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Star Enters Malaysian SVOD Race

Malaysia’s latest SVOD contender – Dimsum, backed by Star Media Group – went live last week at RM15 (US$3.8) per month, 50% more expensive than its main competitors, in pursuit of local leadership in OTT Asian entertainment.

Netflix has set a benchmark for premium services across much of Asia, maintaining global pricing for a still US-oriented catalog that comes in at RM33-51 (US$8.5-13.1) per month in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s other major SVOD players, however – Iflix, Tonton and Viu – are charging RM10 (US$2.6) per month, establishing Dimsum as a pricier alternative.

Executives at Star are banking on investments in localization and driver content to justify Dimsum’s price tag and steer it towards profitability, supported by Star Media Group’s marketing heft.

Among other assets, the group owns The Star, Malaysia’s biggest English-language newspaper, as well as Chinese and Malay radio stations and a majority stake in regional pay-TV network Li TV.

“We need to have key content, tell people how good it is and how quickly they’re getting it, and why this is something they must watch,” says Star Media Group’s chief digital officer, Roy Tan.

Dimsum provides subtitles in English, Malay and Chinese for all of its non-kids programming, covering content from Japan, Korea, Greater China and Southeast Asia, with the latest films and shows in HD.

It also promises a run of Malaysian premiers, including big-budget productions such as Hunan TV’s Tribes & Empires: Storm Of Prophecy, as well as day-and-date dramas from China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand.

Executives are targeting 10,000 hours in Dimsum’s library within the first year, and 20,000 within year two. A subscription covers five concurrent users, with offline viewing to be introduced next month.

“We are very serious about this,” Tan tells Media Business Asia.

“If we are focusing on day-and-date content, subtitling everything we’ve got outside of kids, and it’s on full HD expect for classic titles, what you’re looking at is a premium product,” he adds. “It’s not a bunch of library stuff which is cobbled together.”

Local audience, regional content

Asian content is shaping up to be a key battleground for online video across Southeast Asia, as incumbent services look to broaden their appeal among local audiences.

Viu, a freemium service from Hong Kong telco PCCW in four territories, is also dedicated to Asian entertainment. This includes a formidable portfolio of day-and-date Korean drama but as part of a relatively small catalog overall.

Tonton, the online video arm of Malaysian broadcast and print major Media Prima, is more geared towards local fare at present, with another freemium offering.

Media Prima reintroduced a paywall for Tonton, this time with sachet pricing, earlier this year.

Iflix, an SVOD startup now operating in six Asian markets, remains Hollywood-skewed but is steadily ramping up localization and acquiring more Asian titles.

At the same time, pay-TV incumbent Astro is defending its turf. The company has acquired domestic, regional and Hollywood programming for Astro OD, a VOD offering for subs with connected boxes, as well as rights for its authenticated mobile app, Astro on the Go.

Dimsum’s offer is mainly built around international content, apart from news which is sourced from its parent company.

The catalog is also relatively light on driver titles from Korea as well as Indian fare, with a big focus on content from China and Thailand for the time being.

The company is also hoping to finalize billing integration with three local telcos before the end of the year, potentially offering data subsidies but retaining Dimsum’s positioning as a paid-for service.

'We are very careful on marketing and messaging'

“We want consumers to get used to the fact that Dimsum is not free, there is a value behind it,” explains CMO Lam Swee Kim. “We are very careful with our partners on marketing and messaging.”

The new service is supported by two tech partners, Xstream and Diagnal.

Dimsum’s launch marks an ongoing diversification for Star Media Group in response to mounting pressure on its core print business, which still contributes about 60% of its revenue and almost all of its profit.

The board had pondered a move into DTT, but decided against it.

The move also highlights shifts by Star towards more vernacular media, following the sale of two English-language radio stations to Astro earlier this year, as well as to more consumer-based revenue to offset Malaysia’s stuttering ad markets.

The group continues to operate an ad-supported video portal, Star TV, for its news content.

“We wanted to do something that is significant, because even if we succeeded in the ad business for that part of it, the revenue and the potential is a lot smaller than subscription video,” Tan says.

“The group has always wanted to go into video. When we declined to do DTT, we still wanted to do something meaningful. This is our version of meaningful.”

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