With 193 million subscribers in over 190 countries, Netflix seems to reign supreme in the streaming world. However, the Silicon Valley giant is struggling to break through on the African continent, where it's been present in 54 countries since 2015. Netflix is now doubling down on efforts to adapt to the tastes and consumer habits of local populations by launching cheaper, mobile-based subscriptions and African content.
According to data from Digital TV Research, the streaming service only counts 1.4 million subscribers on the African continent. In comparison, the South African pay-TV operator, MultiChoice boasts almost 20 million subscribers in 50 African countries. This difference is partly explained by the high cost of Netflix subscriptions relative to the purchasing power of African households. The "Basic" plan in South Africa is priced at 99 South African Rand (approx. US$6) per month, for example, equivalent to 25% of the country's average salary.
As a result, Netflix recently announced the launch of two lower-cost subscription plans aimed at smartphone users -- a population category that's booming in Sub-Saharan Africa, predicted to number 500 million people in 2021 according to data from the GSM Association. Even more importantly for Netflix, mobile data consumption is also expected to see strong growth in the coming years.
After being trialed in Egypt and South Africa, these mobile subscriptions have now launched in other African countries, such as Nigeria -- a country heading for 101 million mobile internet users in 2021.
"We've had the same three plans for several years now and this test offer reflects significant usage of and preference for mobile in Nigeria," a Netflix spokesperson told Quartz magazine. "We'll only roll this out longer term if people value the increased flexibility."
"Celebrating African stories and storytellers"
One of these mobile plans costs 1,200 Nigerian Naira per month (approx. US$2.65), which is half what Nigerians would pay for a classic Netflix subscription (2.900 Naira or US$7.50). The plan remains costly, however, for most households in the country, where 40% of the population live on less than one dollar a month -- a situation that could be exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic.
Faced with these new challenges, Netflix also hopes to win over users in Africa by diversifying its content offer. Back in May, the streaming site launched an initiative called "Made in Africa, Watched by the World," showcasing a selection of African shows, movies and documentaries and "demonstrating Netflix's commitment to the continent and its creative community."
The selection features critically acclaimed movies and shows like "Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema," "King of Boys," "Lionheart" and "Tsotsi," as well as Netflix original productions such as "Queen Sono" and "Blood & Water."
"We want you to know that if you're looking for the best African stories, then you will find them on Netflix. We are going to expand heavily to ensure that goal is met," Dorothy Ghettuba, Netflix head of Africa originals, told CNN.