Sunlight streams through windows, illuminating the clusters of people studiously afixed on various tasks: typing furiously into their laptops, huddled in a muted conversation, flipping through sheafs of papers. The air is hushed, the hum of activity occassionally pierced by gadget alerts. In a black statement shirt and denim jeans, Sherwin dela Cruz purposefully saunters past several long tables arranged among brick clad columns. He fills up his coffee mug and heads to an available seat. Scattered nods greet him as he quietly settles down into his own corner and fires up his laptop.
This is a typical day for Sherwin, the country manager of iFlix Philippines, one of the biggest subscription video on-demand service companies in Southeast Asia. The playful setting of their office belies the seriousness of the work that they do: analyze data streams for intelligible patterns that would ultimately dictate the library of content that their company provides. “A big chunk of people are watching on mobile phones: close to 80 plus percent. They watch at 10 PM to 2 AM, on an average of 175 to 210 minutes per day,” cites Sherwin, when asked about the viewing habits of the Filipino market, “We watch twice as much shows as our parents and our kids will watch twice as much shows.”
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It is a challenging market to penetrate. With the deluge of entertainment available with a swipe of a fingertip, people are watching what they want, when they want. Screen time has more than doubled, with on-demand content allowing simultaneous viewing on multiple screens. “Twenty years ago, the public would rush home to catch their favorite programs,” observes Sherwin. “Now, people can watch television while browsing through their gadgets for content to bookmark for viewing.” Content piracy is also a factor to consider. “There is a misconception by a lot of people that content should be free,” Sherwin relates, sharing that changing this particular mindset is what iFlix hopes to achieve in the near future. Far from disillusionment, he welcomes the challenges. “It jump-starts the industry,” he remarks, “We simply have to be better.”
Having this goal in mind entails paying close attention to consumer behavior. “Data has really driven a lot of thinking for us,” says Sherwin, “We think about the Filipino market: what they want to watch, are they willing to pay this price, will they be satisfied with the technology that we're offering.” As such, much of their content has a very local flavor, with iFlix Philippines licensing content from the country's leading networks. “We have most, if not all, of the licensed ABS-CBN content,” shares Sherwin, “We also launched two movies that we co-produced with ABS-CBN. The first one is Bloody Crayons and the second one is Love You To The Stars And Back of Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia.” They are also exploring producing their own content, releasing the warmly received comedy series 'Hoy Bibig Mo'. Their first feature film is also in the works, with Kris Aquino slated as the main star: "Scripts are there; directors are blocked; we have dates for when we will shoot," reveals Sherwin, "That's definitely going to come out in 2018." Other projects are in the pipeline but Sherwin prefers to keep mum about the details. “We have a secret project now, we can't say it, but it's going to be phenomenal,” he reveals, “It's very ingrained in Filipino history, something the whole market will be able to connect to.”
Their strategy is proving to be quite effective, with almost two billion minutes of viewing time in 2017 coming from the Philippines alone. Considering that the company launched in the country on May 2015, this is not a small feat. Yet, Sherwin is not content to rest on this laurel. “We are disrupting how people look at us as just a subscription model,” he shares, “We are going to introduce more ways for people to watch great and relevant content outside of the table. In reality, we are really just starting.”
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Photographs by Lui Jimenez