No Country for Netflix

OTT video on-demand in Southeast Asia is dominated by regional players. 

The over-the-top (OTT) video streaming industry has been booming ever since Netflix burst into the scene, completely transforming how viewers worldwide get their daily dose of drama. It’s referred to as over-the-top because it represents a way for content creators to reach users directly via the Internet, without passing through traditional media routes such as cable networks.

Netflix is the frontrunner in this industry so far, although new, competing services are threatening to shake the company’s foundations. 2016 was a watershed moment for Netflix, with the company’s revenues doubling or tripling on an annual basis thereafter.

Since then, Netflix has been aggressively expanding into new markets. Between 2019 and 2020, only one out of every six new subscribers added to the platform came from North America, the company’s home country.

Of its international subscribers, the Asia Pacific region represents the smallest pool, and consequently, the biggest untapped market potential. One of the reason for this is the stiff competition the streaming giant has faced from regional players, especially those in Southeast Asia.

2020 has already been a year of big developments for these players. For starters, Chinese Internet conglomerate Tencent swooped in to acquire ailing Malaysian streaming service Iflix. Iflix has 25 million subscribers across Southeast Asia, according to the company.

Moreover, Tencent is reportedly in talks with Baidu-owned streaming platform iQIYI for a merger. If the supposed deal comes through, it could potentially create a company even bigger than Netflix.

Singapore-based HOOQ, another pan-Asian OTT platform, was also acquired by South Korean ecommerce company Coupang this year. While Coupang took over its assets, HOOQ was liquidated and its website notes that the platform is no longer available as of 30 April, 2020.

In terms of time spent on online television and streaming services, half of the top ten countries spending the most time daily on these platforms are from the Asia Pacific region. Of these, four (Thailand, China, the Philippines and Vietnam) are Southeast Asian countries.

The battle for subscribers in the region might turn out to be a nail-biting business drama, in part due to the sheer number of regional platforms, many of which are backed by powerful corporations. Here is a list of platforms by region that are driving this trend in Southeast Asia.

1. Tencent Video / WeTV (China)

Chinese Internet conglomerate Tencent launched its OTT video streaming platform Tencent Video in China, with the international version of the platform known as WeTV overseas. As of 2019, Tencent Video had over 900 million monthly mobile users.

Though WeTV has reportedly failed to make a splash, Tencent’s acquisition of Iflix may be its second chance.

2. iQIYI (China)

Baidu-owned video on-demand iQIYI, which went public in 2018, touched 100 million subscribers in 2019. Earlier last month, iQIYI made a strategic hire by bringing on Netflix’s public authorities liaison for Asia Pacific Kuek Yu-Chuang as its VP of International Business.

The platform landed in hot water earlier this year, however, when it was accused of inflating its number of users and revenues.

3. Youku (China)

Another Chinese giant-backed platform, Youku was acquired by Alibaba in 2015, followed by a delisting. Initially touted as the Chinese version of YouTube, the platform eventually moved to video streaming for better prospects in an increasingly competitive atmosphere.

It currently ranks as China’s third biggest OTT platform, after Tencent Video and iQIYI.

4. Viu (Regional)

Hong Kong-based Viu is a pan-Asian OTT video streaming service owned by Hong Kong’s PCCW Media Limited. The platform offers regional content to 40 million users across 16 markets, spanning Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Africa.

While Tencent Video, iQIYI and Youku have seen success in China, Viu takes the lead when it comes to regional OTT in Southeast Asia, with 41 monthly active users.

5. Fim+ (Vietnam)

Owned by Vietnamese media company Galaxy Media & Entertainment Group, Fim+ was launched in 2016 as the country’s first video on-demand app. According to its CEO Truong Nguyen Thu Ha, Fim+ has been growing by a massive 250% per annum.

With both local and international titles on the platform, Fim+ has only a “few million” premium subscribers, but Ha believes it has huge opportunity in a massively untapped local market.

6. KKTV (Taiwan)

KKTV is a Taiwanese on-demand streaming platform that offers titles in Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Japanese. The platform was launched in 2016 by Taiwanese music streaming platform KKBOX Group.

Registered visitors on the platform saw a record peak of 190% in the second week of April, in part due to lockdown measures and in part due to a clampdown on piracy.

7. GoPlay (Indonesia)

Launched in 2019, GoPlay is backed by Southeast Asian superapp and unicorn startup GO-JEK. The app-only platform offers locally produced films and television shows for the Indonesian audience, and raised an independent round of financing for an undisclosed amount earlier in June this year.

8. Watcha Play (Korea)

Watcha Play is a Korean OTT video streaming platform founded in 2011 as a movie review site. In 2016, the company launched its streaming platform WatchaPlay, hitting 900,000 subscribers till date with over 5.7 million downloads.

With a $16 million Series D round in July this year, the company aims to move into the Southeast Asian market, starting with Japan, and plans to go public in 2021.

9. LINE TV (Thailand)

LINE TV is the video streaming arm of communications company LINE Thailand. The platform recently partnered with Netflix to launch eight original Thai titles across 18 Asian countries, including South Korea, Nepal, Brunei, Philippines, Bhutan, Mongolia, Maldives, Macau, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

10. iWant (Philippines)

iWant is a Filipino video on-demand streaming platform owned by Manila-based media and entertainment corporation ABS-CBN, and streams a number of the group’s shows on the iWant platform, in addition to original content, sports, news and documentaries.

iWant also streams the daily mass on its platform, targeted at its majority Christian population.

11, Toggle/meWatch (Singapore)

meWatch is a Singapore-based OTT platform owned by Mediacorp, and previously known as Toggle until January 2020 when it was rebranded as meWatch. Prior to HOOQ’s acquisition, meWatch also struck a deal with the platform to stream their original content.

meWatch streams both local and original content, as well as international shows, such as Indian movies or shows, or content from its partners such as HBO.

12. Tonton (Malaysia)

Tonton is an OTT video on-demand platform owned by Malaysian media and entertainment group Media Prima Berhad. As of 2018, the platform had eight million users onboard and is also available in Brunei and Singapore.

During the movement control order in Malaysia, Tonton saw the highest growth in traffic on the platform, beating the likes of Netflix, Iflix and Viu.

13. Genflix (Indonesia)

Genflix is an OTT video streaming platform that is reportedly Indonesia’s first such service. While the platform does not host a lot of popular films, according to one reviewer, it does have some unique content buckets such as Javanese shows and Esports.

14. Vidfish (Singapore)

A Singapore-based video on-demand platform for Chinese content, Vidfish is a relatively new entrant in this space, having been officially launched in 2018 following a soft launch.

Aiming to provide access to Chinese entertainment, Vidfish is available in 190 countries and has 150,000 users registered on its app.

These platforms may all use a combination of offerings rather than one single kind. For instance, they may stream both original content, as well as partner-sourced shows (such as meWatch), in addition to acquiring streaming rights for other films, shows, or even anime.

Moreover, they may provide the platform to a local audience, or branch out in a region, such as Southeast Asia, or may even provide regional content across the world, such as American video streaming platform Viki, which is based in California but streams Asian content worldwide.

Even in the digital sphere, showbiz is a costly affair. Having to combine these many factors means that streaming platforms must be ready to shell out big bucks to keep their audience hooked.

But perhaps their head start in the region can give these local platforms the advantage they need, in a crowded industry, for their show to go on.

Header image by stockking on Freepik

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