What is holding back the adoption of video-on-demand (VOD) services in SA? For Naspers-owned ShowMax, the blame seems to lie squarely with the high cost of data.

This is according to a survey the company completed recently in which 40% of respondents said the cost of data was their main reason for not using VOD services. The second most common response (approximately 20%) was that respondents were not sure of how to set up these services.

There are naturally other factors at play. Some people are loyal to other, more traditional services, including regular TV. Some prefer not to watch longer-play content on their computers and phones, but don’t have connected TVs. And not everyone who might consume media in this way has access to a smartphone.

But whatever the mix, it is fair to say that the cost of data is a significant barrier to the adoption of such data-hungry content. Though costs have fallen over time, surplus data for entertainment remains a luxury enjoyed by a relatively small and wealthy segment of the population.

ShowMax, which was previously reviewed by the Financial Mail, has a pretty great offering — a good mix of series and movies, available for a subscription of just R99/month.

Many seem to agree. Though ShowMax hasn’t confirmed a total number of subscribers, in July it announced that it had surpassed 10m views since launching a year ago.

More precisely, it said in a release that the "cumulative number of TV shows and movies watched ... exceeded 10m" or "5m hours of content".

Still, VOD can use up about 1.5GB per average 90-minute movie. That really adds up, especially if you’re paying upwards of R100/GB for mobile data, which is significantly more expensive than ADSL options.

To overcome this barrier, ShowMax is getting creative. The company had previously rolled out a download functionality to allow its users to download more movies when they have a Wi-Fi connection.

Now it has added bandwidth capping, a feature that could reduce data usage by up to 75%.

This can be accessed in either the apps settings menu or on the play bar in your browser (click on the cog icon).

A low-level data cap of 0.3GB/hr would reduce video resolution to 360p, and the medium-level cap setting to 480p — considered "standard definition".

The uncapped setting delivers a standard 720p stream, which is high definition (HD).

By opting for lower data use, five hours of video on the lowest setting would use just 1.5GB of data, rather than more than 7GB.

If you’re a serious binge-watcher who is clocking up 14 hours of TV a week, using the uncapped setting you can expect to use just under 20GB/week.

A reduced resolution, naturally, means reduced clarity. There is less detail offered up, and less information to download or stream. A resolution of 360p is common on YouTube, for example, and viewed on a smaller screen it is perfectly watchable. But it will probably look patchy and blurry on a large-screen HD TV.

So, generally speaking, if you’re looking to save on your data bill by using these tools and you limit your ShowMax "cap", you would do well to reduce resolution in line with a reduction in screen size.

Watching on your mobile? Embrace 360p.

ShowMax has also added a simple calculator on its site to allow you to work out what your usage will be. It uses basic sliders to adjust the cap and hours watched.


Pros: Estimate your data use; set bandwidth caps
Cons: None to speak of
For more: www.showmax.com
Cool factor: ****
Usability: *****