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Q&A: Haymi Behar, chief marketing officer of SPI International

Haymi Behar, chief marketing officer of SPI International talks about the company’s expansion strategy, the thought process behind its recent rebrand, and how AVOD is evolving into a major force in TV.

2020 has been a significant year for expansion of SPI/FilmBox in terms of distribution. Please talk us through SPI/FilmBox’s distribution strategy and how you build up relationships with platform operators.

In terms of content distribution, we make sure to invest in content that travels. In addition to our partnerships with world-class distributors, we also launched our own production arm last year with a focus on creating entertaining and original content. The first SPI/FilmBox original is a co-production called My Dad’s Christmas Date and stars Jeremy Piven and will launch across FilmBox and Film1 movie services in multiple territories this month. Our diverse portfolio of products and services are designed in a way that allows customisation by operators depending on their preferences, which in turn makes them an indispensable part of their bundles. We also make sure to provide full-time integrated marketing support to our operator partners.

Within this, there has been a great deal of emphasis placed on CEE, for example with deals in Romania and Bulgaria. Why has this been such an area of focus of SPI/FilmBox and how do you intend on continuing to grow?

CEE has been an area of growth historically for SPI. In Czechia, FilmBox continues its leadership in the pay movie market for the 15th consecutive month. This year we have had new channel and digital product launches with multiple prominent operators in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, and continue to invest in the CEE region to expand our footprint in the region. It is also crucial for us to be able to adapt our products and services to new models of viewership and global digital platforms. With this in mind, we recently launched Film1 services on Amazon Prime Video Channels to increase our viewership and reach more people in the region.

You also have expanded to Africa. Do you see this region as another one for potential growth in the future?

Africa is definitely another region that has a lot of potential for growth for us. We are currently collaborating with two very strong operators there: DStv and Startimes, both of which carry our premium Turkish drama channel Timeless Dizi Channel (TDC) reaching millions of households. Our FilmBox channel, other thematic channels and digital services are also available through multiple prominent operators as we plan to expand our footprint further within the continent.

The FilmBox channel saw a refresh earlier this year. Talk us through this rebrand and why it was undertaken.

Our flagship FilmBox brand which reaches over 30 million households in 25 countries, has adopted a new audio and visual identity starting with the Czech and Slovak markets in April, followed by other territories in July. Shortly thereafter, new graphics packages were introduced for our premium movie channels FilmBox Premium, FilmBox Family, FilmBox Extra. We also changed the name of our FilmBox Plus channel to FilmBox Stars to emphasise our commitment to offering the best content with star-studded casts. Through this audio and visual identity rebranding, we aimed to greet the new decade with a fresher look to emphasise our digital transformation accompanied by clean and innovative interfaces that’s fit for all available screens.

The Timeless Dizi Channel has proved to be a particular success with a reach of 25 million households worldwide. Why do you think this has proved to be so popular, and is it evidence of the potential of language-specific genre channels internationally?

Turkish series, or Dizi in Turkish, is an extremely coveted unique genre with millions of people watching them across the world. Dizis are exciting and continuously conquering the hearts of millions of new audiences every year.  The primary reason for the channel’s worldwide appeal is that viewers all across the board enjoy quality content that is able to cross cultural boundaries through riveting stories full of emotion and passion. One of our most recent deals for TDC was with SALT in Switzerland which is our second operator partner and country in Western Europe after Post in Luxembourg and signifies a budding interest in Dizi in the region. Since the channel launched in 2019, TDC has been able to reach 25 million households in 81 countries through 19 operators and counting. We will also be launching a brand-new digital product called Dizi in 2021, that lets viewers watch a well-crafted curation of the best Turkish series from major producers on demand.

Why are ad-supported video platforms like Samsung TV Plus thriving, and do you expect them to get even bigger in 2021?

Though the pandemic may have accelerated the proliferation of streaming services worldwide, linear TV consumption still remains significant which leads us to believe that linear and on-demand will continue to coexist for at least a little while longer. The fact that today’s consumers are much more open to experimenting with different models of content consumption is an important signifier of AVOD’s potential growth in the future. AVOD provides a satisfying alternative to SVOD for those who do not want to commit to a subscription video-on-demand service for long periods of time and for those who wouldn’t mind watching the ads to arrive at quality content. In order to cater to such audience behaviour, we launched our first-ad based digital channel, Filmstream. Filmstream is currently available on Samsung TV Plus in the UK and we are working on making it available through other platforms in the near future.

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