Authors, Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen and Geogy Ross
Please give us a quick overview of Viu.
Viu is a leading pan-regional over-the-top (OTT) video streaming service operated by PCCW Media Group. It is available in 16 markets including: Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar in Asia; Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Middle East; as well as South Africa.
Operating with both an ad-supported tier and a premium subscription tier, Viu delivers premium content in different genres from top content providers with local language subtitles, as well as original production series under the “Viu Original” initiative. The service can be accessed via the Viu app (available for free on App Store and Google Play) on connected devices, e.g. smartphones and tablets, selected smart TVs, as well as on the web by logging into Viu.
Viu is a leader in the Subscription Video-On-Demand (SVOD) market. Since entering the Malaysian market in 2016, we’ve now got 41.4 million monthly active users (MAU) across 16 markets – a 35% increase in 2019. A recent report by Media Partners Asia (MPA) ranked Viu number one, by number of viewers, among all major video streaming platforms (excluding YouTube) in Southeast Asia in Q1 2020. MPA also ranks Viu number two by streaming minutes in Southeast Asia among all major streaming platforms.
Kingsley, your knowledge and experience in the media and digital industries is impressive. And right now, we are slowly transitioning to a more digital side of everything especially with the COVID-19 situation. How do you and VIU ensure to continuously stay creative and innovative?
We have always been a brand that listens to the audience in each market, understands the trends and adapts based on current time and trends. That’s ultimately what has led to Viu becoming a leader in the Subscription Video-On-Demand (SVOD) market.
For us at Viu, it’s all about content and that is what our consumers are looking for when it comes to staying creative and fresh. Viu started off as the go-to platform for the freshest Korean content and has taken a leadership role in offering broader Asian content, shows and movies from Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Japan and many more through rich partnerships with local broadcasting networks.
Recently we announced our partnership with Thai broadcaster, GMM, which has brought in over 400 hours of Thai content, growing the depth of our content offering for our audience. In an effort to continually grow our regional content library, we partner with a large network of broadcasters from all across the region to acquire the latest and freshest content for our Viu’ers, with some made available at the same time as the release in the origin country.
We have a strong affiliation with our partners which plays a significant role in Viu acquiring the latest content ahead of other players. A recent example was South Korean series, A World of Married Couple, which was exclusive to Viu before it was available on other players’ platforms. It was a huge success for us and our Viu’ers.
On top of providing the latest content from across the region, we pride ourselves on localisation and creating new and relevant content. Across the region, Viu creates original content featuring local casts and productions winning over local audiences. This has culminated in the release of seven award winning Original Malaysian shows. Our first ever award winning Malaysian original series, Keluarga Baha Don, picked up the 2019 Asian Academy Creative Award for Best Comedy Programme in both the regional and final rounds. Not only that, lead actress Jihan Musa, was also awarded Best Comedy Performance for her role as Kesuma in Viu’s Original Series, Keluarga Baha Don at the 2019 Asian Academy Creative Award.
The Viu Original series as a brand not only consist of unique and original plots developed by local creatives but we have also done a few Asian adaptations of popular international formats, including Endemol Shine Group’s The Bridge, CJ E&M’s Black and the latest addition, Warner Brothers’ Pretty Little Liars. All of this is a powerful mix of appeal at the local consumer level as it provides regional and local storylines that drive engagement and as such has placed Viu in a position as a leading regional Video OTT player in Southeast Asia.
With your understanding of the digital video market industry in Malaysia, what would you say is the most challenging and rewarding experience for you?
Piracy is an issue, no doubt, for any content owner or IP owner, regardless of whether you’re an incumbent pay TV business or an OTT business. The good news is we have a freemium business model so this is also an advantage as consumers can still watch content for free with Ads instead of having to go to piracy sites. In fact, we often beat the pirates when it comes to fast tracking localisation; we can have turnarounds in less than eight hours and in big volumes.
The most rewarding part of the job is when the audience enjoys the content you offer, especially when it’s a local content that was developed in partnership with a network of talented producers, directors, actors and actresses, and production crews locally in each market. With our Viu Originals, we aim to produce local Malaysian content with high production values and same quality as that of international shows. We look to provide uniquely new content by having a fresh take on genres that are uncommonly explored. We tell compelling stories with local context that strongly resonate. By doing this, we’re also able to support the growth of the local creative ecosystem as Viu provides a platform for regional exposure.
In addition to receiving regional and international recognition, we also receive support from partners such as HBO who will go live with our new The Bridge 2 Series in June across 24 countries in Asia. We also enjoy working with local partners to create consumer offerings that are exclusive to Viu. This all reinforces that Viu and the local team are on the right path.
How is VIU playing its role in amplifying its brand and strategically providing consumers with the engagement that they desire in today’s competitive landscape?
We leverage data analytics to acquire in-depth insights into the taste and preferences of users, acquire rich information on the genre of content a viewer consumes, at what time of the day and on what device. With this information, we then retarget these audiences with the suitable ads and content.
With localisation at the heart of what we do, we are not only providing viewers with the latest content, but we are also understanding the types of content that our target audience would best relate to and curate content that will resonate with them from an emotional and creative aspect. Our Viu Originals have set us apart from the other players, as we stepped outside of the box to offer interesting, entertaining and relatable content to our viewers.
With the SVOD service being the key driver of the business, Viu has successfully mastered providing value to users through the latest quality content we offer. We strategically invest in the development of quality local content as well as the freshest and latest regional content, after analysing our consumers interest and consumption patterns. We’ve seen a 69% growth in video views across all markets bringing it to 5.7 billion year-over-year.
It is hard to talk with someone now, without touching on the current global pandemic. How have things changed for VIU?
We also pay close attention to the needs and wants of the audience in each market based on current happenings. That’s why for our latest Viu Original, Pretty Little Liars, we released all 10 episodes in one-go to allow our Viu-ers to enjoy the show while they’re staying home during this period.
According to a report published by Media Partners Asia (MPA), Viu is one of the two platforms driving the premium demand in SEA markets. We’ve seen a significant growth in the industry as more consumers turn to OTT platforms for entertainment during the lockdown period. Just during this period, Viu has seen a 274% growth in average weekly minutes, as highlighted in MPA’s report.
Where do you see VIU five years down the road, Kingsley?
We expect and hope to see our Malaysian Original series continuing to receive recognition, as well as gaining popularity in different markets along with more award-winning Viu Originals. Our Viu Originals are a key focus for us as we understand the importance and the demand for local and relatable content with the same quality and production values of international shows.
In five years and if not sooner, we would like to continue the traction we have seen in the last few years and grow that substantially when it comes to local production. We want Viu to continue to be seen as a leader in terms of creativity and great storytelling with production values that cross borders easily. We are already well on the way to this and importantly have the support of the regional teams as well to make this a success.
Post-COVID, do you think there will be any shifts in the way business is run in the media industry?
For the media industry, it’s created both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, social distancing has contributed to a significant increase in at-home media consumption, At the same time, some of the most valuable broadcast content – such as live sports – are being postponed or cancelled, leading to spending reallocations by advertisers and a subsequent drop in income for media companies. Many advertisers have reallocated their advertising budgets, invested more in digital and online advertising, as that’s where people are, in this time and day.
If there is one piece of advice you can give an aspiring media and tech executive, what will it be?
Learn from mistakes, not everything is a one fits all approach, and working in a mixed culture environment can only add to the rich tapestry of content creation and viewing. For me, Malaysia has taught me all of these and Viu has enabled the team and myself to drive towards success every day.