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CEO Presents Online Strategy for Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment – Media Play News | Pro Club Bd

William J Rouhana Jr

Stephanie Prange

William J. Rouhana Jr. is Chairman and CEO of Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment and has been CEO since April 2008. A leader in the media, entertainment and communications industries for more than 35 years, he was the founder and CEO of Winstar Communications, a wireless broadband pioneer, and Winstar New Media, one of the first online content companies, from 1993 to 2001. During his career, Rouhana led the acquisition of numerous media companies, including Virgin Vision, a global film distribution company of the Virgin Group in the 1980s. As an entertainment and financial lawyer from 1977 to 1985, he developed new film financing models for major producers such as Blake Edwards. He is the founder of the Humpty Dumpty Institute, which created the International Film Exchange, and co-chairs the Global Creative Forum, which connects the United Nations with leading film and television executives, producers and talent.

In May, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment announced it would acquire Redbox Entertainment, the operator of more than 38,000 DVD rental kiosks and branded digital entertainment properties. The announcement follows the agreement announced in March to acquire the assets of 1091 Media, which includes the distribution business known as 1091 Pictures.

Media Play News asked the longtime manager what he intends to do with the acquisitions and what the long-term strategy of his company is like.

MPN: What is your big vision for Chicken Soup for the Soul?

Rohana: We, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, build the best AVOD and bring great content to everyone for free. We’re expanding our high-quality original and exclusive content, expanding our reach and increasing ad sales through our new technology platform and ad formats.

If we implement all of these initiatives, we should be able to add significant shareholder and consumer value on the journey to building the best AVOD.

MPN: What are the entertainment offerings/services under the banner and how do they integrate?

Rohana: We have three major AVOD streaming services within Crackle Plus – which has over 40 million MAUs:

  • Crackle – a premier AVOD network – a leading free-to-use video entertainment streaming service with full-length movies and TV shows, including original and exclusive content;
  • Popcornflix – created for viewers who want action, adventure and heartbreaking moments from full-length movies, gripping documentaries, foreign films and one-of-a-kind original webseries; and
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – our newest streaming service that includes fun, inspirational, uplifting and educational content with a wide range of movies and TV series about food, home, travel and more.

We also have global content acquisition and distribution capabilities through our Screen Media division and production capabilities for a variety of original long- and short-form scripted and unscripted content through our multi-studio Chicken Soup for the Soul Television Group. Additionally, we have one of the largest independent film and television series libraries to feed our streaming services.

MPN: How does Chicken Soup compete with the major streaming services and which services do you see as your main competitors?

Rohana: Wherever consumers are watching great content, it can be viewed as a competitor in the streaming business. However, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is primarily focused on providing value-conscious consumers with original and exclusive content that they cannot find anywhere else. Recently, our Screen Media team inked a deal with the BBC for Sherlock and an additional 2,500 hours of content exclusively for our Crackle Plus streaming services.

We consider our main competitors in the AVOD space to be Fox, Paramount and Amazon services.

All of this leads to compelling content (and original content at that). People don’t think they’ll get great original content on a free streaming service, so we’re new to them.

MPN: How long do you think this explosion of ad-supported streaming content will last?

Rohana: There are several industry themes that we believe will only continue going forward:

  • The speed at which consumers have switched to AVOD – although accelerated by COVID – has continued as more consumers become aware of quality free streaming options like ours.
  • There’s great, award-winning content on streaming services, including ours.
  • The rise of AVOD across the streaming industry is driving the media to increase AVOD spending. Not only do we have a four-year lead over newer network owners, we’re also free of legacy thinking – for us it’s not a strategy to compensate for cable cuts; It’s a growth business.

MPN: Crackle Plus had a big hit in 2019 with Original Series Going From Broke, the Ashton Kutcher-produced series about helping young adults deal with debt, which generated over 5 million views in its first 10 days and prompted a sequel. How important is exclusive content for your company?

Rohana: Our original and exclusive (O&E) content is a priority and a key differentiator. We’ve made great strides over the past year as our O&E share of total Q1 streaming hours is now up to 27%. We plan to continue increasing this number over time and believe it is a good indicator of our differentiated programming strategy.

The main reason for these viewership figures is the quality of the O&E programming. We provide compelling and high quality content to our streaming services as we have had an impressive number of successful TV shows and films recently including but not limited to Going From Broke.

Importantly to the company and our investors, we have a strong track record of acquiring and producing content economically using co-production agreements and partnerships.

In addition to new releases, we are also expanding our rights to IP libraries significantly, resulting in higher margins over time, in part due to the elimination of royalties. Also, we typically see higher CPMs for our original content than for licensed content.

We have a really exciting pipeline of new content releasing faster than ever.

MPN: What prompted the Redbox acquisition and what type of integration are you aiming for? Who will lead its digital services?

Rohana: The combination of Redbox and Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is a perfect fit – one that allows us to create a complete streaming solution faster than either of us could have done individually. Instead of Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment having to build our own TVOD, PVOD, and FAST platforms and Redbox building their own AVOD, we can leverage the products we’ve built to enhance our offerings. This saves both companies valuable time and money when building a complete streaming solution.

MPN: What will be the fate of Redbox kiosks?

Rohana: Those beloved Redbox kiosks are going nowhere. They serve as a convenient and valuable source of entertainment for price-conscious consumers, and provide the company with an important source of cash flow and customer retention. The Redbox kiosks also represent a new distribution opportunity for our original films and further support acquisition synergies. As viewers return to theaters, the increase in new film releases will also benefit newsstands.

MPN: You’ve completed a few other acquisitions and licensing deals recently, like the BBC Studios and Kin licensing deals and the takeover of 1091 Pictures. What is the company’s driving strategy in such deals?

Rohana: A key initiative for us is building our film and television library through the low-cost acquisition of content and through our production and acquisition capabilities. Key drivers of this strategy include:

  • Leveraging co-production deals and partnerships to produce low-cost original content;
  • increasing ownership of IP library rights to generate higher margins over time;
  • Increasing CPMs for our original content over our licensed content; and
  • Supporting our original and exclusive content strategy to improve margins over time.

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MPN: Tell us about your own story and your story with the company.

Rohana: Since acquiring the company in 2008, we’ve built our entertainment division and become an innovative leader in the AVOD space by assembling a large film and TV rights library and growing viewership on our streaming services, including Crackle , Popcornflix and the recently launched namesake Chicken Soup for the soul. Prior to Chicken Soup for the Soul, I began my career as an entertainment and finance attorney, after which I established a merchant bank as an entertainment financier and founded Winstar Communications – a wireless broadband pioneer.

My experience provides the company with a long-term perspective on media trends and the importance of streaming for the future. We hope to help the industry seize the opportunity to serve consumers by building the best AVOD streaming services.

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