Rakuten TV to expand movie streaming to 42 European countries

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten plans to expand its video-on-demand streaming service to 42 European countries, partnering with leading smart TV makers to offer movies in high-definition at the push of a remote-control button.

The move positions Rakuten TV as a niche player offering ‘cinema at home’ to viewers who typically pay 4.99 euros ($5.64) to watch a recent Hollywood release, alongside streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

All three have branded buttons on remote controls of internet-enabled smart TVs made by firms such as Samsung Electronics, LG, Philips and Hisense. Rakuten TV has a partnership deal with the television manufacturers.

“We are complementary to subscription services like Netflix because they do not have new movie releases coming out of the cinemas,” said Jacinto Roca, the founder and CEO of Rakuten TV, which was taken over by the Japanese company in 2012.

He told Reuters the initiative positioned Barcelona-based Rakuten TV “as one of the top players on a pan-European basis”.

Loss-making Rakuten TV says it has nearly 7 million pay-per-view customers in a dozen countries. With the wider European rollout, planned for this summer, it estimates that it will reach more than 30 million European households.

Roca estimated that Rakuten TV would be available on more than 80 percent of the smart TVs that occupy increasingly large amounts of wallspace in living rooms around Europe.

It now offers movies in 4K ultra-high definition, where screens have about four times as many pixels as standard TVs, and will start airing films to the 8K standard later this year.

Roca declined to disclose Rakuten TV’s financials but said that “loyal” viewers typically watched two movies a month. The firm’s revenues grew by nearly 40 percent last year.

($1 = 0.8853 euros)

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Edmund Blair