INTERVIEW: Lee Raftery, managing director for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region for NBCUniversal International Networks
Universal+ launched on Friday, 14 October, in South Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa in partnership with MultiChoice, bringing DStv subscribers a catch-up content hub of NBCUniversal's TV channels.
News24 sat down with Lee Raftery, managing director for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region for NBCUniversal International Networks & direct-to-consumer, to ask him about Universal+'s origin story, and what success would look like for the service in this territory.
What is the origin story of Universal+? When did you start to work on bringing it to South Africa, and why did you decide to launch it in this territory now?
We started working on Universal+ about three and a bit years ago. It was essentially a bridging service between linear and streaming.
Crucially, we want to work with our existing partners worldwide and give them a strong on-demand offer to complement linear TV channels. We still strongly believe in linear, but we also think everybody wants on-demand and box sets as well. We started figuring out how we could construct that. We launched in Spain in January 2020, and we've been rolling out around the globe. We've done Latin America and India, and other announcements are pending next week.
With linear television and streaming, you don't want the one cannibalising the other. How do you keep both strong? How do you see it?
This took me a while to get to, but I think we should all be agnostic – if people are watching our great content, I'm happy, whether that's linear or through streaming.
I think for too long, the industry tried to keep viewers either in linear or streaming. I think let the viewer decide. I very much enjoy linear television; when I get home, and you don't know what you're going to watch, you switch on linear, and that's great. Other times you go, "I want to watch that specific great show, and the next episode and the next episode", and just binge through it. My view is don't fight it; let the viewer decide.
How would you describe the value proposition of Universal+? What is it that it enhances or is in addition to?
We worked with MultiChoice to really make this a great value proposition for DStv subscribers. They already have our bouquet of five great TV channels – Universal TV, Studio Universal, Telemundo, E! and now DreamWorks. This gives the viewer thousands of hours of on-demand content originating from those channels that they can access through their DStv Explora decoder box or the DStv app on-demand. And crucially for not a cent more, which I think is a great value message that enhances the DStv proposition.
Would it be too soon to ask, is the vision that it would remain a catch-up service for library content or would you also consider Universal+ Original content that would only reside there?
It's possible we would put original content there, but primarily it would be a catch-up service with box sets and full seasons. Maybe in time, we would put original content straight on there; we've done that in other markets. If there's a big enough audience on Universal+, then why not?
I have to ask you about Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service. Are there plans to also bring Peacock to Africa or South Africa, or would Universal+ be the stand-in in this territory?
It's a complicated marketplace at the moment for everybody in the industry and viewers. At the moment, Peacock has been incredibly successfully launched in the United States and doing incredibly well. We launched it in conjunction with Sky-Markets – the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and some smaller markets that Sky covers. At the moment, we've got no further announcements to make around Peacock, but we are actively looking at opportunities around the world on a market-by-market basis, so watch this space.
How would you define success for Universal+ a year from or five years, or a decade from now? How would you measure its impact?
Success for Universal+ is lots of people using it and watching box sets and we've got that balance between linear and on-demand really going; that would be great for me. There are challenges in Africa with data costs etc., so we're not unaware of that. We'll see how this takes off, but we think it's pretty groundbreaking for Africa, so we have high hopes.
Lastly, what makes you happy about bringing Universal+ here?
I think the Universal brand name is an incredible and historic brand name, well over a hundred years old now, and it means great entertainment to people. So to further bolster that brand name across Africa with a great robust service in conjunction with our partners at MultiChoice is great.
DStv subscribers can access Universal+ via Catch Up on the DStv App or connected Explora and selecting Universal+.
Note from the editor: Per request of Universal+ the word "streaming" has been removed from this article.