Ganesh Rajaram

Feature

Digital love: Cupid's streaming bow strikes content distributors in Asia

Asia is in streaming overdrive. And content owners and rights holders couldn’t be more in love with the slew of new and existing platforms driving growth.

Programme distributors from across the genre spectrum say the difference the over-the-top (OTT) boom is making to their businesses in Asia is significant.

And the deals they are doing back up their claims. 

FremantleMedia International's Singapore-based regional office said during the Mip TV market in Cannes in early April that has sold more than 1,000 hours of content to three SVOD platforms across Asia. The three are Malaysia-based Southeast Asian platform iflix, which bought over 400 hours, including“Merlin”, “Blue” and British comedy “The IT Crowd”; Doonee Thailand, which picked up almost 300 hours; and iQiyi Taiwan, which bought about 350 hours. 

BBC Worldwide's Singapore-based regional office said in the same week that Chinese online platform Tencent had acquired more than 1,000 hours of factual programming for its video platforms. Acquisitions include “Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild”, “Rick Stein’s Taste of Shanghai” and "The Mekong River with Sue Perkins”.

“This fast-growing sector of the market has been a total game changer,” says Ganesh Rajaram, FremantleMedia International’s Singapore-based regional executive vice president, sales and distribution.

“Not only have they provided us with new business opportunities, but are also getting our shows in front of even more audiences across Asia,” Rajaram says.

High volume deals, many of which started with Chinese online platforms, are spreading to other parts of the region.

“In recent years, one of our highest volume multi-year agreements was with Youku in China, and we’re currently in negotiations for similar high volume deals with other SVOD players across the region,” Rajaram adds.

Sabrina Duguet, all3media International’s executive vice president for Asia Pacific, echoes the explosion in opportunities for content.

“Firstly, the streaming platforms give us the ability to negotiate windowing and therefore maximise the exposure and revenue of our programmes,” she says.

“Secondly, the increased number of potential platform gives us chance to place programmes that perhaps wouldn’t have found a home on standard TV,” Duguet adds.

This is particularly welcome, given the substantial rise in local production/ content in Asia in the past few years.

The trend had been squeezing acquired international content off schedules in Asia.

“Overall I believe [streaming platforms] have created a healthy competition, encouraging the channels to review their acquisition strategies,” Duguet says.

Channel operators – particularly those who own their own content – are working with long-standing traditional pay-TV carriage partners to compliment linear services with streaming options.

Companies such as Studiocanal say competition among buyers for premium drama is fierce.

“High quality, event drama with well-known talent and creators has never been more in demand,” says Studiocanal’s executive vice president, sales and marketing, Katrina Neylon.

Today’s acquisitions boom is likely to be followed by a shift into original production as streaming platforms built their subscriber bases, says Keshet International Asia’s head, Gary Pudney.

Pudney adds that although streaming platforms have risen quickly, their “substantial presence is already being felt as an essential part of our business”.

“We now have discussions and negotiations with streaming platforms as a matter of course, hand in hand with more traditional broadcasters,” he says.

The same goes for Caracol Internacional, which has in the past partnered with players such as Viki and VuClip for Asia.

“Digital platforms have impacted significantly our content distribution worldwide,” says Maria Estrella, Caracol Internacional’s Asia sales executive.

“Nowadays, digital platforms have become a crucial way of media consump tion,” she says, adding that Caracol Internacional has always considered digital platforms an important tool for its expansion plans.

Some programmers that own enough of their own content are taking the plunge with direct-to-consumer streaming services. Others are supporting traditional pay-TV platforms as they compliment linear services with streaming on-demand options.

Canadian-born global natural history brand, Love Nature, recently launched its direct-to-consumer SVOD platform, Love Nature 4K, in 32 countries, including Hong Kong. The service is available in 4K on Amazon Fire TV, Nexus Player, Philips Smart TV, Roku streaming players,  Roku TV models, Apple TV and Sony Android TV and in HD on Xbox 360.

4K is a key differentiator, said Jo Parkinson, Love Nature International’s managing director, Asia, which leads the push into 4K, “is a key growth area for us given the fact that platforms in the region are leading the way in terms of supporting 4K,” she adds.

“The demand for SVOD rights continues to grow across the region and Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are leading the pack in terms of UHD capacity.

"Nothing looks more spectacular in 4K than natural history content and our new Love Nature SVOD service will allow us to meet the growing demand for high quality, 4K content in this category,” she says.

Scripps Networks Interactive, which operates four linear channels in Asia, is rolling out streaming options in partnership with existing pay-TV platform partners, says Leena Singarajah, head of ad sales and distribution for Scripps Networks Interactive, Asia Pacific.

“We are working closely with our affiliate partners to use our content to help them create more robust streaming platforms as a compliment to their linear offering,” she says.

At the same time, Singarajah is carefully monitoring demand for lifestyle programming from the current streaming drivers – movies, TV series and kids.

“Streaming platforms are a growing market,” she says, adding: “As the need for video streaming grows, so do the numbers of options to service that need”.

Distributors say they are not only moving more product as a result of the streaming boom, they were also reshaping the way they dod business.

German programmer Deutsche Welle has followed the healthy growth in sales to digital platforms with internal upgrades.

“We had to evolve our internal structures so we can deal with data that comes through,” says Deutsche Welle’s Asia representative, Mee Fung Lee, adding: “It is all good… we welcome the change”.

A version of this article appeared in the 4 April 2016 edition of ContentAsia's eNewsletter.