Building An Empire

Sunday, March 18 2018
Building An Empire

It’s somewhere between the round of 16 in the Champions League and the Empire magazine awards and Rakuten TV coo  Josep Mitja is feeling fairly relaxed.

FC Barcelona, probably the biggest, best and highest profile football team n the word have just knocked Chelsea out of the tournament for Europe’s finest, with star player Lionel Messi offering another masterclass all the time wearing the famous red and blue shirt, the blaugrana, emblazoned with the Rakuten TV logo.

And the Empire awards event this year is not just being sponsored by the company too, its logo now featuring on all the materials on the evening, in the magazine, through Empire’s media channels and and more, but Rakuten TV is also lending its name to three awards, sponsoring them individually, including a lifetime achievement gong being given to Steven Spielberg in person.

The brand-building exercise that the company kicked off last year when it changed its name from wuaki.tv, is, then, in full flow. And what’s more, it’s working out well too. The football team it sponsors is in the quarter finals of the Champions League and odds on favourite to win this and the domestic La Liga; Spielberg is still the biggest name in film directing.

Everyone is now hearing the name Rakuten TV.

“We wanted to grow the footprint of our service. Ours is a consumer service,” Mitja said, talking to The Raygun, “having a trusted brand is important. What we decided together with the group was to step up our brand building activity. We rebranded the service in July with the start of the sponsorship.

“We’re very pleased with it. You don’t start doing it and suddenly next day everything changes. But clearly we see the consumers, when they see the brand pre-installed on Samsung TVs, it becomes more familiar. We’re also sponsors of FC Barcelona, Golden State Warriors in the NBA. The conversion rates and traffic are growing. It’s great to be associated with leading brands. Our growth is in the high double digits. We always want to grow faster, but we’re exceeding our targets.”

The hook-up with Empire is a logical one, as Mitja explains: “Our positioning is about cinema and cinema at home. We’re bringing the cinema experience to homes. Being associated with the Empire brand and the awards means we’re talking to people who love cinema.

“It’s an important step for us and one in the right direction. And it’s a big honour to award Steven Spielberg. 

The deal sees the branding appearing on Empire’s coverage, on the night, in print and online. And it is he start of a beautiful relationship, one that will extend beyond the awards. “Our intent is to keep it as an ongoing thing,” he says.

Talk naturally turns towards Rakuten TV’s business and the market generally, which, given the nature of the business, means it’s not long before the windows between theatrical releases and their home entertainment releases rears it head. It’s one that Rakuten TV has long discussed and one it believes needs to be shortened.

“We’ve been having this conversation i recent years and we’ve been having it more frequently in our conversations wth studios

What’s more, Mijta says, it’s one that studios and distributors are coming round too.

“Studios are starting to reconsider their strategy,” he explains. “We’re very big believers in shortening windows and we think it would be a key driver to tvod. It’s what we’re trying to push – cinema at home. It makes sense, people don’t want to wait so long to watch movies.”

It is, he adds, one of the biggest barriers to further growth. “If the window is reversed, there’s a lot potential to deliver a lot of growth.”

Controlling of the windows and the route to market, prioritising tvod and digital, is one reason that Rakuten TV will be eyeing acquisitions, production partnerships and more. “We will start getting involved in content and production,” he further notes. “In general we are looking for films more than TV shows. We want to work partnership and collaborations.

As it stands, he explains, piracy is the only winner, while cinemas’ objection to shortening windows are nullified by the fact that day and date releases have little effect on cinema viewing or receipts. As Mitja notes: “We believe it’s coming now. The only winner with longer windows is piracy. Wherever there are experiments done, there’s no impact on cinemas.”

He further argues that increasing use of home cinema systems, with ever bigger and better quality kit, means the home viewing experience is now nearing that of cinemas anyway. “People are getting more and more used to this content at home. They have the right equipment, it’s very common to have a 55 inch TV.”

Rakuten TV is matching that commitment with its commitment to 4K content it is making available, the largest of any of its contemporaries. But, as he adds? “We’re seeing an uptake in 4k, but 4k as a technology is not what’s interesting consumers. What consumers want is great movies, that’s the real driver, and they’re prepared to pay more if necessary.

“It’s not just about getting for 4k for the sake of 4k. The decision maker is the movie.”

Mijta touches on other subjects, such as Brexit (“we don’t expect there to be a major impact”) and Rakuten’s other services, not least in the company’s native Japan, and bringing those offerings to consumers in the UK and Europe.

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