Ellation’s ‘VRV’ Platform Sets Sights on SVOD Surge

Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Seeso, Frederator Networks among platform’s initial content partners
VRV on smartphone.jpg

Taking aim at the surging popularity of niche-focused, subscription VOD services that are delivered over-the-top, Ellation has introduced VRV, a multichannel video distribution platform that will launch later this year and feature partner “channels” such as Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Seeso, Nerdist Alpha, and Geek & Sundry Alpha, along with exclusive access to Frederator Networks’ premium Cartoon Hangover offering.

Ellation, a portfolio company of Otter Media (the OTT-focused joint venture of AT&T and The Chernin Group), is tailoring its platform for fans of anime, animation, gaming, comedy, fantasy and technology. 

VRV's initial batch of partners are on tap to deliver premium content such as Berserk, Cyanide & Happiness, Red vs. Blue, RWBY, and Bravest Warriors. VRV plans to announce additional premium channels in the coming months. VRV will initially distribute its SVOD platform to U.S. audiences.

VRV is not an “open” platform, but a curated one that will work with specific partners that fit the audience segment being targeted that are also interested in building premium subscription channels, explained Ellation CEO Tom Pickett, an exec late of YouTube and Google.

“We know who we’re going after and we know who we're not going after,” he said.

He acknowledged that SVOD services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have achieved scale with a broad focus on content, but said there’s a distinct need for a platform that can curate and offer services tailored for VRV’s focus.

Crunchyroll, an SVOD service with more than 750,000 subscribers that’s majority owned by Otter Media, was “at the core of why we decided to execute this strategy,” Pickett said, citing the offering’s ability to “super-serve” a passionate community. Crunchyroll’s main focus is anime, but the service identifies beyond it with gamers and fans of sci-fi and technology – the kind of audience that VRV will focus on.

“Crunchyroll really taught us that it's about content-plus-community, and we are really coming after it from that perspective with VRV,” Pickett said. “We will be working aggressively with the Crunchyroll audience.”

Fred Seibert, CEO of Frederator Networks, noted in the press announcement for VRV that many Cartoon Hangover fans are also Crunchyroll subscribers and anime fans.

VRV’s content partners also tend to have strong presences on social media, so the platform will also try to promote itself through those channels.

VRV plans to announce more partners later this year, as it will also be looking at channels with a strong YouTube presence that are also interested in creating premium versions. Pickett said VRV will also seek out SVOD deals that give VRV some exclusivity before they make their way to YouTube or other ad-supported platforms.

VRV will make all supported SVOD services available on an a la carte basis, but the service will also offer a “core bundle of channels for a single price,” Pickett said, noting that the latter will also provide those channels at a discount.

He said VRV will sort out the makeup of that core bundle this summer and announce more details closer to the launch.

VRV will also offer some free, ad-supported content, with the hopes that viewers will want to unlock the full subscription channels after getting a taste.

In some ways, VRV is a tangential competitor to Amazon’s Streaming Partners Program, an offering that features a curated mix of SVOD services along with all the backend support for elements such as billing, streaming infrastructure and device compatibility management. But Picket believes that VRV is taking a unique approach that will help to set it apart in what’s becoming a heated market.

“I think there’s also room for great audience-focused services that attack the problem in a different way that starts to bring a community together and create a more social experience and start to move beyond the video,” Pickett said. “We want to create an experience that is more social, where you feel you are there amongst friends." 

Vessel, a YouTube competitor founded by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, uses exclusive content windows for some of its content partners, but Pickett said VRV is different because of the subscription angle, its content focus, and its use of anchor properties such as Crunchyroll.

“We’re going after a specific audience and not be something for everyone,” he said.

VRV will be available on the Xbox One at launch (Ellation  announced the platform today in partnership with Microsoft at E3 during the Xbox Daily Show), and will announce other device partners later.

“We want to be across all of the platforms that matter for this audience,” Pickett said, adding that VRV will add platforms gradually.  

Crunchyroll, one of VRV’s partners, already supports several, including the Wii U, iOS, Windows Phone and Android mobile devices, the PS3 and PS4, Xbox One and Xbox 360, Roku, Google Chromecast, and Apple TV.

More details about VRV and its strategy will be featured in the Next TV section of the June 20 issue of Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable.