iwonder, a VoD platform dedicated to documentaries, has launched in eight countries in Southeast Asia. It is already available in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
The service provides access to more than 1,000 documentaries in more than 50 genres, including entertainment, sports, history, politics, science and technology, religion, music, movies, nature, biography and war. Leading titles include “The Kleptocrats,” the investigation into the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia, and “Children of the Sex Trade,” the story of two fearless Filipina women who rescue underage girls from the illicit sex industry.
The company was founded by James Bridges, previously iflix’s founding chief content officer; former iflix chief business development officer Andreas von Maltzahn; and entrepreneur Mark Bridges.
James Bridges told Variety how the specialty company hopes to survive and expand in a crowded market.
Variety: What is the business model? Pure SVoD?
iwonder is, first and foremost, a direct-to-consumer SVOD service in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. But we also offer an Iwonder-branded area through partner platforms such as telcos, broadcasters’ catchup sites, OTT aggregators and airlines. In some cases that’s an AVOD model; in others it is bundled.
What is the strategy? How does a doc specialist keep ahead of Netflix and Amazon as they expand their genres and remit to cope with the loss of Hollywood studio content?
iwonder, as a documentary and current affairs specialist, sees itself as complementary to the generalist services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The data now suggests that the average streaming customer in developed markets already has three-plus streaming subscriptions; iwonder aims to be the add-on service for all those who love documentaries and are curious about what’s going on in the world.
The nature of the documentary market is such that, unlike Hollywood blockbusters, which are dominated by five or six suppliers, it is an extremely fragmented content-production and distribution landscape. Of the thousands of new documentary films made each year, only a few dozen end up on the generalist streaming platforms, [which] are mainly focusing on drama, comedy and reality TV at any moment in time.
So even if they were to ramp up their production and acquisition of documentaries, there will still be a wealth of great films and TV shows available.
How does iwonder compare with other doc-specialist SVOD services?
The key hypothesis that led to the creation of iwonder was that the traditional providers of true, in-depth documentaries were gravitating increasingly towards lifestyle and reality TV shows. So we have been obsessively focused on licensing high-end, high-production-value titles that are true documentaries.
We also looked at other services that might weight their offering towards a particular strand of documentaries, such as science or nature. Our belief is that if we curate a high-enough-quality offering across the broad range of current affairs – crime, history, nature, biography, music, movies, health, politics as well as science and nature – then the lovers of, say, climbing documentaries or space documentaries would start to explore absorbing titles in other genres.
Also, iwonder takes a unique approach to the discovery of our catalogue of over 1,000 titles. We integrate news stories into our home page so that, for example, if a story breaks about the U.S. military’s spending at Trump’s resort in Scotland, we might recommend “You’ve Been Trumped,” the David-and-Goliath tale of the locals up in arms when Trump built his Aberdeen golf course, or “The Kleptocrats,” our film about the Malaysian 1MDB corruption scandal, or “The Company He Keeps” about Trump’s business dealings in Indonesia. Whether it’s North Korea, gun control, #MeToo, climate change or something on the lighter side, like a golden toilet being stolen from [England’s] Blenheim Palace, we’ll offer up titles that are of adjacent interest or which offer deeper context for our subscribers.
How many subscribers has the company currently?
As a privately owned company we don’t publicly disclose our subscriber numbers. But we are experiencing strong and consistent growth, with churn much lower than we had expected based on any global benchmarks.
Is the subscription price uniform across the 11 territories?
Yes, the SVOD price is uniform at US$4.99 per month, or local currency equivalent, across all our markets, or US$49.90 for an annual subscription.
What is the company’s ownership structure?
iwonder is founder-owned, and backed by angel investors. These include former senior executives from the Australian and Southeast Asian media landscape and a co-founder of Skype.
How much cash has been burned through to date?
As a private company we don’t disclose our financials, but can say that we are operating lean with the learnings gleaned, and relationships built, from our founders’ experience with OTT startups in Southeast Asia and Australia.
What language and subtitle options are available?
iwonder’s films are currently mostly in the English language, and for around 50% of our titles we have subtitles available in our web version. Mobile subtitles will be switched on soon. Subtitle languages include English, French, Bahasa Malaysian, Bahasa Indonesian, Thai, Arabic, Bengali and Vietnamese, and we will actively continue to grow our subtitling over time.
What local Asian content is carried?
While most of our titles are made in English, we have a huge range of documentaries focusing on stories from Southeast Asia, South Asia and North Asia. Just a few examples include “The Death of Kim Jong Nam,” about the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia; “Out of the Dark,” about the Thai soccer team cave rescue; “Rocking Cambodia: The Rise of a Pop Diva”; Vietnam’s “Tech Rush”; “Deciphering Indonesia”; “Tapestry: The Heart of ASEAN”; and many more.