In August last year, Naspers, the African media giant that owns MultiChoice launched Showmax, a subscription Video on Demand service that initially targetted the South African market.
Since then, quite a bit has changed and recently Showmax opened up to 36 new African countries including Zimbabwe. The service can be accessed on Showmax.com on smart TVs or through the Showmax mobile application available for iOS and Android.
New subscribers are offered a 7-day free trial which requires signing up using credit or debit card details. Some easily available local alternatives like the EcoCash MasterCard work for this.
After the free trial, if you do not unsubscribe you will be billed $7.99 a month and this subscription can be used on up to 5 registered devices of which two devices can view content simultaneously.
According to Showmax, its catalogue has close to 10,000 hours of content that is spread across approximately 15,000 episodes and movies. It claims that this is the biggest VOD catalogue for Africa.
Showmax becomes the second VOD service to launch simultaneously in a number of African countries after Netflix which opened up its services to most of the world the beginning of this year.
It’s also coming out ahead of Econet Wireless’ Kwese TV which is set to hit the market before the start of the English Premier League in August this year.
As such, this mass entry into new African territories indicates an intense focus on a relatively underexplored market that has long been dominated by smaller players like iROKO and Zuku that have made a strong impression through niche market focuses .
What sets Showmax and Netflix apart (and what will also apply to Kwesé TV after it is launched) from the other existing providers are their larger war chests which can be opned up to deal with aspects such as service improvement as well as content acquistion, both of which are primary factors for VOD success.
Response to market realities will determine growth in African VOD
It’s no surprise then that the race for the control of the African VOD market has drawn these services as the leading rivals. It’s this same rivalry that will likely determine how their services are moulded to better suit the dynamics of the African continent.
These services are in the habit of proclaiming their abilities to provide the best sort of content. Showmax is talking of the biggest catalogue for African VOD along with sub-categories like Nollywood and a
Showmax is talking of the biggest catalogue for African VOD along with sub-categories like Nollywood and a
South African film section; Netflix has coasted on its brand which, thanks to some of its original productions, is regarded as a provider of some of the best TV in the word right now, and a yet to be born Kwesé TV is making it clear that it cares about delicacies like sports entertainment which have long been viewed as a huge driver of pay-TV patterns.
All this makes sense from a pay TV perspective. Consumers will agree that the provider of the most content with the best sort of quality is the better pick, even if the content is more expensive.
However, for Africa success in VOD will be defined not only by content but by other realities. All these cross-continent VOD services have to bear in mind that beyond the hours of entertainment there are other factors that will influence subscriber growth and success which centre on the challenges around broadband access.
In Africa internet is accessed mostly through mobile devices and in the majority of cases these services are expensive. This has prompted VOD services to consider alternatives such as the option to adjust streaming quality to ensure limited data usage.
While Netflix only recently introduced this option, Showmax had already added that alternative for its subscribers last year, along with the option to adjust the quality of the downloaded content, as well as an alternative to download content for offline viewing.
Features like these which consider the specifics of African pay TV are what will likely determine the VOD services that dominate this space.
So far, Showmax the African VOD newbie appears to have kept this in mind. Now it remains to be seen whether the market will warm up to it and whether or not it will dominate in the battle for African VOD supremacy.