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Launching Alpha: Creating a New OTT Service
Alpha launched this week with content from Legendary Digital Networks' Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, with an emphasis on live video and online community
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This week, Legendary Digital Networks (LDN) launched Alpha, a new OTT service targeting the modern comic and tech geek. The site distinguishes itself from other OTT services by emphasizing live video and online community. To find out what goes into launching an OTT service, we spoke to LDN president Adam Rymer.

Legendary's story started back in 2000 when Thomas Tull founded Legendary Entertainment as a film financing and production company. Set up at Warner Bros., it co-produced such films as Batman: The Dark Knight, The Hangover, and 300. With that success, it grew and diversified. In 2012, it acquired Nerdist Industries, a geek-focused production company created by Chris Hardwick. Soon after, it acquired Felicia Day's Geek and Sundry and Amy Poehler's Smart Girls. Combining those three properties, the company started Legendary Digital Network (LDN). While LDN started out as a YouTube publisher, it's followed the times and created content for Facebook, YouTube, Vessel, Go90, Twitter, and any other platform where it could find an audience.

In January 2016, The Wanda Group, a Chinese multinational conglomerate, purchased Legendary. Wanda also owns the AMC movie theater chain and is currently making a push into Hollywood.

LDN is based in Burbank, where it has a 40,000-foot sound stage and production center near the airport. Staff includes editors, sales people, finance people, producers, directors, and post-production wizards—everything it needs to create, distribute, and sell online content. Other Legendary divisions create TV shows, movies, and comic books.

Streaming Media spoke to Rymer a few weeks before the launch of Alpha. While it doesn't have a lot of proven hits, it's focus on live video and community offers something more than just another VOD service.

Streaming Media: Alpha was supposed to launch in early November, but that was pushed back. Why was that?

Adam Rymer: The initial plan was to launch November 3rd, but as we got into the testing period we found a couple of things that needed to be fixed before we went public with it. That pushed it back by a couple weeks.

What we're trying to do in Alpha is something that has never been done on a mass scale before. Alpha is built around live streaming—it's a live streaming video experience with interactivity features. When you're inside of Alpha, you'll see that there's not only traditional things, like video-on-demand, but there's also chat rooms—multiple different chat rooms that exist separate from the video. There'll be forums for people to participate in. Then there's a live streaming player that allows for chat along with the video, similar in style to Twitch, but some other levels of interactivity that allow the audience to become part of the shows.

This is the first time that we opened it up to testing with a larger public audience. Understanding how that technology works across different platforms and players is a bit of an effort. Everybody has different setups, different updates to their browsers. Microsoft threw us for a little bit of a loop with launching new versions of Windows that we had to make sure we caught up with. Firefox put out a new version of their browser. These are just the things that we have to make sure that we have all cleaned up before we open it up to the public.

It looks like you have a couple of dozen shows that are either in production now or soon will be.

That's right. We've got a new slate of programming. There's a couple of prior shows that we've had on the channels in the past, like TableTop, which will be available inside of Alpha. Then we're launching a whole new series of new programming, because historically there hasn't been a place to put real live streaming longer-form content. At least not one that you can monetize in a way that makes it reasonable to produce those shows.

All of Alpha’s content at launch comes from Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, though Rymer says content
from other channels will follow.

Do all of those shows come from your three main properties [Nerdist, Geek and Sundry, and Smart Girls]?

They are all coming from Nerdist and Geek and Sundry. That's where we're starting, and then eventually, we'll expand to potentially other channels or other types of content that aren't driven entirely by Nerdist and Geek and Sundry. Once people understand what the platform can do and the technology, we're looking forward to working with some outside producers, outside creatives, that might have ideas of how to use it. Until people can see it and understand some of the technology and features that are there, it's hard to get creatives' brains flowing on it.

How does that work with Nerdist and Geek and Sundry: Do they have their own development office, separate from LDN?

Yeah, Nerdist and Geek and Sundry each have a development team, and then we have a head of development for Alpha who's working with third partied as well as working with Nerdist and Geek and Sundry to develop content for the platform.

The goal is not to take anything away from what we already do. It's not trying to take Nerdist and Geek and Sundry and stick it behind any sort of paywall. It's really to provide an additional experience. To the fans and the community that's made us very successful on YouTube and Facebook and things like that, we'll continue to provide what we've been doing, so articles and web videos and things like that.

The established YouTube hit you're bringing to Alpha, TableTop, will it continue to offer free episodes online or is it completely moving?

There'll be a window with Alpha, so we put the first two shows on YouTube simultaneously with Alpha, and then the remaining shows for TableTop will be behind the paywall in Alpha. They'll be inside the membership service for about two or three months. They start getting released to other platforms in January.

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