Last week Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT), the proxy measure for the thinking of middle-class Kenya, went viral with the news that Netflix was finally available in Kenya.
Many Twitter users and other analysts felt that Netflix would finally deal a competitive, fatal blow to DStv, Zuku, Safaricom and other players providing online video services.
At a subscription rate of $7.99 per month, compared with between $10 and $100 charged by other players in Kenya, the above conclusion seems quite logical.
In fact, the anticipated success of Netflix got the Kenya Film Corporation so worried that it has promised to regulate Netflix, betraying the fact that many Kenyans do not actually know what Netflix is, and subsequently what it can or cannot do.
Netflix is essentially a subscription-based film and TV program rental service that offers media to subscribers via the Internet, or in short, a paid-up version of YouTube but with more organised programming.
Your chances of regulating Netflix are as good as those of regulating YouTube, and there are as many technical ways of regulating Netflix as there are of circumventing those very regulations.
It is doable, but only if you are China, North Korea or a serious "wannabe" police state.
Even without the benefit of a crystal ball, my take is that Netflix is really not mainstream broadcasting and is likely to be limited to the privileged upper middle class who can afford the $80 to $100 per month for fibre-optic links to their homes.
Netflix is not for the majority of us, the "Internet bundles" community. One hour of a Netflix video is likely to wipe out at least two months’ worth of Internet bundles — a lesson many of us are likely to learn the hard way.
BOON FOR ‘RIVERWOOD’
In other words, the subscription rate of $7.99 per month is misleading, not because Netflix actually makes you pay more (it doesn’t) but because it does not include the running costs of accessing broadband Internet, which unfortunately remain quite high and prohibitive in Kenya.
It is because of this high cost of broadband Internet that DStv, Zuku and particularly the mobile providers can sit pretty and welcome Netflix into the market. The more Netflix viewers, the more Internet bundles they are likely to sell.
That said, Netflix will likely bring new dynamics into the market.
Their highly rated shows might be downloaded and packaged as affordable DVDs, sold along our famous "Riverwood".
Watching "unofficial" DVDs — without incurring broadband Internet access costs — might be the Kenyan alternative to the high cost of watching streaming (Internet) video.
This proliferation will likely add another nail in the coffin of our emerging, struggling local movie industry. Over and above Nigerian and Mexican soaps, we should be prepared for the influx of top-rated US soaps — at the cost of a blank DVD.
This, rather than trying to control content, whose market value in Kenya is likely to be an insignificant percentage of Netflix’s global audience, is what the Communications Authority should be worried about.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @jwalu