Vidi: Inside Times Media's VOD play - TechCentral

Vidi: Inside Times Media’s VOD play

Andrew Gill

Andrew Gill

Times Media Group on Wednesday took the wraps off a “cord cutting” video-on-demand (VOD) service called Vidi. Vidi offers both subscription streaming and movie rental services via the Internet.

The JSE-listed media group is attempting to create something akin to Netflix, the US subscription streaming service that has set the benchmark for commercial online video streaming platforms, for South African audiences.

TechCentral broke the news about Times Media’s plans last month and had exclusive first access to the platform.

Vidi comes in two flavours. There’s an unlimited streaming service that costs R149/month and a rental service that costs between R15 and R27 per title, depending on the movie rented. Each rental is available to stream for 48 hours. The unlimited streaming service has a selection of older movies, with a variety of new and not-so-new television series on offer, too.

At launch, there will be 21 series available to stream (a total of 69 seasons, 1 325 episodes and more than a thousand hours of playtime).

Vidi will also have 100 movies on the subscription service at any given time and 72 titles in its rental offering.

The launch of Vidi signals a change in Times Media Group’s focus as the JSE-listed media firm, which owns venerable newspaper titles such as the Sunday Times and Business Day, shifts to a digital media platform covering television, radio and now VOD.

Times Media MD of broadcast and content Andrew Gill tells TechCentral that the group has undergone “quite a fundamental change in the past 18 months”.
“We created the broadcast and content division at the beginning of the year. In that time, we’ve been doing some significant restructuring of the business, selling off some of the legacy and non-core assets and investing in areas that have high growth potential.”

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One of the assets it sold was cinema chain Nu Metro.

It has also invested in television and radio platforms elsewhere in Africa, including Ghana and Kenya, with plans to extend that reach.

“We have shifted from a traditional paper-based business, and we are now 13 radio stations and quite a few TV channels richer,” Gill says.

“We kept the film distribution business when we sold Nu Metro and many of the people who worked there have moved into the Vidi environment.”

The team has relationships with the big content studios, which has proved useful in sourcing material for the platform.

Times Media’s research shows there is sufficient demand in South Africa for a VOD service. Although early to market, and launching in a country plagued by Internet speed restrictions, Gill says it’s important to establish a beachhead. “The long-term growth opportunity is huge.”

Vidi hands-on
TechCentral had the opportunity to play with Vidi last week, ahead of the commercial launch. The interface is reminiscent of popular international services such as Netflix and Hulu, with a grid style layout of shows and movies that are available for streaming. Navigation is straightforward.

Subscribers are able to see upcoming titles under a “coming soon” section. And there are short descriptors for content, as well as trailers. Vidi does not offer users a set-top box. Instead, content is streamed via any of the latest Web browsers. Vidi will also offer Android and iOS applications.

Those wanting to watch Vidi on their big-screen TV will need an Internet connected device such as a PC connected to the screen.

The company is also developing an application for smart TVs, which should be ready by December. This will allow Internet-connected TVs to stream content directly.

Vidi will offer parental guidance. With an age restriction set, content that is not suitable for children will require a password to unlock it.

Each Vidi account will be able to connect up to four devices, while two concurrent streams are supported — great for parents who want to leave their children to stream cartoons while they watch a movie in another room.

Times Media is promising the latest content on the Vidi platform.

Marketing manager for VOD platforms, broadcast and content Taryn Uhlmann says titles on instant rentals will have just come off the cinema circuit, but not yet available on DVD or Blu-ray.

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Uhlmann says that those titles will only become available on the subscription service when the licence makes it possible for Vidi to do so. It’s the same license process that Netflix, Hulu, and the BBC’s services adhere to, she says. “The timings will vary, but on average the movies that become available on subscription are two years after release.”

The subscription service comes with a 30-day free trial that requires viewers to provide their credit card details. They’ll have to remember to cancel before the 30 days are up if they don’t wish to subscribe.

Vidi will add an average of 200 hours of TV series each month, or approximately five new titles a month. On the subscription service, 10 movies will be added each month.

Vidi will offer titles from some of the largest Hollywood studios, including Sony, Warner and Disney, as well as independent studios Lionsgate and Relativity. Children’s programming will be provided by the titles on DHX Media’s Kids Playzone. Times Media is in discussions with more studios.

Pushing a strong library of local content is also a big focus. “There are three ways to expand our content offering, one is local content, which we are certainly working hard at. We have some local titles already, but we can strengthen that. Secondly, it’s widening the studio base, and lastly it’s about putting in niches and genres that aren’t widely available,” says Gill.

The technology
Times Media is expecting some user experience issues because the service is not the same as traditional broadcast television.

“We are using Microsoft Silverlight as the player technology and some older systems don’t support it,” says Gill. “Some users will also need to install Silverlight if they have not done so before.”

Silverlight is an application framework for Internet based media content not dissimilar to Adobe Flash.

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Viewers will also have to ensure they have the latest version of their favourite Web browser installed.

Another major requirement for Vidi is a decent broadband connection. Although Gill says he has managed to watch streams on a 2Mbit/s connection without any buffering problems, he recommends a 4Mbit/s connection for good quality streaming in high definition. However, should a connection not be able to handle the stream, Vidi’s image quality will scale down automatically to prevent buffering.

The average amount of data that will be consumed per movie will depend on the speed of the user’s connection. On average, though, it will be about 2GB/movie.

Times Media has invested in a content distribution network for Vidi, with nodes in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. It will expand this as needed based on the amount and location of data traffic.

“Our capacity for storing and streaming content is completely scalable,” says Gill.  — © 2014 NewsCentral Media

27 Comments

  1. So, you need a 4Mbit/s connection to stream and each movie will use about 2GB of data.
    Add the data cost to the R149/month rental service and the R15 and R27 per title that you will pay and this offering no longer looks very attractive. Oh – and you need to connect your PC to your TV if you want to stream. Good luck in getting market share.

  2. The android app is shockingly bad =( I really hope the service irons out the bugs quick because I really want to give them my money – in principle this could be a great product.

  3. signed up and I cant even get a movie to run on adsl. Gr8 product. UPDATE. Video loaded after a while.

  4. > Add the data cost to the R149/month rental service and the R15 and R27 per title that you will pay

    Nope. You either pay the R149 per month subscription service, or the R15 – R27 per video. Not both.

    Most modern TVs are Internet-enabled, if you connect them up to your home network.

  5. > this offering no longer looks very attractive
    Perhaps a more relevant comparison is:
    4 Mbps ADSL (or other) + Uncapped Account + R149 Vidi subscription. No ads. Watch what you want, when you want.
    versus
    DSTV subscription, with ads and a fixed schedule of broadcasting.
    VoD is a different paradigm to broadcasting. It takes getting used to.

  6. A hundred movies available on an “all-you-can-watch” subscription? For almost double what you pay to have access to more than 10,000 movies on Netflix? Laughable.

  7. Dewald_P_Montgomery_1 on

    Don’t know about double. Netflix = $7.99 p/m. At current exchange rates, that’s R85. Add Unotelly or a decent VPN @ around R50 = R135. Only the catalog that’s still lacking, but of course we all remember the days Netflix started out with only a few titles itself.

  8. Not sure your iSP but on Ti [going to test others later] it streamed within 10secs and scaled up on a 2Mbps uncapped account. This also does not take into account if they maybe issues in your area at the time.

  9. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Remember to compare it to the R189 DSTV Compact subscription, it’ll probably be closest to that in content.

  10. No TV app yet. Sounds like you either have to connect your TV to a Windows computer, or jump through a lot of geeky hoops.

  11. Evolutionary Games on

    I haven’t had a TV for many years and I’ve been waiting for something like this. So thank you Tech Central for the alert that Times Media has caught up!
    With PC monitors becoming larger I don’t think there is any need to link this up to a TV, also keep in mind we typically sit much closer to our PC monitors than we do to our TV’s.
    For those comparing costs, keep in mind I’m anyway going to have a high streaming unlimited broadband for my work, so there is no additional streaming cost for me. I think this would probably be true for many people that would be interested in this, so it isn’t quite right to calculate the broadband into the equation.

  12. For the first year, maybe, but where VoD beats the absolute pants off any pay-TV setup is that you can stream the back catalogue on demand. Pretty soon the library of stuff you want to watch will be greater than the amount of time you have to watch it, making VoD a perpetual source of content you want to see, not 20 channels of nothing.

  13. Bet you if they got ANIMAX on board they’d unlock a whole new customer base in one go. Hard-to-get anime on demand? Yes please.

  14. A few titles in the region of 12’000 yes 🙂 Although that was largely thanks to existing deals around DVDs. If Vidi can keep adding new content at a decent pace, it’ll be a different conversation a year from now.

  15. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Yup, but you have to compare the offerings right now. Remember that Multichoice said they’re readying their own VoD service (search this site for “DStv to open PVR to the Internet”). So a year from now, who knows what the situation could be?

    I don’t want DSTV to crush these guys, but Multichoice is a very worthy opponent, and aren’t going to give up marketshare without a fight, and they certainly are capable of developing or acquiring the platforms to compete in the VoD market.

    One thing’s for sure – they aren’t going to sit still while they wait for their opponents to overtake them.

  16. Greg Mahlknecht on

    They should try and get HBO – that would be a gamechanger and poach a LOT of even Premium DSTV subscribers (the ones in it for the movies/series, not sport) – around the world it’s a $15-$20 bolt-on to other pay-tv offerings, and decent value for R200.

  17. Assuming MC even launch VoD in the near future, it’s a feature on the Explora decoder, which costs around R1850 retail, and that’s before adding the dongle. For the cost of just getting the *hardware*, you could get 13 months+ of unlimited streaming from Vidi.

    Unless if MC also launches their full catalogue via the BoxOffice player, which is accessible without any additional hardware, the startup cost for this is a bit steep.

  18. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Again, you’re assuming that MC will do nothing between now and the point Vidi takes to build great catalogue. MC already have a (crappy) browser based VoD product, same as Vidi… there’s no reason to think when they do roll out their next-gen VoD it won’t include an upgraded PC experience.

    >Explora decoder, which costs around R1850 retail

    Cheaper than a PC… there’s lot of people who can’t or don’t want to plug their existing computer in to their TV to watch.

    I’m rooting for Vidi, but I reckon there’s at least a 50/50 chance that Multichoice crush them TopTV style, and am waiting to see the MC’s response to this.

  19. Would be nice if they were priced competitively with Netflix and did not choose the overpriced Multichoice as their benchmark. Sounds like the mobile phone networks price fixing syndicate in this country that we have had to suffer for so long. Thankfully IP address masking means we have a choice. Who does that hurt? My subscription dollars end up paying the hard working actors and studios that produce the content so they are incentivised to produce more. Not a bloated, redundant and artificial distribution channel.

  20. I realize this is not a support forum, but in the interests of transparency – on an 8mbps line, where my speedtest.net results all currently come back with ~5.5mbps downstream, Vidi is unwatchable. It buffers roughly 30% of the time.

    I expect that from HD youtube content, not SD content streaming from a server located within SA.

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