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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Aereo lost big at the Supreme Court last week. But millions of Americans, in particular those who do not consider themselves sports fans, are also the real losers from the ruling. Why? Because, as retransmission consent fee payments in the U.S. soar from $3.3 billion in 2013 to a projected $7.6 billion in 2019 (according to SNL Kagan), these fees will be used to help fund broadcasts of increasingly expensive sporting events in which many of these viewers have no interest.
I'm pleased to present the 233rd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, essentially ending the ambitious startup's dream of providing low-cost, flexible online access to broadcast TV. Colin and I have discussed Aereo many times on previous podcasts. Both of us are disappointed by the decision and we discuss some of its many implications.
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Aereo has launched a PR blitz ahead of its April 22nd Supreme Court hearing, the centerpiece of which is a new advocacy site called "Protect My Antenna," which includes all of the court briefs, decisions and documents related to the Aereo case. The site also invites visitors to sign up for email updates. Presumably additional media, such as interviews with Aereo's founder and CEO Chet Kanojia will be added as well.
Chet has been interviewed by many media outlets in the past couple of years (including VideoNuze, here and here), but a new one appearing today as part of the PR campaign is with Yahoo News anchor Katie Couric (embedded below). As he has done in prior interviews, Chet adroitly positions the case as being about far more than Aereo itself, but rather about the legitimacy of cloud computing, the expense of today's pay-TV bundles, consumer choice and the importance of innovation.
I'm pleased to present the 220th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. First up, we discuss the WSJ report from earlier this week that Apple and Comcast may be collaborating in some way to deliver video through a "managed service" from Comcast. Neither Colin nor I can understand why Comcast would enable anything in its territory that would be remotely competitive with its own video services, but since the WSJ was thin on details, we don't know enough yet to fully judge.
We're also dubious about the fit for Apple given the company's emphasis on global scale for its products and also its premium positioning. And we're both struck by the regulatory red flags a "managed service" would raise for Comcast, at the very time they're trying to gain approval for the TWC deal. More of my thoughts are here.
We then turn quickly to Aereo's Supreme Court filing this week. As expected, it paints the case as being about cloud services in general, not just copyright specifically. We agree it's a clever strategy that positions Aereo as pro-innovation and pro-consumer, making it harder for the Supreme Court to rule against Aereo this summer.
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Aereo announced late yesterday that it has raised $34 million in Series C financing. Adding to the $20.5 million in its Series A and $38 million in its Series B, Aereo has now raised a total of $92.5 million. The new funding will support Aereo's ongoing regional rollouts, plus new hiring and technology. Of note, the new financing includes Gordon Crawford, a well-known media investor, whose involvement certainly gives Aereo further credibility.
Aereo is currently live in 10 markets, and said yesterday it plans to be live in 15 by the end of Q1. That's a downward revision from its expansion plan announced a year ago, which was to be in 22 cities by the end of 2013. Last September Aereo announced technical issues delayed its Chicago launch and hasn't updated when that area will go live.
Yesterday Aereo announced that it will not oppose the petition by the major broadcast TV networks (formally a "petition for a writ of certiorari") for a U.S. Supreme Court review of a ruling last May in Aereo’s favor. In that instance, the broadcasters were thrown for a pretty significant loss by Aereo when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled preliminarily that Aereo’s business should not be halted due to alleged violations of the copyrights of broadcasters.
Normally it is big news when two sides so diametrically opposed like Aereo and the broadcasters seek (or at least willingly accept) review from the Supremes. But in this case there may be less than meets the eye (at least from a litigation perspective - see below).
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the biggest food holiday of the year. But for many people, food is a year-round personal obsession, which can now be amplified through mobile, social and video technologies. Operating at the intersection of these powerful trends is a startup called Tastemade, which is building a foodie community of digital natives through an innovative prosumer and user-generated video programming model. When I was in LA recently, I visited with Stephen Kydd, one of the 3 co-founders of Tastemade, who all worked together previously at Demand Media.
I'm pleased to present the 205th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin is in London this week and shares observations on the intense battle for broadband subscribers in the U.K. BT has been aggressively laying fiber in a bid for broadband subscribers. It recently spent about 1.4 billion pounds on soccer rights to supply its BT Sport channels. Colin says BT has seen lift in both broadband and pay-TV subscribers as a result. One wonders whether Google could try something similar here in the U.S. by bidding for NFL and other rights somewhere down the road?
Speaking of the NFL, it and Major League Baseball were in the news this week for filing a brief with the Supreme Court urging review of broadcasters' challenge to Aereo. The leagues basically asserted that if Aereo is deemed legal, more of their games will migrate to cable, which of course has been happening anyway. Meanwhile Aereo's lead investor Barry Diller said this week he could see a 35% adoption rate for Aereo long-term, primarily driven by millennials. This would be hugely disruptive if it were to happen.
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TV4 Entertainment is a well-pedigreed LA-based startup positioning itself as a creator and super-distributor of multiple online niche channels. Today the company is announcing a deal with Cinebx, whose library contains 10,000+ titles will power a minimum of 6 co-owned online channels, beginning with one focused on classic sports.
Recently I caught up Jon Cody, founder and CEO of TV4, to learn more about the company's strategy. Jon was previously SVP, Digital for Fox Digital Media and launch GM of Hulu, so he knows his way around programming and digital distribution very well, as does the rest of the founding team.
Topics: TV4 Entertainment
When we last left Aereo in its battles with the broadcast TV networks, our trusty (or not so trusty - it's complicated) over-the-top service was in the midst of a maelstrom of litigation and new market rollouts. The dynamic has only gotten more heated, highlighted by the broadcasters' petition for relief from the U.S. Supreme Court filed just over a week ago.
For all of the attention of the broadcasters petition to the Court, the finish line here is far from in sight. The Court is not obligated to take this case, and in fact grants less than 2% of all 'cert' petitions. The broadcasters are seeking resolution of what they say is a 'split' among Circuit Courts, which is certainly a well-established basis for the Court to step in. Yet to date no other appellate court has ruled in opposition to the 2d Circuit - only other lower district courts. So while I would fully expect the Court to eventually take this case, the timing may not be ripe in their eyes. So we may well be back to sorting through the continuing morass for some time. So what is happening in the hinterlands?
Teads.tv, a provider of innovative video ad units, has raised $5.2 million in a Series A round by Partech Venture and Elaia Partners. As I wrote several months ago, Teads' big differentiator is that it enables premium text-based web pages to carry video ads as well. So in other words, rather than a premium publisher having to create expensive video in order to tap into the booming demand for online video ads, it can monetize existing web pages this way. the video ads only become visible when a pre-determined about of content has been consumed. Teads ads can also run in slideshows, music, video and social media.