ShowMax debuts mobile-centric SVOD play in Kenya, a market with vast potential

Kenyan SVOD service ShowMax, in association with Safaricom, has rolled out a two-tier service for watching TV shows and movies targeting an SVOD market that’s been described as immature, but that also has analysts predicting 5X growth in the subscriber base.

ShowMax Premium, priced at KSh880/mo. (US$7.90) per month, has a full range of international and local content. ShowMax Select, priced at KSh330/mo. (US$3.26) is a mobile-first, data optimized product that offers reduced data consumption with savings of up to 75%, has a specific focus on local content, and is paid for using M-PESA, a mobile phone-based money transfer. Kenya is the first country to have this second tier added to ShowMax.

Subscribers can stream content or download up to 25 shows to watch offline in either iteration, the company said. Downloaded content is valid for 30 days. Data usage is charged separately and works with a customer’s existing data bundles.

“We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions,” said ShowMax CEO John Kotsaftis. “ShowMax is the first international internet TV service that’s priced in KSh (Kenya shillings) and paid for using M-PESA… It’s the first to be optimized for mobile usage, reducing data consumption by as much as 75%. And it’s the first to deliver all of this at an affordable price point.”

The service offers users the option of downloading content at various levels of video quality. The most efficient level will use about 80 MB downloading a 20-minute show.

Despite expanding Internet connectivity and an appetite for quality content, Kenya has been slow to generate the numbers other emerging markets have, the result, suggests Kotsaftis, of expensive data and caps that have been low.  

“It doesn’t matter how good your service is if you don’t first solve the data challenge for customers, particularly for the majority of people who rely on mobile Internet,” he said. “That’s why we designed data-saving features and the ability to download content into ShowMax from the outset.”

Combined, he believes, along with a catalog full of local content, “We think ShowMax will finally crack the Internet TV model in Kenya.”

Digital TV Research recently released a report that said the Middle East and Africa region was expecting strong growth in the number of SVOD service customers through 2021, but contends the market has a lot more room to growth. Currently, the market has an estimated 3.7 million subscribers to SVOD services, a number expected to rise to more than 20 million in five years.

DTVR predicts Netflix to be the largest SVOD player in MEA with 3.37 million subscribers by 2021, followed by Icflix with 1.85 million, iRoko at 1.55 million, StarzPlay at 1.39 million and ShowMax at 992,000.

Can ShowMax accelerate that growth to put it into the million-plus category? A content hungry audience with data and costs concerned could turn into a sweet spot.

DTVR Principal Analyst Simon Murray said he expects the five big players to see strong growth, but notes that, combined, they’ll have less than half the market’s subscribers by 2021.

That leaves a lot of room for startups with unique content that can fill – and expand – a niche market.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn