Taking Storytelling to New Heights and Platforms

Published April 7th, 2020

By Ryan Chanatry, General Manager. Topic

Following today’s news on the launch of Topic, a new streaming video service for ‘culture cravers’, Ryan Chanatry, General Manager shares his insights on the service, what makes it unique and what he and the team are providing a unique source of entertainment for people at home during what is an extremely challenging time He also shares some great tips for content owners looking to go direct-to-consumer with their own OTT video service.

1.What is Topic and how does it compete against Netflix and other popular video streaming services?

Topic is a new streaming service that launched in the US and Canada on November 21st. We’re a part of First Look Media’s entertainment division, which also includes Topic Studios. We are a curated selection of drama, comedy, discussion, narrative, documentary, and doc-shorts. We’re available on iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Channels. A monthly subscription starts at $5.99 and you can save with a yearly for only $59.99.

We are not aiming to “compete” with other mainstream services but instead are looking to appeal to a particular frame of mind among consumers who are looking for a compliment to their typical entertainment options.

Most of the non-major streaming services program to a particular genre niche (horror, British, etc), but our vision is that Topic will appeal to a frame of mind or specific sensibility instead.

Our programming sits at the intersection of entertaining, provocative, meaningful, elevated, and smart, and we see ourselves as a compliment to the major streaming players and definitely not in direct competition.

We feel that there is room in our audience’s lives for a service they want to actively associate themselves with, that reflects their values, and says something specific to them with its programming.

2. What are your ambitions for the service over the next year or two? Do you intend to extend to new markets? 

We have many exciting projects in the works for 2020. We’ve recently premiered French drama Vernon Subtext, Shane Meadow’s incredible drama series, The Virtues (starring Stephen Graham), as well as episodes of our discussion shows Rough Draft with Reza Aslan, What’s Your Ailment?! with Maria Bamford, and coming on April 30th, Soul City, a three-part Topic Original set in New Orleans.

In addition to many more drama and comedy series premieres, we’ll be releasing narrative and documentary films throughout the year, highlighting engaging and critically acclaimed films from around the world, as well as lesser known titles that might not have had a previous presence on streaming services.

Beyond that, we aim to super serve our intended audience by providing them with a curated selection of programming that appeals to their desire to experience stories and creators that aren’t represented significantly within mainstream North American entertainment choices. We also look to provide a distribution option for series and narrative & documentary film that deserves to be seen without having to attend festivals or awards shows.

If there’s a demand for Topic in markets outside the US and Canada, we’re certainly open to exploring that in the future!

3. How does working with 24i help you meet your mission to push the art of storytelling to new heights?

24i enables us to present Topic consistently across all of the major app platforms in a compelling and simple way. They allow us to focus on our programming and marketing, while knowing that our product experience is in solid hands. Backstage, 24i’s CMS, lets us make adjustments to how titles on Topic are presented in seconds.

Additionally 24i keeps each app up to date and best in class, allowing us to take advantage of new features and bring those quickly to our audience. Their experience working across so many different types of streaming services also benefits the overall product roadmap.

4. There has been a boom of streaming video services over the past few years and competition is fierce. What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own, direct to consumer service?

Zeroing in on the service’s niche is most critical. Audiences will support and make room in their lives for brands and services that speak to them directly and that they wish to identify with. Finding that audience connection is the key first step. From there, creating relationships with many of the established and emerging providers specializing in the streaming video space, such as 24i, enables you to get up and running at a fraction of the cost of a few years ago, while leveraging their scale and technology. Given the competition, one of the biggest challenges is creating awareness for your service among the intended audience. Experimenting with a variety of marketing and press levers is essential to figuring out how to break through the noise and ensure your programming is seen and understood by those who are most likely to subscribe. Testing and iterating across product, programming, and promotion to optimize your funnel can then kick in.

5. Since people started having to stay home because of the COVID-19 virus, demand for streaming services has never been so great. How is Topic managing this increased demand and are you doing anything special for your subscribers hungry for good programming?

We are grateful to be able to provide audiences with a unique source of entertainment during what is an extremely challenging time on so many levels. Working closely with our teams on the 24i side, we’ve increased server capacity to handle the additional subscribers and streaming time that we’re seeing. Additionally, we’re excited to imminently announce a limited series comedy special, that will include some extra special guests, taking place over April/May. It’s bound to lighten up people’s spirits. We have also rearranged our overall programming schedule to launch a few of our high-profile and most binge worth dramas and comedies earlier than initially planned.

We’ve also launched a special 30 day free trial that leads to a 50% annual subscription ($29.99), available here. Read the press release HERE

Contact us today to find out 24i can help you take your content to new heights.

The world is watching: As the lockdown impacts viewing behaviour

It’s probably not a great surprise that most stats published recently show that video viewing is up overall in countries enduring a COVID-19 induced lockdown. But if you look more closely at the stats three distinct patterns emerge:
● Daytime viewing is performing really well - primarily powered by large upticks in news and kid’s programming
● Live video growth is outperforming the growth in VoD and streaming - primarily driven by news
● Operators and content owners are trying new business models, such as ‘straight to streaming’ for new movies.

Daytime video viewing

While overall viewing has increased, one of the biggest trends has been a resurgence in daytime viewing. Because the effects of the global pandemic are having far-reaching impacts across the economic and political spectrums, news channels are seeing a major increase in viewership figures. Meanwhile, with social restrictions forcing schools to close down, kids have been turning to their favourite channels to pass the time. Streaming platforms are seeing increased viewership.

AT&T highlighted that CNN daytime viewership increased 150% in the week commencing 16 March compared to last year, meanwhile, on Monday, March 16 (the first full weekday following actions taken by many local and state governments to begin enforcing social distancing measures across the US) Fox News, MSNBC and Fox Business all experienced significant double-digit increases. A Nielsen analysis report also showed that consumers are increasingly gravitating to local news outlets to stay informed about the impact of the pandemic on their communities.

As governments are continuing to give daily updates on their efforts to address the virus and advise their citizens on the next course of action, it is likely that we will continue to see a rise in news consumption as people tune into their trusted channels for ongoing information about the world around them. And it’s not just news that’s enjoying a surge in popularity, with family-oriented programming channels also enjoying strong audience growth, with reports of TeenNick almost tripling and total time spent watching the network increasing 171%, DisneyXD and Nicktoons daytime viewing up over 60% with Nick Jr. and the Disney Channel up around 30%.

Live video viewing is rising fast

The Havas Media Group COVID-19 Media Behaviours Report found that in the UK 48% of people are watching more live TV than they did before lockdown, with around 40% watching more video on demand and streaming services. The report also showed that Live TV has a 40%+ upswing in all age groups, whereas streaming and VOD growth was concentrated in the younger age groups. Havas also reported strong TV growth for TV viewing in the other regions monitored, including France, Germany Italy and China.  

In the USA, reports are showing total viewing hours up for live TV, driven upwards through an increase in total news viewing by over 70%.

New business models

Operators and content distributors are once again finding the truth of necessity being the mother of invention, with changes to schedules and business models.

Discussing the challenge of lockdown viewing, Ryan Chanatry, general manager of Topic, a popular  OTT streaming service powered by 24i, told us that he is producing a limited series comedy special, to lighten people’s spirits and has been able to rearrange its programming schedule to launch a few high-profile and most binge-worthy dramas and comedies earlier than initially planned. 

Another interesting trend is looking afresh at movie windows, with some studios trying ‘straight to streaming’ release windows. Reporting on this trend, Colin Dixon of nScreen Media discussing NBCU pressing ahead with PVOD, wrote: It (NBCU) released Trolls World Tour direct to digital on April 10, and the move seems to have paid off. The $20 rental generated $2-$3 million on the first day of release in the U.S. and could be headed to outstrip Avengers: Endgame first week of digital availability.”

In summary

Our customers are enjoying viewing uplifts, in some cases much higher than the figures reported above. At Amino and 24i we continue to work hard to support our broadcast clients to work as effectively and efficiently as possible and that our OTT and streaming customers can readily scale in line with demand. 

I’m looking forward to watching how these trends will play-out and if they will permanently affect business models as well as enabling us all to view what we want, when we want,  at home, at work or on the move; long after the COVID-19 lockdown is over.

Contact us today to find out 24i can help you scale and extend your OTT streaming services