Amazon Prime Video is drastically downscaling its Africa operations despite earlier aggressive moves into the continent’s booming streaming sector according to this report by Variety.
In an email to staff, Amazon Prime EMEA vice president Barry Furlong announced a major restructuring to “rebalance and pivot our resources.” This includes refocusing on Europe while cutting back local content production and teams in Africa and the Middle East.
The surprise pullback comes only a year after Prime positioned itself to compete with Netflix and Showmax for Africa’s over 200 million internet users. So what went wrong with Amazon’s streaming ambitions? And what does this signal for Africa’s streaming future?
Amazon Prime’s Swift Africa Entry – And Sudden Exit
When Amazon Prime launched in Africa in December 2021, expectations were sky-high. The streaming giant moved swiftly, building dedicated country teams for Nigeria and South Africa and hiring aggressively across the continent.
“We now have a dedicated local content strategy for Africa across the board,” declared Prime’s head of African originals Ned Mitchell last February. Hoping to tell “stories of whole communities that have never even been able to see their stories on camera before.”
Backing up those bold words, Amazon unveiled multiple partnerships with Nigerian production houses like Anthill, Inkblot, and Greoh. The collaboration with Jade Osiberu’s studio Greoh proved especially fruitful – their film Gangs of Lagos became Prime’s 9th most watched non-English title globally.
Africa’s Streaming Market – Growth and Challenges
Research confirms Africa’s immense streaming potential. PwC projects the market will hit 18 million paying subscribers by 2029, up from just 8 million last year.
Yet most activity concentrates around South Africa and Nigeria. And overall streaming penetration in Africa remains below 10%. Challenges around connectivity, payment options, and device affordability still pose barriers for global players.
Homegrown platforms have also struggled. Nigerian services IrokoTV and Telkom One shut completely in 2022 amidst steep losses. Raising doubts whether Africa can sustain multiple mainstream streaming options.
Pivoting to Europe – Fallout for African Filmmakers
While approved African originals will still release on Prime, the platform looks set to halt greenlighting new local content. Teams on the ground may face job losses as well.
It’s a major blow to African creators who flocked to Amazon’s production partnerships over the past year. Attracted by premium budgets, global exposure, and creative support. Now back to square one, many may lack viable options to develop ambitious series and films.
However, one emerging pathway is through direct financing from African tech entrepreneurs and investors. Banking on selling exclusively to the major streamers hungry for African content.
Recent homegrown hits like Netflix’s The Black Book – viewed over 70 million times worldwide according to Netflix figures – display the model’s potential. And with other global streamers still active locally, African filmmakers retain routes to production support.
But Amazon’s shock scaling back remains concerning for ecosystem development. And raises uncertainty over others possibly following suit if local returns disappoint.
In the meantime, Africa’s streaming throne looks set to remain in the hands of Showmax and Netflix. Even as mobile-based entertainment platforms like YouTube and TikTok continue making inroads across the continent. In the streaming space, Prime video is the second to Netflix and provided that launching pad for other producers and actors. This news is a major blow Nollywood (Nigeria’s movie industry).