Netflix retaliates in DStv battle

By Lynsey Chutel for Quartz

For months, the chief executive of South Africa’s biggest TV company, MultiChoice, has suspected Netflix was messing with him and the rest of the DStv parent company. Calvo Mawela was clearly spooked, yet it seemed laughable that relative newcomer, Netflix South Africa was going after DStv in particular, until it actually turned DStv’s corporate paranoia into a joke. But the people there could care less, as they weren’t in need of Netflix when they could watch local channels without cable.

To market to South Africans fed up with DStv, the streaming service created a character, Man With A Van. Played by prominent local comedian Jason Goliath, he makes a living faking Netflix installations. Man With A Van visits clients houses, with pointless wiring and over-the-top installation, even carrying an empty box with the words Premium HD—a direct dig at DStv’s premium service.

DStv has always suspected that Netflix is coming for it. First, Netflix sent a helicopter over MultiChoice’s Johannesburg headquarters, flying a banner over their heads, Mawela told local press in May. Then, MultiChoice employees started seeing Netflix billboards going up on roads around Johannesburg.

In all of this Netflix has been almost silent, making moves instead of releasing statements. Getting a formal comment out of them has been near impossible, but their actions have illustrated that they were making a real play for the market.

In a recent article in MyBroadband, Mawela stated that Netflix needs to be regulated by ICASA, and should be BBBEE complaint.

There are no official figures about how many users Netflix already has in South Africa, but in compiling their own 600-page report on their new competitor, MultiChoice estimates Netflix has 300 000 to 400 000 compared with 6.6 million MultiChoice homes. MultiChoice is also blaming Netflix for its loss of more than 100,000 satellite television subscribers in the last financial year, and an additional 40,000 in this cycle.

Apart from not requiring installation, at R165 a month for a premium subscription, Netflix has a price advantage over DStv, which costs R900 a month for a premium subscription. Of course, Netflix requires a reliable internet connection, which is still costly in South Africa. For customers fed up with DStv’s high prices and frequent re-runs , Netflix is already winning the battles for hearts and eyes.

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