RIP Tribe – a red flag for APAC SVoD scene?

A spot of routine housekeeping here at Faultline Online Reporter ended up uncovering that South East Asian SVoD service Tribe, owned by Malaysian pay TV operator Astro, quietly ceased operations late last year. Astro never gave Tribe the honor of a send-off announcement, instead slipping a small eulogy into its latest results report, and given the lack of coverage at the time, we should take a peek into what went wrong.

The increasing pull of subscription-based services across Asia Pacific is well documented, yet the closure of Tribe again emphasizes the difficulty in matching up against the might of ad-supported offerings in the region.

“A strategic business review conducted towards the end of 2018 highlighted how the appetite to pay for digital services in ASEAN remains small. As a result, we ceased operations of Tribe, our regional OTT, and Tamago, our live streaming service, in favor of reinvesting in our core businesses,” Astro stated in its financial results report for the year ended January 31, 2019.

The discovery initially caught us off guard, given how the mobile-first OTT service had exponential reach through partnerships with Axiata XL in Indonesia, with more than 40 million mobile subscribers, as well as Globe Telecom in the Philippines, with a mobile subscriber base north of 60 million. It goes to show that in less advanced markets, where a full pay TV subscription often costs the same as, or sometimes less than, a basic subscription streaming package, advertising remains king in the streaming space – and Astro is now committed fully to its free OTT video service NJOI Now. This offers live sports, news, plus thousands of movies and series. NJOI Now is essentially the OTT version of Astro’s free satellite TV service NJOI which offers 28 TV channels for no subscription fee.

After first launching in Indonesia in March 2016 in collaboration with Indonesia’s third largest telco Axiata XL, Tribe quickly expanded to the Philippines through Globe Telecom, and had plans to launch in additional markets. However, findings from our research arm Rethink TV show that outside of China and India, SVoD uptake across Asia Pacific is minimal, with 245 million SVoD subscribers forecast in China by 2023, out of 340 million in the entire region. Most of this is delivered as a series of freemium services, where a subscription payment can be made to have none or fewer ads.

Yet the digerati – Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba – are in clear control of the Asia Pacific AVoD scene and are beginning to climb the quality scale needed to establish a strong SVoD offering.

Astro had 2.4 million registered OTT users as of January 2019, an increase of 32% in a year. It claims a 75% share of TV viewership and says on-demand video consumption has more than doubled to 54 million downloads. It also has around 5.3 million pay TV customers, of which 1.3 million were premium sports subscribers last year.

As for Astro’s strategic business review which ultimately sealed Tribe’s fate, the operator hasn’t provided a detailed roadmap, although this did involve a technology upgrade in April this year, with Astro tapping Infinite technology from Synamedia around April 2019, for the Astro Go TV Everywhere service, claiming major UX improvements across video streaming services and existing DVR. Customers with Astro Go access can upgrade to new hybrid DTH-IP set tops supporting 4K UHD with upgraded UX and cloud DVR – providing on-the-go access to recordings on the home DVR. As part of the Infinite upgrade, Astro Go now offers a next gen UI with enhanced search, enriched metadata, and instantaneous playback delivered via Synamedia’s ABR technology.

We can see Astro taking another stab at SVoD in a few years, or perhaps tacking a paid tier onto NJOI Now to get fewer or no ads for a small fee. Tribe’s demise, as one of the largest platforms in less well developed regions of Asia, could be the start of a dangerous trend, as Netflix will only grow stronger.