Just days after Amazon Prime Video announced that it was pressing pause on its original content production in Africa, leading local streaming service Showmax is gearing up for a February relaunch boosted by NBCUniversal’s Peacock technology and bolstered by an ambitious content offering that will see the streamer unveiling 21 new African originals next month alone.
Speaking exclusively to Variety, company execs say the reboot puts the new-look platform in pole position to capture an even bigger slice of the burgeoning African SVOD market.
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“We are doubling down on Africa,” says CEO Marc Jury. “We’ve been here for 38 years, and we intend to be here for a long time still to come. And we feel we’ve got all the best local knowledge in terms of understanding what content [is in demand] and how our customers want to consume it.”
Launched in 2015 by pan-African entertainment giant MultiChoice, which also owns leading pay-TV operator DStv, Showmax has spent the past decade jockeying with deep-pocketed global rivals attempting to make inroads into the African streaming market. Though estimates of each company’s reach vary widely, Showmax is generally considered to be neck-and-neck with Netflix as the continent’s leading platforms.
Since day one, Showmax has leaned on its local know-how and production capacity as an advantage over its global competitors, offering a wide range of African content from across the MultiChoice bouquet of pay-TV channels, as well as its slate of Showmax originals. This year, the streamer is ramping up its investment in original content, with more than 1,300 hours of Showmax Original programming expected to launch on the service in 2024, including the anticipated 10-part crime series “Catch Me A Killer,” starring “Game of Thrones’” Charlotte Hope.
Global streaming services have tried to follow suit, with Netflix inking pacts with a number of high-profile African creators and Amazon signaling last year that the continent would be a key part of its global expansion. Speaking to Variety at the splashy Lagos premiere for its first African Original last spring, one Prime Video exec said about the company’s plans for the continent: “I really don’t think there’s a limit to where we can go next.”
The news of the company’s sudden about-face stunned the African filmmaking community, and Jury confessed that he was “surprised” by Amazon’s announcement. “To really make inroads in Africa, you have to be here, you have to be relevant for the local markets,” he says. “We’ve had a long period of time to learn and understand customers, given the rollout of the pay TV business across the continent, and understanding what it means.
“Unlike Netflix and others, we’re an African business that’s primarily focused on Africa,” he adds. “It’s not just another market globally that everyone’s trying to tap into.”
Showmax operates in 44 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and currently produces originals in its three core markets of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Nomsa Philiso, MultiChoice’s CEO of general entertainment, says the streamer will launch its first originals in Ethiopia and Tanzania later this year.
That local strategy has clearly struck a chord with African audiences: in 2022, for example, seven of the platform’s 10 most-streamed titles in South Africa, eight of the top 10 in Kenya and Nigeria, and nine of the top 10 in Ghana were all African-produced.
“We’ve invested in people, and we’ve invested in the different industries,” Philiso tells Variety. “We produce about 6,000 hours per annum throughout the continent [through Showmax and MultiChoice’s various pay-TV channels]. So we really position ourselves where we are needed and where we think we have impact.”
African content creators are responding in kind. “What I find really exciting about Showmax is that one is able to articulate nuances that the core African market gets,” says Phathu Makwarela, co-founder of International Emmy-nominated production outfit Tshedza Pictures (“The River”), which is set to bow the teen drama “Youngins” on the streaming platform later this year.
“If one is doing it with other international streamers, those nuances get watered down,” he continues. “One instinctively knows the audience you’re talking to, so you’re able to talk to them in a more authentic way.”
Tshedza Pictures inked a two-series slate deal with Showmax last year, a pact that has since been expanded. Makwarela credits the streamer with allowing the company to tell distinctly African stories that appeal to local audiences, rather than produce a show that “must appeal to a more broad, generic spectrum” with a global streaming service.
“With Showmax, it’s ‘Go wild,’” he says. “That’s a creative’s dream: to be able to find a partner that trusts your sensibilities.”
Last year, MultiChoice announced a partnership with NBCUniversal and the U.K.’s Sky to launch a new company with the revamped Showmax platform built on Peacock’s streaming technology. Under the terms of the agreement, MultiChoice would keep 70% and NBCUniversal a 30% stake in the relaunched Showmax.
The deal will shore up the streamer’s content catalog, which now includes a diverse range of international programming from NBCUniversal, Sky, Paramount, HBO, Warner Bros. Discovery, Sony and more. The Peacock technology, meanwhile, will offer “a really stable platform that could scale itself in line with what our ambitions and aspirations are,” says Jury.
It will also enable Showmax to live-stream sporting events including English Premier League soccer, which Jury describes as “a critical part of our relaunch,” after the company announced a mobile-only Premier League offering that will allow customers to live-stream all 380 matches in the upcoming season. “We see that as being a fundamental part of our growth strategy moving forward,” he adds.
It’s still early days for the streaming wars in Africa, with several leading global SVODs yet to launch and a wave of consolidations likely in the cards. Philiso, however, insists that Showmax is more than ready to fend off any newcomers on a continent parent company MultiChoice has called home for nearly four decades.
“Our strategy hasn’t changed. It didn’t change when they came in. It has always been the same,” she says. “For us, this is home. We’re not going anywhere.”
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