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.
With online video increasingly becoming about long-form programming, viewers expect a flawless experience comparable to TV. But one of the complicating factors is that many content providers use application programming interfaces (APIs) from third-party vendors to enable multiple aspects of their experience whether online, mobile web or via apps. These could include APIs for analytics, ad serving, content management, video management, storage, CDN, etc.
While APIs enrich and enable the experience, when they fail or suffer degraded performance, the viewer is impacted and the content provider’s brand and business model suffer. Failures or reduced performance can happen for all kinds of reasons: new releases, insufficient testing, custom implementations, under capacity during peak load times, etc. Worse, given their lean staffs, content providers often don’t even know about failures, until viewers have surfaced them (many of us have no doubt been in this role, for example, tweeting about real-time problems).
Topics: Wicket Labs
We are in the era of “Peak TV,” where hundreds of original programs are spread across many different free and paid video services and TV networks. For those who no longer want to spring for pay-TV, assembling the right mix of OTT, SVOD and skinny bundles to cost-effectively access desired programs is very confusing.
Now a startup named CobbleCord is aiming to address this, using a 4-part set of user-provided information about viewing preferences to return a list of custom recommendations. CobbleCord was started by Virginia Juliano, a 10-year Showtime marketing executive, who walked me through how CobbleCord helps users “cobble” together the most appropriate video services for them.
I'm pleased to present the 327th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week, Ellation, which is backed by Otter Media, itself a joint venture of The Chernin Group and AT&T, announced a new SVOD service called VRV (pronounced “Verve”). VRV is targeted mainly to the gamer/geek audience with a mix of anime, animation, gaming, comedy, fantasy and technology content.
While VRV has multiple content partners already signed up to participate, Crunchyroll, the anime SVOD service in which Otter Media holds a majority stake, is clearly the anchor tenant of VRV. Crunchyroll is perhaps the most successful niche SVOD service, with approximately 750K paying subscribers, plus a larger free ad-supported audience.
To learn more about VRV, Colin was briefed by Ellation’s head of marketing and distribution Arlen Marmel and I was briefed by CEO Tom Pickett. Colin is very enthusiastic about how VRV will leverage Crunchyroll and believes VRV’s freemium approach will find success with its target audience. While I like VRV’s parallels to Amazon’s Streaming Partners Program, I’m more cautious in my outlook, mainly because it’s not quite clear to me how VRV’s pricing/value proposition for a la carte channels vs. its bundle offer will work until VRV launches later this year.
Stepping back, VRV represents further innovation in business models and user experiences for video services and is part of a broader trend toward SVOD curation/aggregation that we envision gaining momentum.
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Turner announced this morning that it will launch a new ad-free SVOD service this Fall dubbed FilmStruck, which will be managed by Turner Classic Movies and exclusively draw on movies from Criterion Collection. According to the release, FilmStruck is targeted to “diehard movie enthusiasts who crave a deep, intimate experience independent, foreign and art house films.”
A Turner spokesperson confirmed that Criterion’s 1,000 movie catalog will move over from Hulu in November, where it has been under an exclusive deal announced in February, 2011 and extended in April, 2014.
Stre.am, which has offered free mobile live-streaming to consumers, is looking to help brands and media companies capitalize on the live-streaming craze by introducing Stre.am Enterprise.
CMO Will Jamieson told me that that two distinguishing features are that Strea.am Enterprise provides a full solution so that content providers can incorporate their live-streams into their own web or mobile properties. In addition, Stre.am has built its own media server that uses RTMP, so it can deliver live streams with sub two-second latency, critical in mobile gaming / eSports apps.
Skinny bundle service Sling TV got a lot of press last week as parent company Dish Network reported its Q4 ’15 and full year results. Based on a lot of assumptions, analysts MoffettNathanson estimated that Sling TV ended the year with 523K subscribers. Meanwhile, the WSJ cited unnamed sources estimating Sling TV now has more than 600K subscribers.
Once again, Dish Network provided no detailed breakout on Sling TV’s subscriber growth. As many analysts have observed, that’s a deliberate strategy to obscure the subscriber losses occurring in Dish’s core direct satellite service. On the earnings call, Sling TV’s CEO Roger Lynch only said that the vast majority of Sling TV subscribers are not currently pay-TV subscribers, noting they were either cord-nevers or cord-cutters.
Wochit, whose technology allows publishers to quickly create short-form, shareable videos from a rights-cleared library, has reported strong 2015 momentum, along with new features. Wochit said it grew revenues 300% in 2015 while doubling the number of customers. The US grew 200% and Europe 450%, with similar growth rates expected in 2016.
Wochit is benefiting from the larger industry trend of publishers’ desire to inexpensively create engaging video that often accompanies traditional text-based stories. With users’ insatiable appetite to watch short-form video on social/mobile, Wochit-created videos give publishers the ability to greatly increase their footprint, as well as tap into video advertising.
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.
Wibbitz, an Israeli text-to-video startup, has raised an $8 million Series B round led by NantMobile, with participation by existing investors. The funds will be used to expand into the U.S. via a new New York City office, headed by CEO and co-founder Zohar Dayan, who brought me up to speed on the company yesterday.
Wibbitz uses natural language processing to quickly turn publishers' text articles into short videos. The process begins with Wibbitz's technology digesting the article via algorithms meant to emulate a human reader's behavior, identifying key people, main points and the theme, resulting in a summary of about 20% of the full article.
Startup VHX has unveiled a turnkey SVOD platform with no upfront cost, no exclusivity and full branding/pricing/packaging control by content providers. The platform is intended both for both premium content providers and online original creators (e.g. YouTubers) seeking to diversify from free, ad-supported only models.
Jamie Wilkinson, co-founder and CEO of VHX sees the SVOD platform as allowing content providers to easily "roll their own" Netflix or HBO Now service. He distinguishes VHX's approach because the content provider is in control and retains all viewer data. Unlike a storefront like iTunes or Amazon, VHX's platform is meant for content providers that want to set up branded video businesses online, rather than just sell their content through third-party outlets.
Vessel announced a new financing this morning, which sources close to the company pegged at $57.5 million. The round was led by Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), which has also invested in Netflix, Twitter, Snapchat and other consumer-facing media companies. Prior investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners and Bezos Expeditions also participated. Total funding for Vessel now stands at approximately $134.5 million.
I'm pleased to present the 266th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin starts this week's podcast by sharing his positive reactions to Vessel, the startup from former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, which went live this week. Colin likes the mobile app a lot and thinks Vessel's promotion of a free year of service is a smart approach. In particular, Colin is bullish on Vessel's non-intrusive ad model.
However, Colin is less certain about Vessel's odds of success, noting that YouTube's response is a major wildcard. I agree and observe that while Vessel is very impressive, it's also a big test case for users' willingness-to-pay for first window access to content. There's a lot to like about Vessel, and ample reason to believe millennials will like the model, but only time will tell.
Speaking of YouTube, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Facebook is poised to become YouTube's main competitor in the long-run. As I wrote yesterday, this week at Facebook's F8 developer conference, the company unveiled key updates, geared especially for premium publishers, that will bring a lot more high-quality content onto the platform. Colin and I dig into each of these and also discuss a big remaining missing piece - pre-roll ads against videos posted on Facebook.
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So-called "skinny bundles" of TV networks face long odds of success given the dispersion of actual TV viewership, cross-ownership of broadcast-cable TV networks by media conglomerates and underlying economic realities, according to a new analysis by MoffettNathanson.
The conclusions align with points I made in last Friday's podcast and previously, as I've asserted that the "Swiss cheese" channel lineups found in skinny bundles will lack broad appeal. This was a central finding from recent Bernstein research as well. Conversely, bulking up channel lineups with more TV networks (as Sony has done with its new PlayStation Vue service) eliminates the opportunity for a cost-savings value proposition that would resonate most with would-be cord-cutters or cord-nevers.
I'm pleased to present the 260th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week we dig into whether Sling TV's linear-only model can work. I believe Dish and Sling TV deserve a lot of credit for trying to innovate the pay-TV experience, and in certain key respects like the sign-up process, pricing and slimmer bundles, Sling TV distinguishes itself.
But, as I wrote yesterday, Sling TV's linear-only viewing model seems completely misaligned for its broadband-only millennial target audience. Well-loved features like VOD, DVR, binge-viewing and ad-skipping are missing from Sling TV. Using Sling TV (regardless of its availability on connected and mobile devices) feels like a throwback to 5+ years ago.
Colin is slightly more sanguine about Sling TV, though he too believes it's not a fit for millennials. Rather, he thinks there could be a small market for it among existing pay-TV subscribers (of course something Sling TV is loath to do).
It's quite possible that today's Sling TV is just a gen one version and key on-demand/DVR features will be added. These are critical for Sling TV to succeed.
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Sling TV has received an enormous amount of attention since being announced last month at CES. Some hyper-enthusiastic observers have heralded Sling TV as a sign that traditional pay-TV is on the verge of crumbling. But, having now spent some time with Sling TV, I think a more accurate assessment of Sling TV is that it is fundamentally an old school linear TV service, modestly freshened up with a new online wrapper. In its current form, Sling TV looks very unlikely to gain much traction.
Vessel has launched an invite-only beta of its service, on desktops and iOS devices. I was provided access to the beta and I'm excited to share some initial reactions. As a reminder, Vessel was started by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar and CTO Richard Tom. Vessel's core value proposition is providing exclusive, early access to online video content to super-fans, for a $2.99/month fee. A light ad load is included.
Vessel is a fascinating test of viewers' willingness-to-pay for early access to online video content that's otherwise free. This so-called "first window" represents a completely new business model that could dramatically alter the online video landscape. For content creators, the lure of higher revenue per video view (given Vessel's more attractive ad splits and subscription revenue) seems irresistible to try. And for super-fans, Vessel's $2.99/month fee seems pretty compelling to get early access.
Vessel has pulled back the curtain on its long-rumored business model this morning, which essentially boils down to being a huge willingness-to-pay test case. The fundamental question: will online video viewers pay $2.99/month for Vessel's service, which includes a "modest amount of advertising," to gain early access to select online videos that will otherwise be available for free within 3 days or more?
If the answer is yes, there is no doubt we'll see an explosion of paid early access models from all kinds of video content providers. If the answer is no, then Vessel would have to revert to an ad-supported only business model, which would leave it with a far less interesting value proposition to content creators.
Vidible, a startup video syndicator, has announced its platform enabled 1 billion video streams in August. Further highlighting its momentum, Vidible said it has 150+ content providers across the U.S., Europe and Asia in 12 different categories now using its platform. Vidible anticipates 300% growth in 2014 and profitability in 2015.
Michael Hyman, Vidible's CEO and co-founder, recently explained to me that Vidible is differentiating itself from other video syndication platforms with greater transparency and controls for all parties plus a lower cost structure for publishers. Michael believes that to date video syndication has offered minimal transparency, akin to the early days of ad networks where arbitrage was the primary business model.
I'm pleased to present the 236th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week we discuss the demise of two online video businesses that were short-lived, Qplay and Xbox Entertainment Studios. Qplay was founded by 2 TiVo founders and backed by blue-chip venture capitalists, but lasted in the market just 6 months. Colin provides a cogent analysis of the 4 key challenges the company faced, which it couldn't surmount.
Xbox Studios was shut down for completely different reasons, and, as I wrote last week, it is just the latest lesson in how difficult it is to create high-quality, long-form content.
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