Crowd-Sourced Online Video Site Viki Breaks Down Language Barriers

"Law and Order" is one of the U.S. shows available on Viki.

The Singapore-based Internet TV and movie platform relies on fans of programs and films to translate content into multiple languages.

SINGAPORE – Online video site Viki, which hosts TV programs and movies subbed by volunteer translators, is on a mission to break down language barriers and make content accessible globally -- whether its Korean dramas in Romanian, anime in Spanish or Indonesian films in English.

Founders Razmig Hovaghimian and Changseong Ho, classmates on an MBA at Stanford Business School, along with Jiwon Moon, who was studying at Harvard, started Viki as an extension of a class project originally intended to assist language learning.

Since the launch of the beta site in 2010, its army of fan translators have created more than 400 million words of subtitles. Some shows have been subbed in more than 80 languages.

“Viki is a combination of video and wiki. The subtitles are peer-reviewed by our community of translators. The quality is very high,” CEO Hovaghimian told The Hollywood Reporter at ATF/Screen Singapore. "One Korean company that we had licensed content from was so happy with the subtitles that they used them on their DVD release."

After an initial round of private equity funding, Viki raised $20 million from investors including Korea's SK Telecom and BBC Worldwide. A team from the British public broadcaster helped Viki build its sales team for advertising, on which the site relies for most of its revenue. It also syndicates its subbed content to third parties, including fellow online video platforms Hulu and Netflix. This September saw Viki, now based in Singapore, bought out by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $200 million.

STORY: Japan's Rakuten to Acquire Video Site Viki

Hovaghimian spent two years working at NBC Universal in Japan before launching the site, and Viki was a co-production partner and online broadcaster for Ozma, the series based on the works of legendary manga and anime creator Leiji Matsumoto. Nevertheless, he found many of Japan's TV networks and other content holders reluctant to license to Viki.

Having the backing of Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani, an outspoken billionaire, has opened doors for Viki in Japan. 

“Mikitani made the time to take me around to meet the Japanese broadcasters one-by-one, for two days straight. I'd been trying to talk to them for years,” said Hovaghimian.

About 40 percent of traffic is now coming via mobile, though in territories like Singapore and the Philippines, it can reach 80 percent. The U.S. remains its biggest market, with Spanish-subtitled content popular with both Hispanic communities and other groups. African-Americans make up around 22 percent of its U.S. audience, something that Hovaghimian admits he's at a loss to find a reason for.

This New Year's Eve, Viki will attempt its first live broadcast, a countdown program from skyscraper Taipei 101 in conjunction with local TV channel TVBS, featuring subtitles added after a few minutes time-delay.

Viki partnered with Chinese social networking site Renren in the summer of 2012, and has plans for further expansion into the huge online video market there.


Twitter: @GavinJBlair