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ATF 2016 discusses secret sauce for Asian OTT's successes

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SINGAPORE: The media and entertainment industry is known for its dynamic and unpredictable nature. With digital media taking an upward turn, over the top services are slowly making a mark and challenging traditional viewing methods. To address how effective are the various OTT models, the pre-ATF market conference on 6 December witnessed the session ‘View From Over The Top.’

The discussion was led by IndianTelevision.com group founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari, and covered the scope of the new content buyers in the online evolution and the success in re-aligning company strategies to meet new demands.

The panelists consisted of an interesting bunch of execs whose services are as different as chalk and cheese: Hulu Japan (Japan), chief content officer, Kazufumi Nagasawa; Singapore-based Hooq co-founder and chief content officer, Krishnan Rajagopalan; LeTV (China), chief executive producer, Hao Fang; and US-based AwesomnessTV head of worldwide distribution, Rebecca Glashow.

Wanvari set the ball rolling by questioning whether OTT as a business concept is a pipe dream or a reality. “OTT services have not really made a dent on viewing habits for a large part in Asian markets where television viewing is still rating high with consumers,” he stated. “Yet close to 100 or so OTT/VOD services have launched in various Asian nations. No one knows what the right business model is -- Is it AVOD? Is it TVOD? Or, is it SVOD? Or is it a freemium model? Or is it a telco-bundled/TV set-bundled service? What is the pricing sweet spot? How much time will it take to build them into viable businesses? It looks like the OTT industry looks like what the cable and satellite TV industry did in the early nineties across Asia. The broadcasters were making losses and kept on bleeding for a decade or so. Will the same happen to OTT? And, what could help accelerate its fortunes better? Is it data costs? Or consumer education?”

The panelists then went to on to talk about how they were each dealing with the market’s challenges. With China being the largest market in terms of mobile subscribers, LeTV took a strategic decision to bundle its streaming service platform with ‘Le’ mobile phones and in Hong Kong with its TVs. Consumers got LeTV free for varying periods as it was built into the price of the hardware.

On the other hand, Hooq, being a comparatively young player in the market, Rajagopalan mentioned that the Asian audience is slowly getting used to the idea of paid services. Hooq has strong partnerships with telcos such as Singtel, Airtel, Vodafone, Globe Telecom, Telkomsel in different regions as it rolls out. Partnering with other companies has enabled Hooq to reach out to consumers who might be unaware of Hooq or don’t want to shell out money as it’s a SVOD service. Hooq launched in Singapore in end-November adding to Indonesia, Philippines, India and Thailand – countries in which it has been investing.

AwesomnessTV follows a completely different approach; it perceives itself as a content creator for all the screens – TV, theatre, mobile, tablet – and its MCN strategy is totally a separate kettle of fish. Its advantage is that it has a strong millennial content focus on account of it strong digital talent. This has landed it deals with various platforms: Verizon for its Go90 mobile service; with ITV2 in the UK for which it is developing a millennial targeted commissioned programme block. A slate of feature films is also in the offing.

And because its productions have a slew of digital stars it uses their online social media following to tease their fans and lure them to watch the content it creates for the other screens. Glashow said that she was in Asia to explore and evaluate opportunities and build partnerships to help it with its Asian foray. With enough money from its varied parents right from Verizon to Dreamworks Animation and Hearst Entertainment, it can afford to be ambitious for the continent as well.

Hulu Japan – which is owned wholly by the broadcaster Nippon TV after Hulu exited a few years ago -- follows the SVOD model, and has partnered with the Japanese major telco DoCoMo. As far as content is concerned, Nagasawa said that the OTT service has an international to domestic content ratio of 50:50. The service offers its users a smorgasbord of international top series as well as domestically produced content. Production budgets vary from 10,000 dollars to as much as a million dollars.

Nagasawa said he has plans to make Hulu a one-stop-destination for consumers as the company plans to expand its linear streaming service to include transactional video on demand (TVoD) and electronic sell-through.

Speaking about original content production, Hooq which recently released the trailer of its first original co-produced show ‘On The Job’ at ATF, Rajagopalan commented: “We have converted a movie into a TV series and are paying more than what goes into the production of a TV show as with multiple business models existing, content differentiation is the key to success. And that’s where the focus should be.”

Stressing the same fact, Fang added, "While creating our content, we almost feel as if we are buying a building as it costs us around RMB four to five billion! We want to produce more original content but it is difficult.”

When asked by Wanvari what kind of content and partners are the panelists looking for, Ramagopalan said that it all depends on how differentiated the content is. Glashow advised, “Before producing anything, know your audience and then reach out to them. For us, our client is the audience and so we take feedback from them and listen to what they want.” And, Fang revealed that LeTV is keeping an open mindset and is willing to participate with everyone.

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