“100% African, A+ is modern, sincere and somewhat optimistic, targeted at the African family audience.” This is how Canal + executives summarised the qualities of their new channel to be launched on 26th October 2014.
After a long silence, Canal+, the dominant Pay TV platform in francophone Africa, is about to launch its A+ channel (“La Grande Chaîne Africain”), “made by Africans for Africans” with high standards as a further step to offer local content for local audiences. A+ will allow it to deliver content better suited to the emerging middle class of the African continent.
Several factors make this a good investment:
* There will be 750 millions francophones in 2050 and 85% of them will be in Africa, claims a study from the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) published in 2013.
* «TV content piracy remains high across Africa but proves that there is a need for more quality programmes at more affordable rates», said Jacques du Puy, Chairman of Canal+ Overseas. Canal+ has been working on highly secure decoders at very low prices making piracy much more difficult than in the earlier times.
* Recent audience surveys reviewed by Balancing Act show that African audiences want more quality local content on TV at affordable rates. The local francophone TV content offer is limited and access to broadband internet is much more limited in many francophone countries as an alternative channel for francophone content.
* Quality African TV programmes cost less to produce than in Europe or North America.
* Canal+ is still doing all right things in France but the company needs to find new growth segments as competition is fierce. Free DTT channels, satellite services, Qatari BeInsport competition for sports matches, over 3000 VoD platforms from Europe, YouTube and Netflix all make further growth in Europe hard to find. Canal+ is the no. 1 payTV platform in Francophone Africa by number of subscribers.
* Local content quotas in Africa and elsewhere (for example, in Brazil) are increasingly covering Pay TV channels.
* Vivendi’s new chairman Vincent Bolloré has a strong presence in Africa and wants to create synergies across the group. If one man has a « user manual » for how to develop the African market, it’s Bolloré! A first step for these kinds of synergies is the channel’s “talent show”, an African version of The Voice in prime time on A +, produced in partnership with Universal Music Group, the music division of Vivendi.
* South African Pay TV Platform giant DStv/MultiChoice has reached 8 millions subscribers on the continent. Aggressive low cost contender Star Times claims over 3 millions subscribers and is now looking at Francophone markets; Canal+ only has 1.3 millions across 30 African countries. The group hopes to recruit twice this number within two years’ time: around 2.6 M. by mid-2016.
* The development of African markets is therefore a priority for the group as it is for several international companies. Over the past 20 years Canal+ has expanded in Africa with 4 levels of packages and 148 channels, radios and services, which implies different offers to suit different tastes. The company has already invested in programmes and channels dedicated to Africa; It’s now time to shift into second gear and launch more dedicated African channels.
Bertrand Meheut, Chief Executive Officer, Canal+ confirmed that «International business currently accounts for 40% of Paris-based Canal+’s earnings and subscribers». Vivendi wants to refocus on its core media business having recently sold its share in French telecommunications operator SFR, African telecoms operator Maroc Telecom and video games developer Activision Blizzard.
Canal+ has deployed a quickly expanding distribution network in Africa of 1200 PoS, which includes, to date: Canal+ La Boutique own stores (27 shops), Partner stores (>200), Approved distributors (>1,000) and extra points of sale specialising in the sale of top-up cards (>1,500).
The adoption of lower subscription rates with no strings attached also allowed Canal+ to swell its audience. Today, the French group has 1.3 million subscribers (equivalent to an audience of about 7 millions), which is three times more than three years ago. Pretty soon, Canal+ estimates its real potential audience at around 12 million people, and over 2 million subscribers.
To produce this new TV channel, a team of ten people from six nationalities will be working from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The channel will be led by executives located in a suburb of Paris and in Abidjan including Damiano Malchiodi, who led the group thematic channels (Cuisine.tv, Planète justice, Planète No Limit, etc.). The team will work along the 500 marketing employees the company already deployed in eight countries and over 1000 employees at Canal+ Overseas. The invested budget for the new channel represents several million euros.
Content-wise, A + is an entertainment channel which promises local series, reality TV, magazines and a few movies. A+ grid should comprise about 40% of programmes produced in Francophone African, another 40% from Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. The rest – 20% – will be focused on Black culture and being purchased outside the continent, for example in the United States (e.g. Moesha) or Europe. Overall, the channel will aim at 80% of programmes to be made in Africa and the remaining 20% coming from other regions.
A+ will broadcast anglophone series and films from Africa’s two largest audiovisual production centres, South Africa and “Nollywood” Nigeria, said M. du Puy. Additional programmes will come from Ghana and Kenya will also be dubbed into French.
A+ grid will offer 70% of series including saga hits “Ma Famille”, “Kadie Jolie” (Burkina Faso), “Adams Apples” (Ghana), “The Wild” (RSA) or “Docteur Boris” (Côte d’Ivoire), feature films, original programmes produced in Senegal (“Tundu Wundu”), Central (“Aimé Malgré Lui”) and Gabon (“Pango & Wally”). In 2015, the channel also hopes to create an event with popular Angolan series “Windeck” and the sequel to “Ma Famille” (Côte d’Ivoire) rebranded « Ma grande famille » which will expand its clan with actors from all over Africa. Magazines will feature “Island Africa Talent” (music), Blackamorphose (fashion style) and Star Chef.
This new paid TV channel will be included in Canal+ and CanalSat basic package and air live 24hx24h on two time zones, one for West Africa, the other for Central Africa. The basic subscription package costs CFA F 5000 per month (about 7.6 Euros, USD 10.40).
For Canal+, return on investment remains the same, based on a hybrid revenue model: subscription fees and advertising (15-20% initially, 80% in the long run). Canal+ could help shape up the advertising market by commissioning more regular TV audience surveys and by attracting large companies to advertise across Africa. The media group will also invest in digital services. Lastly, Canal+ wants to help boost global distribution of quality African TV programmes.
Will this new channel become a serious competitor to local public and private channels? Absolutely not according to François Deplanck. SVP channels and content for CANAL+ OVERSEAS, M. Deplanck ensures that the positioning of A+ opens up competitive moves, and creations into other profitable niches such as sports, children, nature, cooking, history or information for pan-African and national channels, thereby excluding all unfair competition. Furthermore Canal+ envisages programmes’ exchanges, co-productions, local programme acquisition and even programme sales’ partnerships with African broadcasters.
A+ is rather good news for Africa: it will certainly put a bit of pressure on other broadcasters to innovate, generate more regular media audience surveys, attract advertisers and improve local production quality, recruit and train local staff in order to contribute to an improved pan-African media industry.
Canal+ is also looking into DTT in African countries the company is present in, said Jacques du Puy. With its long history and expertise, Canal+ can reduce DTT costs, share infrastructure costs, train local staff, purchase and boost local content creation and provide quality content, the recipe for DTT success.
The launch of digital terrestrial television (DTT) across Africa from mid-2015 could bring Canal+ Afrique a wider audience: DTT would, according to the group, put the subscription price down to CFA francs 3 000-4 000/month, more affordable for households with a layer of free national channels. Canal+ can bring huge expertise, training and investments to African nations who wish to launch successful DTT: content and digital technology are kings in this equation, and Canal+ certainly is a king of content and technology.
When the market gets ready, Canal+ SVOD could be deployed across Africa…but not too late since Balancing Act has already identified over 70 VoD platforms. The other opportunity is to take a multiplay route in partnership with national telecoms services providers.
If A+ becomes successful and by popular demand, Canal+ could also launch other themed channels from Africa broadcast to the World: one could imagine A+Sports, A+E (Enfants for children) or A+E for edutainment.