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.
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.
iSpot.tv, which monitors ads in over 100 national TV networks and then correlates real-time digital actions such search, social and video viewing, has raised a $21.9 million series B round, led by Insight Venture Partners, with participation from existing investor, Madrona Venture Group. The new funds will be used for product development and increased staff.
In a world where ads are everywhere, with TV viewing becoming more fragmented, and viewers distracted by mobile devices, iSpot.tv's value to advertisers is that it helps them understand the TOTAL impact of their TV ads, including "earned" subsequent digital actions.
I'm pleased to present the 273rd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Since Verizon announced it was acquiring AOL for $4.4 billion earlier this week, there has been a ton of media coverage, with lots of speculation about what the deal means for Verizon going forward. This is at least partly due to the companies doing a relatively poor job of articulating the deal's strategy.
In this week's podcast, Colin and I weigh in as well, focusing mainly on how AOL's video, programmatic and video syndication assets could mesh well with Verizon Digital Media Services, which already provides back-end delivery and monetization to video content providers (see here and here). Combining the two seems like the biggest point of leverage to Colin and me, yet we note that Verizon didn't even mention a VDMS role in any public comments on the deal.
Meanwhile, in a week when the pay-TV industry suffered its first-ever first quarter loss of video subscribers, we also discuss how Verizon seems intent on innovating beyond the traditional multichannel bundle.
Listen in to learn more!
Verizon's surprise $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL, looks like mostly a bet on video, mobile, and programmatic, with content likely the odd man out.
The deal gives Verizon a bigger play in 3 of the biggest trends in the media business - the explosion of personalized, on-demand video viewership, the massive adoption of mobile lifestyles via smartphones, and the shift to automated, data-driven ad buying through programmatic platforms. AOL has been pursuing all of these over the past few years through internal growth and acquisitions.
On last Friday's podcast, Colin and I discussed the failure of the $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. I asserted that a key reason the deal didn't get approved was due to the rise in customer experience expectations. Today I'm going to flesh that out further, and describe why customer experience is becoming key to defining the video industry's winners and losers.
First, it's important to understand that the traditional notion of "customer service" has been supplanted by the far broader concept of "customer experience" - the TOTAL perception of ALL of our touchpoints with any company we do business with. Because we now live in an unprecedented time for humanity - when everything we need or want is just a handful of clicks away, anytime we choose, the bar has never been higher for our expectations of customer experience.
I'm pleased to present the 271st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
We had recorded last week's podcast just prior to the news that Comcast was dropping its merger bid for Time Warner Cable, so first up this week we share thoughts on why the deal collapsed.
In my view, the perception of the deal transformed from being cable-centric to being broadband-centric, largely due to the rise of online video usage. As a result, Comcast, post-merger, having 57% of American broadband connections under the new 25 mbps definition, became a sticking point (never mind that it actually has 56% on its own, reflecting its aggressive broadband infrastructure upgrades).
This is a key irony of the deal's failure - Comcast has invested billions in technology, but its woeful customer service ultimately undermines these investments and defines its reputation. In a hypothetical world where Comcast was a "most admired company," (like Apple, Amazon, etc.), I think it's quite possible regulators would have actually welcomed the Time Warner deal.
We then turn our attention to Verizon's "Custom TV" packaging and ESPN's lawsuit. As I explained in Has Verizon Put ESPN Into a Public Relations Headlock Over Opaque "Sports Tax?" I think Verizon is making a brazen move to reign in sports costs. Colin and I agree it's the most startling thing yet to happen in a tumultuous year for the pay-TV industry.
Listen in to learn more!
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.
Video supply side ad platform Altitude Digital has raised $30 million from FastPay, a provider of liquidity and financial workflow solutions to the media industry. The new funds will be used for growing Altitude's ARENA platform and data infrastructure, expanding mobile capabilities and growing internationally. The new financing brings total capital raised to date to $45 million.
Topics: Altitude Digital
Programmatic TV technology provider clypd has raised a $19.4 million Series B round to expand all departments in the business, and enter new markets in Europe and Asia-Pacific. With the new round, clypd has raised approximately $30 million.
European broadcaster RTL Group led the round, with participation from prior investors. RTL has become a very active investor in U.S. online video and technology companies, buying a 51% stake in multichannel network BroadbandTV for $36 million in June, 2013, a 65% stake in programmatic video ad platform SpotXchange for $144 million in July, 2014 and acquiring fashion and beauty MCN StyleHaul for $107 million in November, 2014.