Kenyans can hardly afford to watch YouTube, let alone ShowMax content

Is ShowMax ready to take over Kenyan entertainment market? That’s the question Kennedy Kachwanya asked our readers on Friday last week, and he went ahead to explain how the business model ShowMax has adopted will enable the South African firm do things the right way as far as the entertainment industry in Kenya is concerned. In the article, Kachwanya explained that ShowMax MD understands that it is important to give the ShowMax office in Kenya a certain level of autonomy, the importance of  having a local server to cache popular content, the localization of the ShowMax App, and most importantly enabling Kenyans to pay for ShowMax content via MPESA.

The steps taken by ShowMax are indeed remarkable. Of all the steps they have taken, caching locally popular content in servers hosted by Safaricom right in the heart of Nairobi and streaming compressed videos (about 320p) are their best feet forward. These two measures are meant to allow Internet subscribers on mobile data to access their content at the lowest cost possible.

However, even despite the two measures, mobile data users must still break an arm and a leg every month to effectively enjoy ShowMax movies. Sadly, there is nothing much ShowMax can do in this regard. The people who can help Kenyans get entertained from ShowMax content are ISPs and the Government – and probably a few other industry stakeholders. At the current state of affairs, a Kenyan on mobile data interested to fully enjoy ShowMax offering must be willing to part with an upward of  Kshs 54,000 a month on mobile data alone. Here is why:

When ShowMax launched their services in Kenya, a number of bloggers including myself were given three months free access to ShowMax content in order to watch and later review the ShowMax experience in Kenya. In addition to the three months access, we were also given 3GB data that was meant to be used within the ShowMax platform. I used my 3GB to watch the first two episodes of Flash Season 1. The 3GB data ran out a few minutes before the second episode could come to an end. Total run time for the first two episodes that I watched was 78 minutes. For the purposes of calculations, I will round it up to 80 minutes.

Typically therefore, 3GB on Safaricom data would serve a ShowMax user for 80 minutes. The best data offering by Safaricom is 12GB for 3K. This then would mean that for 3K, a ShowMax subscriber can watch 320 minutes (5 hours 20 minutes), of ShowMax. A person could be content with 5 hours per day on ShowMax – and that means you would need to spend a minimum of Shs 3K per day on Safaricom in order to fully enjoy ShowMax. This works out to be Shs 90K a month.

Given the compressed nature of videos of ShowMax content, watching ShowMax on either Airtel or Orange network can still be seamless. The advantage of Airtel and Orange is that for 3K, one can get 20GB of data instead of the meagre 12GB offered by Safaricom. If you would opt for Airtel or Orange and retain a 5 hours daily streaming, then Shs 54K should be able to serve you every month. In real life, very few are willing to spend more than Shs 3K on Internet access per month.

The cost of Internet in Kenya is not an hindrance to enjoying ShowMax alone. Services like YouTube, educational content, video calls/chats, Online TV, vlogging, and many other video related businesses cannot pick up in Kenya due to the prohibitive cost of Kenya’s Internet. Take the music industry for instance, popular music by Internationally renowned artists like Sauti Sol cannot easily gain over a million views on YouTube, even after being online for over a year. My favorite and one of 2014 Kenya’s hit songs Wellewelle by Timmy featuring RapDamu, even after being online for almost three years, has garnered some 102K views. This works out to be about a meagre 3K views per month. Elsewhere in Tanzania, a hit song at the level of Wellewelle can garner over 3 million views within the first month of being online.

Although Kenya is considered to be one of the most connected countries in Africa, the cost of the connectivity implies that most of these Kenyans do not enjoy meaningful/productive benefits from this connection. A typical Kenyan with mobile data will always have his/her data turned off, and when the data is turned back on, the best they can do is to gloss over a Facebook update, a WhatsApp message, a Twitter trending topic or at best a short article either in one of the online news outlets or from a blog site. That is, other than outliers such as Yego who learnt how to master Javelin through YouTube, many Kenyans cannot put the Internet into any practical productive use.

The high cost of Internet access also explains why Hollywood piracy bureaus are legal businesses in Kenya. These bureaus that sell a movie for as cheap as Shs 30 take away the movie business from genuine online movie outlets such as Netflix and now ShowMax. If one was to buy one movie per day from the bureaus, the cost of watching the movies per month would still average around the cost of Netflix subscription (ShowMax content is way cheaper), but we still keep away from Netflix and ShowMax as we cannot afford the cost of Internet access.

In the course of 2016, I attended a few high level forums where Internet industry stakeholders were gathered in order to dissect how the Internet is empowering and will continue to empower Kenyans, and generally help eradicate poverty in life with the Millennium Development Goals. One such meeting was the ITU’s 2016 Global Capacity Building Symposium. In that forum, I raised the issue of the cost of Internet access to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and pointed out how Kenyans are still missing out from the productive goodies the Internet offers. In response, the Permanent Secretary mentioned that the Government is keen to ensure that Unlimited yet affordable Internet is available to every Kenyan in the long term, but that in the short term they are putting in place measures such as availing free WiFi hotspots in every constituency to allow the youth access the tools and resources available online.

The response by the Permanent Secretary of ICT revealed one thing, that Kenya is still a long away from providing her citizens with unlimited affordable Internet. Today, if you want to access unlimited yet affordable Internet, you have two options; either to get access to some office Internet or move to the few locations in Nairobi or Mombasa where Zuku is present.

Until Kenyans will be able to get access to affordable, quality and unlimited Internet, and by affordable I mean at the rates around Kshs 1000 per month, then online video based businesses such as ShowMax should stop holding their hopes so high. Before Internet access is made affordable, we’ll still derive our entertainment from  the Hollywood piracy bureaus and not ShowMax Content.


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