Naspers seeks partners in Africa to take on Netflix

2017-01-18 19:03 - Katia Porzecanski and Loni Prinsloo, Bloomberg News
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Davos - Naspers [JSE:NPN], Africa’s biggest company by market value, is seeking partnerships with mobile-phone operators on the continent to boost its video-on-demand business and help compete with US giant Netflix.

The owner of Africa’s biggest pay-TV provider is planning to build on a joint venture agreed to last year with Kenya’s largest company, Safaricom, to roll out online service Showmax at more affordable data prices. Safaricom is 40% owned by Newbury, England-based Vodafone Group.

“We will be targeting the whole of sub-Saharan Africa for mobile partnerships," Naspers chief executive officer Bob Van Dijk said on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Working together with telcos will be a big part of what we do. We are live in Kenya and there are several others” that we are targeting, he said.

While the Cape Town-based company’s satellite pay-TV business has long dominated the sub-Saharan African market, it was hurt last year by falling currencies against the dollar and new competitors such as Netflix and Econet Wireless Global of Zimbabwe. Naspers is seeking to maintain its market-leading position with online products like Showmax, which offers movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings.

“There’s not a lot of cable on the continent and never will be,” Van Dijk said. “The video-on-demand business will have to be a mobile play through affordable data.”

Naspers has evolved from a South African newspaper publisher into a global investor in technology companies, with its most successful venture to date being an early-stage investment in the Chinese creator of WeChat, Tencent Holdings. The shares have increased 8.6% this month, valuing the company at R960bn ($71bn).

Naspers plans to harness artificial intelligence to enable growth across its businesses, said Van Dijk. Other Naspers companies include Indian travel operator Ibibo and Russian social media provider Group Ltd.

“We want to get people on board and build our AI capacity internally rather than investing in an AI business,” he said. “We want to bring in the skills. We plan to push this very hard.’’

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