By Annabelle Liang
Instead of carving a slice in the local over-the-top content (OTT) market, Hooq immediately set its sights abroad.
The video streaming service, which works much like Netflix, was jointly established by Singtel, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros Entertainment in January 2015. Hooq went live in the Philippines, followed by Thailand, India and Indonesia.
In November, Hooq finally launched at home. While this is targeted at Singtel’s prepaid customers, who are more likely to tap on catalogues built in emerging markets, the service will be offered to postpaid ones next January. This means that the service could be bundled with fibre and mobile plans.
IMpact catches up with Hooq’s Krishnan Rajagopalan, who has over 15 years of experience in media and technology, at the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) held at Marina Bay Sands from 6 to 9 December.
Why did Hooq decide to go overseas first, before Singapore?
We concentrated on emerging markets first, as that is our focus. Singapore is a fully developed market. So we were a little worried that if we built for Singapore, we would get the wrong product.
We also figured that the service had to be heavily local to succeed. To win in the Philippines, you need Hollywood shows and a lot of Tagalog content. In Thailand and Indonesia, it's the same story. ‘Local’ in Singapore is really complicated. You need content in Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, Tagalog, and other languages catering to expatriates. That’s why we paused and came to Singapore late.
Hooq has operated in South and Southeast Asia for a while now. What are some of its takeaways?
The typical OTT model is to create one product, one content catalogue and then push it out. That doesn't work. There has to be a fair amount of customisation in order to win in each market. People in these markets watch a lot of local content, so that was and will continue to be a mass market driver. We built a large Tagalog catalogue, and others in Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Tamil, Hindi and Bengali.
What made Hooq ready for Singapore?
Singapore, for us, is hometown. We are headquartered here, and we've always wanted Hooq to be where we lived. It's hard to gather consumer feedback in emerging markets. We're hoping to get constant feedback here from friends, family and people who are watching. I think there's value there. Plus, none of the paid subscription services have succeeded in Singapore to date. I think there is no reason why they shouldn't.
What can customers here expect?
Our content mix consists of three categories: Hollywood, kids and local. Our Hollywood catalogue is three to four times larger than anyone else’s in Asia. We carry exclusive American publisher DC Comics franchises like Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and Lucifer. Going forward, all the DC titles are exclusive with us. We have the largest kids catalogue in Asia from names such as Nickelodeon, Kids Like Us and Hasbro Studios. Local content in Singapore is very interesting. Tamil-speaking viewers can enjoy the large catalogue we built for India. We are currently looking at adding content to meet the needs of the Chinese and Malay-speaking segments in Singapore.
Will Hooq acquire local dramas?
We're talking to mm2 Entertainment, Mediacorp and many other studios for our Singaporean catalogue. For us, there are a few considerations as a paid service. Much of the content here, such as Mediacorp on Toggle, is already free. There’s almost no value in paying money for a license, to put it behind a paywall. So, we're looking for premium content. Part of our conversation at the ATF was approaching studios, to see if we can get their content before it goes to free platforms. I badly want to get Ah Boys to Men and other movies. If Hooq has the right content, that's relevant for the local market, we believe that people will pay for it.
There's a segment of viewers here who are hooked on Netflix. Is the provider considered competition?
We see Netflix as a complementary service. In every market where OTT services have competed over a period of time, they've ended up co-existing. Customers in the United States routinely have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and cable. Each one offers content that they like. Because of the nature of exclusivity, they go to Netflix for The Blacklist and Hulu for Casual. Every show has its destination. At Hooq, we have our own exclusives and content proposition. In cases where people are forced to choose, we hope to provide the more relevant offering.
Where's next for Hooq?
We are focused on emerging markets, so the remaining ones in Southeast Asia are interesting. Then again, we already have a base of 1.6 billion people – that's a huge number. Every new market comes with overheads. You need to get content rights, set up a team and find partners. In that sense, it is easier and better for us to win in our core markets than launch globally. We want to make sure that we are creating something valuable, that is revenue generating and here for the long term.