Summit ’18: Amazon Channels, CuriosityStream reflect on OTT evolution

In the over-the-top media space, which is changing every day, experts expressed the importance of building relationships. That was a key takeaway from a panel session that took place Monday (Jan. 29) ...
January 30, 2018

In the over-the-top media space, which is changing every day, experts expressed the importance of building relationships.

That was a key takeaway from a panel session that took place Monday (Jan. 29) at the Realscreen Summit, moderated by Greg Rubidge, president of Syndicado, a Toronto-based film and television digital company.

Participants included Richard Au, Amazon Channel’s director, head of acquisition and John Hendricks, founder of CuriosityStream, a nonfiction doc-focused SVOD.

See below some of the other takeaways from the session:

Go broad and premium

Hendricks was skeptical that people would move towards only one or two prime platforms  should they be presented with a glut of streaming, OTT services,. He was also skeptical of how specialized of a platform viewers are willing to pay for. He predicted that ESPN, which covers all sports, will probably have a brighter future than a more niche market, like the Golf Channel.

Amazon Channel’s Richard Au agreed with Hendricks’ point about the opportunity and challenges that services face today. The premium cable networks that offer movies and original content have thrived on Amazon Channels, he said.

They also want to specialize programming, targeted at each viewer. For Amazon, Au said, the key is standing out.

Certain niches work well for Amazon, such as British programming. To align with that, a few months ago Amazon launched Britbox from the BBC.

“Our customers go home and want premium content…This is not people looking to snack on the latest cat video.”

It’s not about numbers, it’s about partners

At Amazon Channels, Au said they don’t have a set number of channels they want to offer. It’s about providing great video services and working with partners and potential partners to launch new services.

“The number will certainly grow. It will probably grow in the tens of channels versus the hundreds of channels next year,” Au said.

Partnerships are key for product growth

Hendricks said when CuriosityStream began, it started with pre-existing content from BBC and other suppliers. From there, he said he knew in order to distinguish the SVOD in the marketplace, he would have to create original content.

When moving into original content, Hendricks hired Steve Burns to head up content development. The company is open to commissions and receiving ideas from producers as to what projects they would like to undertake. Hendricks said they try to bring in partners so they don’t have to foot the whole bill on a project.

“If there’s an international player like BBC or NHK – all the better.”

Linear will most likely take the cake with live events

While Hendricks and Au have both dabbled in live events, they agree that the strength of linear in the long run will be in live programming with content like news and sports.

Over at CuriosityStream, Hendricks says they have done a few live programs, but it’s a space that linear television thrives in.

At Amazon, Au said they streamed Thursday night football games to their audiences around the world. It was one step in showing Amazon’s capabilities in the types of programming it can offer to its base but he said they don’t see live programming as something that would be offered as a core service.

But, he noted that they will continue to add live events that make sense for their customer base.


About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.