We launched ShowMax on 19 August 2015, hitting the ground running with Africa’s largest on-demand catalogue of TV shows and movies. Over the past 12 months we’ve clocked up well over 10 million views, or more than 700 years’ worth of content if viewed back to back. Based on this we’ve learned much about what people watch and when they watch it. On top of that we ran a survey to understand what they think about internet TV and why.
It’s been an insanely busy year for our team. My intention isn’t to boast, because we’ve got loads more to do, but dispassionately I’d say we’ve achieved a fair amount in that time. Enabling content downloads, setting up data usage caps, putting together a cash voucher system, and implementing multiple user profiles are some of the tougher technical challenges we solved, with additional tweaks and upgrades taking place on an almost daily basis. On top of that, since the launch we’ve added support for AirPlay, Apple TV, Chromecast, the DStv Explora, and more smart TVs.
So what have we learned about subscription video on demand in Africa? Here are some highlights. The survey I refer to was conducted earlier this year with just over 1000 respondents.
When do people watch?
According to our stats, the peak viewing time is between six and 11 in the evening, reaching an absolute peak at around 20h00. Interestingly, the busiest days aren’t Friday or Saturday (we thought date night might be our killer function); instead we hit peak-couch-potato on Sundays.
How popular is internet TV in South Africa?
Our survey suggests that subscription video on demand (SVOD) usage is set to rapidly accelerate in South Africa. Only 35 per cent of those surveyed currently subscribe to an internet TV service, but when asked whether they plan to be using an internet TV service within the next six months, that number rose to 65 per cent of the respondents.
Why do people subscribe?
The main reason that people report using SVOD services is to access a wider range of content (39 per cent), followed by access to the latest content (22 per cent), and value for money (16 per cent). Interestingly, given what we know of the binge-watching global phenomenon, only 13 per cent listed binge-watching as the main reason for using this type of service.
What do people prefer to use to watch SVOD?
There can be a marked difference between how people in different countries view video content. In some countries, the majority watch on mobile devices, while in others there’s a preference for “lean back’ viewing on TVs and computers.
The survey suggests that in South Africa things appear to be split pretty much down the middle. The following are the answers to “which device(s) do you use to watch internet TV’ by people currently subscribed to a service. Respondents were able to select more than one device which is why the results come to more than 100 per cent:
• 68 per cent computer
• 63 per cent tablet
• 37 per cent smartphone
• 31 per cent smart TV
• 7 per cent Apple TV
• 6 per cent other
What’s most important in a service?
When asked what aspects of an internet TV service are most important, the following factors were all ranked as “very important’ by 50 per cent or more of the respondents.
• Good video quality (66 per cent)
• Value for money (61 per cent)
• Right payment options (55 per cent)
• Available on right devices (54 per cent)
• Product features (52 per cent)
• International content (50 per cent)
In a sense, the answers aren’t surprising, but in the context of Africa they take on extra meaning. For example, the fact that video quality came out on top obviously highlights the importance of making sure your content delivery network is up to scratch, but given the fact that many users connect via mobile in less-than-optimal conditions, it shows that a service needs to go even further to improve the user experience. In our case that’s why we’ve delivered solutions for offline viewing (downloads), dynamic streaming, bandwidth capping, and even less-obvious solutions like reducing picture file sizes when displaying content “movie posters’ on mobile devices.
How many hours do people watch per week?
Is there a couch potato tendency among the group surveyed? It’s difficult to do a direct comparison, but the results suggest that South Africans may indeed be ahead of the curve when it comes to how many hours are spent watching internet TV.
Ericsson published a Consumer Lab report in September 2015 that looked at viewing habits in multiple countries. This study found that on average, people watched six hours of streamed on-demand TV programmes, series and movies per week.
The respondents in South Africa who are subscribed to an internet TV service reported the following weekly viewing:
• less than five hours 26 per cent
• five to 10 hours 44 per cent
• 10 to 15 hours 17 per cent
• 15 or more hours 11 per cent
• don’t know 2 per cent
What’s stopping people from subscribing?
What’s the main reason holding people back from subscribing? The clear answer is the cost of internet access (40 per cent) rather than a lack of understanding how to access the services (20 per cent). 15 per cent of people find normal TV easier to use. Somewhat surprisingly, only 9 per cent said that they don’t subscribe because they can pirate the content illegally.
Where to from here for ShowMax?
Pulling all this together, our take on the state of the industry one year in is that the time is right for SVOD in Africa. Having said that, it’s by no means an easy sell or an easy ride. We firmly believe that this isn’t a game of one-size-fits-all, and that localising your service, content, and partnerships is key. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost and availability of decent internet connectivity is the biggest hurdle, but we believe there are elegant solutions, some of which we’ve already deployed and some of which are still in the works.
By Barron Ernst, chief product officer for ShowMax.