Mobile-First Bozza Wants To Be Africa’s iTunes, Netflix And Spotify

South African startup Bozza has plans to become Africa’s answer to iTunes, Netflix and Spotify by creating a trusted, digital distribution platform for the continent’s filmmakers, musicians and even poets, allowing them to expand their reach and make money from their creations.

Such a goal is ambitious given the unique challenges of the Africa, which is home to the least developed telecommunications market in the world, but also the fastest growing.

This, coupled with the fact that almost two thirds of its population is under 25, and many countries are home to an expanding middle class and Bozza believes the ingredients are present for a successful pan-African platform.

Bozza is home to 7,000 artists and 10,000 pieces of content and more than 20,000 items of content have been sold to date. CEO Emma Kaye told TechWeekEurope that Bozza can help artists break glass ceilings and free themselves from broadcasters, radio stations and record labels to reach audiences, earning 70 percent of all sales in the process.

African content

“Bozza is a global online marketplace for African media and entertainment,” she explained. “We have built a significant catalogue of African content – video and music – and created a marketplace where artists can sell directly to customers globally.

“It’s a two-side network, a bit like eBay. It’s got the producers on one side and consumers on the other side.”

However Kaye readily accepts the comparisons to iTunes, Netflix and Spotify, especially as she tries to attract investment: “It’s borrowing a little bit [from all three]. It would be nice to have an easy comparison but it’s really all of the above.”

Crucially, 80 percent of all its traffic comes from outside of South Africa, which is responsible for more than two thirds of Africa’s Internet activity despite being home to just five percent of the population – a figure which Kaye says demonstrates demand for African content.

Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, DR Congo, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are just some of the markets the company targets.

Mobile internet focus

For most Africans however, the Internet is accessed on a mobile device as fixed connections are not readily available or prohibitively expensive. Most African mobile users have cheaper handsets, with pre-paid SIMs and less advanced networks than other parts of the world.

This means Bozza is and will always be mobile first, with much of its resources devoted to technological innovations that make it easier, and cheaper, to access content.

“Desktop is a secondary component,” explained Kaye. “Within the mobile space, we actually started optimising for feature phones. Fifty percent of our traffic is still feature phone-based. We can deliver to more than 3,000 types of mobile device. We detect what you’re using and deliver the best video or audio experience.”

The African market is less app-centric than in Europe and North America, so Bozza is web-based, and its technology teams have paid a lot of attention to data compression and transcoding. The company has also agreed deals with some operators to ‘zero rate’ Bozza data, so downloads don’t count towards a user’s data use, but these margins are currently difficult to sustain

Facebook’s uses such a model, but Kaye is cautiously unconvinced who the venture will benefit, even though she thinks anything that zero rates data is a good thing.

“I’m not really convinced [] benefits the smaller players,” she said, adding she needed time to formulate a proper opinion. “I think we’re going to see some separation in who the main beneficiaries are.”

Expansion plans

To achieve its ambitions, Bozza is seeking interim funding, and has turned to Emerging Crowd, a platform for UK-based investors to support companies in emerging markets.

“There’s an enormous amount of money coming into South Africa and Africa, but that money is primarily earmarked for core infrastructure like mining, telecoms all that big end-prize equity investment,” said Kaye, explaining the absence of startup finance in Bozza’s homeland.

“We’ve had a couple of courtings from some of the larger corporates [who wanted to] take a stake in Bozza because we sit in that wonderful sweet spot of mobile internet and entertainment within a booming, emerging middle class market.

“[Bozza] is a nice opportunity for an acquisition for a larger company. But we felt it’s a little bit too soon and felt a crowd fund is a better opportunity for us in an ecosystem that isn’t quite as robust as the US and Silicon Valley.”

The company wants to raise £500,000 to boost its marketing (it has so far spent just $5,000), improve its payments technology and advertising system, and bring in new staff to manage different types of content.

“Long-term [our ambition] is to become really focused around our video and music offering into a global market,” declared Kaye. “We want to become the most significant place for an African catalogue.”

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Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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