Adam Rymer is currently President of Legendary Digital Networks where he oversees all day-to-day business for LDNs digital brands including Nerdist, Geek & Sundry, and Smart Girls. Since joining the company in 2014 he has spearheaded a number of growth initiatives including building out sales and production infrastructure and closing key distribution deals with Verizon, Spotify, and Vessel, and expanding relationships with partners including YouTube, Facebook, and 3BlackDot.
Throughout his professional career, Rymer has played an active and instrumental role in the digital transformation of the entertainment industry. Most recently he was COO/CFO of film finance/production company, Lava Bear Films. Prior to Lava Bear, Rymer spent eight years at Universal Studios Motion Picture Group, most recently as Senior Vice President, Universal Pictures Digital Platforms, where he spearheaded the studio’s distribution and new business initiatives through emerging channels including mobile, broadband, interactive and digital cinema. Rymer coordinated the company’s electronic sell-through and video-on-demand strategies, oversaw the production of short-form entertainment for mobile and online distribution and helped Universal take an active role in the creation of video games based on its film properties. In 2007, Rymer was named to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Generation” list of the top 35 entertainment executives under the age of 35.
This week we caught up with Rymer to discuss the current state of Alpha, the SVOD platform launched by Legendary in November of 2016. Rymer discusses how the streaming platform has been able to leverage its community to give it a competing edge against giants like Netflix and Amazon.
Legendary has taken a unique route with its streaming service Alpha. Instead of trying to compete with Netflix and Amazon in creating big budget original content, the service leans into one of its most valuable assets: its community. To do this, the company has leveraged interactivity to make its audience part of the action. What have been your biggest takeaways from using this strategy to grow and strengthen your audience?
We are still at the early stages of adding all of the interactive features we’ve contemplated. Right now, we have live chat, forums, giveaways, and in-person meetups. We’ve found that these interactions between our talent and our members, as well as peer-to-peer in our member community, have greatly increased the “stickiness” of the platform, enabled us to find our top-level fans and helped our members find and make friends within the community. We’re continually learning and evolving the UX, and we plan to keep experimenting and adding new functionality with the ultimate goal being an incredible experience for fans and creators.
Aside from video content, what other strategies have you implemented to grow the SVOD side of Alpha’s business? Which have been the most successful?
It’s important that we continue to think of this more as a membership model than a pure SVOD platform, with a large part of the value-add living outside of and in addition to our video content. Members get discounts to merchandise, early access to events, and much more to come. As we grow, we will be able to add more great programming and more membership benefits. The live events that we produce have been enormously successful in driving new memberships. Having the opportunity at conventions (like Gen Con and Comic-Con) to spend time with our members and hear from them firsthand what they are interested in with respect to tech features and new content enables us to responsively refine our development strategy in a way that our competitors can’t.
Almost a year ago, you said that, “Discovery is essentially broken on OTT — search” and that, “surfacing of relevant content to consumers still has a long way to go across all devices.” With this in mind, how have you tackled the issue of discoverability when it comes to Alpha?
You’ll see some more changes coming this year, but a key tenet of Alpha is for it to be tied in with our AVOD platform in a bigger way. We have significant reach on our AVOD platform across social networks and our sites directly. By leveraging this reach, we can drive people to the top of the funnel to discover the value and benefits of becoming a member. It is very difficult for a startup OTT platform without an installed base of daily users to find their audience and deliver their message without spending significant sums on marketing and premium level content. We can move our premium content from inside of Alpha to our AVOD sites to enable additional discovery. This year we’ll have an even more robust ability to merge the AVOD and SVOD parts of the operation.
When Alpha launched, the service experimented with a combination of chatrooms, forums, video content, and features such as “guesting,” which allows a select member to appear on-screen and directly interact and communicate with hosts and celebrity guests. After almost a year of experimenting with these formats, which have proven to be successful and which have you decided to put on the sidelines, if any?
Feature implementation has been an ongoing experiment in prioritization. We’re fortunate that we have an active user base who can provide guidance on what features and services they think are the most relevant. We’ve had a lot of success with integrating voting capabilities into our live streams that allow the viewers to direct the conversation, pick winners, or otherwise tell us how they feel on particular subjects. Some of the more advanced guesting features are taking a little longer to develop as we haven’t found the right technical partner, and we have to balance our internal tech development with other features the audience wants (e.g., variable bitrate streams). That said, there are some pretty amazing new formats coming later this year that we will hopefully be able to share very soon.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of 2018 for Alpha and how do you plan to tackle it?
There are two factors that we’re constantly trying to improve on. First is how to effectively market the service given that it’s actually very different from a traditional OTT offering. Marketing a particular show like Bizarre States or Critical Role is fairly straightforward, but communicating the many benefits of the service and the roadmap of what’s to come can be complex, and we have to be smart and creative about how to tell that story. Second is getting to make all of the content we want to for the platform. Until now we’ve been producing almost all of the content ourselves in our own production facilities, but we’re growing so quickly that we’re now using a different type of development and production process, engaging 3rd party creators, such as UCB, to make additional content for Alpha.