The demand for video on demand has seen a rapid increase, and iflix, is just one of the Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) service for emerging markets.
Amwal Al Ghad spoke to Iflix’s co-founder Mark Britt on how he plans to expand the brand in a market which is currently dominated by Netflix, the company’s content strategy, tackling piracy and their future plans.
Q: Let me know about your experience, how do you get the idea. how do you start this business?
Britt: It is two things we are deeply passionate about. The first one is on a personal level I am very passionate about building businesses based on values and an amazing internal cultural, people who wanna be a part of something great, people who are in it together. we are not thinking about how much money we could make, but about how cheap service we could make to reach as many people as possible. So we are democratizing content and bringing culture and the world best content to the emerging market is something to get served in IFLIX.
Q: Why do you choose the emerging market?
Britt: I think it is way to the biggest impact, and the second big thing is variousness, we do not believe that the global companies are American companies and have monopoly on good ideas. So we think there are some businesses and some sectors, we need to have a deep understanding of the local culture, nuances, people’ personal preferences, we need to understand culture sensitivity; issues like censorship, which is very hard to do it for a global company based in Silicon Valley and look at the whole world as the same.
So this is one parody entertainment industry which is now really sailing the world in various channels.
It is mostly English language content in western culture, and where to see different opportunities on television, which to understand the unique culture in the market in which you operate, and brings the paramount television which is on demand in your hand and in my own terms.
We see the opportunity to do this for local and regional content in every single market.
Q: Do you think that Netflix is doing the same one?
Britt: Personally, I think Netflix is extraordinary company, I think they are one of the constructive companies to appear on technology landscape in the last decade, because what they have done is restructuring a very stable US entertainment industry, but they do see the world as very common, as they have the same content countries like in Egypt, and the malfunction of that, so the very upper social economic people, English speaking, who have a credit card and particularly people who educated in western environment. Netflix is an amazing content, but to the mass market.
The mass market that grew up in a more global environment, have a passion for local and regional content. often some of the Netflix contents are not relevant, which is I think entertainment
So if we look around most of the emerging market, they have iPhones, it is still the aspirational device, it is still an inspiration brand, but in most countries we will have 4 or 5 markets the penetration is very low.
So, IFLIX is the Android of the entertainment industry.
Q: what opportunities has Iflix identified in the Middle East countries and Egypt in particular? this is your first visit to Egypt?
Britt: No it is actually not the first, it is the sixth, I first came to Cairo when I was 22 and changed my prospective of the world. It fundamentally challenged my understanding of time, I realized it the young keeping on in Australia, and have a little understanding of the history and humanity.
Q: How long did stay at that time?
Britt: 6 weeks. I went to Alexandria, on the Nile, valley of the Kings
and I find it is so good to look at humanity in a longer term to create transition much clearer, and our generations in the transitive is very clear, when you consume the technology in hands of people it results in a great personal baument, whether it is communication, whether it is social media in our world, which means getting access to the entertainment that i love whenever and wherever I want it.
So if you look at the young generation at the age of 24, watching a traditional television globally is down by 50%. My younger kids will never know what a channel is, their entire world is on demand.
They do not wanna ever know what the channel is, but the whole world they are amazed at, have access to the world best content at a fingertip, and we loved that a process is being to deliver what every person want, everybody deserves to be entertained, there is a growing global culture, as Egyptian content reaches outside the middle east, and the Korean content reaches the middles east, the Latin American is becoming most globally, and I am very humble to be part of that.
Q: You are focusing on the content, the versification of content, not only the English language content?
Britt: Absolutely, let’s say half of the library anywhere in the world is in the English language,
We have now i think what is close to the largest subtitling team anywhere in the world, where we have teams in every market differently.
Q: What is exactly you are focusing on the emerging market?
Britt: It is several, what we know and what we have done, what we know is to stick to access to more entertainment on the long term and have a prices. What we have done is we need get access to people to globally have extend choices to choose, and so have approaches to launch and approaches to learn,
and so when we launch the content portfolio in any given market, we start with piracy data. The piracy is a signal that you want to access to get the content they cannot get from more channels. So we do that content portfolio with piracy on social media. and what we launch on day one, an amazing mandatory, and how people intensely consume the shows and we evolve the portfolio every time when we do that in different country
so over the next 6-12 months, the content library in Egypt will be different than Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE. and we like that it is a journey because the content is different
Q: What do you do with the censorship? and the different cultural barriers? especially we have Muslims, Jewish, we have different cultures?
Britt: We divide the entertainment globally now to ideologies, if you are a US company, you believe that censorship is always a matter of show-protection, and for adults they should all celebrate western liberal values. if we roughly extend on the perception, which we fundamentally believe that local communities, governments, democratic societies have the right to choose their own contents, and so we sense differently in every single country library, and that means understanding the local sensitivity, understanding the nuances, and what people find offensive and what kind of entertaining
and that means there is two shows of two cultures, who actually sensitive individual shows to find the way it is locally standard. Now there is a challenge element, if you are sensitive too much, you can destroy the story line, you can destroy the characters and people go back to piracy, which is completely insensible.
If you do not censor all, I do not think tough the local community is, I think some of the content that emerges from the US is accepted within America is considered pornographic in much of the world.
It is deeply offensive in another, it is about sexuality, it is about cultural relationship and I want to be in a market with teen who understand the sensitivities and you need to build local library that engages with people.
Q: Politics and terrorism you know now, content even the entertainment may be judged by some of the authorities as motivation, how do you protect the content or select the content which is not put you in any conflict with any of the authorities especially you are working in the Middle East with the most dictators?
Britt: The sensitivity is surprising as an example; there is an amazing American show, and on show in 1992 in America and had Russian spies that living under the cover in the middle of Washington, that is incredible show. In many countries that seen as communist propaganda and so the countries that have a history of dealing with communist Russia in a society that do not want keep it
it is a great American television show, it is completely appropriate show and so it is not just the traditional content sensitivity around sexuality or religion, some of them raise questions, political questions. We have very consistent process which starts with research for what local customers’ preferences are, we proactively going see governments that if we have any element confusion.
and again we take the opposite of view of the big American companies. The big American companies will serve you content from the side out of Egypt, from the side which is not bound by Egyptian law that want protect in Egypt, where on the other respect their people and who buy the content engage with not bound to that, and part of that is working with local government to other industry associations that run censorships, we do not have the definitive view that should be acceptable. We share with government in this industry associations in their own prospective what we see on the Internet in terms of trends, and ultimately we are comfortable to continual all censorship steps as part of the conversation,
Q: let me know about your relationship with the operators, did you sign any of the partnership agreement with them?
Britt: We are not gonna pronounce anything today, but we have been in very deep and in extensive discussions across Egypt with telecom operators are very important to us, because they owns the data intense, so these are wonderful things in terms of distributing entertainment, but if you get it wrong, either it is very cool consumer experience, or very expensive in terms of data, and so we work very integrating on telecommunication business, it is not just on billing promotion, but the infrastructure to make sure when a customer hits play on a 3G connection on an Android phones that is 5 years old, the video actually works. And so we work with them on authentication to make it easy to a customer to sign up, we work with the more packaging, mobile data and IFLIX and why it makes more easy to buy and people do not get any sort of bill shock from mobile data, and we have found the relationship with telecommunications companies is a very important part on the new internet televise from something for the niche top one percent and actually make it in a mass market.
Q: What is the process to sign up and what payment models do you currently have in place?
Britt: We have three different sorts of models to sign up process incredibly easy, we offer everybody to come while we think everyone deserves to be entertained through internet television, the new experience, we wanna many people try and understand instant television is possible, beyond that there are 3 ways to buy IFLIX. the most popular way is to buy IFLIX is by a data bundle from telecommunication companies.
It is very essential to partnership with these telecom companies, the good news is that most people prefer a telecom bundle, a telecom product, when it has content included. this is a trend in America, Australia, UK, that the bundling of your cell phone with your cable television that something has been since thirty years, what IFLIX is done is a very traditional model for the customer in the emerging markets to allow them to bundle a gigabyte of data with 10000 of content to choose from. that is really powerful, and a creative data is more valid for the customer and a better relationship from the customer and telecommunication company
Q: Subscription video on demand, how do you plan to compete with Netflix?
Britt: No we do not want to compete with Netflix.
There is equivalent of the content with about 3%
So 97% of content in IFLIX completely different, so if you understand the internet television and like Netflix that I do for the incredible service, but you will have an access to other thousands of content which are new and different and much more regional and local.
It is not a competition, as Entertainment is not a monopoly in any form. Often people spend more money on newspapers, they read more magazines. it is also very different in music industry. so you have a magazine content versus another magazine you will find the content is different and interesting. so the first thing we do not see ourselves competitors at all, the second thing is about the technology industry in the 20 years and I love the acronyms, like using 3 or 4 acronyms to make themselves seem smart, so whether it is OTT or S4 or EST, a customer does not care, a customer just wanna get access to really good show on TV. so we try the step out of the tradition in this definition and say a spot of a specific category we not particularly committed to, finding internet television product that entertains millions of Egyptians that we are very committed to. And over time, I think we will see that product changes and get more simple and get different business models. From my prospective, we just wanna continue to evolve the product.
Q: what are the challenges you are expecting to face in Egypt? we are a very diversified community.
Britt: Huge, building a business in an emerging market, billions business full stops the ways we have, i have enormous respect for any entrepreneur in a successful business because when you do it yourself, it is incredibly humbling experience. Motivating consumers to pay for content in a market where they are used to accessing pirated and free content. People want to watch their favourite shows and movies at the time of their choice on their favourite device and as there are few legal ways of doing so, this huge gap is filled by piracy. We hope to overcome this challenge by giving consumers access to their favourite content in a user-friendly way and at an affordable price.
In emerging markets, the infrastructure is still evolving and the technology is new. We really love the challenge, there are companies around the world who love to do the hard work, we keep digging market by market to be successful in what we do.
Q: Again, what you are doing is very difficult working in the emerging markets, why do you choose these markets?
Britt: Two reasons: One is personally I think all of us wanna be part of something with impact. There are lots of big global companies that focus on rich customers. it is extraordinary motivating to have impact on the rest of the 100 billion people in the world who no one care about them.
South Africa is not emerging market, we studied two weeks the launch in South Africa, and the sponsors were amazing.
Q: How many offices you have? where?
Britt: 27 offices, we started in Philippines, Chicago, Vietnam. We got 35 people working in Myanmar. We have a team in Iran, Sudan, and Iraq. We also have offices in Nigeria and Ghana. We have 820 employees in 27 offices around the world.
Q: Do you plan to offer exclusive content?
Britt: In entertainment industry, nothing is exclusive due to the piracy phenomenon. Yet, in our industry if you take something to watch for free, you would take the risk of having viruses.
Q: What are your plans for the coming five years? Is your company listed in any stock market?
Britt: We’re completely private, may be on the long run, we would go for initial public offering but not now or in the short run. We are focusing now on building strong presence. I think by five years from now, we just want to keep learning, executing, and making products more and more locally. Over the five years, I think it’s realistic we wish to have a turnout of 150 million customers to reach.