Zimbabwean tycoon Strive Masiyiwa. Picture: REUTERS
Zimbabwean tycoon Strive Masiyiwa. Picture: REUTERS

Zimbabwean tycoon and founder of pan-African telecoms heavyweight Econet Group Strive Masiyiwa has taken a board seat at Netflix, underlining the Silicon Valley giant’s ambitions on the continent of more than 1-billion people.

Masiyiwa, who fought murky politics and a legal jungle to win a licence to set up a mobile phone network in the country of his birth in 1998, is the first African to join Netflix’s highest decision-making body.

His appointment, which was lauded by Netflix chair and co-CEO Reed Hastings as strategically important, comes at a time when the world’s biggest streaming platform is jockeying for a stronger position in Africa’s small but fast-growing video streaming market.

"His entrepreneurship and vision in building businesses across Africa and beyond will bring valuable insights and experience to our board as we work to improve and serve more members all around the world," Hastings said in a statement on Thursday.

Masiyiwa brings a wealth of experience from Africa and abroad to Netflix. He serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, the National Geographic Society and Asia Society, and on the global advisory boards of Bank of America, the Council on Foreign Relations in the US, Stanford University and the Prince of Wales Trust for Africa.

He pursued his ambition of creating an Africa multinational champion with his Econet Group, which has operations and investments in 29 countries in African and Europe and more than 100-million subscribers.

"Netflix is at the forefront of bringing great entertainment from anywhere in the world to everyone in the world, and I look forward to working with the board and all stakeholders to continue its traditions of innovation and growth," Masiyiwa said in the statement.

The appointment of Masiyiwa, whose company owns a controlling stake in SA’s Liquid Telecom, is in line with Netflix’s stated ambition to win more subscribers on the continent, where video streaming is still rare due to slower internet speeds and poverty.

Netflix, with 195-million customers globally, has invested heavily in Africa and made efforts to extend its footprint on the continent and produce original programming. It has a couple of million subscribers in Africa, according to Digital TV Research, a London-based firm.

Consultancy house Accenture Africa estimates that 5%-8% of Netflix’s $17bn (R177bn) production budget is deployed on investment in original African programmes.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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