C21Media SCHEDULE WATCH CHANNEL PROFILE: UK AVoD preschool service Ketchup TV is gathering speed with a major distribution roll-out and a content growth spurt this autumn. Gün Akyuz reports.

C21Media

SCHEDULE WATCH CHANNEL PROFILE: UK AVoD preschool service Ketchup TV is gathering speed with a major distribution roll-out and a content growth spurt this autumn. Gün Akyuz reports.

Paul Coster

Overview

Following the roll-out of UK AVoD service Ketchup on digital platform YouView earlier this month, the preschool service has another launch up its sleeve.

Two-year old Ketchup, which offers a mix of well-known preschool brands aimed at two- to six-year-olds, is already an established presence on the Freeview and Freesat platforms in the UK. It is now revamping its presence on Samsung smart TVs with a new app, while apps for Android and iOS handheld devices are also rolling out this month. The service should also be on Android TV by the end of the year, says Paul Coster, CEO of Ketchup parent VOD 365.

Launching on YouView is a major milestone for Ketchup, Coster says. Not only does it make the preschool service available to the platform’s three million connected customers – translating into a further 300,000 unique viewers – but YouView’s next-gen TV service means all subscriber devices are internet connected, “so take-up and usage of those devices is very, very high and a lot easier for us to measure.”

It doesn’t stop there. VOD 365 is looking to expand Ketchup’s presence on other distribution platforms, including LG sets and pay cabsat operators Virgin and Sky.

Alongside that comes the move to offer customers an-ad free option for a small fee. “Parents should be given choice, and we’re discussing the Spotify approach,” says Coster.

But the exec is clear that Ketchup remains “first and foremost” a free-to-air, ad-funded VoD proposition. When it launched on Freeview in July 2016, Coster told C21: “The free model still presents, in our opinion, a huge opportunity in the television market. There’s a big TV market that’s still navigating the television EPG environment.”

Miffy has been acquired via a deal with Studio 100

Despite seismic upheavals in the UK’s audiovisual sector, Coster stands by that position today. “AVoD still has a big future,” he says. “Remember, young people, millennials don’t like paying for things. Ketchup is two years old and now a trusted brand. People may want to convert to SVoD over time [hence the Spotify approach], but many SVoD players just launch expecting people to pay from the start.”

Ketchup is VOD 365’s leading channel. The group’s family also includes factual channel Planet Knowledge and Sports Channel Network (SCN), both of which will be joining YouView next month. Additionally, VOD 365 has lined up “petrol heads” channel Gas Station for the end of the year.

The latest news is that an older sibling for Ketchup is now being planned. Currently dubbed Project Yaas!, it is expected to launch in the first half of 2019. “We’re already getting a lot of questions around that next generation of kids (6-11s) from media partners for brand advertisers, and we’re building a strategy for the new kids’ channel,” explains Coster. A music channel and a fashion and lifestyle proposition featuring influencers and tutorials are also being explored, as is spinning the eSports segment on SCN into a separate channel.

This all means that, in terms of marketing and distribution, VOD 365 can sell a package of channels to media-buying agencies and advertisers, says Coster. “It has become quite serious in terms of a channel outlet that is generating revenue, so we’re being taken more seriously,” he notes. An interesting yardstick is that Ketchup’s Q4 2018 advertising space has completely sold out for the first time.

As part of its dynamic advertising approach, VOD 365 is also exploring e-commerce for Ketchup and other channels, where its sports and eSports content, for instance, could sell tickets linked to events being programmed, as well as products.

Something that VOD 365 has developed and is able to deliver on YouView that others don’t is dynamic advertising, says Coster. “Launching on YouView is exciting because, excluding ITV’s programmatic advertising, we’re the only AVoD service on there delivering dynamic advertising.”

One example has seen Ketchup run an ad campaign for Cry Babies Magic Tears dolls, setting the products within a proper story rather than going with the usual pre-rolled ad, something that also gives ads and brands a more permanent presence as a Ketchup ‘splat’ on the main page.

Vic the Viking, another Studio 100 title

Another, featuring the Sylvanian Families IP, is running on Ketchup exclusively in Q4. “We’ve taken a different approach with media partners to engage with audiences, and no one else is doing this,” says Coster.

VOD 365 is now working in partnership with Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) platform to come up with joined-up reporting tools for ad-supported services in broadcast and on digital, with Ketchup lined up as possible case study. “It gets them onto broadcast platforms delivering advertising, which is quite a big thing for them,” observes Coster.

Current programming, acquisitions

Ketchup is currently expanding its preschool content line-up and will be on the lookout for a range of shows at Mipcom in Cannes next week.

Its YouView launch has coincided with a batch of fresh preschool content, including Miffy, Maya the Bee and Vic the Viking, in a new deal with Germany media company Studio 100 and its kids’ subsidiary M4E. Another agreement, with Entertainment One (eOne), means Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom is now part of the mix.

Ketchup also has deals with DHX, for properties like Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam, plus DreamWorks and Mattel. Coster says he wants more educational preschool shows along the lines of DHX’s Monster Maths and Super Why for the Ketchup line-up.

Alongside its established programme brands from the broadcast world, Ketchup’s popularity also stems from digital brands like hit YouTube nursery rhymes show Little Baby Bum and Om Nom, which Coster says perform very well.

Moreover, information on user behaviour from services like YouView means decision-making around what shows to choose can be more data-led from now on, which could result in more alternative programming sources, not just the traditional broadcast brands, says Coster.

Digital brands like Om Nom perform well for Ketchup

Ketchup is also revisiting the unintended added value of some of its previous shows. HeMan, for instance, was also being watched by adults on Ketchup. “We removed it when we were revamping the line-up and were emailed by a number of adults asking when it would be back. They’re watching with their kids. It’s the nostalgia factor,” says the exec.

This discovery has triggered Ketchup’s next programming move, which is the launch of a Ketchup Classics section featuring retro shows. Coster says he’ll be on the lookout for more such titles at Mipcom.

The exec wants quality over volume, stressing that shows must offer something with a point of difference. “We’re not a VoD warehouse but we need a range of shows to attract people. We’re working to get that balance right.” Ketchup looks for AVoD rights for a minimum of one year, but ideally three. A challenge in this area, notes the exec, is the unnecessary complexity around different rights – AVoD and SVoD and contracts – for same platform.

Alongside its acquired slate, Ketchup is now starting to work on shortform commissioning in the animation area, with the first results of this likely to appear in Q1 2019. It’s a move that move ties in with the group’s ambitions to eventually take Ketchup and its siblings international.

Gün Akyuz

Research editor, C21Media

HEADLINES FROM C21MEDIA.NET. YouView adds Ketchup, Miffy UK children’s AVoD service Ketchup TV is expanding its distribution across the country from today by launching its free player on the YouView digital platform.

YouView adds Ketchup, Miffy

Miffyʼs Adventures Big & Small is new to Ketchup TV

UK childrenʼs AVoD service Ketchup TV is expanding its distribution across the country from today by launching its free player on the YouView digital platform.

The deal with YouView makes Ketchup TV available to a further three million connected set-top boxes in TalkTalk TV and BT TV homes. A free Ketchup TV app is also launching iOS and android mobile devices this month.

Paul Coster, CEO of parent UK OTT firm VOD 365, said joining YouView represented “a major milestone in the development of our business.”

Ketchup TV, which launched on the digital Freeview platform in summer 2016, offers a mix of well-known preschool brands aimed at two- to six- year-olds.

New shows joining Ketchup TV include Miffy, Maya the Bee and Vic the Viking, following a deal between VOD 365 and Germany media company Studio 100 and its kidsʼ subsidiary M4E. A separate agreement with eOne also sees Ben and Hollyʼs Little Kingdom join the line-up.

VOD 365 has also renewed its deal with DHX for classics Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam and Teletubbies, and has existing deals with DreamWorks

and Mattel and more as-yet undisclosed agreements are being finalised.

Coster told C21 he will look for a few more shows at next weekʼs Mipcom market. He stressed quality over volume, adding that Ketchup TV was a curated service not a “VoD warehouse.”

David Faulkner, head of corporate and business development for YouView, called Ketchup TV “a great addition to an already strong line-up of players and Apps on YouView” like of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix and NowTV.

He added that it offered “a great range of the most popular childrenʼs TV content on-demand, to kids and families across the country.”

Ketchup TV is one of a growing number of ad-funded VoD channels run by VOD 365, including the recently launched Sports Channel Network, which is set to join YouView in November along with factual channel Planet Knowledge. It is currently also planning ‘petrol-headʼ service Gas Station, and Coster revealed that more channels are being planned.

VOD 365 claims to be the first UK company to exploit the OTT AVoD window in the UKʼs free-to-air digital space and the first to deliver dynamic advertising.

C21: Sports Channel Network – UK SCHEDULE WATCH PROFILE: VOD 365 is taking its OTT service Sports Channel Network to the next level with new distribution agreements and content opportunities.

C21Media

SCHEDULE WATCH PROFILE: VOD 365 is taking its OTT service Sports Channel Network to the next level with new distribution agreements and content opportunities. Gün Akyuz reports.

Paul Coster

Overview

UK OTT provider VOD 365 is gearing up to expand its fledgling AVoD OTT channel Sports Channel Network (SCN).

The channel, which launched on the UK’s Freeview DTT platform late last year, is due to join YouView in November following its arrival as an app for iOS and Android devices later this month.

SCN is the firm’s third channel. VoD kids’ service Ketchup leads the pack, says Coster, while HD documentary channel Planet Knowledge relaunched last November.

VOD 365 is currently finalising an agreement with electronics giant Samsung to preload SCN and Planet Knowledge apps on its smart TVs from this autumn. In the case of Planet Knowledge, the agreement with Samsung marks VOD 365’s first UHD app, offering up to 25 hours of free UHD content.

A fourth channel, The Gas Station – a proposition for petrolheads – is also being prepared, with a similar roll-out planned on Freeview, YouView and apps by the end of the year.

VOD 365 is all about free TV platforms, says Coster. “We’re not trying to compete with pay TV or trying to be subscriber-based. All our channels are ad-supported, they’re on FTA platforms like Freeview and YouView and there will be free apps to download. We’re also developing for Samsung and we’ll start developing for others too, including LG and Sony.”

The company’s channels are already available to Freeview’s estimated four million connected sets. “Part of our USP is that we’re launched from the EPG on TVs and not just in the app section, so when you enter the channel number, we move from a broadcast signal to IP,” explains Coster.

Launching on YouView will add a further three million connected homes. As a “next-gen TV service, all the devices are internet-connected, so take- up and usage of those devices is very high and a lot easier for us to measure,” Coster notes.

“The great thing is that [YouView] still uses the Freeview EPG, so our channels are still going to sit in the same positions – Ketchup on 211, Planet Knowledge on 265 and SCN on 266. But YouView is a cleaner, faster experience and uses HTML5, so we can do more with it. Viewers can access our channels via the EPG and launch HTLM5 or go into the apps area, where Netflix and Amazon sit, and we’re there as well.”

All VOD 365’s channels are in HD as well as SD. “This is very important,” says Coster. “Freeview has very few HD broadcast channels because it’s very expensive to deliver. We’re one of the few in HD on Freeview, and the only free HD sports channel.”

A key feature for the currently VoD-only SCN will be live streaming, which will be introduced towards the end of the year. “We have a whole host of events lined up to come on board with us,” says Coster. “We’re having active conversations about live sports events on SCN and looking at over 100 different events.”

However, SCN is not seeking to compete with major players like Sky Sports and BT Sports. “We can’t do that and we’re not going to,” states Coster. “What we’re doing is creating a channel portal that can host multiple categories of sporting content that’s unsold to the likes of Sky, BT or Eurosport and giving that content a platform. That’s first and foremost what we want to do.”

VOD 365’s ad-based proposition is also addressing a few media-buying challenges, notably advances in programmatic advertising, which Coster says is still very much work in progress within the industry as a whole.

“Due to the nature of the technology, you’ve wandered into the world of broadcast technology,” he explains, “but trying to make digital advertising work with broadcast doesn’t happen. They’re alien to one another, so we had to build something that sits in the middle and we’ve made it work with the help of Google.”

VOD 365 now has partnerships with addressable TV technology firm Finecast and Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) platform, and is in the process of developing joined-up reporting tools for an ad-supported presence on broadcast and digital and to give the viewer a better experience.

“We’ve taken a more hands-on approach because we think it’s quite important not to repeat the same ad two or three times in a row, for instance, like some services do,” says Coster. “We manage all that within the way we deliver it, so there are no conflicts.” Its Google partnership, for example, allows VOD 365 to run verifications on ad impressions, “so between that and all these different devices, we’ve got a bit of magic glue to make things stick and work.”

When it comes to the YouView launch, Coster adds: “There are other VoD apps on YouView but no one is delivering ads the way we are. They’re all fudging it – burning ads into the assets themselves, for example. We’re the first to deliver dynamic advertising.”

VOD 365’s ambitions don’t end there. By expanding its portfolio of targeted branded channels, it can offer larger aggregated channel inventory for media-buying agencies, although Coster concedes it’s still early days in terms of “getting lots of brands engaged to start using these types of services.”

Moreover, the company has developed technology to deliver its own branded channels, something Coster says is also “a potential device distribution business that could be applied to other channels. In fact, we’ve had conversations with a couple of big organisations about what we could offer going forward. We could white-label it, and why not?”

Current programming

SCN is home to a wide range of different sports, from mainstream to niche, amounting to more than 1,500 hours of HD content. Each week, the channel refreshes its line-up with up to 40 hours of new content.

Viewers can access more than 100 different sports, including football, motorsports, golfing, fishing, sailing, MMA, equestrian events, hockey, badminton, kickboxing, basketball and winter sports. Titles include IMG Media’s Golfing World and InCycle, as well as a weekly tennis show Deuce, football series Life’s a Pitch and MMA programme Total Combat. “But we also have Formula E and a weekly Formula 1 magazine called The Inside Line, and we’ve just taken on drone racing. There are a lot of new sports emerging,” says Coster.

The exec sees SCN as a potential incubator for a wide range of sports. “There are different audiences for different sports on different platforms,” he says, noting that fishing attracts older viewers on Freeview. “With data to help us create our strategy, what’s interesting is that if you look at what you may class as ‘niche’ sports, if you aggregate all the numbers together, it’s massive and into the millions.”

The service also offers eSports. Coster says the company is watching this sector very closely, noting the possibility of a dedicated eSports network in the future.

Data underpins VOD 365’s developments in a big way, from selling targeted advertising to curating content for niche audiences.

“The idea is to give these sports a home on a broadcast platform because when we watch sport, we want to watch it on a big screen,” says Coster. “We can work with these guys and develop their content in a TV environment on demand. In reverse, we’re saying we’ll give you the platform and we want you to communicate to new audiences where they can come and watch your content. It’s a very simple concept if we can aggregate these sports.

“Once you have meaningful portfolio content, you can better understand what’s working. Going forward, I think we’re going to have a range of different audiences. Certain content is going to work better on Freeview than on YouView or on mobile apps, just due to the nature of the demographics and what viewers typically associate with in terms of sports.”

The next big push will be to enhance content curation. “The beauty of these services and the way we deliver them is all the data we collect,” Coster says, highlighting the ability to use granular information to assist content curation based on level of usage, time of day and so on. “We can start using that data to push specific content and it will also help us with content acquisition and bringing new content in.”

When it comes to rights to mainstreams sports, such as football and tennis, the discussions tend to revert back to more traditional commercial models and agreements. “But with these other sports, the response has been fantastic and the enthusiasm from a lot of these other providers has been overwhelming,” says Coster.

VOD 365 is also working with social media fanbase-driven technology company Seed Media to uncover new hosting talent. “You’re influencing networks of fanbases with incentives to share information on your product. Given where we are with SCN, we think it’s a really interesting approach. There are lots of different niche sports, so if we can tap into the different communities of those sports, suddenly you’ve got a network that could potentially be quite big.”

Mipcom and Sportel will be key markets for SCN this autumn. Key categories on SCN currently include golf, sailing, motorsport and fishing.

“For Mipcom in particular, we’re looking for sports-related docs or magazine shows we can pick up. It will be about bolstering those categories where we know we have viewers engaged,” says Coster. “It’ll also be interesting to get talking to people about what we do and what they’ve got available, and those who don’t know we exist, because there aren’t many sports channels on FTA platforms.” SCN is the only HD sports service on Freeview, for example.

At Sportel, Coster says the focus will be on “getting out there and pushing our name out to more providers and seeing what’s available, what isn’t being sold to Sky and BT and what our opportunities are.”

He continues: “With sports, we’re very much about aggregating some premium HD sports content, putting it on TV for viewers free to watch and building an audience. Once we understand more about the usage – what’s strong and what’s not – from our data, we can carve out a content acquisition strategy to determine where we go with some of these bigger events and how we spend our money.”

There will also be Mipcom content sales opportunities for forthcoming channel The Gas Station, which plans to mix broadcast fare with YouTube content from car enthusiasts, as well as content-sharing opportunities with SCN, something sibling Planet Knowledge already does with titles like sporting doc The Immortals. “We’d like to launch with around 400 hours of content and build on it quite quickly,” says Coster, flagging requirements for “anything motor-related – primarily cars and classic cars, but also motorbike-related.”

Coster says the company has only really needed AVoD rights so far but is starting to pick up live OTT streaming rights for SCN. It is also looking into ‘Spotifying’ its approach by adding pay tier options.

“What we may do going forward with more premium content on live streaming, is PPV events,” says the exec. “Technically we have the capability to do that and we’re flexible in how we can package content. PPV could add value to the service, and there’s definitely sport that we will not get under ad-funded VoD or live rights because of the nature of that content and the attitude of the content owner.”

Coster believes some companies need to change their attitude to selling content rights to firms like VOD 365. “Why are we using age-old licensing agreements for new distribution opportunities? That’s one of the biggest problems we’re going to face going forward. It needs to change, in the same way that media agencies and how they spend needs to change.”