Monday, November 9, 2020

Telkom launches its TelkomONE video streaming service including linear TV channels with free package and R7 per day subscription; plans more bouquets and says 'we're here for the long run'.


by Thinus Ferreira

Telkom that initially promised to do so on Thursday last week, on Monday launched its new TelkomONE streaming service, offering some linear TV channels in its offering, with a free version as well as a TelkomONE Amp subscription package that will cost R7 per day or R49 per month.

While currently only offering the free package that will carry advertising and one AMP subscription package, Telkom says it will expand over time to offer various different subscription fee packages.

The TelkomONE video-on-demand (VOD) service was built by Discover Digital and Telkom signed a 5-year contract with the SABC to carry SABC1 and SABC2 as linear TV channels, as well as a package of library content from the SABC archives for its video-on-demand service. 

TelkomONE however carries more than just SABC content. The heavy local catalogue curated along the genres of lifestyle, comedy, music and reality TV content is flavoured with some international shows from Hollywood and independent overseas studios, and well as from South Africa locally.

TelkomONE is available through downloading it as a mobile app, internet browsers at telkomone.tv on personal computers, Android TV and Telkom's own Telkom LIT set-top box. Payment for TelkomONE can be done with Telkom airtime, adding it postpaid to fixed and mobile Telkom contracts, credit and debit cards, vouchers or cash.

Telkom declined to answer when TVwithThinus on Monday asked what the financial investment in rand has been so far in establishing TelkomONE as its video-on-demand service and for what period it will definitely be running it before evaluating its prospects and return on the investment to the telecom's bottom line.

Linear TV channels that will be streaming on TelkomONE include SABC1, SABC2, Kaya TV, SABC Sport, SABC Education, Mindset, Al Jazeera, africanews, Deutsche Welle, euronews, France24, RT, GOD TV, Hope Channel, Inspiration TV and SonLifeBroadcasting Network (SBN).

The SABC's 19 radio stations will also be streaming on TelkomONE including MetroFM, RSG, Umhlobo Wenene, 5FM, Thobela FM and Ukhozi FM. 

Included in the TelkomONE AMP package users get an additional 30 curated audio playlists that is done by a Canadian service provider packaging and distributing African content.

Notably absent from TelkomONE is SABC3 because the streaming licensing rights for international content on the channel couldn't be cleared, as well as the SABC's own TV news channel SABC News. 

Neither Telkom nor the SABC explained why SABC News isn't available although it's likely that although it is a public broadcaster channel, it was commissioned and is being paid for by MultiChoice for its DStv service.

The SABC will receive an annual channels carriage licensing fee for its linear TV and radio channels, as well as for the on-demand archive content, 10% of which the SABC will cycle and change monthly to keep it fresh. This deal includes 1000 of hours of VOD content. 

The SABC will also share in the TelkomONE advertising revenue.

The SABC placing its content on TelkomONE is separate from the SABC's plan to launch its own SABC iPlayer video streaming service in 2021.

Sipho Maseko, Telkom CEO, says "TelkomONE will make it possible for subscribers to pause, go back into the electronic programming guide and time-shift, and instantly watch a scheduled TV show they may have missed. Telkom is making digital TV functionality available to all".

Madoda Mxakwe, SABC CEO, says "We believe that the transition to digital broadcasting and over-the-top (OTT) is a key strategy for the survival and relevance of the South African public broadcaster".

Stephen Watson, founding managing director of Discover Digital that built TelkomONE, says it contains technologies and functions that are first in the African market.

On the AMP package a subscriber can download 5 titles and a user have 48 hours to start watching. 

Users can record content and shows from the live linear TV channels which will be recorded in the could and then appear in the account section under "my recordings".

Interestingly, if you've missed a show, users can now go back into the past with the free package on the EPG for 24 hours and select a show that was already broadcast, and it will play immediately. On the AMP package a TelkomONE viewer can scroll back on a specific linear TV channel as far as 3 days and still watch a specific show.

With TelkomONE the time-shifted PVR function is therefore no longer limited to consumers who can afford a set-top box with a hard drive.

TelkomONE will also offer a 4K channel broadcasting music festivals and says it will build out its 4K content offering over time. Within the free package TelkomONE will offer talk shows and music artists performing live, streamed in 4K resolution, which will be available to Telkom LIT box users.

After Telkom last week said "we're ready" and will launch on 5 November, Wanda Mkhize, Telkom's executive for smart home and content, told TVwithThinus about the postponement that "with us delaying the launch and actually launching today we had some technical and connection challenges on Thursday and unfortunately couldn't launch the platform and as such we made sure that we could at least deliver as soon as possible and that's why TelkomONE is launching today".

TVwithThinus also asked whether the TelkomONE app will also be added to MultiChoice's latest DStv Explora that will carry and offer a carousel of different VOD streaming services like Netflix, Showmax and Amazon Prime Video, or in terms of set-top boxes it will be limited to Telkom LIT.

Wanda Mkhize said that "Telkom and MultiChoice have had a longstanding relationship, we currently carry the DStv application on our Telkom LIT box, and relationships with regards to services and what we produce we would definitely continue having those conversations".

With the South African VOD landscape already littered with failures like VIDI, Altech Node, PCCW's OnTapTV, Kwes√© Play and Kwes√© TV and most recently Cell C black that sucked up hundreds of millions of rands without a return on investment, Wanda Mkhize, when TVwithThinus asked for how long TelkomONE will definitely be running, said "we're here for the long run".

"We've looked at the strategy, we've framed it in regards to introducing two bouquets right now. We have a future-view of introducing more bouquets, opening up and create greater access specifically to our fixed-line customers."

"We also believe and are following the strategy of being a super-aggregator which means that we believe that our customers need to have choice in regards to the services that they like to take up. Therefore we will be introducing more services onto the platform and giving our consumers- both mobile and fixed - more access."