Janice Lee, managing director of PCCW Media Group, tells TV Asia about local content investments, growth opportunities and working with advertisers.
Launched in 2015, Viu today boasts 36 million monthly active users across its 17-market footprint in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Backed by Hong Kong-based telco giant PCCW, Viu took a different route than most of its competitors, rolling out at its inception with a dual AVOD and SVOD model—one that many others have followed. Lee is driving the strategy at Viu.
TV ASIA: Tell us about Viu’s growth path over the last few years.
LEE: We’ve reached about 36 million monthly active users. That has grown from about 20 million a year ago. What’s driven that is a combination of in-market penetration as well as new markets. At the same time, we saw within the user base a high pickup in engagement. Within the first half, we saw more than 30 billion video minutes consumed. That’s growing very quickly. At the core of it is Southeast Asia, where we’ve established a leadership position. That’s being driven by the adoption and quick pickup of mobile data usage. It’s also the content that we’re offering, which is a lot of Asian content as well as the addition of Viu originals, which we started about 18 months ago.
TV ASIA: Where do you see the potential for growth ahead?
LEE: We’re in 17 markets. We look at the Middle East as one region, and we’re in eight markets there. Southeast Asia is the growth driver, primarily Thailand and Indonesia. Hong Kong and Singapore are the most sophisticated markets, so the CPMs for advertising as well as sell-through are very strong. While the smaller markets don’t account for as much in terms of monthly active users, they are significant contributors in terms of revenue. Indonesia and Thailand have a lot of headroom for growth. I believe we’re still scratching the surface in markets like Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
TV ASIA: My understanding is that Indonesia has emerged as the real battleground, given the size of the market.
LEE: That is why, apart from the Korean content, which is one of the most popular kinds of Asian programming across the region, we started to go more local about 12 to 18 months ago. We don’t want to be a service that looks foreign and we just make ourselves available in 17 markets. We want to be what local viewers want to watch every day and not only occasionally. So with the Viu originals in Indonesia, we have done Viu Pitching Forums where we work with local producers and writers. We facilitate and develop series or film projects pitched by talented Indonesian filmmakers to experts from the industry. We’re now also working with colleges to do Viu Shorts!, so we’re developing new young talent. We see long-term potential in the market.
TV ASIA: You’ve significantly expanded your originals slate. What have been the key lessons in that journey?
LEE: We have been producing Viu originals in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, the Middle East, etc. We have learned about our users’ behaviors and consumption preferences. For example, in Malaysia, we’re in season two of The Bridge, which is more of an action, thriller type of story, and we announced Keluarga Baha Don, which is a bit of a dark comedy. In Malaysia, action and dark comedies work. In Indonesia, romantic dramas and romantic comedies do well, and some thriller types of stories. We produced a show called Rewrite and it’s one of the most successful originals we’ve done in Indonesia.
TV ASIA: What role do partnerships play in your programming strategy?
LEE: Whether it’s The Bridge or Pretty Little Liars, we are continually seeking out partnerships. Wattpad is another one that we collaborate with for the Philippines. In looking for IP, whether it’s original or licensed, we want great stories that resonate with the local audience, and ones that we feel will translate. When we do a format, let’s say The Bridge, it’s not about translating the script and changing the faces to local talent. We take the backbone and work with writers and the original IP owners so that they understand what parts of the story will resonate with a local audience. We can take one stream of it and maybe develop it a bit more versus taking the entire original story. So the local adaptation is quite important.
TV ASIA: What is the SVOD/AVOD breakdown at Viu?
LEE: We’re about 50-50 right now between SVOD and AVOD revenues. The advertising engine has fired up in the last two years. We were the first ones to decide on this dual revenue stream. The other major players in the market started with SVOD—that seemed to be easy from an operator point of view to understand. We started with a dual revenue stream because we do understand the SVOD model and we knew it would take time for the market to develop. You also want to be able to garner the widest audience. For SVOD, we price anywhere from $1.99 to $4.99, depending on the market. Singapore is closer to $4.99, markets like Indonesia and the Philippines are closer to $1.99. This is Asia—we can’t have one global price. And because we are transparent about our results, since we’re part of a public company, we wanted to be able to monetize faster. We saw AVOD as an opportunity to groom an audience base as well as to monetize while we are grooming the audience base.
TV ASIA: Tell us about your ad offering. How are marketers responding to the Viu offer?
LEE: We work with advertisers in a number of ways. If they come in as part of a Viu original, there is a lot more integrated branding. For example, in Singapore, we did a show called No Sleep No FOMO. That was a format from Dentsu/The Story Lab that we took on and changed into much more premium content, and we have FWD, an insurance company, as our title sponsor. Their theme is all about celebrating life—the energy, excitement and adventure of life. No Sleep No FOMO matched with that very well. We didn’t develop the content for the advertiser, but we found a brand [where the format] resonated with their core values. Apart from just being a title sponsor, there were FWD talent segments in the adventures themselves. And then at the other end of the spectrum, we’re working directly with agencies and advertisers, where they come in to buy premium advertising. We work with a lot of models, whether it’s cost per completed views or cost per click. We also do programmatics, because Viu generates a lot of video views, so we have a lot of inventory. We are a destination for advertisers with video ads.
TV ASIA: How are you using data and analytics in your content decisions?
LEE: We didn’t do Viu originals from the get-go. We didn’t know enough yet about our users. Now, with our data we’re learning a lot about the different markets, what they like to watch. And that does feed into how we greenlight different content. We also use data analytics in terms of onboarding customers. Apart from content costs, customer-acquisition costs are a barrier to being efficient at [growing subscribers]. We look at attribution analysis to see where the high-yield customers come in from. When we look at our high-yield customers, it’s not just someone who pays [a subscription fee]. That’s simple: they pay, you know who they are, you build a predictive model on that. We look at usage. We value engagement. If the customer has your service through a telco bundle, but they don’t use it, we can’t generate advertising from that. We can only generate advertising if they are engaged; if they consume minutes. That gives us the ad inventory. So we look at how to acquire active users and yield from that point of view.
TV ASIA: Do you envision adding live channels to the lineup?
LEE: We’re constantly looking at what’s next. With 36 million users, we can think about what other services we can offer besides content on VOD. With live channels, we may have something to talk about very soon.
TV ASIA: What synergies exist with Now TV?
LEE: Within the media group I run, there’s Viu, Now TV and a free-TV service in Hong Kong called ViuTV. In markets like Hong Kong, having free-TV, pay-TV and OTT services allows us to acquire content for all platforms. Then, with ViuTV, we produce thousands of hours of original Chinese content, and those have appeal in markets like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, so we are also bringing content from Hong Kong to the rest of the world.
TV ASIA: As competition intensifies in the 12 to 18 months ahead, what areas will you be focusing on at Viu?
LEE: We’re not complacent. We’re conscious that others are coming to the market. Hopefully, that also signifies that where we were first, in Southeast Asia, there’s tremendous potential. Global players are taking notice that these are markets that will continue to develop and are sustainable. We’re focusing on how we continue to be a service that the local audience will connect with and not just a service that appeals to the top 3 percent of the population. That goes from how we do our user interface to how we operate. We have country managers and teams that know the local markets. How to promote, what to promote, how to reach out to the local audience can’t be determined by us sitting in Hong Kong; it has to be at a local level. Secondly, how do you decide what content assets to invest in? Ideas are often brought to us by the local teams and greenlit regionally. The local teams are super important. They give us tremendous local insight.