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Broadcasting group eMedia Holdings has launched a video-on-demand service in partnership with mobile operator MTN, as it enters the competitive industry dominated by Netflix.

eMedia, worth R1.37bn, owns television and radio broadcasting businesses that include eNCA, OpenView and Yfm, together with production studios.

The group said on Friday it had launched “a new online viewing platform in an exclusive three-year partnership with mobile telecoms partner MTN.”

Carrying the name “eVOD”, the new offering “will allow audiences to see exclusive locally produced dramas and movies on Android and Apple devices whenever they want to, and offers a combination of free and paid-for content at the viewers’ discretion,” said the company.  

“We are delighted to now offer all audiences the means to watch free content on any device at any time with the option to upgrade for more exclusive viewing,” said Khalik Sherrif, CEO of eMedia Investments. “Our partnership with MTN will also provide subscribers with affordable eVOD-only data bundles allowing you to watch your shows, your way.”  

SA has in recent years seen growth in the number of streaming services that have entered the market, including US players Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as Hong Kong’s Viu, which has differentiated itself through local content. MultiChoice has also been investing heavily in the space, and is home to three services — DStv, Showmax and Showmax Pro. 

In the free-to-air market, in which eMedia predominantly plays, partnerships with telecoms operators have become the business model of choice. Competitor SABC recently partnered with Telkom to stream its radio and television content online. The rationale makes sense as operators have large subscriber bases to which they can distribute the broadcaster’s content, while mobile providers can increase data traffic on their networks.

While Telkom and MTN have partnered with broadcasters, Cell C tried and failed to go it alone with its Black service, which was shut down in late 2019. Vodacom continues to operate its Video Play service.

With adoption still small in the local market, there is still room for all these players to capture market share. Over time, free-to-air content might be the catalyst that gets more people subscribing to on-demand services. Even in a country where consumers have long complained about the high cost of internet access, local shows — whose episodes are available on YouTube — garner large viewership online.

According to data from Digital TV Research, the penetration of streaming players such as Netflix is still a mere 4% in Africa against 82% in North America, 69% in Western Europe, 34% in Latin America and 37% in Asian emerging markets.



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