High-powered executives from competing streaming video platforms operating in Asia found common ground in the need for content localization.

James Farrell, head of content, Asia-Pacific at Amazon Prime, Janice Lee, MD of PCCW Media Group, Mark Britt, CEO of iflix and Peter Bithos, CEO of HOOQ, were speaking at a panel moderated by former Disney executive Rob Gilby, on the opening day of the Asia TV Forum.

Bithos said that HOOQ currently has 20 local film and TV projects in development. The company did an open call for young talent, received 400 submissions and six pilots were commissioned. PCCW’s Lee said that its Viu platform has 24 local shows in development.

“We went to the creative community when we started and said ‘Go crazy’,” said Britt.

Speaking about the Amazon Prime launch in India, Farrell said: “Where our service was really lacking was in the local premium space. So we went to those content creators.” The result was 18 Amazon Originals commissioned, the first of which, “Inside Edge” launched in July and proved to be an instant success. Similarly, in Japan, Amazon saw a real gap between top comedians and customers and set about filling that gap with Amazon-produced variety shows.

But it isn’t all smooth sailing. While all the 12 Japan Amazon Originals were well-received, Farrell revealed that the documentaries were too expensive a proposition.

“Once you personalize and localize, customer expectations escalate massively,” said Britt.
The mantra is to try everything. The iFlix new programming ranges from boxing matches to K-Pop shows. “Keep learning and keep pushing boundaries,” said Britt.

Bithos said that in some cases writers and directors were stuck in the past, expecting to deliver a two-hour movie with a happy ending at one end, or a low-budget 100-episode series at the other, with nothing in between. “We really had to work on iterations of scripts to make them work,” said Bithos.

While localizing, licensed content continues to be a big part of the programming pie. “Licensed content is a straightforward decision,” says Farrell. “Everybody wants to watch ‘Mission: Impossible’ and Salman Khan movies.”

“There’s a huge amount of content coming out of mainland China, but it requires curation,” said Lee.
There is also a bewildering array of customer data available these days. “The hardest thing about data is predicting future behavior,” says Farrell.

Lee says that the trick to analyzing data is to learn what not to offer rather than the opposite. Meanwhile, “In the larger markets like Indonesia and India, we are still experimenting,” says Lee.

Bithos summed up the scenario best: “We’re trying to learn at a rate of knots.”