Viki, the global TV streaming platform that just got snapped up for a reported $200 million by the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, is launching branded channels on its site to present shows from broadcasters like Korea’s SBS and Japan’s TV Asahi in a more coherent fashion.
Branded channels are initially just available for a limited number of content partners, but Viki CEO and co-founder Razmig Hovaghimian told me during an interview Monday that he plans to eventually launch personalized channels for each and every user.
Hovaghimian argued that, with cable and YouTube, people have access to thousands of channels. However, most people still just watch shows from 15 or fewer channels. So why not combine the shows people want, plus some recommendations for thing they might like, to one personalized channel? “It’s almost like an a la carte cable play on the web,” he said.
Viki is one of a few services specializing in content arbitrage: The company acquires popular TV shows in South Korea, Japan, Turkey or China and then shows them to an international audience outside of their home country. For content owners, this means that they get access to markets that wouldn’t have been available otherwise, and for Viki, it’s content that’s a lot less expensive than U.S. TV fare would be for U.S. audiences. That allows the site to monetize videos entirely through advertising, and thus reach a much bigger audience that a subscription offering.
I asked Hovaghimian about his plans after the acquisition by Rakuten, and he said that the deal helps him to put more money behind development, with the goal of bringing Viki to game consoles and other connected devices. Viki also wants to open additional offices, including one in Europe, where the company now has a new partner in Rakuten’s Wuaki TV streaming service. And in Japan, Viki wants to benefit from the popularity of the Rakuten ShowTime streaming service to find new customers.
The goal, Hovaghimian said, was to eventually grow Viki to 300 million customers. That’s ambitious, considering that Viki currently has 24 million unique viewers a month. But Hovaghimian seemed optimistic, pointing out that Viki caters to the whole world. “We are a global Hulu,” he said.
This post was updated at 12:09am with additional information on Viki’s audience size.