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Wait for Netflix’s big picture in SA

Netflix finally announced its arrival in South Africa last week, but it looked like a false start. However, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, there is a bigger picture.

The global leader in online video-on-demand movies and TV finally arrived in South Africa last week, but something looked lost in translation. Numerous titles and shows that make the American offering so attractive were missing. Pricing was in dollars. This country wasn’t even mentioned in the official announcement made at the CES 2016 tech expo in Las Vegas.

However, this is the reality of being one of 130 new Netflix territories announced at the same time. Far more lucrative markets, including Russia, India and South Korea, were part of the same switch-on. Why on earth would it give South Africa priority in its marketing presence?

The fact is that Netflix has merely switched on local availability, rather than physically launched locally. With even its pricing for South Africa based on the US structure, while offering nothing like the US range, existing video-on-demand services like Showmax, MTN’s VU and OnTapTV are not yet quaking in their boots. They probably still have a few months to assess Netflix’s local offering and ensure they are sufficiently differentiated.

Already, locally relevant content and pricing that takes into account local circumstances act as major differentiators. As a result, Netflix faces massive challenges in entering South Africa. That doesn’t mean its entry was premature, though.

Firstly, the market has exploded with competitors and options, meaning that many of the most likely users would already be grabbed by the end of 2016. Showmax has made tremendous strides in bolstering its offering, OnTapTV is moving in aggressively, MTN has relaunched its FrontRow service as VU and Times Media’s VIDI remains an option – although reports of its demise are rife.

Secondly, fibre to the home is accelerating much more rapidly than anticipated, making this a more viable market more quickly than had been expected.

Thirdly, the longer Netflix waits, the more time the competitors have to flesh out their offering to make it comparable to or better than that of Netflix. Similar dynamics may well be at work in some of the other new territories.

Clearly, the marketing power and global reputation of Netflix will be a major advantage, but the fact that it has arrived almost by stealth does not bode well for cleaning up the market. Showmax has a heavy marketing presence here and, along with the other local players, has a strong emphasis on acquiring and generating locally relevant content. That means it will own many niches before Netflix even realises these exist.

DStv is unlikely to be threatened in the short term, but it’s clear entertainment godfather Naspers started Showmax as an insurance policy against Netflix and other video-on-demand players. The thinking is that, should people migrate from DStv to video on demand, try to keep them within the same stable.

However, the real strength of DStv lies in its live sports coverage, and that’s an area where no video on demand service can compete at this stage. People who subscribe to DStv only for movies and series can be expected to migrate rapidly to VoD, because it will simply make more sense both economically and in terms of choice of content and viewing time.

Those live sports rights, in particular English premier League football, are the jewels in DStv’s crown. In Nigeria, for example, that alone has killed off the competition. Locally, a high proportion of DStv subscribers are locked in because of sports, and DStv won’t allow slicing-and-dicing of its bouquet to offer sports exclusively at a lower cost: that would be the equivalent of rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on a Titanic.

For those who are not interested in sports, Naspers created the most viable competitor to Netflix, namely Showmax. It has far more content than Netflix presently makes available in South Africa, thanks to snapping up exclusive rights to first broadcasts of a wide range of popular series, and has a strong local content catalogue that is non-existent on Netflix for now. This all translates into Naspers cannibalising itself before Netflix can.

That said, we have not yet seen massive take-up of existing services.

The main reason is that the connectivity environment has not been very conducive to streaming video, and almost every single service misread the market in terms of pricing. MTN even relaunched its service under a new name with new pricing so as not to be seen to be cutting prices. The rest have all dropped their prices. It is very possible that, when Netflix launches more formally in South Africa, it will provide a Rand-based price that is more in line with the R89-R99 monthly subscription from other providers.

For the South African market, streaming video-on-demand is still a long way from being a mass-market offering. Its requirements in appropriate devices, reasonable bandwidth and monthly subscription fee means that it is still geared towards the upper end of the market.

However, we should never underestimate the public’s appetite for entertainment. Considering that DStv has more than 5-million households subscribed, the potential for streaming video is massive. The reason so many services have launched in this country while the environment  is not yet conducive to streaming video is that they don’t want to be playing catch-up when they market is more ready. The early players will get the low-hanging fruit of ready and available customers who are installing fibre-to-the-home, and anyone delaying entry runs the risk of losing out on that lucrative market.

Ironically, the Netflix announcement is likely to do more in South Africa for Showmax than for Netflix itself.  It has already boosted Showmax as it draws attention to the sector, and demands comparisons between the two, with the local service inevitably looking like the better option.

Ultimately, however, it should be borne in mind that Netflix has merely activated a South African page, meaning its open to business from South Africans, but it has not yet formally launched a physical presence in South Africa. This is why it can be argued that it was a “soft launch”, and more of an “Oh hi, South Africa” greeting than an invasion of the country.

With the rest of the world coming on board at the same time, we couldn’t expect too much local love on day one. But Netflix has one very powerful arrow in its quiver: grand plans to unify its licensing structures across the globe.

On the day of launch the official Netflix Twitter account put out this deeply significant statement of intent: “Still prisoners of territorial licensing — moving quickly to have global availability of all content on Netflix.”

When that day comes, the skirmishes for local market share will become a full blown war. Expect a few more competitors to be gone with the wind a couple of years from now.

* 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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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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