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(Yonhap Interview) 'Korean Netflix' Watcha Play aims for 2017 Japanese launch: CEO

2017/02/25 09:00

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- Watcha Play, a popular South Korean video-on-demand service, is aiming to launch a Japanese service within this year, its founder said Saturday.

"We're preparing for the Japanese launch of Watcha Play as early as this year. The time frame will be decided within the first half of the year," said Park Tae-hoon, founder and CEO of Frograms, the startup that runs Watcha Play, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

This photo provided by Frograms shows its founder and CEO Park Tae-hoon. The company operates South Korean video streaming service Watcha Play. (Yonhap) This photo provided by Frograms shows its founder and CEO Park Tae-hoon. The company operates South Korean video streaming service Watcha Play. (Yonhap)

Launched in February of last year, Watcha Play is a paid video streaming service in the vein of U.S. video streaming giant Netflix.

It charges users 4,900 won (US$4.33) a month for unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows, albeit not the latest content. So far it has over 640,000 subscribers.

Watcha Play's fee is cheaper than Netflix's minimum $7.99 charge, which, along with movies, also provides original shows such as "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black." But it provides far more local content to Korean viewers than Netflix.

Frograms recently launched Watcha, a separate service in which users rate and recommend films, in Japan to what the company describes as a "good reaction."

   "We have some 50,000 registered as Watcha members in Japan," Park said, adding that Frograms has launched a Japanese subsidiary and is meeting with content companies to launch Watcha Play in Japan.

Since 2012, Frograms has secured investment worth 9 billion won, with the most recent infusion worth 5.5 billion won from the state-run Korea Development Bank, KClavis Investment and EBEST Investment & Securities late last year.

Park said his startup is currently in talks for additional funding that would take the total over the 10 billion won mark. He said a decision could be reached as early as March.

This photo provided by Frograms shows the company's office in southern Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo provided by Frograms shows the company's office in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)

When Watcha Play first came out last year, it was criticized by many as being a copy of Netflix. Park argued that it was a misunderstanding caused by a design decision.

"Normally in movie services, vertical posters are used to display movies. But we decided to use horizontal still cuts. Netflix also happens to use vertical images," explained Park.

Despite online piracy still being rampant, Park said he sees prospects in the future of the VOD market.

"If a service is easy to use, people spend money on it. Piracy will not disappear, but nowadays not many people listen to music by downloading pirated files," Park said, adding that he believes "an easy-to-use paid service will beat out cumbersome piracy."

   odissy@yna.co.kr

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