Netflix, HOOQ and a big week for TV in Asia

It was a big week for online TV in Asia.

Last Friday, Singtel, Sony and Warner Bros. made a big move into online streaming with the launch of HOOQ. The OTT streaming service, rumoured for some months, is already being viewed as a pre-emptive strike against Netflix.

On Wednesday of last week, Netflix duly responded, with its first foray into the Asian market, announcing the launch of Netflix in Japan.

30 January: HOOQ is announced

HOOQ is a joint venture between Singtel, Sony and Warner Bros. The service is set to carry a substantial library from launch (thanks in large part to the catalogues of its joint venture partners, Sony and Warner Bros.), with Hollywood blockbusters such as Spider-Man and Harry Potter and TV shows such as Friends and Gossip Girl.

The joint venture went to great length, however, to explain that there would be local and regional content, with users promised “an extensive selection of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese movies and TV series”. A key theme from the CASBAA Convention in Hong Kong this year was the importance of local content and the joint venture seems to recognise that international streaming services will need to localise substantially to succeed in Asia.

As for Singtel’s role in this – it provides the regional footprint through its group companies across the region. Singtel will not be the only telco in the region looking to move into streaming (many have launched domestic services already) but it may just be the only player right now with the regional scope to deliver a successful region-wide service (its corporate group has half a billion mobile customers spanning from Singapore to Australia).

The service will be rolled out progressively as early as the first quarter of 2015, with Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Thailand being the initial launch territories.

11 February: Netflix makes its first Asia move

Netflix has been notable by its absence in Asia (putting aside the large number of subscribers who reportedly access the service via unlicensed VPNs).

Last year, it finally announced plans to launch in Australia and New Zealand – but until Wednesday, there was still no word on Asia. That changed when it announced that it would be launching in Japan from Autumn 2015.

As with HOOQ, the announcement also confirmed Netflix’s intention of localising its offering, with “a strong selection of Japanese TV series and films”. Japan makes a lot of sense as a first move into Asia, given its well-developed technology infrastructure and 36 million broadband homes. We can, however, be certain that this will not be Netflix’s only Asia move. It has already raised a few eyebrows by announcing an intention to be in no less than 200 countries by the end of next year, so it will certainly be busy clearing rights and working on localised offerings for other territories, and we expect other announcements to follow.

2015: the year online TV takes off in Asia?

Netflix, HOOQ and any others who make a play for OTT in Asia will have numerous challenges to overcome. Chief among these will be the sometimes ineffective enforcement of intellectual property rights and uncertain regulatory landscape in some territories, the evolving technology infrastructure in others, the need to localise offerings substantially and of course growing competition from international, regional and domestic players.

Nonetheless, this was perhaps the biggest week yet for online TV in Asia and with other launches rumoured later this year, including regional startup player iFlix, it seems certain that by the end of 2015, Asian internet users will for the first time have multiple, localised, well-backed OTT aggregator offerings to choose from.

Matt Pollins

Author: Matt Pollins

Matt is an international technology, media and telecoms lawyer and Head of Commercial and TMT at CMS in Singapore. He supports clients across Asia-Pacific. You can contact Matt via the "Contact" page. Views expressed on Connected Asia are those of the author. Nothing here constitutes legal advice or creates a lawyer-client relationship.

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