For some years now, South Africans have been circumventing regional restrictions on the US-based Netflix service, but that’s not what has changed video-on-demand in South Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Not long after dismissing South Africa as a potential market for its movie-on-demand service, Netflix last week announced it would bring the service here within the next two years.
As vague as that timeframe may be, it set the cat among the video pigeons in this country. Expectations for Netflix transforming the local movie-watching market are, however, misplaced.
The truth is, Netflix has already transformed the local market. And no, it’s not because thousands of South Africans have found ways to bypass regional restrictions. Nor even the fact that some service providers are offering unblocking services for regional content restrictions.
These services are based on providing a DNS-masking service, which means the user’s Internet address is masked, so that a registration request appears to come from the United States rather than South Africa, for example. A simple Google search reveals dozens of options for this technique.
The problem with such services – and the thousands of South Africans who have taken advantage of them – is that it remains the arena of the techie, the geek and the early adopter. The vast majority of the population will never come close to such workarounds, as evidenced by Eighty20’s latest figures for DStv satellite TV subscriptions: one third of South African households – more than 5-million homes – have DStv. The number keeps rising, with a 23% annual growth rate recorded for the past decade.
Another statistic to pour cold bandwidth over a belief in techie-circles that Netflix is hurting DStv: its holding company, MultiChoice, last year generated revenues of R27,5-billion, and a profit of R6,3-billion. In other words, one year’s profit could fund several serious competitors to Netflix.
Meanwhile, the long-touted prospect of Netflix coming to South Africa has spurred the emergence of a variety of new players in local video-on-demand. Vidi from media group Times Media Limited and FrontRow from mobile network operator MTN both rely on broadband, while Node from technology conglomerate Altech uses a combination of satellite for downloading movies and any Internet connection for uploading requests, registrations and settings.
Apple TV is also in the mix with a local version of its movie store. Other small players peck away at the market from the edges, the equivalent of online mom-and-pop video stores.
None of these provides a comprehensive new-release service to those who are abandoning physical video stores, and even their back catalogues are disappointing for the serious movie buff.
Nevertheless, when Netflix announced in a letter to shareholders on Wednesday that it’s able to accelerate the roll-out of its international expansion plans, it was really a euphemism for saying it has to expand quickly into markets where growing numbers of competitors are staking claims to the video-on-demand territory.
That forces them to be less squeamish about conditions on the ground. Like the local newcomers, they’ve realised that, if they wait for perfect broadband, the competitive environment will become far more of a challenge than slow connections.
It is also likely they figured out that thousands of South Africans are already using their service by pretending to be elsewhere in the world.
Finally, they would have picked up on the fact that fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services are sprouting throughout South Africa, and these are ideal for Netflix. Some of the FTTH providers may well have contacted Netflix to request that it become part of the content services offered to customers, to take full advantage of fibre speeds and justify their capacity.
Netflix will have little impact on DStv in the short term. It may slow down its growth, but there is one area where no video-on-demand service can compete, and that is live sports. This is the mainstay of DStv’s market dominance throughout Africa, and Netflix is unlikely to challenge that dominance.
Netflix will comply with regional licensing requirements, as it does in all territories. For this very reason it has tried to prevent users in non-Netflix countries like South Africa from using the service. For the same reason, sadly, its offering is unlikely to be dramatically better or different from the video-on-demand competition locally.
In short, much of the potential impact that Netflix could make on the local market has already been made.
Opera launches built-in VPN on Android browser
Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser, which features a built-in virtual private network service.
Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser, Opera for Android 51, which features a built-in VPN (virtual private network) service.
A VPN allows users to create a secure connection to a public network, and is particularly useful if users are unsure of the security levels of the public networks that they use often.
The new VPN in Opera for Android 51 is free, unlimited and easy to use. When enabled, it gives users greater control of their online privacy and improves online security, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots such as coffee shops, airports and hotels. The VPN will encrypt Internet traffic into and out of their mobile devices, which reduces the risk of malicious third parties collecting sensitive information.
“There are already more than 650 million people using VPN services globally. With Opera, any Android user can now enjoy a free and no-log service that enhances online privacy and improves security,” said Peter Wallman, SVP Opera Browser for Android.
When users enable the VPN included in Opera for Android 51, they create a private and encrypted connection between their mobile device and a remote VPN server, using strong 256-bit encryption algorithms. When enabled, the VPN hides the user’s physical location, making it difficult to track their activities on the internet.
The browser VPN service is also a no-log service, which means that the VPN servers do not log and retain any activity data, all to protect users privacy.
“Users are exposed to so many security risks when they connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots without a VPN,” said Wallman. “Enabling Opera VPN means that users makes it difficult for third parties to steal information, and users can avoid being tracked. Users no longer need to question if or how they can protect their personal information in these situations.”
According to a report by the Global World Index in 2018, the use of VPNs on mobile devices is rising. More than 42 percent of VPN users on mobile devices use VPN on a daily basis, and 35 percent of VPN users on computers use VPN daily.
The report also shows that South African VPN users said that their main reason for using a VPN service is to remain anonymous while they are online.
“Young people in particular are concerned about their online privacy as they increasingly live their lives online,” said Wallman. “Opera for Android 51 makes it easy to benefit from the security and anonymity of VPN , especially for those may not be aware of how to set these up.”
Setting up the Opera VPN is simple. Users just tap on the browser settings, go to VPN and enable the feature according to their preference. They can also select the region of their choice.
The built-in VPN is free, which means that users don’t need to download additional apps on their smartphones or pay additional fees as they would for other private VPN services. With no sign-in process, users don’t need to log in every time they want to use it.
Opera for Android is available for download in Google Play. The rollout of the new version of Opera for Android 51 will be done gradually per region.
Future of the car is here
Three new cars, with vastly different price-tags, reveal the arrival of the future of wheels, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
Just a few months ago, it was easy to argue that the car of the future was still a long way off, at least in South Africa. But a series of recent car launches have brought the high-tech vehicle to the fore in startling ways.
The Jaguar i-Pace electric vehicle (EV), BMW 330i and the Datsun Go have little in common, aside from representing an almost complete spectrum of car prices on the local market. Their tags start, respectively, at R1.7-million, R650 000 and R150 000.
Such a widely disparate trio of vehicles do not exactly come together to point to the future. Rather, they represent different futures for different segments of the market. But they also reveal what we can expect to become standard in most vehicles produced in the 2020s.
The i-Pace may be out of reach of most South Africans, but it ushers in two advances that will resonate throughout the EV market as it welcomes new and more affordable cars. It is the first electric vehicle in South Africa to beat the bugbear of range anxiety.
Unlike the pioneering “old” Nissan Leaf, which had a range of up to about 150km, and did not lend itself to long distance travel, the i-Pace has a 470km range, bringing it within shouting distance of fuel-powered vehicles. A trip from Johannesburg to Durban, for example, would need just one recharge along the way.
And that brings in the other major advance: the i-Pace is the first EV launched in South Africa together with a rapid public charging network on major routes. It also comes with a home charging kit, which means the end of filling up at petrol stations.
The Jaguar i-Pace dispels one further myth about EVs: that they don’t have much power under the hood. A test drive around Gauteng revealed not only a gutsy engine, but acceleration on a par with anything in its class, and enough horsepower to enhance the safety of almost any overtaking situation.
Specs for the Jaguar i-Pace include:
- All-wheel drive
- Twin motors with a combined 294kW and 696Nm
- 0-100km/h in 4.8s
- 90kWh Lithium-ion battery, delivering up to 470km range
- Eight-year/160 000km battery warranty
- Two-year/34 000km service intervals
Click here to read about BMW’s self-driving technology, and how Datsun makes smart technology affordable.