Netflix vs ShowMax: Figuring Out The Future of SA Streaming

Last night many celebrated as they discovered Netflix had just been launched in South Africa. It was like getting a late Christmas present, an unexpected surprise. But then a lot of people opened the present, and found socks.

South Africans love to hate DStv, but if they want to legally enjoy premium movies and TV series, they kinda have no option but to go for MultiChoice’s satellite TV offerings. Because let’s face it, SABC and e.tv aren’t exactly on the cusp of recent television trends. To be fair, Noot vir Noot is worth our TV license fee alone, but even the solace of knowing my money goes towards Johan Stemmet’s waistcoats doesn’t quite warm me towards our local channels.

(Side note, South African Broadcasting Corporation, if you’re reading this, I have an idea: I think more people would pay their TV licenses if they stood a chance of winning 90’s TV memorabilia. Maybe one of Dali Tambo’s pillows, a Telequack signed by Martin Bailey, or a bottle of Felicia Mabuza-Suttle’s tears.)

For a while now the digital age has bought along the potential promise of being able to stream TV via the Internet. Some local streaming services cropped up, but because good content requires good deals which require good portions of money, most of these services seemed to offer a substandard selection. Sort of like going to an all you can eat buffet, and realising they only have beetroot salad. I’m no market expert, but I’m guessing this is because all the good content had already been tied up in contracts with MultiChoice – a truly clever name because you essentially have NoChoices if you don’t use their services.

Now before we hate on MultiChoice, I think we need to give them credit where credit is due. In comparison to what people pay for similar services oversees, they’re actually incredibly well priced. They also have an amazing collection of shows. If you lived in the US and wanted a similar satellite selection, you’d not only need basic cable, but you’d have to also subscribe to premium cable channels like Starz, Showtime and HBO. (In case some of the terminology is too confusing, premium cable is basically another way of saying bad language and nudity.)

I know for some of you reading this it might be like meeting your partner’s ex and finding out they’ve secretly been siphoning fuel into your car, but MultiChoice have actually done you a favour. They might indeed have a monopoly in TV in this country, but if they hadn’t been making the exclusive deals they have been, they’d have more competition, and you would probably need to go to more than one TV provider to get the same selection.

But yes, we all know monopolies are bad. Even the board game causes un-repairable rips in relationships, so a little competition and an alternate way to access TV is probably a good thing. Enter ShowMax. The first SA streaming service that actually has a catalogue you’d want to pick from. No more beetroot salad. But there’s a catch… ShowMax isn’t quite competition to MultiChoice, because they’re both owned by Naspers. DSTV just put on glasses and a fake nose and thought no one would notice.

And that’s why it was so exciting when South African Netflix was announced. Finally, a company big enough to stir the pot. They have connections with content providers around the world, they have money, they have House of Cards… what could go wrong?

And that leads us back to where we began… socks.

If you’ve fired up your South African Netflix account, you’re likely to be fairly underwhelmed. Yes, there are some fantastic series on there, but it’s nowhere close to what is offered on the American version. It’s like getting to the buffet and someone has put salmon into the beetroot salad. Yes, it’s salmon. But there’s still a lot of beetroot. My rough conservative estimate is that the SA Netflix has about 5% of the content of the US Netflix. It doesn’t even have House of Cards, but it does have Big Momma’s House 1 & 2 if that’s any consolidation. (Maybe one day they’ll make Big Momma’s House of Cards).

The good news is that socks are still better than no socks. Netflix coming to South Africa is a good thing. There’s hope for our buffet yet. They are big enough to stir the pot, and in time, they will. My guess is that certain exclusive studio deals have been made with DStv/ShowMax that are currently standing in the way of a fully formed South African Netflix, but as Netflix continues its global domination, they’ll have the money and pull to be able to make global deals that will make all their countries catalogues more like the US. After all, that’s America’s ultimate desire – to make more countries like America.

So, as the consumer, what should you do?

If you’ve read this far… you probably should watch less TV. Get out there, enjoy the world a bit. There’s more to life than streaming series. But, once you’ve got some fresh air, why not subscribe to Netflix? Enjoy the free trial. Supporting your local Netflix will in theory increase their leverage when making global deals with content providers. Whilst it’s missing key series and movies, it does have Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Making a Murderer, Master of None, Narcos, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – and that’s more than enough to keep you going for a while.

As for ShowMax, if it’s working for you, enjoy it while it lasts. If Netflix gets space to breathe in this country, ShowMax might be the one that’s left with old episodes of All Access and Leon Schuster movies.

As for DStv, they’re expensive, but fast internet and enough bandwidth to stream video is also pricey. Do the Maths and see what works for you.

As for me, I’ve still got to finish Breaking Bad, so it’s hard to tell if my opinions on television actually count anyway.


It’s hard to tie this article back to acoustic comedy, but, if you like TV, then you might like movies, which means you might enjoy my top movies of 2015, our little musical tribute to Stars Wars, our song about movie twists, or ode to Disney Princesses.

3 Comments

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  1. I don’t agree with your comment regarding Netflix. It is superb and so simple to watch the US version. Goodbye DSTV. I don’t know what version you were streaming., sorry for you.

  2. The major difference is DSTV charges a large subscription but does not reinvest in the industry. They regurgitate other networks and repeat, repeat repeat. Netflix recognized early on that “whoever owns the content calls the tune” and invested in not only distributing other tv and movie companies content but produced their own. If DSTV had the foresight to do this they would have been on a different level and been able to keep their subscribers. Africa is a massive continent and even if they had invested in a unique 24 hours news channel like Sky did they could have exported it to other countries. The fact is they don’t spend money on commissioning top class TV themselves leaves then very vulnerable. I stream all my content and I mean all. I watch sky for my rugby and watch UK BBC for my TV. I subscribe to Netflix for my films. Yes I have a fibre connection and pay a fair amount for my internet but for a better experience I don’t pay the earth, in fact my Netflix subscription as well as my data and sky pass cost maybe 1/2 again of what would be a premium DSTV subscription but hey for that I also get blazing fast internet and excellent TV

  3. Great article. Socks is an excellent way to describe the feeling. The thing that puzzles me is so many networks seem to not know why people are tempted into piracy. I’m happy to pay a reasonable fee for a video on demand service that will let me watch old and new series and movies, as and when I want to. Unfortunately it seems as if corporate greed has tied everything up into so many zones, licensing agreements, etc, etc. that only America gets to watch everything. For those using VPN’s and services like UnoTelly, I have a feeling you may guilty of copyright infringement, albeit unwittingly., so if you want to be legal you are stuck with services like ShowMax, Netflix and so on – or nothing. Sigh. I think I’ll just go back to reading.

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