The Asian streaming platform HOOQ has set its sights on delivering 100 originals by Q2 2020, identifying established and up-and-coming talent from across its footprint. But acquired content remains key to the entertainment service, from the best of Hollywood to blockbuster movies in Indonesia and Thailand. In an ultra-competitive landscape in Southeast Asia, HOOQ is looking to cement itself as the number one entertainment service with its free and pay tiers and a bundle of linear channels. Jennifer Batty, the chief content officer at HOOQ, tells TV Asia about her overall programming strategy.
TV ASIA: What kinds of content are resonating with your users, and how does that differ across markets?
BATTY: We’re in Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India. For the four Southeast Asian countries, our goal is to be the number one in local content, including movies, series and original productions. These complement our robust offering of Hollywood content. Local does drive more viewing minutes and consumption for us, but easy-viewing Hollywood content still has a following. The superhero content does incredibly well for us. In those territories, we also have TVOD partnerships where we get the Hollywood movies 90 days after their theatrical release. In a lot of the markets we’re in, the cost to go to the theater is prohibitive. In Indonesia, the average salary is $350 per month. We find that our TVOD proposition is really exciting for our consumers. In India, we are the home of Hollywood. We have some great partnerships in India, among them Airtel and Hotstar, allowing viewers to access HOOQ.
For all of our Hollywood TV series across all of our territories, we push as much as possible to have day and date. Piracy is rampant, so we have to be faster than them. We announced at APOS this year that we are looking into what we call “smart dub.” It’s artificial dubbing, not human dubbing. We can turn it around significantly faster and at a lower cost than if we were using actors’ voices.
TV ASIA: How important is exclusivity? Are you open to window sharing?
BATTY: Exclusivity across OTT is very important to us for local content. We’re OK to partner with free-to-air and pay-TV broadcasters. In our territories, the people who watch linear channels and those who are watching HOOQ are different. If a title airs on a free-to-air channel, we don’t think that cannibalizes the HOOQ viewing. If anything, it helps us because it helps build brand awareness. One of the difficult things in any territory is how you get people to know about your content. For original productions, we look to partner with free-to-air and pay-TV broadcasters [to increase awareness of the shows]. We would not partner with OTT players. It’s about building our brand as an OTT player. The more exposure we can get, the happier we are.
TV ASIA: Does local content travel across the footprint?
BATTY: We see Thai content resonating well with our Indonesian audience. Ideally, whenever we’re acquiring content, we would like it for all of our territories, including India. We also find that there is high consumption of Filipino content in Singapore.
Local movies are important to us. In Indonesia, at the end of 2018 there were less than 2,000 screens. A majority of Indonesian theatrical films come to HOOQ 90 to 100 days after theatrical release. We do stunts and put them onto the AVOD layer and freemium. When you look at a country with 250-million-plus people, and less than 2,000 movie screens, there is a huge population that does not have access to theaters. But everyone has at least one smartphone and the ability to access to HOOQ.
TV ASIA: What kinds of originals are you producing?
BATTY: Series are very important. We have a much deeper original slate in Indonesia than in most of the other countries. We’ve had several series in Indonesia, with different models. We’ve done two seasons of a short-form series, Keluarga Badak (Rhino Family), which came from a YouTube channel. Cek Toko Sebelah the Series is from a very popular existing IP. It was one of the biggest movies in Indonesia and it has performed incredibly well as a movie on HOOQ. We’ve also taken brand-new IPs. We have a crime series in Indonesia, Brata. It stars very popular Indonesian actors. We have a series in development in Thailand based on an urban legend film trilogy. That will be co-produced with a free-to-air broadcaster in Thailand. Our short-form series in the Philippines called Sex Talks with Dr. Holmes is doing fabulous for us. We’ve announced our first HOOQ original theatrical film in Singapore, Wet Season, directed by Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen. Singapore is a market where we’re looking to do more from an original production point of view. It’s exciting for us to have our first partnership be with somebody with the reputation and vision Anthony has.
We have very strong local content teams in every one of our territories. That’s incredibly important because we need to be tuned in to the local production industry, we need to be the first platform that production companies think of when they’re producing a new show.
TV ASIA: How do you use data to inform programming decisions?
BATTY: We use data as one of many tools to acquire content. We compare things that might be similar and look at how that content has performed on HOOQ from the perspective of viewing minutes and engagement. We look at the behavior when a viewer comes in to watch a specific show. Does it drive them to consume other content? With our original productions, we look at how the content is being consumed—if they are binge-watching every episode, watching three episodes or one episode. We can dig into what people like about the show and what they don’t like. We also use data in determining how we curate the app. What content goes next to each other to increase engagement? What drives people to consume other content? What posters work?
We also use data when we look at how we launch content. Everyone thinks OTT is about binge-watching. OTT is really about giving consumers the ability to watch the content when they want and where they want. So for a large number of our originals, we’ll launch one, two or three episodes at first and then roll them out weekly. That’s so we can build the brand up. We want people coming back to HOOQ every couple of days, multiple times a week. We look at dropping enough at the beginning, so you get hooked and then you’re promoting people to come back for the next episode on Wednesday night. That helps us in growing the audience.