Wednesday, June 4, 2014

MultiChoice and M-Net and a brave new beginning: How South African pay-TV operators are embracing on-demand, binge viewing.

It's huge. And its significance for, and on, South Africa's TV industry shouldn't be underestimated: The revolutionary way in which M-Net and MultiChoice is making the entire second season of a major TV show available to DStv subscribers - for the first time ever - to watch on demand, and before its been broadcast on linear television.

MultiChoice and M-Net is making the entire first and not yet broadcast second season of House of Cards shown on M-Net available to DStv subscribers in June.

It's a big step. It's an M-Net first. It's a MultiChoice first. And it's a South African television industry first.

In doing this MultiChoice and M-Net are pro-active, not reactive; and forward-looking (possibly with some trepidation regarding the possible impact but doing it anyway) and not backward-facing.

MultiChoice and M-Net are embracing and are willing to experiment and move forward, as television and the TV experience for viewers are changing - also in Africa and South Africa.

TV with Thinus asked MultiChoice and M-Net about the very bold decision to make the episodes of a TV drama series available to viewers before it has been shown in the traditional, linear broadcasting and viewing way.

Why it is so significant is because MultiChoice and M-Net is making premium television content available to consumers on a video-on-demand (VOD) way, literally allowing consumption and "streaming" as if it's an American Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime - but using direct-to-home (DTH) satellite pay-TV technology.

We reached an agreement with Sony Pictures Television to make both House of Cards season 1 - already screened on M-Net - and season 2 - which will commence on Friday 27 June - available as box sets, on demand," Lani Lombard, M-Net's head of publicity and special projects tells TV with Thinus when asked why this groundbreaking decision was made.

"This is a special treat to viewers who love 'binge viewing', a growing international phenomenon. Having a series available before it has been aired within a channel's line-up is yet another first for M-Net and DStv Catch-Up," says Lani Lombard.

But how does M-Net feel about making content available on DStv before it's been shown on its premium pay-TV channels like M-Net and M-Net Series Showcase?

Conventional TV biz wisdom would caution against it - surely a TV channel will be scared that viewers will gobble up the cheese like mice all in one go, impacting ratings and return tune-in behaviour later?

"M-Net has always had its finger on the pulse of the latest global television trends, and this special treat is testament to that," says Lani Lombard.

"While some viewers will prefer feasting on the new episodes back to back with the box set, others will continue to get their weekly fix with the scheduled broadcasts on Friday nights".

"Furthermore, having the first season available as a box set gives viewers who missed it, the opportunity to catch up - and enjoy the second season in whichever way they prefer. It's a win-win for series fans".

Does it mean that South African pay-TV viewers, DStv subscribers for instance, can be assured that so-called new "internet shows" or TV shows created for the internet will all be seen in South Africa on pay-TV? Or are South African viewers going to miss out on certain shows because it was made for the internet?

"The deals we have with content suppliers vary depending on what the needs are," Maiyo Simapungula, DStv Digital Media spokesperson tells TV with Thinus.

"Our aim is to always give subscribers access to the best content on the platform that best fits in with their lifestyle. As it is, 'box sets' are accessible through the DStv Explora, on the DStv Catch-Up website to stream and download on an iPad/iPhone through the DStv iOS app".

So, is the availability of Game of Thrones and House of Cards in massive chunks of see-all-you-can television buffets an experiment by M-Net and MultiChoice, or a definite new strategy, meaning that DStv subscribers will be getting access to more TV shows in future in this way?

Maiyo Simapungula is coy and not giving a definite answer as to whether its a try-and-test it experiment, or a focused new avenue that MultiChoice is exploring. Whichever it is however, one thing is certain: it is new, it is exciting and it is groundbreaking for South Africa and the rest of the continent.

"Currently 'box sets' form part of our product offering to DStv Premium subscribers. New content acquisition is always dependent on discussions with content suppliers, global trends and consumer needs," says Maiyo Simapungula.