Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Multichoice? More like Nochoice, but not any more.

Like many ordinary South and Sub-Sharan Africans, I have grown disillusioned with Multichoice and their selection of DStv packages months, years actually, ago and for us as a family it all started with the age old daily battle of the telly and not the one where you fight over whose turn it was to choose what to watch. No, for us it was the battle between the television and the books, because any parent will tell you that they simply do not feel like coming home after a full day’s work and fighting with the kids because they sat in front of the TV all day and did not do their homework. So we decided to switch the damn thing off during the school term and only have it on during the holidays.

Sure, we had the same doubts you do and the same questions running through our minds. "But what will we do?" we asked ourselves and the answer is that there is actually a lot to do if you don’t have that distraction in your life. We actually talked, paid attention to one another and did things together as a family again, instead of sitting in front of the TV and politely ignoring each other; we finally took an interest in each other’s days and lives again, sans fighting with the kids over their lack of "academic responsibility." There was peace in our house again, for the most part, and it worked extremely well, until Multichoice decided to once again throw a spanner into the works.

In all its monopolistic glory, Multichoice decided that you can no longer disconnect your service anytime you wanted but had to schedule your disconnect for the end of the current month. While even that was workable for us for a time, the ludicrous price increases over the past year or three were simply too much given the worsening economy and we decided that that was it, we would go without Multichoice and DStv from then on in.

Then towards the last quarter of last year, however, something amazing happened; video on demand service Showmax was launched in South Africa and it also became possible to watch a domestic version of Netflix without having to resort to geo-masking and other grey areas of the law in order to watch Netflix proper. So that is the route we ultimately went. I ordered a 2Mbps ADSL line from Telkom, subscribed to an uncapped data package from Openweb and purchased subscriptions for both Netflix and Showmax.

I realize that this is completely new territory for most people in South Africa since we seem to be lagging far behind the rest of the world in terms of these technologies and services, so I was rather apprehensive about the whole thing since day one, but six months later and I am as happy as the proverbial pig in shit. What follows is my own customer “review” and overall experience of all four of my service providers for all of you who are still wondering whether keeping your DSTV package is really worth it and as you read through this, keep in mind that the current price for the Premium DStv Package (with Explora access fee) will set you back around R844.00 per month. Also, please note that I am not an employee of any of the service providers listed below, nor do I get paid for any references I provide, I am naught but an extremely happy customer of theirs.

2Mbps Telkom ADSL Line (R359.00 P.M.)
Seeing as how I live in the sticks, I hreally had no choice but to go for the Telkom line and this is perhaps the one aspect that I was most apprehensive about, because, well, it is Telkom and all that goes with it, but I can honestly tell you that it is really not as bad as people make it out to be. I was lucky insofar that I already had the physical phone line installed at my home, so my line activation and ADSL access was up and running within a week and ever since then I enjoyed a very consistent service. There is a period during the day however, normally between the hours of 5 pm and 7 pm, where the speeds are a bit slow, but this is due to everyone getting home and using their lines for emails, a bit of internet surfing et cetera and it might very well be different in your area of residence. In my opinion, however, it is really not bad enough to disqualify Telkom as a decent service provider or to make the entire Video on Demand route a bad option. You very quickly learn to live with it, just like you learn to live with all service interruptions. Also note that the price quoted above includes the normal rental for a phone line, but I have seen reports that Telkom is considering offering clients a stand-alone data line, which would see a marked reduction in the monthly cost and if this should happen, we could see a cost reduction of as much as 25%, but this is a personal speculation.

That being as it may, I am happy overall and would rate the service that I’ve gotten from them at 8/10.

Openweb 2Mbps Home Uncapped Premium Package (R399.00 P.M.)
This is really simple. Out of all my experiences with Internet Service Providers over the years, whether they be mobile or fixed line, Openweb comfortably sits at the top of the pile. The consistency and speed of the service is truly first world, if need be you can receive help from their technical support team even over the weekends and setting up the account isn’t just a breeze, it’s a gale force wind; yes, we are talking same day activation and I was ready to go in less than two hours.

Openweb does offer a truly uncapped, unthrottled package, even in the event where you hit your “soft cap” and your service is shaped for the remainder of the month. For those of you who do not know what this means, it simply means that Openweb prioritises your type of data usage during business hours in order to prevent one or two clients from "hogging" the network to the detriment of other clients. During such times, your normal email service and web browsing would remain unaffected, but other more intense activities like peer-to-peer file downloads and video on demand services are considered a lower priority and is therefore offered at a lower speed, but fear not because unless you watch obscene amounts of video on demand or download lots of large files, you are not very likely to hit your monthly soft cap. As a matter of fact, having the kids in front of the telly all the time over the weekend consumes around 10GB of data, while the soft cap for the 2Mbps Home Uncapped Premium Package stands at a whopping 140GB. For the gamers out there who download larger files, Openweb also offers "Download Heaven," which basically means that all data consumed between the hours of midgnight and six a.m. does not contribute to your monthly soft cap.

10/10 in terms of service and just about the only drawback Openweb currently has is that it does not offer an email service like some of the other ISP’s, but with the vast array of free email services available online, this is more a non-issue.

Showmax (R99.00 per month)
Showmax is, to be honest, a bit of an iffy proposition since it is a subsidiary of Naspers and hence from the same stable as Multichoice (DStv), which we are all looking to get away from, but it certainly has one thing going for it that you just cannot find anywhere else. Showmax currently boasts what is (in my experience anyway) the biggest library of Afrikaans (my actual first language) content anywhere in the world. Any Afrikaans person under the age of forty will recall with fondness how we watched shows like Wiekie, Brankanjan, Wielie Walie and Liewe Heksie as children or modern series like Orion and Transito as adults; Showmax currently has them all and then some, but if you are more a fan of international series, you are in for a let-down, because the service does not have the newest seasons of these series available and from a marketing perspective this makes total sense, since Naspers is still showing all this newest content on DStv and if those were available on Showmax, they would stand to lose a ton of money because why pay almost ten times as much to watch it on DStv when you can watch it online for a fraction of the cost? Given the monthly subscription fee though, this is also not enough to disqualify Showmax as a viable alternative to DStv.

I also understand that Showmax had some teething problems when it first started out, but those seem to be a thing of the past and its app is currently available on an ever growing series of devices. You can basically download the Showmax App on any video playing hardware that utilizes the Android operating system, while Apple users can download the app onto their iPhone, iPad or newer versions of the Apple TV and for those using the older incarnation of the Apple TV, it is now possible to Airdrop Showmax to your Apple TV using your iPhone or iPad. For the gamers out there, Showmax have said that they are currently developing applications for both the Playstation 4 and X-Box One. Also noteworthy is that Showmax allows you to download up to 25 series episodes to watch during times when you might be unable to stream them to your device, like when you’re traveling for instance. Account setup and registration was ridiculously easy.

All in all, I’d score Showmax a 6.5/10 for content and app availability, with an 8/10 for video quality and that’s only because I’ve not tried any High Definition streaming from them, which is not something that I’d even consider trying on the 2Mbps line.

Netflix (Around R120.00 P.M)
Truth be told, anyone with experience of Netflix Proper (or the USA version of Netflix) would be hugely disappointed with the content offered by the local incarnation of the service, since it offers about one third of he content offered by its US counterpart and none of the newest seasons/episodes, but that is due to a reason that is just about good enough to absolve the local clone. Netflix entered into the local market at a time when the broadcasting rights to certain series and movies were locked down during the previous rounds of broadcasting rights negotiations with Multichoice having sole broadcasting rights to the majority of movies and series for some time to come, but as time passes by and contracts are renegotiated, I am sure that this will change and do so rapidly. At the moment, however, there is very little to choose between Netflix and competitor Showmax, with the latter probably being the better choice at the moment if you watch Afrikaans TV. This is, as I’ve mentioned, set to change in the very near future and the cost of the service is, again, not so high that it would disqualify Netflix out of hand.

The one thing Netflix does have going for it, that the local competitor currently lacks, is the availability of its app, which is already available on just about every platform you can imagine, thus scoring 10/10 for that particular aspect. I would rate content 5/10 and video quality 8/10 (for the same reason as with Showmax).

A bit of arithmetic would quickly tell you that the video on demand streaming option with one of the two providers would cost you about the same as you are currently paying for your DStv subscription (depending on your chosen packages), but in our particular case, this conversion came with a different advantage that I never even thought of at the beginning and that is that we no longer have to purchase mountains of mobile data for the computer, tablets or cellphones in the house. All in all, we’re saving about R750 every month, since all the data now flows through the local Wi-Fi Hotspot we have at home and for everyone considering making this move, I would suggest factoring the cost of your total monthly data usage into the equation to get a fairer picture of whether or not making this move would be worth it for you. There are, however, two elephants in the room that I have not yet addressed and that is, firstly, the matter of the sport shown on DStv and this is perhaps the one thing that prevents many people from ditching Multichoice altogether.

For the casual sports watcher, there is always the option of the Local Watering Hole or a friend’s house to watch the weekend’s big game, but for the fanatic or if the watering hole doesn’t strike your fancy on a particular day, there are a vast host of free live sport streaming websites that offer much more content and variety than Supersport can ever dream of. Why just this weekend we watched the Supersport broadcast of the Third Test between the Springboks and Irish, albeit with Sky Sports commentary, but really, what difference does that even make? As I said, there are many of them, but my preferred provider in this case has to be sport365.live and all you need to enjoy it is any piece of hardware that comes with a browser. For that particular game, I used the HDMI output on my laptop to connect it to the TV and we watched the entire match without a single interruption of service and no discernible difference between that and a traditional television broadcast either. 

The second question on everyone’s mind is the costs associated with setting up this system at home and while there are certainly hardware costs associated with this, it is not as high as you would expect and you can even set this up over a period of time. You certainly do not have to do all of this at once.

Okay, so the first things you’ll need are your ADSL line and router if you do not yet have one or both installed at your home. A decent Wi-Fi capable router would set you back around R900.00, while the installation costs of a Telkom line is R620.00, while it is indeed possible that those of you living in the larger urban areas could find a cheaper fixed line provider or perhaps a cheaper fibre or wireless option, I cannot attest to any of that. You could also pay R792 to have a Telkom technician set up your router for you, but this is really not necessary as setting it up yourself is a very straightforward process, even if you are not tech savvy. This is really all the hardware you need if you have a computer/laptop at home that you can connect to your ordinary television or if you have a Wi-Fi capable Smart Television. If, however, you want/need to go the route of a dedicated media player in the living room, a reasonable Wi-Fi capable streaming media player with the Android Operating System is available from the Web with prices starting around R1500. All that is left to do from there is to connect it to your TV or Media Centre using the HDMI cable, download the Video on Demand App(s) and perhaps Google Chrome for watching sports using the website provided and that is that, you are set to go. Those of you who own Next Generation gaming Consoles (PS4/X-Box One) are set to go since Netflix probably came pre-installed on your console and Showmax should have an app for you before the year is out, but seeing as how you already have a constant internet connection, chances are that you already have all you need and just need to take that small step.

All in all, the hardware costs of setting up your VOD entertainment (the price of freedom from Multichoice) on a "Dumb TV" should be around the R3000.00 mark, which is (again) on par with what you would pay to have your DStv set up in the first place.


Taking everything into account, there is only one conclusion that I can draw from my experience with all of this and that is that streaming television is not only becoming a reality in South Africa, but that it is fast becoming a realistic alternative to what Multichoice currently forces down your throats. I have learnt over the past seven months that I simply do not need Multichoice anymore and you really don’t either. 

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