Cape Town - South African TV viewers will be able to order and watch newly released movies and TV series straight from the couch when SouthTel
launches a true video-on-demand (VOD) service called VOD:TV
With VOD:TV – for which subscribers will have to buy a decoder and install a satellite dish – viewers will be able to watch movies in the window before they become available on pay TV, as well as episodes and seasons of TV series, immediately. "SouthTel's VOD:TV will definitely be cheaper than pay TV," says Oscar Dube, SouthTel CEO and funder.
SouthTel will launch VOD:TV – a personal digital video store in the home – in September in South Africa as well as three other SADC countries. Subscribers will have to buy a VOD:TV decoder (which comes with a satellite dish and installation like normal pay TV) and then pay per movie, TV episode or TV season "ordered".
Whatever is ordered from a vast catalogue can then be watched immediately. Similar to the VOD service when watching movies in hotel rooms, viewers will be able to "purchase" the right to watch a season of a TV show for instance within a certain period of time. Minimum cost
"We're looking at minimum cost," says Dube. "The specific pricing has not been decided but it will be cheaper than what people are currently paying for subscription television in South Africa."
VOD:TV will offer all the latest movies before they go to subscription television services like MultiChoice's DStv. "In terms of windows the process is always first the movie theatre, then VOD, then DVD, then pay TV, then free-to-air.
"So SouthTel's VOD:TV will make movies available in the window right after the theatrical run, and just before pay TV can get it," says Dube. "Viewers will be able to order most of the movies you would be able to see as if you've gone to the movie theatre. We've got access to basically whatever you would find in the video store."
Dube says SouthTel has been working for the past two years on launching VOD:TV. "The biggest difficulty was the VOD:TV decoder. The various Hollywood studios all have to personally approve a decoder for video-on-demand services before they would allow any content to go through it.
"They're incredibly concerned about piracy and security issues, so they have to make sure decoders and distribution systems are security and piracy proof." Dube says SouthTel didn't deal with specific Hollywood studios to secure movie and TV show rights for its VOD:TV service but is making use of a content management company similar to other VOD services around the word that specialises in collectively securing access and VOD rights. Advertising
"Video-on-demand is the future," says Dube. "The VOD:TV decoder will actually also give subscribers access to terrestrial television channels as well as to the internet. You will get internet on TV. The VOD:TV decoder will come with a 3G internet dongle as well. VOD:TV will also for the first time make location-based, targeted advertising possible.
"For the first time ever in South Africa targeted advertising will be possible on television. A small local florist in a specific area would be able to run a trailer before a movie when it's ordered by subscribers within that area."
M-Net didn't respond to media enquiries. MultiChoice, which has been testing its own VOD service with the working title of Box Office since the end of last year, says "MultiChoice welcomes competition in the pay TV market. We believe competition is good for the industry and for viewer choice. In terms of our own VOD services, MultiChoice is planning a number of exciting new initiatives this year."