Viu recently announced impressive growth numbers for H1 2021, especially in Southeast Asia. BroadcastPro ME caught up with Rohit D’silva, Chief Business Officer for Middle East and South Africa, to get a deeper insight into the online video streaming service’s strategy.
Can you share details about your half-yearly results?
Our H1 (January-June) 2021 results were really encouraging. We crossed 7m paid subscribers across Viu’s markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Africa, and 49.4m monthly active users (MAUs), with 6m MAUs coming from the Middle East.
Allow me to provide some more context. The Viu online video streaming service launched in 2015 in several Southeast Asia markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and is a leader on multiple fronts in these markets. Viu launched in the Middle East in mid-2018 and in South Africa in 2019. Our focus of the company has been to build out the Viu proposition, which is AVOD + SVOD (free + pay), market by market. On that journey, we have been very focused on producing as much local content as possible.
Over the past three years since 2018 and a gap in 2020 because of Covid-19, we have produced more than 25 Viu Arabic original series. By the end of this year, we will have crossed 30 Arabic Viu original series. One of the earlier originals we produced, a show called Zodiac, remains popular. This year for Ramadan, we had nine Viu originals. This is the second year in Ramadan that we had a slate of original series. That is one of the things we continue to build on – producing more original content in the region. We have produced shows in Egypt, which is an important market for us both from a production standpoint as well as bringing in large numbers of users, and of course Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Our model is a combination of AVOD and SVOD. From the Middle East viewer’s perspective, they have been accustomed to seeing very high-quality content on free-to-air satellite. While viewers may have the ability to pay for content, many of them haven’t felt the desire to, nor have they been used to doing so as a habit. When you translate that into the online video streaming world, I think the Viu model suits the Middle East market really well because we are able to bring in users into the free layer. This gels well with the Middle East content consumption story so far. We then work on converting these users to paid subscribers.
We are deploying multiple strategies in the Middle East to make that happen. This is something Viu has been mastering over the years across all our markets. In this framework, we think that giving the consumer the choice of a daily price and a monthly price makes a lot of sense. OTT users want products that are easy to use, easy to enter or buy into, and easy to exit. If you think of the profile of a typical user, they are mobile-centric, want to be able to control everything that they do instantaneously, and want to be able to make that choice all the time.
What’s your pricing like?
Our pricing varies according to different markets in MENA. In Egypt, for instance, our monthly price is $2 and our daily price is 13 cents. That is keeping in mind the user’s ability to pay. We give people the choice to come in on a daily price. For the GCC, the daily price is 55 cents while the monthly price is $5.
So we’re talking about micro-transactions?
Yes, if one counts daily subscription as a micro-transaction. We envisage the entire payment ecosystem to continue to rapidly evolve in the Middle East, driven by fintech, e-commerce and telcos. Viu has very strong credentials when it comes to working with telcos. In fact, our parent company, PCCW Group, owns and operates a telco in Hong Kong. We have partnerships with more than 14 telcos in the region and see this as a strong foundation upon which we can build further.
You are ahead of Netflix in certain parameters, though not revenue, is that right?
We were ahead of Netflix in Southeast Asia at the end of H1 2021 on paid subscribers and monthly users. For the same markets and same period, Netflix is bigger, and I think the market leader in terms of revenue. Netflix has a higher ARPU, which helps a lot to drive overall revenue. We are different. Netflix is different. Both are great consumer propositions.
In Southeast Asia, Viu has scored very well because of our early investment in Korean content, which is the second most popular content in these markets after local content, and in some cases has been the most popular content in the market. The viewership base for Korean content is very large; I would say it’s mass consumption in these markets, plus people are willing to pay some amount of money for it.
On a related note, we believe it’s very important to pick your lane and be very good at what you do. Online streaming video is an extremely competitive space which requires a huge number of sustained investments. So, the model we have, which is anchored around getting free users to come in as well as
providing flexible ways for users to subscribe to paid subscription payment options and two packages in SVOD – daily and monthly. We are not a big fan of offering additional bundles “at $2 more”.
Why do you not believe in offering additional bundles?
In the online video streaming space, we believe that it’s important to offer users a simple easy-to-buy and easy-to-exit product, and an easy-to-understand value proposition. Additional bundles sound a lot like traditional pay-TV. We don’t think we are best suited to scale an additional bundles proposition. From how we see the Middle East online streaming video market evolving, we feel we are better off focusing on scaling the Viu proposition through our AVOD plus SVOD model, and within SVOD, offering daily as well as monthly pricing.
Where are your tech teams based?
Most members of our technology team are based in Hong Kong and India. We also have some technology and product team members across each of our markets.
Could you elaborate on your production work in Egypt and your model of working?
From a production standpoint, we do have a small production team. But like most other global players, we work with production companies who serve as our line producers or co-producers. We prefer to kind of dovetail into the ecosystem and play a meaningful role in it, rather than trying to change it.
What is your specific challenge?
I think it is finding that sweet spot in terms of what type of content will work best for us over time. There are lots of amazing stories from which one can create different types of content, both scripted and unscripted. We need to find the right mix that will align with our business model. We would also like to successfully expand our productions to originate in more markets across the region. If you think about demand and supply, the demand for content has gone up. On the supply side – the actors, DOPs and talent – scaling up in these areas is still a work in progress for the ecosystem as a whole.
Is piracy an issue for Viu? How have you tried to address it?
It is a huge problem. We’ve been dealing with piracy for a long time across all our markets. We continue to fine tune what works internally with our anti-piracy teams, who work on taking down sites and looking at ways in which we can improve the content encryption that we use on our platform. Collaboration among stakeholders is critical. In Singapore, for instance, stakeholders worked with the government on framing a site-blocking law to combat piracy and worked with the government to crack down on illegal set-top boxes. The outcomes were meaningful in Singapore, because the stakeholders spent a lot of management time and money on execution aspects as well as creating awareness among the public. Everyone carried the same ad about piracy on their platforms. Combating piracy with even an iota of impact can’t be achieved in an ad-hoc manner or if the key players do their own thing. Everyone needs to come together and work together, since we all lose audience and dollars to piracy every second.
How will the AVOD/SVOD model give you a better shot at gaining subscribers and revenue?
From an advertising point of view, a lot of the revenue is moving towards digital platforms. Covid-19 has accelerated the consumption of digital services across the board. We benefited from increased content consumption and people getting used to digital payment methods, so the whole move to a more digital economy naturally helped the online video streaming business. The shift in advertising more towards digital advertising has impacted premium online video, but not at scale just yet. However, we foresee significant growth in Q4 of this year and in 2022.
Having said that, Egypt has already shown impressive growth this year. As more and more advertising budgets move onto digital, our AVOD + SVOD solution fits in nicely as an alternative for advertisers. When people look at digital solutions, there is obviously YouTube and Facebook which take the lion’s share. But when it comes to premium online video, which is curated, brand-safe and gives you some of the elements of TV, such as higher engagement, we see an opportunity with our AVOD offering. As the whole digital economy gains more traction from a payments point of view, we will also be able to capture some of the market in terms of subscriptions for our SVOD model.