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 teams 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, VP, partnerships and programming, at Xumo, the OTT service provider owned by Comcast Corp.

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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 add originals, he noted with a nod to fellow panelist Sam Harowitz, VP of content acquisition and partnerships at Tubi.

“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.

DEG’s EnTech Fest Features New Tech — and the Traditional Industry Reception — in L.A.

The DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s new event EnTech Fest 2022, held May 3-4 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, combined the old and the new.

The event replaced, and expanded upon, the annual DEG reception at CES, which was not held this year for the first time in the group’s 25-year history. It also showcased new content distribution and display technology and an in-car entertainment gallery.

The DEG reception took place the evening of May 3 and was attended by a crowd of industry members eager to greet each other in person after pandemic restrictions.

The following day, May 4, EnTech featured an exhibitor space with new tech from piracy protection to data analytics to 3D imaging and translation solutions.

Among the exhibitors:

  • Intel showcased its groundbreaking 8K broadcast technology used for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
  • Blu Digital Group showcased its cloud-based solutions for digital workflows as well as end-to-end services such as mastering, localization, quality control, packaging and delivery.
  • Ctrolmovie highlighted its choose-your-own-adventure interactive content technology. The company has a deal with Paramount for up to 10 films, according to a representative.
  • DeepMedia showcased its dubbing technology that is AI-powered and can make speakers sound like themselves despite being dubbed in different languages.
  • Looper Insights touted its service that helps content owners track how effectively their IP is getting to the consumer.
  • Premiere Digital showcased its capability in providing media services, distribution and SaaS tools to simplify supply chain and technical operations.
  • Whip Media showcased its suite of solutions that connect and scale data, processes and teams across licensing, content planning and financial operations. The company also highlighted CMV Insights, a content intelligence solution powered by a large panel of TV and film enthusiasts. CMV Insights continuously captures viewing intent, engagement and affinity data for content.
  • Synamedia touted its security offerings, as well as data analysis solutions.
  • EnTech Fest also featured an in-car demonstration area in which, among other exhibitors, Dolby demonstrated the extension of Dolby Atmos immersive audio to the car.

Streaming Facing Headwinds, Say Speakers at DEG’s EnTech Fest

The boom in streaming is hitting some headwinds, according to speakers at a May 4 research presentation during DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s EnTech Fest 2022 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.

“SVOD was really the winner of the pandemic period,” said the NPD’s Elizabeth Lafontaine. In-home entertainment “drove the entertainment industry over the past few years,” she noted.

“As we’ve gotten into 2022 many of these industries have started to soften, as experiences come back online,” she said.

Consumers are getting out and going to theme parks, traveling, seeing live shows, etc. — spending more on experiential entertainment. Experiential spending has returned to about 95% of what it was during the pre-pandemic period, she said.

“Experiential offerings are typically much more expensive, so it is going to eat into some of the other entertainment demand,” she noted.

As they get out, consumers are not engaging as much with SVOD, but “we’re still seeing engagement levels higher than the pre-pandemic period,” she said.

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Consumers reported spending on about four SVOD services (3.9 on average) in October 2021, which is down about one service from that time in 2020 (5.2). “But we’re still above that pre-pandemic period,” she said.

For streaming companies, the question is how to be one of those four services consumers choose.

In the past year, services increasingly turned to original programming, especially with licensed content being clawed back by studios’ direct-to-consumer services. In 2021, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu saw lower inventory throughout the year as this licensed content was pulled. But in response Netflix, for instance, by the end of 2021 grew original movie offerings by 22% and original series by 24%.

“Netflix has committed to spending about $17 billion annually on original content,” she said.

Also, with increased competition in the space for consumers’ time and money, “bundling and ad-supported is giving subscribers who may not have subscribed before a new point of entry to these services,” she said.

Another way consumers are economizing on subscriptions is through churn, noted Deloitte’s Kevin Downs. A recent Deloitte survey found the U.S. paid streaming service churn rate averaged 37%. “It’s high,” he said.

The churn rate was even higher among Gen Z and Millennials, with more than half of those respondents either canceling or canceling and adding paid services in the past six months. While access to original content (39%) and a broad range of content (38%) were the top two reasons U.S. consumers said they were subscribing to paid SVOD services, U.S. subscribers said they’re canceling paid SVOD services due to cost (41%), price increases (30%) and lack of new content (30%).

A majority (60%) of consumers would prefer to have reduced cost, ad-supported options, Downs noted.

Significant majorities of consumers also said they were frustrated with finding content and having to subscribe to so many services to find it.

In addition to cost and content concerns, services also have to compete with time spent on video games — a pursuit younger generations in particular may find more appealing than watching TV or movie content, he said.

Whip Media’s Vince Muscarella and Kortney Kesses noted that, aware of the appeal of games, streaming services are targeting gaming fans by creating content from game franchise IP.

They pointed out that “The Last of Us,” a series based on the game scheduled for HBO Max sometime in 2023, is already gaining some traction among fans, reaching 16,000 interested followers on their tracking service well ahead of other big titles this far ahead of release.

“It’s probably going to be HBO Max’s biggest release to date,” said Muscarella, who admitted he is one of those eager fans.

“Other companies are going to start paying attention to video game IP for content,” he said.

IFTA and AFM Exec Jonathan Wolf to Step Down

The Independent Film & Television Alliance announced that Jonathan Wolf, managing director of its American Film Market and EVP of the trade association, will step down when his current term ends on June 30.  

Jonathan Wolf

Wolf, who has led the AFM for 24 years, will continue on as an advisor through the 2022 AFM, which is set to make its in-person return to Santa Monica for the 43rd edition Nov. 1-6. 

Under Wolf’s leadership, the AFM transformed from its import-export roots to an event that serves and includes the entire independent film production and distribution community.

During his tenure, Wolf enhanced the market’s tools for buyers and sellers. He launched TheFilmCatalogue.com, a leading industry resource with information on thousands of projects and films available from global producers, distributors and sales companies, and its companion “TFC Weekly Update” email. He also introduced networking and education programs, including multi-stage conferences and panels, and the MyAFM online platform. 

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“Jonathan has been central to the success of the association’s growth and transitions,” IFTA’s president and CEO Jean Prewitt said in a statement. “He consistently has focused on making the AFM the best place for the industry to do business and has built an outstanding and long-established AFM team who share his commitment to excellence. We are grateful that Jonathan will be available to advise through the 2022 market.”

“It’s been a privilege to lead the AFM and work with passionate volunteer board members for more than 20 years,” Wolf said in a statement. “I was supported by a terrific team that worked tirelessly to produce a world class event; we achieved much together.  I’m excited to see what the future holds — for the AFM, IFTA and me.” 

With the IFTA, Wolf spearheaded the launch of IFTA Collections, the industry’s first centralized service for the collection and distribution of royalties and levies from secondary audio-visual rights for films and television programming.  To date, IFTA has collected more than $150 million for its clients and continues to distribute more than $5 million annually.   

Wolf’s connection to the IFTA began as an elected board member and vice chairman, finance, while CFO at IFTA Member New World International. He joined the association as SVP in 1993 and was appointed to lead the AFM as managing director in 1998.

OTT.X to Host Diversity Summit in Los Angeles June 9

OTT.X has announced the OTT.X Diversity Summit scheduled for June 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The summit is designed to bolster diverse OTT streaming organizations with access to information, connections and opportunities.

The full day conference will feature presentations, panels and breakout sessions to support content creation, increased distribution, awareness and viewership for OTT businesses that are owned and run by minorities and those in underrepresented groups.  

Topics include:

  • AVOD, FAST and subscription matching the right model with the right content and audiences;
  • gaining meaningful distribution for indie content creators;
  • making money with ad-supported video;
  • producing content for underrepresented audiences; and
  • reaching a diverse audience.

 
“The OTT.X Diversity Summit brings the OTT ecosystem together across the breadth of human experience to advance their businesses and amplify their voices,” OTT.X CEO and president Mark Fisher said in a statement.  

The summit is free for OTT.X members and $150 for non-members. 

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NAB Show Launches April 23 With Attendees From 154 Countries

The NAB Show, the annual conference for broadcast, entertainment and technology professionals, will host attendees from 154 countries April 23–27 in Las Vegas, according to organizers.

Speakers at the show include Nick Cannon, Ashleigh Banfield, Lester Holt, Byron Allen and comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Attendees from outside the United States make up nearly one-quarter of all pre-registered 2022 NAB Show attendees, which closely mirrors the 2019 NAB Show percentage, according to organizers.

“At a time when content can travel around the world in a blink of an eye, there is nothing like NAB Show to help the content community discover the tools, trainings and insights that will unleash the next global phenomenon,” said Chris Brown, NAB EVP and managing director of global connections and events, in a statement. “We are excited to welcome back our friends and partners from all across the globe as our industry gets back to doing business in person.”

The NAB Show participates in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Trade Event Partnership Program, which recruits international trade delegations to select U.S. trade shows and connects international buyers with U.S. suppliers.

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Delegations attending the show hail from Brazil, Columbia, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Turkey, Vietnam and more.

The NAB Show’s exhibit floor, located in the North Hall, Central Hall and the newly constructed West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, will host 358 exhibitors from 38 countries outside of the United States, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Belgium and France. The exhibition will also host the following pavilions:

  • Bavarian Pavilion — Central Hall
  • Brazilian Pavilion — North Hall
  • French Pavilion — West Hall
  • Great Britain & Northern Ireland Pavilion — North Hall
  • Global Trade Show Row — West Hall

 

Additionally, several international organizations, including the Brazilian Society of Television Engineering (SET), will host meetings for their members at the NAB Show. Demonstrations of global technologies currently deployed outside of the United States will also be conducted by broadcasters and other media and entertainment companies throughout the confab.  

The NAB Show is put on by the National Association of Broadcasters, an advocacy association for America’s broadcasters. The NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs.

OTT.X Launching X-Fronts Confab May 24-25

OTT.X  has announced its inaugural X-Fronts event will be held May 24-25 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  

The confab will provide “new opportunities for the next frontier of audience engagement,” according to the industry organization.

The X-Fronts will be an exchange consisting of pitches and presentations by prominent and up-and-coming AVOD and FAST platforms, networks, and channels to an audience of brands, advertisers and ad agencies, according to OTT.X. Presentations will include details about lineups, content promotion and other plans for the coming year. 

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The X-Fronts event “will serve as a launch pad for the rapidly growing AVOD and FAST markets by educating about and advocating for the growth and promotion of AVOD and FAST platforms,” according to the organization. Attendees will be directly exposed to a wide variety of options for their media budget spends from across the broad spectrum of established and rising stars in OTT streaming, according to organizers.

Each day will include a keynote speaker or panel, and meeting spaces, both private and semi-private, will be available for planned or ad-hoc meetings. 

“It is no secret that AVOD and FAST platforms are quickly becoming prominent players in the OTT and streaming landscape,” Mark Fisher, president and CEO of OTT.X, said in a statement. “By 2024, North American AVOD revenues are expected to reach $20.3 billion and close to 50% of the U.S population will be streaming AVOD content. The X-Fronts provides a first mover opportunity into the next generation of content viewing and audience engagement.”

DEG’s EnTech Fest Moves to May 3-4

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s new event EnTech Fest, previously scheduled to take place Feb. 15-16, has been moved to May 3-4 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The event replaces, and expands upon, the annual DEG reception at CES, which was not held this year for the first time in the group’s 25-year history.

The EnTech event will showcase new content distribution and display technology. There will be an in-car entertainment gallery, and a “Startup Alley” will highlight new companies with products and services in entertainment technology.

The event is open to all DEG members.

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Disney’s D23 Expo 2022 Welcoming Back In-Person Attendees

Disney’s seventh consumer conference, D23 Expo: The Ultimate Disney Fan Event, is welcoming back in-person attendance after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.

Tickets (D23Expo.com) for the Sept. 9-11 event at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., go on sale Jan. 20 to the general public, and on Jan. 19 for D23 fan club members.

Ticket buyers must be members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club — either at the complimentary General Member level or at the Gold Member level — to purchase tickets. Discounted single-day ($89) and three-day tickets ($229) will be available exclusively to D23 Gold Members. Regularly priced single-day tickets are $99 for a one-day adult admission and $79 for children, and money-saving three-day tickets also are available.

In addition to kicking off “Disney100,” the centennial celebration of The Walt Disney Company, Disney brands Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars will showcase what’s new and what’s on the horizon from Disney theme parks, streaming (i.e., Disney+) television, music, products and movies.

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The event will feature more than 50 shows, presentations, and panels, including the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the Disney legacy, as well as an all-new exhibit curated by the Walt Disney Archives highlighting the 100th anniversary of Disney.

The “Mousequerade” costume contest will return, hosted by Nina West and featuring panel of judges, including Yvette Nicole Brown (Big Shot, Disenchanted), Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and creator of Her Universe), and Ally Maki (Toy Story 4, Home Sweet Home Alone).

The contest will feature new categories, including “Off the Screen,” “Imagine That!,” “Magical Mashups,” and “Cast of Characters,” as well as a fan-favorite award voted on by the audience and a “best in show” prize of $2,300.

Disney’s restored Grumman Gulfstream I company airplane, currently housed backstage at Walt Disney World Resort, is slated to appear in an exhibit called Mickey Mouse One: Walt’s Plane presented by Amazon. The aircraft was seen for years as part of the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The 7,000-seat Hall D23 returns and will be joined by the 3,000-seat Premiere Stage, the 1,200-seat Backlot Stage, and the expanded, 700-seat Walt Disney Archives Stage for more presentations curated by the staff of the Archives. On the main show floor, the D23 Expo Live! Stage will feature performances, appearances, and demonstrations all weekend long, many of which will be livestreamed.

D23 Expo 2019 featured appearances by celebrities, including Robert Downey Jr., Christina Aguilera, Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Angelina Jolie, Robin Roberts, Salma Hayek, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and the casts of “The Mandalorian” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

This year, a limited number of Hall D23 Preferred Seating tickets (which include admission for all three days and a reserved seating section for all Hall D23 presentations) will be available to D23 Gold Members. D23 Members who are also Visa cardholders, and who pay with their Visa, will have pre-sale access to a limited number of one-day and three-day tickets for 24 hours beginning Jan. 19, at 10 a.m. PT, while supplies last.

Discounted hotel and Disneyland Resort park tickets are available to all D23 Expo ticket purchasers.

NATPE Miami 2022 Announces COVID-19 Protocols

Organizers of the NATPE Miami 2022 confab, taking place Jan. 18-20, have announced COVID-19 protocols for the show.

“With the health and safety of exhibitors, buyers, sponsors, honorees, partners and all attendees as top priority, NATPE will be following the highest standards and COVID-related protocols,” read an email from organizers. “Continually refined with guidance from the CDC, WHO and local authorities, and in effect for the entirety of the event, this will include, among other things: mandatory proof of vaccination for all attendees, outdoor tents for sessions and meetings, and designated NATPE safe zones fully controlled by the event production team and the specially appointed Director of Safety and Health.”

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During the event, attendees, who must be vaccinated,  have access to free optional testing. Those who take advantage of the daily testing will receive identification (i.e. wrist badge) of their negative COVID test. Individual exhibitors and sponsors may choose to require testing in order to meet with their staff.