Fandango’s Cameron Douglas Re-elected Chairman of OTT.X

Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango, has been re-elected chairman of OTT.X, the national trade association for the OTT/streaming industry. This will be his third term as chair.

Joining Douglas as officers are vice chair Erick Opeka, president and chief strategy officer of Cinedigm; treasurer Michele Edelman, head of growth at Premiere Digital Services; and secretary Rich Hull, president of Vix (a Univision Company). Jason Peterson, CEO of GoDigital Media Group; Katherine Pond, VP of business development for VIZIO; and OTT.X past vice-chair Suyin Lim, senior director of content acquisitions and partnerships for Sony Playstation, will also serve on the association’s executive committee as at-large members.

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Other members of the board are Jill Allen, SVP of digital distribution for Sony Pictures Entertainment; Elissa Brown, VP of finance and operations for Movies Anywhere; Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media; Jude Fitzmorris, principal product manager of Amazon; Marty Graham, SVP of Comscore; Bill Kotzman, partner product manager of TV/Film for YouTube/Google; Anthony Layser, VP of content partnerships and programming at Xumo; Silvana Moretti, VP of partner marketing and strategy at CuriosityStream; Quincy Newell, CEO of TwentyOne 14 Media; and Gordon Prince, SVP of operations and technology at Vubiquity.

“I look forward to another two years leading this engaged and vibrant group of Directors,” Douglas said in a statement. “OTT.X connects and nurtures our ecosystem, enabling innovation, collaboration and competition. I am proud to devote my time to an organization so important to our industry.”

“The companies on the OTT.X Board of Directors represent the spectrum of our industy,” Mark Fisher, OTT.X president and CEO, said in a statement. “They range from smaller independent studios to multi-billion dollar retailers, and include channels, networks, platforms, digital retailers, content providers, and service and technology providers. This breadth enables the Board to guide our path to stability and growth and ultimately the best support and services for our members.”

OTT.X is the 501(c)6 not-for-profit trade association that has been supporting the home entertainment industry for more than 30 years.  OTT.X members form a global community of organizations throughout the OTT streaming industry and include content, service and technology providers, channels, platforms and retailers.  OTT.X (formerly EMA — the Entertainment Merchants Association) was established in April 2006 through the merger of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), founded in 1981, and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA), organized in 1997.

OTT.X Presenters: Online Viewing Growing and Services Proliferating in COVID Era

COVID accelerated online viewing, viewing habits are undergoing a big transformation, and the proliferation of OTT services has prompted the need to aggregate and partner, research presenters said at the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles Sept. 1.

“In December 2019, before the viewing uptake [with stay-at-home orders] we saw about 68 million OTT households watching about 6.4 billion hours of OTT content in a month,” noted Ray Yinger, director of marketing solutions at Comscore. “By June of 2021, this had risen to about 82 million active OTT homes watching about 8.3 billion hours of content through OTT. Though we see a bit of a dropoff after January of 2021 as some of the states began opening up and we began leaving our homes a little bit, the number of households who engage in various OTT services stays very strong. As the data show, the overall appetite for OTT content accelerated through the pandemic. More households than ever before now engage in OTT services.”

With the increased viewership also came an explosion of OTT services.

“As of the first half of 2021, there are globally 5,000 active SVOD services, more than 2,000 active AVOD and free TV services and over 1,200 transactional services available to the global consumer,” noted Marija Masalskis, advertising research lead at Omdia.

Consumers are finding services on smart TVs and other aggregation players.

“When we asked consumers how they found something to watch, flicking through channels and services came up on top, particularly among the U.S. consumers,” Masalskis said. “So what this really means is that you need to be available on these platforms that enable this new channel flicking, enable seamless discovery of content, enable consumers to just lean back and scroll through and find your service.”

Other partnerships are key, as they offer free-with-sub bundles and prime placement.

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“Partnerships with global telcos and digital aggregators are essential, not just for SVOD companies to subsidize their offering but also to AVOD companies, particularly as you see the emergence of connected TV advertising,” she said. “In fact, we expect TV to account for 25% of all online video spend by 2025. And we do expect that partnerships and alliances will be absolutely necessary to reach the scale that will enable AVOD services to compete.”

Another key is consumers’ perception of value. Consumers are willing to pay less and wait through ads, and the higher-priced premium model isn’t necessarily most profitable for services such as Hulu.

“The user that pays a smaller subscription price but is exposed to advertising brings in more revenue than the user that is on their most premium tier opting to pay more to not see ads,” Masalskis said, adding “they perceive that they are getting a premium service for a discount.”

Also, binge viewing may be on the wane as a way to attract subscribers.

“What we started to see recently is that acquisition shows are starting to have a weekly release and retention shows are being dropped as a binge,” said Renee Engelhardt, global director of partner insights at Parrot Analytics.

Streaming services aren’t the only beneficiaries of the new order.

Nelson Granados, professor of information systems and technology management, Pepperdine University, noted that in addition to video streaming, digital video rental is holding its ground and digital sellthrough is continuing to grow (8% from 2016 to 2021).

“There is a market for electronic sellthrough and it’s growing, so there is a market for downloading content and it’s steadily growing unaffected by SVOD,” he said.

OTT.X Fall Summit — Finally, an In-Person Industry Event!

Trade association OTT.X held its Fall Summit in person at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles Sept. 1 and 2, holding all events outside in light of the still-surging coronavirus Delta variant. A much bigger-than-expected turnout surprised even association chief Mark Fisher, as representatives of such companies as Redbox, Xumo, Whip Media, Cinedigm, the MVD Entertainment Group, Breaking Glass Pictures, Fandango, The Africa Channel, Parrot Analytics and others jumped at the chance to once again meet and network in person at one of the first major live home entertainment industry events in more than a year.

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.

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.”

OTT.X Promoting Diversity, Equality and Inclusion With Upcoming Webinars, Other Initiatives

The nonprofit industry association OTT.X has created a Call for Change group and has slated two webinars in September as part of an ongoing initiative to promote diversity, equality and inclusion in the OTT industry.

The upcoming webinars are “Inherent Bias in AI/Machine Learning,” presented by Slalom, and “A Look at How Representation Drives Viewership,” presented by Samba.

On Feb. 18, OTT.X hosted an online dialogue about social justice, racism exclusion and allyship within the industry. The objectives of the initial session were to identify the changes the industry can make today and those it can work toward impacting in the future. Participants defined these issues and opportunities:

a) The industry and the consumer will benefit from more diverse participation. Minority-owned businesses, and socially messaged content, can benefit from financing opportunities and distribution exposure.

b) Management ranks and senior leadership positions in the industry seem to be under-representative of the diversity of the population.

c) The industry has a unique opportunity to communicate to, and impact, the general public by the nature of its business.

“OTT.X recognizes that it can effectively do its part and impact and affect change within the OTT community of companies and individuals, such as within our industry’s workforce,” said OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher. “We can help by supporting the growth of minority-owned businesses and by holding our community accountable for its commitments regarding diversity, equality and inclusion.”

Industry executives across small and large companies and of diverse ethnicities are currently participating in OTT.X Call for Change.

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In November 2020, OTT.X conducted its first special webinar on inclusion, “A Path Toward Inclusion in the Workplace.”

In March, OTT.X invited its members to an online table reading of Polar Bears, Black Boys and Prairie Fringed Orchids, a play about environmental justice and police violence written by former OTT.X team member Vincent Durham, followed by a Zoom discussion among viewers with Durham.

OTT.X is also coordinating the development of a database of potential conference speakers and panelists from under-represented groups in the OTT ecosystem. OTT.X will utilize this list to ensure that it sets the example of diversity and inclusion with the speaker rosters at its own conferences and events, and will also make this list available to other organizations and conference operators.

Future projects being discussed include assisting minority companies in finding funding, connecting content creators with interested parties to create socially relevant content, working alongside a research partner to create an industry accountability report (examining follow-through related to commitments companies made after the George Floyd murder), and providing public service spots to run on AVOD channels in unsold slots.

Participation in the OTT.X Call for Change is not limited to OTT.X members.  All members of the OTT community are invited to engage. To learn more or get involved, email Fisher at mfisher@ottx.org.

Second OTT.X Impact Awards Now Accepting Submissions for Socially Important Streaming Content

OTT.X, the industry trade association for OTT streamers, has opened submissions for the second annual 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. Submissions are being accepted through Sept. 30 for audio/visual works that premiered, and are distributed, through OTT channels and platforms. Nominations will be announced Nov. 9 and winners will be named at the Impact Awards Ceremony to be held on Dec. 9, 2021.

“Our industry has the attention of millions of people globally,” said Mark Fisher, OTT.X president and CEO. “The stories we tell, messages we send and truths we reveal have the power to change the world. Using this power to promote understanding, acceptance, equality and to inspire positive action is a responsibility that OTT.X and our membership are committed to.”

Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media and OTT.X Impact Awards Steering Committee chair, added, “As streaming transforms the entertainment landscape, it also democratizes video content distribution. This allows for more programs that focus on social justice, equality, kindness and compassion.”

The inaugural OTT.X Impact Awards was held virtually on Dec. 10, 2020, and recognized three winners, including Here Media’s “Girls Voices Now — ‘Not Quite Here, Not Quite There’” for Impactful Short Title; Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment’s “Going From Broke” for Impactful Series; and Passion River’s Intelligent Lives for Impactful Full-Length Feature.

Content must premiere on an OTT channel or platform, maintain exclusive
availability via OTT distribution and be available in the United States for three weeks. The qualifying period for the 2021 awards is the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2021.

For more information as well as content submissions, visit the OTT.X Impact Awards site here.

OTT.X to Resume In-Person Events

The industry organization OTT.X has announced it will return to in-person events, starting with a Los Angeles area Salon on July 22.

“It’s hard to believe that it has been 14 months since the last in-person OTT.X event, our NYC Roundtables in March of 2020, days before the city shut down,” reads a message to members. “We are excited to announce that in-person events at OTT.X are coming back.”

The 2021 OTT.X Summit: Conference and Market will also be in-person Sept. 1-2 at the Skirball Institute in Los Angeles, and the 13th annual OTT.X@Pipeline will also be held in-person at the Skirball on Dec. 8, the organization announced.

“We’ve learned a lot during the Pandemic about the value of virtual events, and we’ve developed a clear strategy for our future based on our learnings,” reads the message. “Over the past year, we’ve created networking opportunities and business meetings within virtual events — but these aren’t nearly effective as being in-person. On the other hand, offering panels and presentations virtually, both live and on-demand, have proven to be a value not only to our traditional attendees, but to a much broader audience unable to participate in person.”

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Thus, OTT.X will not abandon virtual presentations. It will employ a hybrid strategy. Some events will be completely virtual, some events will be completely in-person, and some events, such as the Summit, may have some features of both (such as broadcasting the panels and presentations).

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.