OTT.X Slates Second Annual Leadership Summit for May 4

OTT.X, the trade association for streamers, on May 4 will hold its second annual OTT.X Leadership Development Foundation Summit.

The keynote speaker for the one-day virtual event is David Bishop, a home entertainment industry veteran who served as president for two major-studio home entertainment divisions, first MGM Home Video and then Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and is now a professional leadership coach and consultant.

Also on the agenda are panel discussions with industry leaders, executives and HR professionals about mentorship, career advancement, diversity and inclusion.

The OTT.X Leadership Development Foundation was formed by OTT.X to develop leaders in business and technical roles, especially focusing on diversity and inclusion.

See also: Q&A with David Bishop: From Studio Chief to Leadership Coach

“Through the LDF, leaders share their experience, knowledge and professional networks to support and inspire those growing into leadership roles,” said Eric Hanson, OTT.X EVP.

Kristen Bedno, VP of distribution and marketing at Vision Films and LDF Summit chair, said the foundation’s overall mission “is to grow and nurture the future leaders of our OTT industry, with a specific emphasis on providing women and underrepresented minorities tools to help them earn their seat at the decision-making table.”

Admission to the May 4 OTT.X Leadership Development Foundation Summit is free. Register here.

OTT.X Promotes Eric Hanson to EVP

Trade organization OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association or EMA) has promoted Eric Hanson to EVP.

Hanson was previously VP of industry leadership.

Since joining the Association in 2018, Hanson has managed all activities and advocacy related to the digital supply chain, and in 2020 took on responsibility for the newly launched OTT.X Leadership Development Foundation, hosting its first summit that summer. In that same year, Hanson led the OTT.X Channels CIG’s initiative to launch its first Impact Awards.  In addition, Hanson is now responsible for managing all OTT.X Common Interest Groups, committees and councils and their work groups, projects and initiatives.

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“I am pleased to recognize the tremendous job Eric has done over the past three years — both the impact he has made in our industry’s supply chain as well as the instrumental role he’s played in the transition from EMA to OTT.X, broadening and expanding the Association’s focus and its membership,” Mark Fisher, president and CEO of OTT.X, said in a statement.

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Prior to joining OTT.X, Hanson was engaged in strategic planning, operations and process engineering work with Microsoft, Intel and Amazon. He was responsible for building and leading the content operation function for Xbox Live Video, launching the Xbox HD movie and television download service in 2006, and for build-out and management of the content operations function for Intel’s OnCue service.

Hanson has been active in industry engagement and standards since 2001 when he led the planning process for Microsoft’s media standards engagement and later oversaw Xbox’s representation in industry and standards groups including the EMA’s digital supply chain initiatives.

Consumer Panel: Word of Mouth a Top Way to Get Content Recommendations

Despite the use of data and algorithms to attempt to serve up content consumers want, consumers on a panel said word of mouth was one of the top ways they find new stuff to watch.

The panel during OTT.X@Pipeline 2020 was moderated by Thomas K. Arnold, publisher and editorial director of Media Play News.

“Word of mouth among friends is big,” said Joe Carlson of Noblesville, Ind.

In addition to word of mouth, said Ava Payne, of Carlsbad, Calif., “if I want to watch a show I kind of spend time researching.” One of her favorites is Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” She said she looks at reviews, as well as filmmakers and cast.

Zachary Kennedy, of Long Beach, Calif., said, “I read the trades an unhealthy amount,” paying close attention to content from filmmakers and actors “that he loves.” He also relies on awards shows, having discovered “Mr. Robot” when Rami Malek received an Emmy award.

“I trust the Emmys more than Netflix,” he said.

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In the early days of the pandemic, Devonee Alfrey, of Carlsbad, Calif., admitted she got roped into the Netflix “Tiger King” series hype.

“I can’t believe I sat down and watched the whole thing,” she said, calling it “a great waste of time.”

“Now, I would never watch it because it’s just terrible,” she said.

Erik Parker, of Albuquerque, N.M., said he was inspired by news coverage to watch HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”

Parker saw on the news that, during the series, “he admitted to killing people on the show.”

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Despite the rise of ad-supported video-on-demand, most on the panel said they were happy to pay a price to avoid ads.

“With Hulu we do have the more expensive one,” said Alfrey. “I don’t like commercials.”

Kennedy, too, said he pays more for Hulu with no ads.

Still, some said it depended on the content whether they’d put up with ads.

Carlson doesn’t like ads, but he does watch AVOD service Pluto TV: “They have some weird stuff on there.”

Parker likes to go ad-free with particularly engrossing content, but “if it’s just a cooking show, I wouldn’t mind.”

Kennedy said he likes AVOD service Tubi: “They have interesting stuff on there that isn’t available elsewhere.”

Still, he pointed out a big weakness with streaming ads — that they are often repeated too much.

Parker agreed.

“Last time I was paying for the ad-supported version of Hulu, every single ad break would be the same four ads,” he said. “That was very frustrating to sit through.”

Netflix, Redbox Veteran Mitch Lowe Says Discovery Is Biggest Challenge in New Entertainment Landscape

Discovery is the biggest challenge facing the new entertainment landscape of endless choice, said Netflix co-founding executive and former Redbox president Mitch Lowe.

“I think if anybody can figure out how to solve this problem for big segments of the population, it’s a real big opportunity in the business, and no one’s doing it,” he said during a keynote presentation for the OTT.X@Pipeline 2020 online conference Dec. 9.

“On one side, people say they want all the choices in the world, but on the other they go, ‘But I don’t want to spend time wading through them,’” he noted. “[At kiosk rental company Redbox] we found that when we created that light box, that has I think 66 box arts on it, that was the maximum people could go through. Anything more and anything less was counterproductive and in fact constrained consumption.”

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He also pointed out limitations of computer algorithms in helping consumers find what they want to watch, noting one algorithm he remembered that recommended that folks who watched Willy Wonka would like to watch The Shining.

Discovery is key because “people don’t want to work hard to find something good, but they also don’t want to spend their time watching something that they end up turning off,” he said.

Recalling his early days as a video store chain owner and president of OTT.X’s predecessor the Video Software Dealers Association, Lowe said his experience talking with customers informed his later, groundbreaking career path.

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“What I learned one on one with customers was how they think about entertainment,” he said.

In fact, he noted, he met Netflix founder Marc Randolph at a video convention.

“If you look at my career at Netflix, I was really the video guy,” he said. “I was the guy who knew the entertainment industry.”

In a callout to the video store industry veterans at the online conference, he said, “It’s really wonderful to be back with so many familiar people. I think this is kind of a little bit of a homecoming.”

Asked about Warner’s recent decision to send new releases to its streaming service HBO Max concurrent with theatrical release, Lowe bemoaned the potential damage to the theater business.

“I absolutely love the experience in movie theaters,” said Lowe, who was also at one time CEO of MoviePass, a now-defunct theater ticket subscription service.

He noted the importance of a shared experience in theaters, where the audience can jump in tandem at a horror film or laugh together at a comedy.

He touted the subscription model for theaters, which some chains such as AMC have instituted.

“In the end, the entity or the business that has that one to one relationship with the consumer is the real winner,” he said, and that’s “why companies like AMC did not like companies like MoviePass getting between them and their customer.”

OTT.X Trade Group Expands Board of Directors With Two New Members

The OTT.X trade group Oct. 30 announced the appointment of two additional board directors.

They are TwentyOne14 Media, represented by Quincy Newell, founder and CEO, and VIX Inc., represented by Richard Hull, head of streaming platforms and chief strategy officer. The board of directors of OTT.X, which represents the streaming sector of the home entertainment industry, now has 16 members, including board chair Cameron Douglas of Fandango, vice chair Suyin Lim of Sony Interactive Entertainment, and Pedro Gutierrez Jr. of Microsoft.

These appointments are effective immediately. Directors will serve until the annual OTT.X organizational board meeting in mid-2024.

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“These new companies on the OTT.X board of directors will add to its effectiveness,” said Mark Fisher, OTT.X president and CEO. “Each director brings an important perspective, and their wealth of experience will benefit the membership as OTT.X continues to be the forum for the OTT industry.”

TwentyOne14 Media is a content distribution, production and strategic advisory company for the media and entertainment industries.

VIX Inc. is a Miami-based streaming service that considers itself a hub for Spanish-language movies, TV shows and other filmed content aimed at Latinos.

OTT.X Trade Group Announces ‘Impact Awards’ for Streamers

OTT.X, the industry trade association for streaming, on Oct. 13 opened submissions to the inaugural OTT.X Impact Awards.

The OTT.X Impact Awards is a program created by and for the over-the-top streaming industry to recognize creators, producers, platforms and channels who are using the power of streaming video to make a positive impact, the trade association says.

Submissions are being accepted at ottximpactawards.org through Nov. 9, 2020, for audio-visual works that premiere and are distributed through OTT channels and platforms. Nominations will be announced Nov. 16 and awards will be made at the annual OTT.X @Digital Media Pipeline on Dec. 10, 2020.

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.”

NPD: Online Video Consumption, Engagement Leapt in Q2

Free, transactional and subscription video all grew significantly in the second quarter versus the same period in 2019, according to NPD Group data.

The market experienced “growth across just about every way you can consume video,” said NPD’s John Buffone during the online OTT.X summit Sept. 1. (The summit continues today; to register click here.)

Transactional VOD alone jumped by 57%, while subscription VOD grew 42%, Buffone reported.

Sales of TVs and streaming players (“largely driven by Roku”) also grew by double digits during stay-at-home orders, he said, while sales of DVD and Blu-ray players also saw a jump in sales “for a while.”

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The most frequently used services in April 2020 (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video) are gaining the most ground, NPD research found. Among that group, 87% of Netflix subs said they use the service at least weekly, with 80% saying the same of Hulu, 70% of Disney+, 68% of CBS All Access and 64% of Amazon Prime. During April, 48% of Netflix subscribers said they were using it more often, compared to 57% of Disney+ subs, 42% of Hulu subs, 40% of CBS All Access subs and 39% of Amazon Prime subs.

A third of SVOD users said that exclusive content made them subscribe or watch more because content was not available any other way, he noted.

OTT.X to Host Career and Leadership Development Summit

OTT.X on July 28 announced plans to host its first-ever Career and Leadership Development Summit on Aug. 12, using an online format similar to its popular “OTT.X Online Live” sessions.

The summit will feature three components, including a conference session with career and leadership development presentations delivered by successful executives; a series of informal discussion sessions between industry executives and conference attendees; and a “happy-hour” networking session.

Steve Nickerson

Featured speakers include industry veterans Steve Nickerson, formerly of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Toshiba Corp.; Jason Peterson, chairman of the GoDigital Media Group; and Michele Edelman, head of growth with Premiere Video.

Other speakers include Teresa Philips, CEO of Spherex; Narendra Reddy, EVP and GM of The Africa Channel; and Paulette Pantoja, CEO of Blu; Jill Allen, SVP of digital distribution for Sony Pictures; Beth Anderson, AVP of digital strategy and business development for BBC Studios; Allison Martin, senior manager of content planning for BBC Studios; Kristen Bedno, director of domestic distribution and marketing for Vision Films; Lise Romanoff, managing director and CEO of worldwide distribution for Vision Films; and Lonni Silverman, director of client services, for Sony Pictures.

“The goal of the summit is to help prepare an inclusive population of professionals interested in advancing in business and technical roles in the entertainment industry and to provide opportunities to develop their leadership skills, contacts and confidence,” said Mark Fisher, OTT.X president and CEO. “Supporting the growth and professional development of future leaders and the diversity of those holding leadership positions is vital to our industry’s continued success. Our first Leadership Development Summit will provide a platform for leaders to share valuable insights and for a diverse community of professionals of all levels to connect and learn from each other.”

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Jason Peterson

Fisher also will speak, as will Eric Hanson, OTT.X’s VP of industry leadership.

To create an inclusive and diverse community of participants, women and minorities are especially encouraged to register and attend, Fisher said. The morning conference portion of the event is free for all OTT industry professionals. Afternoon discussion and networking sessions are free to any employee of an OTT.X member organization.

The conference is being hosted by OTT.X’s Leadership Development Foundation (LDF), an organization dedicated to the vision of a diverse and inclusive business and technical workforce in the OTT video entertainment industry, supported by a broad range of career and leadership development opportunities. The LDF is overseen by a steering committee with representatives from content providers, channels, retailers and service providers in the OTT video industry.

For more information and to register visit the OTT.X website.

OTT.X Announces 2020 Heroes

OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association) is honoring industry “heroes.”

Heroes are team members at digital platforms, channels and retailers; at content companies; and at service and technology companies that facilitate the flow of content to the consumer, “playing an important role in providing the needed entertainment to keep everyone sane during these stay-at-home months,” according to OTT.X.

The individuals are being recognized based on their contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their contributions are being honored at the OTT.X Online Live conference July 22.

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Honorees are:

  • Abel Franklin, director of digital media, Maverick Entertainment
  • Aimee Rogers, manager, FP&A and sales analyst, Cinedigm
  • Alexandra Vigilione, director, product marketing, Cinedigm
  • Brenda Garcia-Ortiz, SVP, worldwide sales, Maverick Entertainment
  • Chris Pak, SVP, FP&A and business development, Cinedigm
  • Dan Sulzer, director, financial operations and royalties, Cinedigm
  • Danny Arroyo, content prep and asset management manager, BLU
  • David Johnson, packaging manager, BLU
  • David Millbern, VP, development and research, Here Media
  • Dylan Canfield, manager, content operations, Cinedigm
  • Erick Varillas, head of production, mitú
  • Evan Liss, digital media specialist, Maverick Entertainment
  • Ian Donnelly, manager, ad operations, Cinedigm
  • Jessica Ruvalcaba, director of content, mitú
  • Katherine Pond, VP, business development, Vizio
  • Kelcie Schwab, linear channel programming and digital coordinator, Maverick Entertainment
  • Lonni Silverman, director, client services, Sony Pictures
  • Michael Thexton, executive director, technology, BLU
  • Natalie Martin, VP, client services, Premiere Digital
  • Sarah Dixon, VP, client services, BLU
  • Tony Huidor, SVP, products and technology, and GM, networks, Cinedigm
  • Zack Coffman, CEO and founder, One World Digital

 

“We are proud to have individuals like this year’s heroes working within our industry,” said OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher in a statement. “Their contributions to their companies parlayed into contributions to every stay-at-home’s ability to cope through good quality entertainment delivered into their homes through the Internet.”