Movies & TV

Streaming Service Rakuten TV Eyes Original Movies

“Our plan is producing our own movies” and partnering with producers with limited distribution capabilities, says CEO Jacinto Roca, who is also calling for shorter theatrical windows.

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten recently rebranded its online streaming service Wuaki, which focuses on rentals and purchases, as Rakuten TV amid growing usage in the dozen European countries where it is available in addition to Japan.

The company has been looking to take on such video streaming giants as Netflix and Amazon with a bigger focus on movies instead of TV series, something management says will differentiate the service.

But Rakuten TV founder and CEO Jacinto Roca is also setting his sights on original movies and shorter theatrical windows. “Our plan is producing our own movies and also partnering with good producers that today have limited distribution capabilities to provide them with a platform that can go as global as [a dozen] markets,” he told THR during a London visit.

Rakuten TV would look for original films to also get a theatrical release, a topic that has come up with Netflix’s focus on streaming its original movies, which has led exhibitors to cry foul at times. “For us, the movie would be not only in digital, but also cinemas and TV,” Roca emphasized.

What business model does he have in mind for original films? “Every project is different, so in some cases we are going to invest in the movie production and in some cases we will get distribution rights. The idea is to create a platform with mass market reach for movie producers with limited distribution.”

Asked about key genres or types of movies his team will look for, Roca said: “The idea is to [look at various genres]. Our focus are independent movies, but mass market movies, not niche movies. We will look for movies appealing to a broad segment, but not Hollywood productions — movies focused on an interesting story, quality movies that matter.”

He added: “We see there are lots of great movies produced with limited capacity to get distribution. The traditional model to distribute is very atomized. You have to go to many different players in many different markets. Rakuten TV can provide global distribution from day zero. We are not going to look for exclusivity on our platform, we are open to distribute those movies in multiple channels.”

How important will star power be in Rakuten TV’s original films? “We need to learn a lot about this. In my personal opinion, the most important thing is the story. Of course, having a popular actor or director always helps with the brand of the movie. But when a story is good, when you have a message, I think that is what really matters.”

That leaves the question of timing, and Roca said the first Rakuten TV deal for an original movie could be unveiled within months. “We think this year we can announce the first one,” he told THR. “We will do our best to make it happen, and then we can focus on increasing production year to year. Quality is more important than quantity.”

With Rakuten TV having deals with the big Hollywood studios for their releases, Roca also said a push into originals will not affect the company’s appetite for studio fare. “We will not give up on the Hollywood content at all,” he emphasized.

But Roca is looking for trials with shortened theatrical windows in the company’s markets. “The window between theaters and digital is still very big, and customers don’t really understand why they have to wait so long between when movies are being released in cinemas and when they are available on digital,” he said. “We think there is a way to challenge and improve that experience on the movie side of the business. We want to work with the studios and cinema chains to try and find win-wins to shorten the window. We’ll work with them both to make the windows more efficient.”

The Rakuten TV boss highlighted that after three or four weeks of a movie being available in theaters, 95 percent of its theatrical revenue is usually reached. “I personally believe that after a month movies distributed on a digital platform will not impact the theater revenues and would help to grow digital,” he said. “So in that sense, for Hollywood content a month will be the sweet spot. We are going to try and do some experiments after the summer.”

He signaled that cinema operators would get compensated in some way for shorter windows and said they may not like changing windows, but know that change will happen sooner or later. “They want to protect the current window structure, but they understand that this is going to happen,” Roca said. “I think that in less than 24 months we will see a lot more movies having shorter windows than now.”