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5 December 2019

ShortsTV takes Spotify approach to prove short-form is sellable

Short-form content – the barely-monetizable laughingstock of the content world reserved for phone-obsessed teenagers and laid-back YouTube cat marathons, right? A start-up called ShortsTV is hoping to change that sweeping generalization with a model that has already attracted some of the world’s largest operators.


There is certainly a gap in the market for a globally successful subscription-based short-form content offering, keeping in mind that even ad-supported services from giants like Verizon’s Go90 have flopped. ShortsTV’s CEO Carter Pilcher, an aeronautical engineer turned entrepreneur, admitted at the Video Exchange event in London this week that ShortsTV originally got it completely wrong by simply putting short-form movies online and waiting for the views to roll in, almost arrogantly expecting it was guaranteed to be the YouTube of movies and the Netflix of short-form.


So, ShortsTV took a leaf from the book of a neighboring industry, drawing influence from the world’s most popular music streaming app. “We are taking a Spotify-like approach to short-form video. We have algorithms that continue to play recommended films, or viewers can simply swipe for the next title via the app,” said Pilcher.


“Kids only want to consume content they can move and touch and this is how they will continue to consume content throughout their whole lives,” he added, prophetically. We have to disagree here that the viewing behaviors of today’s TikTok generation will never change; pay TV said the same thing.


“The average time a family spends choosing a title to watch on Netflix is 18 minutes, and if you spend 18 minutes choosing a film let’s be honest you are not going to select a 5-minute film. That’s why we have developed a continuous playlist-like viewing experience,” Pilcher continued. Of course, YouTube and others have long had an automatic “up-next” type recommendations feature, so this isn’t brand new except that it is now dedicated to showing Academy Award nominated short films.


“Soon we will be launching the ability for subscribers to watch together, simultaneously, and another new feature will allow viewers to support directors directly through small payments,” he said. Creating a reliable social video experience is a tough nut to crack and we have our reservations whether ShortsTV is the one to do it without specialist help. Technology from video synchronization specialist Net Insight springs to mind, something which was recently replicated by SES.


Another specialized technology is required though. Synamedia’s SVP and GM of EMEA, Fin O’Kane, questioned the value in short-form content – implying that shorter titles are more vulnerable to piracy and telling Pilcher “we should have a chat.” Presumably this is because short-form content is more abundantly available online and therefore easier to swipe, rather than from a technical point of view, but we could be wrong.


Interestingly, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max will launch with a short-form package and a synchronization feature. AT&T recently described Recommended by Humans, an HBO Max feature we interpret as a backwards take on the recommendation engine. This is aimed at attracting younger viewers through offering content suggestions from real-life social media influencers via short-form videos. The feature brings analytics to the fore so that the system is not entirely as dumb as the influencers presenting the recommendations.


Similarly to what ShortsTV plans to add, another forthcoming HBO Max feature is called Co-Viewing. AT&T says content recommendations are skewed when a subscriber is watching with friends or family members, an apparent problem HBO Max is solving with a shared homepage. This segregates content from the main personal homepage, tailored for the tastes of the group as a whole. Neat but not revolutionary.


Jointly owned by Shorts International and AMC Networks, ShortsTV launched with Tata Sky about a year ago, which has about 15 million DTH subscribers, and has since arrived on all the major Indian DTH platforms – reaching 100 million viewers. ShortsTV also has a huge deal in the US with DirecTV.


Pilcher was confident in his subscription model being the best approach, but he did note that ShortsTV is “considering” an advertising model.


Viacom is another notable fan of short-form content which was present at Video Exchange, in recent ventures having helped produce a number of short-form titles for Facebook Watch viewers, building on the MTV UK partnership inked last year and using Viacom’s regional hubs to create locally produced programming.


“We now have the same number of titles as Netflix,” added Pilcher, which is a strange comparison to make when most of your titles are 15 minutes long.