A South African video-streaming service is competing with Netflix in Europe

Polish content for Polish viewers.
Polish content for Polish viewers.
Image: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
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Since launching in South Africa 18 months ago, the video-on-demand service ShowMax has not hidden its desire to compete globally against the sector’s dominant player, Netflix.

As a first step on that journey, the service owned by Naspers, Africa’s largest media company, has launched operations in Europe, starting in Poland. Headed by Maciej Sojka, a former Google executive, ShowMax Poland will tailor content for the local audience, commissioning original Polish content. It has also acquired rights to local shows and some of the country’s box office hits.

Catering for local needs,” John Kotsaftis, ShowMax CEO says, is key to the success of the new division. “We’re not trying to compete with prohibitively expensive shows designed to appeal to audiences worldwide,” Kotsaftis says, referring to Netflix’s globally popular shows, including House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Last year, Netflix spent $5 billion on original programming.

The choice of Poland as a starting point for ShowMax’s European operations is informed by the watching habits in the country. While more than seven million Poles pay to watch online video content, Kotsaftis says, many rely on pirate sites which charge for access to Polish-language content. “Pirate sites account for a significant portion of all online video revenue,” Kotsaftis says. “This tells us there’s a ready appetite to pay for a truly Polish service with content that excites and entertains people.”

In the past, ShowMax could be accessed in parts of Europe and North America, but it only offered South African content.

ShowMax is also stepping up its push to dominate the African market. Last month, it announced increased server capacity in Nairobi, Kenya, allowing its users across East Africa to access content faster and cheaper.