Hooq recently announced a pilot season to create its own originals. Out of the 500 entries that it received, Hooq shortlisted five ideas, whose pilots were produced and are now available on the Singapore-headquartered streaming platform.
Out of these, one show will be green-lit for a full season. The shortlist includes one entry from India titled 'Bhak', about a pair of filmmakers who are trying to break out of the Bollywood system. This is a bit of a departure for Hooq though, as the company's strategy for India is to focus on dubbed Hollywood content.
"We're about great stories, and we had to produce it," says Bithos. "And it's [the Indian entry Bhak] also doing well on our other South East Asian regions. Our originals are there to bolster our Hollywood catalogue. Right now, with the exception of Netflix, no one is creating content for the Asian region."
At the same time, Bithos explains, there's also an opportunity to change the kind of content that people are getting on their screens right now.
"We have this 'golden age' of television in North American and Europe, the kind of content you'd find on Netflix in India, but it's being done at scale and it's not just by Netflix but lots of different sources," he says. "That kind of thinking, of not doing 100 episodes cheaply but 10 episodes of great storytelling, that you can't do on a typical free to air channel in India - that kind of content is not available in South-East Asia, and it's only just starting in India."
Hooq is now also partnering with more and more telecom providers, ranging from cellular networks Airtel and Vodafone, to upcoming partnerships including one with ACT Fibernet, which give their users access to Hooq's library of content for free. It's a tricky proposition right now, and Bithos half-jokes that the only people who are making money right now are the content creators.
Hooq wants to build content from the ground-up, and that's the incentive behind the move into original programming. Earlier, the company co-produced a show called The Oath with Crackle, which is owned by Sony, a major investor in Hooq. And now, it is working towards pushing projects from the ground up, with the idea of bolstering its content offerings for the South-East Asian market.
In India, Hooq's trying to dub its Hollywood catalogue, such as the latest DC superhero TV shows, into Indian languages. But Bithos adds that the originals that it's making in other countries will also be coming to India. This is something that's only just started though, so it's too early to say if it will open up a new audience here. But Bithos also has high hopes for content from India, for other Asian countries.
"The quality of Indian content, particularly of the young filmmakers who grew up watching the 'golden age' of television that started ten years ago, are going to make content that is not just applicable for Bangalore but also Bangkok," he says. "It is purposefully that thought that drives us to produce content throughout the region. You can watch content from Singapore, the Philippines, and we believe that regionalisation of content will be a leading trend and India will be a part of that."
That said, he believes that content consumption in India is going to go through another major change soon - the launch of Reliance Jio brought many more people online, but broadband penetration is very limited. And once that changes, he believes the amount of video content people will watch will also change.
"The single biggest challenge for the ecosystem is that broadband penetration into homes in India is - India is a laggard," says Bithos. "Home broadband penetration must increase dramatically. We see it in comparison to Thailand, or the Philippines, and that's the first key enabler that enables Fire TV Sticks, smart TVs, those are still very high end phenomenons in India today."
"[In India] if you look at the number of play events that happen, mobile is still dominant," says Bithos. "But if you look at the minutes per device, it's very clear, if you get content on the bigger device, people watch substantially more."
This mirror's what Netflix told Gadgets 360 earlier - globally, most people are watching Netflix on TVs, but in India mobiles and other personal devices are still the dominant medium.