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Rakuten TV Launches in More Than 30 New Territories as Part of Global Ambitions (EXCLUSIVE)

On-demand service Rakuten TV more than tripled its distribution in Europe in one fell swoop Wednesday, launching in more than 30 new territories, company founder and CEO Jacinto Roca has told Variety. The VOD player has partnered with several major smart-TV manufacturers for the rollouts and is also available over-the-top in the new countries, including the Nordics and large parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

In total, Rakuten TV is now available in more than 40 countries in Europe, including Spain, where it is headquartered, and France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., where it was already available. Roca said it will set up new offices, likely in Sweden and Poland, to service the new countries in which it has launched. The new territories all went live Wednesday after more than a year of planning and preparation.

Rakuten TV originally launched as Wuaki.tv in Spain, and was re-branded after being acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. Roca said the launches are a key step on the path to becoming a “true global alternative” to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Unlike those platforms, it is focused on transaction- rather than subscription-based video-on-demand.

“The first phase was when we were Wuaki, the second when we were acquired by Rakuten and we proved we could be not only a Spanish but also a European service,” Roca said. “I think now is a third stage where we are [on our way to] becoming a truly global service – joining the class that can compete on a global scale. There will be more expansion in the months and years to come.”

The smart-TV collaborations are with Samsung, LG, Philips and Hisense.  Each of them add a branded Rakuten TV button to their remote controls in the same way that Netflix has done with manufacturer partners.

In tune with the smart-TV firms, which are seeking to sell 8K sets, Rakuten wants to bring movies in the ultra-high-definition format to its service. “That’s something we are working on with key manufacturers and content providers, to make movies available in 8K,” Roca said. “It’s a project we are going to try and make a reality in the second half of this year.”

The new European services will look very similar from one territory to the next, but not exactly the same given the country-by-country rights issues. There is a selection of big-ticket movies from the Hollywood studios on each iteration, as well as local fare, as will soon be required by European lawmakers.

The European expansion comes as the on-demand platform also moves deeper into originals, after starting with World War II picture “Hurricane,” starring Iwan Rheon (“Game of Thrones”), and Spanish movie “Alegria Tristeza.” Three to four new original films are coming later this year.

Roca is a strong advocate for day-and-date releases and shorter windows. “We strongly believe customers and also producers will benefit from that, and also the cinema chains and digital players will not suffer damage in terms of their revenues on theatrical,” he said.

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