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Hooq Tries New Tack For Paying Subs

Two-year-old SVOD service, Hooq, has rebooted both its platform and its customer acquisition strategy.

The move signals a bigger push to persuade more people to become paying subs, and diversify a business model heavily geared to telco bundles.

Hooq’s 30-day free trial is making way for a broader freemium model, where pilot episodes of TV series will stay free, giving non-paying viewers more reasons to stick around. 

At the same time, the carousel-based design is being replaced by a vertical feed that takes its cues from content discovery on social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.

Hooq is ditching legacy approaches – inherited from desktop viewing in relatively affluent countries – to drive content sampling on mobile devices in emerging markets, says Peter Bithos, the company’s CEO. 

That meant throwing out the existing code, and starting again.

“The speed at which we could fix the things we needed to fix, on a platform that was already built, was just proving too hard,” Bithos explains.

“We wanted to do something big, so we could go fast.”

Bithos anticipates that over half of Hooq’s paid base will access the service for a few days at a time by buying cheaper sachets (now available in all of Hooq’s markets, for ~$1.2), rather than making monthly or annual commitments.

Mobile, meanwhile, already makes up 70% of Hooq’s viewing occasions.

As part of the latest overhaul – a multi-million dollar rebuild that took around nine months – Hooq is also adding support for mobile web, to capture interest among consumers who are not ready to download an app.

“Where we were at launch and where we are now is so radically different from a content perspective,” Bithos tells Media Business Asia. 

“Now, the big issue is how you acquire customers, and how you get them to convert to paid. I don’t think it’s a content problem any more.”

The new approach will be rolled out in India, Indonesia and Thailand after debuting in the Philippines earlier this month.

A challenging prize

Hooq, backed by Singtel, Sony and Warner Bros, is one of several Asian SVOD plays chasing a bigger slice of consumer spending.

Returns are proving tougher than expected. The competitive climate in India, formerly seen as a cornerstone market for Hooq, is especially fierce.

Indian broadcasters monetize TV shows on ad-supported OTT sites, while the cost of movie rights has gone through the roof.

India, like China, has evolved a distinctive ecosystem where SVOD revenues will take longer to develop, Bithos says.

That demands its own strategy, orchestrated in tandem with distribution partners such as Airtel that have massive consumer bases.

Hooq’s investors stumped up just shy of US$100 million at launch just under two years ago.

Given current forecasts, the growth capital should last until mid-next year. By then, current backers will have to take a call on future funding for the business.

So far, much of SVOD’s momentum in Asia has come through wholesale deals with telcos, where the cost of the service is bundled into overall broadband pricing.

Currently these deals provide the majority of subscribers and revenues. Such arrangements, however, may be less advantageous the next time round.

“Wholesale has a timeclock, and it is ticking,” Bithos says. “Eventually you have to build an organic business model. You have to. We’re trying to shift that journey into another gear.”

Hooq’s revamp also coincides with a deeper push into local content, where prospective customers are more familiar with a wider range of films and shows.

With a substantial catalog of US fare in place (local-language dubbing and subtitling should complete in the next few months), future content investments will skew more to local programming. This includes Hooq’s first originals, in India and the Philippines.

Once a service is up and running in Singapore (HQ for Singtel, Hooq’s main parent), Bithos is eyeing potential entry into Malaysia and Vietnam. The focus is on large consumer markets in South and Southeast Asia.

“We’re not following a strategy of opening 50 markets and taking on the world, just yet,” Bithos says.

“No-one has figured out the right organic business model. No-one.”

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