By Sahil Patel
TV4 Entertainment, a digital licensor and distributor of premium content, has launched DocComTV, a new documentary channel on Hulu. The channel, which is accessible via its own Hulu-based URL as well as featured films in the video site’s documentary section, currently offers seven films that TV4 has licensed from a variety of filmmakers. TV4 plans to add a lot more hours of content going forward as it builds out the documentary channel brand on Hulu and beyond.
Founded and led by longtime TV and digital media executive Jon Cody, TV4 is looking to solve the dual problems of distribution and video discovery that so many filmmakers and video creators face in today’s entertainment landscape.
This is because the value of traditional media is in its scarcity. For filmmakers and other types of content creators, this means there are only a finite amount of places they can distribute their work to. And as a result, it makes it difficult for their work to be seen.
Conversely, digital media is defined by ubiquity. Anyone anywhere can upload a video — whether it’s a quick, off-the-cuff clip or a professionally produced piece of content — and distribute it in the hopes that someone, somewhere might watch it. For content creators, digital media eliminates the barrier of entry. The problem is, this type of open distribution comes with a lot of noise. And as a result, it can be difficult for creators to place their content in front of the people who would actually want to watch it.
TV4 wants to find and help creators who are having trouble finding distribution on traditional media platforms, and want to ensure that their content has the best possible chance of being seen in the often chaotic world of digital media.
To bring clarity to the chaos, is how Cody describes TV4’s mission. And the company plans to do so by mimicking the television model of creating genre-based channel brands, and aggregating all sorts of relevant content into those channels. Just like how one goes to Comedy Central to watch funny movies and TV shows or ESPN to watch sports, TV4 plans to program viewers into accessing different digital channels to watch certain types of content. The idea is that this programming model will create a certain sense of familiarity not only with audiences looking for that type of premium content, but also with filmmakers and studios who have long understood the way things work in film and TV but are still hesitant to try out digital distribution.
The company is confident it’ll be able to do accomplish its mission, and it’s hard not to see why: Cody is a longtime media executive, with a resume that includes stints at the FCC (where he became “the architect of the nation’s broadband policy”), Fox Digital Media, and Hulu (where he served as launch GM). The rest of the TV4 team includes executives who have worked at the likes of Relativity, VEVO, Machinima, HBO, and Ovation.
In other words, TV4 knows about programming and distribution, and can speak in a language that is familiar to content creators. “We know how traditional films and TV shows get made and distributed. We know these deal structures,” says Cody. “There is a feeling that the internet is different. Well of course it is, but if you look at it in the context of the history of television, the internet is just the next generation of media. At the end of the day, it’s still about three core things: production, programming, and distribution. When you talk in that context, you take some of that fear away from quality content providers.”
If that is not enough, Cody says TV4 is offering very favorable deals to content creators. In most cases, the company is requesting global licensing rights across all revenue types, from subscriptions to transactional. Most deal terms span 12–18 months and are non-exclusive, giving creators the option to shop their content to other distribution outlets at the same time. Cody says TV4 pays out a “majority of revenue” back to the creators, though abstained from disclosing what the actual split was.
Beyond rev-share, Cody says TV4 can also be a data-play for creators. By partnering and distributing with TV4, creators will get to see how their content performs across different distribution types, allowing them to make more informed decisions for future deals and pieces of content.
Initially, the plan is for TV4 to strictly license and “super-distribute” other people’s premium content. In addition to the Hulu deal for DocComTV, the company has lined up a distribution pact with Net2TV (the company behind the Portico connected TV service) and is in discussions with other distribution platforms like Roku and Xbox. TV4 also plans to launch custom sites and mobile apps for each channel brand, and will use YouTube to pull in new audiences.
Cody does not leave out the option of TV4 eventually moving into co-producing and distributing original/owned programming. In fact, the company is already in discussions with several studios to create genre-specific content. But for right now, the focus seems to be on helping other creators get their stuff out there. As Cody says: “You own the creative and are responsible for the content, we will take care of your business.”