Watch the Nextv talk about the challenges and strategies for local streaming services, between seasoned expert Thomas Crosson, Content Director at SALTO, and our VP Product Management Ivan Verbesselt.
Thomas Crosson worked for 25 years within TF1 Group before joining SALTO as head of contents. He has held various positions from legal advisor for LCI (news channel) to director of programming of TF1, CEO of TF1 Distribution, or managing director of TF6-Série club (a joint company between TF1 and M6). In his last position at TF1 he was leading development and transformation for Content and therefore in charge of implementing WHATS’ON.
Here is a summarized transcript:
Thomas, how is SALTO different from other streamers, and how does the service compete with the big international platforms?
T.C.: “SALTO is the joint venture of the three main free-to-air broadcasters in France, TF1, France Télévisions, and M6. We started broadcasting at the end of October 2020. The idea was to mix the activities of television and streaming with live television, replays, and SVOD services in a one-stop shop.
The main difference is that while the various SVOD platforms are solely dealing with SVOD rights and offers, we are offering a mix of live television, replays, BVOD, AVOD, and free VOD. We are distributing paid TV services that are edited by the stakeholder groups, such as Paris Première and LCI. We are also distributing SVOD offers that are edited by TF1 and M6, such as TFouMAX and GulliMAX. which are animation offers for the young. And on top of that, we offer the SVOD service we edit ourselves. We are talking about some 15,000 hours of programming made available to the French audience.
The other difference is that our offer is tailored to the French audience, with a large number of French TV series that are very popular.
Every day you can watch previews of episodes, but also of complete tv-series and complete box sets of television shows. That is how we want to be part of the daily routine.
We know how to entertain the French audience and we know how to put up an offer that speaks to every French person. This is quite different from what the international platforms are doing. They are targeting like 200 countries across the world and they have incredibly deep pockets. We don’t compete with these platforms, we complement them.”
“We offer a mix of television and streaming with live television, replays, and SVOD services in a one-stop shop.”
Ivan, do you see this model developing in other countries or across countries?
I.V.: “Sure, I think it is a natural addition to the broadcasters’ already rapidly expanding digital presence. There is room for a relevant local offer between the big five — Netflix, Disney+, Prime, HBO Max, and Paramount Plus — and the long tail of some 700 SVOD providers worldwide, 450 in Europe alone. Local streamers are not a niche, because there is no global consumer. The consumer is always in a certain local cultural context, and local players can very finely tune in to that. They offer finetuned cultural and thematic localizations where the métier of the local content operator is coming to fruition. So they are up there in the short tail with the big five and it is not by accident that broadcaster alliances are leading the way across Europe with SALTO in France, Joyn+ in Germany, Streamz in Belgium, Britbox in the UK, Videoland, Viaplay, TV2 Play, and so on. There is a market for it and there is room in the media & entertainment expenditure of the average household for such initiatives.”
Mergers create companies with huge catalogues. Is reaching a critical size a key ingredient for success in the streaming world?
T.C.: “You have a certain catalogue size to maintain to be relevant in the market. On the other hand, it is probably not interesting for a local platform to offer many hours of foreign content. What the people are expecting from SALTO is French programming, whether it’s drama or TV shows or reality tv. That is quite different from what they’re looking for when they switch to an international streaming platform. The content you offer has to make sense to the specific audiences you are targeting.
Our three shareholders are targeting very specific audiences and we are trying to mix this into the largest possible offer available to the French audience. We are trying to find an equilibrium between all that content, with the aim to free subscribers from the content on TV schedules that has been made irrelevant by the big bang of the international platforms.”
“Smart packaging and targeting will be the trick.”
Ivan, how does MEDIAGENIX help to implement this mixed offer?
I.V.: “There is no killer content, even if you think of The Mandalorian and Game of Thrones. These productions alone do not make a comprehensive content offer. It is all about packaging. Smart packaging and targeting will be the trick going forward. This is partly an art and partly a science. The art is better left to the content curator, but the science aspect is very important, too, now that an explosion of content has to reach an increasingly fragmented audience. Streaming has changed the life cycle of content significantly. Consumer behaviour changed drastically too. You need to be very dynamic to adapt to all those changes. To us, this is fundamentally a content supply chain challenge: how to put the right content in front of the right audience with the right timing through the right channels. What we can bring to the table is smart curation and targeting, AI-driven scheduling, scheduling recommendations, promotion tools, … But Return on Investment has two components. One is to engage your audience, the other is to contain your costs. Automate what can be automated and optimize the content OPEX. Content Return on Investment is going to be critically dependent on establishing a single source of truth through the entire media operation. You can make dashboards till you’re blue in the face but then it’s how to make that content intelligence actionable.”
“When you’re playing in the tier-1 league, you can’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”
What are the typical issues for local streamers?
I.V.: “With the kind of local streaming package SALTO has, you are playing in the tier-1 league of the big international streamers, in your market. You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight and you need to hit the ground running with an entirely new content operation. What we bring to the table, is our experience, the lessons learned in the global market, and the technical depth that stems from our contributions to some of the largest international streamers as well as to local streamers like SALTO.”
T.C.: “Your schedulers need to have the right tools because they are manipulating thousands of items. One day we published 7,000 episodes of a series at the same time. If you don’t have a system that is both robust and smart enough to be managed by a single person, this won’t work at all. Also, you need to have all the data and information coming back from the subscribers. And the amount of data you can gather from subscribers is tremendous. You need to analyse all that to understand how the audience reacts to a new show, a new launch, the date of the launch, and so on, so that you can improve going forward. So we needed a tool and a specific solution that was really smart, robust, and easy to understand for a small group of users. That was an important reason why we chose MEDIAGENIX.”
“We needed a solution that was both robust and smart.”
Thomas, what were the main challenges SALTO had to face implementing the platform?
T.C.: “The main challenge was to devise the platform itself, because we had to work within the constraints of the Competition Authority. We chose the technical platform from Bedrock, which is a subsidiary of M6, but to set it up we were not allowed to work with the tech teams of M6, TF1, or France TV. The same when we chose WHATS’ON as our rights management and traffic system. As it happens WHATS’ON is also the solution chosen by TF1, M6, and France TV, but we are not supposed to confer with them. We made our own choice and did our own development, which was a big challenge for this small team of 50 people. Don’t forget that we are dealing with content that comes from different sources, with different rights and availability periods.”
“Regulations will remain a major challenge. France is already the land of quotas. On top of that, the Competition Authority devises new and intricate quotas for us, and we have to send them our figures every 4 months. Last time that included a 100,000 line Excel sheet. This is very time-consuming. So we needed a solution that was robust and smart enough to deal with that, too. And we found it with WHATS’ON.”