with Michael Tribolet, Chairman, Co-Founder & CEO, YipTV
Since launching its SVOD service on May 7 with 50 international linear channels, YipTV, a Fierce 15 winner, has been on a growth trajectory content-wise, boosting its available streamed channels to 73 with 25 more pending. The company tweaked its business model in July to attract more subscribers, offering 17 of its channels for free with no strings attached -- no credit card required, just an email address and phone number. YipTV CEO Michael Tribolet sat down with FierceOnlineVideo editor Samantha Bookman at the recent IBC 2015 show in Amsterdam, in an interview edited for brevity and clarity, to talk about the OTT provider's latest moves, its benefit to immigrant communities in the U.S. looking for a taste of home, and his take on the FCC's consideration of virtual MVPDs.
FierceOnlineVideo: What are the most popular linear channels on YipTV?
Michael Tribolet: Sports is obviously number one, between BeIN Sports and the Extreme Channel we have another one called PX. The second thing that comes in is telenovelas. The telenovelas are really watched well and we're getting requests for new ones so we're out actively seeking to bring those on.
Then the interesting thing is we have a channel called One America. And recently Ms. Palin and Mr. Trump had a debate that was covered by them. And we saw a spike -- because we weren't sure, all of a sudden we see bandwidth move, and we followed it quickly -- we saw a spike in logins.
We actually saw over 1,500 people log in to watch this particular show. It was our largest spike, because it just went, whoosh. And it was also one of our larger signup days, so we're happy with that.
Fierce: How many subscribers do you have now?
Tribolet: We're saving that one for a milestone and I'm very confident in the fall we'll be announcing a nice number.
Fierce: Can you maybe give us a comparison based on Sling TV's estimated subscribers (possibly 300,000 at this point)?
Tribolet: Well, [they have an] international package and listening to Roger [Lynch] speak today, it was interesting to hear that 90 percent of their subs have a Netflix account. It was interesting but they're part of a large conglomerate. We like to look at it and say the industry is the industry and we want it to flourish, and everyone's going to have their niches.
Fierce: Describe your freemium business model. How have viewers responded to the new option?
Tribolet: We basically give away 17 channels for free. We just ask for your email and your phone number, no credit card information. Then during the first seven days we took nine of our premium channels and allow people to watch those, like BeIN Sports and Alterna and Hola TV and things like that. So, the cool part about that is they really get to trust and see that the quality is working. It works for them very well.
We're seeing very big conversion rates. We're very pleased with the model at this point.
Fierce: YipTV has been active in the FCC's consideration of allowing some OTT providers to be considered MVPDs, recently filing an ex parte on the issue. What are some considerations that the FCC and providers need to take into account, from your view?
Tribolet: We've asked in the ex parte to have a phased-in approach. When you look at closed caption and the emergency broadcast systems, even though it sounds simple they're legacy systems. So for us, as an innovator or for any innovation coming, you have to stop and you have to then bring forward what legacy was. But does it really make sense for a channel out of Colombia being broadcast in Georgia to have to play emergency broadcast systems? Those are fundamental arguments. So if we get a phased-in approach as we've requested, then I think that [in] a little over three years, [which] is what we asked for, we can bring that forward.
But we felt very welcomed at the FCC. I think they're open at the moment. You just have to continue to be diligent with them.
Fierce: What companies are you talking to at IBC?
Tribolet: There are some content providers here. I can't give the name but it's a sports oriented one that comes out of the region [Europe] and will bring some very exciting sports. There are a couple of technology partners we are looking at and they have some components that will add value to our customers. It will increase the cost of our price but add some social aspects to our capabilities, so we're very excited about that.
Also we definitely know, as we've launched with a predominantly Hispanic focus, we have licensed European content to bring in. There's quite a few Europeans in the U.S., as well as the Asian community and the Indian community. We're going to be here, then MIPCOM, then at ATF in Singapore. Through each set of tradeshows we'll be signing content deals predominantly.
Also [we're here] to let a lot of people know that we're available to bring content into the U.S. as an alternative [to pay-TV].
So we're really busy looking on a global basis. The interesting thing is we're starting to see a request to take content global as well, but really our focus is in the U.S. because that's the biggest opportunity right now. And I want to be good at one thing to many people, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. That's where companies start to lose their focus and it's really difficult to manage growth, in my experience.
Fierce: When you sit with a content provider to discuss licensing its linear channel, what are typical questions that they have about YipTV? How do you respond?
Tribolet: "Are you gonna cause cord cutting?" Well, no. "Well, if you're not, why?" Of the 100 million people we're going after, 52 million are unbankable. They don't have banking accounts. Typically if they don't have bank accounts they won't have a credit card, and they have no ability to have credit. When a cable company wants to put in a cable service you need to have social security, an address and a credit card.
First of all, we don't anticipate that our customer base is going to cut the cord. We are really to them a first-tier platform because we have what they want to watch: their sports, their news, their telenovelas, their entertainment and travel channels. So we've got the lifestyle package for them that's more relevant to them.
It's easier for [networks] when we show them the plans: Here's the Brazilians in the U.S.; here's the Bolivians in the U.S.; here's where we find the community for people who speak not just Hindi but the other six languages [in India]. Here's the pockets, and here's how we're gonna go market to them.
So that's really the different approach we have, and also we have the experience because of our background to show that we understand how to penetrate these markets.
So I think the history [of YipTV] helps; the second thing is putting together a very cohesive plan that shows how we're targeting into these communities; and the third thing is we're really not affecting the current status quo. We're offering a different distribution channel to customers that really have never had the service.
Our approach is much different than the cable companies because we're open to distribution and ideas and cross-sharing information. Because if we give them information backup as to what's going on, it helps the content guys. It helps all across their structure.
Fierce: Is there a potential for YipTV to partner with other operators?
Tribolet: Yeah, I think we would. Video on demand is one segment, and live TV is a different segment. It's a much different setup than a network. People think you can just move over. You've got all your assets in one spot; it's an apple and an orange. Can they get into the orange business? Absolutely, anybody could. But I think, Roger said today, the barrier is lowering but it's getting rights to the content. Same thing with Apple. I think their challenge is really going to be the domestic content. They've been saying it for years. We know the struggle we've had and we don't have those resources.
Fierce: Can you see YipTV being integrated into a set-top box, like TiVo's STB, similar to other OTT providers have done?
Tribolet: It could be, or we could be embedded into it. That's the key thing: It goes back to the device strategy, partnering with SDI or SDK kits. In fact TiVo's office was right next to us when we were in Silicon Valley [as Vonage]. So it's definitely part of our thinking and as we go we'd like to work through those.
We see a lot of the same parallels here [to VoIP's early days]. It's a very explosive market. There's cracks in the foundation. There's no winners, [and] there's no loser right now; it's a matter of going after your customers.
Fierce: YipTV built its own platform with two patents filed and more on the way. Can you see the platform being used to deliver video for other companies, the way MLB Advanced Media does?
Tribolet: I could see the scenarios, because the key thing for us is we built a business-to-business service as well as a business-to-consumer service. That B2B allows us to integrate with our partners for delivery and it ties into our billing system. So as we get into pay-per-view and maybe other additional services like video on demand, if we ever get there, right now I think we're very flexible and capable of doing that.
Owning [the platform] is important because then you'll get metrics; you can get better feedback; you can build QoS into it and you can use reference designs today that allow the efficiency of making sure you haven't stepped on any patents or anything like that, but the reference design allows you to do the customization. It's almost like open source for devices.
We saw a box [here at IBC] that's literally a USB but it's a Linux box. We're like, "Oh, the things we can do with that."
We are looking at an ability to stream to smart TVs right now. We have an HDMI solution, a stick that allows you to log into your Wi-Fi and then have a remote and then you don't have to cast, you don't have to stream, you're utilizing a port.
Fierce: So consumers could have a Chromecast, a Roku, and then…
Tribolet: A Yip stick [laughs]. We see that maybe in 2016, second quarter. Just working with the manufacturers, getting price points. We're trying to make that very cost effective for the consumer. And that gets us also into the retail brick and mortar. Things we've had experience in.
Fierce: So, is there global expansion potential down the road for YipTV, the way that Netflix and Alibaba are doing?
Tribolet: Alibaba and everyone is doing their thing. But they're at a more mature stage from a growth perspective. Also, like everything, you start to find out once you've gone through the mainstream you need to get into the niches. Whereas we're starting more in a niche and over time hopefully becoming mainstream.
Fierce: YipTV takes customer feedback very seriously. What have you observed so far, along with your platform's analytics?
Tribolet: You always hear the 8:1 ratio of Android to Apple [devices]. It's 9:1. We're seeing 9:1 as an example. And as we get more customers we think that's going to widen. Because this community predominantly is on Android. They're looking for free apps. They have the free games. So this is the information that becomes critical to help cross segment to get them to actually convert.
The other thing is they like to try before they buy. And we do see that. So the hypothesis -- it's not a theory yet -- but we're migrating toward being able to pretty much zero in and say this is why they're converting. We've got their trust. It works consistently, and they don't have to go searching for the content.
We recently got a letter from a gentleman out of Albuquerque, N.M., that was 71 years old. He literally wrote a letter that said "thank you." It was our first customer letter back to us. So we sent him a backpack and a hat and some stuff and we really were happy with him. He sent back another letter that said, "I can't believe you're paying attention to someone like me. No one's ever paid attention to me. But the money that I save is a lot. And I really want to thank you for helping me save money." We actually called him. He had to pay over $110 a month to watch three channels. And we had the same channels for $15. He said "I had to watch on my iPad but I'm happy with that."
So we knew we were in the right place.