Cell C enters the streaming market with Black


Mobile operator Cell C has announced a video streaming service called Black that will go live in South Africa on 14 November. In addition to on-demand video content, the platform will include live TV streaming and additional services like the ability to bet on sporting events via the company’s affiliation with online betting service ClickaBet, and the option to make hotel reservations. Cell C says Black will be available to anyone who wants it, not just to Cell C customers, and has outlined what some of the various packages will look like, but it’s been tight-lipped about the specific content the service will offer.

Black will be available via a web interface and will offer Android and iOS apps. If you’re reading this before 14 November 2017 don’t expect any of it to be available, though. The web interface isn’t live yet and neither Google Play nor Apple’s App Store have the mobile app yet.

Cell C says Black is a separate division within the company, but it’s not the first time the operator has dipped its toes in the content creation and distribution game. Last year it broadcast a show called Break the Net using its own Reality App, and its show Hangman is currently being aired on eTV. “We are also in discussions with local production companies to bring South African fans top local content and provide a platform for local talent to showcase their work,” says Jose Dos Santos, Cell C’s CEO.

In a press release announcing Black, Cell C says the service will include “up to 5000 movies, series, music and documentaries, which will include both international and local content,” and that “customers will be able to access 60 live TV channels, which include music, news, travel and lifestyle, movies and children’s content”.

When it comes to specific movies and series, though, Cell C has only confirmed the following TV programmes will be available: Mary Kills People, Catastrophe, Power, High Rollers, Generations, Skeem Saam, Uzalo, and Survivor’s Remorse. This list will no doubt grow as the launch date nears, but we’ve got to confess we’ve only heard of one of the above, and we’ve not watched any of them. But then, we don’t get out much.

The service will also offer five European football clubs’ TV channels (ManU TV, Barca TV, Liverpool TV, Chelsea TV and Real Madrid) alongside options to buy or rent recent movie releases. Sporting content has been the thing that’s kept many reluctant DStv subscribers paying their monthly fees, and while other streaming services have tried to offer alternative sporting content, it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously challenging DStv unless they can offer live local and international rugby, cricket and soccer fixtures. Of course, because DStv’s locked down the rights to each, it remains unlikely anyone will be able to anytime soon.

Like Netflix, Showmax and Amazon Prime, Black customers will be able to download certain content for offline viewing. Other notable features of the service are parental control mechanisms, the option to schedule downloads, viewing recommendations, and a range of payment options, including credit and debit cards and the option to pay for the service using prepaid Cell C airtime.

Consumers will be able to choose from daily, weekly, weekend or monthly subscriptions for BTV, Black’s bouquet of live TV channels, or can choose to but or rent recent films. These are the various Black packages and standalone products that Cell C has outlined:

BuyBlack: Customers can purchase the latest blockbusters from R59 each.
RentBlack: 48-hour rental of the latest releases from R29 each.
FlexiBlack: Acces to local and international movies, series, music and documentaries. The basic tier called FlexiAccess will cost from R10/day up to R39/ month. The higher-end tier, FlexiPremium, will offer a wider selection at between R39/day and R99/month.
BTV Access: 18 channels for R69/month.
BTV Premium: 60 channels for R189/month.

The European football channels will cost between R5/day and R25/month each. An option called PlayBlack, meanwhile, will offer unlimited access to a library of online games for R5/day.

As with any content distribution platform, whether or not Black succeeds will depend on a number of factors. First, the content on offer will need to be enticing. Second, the platform will need to be reliable and easy to use. And third, consumers will need to be willing to expend data on the service. Of course, Cell C could zero-rate data for Black — and likely will — but net neutrality concerns aside, that will only serve as a suitable carrot if the content is worth the time in the first place. Will it be? We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see.


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