In the box seats
Which video-on-demand service is right for you?
Binge-watching television has never been easier. The Financial Mail rates the three streaming services available in SA
Digital options have taken television by storm. But choosing from the three big video-on-demand services now available to South Africans can be tricky. Which one is the best for you (and your Internet connection) and what does it cost? We break it down for you.
The game changer
Netflix is the oldest and best known of the on-demand video streaming or Internet TV services. So ubiquitous and popular is this service internationally that — much like Google — Netflix as a verb has entered the lexicon.
In 2016, Netflix added 130 new countries to its footprint, including SA. Without the need for proxy workarounds, South Africans could finally legitimately access the service, including Netflix original content and a fairly extensive library of titles. In SA, it offers about 1,400 titles.
I access Netflix using both Apple TV and iPad apps. Both function well, with smooth streaming even on a pretty slow ADSL line (averaging 2Mbps-3Mbps). The recent addition of downloadable content has made this even more accessible to South Africans with slow connections.
If you want the latest blockbusters, you’re more likely to find them on iTunes (this goes for all these on-demand options), but the vintage movies and original series selection is fantastic.
Price: From US$7.99/month for the basic (standard definition or SD) option
Highly recommended: The Marvel titles (including Luke Cage and Daredevil), Stranger Things, Narcos and the recent Amanda Knox doccie
The local contender
Naspers-owned ShowMax launched to much fanfare prior to Netflix SA. It offers about 1,000 titles, and its big differentiator is local content, including Afrikaans movies, local stand-up comedy and several locally produced series.
ShowMax offers downloads too. Its month-to-month billing at a fixed rand value is great too, as is its data-capping tool, so you can manage your usage for streamed content. What this means is that tablet or smartphone users, for example, or those accessing the service via 3G data, can limit the resolution they receive.
The other benefit of an established local market presence is that ShowMax currently offers a couple of deals built around access, such as a Telkom bolt-on or TV-plus-access-plus-data package (from Game).
I access ShowMax via a Web browser, an iOS app and Apple TV. On my sad, slow ADSL line the experience is smooth and watchable, but not seamless.
Fast connections will have an easier time of it.
If you fell behind on some big series, such as Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory or Elementary, ShowMax lets you catch up from episode one. The BBC productions bouquet (at no extra charge) is also packed with old favourites, such as Little Britain, Absolutely Fabulous and ’Allo ’Allo.
The movie selection here is — like that of Netflix — not the best and brightest, but it does feature a couple of entertaining titles (The Birdcage, King Kong, The Aviator, the Mission Impossible collection) in among Air Buddies-type kids movies.
Price: R99/month, up to 720p
Highly recommended: Mr Robot, Silicon Valley, Golden Globes darling Veep and David Attenborough Meets President Obama
In December, Amazon’s Prime Video service announced a wide international expansion to more than 200 countries, including SA. It’s competing aggressively with Netflix, it seems, with a bargain-basement price of just $2.99/month for the first six months (after a free seven-day trial) and $5.99/month thereafter.
Not only that, but it has HD as standard, is capable of ultra-HD, and supports three simultaneous streams on the basic price.
Where it has less of an advantage — and this is probably temporary — is the number of titles on offer. There are just 255 titles for Amazon Prime SA, but there are some goodies there — both in original series (like Transparent) and big-name films (No Country for Old Men, American Beauty).
You can access Prime Video via smartphone and tablet apps, a Web browser (primevideo.com) and certain smart TVs. There is no Apple TV app, but you can work around this by airplay-ing content from the Prime Video app on your iPhone to your Apple TV.
Even if you have an Amazon account, you’ll want to sign up via the primevideo.com link to access the introductory deal.
Price: $2.99/month for the first six months, $5.99/month thereafter, HD stream
Highly recommended: The Night Manager, Hand of God, Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle and — if you still miss the old white men of Top Gear and their antics — The Grand Tour
At these prices, opting for Amazon Prime Video in addition to ShowMax or Netflix seems a great deal. If, like me, you are a serious binge-watcher, all three (at the current exchange rate and the lowest Netflix and Prime Video price points) will set you back just R248 (excluding data use).