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Africafilms.tv : the new online platform for quality African movies

Africafilms.tv is a new, exciting tool aiming to offer the best of African cinema and video to a wider audience. Working as a platform of Video On Demand (VOD), it allows its members to download more than 400 hours of programmes legally, at a low price. This is only a beginning as the catalogue is constantly expanding. A commercial project built on a cooperative philosophy, it is a tremendous opportunity for African producers and creators to tackle the endemic piracy they suffer from and get a fair reward for their work. Intofrench met the website co-founder and asked him about his vision of the movie economy in Africa.


A multi-content platform

Want to watch the last South-African indie feature? To indulge with hilarious West-African soaps? Or maybe to discover the brand new talents of independent cinema from 19 African countries? Then you definitely should pay a visit to Africafilms.tv, the new Video On Demand platform that reduces the gap between movie creators and their public. For decades, distribution has been the weak link in the African cinematic industry. On a continent where movie theatres are rare or non-existent and where counterfeit DVDs are easier to find than official film copies; a fair, cheap and legal way to watch movies sounds like a small miracle. Working as the natural meeting point for quality African content – be it cinema feature films, series, documentaries, animation movie or TV sitcoms – the website proposes a unique approach their right-holders, a partnership where freedom, transparency and safety against piracy are keywords.

Interview with Enrico Chiesa, co-founder of Africafilms.tv

What motivated you to create this new platform?

Our love for film and for Africa, our passion for IT and our lifelong commitment to helping independent rights owners. While the big players are implementing the infrastructure needed for individual legal film download in Africa (affordable internet broad band connections, cheap smart mobile screens, adequate payment tools), we are digitizing a wide catalogue and wish to market it to the audiences that are ready as this is the case with South-Africa. The diaspora – internet maniacs who need a daily direct touch with the homeland – and the cine-buffs interested in Africa are other targets. This audience sums up to some 50m people worldwide, a fairly critical mass to sustain a VOD platform.

What are the advantages for African film makers when using the VOD platform?

It’s all about money from getting your work to be watched safely. The benefits follow three rules. First, "stay free": AfricaFilms.tv contracts are non-exclusive, the producers can place their titles in any other platform. In case of previous or further deals that may impose exclusivity (selling a TV series to The Africa Channel in the US or UK for example), our back-office can just switch off territories and IP-localization will block downloads from these countries. Second rule, "play safe": we use the strongest DRM (digital rights management – a crypt code that allows the protection of data) on the market to prevent piracy and each content owner is able to read his sales statements online, in real time. We spotted out up to 20 websites that deliver ‘Afric-ollywood’ content illegally from the US, Canada, the UK, France, etc. In our case, it’s a clear 50/50 deal, and you can check it. Finally, the third rule is "learn for tomorrow": we are convinced that VOD will bring big money to African film makers the day full African audiences will come into the game. Meanwhile, film makers can take a ride and gather key learnings with Africafilms.tv: they can develop their own VOD stores with our apps and build up their online marketing skills. They will be ready for the big challenges to come.

How has this concept been accepted by African film-makers?

Most African producers understand that legal VOD is the African outlet of the future, and that it can help them snatch back some of the millions stolen by the organized piracy. The response has been very good: documentary makers jumped on it immediately because they have practically no revenue and nothing to lose. It is much slower with feature long owners because each title costed them 2 to 10 years to make and they rather wait and see. The turning point was when we finished to develop our unique application SiteDirectorZ® in August 2010, as it is the ideal tool for TV series : it’s an extremely simple-to-use, elegant website builder that includes a VOD store with a revenue split of 65/35 in favour of the right owner. Just realize that some soap operas have 100 or 200.000 fans on Facebook and that they don’t monetize it at all. We bring a nice solution there. We now have to be quite selective and refuse stuff, which we couldn’t imagine a year ago.

What are your immediate plans for expansion?

We try to sign the best sellers, and also the unknown zero-dollar nuggets made by young directors. We can’t say no to first films if there’s a touch. We want to surprise the audience who comes looking for the classics, showing new stuff they’ve never heard of. We believe this is key for becoming addictive! Economically, we follow a country-by-country logic in signing titles. We got it right for 6 to 8 countries so far. It’s a slow process, we like to knit person-to-person business friendships. We avoid go-betweens because it’s a source of legal conflict. But we do work tightly with elected producers’ guilds where they exist – too few, actually. We’re obviously very interested in South-Africa and the region; some very good animation is being created there and the future evolution of mobile internet will make this genre a goldmine. Unfortunately, the contracts’ background in South-Africa is very complicated as most producers don’t own their full rights.

Interview by Hadrien Diez


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Audiovisual Attaché for Southern Africa

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