Streaming platforms in South Africa: a guide
These days, one rarely receives an email that doesn’t include the phrase “these challenging times”, or a variation thereof. The sender, of course, is referring to the Covid-19 pandemic but the sentiment can be applied to the search for a streaming platform that ticks all the boxes.
I’ve done the research and I’ll save you some time: none of them will. You will always have FOMO, sorry, especially since big names like Hulu, HBO Max with its 650 movies and every HBO original title ever, and Disney + are not legally available in South Africa.
The sliver of silver lining, however, is that many of the titles on the big platforms that aren’t available in SA are, for now, available on other platforms that we can easily get our hands on, and there’s loads of variety out there. Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere and PEN15 S1-2, for example, are both available on Showmax. Similarly, while HBO Max isn’t available in South Africa, many, many HBO series are on Showmax, from Westworld to The Third Day – here’s a list of some of the best HBO shows to stream in South Africa.
What I can also tell you, from experience, is that no matter how many platforms or apps you have (or don’t), or how many devices you can watch on simultaneously, you’re still going to have access to more content than you can ever watch; it’s just not humanly possible to get through it all.
For example, the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey will take two days and eight hours to watch. That’s without sleep, bathroom breaks or eating. This website will tell you exactly how long your binge(s) will take.
I can hear “challenge accepted” echoing in the distance; by all means, prove me wrong. “I’ve finished Netflix” has been the refrain during global lockdown, and it’s pure hyperbole.
Instead of getting yourself and your undies in a twist and a bunch about what you might be missing, remember that while every platform boasts about its incredible content, a lot of it is old, vintage, classic – stuff from the archives. Given the sheer volume of stuff to watch, from documentaries to cooking shows, do we really have time to rewatch the movies that thrilled us when we were teenagers? Nine times out of 10, they’ve dated horribly anyway.
When making your choice, consider whether you want a heavy skewing towards children’s content, new series and movies, and/or geographically specific shows, like the first one on this alphabetical list, Acorn. Its claim to fame is predominantly British content, and it might see an uptick in subscriptions now that DStv has discontinued BBC Prime – a shock I did not see coming.
These platforms can be in app form, or added directly from your browser. You can watch on smart TVs that are connected to the internet, or via an Apple TV. Most simply, you can dive into hours of viewing pleasure on your laptop, tablet or phone.
There’s never been a better time to be easily entertained.
Claim to fame: Acorn TV offers “hard-to-find gems, timeless classics, and newly-discovered favorites from Britain, Ireland, Australia, and beyond – Doc Martin, A Place to Call Home, Murdoch Mysteries, Brokenwood Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, and Line of Duty, as well as Acorn TV Originals you can’t stream anywhere else, including Agatha Raisin [wrong! She’s also on DStv Now], Loch Ness, Manhunt, and Mystery Road.”
Stream on all your devices or download for later, no ads, a library of dramas, mysteries, comedies, documentaries, and the promise of new series with weekly episodes.
How much: 7-day free trial, thereafter $4.99 per month, which is R83 at the current exchange rate of R16.78 to the dollar. A benefit of a subscription app is that you can pause it at any time if the budget is a bit tight, or you decide you don’t want it anymore. Just be sure to check your monthly billing date.
Claim to fame: Basically, The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell – both nominated for 2020 Emmys, as is Billy Crudup for best supporting actor in a drama series. There’s plenty more content, but this one is the shining light. You can also rent or buy movies through the app.
Apple TV+ is not available on Android or Google Play but if you’re in the Mac family, it happily embraces all your devices, and it works on some smart TVs. Stream or download for later.
How much: R84.99 per month, and free for a year if you buy a new Apple device (or get a new iPhone on contract), but you have to pay for the current month first. Bundle for free with Apple Music on the Student Plan.
Claim to fame: DStv has been around since 1995 and its streaming service, DStv Now, launched in 2014. It works in partnership with a DStv subscription – of which there are several – and what you have access to will depend on that.
With DStv Now you not only have access to Catch Up – loads of series, movies, documentaries, sport – but you can stream live TV channels as well, across four devices, or download to watch offline as you create your own watch list. It will remember what you’ve been watching even if you don’t add it to your list.
How much: That depends on your DStv subscription, which can start as low as R29 per month, up to R819 per month. Some packages include Showmax for free. If you’re not a DStv subscriber, you can still use the app – for free – but the content will be restricted.
Claim to fame: “Netflix and chill” – when you invite someone around for this, make sure they know whether you mean it literally or figuratively. The massive library of content includes original series, thought-provoking documentaries, third-party hit shows, movies (original, and yes – oldies as well, so don’t be seduced like a prom queen by the number of titles), children’s titles and excellent foreign content from all over the world.
Netflix tries to predict your viewing preferences by what you watch and for the most part, it gets it right. But it is AI after all, so when it’s wrong, it’s spectacularly off-course, and genuinely WTF.
Up to five profiles are allowed on your account, allowing (good) friends or family to share and create their own individual watch lists. The app on the phone gives you a lot of the upcoming shows that you can add to your list and be reminded when they become available. Download and watch later, or stream where the Wifi is good.
How much: From R99 to R169 per month, depending on the package (the higher-priced subscription allows for viewing in Ultra HD and four simultaneous streams).
Claim to fame: Without a doubt, Fleabag, the hit dark comedy that won all the awards for its creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It also has The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, another awards darling. Content leans towards the older side but there are also gems like American Gods and Good Omens.
How much: The first seven days are free, and thereafter it’s $5.99 per month (R101).
In October 2020, Quibi shut down.
Claim to fame: It’s barely older than Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa, having launched in April 2020. Quibi is unique in that it relies on original content (not the padding of older movies and series), and designed for the short attention span of the smart phone generation.
“Quibi content is broken up into three categories: Movies in chapters, which are longer narratives told in 7-10 minute installments; unscripted and docs, which are episodic nonfiction series about food, fashion, travel, animals, music, comedy and more; and daily essentials meant to keep viewers updated about everything they need to know,” said LA Times.
Quibi says it will roll out 175 original shows and 8 500 episodes — all 10 minutes or less — during its first year.
Watch it vertically, horizontally, in the bath or on the bus. Create your personalised feed, following trending episodes, and consume in bite-sized chunks to suit your mood or the time on your hands. It’s all about portability and mobility but with Chromecast you can watch on your TV.
How much: A two-week free trial, then $4.99 with ads or $7.99 without (R84 or R134).
Claim to fame: The place you can still get all the Game of Thrones seasons, potentially for free (as long as you have a Premium DStv subscription). Showmax has increased its new content significantly over the past couple of years, with exclusive titles not available anywhere else in the region.
It has a stellar Afrikaans library of movies and reality shows, children’s programming (and the rest can be PIN-protected to shield their little eyes from SLNV), and locally-produced South African content.
There are no ads, and it’s possible to stream or to download shows and watch offline later.
The Standard subscription allows for up to five different devices, with two simultaneous streams. The Mobile option is cheaper, and allows you to watch on a single mobile device, on only one stream. Both Standard and Mobile subscribers get access to the full catalogue.
How much: Newcomers get a 14-day free trial, and it’s also free with your DStv Premium subscription; Compact and Compact Plus subscribers can add it on for R49 per month; as a standalone, it’s R99 per month for the Standard subscription. For those only wanting to watch their shows on a single mobile device (phone or tablet), there’s Showmax Mobile, for R49 per month.
Showmax Pro launched on 19 August 2020, and bundles the existing Showmax entertainment offering with music channels, news and live sports streaming from SuperSport. It costs R225 – R449 per month and there are no free trials or partnerships.
Claim to fame: Powered by the local broadcaster SABC, Viu is tailored for South Africans on the go – anytime, anywhere, with soapies like Uzalo, Skeem Saam, and Yizo Yizo, among others, as well as programming from India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Asia.
Stream or download music, movies and series with subtitles in English, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Burmese, Mandarin and Arabic. You’ll also get access to TLC, Crime & Investigation, and Lifetime Play on the premium package – all channels formerly on DStv.
Stream or download on up to three devices.
How much: 7-day free trial, and R129 per month thereafter for premium. Price points begin at R5 a day with one-day free trial, R20 a week with one-day free trial, two monthly options that each come with a seven-day free trial: R29 with ads, and R69 ad-free.
Vodacom Video Play
Claim to fame: This one is only available in South Africa, to Vodacom Prepaid, Top Up and contract subscribers. Content includes “the latest blockbuster movies, local and international series, kids shows and music videos. Enjoy access to subscription content such as Metro Goldwin Meyer, Health and Fitness, Trendsetter and much more.” Like BoxOffice on DStv or Apple TV+, you can rent a movie that will be available for 48 hours. This app will also track your viewing preferences (and y’all are worried about Covid vaccines implanting a microchip; your phone is already listening to you…).
How much: Video Play offers daily and weekly subscriptions. The daily subscription starts from R5 a day. You can pay for movies and series by using your airtime or adding it to your bill, meaning no credit card is required and you can watch on a whim.