Yoganathan Ratheesan, chairman and CEO of Lebara Group at the Ignite event in London last week
MOBILE phone operator Lebara has made an audacious move into the entertainment sector by launching a new film and TV service for migrant communities who want to watch unlimited content from their home countries.
Lebara Play is a multi-ethnic movie and live TV channel streaming service bringing together freeand fully licensed content in 13 languages in one place. Currently, the platform has over 150 TV channels and 3,000 movies that can be watched on multiple mobile devices, on the web, or using a set-top box on the TV.
Yoganathan Ratheesan, chairman and CEO of Lebara Group, has hailed the new service as an “unrivalled service” designed to disrupt “the existing entertainment landscape”.
“Serving the migrant community is at the core of everything we do at Lebara,” he said at the Ignite Lebara event in Grosvenor House, London, last Tuesday (16), when Lebara Play was launched.
He added: “While the need to call loved ones is never far away, as new locations become home for our customers, different needs such as financial services and entertainment become more important.
“Lebara Play is an unrivalled service designed for an under-served community; and the launch proves that we’re delivering on our plans to disrupt the existing entertainment landscape and diversify our communications business.”
Ratheesan, who is valued at £135m in the Asian Rich List, said his aspiration
s for the company were for it to be a one-stop service for migrants to enable them to communicate, send money back home and be entertained all in one place.
“In Lebara, we are proud we have found a business model that works and is truly satisfying.
“What do our customers really want in their day to day life? One is communication, financial services and entertainment. When a migrant lands in this country they want to call back home and want to tell their family they’ve arrived safe. That journey starts from there.”
He said by the end of the year, the Lebara Play set-top box will be available at mobile phone stores such as Carphone Warehouse. It will have a catalogue of 10,000 movies and over 500 different channels, he added.
“You won’t have a separate login for separate products, just one profile to log in,” Ratheesansaid. “The same top-up voucher can be used for every single product. You can use it for talk, remittance, entertainment, for all the products. We have created a portal for Lebara Retailers, helping themsell the new products and services which we’ve launched.”
The new service costs from £9.99 a month on pay-as-you-go or a subscription plan of £149 for 12 months, which includes the TV set-top box.
Most of the content is currently from Tamil, Turkish, African English and African French. Lebara is continuing to sign new deals with content providers and hopes to have Chinese Mandarin, Romanian, Polish, Hindi, Pakistani, Bengali, Punjabi, and Malayalam content by the end of 2015.
“We’ve built relationships with some of the leading content companies worldwide, and in the coming months we’ll be announcing further deals to deliver customers even more of the TV and movies they love in their own language,” added Aditya Thakur, CEO of Lebara Play.
“Lebara Play provides a huge range of content – blending the best of video on demand movies and live TV programming – with a simple and intuitive user experience, at a competitive price.”
Ratheesan, 39, arrived in the country aged 15 to join his father - refugees from the bitter civil war that raged in Sri Lanka. He studied aeronautical engineering at Kingston University, but one of his early jobs was with a telecoms operation.
He eventually founded Lebara along with business partners, Leon Rasiah and Baskaran Kandiah; the company now has six million customers across eight countries.
“Lebara operates in only eight countries today. As you expand, our opportunity in the market will be far greater than what we have been able to achieve.
“It’s incredible how our market has come forward. As a company we are focused on the migrant market.
“In the early days I used to call my mother on my budget which was £5. It used to be three minutes calling time for that £5.
“And today I’m so proud to say the same £5 pounds gives me over 500 minutes. Our love has not gone even though we have left out families so far away, keeping in touch really matters. Serving the migrant community is at the core of everything we do at Lebara.”