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Interview: Leonid Belyaev, CEO of Play

Play CEO, Leonid Belyaev

Play CEO, Leonid Belyaev

Leonid Belyaev is CEO of Russian premium VoD provider, Play. The firm’s mission is to deliver high-quality movies and TV-shows to smart-TVs and other connected devices. Featuring what it claims is the best premium VoD catalogue in Eastern Europe, Play offers TV shows and new-release films, delivered in high quality – including Full HD, 3D and Dolby Digital Plus sound.

Since its launch in 2011, Play claims it has experienced rapid growth, expanding by a factor of 10 in 2013 alone. Play now claims some 500,000 users and around US$10m in annual sales. Belyaev leads a team of 70 people and before joining Play in 2012 held various executive and management positions in international and Russian companies, specialising in IT, telecoms and software development – including Cisco Systems, Dell, Lanit.

What can OTT offer that consumers in your market will respond to and how does it compare with other international markets?

Being a pure-play OTT VoD service with a focus on the smart TV platform (90% of our revenues come from this platform), we are pioneering some exciting new product offerings, such as early-window content releases (2-4 weeks from theatrical premieres) that have been extremely well received by our customers. We are also preparing to pilot premium 4K VoD streaming in 2014, which will put us in the leadership position compared to other VoD services around the world. Our success in Russia proves that focusing on smart TVs and providing the best content is critical.

Is OTT a competitor or complementary to ‘traditional’ pay TV services and why?

The TV in general as a content product is a very old concept. It has not changed much from its inception in the middle of the 20th century. Today it’s obvious that there is a demand for this concept to be disrupted. Traditional TV still remains the dominant product in everyday consumption because it’s easy to use and reliable. Having our roots in the world of VOD we understand that people love choice. Many of them want to be able to decide on their own what they should watch, and when, on their TV screen in a living room. Having said that, we believe that the battle for the main screen is going to be at the intersection of being easy to use and giving the ability to choose. Pay TV owns the majority of the main TV screens, however, with the rapid development and adoption of a smart TV offering, OTT services will be in a very good position to win.

Does OTT need to have a broad-based content offering or can it succeed by targeting particular niche groups, and is there a need for early-release premium content?

In order to be competitive and be able to rapidly grow, an OTT service needs to offer a broad content offering to satisfy the needs of the “mass-market” audience. However, since the demand of the audience rapidly proliferates, driven by growth of content availability, in order to capture and retain loyal customers, OTT services need to offer niche content (art-house cinema, etc.) and easy ways of discovering it. Discovery and consumption should be made as easy as possible, and TV as a curated channel concept [for] example is something that OTT services can learn from.

With regards to early-release premium content, our own example clearly shows that this is a very powerful offering, driving OTT revenue and ARPU growth without damaging theaters’ revenues. However OTT services need to be very careful about the pricing and additional protection of early releases.

What are the key challenges facing operators such as yourself and how can you overcome them?

Our key challenge is to keep our customers loyal and make our service their everyday video viewing destination. We plan to achieve this goal by offering them both TV content (series, sports, news, etc.) and premium feature films in one convenient destination – on their smart TV. As always, we place huge emphasis on user experience and try to make our products as pleasant and easy to use as possible.

Leonid Belyaev will be speaking on the OTT pre-conference day on the 24th June. To register click here.


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