There are those among us that held off on watching Game of Thrones (GoT). They fancied themselves architects of the counterculture, far above the lowly pleasures of the simple-folk. They paid for their ‘class’ though. For a number of years not a single conversation did not involve some GoT talk.
These counterculturists thanked their lucky stars when GoT closed its curtain with a whimper 3 years ago. A disappointing final season gave rise to the loudest GoT talk but in due time all that ended. All was right with the world again. Except that the prequel spinoff we were promised is upon us – House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon opened to massive viewership numbers, claiming the biggest launch for any new original series in HBO history. It had about 10 million viewers on premiere night and that had risen to over 20 million in just the U.S before the week was up. Mind you that’s just episode 1.
House of the Dragon episodes air weekly and we are up to episode 3 now. Reception has been positive and a second season has already been commissioned. So, dear counterculturist, it’s happening again. Get ready for some Game of Thrones talk again.
I have only watched episode 1 so far and it soundly transported me back into that world. I am not going to spoil it. All I can say is that it loos like we are going to be talking about this show a lot. The cinematography, the pacing, the acting and the story are all good.
Not on DStv
For all it’s success so far, it looks like it has not been a hit on DStv. On DStv the show airs on the M-Net channel which is only available on the US$75 per month Premium package. Apparently, only 7,701 subscribers watched the premiere in South Africa, that’s 1.1%-2.75% of all subscribers.
To note is that those figures don’t include DStv Catch Up views, of which most people view from there apparently. However, it was still an abysmal performance. On HBO in the US, 20% of subscribers tuned in and Sky in the UK saw 6.6% tune in to make for the biggest premier of an American show in the country.
In all this remember DStv has more Premium subscribers in South Africa (1.4 million) than in the Rest of Africa combined (1.1 million.)
Questions are already being asked on just how important premium international content still is for DStv. In South Africa, the Broadcasting Research Council’s data shows that of the 30 most watched shows, the vast majority are local shows. Even on DStv, the three most watched shows are South African soapies.
I know those soapies have fans here in Zimbabwe, I don’t get why, but they do. This spells trouble for some of us who don’t like those shows. DStv says they are taking on a hyperlocal strategy which will see a deemphasis on international premium content.
I don’t like this but the data makes it look like it’s a wise decision. Why should DStv pay the big bucks to get shows like House of the Dragon when viewers seem to love cheaper local content more?
The question though is, are people willing to pay the big bucks for those local shows? How many people would pay $75 for a Premium package when the flagship shows are Uzalo and Gomora? Asked another way, can DStv lock Gomora behind the Premium package and get away with it?
I don’t think so. I think with the hyperlocal strategy, DStv should be willing to lose more Premium subscribers. They have already been losing Premium subscribers and if they skimp out on the international shows they should expect to accelerate that process.
They can count on keeping most of the sports fans though. For all the entertainment options there are now, sports fans don’t really have options. It’s DStv/Showmax or nothing for the most part.
One of the reasons why House of the Dragon didn’t perform so well is because we now have more entertainment options. Back when GoT aired, Netflix and the other streaming services were not available for most of us in Africa.
Now we are spoilt for choice and that is one reason why it’s a harder for a show to hit the heights that GoT reached.
I watched House of the Dragon on HBO via Showmax. If you didn’t know, Showmax has an arrangement with HBO which sees HBO bundled in with a Showmax subscription.
So, while people like me may not have been counted amongst the DStv viewers, we are still in the Mutlichoice stable. However, we didn’t need a $75 Premium package to watch the show. I got Showmax to watch football and the HBO thing was just a bonus. Remember the mobile only Showmax package with football + HBO costs US$8.99.
These streaming options look set to continue to grow popular even as Netflix, one of the giants, struggles in developed markets. Experts expect the subscription video on demand (SvoD) industry in Africa to grow in the next 5 years, in spite of connectivity challenges on the continent.
SvoD subscribers are expected to reach 10 million by 2027 and Showmax and Netflix should maintain their dominance in Africa.
Others say Showmax dominates the market with 2 million whist Netflix has 1.5 million. Whatever the actual case is, all are agreed that this industry is growing. Disney+ has only just dipped its toes into the African SvoD waters and it has had an explosive start.
What are you watching?
I remember the 90s where we would all watch the same shows at the same times. These days with a multitude of options and video on demand, we all live in our own neat silos. We don’t listen to the same music and we don’t watch the same shows for the most part.
I wonder then, what are guys watching and on which platforms? I’d like to think if we counted up everyone using VPNs and foreign addresses, House of the Dragon has a sizeable fanbase in Africa, if GoT popularity is anything to go by.