Hong Kong’s PCCW makes its first content play in Africa – ONTAPtv.com enters the South African market

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There’s been much talk of telecoms companies entering the African content space but with a few exceptions not much sign of them. However, Hong Kong’s PCCW is not a classic telecoms operator as it already has significant TV holdings in Hong Kong. Russell Southwood caught up with the Head of ONTAPtv.com, Lindsay Servian.

African mobile operators have been talking getting involved in film and video content for at least two years. At every past AfricaCom, vendors and insiders within the mobile companies have told me that announcements are always due soon. Thus far for all the talk, not much has happened.

It’s worth noting three exceptions to this statement. MTN has launched FrontRow in South Africa, joining the battle with key players including DStv’s Show Max and Times Group’s Vidi. Kenya’s Safaricom has launched Big Box TV, using 3G and 4G to connect a box for streaming and appointed ex-Wananchi content person Catherine Njari as its Head of Content. Finally Liquid Telecom has launched VoD provider Ipidi TV and has more announcements in the works.

PCCW first bought into Africa with its acquisition of Gateway, a wholesale telecoms provider and this is seen to have been a successful commercial move within the company. Through this acquisition, PCCW began to think abut whether there might be other opportunities based on its broader portfolio that includes TV, IPTV and Quad Play. One glimmer of this thinking was when it announced that it plans to provide telecoms and technology services for the R84bn Zendai smart city project in Modderfontein, Johannesburg.

So it launched ONTAPtv.com in South Africa on 16 September 2015. Servian believes that it has three key elements that will help it make an impact: compelling content, innovative pricing (with a la carte packages) and ease of use.

Compelling content means it has SABC back-catalogue of a range of popular series including End Games, Ngempela and Ihawu Lesizwe ad comedies such as 102 Paradise Complex and Mzinyo Dot Q:”We will be adding more African content as well as US and UK TV series and Indian content.”

It also has films from Warner, MGM and BBW Worldwide as well as Chinese language content for the Chinese community in South Africa:”Every month there will be new content and releases.” As a sign of its commitment to local content it has sponsored the Maximum Media Accelerator that will give it series exclusives for a period.

Servian makes the observation that most people don’t want all the channels or content they have to get in order to get what they actually want. So it offers packages that range from the low end from R39 (US$2.90) per month for the African package up to R89 (US$6.62) for the Mega Package which includes Family, TV series and the Movie packages. It also has an interesting search function that allows you to filter content by mood, plot, types of hour and several other interesting slices.

By any standard, these are low prices and are bound to have an impact on the market. There is also a free teaser package and as Servian explains:”There is no end date for it, you don’t have to make commitments and no credit card is needed.”

In terms of ease of access, the service will stream to all devices and has adaptive bit rate technology to adjust to the speed of the connection. The content servers are based locally in Johannesburg. There are free apps for iOS and Andriod. The maximum number of devices a user can use is three.

Users also have a choice of streaming or downloading: the downloads last for 48 hours. The downloads can be made in low or high resolution to tablets or phones depending on where you’re downloading from. Low resolution on an iPad provides a surprisingly crisp picture and you could easily download at public Wi-Fi hot spots. Downloading will soon also be available on PCs and Macs soon. It has a special deal with hot-spot provider Always On: a 15GB package for 30 days for R29 and a 50GB package for R59.

So what’s the market potential?:”We’re just giving it a go but I’m confident given our market presence and packaging with sensible pricing we will see a big market.” So what about expansion across Africa?:”We want to focus on getting South Africa sorted and we’ll see how we get on”

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