Erick Opeka Upped to President of Cineverse

Cineverse Corp. May 23 announced the promotions of several key executives, including naming Erick Opeka president of the streaming technology/media company.

Erick Opeka

Opeka, who will continue in his role as chief strategy officer, will continue to lead the company’s corporate strategy, strategic initiatives, and M&A efforts, and also oversee its portfolio of more than two dozen SVOD, AVOD and FAST linear networks available online, on mobile devices, desktop computers and connected TVs.

With eight acquisitions in the past two years, Opeka will continue to pursue additional accretive M&A opportunities to support Cineverse’s unique content strategy and needs of its enthusiast audiences.

Separately, Tony Huidor, the driving force behind Cineverse’s Matchpoint technology platform, has been promoted to COO/chief technology officer. Huidor’s oversight of the company’s engineering resources have been crucial in expanding the company’s technology portfolio. In his expanded role, Huidor will continue to oversee the technology roadmap and all software development efforts pertaining to the Matchpoint platform suite, in addition to overseeing the product strategy for all consumer-facing products within the company’s portfolio of services focusing on leveraging the power of content processing at scale while utilizing AI and machine learning.

Mark Torres, an HR executive at Sony Pictures, Ticketmaster and Variety, has been appointed chief people officer. Torres will oversee all aspects of human resources functions, global people strategy and operations.

Longtime home entertainment executive Yolanda Macias will continue her role as the chief content officer. Macias will continue to oversee all content marketing and third-party sales. In addition to her responsibilities at Cineverse, Macias serves on the board of directors for Sketchers and C5LA, further contributing to the company’s industry influence and community engagement.

John Canning will remain as CFO, responsible for all financial functions, including strategy and analysis, budgeting, reporting and risk management. Prior to Cineverse, Canning was the CFO of Firefly Systems, securing funding, working capital and equipment financing.

Gary Loffredo will continue in his role as chief legal officer, secretary and senior advisor. Loffredo has extensive experience in capital raising, corporate mergers and acquisitions, public company corporate governance, business development and legal strategy.

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“With these changes, we have realigned our leadership to best drive the company forward as we focus on building one of the largest and most diverse digital content libraries in the industry,” CEO Chris McGurk said in a statement. “I believe Cineverse has built and retained one of the best leadership teams over the business at a time when we and the industry were going through a sea change transformation to streaming. As President and COO, respectively, Erick Opeka and Tony Huidor, accomplished innovators and thought leaders in streaming and technology, will be an extremely formidable tandem to help lead the company into its compelling future. Yolanda Macias is one of the most experienced and effective Content executives in the business and Gary Loffredo has time and again delivered effective counsel and innovative financings that have helped smartly move our business forward. Mark Torres has been the leading force in putting together and retaining one of the best management teams in the business in the challenging environment of COVID, remote workplaces and expanding an overseas engineering operation for Matchpoint in India. With John Canning also continuing as CFO, I am thrilled that this entire team will be in place under a new structure that reflects our status as a leading streaming content and technology company, and I am confident they will drive Cineverse to new heights of performance.”

OTT.X Hosts Streamers, Advertisers at XFronts

OTT.X held its inaugural “XFronts” event May 24-25 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The XFronts event, which drew nearly 400 guests, was 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 included details about lineups, content promotion and other plans for the coming year. The opening reception was held Tuesday evening, May 24. (All photos by Media Play News staff.)

Cinedigm: The Dove Channel Tops 663,000 Paid Subscribers

The Dove Channel, Cinedigm’s first foray into the subscription streaming VOD market, topped 663,000 paid subscribers through February. The platform, which bowed in 2015 along with the documentary themed Docurama, and the fandom lifestyle network CONtv, has seen subscriber growth of 1,133% since February 2021.

This growth has been driven in part by wholesale distribution on platforms, including Amazon Prime Channels, The Roku Channel, Comcast Xfinity, Dish Network and YouTube TV.

In addition, Cinedigm’s free on-demand and linear versions of The Dove Channel have seen total monthly viewers growing to 5.4 million in February 2022, up 47% year over year. Ad-based viewership continues to accelerate, with monthly minutes streamed in FY Q4 22 increasing by 32% over the prior sequential quarter.

“Given the challenges of these trying times over the last few years, the appetite for uplifting, wholesome movies and shows that families can watch together has dramatically expanded,” Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer/president of Cinedigm Networks, said in a statement.

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Opeka said the The Dove Channel has become the company’s most successful subscription service and is among the top three of all ad-supported services in our portfolio.

“The enthusiastic responses from platforms, advertisers, and consumers reiterates the important position our service fills in America’s households,” he said.

Opeka said Cinedigm plans on ramping up investment in exclusive programming and new television series for the channel, which he said would be at the forefront of key initiatives to develop a direct ad sales channel and launch new fiction and non-fiction podcasts with the same wholesome perspective.

The Dove Channel will also leverage the 7,500-title library of Digital Media Rights, the streaming company Cinedigm acquired this week, as a source of substantial additional kids and family programming. Finally, the channel will also re-launch on Cinedigm’s new Matchpoint 2.0 app framework later this year and will also expand platform support across key leading platforms including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and more.

“We will devote our efforts to expanding Dove’s content and enhancing our technology offerings, in turn, driving considerably more revenue from both new subscribers as well as key, direct advertisers looking for a brand-safe environment,” Opeka said.

Cinedigm Acquires ‘Bloody Disgusting’ Horror Streaming Platform

Cinedigm Sept. 21 announced the acquisition of Bloody Disgusting, an online platform catering to horror movies and related TV and video game content. The move follows the Los Angeles-based distributor’s acquisition of the Screambox subscription-based streaming service earlier this year. As part of the acquisition, the Bloody Disgusting team will be managing Screambox going forward.

Launched in 2001 reviewing movies and TV shows, the Bloody Disgusting brand reaches more than 30 million unique horror fans annually across its website, the Bloody Disgusting podcast network, app and related social media footprint. In 2011, Bloody Disgusting branched out into original productions, creating the “V/H/S” movie franchise.

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Last year, Cinedigm partnered with Bloody Disgusting TV, a free ad-supported streaming channel specializing in genre movie classics such The CollectorThe Hills Have Eyes and The Re-Animator, among others.

“The acquisition of Bloody Disgusting shows Cinedigm’s commitment to the horror genre,” Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer at Cinedigm, said in a statement. “The brand and the site are so much more than streaming; it’s a respected brand within the horror community. In the years to come, we hope the site and streaming channel are not considered just a great source for horror content but the source for horror content.”

Separately, Cinedigm is launching original series “The Island,” an eight-episode series that centers around a remote island in the North Sea that falls victim to a merciless and mysterious virus. Cinedigm also recently acquired Brain Freeze, the zombie movie that opened this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. In addition, Cinedigm will premiere feature film Not Alone exclusively on their streaming channels in October. The film, which was selected to play at Cannes International Independent Film Festival, stars Pat Healy (Draft Day, The Post) and Sarah Schroeder-Matzkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Bloodshot).

“Cinedigm’s vision for digital expansion is what makes me confident that they are the right company to join to help bring the vision of Bloody Disgusting into the new streaming generation,” said Brad Miska, who co-founded Bloody Disgusting. Tom Owen, Co-founder, adds: “Working with Cinedigm has made it clear that they share our passion for the genre. Their acquisition of Screambox, in addition to our work together bringing Bloody Disgusting TV to life, has allowed me to witness the forward-thinking passion they infuse into all of their endeavors. We’re excited to mobilize the Bloody Disgusting team to execute against the larger opportunities in the horror vertical.”

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.

Opeka, Two Other Execs Promoted at Cinedigm

Cinedigm Corp. on Jan. 12 announced the promotion of Erick Opeka to chief strategy officer in addition to his current responsibilities as president of Digital Networks.

Opeka has 18 years of experience as an executive in entertainment and technology. As president of Cinedigm Networks, he oversees the
development, planning, launch and operation of the company’s portfolio of linear, ad-supported and subscription streaming services that reach more than 15 million monthly users across nearly 900 million addressable devices.

In addition to his role at Cinedigm, Opeka is on the board of directors and executive committee of OTT.X, the trade group representing the
streaming industry, and serves as an advisor to numerous streaming and entertainment companies through his work with seed accelerator Techstars.

He is also a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences.

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Cinedigm also announced the promotions of two other executives. Gary Loffredo adds the title of president to his current roles as chief operating officer, general counsel and secretary of Cinedigm Corp. And Yolanda Macias has been upped to chief content officer of the Cinedigm Entertainment Group. She previously was EVP for the group.

“We have expanded these key roles for the senior leadership team to fully capitalize on the tremendous growth we are experiencing in our digital streaming business,” said Chris McGurk, Cinedigm chairman and CEO. “I am fully confident that we now have the best leadership team in place to
rapidly grow the business and expand our leadership position in streaming channels, content and technology.

“All aspects of our streaming business are already experiencing strong growth, from our ad-based channels to our viewership and paid subscriber base to our digital content licensing business, and this team is now perfectly focused and aligned to further expand that growth operationally, strategically and through the acquisition roll-up initiative of streaming assets we are currently pursuing.”

OTT.X Summit Speakers Talk FAST (Free, Ad-Supported Television)

Free, ad-supported television dominated the discussion during the OTT.X summit’s opening-day keynote panel.

Known by the acronym FAST, the market certainly is in growth mode. Media heavyweights ViacomCBS and Comcast Corp. have acquired Pluto TV and Xumo, respectively, while Comcast’s much-ballyhooed Peacock streaming service also will have a free, ad-supported component.

And as Media Play News reported earlier this week, new data from eMarketer suggests AVOD revenue will grow more than 25% this year compared with 2019.

The AVOD market — spearheaded by The Roku Channel, Disney-owned Hulu, Peacock, Redbox TV, Amazon’s IMDb TV, Pluto TV and Fox Corp.’s Tubi — saw ad revenue skyrocket 31% to $849 million in the most-recent quarter, according to MoffettNathanson Research.

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“It’s something I’m really excited about — this is the thing that’s really hot,” moderator David Bloom, a tech journalist and consultant, said during the panel on Sept. 1. (The OTT.X summit continues through Sept. 3; click here to register.)

Anthony Layser, VP of content partnerships at Xumo, agreed.

“Things have changed so quickly over the last couple of years,” he said. “I joined Xumo in 2017 and I think at first there were some things that felt a little bit like a gimmick — you’re starting to string together types of content into a linear experience.

“And then I really got a sense, after a few months in, that what’s old is new again. People don’t necessarily want to spend all night searching through box art; they may be interested in a very specific series they are comfortable with — maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s lifestyle.”

The FAST market, he said, “is always changing and it’s exciting to come to work every day and look at data and say, ‘Wow, look at how this piece of content we licensed years ago is taking off.’”

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Networks, said his company over the past 18 months has sought to build “a nice portfolio of premium FAST and AVOD services to complement our four niche subscription services we still operate.”

“We got out of the real heavy, direct-to-consumer side,” he said, “and now focus on what I call the classic model of third-party distribution. You get a lot of bang for your buck — you don’t have to spend a lot of money on marketing, and you can focus all your energy on content spend and everyone else handles all the rest. So it’s a good model. Where we really thought the growth for us was going to come was in the ad-supported space.”

Advertising spending, he said, is “completely disconnected from the consumption right now. If you look at the data coming out of Samsung, where 55% of all consumption on smart TVs is not with traditional environments — the trend is not going to reverse; it’s not going to suddenly swing back the other way, especially given that 265 million sets are sold annually that have linear and VOD baked in, not to mention hundreds of thousands of apps.”

With FAST, Opeka said, “consumers love the choice, they love getting tons of entertainment for free that they don’t have to pay for. A couple of years ago, Pluto really educated all of us. … People mistake linear being dead for pre-programmed, tuned-in being dead. But I think there’s a very different piece here. Leanback is not dead. There’s a real specific use case for a big chunk of the week where you don’t have a lot of time and don’t want to spend 30 minutes digging through thousands of titles or hoping the algorithm finds you. You just want something on while you’re having leftovers. What we’re really talking about is hand-curated, passive, feed-my-eyes, against active, algorithm-driven recommendations. There’s a place in the world for both.”

Tedd Cittadine, VP of content distribution at Roku, said, “There’s no secret we’re really excited and optimistic about the AVOD business in general. We started just over three years ago with the Roku Channel, and the reason we launched it is because our consumers were disproportionately searching for free content. We knew there was pent-up demand for it. And we’ve seen significant growth — it’s been growing faster than the platform as a whole.”

He noted that the “AVOD landscape has changed significantly” over the past few years. “It’s gone from many startup independents to Roku, CBS, Fox, Amazon, YouTube, Comcast”

He noted that as the business becomes increasingly competitive, there are “three key things that drive success.” One is access to a “huge audience.” “It’s incredibly expensive to acquire consumers,” he said. “If you don’t have that huge installed base you can market to and deliver your content to, it can be very challenging to build that audience.” Second is having a “one-to-one, proprietary relationship with data for consumers, and having access to that data to make your advertising more effective.” And the third, he said, is having a “large and successful, well-funded direct ad sales organization to take advantage of monetization opportunities.”

Also speaking on the panel was Andrea Clarke-Hall, VP of business development at Tubi, acquired by Fox in April. “If you take COVID and add an acquisition, it makes for interesting times,” she said. “But it has been awesome. It’s still very early days, but it seems to be a really great partnership. Fox has given Tubi tremendous autonomy, and I think what we’ve seen is continued announcements every week about leveraging Fox ownership to bring better and better content to Tubi.”

Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango, gave a nod to the transactional side of the business, noting that stay-at-home orders, and the movie theater shutdown, during the coronavirus pandemic has given the business a boost.

“You feel like the last few months have brought transactional back,” he said. “People have discovered there’s new content, movies you might not have ever seen — like The Tax Collector, which has been No. 1 on our service for the last couple of weeks.”

Cinedigm Expands Linear/VOD Streaming Channels on Sony PlayStation, Android TV, Mobile Devices

Cinedigm Aug. 3 announced it has partnered with Littlstar to distribute its portfolio of linear and video-on-demand channels. Littlstar is a provider of film and television content to the gaming ecosystem, including Sony PlayStation, Android TV and related mobile devices.

Littlstar currently works with Discovery, Viacom, Showtime and Universal and is financially backed by A&E, Sony, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, WWE and Warner Bros., among others.

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“Cinedigm is on the pulse of what next generation viewers want, and we’re looking forward to innovating together with them to bring cutting edge content to new audiences,” Littlestar CEO Tony Mugavero said in a statement.

Littlstar will launch a selection of the Cinedigm streaming channels, including: The Bob Ross Channel, Comedy Dynamics, Chinese entertainment themed Bambu, Docurama, CONtv, Dove Channel, CONtv Anime, Whistle TV, horror-based Bloody Disgusting, So… Drama, featuring British and Australian dramas & mysteries, and So… Real, offering British non-fiction and reality TV series.

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“Our goal is to partner with companies that can help us reach new, highly engaged audiences,” said Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Networks. “Littlstar helps us reach the hundreds of millions of global viewers that use their gaming consoles to stream entertainment, on top of widespread footprint on mobile and connected televisions. Cinedigm will now reach more than three quarters of a billion devices globally.”

Cinedigm: OTT/Streaming Revenue Up 31%; COVID-19 Drops FY 2020 Revenue 27%,

Home entertainment/over-the-top video distributor Cinedigm July 6 reported that it narrowed its fiscal-year 2020 (ended March 31) net loss 10% to $14.7 million, from $15.9 million in FY 2019. Revenue dropped 27% to $39.2 million, from $53.5 million, largely due to the shutdown of the theatrical business. Cinedigm attributed the revenue decline to its digital projection business.

Meanwhile, streaming revenue increased 59% year-over-year, primarily driven by 466% growth in ad-supported linear television and ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) ad revenue growth. Total streaming-related revenue increased 31% year-over-year, with total sales of $24.4 million. Streaming-related billings now represent more than half of Cinedigm’s entertainment business.

“Clearly, we have made remarkable progress as an OTT/Streaming company over the last year, including achieving profitability in our core business in this fourth quarter by increasing [pre-tax earnings] by $3.5 million or 125% over last year,” CEO Chris McGurk said in a statement.

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McGurk said the distributor now markets a 16-channel OTT portfolio to include about 670 million global devices from more than 40 distribution partners worldwide.

“We grew ad-supported viewers on connected TV’s from zero to 13.2 million in 15 months, almost tripling viewers in just the last 7 months prior to May 31,” he said.

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“We are rapidly scaling up our streaming business to capitalize on the ongoing and permanent [pay-TV] cord-cutting shift towards OTT entertainment,” McGurk said. “Heavy streaming adoption rates, particularly for free, ad-supported linear channels, continue to dramatically accelerate.”

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, said the company’s revised model is driven by signing and launching new channels, increasing distribution footprint, growing viewership, and achieving monetization with scale partners.

“Our focus on these four key areas can be reflected in our results and our deals with the best companies in the industry,” Opeka said. “Given this, Cinedigm has enormous prospects for growth in the coming fiscal year.”

Cinedigm also strengthened its balance sheet with the addition of a 26% ownership interest in China’s Starrise and $15.5 million debt reduction.

“Reducing this debt decreased our interest expense by $3 million annually,” said COO Gary Loffredo.

Cinedigm, SPI International Partner to Distribute Gametoon and FashionBox HD Channels

Cinedigm June 11 announced a partnership with media company SPI International to launch two new ad-supported streaming channels, Gametoon and FashionBox HD. Cinedigm will launch and distribute the AVOD platforms in North America and will work with SPI on marketing, audience development and monetization of the channels.

SPI International operates 42 TV channels with more than 65 million subscribers on six continents and is one of the largest aggregators of native Ultra HD content in the world.

Cinedigm’s distribution footprint includes more than 300 million devices across connected televisions, set-top-boxes, mobile & handheld devices, and online TV services.

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FashionBox HD is devoted to the fashion-focused lifestyle. The content lineup includes entertaining and educational explorations of the industry’s hottest trends, as well as in-depth fashion show coverage, behind-the-scenes tours of groundbreaking catwalks from across the globe and revealing interviews with the industry’s top designers.

Gametoon features TV programming geared toward video gaming and e-sports enthusiasts. Content includes game reviews, e-sports tournaments, and exclusive game walkthroughs and sessions from popular streamers with a large fanbase, such as Dan Gheesling, Bifuteki, Lothar and many more.

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With this agreement, Cinedigm Digital Networks now has access to SPI International’s partnerships with major license suppliers, and extensive library of popular, recognizable, and compelling programming.

“SPI International has built an impressive footprint of channels and content that delights tens of millions of users around the world,”  Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, said in a statement.

Opeka said the addition of Gametoon and FashionBox HD would help Cinedigm reach two key demographics within its portfolio of digital networks.

“We look forward to building upon the success that these properties have achieved, as we continue our commitment to delivering high-quality ad-supported programming to viewers in North America and around the world,” he said.