Here’s how ShowMax hopes to beat Netflix in Africa and beyond

When South African subscription movie and TV show streaming service ShowMax launched in August 2015, many wondered how it would compete with American giant Netflix – which became available in all 54 African markets in early 2016. After all, Netflix has been establishing itself as a global leader for years and spends huge amounts on producing its own original shows, such as the popular House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, to ensure it keeps subscribers hooked.

But ShowMax – owned by Africa’s largest media and tech corporation, Naspers – is taking a different approach. It has adopted a hyperlocalisation strategy, which the company’s head of communications, Richard Boorman, says helps set it apart from market contenders.

The idea is to tailor ShowMax’s offering specifically to each market, beyond simply content. While ShowMax is available in about 66 markets (36 of which are in Africa) it has, so far, only deployed its hyperlocalisation strategy in South Africa, Kenya and, most recently, Poland – where the company noticed a gap in the market for paid-for video streaming.

Localised pricing and payment options are some of the ways in which its service has been tailored to address specific market needs. While Netflix is priced in dollars (and therefore subject to exchange rate fluctuations), ShowMax’s service is available in the local currencies of these three markets, and has also localised payment options. For example, in South Africa subscribers can pay using Vodacom airtime or prepaid vouchers, which are available at 500 different retailers throughout the country. Customers can also select to add their ShowMax fee to their Telkom landline phone bill or their Vodacom mobile phone bill, as well as their MultiChoice DSTv account (the satellite television service also owned by Naspers). And in Kenya, those without a bank account can pay using the popular mobile money platform, M-Pesa.

“In Kenya, if you don’t have M-Pesa [as a payment option] you are not helping anyone,” says Boorman.

ShowMax is also looking to tackle the data challenge, which Boorman notes is “probably the single biggest barrier to the adoption of internet TV across Africa”. Its management understands that many customers are sensitive to the costs of data and so has introduced a bandwidth capping tool to help users manage their data consumption by controlling their video quality. And, in addition to video streaming, ShowMax allows downloads, so subscribers can watch offline.

Providing local content

ShowMax is also looking to compete by providing local content – and this is probably its biggest advantage. Much of its content is tailored specifically for South Africa, Kenya and Poland – and would mostly only be sought out by viewers in those markets.

“The content selection in Kenya is very different to the content selection in South Africa because, unsurprisingly, they are two different countries. You can’t do the one-size-fits-all [approach] and have an African bouquet – that clearly won’t work,” adds Boorman.

For example, in Kenya ShowMax offers films produced by Riverwood, Kenya’s burgeoning film industry – many of which are in Swahili. Instead of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, ShowMax has the The Real Househelps of Kawangware.

Another example of localising content can be seen in ShowMax’s offering in Poland. Naspers owns a number of internet companies in Poland (such as OLX and PayU) and so ShowMax has managed to leverage on this understanding and expertise to better cater to audience needs. In addition to providing Polish content, ShowMax also ensures its English shows are dubbed in a Polish-preferred way. This is called lektoring, where audiences can hear the original English narrative in the background while a single voice translates the entire dialogue in a monotone.

“That is how they like to watch their shows. So you need to adapt your products so that you have it in a way that people want to consume it.”

In countries beyond South Africa, Kenya and Poland, ShowMax’s content offering has not yet been localised – and payments are made in dollars with credit cards. But Boorman says the company is looking to deploy this strategy in other markets soon.

“One of the things we are working on at the moment is localising in more countries in Africa. So I think you can expect some announcements on that as this year goes on.”