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The Rise of Digital Arts & Culture in South Africa


In the last few months the entire entertainment industry has changed drastically. While things seem to be slowly opening up again with new restrictions around seating, cleanliness and capacity percentages, most festivals are reinventing themselves by going digital. Able to simply pick whichever show and not having to book at physical venues in order to reach an audience, it's going to bring about a new set of challenges.

Normally live events have a completely different make up to readily available digital entertainment. Subverting the opportunity to get a night out and allowing people to have a night in with traditionally live events means it all funnels into consuming digital entertainment wherever you are in the world from your couch. Perhaps this new digital space requires more precise thinking and service offerings from a facilitation service, which can provide a more accurate and safer way for entertainment to be shared and accounted for when it comes to ticketing and box office takings.

The National Arts Festival

One of the first South African festival organisations to announce a digital or virtual reinvention was the National Arts Festival, which has been held in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) for decades. A cultural hub and a calendar event in the town's schedule, it brings in business opportunities for locals. Bringing arts, craft, entertainment, theatre, film and bustling trade into the town, it's been a highlight and recommended festival, which attracts many festivalgoers travelling into Makhanda to enjoy the festivities. Regarded as one of the most preeminent art and culture festivals in the country, they've had to change things up by going virtual.

The virtual National Arts Festival is currently underway. The NAF portal offers day and festival passes in order to facilitate viewing, allowing you to get access to the show's you've booked for. If you're interested in seeing what's happening... it's running until 5 July 2020. Yet, it still remains to be seen whether the move to digital is going to be a step forward or back for the festival. While it's feasible for theatre productions and films to find an audience online, which is much more widespread, it still requires some clever marketing and re-engineering in order to attach to these new online platforms. While people are much more digitally-aware now, there are certain hoops and checkpoints that are still not quite mainstream. The idea of paying for one uninterrupted screening of a film or theatre piece can present some problems both technically based on screening hardware and ticket management.

It's easy enough to go through a ticketing company like Webtickets in order to purchase an online ticket, which essentially emails you a specialised link or QR code ticket. However, this doesn't manage the online streaming situation accurately with those who can't play a production or those sharing the link or getting 10 people in on 1 ticket.

The Labia Theatre's Home Screen

The Labia Theatre have now released their Home Screen. Essentially a streaming site where you can watch specific art house film releases by paying an admission fee in order to stream them. They've definitely embraced the change brought about by the pandemic. Having to adapt and evolve to continue presenting movies, they've effectively attached a fifth screen to their four screen cineplex by enabling patrons to watch some of their film selection from the comfort of their home. As an intermediary solution this makes a lot of sense, yet still has to deal with some of the overriding issues relating to a digital tickets for an online service.

Labia Home Screen

When someone buys access to a screening or streaming event, the provider needs to ensure that it's limited to one screen. If the link is the only thing you need in order to access the event, you could see how people sharing that same link with their friends could present a problem. Moreover, when pricing tickets event organisers have to also take into account that they don't need to provide a venue, seating, parking and a safe space for the audience. These bricks and mortar additional costs form part of the equation, which means that technically a digital experience ticket price should be reduced. Having said that, they also need to factor in that a single ticket equates to a single screen, which can be viewed by an entire household or as many people that can fit into a lounge.

The Labia's pay-per-view service gives registered user's 6 hours in order to watch a film title for R60. This gives them some level of control over which account is being used and some limits in terms of access. It's a great idea, which can continue to run parallel with the cineplex once everything returns to a new normal. What's also good is that it could eventually transition into a mainline offering. Their loyal audience will be keen to support the new Home Screen so let's hope it's able to grow.

Encounters Documentary Film Festival

The Encounters Documentary Film Festival is also going digital, yet they're taking on more of a hybrid approach by enabling those who want to go into cinemas to watch films to be able to do continue doing so. Perhaps this double whammy approach is the best way to handle the gradual changes and shift to digital. With so many performers, productions and projects taking a digital route, this will inevitably put all the power with the ticket-buying audience. Hopefully lower ticket prices will eventually equate to more purchases.

Encounters 2020

Taking place between 20 and 30 August 2020, they're responding to the changes over the last few months by making the festival available to "everyone, everywhere in South Africa". Encounters will be offering most of their documentary films free-of-charge with select paid events in Cape Town and Johannesburg over this time. The idea is to make films available online or on the big screen and the festival organisers will be outlining their plan for going digital shortly.

The film festival has been running for over two decades and will be opening with the timely documentary, Influence, a profile of ‘morally slippery British reputation manager’ Lord Timothy Bell of PR firm Bell Pottinger. Those interested in getting more information on the upcoming schedule and line-up of documentary films on offer can visit the Encounters website.

This arts and culture digital revolution will enable people to catch shows that they ordinarily wouldn't have access to from around the world, which was the case with Marc Lottering's My Fellow South Africans. His first live-streaming comedy show must have made an absolute fortune if you consider the number of tickets sold. Enabling even more people than he would be able to fit into a theatre to see and perform, many of which would have been accessing the show from outside the country (at a fraction of the cost when you consider the exchange rate), he was able to leverage his fan base to great effect. So while new territory is being explored with a sharp learning curve, the time brings to mind Albert Einstein's comment that "in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity".

 
Spling Reviews TNT Original 'Escape from Pretoria'


Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling is a film fanatic and movie critic, who has become something of a film authority in South Africa. That's why TNT Africa got in touch to get his take on the first of their slate of TNT Originals, Escape from Pretoria. Put a red circle around 4 July on your calendar because this prison break thriller is set to premiere then at 8pm. Set to release the first Saturday of every month, TNT Africa are bringing premieres and international stars into your living room on TNT, channel 137 on DStv and channel 16 on GOtv.

Escape from Pretoria starring Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber is about a trio of young political prisoners who made it their do-or-die mission to escape from the maximum security wing of Pretoria Central Prison in 1978. It's based on the real-life story of Tim Jenkin, an anti-apartheid activist whose ANC propaganda leaflet distribution landed him in prison. Using his cunning and ingenuity, the man concocted one of the most daring and meticulous jailbreaks of all-time.

This pulsating prison break thriller is directed by Francis Annan, who has taken the same level of locksmith precision to his film-making, turning in a nail-biting and suspenseful film. In this video review, Spling unpacks Escape from Pretoria, the first of many TNT Originals produced by WarnerMedia's Particular Crowd. Other films such as Buffaloed, Human Capital and Guns Akimbo are also lined up for release, featuring the likes of Liev Schreiber and Daniel Radcliffe.

Spling is also hosting a Bingeing with Spling online watch party to tie in with the premiere of Escape from Pretoria, so make sure your cellphone's charged and you're stocked up on popcorn! You can join in the action right from your couch by following #BingeingWithSpling, #EscapeFromPretoria and #TNTOriginal to track the conversation across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the night. Banter, prizes, movie trivia and an action-packed movie... it's gearing up to a whole lot of fun and the perfect way to spend movie night!

 
The Future of Digital Radio... Where Podcasts and Music Collide


Podcasts are becoming the next big thing. While it seems like almost everyone is getting to the point that they feel they need their own podcast, the medium is growing in terms of contributors and listeners. In fact, it's getting to the point where it's quickly becoming necessary to have applications that are able to handcraft a radio stream for users.

Curating content and music based on your personal preferences seems like a natural step in the right direction. The recommendation algorithms already exist and have been fine-tuned to the point that recommendations are very useful and quite strong when it comes to figuring out what other music or movies people might enjoy. Based on your personal preferences, modelling your taste based on your listening stats and learning from your your trends, it's becoming more accurate and the suggestions are more on target.

It seems that the natural progression of this would be for a company to design something that pulls in specific podcasts and music that match your listening profile. Wouldn't it be fantastic if a service existed that charged users a small monthly fee in order to do that for them. Being able to curate a blend of talk and music, geared specifically around your customisations... people would love that! Since there are so many podcasts one imagines that it wouldn't take much for streamers and podcast owners to agree to having their content added to that kind of platform to connect with more fans.

movie podcast directory

Being able to choose which new service you wanted to get news from, when you want to do news – even if on the hour or just in the morning at a certain time, there are many ways that this "radio station" could play out. For most listeners, it would only serve their purposes to have the function to simply hit play. Deciding your balance of talk versus music and even allowing the software to make editing changes to switch between the two at set intervals, it seems as though this kind of disruptive technology would challenge most radio stations.

Podcasts are still in their infancy but they are definitely stars developing from within this world. They would essentially be the "DJs" of the future, which would occupy a global marketplace instead of regional. Imagine being able to listen to a podcast on castles, interspersed with your favourite rock music only to get sport alert results that are in line with your favourite team - if you like that sort of stuff. Being able to offer niche content that completely matches the listener's profile will make this platform very powerful. Most radio listeners tend to switch between channels, probably deciding to do so due to too many adverts, a song that doesn't match their personal taste or a radio personality that bothers them.

Of course, if radio stations were wanting to survive this kind of disruptive technology they would have to present or take on a similar offering. Allowing their listeners to essentially download a series of podcasts, radio stations would have to allow their own listenership to essentially compile a best of for their own listening pleasure. This would mean that the platform would be able to cater to stations and try to keep them in the game for the type of listeners who want a much more drilled down version of the platform's content.

In this fast-moving age where people don't feel that they've got enough hours in the day, having on standby content that is completely suited to them will make them feel like they're getting much more value out of that time and not simply listening to a random selection of current music and opinions. The immediacy is probably the most attractive part of being able to switch on the tailor-made radio and get a typical brand of music and talk, however with the advent of speech recognition technology and data mining, it'll be quite feasible for shows to be analysed and attributed to certain listener profiles.

It's already amazing to use one of your music apps and have the system learn from you, offering you a personal mix of music. How amazing would it be if something similar were able to be done with podcasts, making it much easier for you to have your own custom radio station built for you from the ground up. It may seem like quite a difficult task, but based on all the supporting technologies that exist already it can't be that far in the future.

It would be wise for radio stations which are already struggling to compete with portable apps but is something that they should definitely anticipate to remain relevant to the next generation of listeners. Younger audiences are used to having things tailor-made and curated based on their specific likes, so one imagines it'll only be a matter of time before this is transferred to mainstream.

Spling has a series of movie podcasts, which are geared towards different types of listening...

Presenter of Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio, Spling publishes podcasts of this movie review programme every week. These reviews typically include three movie reviews, including cinema, online streaming or films available for rental.

He also recently launched something called Confessions of a Movie Critic, which allows him to have a much more candid stream of consciousness type podcast. Running up to 15 minutes, it's an opportunity for him to get a bit more personal and topical with his listeners, adopting a conversational approach.

Must Love Movies is a new addition to his podcast bouquet, a podcast lasting up to an hour where he interviews a celebrity or film industry professional about their taste in movies. During this recording he and his guest watch one of their favourite films, discuss it afterwards with a perspective on their love of movies and their top 10 movies.

Even now, essentially contributing to three podcasts, he's also the host of The Three Wells of Screenwriting podcasts with Matthew Kalil. A screenwriting series, which is entertaining and infotaining, it just shows how niche podcasts can be. Being able to do something niche like this, which ordinarily wouldn't be feasible on bigger platforms or broadcast channels, the attraction is very specific and the low costs involved make it much easier to maintain.

Even with a number of podcasts underway, Spling still believes there is even another channel for podcasting whereby he has more in-depth interviews with filmmakers and screenwriters. The possibilities are endless, the biggest challenge is creating an audience and sustaining the momentum of the podcast series in order to make it a proper, curated piece of content.

The beauty of it all is that since it is so specific, connecting listeners with things they will enjoy can work for the platform creator and the creators who are listed. There is a need for podcast creators to be connected with on-target audiences and this kind of custom radio station idea would do wonders in making that possible.

 
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.

 
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