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Launching Alpha: Creating a New OTT Service

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How do you think fans will react to the windowing structure?

I recognize that it's hard for the community to get used to something that was originally, essentially provided for free. The first two seasons of TableTop were funded by YouTube. It was part of the YouTube channel program that was running. The third season was funded through a Kickstarter, which was a very successful one, but anybody who's familiar with Kickstarters probably understands that they're very complex and difficult to operate, especially at a level in the millions of dollars. It's also not really a sustainable, repeatable model for a business. It is something you can do once, or something for a passion project, but we were trying to find a way to fund premium level digital content, without having to go to our audience every time we wanted to do something.

You've got some really recognizable talents at the head of your properties. Will they be involved with any of the Alpha content?

We will find ways to get them involved in different things. The cast of Critical Role, which is one of the biggest shows that we have on Twitch for Geek and Sundry, will be involved in a show that we're doing, called Talks Machina. Chris Hardwick and Felicia Day, we're talking to them about ways to participate in the programming that we have inside of Alpha. They still have to manage the existing businesses of Nerdist and Geek and Sundry. We're not taking things away from that audience. There's still quite a bit of work for them to do on that side.

Yeah, those two seem to be pretty busy.

Yeah, because of their schedules, it'll be a challenge to find ways to get them on screen as much as I'd love them to. It's also an opportunity for us to find new hosts and talent and people who are also high profiled in the space that we can work with. One of the shows that we're working on is a live streaming watch-along movie show. We'll be licensing rights to some films from third parties. People like Warner Bros. and MGM and the likes.

We think that there's an opportunity to be able to watch movies together as a group, which provides a completely different experience. It's kind of a dinner-and-a-movie or not quite a Mystery Science Theater idea, but something that gives you a reason to watch some of these longer-tail films with talent. We'll be able to, on a live basis, dial in actors or producers or directors of these movies and have them actually chat with the audience and create a unique experience that you wouldn't be able to get if you were watching that movie on Netflix.

These movies, will they be good movies or so-bad-they're-good movies?

I think there'll be a combination of both, but honestly our focus is on good movies, or at least movies that were relevant to us growing up that maybe the next generation hasn't really had a chance to see. Things like Gremlins, for example, which you probably hear a lot about. When you watch Stranger Things, there's all these allusions to things of the past which, who knows how many of the younger generation has had a chance to really see them, or see them in a way that they can understand why certain things are interesting.

Is it a problem that you don't have a lot of bankable, established hits to sell the new network? Even five bucks a month is an expense. How do you get people to take a chance?

We'll be offering 30 days free for people who are current subscribers to our Twitch channel. It's publicly out there, since we published it on our Twitch channel. We have about thirty thousand subscribers to our Twitch channel. They'll be getting a six month free trial, so they'll have a chance to really try it out and be part of a community and share that with friends. We'll do some other marketing to get people on board.

You'll see that we'll have some high-level talent that ends up being part of a bunch of these shows, that comes on for some of the watch-a-longs and things like that, which will help us get the word out. The goal is, if you're really trying to build community experiences around things, it cannot really be a giant launch where we spend a ton of money on marketing, like a Hulu sort of a thing. It has to be a little bit more grassroots than that. We're not trying to become Netflix. Our goal is to really provide a meaningful experience to a core group of our audience.

When Seeso launched, it had established properties like the full run of Monty Python and some known comedy stars. Alpha isn't trying either of those strategies.

The Netflix and Hulus and Amazons of the world are 800-pound gorillas. They are spending billions of dollars on content; they offer a very compelling proposition in terms of pricing; they're available on all the devices. To think that we will be able to compete with those services, with what I'll call content behind a paywall, is probably fooling ourselves a little bit. The ones that I have seen work very well, that are essentially content behind-a -paywall services, are the ones where they have, essentially a monopoly on the content for a particular audience.

Examples of that would be things like Crunchy Roll, WWE, Glenn Beck, Acorn TV. Things where you are kind of the only source of a certain kind of content. The ones that I think are more challenging are the ones that are trying to hit a certain genre. The ones that were going to be the Netflix of comedy or of outdoor sports, or something of that sort. There's so much content of any given genre. I don't know that you can really gain a huge enough audience to be successful with just acquiring content behind a paywall. Especially when the Netflix and Amazons and Hulus are buying the same content.

We have to differentiate ourselves from that. If that is a world of lots of content and a passive experience, we're trying to create more niche content with a more interactive experience.

You don't feel like what you're offering is available for free through other channels?

Not the level of interactivity that we're putting together. We're really trying to do new things, like choose-your-own-adventure type shows, where the audience can have a say in what's happening on next week's show, or on that show. Live improve comedy type things. We're trying to make these shows much more premium than what you find available elsewhere for free or on an advertising-supported basis.

You're really emphasizing community. Is that something people want, or is TV still a passive medium?

My feeling is we're not really trying to become TV. My thought on this is, TV does a really good job making TV. Amazon and Netflix are doing a very good job of making TV. I've seen a lot of people pushing into what I'll call TV on the internet, which to me just feels like cheap TV. If you're spending a million dollars on a series instead of a million dollars on an episode or more, what is that? It just feels like it's lower quality, or lower price point television, and you're still competing against things like West World and Game of Thrones and House of Cards. What's the next medium? What's the next thing?

When television came out, the first shows that you saw were radio shows. People sitting around a desk and performing radio shows. Over time, people figured out how to use television to actually create a new medium, eventually evolving into what television is today. How come when we're watching content on our phones and our tablets and devices that have other connection experiences, keyboards and cameras and GPS, we're still creating TV content? There's nothing wrong with TV content, but that's an industry that's well established and has been in existence for years and years and years. It's incumbent upon us, I think, to try and push the envelope of what's next and experiment with new kinds of formats, new kinds of experiences.

We'll see if that works, but I think there's a need, a demand. You look at the success of something like Twitch, which is entirely built around community experiences, and the hundreds of thousands of people that are broadcasting on there, primarily with a gaming focus, it feels like there's an opportunity in this live community-based experience.

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