Mediacorp’s Toggle head: ‘We are on track towards profitability’

After some teething troubles, the head of Mediacorp’s OTT platform Anil Nihalani tells Mumbrella Asia's Eleanor Dickinson how Toggle’s efforts to embrace original content – in order to reach a younger audience – have put it back on the right track

When it first launched in 2013, Toggle didn’t exactly have the smoothest of starts. Originally created as a catch-up platform for Mediacorp’s seven, free-to-air stations, Toggle came at a time when it was becoming obvious that the Singaporean broadcaster could no longer rely on its traditional linear TV dominance to guarantee audiences.

Competitors such as Netflix, HOOQ and even YouTube quickly gained traction with the largely younger market, who were enticed by the seemingly endless supply of binge-watching content.

However, when Mediacorp first unveiled its own rival to the international tech giants four years ago, the offering was not quite what they – or users – were hoping for. For starters, Toggle had a rather cumbersome user-experience process: subcribers were required to resubmit their details with every log-in.

At the same time, viewers watching online complained of slow loading and buffering times. In addition, the broadcast network, familiar with protecting and monetising its ‘owned’ audiences on TV, was reluctant to embrace viewership growth through social media and made the viewing process in that space nigh-on impossible. Rather than learning about a new programme when clicking on a shared link, users were simply greeted with a paywall message.  

That changed in April 2015 when after much time and investment, Mediacorp unveiled Toggle part II, which was largely spearheaded by the recently recruited head of connected media – and former StarHub senior executive – Anil Nihalani.

Anil Nihalani

“Prior to April 2015, [Toggle] was not a good user-experience,” he says “We used to require all of our users to log in – they had to register first – every time they used it. Logging in was a pain, the streaming was a struggle; you had buffering and a number of different things.

“Since the revamp, the quality has become a lot better. After this, we saw a huge spike in viewers and traffic… with sharing it’s become significantly easier. Now you just tap a button and you can share on Whatsapp or via email.”

Although under Nihalani’s leadership those initial technical issues were for the most part dealt with, the challenge still remains for Toggle to differentiate itself in a crowded OTT market with a limited audience.

Singaporean content still remains available through traditional channels and the cable video-on-demand options. Meanwhile, expensive international content is largely the domain of global providers such as Netflix and Apple. Today, international content remains just 10 per cent of Toggle’s overall output with traditional television programming taking up the bulk of its offering at 80 per cent.

Toggle Original, Life Spam

Needing to find a unique viewer proposition, the platform has for the past year turned to investing in and making its own programming, unsurprisingly dubbed Toggle Originals.  

“In the last year, our focus has been on creating made for exclusive-to-Toggle content, although some of it then goes onto TV. This is primarily to reach younger audiences,” explains Nihalani. “A good chunk of our audience is under 35 – in fact, it’s 60 per cent of our viewers. Mobile viewership is two-thirds. Last year, we were releasing one new title a month; that has now been increased to two. By February next year, we will start increasing that to three new titles a month.”

Three titles a month may sound like a terrifying commitment but, perhaps in a bid to appeal to young people who might have short attention spans, it’s worth noting that some of the content lasts no longer than eight minutes. Titles currently on the platform’s roster include English-language drama LifeSpam, starring Singaporean influencer Xiaxue, and the Chinese-targeted romance 2589 Days Apart. However, Toggle has not been without its own scandal. Last year, Mediacorp publicly apologised following an outcry over actor Shane Pow’s ‘blackface’ make up in the series I Want To Be A Star.

Nevertheless, Toggle’s traffic continues to grow says Nihalani. “Over the last six months, viewership has grown over six times and traffic has increased eight times,” he adds. So just how many people are subscribed to Toggle today?

Nihalani stalls before answering: “We have not mentioned that number publicly before. We have two tiers: the basic Toggle service does not need a subscription – you just download the app. That gets about 800,000 unique viewers on our video site each month. Across the entire Toggle site, we get 2.4 million visitors each month consuming the full range of content. That traffic increase creates a lot of monetisable inventory.”

When it comes down to talking costs and profit, it becomes apparent this is something of a challenging issue for Nihalani. While Toggle’s free-to-air streaming is funded by ad revenue, the platform also has user subscriptions starting at S$8.83. But when asked whether the platform makes a profit, Nihalani hesitates before saying: “Profitable is no longer a one-dimensional answer. There are a number of answers to it.

“We started off with a five-year plan and we are well on track with that and where those numbers are supposed to take us. But there is a lot of throttling that needs to happen in terms of content costs. You can never look at those from a singular profitability consideration: it’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but we are on track.

“We’re in a growth phase so I don’t think minimising production costs would be a good thing at this point in time. We’re investing more in content and product development. As that happens, our viewership increases.”

He adds: “There’s more to it than just making local content. Our key focus is audience insights across all of our platforms: what do our readers want to see? What is the cultural strength and nuance that our audience is looking for? It’s half art and half science at the end of the day.”


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