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.”

OTT.X Adds Six Members

OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association) has added six members: Breaking Glass Pictures, Here Media, MVD Entertainment Group, MyBundle.tv, Vizio and Xumo.

Founded in 2009 by industry veterans Rich Wolff and Richard Ross, along with Susan Helfrich, Breaking Glass Pictures is a film distribution and media company that focuses on releasing independent films, inclusive of all genres, from around the world. In addition to theatrical, DVD, digital, and VOD releases in North America, Breaking Glass functions as an international sales agent. With an average release slate of 45 to 50 titles a year, and a catalog of more than 400 titles, Breaking Glass also represents other studio’s catalogs for platform placement as aggregators.

Here Media operates media brands serving the LGBT market across the print, television, digital, social media, tablet, events and mobile.

MVD offers a catalog of audio and visual digital rights and has direct relationships with the major digital and VOD platforms.

MyBundle.TV guides consumers through the cord-cutting process by recommending customized bundles of streaming services based on a user’s set of circumstances. At the same time, MyBundle.TV provides OTT services a platform to reach their potential consumers.

Vizio is an American-based TV brand and sound bar company formed in 2002 offering among its products smart TVs.

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Xumo, an ad-supported streaming service, offers more than 190 digital channels of programming across 12 genres in 45 million U.S. households via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, web and streaming boxes.

Vevo Music Video Catalog Added to AVOD Service Xumo

Music video platform Vevo has added its catalog of music videos to AVOD service Xumo.

Xumo’s ad-supported service is available in 45 million U.S. households via smart TVs, mobile, Web and streaming boxes. It offers 190-plus linear and on-demand channels.

“We are very excited to partner with Xumo as we continue to expand our linear-programmed lean-back music television experiences to our audience,” Rob Christensen, VP of sales strategy and partnerships for Vevo, said in a statement. “Tapping into Xumo’s impressive growth and significant distribution scale is a big step towards helping Vevo achieve its goal of bringing music videos back into the living room.”

“The new Vevo channel on Xumo is a welcomed addition to our service with its incredible range of premium music-related content,” Stefan Van Engen, Xumo SVP of content partnerships and programming, said in a statement. “Vevo’s curated programming will appeal to the largest possible cross section of our viewers who turn to XUMO on a daily basis for the best content available. They will be delighted to discover Vevo.”

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Streaming Services Have Home Field Advantage

With the increased calls for Americans to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, many see home entertainment — especially streaming services — as a big winner. Indeed, consumers confined to their homes may give the industry a boost, but not all streaming services are equal.

Netflix, which has pretty much maxed out its U.S. subscriptions, may not necessarily benefit monetarily, as subs pay a monthly fee that doesn’t go up with increased viewing.

New and pending SVOD services, however, seem to be poised to benefit. Disney+ is approaching 30 million domestic subs, according to exiting CEO Bob Iger, and its growth may help off-set the hit taken by the Walt Disney Co., headed up by new CEO (and home entertainment alum) Bob Chapek, as its theme parks close during outbreaks. The service will launch in Europe March 24, where social distancing is taking hold as well, perhaps giving Disney+ a boost abroad. Indeed, the studio has ramped up SVOD efforts domestically and internationally. Chapek announced that hit Frozen II would be available on the service March 15 in the United States and March 17 in certain international territories — three months early. Ahead of the impending launch in Europe, the media giant has rolled out promotional offers with mobile carriers T-Mobile and O2 in Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Meanwhile, HBO Max, coming in May, and Comcast’s Peacock, which launches April 15, it seems couldn’t have picked a better time to enter people’s homes.

Another big winner may be free ad-supported services such as ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV, Xumo (newly aquired by Comcast) and Tubi (rumored to be a Fox acquisition target). In-home captive audiences will be a ripe target for their advertising and easily accessible free VOD content.

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While industry events, theme parks and productions may be taking a hit, home entertainment seems poised to increase its audience.

beIN Sports Xtra Launches on Xumo and Roku Platforms Across Canada

beIN Sports March 9 announced that its ad-supported English-language live sports streaming channel is joining Comcast-owned AVOD platform Xumo and The Roku Channel in Canada.

beIN Sports will offer analysis from Canadian native and five-time Saskatchewan Soccer Association Player of the Year Kaylyn Kyle. The former Canadian Women’s National Team player and Olympic medalist was recently on the ground in Madrid, Spain, covering LaLiga’s El Claśico match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

beIN Sports is also streaming live coverage of ongoing LaLiga, Ligue 1, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, and Turkish SüperLig soccer.

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“It’s easier than ever to catch [soccer] action in real-time,” Antonio Briceño, deputy managing director for beIN Sports in North America, said in a statement.

Launched in 2012, beIN Sports also features wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA), skiing and handball, among others.

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Comcast Acquires AVOD Service Xumo

Comcast Feb. 25 announced the acquisition of Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service based in Irvine, Calif.

Xumo will continue to operate as an independent business inside of Comcast Cable.

Xumo offers free, live and on-demand streaming entertainment, news, sports and more, organized in a channel guide, and features more than 190 genre-grouped channels. Xumo’s multi-screen network of distribution partners include major smart television brands, the Comcast release noted.

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“The talented team at Xumo has created a successful, growing, and best-in-class set of streaming capabilities,” read the release. “We are excited for this team to join Comcast and look forward to supporting them as they continue to innovate and develop their offerings.”

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

 

Xumo AVOD Service Coming to Sony and Panasonic Smart TVs

AVOD service Xumo will add Sony and Panasonic smart TVs to its existing distribution network with LG in 2020.

Both Sony and Panasonic smart TVs will have integration of Xumo’s free streaming service delivering both over-the-air and over-the-top channels to global audiences. End users press the channel up and down or guide button on the TV remote control to watch Xumo channels.

“As the leading free OTT service in the U.S., Xumo is eager to join forces and work toward providing audiences their favorite streaming or local, over-the-air channels through one intuitive TV experience,” said Xumo CEO Colin Petrie-Norris in a statement. “It remains our mission to work with global TV manufacturers, content and advertiser partners to deliver a quality experience for end users; one that can easily become a daily routine.”

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“As a creative entertainment company with a solid foundation of technology, Sony is pleased to partner with Xumo to bring this streaming experience direct to consumers in a truly seamless manner by allowing viewers to access a variety of free channels on our Bravia TVs,” said Nick Colsey, VP, business development, Sony Electronics, in a statement.

“Xumo delivers a best-in-class experience for streaming channels,” said Yasunari Anan, director of Panasonic’s Smart Life Network business division in a statement. “We are happy to partner with them to provide more choice of viewing content for our discerning viewers.”

The expansion comes on the heels of the launch of Xumo-powered channels on LG smart TVs in the United States. LG now offers 190-plus channels to U.S. audiences across 12 programming genres and thousands of free movie titles, according to Xumo.

“Our success in the U.S. has proven that free streaming TV is on the rise and, with the right global partner, we will continue to ensure viewers are delivered an optimized, enjoyable entertainment experience,” said Sangwoo Lee, SVP of home entertainment content  and service business division at LG Electronics.

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Xumo is available in 45 million U.S. households via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, web and streaming boxes, delivering digital channels through content partnerships with media providers such as ABC News Live, PeopleTV, NBC News, Food52, and HISTORY, as well PGA TOUR, and many others.

AVOD Service Xumo Renews Deal With LG

AVOD service Xumo has renewed its relationship with LG Electronics to continue powering the Channel Plus service for LG smart TVs.

Currently available in 45 million U.S. households, the service has been rebranded LG Channels for 2019 LG webOS smart TVs in the United States, Canada and internationally. LG Channels, powered by Xumo, has also rolled out in seven additional countries — France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and most recently, Mexico.

For the past three years, Xumo has powered LG Electronics’ premium Channel Plus service, available within the traditional programming guide of LG smart TVs that gives viewers access to more than 180 free, curated channels across 12 programming genres from broadcast TV to streaming channels and thousands of free movie titles. Total hours streamed continues to increase by a minimum of 10% month over month, according to Xumo.

“Our initial and ongoing partnership with LG has laid the groundwork for Xumo to deliver what has become the next generation of television programming,” noted Xumo CEO Colin Petrie-Norris in a statement. “We’re thrilled to continue powering a wealth of streaming content to not only existing Channel Plus viewers in the U.S. and Canada, but to consumers the world over who demand wide choice and premium, live and on-demand streaming entertainment.”

LG Channels has launched for free internationally with 50-plus of Xumo’s top digital channels, such as Eleven Sports, eSports Revolution, FailArmy, Football Daily, Motorvision, NowThis, Stingray Ambiance and This Old House, with more to be launched each subsequent month, according to Xumo. Localized streaming channels will also be added to the lineup for each specific country as the service expands.

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Channel Plus is available on webOS-enabled 2012-2018 LG smart TVs and is also now available on 2019 LG smart TVs as LG Channels. The full channel lineup can be viewed here.

Xumo offers more than 180 digital channels of free premium programming across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment, live events, comedy, lifestyle and movies. The ad-supported service is available in 45 million U.S. households via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, web and streaming boxes. Xumo delivers its over-the-top video-on-demand and live linear digital channels through content partnerships with media providers such as CBSN, PeopleTV, NBC News, Food52 and HISTORY, as well PGA TOUR and many others.

Xumo AVOD Service Launches on Comcast Xfinity X1 and Android TV

Streaming TV company Xumo announced its ad-supported TV service, which delivers live and on-demand TV and movie channels, is now available over the internet on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 platform.

It is Xumo’s largest pay-TV partnership to date, according to the company.

Xumo is also now available on more than 10 Android TV-supported devices, including select Sony smart TV models, Nvidia Shield and Xiaomi Mi Box.

The new partnerships dramatically increase the availability of Xumo in the United States to more than 30 different devices, according to the company.

X1 customers are now able to access Xumo by saying “Xumo” into their X1 voice remote or by finding it within the apps section. Xumo continues to be available on Xfinity Flex.

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“We’re focused on bringing our service to the most popular devices available and have expanded to a record number of new platforms this year alone,” noted Xumo’s SVP of product Chris Hall in a statement. “Partners like Comcast are embracing FAST apps like Xumo that provide easy access to a wealth of additional top-quality programming. Providing expanded live channel options for customers on Xfinity X1 and Flex, Android TV and our entire app portfolio is core to our mission to provide the best free entertainment experience available in streaming today.”

In addition to prioritizing as-it-happens news and events, Xumo offers a library of on-demand content, including thousands of movie titles; programming spanning several genres, including series such as “This Old House” and “Divorce Court”; and full seasons of shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Forensic Files” from FilmRise and “Nurses Who Kill,” “Wonderland” and animated series “Black Jack” from AMMO.

EMA to Present OTT Conference July 16-17

The Entertainment Merchants Association will present an over-the-top channels market and conference “OTT_X” July 16-17 at the Universal Hilton in Universal City, Calif.

The invitation-only event for C-level leaders in the OTT segment of the entertainment industry will consist of one-on-one business meetings between content providers and ad-supported and subscription OTT channels, a half-day conference featuring industry analysts and thought leaders, a service and technology providers showcase, high-speed introductory meetings specifically designed for burgeoning OTT channels, and networking events, according to the EMA.

OTT_X will be co-located with, but separate from, the EMA’s Los Angeles Entertainment Summit, the annual get-together of the home video industry, according to the EMA.

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, will chair the confab.

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“Until now, there hasn’t been a set marketplace where buyers and sellers, providers, and distributors of OTT content can come together to network and connect in a meaningful way,” Opeka said in a statement. “That’s one of the driving forces that makes OTT_X such an important event. Through this dynamic gathering of industry leaders and pioneers, we have created an incredible opportunity where executives can explore potential partnerships with the outlets and providers that are best suited to their unique interests and needs. Our ultimate goal is that this will enable efficient and effective agreements to be made, while further expanding and revolutionizing the OTT landscape.”

“The OTT segment of the video industry is growing tremendously and needs a premier event to bring key players together to do business, share knowledge, and expand their contacts, and that is what EMA is providing with the OTT_X market and conference,” added Mark Fisher, EMA president and CEO, in a statement.

The OTT_X steering committee consists of David Bloom (media journalist), Dean Cates (The Africa Channel), George Chung (JungoTV), Paul Colichman (Here Media), Gary Delfiner (Digital Sylvia), Pat McDonough (Mill Creek Entertainment), Colin Petrie-Norris (Xumo), Steve Raymond (Vubiquity), Carlos Sanchez (Legendary Entertainment) and Randy Wells (Magnolia Pictures).