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LeTV Bets on Expat Content for Its U.S. Phone Debut

Chinese Internet TV giant LeTV plans to start selling phones in the U.S. later this year, and the company is targeting a niche audience for its Stateside debut.

LeTV will bundle a video streaming service targeting Chinese and Indian expats with the phone, and market the device as “the homeland in your pocket,” said LeTV’s international mobile business general manager, JD Howard, during a recent interview.

“All of our innovation is focused around the user experiencing content on the phone,” Howard said. This does include some of the phone’s hardware, which he described as optimized for video viewing. But it also extend to tweaks to Google’s Android operating system: LeTV’s phone features a “live” button prominently placed on the phone’s home screen, which leads users to an app featuring a variety of live streams.

LeTV initially wants to feature Chinese and Indian content in its live and on-demand libraries, and is also in talks to bring Spanish-language content to the phone. Eventually, the company wants to expand to also offer English-language content, said Howard, but it may use an aggregation model in order to compete with online video heavyweights like Hulu and Netflix without breaking the bank.

LeTV is little known in the U.S. so far, but the company has emerged as one of the biggest forces in the Chinese online video market. Last year, it generated $1.6 billion in revenue with its online video services as well as the sale of its smart TVs. LeTV began to sell its own line of smartphones in China this May, and the company says it was able to sell 200,000 phones within minutes.

However, it’s unclear how well the phone will do in the long run. In China, it is competing against upstart phone maker Xiaomi, which was able to sell more smart phones than any other company in the country last year. In the U.S., it will have to establish itself next to big brands like Apple and Samsung.

Given these challenges, targeting a niche like expats may actually be a smart approach for LeTV. Howard agreed that it will take a while before its company can take on the big guys: “We are on a journey,” he said.

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