AVOD Service Crackle Plus Announces June Lineup

Crackle Plus, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment company and operator of advertising-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) streaming services, announced content planned for June.

New Crackle AVOD Exclusives in June include:

  • “A Life In 10 Pictures #1 – Freddy Mercury,” in which Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, one of the most iconic bands in rock and roll history, reveals his life in ten pictures, from iconic shots to private snaps;
  • “In the Vault – Season One,” in which freshman Liv Steele (Claudia Lee) arrives at Woodlawn College excited for a fresh start, but will her past catch up with her?; and
  • “Hollywood Bulldogs: The Rise and Falls of the Great British Stuntman,” which tells the story of the small community of British stunt performers who went on to dominate Hollywood in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

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In addition to access to four seasons of “Sherlock,” Crackle Plus is offering new series from the BBC library every month. This month’s lineup includes:

  • “Ivanhoe,” a miniseries in which young Saxon knight returns to England from fighting in the Crusades to find he had been disinherited by his father, his childhood sweetheart has been betrothed to another man and the country is in the midst of an uprising;
  • “Jane Eyre,” a TV series about a young governess who falls in love with her brooding and complex master; and
  • Byron, a feature film about the famous poet starring Jonny Lee Miller.

 

New channels coming to Crackle in June include:

  • Celebrating Pride, including Wedding Wars (John Stamos, Eric Dane), Breakfast on Pluto (Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson), the Crackle original reality series “Men of West Hollywood” (Justin Jedlica, Brennen Taylor) and Two Mothers for Zachary (Valerie Bertinelli, Vanessa Redgrave);
  • Prehistoric Beasts, featuring “Dinotopia” (Katie Carr, Wentworth Miller), The Lost World (Bob Hoskins, Peter Falk), Behemoth (Ed Quinn, Pascale Hutton) and Godzilla vs Destoroyah (Megumi Odaka, Yōko Ishino);
  • Ways of the West, featuring Western titles like “Bonanza” (Michael Landon, Dan Blocker), The Shadow Riders (Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck), “The Outcasts” (Otis Young, Don Murray) and The Man from Laramie (James Stewart, Cathy O’Donnell);
  • Crimes and Capers, featuring Law Abiding Citizen (Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx), Killing Them Softly (Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini), American Animals (Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan) and Midnight Express (Brad Davis, John Hurt); and
  • The Sixties, featuring “The Flying Nun” (Sally Field, Alejandro Rey), To Sir, with Love (Sidney Poitier, Lulu), Under the Yum-Yum Tree (Jack Lemmon, Carol Lynley) and Bye Bye Birdie (Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret).

 

New to Crackle Spotlight in June are Harry Styles: Live in Manchester, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Peggy Sue Got Married, Edge of Tomorrow, Scream 4, the Canadian sketch comedy series “The Kids in the Hall,” the TV series “Hardcastle and McCormick,” Hannibal Rising, Judy (Renee Zellweger), Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Man from Laramie and Behind the Moment.

The Crackle Plus streaming services are currently distributed through 70 touch points in the United States on platforms including Amazon FireTV, RokuTV, Apple TV, Smart TVs (Samsung, LG, Vizio), gaming consoles (PS4 and Xbox One), Plex, iOS and Android mobile devices and on desktops at Crackle.com, with previously announced plans to expand to over 90 touch points.

Ad-Supported Streaming Space Getting More Challenging, Panelists Say at XFronts Event

Acquiring an audience, finding carriage on connected TVs and devices and curating in-demand content are all getting more challenging in the ad-supported streaming space, panelists said May 25 at the XFronts event in Los Angeles hosted by OTT.X.

Getting carriage for FAST channels has become highly competitive, like finding a spot on a cable service, said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer for Cinedigm, during the panel “How Does Anyone Make Money in this Business?”

“If you can’t get carriage, you won’t make any money,” he said. He also noted that the FAST channel business has become “more of a gladiator pit than cable ever was” in part because it doesn’t include the cushion of carriage fees.

Attracting eyeballs is more difficult as streaming services have proliferated, Opeka said. “To get [consumers] to download [your app] to the TV, you’re competing with all the big services that have driven up the marketing costs,” he said, noting it used to be “relatively cost effective to do a campaign with Roku or others.”

“If you’re competing with Netflix, Paramount, HBO Max, the cost per acquisition has skyrocketed,” he said.

Jonathan Skogmo, chief innovation officer at Trusted Media Brands, agreed that Roku has jacked up its pricing. “They want you to spend a quarter million dollars a quarter to get customers,” he said.

Panelists said original, exclusive, and in-demand, quality content is key as the competition increases.

“The table stakes are much higher now,” Opeka said. “We’re regularly involved in bidding wars for shows that can be an anchor of a FAST channel. … We’ve got a great one in Bob Ross.”

Skogmo added ad-supported streamers need “really unique programming, something that’s not already out.”

Finding content with ready appeal is also a key strategy.

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“We don’t have the major, major new releases to draw audience attention,” said Jesse Baritz, VP of content acquisition and development at Multicom Entertainment Group, so he said his company focuses on quality, star power and timely content.

“It’s making sure that it is 4K restored, star driven, hitting at the right time with the right audiences,” he said, adding that “when Natasha Lyonne was on ‘SNL’ this week, we made sure we had a movie that stars her.”

Ben Lister, senior director of content at Sinclair Broadcast Group, pointed out that the big subscription streaming guns such as Netflix are moving into the space, creating another challenge.

“As the SVODs start turning on advertising, I’m not sure how the consumer is going to respond,” he said, advising those that want to compete to “be prepared to make new content.”

Something as elemental as metadata can also help audiences find your content. Have “as much of that as you can” to help with discovery, Lister said.

“If you ask Siri or Alexa to show you the content, it comes up,” he said.

Another way to stand out from the crowd is to have a clear brand.

“You need a brand,” Opeka said. “If you don’t have a brand, align with somebody who does.”

OTT.X XFronts Event Spotlights FAST, AVOD Services

Ad-supported streaming services took center stage on the first day of the inaugural OTT.X XFronts event, taking place May 24-25 in Los Angeles.

The event is an exchange consisting of pitches and presentations by prominent and up-and-coming AVOD and FAST (free ad-supported streaming) platforms, networks and channels to an audience of brands, advertisers and ad agencies.

OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher said XFronts tallied nearly 400 registrants.

In welcoming the crowd, Erick Opeka, Cinedigm chief strategy offer and one of the creators of the event, said XFronts was designed to help “build the next generation of great streaming companies.”

“For years, the [ad-supported streaming] business was tiny, incremental and frankly a rounding error,” he said. But now with Netflix and other major streamers looking at ad-supported tiers, he noted, “The rest of the industry is catching up.”

Prior to a panel titled “Is FAST Programming Moving in the Direction of Cable TV?” TelevisaUnivision’s Richard Hull said that linear streaming was indeed encroaching on traditional TV turf.

“You’re finally seeing a transition of all the linear dollars on broadcast and cable TV starting to move over to these free ad-supported platforms,” he said.

Panelists agreed that FAST services were the new frontier in the linear TV business that cable and broadcast built.

“We actually consider ourselves as being in the cable TV business,” said Stuart McLean, CEO of FAST Studios, which features numerous channels and is soon launching the Women’s Sports Network. “All of our team come out of the cable business.”

“But there’s the data to back it up on who’s watching when,” he added.

“That’s something that cable’s never been able to do, [serve up ads] customized for the user,” added panelist Anthony Layser, of Xumo.

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Adam Bergman, VP of national ad sales for Vizio, which offers FAST services on its connected TV screens including its own WatchFree+, noted Vizio is a service just like cable “without the strings” and also pointed out streamers’ added power of data in serving advertisers.

“That’s my screen and my remote in your hand,” he said of the Vizio service. “I know more than anyone about what happens on my screen.”

Xumo’s Layser said the ad-supported business started to really take off in 2019. “The content doors started opening,” he said, noting that services such as Tubi, Pluto TV and Roku paved the way. “Since that time it’s very different in terms of the premium nature of the content,” he said, adding “more and more studio catalog is available.” Original programming in the space has also started to pop up, he said. Tubi has started to ad originals, he noted with a nod to fellow panelist Sam Harowitz, VP of content acquisition and partnerships at the streamer.

“Our overarching strategy is to superserve passionate communities,” Harowitz said, noting that Tubi has a library of 40,000 titles. In measuring Tubi’s success, he looks at “the total view time that a customer is spending on our service.” Tubi is also built around machine learning, which helps to serve up better content to consumers the more they watch, he said, driving engagement.

While distribution is cheap in the marketplace, FAST Studios’ McLean said, “At the end of the day, you still have to have scale.”

As streamers jockey for distribution partners, carriage conflicts like those frequently experienced in the cable marketplace could become more common, said Vizio’s Bergman, pointing to the dustup between Roku and HBO Max.

“One will look to have the upper hand when maybe they shouldn’t,” he said, pointing out that carriers might say, “I am fine without your content if those are the terms.”

The first day of the conference also included company presentations with details about lineups, content promotion and other plans for the coming year. Presenting companies included FAST Studios, which highlighted the launch of the Women’s Sports Network with an ESPN and surf star; Cinedigm, which outlined its genre-based channels and a partnership with Roundtable Entertainment; Future Today, which highlighted its kids and family content; Plex, which spotlighted its new content discovery product; and AfroLandTV, which highlighted its African content and a move into original programming starting with an African food show.

Gravitas Ventures Appoints Chris Horton Senior Director of Business Development

Gravitas Ventures, an Anthem Sports and Entertainment company, has appointed film veteran Chris Horton senior director of business development.

Horton reports to Gravitas president Michael Murphy.

In his newly-created role, Horton will be responsible for developing original IP to further bolster the content libraries of Gravitas and Anthem properties — driving the media companies’ mission to create and distribute content across multiple platforms. The new IP will be produced for AVOD and FAST channel platforms, complementing the company’s already-existing roster of FAST channels that includes AXS TV Now, IMPACT! Wrestling, Gravitas Movies, Gravitas Documentaries, Gravitas Adrenaline, Fight Network, Unexplained and Inside Sportfishing.

Horton has more than 20 years of experience across every facet of the independent film landscape — ranging from financing and production to sales and distribution. Before joining Gravitas, he spent nine years with the Sundance Institute, where he founded and led the Creative Distribution Initiative. While there, Horton also spearheaded the marketing and distribution efforts for more than 200 films, including Columbus, Unrest and Thunder Road. Prior to joining Sundance, Horton served as the head of acquisitions for independent distributor FilmBuff, where he acquired more than 300 films. He spent his early career working with John Sloss’ Cinetic Media.

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“It’s thrilling to be working with Nolan, Michael, and the rest of the Gravitas team,” Horton said in a statement. “I’ve known and admired them for years, and am excited to implement and drive new content strategies to help the company grow.” 

“As we continue to produce new FAST channels in a dynamic global environment, adding senior talent with strong experience as entertainment executives with a solid foundational understanding of how to connect the dots becomes more and more crucial,” Murphy said in a statement. “If you know Gravitas, you know Chris was cut from a similar cloth, making him the perfect complement to our team. It’s great to have an immediate shorthand with a new teammate and it’s been fun to watch Chris triangulate on viable commercial opportunities right out of the gate. We could not be more excited to have him onboard.”

FilmRise Inks Content Deals With Rooster Teeth, Lorne Michaels’ Above Average

New York-based film and TV studio and streaming network FilmRise has inked content deals with Rooster Teeth and Lorne Michaels’ Above Average Presents.

Under the deal with Above Average, a division of Broadway Video, FilmRise will create streaming TV episodes featuring a variety of comedy sketches taken from the more than 40 hours available from the Above Average library. FilmRise will distribute the newly formatted comedy series to all digital platforms as well as feature it on the FilmRise Comedy AVOD App and its FAST Channels. 

“Our deal with Above Average expands our digital native offerings to include comedy with high-profile, high-quality programming,” Max Einhorn, SVP of acquisitions and co-productions at FilmRise, said in a statement. “Above Average is a brand that features some of the biggest names in comedy and has over 8 million subscribers in its network and 2.4 billion views on YouTube.”

“We are thrilled to expand Above Average’s audience to streaming viewers around the world,” Marc Lieberman, president of Above Average, said in a statement. “Since the launch of Above Average, we have watched the network grow exponentially, and are excited to partner with FilmRise’s innovative team to expand our digital footprint worldwide.”

Initially FilmRise will roll out two seasons, consisting of 15 episodes each. Episodes will range from 22 minutes to 30 minutes long. The programs will include comedy sketches from “7 Minutes In Heaven,” featuring talent such as Paul Rudd, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Poehler and Andy Samberg, among many others; “Cool Kids’ Table”; “Forgotten Assholes of History”; “Hudson Valley Ballers”; “I Wanna Have Your Baby”; “Is This Okay?”; “Paulilu Mixtape”; “Sound Advice”; “The Idiot’s Guide to Smart People”; “Thingstarter”; and “Waco Valley.”

FilmRise plans to launch the first two season in July 2022.

Under the Rooster Teeth deal, FilmRise has acquired the exclusive SVOD, AVOD and FAST rights to more than 400 episodes across three properties of digital native content from the subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery. The three properties are the first animated series that FilmRise has acquired for the digital native content division.

The deal includes exclusive SVOD, AVOD and FAST rights to all episodes of “Red vs. Blue,” “Camp Camp” and “Nomad of Nowhere.” FilmRise will curate groupings of episodes seasons from each property and package them into traditional half-hour TV style seasons and episodes for streaming audiences.

“We are thrilled to expand our rapidly growing slate of digital-first content with these incredible programs from Rooster Teeth, a digital entertainment pioneer that has created a passionate global fandom and lifestyle brand,” Einhorn said in a statement. “FilmRise recognized early on the huge landscape of talent in the digital native content space. We’re delighted Rooster Teeth will partner with our expansive streaming network to bring their content to wider audiences.”

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“Our partnership with FilmRise provides instant worldwide international distribution and exposure on multiple streaming platforms leveraging our global fan base, expanding our programming into many new territories and bringing new fans into our community,” Geoff Yetter, head of licensing and consumer products at Rooster Teeth, said in a statement.

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“Camp Camp”

“Red vs. Blue” is an animated comedy set against the Halo video game world, chronicling the lives of soldiers on the Red Team and the Blue Team. “Camp Camp” is an animated comedy series surrounding the misadventures of a cynical 10-year-old sent to summer camp against his will. “Nomad of Nowhere” is a Western-fantasy hybrid, following bounty hunters Captain Toth and Skout as they track the Nomad (a non-verbal scarecrow) for his magical capabilities. The series examines the relationship between the two female bounty hunters in the face of the ever-evolving nature of their adventures. All three series were produced in-house by Rooster Teeth’s animation studio in Austin, Texas.

Fox: Tubi Ups Q3 Revenue, Costs; Fox Nation Sees SVOD Sub Growth

Fox Corp. continues to put much of its digital future on the shoulders of ad-supported Tubi and subscription streaming service Fox Nation — with positive results.

The media giant May 10 reported that television segment advertising revenue increased $54 million to $969 million, from $915 million in the previous-year period, primarily due to continued growth at Tubi, which Fox acquired in 2020 for $440 million.

Additional factors positively affecting ad revenue included continued strength in pricing at the Fox Network, and the impact of the additional week to the NFL regular season, partially offset by the absence of the rotating NFL Divisional playoff game in the current year quarter and softer entertainment ratings at the Fox Network.

At the same time, operating segment income plummeted almost 75% to $35 million, compared with the $135 million in the prior year quarter due to higher expenses. The increase in expenses primarily reflects increased digital investment at Tubi and higher programming rights amortization and production costs at Fox Sports, as well as an approximately $30 million write-down of certain scripted programming at Fox Entertainment.

“Our topline growth in the quarter was propelled by pricing strength in both distribution and advertising revenue across our leadership brands, complemented by the powerful momentum we continue to see at Tubi,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Fox Nation, the company’s branded politically themed subscription streaming service, helped the company’s cable segment increase “other” revenue 22.5% to $140 million, from $120 million in the prior-year period. Fox attributed the increase in part to the timing of sports sublicensing revenue, which were impacted by COVID-19 in the prior year quarter, and higher Fox Nation subscription revenue.

Fox has not revealed Fox Nation subscriber data since launching the $5.99 monthly SVOD in 2018.

Digital TV Research: Global AVOD Revenue to Reach $70 Billion by 2027

Ad-supported revenue for TV series and movies will reach $70 billion in 2027, up from $33 billion in 2021, according to new data from Digital TV Research. The London-based research firm said the U.S. AVOD market will grow by $19 billion to $31 billion in 2027 — remaining the largest country by far.

“The U.S. has the world’s most sophisticated advertising industry by some distance, plus AVOD choice is greater in the U.S. than anywhere else,” Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, said in a statement. “The U.S. will account for 46% of the global AVOD market by 2027, up from 39% in 2021.”

Second-placed China slumped in 2020 due to its economic downturn, according to the report. It will take until 2024 for China to better its 2019 total. In 2021, the government clamped down on fan-based culture, which resulted in far fewer reality shows from OTT video platforms — and less viewer demand.

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TelevisaUnivision to Acquire Streaming Service Pantaya

Spanish-language media giant TelevisaUnivision May 9 announced it has entered into an agreement with Hemisphere Media Group to acquire Pantaya, the U.S.-based streaming platform for Spanish-language movies and series in exchange for cash plus certain Puerto Rican radio assets, including WKAQ AM and KQ105 FM currently owned by TelevisaUnivision.

Lionsgate in 2021 sold its 75% stake in Pantaya to Hemisphere Media Group for $124 million.

TelevisaUnivision expects the addition of Pantaya’s content to bolster its pending global streaming platform ViX+, which is expected to launch in the second half of 2022. In April, Televisa/Univision launched ad-supported VOD service ViX, with plans to roll out a subscription-based model later this year.

“The acquisition of Pantaya, which includes movies Señorita 89 and A La Mala, is an opportunity to build upon our strategic growth plan as we continue to redefine the global streaming landscape,” Pierluigi Gazzolo, chief transformation officer, said in a statement.

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The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2022 and is subject to customary closing conditions, including federal regulatory approvals.

Pantaya features first-run exclusive and original movies, including instant access to select titles available on the same day they debut theatrically in Latin America.

Future Today: Streaming Video a Family Affair

The proliferation of streaming video services and devices linking the internet to the television is bringing the American family back together on the couch, according to new data from Future Today.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based research firm contends that 94% of parents have upped their time streaming video together with family members in 2021. That data also underscores a prime marketing opportunity for advertisers, according to Vikrant Mathur, co-founder of Future Today.

“There is a misperception that the explosion in screens has created siloed TV viewing, with families watching from different devices and rooms,” Mathur said in a statement. “In reality, parents with younger children, in particular, are co-viewing more than ever. Co-viewing experiences help these families connect, while also allowing parents to more closely monitor media consumption for their children.”

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The analyst cited data that suggests ad-supported VOD viewership and connected televisions (CTV) are projected to represent 60% of all over-the-top video consumption by the end of the year.

“With co-viewing of streaming content more prominent, CTV and OTT can dramatically enhance campaign value for marketers, helping them reach the entire home on the largest screen,” Mathur said.

Paramount+ Adds 6.8 Million Q1 Subs, Pluto TV Reaches 68 Million Monthly Users

Paramount Global May 3 reported that its branded subscription streaming platform, Paramount+, added 6.8 million subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31). The hybrid SVOD/AVOD platform (formerly CBS All Access) ended the period with almost 40 million subs — up 140% from 16.5 million in the previous-year period.

When combined with the Noggin, BET+ and Showtime OTT, Paramount said its worldwide subscription base added 6.3 million subs to end the quarter with more than 62 million paid members. That is up almost 74% from 35.9 million subs in the previous-year period. The additions offset in part a combined 500,000-sub decline at BET+, Showtime and Noggin.

Paramount+ subscription revenue increased 95% to $742 million from $380 million in the previous-year period.

Average titles consumed and hours per active sub improved quarter-over quarter across all demos highlighting improved engagement, content
exploration and diversification. Domestically, Paramount+ saw strong engagement and consumption from a variety of content, including “Halo,” “1883,” “Star Trek: Picard,” live events and the NFL. Internationally, “Acapulco Shore” was a top acquisition and engagement driver for the service.

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Pluto TV gained broad distribution through third-party deals with T-Mobile via T-Mobile Tuesdays, giving consumers exclusive access to new content and original series. The ad-supported platform’s total global viewing hours by doubled year-over-year, while launching more than 102 new channels internationally, totaling more than 1,000 global channels.

Pluto TV revenue increased 59% to $347 million from $218 million in the previous-year period.

“Our [direct-to-consumer] strategy is working, and our execution is strong, as we remain focused on delivering a great experience for consumers and a compelling financial model to our shareholders,” Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global, said in a statement.