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Competing With Netflix in Africa, Streaming Service Showmax Dives Into Production

Nearly two years after launching its on-demand service, Naspers’ South African streamer Showmax has begun production on its first original series.

Building on the popularity of local YouTube sensation Julia Anastasopoulos, “Tali’s Wedding Diary” is an eight-part mockumentary series slated to premiere on Showmax in December. Production is also underway on a small-screen adaptation of “iNumber Number,” the South African crime drama that world premiered in Toronto in 2013. The series will be a co-production with local network Mzansi Magic.

According to Showmax Africa head Chris Savides, the move into production signals the company’s intent to build on its strategy of developing content for African markets.

“People obviously like Hollywood content, but we know that local content resonates,” Savides said.

Company execs hope that localized experience will give the service a leg up on Netflix, its chief competitor on the continent, which launched in all 54 African nations in 2016. (Showmax is available in more than 40 African nations.) Since debuting in South Africa in August 2015, Showmax has undergone its global rollout, expanding to more than 70 territories across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.

The decision to begin with two original series filmed in South Africa “makes sense,” Savides said, given the country’s high rate of broadband connectivity, its developed film and TV industries, and Showmax’s subscriber base there, its largest on the continent.

Showmax execs hope the series will bolster its efforts to offer a “hyper-local” experience to consumers and induce some “to discover other content on the platform,” Savides said.

But whether it can have wider appeal in linguistically and culturally diverse Africa is unclear. “Wedding Diary” is in English, and “iNumber Number” in English and Zulu. “We don’t believe that this content necessarily is going to translate to other markets in Africa,” Savides said.

Still, both shows could offer a template for the company as it begins to develop content for other countries, with Savides describing the two series as “the first of many.” The company is also currently planning to produce original content in Kenya, where it introduced a highly localized, mobile-only streaming service featuring a range of popular Kenyan films and TV shows last fall.

In Africa, it already tailors its service to the needs of customers faced with spotty broadband access and high data costs, allowing them to choose slower streaming speeds, download content for offline viewing, and use convenient mobile payment systems.

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