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HBO Asia Networks and Viu, an OTT Video service owned by Hong Kong-based PCCW and Vuclip, recently announced a partnership to bring Viu Original “The Bridge” to HBO Networks and HBO GO throughout Asia from 26 November.

'The Bridge', based on a murder mystery plot, is a remake of the original series created and written by Hans Rosenfeldt as a joint production of Sweden's Filmlance International. The series registered more than a million viewers when it debut for Scandinavian viewers in 2012 and over five million viewers during its US premiere.  The original has aired in more than 188 territories/countries and spawned localized remakes in the UK and France, the US/Mexico, Germany/Austria, and Russia/Estonia. 

The Drum caught up with Kingsley Warner, the country manager for Malaysia at Viu and the executive producer of The Bridge for Malaysia and Singapore to understand Viu’s global and SEA strategy and direction, its current reach and expansion plans, its plans for new content and approach, as well as its partnerships with HBO and Media Prima.

How can advertisers benefit from Viu’s global and SEA strategy and direction?

The Viu platform provides several advertiser benefits: premium content association, premium audience targeting, contextual brand placement, a fully brand-safe environment, human audience, and near 100% completion rates.

Viu is a freemium OTT brand with 20m monthly average users (MAUs) worldwide. Our Viu freemium model provides a strong mix of free and premium videos. Our free content includes thousands of hours of current and relevant premium long-form content. Our subscription service contains the latest content from regional markets with local language (subtitles), in most cases eight hours after TV telecast, a value proposition that beats local broadcasters and OTT platforms, as well as piracy on a grand scale

Serving ads within the free service allows a free and accessible service for consumers. We work with premium brands, targeting on a segment basis in each market. The success of Viu’s freemium model is that we have been able to work with advertisers on a local and regional level, with their campaign messaging matched to our highly engaged audience. With a heavy focus on high value targeted videos, Viu offers high completion rates on all its campaigns.

The industry largely treats OTT environments as either standard digital video or TV buys, rather than as its own ecosystem with its own unique requirements. What needs to change to overcome the adoption hurdles?

Viu has plugged into all significant regional digital agency trading desks and works with all standard video formats across the digital ecosystem. Viu is an easy fit for any advertiser who wants to be seen in every market. We are a flexible platform that works on data and localization but adheres to global standards. Advertisers and agencies need to bring their brands to a digital audience and OTT players are a natural partner for that. We are seeing digital revenues growing exponentially; adoption has been quick and in most cases organic. 

Additionally, we have created some very unique and successful models where we work with local TV broadcasters and ad agencies to create investment and audience partnerships where content and brands are able to reach audiences. The recent example of Viu and Malaysia’s Media Prima’s FTA Network combining forces to take Viu Original productions to Media Prima’s local free to air (FTA) audiences and Viu to its digital audiences, provides advertisers instant reach of national FTA TV, along with the long tail of digital.

Currently, content owners and distribution outlets like OTT platforms are disassociated, which means content owners are also dis-associated from data and owning the full conversion funnel. How will your partnerships with HBO and Media Prima help content owners to put their own content in front of a more targeted audience and complete the conversion chain?

Viu as a platform works on the foundation of transparent data at all points of the consumer journey and content lifecycle. The success of the Viu brand comes down to having data at all levels in the market when we look at consumer behavior as much as the content appeals. The latter is very important as we invest in content that we know will work and resonate at the consumer level. A good example of this has been the continued investment in Korean and other Asian content in SEA where we have a very clear unique selling point, 'Best of Asian’, and one of the highest, if not highest, engaged audiences in SEA on OTT.

If you take these success factors on a monetization path, then ultimately the content owners will see the success in the continued engagement of their content and continued investment from Viu.

While a content owner may not be involved in all parts of the funnel, there are very few platforms where they are. Their end goal is surely to see their content engaged and monetized, and this is where the benefit  of Viu comes to the fore, on two levels, a Freemium Advertising model (AVOD) model or a market sensitive subscription service (SVOD) that has local pricing and payment options and partnerships to enable easy access and consumption.

Our partnership with Media Prima and HBO is a very strong content consumer syndication model that does just that; it gets content to the consumer across a number of levels in TV and digital platforms. While the content owner may not own the entire end to end solution of each platform, the diversification of the multiple platforms enables the consumer to see the content at pretty much any touch point in the TV and Digital landscape. The conversion chain is addressed through TV ratings as well as digital engagement metrics. From a TV perspective, Viu Originals will be seen across channels where the audience has a synergy to Viu and vice versa for the digital to TV path. 

HBO Asia provided a great opportunity for its Asian footprint to exhibit the Viu Original The Bridge, a Malaysian and Singaporean version of the international acclaimed Endemolshine format of the same name.

Working with HBO, one of the premier content brands globally, was the right partner for Viu when it came to the high production value of The Bridge. For Media Prima, screening three Viu Originals in 2018 (Salon, Jibril, and The Bridge) was a compelling opportunity to take highly visible local production to its national TV audiences. Media Prima and Viu work with local advertisers, offering them a compelling storyline to match their brands. All of this is important because it provided Viu the ability to produce content at an increased value margin over what was normally seen in the market and then enabled greater access to audiences, enabling all partners the ability to monetize the content. The conversion chain can only be greater with multiple players working together. 

With Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go in the market right now, together with niche players, how does Viu win over consumers who are reluctant to juggle multiple OTT services?

Not all of the OTT players are in Asia; Hulu is still very much a US proposition and while the Hulu brand is in Japan, it’s not in a market where Viu operates. What OTT does is provide choice to the consumer, very much how pay-tv challenged the FTA TV market 20-30 years ago. Consumers are looking for choice so they will most likely engage with 2-3 OTT brand offerings.

We see Viu in the top of the consumer choice in each market. Our successful freemium business model has enabled users to come in and try at no real cost to them, especially in markets where onboarding of consumers is difficult due to low average revenue per units, low data access or general lack of education on OTT Video.

The Viu brand has been a success in each market, as not only have we seen phenomenal growth in users and engagement since we launched some two and half years ago, but some of our competitors are copying our model, and imitation is the best form of flattery.

Additionally, we have looked at each market at face value. We build each offering in each market based on pricing, content, partnerships, and localization so there is a strong resonance with the consumer on the ground. The clear winner is the local consumer as they get a service that is highly targeted at them in terms of easy access and affordability plus a great overall video experience.