Aditya Thakur, CEO of Lebara Media, discusses the MVNO’s new entertainment service, which is launching this month. What is Lebara Play?

Aditya Thakur: Lebara Play is an ethnic-focused entertainment service, combining the best of live TV and VoD movies under one package.

It is available via an app, online or a set-top box.

We’re looking at four markets [the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and France] to start with, with another nine to come in the next two months.

Why have you launched it?

We think that migrants are potentially under-served and there are two aspects to that. First, are they getting an exhaustive offering of content that they like. Second, are they getting this content conveniently in one place? The answer to both is no.

When you talk about migrants, you’ve really got to cater to some very specific, diverse needs. That is the kind of servicing we want to give our audiences - not just a broad scattering of content.

What kind of exclusive content are you offering?

We’re not chasing exclusive content: it’s not something that really works with the economics of OTT and certainly not with the amount of rampant piracy there is, so the feasibility of that doesn’t work out.

In the case of [TV series] Meet the Adebanjos, it would be exclusive to our platform, yes. What we are talking about, though, is making sure that we enable content. To take an example, we’re making sure we make available three brand new West African movies every week.

Content’s always served out on a “dollar curve”. The top end of the dollar is [cinema], then on its way down its goes through DVDs, paid TV, OTT and all of that. We’re just trying to jump the queue in that dollar curve and get content out to our audiences much sooner [than they’d get it elsewhere].

Who are you working with to allow you to get some content out first?

We work very closely with iROKO, a big West African movies provider, to provide the three movies each month. We work with some really big Bollywood platforms, such as Sun Network, the number one French Nollywood movies channel, Nollywood TV, and Turkish channel ATV Avrupa. Then there’s a content provider that we’re working with to potentially make brand new movies available to our customers [within two weeks of their release].

The amazing part is that Bollywood alone makes, what, 500 movies a year? Of those, probably 25 or 30 get released in the UK. That’s a humongous number of movies that don’t see the light of day in [cinemas], but we do know that they can be made available to ethic customers in Europe, in the US, through doing deals with satellite companies.

We don’t see anyone as competition in this space. There are lots of platforms we’d love to work with. Zee, which is one of our content partners, launched in Russia and they’re one of the top dubbed channels in the country.

It’s really interesting because I think a lot of Asian content makers are really making a mark, in terms of being able to transcend the boundaries with their content. Suddenly, you’re looking at subtitling and dubbing becoming really interesting because it’s opening up markets like never before.

Have these partnerships been a significant financial investment for Lebara?

Content in any country, at this scale, is going to be a significant investment, especially if you chase it by the legal routes, which is what we’re doing.

Lebara Play is available from £9.99 per month. What kind of take-up are you hoping for?

We’d probably be aiming towards close to 100,000-150,000 customers by the end of the year, then in three years time, about 500,000.

Lebara announced a number of new hires in March. Is Lebara Play a product of that recruitment drive?

Not really, because this product has been in the making for the last year and a half, two years. But yes, over the last year or so there have been some really senior professionals from across various industries that have been hired… I think the hiring process is more for professionalising the way forward. 

If we’ve got some really big aspirations, in terms of the digital business, in terms of where we want to take the MVNO business, then we’ve got to have the right kind of people. That, to me, is a continuous process and we’re going to keep hiring the right kind of people to help drive the aspirations that we’re setting for ourselves.

Is the launch of Lebera Play an indication that Lebara is perhaps moving beyond its migrant audience towards a wider market?

We’re sticking with satisfying migrant needs. Within that, if there’s an overlap in audiences and we get other audiences as part of this journey, so be it. But our focus is very clearly migrants. That is the consistent part of this journey; whether we’re in the MVNO business or whether we get into banking or for that matter, Play, we’re very much focused across all these products on migrants. That’s the common thread.

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