Report: OTT Video Platforms Upping Original Content to Bridge Netflix Divide

With Netflix reportedly spending upwards of $13 billion on original content in 2018, over-the-top video competitors Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, Apple and Google-owned YouTube are ratcheting up their content spend in an effort to remain competitive.

Netflix has greenlighted more than 250 original titles – double the output from two years ago as Disney begins to pull original movies from the service for its own OTT ventures, according to Ampere Analysis.

The London-based research firm said Apple, YouTube Premium (formerly You Tube Red) and Facebook have greenlighted 65 combined original productions, with YouTube slating 50 original shows by the end of 2019.

Upstart OTT video services from Disney, Britbox and WarnerMedia’s DC Universe have disclosed original content forays – including 19 titles from Disney that include spin-offs High School Musical and Monsters Inc.

AMC Networks’ Acorn TV and rival BritBox are in a race to stream original British fare to American viewers. Acorn TV just announced a new co-production for “Blood,” a six-part thriller. Other titles include Agatha Christie’s “The Witness for the Prosecution,” “Love, Lies & Records,” and “Striking Out.” It also has exclusive rights to season two of “Jack Irish.”

In April, the company also acquired exclusive digital and home video rights from DCD Rights for Season 2 of the critically-acclaimed mystery series “Jack Irish.”

BritBox, the OTT video service from BBC Studios and ITV, is developing “Dark Heart,” “Three Girls,” “Bancroft,” daytime drama, “Shakespeare & Hathaway,” “Hold the Sunset,” and “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco.”

Sony Crackle, the ad-supported OTT video service, original content includes comedy “Accident Park,” and dramas “The Butcher,” “CAPO,” “The Row,” “RPM,” “The Transplant,” and “Tribes,” among others.

“With so much new content being produced across a range of subscription services, [Apple, Facebook, YouTube] are under increasing pressure to create content that not only attracts new audiences but also prevents existing consumers from churning,” analyst Richard Cooper said in a statement.

Specifically, Cooper said OTT players are increasingly opting for niche titles in an effort to differentiate themselves across different genres. Indeed, comedy is the most greenlighted genre, followed by science fiction.

Apple TV’s high-profile content includes a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s anthology series “Amazing Stories,” in addition to “Are You Sleeping,” Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”); psychological thriller “Calls”; musical comedy “Central Park,” and “Dickinson,” starring Oscar-winner Hailee Steinfeld.

Ampere said Amazon is focusing on drama for 29% of its originals compared to 17% for Netflix. It said YouTube and Facebook have upped scripted content, with YouTube focusing on youth-orientated comedy.

“They are shying away from reality content with just 6% of new commissions compared to 32% of their current catalog,” Cooper said.

 

Roku Expands Roku Channel, Home Screen Capabilities; Reports Strong Financials

Roku Aug. 8 announced the launch of two new ways for consumers to find free streaming entertainment.

With the launch of the Roku Channel for the web in the United States, consumers now have free access via PCs, mobile phones and tablets, according to a company press release. Consumers can visit TheRokuChannel.com to begin streaming once they log in or create a Roku account.

Also, Roku is beginning the roll out of a navigation change to the Roku home screen called “Featured Free,” which provides users with direct links to free content from The Roku Channel, ABC, The CW, CW Seed, FOX, Freeform, Pluto TV, Sony Crackle, Tubi and more. Featured Free includes the in-season episodes of top network shows, full past-season catch-ups and more.

“We want to be the best destination for free streaming entertainment. We’re delighted to deliver even more value to our customers without subscriptions, complicated logins or fees,” said Rob Holmes, Roku’s VP of programming and engagement, in a statement. “By expanding The Roku Channel to the Web, we’re broadening the access points to high-quality, free streaming entertainment. With Featured Free, we’re making it easy for our customers to see the great, free content already available on the Roku platform in one place, while creating value for our content providers by connecting them with Roku’s growing audience.”

Launched last fall, The Roku Channel is currently the No. 5 most popular streaming channel on the Roku platform based on active account reach, according to the press release.

In addition, The Roku Channel app has begun rolling out to select Samsung smart TVs.

Featured Free is available domestically through a phased software roll out over the coming weeks.

Roku also reported its financial results for the second quarter. “Q2 revenue and gross profit came in ahead of our outlook, driven by strong Platform revenue growth and player demand that exceeded our expectations,” read a company letter to shareholders. “Revenue grew 57% year-over-year, our fastest growth rate since Q4 2013. Gross profit, a key performance metric, grew 107% and gross margin expanded 12 percentage points to 50% compared to the prior year period.”

In other Roku news, studio Gunpowder & Sky announced  DUSTx, a free destination for science fiction content that will be available on all Roku devices starting Aug. 18.

It kicks off with more than 20 films, 30 series and 200 of short films. Titles include Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure; Paycheck, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story and starring Ben Affleck; A Scanner Darkly, the 2006 animated sci-fi thriller directed by Richard Linklater, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, and starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder; “Beyond Westworld,” the 1980 television series based on the Michael Crichton helmed film Westworld; and “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the 1988 cult-favorite comedy series created by Joel Hodgson.

A division of Gunpowder & Sky, DUST operates channels that are available on multiple platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, VRV, Pluto and Xumo. Through its partnership with USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, DUST recently premiered the George Lucas 1967 short film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, followed by legendary filmmaker Robert Zemeckis’ 1972 student short film The Lift.

“Since DUST’s inception, our mission has been to build a contemporary sci-fi brand,” said Floris Bauer, co-founder and president, Gunpowder & Sky, in a statement. “Today, DUST has a thriving community of more than 2 million fans, showcasing varying content from up-and-coming creators to masters like George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis. We are also producing and releasing original feature films and TV series under the DUST label. Having our own premium channel, and launching DUSTx, marks a natural and significant next step in the evolution of the brand.”