Contenders looking to break into the top tier of services in the streaming wars can only stay U.S.-only for so long. That’s why HBO Max started rolling out internationally in June. It’s also why Comcast CEO Brian Roberts reportedly recently discussed a potential streaming partnership with ViacomCBS management to help take Peacock international.
But simply replicating a U.S. product for international audiences won’t be enough. To provide some clues on what will help SVODs succeed outside the States, YouGov in late June conducted an international survey on attitudes toward streaming services on behalf of Variety Intelligence Platform, with nearly 19,000 people age 18+ across 17 countries responding.
Below are five takeaways from that survey to shed light on how video streaming services should approach international expansion:
1. Growth in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region should be prioritized.
The pollster found that three of the top five countries (Indonesia, India and China), when ranked by consumer interest in paying for a reasonably priced video streaming service that offers localized content, were in the APAC region. The China data point is more difficult to act on, of course, given the Chinese government’s vise-like grip on what gets seen online (à la its Great Firewall).
Additionally, most of the countries in which YouGov surveyed respondents were APAC or EMEA based, increasing the chances countries from those regions would appear as attractive areas to expand to via the graphic below. But the APAC prioritization point should stand regardless, given India and Indonesia were the second and fourth most populous countries globally as of July 2021, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
2. There should be a healthy balance of localized content and U.S. hits on international versions of video streamers.
Streaming execs should resist the urge to have the international version of their SVODs be overwhelmingly filled with localized content. In particular, consumers from Mexico, the UAE and India see great value in SVODs offering content with famous U.S. actors. Those were the only three countries where the majority of surveyed respondents said streaming services offering content with U.S. stars was “very important” or “somewhat important” to them.
This goes to show the value of streamers like HBO Max having access to large libraries of classics (featuring Hollywood stars) that could easily be advertised on the home screens of international SVODs. It also implies Prime Video will be well positioned to satisfy consumers in territories such as Mexico and the UAE with MGM classics like “Legally Blonde” and “Rocky” if the MGM acquisition is approved.
3. Notable non-English-first countries in Asia and Europe still value English-language content.
While English-speaking territories understandably topped the list of countries where most respondents indicated watching English-language movies and TV shows “very often” or “somewhat often,” a meaningful portion of consumers in places you might not expect, like Indonesia, India, the UAE and Mexico, indicated interested in English-language video content.
The majority of respondents in those four countries, where English is not the primary language, said they watched movies and TV shows that are in English “very often” or “somewhat often,” and that makes sense given Indonesia, India, the UAE and Mexico were the countries where most respondents in YouGov’s survey indicated SVODs offering content with famous U.S. actors was important to them.
4. There’s particularly high demand for new Chinese-language content.
The top two countries, when ranked by percentage of respondents indicating there weren’t enough new TV shows and movies on SVODs in their native language, were Hong Kong and China. Video streamers could expand into Hong Kong directly, as Netflix and Prime Video both launched in Hong Kong in 2016. As for China, companies may still be able to break into the country by licensing certain content to major video streamers in the region like iQiyi.
Netflix licensed some of its originals to iQiyi in 2017, though that partnership had ended by 2019. However, it’s possible that streamers with libraries that are more family-friendly overall (like Disney+) have an easier time breaking into China directly. IQiyi's CEO Tim Gong Yu in 2019 told THR that the streamer’s Netflix deal hadn’t gone as well as anticipated because many Netflix originals couldn’t get past China’s censors.
5. Expectations for uptake of bundles abroad should be tempered.
Many countries are still catching up to the U.S. in terms of SVOD adoption: The U.S. was the country where most respondents surveyed said they paid for four or more video streaming services monthly. This helps explain why Digital TV Research in June projected the U.S. will be the biggest SVOD market globally by revenue in 2021.
But this also suggests execs shouldn’t expect uptake of new bundles of video streaming services in certain international markets like France, Singapore or Poland to be particularly stellar, given just 1% of surveyed respondents in those countries indicated paying for four or more SVODs per month. This suggests that even with localized pricing, bundles won’t necessarily serve as a growth hack for streamers in certain international markets.