Russia’s Play unveils ambitious plans for 2014

Leonid Belyaev

Leonid Belyaev

Russian video-on-demand service Play is to enhance its service by launching full HD streaming and multiple audio and subtitles over the next two weeks, with testing of 4K likely next year, according to CEO Leonid Belyaev.

Speaking at the Digital TV World Summit in London yesterday, Belyaev said the next step for Play is to deliver cinema-grade VoD, with early theatrical windows for big movies.

Over the last year Play has made about 20 movies available within two to four weeks of theatrical release with local distributors, including The Best Offer (La Migliore Offerta) with Geoffrey Rush, Belyaev told attendees.

The company is also making good use of a back catalogue and plans to improve discovery in order to exploit it further, he said. The service offers transactional VoD, allowing users to buy or rent content on all connected devices in SD, HD and with 3D content also available. Content is available for streaming or download.

Belyaev said people using the service currently watch on average three movies a month. “We want to go beyond that magical number and play a bigger part in the video lives of people,” said Belyaev.

The company has also been testing subscription VoD and a hybrid model crossing the boundary between linear TV and SVoD. It launched PlayFamily in June this year, offering 10 smart channels, five of which are curated.

“It shares the same application launcher as Play,” he said. The 10 channels are based on mood, situation and genre. “We are still experimenting, with half of the service being non-curated channels – a long playlist that’s shuffled using a special algorithm – and half being curated channels with about 20 or so movies shuffled on a daily basis,” said Belyaev.

With the curated channels, users can press to move to the next piece of content when a recommended movie comes up on screen. “We are on a thin line between TV and VoD here,” said Belyaev. “We are pleased with the traction so far and we have increased the number of movies people watch seven times [from three to 21 a month].”

Play, formerly known as YotaPlay, was launched as a pure OTT player but quickly learned that sharing its brand with an LTE service did not serve it well, according to Belyaev

The service provider has about 60 contracts with content providers including six Hollywood majors. It offers about 1,500 titles including about 150 3D movies. There are about three million registered devices in Russia with about 200,000 paid users. The company grew four times ths year and passed the US$1 million (€740 million) a month revenue mark in November, according to Belyaev

About 90% of usage is on smart TVs, which Belyaev said had enabled Play to show that people  were willing to pay for content in Russia. “We’ve seen up to 25% conversion from visitors to pay users,” he said.