Online Film Distribution as a Viable Platform for South African Feature Films

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2022)
Title: Online Film Distribution as a Viable Platform for South African Feature Films
Stream: Films and Digital Distribution (use of the internet and video sharing)
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Anna-Marie Jansen Van Vuuren, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
Boitshoko Mfolo, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa


Despite the growth of the South African film industry, distribution remains one of its central challenges. This is largely due to the country’s turbulent political history affecting the economic and social sphere. Issues related to poverty, high unemployment, and poor telecommunications infrastructure affect most South Africans. Problems with electricity, internet connectivity and data costs mean that many South Africans still relies on traditional distribution models. South Africa does not have a cinema-going culture, and audiences mainly consume entertainment through television. Within this context, streaming services offer an alternative to South African audiences and about 10 – 15% of the South African population have access to streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and the local content streamer Showmax. Since the hard Covid-19 lockdown meant that cinemas were closed for more than eight months in 2020, more filmmakers are exploring online models to distribute their content. In conducting this study, the authors did extensive in-depth open-ended interviews with role players involved in the South African film industry. We interviewed film distributors, exhibitors, television executives as well as local filmmakers to gain an understanding of how they see the future for online distribution in South Africa. Within our interview sample, we focused on feature film distribution only, and did not include questions about drama series or other serialised content. Core findings include that with a fractured audience, where home languages, cultures and taste differ, it makes sense for filmmakers to employ targeted marketing through online platforms. However, problems with bandwidth and internet connectivity have been flagged as challenges that filmmakers must bear in mind. Producers need to find innovative ways to engage with online feature film distribution models within the unique South African context.

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