HBO’s digital platform has recently partnered with Hulu in Japan (HJ Holdings LLC), a subscription video on demand service provider and a subsidiary of the country’s top commercial broadcaster, Nippon Television Network Corporation. HBO’s move into Japan cements its access to all major Asian markets whilst helping to increase the competitiveness of HJ Holdings. The HBO-Hulu Japan partnership entails a video-on-demand licensing deal, complementing the existing deals between HJ Holdings and Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. By providing popular shows such as Game of Thrones, True Detective, and Six Feet Under, HJ Holdings hopes to appeal to a wider audience in Japan, allowing it to compete with its rivals, Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, which debuted in September 2015. Furthermore, Hulu also faces challenges competing with Japan’s existing video-on-demand companies, Gyao and dTV which offer both local and international shows. Nevertheless, HJ Holdings is likely to see increased demand for its service as its Chief Content Officer Kazufumi Nagasawa expressed that Japanese viewers anticipated the HBO lineup as a “treasure chest”.
As there are only 150 million users with cable subscriptions out of a population of 2 billion in Asia, excluding China, there is significant opportunity for video-on-demand services to expand, though there are challenges to overcome. Whilst Hulu, the American-owned streaming service, has yet to expand into other Asian countries, Netflix has entered 130 new markets as of January this year. Netflix now has access to a total of 190 markets and nearly all Asian countries except China and North Korea, where government restriction may hinder the digital media distributor’s growth. Netflix’s global reach in developing Asian countries may be constrained by a lack of infrastructure to enable piracy prevention, high speed streaming, or the use of credit card payment systems. For subscription payments, Netflix has been searching for a mobile carrier partner to establish payment systems for those without credit cards.
In Asian countries with poor telecommunications infrastructure such as Philippines, Thailand, and India, Hooq, a streaming video-on-demand venture backed by Waner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment, has been relatively successfully. The company, which launched in early 2015, focuses on affordability and accessibility, providing its services for $3 monthly, a price comparable to the costs of counterfeit DVDs. Hooq has negotiated with internet service providers to allow the download of videos over public Wi-Fi, which enables consumers to watch videos offline.
Bowrun Hou is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Sydney.