Update, June 23: Viacom has launched an SVOD extension of its US African-American network BET in 100 countries worldwide. BET Play, an English-language direct-to-consumer offering, is accessible in all major APAC markets bar Korea for US$3.99 month. The app includes on-demand content, a linear feed of music service BET Soul, and livestreams of BET events and shows.
Soon, Spike will become the sixth and last of Viacom’s core international channel brands to have a presence in Asia-Pacific, following a carriage deal with Australian IPTV platform FetchTV.
Spike is scheduled to launch in Australia on July 1, targeting 18-to-39 year-old men with shows from the US and UK. A localized edition of Comedy Central also made its Australian debut on Fetch in February.
Viacom’s Australian expansion marks an ongoing search for linear distribution for the broadcaster’s main international portfolio, comprising its two mainstays Nickelodeon and MTV, more recent APAC arrivals Nick Jr and Comedy Central, and the latest regional entrants, Paramount Channel and Spike.
These channels will be complemented with brand and revenue extensions, online as well as through new theme parks as well as live events, together with more Asian-made content.
“I don’t see our bouquet expanding dramatically from there,” said Bob Bakish, president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks, speaking in an interview with Media Business Asia.
“As we either launch new pieces of it, or operate on an ongoing basis, multichannel exposure is critical, either in a TV Everywhere environment or through various promotional aspects,” Bakish added.
“That is something we are very focused on,” he continued. “We do use OTT platforms as an incremental reach opportunity, more so in some markets than others.”
MTV Hits for example, an MTV variant programmed with international music videos, made its Asian debut on April 11 as a local feed on AbemaTV, a new Japanese AVOD site jointly run by domestic broadcaster TV Asahi and CyberAgent, a digital ad agency.
The Japanese iteration for MTV Hits is a new idea for Viacom, helping increase MTV’s reach in a market where pay-TV penetration has remained stuck at less than 30% of homes, while connecting the brand with a younger audience.
Bakish anticipates other OTT deals in Japan. If successful, expect similar rollouts elsewhere.
Play Plex Lands In Asia
Singapore, meanwhile, will become home to another international pilot anchored to broadband distribution later this year.
Telecoms and pay-TV group Singtel will use Play Plex, Viacom’s suite of branded mobile apps, as a marketing tool for its mobile subs that have not signed up to pay-TV. Singtel’s pay-TV base, meanwhile, will have access to Play Plex as an authenticated service.
It’s another deal that gives Viacom a chance to increase the reach and time spent for its brands, in this case extensions for Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, MTV and Comedy Central, beyond traditional pay-TV.
“Quad play and mobile is probably the most significant incremental opportunity for the pay-TV industry today,” Bakish says.
Packaging details of the tie-up with Singtel will be announced closer to launch, in the second half of the year.
Play Plex is a flexible product – combining linear and on-demand services, as well as extras such as games and short-form content on its kid services – that can adjust to market and operator needs, Bakish explains.
Nick Play runs as a free ad-supported service in Germany for example, complementing Nickelodeon, which is carried on freesat in that market.
The focus, however, is on working with pay-TV partners, Bakish emphasizes.
“There are differences by market but what we learn in Singapore will have hopefully positive implications for what we are doing elsewhere,” he says.
Play Plex is live in 40 countries worldwide, after making its debut last November.
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At the same time, Viacom’s Asia teams, led ex-India by EVP and MD Mark Whitehead, continue to build out the broadcaster’s linear offering.
At the beginning of April, Nick Jr, which first launched in Asia in 2011, boosted its pay-TV footprint in Indonesia, thanks to a deal with domestic leader MNC Sky Vision.
Nick Jr is now in the basic pack across MNC Sky Vision’s three DTH services, Indovision, Okevision and Top TV, as well as on IPTV platform, MNC Play Media.
Viacom’s ad-supported movie offering Paramount Channel, meanwhile, made its APAC debut in May, landing in Thailand via CTH and in the Pacific islands via Digicel.
The company is also making deeper inroads into China with its Nickelodeon brand, giving some exclusive OTT rights to streaming platform LeEco, while licensing the brand for an upcoming theme park in the southern province of Guangdong, due to open by 2020.
As part of another licensing deal, Malaysia’s Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon – Viacom’s first branded attraction in Asia – opened for business earlier this year
Last year in India, Viacom’s largest APAC market, the broadcaster bought a 50% stake in Prism, its regional channels business, for US$153 million last year.
The other 50% is owned by Network18, Viacom’s partner in its 50:50 India JV, Viacom18, which runs general entertainment channels in multiple languages in addition to localized version of Viacom’s international portfolio.
Nonetheless, Viacom primarily remains an organic growth company, Bakish says, reiterating that large-scale moves – despite 2014’s US$759 million acquisition of UK broadcaster Channel 5 – are unlikely.
Viacom runs three free channels in the UK, Channel 5, 5USA and, as of last year, Spike. Ad revenues are up on the back of ratings increases in key demos, Bakish reports, while the move has helped share the burden for original production.
This success does not a signal a strategic shift, however.
“It has proven the value of combining a large reach service with a set of pay-TV brands, which we think is interesting,” Bakish notes.
“We will certainly look at other opportunities, but candidly they are few and far between.”