ONTAPtv.com: what you should know about South Africa’s new à la carte on demand video service

On Wednesday South Africa received a new video on demand (VoD) service in the shape of ONTAPtv.com. This new service, which has packages starting at R39 and allows for video downloads is clearly aimed at a different audience to that of its competitors.

ONTAPtv.com launches with a library of over 2 500 movies and television episodes, with titles ranging from the cult-classic Army of Darkness to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and even Mad Max: Fury Road. Some of the content available from studios include BBC Worldwide, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), SABC, CSI Sports, Now TV, and Warner Bros.

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While ONTAPtv.com’s most obvious competitor, ShowMax, offers its full range of features for R99 per month, the new VoD service has split up its content into different packages, similar to MultiChoice’s DStv offering, though not as stringent.

The standard packages include Family which has family-friendly content suitable for viewers under 16 years; TV Series, an offering for those of 16 years and over; Movie which solely consists of movies; Mega Pack which includes all the previously mentioned offerings. Each Package is R69 per month, though users can subscribe to two packages for R79 per month, or the Mega Pack for R89 per month.

Read more: It’s official: Naspers launches video streaming service ShowMax

Aside from those selections, ONTAPtv.com also offers three special packages which aren’t based around Western TV shows and movies. The African ONTAPtv package, for instance, includes South African TV shows and movies, which will later be extended to include content from across the continent, for R39 per month. Chinese (nowTV) is a selection of Chinese content from TV broadcasters in Hong Kong including dramas and entertainment in Mandarin for R88 per month. Then there’s the sports package, called FightSports, which exclusively features kick-boxing and another fighting sports for R69 per month.

For those not wanting to subscribe to the service, a movie rental option — Movies (Blockbusters) — is available. The service costs R15 per older movie or R25 for newer titles. These online rentals will be available for 48 hours after ordering.

ONTAPv.com also includes a free service for users to try out. It contains several movies and first episodes of TV shows, which will constantly be updated.

According to representatives from the new VOD, new content will be regularly added to all packages with more in the pipeline, such as offerings from Nigeria’s Nollywood.

While the service already has South African offerings, the company has partnered with Maxum Media Accelerator (MMA) to produce local dramas for ONTAPtv.com, which will be available later this year — it’s a move similar to Netflix, which has produced exclusive such titles as Marvel’s Daredevil and House of Cards.

“This partnership demonstrates our commitment to the development of exciting local content, whilst helping to grow the South African film and entertainment industry,” says Lindsay Servian, the head of ONTAPtv.com.

One of the more interesting features about ONTAPtv.com is its search engine. Besides general search, the platform allows users to search for content by mood, plot, humour, time-period, based on, and more. For example, clicking on humour and then dry-humour will bring up BBC shows such as The Office. It’s an engine we’ve yet to see with VoD’s.

Read more: ShowMax: 7 things you should know about Naspers’ new VoD service

ONTAPtv.com is currently accessible through the service’s web platform — compatible with PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices. Speaking to head of legal Alishia Chotu, the company has yet to speak to Sony and Microsoft, which means no console applications yet.

There are currently no plans for developing ONTAPtv.com applications for Apple TV, smart TVs, or any other such devices.

At present the website has been built for Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Apple’s Safari. It is not yet compatible with Google Chrome or Microsoft’s Edge, according to the website. This lack of compatibility may show ONTAPTV.com’s push to launch the service earlier than expected.

Unlike the Naspers-backed ShowMax which targets a higher income bracket and those in easy access to bandwidth, ONTAPtv.com looks to currently capture the lower-end section of the market. One of the ways it is approaching this segment is by offering downloadable TV shows and movies to iOS and Android devices. Users of the platform have the choice to stream the content or download it to their device in a high or low-resolution format. ONTAPtv.com’s management says users can use free WiFi access points around South Africa, work internet, AlwaysOn, or anything else to download the show they want and watch it later.

Downloads are available in a low-resolution 640×320 format and a high-resolution 838x480p option as well. Phil Braden, Senior Vice President, Technology & Applications, stated the resolutions choices came from creating a video for the average smartphone and tablet. The sizes are in the testing phase and may chance depending on customer demand.

Read more: ShowMax: the good, the bad and the Naspers conundrum

PC and Mac will not offer the downloadable option, but will stream content through the service’s Adaptive Bit Rate technology, similar to YouTube.

The company has kept the price of bandwidth in mind and has thus partnered with WiFi distributor AlwaysOn to offer bandwidth packages just for the video service. These offerings consist of 15GB for 30 days at R29 and 50GB for 30 days at R59. This is a move many thought ShowMax would initiate with fellow Naspers company, MWEB.

In order to further streamline content streaming and downloads, all ONTAPtv.com TV shows and movies are hosted on servers in South Africa.

All TV shows and movies are rated through the South African Film and Publications Board (FPB) with ratings displayed on each product page.

The website features live online chat for users needing help with the service, though it is not available on a 24-hour basis.

According to ONTAPTV.com’s management, a large amount of time and money has been spent on building the platform. They state the service launched now due to PCCW’s understanding of the South African market, internet structure, and adoption rate of mobile platforms.

“We are excited about the growth in demand for anytime, anywhere VoD services. We first invested in South Africa in 2012 through the acquisition of Gateway, and this has been extremely successful for us. We are today delighted to demonstrate our further commitment to South Africa through the launch of ONTAPtv.com,” says CEO of PCCW Global, Marc Halbfinger.

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