TWO months after Netflix became available in South Africa, analysts say it is still too early to tell who is winning the battle of the streaming services between it and local competitor ShowMax.
Netflix and ShowMax, which launched in August, are subscription-based, video-on-demand services, meaning users pay a fixed monthly fee to watch as much content as they like over the internet – from movies and documentaries, to the latest TV series.
The shows can be viewed on almost any (modern) internet-connected device, from smartphones and tablets, to laptops and smart TVs.
While neither service disclosed the number of its South African subscribers to Weekend Argus – the only way to really tell which is more popular – analysts say these are the two major competitors in the local streaming services ring.
Jared Borkum, a lecturer in the film and video department at CPUT, said the competition between Netflix and ShowMax was good for consumers, as it forced everyone to up their game. “I feel they will eat into the traditional markets and will probably force SABC to improve on the content they offer.”
Netflix has the longer history. It launched in 1998 in the US as a provider of DVDs by mail and started streaming content in 2007. On January 6 it became available in South Africa and has 75 million subscribers in 190 countries, from Azerbaijan to Angola. The majority of its subscribers are in the US.
ShowMax, by comparison, is a relative newcomer. It launched last year in South Africa, which it hopes to use as a springboard for expansion, the same way Netflix used its success in the US to go global.
The question of which of the two services has better offerings has caused heated debate since Netflix’s launch.
The US streaming service has a galaxy of highly rated shows in the US.
But South African subscribers cannot yet access all of them, although US and local subscribers both pay the same set subscription fee, which starts at $7.99 (R125) per month. ShowMax, meanwhile, starts at R99 a month.
Both offer free trials.
While local subscribers can watch shows such as Breaking Bad, they cannot yet watch zombie series The Walking Dead or prison drama Orange is the New Black.
According to a Netflix spokesperson, its new and original shows launching this year will be available. “In 2016, we expect to spend $5 billion on content for our members, up from US$3bn in 2015.”
Its 31 new and returning original series would be available to subscribers everywhere, including South Africa.
When asked about the group’s South African operations, a Netflix spokesperson commented only on the service’s global expansion. “Ultimately, we believe that internet TV is the future, and we’re very proud to now be a global internet TV service.”
ShowMax has gone head to head with its US rival in terms of premium shows, including megahits Game of Thrones, Girls and The Wire.
ShowMax spokesman Richard Boorman said they also had a range of mostly Afrikaans-language shows, and were “focusing more on developing the platform”.
It had adapted to the local market by offering shows with a “significant amount of local language content,” such as Vetkoek Paleis and Binnelanders. “(This) is something not offered by the major international services.”
ShowMax also allows users to download and watch shows.
“If you don’t have a great internet connection at home you can still download up to 25 TV shows or movies to your smartphone and tablet by connecting to wifi at some point during the day,” Boorman said.
ShowMax has made payment easier for people without credit cards, who can subscribe to the service with cash at Pick n Pay, Game and CNA.