Updated: 19 November 2019
While surfing the net, I often see posts pertaining to the things that ‘kids today’ won’t understand. My absolute favourite of these is how kids will never know the sparse few minutes you had to take a bathroom break during ad sets. Today, we simply pause the show and casually stroll to the restroom – no worries!
The reality is that most of us are still quite new to the whole streaming service thing. Questions like ‘How do I sign up?’, ‘Do I choose just one?’, ‘What is it going to cost me?’ are just a few of the questions I often hear from both my parents and my peers. We’ve done our research and rounded up the biggest streaming services available in South Africa today.
Netflix & Chill
Your best option for streaming in South Africa is Netflix for several different reasons, the first of which is the extensive mix of programming available. Netflix not only contains familiar content like Breaking Bad, That 70s Show, and Mad Men among others, they also have their own originally produced content that South Africans have been able to access since 2016.
If you have friends and family overseas, you’ll know that the South African Netflix library looks a bit different than theirs, but that does not mean that we are missing out on the good stuff – both films and series are covered. This year alone, we’ve watched several of them right here on 9Lives; The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Maniac, Cooking Shows, The Staircase, Haunting of Hill House, They’ll love me when I’m dead, Salt Fat Acid Heat and quite a few adult animations. In total, the Netflix South Africa library is said to contain 3 557 titles.
In August of this year, Netflix South Africa also dropped US dollar pricing. This means that we are now paying a flat rate in South Africa. Currently, you have the choice between a Basic subscription, Standard subscription and Premium subscription. The main difference between them is that the Standard and Premium subscriptions allow HD streaming, while the Premium subscription also allows for Ultra HD streaming.
Another big consideration when choosing your subscription is how many screens can be viewed at the same time. The Basic subscription allows only one screen at a time, while with the Standard subscription you can view two screens at the same time and four screens with the Premium subscription. There is not a massive price difference between the three monthly rates either with prices starting at R99 for the basic subscription, R139 for the Standard subscription and R169 for the Premium subscription.
Probably the biggest advantage these streaming services offer over a DStv subscription is the fact that not only is the first month free, in Netflix’s case, you can also cancel at any time. Which means that it is as easy to cancel as it is to subscribe – all you need is a credit card to get started. Netflix also recently launched their gift cards in South Africa, which means that you can buy these at big local retailers like CNA, Pick n Pay, Checkers and more.
If you only have internet at the office or if you regularly commute or travel, Netflix also allows you to download movies and series onto your device to be available offline for a set amount of time. This is most probably my favourite part of streaming services and Netflix in particular, you always have that quick access to your favourite movies and shows on your tablet, cellphone, desktop and more.
Showmax: The local flavour
In 2015, before Netflix officially launched in South Africa, Multichoice released their own on-demand streaming service called Showmax. Since its launch, Showmax’s price has remained stable at R99 per month for two different screens being viewed at the same time, while you are also able to download, at most, 25 shows for offline viewing. Showmax also offers potential customers a 14 day trial period and a subscription that can be cancelled at any time.
What really sets Showmax apart is the different methods of payment available to customers. DStv Premium subscribers get Showmax for free, while DStv Compact and Compact Plus subscribers pay only R49 when added to your DStv bill. As with Netflix, you can simply load your credit card for monthly payments or even purchase a Showmax gift voucher at major retailers.
Vodacom and Telkom customers also have the choice of adding their subscription to their cellphone bill. Vodacom and Showmax also recently released their joint venture where you receive 15 GIG’s free Showmax data if you add your Showmax subscription to your Vodacom bill. They also offer you a few different ways to control your data usage by making use of their bandwidth capping capabilities.
Currently, as far as research shows, Showmax offers 683 different titles. Some of these are part of Showmax’s “Express from the US” series that releases episodes of your favourite series as they air in the US. During the year, we’ve also been watching a few of these titles on 9Lives like Camping and Handmaid’s Tale. Showmax is also the best place to find some amazing local movies and series and have placed an emphasis on making local favourites available on the streaming platform over the years.
The Underdog: Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s Prime Video service has been available in South Africa since 2016. A subscription will set you back around $3 (about R45) for the first six months, whereafter it’ll go up to $6 (around R79) a month with a 7-day free trial included. In the US, where Amazon is a bit more popular than in South Africa, Prime Video was designed to be a perk for Prime subscribers mainly, but has developed to be so much more.
Although Prime Video has only the one option, you are able to stream all content in Ultra HD, which is great. The only downside is that it is not compatible with my Google Chromecast, which I use at home. Their library has more or less 1 009 titles and you can watch up to three screens simultaneously on their platform.
That being said, they do not have the profile differentiation which Netflix and Showmax have, the implication being that you either need to watch with friends and family or remember exactly where you were in the episode.
Here at 9Lives we’ve also been watching some of their shows during the year. The Prime Original series Forever is definitely one of my favourite series to be released in 2018, while we also had a look at some of the golden oldie movies to be found on the platform. I’ve also recently watched Homecoming, I Love Dick and The Romanoffs – all Prime Originals – which are definitely worth checking out.
AppleTV+ hits South African shores
On 1 November 2019, AppleTV+ launched in a 100 countries of which South Africa is one. The platform launched seamlessly with four original content series starring some A-list names. What makes AppleTV+ really unique and what sets them apart from other streaming services is that they are only going to be making their own content available on the platform which does mean that it is quite scarce to start off with, but will keep growing in the next few months. They also differ in the fact that they originally release three episodes, followed by one every week making it not as binge-able as the series on Netflix or Showmax, unless you have the patience to wait it out.
Probably one of the most attractive things about the Apple TV+ offering is the fact that at $5 (more or less R89,99) a month, they are coming in at quite a lower price than other streaming services in South Africa like Netflix.
I was even more impressed to learn that if I buy this streaming services subscription, my entire Apple family (up to six members) is able to access the content under the same subscription – that’s a bargain! For me, it is also quite convenient because it is added to the rest of my Apple subscriptions so there is no need to load a new card or fill in anything!
As with most of the other subscription streaming services, you get the option of first trying things out obligation-free for a week’s trial period. `You will also be able to cancel at any time once you’ve signed up. Also, if you are planning on buying an Apple device soon, you’ll get an entire year of Apple TV+ for free.
We did an entire write-up of the platform, which you can check out here.
YouTube Premium enters the streaming wars
Probably the most awesome thing about YouTube Premium is that it provides you with an ad-free YouTube streaming services experience. Sound like heaven? It actually is. Gone are those 30-second interruptions and ‘skip ad’ button, leaving you with hours and hours of uninterrupted content.
Another great benefit is the fact that it features a background play function which means that your video plays uninterrupted in the background, even when you open another app. This seemed a bit weird to me at first because am I not watching to see what’s going on on-screen? But what this actually means is that I can keep listening to the audio even when quickly sending a WhatsApp or checking Instagram.
You are also able to download YouTube videos to watch on the go with your YouTube Premium subscription. More than that, you can also download playlists to listen to offline, which is great if you do not always have access to WiFi or if you are travelling. Once downloaded, you can view the video for 30 days before it expires. So, apart from the perks listed above, a YouTube Premium subscription will also give you access to three other great YouTube products, the first of which is YouTube Music.
YouTube Originals is their own content creation section. These series and movies are only rolling out in South Africa, but already I’ve had a look at some great content. Do You Want To See A Dead Body? is one of my favourites, and features a bunch of comedians acting as themselves. Since releasing in March the library of Originals has only increased, so we look forward to seeing more of these gems.
The premium subscription will also give you access to the YouTube Kids and YouTube Gaming app. Both of these also feature ad-free play and offline play, while YouTube Gaming also includes background play.
At R71,99 for a single subscription, YouTube Premium is definitely not breaking the bank. Even more affordable is the family subscription. For a mere R109,99 you can opt for a family subscription where you can add up to six family members (ages 13+) in the same household. Just as with Netflix, the funds are deducted from your credit card monthly.
We gave the platform its own review, which you can check out here.
For the curious: Curiosity Stream
Recently, I was enjoying an episode of the NPR Pop Culture Radio Hour Podcast when they started discussing the amazing series available on Curiosity Stream. I immediately downloaded the app to see if it was available in South Africa. For only $2,99 I could stream some amazing non-fiction titles. I was immediately sold!
The second test, of course, was if it was compatible with my Google Chromecast and within minutes I had an episode of The Secret Versailles of Marie Antoinette on the big screen, leaving me overjoyed!
The streaming service was founded by John S. Hendricks, who served as founder of both The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Recently the service also joined forces with Amazon, and Prime subscribers get a portion of the library as part of their subscription.
The collections on Curiosity Stream are vast, with categories such as Amazing Animals, Black History, Biographies, Dinosaurs, Secrets of WW1, Fukushima, SciTech, Big Science, Violent Earth and more.
So, do you really actually need all six these subscriptions?
So I guess this will be one of the biggest questions of the next ten years. Will the industry continue to differentiate instead of consolidate? Disney has already announced the launch of its streaming service in 2019, but will they be able to scale globally as Netflix has?
That does not necessarily mean that the Netflix business model is a sustainable one. For years already, speculation about the exact status of this streaming giant’s financials has been under crossfire. Despite having more than 125 million subscribers globally, Netflix is paying billions of dollars for content. Investopedia.com reports them, for example, paying $200 million for a year’s access to Disney’s films, and the full series of Lost for $45 million.
On the other hand, tech giant Apple has also announced the global roll-out of their own streaming service which is already now available. Reports also state that Apple has set aside $1 billion for content creation in 2018. And where does this leave local streaming services, like Showmax, who will not be able to compete on that scale?
This begs the question, how much content is enough? Will we be just be adding subscription after subscription until we are paying more than we paid for DStv in the first place or is this just a customer grab where the service with the most subscribers suffocates the rest?
Or will a trillion dollar company come by and swoop up all the rest? If Apple’s streaming service has as slow of an uptake as their Apple Music project, this might be their only viable option, or they might just be the only ones who will be able to afford it.