Heroes of OTT.X. Honored During Organization’s Fall Summit

The 2022 Heroes of OTT.X were recognized Aug. 31 during the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles. 

The Heroes of OTT.X program recognizes exceptional individuals within the entertainment industry and OTT.X community that have gone above and beyond for the consumer, company and/or community. 

Recipients of the Heroes recognition were nominated by peers who were also present to congratulate them at the ceremony. 

This year’s recipients included senior and mid-level executives going above and beyond for their organizations, as well as individuals helping their community with initiatives such as foster-based rescue for pets. 

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The recipients of the 2022 OTT.X Hero Award were: 

  • Shilo Asi, head of product, Castify.ai 
  • Greg Barnard, director of content acquisition, Vizio
  • Chris Bray, VP of product, Zype 
  • Liz Buhn, senior director of content and partner marketing, Vizio
  • Liz Cobb, account manager, Cinedigm 
  • Jo Louise Hanson, VP, distribution and operations, KDMG 
  • Janelle Lenart, senior content operations manager, Xumo 
  • Scott Olechowski, chief product officer and co-founder, Plex 
  • Damian Pelliccione, co-founder and CEO, Revry TV 
  • Reid Rossman, SVP, Kino Lorber 
  • Daniel Schnider, director of distribution and strategic partnerships, TelevisaUnivision 

OTT.X Speakers Discuss Diverse Models and Importance of Better Discovery and Data

Industry leaders from all aspects of the home entertainment business said there’s a place for all the different business models, including transactional (digital rental and sale), subscription streaming, ad-supported streaming and rental kiosks at the OTT.X Fall Summit Aug. 31 in Los Angeles.

Still, gathering data on consumers’ tastes and helping them discover content are key challenges in the marketplace, said speakers on the “Insights From Today’s Industry Leaders” panel.

In the next three to five years, the home entertainment marketplace will continue to offer a smorgasbord of options that consumers will cobble together, said Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango.

“I think people will have some sort of primary subscription service … peppered with an add-on subscription portfolio. … You would have a digital library … then I think you’ll rent a couple of movies over the weekend,” he said.

Philippe Guelton, chief revenue officer at Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, noted chairman and CEO William J. Rouhana is “very bullish” and that the company “started from scratch five years ago,” acquiring different entertainment players. Most recently, Chicken Soup acquired Redbox, with its streaming services, transactional digital business and more than 30,000 kiosk locations renting discs. Guelton said the physical presence has “amazing power” and that Redbox is a “amazing brand.”

“We’re going to be more diversified,” he said, noting the Redbox kiosks are “grossly underestimated as a business.”

Combining Redbox’s businesses with Chicken Soup’s existing Crackle business is “really targeting a value conscious consumer,” he said.

“The Walmart consumer is a large part of our country,” he said.

Cinedigm is “business model agnostic” said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer. He said one of the industry’s key challenges is helping consumers discover content they want to watch.

“We’ve got 100 years of programming at everybody’s fingertips, and no one knows how to sift through it,” he said, adding Cinedigm is exploring “natural language” AI for better content discovery.

Key gatekeepers are platforms such as Vizio, speakers noted. Katherine Pond, group VP of platform, content and partnerships at Vizio, said the company collects useful data that it can share with content partners.

“We have the ability to see what consumers are watching,” she said. For instance, if Vizio data shows a spike in viewership, she can say, “Let’s go talk to that network about making a FAST [free ad-supported streaming] channel about this.”

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“Some platforms recognize sharing of data creates a good ecosystem,” said Opeka, noting that Vizio “is one of our best partners in that regard.” Still, he said access to data is often tricky as such exclusive information is valuable.

Guelton pointed out that Redbox — through its 40 million customer loyalty program — and other segments of the Chicken Soup business also collect useful data about customers.

“It gives us a currency that we can maybe trade,” he said. “This is data that studios want.”

OTT.X Summit: Cinedigm’s Chris McGurk Says Entertainment Companies Must Quickly Embrace Change

Looking over his long career, Cinedigm chairman and CEO Chris McGurk said adapting to new ideas and technologies quickly is key to successfully navigating the entertainment marketplace.

Speaking during an Aug. 31 presentation at the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles, he noted that over the years, “The one constant has been profound change.”

“In a business where the only thing for certain is rapid technological change, you’ve got to be ready every year or every two years to revisit your business model,” he said.

He recounted several key experiences during his career that involved embracing new ideas. At the Walt Disney Co. in the early 1990s, he was tasked with visiting tech giant Steve Jobs to discuss distributing Toy Story, with its innovative CGI animation. At the time, Disney was focusing on highlighting its traditional animation business.

“It was going to be the engine that was going to drive the company,” McGurk recalled, adding, “The fact is, there was a huge, raging debate going on whether we should distribute Toy Story or not.”

In a meeting with Jobs, he recalled telling the tech giant, “Some people at Disney don’t want to do this deal because they consider it blasphemy.”

“Some people at Disney are idiots,” Jobs replied, McGurk said.

McGurk noted, “We embraced the new technology and look what happened.”

In a later experience at MGM, he recalled the studio’s successful shift from trying to compete with the major studios on theatrical releases to instead focus on a newfangled product: DVD.

“We looked to technology as the answer, and right at that point the DVD business was beginning to take off,” he said. Thus, MGM made theatrical a “secondary business” and “built an operation that could squeeze more money out of DVD than everybody else.”

At Cinedigm, McGurk embraced new tech as well. After going through a transformation to a streaming company a few years ago, executives began to see that competing in the subscription business might be a “losing proposition for us” with the big players in the market.

“We began looking at the growth of connected TVs and the enhanced lean-back experience,” he said. That shifted the thinking to the free ad-supported model that the company now champions.

“I think we launched our first FAST channel in 2018,” he said.

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Now, big players are getting into the ad-supported model, including Netflix, where executive Reed Hastings had always eschewed ads as hurting the streaming experience.

“He’s eating crow now,” McGurk joked. “But in the long haul, they’ll do just fine.”

Ad-supported streaming has a bright future, he said.

“It’s a given that the ad dollars flowing into the streaming business are going to escalate,” he noted.

Cinedigm plans to sidestep the big players.

“Our strategy is to let the big guys kill each other why we launch channels that are complementary,” he said, noting that the company has channels that are “very targeted at a very specific fan base,” such as the Bob Ross channel.

He sees coming consolidation among the big streamers.

“Those that have big debt loads and are thumbing their nose at the creative community … they’re not going to be around,” he said.

The days of just gathering loads of subscribers and pleasing Wall Street are ending, he said. Profitability and cash flow have become key.

“They look at it differently than they looked at it a year ago,” he said, noting “we were profitable last year.”

Engagement is also important so that streamers can serve up ads.

“We are trying to superserve these enthusiast fan bases,” McGurk said.

For instance, Cinedigm linked with Bloody Disgusting to beef up its horror content, with an accompanying podcast.

The Bob Ross channel, featuring the late painter, is the company’s most successful channel, he said, noting Ross is “like Mister Rogers for millennials and Gen Z.”

As part of Cinedigm’s exploration of AI, recommendation engines and other tech, the company is looking into creating a “deep fake” Bob Ross.

“We’ll see where it goes,” he said.

In addition to ad-supported models, international expansion is also a big opportunity for streamers as most countries outside the United States are behind. Cinedigm likes to partner with local operators to enter foreign markets, he said.

While the company has 46,000 indie titles in its library, on most titles, Cinedigm has just North American rights, so the company is trying to increase the percentage of worldwide rights in its library.

McGurk believes the future is bright for independent content creators. Previously, “You had a system that was controlled by six or seven major studios,” he noted. Now, there are “hundreds of opportunities to get access to eyeballs.”

In the next three to five years, he sees consolidation.

“You’ll probably lose two or three of the bigger streamers,” he said, adding there will be “more channels and fewer companies.”

Cinedigm’s Chris McGurk to Keynote OTT.X Fall Summit

Cinedigm chairman and CEO Chris McGurk will be the keynote speaker at the annual OTT.X Fall Summit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.

Chris McGurk

Activities for this year’s summit, produced by the trade organization, include two days of conference programming, multiple workshop and breakout tracks, research insights via the research roundup, exhibitor booths and tabletops, one-on-one pre-scheduled business meetings, networking breakfasts, lunches, and industry cocktail parties.

The event will feature more than 70 speakers discussing topics such as maximizing ad revenue for FAST channels, progress toward better search and discovery, distributing and windowing content across business models, globalization of content, metadata, and rights management. Panels include “Growing Your Footprint,” “Distributing and Windowing Content Across Business Models,” “Progress Toward Better Search and Discovery” and “Fast Track: Maximizing Ad Revenue.”

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Research institutions presenting their latest insights include Comscore, nScreenMedia, Omdia, Slalom, The NPD Group and Vorhaus Advisors

The OTT.X Fall Summit is free for all OTT.X members and $500 for non-members. Media Play News readers can register here for a 10% discount using promo code FS22MPN10.

OTT.X Fall Summit Returning to L.A.’s Skirball Center Aug. 31-Sept. 1

The annual OTT.X Fall Summit will return to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles Aug. 31-Sept. 1.

Activities for this year’s summit, produced by the trade organization, include two days of conference programming, multiple workshop and breakout tracks, research insights via the research roundup, exhibitor booths and tabletops, one-on-one pre-scheduled business meetings, networking breakfasts, lunches, and industry cocktail parties.

The event will feature more than 50 speakers discussing topics such as maximizing ad revenue for FAST channels, progress toward better search and discovery, distributing and windowing content across business models, globalization of content, metadata, and rights management.

There will be multiple breakout tracks at this year’s summit for new technologies, small business, FAST, content operations and more. There will also be a special panel of college students discussing their views of OTT and their own viewing habits.

Research institutions presenting their latest insights include Comscore, nScreenMedia, Omdia, Slalom, The NPD Group and Vorhaus Advisors

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“Our annual Fall Summit brings all sectors of the streaming industry together to examine our current state and pave the way forward for our rapidly changing business” Mark Fisher, president and CEO of OTT.X, said in a statement. “Key industry players, big and small, participate at the summit to exchange business and expertise and get ahead of the latest trends in streaming.”

The OTT.X Fall Summit is free for all OTT.X members and $500 for non-members. Media Play News readers can register here for a 10% discount using promo code FS22MPN10.

OTT.X Fall Summit Moving Outside, Requiring COVID-19 Vaccination or Test

The OTT.X. Fall Summit, taking place Sept. 1-2 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, will move all activities outside, and attendees will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of the start of the event.

Masks will not be required outdoors but will be required indoors at the Skirball Center during the event.

“We are aware of and have been closely monitoring the recent rise in COVID-19 cases,” read an email from OTT.X. “So, in an abundance of caution and for the safety of our attendees, we have decided to take the Fall Summit outdoors.

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“All conference components including the main conference program, workshops, tabletops, meetings, cocktail receptions and more will be held outdoors. We have also instated some protocols to follow to ensure the health and safety of the conference.”