AT&T’s WarnerMedia has shut down two niche streaming-video businesses — but it’s apparently still bullish on some narrowly targeted entertainment plays.
VRV has nabbed exclusive streaming rights to intergalactic comedy “Final Space,” whose freshman season aired earlier this year on TBS. The service also is adding two series from Warner Bros. Animation’s catalog — Adult Swim’s “Mike Tyson Mysteries” and ’70s cult classic “Jabberjaw” — as well as Boomerang, the cartoon subscription VOD service from Turner.
“We believe there is a consumer need for aggregation, and working with our sister companies within WarnerMedia allows us to offer even more great content that our fans can watch and experience together,” Tony Goncalves, CEO of Otter Media, said in a statement.
The new VRV deals come after the shutdown of Warner Bros. Digital Network’s DramaFever and the announcement from Turner and WB that film-aficionado service FilmStruck is ceasing at the end of November.
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Arlen Marmel, general manager of VRV, said “there’s no top-down mandate” from WarnerMedia to cross-license content but he said more WarnerMedia content will be coming to the $10-per-month VRV bundle in 2019. “WarnerMedia has leaned into VRV,” he said.
Last month, AT&T said WarnerMedia in 2019 will launch a broad subscription-streaming entertainment service anchored by HBO pulling in content from other parts of the former Time Warner. As part of launching the plan, AT&T said it would be “consolidating resources from sub-scale D2C [direct-to-consumer] efforts.”
“It remains to be seen what that bigger, broader WarnerMedia bundle looks like, but we hope VRV could be part of that,” Marmel said. “If we look at the broader landscape, clearly it’s difficult to operate any business that’s sub-scale. With VRV, we knew that aggregation was critical.”
All told, VRV offers some 100,000 episodes in the bundle. With the addition of Boomerang on Nov. 13, the service will include 12 channels, priced at $10 monthly (which if purchased a la carte would cost $50). The lineup includes Otter Media’s Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth, anime channel HIDIVE, Viacom’s NickSplat, Cartoon Hangover, AMC Networks’ Shudder, Mondo, Geek & Sundry, Nerdist, CuriosityStream, Boomerang, and VRV Select (a channel stocked with content licensed from partners including Syfy, El Rey/Univision, Warner Bros., and MGM).
Otter Media isn’t disclosing how many paid VRV subscribers it has signed up. Overall, it has more than 4 million registered users and over 2.5 million monthly active users. (VRV offers a selection of free, ad-supported video in front of the paywall.) On average, premium users stream around 60 minutes per day.
“The vast majority of our users do buy the bundle. There’s a lot of power in that,” said Marmel. “We can really reduce the friction to access that content.”
AT&T acquired control of Otter Media this summer, buying out Chernin Group’s majority stake in the venture in a deal reportedly valued at $1 billion. Otter Media portfolio includes Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Fullscreen and VRV.
The first four episodes of “Final Space” season one will be available exclusively on VRV’s streaming platform starting Wednesday (Nov. 7), with subsequent episodes to be released weekly. TBS has greenlit the show for a second season, which will eventually come to VRV along with any potential future seasons.
The show is produced by Conan O’Brien’s Conaco and New Form in association with Turner’s Studio T. “Final Space” was created by and stars Olan Rogers, a filmmaker with nearly 1 million followers on YouTube, with a cast that also includes Fred Armisen, Tom Kenny, David Tennant, Tika Sumpter, Steven Yeun and Coty Galloway. The second season is currently in production and is set to feature O’Brien as a recurring character.
“With ‘Final Space,’ we created a show that pairs genuine emotion and real stakes with comedy and premium animation, making it a perfect fit for VRV,” Rogers, also an executive producer of the show, said in a statement. “We hope VRV’s community loves the series and catches up on all the action before season two premieres next year.”
Eric Berman, VRV’s head of content partnerships and business development, said the deal for “Final Space” emerged after VRV was talking with TBS about potential co-productions. “They said, ‘Here is something we have the rights to,'” he said.
VRV’s programming strategy is focused around four quadrants: anime, like Crunchyroll; nostalgia-driven “kidult” content like NickSplat, “Jabberjaw” and “Freakazoid”; adult animation like “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” “HarmonQuest” (greenlit for a third season at VRV) and “Cyanide and Happiness”; and alternative reality, like Syfy’s space bounty-hunter series “Killjoys.”
As with other SVOD services, content comes and goes on VRV. After Sony Pictures Television’s Funimation last month ended its cross-licensing deal with Crunchyroll after two years, VRV also lost access to Funimation channel. “We’re upset to see Funimation go and never want to remove content from our fans, but we’re able to add other content,” Berman said, noting that HIDIVE will bring its full slate of over 500 dubbed, subtitled and uncensored anime to VRV before the end of 2018.
Meanwhile, the three seasons of detective/thriller comedy “Mike Tyson Mysteries” and talking-shark show “Jabberjaw” (which originally aired in 1976) will join VRV in 2019. It turns out that the former heavyweight boxer is a huge fan of the latter — and Tyson recorded a promo for VRV in which he sings the “Jabberjaw” theme song.
“What we’re trying to accomplish with VRV is to tap things outside the mainstream, the stuff that’s hanging out on the fringe,” said Marmel. The former exec joined Crunchyroll in 2014 as head of marketing and distribution following Chernin Group’s majority investment in it, and he has been general manager of VRV since early 2017.
Pictured above: “Final Space”