Streaming video to the max

By Alan Cooper Time of article published Sep 1, 2015

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For more than a year there have been rumours that wildly successful global streaming video service Netflix is on its way to South Africa. The latest talk is that it’ll launch here in December.

When Netflix does storm our digital beaches, it will find them well defended. That’s because Mzansi-based media behemoth Naspers, owner of DStv, has just launched its streaming service, ShowMax.

For the uninitiated, streaming video, also known as video on demand, allows you to watch movies and shows on a range of web-connected devices including smartphones, tablets, PCs and smart TVs. The content is delivered over the internet rather than traditional broadcast or satellite channels.

I have been trying out ShowMax for the 10 days since its launch and I predict that unless Netflix brings its A game, it’s in for an extremely rough landing.

For one thing, the ShowMax catalogue of movies, series and documentaries is likely to dwarf anything Netflix has to offer.

In the US, Netflix offers around 30 000 hours of content. But its South African catalogue is unlikely to be anything near as well stocked. That’s because each territory has its own licensing agreement. If some of Netflix’s other overseas markets are anything to go by, it is unlikely to arrive here with a content basket that is much bigger than 5 000 hours.

ShowMax, by contrast, is offering 10 000 hours of entertainment, including a sizeable selection of locally-made content.

Blockbuster shows include Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, Suits, and Arrow. I like box set collections; they allow you to start at the beginning of a series you never properly caught the first time, sometimes years ago – The Wire, Big Bang Theory, and The Sopranos here I come.

The movies on offer are less impressive, most several years old. But Netflix isn’t known for its selection of the latest either.

According to John Kotsaftis, general manager of ShowMax South Africa, “We’re unashamedly ambitious in what we’re aiming to achieve. The ongoing change in viewing habits has given us the opportunity to build a video on demand powerhouse to feed the marathon viewing trend. We’ve got the best content from Hollywood and beyond, but at the same time we have the local content that consumers here expect.

“Importantly, we’re bringing this in at an attractive price, and doing this across more devices…”

On the subject of price, ShowMax is also likely to be cheaper than, or at least on a par with Netflix when it arrives. Netflix costs $7.99 (R105) a month in the US. A ShowMax monthly subscription is R99, although there’s limited selection of free content.

It’s also cheaper than existing local video on demand offerings like Vidi and MTN Front Row. While the latter two are offering free data streaming in an effort to compete, their rather thin content catalogues simply can’t come close to matching ShowMax’s bursting-at-the-seams line-up.

Your subscription gives you to access to its content using five different devices. Two different video streams may be watched simultaneously on separate devices using the single monthly subscription.

I tried it out on several different smartphones and on a Windows laptop and found it worked as advertised. ShowMax recommends you have at least a 2mbps internet connection, preferably uncapped because you’re going to chew through roughly 400mb of data an hour streaming video content.

My experience using ShowMax over a 4mbps ADSL line was excellent. I was able to get two shows streaming on two different devices at the same time, all with only occasional buffering, which probably had more to do with my dodgy line than ShowMax’s ability to deliver.

One glitch that I’m sure will be ironed out is that I was only able to load two devices on to the service, rather than the five they advertise.

My only other gripe is a minor one. As the owner of an old-fashioned, non-smart TV I would have loved it if the service was compatible with the Google Chromecast, a nifty dongle-sized gizmo that allows you to “throw” content from mobile devices on to a television screen. Judging by the numerous comments about this on the Google Play store, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

ShowMax is offering a seven-day trial period, with free access to the entire library so you can test the service before you buy.

At present, it is available on devices running recent versions of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system, on selected smart TVs, and on Windows and Mac computers using Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari web browsers.

For more information visit

Follow Alan Cooper on Twitter @alanqcooper.

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