NBCU's Seeso, PlayStation Vue, Starz headline SVOD launches in Q1 2016

After a flurry of announcements and hurried promises at the end of 2015, the first quarter of 2016 did not see too many actual launches of subscription video-on-demand services. Still, three significant SVOD products became available to the U.S. streaming market, and a slew of other services are queuing up for the second and third quarters.

NBCUniversal's comedy-focused subscription service Seeso hit the market at the beginning of the year. Priced at $3.99 per month, the service features not just archived comedy series and talk shows but a few original comedy series as well, with new episodes dropping regularly.

Sony finally expanded its PlayStation Vue streaming service nationwide in mid-March, after months of testing and hammering out licensing deals for its linear content. A base subscription starts at $29.99 per month.

And Starz launched a standalone OTT service on April 5. While that technically isn't in the first quarter, it's close enough -- not to mention that Starz's service was made available to Amazon Prime subscribers in the first quarter as an add-on subscription, part of Amazon's Streaming Partners program.

But once again, the chatter over the past several weeks has been less about these services than about upcoming SVOD launches -- the most anticipated, perhaps, being Fullscreen, which will launch a $4.99 monthly service on April 26. The media company, which got its start as a YouTube multichannel network (MCN) and branched out following its purchase by DreamWorks Animation, is targeting millennial audiences in the 13-30 age group.

The poster child for SVOD may be Fullscreen...

Analysts appear to be picking Fullscreen as a case study for the entire new generation of SVOD services that are landing on our doorsteps, so to speak.

Will Richmond of VideoNuze categorizes Fullscreen alongside YouTube Red and Vessel "as test cases for willingness to pay by viewers who are long accustomed to watching YouTube videos for free with ad-supported … now we see Fullscreen coming in, making a bet that a slice of these free viewers will convert to paid status," he said in an nScreenMedia podcast.

Otter Media -- the joint venture between The Chernin Group and AT&T that owns Fullscreen – is looking for a seemingly very small percentage of the audience to subscribe. Richmond noted that if Fullscreen converts just 1 percent of its 600 million current free viewers to the paid service, it will be considered a success -- a figure that Fullscreen COO Andy Forsell apparently confirmed at a press event ahead of the service's launch, saying that the company believes it can sign up 5 million subscribers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

What's also interesting is that a number of traditional networks and studios are teaming with companies outside the traditional media and entertainment market segment to get their content out to OTT viewers. For example, Lionsgate teaming up with Comic-Con to launch a niche SVOD service enables the studio to target content specifically toward the uber-tradeshow's demographic.

The caution exhibited by some networks such as Turner -- which has promised to launch "at least a couple" of direct-to-consumer services in 2016, including a just-announced SVOD service called FilmStruck in partnership with the Criterion Collection -- in going all-OTT, whether through SVOD or AVOD (ad-supported video on demand), isn't too surprising. The network also announced a new exclusive licensing deal with Hulu on April 23 to stream previous seasons of programming from TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

The SVOD market is currently about $5 billion, according to Dominique Delport, president of content at Vivendi, in a panel session at MipTV 2016 in Cannes. That sounds like a lot until one holds it up to pay-TV's business, which totals around $100 billion, he said.

... or Seeso could lead the way

And that may be a big part of the reason behind some networks' reticence to go all-in on SVOD. Consumers are spending more money for OTT services that bring content directly to them on demand, but that doesn't always spell big profits for the content provider. Industry expert Alan Wolk, in a blog post for The Diffusion Group, said that by launching a monthly OTT subscription service, Starz could be setting itself up for increased customer churn. "We fear that Starz is just making it easier for fans to pick and choose when they pay for the service. The network has a few hit series and many fans will likely subscribe when those series are on and then cut the service when their favorite show is done," he said.

By contrast, Seeso's niche content model and lower monthly price could be a solution to SVOD churn, Wolk said. Viewers are getting a mix of archival content such as past Saturday Night Live seasons, along with nearly two dozen exclusive original series promoted with a few headliners like Amy Poehler and a heavy social media campaign to create more buzz. Unlike Netflix, which drops an entire season's worth of shows to its binge-watching masses like a chicken carcass into the pens at Gatorland, Seeso's original series debut one episode per week -- incentivizing subscribers to keep paying the $3.99 monthly fee to keep up with the storyline.

Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia, however, found that a low monthly price was likely not enough to keep subscribers coming back to smaller SVOD providers, in an interview with Paywizard CMO Bhavesh Veghela. Paywizard surveyed 6,000 SVOD subscribers in six countries and found that "consumers have a more casual relationship with smaller SVOD services. They are very comfortable subscribing for a short time, watching the content that interests them, and then cancelling the service," Dixon reported.

Q1 SVOD launches

Without further ado, below are the SVOD services which launched in the first quarter of 2016, as well as a list of upcoming announced services and their likely launch dates. Keep in mind that this list is just for the U.S. market – additional launches did occur internationally, and we may see some of those SVOD players enter the U.S. in the future.

SVOD service

Launch date

Price

Seeso (NBCUniversal)

Jan. 7, 2016

$3.99

PlayStation Vue

March 14, 2016

$29.99 base

Starz

April 5, 2016

$8.99

Fullscreen

April 26, 2016

$4.99

Upcoming Services

 

 

ComicCon HQ

May 7, 2016 (beta)

TBA

FilmStruck (Turner Networks)

Fall 2016

TBA

DirecTV Now

2016

TBA

Trace

July-August 2016

TBA

Telletopia

2016

TBA

BBC (US)

2016

TBA

MoviePigs

2016

TBA

Curzon SVOD

2017-2018

TBA

Zive

TBA

TBA

 

NBCU's Seeso, PlayStation Vue, Starz headline SVOD launches in Q1 2016
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