Video on Demand Service ShowMax Takes on Netflix in Kenya with Support for M-PESA Payments, Optimizations for Low Data Consumption

Netflix is still card-only in a market where cards haven't been widely adopted



Nearly 5 months since it became accessible to Kenyans, South African streaming service ShowMax has officially launched in the country and, in its quest to make video on demand mainstream in the country, it has something to entice the Kenyan consumer it targets: allowing payments via popular mobile money service M-PESA.

Subscribers to any of ShowMax’s two tiers, Select and Premium, can use M-PESA to pay for their monthly subscription.

ShowMax Select is the cheapest of the two product bouquets at Kshs 330 per month while ShowMax Premium is the, well, premium tier, at Kshs 880 per month.

The ShowMax Premium subscription cost is still cheaper than the base tier from rival American streaming service Netflix which officially became available in the country early in the year after expanding to cover most of the world except China. Netflix charges an equivalent of Kshs 1,000 for its base tier in price changes that took effect this October for older customers and earlier on (starting May 2016) for new users.

ShowMax boss John Kotsaftis during the media launch in Nairobi

In addition to M-PESA, subscribers to the premium tier will still be able to pay using the usual means, PayPal, credit and debit cards. ShowMax Select customers will be limited to paying via M-PESA which makes sense given the pricing of the product and its target market.

It is not just mobile money alone that should get your eye. The ShowMax Select tier, a new addition to ShowMax’s content offering that is debuting in Kenya, is targeted at mobile users. According to the industry regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), most Kenyans access the internet through their mobile phones. According to the company, ShowMax Select subscribers stand to benefit from savings of up to 75% on their mobile data consumption since it is data-optimised . It is also allowing users to download content for later viewing when offline, a move that companies like Google have embraced for their services like YouTube in emerging markets.

Subscribers to both tiers will be able to save up to 25 shows at different levels of quality (low to high definition) for offline viewing valid for 30 days.

Using the most data-efficient setting, downloading a 20-minute TV show will use approximately 80 MB. This means that a 7.5 GB data bundle would be enough for more than 90 episodes.

Other differences between the two tiers are as can be seen below:

showmax_1 showmax_3

ShowMax says that is working on several partnerships with several industry players in Kenya like Safaricom while also watching the local content creation scene with a keen eye on identifying potential partners. In Safaricom’s case that may include an Android TV box. It is our understanding that the Kenyan telco has been working to revamp its failed Big Box and ShowMax may have presented the perfect opportunity to bring that up once again. Maybe that partnership can take the course of this one they have in South Africa with local operator Telkom where ShowMax streaming is zero-rated?

ShowMax hopes to attract the Kenyan consumer with a mix of the right (affordable) pricing, the right way to pay for content (M-PESA), a lot of Kenyan (The Real Housewives of Kawangware, Churchill Live, Auntie Boss among others are available) shows and African content (from Nigeria to South Africa) in addition to many TV shows and movies from the West that are favoured by many and having users not too worried about their data bundles being depleted as soon as one starts streaming a show. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the market in the long run and the effects it is likely to have like, for instance, a reaction from competitors.

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Emmanuel writes on mobile hardware, software and platforms.


  1. On data optimization, I think Netflix streaming is still better. Based on what both provide, on Netflix you consume 256mb per hour while on showmaxx ,assuming the 80mb per 20min applies to streaming also , ,translates to 280mb per hour. I hope the partnerships with telcos address this.

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