As part of our new weekly Buyers Briefing feature, we run down the biggest news in the sector that best reflects our interviewee’s focus. This week, we look at the goings on in digital video after our chat with TalkTalk’s Will Ennett. Upcoming themed areas will include western European pay TV channels and Asian networks.
The headline-grabbing deal of the week was online multichannel operator Rightster’s £50 million (US$85.6 million) deal for rival MCN Base79. Underlining the heft of the enlarged Rightster, YouTube co-founder and former CEO Chad Hurley joined the company’s advisory committee. Patrick Walker, the former senior director of YouTube EMEA who joined Base79 last year, will join Rightster’s executive team as CCO.
The deal makes Rightster, founded by CEO Charlie Muirhead (pictured), the fourth-largest YouTube channel operator in North America and the largest outside of the US and £50 million could start to look cheap when you consider Disney’s US$950 million move for Maker Studios earlier this year. Amid the M&A frenzy in the traditional TV world, could the Base79 sale trigger the same in the digital space. Fullscreen would look like a good bet should that happen.
In other UK news, digital business in Britain is looking beyond the denizens of east London and to the north as pubcaster the BBC said it will move around 120 Future Media roles and 102 Technology department roles from London to its base in Salford, near Manchester, in 2015.
Having announced it will hit France later this year, incumbent pay TV player Orange confirmed this week it will launch a new OTT subscription video-on-demand service that will be made available via a Chromecast-like WiFi-connectable HDMI dongle that can be plugged into TVs. Orange is clearly trying to head-off the threat of Netflix. The US company should get used to such pre-emptive strikes as existing content companies are now well aware of the market-disrupting effects an international Netflix launch can have. The French authories are also bristling ahead of the Netflix launch with Arnaud Montebourg calling for local players to offer an alternative to the US company’s offering.
Netflix should also get used to broadcasters and producers demanding it contributes to local programming. In Canada the public broadcaster and independent producers’ association are both calling on regulators to do just that and the same is likely to happen in France. Even if its Luxembourg based does allow it to escape the reach of some national regulators in Europe, it would be a PR own-goal to be seen as the US service rolling into town, to the detriment of the local players.
Netflix’s argument that a ‘Netflix tax’ in Canada would force it to raise prices (which it already did in May) doesn’t adequately address the problem and the company hardly needs another public battle given its ongoing spat with Verizon.
Netflix claims to be an ‘online TV network’ – but the same rules do not apply. As it continues to take market share and launch around the world, there will be an increasing clamour for it to dip into its deep pockets to support local production in the same way as traditional broadcasters.
Netflix did score a victory over Amazon this week, though, bagging rights to novelist James Patterson’s first network TV series, Zoo. The 13-part event drama is being produced for CBS’s 2015 summer grid and as the net increasingly launches summer series, it has been open in saying that the online rights deal is crucial in getting these shows funded. What’s new about this deal is that CBS has licensed the show to Netflix over Amazon, which bagged both of its previous summer launches, Under the Dome and Extant, and the fee paid is thought to eclipse those agreements.
Aside from Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, OTT services are being built with acquired content (and still generally acquired on a rev-share basis). Rakuten’s Wuaki this week made a bet on British movies for its UK service in a bid to differentiate itself from the rest. It has done the same in Spain, and given it has said it will be in 15 territories across Europe by the end of next year, distributors with movie catalogues should get on the phone to Wuaki.
Hulu’s acquisitions this week underlined its attempt to reach out to ex-pat audiences. It bought a package of content from Russia’s CTC and cult Australian soap Neighbours. Neither is likely to attract mainstream US Hulu watchers in great numbers, but the content will be a boon for Russian, Aussie and Brit viewers (Brits love Neighbours) in the US.
Finally, TBI has been assured Twitter the TV series is on track. Lionsgate’s TV boss Kevin Beggs told us this week that it is pushing ahead with a project based upon Nick Bilton’s bestseller Hatching Twitter: A True Story Of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal and that the author is involved with writing the TV adaptation. However, it is still at a very early stage of development and isn’t ready to pitch to broadcasters, so won’t be on screen any time soon.