Zimbabweans love great television and movies. How else would you explain the way DVDs have become a permanent part of street-side vendor tapestry?
Other than vegetables and rush-hour basic commodities, these DVDs only have to compete with WhatsApp vendors and phone repair services for more attention. It actually shows how big a potential market exists which MultiChoice, in all its might, hasn’t been able to service.
Like everyone else in Harare, I am surrounded by people that love good quality entertainment and will stop at nothing to get the latest fix of anything worth watching.
Just last week I was being reminded by several friends to keep an eye out for the return of a lot of United States television shows because the mid-season break was over. While all of these friends don’t have any streaming services of sorts It’s already back to the latest updates on scandals, students getting away with murder, crime dramas and comedies.
Even with DStv not stepping up to provide the latest episode, people still want to access all these shows, at a price that makes financial sense. Bear in mind people have disposable incomes that are strained by tough economic conditions.
This then brings services like Netflix into the picture. For a fraction of what DStv makes you part with for reruns of limited shows, this streaming service, and other alternatives to it, offers an impressive gallery of TV shows (really, It’s more than just House of Cards and OITNB) that would make more sense for someone always buying complete season discs from the street.
We already saw how countless people lost their minds at the mere mention of Netflix entering Africa. Even though this was aimed at South Africa (which, sadly, is still viewed by some companies as the whole of Africa) it brought to the surface the sort of potential market that exists for anyone who can provide an affordable, decent entertainment option for viewers.
The puzzle is on cost and the delivery methods
For a brief moment let’s forget about South Africa and how geared it is for Netflix and any related service. Bringing the Video on Demand (VOD) debate home, would it work anyway?
Right now, it honestly doesn’t look like it. That’s not to say there aren’t any folks enjoying it through different workarounds. It’s just that two important aspects need to be figured out for the African market.
Firstly it is the price versus the disposal income of the market. What might have been snapped up as a $10 or $15 service overseas can easily be dismissed as an unnecessary obligation that your potential market will avoid.
Just look at how MultiChoice, through its DStv packages, ended up introducing a $10 bouquet to accommodate the larger part of the addressable market that still viewed Pay-For-TV as a service for the affluent.
There’s no indication that MultiChoice has managed to figure it out completely either and it isn’t alone in this labyrinth. iROKO, easily considered as Africa’s own answer to Netflix is trying to figure it out as well.
Netflix would have to do this from an angle that approaches aspects like varied tastes for content and undercutting an existing informal market that has acted as a very sturdy substitute for many.
The street DVD offers competition here with a product that has a low retail price (50 cents from most providers) and also offers room for negotiation. There’s also the “communal” aspect that the DVD easily offers. This explains the swapping of the product. Yes, you can “share” Netflix subscriptions but not as easily as DVDs.
The bigger part of the puzzle for a Netflix service in here though is the delivery method. Yes, internet subscription on the rise, but with 99% of internet connections coming from mobile devices, this throws a lot of doubt on the sort of traction needed for streaming and VOD services. I won’t even talk about the possibility of LTE for this, that would be very premature discussion at this stage.
The home internet services that are the backbone of such a service are supposed to be based on fibre, something that we have put in the hands of a few providers.
Currently the closest to making that a reality is ZOL, largely because of a new cheap package that comes with other extras. With the right packaging driven by a move into uncharted territory for fibre to the home, this could be the first channel to bring Netflix or anything similar.
However, there is still so much that makes that difficult to see in the short term. it all boils down to aspects such as costs and the adoption of a core service that drives Netflix or any other streaming service, being viewed as an unnecessary cost. These are the same challenges that WiMAX services have faced for the past half decade since dollarisation.
Still on this tip, the DVD comes out ahead. Anyone buying it doesn’t have to be subscribed to any other service, all they need is their DVD player hooked up to their television.