5 Questions With XUMO’s SVP of Product Chris Hall

Hall talks to the The Wrap about the increased competition in the OTT market and how XUMO plans to stand out

XUMO's Chris Hall
Courtesy of XUMO

When it comes to TV viewing habits, cord-cutting is only going to continue, says Chris Hall, senior vice president of product at XUMO, a live television and video-on-demand service.

In his role, Hall leads the product strategy and development of XUMO’s core streaming media technologies. The services are integrated into a suite of connected devices (such as smart TVs and set-top-boxes) and free-to-download, consumer-facing applications (for platforms including Android, iOS and Roku).

The service leans in on live TV, much like Pluto, which is among Xumo’s direct competitors.

This week we caught up with Hall to talk about how XUMO plans to compete in an increasingly crowded OTT market. Hall discussed the company’s strategy for continued growth and offered a prediction on what trends he thinks will shape the streaming TV marketplace in 2019.

TheWrap: As we’re approaching the end of the year, what major trends or developments do you think will shape the streaming TV marketplace in 2019?

Chris Hall: Cord-cutting will continue its upward trend. But media consumption isn’t slowing — it’s just shifting. In October of this year, the IAB released a viewer receptivity report noting that viewers value the content they’re streaming on XUMO nearly 10 percent more than what’s available through cable services. Increased interest and demand means that consumers will have even more choices and options for streaming entertainment in 2019 and beyond. Services that thrive will be the ones that not only deliver exceptional content, both in caliber and volume, but the ones who harness technology and new product capabilities to optimize their platform and viewing experiences — whether someone is watching on a connected TV or mobile device. With a great deal of investment in these areas, XUMO is both excited and bullish about our ability to continue scaling, innovating and helping to define the experiences of streaming TV.

From a product standpoint, what’s the key to building a free streaming TV service in today’s competitive market?

One of our most important achievements has been delivering simple, yet elegant interfaces that put usability at the top of the priority list. In order to do so, we’ve built an extremely intricate and highly automated infrastructure that allows us to intelligently program and operate over 150 channels that span multiple genres and delivery types. We facilitate, fully, live streams from top content partners like CBSN (live, breaking news) to the PGA TOUR (where we streamed live coverage of the FedEx Cup playoffs), while also bringing our user base nearly 5,000 movie titles from over eight different providers, and a full library of on-demand videos from each channel. Our commitment to quality content, presented at the right time and in a logical, easy-to-use UI has been instrumental in our gaining and maintaining a competitive edge.

With a foothold in connected TVs, does XUMO plan to grow the service via apps or other delivery methods?

Developing and supporting native integrations is our bread and butter. We were one of the first to pioneer these types of custom-built and platform-specific streaming services with LG, Hisense, Sharp and VIZIO years ago. From those early days until now, we’ve continued to build and tweak the offering, making data-driven alterations to enhance the overall quality of service — both on our native integrations and inside our owned and operated experiences. We aim to always provide a best-in-class experience for the viewer and there are a lot of opportunities to expand on this beyond connected TVs. In fact, by the end of the year, we’ll be making some big announcements about both distribution and new integrations that will bring our service to several million new viewers.

How does XUMO intend to compete with additional AVOD (advertising video on demand) products and services hitting the market like the Roku Channel?

We want to remain at the forefront of this AVOD trend and recognize the value of competition in the market. That being said, we believe the additional increase of eyeballs — in a space that we’ve been operating in for years — will actually be great for our business. To stay ahead of the game, we’re actually partnering with several device manufacturers to provide our intelligently curated, ad-supported linear streams to their platforms for an expanded audience to enjoy. To best unlock this exciting opportunity for new, off-platform distribution, our team of streaming media experts worked in partnership with the demand side of our business to develop our own SSAI (server-side ad insertion) solution. SSAI ensures that ads are dynamically inserted into these linear channels no matter where the stream is syndicated, while maintaining the targeting capabilities needed to maximize revenue. At present, we’re exploring the scalability and capabilities around this exciting new technology.

As the head of product, how have you evaluated the different viewing experiences a user should receive when presenting a mix of short and long-form content?

Consumers are gravitating toward our service in large part because we provide a vast range of programming across a multitude of formats. We’ve seen user viewing consumption grow by nearly four times year over year, and we’re looking at further growth trends this year. In fact, since launching earlier this year, our TV & Movies genre has crept up to become one of our top three consumed genres. These statistics indicate that there’s a healthy interest in long-form content and that our service is quickly becoming a regular entertainment habit for millions. Additionally, XUMO viewership data is showing a somewhat unsurprising/stable interest in live streamed programming, but also a steady and impressive growth trend in VOD consumption. We’re continually evaluating the different viewing experiences required to highlight both live and short and long form VOD, and we put a heavy emphasis on discoverability and surfacing the right content for the user at the right time to achieve that.