OTT Isn’t Just for the Young

Hallmark-backed Feeln was early to game by targeting older audiences
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When the words over-the top and streaming video are uttered, “millennials” typically isn’t far behind.

After all, the younger set, which tends to include a small-but-growing group of cord-cutters, has played a major role in setting the pace of change for the pay TV industry. But not all OTT services are specifically tailored to meet the needs of those groups.

One of them, Feeln, a subscription-VOD service that is part of Hallmark Cards, has found success with a library focused on an older generation of consumers.

“We have more subscribers in their 60s than in their 20s,” Rob Fried, Feeln’s founder, explained, noting that Feeln’s audience is also mostly women.

Feeln is a mature service in more ways than one. In addition to targeting an older demographic, it’s been around for almost a decade, making it a veteran of the OTT market in terms of Internet years.

EARLY ADOPTER

But the service wasn’t always called Feeln and it didn’t always have an important link to Hallmark. The company’s origins were based in video production and an early desire to deliver short-form content directly to consumers.

Before the service was founded in 2007, Fried, a fi lm producer at heart, began to write and develop a collection of short films that, he says, “were life-affirming, inspiration stories” with the help of fi lm-school students and recent graduates. But Fried said he wanted to get the work out to the public without “the interference of the Hollywood machine” that tends, in his view, to make films more expensive and to sometimes veer away from a producer’s original aims.

Though broadband was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, Fried said he believed then that the time was right to start to take his content direct to the consumer rather than distributing it through advertising partners or outside exhibitors.

“The premise was to connect directly, the filmmakers — in this case, me — with the viewers,” he said.

Fried then launched what was called Spirit- Clips, a service that focused on his short films. That name, he acknowledged, was problematic in part because Fried had to spend time restating or respelling it to others. And while the service’s focus resonated with the faith-based community, that affinity also kept some people away.

“We had a hard time getting on some platforms … because [they] didn’t want to show precedence for one faith-based company versus another,” he said.

Fried said the ultimate direction and focus of his SVOD service took a big turn when Brad Moore, president of Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, stumbled on SpiritClips, liked its short films and then inquired if there was a way to have the service include the venerable Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for- TV movie collection. Both sides bought in and Fried’s company became part of Hallmark Cards in 2012.

“I realized at the time that [SpiritClips] was no longer a short fi lm company, but a content company with a sensibility,” Fried said. “And I needed to not just produce original content, but also [offer] licensed content of varying lengths to keep the subscribers happy.”

And then there was the name. Fried wanted to use the well-known Hallmark brand, but the concern was it could cause confusion with cable network Hallmark Channel, owned by Hallmark-controlled Crown Media Holdings.

To keep the two services distinct and separate, the name of the service was changed to Feeln in September of 2014. Feeln currently sells for $3.99 per month or $23.99 per year, but there are plans to raise the price in a couple of months.

“The growth since then has been quite strong,” Fried said. Feeln won’t disclose the exact numbers, but Fried said the service has been growing at a rate of “well over 200% a year,” with subscribership in the “hundreds of thousands.”

Feeln’s library includes about 1,000 pieces of content, including a new original scripted drama, The Eleventh, with Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner, Florence Henderson, Chris Atkins and Tracy Nelson, which follows a young girl’s journey as she gets to know her estranged grandmother. Feeln was also behind the recent reboot of the 1980s animated series Rainbow Brite, featuring the voices of Emily Osment and Molly Ringwald.

LOYAL AUDIENCE

Fried said Feeln’s demographic focus comes with both advantages and disadvantages. The service’s older viewers are less adaptable and less prone to change than tech-savvy millennials, but they’re also less likely to churn once they sign on.

“It may take them a while to subscribe, but they don’t unsubscribe quickly,” he said.

Feeln’s platform reach is probably broader than many services that skew to younger audiences, though. The service is currently available on Roku players; Apple TV, Fire TV and Android TV devices; Sony and Samsung connected TVs and Bluray players; apps for Android and iOS; Xbox 360; and Web browsers, and it’s optimized for the Google Chromecast. An app for Windows 10 is in the works.

Video is also just one piece of the puzzle, as Feeln also manages an e-card business. “They are subscribing to a lifestyle brand, if you will,” Fried said.

When the words over-the top and streaming video are uttered, “millennials” typically isn’t far behind.

After all, the younger set, which tends to include a small-but-growing group of cord-cutters, has played a major role in setting the pace of change for the pay TV industry. But not all OTT services are specifically tailored to meet the needs of those groups.

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