Video on demand services – what are they and how do they work?

In Kenya, 7PM and 9PM are usually supposed to find you glued to a television set. Many a time, a programme with national appeal is likely running on any of the mainstream media television channels in-between. What happens if, like some of us, your daily routine doesn’t guarantee that you will be home or anywhere near a television set at that given time?

The idea of being in a hurry to get home or anywhere where there’s a TV set just in time to catch the news or some interesting show you’re following on TV is way past its due date. It’s been overtaken by events. It’s not how we consume or interact with content anymore. Previously, if you, for instance, missed an episode of Mr Robot, that was it, you would need to wait to be re-aired (what we used to call “repeats”) for you to get to see what the hackers in the show are up to in the new season. Or you’d wait till the entire season is done when the show is available on DVD and you can buy it and binge at your pleasure.

That’s old people stuff, to be honest.

Today, we’re at the intersection of new and exciting technologies. As a result, entire ecosystems have sprung up to keep up with the times. One of the most exciting of all is the work that has been done to make sure that quality content is delivered to those who are interested when they want it without being time-barred. Missed an episode of your favourite show? No need to worry, you can watch it over the weekend when you have time. Or any other time as you wish. You are in control. Running late and at risk of missing the all-important news hour? Get your smartphone out and stream. There, sorted.

It is this ability to watch TV shows, movies and other entertainment, educative and informative content when we need it that is referred to as video on demand. This can be done in several ways. It can be through a set-top box that is attached to a television set and streams content to the user from a defined source or it can be a device like a personal computer or a mobile device (smartphone, tablet) with access to the internet. It can even be a copy downloaded prior for purposes of consuming later. The whole point is to make it easier to consume content at one’s pleasure.

In Kenya, today, we are spoilt for choice as far as video on demand content goes.

YouTube

For starters, YouTube, which is quite popular with the Kenyan online community is a very big source of such content. Its main selling point is access and the identity. YouTube, thanks to Google’s aggressive push, comes pre-installed as an application on nearly all Android devices on sale in the Kenyan market and it is a no-brainer to install the application or access the YouTube site when using devices on other platforms. It also comes pre-installed on most smart television sets, set-top boxes (Android boxes) and media streamers like Google’s Chromecast, the Amazon Fire TV stick etc.

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Netflix

Download Netflix

Netflix is the poster boy of video on demand services as we know them, the world over. The American subscription service debuted in Kenya early last year when it opened up itself to users from other markets outside its traditional American, Asian and European markets. The service, already popular thanks to producing critically-acclaimed shows like Making a Murderer, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black is so popular that terms associated with it like Netflix and chill are now part of the daily popular culture lingo. Owing to this strong brand identity, it was the talk of town for the better part of early 2016 in Kenya before…

Showmax

… Showmax tried to steal its (Netflix) thunder with its local launch.

Showmax is a video streaming service that is owned by the same people that own DSTV, the satellite television service popular because it has exclusive rights to broadcast the English Premier League, major leagues and other global sporting events. In fact, in coming days, Kenyan DSTV subscribers will be able to tie together the two services (the service is currently only live in South Africa), a further testament as to how far the two services go and the family ties at play.

However, the only ties that Showmax has with its old-school sibling is the content. Like Netflix, Showmax is a purely online-only video streaming service. It can be accessed through mobile (apps), smart TV sets and on the web.

Unlike Netflix which is often accused of geo-locking certain content that users may be interested in locally, Showmax’s key strength is its African roots (even though the service has been rapidly expanding outside Africa) which means that it has a vast collection of content targeted at the African audience (more on that soon) while still providing as much access as it can to content from outside the continent to its subscribers. Its mode of content access/streaming, subscription models and modes of payments, too, have the Kenyan (and African) user in mind. In the country, Showmax has partnered with network provider Safaricom to make access faster and cost-effective. The collaboration has also seen the service specifically target mobile device users with a package as well as make it easy to pay for the packages on offer using Safaricom’s mobile money service, M-PESA.

Download Showmax

iFlix

iFlix is the latest entrant to the video on demand service market in Kenya. The Malaysian service hopes to capture the hearts and minds of the African audience and its pick of interesting local content shows just how big and ambitious its plans are. However, in order to succeed, it will have to forge partnerships with different players in the industry, keep on re-evaluating its content strategy and aggressively purpose to upset Showmax and others.

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Download iFlix

Viusasa

Viusasa is a Kenyan video on demand service that you may or may not have heard about. Backed by one of the biggest media players in the country, Royal Media Services, Content Aggregation Limited’s Viusasa hopes to properly capture the Kenyan audience through its growing selection of content that speaks to them i.e. through the use of Swahili as well as vernacular languages. In fact, Viusasa is the only platform on this list whose mobile application lets users set Kiswahili as a default language. Owing to the popularity of vernacular radio stations and the few television stations that broadcast in those languages, there’s nothing stopping Viusasa from upsetting all the foreign players and beating them at their own game.

The content on Viusasa is also a bit interesting. Instead of just features, documentaries and other video content, there’s a focus on music too! What may worry many is that some of the content that Viusasa would want you to pay as little as Kshs 300 for can be freely accessed on YouTube. Still, there are several gems like documentaries and features on the country’s history, something I find important and valuable given the high levels of ignorance (young people who know nothing about their country) I encounter daily in Kenyan communities online/social media.

Download Viusasa

How they work

Video on demand services entail three major players: the content creator whose work will be put on the video on demand platform, the owner of the video on demand platform and the consumer of the content on the video on demand platform. Simply, the content creator, at the end of the day, gets paid for their content based on agreed terms between themselves and the owner of the content platform. The money that the creator is paid mostly comes from the proceeds of the subscription paid by the consumer of the content. The platform owner charges the consumer a fee to guarantee them access to the specified content. In most instances, this is all the content on a platform.

What to pay as a subscriber varies depending on the video on demand one is on or is interested in. Modes of payment also vary. For instance, while iFlix and Showmax have embraced making payments via M-PESA, others like Netflix still require their users to pay their monthly subscriptions using cards, an option that is not popular as a means of making payments in Kenya.

Emmanuel Chenze

Let's just say I know my stuff. I have 7 years experience handling, tinkering with and then writing extensively about Android stuff. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is not; things can get stale with nothing new to show but I live for each one of those moments. Have something Android-related that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze@androidkenya.com