Press Pass: Streaming service Viu targets SA with freemium model
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) If the predictions are to be believed, streaming is the future — and this is something that Ryan Solovei, South Africa’s country manager at over-the-top (OTT) video service, Viu, is putting his weight behind. “SA is a few years behind the global trends, which is [to be] expected, but I think Viu is very well-positioned, and our plan is to extend into Africa in the coming years,” he says. Expansion, however, would not take a shotgun approach.
Part of Hong Kong telco player, PCCW, Viu entered the local market in February this year, adding a new name to the myriad on-demand streaming options that exist, including Netflix and ShowMax. Since launching, the South African operations have seen “tremendous growth”, says Solovei, without sharing specific figures. Viu currently operates in 16 other emerging markets, mostly located in Asia and the Middle East, counting a total of 36m active monthly users and 30bn video minutes, according to interim results for 2019.
In an increasingly competitive streaming arena, Solovei believes that Viu’s differentiating proposition is its “freemium” model, which combines free and paid-for content. Key among the free offerings are a number of popular SA soaps: Uzalo, Skeem Saam, Scandal! Rhythm City, Isipho and Imbewu. Strategic partnerships with e.tv and the SABC have seen these shows removed from YouTube, where episodes would previously be freely available, and migrated across to Viu — with viewers following, says Solovei. New episodes are added to Viu about 30 minutes after being broadcast on TV.
“For Viu, the business model and the strategy [have] always been about local content, and capturing local consumers in the mass market in each of the countries that they go into,” he says. “SA ticks a lot of boxes, because you’ve got a big mass market, and you don’t have much competition in the form of freemium services.”
He comments that many of the other video-on-demand (VOD) services available may be prohibitively expensive, and not speak as well to the main market. Viu Premium costs R69 per month, R20 per week or R5 per day, with paid subscriptions opening up access to other SABC content such as Yizo Yizo, Harvest from e.tv, Viu originals, Bollywood titles, and Nollywood and other “pan-African” content. As of late August, Viu also live-streams Openview’s News & Sport channel on Saturdays, in partnership with eMedia Investments. This gives users access to Premier League soccer games and current affairs content.
The target market is a broad one, explains Solovei. “We’re not going after the premium subscribers in South Africa — we don’t have HBO and Warner Brothers — we’re not going after that type of market, the Hollywood market, as it were,” he says, describing it as crowded. However, Viu’s viewership doesn’t fall neatly into any particular LSM, with the free shows consumed across market segments, he says. This is of relevance to advertisers, which are a key part of the company’s revenue model: free subscriptions feature adverts.
Advertisers are showing interest, he continues, suggesting that this is because Viu offers them a unique proposition. “In SA, you don’t have many free-to-air, safe environments for advertisers,” he says, adding that they are able to provide clients with “rich data” on views.
While streaming platforms may be ready and raring to go, there is the elephant in the room to consider. “Data in SA is very expensive,” Solovei admits. “We do think that in the next year or so, data prices will come down, though.” A workaround is using the download option on Viu when access to wifi is available, and viewing content later, offline — which many customers currently do, he says. This is a key feature in all emerging markets, he adds. The platform also uses data as efficiently as possible, something that has played a role in its success so far, he says.
Key focus areas
Bring new advertising clients on board is a key focus area for Viu’s SA operations at the moment, according to Solovei, as is growing its user base. Part of this involves working with cellular providers to offer different, convenient billing options and offers. From June, Viu has made an integrated bundle available to Vodacom customers, providing access to Viu Premium for a month with a data recharge of 1GB. He describes this as a “game changer”.
A further focus is creating new local content, which Solovei says is a core part of the business. “We’re busy with a number of different productions; we’re very excited about it,” he says. “In 2020, I think you’re going to be surprised what Viu will start making available to consumers on the platform in SA.”
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her column, “Press Pass”, is a monthly feature spotlighting media leaders and their responses to the trends and tribulations in the industry.