Broadband TV News speaks with Berk Uziyel, CEO at SPI International, about the company’s plans for further growth and expansion in all its territories.
What impact has the merger with Canal+ had on SPI? Has it led to further growth in terms of viewership and digital products?
The overall business evolution has been very positive for our company. The merger with CANAL+ triggered further growth on different fronts for SPI in all the territories where we operate. The viewership of our channels and digital products are increasing significantly along with our advertising revenues and the number of subscribers that now have access to our services.
For example, our flagship movie channel FilmBox has been the leader in the pay-TV movie market in Czechia for the past two years, and is still going strong. Following the great success of FilmBox in the territory, we decided to initiate viewership measurement for our premium movie channel FilmBox Stars which now offers more targeted offerings to elevate the viewing experience of our audiences. In addition, we also launched FilmBox for the first time in Western Europe in the Netherlands. In just a little over a year, the channel is now offered in the basic packages of ten operators, reaching over three million Dutch households. The advertising revenues for both channels have been steadily growing.
Our digital expansion has also been significant in the past two years. We have been working on developing and refining our digital products and expanding their global footprint along with our on-demand delivery operations. This year, we entered the U.S. market with our Dizi app which is available through Comcast’s entertainment platforms including Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and XClass TV devices. Our digital streaming platform FilmBox+, which combines the linear and digital TV experiences, has integrated with multiple operators across Europe such as DIGI and Vodafone TV in Hungary, and continues to enter more households with operator partnerships. In addition, the Film1 digital service has recently switched to a new, dynamic OTT infrastructure that provides both the end-user and our operator partners with an appealing curation of content. The revamped app has already integrated with sixteen operators in the Netherlands. We are also delivering thousands of hours of on-demand content monthly to over 50 operators worldwide.
Has SPI also expanded into more territories? If so, which ones and with what services?
We delved into the FAST business in the recent years, where we launched various FAST channels, most prominently our Filmstream channel, which features timeless classics and independent movies in its programming slate. We launched our channels across the globe with key partners such as Samsung TV Plus, Freevee, Rakuten TV and Plex, and continue to work towards expanding our FAST portfolio as well as our partnerships.
In addition, we recently launched two new FilmBox channels in the Middle East – FilmBox Action and FilmBox Family. We have also taken our premium Turkish drama hub Dizi, which is highly sought-after in Eastern Europe, MENA and Adria regions, to multiple Western European countries including the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Malta.
SPI now has an important role to play with Canal+ International and Canal+ Luxembourg. How does this look in practice?
We are taking on an important responsibility for CANAL+ INTERNATIONAL and CANAL+ LUXEMBOURG in all of the M7 territories as the content curator, aggregator and B2B distributor of the entire CANAL+ package. The collaboration started recently with the newly launched CANAL+ Sport channel in Czechia and Slovakia where SPI is responsible for the B2B sales of the CANAL+ package. We will expand the footprint of CANAL+ products by leveraging our strong market presence and brand reputation worldwide, which is especially prominent in the CEE. SPI will also be responsible for the B2B marketing and distribution of the CANAL+ Action channel, scheduled to launch in Q1 2023 in the CEE region.
SPI also has a partnership with Thema. How is this developing and can you give some examples of recent initiatives?
We are partnering with THEMA for joint distribution of our content portfolio in different territories. We will make the best use of the synergies between SPI and other CANAL+ companies like THEMA and M7, to expand the reach of our channels and digital services globally. We have recently inked a deal with THEMA for the distribution of a suite of SPI channels and digital services such as FilmBox+ to Asia-Pacific countries. This deal will extend to include more territories in the months to come. Similarly, nine channels from the SPI portfolio have been added to the M7 Germany line-up earlier this year with M7 now distributing, for example, Fast&FunBox across 160 network operators within the territory.
There is clearly an evolution at SPI now taking place following the merger with Canal+. How does this appear to you in practice?
We are evolving from becoming a channel and content distributor into a comprehensive entertainment services provider. Our proposition includes channels, streaming services, SVOD & AVOD products along with content distribution operations which allows us to cater to all kinds of client and market demands. Through mutually beneficial partnerships with other companies within the CANAL+ umbrella, we aim to provide more targeted entertainment options by enriching our content portfolio and introducing our products to new territories.
Going forward, what would you say are SPI’s main priorities?
SPI’s main priorities going forward is to become the ultimate content and services aggregator for operators and all kinds of digital platforms worldwide. We target further growth and expansion in all of our territories with our customizable portfolio of content solutions that aims to make quality content accessible on all available screens at all times through stand-alone products, key alliances with major platforms and content aggregators.
How would you like to see the company develop over the next few years?
We are working to expand our existing areas of operation while taking on new responsibilities and projects by leveraging our strong market presence and global brand reputation. SPI’s Home of Great Entertainment will complement the service offerings and entertainment bundles of key aggregators by providing additional windows of premium content curation to enrich user experience and optimize the discovery of quality programming.
As fall slowly approaches, we wanted to look back at one of our most exciting summer highlights of the year. FilmBox+ was one of the main sponsors of Istanbul's youth festival, FestZ İst in June.
FilmBox+ brought the Academy Award-winning story of the legendary rock band, Queen, with #BohemianRhapsody to Cinema Night during the event. Festival cheer was in the air as we welcomed the attendees to our photo booth to strike their best Freddie pose!
At SPI International, digital expansion has been top of mind as of late. There has been growth within its digital products—FilmBox+, Film1 and Dizi—and its digital distribution operations. Haymi Behar, chief marketing officer and chief digital officer at SPI International, talks to World Screen about growth in the digital space, opportunities with FAST and AVOD and what the company offers to subscription-fatigued viewers.
WS: How has the company been expanding in the digital space? BEHAR: As an important margin-maker and revenue-generator for the operators, SPI has been reshaping the digital TV experience with numerous content solutions, including craftily curated thematic channels, digital products and on-demand content that enriches the offerings of our partners.
First, we have our digital products FilmBox+ and Dizi, which are available worldwide, and Film1, available in the Netherlands. These products have integrated with over 40 operators in our key Central and Eastern European territories, with our revamped Film1 service, having integrated with the majority of Dutch operators already.
We also have branded VOD corners that are integrated with over 50 key operators globally, with which we help our partners enrich and diversify their content selection for their audiences through the thousands of hours of quality on-demand content that we deliver to them every month.
In addition, we have been expanding our digital business and becoming a major aggregator for digital platforms such as Amazon Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), Samsung TV Plus, Pluto TV, Plex, Rakuten TV and more by bringing 20,000-plus hours of content through SVOD, TVOD and AVOD models.
Stipulating the consumption shift toward more budget-friendly, ad-supported on-demand content via digital platforms, we launched our FAST channels a couple of years ago and have been expanding our channel portfolio at a rapid pace. Our channels are available in multiple territories across the globe through prominent platforms.
WS: Tell me about the suite of SPI digital products. BEHAR: FilmBox+ is an evolution of our FilmBox Live platform, which offers enhanced user experience, improved functionality and a wide selection of content. FilmBox+, the “Home of Good Movies,” is available worldwide and combines the lean-back and lean-forward viewing experiences through a vast collection of cherry-picked VOD content and live channels in 13 languages. FilmBox+ provides subscription-fatigued viewers who are already subscribed to operators’ services with easy access to curated content through operator integration. It also enables the operators to offer their subscribers an additional window of curated content. Within a year from its launch, FilmBox+ has already entered 1 million households globally and counting. Operator integrations are always supported with well-rounded marketing activities. Two of our FilmBox+ operator integration success stories involve our partners Vodafone Hungary and Türksat in Turkey, where the integration was promoted extensively via social media and digital marketing activities, telesales operations, in-shop branding and email marketing campaigns—all of which helped increase our subscriber growth in both cases.
Our Film1 brand includes four linear channels and a digital service component, available in the Netherlands, that allows the viewers to enjoy both the zapping experience of traditional TV and flexibility that comes with on-demand. A recent study done by Telecompaper shows that one in five Dutch consumers experience choice stress while scrolling in video services. Over 1 million viewers spend at least 30 minutes searching for content per week and almost half of the viewers give up entirely. Our Film1 suite of products offers a solution to endless scrolling by delivering the combination of linear TV and specially curated VOD, where viewers can always find a good movie to watch.
In addition, the Film1 digital service has recently switched to a new, dynamic OTT infrastructure that provides both the end-user and our operator partners with an appealing curation of content that is easier to access with a clean design that is more comfortable to navigate. The revamped app has already integrated with a majority of the operators in the Netherlands, including Ziggo, Canal Digitaal, Online.nl, DELTA Fiber, Tele2, Caiway, Breedband Helmond, Solcon, CAI Harderwijk, Plinq, SKV, Kabelnoord, Kabeltex, SKP and Trined, adding the rest in time.
The Film1 on-demand proposition is also available as a lightning app in Ziggo set-top boxes, integrated within the electronic programming guide among linear channels at channel 105, which comes right after the four Film1 linear channels. This allows viewers to experience the serendipity of stumbling onto good content while zapping or browsing through quality VOD content, all in one place.
Our Dizi streaming service, which positions itself as the “Home of Good Stories,” is the ultimate destination for Turkish series enthusiasts worldwide. Recently, we launched Dizi across Comcast’s entertainment platforms, including Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and XClass TV, signifying our expansion in the U.S. Dizi is also available with Amazon Prime Video Channels in Spain and the Netherlands, with more launches coming soon.
WS: How has SPI gone about expanding its digital distribution operations? BEHAR: SPI has extensive experience in the TV and broadcasting industry, with multiple free-to-air and pay-TV channels across the globe. We also have over 25 years of experience in content distribution in the international markets. By leveraging our solid alliances with major license suppliers and over 700 partner pay-TV operators worldwide, we create customizable content solutions depending on our partners’ needs that will deliver the best results and maximize the revenue generated.
We also have talented and agile in-house teams that are responsible for product development, digital content distribution and growth operations, with a keen eye for seizing new opportunities in the digital realm while simultaneously putting together effective content propositions where quality curation remains front and center. They are indispensable when it comes to packaging and delivering our content in the best way possible for the audiences and our B2B partners.
WS: What opportunities do you see in FAST and AVOD? BEHAR: Viewing habits have been changing drastically in the crowded SVOD market, especially in the U.S., as subscription-fatigued viewers search for more low-cost entertainment options. The average household in the U.S. has four streaming subscriptions, while in Europe, this number is around two but is subject to increase as new global streaming platforms make their way into new territories. This platform inflation will increasingly cause more viewers to switch between platforms instead of more stacking and drive SVOD platforms to introduce new lower-priced, ad-supported tiers, as we have already seen starting to happen.
In addition, the sheer number of SVOD platforms and the on-demand content available is overwhelming for most viewers to the point that 44 percent of U.S. viewers say they often have a hard time finding something to watch. Six in ten (58 percent) of streamers in the U.S. feel that ads are “a fair price” for being able to watch TV content for free. The quick adoption of FASTs indicates that audiences still cherish the lean-back, hassle-free viewing experience reminiscent of traditional TV with the added bonus of lower ad loads.
We started developing our FAST channels a couple of years ago with Filmstream and have been expanding our portfolio ever since, utilizing our vast catalog of diversified content. In just a couple of years, we have managed to enter a majority of European countries, including the U.K. and the Netherlands, the U.S., Australia and LatAm with Filmstream through partnerships with Rakuten TV, Samsung TV Plus, Plex and Pluto TV. Following the success of Filmstream, we introduced two more specialized FAST channels, Docustream and Fashionstream; the former is available in the U.K., the U.S., the Netherlands and India via platforms like Amazon Freevee, Samsung TV Plus and KlowdTV, and the latter is currently on air in LatAm with Pluto TV. We are working on expanding our FAST channel offerings to include more specialized content such as drama series, action and MMA sports.
WS: As you look ahead, what are the areas of focus for the digital business? BEHAR: SPI’s overall goal is to become the ultimate content hub for both audiences and distributors alike by investing in content that travels and is timeless through strategic alliances with key companies in the industry.
Though streaming services consumption is increasing globally, pay TV is not going anywhere anytime soon. The future of TV will remain hybrid for the foreseeable future, as AVOD and SVOD propositions are increasingly bundled together, enabled by mediatech, to offer a combination of lean-back and lean-forward viewing experiences to attract a wider audience. As pay-TV operators continue to look for ways to become super aggregators—offering content through linear channels, digital services and VOD corners—we will support them with our multiple content solutions to help them build a great TV product. We will also continue to expand our partnerships with digital platforms to make sure our content reaches more viewers globally through TVOD, SVOD and AVOD models.
In addition, we are always working to improve our digital products such as incorporating what we call the smart channels to our FilmBox+ app, which are like curated Spotify playlists for movies and series, very soon. These will be customizable and incorporate the human touch of our FilmBox editors that aims to optimize content discovery, something that automated recommendations are not adequately equipped to do as they tend to offer content based on the past version of the viewer. We are also working on integrating our digital products with all of the operators that we work with, creating more added value for our B2B partners.
In the age of streaming wars and major players churning out new content almost on the daily, entertainment experiences have been transforming drastically. How can media companies survive and thrive in such ever-changing times? In his keynote session entitled The Future of TV Experience: What's Next?, SPI CMO & CDO Haymi Behar sheds a light on the convergence of digital and linear TV viewing experiences, elaborating on the importance of quality curation in addressing choice stress that stems from platform inflation and content abundance. In addition, Behar covers SPI's multiple digital operations that make the company an important margin maker and revenue generator for its operator partners. Check out the full presentation.