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But data costs still hinder growth.

SA may be some way off from having ubiquitous broadband connectivity, but that has not stopped AlternaTV – a year-old Internet TV channel – and new mobile TV platform Tuluntulu from gunning for as much local uptake as possible.

AlternaTV runs pre-recorded shows focusing on music, as well as motoring, fashion, gaming and films. Billing itself as “SA’s fi rst 24/7 Internet TV channel”, its content offering aims to lure SA’s tech savvy
youth using entertainment and education to increase viewer figures.

, the channel’s creative director, says it has racked up more than 300 000 page views since its launch last July, of which about 20% are from US-based users. He says the channel is aimed at SA’s high data consumers. “When we started AlternaTV, we were always concerned about relatively low Internet connectivity compared to other parts of the world, but it doesn’t seem to bother a lot of our users.

“If the content is good enough, we’ve found that users will usually make sure they come back to access it when they can”.

Meanwhile, Tuluntulu – a new app offering subscription-free mobile TV streaming – aims to grow its local presence by enabling viewing in low-bandwidth conditions.

This is according to Pierre van der Hoven, Tuluntulu director, who adds the platform hopes to build a measurable, global IP television system “that will be attractive to advertisers and content owners looking for new forms of distribution”.

The app was recently released on the Google and Android app stores, offering 10 channels, although users will incur data costs. Tuluntulu’s launch is a response to existing streaming platforms, which van der Hoven says do not always cater for Africa’s low-bandwidth context.


“Web sites presume that users want high-quality content, meaning they stream content at between 140Kbps and 280Kbps, which is too high for most of the developing world’s congested networks and low-bandwidth environments,” says van der Hoven.

Tuluntulu says its technology is “rateadaptive”, allowing a cellphone’s streaming rate to change and work at a rate as low as 50Kbps.

, MD, says streaming costs are difficult to quantify, as they depend on the rate quality selected and the throughput from the operator – which defi nes how solid and strong the signal is to allow for continual, uninterrupted streaming.

“As things stand, streaming high definition TV via mobile broadband is just not viable from a cost point of view; low-resolution video could work on 3G or long-term evolution if you have a good signal, but the cost could also be prohibitive,” he adds.


In what could further boost the uptake of mobile TV, analysts say smartphone sales figures could see the largest growth in the African market in the next few years, as developed markets become saturated with the devices.

Research firm predicts smartphone revenue will decline in coming years as demand eases in North American and European markets, but low-cost devices in emerging markets will continue to drive sales in those regions.

adopted an approach, unveiling a new range of low-cost smartphones at this year’s World Mobile
Congress and targeting consumers in emerging markets. Its new Asha range was recently unveiled in SA.

Google’s Motorola Moto G and Apple’s iPhone 5C were also punted as the cheaper, more accessible alternatives when the devices were launched last year.

Although affordable prices make devices available to more people, Hurst notes manufacturers “must be aware there will be some sacrifi ces in terms of functionality and experience, and a bad user experience could serve to hamper the market rather than give impetus”.

SA’s smartphone arena is expected to increase and reach 18.1 million devices by the end of 2014, according to . This compared to 16.3 million devices from 2013.

While not all low-cost entry-level smartphones have mobile TV capability, the move by vendors signals a
conscious approach to further bridge the global device economy.


The International Data Corporation () says more than one billion smartphones were sold globally in 2013, compared with 752 million in 2012. China led the way with 351 million units sold throughout
last year, and the Africa and Middle East region shipped 130 million units, where says sales grew by 50% in the fourth quarter.

According to the ’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, the Middle East and Africa region shipped around 140 million smartphones which cost less than $100 in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In contrast, Western European countries sold around 40 million low-cost devices, while North America
shipped just over 10 million. Tablet shipments to the Middle East and Africa (MEA) also bucked the global trend to record 77.3% year-on-year growth during the fi rst quarter of 2014, according to the .

Speaking to ITWeb shortly after the released its fi ndings, Ovum analyst said Africa remains a growth spot for smartphone sales “due to the limited fixed-line infrastructure, the ubiquitous nature of mobile across the continent, and the fact that many will have their first Internet experience via the mobile device”.

He adds that cost will remain a key factor in the region – something vendors have noted as they increasingly develop cheaper alternatives for the local market.

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Arthur Goldstuck, " />Goldstuck adds that SA is still far behind developed markets when it comes to using modern methods of consuming TV and video, with broadband connectivity yet to be attained.

While the US and developed markets have platforms like Netflix, which hosts scores of films and television series for on-demand streaming, SA’s growing number of mobile broadband users could yet lead to the growth envisioned by its new mobile streaming platforms.


While AlternaTV and Tuluntulu depend on Internet connectivity as they seek to gain traction among local viewers, they are not the first ventures is to push for increased uptake of mobile TV in SA.

The aptly named MobileTV is a company that has been awaiting a licence to launch channels for handheld devices for some time. It subsequently launched a satellite pilot in February that includes three free-to-view channels on ’s Freevision platform.

Dubbed “TV4U”, the platform latched on to local viewers through ’s direct-to-home platform and offers access to Extreme Sport, Jim Jam and Fine Living channels. Additional TV and radio channels
expected to be tested on the platform include The Karaoke Channel, BBC Radio, Mundial TV, People TV, Sports TV Premium, Football TV Premium, MGM movies, Zumba TV, Bollywood TV, African Movie Channel, Red Line TV and Street TV.

Although it is not dependent on broadband, DStv Mobile leads the digital video broadcasting – handheld (DVB-H) space with its Walka handheld TV devices, giving users digital video and audio quality to subscribers who take up the option . Coverage is restricted mainly to major towns and cities across SA’s provinces, with selected channels available as part of its mobility offensive.


Both AlternaTV and Tuluntulu look to education initiatives in a bid to gain relevance among SA’s youth. AlternaTV recently launched MathsPod – an app for and Android devices aimed at tutoring mathematics for matriculants and other high school students. A show bearing the same name on the channel seeks to help drive the app’s use among viewers.

“It’s aimed at matrics at the moment and, in time, it will expand to other subjects,” says Nel. He adds that Maths- Pod aims to facilitate the education process, rather than replace elements of the system.

Each show will be available on-demand on the channel’s YouTube account – a move Nel says will assist
learners to access lessons covering entire syllabus through freely available pre-recorded episodes.

One of Tuluntulu’s 10 free channels is Mindset Learn – a channel exploring curriculum content for SA’s learners. Interactive programmes such as Maths- Pod and the Mindset Learn channel could yet yield a significant number of young viewers and users, says Nel, depending on how close they stick to the curriculum.


Van der Hoven notes that Tuluntulu aims to establish itself as Africa’s leading mobile streaming platform by capitalising on free WiFi initiatives which have emerged locally and beyond SA’s borders.

“Our business model is designed for maximum usage – it is free to download, free to watch except the cost of data, and is totally free on WiFi,” he says.

Numerous projects by the private and public sectors have increased the number of free WiFi hotspots, which van der Hoven notes could provide the motivation needed to propel Tuluntulu’s growth.

Metrorail is installing WiFi at Cape Town station, a project that will eventually expand to provide coverage on trains and at all stations on the city’s southern line. This follows several other initiatives in the province, including Knysna municipality’s 2006 project to set up 13 base stations, and sell data and voice over Internet Protocol services to residents. In 2012, Stellenbosch residents and visitors could access free WiFi in an initiative driven by the town’s university, in partnership with . The project also
subsequently catered for the Knysna area.

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Alan Knott-Craig Jr, " /> Jr – former CEO of the social network – then left to found non-profit organisation (NPO), Project Isizwe, which aims to provide free connectivity across SA. The NPO is responsible for connecting residents of Atlantis and Robertson as part of the Western Cape government’s pilot project
to provide free WiFi to more than 90 000 residents across the province.

Other areas included in the project are Delft and the Garden Route, although schools will take priority in a bid to improve e-learning. Isizwe is also behind a project to provide free WiFi to all government educational institutions in the city of Tshwane by 2016.

Whether or not free connectivity translates to the kind of growth envisioned by Tuluntulu remains to be seen, but van der Hoven is optimistic that viewers and advertisers will see its value.


Tuluntulu has been in development for over six years and the company notes that it called on the assistance of both the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).

Researchers and engineers from the CSIR and the University of Cape Town developed Adaptive Real-time Internet Streaming Technology (ARTIST) – the platform upon which Tuluntulu runs. Van der Hoven says ARTIST was in development for more six years and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) supported the consortium by providing R14.5 million in funding.

He adds that 20 servers housed at Teraco data centre in Johannesburg form the back-end of Tuluntulu and keep the project running.

“My real excitement is that this technology will unlock video streaming as an industry in Africa. No licences or new transmitter networks are required, opening the industry up to new players,” he says.

“Of the launch channels, only two are established broadcast TV channels. The rest are new players in the market who would not have had a chance on conventional television platforms”.

Nel, meanwhile, sees AlternaTV’s sponsor-driven business model as essential to the channel’s long-term survival. “If you create content that no one wants to sponsor, you are creating the wrong stuff,” he says.

He adds that the analytics that enable the channel to quantify engagement with users continue to attract
advertisers such as Sony Pictures, which sponsors AlternaTV’s film show.


According to ’s study on Internet access in SA, there were 13.8 million users connected to the Web in 2013 and the figure is set for a steady increase to breach the 20 million mark
by 2019.

However, if data costs come down in a bid to become more affordable, the study notes that there could be 28 million users by 2019.

If the figures follow the growth path laid out in the study, Nel expects AlternaTV to be there to capitalise. “The beauty of Internet television is that although niches start off small, they tend to show strong growth patterns.

“What we’ve learned since starting is that you have to adapt and evolve quickly to user demands by constantly interacting with them”.

In a recent presentation dubbed “The State of the Digital Nation”, Goldstuck cited the Digital Participation Curve, which reveals that the average Internet user needs to be online for five years or more before engaging actively with high-level applications.

He said it emerges as a combination of experience, comfort with using the medium, confidence in the reliability of the medium, and trust in the medium.

Van der Hoven says he aims to position Tuluntulu as a platform ready to take advantage of SA’s mobility
landscape, while providing affordable streaming alternatives.


While convenience and on-demand availability are often touted as major benefits to online streaming services, researchers at US-based Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and Northwestern University
say opting for the technology in favour of renting or buying DVDs has major environmental benefits.

In a study published recently, the researchers focused on how US audiences consume fi lm and television. It noted “video streaming appears distinctly favourable when compared to any DVD viewing that includes consumer driving, which significantly increases the energy and carbon dioxide emissions per viewing hour”.

According to the study, the energy used to manufacture the DVDs, ship them to warehouses or retail outlets, and then deliver them to homes is much higher than that required to consume content through online streaming. The latter option eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions of shipping or driving, although it does involve energy to run data centres that host content, as well as user equipment for streaming.

It may yet take time before SA’s on-demand video services compare with those offered in the US, but it seems the environmentalists have already given it the thumbs up.