OTT.X Panelists Discuss Growth and Challenges of OTT Market

While the OTT market is growing exponentially, OTT players are facing several “pain points,” including the need to improve content discovery, better manage data and compete in an ever-more-crowded marketplace, said panelists Sept. 1 during the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles.

Clunky content discovery is still a problem for consumers and the OTT services that serve them.

“How do we shorten the distance between discovery and either purchase or consumption, either in terms of clicks or in terms of satisfaction to the customer?” said Chris Yates, GM of Redbox on Demand, adding it’s challenging “helping a customer find what they want to watch quickly and in the business model that matters to them.”

And the problem of discovery is only getting more complicated, especially in the ad-supported space, where the number of players is exploding, noted Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo.

“Today across the ecosystem there are maybe 1,500 linear free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels across all the platforms,” he said. “That’s going to be 10,000 in three years’ time.”

Unlike during the rise of broadcast and cable, the barriers to entry in the digital ad-supported marketplace are lower.

“Linear TV or cable TV used to be one of those places you had to have a lot of money to get access to,” Petrie-Norris said. “It is now being democratized. To get a linear national, even global TV channel is now possible for a much more humble budget.”

And that makes for a competitive landscape.

“The biggest challenge is that the FAST space is a gladiator pit where only the strong will survive,” said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer at Cinedigm.

“Building our audience is the biggest pain point in the sense that there’s an increasingly fragmented distribution environment,” said Philippe Guelton, president of Crackle.

Getting the viewership data for digital content and evaluating what to do with it is a challenge as well.

Some platforms are “walled gardens” and do not share data, Opeka noted.

“In this ostensibly purely digital environment, you would think aggregating data and getting insights from the ecosystem would be much easier,” he said.

Data can also be overwhelming.

“We’re drowning in data and getting really good at making smart decisions out of it is tough,” he said.

Despite the challenges, the market for digital ads is hot.

“We see much more advertising demand than we have supply, which in my 30 years in working in ad-supported media I’ve never seen before,” Guelton said.

“I think advertisers today, frankly they just love the space,” Petrie-Norris added. “It’s all digital. You can track results. … It’s almost magic.”

Still, panelists said that delivering those ads could use some improvement.

Yates pointed to the “coming back soon” screens that pop up sometimes for minutes at a time when an ad doesn’t load.

“That’s an experience that the industry needs to solve,” he said.

Ad placement could also become more attuned to the viewer, perhaps with a smaller load while a consumer is casting around for something to watch and with more ads once the consumer is hooked.

Panelists also addressed the growth of PVOD — a higher-priced digital rental early in or concurrent with the theatrical window — during the pandemic as theaters shuttered.

“The real question is how long is this model sustainable,” Opeka said. “We’ve seen some pretty fantastic revenues out of the few [titles] that we’ve experimented with, way beyond what we would have thought possible … three or four times what we would have thought would be the potential pre-pandemic.”

“The one thing I can predict is if the revenues for PVOD continue to be as astronomical even for independent releases I can almost guarantee the market will be flooded with them,” he added.

Data: 60% of Connected-TV Households Stream Ad-Supported Content

Consumer interest in free ad-supported VOD (AVOD) content and live television (FAST) continues to proliferate. New data from The Diffusion Group suggests 60% of connected-TV households stream ad-supported content across myriad platforms — spearheaded by YouTube.

AVOD and FAST services driving the market include ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, Fox Entertainment’s Tubi, Comcast-owned Xumo and Amazon’s IMDb TV, among others.

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TDG found that 24% of connected-TV households consume ad-supported streaming content on a daily basis, while 32% stream weekly. Among AVOD/FAST consumers, 76% stream YouTube, the longest-running streaming video platform, followed by Pluto TV, Tubi and Xumo.

“Clearly the effects of work-from-home and lack of traditional leisure options during the pandemic accelerated consumer use of free ad-supported streaming services,” Doug Montgomery, senior analyst and author of Back to the Future: The Rise of Ad-Supported Streaming Video, said in a statement. “Most major video providers have been preparing for this moment for years and thus able to quickly adapt to an accelerated timeline. It is a unique moment in the history of the entertainment business and those who move quickly and boldly will likely reap the benefits for years to come.”

Vizio Updates Free TV Streaming Service

Vizio Aug. 2 updated its free streaming video service, WatchFree+, with a new program guide and an expanded content offerings based on user data.

“WatchFree+ provides audiences with access to the channels and programming you expect with cable, but in a free streaming environment that makes it easy to personalize and customize the entertainment experience,” Katherine Pond, VP of business development, said in a statement.

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To support what it characterizes as a “growing consumer shift” to streaming, Vizio’s WatchFree+ offers 24/7 access to live and local programming, premium content and an ever-expanding library of hundreds of free channels across movies, news, sports, lifestyle, music, kids, family and multicultural content.

The platform includes new navigation features that allow for advanced search and discovery of the latest and best free entertainment. Streamlined search also enables users to access movies, shows and more in fewer steps, serving up content that’s curated around each viewer’s interests.

The program guide supports voice navigation for new SmartCast TVs that come with the latest remote control. Additionally, audiences can use voice navigation through the free SmartCast app for iOS and Android devices.

The latest update leverages Vizio’s “Inscape” viewing data to inform programming preferences with context and is key in the redesign of Vizio’s full-screen program guide and curated channels.

Using first-party viewership data, the program guide now includes custom curated channels, a new “Featured” category with seasonal programming, themed collections, and pop-up channels, including:

  • Fork & Flight: A unique mix of today’s most popular culinary and travel TV shows alongside top digital creators and trendsetters. Fork & Flight will take you to the kitchen, the farm and France — all in one day.
  • Investigation: Unlocks the door to real crime and the unknown, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at investigations, as well as in-depth explorations.

Pluto TV Adds Julia Child, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ Channels

AVOD service Pluto TV has added a Julia Child channel and a channel of the classic Western “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

Pluto TV is owned by ViacomCBS.

The Julia Child channel, located on channel 519, features more than 165 hours of 24/7 content from the legendary chef’s cooking shows. The channel includes episodes of “The French Chef,” “Baking With Julia” and “Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs.”

The 24/7 “Wanted: Dead or Alive” channel features the full run of the groundbreaking Western starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

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Paramount+ Launches Lower-Priced Service, Expands Content Slate

Paramount+ June 7 officially launched its lower-priced ($4.99) ad-supported subscription streaming service.

The platform also reported it would significantly expand its content offering this summer, starting with the exclusive June 10 premiere of the sci-fi action movie Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Antoine Fuqua, and the introduction of more than 1,000 premium movies this week. The new summer slate will roll out over the next several weeks.

The new plan combines sports, including NFL games and more than 1,600 soccer matches each year, with on-demand entertainment options including current and upcoming shows and movies, as well as breaking news through CBSN (but will no longer include local live CBS station programming).

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The Paramount+ premium plan ($9.99) features commercial-free, on-demand entertainment with 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision and mobile downloads; an extended roster of sports; and live streams of local affiliates in more than 200 markets across the United States.

“The breadth and depth of premium feature films and exclusive series coming to the service further strengthens our position in the market … [and] makes us even more accessible to a wide consumer audience,” Tom Ryan, CEO of ViacomCBS Streaming, said in a statement.

Building on the brand’s studio legacy, Paramount+ is scaling its feature film offerings to include more than 2,500 titles by the end of summer 2021. The first 1,000 films will be available starting June 10. Paw Patrol: The Movie bows Aug. 20, the same day it hits theaters; and A Quiet Place Part II begins streaming following its successful theatrical release.

Beginning this week, Paramount+ subs will have access to movie action and adventure films, including Terminator: Dark Fate, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Red Dawn, Skyfall, The Avengers, Gemini Man and The Rhythm Section. Other titles include Rocketman, Judy, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Wolf of Wall Street, Revolutionary Road, 71, The Soloist, The Birdcage, The Full Monty and Little Women.

The service is also streaming select kids and family movies, horror titles and comedies.

The films will be available to watch along with franchises currently featured on the service, including “Indiana Jones,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Star Trek,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Jackass.”

Paramount+ original series include “iCarly” (June 17), “Evil” (June 20), “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” (June 24),RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked!” (June 24), “The Good Fight” (June 24), “Behind the Music” (July 29) and “Star Trek: Lower Decks” (Aug. 12), among others.

Tubi Execs See Bright Future in AVOD

LAS VEGAS — The ad-supported video-on-demand streaming service Tubi touts itself as having the largest library in the space, at about 20,000 titles, four times that of Netflix, and Tubi executives see a bright future in the free alternative to subscription VOD.

“I think 2020 is going to be the year of AVOD,” said Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi in an interview with Media Play News at CES. “I think there are going to be a lot of new players in the space, and I very much welcome it.”

Mark Rotblat

Tubi logged 20 million monthly active users as of June 2019, and 132 million hours a month as of September, noted chief revenue officer Mark Rotblat.

The service is on more than two dozen platforms, including Vizio, Samsung, Sony and Google; at CES, Tubi announced the addition of its service to Hisense’s Vidaa platform in spring 2020.

AVOD is gaining ground as cord cutting accelerates. In the third quarter of 2019, 2 million households cut the cord, up from a half million in the previous-year quarter, Massoudi noted.

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Also, the consumer is being inundated with existing and new SVOD platforms, with longtime players Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu joined by recent entrants Disney+ and Apple TV+ and upcoming services, such as WarnerMedia’s HBO Max.

“Subscription fatigue is a real problem,” Massoudi said. “The idea of subscribing to all these services is just crazy.”

SVOD services will increasingly focus on original content, he noted.

“The role of SVOD will be providing original content to justify the expense on your bill,” he said.

Meanwhile, AVOD services such as Tubi are mining catalog, and deep catalog at that.

“By definition AVOD is not a content forward property,” Massoudi said. “We will never get a shiny title like ‘Friends’ [for which WarnerMedia paid nearly half a billion dollars for streaming rights].”

In contrast, Tubi is judicious about spending on content.

“If I have $1, I can put it on one title or I can aggregate five titles for that dollar and have more viewership,” Massoudi said.

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While Tubi welcomes competitors, Massoudi said the service has a technological jump on new entrants.

“We’re well ahead of the market,” he said, adding studios or other companies looking to enter the AVOD space “would have to do a massive tech investment,” such as the investment Tubi has made in its recommendation engine.

“Content isn’t enough,” he said.

Tubi’s machine learning helps viewers personalize their content and wade through the thousands of available titles.

Massoudi and Rotblat would not reveal any revenue numbers for the independent company. They noted that over the past nine years, the company has raised a mere $35 million, meaning ad revenues are a key driver of the business.

“We are doing financially very well,” said the CEO, noting the staff has doubled to more than 220 in the past year.

While Viacom snapped up AVOD player Pluto TV, Massoudi said Tubi isn’t interested in being acquired.

“We’re focused on being independent,” he said. “We want to take this public.”

BritBox Ups Distribution Partners in the U.K.

BritBox, the subscription streaming video service launched in the United States by the BBC and ITV and now “imported” to the United Kingdom, has expanded distribution in the latter region

In addition to agreements with ad-supported VOD service Freeview Play and YouView set-top boxes, BritBox has inked a deal with Samsung to be included on its line of connected Tizen televisions.

The service, which has about 650,000 subscribers in North America, is also available on the Web, Apple iOS and Android devices.

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“We have an ongoing commitment to provide the greatest experience to our customers, including offering the best range of apps currently available,” Guy Kinnell, VP of TV & AV Samsung Electronics U.K., said in a statement. “BritBox provides a new way to access the best of British content exactly whenever they want.”

Freeview Play, which has more than 5 million monthly users, has U.K. distribution through Sony, Digihome, JVC, Logik, Luxor, Polaroid, Techwood and Toshiba.

“Our viewers love great British TV, so BritBox is a fantastic addition to the Freeview line up, providing extra options to top up on the best of free TV they already enjoy via the nation’s biggest TV platform,” said Owen Jenkinson, marketing director at Freeview.

YouView set-top boxes will also be hosting the BritBox app by the end of 2019, making the new streaming service accessible to millions of additional households across the nation.

“At a time when U.K. produced television is going from strength to strength, BritBox brings a fantastic array of U.K. television, to compliment the SVOD services already available via YouView, which our users will love,” added Susie Buckridge, CEO of YouView.

 

 

Plex Licenses Ad-Supported VOD Rights to Movies from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Plex, the online media player system and software, has entered into an agreement with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution for the rights to a package of ad-supported feature films available to users in the United States.

Later this year, Plex’s users in the United States will be able to access a package of library feature film titles from Warner Bros., in addition to already available content like live and recorded over-the-air television, news, Web shows, podcasts, and more than 60 million streaming music tracks.

“Licensing these movies from Warner Bros. enables us to offer more types of third-party content than any other platform and bring it all together in one beautiful solution,” Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, said in a statement.

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Valory said ad-supported movies and TV shows deserve the same attention as subscription-based VOD content.

Indeed, a cottage industry devoted to AVOD, including Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV and Shout! Factory TV, among others.

What began 10 years ago as a “Netflix for your personal media,” Plex.tv has evolved into a multi-media content platform that enables users to access all their media from any device.

While the Warner deal marks Plex’s highest profile content license agreement to date, the platform is continuing to engage with additional partners to secure content agreements and expand its content catalog.

 

China, U.S. Account for Majority Global SVOD Subscriptions

No wonder Netflix wants to enter the Chinese market.

The quasi Communist country topped the U.S. in gross subscription video-on-demand users in 2018, according to new data from Digital TV Research.

China added nearly 60 million SVOD subs compared to 27 million subs in the U.S. India nearly doubled its subscription base.

Netflix does not operate independently in China, partnering instead with iQiyi to distribute select programming.

Gross SVOD subs increased by 139 million in 2018 to 508 million – or up by 38%. The net subscriber count rose by 83 million in 2018 to reach 357 million – up by 31%.

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DTV Research said the average SVOD subscriber paid for 1.43 subscriptions by end-2018 — up from 1.05 in 2010.

“China and the U.S. together accounted for 63% of the global total in 2018,” Simon Murray, principal analyst at DTV Research, said in a statement.

Eight countries had more than 10 million SVOD subs by end-2018 – collectively providing 80% of the global total.

Gross SVOD subs represented 30.5% of TV households by end-2018. The proportion of net SVOD subscribers was 21.4% – meaning that more than 20% of the world’s TV households had at least one SVOD subscription by end-2018.

SVOD became the largest OTT revenue source in 2014 when it overtook ad-supported VOD. SVOD market share reached 53% in 2018. SVOD revenue increased by $11 billion in 2018 to $36 billion – up by 44% from 2017. AVOD revenue increased by $5 billion to $22 billion.

“The U.S. added $6.5 billion in revenue in 2018, with China up by $3.6 billion,” Murray said. “Therefore, the U.S. and China were together responsible for more than half the world’s additional revenue in 2018.”

AVOD Service Tubi Launches in Australia

AVOD service Tubi will launch in Australia Sept. 1.

Customers there will have access to an initial offering of nearly 7,000 movies and TV series, which will rapidly expand in the near future, according to Tubi. Titles immediately available on the service include 3:10 to Yuma, The Blair Witch Project, Kickboxer and Stranger Than Fiction, with additional titles to be made available over the next six months, including Dirty DancingThe Grudge, Requiem for a Dream, Reservoir Dogs, SawTraffic and Young Guns.

“We’re excited to offer Tubi in Australia, as the first of many launch initiatives to advance our global footprint,” said Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi in a statement. “Our library size in Australia will expand rapidly in the coming months and eventually grow to our current library size in the U.S. of 15,000 titles — and beyond. We look forward to further activating new audiences who will discover the growing value of free video on demand.”

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Customers in Australia will be able to access Tubi via Telstra TV, Tubi.TV, or through nearly any internet-connected screen including Samsung TVs, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Apple iOS, as well as Android tablets and smartphones, according to Tubi. The service will also be available via game consoles, including PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.