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In just over a year, the free platform already has 200,000 users, a presence in Chile, Peru, and Colombia, and will arrive in Mexico in October. We talked to its CEO about how to break through from LatAm in the competitive streaming market.
Chilean engineer Cristóbal Güell, CEO and founder of Riivi, says that the idea of launching a streaming service exclusively with Latin American content was born after the premiere of the Oscar-winning film A Fantastic Woman. Until then, Güell had tried his hand at a cooking venture—which failed early on— and was looking to deepen his knowledge of the entertainment industry.
“I saw the film’s impact in the world and decided to launch this venture because I saw a problem: Latin American content was exploding, but it wasn’t reaching the viewer due to distribution issues,” he recalls. “Latinos were not seeing our stories. Riivi was born from that idea of seeking a cultural boost, understanding that there was a business model that was not in the region.”
This streaming was born in January 2021 under the AVOD (advertising-based video on demand) model, meaning free and ad-funded platforms that are gaining ground worldwide. Riivi started in Chile and reached Peru and Colombia this year, adding 200 thousand monthly users.
With exhibition windows on the web, Smart TV, and apps on Android and iPhone, the first thing that strikes you about Riivi is its user-friendly interface, with an efficient title search engine and a front page sorted by new releases, trends, and sections. They have 500 titles in Chile and 200 in Peru and Colombia. Users can watch the content free of charge without registering. However, if they do so, they can save content, continue watching a movie they have left halfway through and have the algorithm customized for recommendations.
After Chile, the first country to which they expanded was Peru, due to studies saying Peruvians are the most nationalistic in terms of their television and film consumption. In the case of Colombia, there is a boom in local production due to its tax incentives. In both countries, Riivi is growing twice as fast as in Chile.
The next challenge will be its arrival in Mexico, in October, with a catalog of 500 films, series, and telenovelas. “We are building the Mexico catalog, which is a different world, with a lot of competition, but where there is a lot of content that doesn’t have the opportunity to be distributed in the right way. Even if they are on Netflix or Amazon, there is frustration among content creators because they cannot massify and monetize enough,” says Güell, who has been living in Los Angeles, California, with his wife for seven years. The platform’s co-founder, Ilan Oliel, will be based in Mexico and put together a team.
Riivi has raised US$1.25 million in its pre-seed and seed rounds. Among its investors is the firm Sable. It also recently went through Start-Up Chile, a government accelerator that both funds and advises emerging companies.
The capital allows Riivi to maintain a team of 12 people, including seven technology developers, but they also earn income from advertising. They broadcast one minute of ads before the start of each movie or episode. For three months, for instance, the Latin American unicorn NotCo decided to advertise on the platform (its CEO, Matias Muchnick, is also listed as Riivi’s mentor).
How does the business work? The startup’s CEO explains: “NotCo was interested in promoting Latin American culture, which is an important factor for the brands advertising on Riivi. We offered that for a fixed fee, they could appear in the first position of our content and at the end of the month we send a report of how many impressions we had, who saw the content, and so they can see the impact”. Along with NotCo, the car brand Brilliance is also running ads, and from August, they will be joined by low-cost airline JetSMART.
Cristóbal Güell says that the failure of his first venture (Cocínalo, where they taught cooking in an entertaining way) taught him a lesson: to get involved in a company only if he felt a powerful passion, where he had enough knowledge to make it a competitive edge and a business opportunity. Güell had the chance with Riivi to bring his love for cinema to a startup.
“There is a lot of misconception in the streaming world. Some people think it’s about arriving and pitching content to a platform,” he says to then explain that platforms like Netflix and Amazon tend toward more mainstream content and that many Latino productions are not like that. “So they don’t reach those streamings and, if they do, it’s for a short window,” he argues. “This is the world’s first AVOD platform for Latin American content.”
Alliances and brand value
In the markets where Riivi operates, its catalog differs according to local interests and copyright matters. In Chile, they have reached an agreement with Canal 13, and in Colombia, with RCTV. In addition, they have closed deals with Cinépolis and Lionsgate, which provide them with content that has not been well distributed on subscription-based services in exchange for a prime spot on their platform.
How do they negotiate to get them? Regular subscription platforms pay an upfront price and take the “performance risk”: they don’t know whether or not they will have good viewing numbers. In the AVOD model, there is no upfront price: the revenue comes from advertising and is shared with the content creator. Thus, the AVOD platform does not take a performance risk, and the creators can have an extra income.
Almost all LatAm countries have state-subsidized local content platforms: Peru has Retina Latina and Chile has Ondamedia. In both cases, says Riivi’s founder, there is no competition because “although they do an admirable job, they don’t have much incentive to become mainstream, and they don’t do marketing. We want a sustainable business model, and we want Riivi to be widely used”.
Streaming competition in LatAm has become fierce, with more than twenty platforms in each country, mainly subscription-based. Cristóbal Güell believes their platform has a brand value that is making them grow: “When a user enters Riivi, it is to discover Latin America. It is different from Netflix, where users look for any title. On Android, we are the streaming platform with the best rating because the perception of our brand is different”.
Main image: Cristóbal Güell (photo: Riivi)