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SA's saturated streaming market too hot for BritBox to handle?

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 21 May 2024
BritBox will close its service in South Africa on 30 August.
BritBox will close its service in South Africa on 30 August.

It’s no surprise that British TV subscription-based streaming service BritBox is exiting South Africa’s video-on-demand (VOD) streaming market, say analysts.

This, after BritBox yesterday confirmed plans to wind down its service in the local market, closing in the country on 30 August.

BritBox entered the local market’s streaming service fray in August 2021, making SA its fifth international market after the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

However, it has decided to “refocus on its more established markets and the areas of the business that will have the highest opportunities for growth”, says a spokesperson.

In recent years, SA’s streaming market has continued to heat up, with international players such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, HBOMax and Hong Kong-based Viu jostling for a slice of the market.

On the local front, there are players like well-established Showmax, Video Play from Vodacom, SABC+ and eMedia Investments’ eVOD.

Make or break

Mark Walker, IDC South Africa country manager and VP of data and analytics in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, says the local audience for BritBox content is “niche” and therefore small in terms of commercial opportunity.

“While the BritBox content is compelling and high-quality, the relevance thereof to local audiences was questionable; the target audience in SA would be small given the unique British cultural focus.

“The variety of local content has increased substantially over the years, which makes competition more intense, as has the availability of online streaming services that cover a wide spectrum of interests.

“Additionally, to be commercially viable, a pricing structure must be in place that is predicated on a certain number of subscribers. This was likely not achieved.”

Independent analyst Nozi Dikgale points out the company is employing a “decline strategy” to exit. This could be driven by the market no longer being a fit with its strategic direction.

“Their content most likely did not attract enough audiences to keep them engaged. Capturing and maintaining audience engagement can make or break the streamer. Perhaps the streamer missed the mark in terms of providing the South African audience with a content mix that resonates with diverse audience preferences.”

Africa Analysis SA MD Hloni Mokenela adds: “The challenge BritBox faced in the South African market may have come from an increasingly competitive market, from local and international providers, relevance of content to the local market and relative affordability.

“While still an important streaming platform globally, in the local market, BritBox was competing as an international platform against some of the largest global platforms in the world, such as Netflix and Disney+. These platforms have a larger content library, while BritBox is more a niche player that is considered the go-to platform for British content.

“This makes BritBox an ideal platform for fans of British TV, which might have driven its success in some of its European markets. The challenge may, however, have been that such content did not appeal to a large enough segment of the South African market.”

Outdated content

Subscribers, commenting via Facebook, have placed blame for the BritBox service closure in SA on the streamer’s outdated content catalogue and a poor library.

Other factors noted include little marketing of the service, limited localised content and brand presence, as well as the same pricing as Netflix’s basic plan, but with far less content.

BritBox subscriber Alison Job tells ITWeb the streaming service started out strong but then removed a fair percentage of its content. “They didn’t have all of the available seasons of shows to watch and added very little fresh content over the years.”

For Job, BritBox was different from the other streamers because it allowed access to British content not found elsewhere. “To be honest, the app was sometimes glitchy and would make you log in over and over again. Other times it was fine.

“They didn’t add new content. If you followed BritBox on Facebook, you’d see all the new episodes and series being released regularly elsewhere in the world by BritBox, but none of these were made available in South Africa.”

An anonymous subscriber shared similar sentiment, telling ITWeb that BritBox’s overall content offering was disappointing.

“As an ex-pat living in SA, who grew up in the UK watching BBC shows, I had high hopes for the channel, but I’m a little sad. Content wasn’t updated on a regular basis, and exclusives weren’t great. The content offering wasn’t complete either. There would be a series of a show but would only start on the second season, for example.”

Looking at how BritBox compares to other streaming service providers, he says: “We have Showmax, Prime, Disney+ and Netflix, but most of the other streamers aren’t strong on British content. I think BBC Brit on DStv has a certain set and schedule of programming (panel shows, cosy crime), and occasionally M-Net would show big UK entertainment shows. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter often have more clips of British comedy shows. There’s a lot of good content, but BritBox missed the chance to bring it to us.”

BritBox says it will terminate its current annual subscription on 30 August, and will provide annual subscribers with a pro-rated refund to their original payment method.

“Customers’ final payment will occur on their regular billing date in the month preceding the closure, which is no later than 30 August. The service will not auto-renew, and their last day for viewing will coincide with the end of that billing cycle.”

It indicates that some of the British programming will find a new home on other platforms and channels in the territory in the future. “There is also a suite of BBC-branded channels on DStv − BBC Earth, BBC Brit, BBC Lifestyle, BBC UKTV, CBeebies and BBC World News.”

Signs of life

Despite fierce competition and BritBox exiting the local market, analysts say SA is still fertile ground for video streaming players.

However, factors such as the relevance, quality and variety of content, affordability, accessibility, competitiveness and platform choice must be assessed carefully to maximise opportunity, says Walker.

“It is critically important to understand the profile of the target audience and match the offering to their expectations, while ensuring the commercial viability of the service.”

Dikgale comments that streaming success in SA hinges on localised content, continuous innovation, user experience, ease of access, as well as personalised content. “Netflix and Showmax exemplify these strategies effectively in SA.”

Mokenela concludes: “Despite the exit of BritBox, there are still signs that the market will continue to grow. This is seen in the subscriber growth of the SABC+ and eVOD streaming platforms in 2023, which reached 600 000 and 800 000, respectively.

“These platforms are able to tap into a large unaddressed market that is price-sensitive. This is where BritBox may have also fallen short, where the monthly subscription stood at R99.99 a month, while the packages for Netflix and Amazon Prime start at R79 a month.”