When coming across companies that offer a hodgepodge range of video services bundled together, we often end up confused, disappointed, or both. Frequently, they try to fix business efficiency issues that rarely bother anyone, or they focus too much on ventures which they are just not suited to.
At first sight, we would have pegged Wurl into this category. The California-based video distribution ‘network’ certainly offers an apparently jumbled set of services. The primary focus is on distribution – sending video producers’ content to OTT video services – but ad services also make up a significant chunk of the business.
This week, we caught up with Sean Doherty, the company’s Co-Founder and SVP of Operations, to iron out exactly what it is Wurl does.
Opting to call it a network, Doherty explained that “it’s all a cycle that feeds each other.” This cyclical dependency is arguably what makes Wurl’s offering less redundant than others on the market, as partners that are onboarded for one use case can then be utilized by other elements of the business.
Founded in 2017, Wurl offers a one-stop platform for three different constituencies within the video ecosystem to connect – video services, video producers, and advertisers.
For video producers – companies like Tastemade, Crunchyroll, MGM – Wurl allows them to create new channels, or take an existing channel and transfer it to a new service. Other amenities include a scheduling tool for curating new VoD channels, and AdSpring, Wurl’s dynamic server-side ad insertion (SSAI) service which allows video producers to manage advertising inventory across all their distribution channels.
Doherty said that Wurl promotes itself as “a network where partners can find each other.” But this is not some social media-style platform, where businesses can browse the market for potential partnerships. The business deals are made elsewhere; Wurl simply provides the plumbing to connect the partners.
“Each of these pipes is a multi-tenant connector,” Doherty explained. As soon as a connection to a video producer is forged, it is made available for Wurl’s wider network to use.
Doherty explained how this boosts its pitch to partners on both sides. “We go to new video services and say, ‘look at all these channels and networks we’ve got.’ At the same time, we go to the video producers and say, ‘we onboarded these new services, with this many MAUs.’” You can certainly see how Wurl’s jumbled offering serves itself in a cyclical manner.
In terms of video services, Wurl’s clients are almost entirely in the OTT camp – companies like Sling TV, Roku, Samsung TV. “We do deliver channels to more traditional places, but what we’ve seen is that the viewership just isn’t there,” Doherty explained.
For video services, Wurl offers products that focus around monetization, rather than distribution space. This includes AdPool, a supply-side platform (SSP) advertising marketplace launched in the middle of last year. AdPool aggregates publisher inventory and sells it at volume, prioritizing a publisher’s demand sources in the process.
Doherty explained how AdPool was a natural progression from AdSpring – “once we developed tech to insert the ads, we started wondering how we could improve yields, how we could structure waterfalls in ad servers.”
AdPool offers a tiered pricing system, so that producers can ensure that their inventory is not sold for less than it is elsewhere. The platform plugs into DSPs, as well as other third-party sellers selling CTV inventory – a necessity considering Wurl does not have an in-house sales team.
AdPool is only available to existing Wurl partners – free of charge – and most use it as a supplement to their primary ad exchange. “There’s this myth that one inventory will provide all the ads and fill you need,” Doherty argued. “We have access to campaigns that other exchanges may not,” he continued, echoing the company’s ‘more is more’ business ethos.
Speaking of ads, we asked Doherty to weigh in on a question that has been circling round at Rethink TV, our sister research arm. As someone who serves both services, how does he envisage the market split between AVoD and SVoD platforms changing in the next few years?
“We used to have to convince video producers that AVoD was a thing – we don’t have to anymore,” he quipped. Doherty argued that both services undoubtedly have a place in the market, and that from a video producer standpoint, it is best to have a product in each vertical. “There’s room for it all,” he assured us.
Could he see AVoD racking up more time monthly hours watched (MHW) and monthly active users (MAUs) in five years’ time? “Definitely,” Doherty said, barely pausing to think. “Just look at free-to-air TV, the hours spent watching that will surely migrate over to AVoD,” he continued.
Equally, he noted that “customers only want to subscribe to a certain amount of subscription services – there is a ceiling. Disney+ is starting to reach that ceiling.”
Harking back to Wurl’s guiding philosophy of cyclical action, Doherty proclaimed, “AVoD is going to get very big with better content and more active viewers. It creates this cycle that feeds on itself.”
Faultline often finds that what these bundle-offering companies have in breadth, they lack in patented technology. So, what about Wurl?
“A bunch of it is patented,” Doherty confirmed. “Various bits – how we create channels, specific bits to do with recording and analytics.” Of course, the golden question is which bits are not patented, but Doherty was not giving that away in a hurry.
Unsurprisingly, Doherty was unable to confirm whether Wurl is turning a profit yet.
Wurl recently launched its first 4K UHD channel for Bloomberg. Doherty spoke of the huge technical challenge of upscaling all ads to 4K, as well as stitching – ensuring the stream maintains continuity and does not disrupt the player. “It sounds simple, but it got very complex,” he assured us.
For now, Wurl’s business is firmly set in North America and Europe. “I need to stop saying we’re mainly based in the US,” Doherty joked, “we have channels in Europe that are expanding a lot.” Wurl currently serves seven countries in Western Europe, with a handful more expected by the end of the year.
Looking to the future, Doherty expects that 2021 will be the year Wurl tries to take on Central and Latin America. As for Asia? “We’re just scratching the surface, starting to look at who the various players will be,” he responded.
We asked whether the increased average viewing time of consumers, spurred by Covid-19, has brought new business for Wurl? “It has made our customers more eager to launch more channels,” Doherty responded.
On the advertising side, Wurl felt the industry step back, but Doherty assured us, “This was quickly corrected and continues to slowly improve.” He explained that AdPool’s supplementary status meant that the service was being used more by producers that needed to fill in inventory that was drying up.