By Sahil Patel
Everybody from HBO to AwesomenessTV is going over-the-top. The appeal is easy to understand: As viewers of all ages increasingly demand more control over when and how they can watch their favorite video content, the content owners have to adapt lest they lose the viewers to somebody else.
What’s interesting about the growing OTT craze, though, is who’s getting involved as much as why. It’s not just the major traditional and digital media brands.
Take, for example, Cinedigm, an independent distributor that controls more than — — titles. With that kind of library, it makes sense for Cinedigm to launch over-the-top channels like Docurama, which focuses on documentary films and TV series, and Con TV, which focuses on geek and nerd culture.
With Con TV launching just a few weeks ago, we spoke with Cinedigm’s chairman and CEO, Chris McGurk, on the channel launch, its partnership with Comic-Con producer Wizard World, and how Cinedigm is approaching its expanding OTT business.
Cinedigm is in the middle of launching multiple over-the-top channels. With respect to Con TV, why target the Comic-Con crowd?
Geeks — all of the people that attend Comic-Cons, really — are one of the most voracious viewers of content in the world. We thought that in and of itself made it the perfect group to go after with an over-the-top digital channel, where they can access the content they love. And partnering with a company that does more Comic-Cons domestically than anyone else to put the channel together and curate the right kind of programming just made an awful lot of sense.
Con TV has both a free/ad-supported and subscription elements. Is that the model you plan to pursue with all of your over-the-top channels?
We think that, the “freemium model,” makes perfect sense. The ad-based section enables the audience to come and sample what we have to offer without having to pay for it. It eases them into the experience. Then there’s the subscription side, which offers early access to some content, additional seasons, all these exclusive things that you can’t get for free. We priced it at $6.99, which we did a lot of research beforehand on.
It’s going to be the model for all of our channels going forward.
Do you have a dedicated sales team for the ad-supported side?
We do have a dedicated sales team now. With Con TV, we were lucky enough to partner with Wizard World, which already has a sales team in place.
If we’re talking a year from now, what determines that Con TV is a success?
More than anything else, we are focused on overall viewership — whether it’s on the ad-based or subscribers. Our model is such that we don’t need hundreds of thousands of subscribers to be economically successful.
When the WWE Network was announced, they basically said that they needed 1.1 million subscribers —
or something in that range — to break even because they were acknowledging they were cannibalizing their broadcast and PPV businesses. We don’t have a legacy business like that that we are cannibalizing. We are focused on presenting exciting content and getting viewers, and getting viewers to keep coming back. So the viewership is the most important metric. If we also get a high volume of viewers sampling, our conversion rates to subscription are going to be pretty good.
Let’s talk platforms: Are there some that are higher priority than others? For instance, a lot of the content on Con TV is long-form, so are the Rokus and the Apple TVs of the world more important than mobile and online?
Yes and no. We intend to be pretty much ubiquitous. We will be on as many platforms as possible. When you look at our potential audience, surprisingly enough, yes there will be the people who frequently attend Comic-Cons, but there’s also the potential to reach older audiences who are not as comfortable or able to go to Comic-Con but are still nerds and geeks at heart. So from the very beginning, we launched with a website and were on Android and iTunes. We also have a Roku app, with platform launches on Samsung and others coming soon. Within six months, we expect you’ll be able to find Con TV on almost any device.
Con TV has both original content and acquired films and TV shows. Of course, with Cinedigm, you have a massive library to pull from. What’s the balance between finding homes for what you already own and finding the content that’s right for Con TV, regardless of ownership?
We built our company to amass a huge library of rights and the capability distribute across all media. I think that gives us an important advantage in launching these channels, especially when combined with the fact that we’re not a major studio and don’t have these legacy businesses that we need to keep intact.
With Con TV, we went live with over 2,500 hours of content, 60% of which came from our own library. It certainly gave us an advantage because we didn’t have to go out and acquire those rights. But what we found with Con TV, since we are a distribution company, it was relatively easy for us to go out and acquire hundreds more titles.
We are always going to look for channel opportunities that we can back up with hundreds — if not thousands — of titles from our own library. But we still have that ability to acquire what we need to if we have a good idea for a channel but can’t completely back it up with our own catalog.
That was the focus as we built this distribution mechanism over the past couple of years — build our library so we had strength in areas, but also build a system that allows us to go out and acquire titles easily.