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ShowMax Year 1: ‘What we learned’

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Launched one year ago, ShowMax has clocked up over 10 million views – more than 700 years’ worth of TV shows and movies. We’ve learned much about what people watch and when they watch it, writes BARRON ERNST, Chief Product Officer for ShowMax.

We launched ShowMax on 19 August 2015, hitting the ground running with Africa’s largest on-demand catalogue of TV shows and movies. Over the past 12 months we’ve clocked up well over 10 million views, or more than 700 years’ worth of content if viewed back to back.

It’s been an insanely busy year for our team. My intention isn’t to boast, because we’ve got loads more to do, but dispassionately I’d say we’ve achieved a fair amount in that time. Enabling content downloads, setting up data usage caps, putting together a cash voucher system, and implementing multiple user profiles are some of the tougher technical challenges we solved, with additional tweaks and upgrades taking place on an almost daily basis. On top of that, since the launch we’ve added support for AirPlay, Apple TV, Chromecast, the DStv Explora, and more smart TVs.

So what have we learned about subscription video on demand in Africa? Here are some highlights. The survey I refer to was conducted earlier this year with just over 1,000 respondents.

When do people watch?

According to our stats, the peak viewing time is between 6 and 11 in the evening, reaching an absolute peak at around 8pm. Interestingly, the busiest days aren’t Friday or Saturday (we thought date night might be our killer function); instead we hit peak-couch-potato on Sundays.

How popular is internet TV in South Africa?

Our survey suggests that subscription video on demand (SVOD) usage is set to rapidly accelerate in South Africa. Only 35% of those surveyed currently subscribe to an internet TV service, but when asked whether they plan to be using an internet TV service within the next six months, that number rose to 65% of the respondents.

Why do people subscribe?

The main reason that people report using SVOD services is to access a wider range of content (39%), followed by access to the latest content (22%), and value for money (16%). Interestingly, given what we know of the binge-watching global phenomenon, only 13% listed binge-watching  as the main reason for using this type of service.

What do people prefer to use to watch SVOD?

There can be a marked difference between how people in different countries view video content. In some countries, the majority watch on mobile devices, while in others there’s a preference for “lean back” viewing on TVs and computers.

The survey suggests that in South Africa things appear to be split pretty much down the middle. The following are the answers to “which device(s) do you use to watch internet TV” by people currently subscribed to a service. Respondents were able to select more than one device which is why the results come to more than 100%:

  • 68% computer
  • 63% tablet
  • 37% smartphone
  • 31% smart TV
  • 7% Apple TV
  • 6% other

What’s most important in a service?

When asked what aspects of an internet TV service are most important, the following factors were all ranked as “very important” by 50% or more of the respondents.

  • Good video quality (66%)
  • Value for money (61%)
  • Right payment options (55%)
  • Available on right devices (54%)
  • Product features (52%)
  • International content (50%)

In a sense, the answers aren’t surprising, but in the context of Africa they take on extra meaning. For example, the fact that video quality came out on top obviously highlights the importance of making sure your content delivery network is up to scratch, but given the fact that many users connect via mobile in less-than-optimal conditions, it shows that a service needs to go even further to improve the user experience. In our case that’s why we’ve delivered solutions for offline viewing (downloads), dynamic streaming, bandwidth capping, and even less-obvious solutions like reducing picture file sizes when displaying content “movie posters” on mobile devices.

How many hours do people watch per week?

Is there a couch potato tendency among the group surveyed? It’s difficult to do a direct comparison, but the results suggest that South Africans may indeed be ahead of the curve when it comes to how many hours are spent watching internet TV.

Ericsson published a Consumer Lab report in September 2015 that looked at viewing habits in multiple countries http://www.ericsson.com/news/1949448. This study found that on average, people watched 6.0 hours of streamed on-demand TV programmes, series and movies per week.

The respondents in South Africa who are subscribed to an internet TV service reported the following weekly viewing:

  • less than 5 hours 26%
  • 5 to 10 hours 44%
  • 10 to 15 hours 17%
  • 15 or more hours 11%
  • don’t know 2%

What’s stopping people from subscribing?

What’s the main reason holding people back from subscribing? The clear answer is the cost of internet access (40%) rather than a lack of understanding how to access the services (20%). 15% of people find normal TV easier to use. Somewhat surprisingly, only 9% said that they don’t subscribe because they can pirate the content illegally.

Where to from here for ShowMax?

Pulling all this together, our take on the state of the industry one year in is that the time is right for SVOD in Africa. Having said that, it’s by no means an easy sell or an easy ride. We firmly believe that this isn’t a game of one-size-fits-all, and that localising your service, content, and partnerships is key. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost and availability of decent internet connectivity is the biggest hurdle, but we believe there are elegant solutions, some of which we’ve already deployed and some of which are still in the works.

Arts and Entertainment

Netflix to make SA series

The world leader in streaming movies has announced the first South African production to join its Originals roster.

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World leader in entertainment streaming services Netflix this week announced its first Original series in Africa, with South African series Queen Sono.

The news comes immediately in the wake of local rival Showmax announcing it’s first original drama production. In this context, it heralds a new phase in the evolution of streaming video-on-demand in South Africa.

The action-packed series follows Queen Sono, the highly trained top spy in a South African agency whose purpose is to better the lives of African citizens. While taking on her most dangerous mission yet, she must also face changing relationships in her personal life. The series will be created by Director, Kagiso Lediga and Executive producer Tamsin Andersson.

South African actress, Pearl Thusi, will star as Queen Sono, with the character having been created with her in mind. Thusi is also known for her performance in the romantic dramedy, Catching Feelings, available on Netflix.

Pearl Thusi stars as Queen Sono in Netflix’s first original series in Africa.

“We are excited to be working with Kagiso and Pearl, to bring the story of Queen Sono to life, and we expect it to be embraced by our South African users and global audiences alike.” said Erik Barmack, Vice President of International Original Series at Netflix.

“We are delighted to create this original series with Netflix, and are super excited by their undeniable ability to take this homegrown South African story to a global audience. We believe Queen Sono will kick the door open for more awesome stories from this part of the world” added the director and executive producer of the series, Kagiso Lediga.

The series is due to start production in 2019.

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Arts and Entertainment

Showmax shoots its first local drama

Showmax has completed filming its first commissioned drama, as it builds out its roster of original content.

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The Girl From St Agnes, Showmax’s first original drama, wrapped on 28 November 2018 after filming in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and Johannesburg. The eight-part whodunnit premieres on Showmax on 31 January 2019. It is the second series in a programme designed to build out its roster of exclusive, original content.

As Netflix takes hold as South Africa’s preferred streaming video-on-demand service,  Showmax owner MultiChoice has made a string of strategic announcements designed to take the DStv paid satellite broadcasting service into the streaming era. Original content is critical to this strategy, as Netflix is on track to become the world’s biggest movie studio.

Showmax is available in 70 countries.

Photographer: Patrick Toselli

“Our first Original – last year’s light-hearted comedy Tali’s Wedding Diary – had the most successful launch day of any series on Showmax ever,” says Candice Fangueiro, head of content at Showmax. “This is a complete change of direction: The Girl From St Agnes is a dark murder mystery that will keep you guessing and taps into the current conversations in South Africa about #metoo and teen sexuality.”

At St Agnes, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands, a popular and beautiful student is found dead at the base of the old mill. Fearful of the scandal it might cause, the school is quick to declare the death of Lexi Summerveld a tragic accident.

But drama teacher Kate Ballard doesn’t believe it. On the night of her death, an upset Lexi had been trying to contact her, and Kate had ignored her. Now wracked with guilt, Kate attempts to piece together the terrible truth.

The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t know Lexi or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…

Newcomer Jane De Wet was handpicked to play Lexi by legendary South African casting director Moonyeenn Lee (Tsotsi), who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the last three years, for The Looming Tower and Roots.

Kate is played by Nina Milner, who modelled for Vogue Germany and at Paris Fashion Week last year and most recently starred in Troy: Fall Of A City as Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons.

Jane and Nina are joined by an impressive supporting cast that includes internationally recognised South African talent like Robert Hobbs (District9), Tyrone Keogh (24 Hours To Live), Tessa Jubber (Wallander), Karl Thaning (Dredd) and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City) opposite local favourites like Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), Richard Lukunku (Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word), Zakeeya Patel (High Rollers), Graham Hopkins (The Lab) and three-time South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) winner Jerry Mofokeng (Heist, Tsotsi), not to mention hot new talent like Paige Bonnin and Tristan de Beer.

The Girl From St Agnes is being produced by Quizzical Pictures, winners of the SAFTA for Best Drama for six of the last eight years, as well as a Peabody. Producer Harriet Gavshon, Quizzical Pictures’ managing director, is drawing on her own private school experiences, which sparked the original idea for the show. This is the first time Harriet has produced a series, rather than just executive producing, since 2009’s Hopeville, which won Best Drama and Miniseries at Rose d’Or, was nominated for an International Emmy, and was a finalist at Monte Carlo.

Catharine Cooke, who won this year’s Best Director In a TV Drama SAFTA for iNumber Number, co-directed the shoot with Cindy Lee, a commercials director helming her first drama series, having previously worked as the social media director on the Emmy-winning Black Mirror. Double SAFTA winner Gillian Breslin (Umlilo; 4Play: Sex Tips For Girls) is head writer. This makes Girl From St Agnes a rare TV series commissioned, produced, written and directed by women.

“What links Girl From St Agnes, Tali’s Wedding Diary and the other Showmax Originals in the pipeline is our aim to work with the best South African talent and be the home for brave, quirky and at times edgy local stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Candice. “Creating new characters that audiences come to love and follow is an incredibly rewarding experience and we want to establish a platform for more ‘Tali’s’ across varied genres.”

All eight episodes can be binged on Showmax from 31 January 2019.

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