It’s easy to get lost in the largest Internet exchange point on the continent, but Showmax, the homegrown video on demand service, is managing to stand out.
Stepping into streaming
When Showmax lauched in August of 2015, the first item on the agenda was to build a customer base. The iOS app went live in that September which then gave the fledgling service access to the high end of the market and a potential foothold among Apple device-toting influencers. A year later the streaming video on demand service reached the 20 million views milestone. This happened on the back of the voucher roll out and deals with strategic partners. The partners include Samsung, Standard Bank, Absa, MultiChoice, Vodacom and Telkom.
The focus now turns to further expansion and improving the quality of service to its existing customers in 65 countries, and that means data.
“Streaming video over the Internet isn’t difficult, but maintaining a consistently high quality service can be,” explains Mike Raath, head of distribution for Showmax. “Joining NAPAfrica gives us direct access to the largest peering network on the continent and this will reduce latency and result in faster response times and better customer experience. The ISPs also benefit through reduced transit costs and hopefully pass those savings on to the consumer.”
Showmax CEO John Kotsaftis cut his teeth in pay TV. Heading up MultiChoice’s Explora project, he left to get Showmax going, and identifies the high cost of data in Africa as Showmax’s biggest obstacle.
“We can streamline the user experience as much as we want, but if data is expensive, people can’t use it. I fought hard to keep the subscription price at R99 to remove friction, that’s also why we have all these package deals with the service providers; to push data costs out of the user’s mind,” says Kotsaftis.
From a user interface perspective the service has taken a leap into the future. It has a dramatically improved app experience across all platforms. “Our approach is mobile first, which reflects the consumer habits on the continent,” explains Kotsaftis. “We would like to get to a point where you see what you want and simply press play. For that to happen we’re improving our content discovery and personalised service.”
Showmax subscription service
This personalised service is dependent on the profile system. Because each Showmax premium subscription allows for two simultaneous streams. It also has a five-device limit, the team is conscious of family sharing. You can designate up to four different profiles on one billing account and each profile will have different content tailored to it – this will bring Showmax in line with Netflix.
On the content side, there’s a big push towards original shows. Showmax have already commissioned a couple of projects which should be ready for viewing from quarter three of 2017.
While all this development has been quite rapid, the service still lacks a few basic functions. Chief among those omissions is data service detection. At the moment your device requests the content from the service and the service can differentiate between a fixed-line and mobile connection. Content is delivered in the way that would best suit your connection. Users can manually select the quality of the stream. In a perfect world the service would automatically detect which device you’re streaming to and optimise for it.
That said, the video resolution tops out at only 720p and is better suited to mobile consumption. Importantly the service allows for downloads and offline viewing, a feature lacking on other competing platforms.
All about content
“Our marketing message when we launched was about our content library. We then turned our focus to the download functionality,” explains Kotsaftis. “Every day you have people commuting by train or taxi watching movies and series on their smartphone. They can now have legal access to those same shows and download it when they’re in a Wi-Fi zone. Our advertising for the holiday period was centered on downloading your content at work before heading off on your Christmas break.”
With its exclusive content deals (the only video-on-demand service in Africa to carry HBO shows) and constant infrastructure investment (like buying space at Teraco) dovetailing neatly with a seismic consumer shift to on-demand services, Showmax is primed to grow its footprint. Maybe it’ll even topple DStv as the pay TV brand of choice in the Naspers stable.