iflix: Asia's on-demand streaming media service
Writer: Naseem Randhawa
Chief Executive Office of iflix Malaysia, Azran Osman-Rani.
In this booming digital age where tons of TV content is being created but with the lack of platforms to air them, there have been several on-demand Internet streaming media services emerging to tap into this new gold mine of an idea to bring these shows and their vast content libraries to their subscribers.
With popular overseas based services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant, and Hulu Plus made available mostly only in the western hemisphere, ravenous viewers on this side of the world have yet to experience a service that they can call their own, where the content of their choosing is made instantly available to watch at their very fingertips.
In comes iflix, where by the end of this month, will kick-off with 10,000 hours of content ranging from movies to TV series and shows for viewers in Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
With a fee that's expected to range about USD3 per month, this service will allow a subscriber to access and download content from iflix to up to five devices; their smartphones, computers, tablets and television.
Joining forces with New York and Los Angeles-based merchant bank, Evolution Media Capital (EMC), the company is the brainchild of Patrick Grove, the CEO of the Malaysia-based international investment firm, Catcha Group. With iflix's headquarters based in Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia X's former CEO, Azran Osman-Rani who is now the Chief Executive Officer of iflix Malaysia and the Chief Operating Officer of the iflix Group, is confident with the uniqueness iflix can offer as a service that's based in Asia, for the Asian market, and possibly for the rest of the world next!
iflix will kick-start in Southeast Asia.
Tell us about iflix. How did it begin?
Azran Osman-Rani: The Catcha Group and Evolution Media Capital had gotten together to create a subscription video on demand service to capitalise on the huge trend that has taken on in US. Just to give you an idea, a service like Netflix has caught on like wildfire. In the U.S. alone they have over 40 million subscribers and 60 million worldwide. Why? Because it's a reflection of how people are changing and how they are consuming content, from traditionally watching channels to now catching specific programmes whenever and wherever they want it.
Catcha and EMC saw a huge opportunity in Southeast Asia because that kind of service has not taken off here and we've seen how in Southeast Asia, smartphones that are capable for video streaming are rapidly rising in numbers, but also, this has been a market that Hollywood studios have been very cautious in trying to back a service like this, because of rapid piracy. So how do you address piracy? And we thought if we can offer a service that is attractively affordable and make it really easy to use, like a simple app on your phone, then more and more people will be inclined to say that it is easier to use than going to a specific pirate site and grabbing content.
So riding on the rising smartphone trend, ultimately we can convince studios to support this platform and enable us to offer the very low price which in turn will give the studios a way of monetising their content which they would otherwise not get. The big advantage we have via EMC is because of its Hollywood roots, it gave us that Hollywood studio relationship that got us the contracts.
Why is iflix targeting only Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam?
That is phase one. Phase two would be all emerging markets and it may include regions like South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. iflix's unique ability is to see how to get it to its lowest price point and for a lot of these users based in Southeast Asia, yes Hollywood stuff works, but they also want to see more Asian content like Korean dramas, local content or even Hollywood stuff in their local language. So localising and adapting to our subscribers is a skill and value we're aiming to build to differentiate ourselves from Netflix with a really low price to reach this mass market.
Will there be a difference in subscription fee for the phase 1 countries?
They would be somewhat similar, taking into account the minor currency exchange rates. But as we've always said, we want to make it as cheap as getting one pirated DVD, but you get more than 10,000 hours of content for that price with iflix. So it would definitely be under USD3 per month. We plan to launch it in a matter of days and we will start with Malaysia and Philippines first, and Thailand soon after.
Inside the iflix headquarters at Kuala Lumpur.
What is the quality of video streaming for iflix like?
An interesting thing about this is that we're designing this for even 3G cellular data, it doesn't have to be a high speed broadband connection. But I still suspect that most people would consume iflix on WiFi. What we also spent a lot of time engineering is the adaptive bit-rate streaming. What that means is that the quality or resolution of your streaming is adapted based on the quality of your bandwidth or data. So the first two to three seconds, the video will start off with a lower resolution and then it starts to automatically improve to be optimised based on the quality of signal that you are connected to. This is to avoid the jerky buffering of video streaming to ensure users get a smooth streaming experience up to 1080p HD.
Since you're also providing subscribers the option to download the content available on iflix, how is iflix to ensure the content doesn't end up being uploaded onto pirate sites?
The other thing that we spent a whole lot of time on is the digital rights management. It's a pretty secure download function. Just like iTunes' rental service, it's a rather robust infrastructure and it won't be as easy to upload the content online, or else our content partners will not allow us to let people download the content in the first place.
Will TV series be made available on iflix the same day they are aired in the U.S. ?
There is a lot of stuff in the U.S. that doesn't get air time here. Some content will be made available within a short period after it is out in the U.S., and some are big libraries of content.
Are the shows on iflix subjected to any censorship by the local censorship boards?
No. But we will be discreet in choosing titles. We're not here to try to get porn or offensive shows, but at the same time we don't want it to be one where the whole viewing experience gets butchered. So it's going to be tasteful content and moreover, we also have a parental control feature as well to give viewers responsibility in terms of how they manage their viewing experience.
Some of the content available on iflix.
Let's say an indie movie does not get picked up for the cinema because it is deemed not mainstream enough for audiences, will it then be made available on iflix?
Cinema Online, 20 May 2015
Likely. We would have to negotiate with the rights owners for the right price.
Netflix has dabbled with creating original programming quite successfully. Is iflix heading in that direction as well?
Yes. Local original programming is a core pillar of our strategy, we have already started to engage with local producers to ask them to pitch their ideas to us that are new and not regular stuff that you would see on TV. We're trying to up the level of the quality of the shows on iflix.
Currently who are the content partners on iflix?
BCC Worldwide (BBC), Warner Bros. International (WB) and Twentieth Century Fox (FOX) Fox and a lot more announcements coming over the next few days.
What are some of your favourite shows and what you would like to see on iflix?
My day time consumption is more towards comedies as they tend to be shorter. I can watch them while waiting for a meeting or hanging out somewhere. I get hooked onto drama series late at night and I'm going through four different shows at the moment! I would like more action than adventure shows, with good storylines.