Is ShowMax Ready To Take Over Kenyan Entertainment Market?

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ShowMax has been around in Kenya for a few months now, since they launched late last year. Being a South African company, I made a mental note that it would be just a matter of time before they fail in Kenya. I know anybody who read the above line would ask why do I generalize South African companies like that and what do I have against them. The answer is, I love them, but they assume Kenya is South Africa and also don’t trust local guys to properly run they operations in Kenya. When you do that you fail as fast as you came in. There are many examples but we will pick on that later.  And for that, I have not been paying much attention to what they have been up to despite the massive advertising they have been doing.

But a few weeks ago, I attended a small event organized by ShowMax  for bloggers and I had a chance to sit down and talk to some of the guys running their local branch , also in attendance was ShowMax Africa CEO, Chris Savides. That meeting changed my mind about them, especially on how they are approaching the Kenyan market. Before going into what I learned from them let me tell you what ShwoMax is about. According to their site:

“ShowMax is an internet-based subscription video on demand service supplying an extensive catalogue of TV shows and movies. By leveraging relationships with major production studios from across the globe, ShowMax delivers both world-class international content as well as the best of specialised local content. ShowMax is accessible across a wide range of devices from smart TVs and computers to smartphones and tablets”

Netflix is probably the best-known internet based subscription video on demand service around here, made famous in Kenya with the antics of one Ezekiel Mutua sometime last year.  ShowMax is like Netflix but cheaper and with local content, on top of the content from other parts of the world like US. ShowMax has two bouquets, Select and Premium. You can get Select at Kshs 330 per month while ShowMax Premium goes for Kshs 880 per month. And they allow you to pay using M-PESA for the monthly subscriptions.

Back to my chat with ShowMax folks, I needed to know if they do understand the dynamics of the Kenyan market and why many foreign firms  get it wrong most of the time.  For years, we have seen many firms come here with the believe that they can run their Kenyan operations remotely. And yes, they do employ country managers and marketers but with no authority do anything or make any decision.  Firms that give their local branch autonomy to conquer the market in most cases do well than those who control things from South Africa or Dubai.

Take Samsung for example, their early success in Kenya was because the Kenyan office had the freedom to make decision regarding Kenyan market and execute them. But that changed with exit of the team led by Robert Ngeru, a fact that has given other small firms front door entry to market and very soon Samsung could be playing catch up to the new entrants. On the other side of the scale, the struggle for Airtel Kenya, is mostly because they thought they could run the whole thing from India. Kenyans working at the  Airtel offices are just there to follow orders regardless of how wrong they are for the market.  Safaricom has taken advantage of their slowness many times before and it is not a secret that some of the successful Safaricom products were first launched or thought of by Airtel.  It goes like this, Airtel comes up with the idea, it takes years to get it approved, while Safaricom get wind of it, pick it up and implement it immediately. The power of quick and decisive decision making at play

Mr. Chris Savides, seems to understand the above facts clearly. According to him the local marketing ideas and decisions are already being carried out with the local team and their country manager make all the decisions as to what is good for his team. A statement the local team confirmed on a separate discussion with them. They also feel that it is important that Kenyans feel connected to their brand and to do that they are working overtime to ensure that they have local programs streamed as well. That include making deal with existing content like Housewives of Kawangware and investing in producing more content.

They are also looking closely on how people access content in Kenya, as well as how they pay for them. It is said that the main point for the internet access around here is mobile and so making your services mobile ready and friendly is a must. That includes working in low bandwidth environment.  ShowMax has partnered with Seacom, to host its caching servers in Nairobi.  ShowMax  head of distribution Mike Raath was quoted by Techweez,com saying:

“The net effect of placing caching servers in Nairobi is that customers can pull video content from much closer to home, which means faster response time and less buffering. This move also lays the groundwork for further expansion in East Africa as we continue to rollout ShowMax in new countries,”

In a sign that they are not taking things for granted, they brought in their top developers to work in localizing their apps and also to understand the local market better.

When comes to how to pay for the content, it seems ShowMax has been working closely with Safaricom, to integrate Mpesa as means of payment. In interview with Hapakenya.com Mr. Chris Savides said

‘The Safaricom partnership has been very important for us from day one, long before entered this market, we had already started engaging with Safaricom to try and understand what the market needed.

For example, Showmax Select was a collaboration with Safaricom. They told us kids content was very important so a ¼ of the content on Showmax select is kids content. We worked with them on pricing and M-pesa integration. Going forward, we will work with them more to try and understand how to penetrate as many of their market segments that are relevant.’

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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