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Interview: Marc Barnett, iflix, on changing entertainment consumption patterns amid the Covid-19 pandemic

April 20, 2020 Headline News No Comments

This situation is bigger than our internal business metrics, and I think we have a responsibility and an opportunity to help people through a difficult time by providing them with entertainment.
The first thing we did was offer all users a complimentary pass to iflix VIP, which is our premium service. We also fast-tracked content rollout wherever possible and are working with our telco partners in many of our markets to create more flexible data packages to be used for the consumption of iflix content. In line with those measures, our monthly active users are up by 50% since February.

How can limitations in digital infrastructure and penetration in some markets be mitigated? 

BARNETT: At our core we are a mass market service. Around 90% of our service is free for everyone. But we also know that a lot of our users are on mobile devices, so we have optimised our streaming bandwidth so that we can offer very high-quality streaming while minimising data consumption.
By making the VIP service free for all users during the lockdown period, they now have the option to download and watch content offline.

In what ways could the lifestyle changes necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic impact consumer behaviour over the long term, and how is this shaping your business strategy? 

BARNETT: I think we are going to live in a vastly different post-pandemic world, which will involve significantly more flexibility. Things like working from home and having video meetings will be the norm. That kind of flexibility flows into a broader sense of freedom, which will dictate how people want to consume entertainment.
This overwhelming sense of freedom probably already existed in more developed markets, but I think the pandemic is likely to accelerate this in other parts of the world. As such, our products and services must be catered to consumers who value freedom and the choice to consume content where, how and when they want.

What distinguishes iflix from global streaming giants like Netflix?

BARNETT: I think we cater to completely different audiences. One service is designed for a population that is Western-educated, upper class, uses credit cards, speaks English, lives in cities and likes watching Hollywood content. The other is built for the mass market made up of people who love local content but cannot afford to pay for a service regardless of how low the price is, and yet want the opportunity to watch what they want rather than being limited to the free-to-air options on the single TV in the household.

It comes back once again to freedom: these global services are designed for people who already have choice and freedom in their lives and barely notice the monthly subscription fee. Our product is built for people who do not already have that level of freedom.
Through this very difficult period, we have an opportunity to allow occasional consumers to become loyal users. We had 16m monthly users in February, which had grown gradually from 13m to 15m over the preceding three months. By early April we had 24m users, that is an additional 10m consumers using the product who were not using it a few months ago.

To what extent are the current Covid-19 containment measures impacting your pipeline for original Asian content?   

BARNETT: Most film and TV productions in the region have been now impacted by movement restrictions. This is creating delays in the delivery and launch of new content. However, we have a few big series slated for launch this year that are now in the post-production phase, so they have not been severely impacted.
The main challenge relates to uncertainty: we do not really know how long these restrictions will remain in place. Nevertheless, we are still accepting pitches from the creative community and can make a lot of progress in the ideation phase. In some ways, it is positive that we have more time to go through that process and feel less pressure to launch than we would normally.

We are also using the surge in user engagement to collect and analyse the increased data to determine what a specific audience likes. Over time we have built a number of frameworks to give us a better understanding of who is watching what, and then programming the site at a deeply personalised level to ensure that we are screening the right content for the right audiences.

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