Why iflix Takes a Hyperlocal Approach to its Original Programs
The KL-based media company is betting on high-impact, buzzy originals that have familiar local appeal
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
iflix’s foray into creating Originals is aimed in part at increasing reach and viewership, if these shows click with audiences, but they also contribute toward less overt, but no less important goals.
“We create more touch-points for our audiences to engage with iflix - it helps create conversations about us via the press and marketing on-ground, social, and by being an active participant in the entertainment and production communities,” says Mark Francis, iflix’s Global Director of Original Programming.
iflix’s first original production, Oi! Jaga Mulut (OJM) could not have been a better validation. Produced for the Malaysian market, OJM featured comics whose material would be too raunchy for regular television but was right at home on the platform. Streams of the show soon exceeded almost everything else on iflix’s roster, including several Disney titles and even The Flash.
iflix is hoping to replicate OJM’s success with local versions of the same concept for the Philippines (Hoy! Bibig Mo) and Indonesia (Oi! Jaga Lambe) by January 2018.
“There’s a massive opportunity to disrupt the entertainment offerings in many of our markets, breaking away from the more traditional TV fare, and that’s very much where we’ve set our sights - high impact, buzzy originals that have familiar local appeal, but at the same time are sufficiently differentiated so they stand out,” says Francis.
As demonstrated by the Philippine and Indonesian versions of OJM, iflix wants to take a hyper-local - rather than pan-Asian - approach to creating unique content. The idea is that you make the best programming for a particular market and it may end up also appealing to viewers in other localities.
“We believe this is a more organic process on streaming video on demand (SVOD) than on traditional linear TV, but we don’t bank on it, and we resist the temptation to engineer pan-regional appeal in a ham-handed way by, say, casting talent from multiple countries in the hope that familiarity alone will cross cultural borders,” says Francis, noting that the only truly pan-Asian content at the moment are select feature films from South Korea.
Though some streaming platforms have turned to competitions to source or determine their best originals, such as with Amazon Instant Video’s pilot seasons, Francis is skeptical of this approach.
“The optics and buzz generated are compelling, but I haven’t seen much evidence of these type of initiatives consistently translating into actual content people are desperate to watch,” he says, emphasizing that they are focusing on establishing relationships with premier content producers for their initial forays in production.
iflix will also get help from its slate of celebrity investors, such as Kris Aquino from the Philippines, who is one of the country’s most successful hosts and actresses.
“Like Kris Aquino, they typically have a wealth of industry knowledge and experience, with fantastic insights into their audience’s tastes and preferences. The roles of each advisor and depth of their participation in projects will obviously vary in accordance to their field of expertise and passions,” he says.
Ultimately, Francis calls the commissioning of Originals as both art and science - “but it’s not an exact science,” he cautions. While they have performance data for how different types of programs fare on television, online platforms, and local box offices, these numbers can only reveal so much.
He says that the challenge is to find fresh approaches within the broad margins of genres that have already proven successful. “For instance, we know ‘young adult romance’ works well in Indonesia, but then the next question is, what’s our creative treatment of that, because doing more of the same doesn’t make sense when you’re prioritizing impact instead of volume,” he says.