“Almost every assumption about subscription video on demand that is based on Western metaphors has failed in developing markets,” says Mark Britt, co-founder and CEO of Asia-based streaming video group iflix. “If we are beating our competitors it is because we are learning those lessons quicker than others.”
The company was launched two years ago from a base in Malaysia and has recently expanded operations to 24 countries and territories, including many in Africa and the Middle East. It pitches itself as “the world’s leading entertainment service for emerging markets.”
This week iflix went some way to justifying that claim by winning tech consultancy Frost & Sullivan’s accolade as Asia-Pacific Video on Demand Company of the Year for the second year in a row. Frost and Sullivan says it scores the company on metrics including expansion into new country markets, service growth, ARPU, viewership, degree of product and service Innovation and the reduction of customer acquisition cost.
Statistical data to back up that analysis, however, is hard to come by. Operators have generally been reluctant to disclose much publicly. Aside from the usual unwillingness to provide information that may help a competitor, part of the reason for the lack of metrics are the different market landscapes and patterns of consumer behavior. Britt likens SVoD in emerging markets to “a knife fight.”
“Many consumers don’t have bank accounts, access to credit, or IDs. There is often no history of subscription,” he says. That means video films must work closely with mobile telecoms firms. And while cashless payment services are emerging in East Asia, and are booming in China, in Africa, only Kenya has an effective cashless system (M-PESA).
Yet Britt says there is reason to be optimistic. “The core human need to be entertained is universal. And we are finding that people’s propensity to pay is constantly surprising us on the upside.”
Britt says that iflix currently has some 6.5 million active paying subscriptions. Of those the majority are in Asia, roughly 500,000 are in the Middle East, and just last week it signed its first subscriber in Nigeria. Iflix users are binge viewers, with per visit duration typically 105-150 minutes, and peak viewing time (astonishingly) between 10pm and 2am. “We are doing everything to encourage binge watching,” says Britt.
That includes the inevitable move upstream into originl production. The company has recently started airing its first Filipino original series, recently struck a co-production deal in Indonesia with Wicky Olindo’s Screenplay Films, and unveiled its first Arabic original “Tough Luck.”
Britt will be taking part on Tuesday (Nov. 28) at a seminar that pitches him alongside Amazon’s APAC head of content James Farrell, PCCW Media’s CEO Janice Lee, and Hooq CEO Peter Bithos. The session is part of the Singapore Media Festival’s Leaders Summit.