Viusasa: Hype or substance?

Viusasa

Viusasa, which loosely translates to “watch now” has been around for a while now. In fact, unless you have been living under a rock for over half a year, you have most likely encountered it in one of the many commercials running on Royal Media Services properties (i.e. radio stations, TV channels and online) that have quickly become a running joke on social media thanks to the persistence with which they are run. They give the term “in your face marketing” a very literal meaning. Thanks to that, Viusasa is easily the most visible subscription video on demand (SVOD) service in the country.

Who is behind Viusasa?

Viusasa is run by Content Aggregation Limited, a Kenyan company. It has a partnership with Royal Media Services, at least as far as I know. Of course, there may be other factors and details involved that are beyond the scope of this article.

How does it work?

It’s simple. Head over to the Google Play Store and download the application for installation on your device and you’re already halfway through. After downloading and installing the app, things are pretty straightforward. One gets a dynamic welcome page that gives a peek of some of the content that is available on the platform. To view it, however, a quick prompt to subscribe will show up. Subscribing is easy. Click the “Subscribe” button whenever it pops up or the very conspicuous red “Pay” button on the top right and follow the on-screen prompts.

The primary mode of payment is mobile money, as one would expect. Either Airtel Money or M-Pesa. However, one can still opt to use their credit or debit card. For the latter mode of payment, though, it’s limited to monthly subscription packages.

Viusasa

Pricing information

For those using mobile money (Airtel Money and M-Pesa) to pay for their subscriptions, the rates are as follows:

Music VideosVideos + Music
Daily cost (Kshs)152030
Weekly cost (Kshs)75100150
Monthly cost (Kshs)200300450

For those using credit/debit cards, there’s not much to work with. You’re restricted to paying Kshs 300 for either video or music content or Kshs 450 for both.

The good

  • What will make you, and everyone else who can access it, try the Viusasa application is the pricing. The pricing is right. Very right. For as little as Kshs 15 (for music videos), one has access to a wide variety of content. Affordable.
  • Content diversity on Viusasa is excellent. Want content in your mother tongue? It’s likely there. Even Sheng! Can’t wait for 6PM and 8PM for your favourite soap opera? Viusasa has got your back. Want your daily Naija fix? Say no more!
  • The signup process is very easy. This is not something I can say about other similar applications.
  • Payment integration is spot on. Seamless, if I may say. The Viusasa app makes use of M-Pesa Express, Safaricom’s quick means of making payments on the web where, instead of a user having to go through the trouble of memorizing a Pay Bill or Lipa na M-Pesa code, they receive a prompt on their device to authorize a payment by entering their M-Pesa PIN. Just like that. No need to key in anything else. Of course, you can still the go the old way and key in those details yourself when you use their 724177 Pay Bill number but is there need re-inventing the wheel? Unfortunately, I have not tried paying for my subscription using Airtel Money so I am in no position to comment authoritatively on the experience there.
  • It’s easy on the data. One of the biggest myths out there is that streaming of any kind on a mobile device leads to heavy usage of data bundles. While that is true, it is not always the case. Unless you’re streaming full high definition content for hours on end, you will do just fine with your very few megabytes of data when you stream a 4-minute standard definition clip on Viusasa. You can’t compare how Viusasa consumes data to what other apps of its type do. Most likely, those ones are data guzzlers.
  • The customer service team is very responsive. I once had an issue with my subscription and I was sorted out as soon as I raised the issue via email and on the Viusasa Facebook page.
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The bad

  • The app struggles to impress. At the moment, it’s bad and totally not worth all the hype being created through publicity campaigns on mainstream media. It has quite a long way to go. It’s unpredictable and the bugs are quite outstanding. So much that if you’re a user who happens to be in the know about what’s happening and not happening and what should go where, you will end up spending a significant chunk of your time critiquing the app instead of enjoying the content it offers. For the ordinary user, the experience will probably involve making complaints to Viusasa’s customer experience team or wondering what’s happening. This experience with the Viusasa app brings back 2016 memories of my first experience with Little Cab’s app. Oh, to say it was horrible is an understatement. A big understatement.
  • Content is available for consumption only via the mobile application. It is not accessible via the web (i.e. on a browser) as other video on demand platforms like, say, YouTube, Showmax, Netflix and the like, are. That can be quite a bummer to those who rely on their PCs to do the heavy-lifting for them. It also means that the chances of ever being able to blow up Viusasa content on bigger displays like, say, one’s living room television set, are zero. Unless things change in coming days.
  • There is no trial period. The Viusasa team expects you to take their word for it and go straight up to trusting them with your money, however little. Competing services like Showmax and Netflix, allow users between half a month and a full month free trial after which they are charged. Showmax even goes overboard and sweetens the deal. Another competing service which launched in Kenya last year as well, iFlix, is even letting users try the service for free for an undefined extended period as part of its drive to woo more users to its platform. Honestly, I’d appreciate a trial before committing my money. Then again, when I can pay just Kshs 20 to take Viusasa for a spin for a whole 24 hours then that might as well serve as an opportunity to try it out before making up my mind. Just that not everyone will see it that way and that, right there, is the problem.
  • Video quality is low. Sure, they are out to win every Kenyan and that means addressing concerns to do with data bundle consumption since broadband internet access is still far from being universal in the country but at least they could give users choice. Let users choose between streaming in HD, or even full HD (this is asking for too much, I think) and SD. Probably even make the app load SD videos by default with the more quality-conscious (read: with data bundles to burn or just good Wi-Fi access) user having the opportunity to switch to better quality streams. Most smartphones on sale in the Kenyan market have at least 720p display panels. It is only fair to make use of such. Then again, a lot of the content on Viusasa has been repurposed from Citizen TV and other Royal Media Services channels and you know so well how high the quality is on those (and other local TV) channels.
  • Is there need to pay for content that you can probably find elsewhere (*cough* YouTube *cough*) for free? Save for the soap operas, Naija movies and lots of exclusive vernacular content, quite a bit of the content available on Viusasa can be found on YouTube where one doesn’t need to part with anything to watch Churchill do his thing on stage.
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The lowdown

While, like me, you will definitely enjoy Viusasa for its unique vernacular content, good #TBT content like Sakata auditions (you’re old if you remember those), some of the hard-to-find Hilary Ng’weno videos (note: Hilary Ng’weno – look him up, ye millennial – also happens to be my role model. The old man from Samia is one of the greatest of all time) and the reasonable pricing, you will be left disappointed by the buggy app, terrible video quality, inability to save videos for later offline viewing and restriction to mobile. It is not all the time that we are in areas with considerable network quality to be able to stream content. Other players have since taken it upon themselves to allow users to save content on their mobile devices, and even on external storage (memory cards), for those moments when users are off-grid. This is something Viusasa should really consider.

While I’d want to play the devil’s advocate and put in a good word for Viusasa, my extended use of the app has me withholding my recommendation. It still has a long way to go and, until lots of the concerns I have raised, and others that I may have overlooked or never encountered, are addressed, users will be getting a second-rate, maybe third, experience. That is not what we all desire and since you get to vote with your wallet, I foresee a situation where sooner, rather than later, users will get frustrated and hold back until things get better. It’s what I’d advise right now, anyway, much as I would want to vouch for the home team.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com