Following Amazon And Netflix, Rakuten Is Expanding Its Wuaki Video Service Across Europe; First Stop UK

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E-commerce giant Rakuten, often called the Amazon of Japan, is taking another step in a bid to square up to is rival: today it is officially launching a beta of its Wuaki video streaming service in the UK, part of what Wuaki’s CEO tells us is a plan to take the service across other countries in Europe.

“The UK is the first stop in Wuaki.tv´s European expansion beyond the company’s home market in Spain. Wuaki.tv has a long term aim of becoming a leader in the European VOD space, and is planning to complete launches in the main European countries, in addition to the UK and Spain, within the next 18-24 months,” Wuaki’s CEO Jacinto Roca told TechCrunch. “A detailed plan will be confirmed in the next few months, following the UK launch and initial feedback and results in that market.”

The UK launch is kicking off with “thousands of hours of movie and TV content,” including titles from Warner Bros., Disney, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and the BBC, among others (some of the specific titles include Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful and Lincoln, and series like The Tudors and Doctor Who). Subscription prices for those who take up offers this summer will be £2.99 ($4.50) per month, plus an a la carte offering.

Wuaki will first be available on any connected PC or Mac, “with support for games consoles, smartTVs and tablets to follow over the summer,” as the service moves out of beta.

Rakuten’s video streaming business in Europe started in earnest last year, when it acquired Wuaki, based in Spain, for an undisclosed amount. At the time, the company talked about how this would help it expand in Spain specifically, where Wuaki had already developed a loyal following with over 600,000 users.

Now it’s clear that the acquisition was part of a much more ambitious vision. In addition to the UK, last week there were reports that Wuaki was coming soon to France. Roca would not comment on this directly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that service opening up soon, too.

The UK, in a way, is both a tough and obvious market for Rakuten to take Wuaki.

On the one hand, it’s crowded: Amazon (via its LOVEFiLM subsidiary) and Netflix have been duking it out over premium content exclusives for their UK services, and they have to contend with homegrown rivals like Sky and even offerings directly from broadcasters, such as the iPlayer service from the BBC.

On the other, the fact that all these exist, and that the UK has a very connected online population that loves to watch online video means that there is definitely a receptive audience for Wuaki here.

Further markets could be tricky for the reverse reasons. In France, for example, there is no Amazon online streaming, and no Netflix. But there isn’t anyone else really big, either, save for local broadcaster Canal+ (a premium TV channel), which has launched Canal Play Infinity, a Netflix clone; and Orange is also active. However, there are also some legislation issues as movies can only be offered in an all you can eat subscription service 2 years after release, making early releases harder (if not impossible) to secure.

In the UK, Rakuten’s launching Wuaki with what it hopes will be competition-busting offers. The service is getting launched in a hybrid offer, in which people can either purchase monthly subscriptions, called Wuaki Plus, or buy titles a la carte. It claims that it will be the very first to offer both of these under one brand, and hopes that this could set it apart from the rest.

“Streaming services have grown significantly in the UK, and we see a huge gap to offer a hybrid of the traditional subscription and a la carte models,” Roca notes in the news release. “Our Wuaki Plus subscription offers a quality service at an attractive monthly rate. However, we know many people also want to rent or buy the very latest new releases, which are usually not available on subscription streaming services immediately, and others simply prefer to have on-demand on an a la carte basis. With Wuaki users can have both, and pick-and-choose what they want, when they want.” He also points out that this hybrid model has worked well for Wuaki in Spain.

For those who buy Wuaki subscriptions this summer, they will get half-off offers, to cost them £2.99/month for life. And to help push cross-promotion opportunities, it’s also offering those who are customers of its Play.com e-commerce portal (an Amazon-style online marketplace) 50% discounts their first two purchases of films under the a la carte option.