Competition Commission investigates DStv, Netflix bundling

By Thinus Ferreira for News24

South Africa’s Competition Commission has started an investigation into MultiChoice that has announced plans to add global streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video alongside its own Showmax service.

In its latest financial year results announced in mid-June, MultiChoice revealed that it plans to add Netflix and Amazon Prime Video as subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services to a new streaming app carousel that it wants to launch for DStv subscribers.

This new streaming app vertical will house separate blocks or apps, incorporating DStv Now, Showmax, Joox, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video – and in future even more global streaming services like possibly Disney+, HBO Max, Spotify and others – as MultiChoice evolves to become what in the pay-TV industry is termed a “super-aggregator” of video content.

How it will work, and already works elsewhere in the world, is that consumers can still subscribe separately and directly with these streaming services, but can also do so through their traditional pay-TV service that gives access to their rivals in win-win “frenemy” content distribution agreements.

MultiChoice wants to provide DStv subscribers who sign up for one or more of these SVOD services – for however long – the convenience of one monthly bill paid in rand and the streaming service amount(s) just showing up as an additional invoice line-item.

How MultiChoice benefits is that by offering DStv subscribers seamless access to streaming service competitors but through its interface and platform, MultiChoice gets to keep a DStv subscriber within its own eco-system. MultiChoice also gets paid a commission by a SVOD service for every subscriber who signs up to each of these services.

How the pay-TV subscriber benefits is that the tacked-on streaming service subscription, paid in local currency, is usually a bit cheaper than going direct as part of a promotion to entice them to try and use it, and because the pay-TV operator because of scale gets a “wholesale” price.

The streaming service benefits by getting additional revenue and new subscribers through leveraging the scale of the pay-TV operator and piggybacking on the more trusted local brand. It lowers what is called “product friction” – potential customers to scared to try something new or unwilling to complete a new registration and sign-up and cumbersome login process.

Traditional pay-TV operators in the United States like Comcast, in the United Kingdom like Sky, Canal+ in France and several others worldwide have already taken the leap to integrate and offer streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and others that are actually competitors, into their existing services and making them available through their platforms and user interfaces.

MultiChoice plans to take the wrapping off its latest DStv Explora decoder next Wednesday in a media launch that it will broadcast on one of its own DStv channels, with the decoder that will likely be 4K-resolution capable.

It will likely also come with a DStv remote control that will have a dedicated Netflix or video streaming button, similar to elsewhere in the world, taking DStv subscribers directly to the streaming app carousel where DStv Now, Showmax, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and future streaming services will all appear stacked next to each other.

It’s unclear how the new Competition Commission investigation might scupper or alter MultiChoice’s showcase plans for next week.

MultiChoice was asked for comment regarding the Competition Commission investigation into MultiChoice’s SVOD expansion plans, and how the investigation will impact the Randburg-based pay-TV operator’s plans for the consumer roll-out of these rival services on its platform.

Joe Heshu, MultiChoice’s group executive for corporate affairs, told Channel24 on Wednesday in response to the media enquiry that MultiChoice is unable to comment at this stage.

Siyabulela Makunga, Competition Commission spokesperson, told Channel24 about its investigation of MultiChoice wanting to add Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that “we’re not commenting on the issue because it is still at a very sensitive stage”.

He couldn’t say when the investigation started, or when it might be finished. “It’s still very early,” he said.

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