Africa’s first on-demand mobile TV offering launches today

If you’d told me a week ago that we’d have fully functional on-demand TV for mobile phones this year, I would have been highly skeptical. If you’d told me the service would require no downloads or apps, that it would work on 90% of 3G handsets and that it would cost a flat rate of R75 per month (or R20 per week), bandwidth included, I would have called you a liar or at the very least a fantasist.

But that, in a nutshell, is the new offering from On Demand Group – a London based video-on-demand specialist – who have partnered with Vodacom to offer unlimited on-demand video content at a flat rate per month.

I still would have been highly skeptical of the launch unless I had seen it demonstrated, live, while sitting in a coffee shop with the dudes from On Demand (and their marketing agency Cow Africa). Here’s the skinny on how it works:
– Customers subscribe via a WAP portal (linked to from Vodafone Live)
– Billing is done via Vodacom – both contract and pre-paid customers can participate
– Shows are browsed and searched via the WAP portal
– When you click on a show it launches in the handset’s default video player (apparently this works for all major players)
– The show is streamed to your handset in real time
– You can pause, fast-forward and rewind

These sorts of services rise or fall depending on their library. So far they have a fairly impressive line-up with shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, South Park and Entourage. They also have hundreds of music videos – something I think will drive their uptake hugely in the middle to lower income brackets. I do think they need to broaden their offering quite rapidly though. Shows like The Sopranos are undoubtedly fantastic – but they need to get newer, edgier shows to ensure they can maintain momentum.

At the moment the service is limited to Vodacom, but the On Demand guys are keen to stress that the deal is non-exclusive – so it may be rolled out to the other providers in due course.

As far as the technical end of the system goes, they’re using both MPEG4 and H264 and encoding for both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. I’m hoping to chat to their engineers a bit more about some of the specifics (like how the heavy lifting, demand forecasting and load balancing all works) – but that’s for another post.

I’ve attached all the official bumph below (including some screenshots). I don’t know for certain whether this will work – but it’s certainly going to give DSTV’s linear channel model a run for its money.