'We're not replacing MultiChoice'

24 March 2019 - 00:24 By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed in an interview with Business Times in Los Angeles this week that the world's biggest video-on-demand (VOD) player had no intention of challenging one-time Naspers subsidiary MultiChoice's dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent."Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows," he said. "There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video-gaming, user-generated content. We don't have live sport," he said.The emergence of Netflix among other VOD operators has disrupted SA's media landscape and in particular the dominance of pay-TV operators such as MultiChoice in recent years. MultiChoice, which recently listed on the local bourse, has seen a decline in subscribers in its Premium segment as consumers have either chosen cheaper options or cut the cable altogether in favour of internet-based offerings.Since listing at the end of February, MultiChoice shares have gained just under 15%, compared to a 0.3% rise in the JSE all share.Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout SA, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. So he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape."We're not replacing MultiChoice at all. They serve a need that's independent of the internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they're growing, it's because they serve a need."Though Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite collaborating with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the UK, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa."If you look in other markets like the US, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers. "We're really focused on being a service over the internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn't work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on internet-connected devices. We're happy to work on internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband internet for that. "Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and SA - we can see the positive trendlines - so it's more likely we will work with broadband internet companies."Hastings firmly believes that one content provider's success does not depend on pushing another down."HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so we can see our success doesn't determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love."SA saw its first home-grown Netflix original, a quasi-superhero series called Shadow, debut this month, following closely on the heels of Nigeria's first original, a comedy series about business succession, called Lionheart. At this stage, says Hastings, there is no clear indication of what kind of content from this continent would work on Netflix."I would say it's the content buyers taking guesses. If they're right, we will do more content like that. Our members today watch everything; it's not very different from country to country. We have a global service and then we're adding some local content. We've got an economic incentive to do local content, because that helps us grow."We're trying to figure out what shows serve our members best, and we're doing that in Japan, Turkey, SA, Egypt and Jordan. We're trying to curate great content from around the world."In the next five years, says Hastings, Netflix can be expected to have more original content, and far more of this will be local."We will be more global than we are, less US-centric, with significant productions in many countries of the world, and a lot more sharing of the world's best content."Most significantly, says Hastings, we can expect more Netflix in Africa, and more Africa in Netflix...

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