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OTT video guys woo telcos at Capacity Asia

ITEM: Two of Asia-Pacific’s rising stars in the OTT video scene took the stage at Capacity Asia 2015 in Bangkok Tuesday – partly to showcase their exclusive content libraries, and partly to assure telcos that they are partners, not competitors.

Azran Osman-Rani, CEO of iflix Malaysia and chief operating officer of the iflix Group, spent a lot of time talking about iflix’s content strategy (namely, stockpiling as much exclusive, original and premium content as possible from the region as well as the US). But he also emphasized that partnerships with telcos is a key element of the iflix business model.

The incentive for telcos: iflix can provide them with customer acquisition, churn, a differentiated offering and higher ARPU, Azran said.

“Telcos can bundle iflix with broadband offerings for their higher-end users. They make money from the extra traffic, and they create a stickier customer base on the high end. And they have access to an SVOD library with a lot of exclusive content,” he said.

Krishnan Rajagopalan, co-founder and chief content and distribution officer at HOOQ, went as far as to point out that his company was “the first to partner deeply with the telcos to enable convenient and affordable access to our catalog.”

He cited examples such as Philippines cellco Globe Telecom, which features prominent HOOQ branding in its shops, and offers deals like three months of HOOQ with purchase of the Samsung Galaxy S6. HOOQ has also partnered with Thai operator AIS, which bundles HOOQ into its recently launched FTTH service.

As OTT video services like HOOQ make headway in the region via telco partnerships, they also demonstrate the viability of such tie-ups, Rajagopalan said. “We basically have the playbook now to partner with telcos in a way that scales and delivers benefits to both sides.”

That’s fairly significant given the fear and loathing some telcos have experienced while watching OTT players cut into their business. In this case, OTT streaming services potentially challenge telco IPTV offerings.

On the other hand, OTT platforms like iflix and HOOQ are essentially positioning themselves as ready-made video library platforms that can provide telcos with digital content that – frankly – their customers would be accessing over their networks anyway.

(Which presumably is one reason why iflix and HOOQ are headlining a Capacity Asia conference – as is mobile-optimized VoIP player Nanu.)

Of course, HOOQ already has telco credentials – it’s a JV between Singtel, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros, a fact that Rajagopalan used to illustrate just how far telcos have come when it comes to content partnerships.

“We see a lot more partnerships between telcos and the studios now,” he said. “It used to be a lot harder when you’d have people on both sides of the tables with different needs, but now the requirements for parties on both sides are aligning and they’re seeing mutual benefits from partnering that they didn’t see before.”

Rajagopalan added that looking ahead, HOOQ will find more telcos to partner with, particularly in emerging markets, and experiment with digital formats.

HOOQ will also work on better content discoverability, which he says is currently a problem.

“One of the problems of having a huge content library is that viewers don’t typically scroll past the first few pages, so a lot of content loses visibility,” he explained. “So we need to find new ways to push information to viewers via things like recommendations. We’re looking at what these paradigms could be and how we can make it easier for viewers to find the content they want.”