INTERVIEW: Marie Lora-Mungai, Founder and CEO of Buni TV

HumanIPO caught up with Marie Lora-Mungai, Founder and CEO of Buni TV, to find out more about the company and shed some light on strategies it applied to build one of Africa’s largest online distribution platforms. Buni TV recently announced it had attained a milestone, attracting 200,000 unique visitors in its first 6 months.

HumanIPO: Tell us about Buni Media

Lora-Mungai: Buni Media is the multimedia production company that I co-founded in 2009 with my partner Gado, the Daily Nation’s editorial cartoonist. Buni Media is renowned for being the producer of The XYZ Show. Today, we have offices in Nairobi and Los Angeles, 88 full or part-time employees, and we produce a variety of innovative media content, such as documentaries, animations, books or children programming. Buni TV, our new video streaming platform, was incubated within Buni Media but is very much a startup.

Why did Buni Media venture into online distribution of African content?

As far as films are concerned, there is no theatre network in Africa. Most countries do not even have one single movie theatre. The distribution problem has impeded the growth of African film industries, and frustrated viewers who have a very big, unsatisfied appetite for relevant, local content.

On the other hand, we as Buni Media had been very good at distributing The XYZ Show within and outside Kenya, getting the show on television, radio, the Internet, social media (The XYZ Show has 170,000 fans on Facebook and 2.6 million views on YouTube) and even buses. Then, about a year and a half ago, it became clear to me that mobile could finally provide the solution to this distribution problem.

1 billion people are projected to own a mobile phone in Africa by 2015. Mobile is the first truly universal technology. Through mobile phones, we could get content directly into the hands of those who wanted it across the continent. So, I put a crack team together and we built Buni TV, which we launched in April this year.

What are the advantages of distributing content on your platform?

Buni TV instantaneously gives you access to a global audience, on a beautifully designed platform and among other very high-quality videos. It is a great place to showcase your work, gain exposure, and start building a following. The result of that is that a completely unknown short film from an unknown filmmaker can reach between 1,000 and 5,000 views on Buni TV when it only gets 100-300 views on YouTube.

The second is, obviously, monetisation. At the moment, access to Buni TV videos is completely free, and it will remain so for a while as we first focus on building traffic. We do have advertising both on our Web and mobile sites, and we reverse 50 percent of advertising revenue generated around their work to filmmakers. However, we make sure that content producers understand that a video needs to attract a lot of traffic to make real money from digital advertising, and that it might take a while to come.

Where do you see Buni TV in the next 1 and 5 years respectively?

Our goal for the next 12 to 18 months is to grow traffic and make people comfortable with watching videos online and on their phones or tablets. We want to reach at least 1 million people in the next 18 months.

In 5 years, we see ourselves as a leader in the distribution of African content. Watching videos on mobile devices will by then be common practice across the continent. Hopefully, we’ll have contributed to revitalizing film production in Africa and helped unearth amazing talent.

Are there any other services you intend to launch on your platform apart from the ones we highlighted in the previous story?

There are many features we still need and want to build to make Buni TV a great place to hang out. A big one is that we are planning to open up a subscription option to give viewers access to premium content, such as popular feature films or TV shows. We are also currently building an Android app.

What’s your take on growth in online media in Africa and how it will impact business opeartions?

The digital and mobile potential in Africa is massive and exciting. However, we shouldn’t forget that in the media, field technology is just a tool. It is not because you put content online that people will suddenly come. You have to make sure that the content that you’re putting out there is worth it. It has to be well made, interesting, engaging, and relevant.

Many start ups in Africa, especially in the new-media, are struggling to survive. What are some of the strategies that Buni TV used to penetrate the market this fast, considering your company is less than 6 months into online distribution?

Buni TV is a bit of a special case because we come with the expertise and backing of our parent company Buni Media. In addition, the popularity of The XYZ Show really helped Buni TV take off, as all the episodes are available in full on the platform at www.buni.tv/xyzshow.

However, if I were to give a few tips, these would be: first, it might be obvious but make sure you have a great product. Besides, the fact that it needs to be solving a real problem and be solid technically, I personally put design as a top priority. When you land on the Buni TV homepage, you can immediately tell that this is a place where you’ll find high-quality content. It gives us a lot of credibility, an aura of coolness, and filmmakers and film lovers feel at home right away. A second tip would be to leverage social media, blogs, and your personal connections to get people talking about your product and create some buzz.

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