Showmax is a streaming behemoth in South Africa — with exclusive rights to broadcast certain popular series and network content locally.
These include networks such as HBO and AMC, as well as content from certain international streaming platforms.
But as Showmax subscribers may have noticed, not every series from these networks arrive on the service.
And when a series does arrive, the waiting period between a show’s international release and local release may differ substantially depending on the show.
So why is this the case? Why do some series arrive within days of their international debut? And why do others take weeks or months? And why do some series not appear at all?
Memeburn asked Farzana Wadee, Content Specialist of International Series & Non-Fiction at MultiChoice Connected Video, a few of these questions to gain a better insight into the process.
So here’s what you need to know about when and if Showmax decides to stream a series in South Africa…
Scheduling for DSTV vs Showmax series
Q: What are the different considerations you need to take into account when deciding whether an international series will launch on Showmax first?
Farzana Wadee: First on Showmax titles are usually niche or ‘after dark’ titles, with more commercial primetime series usually scheduled when they’re available to binge in one go.
We get a lot fewer complaints with edgy titles than the [DSTV] channels would, because anyone watching something on Showmax has chosen to watch it and pressed play, rather than just turned on a TV.
We also don’t have to worry about making advertisers nervous.
With our broader catalogue we try to balance commercial and niche titles. We’ve found complimentary scheduling works well for us with commercial titles.
For example, we’ll have all six seasons of Power available before its spinoff Ghost launches on 1Magic in September.
We also sometimes waive holdbacks to release as a boxset on Showmax immediately after it finishes on channel.
This worked really well with New Amsterdam, for example, which did well on channel as a weekly release. And then it was also a popular binge when we released it as a boxset.
Why some series don’t appear on Showmax
Q: What are the typical reasons a Hulu or HBO show might not appear on Showmax?
Farzana Wadee: We have a deal with HBO where we have access to all their titles but sometimes HBO also acquires titles from elsewhere. For example, The Young Pope from Fremantle.
In those situations, we would have to negotiate directly with Fremantle. Or with NBC in the case of Sky-HBO collaborations.
We also know that certain genres don’t work for our audience, so there is great content that we pass on because of that.
We don’t have a direct deal with Hulu yet. But we buy a lot of the same content directly from distributors, like Ramy.
Delays in series coming to Showmax
Q: Is it possible that Showmax may prioritise quicker rollout of series to reflect the changing landscape of streaming?
Farzana Wadee: Yes, definitely. We often prioritise quicker rollouts but it’s very much title-specific, in line with what we discussed earlier.
We’re learning and adapting all the time.
For example, The Handmaid’s Tale started as an M-Net prime-time title, which came to Showmax after its M-Net run. We tried out a same-day release with Season 3 and discovered both audiences remained strong.
Season 4 will be first on Showmax, express from the US, in line with our positioning as the home of edgier titles like this.
Staggered vs weekly vs ‘box set’ series releases
Q: What are the different considerations when deciding whether to release a title weekly or as a box set?
Farzana Wadee: A big part of our audience still wants appointment viewing: one episode a week at set times.
This makes sense for something like Game of Thrones, where we know there are going to be spoilers everywhere and it’s going to be pirated, so we want to be first, with the rest of the world.
But we’ve found that sometimes it’s more enjoyable to be able to binge a title, rather than have it on a weekly basis.
Some great shows, like The Young Pope or Succession, take a couple of episodes to really get into. Meanwhile other shows leave you wanting more immediately. So both types work better as binges.
For some titles, a staggered approach works best. This often depends on the duration and type of title.
For instance, we launched Younger as a binge when we started Showmax, but we saw there was pirating from the US sites because of the delay.
We didn’t want to release weekly – it’s a 20-minute title, so you’d go insane. So with recent seasons, we released four episodes a week, and then the finale at the same time as the US.
This kept the audience engaged and coming back for more, while also finding similar content on the platform to binge while waiting for the next episode.
We’re doing something similar with Lovecraft Country. We’re releasing a batch of four episodes in September, another batch of four in October, and then the final two in line with the US finale.
At Showmax, we’re very close to the content. So we’re doing our best to plan things for your viewing pleasure, so you don’t get frustrated.
Like any business, budget is also a factor. Titles cost more at launch than they do later on.
Showmax and piracy
Q: What challenges does online piracy pose to service offerings like Showmax? How do they play a role in prioritising content rollout on streaming platforms?
Farzana Wadee: We’re conscious of piracy but we take it title by title. Some titles get pirated regardless.
We have all of Game of Thrones, and it still gets pirated anyway.
There’s also so much to watch these days, that releasing a week or two later doesn’t usually lead to a drop in engagement.
So our focus is on making Showmax a better user experience than piracy, with easier access and higher quality video at an affordable price, and then just taking it title by title.
Q: What would you say to encourage those who follow series to rather wait for the local rollout? Rather than resorting to bypassing geo-restrictions or other methods of obtaining content…
Farzana Wadee: If South African users bypass geo-restrictions to access America, for example, they’ll find that they’d need multiple subscriptions to multiple streamers to access the same content they can get for R99 on Showmax or R49 on Showmax Mobile. Because [internationally] it’s now split across HBOMax, Peacock, Disney+, CBS All Access, Prime Video, Netflix, and more.
So I think bypassing geo-restrictions is a lot less appealing than it used to be for most South Africans.
Good, new content is expensive. So we do need support to be able to continue to make it easy for South Africans to access the world’s best shows as easily as they can now.
Image credits: Showmax