AMBER ARSHAD: What opportunities did iflix identify in the Pakistani market?
FAREES SHAH: Like in all other emerging markets, content consumption is moving from live TV to on-demand platforms. Users now want to consume content in their own time on a device of their choice based on their lifestyle. Firstly, until now, there were no legal means to fill that demand (people use to consume pirated content online), and this is where iflix comes in. Secondly, although Pakistan has a fairly low internet penetration rate, it is growing significantly thanks to 3G and 4G. There has been a growth of 35 million mobile broadband users in the past 30 months or so and this makes it a very attractive market for online business in general.
AA: What is the process to sign up and what payment models do you currently have in place?
FS: It’s super simple. Go to www.iflix.com and sign up for the 30-day free trial – all you need to do is provide your email address and phone number; you can also download iflix’ Android or iOS app. Once the trial ends, you will be prompted to pay a monthly fee of Rs 300 to renew your subscription for another month. This can be paid via debit card, credit card, mobile credit and internet banking.
AA: Which are the content categories hosted on iflix Pakistan and which ones are the most popular?
FS: Our content strategy is based on our assessment of what the online Pakistani consumer is interested in; so our content includes both Pakistani and western TV shows and films. We are very clear that while there is a lot of interest in international content, it will be the quality of the Pakistani content provided that will determine our success.
AA: What is iflix’ criteria in choosing content?
FS: Content selection is both an art and a science, which means we look at whatever data is available, including a show’s ratings. We also carry out our own assessment in terms of how certain shows may perform with Pakistani online audiences and here it is important to understand that online audiences sometimes have a very different preferences compared to live TV audiences, therefore our own research and assessment becomes crucial. Our current selection includes Bin Roye, Udaari and Mann Mayal ; the top shows as per TV ratings in the last six months, and they are also doing very well on iflix. At the same time, for first-run exclusives (shows we select before they are aired on TV), our own assessment becomes much more important as no formal data is available.
AA: Who are your international and local content partners?
FS: We have over 150 content relationships across the globe including Hum TV, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, NBC Universal, Fox, CBS, Miramax and BBC to name a few.
AA: Did you face any challenges when reaching out to local content partners?
FS: To be honest, all local content players are extremely aware of the importance of digital in general and the role SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) has to play; so all were extremely receptive.
"Motivating consumers to pay for content in a market where they are used to accessing pirated and free content is a challenge."
AA: How do you plan to compete with Netflix?
FS: In all our markets including Pakistan, the competition is not any other international player – it is piracy. In Pakistan, not many people who want to watch primarily English content can afford to pay eight to 12 dollars per month, own a credit card and have a high-speed internet connection. As a result almost all content consumption in Pakistan outside of live TV is done via piracy. As a company, our focus is on getting the people downloading and streaming pirated content or buying pirated DVDs to switch to iflix.
AA: What are iflix’ differentiating factors in terms of the features it offers?
FS: Firstly we focus on content that is locally relevant and apart from Pakistani content, we host Western, Turkish and Indian content. We are in the process of subtitling our English content in Urdu in order to cater to a wider audience. Secondly, iflix can function smoothly on a 1MB internet connection and allows users to download and watch offline content to get around choppy internet issues. Thirdly, our members can use local payment options, including mobile credit. Fourthly, our monthly subscription is priced at a rather affordable Rs 300 per month.
FS: What are the challenges you expect to face in Pakistan?
AA: 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 Pakistani consumers access to their favourite content in a user-friendly way and at an affordable price.
FS: What are the marketing initiatives underway to attract both audiences and content providers?
AA: iflix has been successfully launched across different emerging markets with a number of strategies, including data-driven marketing and high quality programmatic buying, deep telco integration, strategic retail partnerships and celebrity-driven marketing. We will be deploying some, if not all, of these strategies in Pakistan soon.