After four years of being part of the core team that launched the OTT platform iflix, first in Asia and then in emerging markets across the Middle East and Africa, James Bridges embarked on a brand-new challenge with iwonder. Unveiled at the APOS Summit in Bali in April 2018, the documentary and current-affairs content platform went live as a branded destination across the iflix footprint last summer and then launched on TVNZ’s on-demand offering in New Zealand in December. Earlier this year, a direct-to-consumer SVOD proposition rolled out in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, with further expansion on the planner.
In the increasingly competitive factual SVOD space, one of iwonder’s key differentiators is a news feed on the homepage that highlights doc titles exploring related themes. “We don’t see anyone doing this anywhere else,” Bridges, iwonder’s co-founder and CEO, tells TV Real Weekly. “The philosophy came out of this idea that there has to be pretty close overlap between people who are interested in what’s going on in the world and people who are interested in high-quality documentaries. So we thought, let’s have a curated newsfeed—not an open firehose—that comes across your home page presenting you with [documentaries] that are related to or adjacent to what is going on in the news, just to give you deeper context. For example, Trump and Kim meet in Vietnam and the associated docs are on Vietnam’s tech boom, Trump’s relationships in Indonesia and the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur. A Harvey Weinstein story can be associated with a documentary about the underrepresentation of women in positions of power. You can do it with climate change, gun control, Russia. These are ongoing themes that we license and curate content around. There are not many household-name documentaries out there, but there are thousands of great, quality documentaries. So [the newsfeed] helps give people a way into discovery of the catalog.”
Bridges says he and the team are plotting a thoughtful expansion plan for the iwonder SVOD service around the world. “We do ultimately want to be global. Rather than doing the shotgun blast around the world in all markets, we wanted to launch in three markets with a real focus, and with a lighter content proposition than what we’ll ultimately have so we can learn what people are watching, commission and license more of that and refine both the product and the content offering.”
Consumers in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, Bridges says, have “all demonstrated that they will pay for content. In most of these markets, people have more than two SVOD subscriptions already. And then once we have tested and learned we will expand to Western Europe and Canada towards the end of 2019.”
As a start-up with a limited marketing budget, iwonder is relying on social media and word of mouth to draw in customers, Bridges explains. “We’ll do some digital marketing in all the obvious places. But our research and anecdotal experience tell us you tend to hear about great documentaries from people around a dinner table. We said, How can we harness that? Part of that is allowing people to share clips and trailers from the service directly to other people. Part of it is building a really good community of doc lovers in all of the markets that we’re in.”
The platform currently has about 1,000 hours of content from across the documentary spectrum. “iwonder matches trending news with real-life stories about the people and events shaping current affairs, music, pop culture, religion, sports, nature, war, history, politics, science, technology and much more,” Bridges says. “Our key focus is on quality, so a majority of our feature docs are festival selections or award winners.” Bridges says he hopes to get the slate up to more than 2,000 titles by the end of 2019. “We’re holding back some of the content budget so we can refine, test and deliver what we think people are looking for. Similarly, we don’t have all the features on the product that we’ll have in six months. A lot will be dictated by customer feedback.”
The platform has started offering more short-form content, “which drives great snacking consumption, particularly on mobile.”
As iwonder expands, partnerships with telcos, pay-TV operators and device manufacturers will be crucial, Bridges says. “We want to get to as many people as we possibly can. Telcos are very hungry for content. The traditional pay-TV platforms all now have digital offerings, so we don’t have to have a linear channel in order to have conversations with them. And then all of the direct-to-consumer devices. Those are conversations that we are very keenly pursuing. We think we fill a gap in the market with this combination of documentary movies, documentary series and current-affairs shows.”