Mobile media developments in Africa

Africa’s mobile media moves beyond ringtones, football scores and news headlines.

Everyone will nod quickly at the idea that the mobile is Africa’s device of choice but people have been much slower to realize the implications for mobile media.

Algy Williams, CEO, Every1Mobile is publishing seven mobile channels (what in old media speak you might have called magazines) on everything from sex and relationships to creative writing. What marks it out as unusual is that it has already gathered sizeable loyal readerships for each of these channels across Africa. Russell Southwood talked to him last week.

Algy Williams spotted the mobile media opportunity in 2010:”These kinds of audiences in Africa were almost inaccessible by conventional media. Suddenly you had a communications media that could offer access across all the socio-demographic spectrum and mostly with high levels of penetration”.

“So we set out to provide mobile enabled social networks for young people, often disadvantaged young people. We wanted to help young people at scale get into the formal economy. But it’s not a do-gooder proposition, it’s a good business opportunity.”

The company builds mobile web sites on different topics and creates social networks around them. Not every topic succeeds and it dropped music because the rights issues made it complicated. These social communities are currently available in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

”The entire strategy is to be available across all Sub-Saharan African markets before going into other emerging markets like India. It’s handset/platform agnostic. However, the place to be at the moment is on feature phones. We also have the advantage that we can cross-promote between sites.”

It got its reach through making partnerships with other organisations. It has partnered with MXit and Opera and has two other deals with major African platforms which it will announce shortly.

The table below shows the monthly unique views and level of pages viewed:

Service Visitors Page views
smartSex 841,973 8,449,078
Mad4Socca 535,236 5,726,122
beSmart 412,845 5,253,789
Swagga 358,873 2,417,907
D-Siders 298,457 1,272,273
hiv360 145,828 661,636
loveWords 71,032 379,554

African Mobile

“We build large communities around particular areas of interest, providing various content and services.” The largest of these is smartSex which cover sexual health and relationships:”It doesn’t patronize or sermonize and it offers a dual approach, some parts tabloid, other parts broadsheet and there are Forums where users can ask questions.”

D-siders claims to be the first text-based pan-African soap opera. The users vote on what will happen in the story. He laughs because users tend to vote to “do the right thing” rather than “throw the character off a cliff.”

loveWords is a site about creative writing and perhaps gives the lie to the idea that Africans are only interested in speaking not writing (more of which below). It has 600,000 poems on the site.

Gender varies by site but smartSex has 60% women users and the overall level of women users is 52%.

The business model is that nearly all the content is free and that it gets revenues from advertising, sponsorship and in due course market research. It has created a professional development site called Legal Eagles for a large international company and done research on female products for a multinational.

”We can provide international NGOs ready-made the audiences they are trying to reach and the medium is very powerful. So we can create a community around their particular interests and get an engaged audience for them.”

It currently produces most of the content but wants to shift that balance over time:”We currently produce about 60% of the content and the rest is user-generated. We need to flip those proportions so that we deliver something that is local all the time.”

The week before I talked to Algy Williams, Every1Mobile I talked to Kenyan writer and publisher Binyavanga Wainana. His next project is to create a digital publishing house that puts out African pulp fiction. See the video clip interview below. So start to imagine Africa having a more dense and complex mobile media than currently exists in other forms.