Spurred on by a young population and increasing internet connectivity, London-based business intelligence firm, Digital TV Research, projects subscriptions of video-on-demand in Africa to reach 15 million by 2026.

For context, this figure stood at 5 million in 2021. Additionally, revenues from the industry are expected to triple from the $623 million recorded in 2021 to $2 billion in 2027.

Launched in October 2015, MultiChoice’s Showmax is one of the first streaming platforms to launch in Africa. Aside from on-demand streaming, through Showmax Pro, the platform also offers live TV programming such as music channels, news, and live sport streaming from SuperSport.

But the streaming competitive landscape has changed significantly since 2015.Netflix launched on the continent in 2016 and other indigenous streaming platforms like Wi-flix, IrokoTV, and GOTV, among others, have launched as well.

TechCabal caught up with Barry Dubovsky, chief operating officer at Showmax, to talk about a wide variety of topics including the evolution of streaming in Africa, the competitive landscape, as well as what impact technologies like AI will have on streaming on the continent.

TechCabal: How would you say Showmax has evolved as a streaming product since its launch in 2015?

Barry Dubovsky: There has been a fundamental shift in the way that we’ve approached every single component of the product, both from the core product experience through to the content that we have, and making the product a lot more relevant for the African consumer base. Additionally, as part of the localisation agenda, the product has seen 22 local languages being supported as well as sports offerings.

We want to be the logical choice for entertainment across the continent going forward. With that in mind, we have done a lot of things like being the first service to launch a mobile-only plan, we also got a sports product that sits on top of all of our general entertainment offerings, and we presented the World Cup in 4k last year. So there’s been a lot of evolution which has been fantastic and it’s really about us being locally focused, speaking to consumers, understanding the market, and adding convenient payment options like local currencies.

TC: How would you say consumption of streaming content has changed in Africa between 2015 and now?

BD: Smartphone penetration, data prices, and connectivity have improved in general but of course, there is still a long way to go. At the moment, we’ve still got electricity challenges in some of our markets like South Africa and obviously, there are things that we need to be doing to adapt to that. 

In terms of what we are doing to meet the consumer halfway, there are things like making content available for offline viewing by downloads in order to reduce the bandwidth and the data consumption that shows take up when you’re streaming them. A lot of this business is trying to capitalise on the growth of the connected consumer and we’re putting all of these things in place so that as the market continues to mature and more people are connected, we can play an active role in that.

TC: How is Showmax trying to support the local creators to enable them to not only be able to create content but be able to create content that will be up to par with the standards that can be put on the platform?

BD: We’ve got a dedicated content team that lives and breathes this. So we’ve obviously got a partnership with HBO and got a very strong international content slate, but the reality is that the bulk of our focus is very much on the local agenda. This is because we see that consumption patterns paint the need for local content. For example, in South Africa, seven of the top 10 watched shows are local productions. The same trend holds in Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana. So from that, it’s really on us the incumbent to make sure that we support local productions because that’s what’s going to captivate audiences and captivate attention and drive subscriptions. 

Additionally, we also have to support local production houses to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of this content. At the moment, there is a lot of investment happening across all of our main markets to ensure that we are continually investing in those local production houses. So there’s a huge focus right on investing in local content, creators, and really kind of ensuring that the industry is thriving. There is also the Multichoice Talent Factory which is playing a role in trying to enable a lot of that kind of investment and drive around local content creation. 

TC: The on-demand streaming competitive landscape has changed significantly since 2015, with the entrance of both global platforms and African ones. How has Showmax been trying to keep its market share?

BD: It’s a combination of staying true to our strategy, which I mentioned earlier, and, really making sure that our content generates customer interest and demand, right? I mean, Showmax is one of Africa’s oldest streaming platforms and I guess a lot of the international counterparts come into the game later with local content as part of their strategy, but it might not be a core pillar of it. But for us, it’s really about focusing on our localisation agenda.

It has also been about creating a smooth experience for consumers through having sufficient payment options and also supporting currencies. It has also been about creating content that resonates with people and marketing it in the proper way. All in all, there’s no room for complacency as new players come in, others leave, and others consolidate. Also, as I mentioned, we’ve got our international content slate that plays a very strong role in fortifying our overall catalogue while we continue to invest in doubling down on our local content strategy. The future of African localised streaming is really in safe hands, I must say.

Our partnership with Sky and NBCUniversal (Comcast) also points to the tenacity of our business. They’ve looked at our business, they’ve looked at our offerings, they’ve looked at what we’ve managed to achieve over the years, and that’s obviously played a key role in getting to the point where we are now in a joint venture.

We’re going to continue to invest in those things that we know are resonating with our audiences and making our presence felt not only on the local level but globally too.

TC: Streaming is projected to grow significantly in Africa during this decade. How does Showmax intend to take advantage and piggyback on this growth?

BD: We have grown our subscriber base by 68% last year and 50% the year before so our trajectory is in line with where the rest of the industry is going, if not outperforming it. It’s really just about continuing to focus on our priorities. The expectation is acquiring a significant portion of the addressable market as it continues to evolve and so far so good. 

It’s a very exciting period and obviously, there’s a lot of work involved to make sure that we stay relevant because what we see is, if you’re not trending on Twitter and you don’t have content that gets people talking, then they are going to talk about something else cause there is so much content out there.

*Interview has been edited for clarity

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