Play to launch 4K OTT service, plans to expand internationally

Leonid Belyaev, CEO Play

Leonid Belyaev, CEO Play

Russian OTT service provider Play plans to introduce a 4K service later this year, focusing initially on an electronic sell-through model, according to Leonid Belyaev, CEO.

The OTT operator also plans to unveil a new linear channel-based offering next month and to launch a premium offering to international markets, possibly next year.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Digital TV CEE conference in Budapest this morning, Belyaev told DTVE that Play was in the final stages of negotiations to secure content rights for the 4K service from Hollywood studios.

He said that the service, which will offer first-run Hollywood movies, would require additional security measures. Belyaev said that Play was well-served in this case by its focus on smart TVs as its primary distribution channel, as these platforms are inherently more secure that other devices that may, for example, require HDMI connectivity to deliver the content to the TV screen.

The service will be launched in the third or fourth quarter. One key issue currently is the lack of availability of 4K content. Belyaev said Play “wants to be able to tell people to buy a new 4K TV”. He said the bandwidth requirement would be between 15-25Mbps. “This willstart in big cities where optical fibre networks are available for a reasonable price,” he said. The 4K TV service will be delivered via adaptive bit-rate streaming, encoded in HEVC.

Belyaev said he believed 4K would deliver a premium of 30-40% per title on the existing service. Play will focus on electronic sell-through initially, a model it has already implemented for its existing catalogue. “We’ve done EST from the inception. It’s surprisingly popular because people associate it with owning DVDs. Renting on the other hand was never very big in Russia,” he said.

Content will be stored in Play’s proprietary – but UltraViolet-compatible – digital locker, Belyaev said.

Belyaev said that Play is looking at international expansion, possibly starting next year, focusing on a premium, niche offering for the European market. “We are looking at international expansion next year, starting in Europe,” he said. “We can test our belief in smart TV and see how it resonates.”

Belyaev said Play would look at transactional rather than subscription-based services internationally. “We don’t believe in the SVOD model for the long run. Rights are getting more expensive everywhere, but that’s not necessarily the case with transactional rights.”

Belyaev said Play would also unveil a new linear channel-based service on July 15. “It will be a linear TV service, but not a traditional linear service, and it will have a new brand,” he said.

Play has about five million registered users in Russia, of whom about 300,000 pay for services. In addition to its transactional offering, it provides a RUB500 a month subscription service, with the ability to pay for transactional content on top. About 90% of users access the service via smart TVs.