Astro has inked a deal with Netflix that will give customers easier access to a wider entertainment experience. Its CEO of TV talks about external and home-grown content, and settling into Kuala Lumpur in the midst of the pandemic.
Options: What excites you most about the partnership with Netflix?
Euan Smith: I think it is a clear sign of where ‘New Astro’ is heading. The media and entertainment industry has been experiencing an unprecedented rate of disruption. The pandemic is accelerating the digitalisation of lifestyles, including the shift of viewing trends towards streaming content. Today, consumers have lots of entertainment options from many streaming apps, but they are starting to get fatigue from managing and paying for multiple subscriptions, and the hassle of searching for content from different platforms.
Our game at Astro has not changed. We are about putting the best external shows together with our sparkling home-grown content in a way that is easy, convenient and comprehensive, and adds value for consumers. Historically, that external content came primarily from linear channels but, increasingly, it is the global OTT (over-the-top) players that are producing the most significant volumes of high-quality material.
As a result, Team Astro is laser-focused on building a New Astro as the No 1 aggregator of streaming services and the undisputed entertainment destination. Our goal is to unify different streaming services under one sign-in and billing, enabling deep integration of the content onto the Astro Ultra and Ulti Box. Our customers deserve a great viewing experience and an amazing one-stop entertainment experience. If that is the goal, where better to start than by adding Netflix’s deep, outstanding slate of content to our service?
Did joining the company at the start of the pandemic here make it more difficult for you to settle into your new job?
I was locked down in the UK for the first three months of my Astro career, so my world was one of 4am starts, video conferences and coffee by the bucketful. But the team did an excellent job of accommodating the time shift and making me feel part of the company, including countless live streams so I could get a feel for our products. In truth, it was quite energising to find new ways of working; the new Ultra Remote we will launch shortly was designed 100% ‘remotely’ between myself and teams in Australia, Kuala Lumpur and the Netherlands.
Covid-19 has kept people home and many have turned to TV for entertainment or to de-stress. Has that changed what customers want to watch?
Not so much. Malaysians have continued to search for a variety of genres — quality dramas, movies, shows for children and sports content, to name a few. News has been important obviously, especially our own Awani. As the home of sports, we have seen strong interest, in particular for the biggest sports events, which we are now showing in HDR and Dolby Atmos —the UEFA Euro 2020 and soon, the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Our viewers are also consuming more local content, especially Astro Originals, which is winning fans with its bold and edgy storytelling. Rindu Awak Separuh Nyawa is Malaysia’s No 1 drama, with record TV viewership of 2.5 million and 4.8 million on-demand episodes streamed. And with cinemas closed, our customers have increasingly been enjoying local films on Astro First, our home cinema: 18 Puasa Di Kampong Pisang has raked in RM5 million to become the top-grossing local film in 2021.
Looking for quality content would be something you do all the time. What has surprised you most about good stories?
Contrary to popular misconception, younger digital natives are not immune to watching Astro. What they want is fresh and compelling content. Our high school drama Projek: Anchor SPM resonated with them, with TV viewership of 616,000, 1.1 million episodes streamed, 123 million views on TikTok and a total social media reach of 139 million.
Is this your first experience of working in Asia? How did you begin to make yourself at home in KL?
I have been super-lucky in my career to date, having worked in London, Paris, Munich, Los Angeles and Sydney. But I had never been to Asia save for vacations and the occasional supplier visit. I have to say that I am loving it so far. The thunderstorms never fail to awe me. I have filled my apartment with all manner of exotic, big-leaved plants to such an extent it feels like a garden centre.
Picked up any favourite local foods or habits over the last year-plus?
It has been challenging because of the restrictions, but I have enjoyed searching out local fare. There is a freshness and diversity of fruit and vegetables that make my friends in Europe very jealous, though I am unlikely to become a durian fan anytime soon. Special mention also to the quality of KL coffee shops — especially my ‘second homes’ at Alta Cafe, Pulp and Kopenhagen Coffee.
How do you unwind after a hard day? Do you have an instant pick-me-up?
For years now, I have kept a list of 50+ ‘state shifters’ in my Evernote files. It could be a memorable quote, a clip from Blackadder, a Cocteau Twins tune, an Alan Watts video or maybe a photo of my kids playing football when they were young. There is always something in there that will make me smile.
When travel curbs are lifted, where is the first place you would go for a holiday, and why?
My fabulous partner is a Colorado girl and my two children are both great skiers. Travel restrictions have kept us apart for much of the last 18 months so we will be heading for the snow of the Rocky Mountains just as soon as we are able.
This article first appeared on Jul 19, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.