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Wait for Netflix’s big picture in SA

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Netflix finally announced its arrival in South Africa last week, but it looked like a false start. However, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, there is a bigger picture.

The global leader in online video-on-demand movies and TV finally arrived in South Africa last week, but something looked lost in translation. Numerous titles and shows that make the American offering so attractive were missing. Pricing was in dollars. This country wasn’t even mentioned in the official announcement made at the CES 2016 tech expo in Las Vegas.

However, this is the reality of being one of 130 new Netflix territories announced at the same time. Far more lucrative markets, including Russia, India and South Korea, were part of the same switch-on. Why on earth would it give South Africa priority in its marketing presence?

The fact is that Netflix has merely switched on local availability, rather than physically launched locally. With even its pricing for South Africa based on the US structure, while offering nothing like the US range, existing video-on-demand services like Showmax, MTN’s VU and OnTapTV are not yet quaking in their boots. They probably still have a few months to assess Netflix’s local offering and ensure they are sufficiently differentiated.

Already, locally relevant content and pricing that takes into account local circumstances act as major differentiators. As a result, Netflix faces massive challenges in entering South Africa. That doesn’t mean its entry was premature, though.

Firstly, the market has exploded with competitors and options, meaning that many of the most likely users would already be grabbed by the end of 2016. Showmax has made tremendous strides in bolstering its offering, OnTapTV is moving in aggressively, MTN has relaunched its FrontRow service as VU and Times Media’s VIDI remains an option – although reports of its demise are rife.

Secondly, fibre to the home is accelerating much more rapidly than anticipated, making this a more viable market more quickly than had been expected.

Thirdly, the longer Netflix waits, the more time the competitors have to flesh out their offering to make it comparable to or better than that of Netflix. Similar dynamics may well be at work in some of the other new territories.

Clearly, the marketing power and global reputation of Netflix will be a major advantage, but the fact that it has arrived almost by stealth does not bode well for cleaning up the market. Showmax has a heavy marketing presence here and, along with the other local players, has a strong emphasis on acquiring and generating locally relevant content. That means it will own many niches before Netflix even realises these exist.

DStv is unlikely to be threatened in the short term, but it’s clear entertainment godfather Naspers started Showmax as an insurance policy against Netflix and other video-on-demand players. The thinking is that, should people migrate from DStv to video on demand, try to keep them within the same stable.

However, the real strength of DStv lies in its live sports coverage, and that’s an area where no video on demand service can compete at this stage. People who subscribe to DStv only for movies and series can be expected to migrate rapidly to VoD, because it will simply make more sense both economically and in terms of choice of content and viewing time.

Those live sports rights, in particular English premier League football, are the jewels in DStv’s crown. In Nigeria, for example, that alone has killed off the competition. Locally, a high proportion of DStv subscribers are locked in because of sports, and DStv won’t allow slicing-and-dicing of its bouquet to offer sports exclusively at a lower cost: that would be the equivalent of rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on a Titanic.

For those who are not interested in sports, Naspers created the most viable competitor to Netflix, namely Showmax. It has far more content than Netflix presently makes available in South Africa, thanks to snapping up exclusive rights to first broadcasts of a wide range of popular series, and has a strong local content catalogue that is non-existent on Netflix for now. This all translates into Naspers cannibalising itself before Netflix can.

That said, we have not yet seen massive take-up of existing services.

The main reason is that the connectivity environment has not been very conducive to streaming video, and almost every single service misread the market in terms of pricing. MTN even relaunched its service under a new name with new pricing so as not to be seen to be cutting prices. The rest have all dropped their prices. It is very possible that, when Netflix launches more formally in South Africa, it will provide a Rand-based price that is more in line with the R89-R99 monthly subscription from other providers.

For the South African market, streaming video-on-demand is still a long way from being a mass-market offering. Its requirements in appropriate devices, reasonable bandwidth and monthly subscription fee means that it is still geared towards the upper end of the market.

However, we should never underestimate the public’s appetite for entertainment. Considering that DStv has more than 5-million households subscribed, the potential for streaming video is massive. The reason so many services have launched in this country while the environment  is not yet conducive to streaming video is that they don’t want to be playing catch-up when they market is more ready. The early players will get the low-hanging fruit of ready and available customers who are installing fibre-to-the-home, and anyone delaying entry runs the risk of losing out on that lucrative market.

Ironically, the Netflix announcement is likely to do more in South Africa for Showmax than for Netflix itself.  It has already boosted Showmax as it draws attention to the sector, and demands comparisons between the two, with the local service inevitably looking like the better option.

Ultimately, however, it should be borne in mind that Netflix has merely activated a South African page, meaning its open to business from South Africans, but it has not yet formally launched a physical presence in South Africa. This is why it can be argued that it was a “soft launch”, and more of an “Oh hi, South Africa” greeting than an invasion of the country.

With the rest of the world coming on board at the same time, we couldn’t expect too much local love on day one. But Netflix has one very powerful arrow in its quiver: grand plans to unify its licensing structures across the globe.

On the day of launch the official Netflix Twitter account put out this deeply significant statement of intent: “Still prisoners of territorial licensing — moving quickly to have global availability of all content on Netflix.”

When that day comes, the skirmishes for local market share will become a full blown war. Expect a few more competitors to be gone with the wind a couple of years from now.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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