Photo: Rakuten TV original film, Hurricane, was released worldwide on September 7. The World War II drama stars Iwan Rheon and Milo Gibson (picture above).

On September 7, Rakuten TV celebrated the premiere of Hurricane in theatres and on the Rakuten TV video on demand (VOD) platform. Hurricane, a World War II epic starring “Game of Thrones” standout Iwan Rheon and Milo Gibson (son of Mel Gibson), is the company’s first foray into original content and represents a new strategic front in its battle to win over customers. While Rakuten TV may not yet be as well-known as some of its competitors, the service’s customer-centric focus and disruptive approach to premium video streaming is proving to be a winning formula.

Wuaki.TV was a pioneer in video streaming in Europe, first launching in Spain in 2009. The local pioneer was acquired by Rakuten in 2012, eventually rebranding as Rakuten TV. That same year, Netflix set its sights squarely on Europe and began an aggressive expansion. But despite the presence of Netflix and other global powerhouses like Amazon Prime Video, Apple, Google Play and HBO in Europe, Rakuten’s Barcelona-based VOD startup has continued to grow, expanding its offering to 12 countries.

Stefanie Martini (left) and Milo Gibson promoting their film Hurricane. Released September 7, The movie was Rakuten TV’s first foray into original content.

“Your cinema at home” is at the heart of Rakuten TV’s thinking, as it aims to offer users a high-quality, cinema-like experience, as well as the first window to movies following their theatrical release. The company has found that while some of their customers also use services like Netflix and HBO, their service of choice for premiere films is Rakuten TV. The service employs a pay-per-view model rather than a monthly fee and says that the majority of its sales comes from the blockbuster films that Rakuten TV offers first window access to after their theatrical run.

“Our mission is to shorten the release window disrupting how people access movies,” commented Jacinto Roca, CEO of Rakuten TV. “Customers don’t understand why a movie takes four months to reach digital even when it disappears from theatres after only four weeks. This two- or three-month gap is exploited by pirates, which is why we are working hard to close this gap and secure people access to their favorite content, whenever they want.”

Rakuten TV will release the original film ‘Alegría tristeza’ later this year, and is already planning to produce five original films in 2019.

Rakuten TV will release the Spanish language film ‘Alegría tristeza’ later this year, and is already planning to produce five original films in 2019.

Another key to the strategy is working closely with Smart TV manufacturers, who Rakuten TV considers distribution partners. While competitors like Apple TV and Google Play depend on customers buying proprietary hardware, Rakuten TV’s app comes pre-installed on Smart TVs made by Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony and Philips. Not only does this put the service directly in front of its target audience, it also ensures that Rakuten TV content is delivered on high-end TVs that can reproduce the cinema experience and make full use of Rakuten TV’s 4K, dolby vision and atoms offering. As of today, Rakuten TV is reputed to offer the widest 4K HDR movie catalogue for Smart TV in Europe.

As for Rakuten Cinema, the new brand of Rakuten TV dedicated to original content, Roca comments: “As a brand, we are leveraging three specific pillars: reducing the theatrical window, narrating great stories and, most of all, empowering small producers to find a distribution home alongside their Hollywood counterparts. With a distribution system of non-exclusivity, we want to maximize views of these smaller productions, as well as the visibility of our brand. This project itself was born as part of our strategy to develop brand awareness while continuously strengthening the relationship between Rakuten TV and the film industry.”

Rakuten Cinema is just getting started but the view ahead is exciting: plans are also on track to release the Spanish language film ‘Alegría tristeza’ this year and up to five original film releases in 2019.