Over the Top of OTT… Need a MAP?
As news continues to break regarding the fate of cable and the future of OTT, following the big reveal of HBO Now, FreeCast Inc’s new communications director, Kevin Speedy, has finally managed to corner me with some questions on the direction of the television industry. We sat down yesterday morning to discuss a number of topics, and while I was the one answering all the questions, I can safely say that it was an enlightening conversation for both of us, and potentially for others. That’s why I wanted to share our discussion, in the form of an interview, here on Medium.
Kevin Speedy, Communications Director of FreeCast Inc: Alright Bill, let’s start with the basics. Could you talk a little bit about your own experience in this business and how that’s translated into Rabbit TV’s success?
Bill Mobley, CEO of FreeCast Inc: Yes, as you know, my previous company MegaMedia Networks really pioneered web video. We created the first no-download on-page video streams back in the late 1990s, signing deals with Warner Bros., Miramax, Sony, and other studios, at one point delivering over 800,000 streams a day via our web portal, Megachannels.com . And you’ve got to remember, this was all in a time before DRM, before YouTube or Netflix were doing it, and back when your average modem speeds were 56kbps. So come 2011, when the idea for FreeCast was born, I didn’t want to simply build another web channel, another Netflix. I knew that wasn’t what the market needed. Instead, we set out to solve a real problem facing consumers as television viewing moves online. And so far, that strategy has paid off big time. In just 22 months we’ve sold over 4 million subscriptions to Rabbit TV Plus, many through over 35,000 nationwide retailors including Walmart, Target, CVS, Office Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sears, and more.
KS: It’s funny you should explain it like that, because a lot of the questions that I continue to get, and that I’m sure you get often too, are “what is Rabbit TV?” or “what’s the difference between Rabbit TV and Netflix.” Could you elaborate on that distinction a bit, in your view?
BM: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, they’re all monthly subscription-based VOD libraries. They have an ever-revolving door of content based on licensing what’s popular at the time, so it’s a balancing act to keep people happy and content available. But as a result, if a Netflix customer wants to watch something that isn’t on Netflix at the time, they’re sort of out of luck. They can go try to find it somewhere else, but with thousands of online video sources out there, they’re likely to give up after searching just a couple of other sources if they even get that far. That’s a big missed opportunity, because almost all of the content you watch with a cable subscription is available online somewhere too. With cable, you flip through hundreds of channels, or even the TV guide, until you find what you want, and it doesn’t take too much effort. That’s what Rabbit TV does for video on the web. We take content from hundreds of web-based channels, and put it in one spot where it can be easily searched and sorted through.
KS: These libraries would also include those from traditional TV networks, is that right? You’ve got CBS All Access, HBO’s recently announced service, it seems like more networks are jumping in every day. With all this demand for, and momentum behind these libraries, what’s the advantage of FreeCast’s different approach?
BM: “Jumping in to what?” is the real question. What we’re doing is really so much bigger. The media buzzes every time some TV network announces some new online service, but that just strikes me as looking at the small picture. The real innovation, the disruptive change to the television industry, the cable-killer, is going to be the technology that can bring these various media sources together into one good experience for consumers, and it has to be a good experience for the content providers too. And that’s what we’re building with Rabbit TV Plus: an open, agnostic Media Aggregation Platform. A MAP. It’s a platform where content providers and consumers can have direct transactions. That’s what the networks want to achieve by getting their content online, so we’re not just creating a library, we’re creating a marketplace where that can happen.
KS: So despite the diminishing role of cable with the current cord-cutting trend and all, you’re saying that what the explosive online video ecosystem needs is something like today’s MSOs that bring a wide assortment of content together for the consumer.
BM: That’s exactly right. Where MSOs, Multiple System Operators, use cables or sometimes satellites to deliver expensive bundles of programming, what we’re aiming to do with Rabbit TV is essentially the same, only using the internet instead of building our own physical infrastructure. That’s why we’re over the top of over the top. What we do is simply connect consumers with existing OTT content sources, rather than trying to resell everything to them for a profit like the MSOs do. By cutting out the middleman, consumers can get everything they want at a much lower price than with cable, while content providers can keep more of that revenue, be it from advertising, subscriptions, or pay-per-view content. Not only that, but it gives them access to valuable data about their customers and audience as well. And what’s key to making it all work is that consumers can really get everything, rather than being limited as with the libraries.
KS: That sounds like a win-win for consumers and content providers alike, not to mention a real bargain for Rabbit TV’s price of $10 a year. How does FreeCast make money by providing this service at that low price?
BM: Rabbit TV Plus is not just a MAP, it’s an e-media guide. In a lot of ways, you can compare it to the old TV guide. Just like the pages of TV guide, our pages have advertising on them. Additionally, Rabbit TV earns a commission on pay-per-view content or subscriptions purchased by members. Tons of other opportunities exist for us that we’ll be looking into, including opportunities to sell merchandise relating to the content our viewers are watching. Movie tickets from the same genre, clothing or products featured in a TV show, products based on consumers’ interests…
KS: Let’s talk about MAPs, Media Aggregation Platforms, is that a new concept? I ask because it makes a lot of sense, performing some of those functions of cable and satellite operators, only for online vide.
BM: It’s basically the classification and acronym for what we and guys like Yidio and TV.com do. We’re definitely doing it a little different from the other guys, bringing in more different types of content: live events and web channels, radio stations, etc. We’re making it even more comprehensive and we’re also charging for it. We’re the first paid, subscription-based MAP, and the first one that brings in other premium services. We go beyond just telling users where a piece of content is or whether they can watch it, we’re building a platform where they can watch anything they want, a big part of which is a marketplace for all of these OTT channels to come together.
KS: On that note, where are we now with Rabbit TV Plus, and what’s next for the company?
BM: We’ve got an exciting new product coming out, targeting the home and commercial markets, called Select TV, as well as a virtual credit ID for our subscribers. This will allow our users to pay for a pay-per-view movie, a subscription to a service like CBS All Access or NBA League Pass, any à la carte selections they want, and pay with one service. This will put all purchases and charges on a single itemized monthly bill for consumers, as well as protect their credit card data, while making other registration information available to the content providers.