Netflix coming to SA?

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Some time in May 2011 a remarkable thing happened on the Internet in America. It was the month that Netflix, the streaming video service, overtook pirated content as the largest portion of Internet traffic. Until this moment digital content was being shared via BitTorrent (which uses clever software that breaks all files into small portions called torrents), but it was all pirated from its original sources.

Netflix offers an all-you-can-watch package for just $10 (R100) a month that streams video over an Internet connection to any US home. Not only is it cheap but it’s legal; and by overtaking BitTorrent a precedent was set. Now, there are rumours Netflix might be coming to SA and that the proposed partner is Telkom.

A Telkom representative confirmed that the company has spoken to “a number of people internationally” but wouldn’t confirm who. The two major players are Netflix and Hulu, a collective service owned by several of the US television networks.

Should Netflix arrive in SA (I’ve heard strong rumours that they already have servers in a data centre in SA) it will be as much of a game changer as it was internationally.The biggest threat is likely to be to MultiChoice, whose DStv has an unassailable monopoly with paid-for television and has seen off a variety of challenges.

Platco, e.tv’s parent company, recently soft-launched a free satellite offering called OpenView HD which requires installation costs and then is free – but this is mired in the contest with DStv over, ironically, the SABC’s channels. Netflix may have started the video streaming trend, but others have jumped on the bandwagon, most notably Amazon and Apple.

Amazon’s cut-price Kindle Fire tablets are designed to work with its US$79/year Prime offering, which originally offered next-day postal delivery, but now gives access to a vast TV and movies digital library. It’s a rumour worth watching, especially if you have an interest in how MultiChoice will respond to what will be the first real competition to its pay-TV monopoly.

To turn to another matter: there were two decisions last week that should have shocked South Africans as much as the decision by BMW not to invest in producing another model in SA while the ANC and Cosatu, via its National Union of Metalworkers , haggle at our economy’s expense. The first was government’s decision to back Microsoft Office and the antiquated Delphi programming language (over the more current Java) for the school curriculum. It’s a short-sighted and seemingly irrational decision.

Sure, Microsoft is the de facto standard and no-one ever got fired for buying it, as the joke goes, but really? Who got to whom, and who got what deal, is the question. The other horrendously moronic decision was the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) siding with stupidity by ruling against the term a 3G-enabled “iPad with WiFi + cellular”, because someone thought “cellular” meant they could make phone calls. Really?

The mind boggles. Clearly the person who bought the iPad must be the only person alive who doesn’t know an iPad is not a cellphone. This person’s behaviour smacks of vindictiveness, because MTN refused, quite legitimately, to return their money.

Imagine what BMW, or the entire global motoring trade, thinks of SA because of the two-month strike that has cost 25% of global production on one of BMW’s flagship models, as Alex Parker has explained in Business Day. Imagine what Apple must think of the idiocy-protecting ASA for siding with the same kind of same near-sightedness.

This column first appeared on Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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