May 18, 2017 10:00 am JST

HOOQ looks to original content in fight with Netflix, Amazon

Among Asia's online video streaming services, HOOQ is probably the keenest on producing original long-form content, a strategy that helped Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to grow.

Original shows help set a content provider apart from the competition, according to Peter Bithos, HOOQ's chief executive. "We can always license exclusive content from someone else," Bithos said. "If there is a really high-quality show or movie," he said, "people watch it time and again."

During the APOS conference, HOOQ announced nine original projects -- movies, series and online-only content -- that will be released over the coming months.

Making movies and series costs a lot of money. "That is why the online video business is not for a bootstrapped startup with little funds," Bithos said. HOOQ's shareholders consist of a multinational telecom company and major movie studios from around the world.

Big production projects make it difficult to recoup costs. Asked how HOOQ will increase revenue, Bithos said: "Our priority, No. 1, is growing our current markets." The service is currently available in five countries -- India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. "No. 2," he said, "will be adding markets very selectively."

Bithos dismissed the possibility of entering China. He called the country "a very difficult market because everything related to the internet works differently from the rest of the world."

The key to increasing subscribers, Bithos believes, is the right mix of local content, original programming and a quality international library. The company has also been busy signing deals with powerful distributors in each market, typically mobile phone service providers.

Looking at Netflix, which has a negative cash flow despite a market capitalization of $70 billion, the lesson seems to be that having big, rich shareholders is not enough. "We intend to grow the company to the point where we can go public on the stock market," Bithos said. "We are not there yet. We have a few years to go. People who are joining us, including the shareholders, share this vision."

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