Startups: AfricaMars – Our Own YouTube? Part 1

Contributor: Tech Mistress is not a so young ‘eccentric’, tech loving lady. She likes to share information in funny and witty ways, to inform but yet motivate. You can follow her on twitter – @AbiikeBlogger, and check out her blog – Mumuocrats.

With the proliferation of the internet to all corners of the planet, new ideas have sprung with Africa joining the league. There has always been this issue with regulation and copyright. With YouTube removing some channels dedicated by subscribers to upload films without permission from the copyright owners. Arugba by Tunde Kelani, Jenifa by Funke Akindele were part of the tons of movies put up for free on YouTube. Different Regulations are in the works to help Stop Online Piracy. Another gist for another day.

The offspring of YouTube are vast, some dedicated to TV series, African movies, porn, cartoons etc, with different ways for revenue generation. Pay per view by subscribers while others generate revenue from Ad placements. One of the offspring is AfricaMars.  Find below Aliyu Daku, the man behind AfricaMars as he tells us about his company.

We started building AfricaMars in late 2010. Though, I first thought  of the African online TV idea back in 2007, such a project was ahead of its time back then and as we all know, in startups, market timing is everything. There was very little competition online when I first set up a static site to test my idea. The site easily shot up to top Google search ranking for the keyphrase “African TV” few months after setting up the first pages.

Prior to Facebook and Twitter’s enormous traffic growth, Google’s organic search placement was the most important online free marketing tool. Topping the SERPS was never an easy task, but even with our rankings, the traffic from Google wasn’t much because there was little demand for our offering.

One thing we really got wrong back then was not seeing Nollywood movies and Nigerian music as the key growth drivers for the explosion in African TV/Video consumption online. Now, I think we have the social nature of Twitter and Facebook to thank for the Nigerian entertainment online growth.

In the early days, going after African TV content, we approached many TV stations to put their programming online as on-demand videos because after some market research (keyword research) using tools like Google keyword tool and overture keyword tool (which has now been closed down after Yahoo bought the company), we realised we could actually generate a lot of views targeting people outside Africa that wish to check on specific news channels and TV programs from home.

As a startup, dealing with big media companies that weren’t really into new technology or didn’t understand what the Internet had to offer them, really delayed our development untill we decided to pivot and focus on the independent content producers themselves. Focusing on talking with TV show producers and artists finally helped us get our platform to market and out there for users to try. At this time, many new startups were coming up with similar ideas but most of them strictly focused on Nollywood. All of a sudden, the once very non-competitive market starts to become saturated. But still believing that there is an under-served market for African TV, we decided to focus our content on TV shows, drama, documentaries and more.

The biggest challenge in building any startup is funding. When it’s a media startup, the challenge becomes even bigger especially in Nigeria where it is really hard to get funding and content owners wouldn’t agree to a revenue share agreement and want payment up front. The least place you would want to find yourself as a startup is in a content acquisition war. You just have to focus on boosting your user numbers in order to be taken seriously by both producers and potential investors.

I always look at competition as a good thing. You learn from them and it shows a market’s maturity when there are many new startups trying to solve a problem. One thing that does worry me and should worry every startup trying to market in the present day social networking  era is how more difficult it is to grab and keep users’ attention. The smartest startups will go where the users are and engage them there, like what Zynga and Causes did on Facebook.

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