The global appetite for Korean entertainment — movies, TV shows, and music videos — has exploded in recent years. For non-Korean-speaking viewers, subtitles are crucial to the experience. Enter Viki Inc., a company that hosts content for streaming and provides subtitles and closed captions. Viki both eliminates language barriers and introduces the content to an otherwise unserved audience.
Traditionally, subtitles are created by a bilingual translator hired by the producer or broadcaster. But the process is expensive and slow to scale. To overcome these challenges, Viki developed a business model leveraging a community of more than 150,000 volunteers. This model allows Viki to crowdsource subtitles for Asian content in numerous languages. Viki rewards volunteers with gamified badges, the ability to view videos not otherwise available in their region, early access to new shows, and an advertising-free, high-definition experience of the content.
The combination of rapidly increasing internet video adoption rates and a greater appetite for foreign content — both in Asia and globally — has become a big opportunity for Viki, which was acquired by Tokyo-based Rakuten Inc. for a reported price of $200 million in 2013.
The authors argue that Viki's story exemplifies a larger trend playing out in Asia. They see Viki as an archetype of a new generation of companies leveraging business model innovation to drive growth in Asia. But to understand this type of business model innovation in its proper context, it's important to understand Viki's forerunners. The authors describe two distinct, yet overlapping, waves of business innovation from emerging markets in Asia in recent years: one decades old and still going, and another that is newer and includes companies like Viki.
The first wave primarily exploited differences in labor and other input costs between developed and developing markets. By contrast, the second wave is driven primarily by business model innovation and typically leverages new technology. These companies are characterized by extensive and often radical reconfigurations of the profit formula, resources, processes, and relationships within a broader stakeholder ecosystem. They may have a global orientation from the start.
Established companies, the authors argue, can also embrace the opportunity for business model innovation. The authors cite examples such as Medtronic Inc. and MetLife Inc., which have both been experimenting with new business models in Asia. The authors also offer suggestions for how established companies can start to explore business model innovation.