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The age of streaming is here! In the second week of January, Netflix announced that it had gone, mostly, global. Here in Kenya, the internet, by which I mean Twitter, immediately went wild with people making jokes (Netflix and chill anyone?) and giving opinions on whether it’ll work or not. iAfrikan itself had a post on the matter authored by Arthur Mwai, and it also discussed the topic at length on African Tech Roundup the companion podcast to the site, and an awesome listen, which was hosted by Andile, Tefo and their guest Emeka Okoye.

The post by Arthur is what I’d like to discuss, because I took several issues with it, and because it looked at things from a Kenyan perspective. The main thrust of the post is that Netflix can not work in Kenya because of the following issues:

  1. Internet Access
  2. Netflix Accessibility and
  3. Privacy

I consider Internet Access and Accessibility to be intertwined, so I’ll discuss them together.

First, he would be wrong to say that smart TVs are the stumbling block in the adoption curve. When we made the move to digital signals last year, majority of the population that owns a TV had to go out an buy some sort of set-top box to allow their analogue TVs to receive the signal. A number of those boxes could potentially run applications like Netflix on them, though as Arthur pointed out it would take partnerships with leading providers of those devices: DSTV, Zuku, StarTimes and the like.

There is of course Safaricom and their much beleaguered Big Box. If they partnered with Netflix, or any other streaming service for that matter, there’s suddenly a very compelling reason to get one. They of course have a profit motive to have video succeed because as I said, data is their future.

As for internet access, Zuku has much of Nairobi and its wealthy neighbourhoods covered, and the middle class is also sorted out. In addition to that, Zuku is unlimited: no throttling; and also a 10mbs connection of just over Ksh4000 a month which should be sufficient for 3 or 4 people to stream in HD at the same time.

Netflix could sign deals with telcos to make traffic from their website exempt from bundles. That’s precedent around the world and here in Kenya. Just ask DSTV, which is, as I discovered this week, accessible on phones and tablets anywhere a 3G connection is available for just Kshs 1000 a month.

Finally let’s look at privacy. Arthur says:

Tech savvy folks stream movies from torrents and pirate movie sites on their computers whilst the rest source for movies and series in nearby video libraries.

This is true, I am one of the tech savvy folks he mentions, but in an analysis of cost done by a Kenyan tech website, Techweez, the cost of buying DVDs to that of paying for Netflix is comparable. As for torrents, well it’s been shown that in countries that have embraced streaming the amount of torrenting has actually gone down.

And it’s easy to see why, in fact Arthur touches on it in his post:

…they(DVD guys/Video Libraries) actively offer movie recommendations based on the customer’s movie taste or just quick street-smart profiling of a new customer…they(customers) can access entertainment in an easy-to-understand medium

There’s a feeling of personalisation that comes with going to the DVD guy to get movies but that feeling is easily duplicated by the use of data analysis and algorithms. I would even go as far as saying that this might even be better as algorithms can recommend from a far wider selection than any human being bringing forward gems from the past and present.

These reasons, which can be easily summed in one word convenience, are why torrenting and DVD guys will eventually lose to Netflix. Of course there’s always going to be those guys who refuse to pay for content but for most people, as long as it’s convenient to use Netflix, why not?

Netflix is playing the long game here. They’ve built and tested their infrastructure thoroughly in the US and deploying it to work worldwide was not something I imagine was particularly difficult. Given that their catalogue here is about a tenth what is available in the US they still can’t better other services (yes including torrents and DVD guys) on content, also the Internet is not as ubiquitous or as cheap – as a proportion of income – as the US but it does allow them to build their brand so that when these things finally align all you think about when it comes to streaming is Netflix.

I think far more interesting than looking at what won’t work for them is: who wins Africa? Netflix or Showmax (DSTV’s streaming service). Both are backed by a shit-tonne of money and I suspect are long term plays as I mentioned in the last paragraph. For me my money is on Showmax.

Do you disagree? Agree? Have some additional comments or questions? Sound out in the comments below. Peace!!!

Written by Sidney Ochieng

Child at heart and mind. Feminist. Story teller. Fledgling data scientist. Your future boss

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