The speed, functionality, scalability of the video platform are critical to delivering the quality experience customers demand in an OTT service.Titus BicknellChief Digital Officer and EVP, Operations, RLJ Entertainment
High Quality Niche Content and Digital Streaming Make a Winning Combination
Launched in 2011, Acorn TV offers high quality, carefully curated British mysteries and dramas to discerning viewers. As one of the first subscription streaming services targeting distinct, premium audiences, Acorn TV streams exclusive content series such as Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Foyle’s War, Doc Martin, and Midsomer Murders.
Known for specializing in the best of British television, Acorn Media Group has been distributing British mystery and drama television content to U.S. audiences for over 20 years through a wide range of media platforms, including broadcast, DVD/Blu-ray, and digital streaming. Through its SVOD service, Acorn TV, viewers can access almost 3,000 hours of programming, representing over 150 franchises. The streaming channel is one of three niche subscription video channels owned by RLJ Entertainment (NASDAQ: RLJE), a global entertainment content distribution company.
Acorn TV exceeded its target for new digital subscription customers, and is on pace to double revenue from its over-the-top TV (OTT) business by the end of the year. “People subscribe to Acorn TV because we offer specific content they are passionate about; and we can deliver it quickly on a myriad of devices,” states Titus Bicknell, Chief Digital Officer and EVP, Operations, RLJ Entertainment, Acorn TV’s parent company. “With OTT, you no longer have to be a big broadcaster to distribute content.”
In March 2016, Acorn TV revealed it had reached over 250,000 paid subscribers, a 100% increase in year-over-year subscribers. The niche streaming service, which Acorn TV had launched as an accompaniment to its traditional TV broadcasting, is now replacing broadcasting.
Streaming Content Transforms Existing Audiences and Brings in New Demographics
“Over the years, viewers have come to Acorn TV because they are looking for specific content that only we offer,” states Bicknell. “There is a real emphasis on finding the content in its earliest possible U.S. window, and because we are that window, they come to us and they stay.”
The emphasis on accessing content more quickly is driving some of Acorn TV’s established audience, which fits an older demographic, to transition from traditional broadcast distribution to a digital streaming subscription. However, the major growth in Acorn TV’s audience is coming from a completely new segment, 18-25 year olds. “Our availability across a number of devices and platforms is enormously appealing to this younger demographic,” notes Bicknell. “This is a segment that literally views things differently; they have never had cable. In many cases, they may not even own a TV. Yet they are almost always watching multiple screens at the same time; it could be mobile device, a tablet, or a game console. The perception of the TV as a focal point in their lives is changing dramatically.”
The ability to stream to a variety of devices is enabling Acorn TV to attract this new demographic in significant numbers. As Bicknell observes, “This is the real frontier for digital streaming — not just changing the viewing habits of existing long-term customers, but establishing new viewing habits with new audiences.” To do this, Acorn TV delivers its digital content on Apple TV, iDevices, Roku devices, Samsung Smart TVs, and fixed and mobile web. “We’re in the business of reducing the friction between the desire for our content and the reality of delivering it in as many different ways as possible,” adds Bicknell. Making content available on multiple devices makes it possible for a wide range of audiences to embrace Acorn TV’s unique programming.
Building a Flexible Infrastructure
“One of the challenges of being in a niche market is that it’s very hard to determine the size of your addressable audience,” notes Bicknell. But, Acorn TV recognized the business potential of streaming digital content directly to viewers and developed an infrastructure that could grow to support hundreds of millions of video playbacks. “Digital has gone from niche to the most pervasive technology on the planet,” states Bicknell. “That has meant having to refresh the tech stack constantly.”
The initial challenge was managing the expense of new digital delivery technology until the business could support it. Acorn TV developed a technology strategy that allowed for flexibility, agility, and rapid implementation. “There has been a huge evolution in digital technology,” explains Bicknell. “That’s both the challenge and opportunity in the digital world. It’s very mutable.”
Acorn TV selected Brightcove as its online video platform (OVP) because its technology is scalable and reliable. “In my experience, the player is key,” states Bicknell. “The speed, functionality, scalability and flexibility of the player — and the video platform behind it — are critical to delivering the quality experience customers demand in an OTT service.” The Brightcove platform enables Acorn TV to easily and quickly add new devices to support the evolving preferences of its customers, which makes it possible for audiences to embrace Acorn TV’s offerings on an expanding number of devices, including Smart TVs, mobile devices, tablets, Fire TV, and Fire TV stick. The company is currently working on a Fire TV native app.
“At the end of the day, if you cannot deliver content to audiences on a complex and varied set of platforms, reliably and on a consistent basis, you don’t have a business. Brightcove has always been the most reliable provider of that core video service,” reports Bicknell.
OTT Opens the Door for More Niche Channels
Acorn TV and RLJ Entertainment see room for expansion in the niche content market. “With OTT, more people can create and distribute content. We're seeing more channels pop up and attract audiences with very specific types of content,” continues Bicknell.
RLJ Entertainment currently utilizes the Brightcove platform to power two additional niche channels, UMC — Urban Movie Channel, showcasing quality urban content — and Acacia TV, a healthy-living/ lifestyle brand. The company also has rich content libraries that present the potential for additional stand-alone channels. As an added benefit, Bicknell notes the cost of OTT delivery is less expensive than producing DVDs or Blu-rays. As Acorn TV scales with OTT, margins improve and Acorn TV can invest in more content.
“There is great scalability in the platform and technology we built, and we believe there are more audiences for our niche content,” concludes Bicknell.