Thanks to the internet, we can access virtually anything we want, when we want it. Whether it’s books, music, movies, series or radio broadcasts, as long as you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket and an internet connection, you’re sorted.
With the launch of Naspers’ Showmax last year and the arrival of media-streaming giant Netflix in 2016, shortly followed by Google Movies, it seems that South Africans are ready to stream. But does it mean we’re ready to cut the cord to traditional players like DStv?
Rapidly changing landscape
In 2012, the only real options for video on demand (VOD) in South Africa were DStv’s Box Office movie rental platform and On Demand service – which gives viewers access to DStv content online. Media junkies had to rely on what could be found on YouTube, rent movies from a limited catalogue on Apple’s iTunes or illegally download shows or movies. Also not very above board, many South Africans signed up for Netflix’s streaming-media service by tricking it into thinking the signup was coming from within the US.
Fast forward to 2016 and the landscape has changed significantly. More than one subscription video on demand (SVOD) player has already come and gone. Both Altech’s Node and Times Group Media’s Vidi couldn’t muster the audience they needed to remain viable. MTN’s VU (launched as FrontRow in 2014) is still chugging along while Showmax and OnTapTV entered the fray in 2015. Then this year came the launch of Netflix, propelling all SVOD players into the spotlight.
The main players
The two main players in terms of content and cost are without a doubt Showmax and Netflix. With the might of Naspers behind it, Showmax has the best offering on the market – it’s cheaper and has more to watch including HBO shows such as Game of Thrones and True Detective.
One of the major disappointments with the local launch of Netflix was that it was missing many of its most exciting offerings. Netflix said they’re “still prisoners of territorial licensing – moving quickly to have global availability of all content on Netflix.” House of Cards, conspicuously absent at launch was soon added to the catalogue. Netflix also has a host of excellent original series like Narcos and Stranger Things. It could, however, take some time for the local offering to catch up with the much more comprehensive US catalogue. In a move likely to alienate a significant number of customers, Netflix also started blocking the services that enabled South Africans to circumvent the system and access the US content directly.
What Netflix simply can’t match is the rate at which Showmax has been adding local content. You’re not going to be seeing Vetkoek Paleis or Liewe Heksie on Netflix any time soon.
South African challenges
Showmax has also been more proactive in addressing local needs. The high cost of data and sometimes spotty internet connectivity we live with doesn’t exactly encourage the usage of internet TV services, so Showmax added a download function. Connect to Wi-Fi at the coffee shop or office and save up to 25 shows to watch offline on tablets and smartphones.
In August, Showmax added a bandwidth-capping function that lets you choose lower quality streaming to save up to 75% on data. In a recent consumer survey commissioned by Showmax, the most common reason cited for not signing up to internet TV services is the cost of data.
“We knew anecdotally that people were worried about internet costs, but the results of the survey were stark. Forty percent of respondents said the main reason they don’t use internet TV services is the high cost of data. Twice as many people chose this over the next most common concern, which was not understanding how to set up internet TV,” said Barron Ernst, Chief Product Officer at Showmax. Check out the Showmax bandwidth calculator to find out how much data you’ll need to use Showmax.
Another challenge in South Africa is that not everyone has a credit card. With Netflix, no credit card means no service. Showmax has instead worked around this and introduced vouchers into major retailers and you can even pay using your FNB eBucks.
How much does it cost?
When it comes to cost, Showmax is R99 while Netflix has three tiers ranging from US$7.99 (about R115) to US$11.99 (about R170). DStv’s top package is now R759, meaning it’s still going to be cheaper to sign up for both Netflix and Showmax than keep your DStv subscription going.
What tech do you need?
All you need to start streaming video online is a smartphone, laptop, tablet, Smart TV, or Apple TV and an internet connection. You’ll also need to have the right apps installed.
Using the relevant apps, you can start streaming instantly on your device once you’ve set up an account. If you want to watch on a larger screen though, you’ll need to have a Smart TV, an Apple TV or a gadget like Google’s Chromecast which plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. You can then use the Showmax or Netflix app to “cast” shows directly to the TV via the Chromecast.
How fast does my internet need to be?
You should have a minimum speed of 2 megabits per second (Mbps), but an uncapped 4Mbps connection or faster is recommended for the best experience. With fibre to the home rolling out much more rapidly than expected, using streaming video services is likely to become a lot more feasible in the coming years. Data usage can be one gigabyte per hour or more, so make sure you’ve got a large data allowance or uncapped service.
What about sport and news?
There are two main areas that streaming video services just can’t beat: sport and current affairs. If you can’t miss the latest Premier League or Super Rugby matches, you’re never going to be satisfied with either Showmax or Netflix. Likewise, you’re not going to have access to BBC World or Al Jazeera for news on tap. DStv also has a much broader content offering and they have the clout to secure the very latest movies and series.
However, for pure entertainment, series, movies, children’s programming and documentaries it’s well worth giving online TV a test run – especially as most offer free trials. Just don’t blame us if you waste the next three weekends in a row binge-watching Game of Thrones.