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Netflix goes into overdrive in SA

As Netflix prepares for the airing of its first South African “Original” TV series, the streaming wars are going into overdrive, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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On 28 February next year, an earthquake will hit South Africa. It won’t shake the ground, but will rattle many homes as the hype around South Africa’s first Netflix Original TV series reaches a crescendo.

That’s the day Queen Sono debuts on the Internet streaming service, heralding a new era for TV production in South Africa. 

In the surface, it is about an unconventional spy, played by Pearl Thusi, who dedicates her life to protecting the people of Africa after the assassination of her mother. The real plot emerges during a dangerous field assignment, when she learns shocking details about her mother’s death. A quest for the truth begins.

The series will mark numerous firsts, not least the technology miracle that will make it the first South African production to be released across the globe, in 190 countries, at the same time. That is made possible by the fact that Netflix hosts its content on Amazon Web Services, world’s biggest cloud computing service provider. It means that the content can be released simultaneously in every country served by Netflix, with local adaptation, licensing and regulation automatically in place.

Queen Sono was created and directed by Kagiso Lediga, creator of Catching Feelings, a 2018 movie, also starring Pearl Thusi, and bought by Netflix after it had been made. He co-writes Queen Sono with Camilo Saloojee, Christopher Steenkamp and Muzi Dlamini, making it Netflix’s first script-to-screen, fully produced African original series, with the cast and crew entirely African.

The backing of Netflix meant that production company Dieprente could embrace international production values.

“As much as you wanted to treat it as an African show, we were well aware that it had to have international appeal,” director of photography Motheo Moeng recently told Gadget.

As a result, it was shot in 37 different locations across Africa, including the Johannesburg CBD, Sandton, Park Station, Soweto, Lagos, Kenya, and Zanzibar.  It uses a range of languages, including English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Russian and French.

Lediga, who also heads up Diprente, told us:  “We’ve always had this thing of local stories with a global perspective. Even with stand-up, our community has been the drive. When I started directing films, the idea was to get into festivals and get a global audience. And then when Netflix picked up one of my films, I started working with audiences around the world. I was like, I get it, people are thirsty for these types of stories.”

It also gave Lediga the opportunity to act as showrunner – a concept common to international TV productions, but relatively new to South Africa. Netflix gives showrunners wide creative leeway, something not lost on Lediga.

“[Being writer and director] gives one the ability to carry out the vision. I mean, it’s not just that I’m wearing many hats. But there’s the other creators, other heads of department: from production designer to cinematographer, to the other writers that I work with. So it’s great, I guess that being a showrunner you kind of have to touch on all of those.

“It’s a huge responsibility in terms of carrying out the narrative. Sometimes what’s great is when you come up with an idea, and then when you see it when, either you’re sitting behind the monitor, directing, or while you’re sitting and editing, and you’re like ‘Whoa, that’s exactly how we imagined it’.”

Queen Sono will join a series of Netflix TV series that have received massive marketing in South Africa, including Umbrella Academy earlier this year and the highly anticipated Witcher, which airs this Friday.

It is based on a best-selling series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and is described as “an epic tale of fate and family”. It follows the intertwined destinies of three individuals in the vast world of The Continent, where humans, elves, witchers, gnomes, and monsters battle to survive. Unlike typical stories in this genre, the lines blur between good and evil, adding to the intrigue of the series.

The key characters are played by Henry Cavill (Mission Impossible – Fallout, Man of Steel) as Geralt of Rivia, Anya Chalotra (The ABC Murders, Wanderlust) as Yennefer, and Freya Allan (The Third Day, Into The Badlands) as Ciri.  

Although the saga is no mystery – there have been seven books, with three major video game releases – Netflix is keeping details of the series under tight wraps. 

Arguably, the success of the video games have been the main motivation for the Netflix series.

The original 2007 action role-playing game, The Witcher, was released by Polish game developers CD Projekt Red, featuring Geralt of Rivia, one of the Witchers: traveling monster hunter with supernatural powers. The game gained a cult following due to building the storyline around a system of moral choices. Consequences played themselves out over time, and it avoided traditional good-or-evil morality.

The game was originally made for Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X. The sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, was released in 2011, adding consoles for the first time, with an  Xbox 360 version. In 2015, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt added PlayStation4  and Xbox One. This year, the game was ported to Nintendo Switch.

It is appropriate, then, that the story make another technological leap, from book to computer to console and finally to streaming TV. More than that, Netflix has announced a second season of eight episodes, due to begin production in London early in 2020, for a 2021 release.  

That the second season has been announced before the airing of the initial eight episodes speaks volumes about Netflix’s vigorous approach to the streaming wars. 

In South Africa, viewers are spoiled by a vast and growing catalogue from Internet streaming video-on-demand service Showmax, which has wrapped up the rights to archive after archive of local content. It is also becoming the go-to destination for new series from US network HBO, including Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley. In the United States, much of the international series content seen here on Showmax is  streamed on the HBO Go video-on-demand service. It is joined by ever-growing rosters of movies and series streamed by Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+ – the latter also available in South Africa.

For viewers, streaming represents the golden age of TV series, and South Africa is not about to be left behind.

  • 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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Second-hand smartphone market booms

The worldwide market for used smartphones is forecast to grow to 332.9 million units, with a market value of $67 billion, in 2023, according to IDC

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International Data Corporation (IDC) expects worldwide shipments of used smartphones, inclusive of both officially refurbished and used smartphones, to reach a total of 206.7 million units in 2019. This represents an increase of 17.6% over the 175.8 million units shipped in 2018. A new IDC forecast projects used smartphone shipments will reach 332.9 million units in 2023 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.6% from 2018 to 2023.

This growth can be attributed to an uptick in demand for used smartphones that offer considerable savings compared with new models. Moreover, OEMs have struggled to produce new models that strike a balance between desirable new features and a price that is seen as reasonable. Looking ahead, IDC expects the deployment of 5G networks and smartphones to impact the used market as smartphone owners begin to trade in their 4G smartphones for the promise of high-performing 5G devices.

Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, says: “In contrast to the recent declines in the new smartphone market, as well as the forecast for minimal growth in new shipments over the next few years, the used market for smartphones shows no signs of slowing down across all parts of the globe. Refurbished and used devices continue to provide cost-effective alternatives to both consumers and businesses that are looking to save money when purchasing a smartphone. Moreover, the ability for vendors to push more affordable refurbished devices in markets in which they normally would not have a presence is helping these players grow their brand as well as their ecosystem of apps, services, and accessories.”

Worldwide Used Smartphone Shipments (shipments in millions of units)

Region2018
Shipments
2018 Market
Share
2023
Shipments*
2023 Market
Share*
2018-2023
CAGR*
North America39.022.2%87.226.2%17.4%
Rest of World136.877.8%245.773.8%12.4%
Total175.8100.0%332.9100.0%13.6%

Source: IDC, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023, Dec 2019.

Table Notes: Data is subject to change.
* Forecast projections.

Says Will Stofega, program director, Mobile Phones: “Although drivers such as regulatory compliance and environmental initiatives are still positively impacting the growth in the used market, the importance of cost-saving for new devices will continue to drive growth. Overall, we feel that the ability to use a previously owned device to fund the purchase of either a new or used device will play the most crucial role in the growth of the refurbished phone market. Trade-in combined with the increase in financing plans (EIP) will ultimately be the two main drivers of the refurbished phone market moving forward.”

According to IDC’s taxonomy, a refurbished smartphone is a device that has been used and disposed of at a collection point by its owner. Once the device has been examined and classified as suitable for refurbishment, it is sent off to a facility for reconditioning and is eventually sold via a secondary market channel. A refurbished smartphone is not a “hand me down” or gained as the result of a person-to-person sale or trade.

The IDC report, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023 (Doc #US45726219), provides an overview and five-year forecast of the worldwide refurbished phone market and its expansion and growth by 2023. This study also provides a look at key players and the impact they will have on vendors, carriers, and consumers.

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Customers and ‘super apps’ will shape travel in 2020s

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Customers will take far more control of their travel experience in the 2020s, according to a 2020 Trends report released this week by Travelport, a leading technology company serving the global travel industry.

Through independent research with thousands of global travellers – including 500 in South Africa – hundreds of travel professionals and interviews with leaders of some of the world’s biggest travel brands, Travelport uncovered the major forces that will become the technology enablers of travel over the next decade. These include:

Customers in control

Several trends highlight the finding that customers are moving towards self-service options, with 61% of the travellers surveyed in South Africa preferring to hear about travel disruption via digital communications, such as push notifications on an app, mobile chatbots, or instant messaging apps, rather than speaking with a person on the phone. This is especially important when it comes to young travellers under 25, seen as the future business traveler, and managing their high expectations through technology.

Mobile takeover

With the threat of super app domination, online travel agencies must disrupt or risk being disrupted. Contextual messaging across the journey will help. Super app tech giants like WeChat give their users a one-stop shop to communicate, shop online, book travel, bank, find a date, get food delivery, and pay for anything within a single, unified smartphone app. Travel brands that want to deliver holistic mobile customer experiences need to think about how they engage travellers within these super apps as well as in their own mobile channels.

Retail accelerated

In the next year, research shows, we will see an accelerated rate of change in the way travel is retailed and purchased online. This includes wider and more complex multi-content reach, more enriched and comparable offerings, more focus on relevance than magnitude, and an increase in automation that enables customer self-service.

“How customers engage with their travel experience – for instance by interacting with digital ‘bots’ and expecting offers better personalised to their needs – is changing rapidly,” says Adrian Roodt, country manager for Southern Africa at Travelport. “We in the travel industry need to understand and keep pace with these forces to make sure we’re continuing to make the experience of buying and managing travel continually better, for everyone.”

Read the full 2020 Trends report here: 2020 Trends hub.

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