Netflix CEO Reed Hastings grabbed attention on 6 January when he announced at a Las Vegas trade show that the entertainment streaming service had gone live in 130 countries. The first mover in streaming had gone global, ahead of a growing contest for its US market.
Earlier launches in Europe and Australia had gone well for Netflix, but the wider gambit seems to be running up against borders in Asia that are no different to those of the analogue world.
Netflix’s first Asian rollout — in Japan — launched in September with a beefed-up local content slate and pricing that starts at under $US6 a month. Recent consumer surveys suggest that it has so far barely raised a pulse compared with the very strong and growing penetration in its home market.
Handicapped by existing distribution contracts that deny Netflix global rights to its huge US inventory, it’s up against a strong consumer preference for free local TV and the evident intent of local phone companies like NTT and Softbank, together with established TV companies, in developing home-grown alternatives.
At this stage it looks like Japan Inc 1, Netflix zilch — though the disruptor has expressly planned to take its time building a brand in the land of semiotics. Plus, of course, at some stage Netflix will presumably buy global rights to its full US slate.
If Netflix thought Japan was tough, Indonesia appears to have cooked up a more rustic response. A few weeks after Netflix’s global launch announcement Indonesia’s government telco blocked the service, citing an anti-pornography law passed in 2009. This despite the fact that administration of “negative” content is in the hands of the communications ministry’s TRUST+ filter.
So far it’s not clear whether PT Telekomunicasi Indonesia was truly playing nanna or perhaps testing its arm on net neutrality. Its competitors did not follow, and it is expected that the regulator will at some point rule on Netflix content. And at this stage Netflix need not see this so much as a gamebreaker, as Indonesia’s broadband market is contested and so far is available to less than 40 per cent of the population.
That said, Telkom is by far the more advanced in broadband reach and clearly has plans for its own nascent streaming player.
One big incentive for Netflix to get Indonesia right is the unusual influence of US content in its free to air TV. Only Korean content comes close, so a rich slate of Hollywood content on demand might go very well indeed.
While Reed Hastings has driven Netflix hard to remain first in the global race, clearly Amazon, HBO, YouTube and others based in the US are coming from the back with competitive plays. Unsurpisingly, the Asian market is also throwing up its share, with Malaysia’s Astro kicking off a “mobile-first” offering called Tribe this month and various others putting together what look like potential content-driven arrangements.
One of the more interesting events was the announcement this month that Malaysian Netflix imitator iFlix had acquired some new investors. The headlines went to Murdoch-controlled Sky plc’s $US45 million injection.
Perhaps more interesting was the engagement of Indonesia’s Emtek, a broadcaster and content house owned by Eddy Sariaatmadja. Sariaatmadja has evidently solid commercial ties with the Salim family, which owns the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. PLDT invested in iFlix in mid 2015, along with the online conglomerate Catcha Group of Malaysia (which recently sold its iProperty business to News Corp’s REA).
iFlix is established in Malaysia, Thailand and The Philippines, and its latest investor additions would appear to presage solid long-term content rights (via News) and strong local partners for the largest potential market: Indonesia. The game, with yet more players such as Singtel’s HOOQ (Sony, Warner are partners) emerging, is likely to become tough. This is certainly no place for the faint-hearted.