LOS ANGELES - LGBTQ-focused streaming platform GagaOOLala officially launched worldwide Friday in all territories except for China and North Korea.
The streamer is backed by Taipei-based Portico Media, one of the co-founders of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. Its launch comes a week before the one-year anniversary of the day Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
GagaOOLala is now available worldwide for $6.99 a month. All films currently are equipped with English and Chinese subtitles, with other languages pending as the company monitors content popularity in different regions. It debuts in the U.S. with around 300 titles to start; in Taiwan, it has around 1,000 films.
Although a bit player compared to the other giants in the global streaming wars, Portico Media CEO Jay Lin says he feels his platform has a niche.
"Of course there are LGBT-focused services in Europe and the U.S., but they're almost exclusively Western. There are very few Asian titles, and if there are, they're more Asian American, or from a U.S.-centric or Western-centric point of view," he points out. "This is the first time where an OTT service is available globally with such a high concentration of Asian content."
GagaOOLala has in recent years begun producing its own originals. These include Taiwanese film "The Teacher," which won Winnie Chang a Golden Horse Award last year for best supporting actress, "Handsome Stewardess," the first Singaporean series to star a lesbian couple, and "Sodom's Cat," one of the first Asian queer films to depict a same-sex orgy.
The vast majority of GagaOOLala's content hasn't been distributed in the U.S. or Europe. The platform is offering around 30 titles for viewers to watch for free during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Berlin International Film Festival Teddy Award Winner "Brief Story from the Green Planet."
Much of the traffic the site currently gets is for its offerings in the "boys' love" genre — gay content popular with straight women. It plans to continue to mine the sector with more content in the future, but admits that the question will be whether they can get young, straight women to branch out to other types of films as well.
"When we were doing research for potential partners, we were astonished to find there are hundreds of millions of people and social media groups around the world that are obsessed with boys' love — not just in Asia," says Lin. "This is a new genre that will continue to grow."
Key titles that GagaOOLala will release in the subsequent months include the supernatural BL trilogy "Ghost Boyfriend," gay French thriller "7 Minutes," and a Thai-Taiwanese co-produced gay love story "Present Still Perfect." Helmed by Thai director Anusorn Soisa-ngim, its small-scale theatrical release in Thailand was abruptly aborted in early March due to the novel coronavirus, which shut down cinemas days after its debut.
"It was kind of a disastrous situation for us in Bangkok, but fortunately we're able to now take this film directly to audiences around the world," says Lin.
GagaOOLala is now in its fourth year, and has expanded step by step from Taiwan to Southeast Asia and then to South Asia. The focus now is on bigger, English-speaking territories, with roll-out targeted at urban areas where there are overlapping communities of Asians and LGBTQ people such as the Northern California Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York.
The team has for now held back from entering the largest and most obvious market for Chinese language content: China. The country's strict censorship bans overtly gay content, as well as Google, which GagaOOLala's app relies on.
But the platform soldiers on. Lin says: "I hope we'll be able to create interesting collaborations, co-production and stories that are not singularly of one country or one region. That's the long term goal, though there's no real map for how to get there."