Monday, May 3, 2021

Why South Africa didn't yet get the Disney+ and HBO Max video streaming services - and likely won't soon: The content is tied up in MultiChoice and M-Net's multiyear output deals with Disney and WarnerMedia.

by Thinus Ferreira  

Why can you buy the "Lego Brickheadz Star Wars The Mandalorian & Child" set - a new Amazon best-seller - at ToysRUs in South Africa for R369.90, but you can't actually watch Disney and Lucasfilm's The Mandalorian TV show legitimately anywhere in South Africa that the merc is based on?

Existing, multiyear content contracts between MultiChoice and M-Net, with respectively The Walt Disney Company and WarnerMedia, are likely the main reason why Disney+ and HBO Max have not been launched or earmarked with rollout dates in Africa and why South African consumers can't access these video streaming services.

Africa is the only continent conspicuously left out in the rollout plans, pronounced dates and access to Disney+ and HBO Max. 

It's likely ironically due to the issue that the access that Disney and WarnerMedia's have to their own content is currently tied up and curtailed in long-term distribution deals with traditional direct-to-home (DTH) pay-TV operators like MultiChoice and M-Net.

Known as so-called "output deals", both Disney and WarnerMedia are likely waiting for these multiyear international content distribution contracts for its shows, ranging from ABC to HBO seen across the M-Net (DStv 101) channel and others, to first lapse before launching Disney+ and HBO Max in South Africa.

Launching Disney+ and HBO Max as truncated streaming apps without a lot of the content on it that viewers might expect them to have but that might then not be available, could damage the initial brand perception under consumers of these video streamers if there were to be complaints about a lack of content.

Netflix - that previously sold some of its shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black to M-Net before it had its own service locally - as well as Amazon Prime Video, have both since launched in South Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa.

Neither of them has any big output deals with other platforms like MultiChoice that would make a dent in their own catalogue offerings in the way that Disney+ and HBO Max would struggle.

WarnerMedia has the same problem in the United Kingdom, where Disney+ has launched, with HBO Max that won't be rolled out in Britain until at least 2025 after its existing output deal with the pay-TV service Sky has lapsed.

While WarnerMedia has announced a detailed timeline for the ongoing rollout of HBO Max, South Africa has been snubbed with no indication of when the streamer might launch.

In response to a media enquiry asking whether its reluctance is due to its exclusive, long-term output deal with MultiChoice, similar to Sky, and if there's any indication as to when HBO Max might become available, WarnerMedia tells TVwithThinus that "Regarding HBO Max, we are focusing on our mid-year launch in Latin America, followed by launches in Europe where we already operate HBO services".

"We have not communicated plans beyond that and as you know, in many places, including in Africa, we have important content partners who distribute our programming."

About Disney+'s delayed launch in Africa, and if the company is worried about consumers pirate viewing its streamer's content, Walt Disney Africa says that "at this stage we have no news to share regarding Disney+, including its release in South Africa and the continent".

TVwithThinus asked MultiChoice in a media enquiry why Disney+ has not yet been added as an app to the DStv Explora Ultra, whether it has to do with MultiChoice's long-term output deal for content and if MultiChoice is specifically in any talks with Disney about adding Disney+.

MultiChoice was also asked why HBO Max isn't being added to the DStv Explora Ultra as a SVOD service and whether this absence is also related to another multiyear output deal with HBO for content that must first lapse in the way that is the case with Sky in the UK.

MultiChoice said that it has no comment at the moment.