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How Netflix has changed video in SA (and it’s not what you think)

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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.

netflix1

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.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

 

 

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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