Spreading the linear love: HITS & tonton

Asia's newest linear partnership – between regional channel operator Rewind Networks and Malaysia's biggest free-TV broadcaster, Media Prima – is being closely watched for the expanded distribution potential it opens up to linear channels in Asia.

In addition, the alliance, announced on Tuesday (21 February 2017), is on the industry's radar for its ability to help build a viable subscription tier on online/streaming platforms that have, until now, been predominantly free. 

Rewind’s HITS linear channel debuts on Media Prima's home-grown online platform, tonton on Friday, 24 February, giving the Singapore-based regional network access to tonton’s 6.6 million registered users for a free preview period of two weeks. 

After the free window, HITS, subtitled in Chinese and Malay, will be part of tonton’s VIP subscription tier offered from RM3/US$0.70 a day, RM5/US$1.25 for seven days, RM10/US$2.50 for 30 days, and RM96/US$24 for a year.  

HITS is tonton's third third-party linear channel since the platform launched its SVOD business in April 2016. The first two were the international services of Japanese public broadcaster NHK and Germany's Deutsche Welle.These sit alongside Media Prima's powerful stable of mass-market terrestrial broadcast networks – TV3, 8TV, TV9 and ntv7.

And there will be others. 

Airin Zainul, Media Prima's Director of tonton & Licensing and Merchandising, says tonton's international offering is being expanded as part of the Group’s strategy to diversify revenue sources.

"We are very focussed and clear with our offerings in providing the best of local content plus the best of international content," she says. This includes Hollywood, Korean, Japanese, Bangladeshi and Bollywood content. 

In addition to channels, Media Prima's expansion plans include taking tonton into regional markets this year and the launch of the tonton app globally.

Rewind Networks' founder and chief executive, Avi Himatsinghani, sees the latest carriage deal as yet another validation for his original concept – a branded destination to strengthen basic-tier services and entry-level packs in the subsciption television ecosystem.

"Our launch on tonton underscores the strong and unique proposition of the HITS franchise, specially packaged for mass Asian consumers and shows that we can also add solid value to new skinny bundles and hybrid on-demand / linear streaming OTT services alongside mainstream local content," he says.

He steers clear of squeezing any other wish, hope or meaning for the broader industry out of the deal.

"OTT/streaming platforms are not a lifeline for linear channels that can't find a berth anywhere else," he says.

Ultimately, he adds, "great branded destinations will continue to enhance value and thrive on multiple platforms".

He remains absolutely firm in his belief that "the consumer has money. In many countries in Asia one Big Mac meal costs more than a month of pay-TV. But whether they spend on television is about the curation and the proposition".

For tonton, the addition of HITS signals a willingness to test Malaysia's appetite for Hollywood titles on an online platform driven primarily by Media Prima's television/video productions and local shows. 

HITS debuts on tonton with the premieres of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and medical drama “E.R.”. HITS titles also include "Baywatch", "Seinfeld", "3rd Rock from the Sun", "M*A*S*H*", "Taxi", "The X-Files" and "The Nanny".

"tonton’s core strategy is to provide the best latest local content to our subscribers and at the same time offer a wide range of international content for the convenience and leisure of our customers," Zainul says.

"All the shows from HITS have been put together to reach out to audiences that have loved (at one time or another from the 1970s to the 2000s) the storylines or characters as well as reaching out to new audiences that will be able to appreciate great timeless storylines with universal themes," she adds.

At the moment, tonton offers more than 26,000 hours of catch up and premium video content. About 80% of the shows are local. 

Tonton’s paying subscriber numbers have not been disclosed.

A key question is how tonton and other online platforms will develop their packages and what role linear will play in the new mix.

Our prediction is that online/on-demand platforms across the region will start experimenting and innovating with linear in a more significant way this year. And that's all this crystal ball is showing for now.

23 February 2017