For the love of content! Answering your frequently asked questions about licensing

Hello, Viki community! This is Razmig, co-founder and ceo of Viki. Now that we have a blog, I just want to say "hi" to all, and give a BIG shout-out to the Viki community - for your fight, love, and patience : )

We often get questions from the community about how the licensing process works, and what titles are coming up. As one of your content-wranglers, I’d like to take this opportunity to answer some of those frequently asked questions. And yes, I should have done this looooog ago.

Over the last few years, we’ve taken quite a beating from content owners and heard a lot of “nos,” but the tide is shifting. Now, content owners are coming to us, and this is in large part because you’ve helped them understand the value of a global audience that’s engaged with their TV shows and movies in a way they’ve never seen before -- segmenting, subbing, commenting and sharing to the tune of 200 million words and more than 150 languages. We wouldn’t be where we are today without you.

On to your questions...

What exactly is your process for licensing a TV show or movie?

We’ve developed long-standing relationships with many TV stations, content distributors and producers from around the world. We license their content for viki.com, and increasingly, for Viki on mobile and Smart TV. We are in constant contact with them about upcoming shows, taking into account fan requests, as well as content availability, cost and geographic reach.

The process can take a few weeks, but often longer. Typically, discussions start a month or more ahead of a show’s airing date, but we’ve had discussions that lasted more than a year. It can take a long time because there are many details to negotiate, including which countries or regions we stream the show, when, for how long and on which media platforms, not to mention getting their buy-in to have fans subtitle the content. It’s a very tough balancing act, especially when getting rights for markets that content owners have never sold in before, or where they have traditional media partners that see digital distribution as a threat, even though we’ve together proven that it’s additive.

Sometimes, even when things seem to be aligned, deals fall apart at the last minute. We try to prevent this as much as possible, but it happens. At the end of the day, our interest is in serving our community and viewers. It’s neither an easy nor a very predictable process (content owners are not used to selling their content online, let alone worldwide), but we wouldn’t be doing it if it was easy, and if we didn’t absolutely believe in bringing down barriers between great entertainment and its fans, no matter where they are. It’s a tough fight, and that’s where your patience and support comes in and stands out.

Who negotiates the contracts? Who’s involved in the process?

There are six of us, part and full-time, who work on licensing content. We’re spread out between Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai and San Francisco. We have a great team and are, like you, big fans of global content, and have been subbing since Viki was a class project in 2007. Am sure some of your know our IDs by now ; )

Once content is licensed, it takes a Viki-wide effort to get the content to all as quickly as possible, and we keep innovating in and improving this process. When the content is on, fans often see more than 10 languages translated (with the right nuance) within 24 hours, with another 10 in the next 24 hours. This is what makes us tick.

Quick fact: We have around 30 staff members at Viki, who come from 18 different countries (we just had a engineer join us from Mongolia); and the number of languages that the Viki staff can sub in outnumber us.

Why are some people allowed or not allowed to see certain shows?

Sometimes we’re not able to acquire a global license, or get the license while the content is airing on TV. This means we’re only able to show certain shows in select regions or countries, or show it when the content is no longer on TV in its home country. In some cases, another company may have exclusive rights to certain countries for a certain period of time, after which we do our best to get these shows.  Whenever possible, our goal is always to try and secure global licenses, because fans are everywhere. We’ve had shows that bombed in their home country, but found more than 5 million global fans who loved the show on Viki worldwide.

Some channels have had their videos removed, or are blocked, even when hours of subbing work have gone into them. Why does this happen?

We know the community puts a lot of hard work into segmenting and subbing videos, so it sucks when this happens. Fortunately, this is happening rarely these days, and in order to minimize it even further, we'll soon be updating our channel creation policy (more on this in the coming weeks). In the meantime, here’s some context:

Viki has ‘fan channels,’ and these channels are often created months in advance in anticipation of Viki licensing these shows. The channels often have fan-generated show information, comments and posts, and also serve as a gathering ground for subbing teams to organize. Many fans also ‘follow’ the channel, so that they can get updates.

These channels are unofficial, and are guided by our terms of service. Over time, some content owners have asked us not to allow fan channels to even be created, even as a hub for information, and others have asked that we not allow fans to link to videos on other sites. When we receive a request such as this, consistent with our  policy, we shut the video or channel down even though we at Viki never host any content on these channels. Nonetheless, we respect content owners’ wishes, consistent with our policy that follows the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which you can learn more about here.

If we’re able to secure the rights to the linked content, we'll add the videos, but until that happens, the channel manager and fans are generally free to design, organize, post comments and even link to YouTube videos but only as long as the content or images don’t violate anyone’s copyright ownership. Fan-generated channels are a great way for us (and the content owners) to learn about shows you want us to acquire, and it’s a great way for fans to meet others who share the same interests.

The Viki content-licensing team is hard at work to secure as many rights as possible to the TV shows and movies you want. We appreciate your patience as we work through these deals, but in the meantime, there are more than ten thousand hours of great entertainment from around the world to discover on Viki, and we hope you do.

It sometimes seems like other websites have shows that Viki doesn’t. Why is that?

Our goal is to bring you the best entertainment content and experience, and we’ve been working tirelessly to close long-term partnerships (“output deals”) with the best content owners, allowing us to license 10-20 new on-air shows per month, from Asia alone. For example, for the Korean video fans out there, we’ll have more than 100 Korean shows coming this year, including the hottest on-air titles from broadcasters and cable companies. They’ll be added to Viki as soon as each episode finishes airing on TV in Korea. As mentioned earlier, there are some cases when other companies (be it a TV channel or a website) license the content ahead of us and for an exclusive period, and in these cases,  we have to wait on their exclusive rights to lapse before we can get the show.

Few, if any, can match the scale, reach and quality of our content, and we’re just starting. Historically, we’ve done a terrible job at giving you a head’s up about upcoming titles (or anything else, for that matter). This will definitely change, and it starts now. Here are some of the Korean shows  that you can expect on Viki in the next few weeks and months. We’ll keep updating.

How can I suggest a show for you to license?

We always want to hear your suggestions. Please drop us a note through the Viki Help Center and let us know which shows you’d like to see. We’re seeing a lot of interest in Nordic movies this year.

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Thank you for all you do. The last two years have been very tough as we tried to convince content owners that having a passionate group of fans subtitle their work would not only create quality translations, but also create a new way to reach a massive, passionate new fan base. Content owners hadn't realized that fans would spend days on their favorite shows, ensuring that the nuance of a show was not lost, or that millions of worldwide fans would wait patiently for these shows to be available in their language.

Well, they heard us, saw the Viki community’s amazing work, and have seen hit shows exceed TV ratings in more than 50 languages, reaching 200 countries, and generating significant additive revenues in the process. We can’t wait to continue to grow Viki with you.