FreeCast CEO William “Bill” Mobley looks around at the current state of the pay TV industry, and, well, he isn’t impressed.
“Cable’s not ‘cool’ anymore,” he told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA). “It’s stuck in the past, it’s already too expensive and the price keeps going up. And the customer service is awful.”
His company is behind Rabbit TV and SelectTV, consumer and co-branded services, respectively, that offer content access to the FreeCast Network, the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Intertainment Guide” of freely available VOD and PPV library content online. Since launch, FreeCast products have sold more than 2 million units since launch.
Mobley took the time to chat with MESA about the origins of his company, the shift of Rabbit TV from a USB device to a Web-based platform, and the launch of SelectTV for telecommunications, mobile and Internet service providers.
MESA: How did FreeCast come into existence, what gap in the market has the company sought to fill?
Mobley: FreeCast started out by streaming some of the world’s biggest sporting events: The Super Bowl and the Olympic Games. They were both extremely popular, but the Olympics in particular helped to make FreeCast what it is today. The U.S. TV networks only aired a fraction of the games going on, generally those involving the US, and the final games for a medal. FreeCast offered users the ability to watch any of the events. So if you wanted to watch a first round matchup between Russia and South Korea, for example, which wasn’t on TV in the USA, we made that possible, generally by linking to a TV station or feed from Russia or Korea that was carrying that specific event live.
This was a huge success, bigger than we imagined it could be, and we realized that we could apply that beyond the Olympics, to the entire TV experience. Just about everything we watch on television today is also available somewhere on the Internet, though it’s spread across thousands of sources. By pulling this content together into a single guide, the same way we did with the various Olympic events, we’re able to replicate the cable TV offering, at a fraction of the cost, and make it available from any location or device via the internet.
MESA: In your opinion, why are consumers moving away from traditional pay TV services, and what does FreeCast offer that’s appealing to these cord cutters?
Mobley: Because of regional monopolies, the cable providers have little incentive to improve, and consumers feel like they’re getting ripped off. They feel that every month when they open their bill.
Content has never been more accessible. You can literally go online and find anything you want to watch, the same exact programs that you’d see on cable TV. But now the challenge is navigating it all. Take cable for example. Your average cable bundle alone is simply overwhelming, with hundreds of channels. I’ve seen cable packages with over 800 channels. If not for the on-screen guide, navigating that much content would be impossible. But that’s the situation that you have on the internet right now. Far more content than any cable TV subscription could ever offer, over 800,000 content sources, and no single guide to it all. That’s where we come in. FreeCast supplies that guide.
FreeCast has reimagined the TV experience specifically to address these problems. Rabbit TV is a modern product, available on all of your devices. All you need is internet access, and you can enjoy a complete TV experience from your living room TV, from your smartphone, from your tablet, your PC, wherever you are globally. It’s affordable, starting at just $10 a year, which gives you thousands of hours of free content. Premium content is available on an à la carte basis, so you only pay for what you watch; you don’t have to pay for 500 channels you don’t watch to get the dozen you want.
MESA: What were the biggest challenges (and benefits) for FreeCast when it moved its signature service — Rabbit TV — from purely a USB-delivered device to a Web-based platform?
Mobley: The USB device was great for us because it gave us a strong retail presence, allowing us to reach 1 million users in just 6 months, that’s faster than Netflix and Hulu by a wide margin, and even faster than Facebook and Twitter. The transition to the web has been relatively smooth, certainly from the perspective of our customers at least. Users of the original USB device are now able to log in to the web-based site, and there was never any interruption to their service.
The biggest challenge is really just one of educating new customers. When you say Rabbit TV, a lot of consumer still think of the familiar USB device they may have seen advertised, because it was a big hit at the time. They don’t realize that we’re now available on the Web. We think of that as a credit to the original Rabbit TV though. Moving to the Web offers many advantages though. That’s what has allowed us to reach new devices. Before you needed a PC with a USB port obviously, while now any device with an internet connection can access Rabbit TV, from phones to tablets and more. The service is now more portable and accessible to users. You don’t need to worry about having the device with you, so if you’re traveling or on a device that’s not your own, all you have to do is log in to the website.
MESA: This summer FreeCast announced SelectTV, a co-branded VOD service for telecommunications, mobile and Internet service providers. What makes SelectTV unique, and can you single out some of the partnerships that have helped grow the service?
Mobley: A lot of the changes in the TV industry are device-driven, and Rabbit TV Plus was perfect because it put video on those devices. But the big question for many users soon became “how do I get this on my big-screen TV?” Few consumers have smart TVs, and most of them are underpowered with just a handful of apps. Our answer to that question is Select TV, a quad-core windows-based device as powerful as a quad-core PC, which can handle all types of online video. Think of it like all the best features of TiVo, Apple TV, and Roku combined. Select TV devices will be available to consumers from the same retailers that currently carry Rabbit TV, over 35,000 of them nationwide.
As a co-branded product, Select TV will allow bandwidth providers who don’t currently provide pay-TV service offer a monetizable video product to their customers. That means rural telecoms, the hospitality industry, wireless carriers, apartment and condo complexes, college dorms, and more.
Select TV will launch in 2016, but the interest it’s received has really surprised a lot of us. Consumers especially are eager for this product to hit the shelves, which we expect to happen following the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
MESA: What gains had FreeCast made in international markets, and how has the aggregation of international content helped support the company’s domestic profile?
Mobley: Surprisingly enough, from the beginning, Rabbit TV has been an international hit. While only on sale in the US, we discovered that travelers from other countries would buy dozens of these things to take back home with them. There’s a huge demand overseas for TV shows and movies from across the globe, and Rabbit TV’s ability to help users easily find that content was just as valuable to overseas audiences as it was here. So shortly after the launch of the all-new Rabbit TV Plus, we announced plans to launch globally in the first quarter of 2016.
International content has really bolstered our offering, because a lot of it is both wildly popular and hard to get via traditional television offerings in the US. There’s Spanish soap operas, anime, Korean dramas, Japanese game shows, Bollywood movies, and more, all of which have large followings in the U.S. and worldwide. When it comes to content, we’re eliminating national boarders, so users can watch international content and expats can get content from homeland wherever they are in the world. As Rabbit TV rolls out internationally, bringing content like this into our system makes it accessible to domestic users too, many of who are eager to see it.
MESA: What’s next for FreeCast, on both the content and hardware sides?
Mobley: While we already offer just about all of the content that you could get with a cable subscription, we’re really looking forward to working more closely with the networks and studios to maximize this opportunity for both of us. Especially as many of them launch their own SVOD products, FreeCast and Rabbit TV can be powerful affiliates for getting users to embrace these offerings.
On the hardware side, we’re obviously preparing to launch Select TV. But we’re also making a big push into new devices with apps in development for Chromecast, a universal app for Windows devices, and gaming systems. We’ve also been approached by numerous other device-makers, who either want to produce their own Select TV devices, or pre-load Rabbit TV onto their products.
This means that in the future, you’ll see Rabbit TV and Select TV delivered via a variety of set top boxes, Chromecast-style sticks and dongles, as well as pre-loaded onto smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.
Read on MESA’s Website