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Egypt’s new Ramadan series-streaming app scrutinised by critics3 minutes read

Egypt’s Watch iT aims to snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giants.

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watch iT
Image credit: Ramadan Media

Egypt’s first video-streaming app, Watch iT, launched this month just in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The religious season is also the high season for the television industry, but the app’s debut has been panned by critics for high prices and technical failures.

Chilling thrillers, sentimental dramas and classic comedies – Egypt’s famed Ramadan TV series have long united millions of families from the breaking of the fast in the evening until dawn.

In recent years, many have taken to streaming episodes of their favourite shows on YouTube after they first broadcast on television.

Egypt’s Watch iT, which launched on May 1, aims to grab hold of this trend and snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giant.

The platform is owned by the Egyptian Media Group and offers 15 exclusive series produced in Egypt especially for Ramadan, for a monthly fee of 99 pounds ($5.80).

“It’s way too expensive,” said Youssef Ahmed, a 48-year-old father shopping in Cairo during the first days of the fast.

Half-year subscriptions go for 555 pounds, with a year costing 999 pounds — a tall order in a country where the average monthly salary is around $220.

“Anyway, it’s better to watch the series on television as a family,” Ahmed commented.

Watch iT facing challenges

Google’s Play Store service has logged more than 10,000 downloads of the app since its launch – far below the projected figures.

Those who have forked out the money for the platform have run up against technical difficulties, sparking a wave of criticism.

Local media said the site was the victim of “hacking” and the Egyptian Media Group did not respond to questions.

CEO Tamer Mursi boasted shortly after the app launched that his media group had played a “modernising” role in Egypt’s television industry and furthered “the protection of (intellectual property) rights”.

His company owns several television channels, prominent newspapers and production companies, drawing accusations from critics that it runs a monopoly.

Surviving competition

In the age of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the moment is right for such a switch in Egypt, but critics say the Ramadan series industry is not up to the challenge.

“When such a company launches such a service, it is supposed to test it well before it enters the market,” said Ahmed Hamdi, a journalist with the business newspaper Al Mal.

Hit by general disorganisation in recent years, the industry’s latest products have been characterised by rushed filming and sloppy scripts.

“Watch iT is a new experience in the Egyptian market and fully justified in terms of both its functional and financial aspects, but it faces many challenges,” said Ahmed Adel, a telecoms research manager at Beltone Financial.

One of the biggest difficulties, he said, is that it cannot compete with international platforms.

Netflix from the United States and Wavo out of the United Arab Emirates are both technically superior and offer dozens of Western, Arab and Turkish series and films at a lower price.

Watch iT will also have to jostle for screen time with the pirated content widely available across the Arab world, Adel added.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and more than 40 percent of its 100 million residents have internet access.

Nearly three-quarters connect with their mobile phones, according to the latest figures from the telecommunications ministry.

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Pilani Bubu to launch new album, “Folklore – Chapter 1”

This full-length project was released in November last year.

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South African soul singer Pilani Bubu is set to hold a launch party for her latest album “Folklore – Chapter 1” later today, 27 February. This event is set to take place at Untitled Basement in Johannesburg, South Africa.

At the launch today, Bubu will perform live with a full band featuring Luke van der Merwe, Bheka Mthethwa and many others.

“My approach has always been to perform my music for at least two years live before recording,” Bubu said. “It often grows and new ideas come in.

My band members are also involved in the making of the album,” she says.

Released in November 2019, “Folklore – Chapter 1” contains a total of 17 songs and features appearances from Lebo Mochudi, Billy Monama, and others. It is the follow up to her 8-track sophomore album, “Warrior of Light” which was released to good reviews in 2016.

“Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared among a people, captured through various art forms inclusive of traditional beliefs, customs, proverbs, sayings and tales passed on through generations by word of mouth.

“In this album series I want to treasure traditional folk music, giving it a more contemporary setting, renewed meaning and more context,” she revealed about the new album.

“Folklore – Chapter 1” was produced by a team of Bheka Mthethwa, Billy Monama, Robin Fernie while Troy Lilley handled the engineering.

The album is currently available on all major streaming platforms and physical copies would be sold at the event.

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Inside Africa’s largest media conference

Social Media Week Lagos presents another opportunity for media-focused conversations

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Social Media Week Lagos has grown to become arguably Africa's largest media gathering. Photo credit: nene-uwa.com.ng

Every year, thousands of media and technology enthusiasts come to Social Media Week (SMW) Lagos to hear from globally recognised brands, leading business executives and pop culture luminaries, all keenly focused on the future of Africa. Now in its eight year, the annual conference is now considered Africa’s largest tech and innovation event.

Social Media Week Lagos’ week-long programming focuses on ideas, trends, insights, business practices and policy that leverage technology to transform industries and communities across Africa. The 2018 edition hosted 23,364 visitors across the week and garnered an online social reach of 646.6 million, while the 2019 edition saw over 20,000 attendees across the week and had a online social reach of 557 million.

The significance of Social Media Week is in its ability yo bring together thought leaders, key stakeholders and the public to explore issues that are important for the modern world. The conference explores a wide range of topics including education, business, entertainment, technology, art, banking and politics. Through hundreds of events, Social Media Week Lagos aims to create opportunities for the continent’s most innovative minds.

This year, Social Media Week Lagos kicked off at the Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos on February 24 with the theme “Human.X”. The conference will feature conversations focused on what it means to take a human-first and experience-driven approach to innovation across industries, communities and the African continent. Social Media Week Lagos 2020 will host 21,580 attendees and feature 404 speakers across 184 events before its wrap on and February 28, 2020.

Some of this year’s speakers include: Jude “MI” Abaga, Segun Agbaje, Oluwatosin “Olorisupergal” Ajibade, Joey Akan, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Osagie Alonge, Osikhena “Osisuave” Dirisu, Ifu Ennada, Chude Jideonwo, Fuad Lawal, Vimbai Mutinhiri, Cheta Nwanze, Mildred Okwo, Oluwatosin Olaseinde, Adebola “Debola Lagos” Williams and Subomi Plumptre, among others.

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A region looking over its shoulders

Kenya and other East Africa are wary about the invasion of locusts.

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The rains have finally come to East Africa, but now there are locusts to worry about. Photo credit: The Atlantic.

Locusts are famed for their ravaging and destructive nature. Old Biblical accounts describe them as such, and in recent times, they have done little to change that impression, flying across continents and causing damage to agricultural systems.

These pests, known and feared for the amount of carnage they are capable of inflicting on vegetation, are currently darkening the skies across farmlands in Kenya, Ethiopia and other parts of East Africa. Breeding in parts of Yemen and Somalia, they migrate westwards to a climate currently characterised by frequent rainfall.

According to statistics provided by the United Nations, locusts could travel up to 150km (95 miles) in a day and eat their own body weight in greenery. What this means is that a swarm of locusts can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a day. Furthermore, during each three-month breeding cycle a single locust can breed 20 more, giving rise to the massive swarms that are now threatening crops across the East African sub-region.

Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti are battling the worst locust outbreak in decades, and swarms have also spread into Tanzania and Uganda. The invasion is worsening food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are suffering after three consecutive years of droughts and floods, worryingly similar to the drought and famine that plagued northern Ethiopia in 1954 which was also caused by locust invasion.

According to pest control experts, the best option is to kill these menacing insects, and while there is the required technology to execute this, the quantity of said technology is debatable: Ethiopia reportedly has only three operational planes to spray insecticides, while Kenya has only five. According to the United Nations, about $76 million is urgently needed to provide more spraying resources in combating these pests.

It’s ironic that after the drought that haunted the region in late 2019, there is now rain which has facilitated the growth of crops, but the rain is not only providing a fertile environment for the breeding of locust eggs, it is also making it harder to spray insecticides. This is because it is more effective to kill locusts in the morning as they usually have little energy before the day warms up, but frequent early morning rain slows down spraying missions, and by the time the planes get close, the swarms are already high up in the air.

It is uncertain how long this pest invasion will last, so the best course of action is for the United Nations to collaborate with the countries in the sub-region, particularly in the provision of more insecticides and more spraying planes. It’s a long season up ahead, and if East Africa is going to repel the danger of a food crisis, these locusts cannot be allowed to win.

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