How Rakuten’s Viki plans to grow its global streaming service

Global video streaming service Viki, owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, wants to get more people to pay for its content.

The service, best known for offering hundreds of movies and TV shows from more than a dozen markets, is free and ad-supported and claims 40 million monthly viewers worldwide. In 2016, subscriptions will become a key area of focus, especially as consumption continues to grow on mobile and connected TVs. It does have a $4-per-month ad-free subscription version, which was launched a year and a half ago.

“It has not been a huge focus for the company,” CEO Tammy Nam said. “But even with the ad-free option as the only feature, it’s grown organically and shows a lot of potential.”

Right now, the average user session is 40 minutes, according to Nam. Mobile accounts for more than half of total watch time on Viki.

As Viki builds out its subscription offering, it will also bring out many of the tricks that incentivize people to pay, including gating some of the most popular or newest titles behind the paywall.

Getting people to pay for its content is not the only way Viki is looking to expand. The service just launched Chinese-language versions of its site and mobile and TV apps. In an effort to become a dedicated hub for Chinese viewers, Viki built two sites for both Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking viewers.

The launch comes as Chinese content has been growing in popularity on Viki. According to Nam, Viki only started to license TV shows broadcast in mainland China less than six months ago. In that time frame, several of the service’s top 10 most-watched titles of the year have come from the country.

“We realized there was going to be future demand for Chinese content, not only among diaspora audiences, but among Chinese-speaking viewers outside the country,” she said.

Hence the two new localized sites, which offer nearly 350 TV shows airing in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as subtitled content from other Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.

“Usually, it takes some time to build critical mass in terms of the amount of content and viewership,” said Nam. For now, Viki has content from more than a dozen countries, including the U.S. The company’s model has been what Nam described as “content arbitrage”: It licenses movies and TV shows from one particular market to distribute elsewhere. For instance, the Steven Spielberg-produced TNT drama “Falling Skies” is available to stream on Viki in China.

The audience for a particular movie or TV show on Viki is typically not just people who speak the language it was shot in. The reason: A robust community of 200,000 users who actively translate movies and TV shows on the platform into more than 200 different languages. “There are some users who literally spend 40 hours a week or more subtitling on the site,” said Nam.

Through the years, Viki has sought to keep its community engaged through features like “timed comments,” which allows users to post comments on a video as they’re watching. It’s a lot like Soundcloud in that users can consume the content and the commentary at the same time. Some of the most popular titles on Viki feature thousands of comments per 30 minutes, said Nam.

“People who are fans of Asian TV content, who are not native to the content, usually don’t have people in their neighborhood or school who are just as obsessed with it as they would be for ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘The Walking Dead,’” said Nam. “This creates a strong a sense of community.”

Image via Viki

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