With Europe’s video-on-demand market set for growth in the next couple of years, home-grown online video service Wuaki.tv is poised to take on Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Instant Video in hopes of becoming the go-to service in the region.

Headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, Wuaki.tv was founded in 2009 and acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in 2012 for an undisclosed amount. With the help of the acquisition, the company is able to compete on a European level with key industry players, said Wuaki.tv co-founder Josep Mitjà in an interview with Tech.eu.

In a move to further boost its European expansion, Wuaki.tv announced in March 2015 it had hired former Apple iTunes executive Sébastian Janin to head international business development.

To date, the service is available in Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Italy with Ireland and Austria next on the roadmap. “We plan to be in 10 to 12 countries by the end of 2015,” said Mitjà.

Eyes on Europe

Europe’s online video-on-demand (VOD) landscape is highly fragmented and a report released by the European Commission in 2014 counted nearly 3,000 services across Europe, with 241 services in the UK and 171 services in Germany. However, many of the platforms are operated by local media channels, rather than services offered to several European countries.

Netflix already has its eyes set on Europe. In September 2014, already present in the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, the US company had its biggest European push and rolled out in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg.  There’s no doubt that international expansion plays a crucial role in Netflix’s future, especially in opening up a huge opportunity of potential subscribers – especially in France and Germany – and fuelling its ambitions to become a truly global player.

With that in mind, competitors are also gearing up for Netflix’s bullish expansion in Europe. Other rivals ramping up in this space include Amazon’s Prime Instant Video operations in Europe, HBO Go, Mubi (see our earlier profile) and VOD services offered by regional media companies, such as ProSiebenSat.1’s Maxdome, Canal Play Infinity and BSkyB’s Sky Go.

So what makes Wuaki.tv stand out from the growing number of players in this realm?

“We define ourselves as the first European streaming service,” said Mitjà. “Amazon and Netflix are both from the Unites States and very focused on American content, which is fine, but we’re better specialists in EU content given our local presence with offices and teams in each of our key European countries.”

wuaki.tv

Another point of differentiation is that in contrast to most VOD services, which take on a subscription-based business, Wuaki.tv employs a hybrid pricing model letting users rent/buy titles on a per-item basis or opt into a monthly subscription that offers access to a selection of its catalogue.

At the moment, Wuaki.tv claims more than two million users in Europe. “I would say we’re the market leader in Spain with more than one million customers,” said Mitjà, “We are also seeing good results in the UK. As for France, Germany and Italy, it’s still too soon to state those numbers.” The service rolled out in France and Germany near the end of 2014 and in Italy just two months ago.

Although Spain and Italy are two European markets that Netflix has not yet officially launched in yet, Wuaki.tv’s user numbers are still a far cry from its more established American peers. In January 2015, Netflix revealed it had more than 18 million members outside of the US.

One thing is certain: we’ll be seeing more of Netflix in Europe this year. But the question remains whether the California-based company can tackle and customize content to each region as well as local media companies can. Or Europe-based companies with big backing, such as Wuaki.tv, which we’ll surely be seeing more of in the coming years, especially since Rakuten seems determined to increase its footprint in Europe.

Future plans

Currently, Wuaki.tv is a team of 150 employees and all decisions are made in collaboration with Tokyo, said Mitjà.

Aside from the main goal of further expanding in Europe this year, Wuaki.tv is determined to change the rigid windows in the film industry surrounding digital streaming services, especially in regards to shrinking theatrical windows, he added.

“We are operating in a very conservative industry, but we need to shift the current framework in order to align to the evolving way we consume entertainment online. I think companies like Netflix, Amazon and us are slowly changing the mindset,” Mitjà said.

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Featured image credit: Piotr Adamowicz / Shutterstock