Viki Climbs The Great Firewall, Signs With ‘China’s Facebook’ Renren For Its First Video Distribution Deal In The Country

Online video site Viki has made a big business out of aggregating content from around the world, covering 150+ languages in all, and making it accessible to all by crowdsourcing translations from its community of users. Now that pool of viewers is set to get a little deeper with a new distribution deal with Renren, known as the Facebook of China, which will see Renren create a special channel called VikiZone on, its video sharing network. This is the first time that Viki has partnered with a third party to power its online TV service.

The deal not only promises a new swathe of Chinese viewers to the Viki — Renren has 160 million registered users in the country and will be promoting VikiZone heavily to them — but it is also a mark of how Chinese online video sites and consumers’ tastes are becoming more international, and are looking for more professional content to meet that demand. Coincidentally, today’s news follows just days after Youku — the biggest online video site, known as China’s YouTube, and competitor to — announced a deal covering blockbuster films from NBC Universal.

Renren has said as much, too. “In our continuous pursuit to enhance user experience, we wanted to give our users a wide range of high quality video contents from across the globe. Teaming with Viki, an innovative and resourceful player in video streaming, is an important step towards our goal,” said James Liu, Renren’s coo, in a statement.

While Viki has a large (and often eclectic) catalog of content accessible through its own portal, it looks like the Renren deal will be only for a selection of that. Examples of what will be included are “hundreds of hours” of Cartoon Network programs, TNT dramas — and, Viki CEO and co-founder Razmig Hovaghimian says, content from Japan and Korea, apparently quite popular on the Mainland.

Part of the reason for offering only a “cherry picked” selection rather than the full catalog may be down to making sure the content stays on the right side of China’s censors. They have been known to crack down on social media services when things go against approved editorial grain — and Viki, with its user-generated translations and recommendations bent, is a social site, as is Renren. For this service, Hovaghimian says that Viki will be serving the content from Renren itself, with servers located in China.

That’s in contrast to sites like the New York Times — which, when it launched its Chinese edition the other week, it made of point of noting its servers would not be in the country, likely to help the NY Times maintain editorial control. A video site, Hovaghimian says, has to make an exception to that ideal: “If we served the videos from outside China, the use times and access would be horrid.”

Like Viki’s main site, all content on VikiZone will be free to watch and ad-supported. Down the line, Hovaghimian says that the company wouldn’t rule out paid options as a way of securing the best content.

“We’ve considered a paywall because then it’s easier to get better and fresher content,” he said, referring to the returns just being that much higher on paid services. “It’s hard to do that on ad-based model.” (NBC’s deal with Youku will see the film content sit behind a paywall.)

While Viki and Renren are not disclosing the exact financial terms of this deal, it’s likely to be based around sharing resulting ad revenues. For now, most of the ad sales being done on the site will be through Renren, with a portion of the inventory reserved for Viki to sell itself. It would likely do that through its ad partnership with the BBC (which was also one of the investors in Viki’s most recent, a-list $20 million round).

The deal with Renren is not exclusive, meaning that Viki could be soon launching VikiZones on other video portals like Youku. But it may be a different kind of platform altogether that Viki will tackle next in China: Hovaghimian says it is deep in negotiations with another third party for a mobile-only service that will focus on short-form content and music videos.

And there are prospects to continue launching more of these third-party partnerships with local video portals in other countries, too. Not only is it working on licensing more Chinese content to take out of the country — one recent upload from Hunan TV now is available in 25 languages, he says — Hovaghimian points out that there is a big opportunity in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, which typically have very high CPMs compared to those in the west. “That gives us a high opportunity to monetize,” he says.