Since VC4Africa launched its new functionalities last month, registered ventures can raise funds through the platform. One of the ventures that are currently in ‘fundraising mode’ is Buni TV, an online platform for high quality videos from and about Africa. Founder Marie Lora-Mungai: “Theater distribution for local feature films is close to impossible and we believe that mobile is the solution. We will bring the content directly into the audience’s hands.”
Why is there a need for Buni TV?
“Buni TV is an offshoot of my first company Buni Media. Buni Media is a multimedia company that is well known in Kenya for producing The XYZ Show, a very popular political satire show now in its 6th season. One of the main challenges we’ve had in our journey to produce the show has been to distribute it. Although we have been pretty good at it so far, as the show reaches 8 million people every month, we are acutely aware that most talented filmmakers on the continent right now don’t have the opportunity to show their work to what should be their natural audience.
And as far as African viewers are concerned, more often than not they don’t know where to find quality content or how to access it, and yet they have that insatiable hunger for great entertainment.
With Buni TV we are leveraging Africa’s smartphone revolution to provide a solution to this problem. Our goal is to revolutionize the distribution of high quality African content on the continent by bringing the best videos to new, growing audiences, and creating a sustainable market for filmmakers to thrive.”
On your website you indicate that the editors select the most interesting content for your visitors. Is there a lot of content to choose from and what are your criteria for selection?
“There is a lot more content to choose from than anyone would think, and that’s what we want African audiences to discover through Buni TV. Our content editors are combing through film festival catalogs, niche websites, local television stations programming schedules, and film schools’ alumni lists to find videos that are innovative, thought provoking and visually beautiful.
We don’t compromise on things like image or sound quality. There is this idea out there that African videos are mediocre, but that’s simply not true. As producers of and experts in African content, we believe it’s our responsibility to correct this misconception. There is fantastic work being done by filmmakers in countries from Gabon to Mozambique to Namibia, which speaks to the African experience with elegance and style. There are stories out there that no one has ever seen yet! Bringing them to the world is the philosophy behind Buni TV’s tagline: ‘Watch Africa Rise’.”
There’s a lot of talk about the need for local (TV) content in Africa. Do you see an increase in the number of productions and quality?
“Most definitely! And audiences across the continent are clamoring for more. The issue is that the current television system in most African countries is financially skewed towards broadcasters and against content producers. It is still very common for producers to have to pay television stations to put their film or tv-series on the air.
Theater distribution for local feature films is close to impossible. African filmmakers are producing their work against all odds, and that’s a testament to the strength and extent of their creative thinking abilities. Until filmmakers are able to make money out of their work, the quality and quantity of their output will be limited. We believe that mobile will bring the solution, by making it possible for platforms like Buni TV to bring content directly into the audience’s hands and create new ways to monetize this traffic.”
Are there similar platforms that have proven the potential of a video-aggregator such as Buni TV?
“There are several other digital distribution platforms for African content out there. IRokoTV, which specializes in Nollywood films, is doing very well, for example. Buni TV distinguishes itself in two major ways. First, our editorial policy is very clear: Buni TV is very selective. Second, contrary to many other African digital video platforms out there that are primarily geared toward the diaspora, our first focus is on providing content to new and underserved audiences on the continent.
This is why, along with our website Buni.tv, we have built a light and user-friendly mobile site accessible at m.buni.tv. There are currently 600 million people in Africa who own a mobile phone, and thanks to the advent of affordable devices like the Ideos, more and more are switching to smartphones and tablets. We believe that Africa will jump over cable and satellite and straight into the era of personal entertainment devices. Buni TV is in an ideal position to take advantage of it.”
Who is your target audience and how are you tackling issues of viewing online video content in Africa with slow connections?
“We are targeting Africans who have regular access to the web either through a computer, or most likely through their smartphone. Buni TV is built on top of a “video service manager”, which makes it possible to automatically adjust the quality of the video depending on the current speed of a user’s connection. We are also constantly looking for options to improve the service, make it available on more devices, and speed up buffering times.”
You are currently fundraising on the VC4Africa website. How much are you looking for and how are you planning to spend that amount?
“We are looking for a minimum of US$500,000 that would allow us to continue to develop our site, add a lot of exciting features and support our video hosting and streaming costs. The other main reason we are fundraising is to have the means to acquire premium content for an upfront fee. Growing our catalog of content is an absolute priority.”
How are you planning to make money with Buni TV and are content producers also going to benefit?
“Buni TV operates on a freemium model. For the moment, streaming videos on Buni TV is completely free and ad-supported, both on the web and on mobile. We reverse 50% of the advertising revenue generated around their work to the content producers. Our focus right now is on helping the pan-African audience discover the platform and on growing both our traffic and our catalog of original content. Ultimately, we plan to develop a paid option to give viewers access to premium videos such as full-length feature films. The potential of micro-payments on mobile has already been demonstrated for music in markets like Kenya, and it can very effectively be adapted to premium videos. We are confident that Buni TV will become very profitable in the future.”
What is your favorite video from Africa?
“Well, obviously I’m biased, but The XYZ Show is amazing. Everything from the life-size latex puppets to the sleek computer-generated backgrounds are made from scratch by our team in our Nairobi studio. And it is hilarious. Coming up with a new episode every week is a massive endeavor, and I’m very proud of our team’s achievements. You should check it out!”