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Video-on-Demand heats up in SA

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The arrival of a new Video-on-Demand service in South Africa last week added a new flavour to an intriguing marketplace, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When MTN announced last week it would shut down its video-on-demand (VOD) service, VU, just more than a year after Times Media lowered the curtain on a VOD service called Vidi, many assumed it was now a two-horse race between Naspers-owned ShowMax and the global giant Netflix.

But the news was barely cold when a new player unveiled its offering. An online service called Digital Entertainment on Demand (DEOD) has been launched by a VOD solutions provider, Discover Digital. They happen to be the same company that provided the platform for MTN’s VU, and would have learned a few lesson’s from MTN’s failure to set the market alight.

The key lessons are fairly obvious, though:

  • It requires massive marketing budgets or clever niche programming – or both – to go up against the vast offering of Netflix, even given the fact that it has a more limited catalogue than the original US service;
  • Without live sports, the bulk of the pay TV market remains firmly in the hands of Multichoice and its DStv bouquet – with Supersport still one of the best live sport services in the world;
  • The number of people with the kind of high-speed connectivity needed to watch high-definition video via the Internet is still tiny, relative to the scale needed to make such a service profitable.

Nevertheless, when the first inklings of Netflix’s arrival in South Africa surfaced, it became clear that DStv subscribers who were only watching movies and video series would be easy pickings for the US-based provider, which has single-handedly destroyed the video rental industry in the USA. As a result, Naspers decided to set up its own competitor, preferring to see customers jump ship to a sister company rather than to the competition.

ShowMax has worked hard to differentiate itself, with the largest South African movie and series catalogue available from any provider. However, this does not appear to have been an effective enough counter to Netflix’s secret weapon: the ability to bring its own high-quality productions to a global audience simultaneously.

But there is one market where it has made a massive impact through a keen understanding of local dynamics. In Kenya, it has achieved instant success, partly through adopting the same local content strategy in South Africa. But the most important factor in its success is its understanding of the local dynamics of the economy.

It has allowed viewers to subscribe via M-PESA, the Kenyan-born mobile money service that has transformed payments in East Africa. Users can also purchase a single movie at a time, making it the most affordable as well as accessible VOD service in Africa.

Into this stormy mix, in the past week, DEOD made its entry.

It offers a standard selection of rental and subscription movie and video series content, but has added two elements that give it more of a YouTube than a Netflix feel.

The first is a news service that includes most major news channels from around the world. Since viewers tend to stick to one or two news sources, this one is unlikely to have the competition sit up and take notice. The second new element however, is a potential winner.

A Sports Pack gives access to a range of popular niche sports that have been largely ignored by mainstream TV, with the aim of giving sports participants, sporting bodies and sponsors exposure. It includes no less than five niche channels:

* Channel Edge HD – an extreme sports bouquet;

* Fightbox HD – covering all forms of fighting and martial arts;

* Motorvision TV – an automotive and motorsport channel;

* Nautical channel – for sailing and boating enthusiasts;

* Sportskool – a tuition based channel with instructional sports content.

“The new DEOD sports offering is just the first of a broader range of Discover Digital on-demand services set to propel South African niche sports into the limelight,” says Discover Digital managing director Stephen Watson.

“There are probably 40 or more sports in South Africa that have thousands of participants, national championships and even international competitions, which do not enjoy airtime on traditional TV in South Africa.

“Via the DEOD sports desk, they now have an opportunity to secure coverage of their events among local fans. We also have the capacity to help sporting bodies stream, package and archive their events on any number of digital platforms for a broader international audience, which allows their sponsors to gain more exposure, better monetise their events, and showcase their participants.”

These include sports like women’s hockey, SuperGP, mountain biking, surfing, gymnastics, tennis, netball, water sports and boxing, along with school leagues and tournaments with large followings.

Discover Digital plans to send its own experienced production team to help schools and sports bodies learn how to record, stream, archive and monetise their own content.

It is an open secret that no one can compete with DStv for the rights to major sports leagues and events. But in that very strategy lurks the massive gap that DEOD has spotted: the content Multichoice doesn’t want, but that tens of thousands of viewers do.

 

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

The cost of catching DEOD

DEOD app: free to download for Android (from Play Store) and IOS (App Store).

Rent a single movie: R18

On Demand – All movies, series, music: R79 a month

All News channels: R49 a month

All sports channels: R99 a month

News + On demand: R99 a month

Sports + On Demand: R159

Five devices are allowed to access each subscription. All titles are initially available in Standard Definition. Later, DEOD will introduce Chromecast and Airplay support, along with Smart TV apps for all TV brands, and High-Definition will then be enabled.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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