By Craig Wilson
A couple of months ago I moved from Johannesburg to New York City, just in time for the weather to turn cool, and the lure of the couch – ahem, sorry, I mean the sofa – and streaming services to get very strong indeed.
So, how does the streaming landscape compare in the land of the free and the home of the brave to what I was used to in South Africa?
The tyranny of choice
First up, there’s a pretty sizeable selection of services stateside. In addition to the usual suspects of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, there’s the recently launched pair of Apple TV+ and Disney+, and the even-more-recently launched Plex. Most of those are available in South Africa, though.
Then there’s Sling TV – which offers live TV and sport – Hulu and Crackle.
HBO makes some of the best TV content out there – from Game of Thrones, to the adaptation of Watchmen, to brilliant new series The Righteous Gemstones to documentaries like the acclaimed The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.
In the USA, the only place to watch most of that content is by subscribing to HBO Now. In SA, you can watch it all on Showmax, with a lot else besides.
So in the Land of the Free, streaming is anything but: if you want access to everything, it’s very easy to rack up a monthly subscription bill of over $100 (around R1,500).
What’s missing? There’s no DStv Now or Showmax, of course.
That’s not that big a deal when it comes to international programming as most of it is available on one or more of the myriad services available here, but it does mean I wish I’d finished watching the Showmax Original Tali’s Wedding Diary before I left Joburg.
Price of admission
When it comes to pricing, things are pretty similar, though SA pricing is often a little lower.
Netflix and Amazon, for example, both start at $9 a month (roughly R130). The biggest difference is that there are two free services in the US: Sony’s Crackle and Plex.
The price of free? Having to endure one of the key horrors of video consumption streaming was meant to dispense with: advertisements. But wait, there’s more. On Hulu’s entry-level, $6-a-month plan there are ads, too.
As many as four of them back to back, sometimes three or four times an episode. It’s truly dreadful.
Hulu’s interface is also buggy and sometimes simply won’t play an episode… but will play the following one without objection.
To get rid of the ads on Hulu you have to pay double (or $12 a month). Which is absolutely worth it, because while US TV ads were entertaining the first time, seeing the same Chevrolet advert four times in one episode of Broad City got tiresome… fast.
The what and where
The hardest part of having so many options? Figuring out what to watch where.
Thankfully, though, to figure out which service has which content, there’s Google.
Most services offer a free trial, so if there’s something I’m really desperate to watch on a service I don’t subscribe to, I’ve gotten away with cramming the show into a few days and cancelling the trial before it’s over. (Netflix still offers free trials in the US, but as of December 2019, it no longer does in SA.)
Of course, free trials only work once, which means I’m either going to have to sign up for new services or curb my streaming video consumption.
For now, I’m curbing… but we should probably chat again in a year. Because there’s probably going to be another Baby Yoda moment on Disney+, right?
That’s all, folks
So, does this mean South Africans are getting the short end of the streaming stick? Not at all.
The US might have more options, but they’re watered down and you have to pay for each of them individually.
In SA, if you want some live sport, HBO, Hulu and Disney content (most notably its ABC-produced series like Godfather of Harlem and Marvel content like Marvel’s Runaways), you can get the lot from Showmax for R99 a month (a little shy of $7) and watch on two screens. Plus, you won’t have to endure ads.
In fact, if you mostly watch on your mobile device anyway, Showmax now offers a mobile-only option from just R49PM.
That’s around $3.50 and it wouldn’t even get you a decent cup of coffee in New York.
Meanwhile, if you want Netflix and Amazon’s original fare you can add those two to the mix and still spend less than R400 each month for more content than any reasonable person should be watching. The money may be greener here, but the grass isn’t.
This article was published in partnership with Showmax.