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How to Use Streaming Services in South Africa


Lockdown has forced cinemas and theatres to close temporarily as governments scramble to limit the spread of Covid-19 and keep the economy alive. During this unprecedented time where the film industry has ground to a halt, it's enabled distributors, cinemas and studios to reflect on their current models. One would expect that some drastic changes will be underway in order to mitigate ongoing and future income losses. The current model is based on a traditional physical movie-going experience and it's difficult to reposition a business based on selling tickets and popcorn to a physical space.

One film-related service that has benefited from the social distancing, lockdown and stay at home enforcement has been online content streaming services such as Netflix, Showmax, Amazon Prime Video and DStv Now. Spling has been reviewing streaming titles almost exclusively on his weekly Talking Movies show on Fine Music Radio over this period. Ordinarily, he'd review two movies on circuit. Yet, the proliferation of streaming services, mainstream adoption and improvement of their original content has prompted him to fine tune his balance of reviews to cater to people watching the silver screen in a theatre or from the comfort of their home.

streaming services in south africa

While there's a mad rush for studios to create their own streaming network, produce original entertainment content and connect every household to some form of online streaming, many aren't quite sure just how to maximise their subscription. In this article, Spling will cover the basics. It's far from comprehensive, but it will enable those who are just starting out on streaming to connect and subscribe. He'll also cover the known streaming services currently in operation in South Africa.

How to Connect to a Streaming Service

If you own a smart phone, you're halfway there. These days, most streaming services have their own apps for Android and Apple devices. If you think of streaming as simply adding an app to your phone's home page it will take a lot of the mystery out of your quest.

If you own a smart TV, you're even closer than you imagined. Smart phones and smart TVs operate in a similar way and have similarities when it comes to installing apps. You can essentially visit your app store on your phone to download the streaming service you wish to subscribe to and do the same on your smart TV.

Don't own a smart TV? You you can convert your HD flat screen into a smart TV by buying and connecting a media player. Available at most tech online retailers these days, these devices plug into one of your HDMI inputs and enable you to have the option of downloading apps. Hosting an environment that will mimic some cellphone operating systems, you can connect the media box to your wi-fi and use apps to stream entertainment directly to your screen. The media player will come with a remote to enable you to browse between apps and manage your "smart TV".

When it comes to your computer, streaming services are generally equipped to handle full streaming capabilities on their website. So you can visit the streaming service you want to sign up for and register to get your log-in details. Depending on your subscription package, the service will allow you to sign in on multiple devices simultaneously. This is useful if you have a smart phone, tablet, PC and smart TV that you watch on. It's also useful if you want to give your family access to your account.

Generally ranging from R99 - R149, these services offer amazing value. Previously consumers would buy their entertainment as a physical copy, subscribe to satellite TV to watch their favourite shows or spend the equivalent of a month's subscription on a movie night out. Having access to a wide array of self-updating and new entertainment that is available 24/7 is a major win for anyone simply wanting to have quality entertainment at their finger tips.

how to use streaming services in south africa

Data Costs

The biggest barrier to adopting streaming services is the cost of data and line speed, which affects the streaming quality. Nothing kills the suspense of disbelief quicker than slow download speeds. You don't want to ruin the home movie experience by having a pixelated Lord of the Rings or stop-start frames of Inception.

If you already have an internet connection at home, you may want to consider upgrading it to fibre or an uncapped line. This will ensure you can watch uninterrupted content. The cost factors into the whole package but makes sense if you're able to cover additional data requirements relating to your computer and phone usage, which can also be linked to the home w-fi signal. There are a number of competitive uncapped fibre packages available. Many include free installation and you should expect to pay about R500-R800 per month depending on your needs and line speed.

If that's a bit too pricey, you can also investigate LTE routers or daily specials. When it comes to LTE routers, the pricing is cheaper with some constraints around time of use and the line speed tends to be much slower than fibre. Many cellular networks offer daily specials that enable you to buy a few GB at a much cheaper rate for a day or weekend. Doing this a few times a month, you would want to look at a more fixed connection or subscription.

If you don't have an uncapped line, you can change the settings of your app or video window to change the size of the file download. Switching to a lesser quality means you you'll be able to save up to 70% of your data per hour. This really is a personal preference and depends on what level you're comfortable watching shows and movies. It's easy enough to do for sitcoms but may be more difficult to sacrifice when it comes to spectacular series and movies.

Tips on How to Watch

The beauty of streaming apps is that they allow you to download content to view later. This is particularly useful if your internet set up isn't all that fast. Downloading to watch later makes it possible for you to control your data use a bit more conservatively i.e. only downloading at certain times of the day or on specific wi-fi networks.

This enables you to be portable. Since downloads are only really permitted on smart phones and tablets, you'll be able to watch series and films on the go. Stuck in the car waiting for someone? Spending time in a hospital bed? Waiting in a long queue? Dining on your own? Sitting in the sun with a cup of tea? All of these scenarios enable you to enjoy content. It helps if you keep a set of earphones or headphones handy to make it easier to switch over to your favourite sitcom or enjoy a nature documentary in nature. If you really want to "splash out"... try getting a tripod so that you can keep your device away from water and have a soak in the bath.

Video Streaming in South Africa

Streaming Services Currently Available in South Africa

Cell C's Black and iFlix are two examples of streaming services that are no longer available or viable. South Africa has had its fair share of streaming services over the years, here are some of the most popular ones now available. There are ways of working around the system by rerouting your IP address to gain the full spectrum of entertainment offered on international streaming packages, but this is illegal even if you're paying. The services do generally enable users who are travelling to continue using their original accounts.

Netflix

They originally sent DVDs via the U.S. postal service to their network of subscribers. This required dropping off and collecting discs, which while a great deal more convenient than driving to your local video store was still a chore. The advent of faster internet speeds, the impact of piracy and more flexible content licensing made it feasible to take content online and make it available for streaming without buffering issues. Being the front runner and pioneer, their streaming, interfaces and data efficiency is tops. The search facility doesn't enable you to see their full catalogue, which is a bit irritating but their recommendations based on similar titles are usually quite good.

As Netflix has grown into an entertainment empire, the rest of the world has continued to improve when it comes to download speeds and efficacy making it easier for the streaming giant to set up camp in one new country after another. Hampered by licensing issues, their full content offering isn't available to South Africans yet. While somewhat restricted, they're still considered to be the most popular streaming service, often referenced in pop culture. They create their own original content and are thriving under lockdown, despite looming vulnerabilities when it comes to licensors revoking their licenses in favour of creating their own streaming channels.

Showmax

This is South Africa's biggest local streaming service. While they're not in the same league as Netflix's international bouquet of big series and movie titles, they're a heavyweight contender when it comes to their wider spectrum of content. Now streaming TV series, movies, stand up, sport and news channels, it's a high value offering at a mere R99 per month. This makes Showmax a very attractive alternative to locals.

While more limited, you can view their entire catalogue of film and TV series, which makes it easier to navigate and discover content on your own terms. There's less original content, meaning fewer straight-to-video options but this is usually a good thing. Constantly adding new titles, Showmax ensures there's generally always something worthwhile to watch. The streaming and app development isn't on the same level as the front runner, but that's to be expected from any contender to Netflix. It works well enough, offers many of the same great features and is consistent enough to enjoy.

Amazon Prime

This international streaming service is also restrictive in terms of its offering in South Africa. While very competitively priced, the main reason to subscribe to Amazon Prime is for the selection of TV shows. Amazon Prime Video have a terrific selection of high quality and star-studded television shows. The service mimics most streaming platforms when it comes to features. Their biggest weakness is their pithy selection of films. There are one or two diamonds in the rough but for the most part, it's filler.

Not being able to stream films available on the Amazon storefront seems a bit mean. Otherwise it's a sturdy streaming service - possibly worth adding on as a +1 or for a few months until you exhaust their worthwhile shows.

DStv Now

DStv Now is DStv satellite TV's streaming service enabling their premium subscribers the option of watching content wherever they are. Operating much like other streaming services, you can log-in or download the DStv Now app to gain access. Since the service is a free add-on, it's not pushed as a standalone offering. You can use you log-in details to access a decent array of Catch Up movies and TV series on most devices, except smart-enabed TVs.

The service is quite basic yet efficient enough to make it a valuable add-on. Browsing through premiere movies or recently screened titles, it does have its perks for subscribers who aren't always at home. The selection features most of the shows and movies that are currently being broadcast on DStv at that point so they're constantly adding new content. One of the other pluses is that their content often diverges from the glut of movies offered on other platforms, enabling you to access new release titles more readily.

Google Play

The Google Play store consists of movies for rent and purchase. The best thing about Google Play's selection is that it's literally hot off the press. The latest releases drop at the Google Play movies store, which means you'll have a steady stream of movies to choose from that have arrived fresh from the big screen. The down side is that you may have to buy  the movie if you really want to watch it straight away. At prices exceeding R140, this hardly seems worth it if you're only planning on watching it once. Although gathering a bunch of friends or family around will definitely give you more value out of the deal.

The rentals start from R20 and if you're patient enough, most titles available on Google Play eventually become available to rent at a much more attractive price. The streaming quality is excellent and the platform gives you 48 hours to watch your rental, which is a reasonable time allocation. Owning the title in its digital form as an HD movie may have its benefits, but it hardly feels like you own it if you can only watch it on the Google Play app.

DEOD

DEOD is a lesser known streaming service yet a surprisingly attractive one. They're operating on a low-level yet have an interesting offering, enabling cheaper subscription packages and more in the way of pay-as-you-go. A wide bouquet of channels, DEOD a curious streaming platform, enabling you daily or weekend access in addition to their low monthly subscription rate. A hybrid of sorts, they also offer rental titles at a fixed price. Their selection may not be huge but at the price, it's difficult not to be tempted to buy a weekend's access and plan a movie marathon.

Their streaming is perfunctory and good enough but it's not at the cutting edge of technology, which means you may have a few technical glitches than most streaming platforms when it comes to using the app and website. At dirt cheap prices, they're a useful fallback option when it comes to getting a fresh burst of entertainment on demand.

YouTube

YouTube is the original video streaming provider. They're gearing up to release YouTube TV, which is currently not available in South Africa. While their dedicated streaming service isn't available, the video giant has thousands of web series and short films to choose from. if you're looking for more traditional format shows and movies on YouTube, they also have a wide selection. Hosting many forgotten shows such as Beyond 2000, you can also stream a number of movies legally on YouTube. Unfortunately, the films that are available are limited and generally not very good.

The channel is a bit slow to root out illegal uploads of new movies so it's a bit of a minefield in terms of piracy and not recommended for film specifically. YouTube's general glut of content may be a bit woolly, but there are plenty of great interviews, music videos, show excerpts and hidden gems to make the time go by if you're willing to find the fun.

Tubi

Tubi is one of several free movie-watching apps available for download. As a free service, the titles are pretty much what you'd expect. Mostly b-movies and oddballs, it doesn't take much searching to find the odd gem. The Tubi channel hosts many movies in the public domain. You can expect to find some cult movies but don't be fooled... there are some excellent titles available. Use their handy categories to navigate to the highest rated Rotten Tomatoes review films or try one of the crazy cult movies for something different. Did we mention it's free?

Art House

You can visit Mubi and Curzon Cinemas to get a healthy dose of ad-free art house and cinema nouveau titles. Both channels specialise in providing curated film content that will appeal to film buffs, world cinema and art house fans. We haven't confirmed their availability in South Africa or tried their free trial.

Have something to add to this overview? Please get in touch to let us know.

 
Tim Greene on Lockdown Movie 'Cabin Fever'


Tim Greene's ambitious lockdown project is now in post-production. Using digital communication, video conferencing and social networking apps, the writer-director managed to coordinate a feature film when the rest of the world's productions ground to a halt. The story set during the pandemic brought together a group of actors who performed and operating the cameras... in Cabin Fever their phones. Spling caught up with the film-maker to get more details on this extraordinary feat.

In this exclusive interview you'll be able to find out how Greene managed to pull it off, some of the challenges involved in shooting during a lockdown and factors that influenced the story and shooting style. The interview was conducted remotely online and unfortunately the sound quality was adversely affected by fluctuating internet speeds.

 
The Fast and Furious: From Downtown LA to Russia with Love


The Fast and the Furious is a high octane franchise about sexy woman, tough guys, fast cars and lots of showboating. Starting in Los Angeles, the series was geared towards underground street racing and an undercover cop who was sent in to infiltrate the ring and bring it down from within.

However, over time as the series has progressed it's become more preoccupied with the world of espionage, taking on Bond-sized missions with a similar knack for over-the-top action sequences. Maybe it was because they had reached the seventh film, which signaled 007. Or perhaps when a film series has had so many sequels it entered a new realm where blockbusters don't have to make sense anymore. Apparently, checking a few boxes and adhering to the same formula gives you the freedom to go big and then go bigger. Having never cared about having a uniform title or having gone with classic number plate lettering... such as FA5T & FUR1OU5, it seems anything goes.

The Fast and the Furious franchise has not always been plain-sailing, having had a pretty shaky start. The original film was exciting and dangerous enough to take off with great characters, adrenaline-boosted action set pieces and oozing style. Almost derailing in the first sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious was where Vin Diesel took a leave of absence with Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson behind the wheel. Functioning more like a Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon or worse yet Tropical Heat... it turned into a buddy movie with the kind of production values you would expect from a TV show.

Taking a break to figure things out and reinvent the series, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift took the franchise to Japan, sporting a brand-new cast and unpacking the dangerous underground racing art of drifting. Somewhat underrated, it still had enough flash and sizzle to keep the idea of Fast and Furious alive while trialing director, Just Lin.

Franchise figurehead Dominic Torretto, played by Vin Diesel, was the missing ingredient which is what prompted the filmmakers to reboot the series in Fast & Furious 4. Taking Lin on the second of four movies as director, they found a winning formula as the smell of rubber and excitement of wheel spins filled the air once again with a similar story to the original.

In arguably one of the best installations, the franchise decided to relocate to Rio de Janeiro where they staged Fast Five. Essentially a take on The Italian Job, this heist introduced Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to super-size the cast and provide a worthy adversary to Vin Diesel's Dom Torretto in Luke Hobbs. Tipping the hat to the classic heist movie with Michael Caine, it captured the danger and spirit of The Fast and the Furious once again.

The sixth installation went transatlantic to London, where the team are forced to go head-to-head with an equal opposite in Owen Shaw. His team of street racers proved to be more than a match to the Fast and Furious crew, turning this sequel into a bruising encounter. Influenced by The Avengers, it also built the film around three major climax scenes with its characters taking on superhero qualities. Who can forget Vin Diesel literally flying between cars or the neverending runway... which could have been a spin-off.

Fast and Furious 7 or Furious 7 found Justin Lin replaced by James Wan, known for his horror filmmaking with films such as Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious. The understanding behind sequels is that things need to get bigger, faster and more expensive in order to rehash what made the original so enticing. When your film series runs as long as the Fast and Furious, it seems almost impossible to keep this momentum.

Having captured Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest action movie star on the planet, they probably figured that the only way to go was to get the second biggest action movie star on the planet in Jason Statham. Setting The Transporter, The Italian Job and Death Race star up as the villain was a great idea, playing into the hands of The Avengers and their relationship with Loki.

This made their cast almost invincible when it comes to action. The seventh film was an example of everything that worked so well for The Fast and the Furious. As mentioned earlier, the 007 element was very strong in this film as agents became involved and the film moved from having a set location to going global. It was wonderfully entertaining in the hands of Wan, who should've been given the reins for the eight installment.

The Fate of the Furious is probably the most Bondified installment of the lot, directed by The Italian Job reboot director, F. Gary Grey. Playing into the realm of superheroes, it was probably an attempt to bring it back down to earth. A huge money spinner, able to house some of the biggest names in box office draw cards, they attached Charlize Theron for the eighth film. The casting call wouldn't have made sense if she hadn't just played Furiousa in one of the most grueling and greatest car chase movies of all-time. Essentially playing her part from one room like Helen Mirren did in Eye in the Sky and dressed like Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds, it was a bit wasted on an actress of her considerable talents. Having Vin Diesel take on the role of the traitor, just as formidable as Deckard Shaw played by Jason Statham, it was something of a rinse and repeat.

Not having Paul Walker, who bowed out doing the thing the series is built on served as an emotional sendoff in chapter 7. Being one of the founding members, it must have been quite a shakeup not to have him there. The eighth film got to the point of being so over-the-top in terms of action, you could say the studio is trying to rekindle the nostalgia around playing with Hot Wheels cars and army men. They even described the secret automobile locker as "The Toy Store". Transporting an entourage of tricked out cars around the world to save humanity does sound ridiculous when you think about it.

Having solidified the love/hate relationship between Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, ensure that the Fast & Furious presents: Hobbs and Shaw movie would allow them to do a spin-off. Taking the tongue in cheek attitude instilled in the previous sequels and combining it with the almost superhero meets bond franchise building, they brought in Idris Elba as Brixton, a character akin to Ironman.

The series is essentially a rollicking good time, designed to maximise entertainment value and serve as some welcome escapism in these trying times. You can commend them for having made it through nine films but one just hopes that it can return to the core attitude and flair of the original in Fast & Furious 9. Pandering to the superhero meets James Bond adventure isn't really what it's all about and while that over-the-top entertainment is geared towards servicing the audience, one would hope that it doesn't become so mainstream that it becomes unrecognisable.

For now, you can catch the Fast & Furious collection on Showmax.

 
Robby Collins 'Iyeza Tour' Comedy Show now on Showmax


Robby Collins is best known for being Trevor Noah's opening act. His comedy is geared around storytelling and most of his bits come from real-life moments. While the intimate venue is comparable with sitting around a campfire, it doesn't do justice to the quality of the material. Only really geared to accommodate a small audience, it's the kind of venue where you may become self-conscious about your laugh. While small, he does manage to elicit many regular rounds of laughter and guffaws. It's tough when you are playing to so few people yet his opening act, while a little awkward, manages to get the ball rolling. It probably would have been a stronger move to edit it down to get to the main act a bit quicker but is still amusing and refreshing enough to set the scene.

Robby Colins Iyeza

Collins is a lanky fellow, who admittedly keeps getting cast as a coloured gangster. Known for being honest, this is definitely one of his cornerstones to his act, allowing the intimate setting to really give your sense of what it's all about. Talking about his career, his home life, dealing with crime and some of his overseas tours, he's a lover of life. Sitting down for the majority of the show, gives it the feeling of being a confessional with Collins being brutally honest about being booed off stage at OppiKoppi and late night e-tv.

He's a naturally funny guy who manages to get the audience in the palm of his hand. Standing up from time to time to emphasise key points and probably stretch its legs, it's quite amazing how quickly time goes in his company. Entertaining, funny, honest and enjoyable the show starts slowly, but really endears you to Collins. He's got fixed opinions about things but he's so open and honest that the trust connection is established quite quickly. It takes a while for you to figure him out and adjust to the format of comedy but he uses charm even in his ruggedness and doesn't pull punches.

Robby Collins is so comfortable on stage that his conversational approach makes you sometimes forget you're actually watching a show. Breaking that wall with the audience, it seems even more rewarding to be part of a smaller group listening in to his tales. You can imagine the comedian valuing every life experience and moment, seeing the potential for a new bit. Milking the funny from everyday events, trivial moments and even traumatic events, it's an exercise in self-deprecation and great comic relief in even the most trying situations.

It's a great attitude to have and this comics breezy vibe is quite contagious, making you want to hear more even after almost an hour. The venue could have been bigger with a bit more pizzazz but it really suits the style of comedy and perhaps that was intentional on the part of Collins.

 
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