Why South Africa’s eTV founder is going mobile with TV streaming app

“The medium which is dominating globally, particularly in Africa, is mobile. So I think any solution needs to target people on their mobile phones, using other technical [considerations] such as low bandwidth.”

Pierre van der Hoven

Pierre van der Hoven

This is according to Pierre van der Hoven, a South African serial entrepreneur and founder of Tuluntulu, the TV streaming app for mobile phones and tablets. Tuluntulu was officially launched in June, after a two-year test phase, and targets a pan-African audience with a range of 24/7 TV channels. The app already has around 64,000 users.

Van der Hoven, a founder of a number of media companies including eTV in South Africa and YFM (a youth radio station in Johannesburg), decided to venture into the mobile TV streaming arena after seeing the potential of mobile phones on the continent.

“I have been convinced for a long time now that mobile is the future, and when I looked at Africa and I looked at TV… my conclusion was that if you want a pan-African mass medium, the only thing that is going to work is mobile.”

With the cost of smartphones and data falling across the continent, he noted video and TV streaming platforms are quickly gaining traction.

Free user access

Tuluntulu is based on a low-cost model for users. It is free to download, and the channels are free for users to watch, meaning there is no subscription fee. It also caters for low-bandwidth environments with technology that can deliver Tuluntulu channels on EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) below 85kbps.

Van der Hoven explained he decided to make the service free because he does not believe the payment mechanisms are properly established in Africa to cater for the mass audience.

“Mobile money works well in Kenya, but not really beyond that. So we looked at the model and then made the difficult decision to go with a free product, completely free, and funded by advertising.”

The start-up is also exploring other revenue producing models through partnerships with content producers. For example, Al Jazeera supplies Tuluntulu with a free channel of Al Jazeera content with its own advertising in it, and Tuluntulu shares this for free.

“To get up and running, we carry them for free, until we have proven our value in terms of reach. Then they have a choice: they either pay us a carriage fee, or we share in the advertising. But [these models] get negotiated on an individual basis.”

African-produced content rising

So far almost 70% of the app’s users come from either South Africa or Nigeria, which is mainly due to Tuluntulu’s marketing efforts in these countries. But the app’s uptake in Nigeria inspired the formation of a Nollywood-specific channel, Nolly4U.

However, most of the content on Tuluntulu’s TV channels is African specific, focused around lifestyle and culture, news, documentaries, music, fashion and education. And according to Van der Hoven, supply of African content is rising alongside demand.

“Africa is a contradiction. We have the biggest movie industry in the world [in terms of films produced] in Nigeria on the one side, and then we have had the African story being told by non-Africans. But I think that era is gone. The time has arrived at last for Africans to tell their own story.

“So I think if we could solve distribution issues, and build a commercially successful industry for content producers, you will see an explosion of content. And there is a huge amount of content coming out of Africa now,” he concludes.