Richard Boorman’s best answers about Showmax

Showmax’s head of communications Richard Boorman recently answered questions from the MyBroadband community about his company.

The “Ask Richard Boorman anything about Showmax” discussion attracted many interesting questions about the service, and where it fits into the market.

Facing the MyBroadband community can be a daunting task, but Boorman was greeted with constructive, insightful questions.

“Thanks to everyone for the great questions, and thanks for treating the guest gently,” said Boorman.

“I’ve already shared the questions with our management team – there’s boatloads for us to chew on and work on,” he said.

The best questions and answers from the Showmax discussion which took place on 13 June 2018 are below.


Freematrix – “Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all produce their own original content which essentially they do not share with other providers. It therefore means the old “subscribe to get the best content model” dying. Netflix for example is producing new 400 programmes and movies per year which will never appear on Showmax and will keep me a subscriber to them because that content is fresh and not a DStv repeat for example. Can you seriously turn around and say you stand a chance of entertaining the user as much as Netflix from a pure original content scenario?

I just want to say upfront that Netflix is a pioneering company with amazing shows. I watch Netflix often and admire what they’ve done – incredible stuff. We’ve got big ambitions too, but we’d be daft to think we could tackle head-on a company spending $8bn+ per year on new shows. So, do we give up now and go home?

The good news is this isn’t a winner-takes-all game – what we need to do is earn our place with consumers alongside other services. That means having content other services don’t have. And this is the key – while Netflix moves more and more to producing its own content, the other studios aren’t going away.

There are loads of studios out there making great shows – and that’s where we come in. Taking ABC as an example (the guys who did Lost), I’m a total sci-fi geek and I’m plowing through The Crossing at the moment (refugees from the future start washing up on the shores of present-day USA). We get eps of The Crossing just after they air in the US – so clearly it is possible to get fresh competitive content not on Netflix. We’ve also got a bunch of HBO shows you won’t get on Netflix – Westworld, Big Little Lies, The Night Of, GoT – just to pick a few.

In our view as long as there’s more people out there producing content than just Netflix, we’ll fight to get the best shows – and by doing that earn a place at the table. On top of that we’ve got Showmax Originals – the first was a monster hit for us – but I’ll save that for another answer.


Milano – May we have a breakdown of subscriber numbers (or even percentages) by those based in 1. South Africa 2. Rest of Africa 3. and then the rest globally? Also, which country outside South Africa shows the fastest subscriber growth?

SA and Poland make up the majority of our customer base. In the rest of Africa, Kenya and Nigeria are our largest markets. I won’t sugar coat things – SVOD is a tough sell north of the SA border – the cost of mobile data and relative lack of fixed connections is a killer.

The good news is that’s changing. Not as fast as we’d like, but it is changing. The World Cup is going to be an interesting litmus test for mobile streaming – and we’ll get some insights from our sister app DStv Now and Safaricom. Safaricom have launched low-cost data bundles for the World Cup – like R2.60 per game low – which DStv Now is a partner to.


Andrew5000 – I watch Netflix on my Roku device. When will Showmax be ported to the Android-based Roku?

Lots of Roku fans on this thread! I’ll take this feedback to the product team. Since we launched we’ve steadily been working through the list of most popular viewing devices and making sure we support them. There’s always more to do. It’s not that we’re not listening or don’t care – it really is just a case of allocating resources – which do we want first: new apps, better video compression, new product features, 1080 and 4K, revised user interface, etc..? The answer is of course yes we want it all. Yesterday. This is probably why the product and engineering guys get agitated whenever I come asking these questions.


Backstreetboy – Netflix (around R132pm) has 3,305 titles here and Showmax only has 683 (R99pm). Can you guys lower the price to say R60 pm or add more content, or is that not feasible?

The content team will kill me if I don’t tackle this one. As a bit of background, we’ve learned a bunch of lessons since we launched Showmax. One of those lessons was that we originally focused on the volume of content, thinking that by having a huge catalogue we’d win people over. It’s perhaps obvious in hindsight, but it turns out that when you do that what you achieve is having most of the catalogue lie dormant (unwatched). So, what we’ve been doing instead is trimming the things that people aren’t watching and plowing the savings into getting more big-ticket series, especially first and exclusive content, and refreshing our shows more frequently.

To answer the question directly, the numbers you have here refer to international content. If you add in the local content we get to 30k+ episodes and over 1,000 titles. It’s important to say that comparing the number of titles can be confusing, as a movie is one title and lasts two hours, while a series is also one title but can last hundreds of hours. Comparing hours, we’re roughly 40% ahead of Amazon Prime and 25% below Netflix.


Avenue – Why are there so few movies (compared to series) on Showmax and Netflix? Are they much more expensive or just not as popular?

Great observation – the answer is in a way ‘both’. Movies are tough for an SVOD service. New movies are frighteningly expensive and provide a brief surge in activity, but then it’s done. Having a catalogue of older movies is fine, but as we found before, most of them don’t get many views. Series tend to be much stickier – that is, once people get past the first few episodes they tend to stay for the entire series. It’s a win-win in that series entertain our customers for longer and they are per-hour more affordable – which means we can get more of them.


AntiThesis – In January, you were part of a piece that Michael Bratt did – given the Akash Bhatia’s commitment to “hyper-local content”, have your (Showmax’s) predictions on local growth (see: Tali’s Wedding Diary) proven true or not – what has local growth been like and when do you expect it to spike?

Tali’s Wedding Diary is one of the biggest things to happen at Showmax in our three year history – we learned so much about the power of local content, and it’s fair to say it’s been a turning point in our content strategy.

For those that don’t know, Tali’s Wedding Diary, starring Julia Anastasopoulos (aka SuzelleDIY) was our first full-on Showmax Original. So many of us at the company were involved in bringing the show to life (yes, success has many fathers) that we all feel like proud parents. Massive kudos to our content team who are the ones who actually deserve all the credit.

Tali is the most popular show we’ve had on Showmax. On its first day it got double the views of the next most popular show (on that show’s first day). It got something like four times the number of views on the first day than the latest season of a show about dragons did on its first day. What this proved to us is that to compete with global giants you don’t necessarily need huge budgets – local stories, well told, can be just as (if not more) powerful.

There’s an added learning about hyperlocal. Rather than making local content with one eye on selling it across multiple countries, we were only interested in making Tali work in one spot. What I mean here is a story about a Joburger moving to Cape Town has jokes that wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world, and I think one reason it was so popular is because it talked to people here in a way no other show from an intl SVOD service has.

So now it’s a case of ramping things up, which is what we’re busy with at the moment. We’ve got a number of originals on the go – proper South African stories. I can’t give more details at this stage, but we should be pulling the wraps off pretty soon.


PhireSide – Are you related to Charley Boorman of ‘Long Way Down’ fame?

Bwahahaha. Yes! Well, maybe. Truth is I’m not sure – his father might be my grandfather’s cousin. I’m going to namedrop in the worst way possible now, but it’s my one brush with fame so you have to hear it. I had dinner one night with Ewan McGregor (a work thing – the only celeb I’ve ever met) and I had the square root of nothing to say to him (because Hollywood mega-star vs anonymous nobody) so ended up chatting about Charley Boorman since they did Long Way Round (motorcycle road trip show) together. He promised me he’d pass on my details to Charley so we could catch up. Surprisingly, I’ve not heard from Charley – the great Boorman family reunion will apparently have to wait.


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Richard Boorman’s best answers about Showmax