Choosing your own TV channels – be careful what you wish for

A request that DStv frequently receives from subscribers is the ability to only pay for the channels they watch or want.

The bundle model pay-TV broadcasters rely on to make their businesses work leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, they say.

To get the service you want, you’re forced into taking a bunch of extras you’re not interested in – turning large parts of the service into a grudge purchase.

DStv has explained several times why its channel packages look the way they do, but there’s no escaping the fact that subscribers feel ripped off.

However, if DStv changed its package structure, you are likely to end up worse off.

It’s an unpopular opinion, but we warned you to be careful what you wish for when we knew Netflix was coming to South Africa, and we were right:

  • Netflix launched with a relatively-small library of content.
  • It cracked down on VPN and other unblocking services.
  • It holds exclusive rights to several shows, most of them Netflix Originals, which will never be sold to any South African broadcaster.

This doesn’t mean Netflix is a poor service, but there was a misconception that it would offer a sub-R150 online replacement for DStv or would be equivalent to the US version of the service.

The choose-your-own-channel future

A future in which South Africans can choose their own channels is inevitable, but it may not be what you expect.

We are already starting to see the beginnings of it in the variety of online streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Video, ShowMax, and VU – which are now available in South Africa.

With Netflix available in South Africa, you won’t find any of its new original content on other pay-TV services.

DStv subscribers shouldn’t hope to see Stranger Things, Narcos, Making a Murderer, and other hit shows on their decoders.

Conversely, Netflix doesn’t have any of HBO’s hit shows. If you want to get new episodes of Game of Thrones or Westworld, DStv is your only option for now.

Similarly, fans of Jeremy Clarkson have no choice but to subscribe to Amazon’s video service for new episodes of The Grand Tour.

Starz’s hit show Black Sails lands first on VU, but you can catch older seasons on Netflix.

Similar unbundling in sports has already started happening internationally, with the NFL, NBA, and UFC offering individual online subscriptions to matches and fights.

If you wanted to watch the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight in 2015 in the US, viewers were charged $100. Sky charged £19.95/€24.95 to watch the fight through its Sky Sports Box Office platform.

The US price was more than DStv Premium’s – whose SuperSport channels showed the fight – monthly subscription.

From one service to many

As a cord-cutting South African, my subscriptions to streaming services come to around R320 per month (Netflix: $9.99, Amazon: $5.99, ShowMax: R99). That’s already 40% of a monthly DStv Premium subscription.

While having to subscribe to multiple services may be inconvenient for those who prefer the one-stop shop that DStv provided, the added complexity does let you micromanage your monthly video entertainment expenditure.

It also presents an opportunity to hardware makers which can aggregate all the disparate online video services.

Apple has already started, with an update to tvOS which provides a unifying interface for content from various streaming apps and a universal programming guide.

Your dream of being able to choose your own channels is already coming true. It probably doesn’t look how you expected, though, and may end up costing you a lot more if you want to watch boxing’s next headline event.

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: Better video quality for Netflix downloads

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Choosing your own TV channels – be careful what you wish for