Telling local stories: Mobile "Disney" for Africa

Why a mobile African storytelling app is expected to reach many new subscribers

DreamAfrica by The Pearl Dream, is a platform where Africans can tell their own stories through pictures, text, animation and audio using a mobile phone. This launched at DEMO-Africa in Lagos in 2014 with an ambitious plan to be the “Disney” of Africa. We catch up with the company’s CEO Franco Abott to discover how the company is getting on so far.

How did the idea come about?

The Pearl Dream came out of a need to fill the void left by a lack of digitally accessible African entertainment for families and schools. We wanted to continue the old tradition of African storytelling in the digital era by allowing content creators in Africa and the diaspora to create and share content in one portal so that millions worldwide would have unlimited access at home, school and on the go.

Having grown up listening to African stories told by our grandparents, we felt that authentic experience needed to continue even as the world become connected via the web and now the internet of things (IoT).

Being a digital publisher how have you dealt with intellectual property and copyright issues?

We have invested in intellectual property including trademarks to achieve growth in three main areas: content acquisition, user growth and brand value. We are also leveraging Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to protect our digital ecosystem and bring value to content creators using DreamAfrica.

Content creators also have the right and option to retain all their original and derivative copyright if The Pearl Dream is not involved in any of the content creation.

How do you authenticate stories as well as the story tellers?

We seek to work with content creators to elevate the value of their content through our digital ecosystem and distribute it to a global audience of schools and families. We work with African writers in Africa and the diaspora to share African inspired stories with the world in multiple formats, from folk stories to short stories and comics.

How is the business going so far and what impact you have seen?

We value KPIs such as our audience in schools and families including our growing community of content creators. We are in two pilot schools in New York, USA and India. We continue to reach out to schools and participate in eLearning initiatives to truly build a more culturally aware society.

We are already in Africa through pre-installation partnerships like Alltel Ltd [tablet manufacturer in Ghana] and distribution partnerships like Library For All. We also are already building a team of ambassadors in East Africa starting with Kenya and working on a partnership in Mozambique.

What strategies do you have for increasing this market penetration?

We have acted on brand value from the start by strategically focusing on delivering unlimited and seamless access to authentic African content and with this, we believe, we will be able to increase market penetration.

We are also leveraging strategic partnerships with companies that allow us to scale such as Facebook integration as well as those on the ground in Africa.

What sets you apart from traditional television animators and story book publishers?

DreamAfrica is the only platform that offers this type of enhanced user experience by integrating custom user profiles, social integration and crowd content creation focused on African stories. The content is immediately available globally in iOS, Android, and Windows in multiple formats with potential for localisation. This allows the author and content creator to focus on what they do best, deliver great and original content to their global audience while we handle Digital Rights Media management, distribution and monetisation all without relying on Ads or cross border transportation issues.

How much do you pay content creators through what you call 'revenue share'?

Our revenue share is based on the user engagement with the content and the length of time the content creator has been a member of our content creators’ community. We measure user engagement through metrics like number of views or plays and sharing on social media. We offer the most competitive rates in the industry that we believe will allow African content creators to finally earn real value from their work without being exploited.

How long does it take between receiving stories, illustrating them and putting them on the app?

Since pivoting our business model from just in-house content creation to being a portal for multiple content creators to create and share stories, we are now getting submissions of complete stories that are available cross platform on iOS, Android and Windows as soon as they are submitted. We will continue to improve and automate this process to make it even more seamless.

How many stories are currently available on your app?

We currently have over 100 stories available on our app with more coming our way on a regular basis as we sign on new authors and content creators. Each author and content creator brings a unique set of stories and content to share. This content is now available in multiple languages and is soon to be localised to languages like Swahili in East Africa. In addition, each story has the potential to be in audiobook, eBook, comic or animation format.

What is DreamPlay? How does it fit into the project?

DreamPlay is a BETA interactive experience also brought to you by The Pearl Dream that will be incorporated within DreamAfrica, where users will be able to access endless hours of interactive educational quizzes and gamification inspired by DreamStories.

What is your view on content distribution on mobile phone platforms in Africa? Is it sustainable?

Africa already has the highest mobile phone per capita worldwide with a transition from feature phones to smartphones and internet enabled phones growing at 10-15% per year. We believe that as companies like Google, Facebook and the telecom companies on the ground in Africa push for a more connected world, The Pearl Dream has a role to play as well in connecting people through culture. Content distribution on mobile platforms is sustainable in Africa due to existing and growing infrastructure and an increasing disruption in the mobile payments space with companies like Uber already leveraging this.

DreamAfrica will be updating ways its customers can access and engage with content from SMS to voice for audio recordings. While it is still challenging to coordinate with telecom, MTN’s recent launch of its own VOD service and iRokoTV’s continued growth illustrate the sustainable demand for African content. We believe the kids’ space deserves just as much disruption and innovation.

What is your long-term vision for the company?

Our cloud based services enable scalable content hosting and cross platform delivery to users worldwide. Authors, artists and creatives can now collaborate to produce great digital content and media for access via DreamAfrica. Users such as kids with support from their parents and teachers will subscribe, purchase or unlock access to all this content across all devices.

Because of our digital focus as a middleman or one-stop location for authentic African content, we see room for innovation as content creation, digital adoption and African growth meets projected rates. From language learning to literacy and entertainment, our products and services will allow for direct innovation to solve current and future client needs. We already saw this through our engagement of schools and other partners during Black History Month in New York, and we hope to do this moving forward.