Groupflix pivots into Pilotly, climbs into data analytics niche

For online video startups, the OTT landscape is one that appears ripe with possibilities but in reality can be hard to realize. Streaming video startup GroupFlix is wading through that mire now and, in an attempt to expand a less-exploited niche, is shifting its focus a bit. The business is changing its name to Pilotly and, taking a page from the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) playbook, will offer viewers the ability to watch and rate pilot episodes of TV series.

"Users watch for free without any ads" and then give feedback about the pilot to the company, explained James Norman, founder of GroupFlix/Pilotly. However, "If we find you watching a lot of pilots and not giving a lot of feedback, then your access to pilots is going to dwindle. The more feedback you give, the quicker access, the more premium features you'll have available to you."

Pilotly will begin testing its watch-and-rate system with select users in March, and plans to launch nationwide in April. The company is retooling its earlier idea of a crowdsourced service, and instead rewards viewers who provide feedback on pilots with more content. The goal? To deliver detailed analytics data to studios, content distributors, and other companies in the OTT ecosystem.

"We saw an opportunity to provide an additional layer of analytics that brings some attribution to users and brings more detail around viewership of their content," said Norman in an interview with FierceOnlineVideo.

Instead of competing head-to-head with established SVOD and ad-supported providers, from Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) to Amazon to smaller players like Sony-owned Crackle and PopcornFlix, Pilotly will offer registered users the opportunity to view TV series pilots without ads and without paying a subscription fee.

The pilots will be provided by studios, networks, multichannel networks, and other content providers, he said, noting that Pilotly is currently in discussions with two "major" entities and an MCN and will name official partners when its launch approaches.

Pilotly is taking a journey mirrored by other startups in the quest to become the next game-changing OTT strategy. After testing its crowdsourcing idea with select early adopters for several months, feedback from potential backers drove Norman to rethink the business model.

"We always had a long-tail vision of delivering pretty detailed analytics around the viewership of content through the platform. So we kind of broke things down--you know, while the GroupFlix model was unique and had backing from a couple of studios--content distribution is certainly a competitive space. It's awfully hard, I daresay almost impossible, for a startup company to get financing to participate in the content distribution space," he said.

Meanwhile, although the way television is delivered has changed dramatically, Norman said, the way that market research firms like Nielsen "test content and the way analytics are brought forth around content in general hasn't really changed in the last 40-50 years."

Norman said that while the pilot watch-and-rate idea is on the surface somewhat like Amazon's pilot program, Amazon doesn't collect data on its users in the same way and certainly doesn't share it. "It's similar, but I don't think it's a huge secret that (Amazon) employs it more as a promotional tool than as an analytics tool," he said.

After a development and beta-testing process that has been ongoing since mid-2013, Norman is clearly hoping that Pilotly has found its niche in the analytics segment.

For more:
- see the GroupFlix/Pilotly website

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