I’ve seen quite a few presentations for video streaming platforms in my time, both representing and covering companies in the video space. When I heard NBCUniversal EVP of Digital Enterprises Evan Shapiro give his take on how to win the OTT game at a time when practically everyone’s a player, I thought, yep, this one may have nailed it. Despite the wonky branding, SeeSo could have the right approach.
What is that approach exactly? It’s treating online streaming the same as television, but with a few slight modifications.
“Our approach here is to create what we think are the cable versions of the OTT world,” said Shapiro, who draws from years developing comedy franchises for television.
If this was 20 years ago we might be creating a new cable channel.”
If the Netflix generation of programming strategy has taught us anything, it’s that there is truly no difference at this stage — video is television, and television is video. The delivery mechanism may have changed, but that doesn’t mean that programmers need to reinvent the model, and that’s something Shapiro and his team have recognized early in SeeSo’s life cycle.
“We very much, in the roots of our DNA [at NBCUniversal], believe in the long-term benefits and success of linear pay TV programming,” said Shapiro. “But for us to pretend there isn’t this type of media diet growing in popularity would just be folly.”
According to Shapiro, the main driver for NBC was to create and incubate products that are complementary to the overall linear business. So the best way to approach the streaming market was SeeSo, a big, niche, Internet-streamed channel that blends the key elements of television, legacy subscription companies and digital (really social and mobile) in a sweet spot combination. SeeSo has found that balance in exclusive and non-exclusive syndicated, original, live specials (a la the early days of HBO) and short-form clips — a winning formula delicately balanced to the needs and tastes of a multi-device audience. (For more on SeeSo’s programming strategy, read “SeeSo Lines Up A Stacked Slate Of Big Niche Comedy.”) It’s an interesting step for a linear broadcaster that reported strong earnings this quarter across its various linear brands including Bravo and SyFy.
“Just like CBS has a certain brand of drama, NBC has a specific brand of comedy,” said Amber J. Lawson of Comedy Gives Back. “So a collection of comedy content with the improv and sketch roots of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will resonate with audiences and be successful, hence why they have programmed ‘Kids in the Hall’ and commissioned UCB!”
Companies such as Samsung Milk Video, Yahoo, and even Go90 have taken the wrong approach by assuming that digital formats need to be kitschy and influencer-driven.
“Whether it’s watched on Amazon or Netflix or SeeSo, TV is TV,” Shapiro said. “Television is not a platform, it is not a time slot. Prime time is really a level of quality and an expectation of storytelling and professionalism.”
And SeeSo, which the team built and launched in only 10 months, looks remarkably close to television, from the library content to the lean-back mid-episode experience that viewers catch upon hitting Seeso.com. Aside from programming strategy, SeeSo has approached its freemium play such that it can net people via search and discovery of its legacy titles, much in the way premium subscription cable used to (recall those free weeks of Showtime, HBO and Cinemax?). Other successful niche streaming destinations like Dramafever also approached pay wall subscription in this way.
For Shapiro, discovery of the content that will stream on SeeSo is the relatively easy part, although most programmers may beg to differ.
“Discovery is a challenge, especially because there are so many entertainment options out there for consumers,” said Seung Bak, founder at Dramafever. “One way to tackle this is largely by focusing programming strategy on content that is hyper targeted to specific audiences.”
While the channel is very new, and discovery could prove the biggest challenge, my bets are that a year from now Shapiro and his team will have an industry standard-setting case study on hand and probably another big niche brand or two well in progress on the heels of a proven model.
“We need to develop products that keep us in all aspects of the business,” said Shapiro. “This isn’t about maintaining the status quo, This is about growing the business long-term.”