Nairobi — Global entertainment group Naspers is trying to persuade telecoms operators in Africa to offer customers unlimited data to help boost the growth of internet television on the continent.

The high cost of data in Africa has hampered the take-up of internet TV, even though the number of internet users has grown rapidly.

While Showmax is seeing "healthy usage" in SA, the internet TV business elsewhere in the region is at a nascent stage, Naspers’ Showmax spokesperson Richard Boorman said, citing data costs that are among the world’s highest.

"The catalyst will be the provision of uncapped mobile data," he said on Monday.

The high data costs are limiting customer growth for Showmax, which launched in SA in 2015 and has since expanded to a total of 40 countries on the continent.

... Prioritising video-on-demand might not top the list of things to do with limited affordability.

The number of internet users in Africa has risen from 15-million in 2005 to 213-million in 2017, according to the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

But affordability is still catching up.

Mobile ownership — encompassing both the cost of the phone and of data, voice and messaging services — as a share of monthly income is at 11% in Africa, far higher than other regions, according to a 2016 GMSA (the global mobile operators association) report.

Nanjira Sambuli, who leads the World Wide Web Foundation’s advocacy efforts to promote digital equality in access to and use of the web, said internet costs are quite prohibitive for unlocking meaningful use in Africa.

The foundation’s definition of affordable internet is 1GB of data not costing more than 2% of monthly income, the target of which it found in only five of the countries studied.

"One gigabyte costs an average of 18% of monthly income," Sambuli said. "So you can imagine that prioritising video-on-demand might not top the list of things to do with limited affordability."

To bridge this gap Showmax is lobbying telecoms companies in Africa to start offering unlimited data to users, Boorman said, adding that the company was using data from other regions to make the case.

Showmax’s partnership in Poland with T-mobile, which offers subscribers Showmax content without deducting data from their accounts, shows that the economics of uncapped data can work in other countries, he said.

Showmax’s parent Naspers, which was founded in 1915 and has transformed itself from an apartheid-era newspaper publisher into a R1.5-trillion multinational.

It has about 30,000 TV shows, movies and documentaries through deals with companies, such as HBO and Disney, among others.

It mixes international offerings with local productions to differentiate itself from competitors, including Netflix also available across Africa.

IROKOtv, a Nigerian platform focused on Nollywood content, said its business was also challenged by data costs.

"We’ve had to go offline and work with our customers to find other ways to bring them online," IROKOtv’s CEO Jason Njoku said.

Boorman said mass adoption of internet TV in Africa is still some way off "but we know it’s coming, we are getting ready for it".