Watching TV in South Africa in 2020 just got a whole lot more complicated

A scene from 'Star Trek: Discovery'. (Photo: Jan Thijs/Netflix)
A scene from 'Star Trek: Discovery'. (Photo: Jan Thijs/Netflix)

SPECIAL FEATURE

South African TV critic Thinus Ferreira takes a closer look at SA's streaming wars and how viewers' appetite for choice might cost them a lot more than they thought. 

Cape Town – DStv? Netflix? Showmax? StarSat? Openview? Apple TV+? AcornTV? VIU? Vodacom VideoPlay? YouTube? Amazon Prime Video? 

What to choose and where to watch, or what to get for what price? 

Watching TV in 2020 in South Africa just got a lot more complicated and that doesn’t even include HBO Max and The Walt Disney Company’s Disney+ streaming services, neither of which have yet launched locally. 

Viewers are confronted by an ever-growing barrage of streaming services, each with their own carousel of content. They are expanding alongside traditional pay-TV services which are also morphing into offering various subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services. 

The result is that consumers are increasingly becoming overwhelmed – unsure of what to choose and uncertain of where to find the content they want or might want to watch and what the cost of all of the separately bundled services will really cost them. 

Ironically, consumers used to complain for years about MultiChoice’s DStv being the "only game in town". The so-called "bundled" pay-TV service for years scooped up close to the total Hollywood studios’ collection of content and channels and made it available in one place for once price. 

MultiChoice did the hard work, buying content from international distributors and curating it as a bundled set of TV channels. Now consumers are increasingly discovering that they can no longer get everything in one place and must pay more to create and maintain their own "bundle" of TV services. 

Viewers who want to continue to get "everything", or most of it, must now pay and subscribe to more than one pay-TV service since the content they might be interested in are increasingly spreading out across different subscription services. 

THE STAR TREK EXAMPLE 

Take Star Trek: Picard for instance, the latest Star Trek series that just launched on Amazon Prime Video

While Star Trek: Picard, distributed by CBS Studios International is rolling out weekly episodes on Amazon, fans will have to fork out for a Netflix South Africa subscription to watch the other new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery which is only available on Netflix (along with The Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager series). 

Do you want to watch the Star Trek (2009) or Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) films? Well, for that you’ll need to pay for Showmax, with both films also currently on linear pay-TV on DStv’s M-Net Movies Action channel. 

That’s three different streaming services to pay for one type of content … after you’ve figured out which is where. 

TOO MUCH TV 

"The good thing for viewers and TV content consumers is that they now have a lot of choice," says TV expert Tashi Tagg, editor of the TVSA website, about the expanding streaming wars. 

"Viewers can now choose what types of shows they want to see and whose video streaming services and broadcast TV services they want to support with their money – and the more choice, the better in terms of viewer independence when it comes to choosing what you want to watch."

"The bad is the exact same thing: Too much choice," she says. "Where do you put your money? If you’ve got a budget, what TV content do you spend your money on each month and which one isn’t going to disappoint you?"

"I’ve now heard from quite a few people who subscribed to Netflix South Africa going: ‘Oh, I’m now over it.’ So, it’s almost as if people get saturated when they try something else, and then they jump and try something else as the next new thing."

"I think the bad thing is that people are no longer sure what the best TV offering is. People no longer know what is where and the consumer ends up going from one to the next trying to find it. Or you must have them all, in which case it’s going to cost a lot of money," Tashi says. "But look, you can’t deny that competition and competition is good, ultimately."

INCREASING CONTENT CONFUSION 

"If a consumer is into a service – let’s say they have something like Netflix South Africa and they’re into how it works and it suggests things to watch for you and it tells you what’s new – I think that’s nice and easy for people," says Tashi. 

"However, when a viewer is not just committed to that one service it becomes very confusing in terms of ‘what do I watch next?’ and ‘what should I watch?’ especially because viewers now are all watching so differently."

Tashi says "the process of finding your information about the TV you’re personally interested in to see, where to watch it and when, has definitely become more difficult because it’s not a linear ‘what’s on tonight’ anymore – unless you’re hooked into a particular service."

BUILD YOUR OWN BUNDLE

"Each of the services have their pros and each of the services has their cons," says Tashi. "I hear from people who have the issue that there is too much TV now and they don’t know where to spend their money".

"I would say MultiChoice’s DStv – the Explora and PVRs are a great piece of equipment. They offer something that the streamers don’t – which is that you don’t have to use internet bandwidth and data to watch the shows. That’s a huge advantage. That’s the big bonus and for that I would say get DStv," she says. 

"However, on the other hand, the negative side of that is the fact that DStv is constantly manipulating subscribers between its packages. So, there’s a sense that you can’t trust that if you come in at the DStv Compact package that your shows are going to stick with you until the end. Lockdown is a key example as a show that after a few seasons now jumps to Showmax.” 

"I want to say DStv is a good place to put your money as a viewer but there is that downside which is very upsetting and very annoying and for a consumer that is really unfair."

"I think Netflix is a good price for what you get, especially if you have fibre. It’s R99 and even if you are not watching everything on it but you love your TV, then I think that it’s worth it."

Tashi says "there’s some terrible stuff on it but there’s also some really good stuff. What I would also recommend that I think people might not be aware of really, is that a lot of their foreign series are very good which you can’t get anywhere else."

"Now Apple TV+ has just come along which I’m quite into. I’ve just finished watching the first season of The Morning Show – excellent, excellent," says Tashi. "But I don’t know if Apple TV+ has quite enough yet to make the money worth it if you’re not going to watch a lot."

She says "another big challenge with all of this is that you never know what shows or content DStv is going to get and what the various streamers are going to get".

"You don’t know if a show is going to be on DStv, or whether Netflix will have it. There’s quite a lot of confusion around country and territory rights for shows. That’s a problem in the whole TV landscape for South African viewers."

THE PRICE LIST 

At the beginning of 2020 this is the latest pay-per-month price list for subscription pay-TV in South Africa. 

The “bare-bones” subscription fees exclude additional bells and whistles, and things like data and lines costs, installation fees, and discounts, specials and free-trial promotions:

COSTS

DStv Premium – R809

DStv Compact Plus – R519

DStv Compact – R399

DStv Family – 265

DStv Access – R105

DStv EasyView – R29

DStv Indian – R385


StarSat Max – R299

StarSat Super – R209

StarSat Shembe – R129

StarSat Special – R109

StarSat Indian – R109

StarSat French – R248 


Netflix South Africa Basic – R99

Netflix South Africa Standard – R139

Netflix South Africa Premium – R169 


Showmax Standard – R99

Showmax Mobile Only – R49 


Apple TV+  – R84.99 


AcornTV – R79 


Amazon Prime Video – R43.79 (monthly for first 6 months, then R87.73 monthly)


VIU Premium – R69


DEOD Premium – R129

DEOD On Demand monthly – R69

DEOD Movie Club – R40


PrideTV – R79


Vodacom VideoPlay Premium – R99