Online video is booming. But that doesn’t mean all industry initiatives will succeed. Two examples in just the past two days illustrate the point. Yesterday Verizon announced it was acquiring Vessel for an undisclosed amount in what appears to be a straightforward asset purchase and talent acquisition. And on Tuesday, Google Fiber announced that it was stopping all expansion into new markets. Both companies’ leaders, Jason Kilar at Vessel and Craig Barratt at Google Access, will be departing their positions.
While the two companies operate in distinct segments of the market - Vessel in content and Google Fiber in infrastructure - both were bets on new business models and consumer demand that do not seem to have panned out.
If you want a vivid contrast of one company succeeding in the real world vs. another flailing in its own dream world, there’s no better example than what’s currently happening at Comcast vs. what’s currently happening at AT&T.
With Comcast, which just reported its impressive Q3 ’16 earnings this morning, the company has not only devised a clever strategy for competing in a highly disruptive environment, but is also executing on it masterfully. Conversely, AT&T is a company that has already made a backward-looking $50 billion acquisition of DirecTV, is trying to make a new $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner whose rationale its CEO cannot clearly explain and is now planning to launch a new $35/month DirecTV Now video service that is guaranteed to lose money and could do serious harm to the industry.
No doubt by now you’ve read all about AT&T’s plan to acquire Time Warner for approximately $85 billion - it was hard to miss the wall-to-wall press coverage over the weekend. As has been observed by a number of others, this deal is mostly about diversification, specifically AT&T’s desire to add another large revenue stream that offsets its declining wireless business.
Looked at through this lens, the deal represents a kind of “two plus two equals four” motivation; Time Warner brings a totally different set of revenues to AT&T, which makes the company less reliant on its sagging wireless business. If Time Warner can continue to perform at the same level as part of AT&T as it would have on its own, then AT&T wins because it achieved its diversification goal. The key of course is that AT&T didn’t overpay, in turn generating a suboptimal ROI. I’ll leave it to the Wall Street analysts to determine if the deal’s price is appropriate relative to Time Warner’s financial forecast.
Where the deal gets off track to me is the high falutin statements found in the companies’ press release that promise all kinds of benefits that are no more likely to happen as a result of Time Warner being owned by AT&T, and arguably, could actually be LESS likely to happen as a result of the deal. This is the risk that two plus two may actually LESS than four. This is the all too common outcome of many corporate mergers (with the infamous AOL-Time Warner one right at the top of the list).
Tout has raised a $26 million Series C round led by the Melohn Group, with new investors Windsor Media, Pittco Capital Partners and HL Capital, along with existing investors Seavest Capital, 819 Capital and the WWE. Michael Downing, Tout’s founder and CEO, told me in a briefing that it was an up round and was oversubscribed. Including the new round, Tout has raised $40 million.
Tout has flown relatively below the radar, but has made significant progress toward building out a classic “syndicated video economy” business, distributing premium video from over 230 different content providers including CNN, Fox Sports CBS, Scripps, Bloomberg and other to over 2,800 different publishers’ sites including Salon, Breitbrart, Independent Journal Review and others. Michael said that Tout now ingests 5,000-7,000 videos per day and drives 380M video views from 57 million unique viewers per month.
Multi-screen video app platform You.i TV has raised a $12 million Series B round, led by Time Warner Investments and including new investor Vistara Capital Partners and existing investor Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors. Funds will be used for product development and channel partner development. You.i TV includes among its customers Sony Crackle, Turner Broadcasting, Rogers Communications and Corus Entertainment.
Outstream video ad leader Teads has acquired Brainient, whose dynamic creative optimization (DCO) technology enables personalized, interactive video ads. Terms were not disclosed. Brainient aims to deliver customized ads tied to a user’s profile including their geo-location, device, time of day and other contextual information.
I'm pleased to present the 335th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
First up this week, Colin and I dig into Disney’s new $1 billion investment in BAMTech, the technology spin-off of Major League Baseball Advanced Media. We both like the move as it further positions Disney to capitalize on online delivery, while protecting itself from ongoing changes in viewers’ behavior. In this case, Disney’s sheer size gives it the resources to keep its options open.
Next up, Colin and I were both surprised by Hulu’s move earlier this week to jettison its free, ad-supported viewing service to a new partnership with Yahoo. Colin wrote a great piece earlier this week listing the 5 most important reasons why he thinks this was a mistake, which we discuss. Hulu continues evolving away from its roots, as it prepares to launch its skinny bundle next year, which brings its own set of challenges.
Listen now to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 51 seconds)
Say this for Disney - in just the past couple of years or so it has moved to cover virtually every bet for how online video might impact the company in the future.
With its Maker Studios acquisition, Disney expanded into YouTube-style content creation for kids and millennials. With DisneyLife, it’s moving into SVOD entertainment beyond its pivotal output deal with Netflix. Now with Hulu, it’s addressing cord-cutting and the potential of skinny bundles (as well as with deals with DirecTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue). And finally, with its new $1 billion BAMTech investment, it’s adding platform capabilities for direct-to-consumer live sports streaming. Plus, with the forthcoming ESPN OTT service, it will test its own direct-to-consumer sports offering.
On Monday, online video platform Kaltura announced that it has raised a $50 million “pre-IPO” funding from Goldman Sachs’ Private Capital Investing group. With the new investment, Kaltura has raised $165.1 million across 6 different rounds. Kaltura said the new capital will be used to “extend its footprint across all six continents, and to further its unique positioning as the ‘Everything Video’ company.”
I caught up with Ron Yekutiel, Kaltura’s Chairman, CEO and Co-founder to learn more about Kaltura’s strategy and the tailwinds that are helping drive the business forward. Kaltura has 450 global employees, with 250 working in R&D in Israel, 120 in the U.S. and the rest spread throughout global offices.
After months of rumors, Time Warner officially announced this morning that it was taking a 10% ownership interest in Hulu for approximately $580 million. Time Warner also announced that its ad-supported cable networks (TNT, TBS, CNN, etc.) will become part of Hulu’s “skinny bundle” set for launch early next year.
With Time Warner joining Disney and Fox in owning and guiding Hulu (along with Comcast, which is a silent partner), these 3 big cable and broadcast TV networks owners are taking the extraordinary risk of disrupting pay-TV, the very business model that has worked so well for them for decades.
Taboola, a large content recommendation platform, has acquired ConvertMedia, an outstream video ad provider with $50 million in annual run rate revenue and roots in display advertising. Taboola’s thumbnail recommendations at the end of text articles are found widely on major online publishers’ sites. The company provides 14-15 billion of these recommendations on a daily basis to over 1 billion unique users per month.
Yahoo missed many opportunities over the years, leading to its acquisition today by Verizon, but surely one of the biggest was never creating a distinct identity in video. Back in April, 2014, I highlighted the murkiness of Yahoo’s video strategy, which has only continued to get more confusing since. With major video players like YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Hulu and others pursuing distinct strategies that deliver specific benefits to users, Yahoo’s “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to video meant it never became truly competitive in any one area.
FreeWheel has acquired Paris-based video supply-side platform StickyADS.tv, for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced this morning. StickyADS.tv is one of the largest independent SSPs and has a team of approximately 100, including a beachhead in the U.S. that was established last Fall. The companies have been working together since last year, including an integration when StickyADS.tv was one of the initial SSPs to join FreeWheel’s Preferred Partners program.
FreeWheel’s co-CEO and co-founder Doug Knopper told me that the acquisition was in direct response to customers’ requests to have a single platform to manage both video ads that are direct sold and those that are transacted programmatically. FreeWheel’s customers are among the biggest broadcasters, cable networks and online publishers, and while Doug said direct sold still accounts for the vast majority of inventory for its customers, they recognize how critical programmatic has become and are aggressively positioning themselves for the future.
Verizon Digital Media Services announced it plans to acquire Volicon, a private Boston-area company that provides monitoring and archiving solutions for 1,200+ TV broadcasters and video operators globally. Volicon’s Observer Media Intelligence Platform allows video to be captured and logged for the purpose of compliance, media analysis, competitive intelligence, ratings monitoring, loudness, quality of experience and more.
Just before the holidays, Innovid, one of the pioneers of online video advertising, raised a $27.5 million round, including $12.5 million in debt. It was one of the larger financings in the video ad tech space in the last several months and followed a March, 2015 $10 million investment in Innovid by Cisco. Innovid’s CEO and co-founder Zvika Netter caught me up on plans for the new funds and the company’s transition to a leading video ad server. Following is an edited transcript.
VideoNuze: Congratulations on the new financing. How will you use the funds?
Zvika Netter: We plan on using the funds for 2 main purposes: First, technology - We are continually innovating based on both what our partners need to help grow their businesses and how we envision the Future of TV advertising. And second, international expansion – 80% of our clients are global brands and agencies. We’ve been asked by most of them to provide similar solutions and services in new markets in EMEA and APAC.
Canvs, which interprets video viewers’ social sentiments about their favorite TV programs and ads across 250 different TV networks, has raised a $5.6 million series A round, led by KEC Ventures, with participation from Rubicon Venture Capital, Gary Vaynerchuck and BRaVe Ventures, Social Starts and Milestone Venture Partners.
I spoke to Canvs CEO and co-founder Jared Feldman last week who explained the company’s approach and why its syndicated research portal has been quickly adopted by almost 3 dozen TV networks, studios, ad and talent agencies to date including Sony Pictures, SMG, NBCU, Viacom and others.
Online video platform JW Player announced a $20 million Series D round today from existing investors Greycroft Growth, Greenspring Associates, Cueball Capital and e.ventures. JW Player’s CEO and co-founder Dave Otten told me that with the new round the company has raised a total of $46 million, though approximately $11 million of the Series C round was used to buy out prior shareholders.
Topics: JW Player
With my focus yesterday on Amazon’s introduction of its Streaming Partners Program and my recognition as a top 10 media writer by LinkedIn, I didn’t have a chance to weigh in on something else significant, which is that Clearleap has been acquired by IBM (terms weren't disclosed). I have covered Clearleap for years and was able to catch up with CEO Braxton Jarratt later in the day to learn more about what drove the deal and what to expect going forward.
Braxton said that Clearleap will be a wholly-owned IBM subsidiary, retaining all of its employees and offices while being integrated into IBM Cloud. Clearleap will continue to provide its cloud-based video/OTT services to customers including HBO, A+E Networks, NFL, BBC America, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others but it will gain new sales/business development leverage internationally, which is a key company focus. Clearleap’s solutions will be sold by IBM’s Media and Entertainment teams internationally, with incremental Clearleap staff to be hired internationally as well.
VideoAmp, a startup focused on optimizing cross-screen video ad campaigns, has raised a $15 million Series A round led by RTL Group, with participation from existing investors. The new funds will be used for product and business development. VideoAmp has raised $17.2 million to date. RTL is already active in the video space, having invested in both SpotX and clypd.
A video ad tech financing like this would have happened on a near-weekly basis just a few years ago, but with investor confusion about the space due to fragmentation (see the LumaScape), as well as uncertain market conditions, VideoAmp’s raise is quite unusual. Yesterday I spoke to VideoAmp’s CEO Ross McCray and its chief business officer, Jay Prasad, to learn more about company differentiators and how it succeeded with the financing.
Charter Communications will acquire Time Warner Cable in a $78.7 billion deal, while also continuing its plan to acquire Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion. Assuming the deals close, Charter would become the 3rd-largest pay-TV operator/broadband ISP in the U.S. with a total of approximately 23.9 million subscriber relationships.
Like the prior Comcast-TWC transaction, these deals are driven by the desire for greater scale which supports the huge investments required to innovate in video and broadband services. In this morning's analyst call, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge repeatedly referenced the ability to spread investments over the larger subscriber base as a key benefit of the deals.