SHOWMAX, NETFLIX IN EPIC AFRICAN BATTLE

JOHANNESBURG. — Sassy, provocative African-made dramas could be key to potentially one of the biggest streaming markets in the world — and one new show is proving the point.

“Lights off at eight. No sex here,” a teacher tells a new student in Youngins, set in a fictional boarding school in South Africa.

But audiences have been learning that rules are there to be broken — and the Showmax series, with an episode released every week on the South African-based subscription streaming service, is a wild ride full of fun, danger, sex and violence.

“I would describe the show as captivating, relatable, authentic, fun, funny and fresh — but like South African fresh,” Kealeboga Masango, who plays the role of head girl in the drama, tells the BBC.

And that is what is key — the show’s makers hope its African authenticity will set it apart, and it forms the basis of Showmax’s ambitious business plan.

“We really go deep into the different cultures of South Africa — it’s very beautiful watching not just black bodies being represented on screen, but South African bodies being represented,” Youngins director Themba Mfebe tells the BBC.

“So it feels like my neighbour’s kid, my sister’s kid. It’s like, I know these people. And most of the time, they’re speaking in South African languages.”

With 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans aged under 30, Showmax, which also offers documentaries and Premier League football, wants to expand its market share in the African subscription video-on-demand space.

Other global streaming giants such as Amazon Prime are reducing their investment in Africa and have cut jobs on the continent and restructured to focus on the European market.

But Showmax, owned by the MultiChoice group — one of the continent’s biggest pay TV operators — is doing the opposite by ramping up production with 21 new original African shows recently released.

Its chief executive Marc Jury says the target for their parent company, with millions of dollars of investment in new productions, is to expand to 50 million consumers across the African continent by 2028: “Our ambition is to be the number one streaming platform in Africa.”

Rival streamer Netflix has also been steadily expanding its presence in Africa’s video streaming market. Between 2016 and 2022, it invested US$175m in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

In 2020, it also signed a lucrative multi-title deal with Nigerian production company EbonyLife, founded by acclaimed producer Mo Abudu, to create multiple original Netflix series and films.

Revenge thriller The Black Book, which it recently acquired, became the first ever Nigerian film to soar to number three on Netflix’s worldwide film charts — watched by more than 20 million people in its opening weeks last year. — BBC.

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