SIMON BROWN: I’m chatting now with Wanda Mkhize, Executive Smart Home and Content at Telkom. Wanda, I appreciate the time. There’s a lot of fury all over the internet and social media about how Telkom is going to be cutting off Netflix. Digging into the story, actually it’s a lot more nuanced. As I understand this – and correct me if I’m wrong – Telkom won’t be offering Netflix on its video service any more. That is your, as I understand, ‘LIT box’.
WANDA MKHIZE: Correct. Good evening and thank you for having me. I think it’s an excellent opportunity to clarify. We launched a set-top box about four years ago, which is referred to as the LIT box as a brand name, and a part of that service was that in 2018, when we signed a contract with Netflix, we started making the Netflix streaming service available on the set-top box.
The contract with Netflix has come to an end and the service is no longer being supported by Netflix on the set-top box. It’s literally just on the set-top box, not necessarily Telkom as a network.
SIMON BROWN: If I’ve got fibre to the home or LTE or ADSL or whatever from Telkom, I’m still getting Netflix on that Lit box. Was I paying for the Netflix, or was it a value-add when in essence I accessed it for free, because I was using your set-top box?
WANDA MKHIZE: It came as a multiplicity of different product propositions. But in essence when we launched the set-top box some of the customers had deals we were operating and we would give and bundle the set-top box with your broadband service. And then on that particular set-top box, the customer would then choose which services they’d want to subscribe to.
For instance, Netflix was one of those services and you would, through Telkom billing, be able to pay for that Netflix service. At the time we did offer three months of free subscription, but there was a further subscription should you wish to continue with the service.
We also offer a number of other OTT services such as Showmax, DSTV now, as well as other streaming services on the set-top box itself. So the customer was responsible for their own account of the streaming service that they would select.
SIMON BROWN: I’ve got a smart TV at home. I can access Netflix, but I’ve got to take out my credit card and pay for it myself. What we have seen is certainly a take-up in SmartBook……2:31 and these sort of set-top boxes. What you’re saying to some customers [is], if you purchased within the last – if I’m correct – six months, you are actually going to give them a Takealot coupon so they can go and perhaps find another one or stream another way by their mobile …..2:51.
WANDA MKHIZE: Yeah. I think the principle around it – as an organisation, understanding the frustration that such a scenario may cause for customers – is us identifying that as much as the set-top box still operates for other OTT services, however no longer supporting Netflix, we’ve made a strategic decision from our end to say, let’s see how we can support the customer. We have explored a Takealot voucher, but we’re also exploring an opportunity of issuing the customer with an alternative set-top box to be able to continue to stream their Netflix service.
At this current moment we’re looking at implementing that before the end of October, and we’ll be communicating directly with those customers with regard to how they can redeem the set-top box.
SIMON BROWN: I bought an LG about five years ago. It was my first smart TV. My previous one was one of those giant CRTs (Cathode-ray tubes) that needed more space than my fridge, almost. The new one’s nice, it’s slim, it’s everything. It’s got this built in. Is a set-top box aimed at – because there’s a lot. Apple’s got, Roku’s got, and there’s your LIT box as well. What is the target market for a set-top box?
WANDA MKHIZE: In essence, I think it really depends on the different customers. But for us it’s really about driving broadband connectivity, understanding that with a broadband service more and more customers are wanting to take up a streaming services, [but] understanding that there are customers who’ve got older TVs that are still working and functional, and they don’t want to buy a new TV. So rather than procuring a new TV, here is a set-top box at a fraction of the price that then allows you to kind of make your ‘dumb TV’ smart in a way. So there’s that customer set that sits in.
Also, as you may be aware, the different set-top boxes use different operating systems, and therefore the services that would be available on that set-top box would be the operating system in the stores in which they operate.
So with us having gone the Android route, it means that, more than just the services that we pre-load onto that service, you also have access to the Google Play Store, which then allows you to download a variety of Android-supported streaming services and games. It’s also got gaming services that sit on that particular set-top box.
For us it was really about how we assist customers with them having broadband, bringing in and making it easier for them to stream services on there, and that is through the partnerships that we’ve been able for you to sign on; but also by virtue of it having Android services they could then consume the services that they want, which would be available in the Google Play Store.
SIMON BROWN: Got you. I’ve got an LG which actually runs webOS, which was I think the Palm Pilot smartphone of the early 2000s, which means that my play store, my app store, is actually a little bit small. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, as Apple, or in your case an Android, there’s a giant store there. I mean games. I don’t think my TV would know what to do with a game.
WANDA MKHIZE: I think it’s really about the different stores providing different opportunities. You’re finding over the years more and more store-operated services. Like you’re saying, iOS has the Apple TV, you’ve got Google, which has now got the Android TV set-top box, really expanding their offerings outside of just your mobile phone, but now into the home environment and providing operators like ourselves opportunities to provide such services to our customers.
SIMON BROWN: We’ll leave that there. That’s Wanda Mkhize, Executive Smart Home and Content at Telkom. You can still get Netflix across Telkom services, but if you’ve got the LIT box, it’s going to disappear but they will come back to you potentially with an offer. Wanda, I appreciate the time.