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Streaming hits critical mass as Filipino content thrives

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UNSPLASH/GLENN CARSTENS PETERS

SIX YEARS since the entry of streaming services into the Philippines, Asian streaming platforms HOOQ and iflix have pronounced that the industry has emerged from infancy and consider 2019 a turning point, with more originals being produced and the entry of more players signifying that the Philippines has fully embraced a new way of consuming content.

“The plethora of choice is a clear indicator of growth. New streaming services serving up documentaries (iWonder), and reality shows (Hayu) launched in the past year — and there is a market for them. AppleTV and Disney+ will make the playing field more diverse, for the audience at least,” Sherwin dela Cruz, country manager of iflix Philippines told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview in December.

The most recent entry into the growing field? HBO Go, which launched on Dec. 9, bringing with it its cache of shows from Game of Thrones to The Handmaid’s Tale. Subscription is pegged at P149 a month.

As early entrants to the streaming game, both iflix and HOOQ had time to readjust their strategies to suit Filipino tastes and have in the past year offered a “freemium” model on their platforms, in which users can view selected ad-supported content for free and can opt for flexible pricing schemes, whether weekly or daily.

This, HOOQ said, changed viewing preferences, leading to more and more viewers going on the service to watch short content related to entertainment, sports, breaking news, and so on.

“I think the focus for streaming services will really shift towards sustainability, which industry experts have said will come from a solid advertising-based model. Those are our marching orders at iflix, and we are going full speed ahead with it,” Mr. dela Cruz said of the company’s focus in 2020.

While both HOOQ and iflix said that more competition means that the industry is healthy, HOOQ said the market can sustain “around three (services), which consumers will rotate based on their own content preferences.”

The main differentiator in this battle for streaming supremacy has shifted to doing originals that are not only localized but will also appeal to a broader market, whether it be regional or worldwide.

In 2019, HOOQ launched four Filipino originals: films Mina-Anud by Kerwin Go, Ulan by Irene Villamor, Iska by Theodore Boborol, and a talk show, Sex Talks with Dr. Holmes, with plans to up its game, by creating “100 HOOQ Originals by middle of 2020 across the region.”

“We are bullish about this number and we continue to look for the best stories,” HOOQ told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview.

Iflix is also bullish about original content as it signed a partnership with Viva this year to co-produce 30 movies within three years alongside access to 9,000 hours of Viva content on the platform. The platform’s first original, Mystified by Mark Reyes, was released in March.

Both platforms noted that Filipinos still prefer Filipino content though they may have a soft spot for Hollywood or Korean content. Even so, they said, there is enough reason to keep producing Filipino originals.

Film production outfits are also taking note of the changing landscape as Vincent Nebrida, President of TBA Studios (Heneral Luna, Birdshot) told BusinessWorld in an interview in December that streaming services allow their films to have longevity and a broader market.

“We create films for multiple generations to watch,” he said before adding that having such films on streaming services ensures that they can be watched for years to come.

Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna (2015), and Mikhail Red’s Birdshot (2016) are currently streaming on Netflix.

Mr. Nebrida also noted that while theaters still bring in the most revenue, revenue from streaming platforms is “substantial.”

Outfits such as TBA Studios and Viva have seen the value of getting their content on these services while broadcaster ABS-CBN decided that it can do its own thing while still having part of its catalog on these services.

“The future is really going digital. The market is growing exponentially and we want to be there where our customers are. That is why we have been developing films and series for iWant,” Olivia Lamasan, head of ABS-CBN films told BusinessWorld via e-mail.

She added that while the company does provide films to services like Netflix, HOOQ, iflix, Apple TV, and Amazon, it has made a conscious decision to be “very deliberate” in choosing which titles go to streaming services because its “does not want iWant to lose its competitive edge.”

“Local content will always be a surefire and stable subscription magnet for Filipinos. No one can tell the Filipino experience more powerfully than the Filipinos themselves,” Ms. Lamasan said.

iWant was originally launched in 2010 as iWant TV, ABS-CBN’s on-demand platform for the network’s TV shows. The service was rebranded in 2018 and has started offering original content meant to engage the millennial audience. Their first offering was Glorious by Juan Daniel Zalaveta, a sexy romantic-drama film starring Angel Aquino and Tony Labrusca.

In 2019, iWant produced 34 originals — both films and series — including the third installment of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank by Marlon Rivera, and travel docuseries Unlisted.

In 2020, iWant is expected to release 45 originals: 20 movies, 21 series, and four non-narrative content, according to iWant Head Elaine Uy-Casipit in an e-mail. — Zsarlene B. Chua, Joseph L. Garcia and Michelle Anne P. Soliman





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