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16 June 2016

TV industry zeros in on digital and short-form strategies

By Kendra Chamberlain

Pay TV companies are adopting OTT and digital strategies to reach the growing population of viewers that aren’t taking to traditional linear pay TV. Across the entire market we are seeing content owners and distributors that once fought against digital distribution now fully adopting digital strategies, complete with exclusively digital content and watch anytime, anywhere models that put consumers in control of the programming. They are also offering content digitally direct to the consumer as the industry shifts away from the days of linear pay TV and physical copy distribution of content.

Time Warner’s Warner Brothers is launching another product in the digital market with the formation of Warner Brothers Digital Networks. The company is creating a model that will allow for it to reach audiences directly so customers need not subscribe to cable or satellite pay TV in order to access content on linear pay TV screens or TV everywhere offerings from pay TV providers.

Warner Brothers is aggregating its own digital video and OTT services to create a network that will deliver content that caters to digital-first viewers including short form and niche programming rather than its traditional long form TV programming its networks create for pay TV viewers.

The Warner Brothers Digital Networks will join Warner Brothers Television Group that consists of: Drama Fever (Korean-content focused subscription video service), Machinima (gaming and media streaming site and multichannel network), Uninterrupted (digital project partnership with NBA’s LeBron James), Ellen Digital Ventures (content partnership with Ellen DeGeneres), and Warner Archive Instant (SVoD service featuring studio’s classic titles).

Warner Brothers Digital Networks will be working with other Time Warner networks including Turner and HBO, both which have OTT content offerings, sans the cable subscription. HBO offers HBO Now for $15 monthly and Turner is slated to launch FilmStruck that will sell over 1,000 art-house and indie film titles. By bringing together the company’s various digital avenues Warner Brothers Digital Networks will be a cohesive division within Time Warner that covers all aspects of the digital video market, so that all content genres are covered within the division, rather than spread out and separated based on content type rather than distribution method.

“In today’s on-demand world, OTT gives us a really effective means to directly provide consumers the programming they want,” said Warner Brothers CEO and chairman Kevin Tsujihara in a statement on the newly formed division. “By forming Warner Brothers Digital Networks, we’ll be able to operate more nimbly as we continue to develop and deliver on our digital strategy which will complement our industry-leading distribution business,” he said.

“The unifying theme is getting the studio closer to our audience,” said Warner Brothers Digital Networks president and Warner Brothers Television Group president of business and strategy Craig Hunegs in an interview. He said Digital Net-works was working on several additional OTT channels that will launch in the next few months. He also revealed that content from The CW, its network jointly owned with CBS, will soon have a greater reach via OTT. A move to bring more CW content to Warner Brothers Digital Networks could bolster business for The CW, which is aimed at younger viewers that are likely to take to OTT before traditional pay TV.

Discovery Communications is another content owner and pay TV network that is working to build up a strong digital offering with the relaunch of its Seeker digital network that is aimed at drawing in Millennial viewers and their shifting viewing habits. The network relaunched in May with the goal of debuting over 250 videos each month covering a vast array of topics from political news to space exploration. Content is contained as short form video and includes a Seeker VR series of VR documentaries, Seeker Live which shows live streams of social influencers and personalities, and Seeker Docs which features short-form documentaries.

AT&T, along with The Chernin Group, has plans to create a larger digital footprint by unveiling a new video subscription bundle under their jointly owned Otter Media venture that is similar to Amazon’s model, that allows users to subscribe to third-party subscription services within its Prime video service.

AT&T and The Chernin Group have tapped Ellation, which is under the Otter Media umbrella, to develop the platform for the bundle service that has been known as “Project X” internally. According to Variety there are trademark and domain name registrations that point to “Vrv” as the possible brand for the service.

The multichannel bundling service is targeted towards anime, video games, niche action sports and other niche programming genres that are neglected by the US pay TV industry. Crunchyroll, an anime subscription streaming service, is one of Ellation’s biggest assets and the platform is expected to combine Crunchyroll along with other digital channels from outside partners to sell as bundles or individually but not alongside linear TV. AT&T isn’t turning to digital video to bolster its own AT&T U-verse or DirecTV services but rather the venture is slated to appeal to its huge mobile user base.

There is no news on what other digital channels Ellation will pair Crunchyroll with. However, Otter Media owns FullScreen which just launched its subscription service which is an option for the multichannel video network; the full-screen service targets Millennial audiences although not the same audience that Project X is targeting. FullScreen is also home to Rooster Teeth, a gamer comedy franchise that would fit well with the upcoming service. Otter Media is aiming to launch the Project X service later this year.

And AT&T isn’t the only pay TV and mobile service provider in the digital video market, Verizon has gone all-in on mobile video and isn’t slowing down. The company is investing heavily in media and tech companies with the acquisition of AOL and its recent bid for Yahoo. In addition to its mobile-first video service Go90, the company is building a digital empire that already overshadows the company’s pay TV business and directly targets mobile viewers. “Linear TV is slowly declining,” Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said this week at the Merrill Lynch telecom and media conference. “There’s a large opportunity in mobile-first content.”

Verizon has been building on its digital strategy for the past few years and as a result the company is ahead of the pack and already has a curated digital video service targeting Millennial viewers, which represents the largest portion of the US population with 83 million people falling in the 35 and under age group. That demographic is driving how content is distributed and the emergence of new forms of video content.

Content creators are opting for short form video that is native to mobile viewing devices, which are seeing a lot more sets of eyeballs. Digital viewing is stretching bandwidth capabilities and mobile viewers are hesitant to view long-form video using mobile data so short form video has thrived in the mobile video market. Those traditional media companies are embracing short form video and digital strategies in order to stay relevant with viewers as audiences are changing and viewing habits are evolving.