ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK: A new golden age for making movies in and about SA?
When the Netflix Original movie Roma was nominated for 10 Oscars this week, it marked the end of the beginning of the golden age of streaming entertainment.
The video-on-demand service was already the biggest movie producer in the world, making more movies — and more money — last year than any of the “Big Six” Hollywood studios. Roma marks its arrival as a serious movie-maker.
Its content budget last year, projected at $8bn, was estimated to have shot past the $12bn mark by the end of the year. For moviemakers, prospects have never looked better, especially as other streaming video services scramble to catch up.
On Thursday, MultiChoice video-streaming service Showmax will debut its first original drama, an eight-part series called The Girl from St Agnes. It's the second commissioned production from Showmax, following the comedy series Tali's Wedding Diary.
However, Netflix is not sitting on its budget. It has a string of South African productions lined up, starting with Queen Sono, a spy series starring Pearl Thusi. While it's being shot, Netflix is expected to begin airing a local crime series that it has acquired from the producers. Thusi also starred in Catching Feelings, acquired by Netflix last year and marketed outside SA as a Netflix Original.
“We believe Queen Sono will kick the door open for more awesome stories from this part of the world,” said Kagiso Lediga, the series' director and executive producer.
The South African movie industry has already experienced something of a mini-boom in the past decade, helped by Tsotsi winning the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2006 and District 9 earning four nominations in 2010.
The most recent Mad Max sequel was made in Southern Africa, part of Avengers: Age of Ultron was shot in Johannesburg, and the fourth season of the hit TV series Homeland was made in Cape Town. The mother city was also the location for the Black Sails pirate series aired on Netflix.
And the coming years are likely to see production ramped up dramatically.
MultiChoice's February listing on the JSE as an independent business will up the ante as it begins preparing in earnest for a streaming future. Already, its DStv Now app is being expanded to all platforms, allowing DStv to be experienced as a streaming service.
The strategy will be given further impetus next month when communications regulator Icasa holds hearings into monopolies on sports broadcast rights. In particular, DStv's hold on the rights to broadcasting English Premier League football will come under scrutiny. These are regarded as the secret weapon that will protect the high-margin DStv Premium service from Netflix.
The rights expire in 2022, which can be regarded as the deadline for DStv to evolve from being primarily a satellite service to having streaming at its core.
In the process, DStv and Showmax will probably merge completely, and the combined entity will have little choice but to ramp up original productions.
• Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee..