Set-tops ‘not important’ for SVOD, says Viaplay chief

Jonas Karlen

Jonas Karlen

Modern Times Group (MTG)-owned OTT subscription video-on-demand service Viaplay does not need to be available on set-top boxes to succeed, and the SVOD service will continue to be a complement to MTG’s mainstream pay TV service rather than a replacement for it, according to Jonas Karlén, Viaplay’s CEO.

Speaking at the Connected TV World Summit in London this morning, Karlén said Viaplay, which is now present on over 90% of all connected devices in the Nordic market, had no need for a presence on pay TV set-top boxes.

“We don’t want to be on devices that can’t use our key features, so we are not present on any set-top boxes in the Nordics. They are not good enough for a good user experience. Developing apps [for each box] was not worth the price and very few customers in the Nordic markets are asking for it,” he said.

He said it is “too cumbersome” to develop native apps and then upgrade them regularly for each and every set-top box in the market.

Karlén said that Viaplay is available on TV screens through devices such as Chromecast. He said “a transformation is happening” in the way consumers use video, and that maintaining a high-quality user experience is more important than, for example, being available on every device.

However, he said that the development of Android set-tops could provide an opening as Android offered a standard way of providing services that could support tall the features that Viaplay offers.

Karlen admitted that he personally did “not have a traditional package” any longer, relying on OTT TV services including Viaplay.

However, asked by DTVE whether MTG’s increasing focus on digital content such as eSports and the sale of free-to-air and pay TV assets outside the Nordic markets means that Viaplay would ultimately become the company’s only pay TV offering, he said that MTG remained committed to traditional mainstream pay TV for the foreseeable future.

Karlén said that the company would increasingly focus on distributing pay TV through open fibre networks in the Nordic markets, which he said made a compelling service. However, he said that satellite-delivered pay TV would also continue to play a significant role in reaching consumers in rural areas.

Karlén told Connected TV World Summit attendees that Viaplay and Netflix are now far ahead of all other Nordic SVOD services in terms of ratings on iOS and Android devices. Viaplay has quadrupled subscribers and increased revenue fivefold since 2013, he said.

Key to the company’s success in matching Netflix has been its move into originals a year ago, offering shows with local relevance such as Hassel, Swedish Dicks and Veni Vidi Vici.

“There are so many great stories coming from the Nordics,” said Karlén. “This means we now have a mixed content portfolio of local stuff together with acquired titles.”

The Viaplay originals have often been more successful than the most popular US acquired content, he said, citing the popularity of The Great Escape, Black Widows, Black Lake and Swedish Dicks.

Viaplay had launched as an SVOD service in 2011, replacing Viasat On Demand. Offline viewing was launched in 2012, and over 95% of content is now downloadable. In 2016, the service launched the first Viaplay original, and a month ago Viaplay become one of the first sluch services to broadcast sports content in 4K UHD. “We are seeing how we can take that even further on,” said Karlén.

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