PARK Tae-hoon, CEO of leading Korean VOD service Watcha
Jun 12, 2020
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
“We hope to become a significant OTT service on the Asian market”
The Watcha app is well-known by all film fans in Korea. The whole process of watching a movie, rating it in stars, and getting recommendations for titles based on one’s tastes is now established as one way to appreciate films. Watcha, which started off as a personalized recommendation service in September 2011, expanded into streaming films and series in January 2016. After introducing in Korea some prominent titles such as Killing Eve, Chernobyl, and Years and Wars, they caught the attention of many fans with the launch of "Watcha Exclusive", a label under which they provide one exclusive title each month. We sit down with CEO PARK Tae-hoon, who developed this service with the collaboration of a college friend and a fellow member of a school club he met while attending the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, to catch a vision of the future of the VOD industry painted by Watcha.
Watcha signed a business agreement with the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival to hold the festival simultaneously online and offline. I would like to know more about the circumstances of such agreement.
Basically, the target audience of the Bucheon Film Festival overlaps considerably with the users of Watcha. We have had a smaller partnership with them for quite some time, and from this year onwards the scope is bigger. With the Watcha app, the number of trusted star ratings from our users is in excess of 500 million. Not only are we using this data ourselves, we have also been looking for ways to use them in collaboration with other actors of the Korean video entertainment industry. In the case of film festival, we figured it would be nice if the audience could receive film recommendations based on their preferences and thus help them lay out a schedule of what films to watch. Our brainstorming for this took on a new level this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, film festivals also needed a solution for online screenings, and this led to this partnership. Shin Chul, Executive Chairman of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, used this expression: “We had to go there sooner or later, the novel coronavirus simply made it a little bit faster.”
Since 2019, you started purchasing the distribution rights of foreign films and distributing movies in theaters too.
I could give you two main reasons to that. First, we have a vision that consist in making the world more diverse by connecting a variety of content to people with various tastes. Korea’s film market is basically oriented toward the theater experience. And even there, it’s mostly blockbuster movies that are able to hold their own. If we could still say just five years ago that there was a market for movies garnering 200,000 to 500,000 spectators, today it is a market where a new release either reaches 10 million admissions or remains in the 10,000-30,000 range. Diversity is gradually disappearing from the big screen, and even the number of imported foreign films is decreasing. So we wish to bring over and introduce films that are good but would hardly find success in theaters. Secondly, we aim to revolutionize the content industry through data and technology. Watcha started out as a service that gives recommendations based on the taste of the user as expressed by their star ratings. After that, the second step was to enable users to actually watch what suits their taste through a VOD streaming service. The Little Drummer Girl, Killing Eve and Chernobyl, which we made available last year, were all imported and distributed in such context. We have imported more than thirty films, and there are films that have not yet completed production, and some others that we still haven’t made available as they have not yet been released in their home country. Although the schedule is different for each title, we are giving a lot of thought to how and by which method to release them. Some of them have a chance to get a theatrical release and may eventually get one. Because of the COVID19 pandemic, big movies are now all crammed in the second half of the year, thus leaving more screens for smaller films. We are keeping an eye on the timing. Failing that, these films could as well be presented as Watcha exclusives. You can look forward to a lot of film releases.
You announced that you are going to produce original content from this year onward, starting with web drama series, drama series for terrestrial television, and medium-sized projects.
What’s important is for it to be fun (rather than the size or format of the project). I think there are methods that are better suited for a VOD streaming platform. Anthology films can be thought as series. It has been determined to some extent that movies should have a runtime between 90 and 120 minutes, or even more, and TV shows should be between 60 and 90 minutes, but that doesn’t apply to OTT video services. We need to seek out material and forms that people can immerse themselves into and have fun watching, with no need for it to be limited to short or long formats, or to being films or series. And a lot of the projects we receive at Watcha come in forms that are really innovative.
You are launching Watcha Play in Japan this year. I am curious as to why you chose the Japanese market as the first step of the full-scale overseas expansion of your OTT business.
The Japanese version of Watcha came out in 2015. We expanded our user base and collected data, we received a lot of recommendations and star ratings from Japanese users. Japan is basically a country with a high consumption of entertainment media, and the entertainment industry itself is huge. In Korea, there is a bit of a tipping effect, the feeling that you have to watch what everyone else watched. There is no such attitude in Japan. People simply won’t watch it if they find it not to their taste. Considering that there are many people who follow their own preferences, a tailor-made user experience seems to have a greater appeal there. In addition, Japan is basically a country in which there is still a vibrant market for older titles. The DVD rental market is booming with such actors as Tsutaya and Geo. For them, borrowing a DVD is no different than borrowing a manga. And so, the decision to enter that market came out of the idea that a platform that provides personalized recommendation like ours might be competitive.
What is the ultimate goal Whatcha wants to achieve in the entertainment media industry?
We want to contribute to the formation of a video entertainment ecosystem that can better satisfy the customers by collecting data on their preferences. You cannot just have a lot of movies each selling 10 million tickets. Diversity must be provided for people to have fun and feel emotions. After all, our objective and direction is to make the world more diverse by connecting a variety of content to people with different tastes. We hope that Watcha Play will become a considerable and significant OTT video service in the Asian market. Korean entertainment products are just as much a destructive force in Asia as Hollywood products are. Just as the US have Hollywood and Bombay has Bollywood, we strive to become a platform that can help Korea to have its own Kollywood.