Africa’s dominant TV provider is terrified by the rise of Netflix

No one watches TV anymore.
No one watches TV anymore.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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Through DStv, MultiChoice has been the dominant player on African television screens in the last decade, available in 48 African countries. Yet, in the last week, the Naspers-owned media giant has been appealing to South African regulators, trying to make a case for why it could not survive any regulation in the face of streaming.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is looking into the lack of competitiveness in South Africa’s PayTV market and the influence.

In its more than 600-page submission to the hearings, MultiChoice said it has lost a significant number of subscriptions in just the last five years. Along with Netflix and Amazon Prime’s entry into Africa in 2016, DStv was already struggling to compete against online content via Google, Youtube and Facebook.

DStv is now also unable to maintain the exclusivity of its premium international content, despite airing programs within hours of their American debuts. MultiChoice also cited the entry of local competitors like iROKOtv and Kwese. Any further regulations, it argued, would irrevocably affect its profits.

Chief executive Calvo Mawela claimed DStv has lost 100,000 subscribers since the introduction of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. The regulator challenged MultiChoice to prove it, but in a back-and-forth MultiChoice said ICASA is about 16 years too late on this topic.

Netflix, in particular, seems to have spooked DStv. A helicopter allegedly hovered above MultiChoice’s headquarters in Johannesburg, flying a Netflix a banner, Mawela told MoneyWeb (he didn’t say when), adding that Netflix had also put up billboards around the city.

“So they are here, they are challenging us in our business on a day-to-day basis, and yet they do not have to comply with any of the regulations the country has made,” he said.

Trying to illustrate the company’s value to the authority, Mawela said that while Netflix only employs around 4,000 around the world, MulitChoice employs twice as many in South Africa. Trying to pit his company as the underdog, he added that the US-based “global giants” didn’t have to deal with South Africa’s post-apartheid regulations, like Black Economic Empowerment. “Where it gets scary for owners of TV stations is how much less TV viewing is happening in younger generations,” the CEO said.

Unable to beat streaming services, MultiChoice plans to join them and is launching a standalone streaming service. MultiChoice already has the on-demand service ShowMax, and DStvNow, the online service that allows existing subscribers to livestream channels or watch selected shows on demand.

To its advantage, MultiChoice already has homegrown original shows that could endear its new streaming service to local audiences. Netlfix has yet to get off the mark with local shows. As DStv has spread through Africa it created country-specific news, documentaries and reality TV shows and already has relationships with local industry players, whether it’s producing Big Brother Naija, Idols East Africa or buying Nollywood films and francophone telenovelas.

MultiChoice is still unclear about specifics like price points and content, but they plan to launch in 2019. To it’s advantage, Netflix’s standard $11.99 monthly subscription has made it more attractive than DStv’s satellite services that cost more than $40 in Nigeria and nearly $65 in South Africa for all-access subscriptions. MutliChoice is clear, though, that it wants all streaming services regulated.