Candice Fangueiro, head of content for Africa at Showmax, tells World Screen Newsflash about her overall acquisitions approach, the strategy for increasing the platform’s slate of originals and breaking through in an increasingly competitive landscape.
A division of the South African media giant MultiChoice Group, Showmax has emerged as a dominant force in Africa’s nascent SVOD market since its launch four years ago. While navigating the challenges of the region’s low credit card penetration, limited broadband infrastructure and high data costs, Showmax has built up a devoted base of subscribers with a mix of library fare, day-and-date U.S. imports and buzzy local originals.
WS: How has the service evolved since its launch?
FANGUEIRO: We’ve been going just over four years now, and in SVOD terms in Africa, that is a long time! We launched as a predominantly library/catalog, back-season type of service. But along the way, we’ve evolved. We entered into the sphere of creating originals. We understand the importance of having first-run content on the platform. We had to really look at what our customers wanted, what they were looking for. We have a huge catalog of local content, from an English, Afrikaans and vernacular point of view, with some of South Africa’s most-loved local shows, ranging from telenovelas and soaps to scripted dramas and comedies. Fundamentally we’ve become the home of Africa’s most-loved stories. Transitioning to something newer and fresher, more fun and edgy, from a local and international point of view, is where we’re at right now. We’ve also got some of HBO’s great shows premiering on our platform, like Euphoria, and [EPIX’s] Godfather of Harlem. For these titles that have international acclaim and are being spoken about worldwide, Showmax is your go-to place.
WS: What’s your overall acquisition approach? Are you doing volume deals or cherry-picking individual shows?
FANGUEIRO: Cherry-picking is absolutely where we are. It’s all about the quality, not the quantity. You can have the biggest catalog in the world, but if it’s full of bad content, no one will want to watch it. For us, it’s important that we pick the best shows. We have a fairly decent range, about 20,000 episodes of content across local and international. Still, for us, it’s absolutely quality over quantity, and our deals are predominantly cherry-picked.
WS: And is it primarily sourced from within the region and the U.S.?
FANGUEIRO: At this point, it’s South Africa, the U.S. and the U.K. We are dabbling with some of the Bollywood suppliers and Turkish telenovelas, from a testing point of view. We haven’t launched any Korean or Turkish telenovelas, but we are currently in discussions with them.
WS: In terms of genre, are you heavily scripted?
FANGUEIRO: The majority of our content is scripted series and movies. About 20 percent of our catalog is kids’ content, which ranges across age groups, for boys and girls. And we have a small nonfiction section. We are looking at actively growing that. Again, more on a quality, current-affairs, trending approach. What’s topical? [It’s about] what we need to have on the platform, as opposed to just having a wide variety of nonfiction.
WS: Tell us about the journey into originals.
FANGUEIRO: It’s been very exciting, incredibly nerve-wracking! When you have your first Showmax original that delivers record-breaking viewership results on the platform, it’s a bit of a boost to your confidence. You never know how these are going to land. We launched with a show called Tali’s Wedding Diary featuring a very popular YouTube star. [The producers] sent through a pilot and we had to jump on it immediately because she is incredibly talented and very funny, and it was a story that hadn’t been done in South Africa before. Also, it was a smooth transition to get a digital audience to come to a digital platform using a digital star. It was a bit more daring and playful. And at the time, there was a gap in the [local] English-language market. The Afrikaans and vernacular were catered for.
Following on from that, we partnered with Comedy Central. One way to get into the hearts and minds of South Africans is to go through the local celebrities they adore. So we did the Roast of Somizi and the Roast of AKA, two very big local celebrities. We still see traction in terms of attracting new customers to the platform with those shows.
We then went into our first scripted drama, The Girl from St. Agnes. It’s a murder mystery where [a student] is killed, and the drama teacher becomes obsessed with the death, which was said by the school to be a suicide. It did really well for us in terms of attracting record audiences. We had an international partner, Red Arrow Studios, who came on board as a funding and distribution partner. It was our first drama with an international partner.
WS: How many originals are you looking to do a year?
FANGUEIRO: Initially, we were trying to get one a quarter. We are ramping up our slate slowly but surely. At this stage, we’re working very closely with the general-entertainment team at MultiChoice to try to build our slate faster. We see the power that local content has to generate new audiences for the platform.
WS: And are you exploring more international alliances like the one with Red Arrow Studios?
FANGUEIRO: Absolutely. It makes perfect sense in terms of sharing the costs, and since our focus continent is Africa, the rest of the world is an opportunity for sales. We do have an internal sales agency that sells our content abroad; that’s first and foremost. But where it makes sense, and we can get third-party funding, then we will consider it.
WS: Do you release all episodes at once or roll them out weekly?
FANGUEIRO: It depends on the nature of the show. On Tali’s Wedding Diary, we couldn’t roll out weekly; you get to the end of the episode and have to watch the next one, and they were nice, short, 20-minute episodes. The Girl from St. Agnes was deep and heavy, but we did boxset that one as well. We went the other way with Trippin with Skhumba and released episodes weekly to keep people coming back on a regular basis. [We’ll see] as we start learning what works best. Some of the shows that we [launch] at the same time as the DStv channels are released daily and weekly. And piracy is still huge, so we need to publish content as early as we possibly can to align with international release dates. When a show is being talked about on Twitter and you don’t have access to it—we need to align with the international [launch] date.
WS: What are you looking for at DISCOP Johannesburg?
FANGUEIRO: It’s been quite a [challenge] to find things that are new and different. One of the issues in Africa is finding writing talent. You have very established writers, but it’s now finding something new and fresh and suitable for a young millennial African audience. We know South Africans love their telenovelas. We need to find new and different shows for our platform.
WS: Are you concerned about how the competitive environment will shift once the Hollywood studios’ direct-to-consumer platforms are up and running?
FANGUEIRO: We’re definitely keeping an eye on things. They’ve been creating top Hollywood content for years, which audiences around the world are obsessed with. But knowing what’s ahead, it becomes increasingly important for us to hone in on our local content offering and what differentiates us. Africa is still quite limited in broadband penetration and data prices are still quite high. We have room to exploit the international content while ramping up the local content slate to get Africans to love our content. We’re also focused on building our kids’ catalog. Little ones are growing up with cellphones in their hands; it’s what they know. If we can get kids to love Showmax and grow with the product, it’s a win-win. And what’s unique to our platform is sports. Some of the bigger leagues [EPL, La Liga, Serie A], we’ll have live games, which gives us an edge, something that differentiates us.