When programmed TV is obsolete, Viu wants to be there for you

by NG MIN SHEN

GONE were the days when people arranged their schedules around television (TV) programming in order to catch the show of their choice.

The rise of the Internet, along with the proliferation of scarily intelligent mobile devices — particularly smartphones — have paved the way for video on demand (VOD) services that allow users to watch content anytime and anywhere on various gadgets.

One such offering is Viu, a panregional mobile VOD service, held by Hong Kong-based Pacific Century CyberWorks Ltd (PCCW) that caters mainly to emerging markets.

It made its Malaysian debut in February last year through a strategic partnership with Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) and is now offered as a “freemium” service whereby users can access certain content for free or choose to pay for ad-free viewing, as well as additional premium content.

The company also has billing partnerships with Maxis Bhd, DiGi.Com Bhd and U Mobile Sdn Bhd, and is in the final stages of tying up with Celcom Axiata Bhd.

On the licensing side, it has a content partnership with Media Prima Bhd. Viu’s content is available via the Viu smartphone app, as well as its website for desktop viewing.

According to Viu Malaysia GM Kingsley Warner, the service registered a 50% growth over the first four months of 2017 across its 11 countries, of which Malaysia is pinpointed as a key driving market for PCCW.

The media conglomerate has set a target of having 10 million Viu subscribers by year-end. For the quarter to date, it has six million subscribers across the board.

“In Malaysia, we’re getting very strong growth organically, as well as across all our partnerships,” Warner told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent interview, noting that VOD usage growth has thus far been underpinned by changing consumer behaviour and high levels of connectivity.

“Consumer behaviour in Malaysia is like any developed country, where youth audiences are looking to engage with content either on the go or on a device not tied to a TV.

“They’re not sitting with mum and dad at night watching TV…they’re watching on their smartphone or tablet or personal computer wherever they are,” Warner said.

Some 80% of Viu viewership is scored via smartphone app (available on the Google Play Store and iTunes), which indicates healthy growth in mobile penetration across the country.

Constant efforts by Internet service providers (ISPs) including telcos, to cater to all levels of consumer value, be it low-, midor high-average revenue per unit homes or people on the street have helped to grow the customer base for online content access.

At the same time, high levels of pay-TV penetration rates have birthed a habit of paying for content.

Coupled with increasingly wide connectivity available through a myriad of data plans and bundles, this makes for a highly viable content market at the consumer level.

Although such content can also be obtained for free via pirated means, Warner maintains that there are segments of audiences (including youth audiences — Viu’s main targeted

demographic) that are willing to pay for their shows.

“The engagement for us has been growing month on month. Piracy is the biggest friction point in terms of youth audiences, but there’s a large amount of them prepared to pay for content.

“If they find that the service is of value, they’ll always come back,” he said.

Apart from websites offering pirated content, Viu’s competitors are in the form of other video streaming providers such as iflix and US-based Netflix.

Viu’s appeal lies in its focus on providing localised content catered specifically for Asian audiences, broken down further by each separate country.

For Malaysia, like many other Asian countries, Viu’s largest driver is its Korean content, followed by Malay shows and interestingly, content from Indonesia as well.

“We don’t really cater for English content — that’s the difference between us and our competitors. In Malaysia, Korean content is the biggest driver. I’d say we deliver shows within eight hours of airtime to our users, complete with English, Chinese and Malay subtitles.

“So our value proposition to the consumer is ahead of the pirates in terms of content access with subtitles, in a single destination,” Warner said.

Urban areas, especially the Klang Valley, are the company’s largest engagement spot, while growth is also foreseen in East Malaysia.

“We have a very strong following in Sarawak and we see huge opportunity there, given the content mix and diversity of ethnicities.

“A lot of consumers don’t have the ability to watch premium products inside the home, so they want content that they can access anytime on the run,” Warner explained.

The company commercialises its content through subscriptions garnered via partnerships with telcos and ISPs like TM, as well as through advertisers.

“We’re open to discussion with potential partners, as long as the revenue on the commercial considerations of the business tie in to our overall philosophy,” Warner said, adding that Viu has an edge over larger media companies in its ability to move quickly with the times.

“We have a lot of freedom when looking ahead, we’re very nimble in our approach to changing commercial relationships or structures or consumer offerings.

“For bigger businesses, they’re like a very big ship — they can’t move so quickly,” the former Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd executive said.

Similar over-the-top (OTT) services have been mushrooming within the domestic space in recent years.

Being a localised content provider, one of Viu’s notable competitors looks to be Astro, the nation’s oldest pay-TV operator, which earlier this year rolled out NJOI Now, a video streaming service that offers both free and paid content.

“Competition breeds positivity across all areas. If Astro is looking at the OTT space, they obviously see the value of what we see, and we take that as complimentary,” Warner said.

With more brands offering video streaming at affordable prices on mobile devices, the advantages are present for all parties.

OTT brands have the space to expand on their offerings and work with telcos and ISPs to bundle data, while consumers have more options to choose from for their viewing pleasure.

On Astro’s regional content offerings, Warner said Viu sees Astro as an incumbent in the industry, a traditional brick-and-mortar TV business.

“Youth audiences are fragmented, not relying on content in the home. Whether Astro can convince them that their OTT service is for them is entirely up to Astro,” he said.

However, he believes TV will still be around as it continues to command viewership for live events such as news and sports, and for locally produced content such as shows made by Media Prima and Astro.

“TV will always serve a purpose for these key areas. Whether it’s going to continue as the dominant channel it’s been over the last 20 to 30 years, that’s yet to be proven wrong or right.

“What we have seen in certain markets is that Internet viewing or content viewing on devices other than TV is now starting to eat into TV viewing, in places like the US,” Warner said.