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MagellanTV's James Lauzun Talks Licensing, Marketing, and Distributing Documentary Content

Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, sits down with James Lauzun, VP of Product, MagellanTV, to discuss the ins and outs of running a niche streaming OTT service from an SVOD and FAST content and monetization strategy standpoint, including subscription rates, content rights, and distribution, in this interview from Streaming Media East 2023.  

“You mentioned before we went on air that MagellanTV works in the niche market of documentary and non-fiction,” Siglin says. “So do you produce the content, do you deliver the content, or both?”

“We do have originals and co-productions,” Lauzun says. “We also then also acquire a lot of content from overseas. So an Australian producer will make a documentary TV series that will air on that local network. We'll then come in and we'll acquire the IP rights to everywhere else.”

 “And is it really for everywhere else, or is it by a specific country or region? Siglin asks.

“It changes,” Lauzun says. “Territories are always a thing, and of course, content acquisitions, and what territories do you have? And then sometimes even more granular about what kind of platforms you have rights to. This is all something that our acquisitions team [does] day in and day out.”

Lauzun’s Role in MagellanTV’s Product Strategy

Lauzun tells Siglin that he begins to strategize once MagellanTV’s acquisitions team acquires programming and handles territories and platforms. “As the VP of Product, I oversee the product strategy for the MagellanTV brand, both SVOD and FAST, and sort of that middle hub of marketing and product and development and how can we create a compelling reason to join MagellanTV and to consume that content, both on the SVOD or FAST side.”

“And on the SVOD side, what's the typical subscription rate?” Siglin asks.

“So right now, we're at $5.99 a month,” Lauzun says. “And then, of course, that annual discount.”

“The reason that I ask that about [global territories] is, I've been in the industry for 25 years now when back in 2000 you could pick up global rights IP rights, no problem at all because everybody was like, ‘I'm just broadcasting in my local market,’” Siglin says. “It seems as we've gone on and as the contract windows have changed and the lawyers come for re-ups, those nuances are beginning to pick up. So it's interesting to hear not just premium fiction content, but even in the non-fiction space that you're facing those same challenges.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Lauzun says. “That’s kind of everywhere, right?”

“Do you license for a particular period of time as well, or is it in perpetuity?” Siglin asks.

“We'll have starting and end dates, like most content agreements like that,” Lauzun says. “Of course, it depends on the level of production value that we've put in. We'll have times where it truly is an in-house original. We have a great writer and director, Tom Lucas, who creates a lot of our Space originals. And so those of course we hold forever. Then you have the other spectrum, which is a co-production, it's a funded thing that we participated in. And so then the details of how that gets worked out is a little different.”

The Question of Geo-Blocking and International Programming Access

“I work abroad a lot,” Siglin says. “I couldn't take my Netflix with me, and I couldn't take my Amazon Prime. And originally, the argument was, well, ‘We don't own the content.’ But then, when they started doing original content, the argument suddenly became, ‘Well, we can't do that for you technically,’ which we all knew was hocus. I was in Turkey at one point, and I saw Orange is the New Black as an episodic on television, and I realized what they were doing is doing sort of what you do. They were taking a US original production and shopping it out as syndication in other countries. So for Magellan, if I have this $5.99 subscription and I'm traveling abroad, is there geo-blocking? How does that kind of thing work?”

“Yes, you could [expect that] with those modern SVOD solutions,” Lauzun says. “There’s geo-blocking, but one of the things that's really important to us is that the user experience is seamless. We're big believers in that. If you can't watch it, you shouldn't see it. There's nothing worse than seeing the ‘This is unavailable in your country’ [message]. That just creates a very not compelling user experience.”

Lauzun emphasizes that to underscore the type of seamless user experience MagellanTV desires, they place more focus on the identity of the brand as a place of education and cultural enrichment rather than making the identity on specific programming, which can help to lessen any possible issues with programming availability in certain regions.

“If you are in that small to mid-size niche space,” Lauzun says, “use the advantage of the fact that you can create a connection with that user about why they're there. So what we do is in our marketing, in our onboarding emails, we really try to drive that point home that MagellanTV and the user share the same values, and that creates an environment of retention and of a situation where it's not necessarily about any one show. [It’s more about] the library itself.”

The Issues of Subscription Churn for Niche SVODs

“Given the fact that you're sort of doing a niche within the non-fiction market and you're smaller than the big guys, do you see a significant amount of churn with those people who identify with the channel?” Siglin asks.

“No,” Lauzun says. “That's actually one of the advantages. In this environment right now that we have heard a lot of people talking about, there's downward pressure across all monetization types. As we're looking at it, yes, there are headwinds. We can't deny that. But we're still growing. In fact, our retention is improving. And that's because when you are a user, and you need to cut back, we've set that value proposition with you. Your value proposition is not [just] access to content. It represents something about you. This is how you demonstrate the fact you're a lifetime learner. So now the conversation becomes, ‘Oh, am I going to cancel MagellanTV? Well, does that mean I'm canceling being a lifelong learner?”

“It’s the reverse of guilt by association,” Siglin says.

“We're not trying to be manipulative about it,” Lauzun says. “Truthfully, we're a small team and we feel passionately about documentaries, too. But that is something that I feel like these niche streamers can really take advantage of.”

“It’s a lifestyle model,” Siglin says.

The Challenges of Programming for a Niche Streaming Space

Siglin asks Lauzun what he considers the most compelling content MagellanTV has at the moment, and Lauzun responds by asking which genres Siglin prefers.

“What genres do I have an option of?” Siglin says.

“Actually, it's kind of funny,” Lauzun says. ”When we survey and interview people, when they first view our ecosystem, one of the things they say is, ‘Look at all of these genres…[it’s] a long list. There's so much value here, these different interesting topics.’ And then, once they come in, their viewing behavior is a little different. Most members are watching one, two, maybe three genres. I think we're up to ten different genres. So people do tend to be rather specific in what they enjoy. And that creates its own set of challenges because how, then, on that acquisition side, do we keep multiple pipelines active? Because it's not about needing the next hit drama every quarter. It's about, like, well, we need a great history series, or we’re going to need a great true crime series. We need a new original [for] Space. So that's one of the challenges when you have these niche offerings is that [the user] is going to get into something that they really enjoy.”

Learn more about niche streaming OTT services at Streaming Media Connect 2023.

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