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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.