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.
Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart
Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.
As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page
KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching.
The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter.
The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style.
The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button.
The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on.
In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode.
Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.
Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.
Find them on Kickstarter here.
Taxify enters Google Maps
A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.
People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.
Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.
Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.
If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.
This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.
“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.
Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.