Hot on the heels of  Showmax offering South Africans a legit film and TV streaming service, Vodacom has announced its foray into the Video On Demand (VOD) space, but it’s doing things very differently.

Vodacom’s Video Play service, can’t actually be called a streaming service, as media on offer are files that are downloaded to users’ devices.

With the Video Play app you can choose what you’d like to watch and add it to your download queue. The app is supposed to be available for Android and Blackberry, and will be added to other platforms later. We say “supposed to” because it is missing from the BlackBerry World store.

Once in the queue the videos will download during “low-demand periods”, which will typically be overnight.

As we all know, downloading anything on mobile devices is expensive, so the Vodacom’s decision to make its VOD download-focused seems strange until the pricing structure is revealed.

You will not be charged to download videos, but rather for the time spent watching them. The service is launching with 30 minute bundles at R5 a pop.

Right now, however, the only content available at launch is a selection of music videos, with a focus on gospel, local and African music. eNCA, eTV, Urban Brew and MobiTV have signed up to provide content.

We downloaded the app on Android to have a poke around. After a very small download (only 7.09 mb), we had to register an account using our cell number. We attempted to purchase a 30 minute bundle to try out the service, but it sent us into a redirect loop that prevented us from doing so.

According to the FAQ the money will either be subtracted from your air time or added to you monthly bill, depending on what carrier plan you have, but it you will need to be a Vodacom user.

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The homescreen (left) and the looping message we get every time we try to buy a bundle (right).

There were the aforementioned music videos, but some other content that wasn’t mentioned. The top of the “Popular” list on the front page is a video of cats, because this is the internet.

The current list of categories and subcategories is as follows.

Music

  • Local
  • International

Comedy & Entertainment

Movies

  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Kids

TV Series & Soaps

  • Comedy
  • Reality

Sports

  • Soccer
  • Rugby
  • Cricket
  • Best Moments
  • Others

Kids

News

  • Local
  • International

Lifestyle & How To

  • Glamour
  • Celebrity Gossip
  • How-to
  • Other
  • Documentaries

Gospel

While that certainly is quite a lot of categories, they (and the app) feel entirely hollow. We browsed and browsed and we just couldn’t find anything that we’d actually want to watch, and especially nothing we’d want to pay money for.

To frustrate further the app feels sluggish, even on the almost vanilla Android Lollipop on the Motorola Moto G 4G 2015 (2nd gen). The final nail in the coffin is the fact that, while the app does display storage space, it will only display (and download to) phone memory, meaning that all the spare space on your expandable storage is useless. You also can’t move and downloads from Video Play into your Android Phone’s expandable storage; it can only be installed directly to device memory.

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Two things to note here: the app does not recognise expandable storage, and it is currently set to download at midnight.

This app and its business model raises three pertinent questions.

The first concerns the so-called “low-demand periods”. We understand a communications network provider wanting to use its infrastructure during these times to drum up business – you only need to look at all the providers offering extremely cheap “night data” that can only be accessed past midnight – but at the time of this writing, there’s no way to know if the download speeds are capped or even consistent.

Finally there’s the price to consider. At R5 per 30 minutes an average 90 minute movie will set you back R15, which is actually reasonable, as DSTV’s Boxoffice service comes in at R30 per movie. However, that R30 charge for Boxoffice is a flat rate and not influenced by running time – a three-hour epic will set you back the same amount as 90 minute film. That isn’t the case with Video Play, so prices can fluctuate wildly.

So, that’s Video Play: locked behind a mobile provider and providing almost no interesting content, but doing so at a reasonable price. We can’t help but draw parallels between this and MTN’s Frontrow – a subscription streaming service that has created very little traction and is often ignored.