is this practice illegal, but it shortchanges streaming services, thereby leaving them with fewer resources to invest in the African market. 

And while the decision by Amazon Prime Video to pause the release of new original content is saddening, film studios still have the likes of Netflix and Showmax to pitch their content ideas to. With one rival out of the mix, it will be easier for Netflix and Showmax to have a golden opportunity to pick up new original content and whet the growing appetite of its African and international audience.

Technology continues to offer film studios and streaming services more innovations to use in enriching their efforts. Through innovations such as digital cameras, sound recording tools, and editing software, filmmakers can deliver a better quality of content. Also worth mentioning is the availability of Dolby Atmos and HDR, the surround sound and video imaging technologies that add significant improvements to a content’s sound and video quality respectively. The advent of video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro has also enabled filmmakers to improve the visual effects of their content, making them feel more realistic on the big screen.

While it is in its early stages, the use of artificial intelligence in areas such as script writing, casting, sound editing, and video editing translates to an easier experience for filmmakers. Notwithstanding, one must always consider the ethical concerns regarding AI to ensure responsible usage. 

Michael Akuchie is a tech journalist with four years of experience covering cybersecurity, AI, automotive trends, and startups. He reads human-angle stories in his spare time. He’s on X (fka Twitter) as @Michael_Akuchie & michael_akuchie on Instagram.

Cover photo source: Variety

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