Interview: Vivendi’s Dominique Delport on Studio+

Delport DominiqueMillennials may increasingly think of their mobile phones as the ‘first screen’, but premium content providers have so far been relatively slow to provide content specifically tailored for mobile consumption. One exception is Vivendi, which last year launched Studio+ to target this market. Vivendi Content chairman Dominique Delport spoke exclusively to Stuart Thomson about the company’s plans.

The internet is increasingly accessed via mobile devices, and internet video is no exception. According to online video platform provider Ooyala’s latest Global Video Index, mobile accounted for 54% of all online video viewing in the fourth quarter of 2016 and is tipped to hit nearly 60% in the first quarter of this year.

Ooyala’s recommendation that content providers must “tailor their strategy around mobile” is a strategy that has already been adopted wholeheartedly by Vivendi, which in at the end of last year launched Studio+, a new mobile content factory and app with a specific focus on premium high-value short-form content tailored to a mobile audience.

Studio+ debuted in Brazil in November before launching in two other Latin American territories and in Italy in December. The service debuted in commercially in France at the beginning of February. More recently Vivendi has signed a deal with Veon – formerly VimpelCom – to launch the service in Russia and other CIS countries.

US ambition

Vivendi Content chairman Dominique Delport, who has championed Studio+ as a concept since its inception, says that further launches are in the pipeline, including in the UK, where the company is in talks with telecom operators. However, Vivendi’s main ambition this year is to get the service launched in the US. “We would love to be in the key markets in the US this year, and we are in discussions with three of the four main operators,” says Delport.

Studio+ is not the French media giant’s only digital platform initiative. Vivendi has for much of the last year been shaping elements of a broader digital content strategy, one of whose main pillars – developing a European OTT alternative to Netflix – has however been derailed somewhat by the company’s high-profile falling out with Italian media group Mediaset. While the ‘European Netflix’ project has been put on a backburner as a result, Delport remains convinced that Vivendi has a major role to play in building a digital home for European content.

Admitting in an understated way that Vivendi’s negotiations with its preferred partner have been “a little bit more complex than planned”, Delport says that the project still makes “a lot of sense” not only for the existing parties, but for other European players. He says that a specifically European platform would complement Netflix’s proposition.

“Local contenders have a very different footprint and different assets,” he says. “We have phenomenal stories and fantastic talent and creativity, and great engineers and big advertisers and the largest, wealthiest market in the world.”

Arguing that an OTT platform would be a practical example of the promise of the European digital single market, he says that the plan remains “very important” to the company.

“It matters that Vivendi champions the role of pushing European culture,” he says. Even with quotas imposed by the European Union, the big American players are likely to produce only a small amount of content from the continent’s many countries and cultures.

For now, however, Delport’s attention is focused on Studio+ – a concept that fits well with Vivendi’s vision of the likely future shape of content consumption and the media organisations that will serve it, and in particular with its view that an alliance between media and telecom providers will be a pillar of the future media distribution landscape.

“Studio+ is a great project – it isn’t every day you create something new that hasn’t existed before and is[icitspot id=”679892″ template=”box-story”] really different. And it is clearly the direction of travel, with mobile consumption becoming the new norm,” says Delport.

While mobile devices now provide the ‘first screen’ for media consumption by 18-35 year-olds, Delport believes that there has been a significant gap in the market for high-end, premium quality content – one that Vivendi has moved to fill with Studio+, which adheres to a template that he believes is just right for mobile screens and mobile consumption habits.

Studio+ has hit on the formula of producing multiple series of 10 episodes of 10 minutes in length. The 10-minute duration of a single episode is, says Delport, the right length for “a moment of indulgence” while commuting to work or filling time between different activities.

“We did some testing and survey work. Two thirds of consumers are consuming about 15 minutes of mobile video a day, and the remaining third are consuming over 15 minutes. So we had an approximate idea of the kind of content that works. You either do super-short content of about three minutes in length or you do something about 10 minutes in length,” he says.

Telecom partnerships

Vivendi’s principal route to market with Studio+ is to form partnerships with mobile telecom operators, who can offer it as part of a bundle with mobile data. Operators can buy subscriptions from Studio+ and offer these as part of a package to their customers, or they can offer the Studio+ service as a standalone option.

Vivendi is also able to market its app as a direct-to-consumer service, although this is less of a priority. Delport points out that it is expensive to market standalone content stores. Going it alone is not a particularly attractive route to market, particularly if telecom operator partners are willing to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing.

“When 80% of mobile marketing is controlled by Google and Facebook, there is only one type of player that can compete on a global scale and that is the telcos. If you take Telefónica, Orange and Telecom Italia together, they have 650 million subscribers – and that is only three telcos. We can build something incredible with these guys,” says Delport.

Although the terms of deals vary, Delport says that the average value placed on Studio+ is about E3.99 a month or “the price of a coffee a week”.

The extent to which consumers are willing to pay for a premium service in developing markets, and the cost of mobile data for streaming video, is one possible challenge for the Studio+ concept, but Delport believes there are fairly straightforward solutions. “In pre-paid markets like Latin America and Africa there is obviously less disposable income and this product will be perceived as high-end, but we are working with the telcos to see how we can build an offering that will change perceptions,” he says. As far as the cost of bandwidth goes, Vivendi is also enabling a download option – useful not only to save on data usage but to ensure a consistent experience while on the move.

The 10 x 10 format of content on Studio+ has an additional benefit, according to Delport. It opens up the opportunity of multiple windows for distribution of the content. Specifically, the flexibility of the format means it can repackage the shows and sell them to pay TV operators to be aired as a set of one-off films for TV. (Those that wish to use the mobile app to view content on a larger screen can do so using Chromecast or Airplay.)

Studio+ has now filmed over 25 series, with a focus on what might be described as high-concept drama. Delport says each episode is intended as a kind of “adrenalin shot” that will appeal to the target audience and create “stickiness” that will encourage users to come back for more.

Each project is shot in about four to five weeks, as opposed to the 16 more normally taken to shoot a full-length TV series. Each series costs about E1 million to make – cheap by the standards of TV drama but definitely premium in the world of content made specifically for mobile. The content created to data, says Delport, has been made in over 20 countries in six languages.

According to Delport, there is no real difference in the style or method of shooting content for mobile than for mainstream TV. “We had a discussion about how to shoot – whether the content should be ‘close-ups only’ and so on. In fact you can film a huge space and that works perfectly well on the small screen. Beyond that what matters is the sound because a lot of this is watched with earphones. You need to accentuate the immersive feeling of the content with great sound design and we spent a lot of time working on that,” he says, adding that Vivendi’s ownership of Universal Music was of great benefit here.

Beyond the content, Delport places considerable emphasis on the user experience of Studio+. “It’s all about curation and immediate access to a great piece of content. People will make a decision in seconds, and if you wait fore more than five seconds for the stream to start you will opt out immediately. People can’t stand waiting,” he said. 

Vivendi has not so far disclosed numbers for Studio+; Delport says it will do so at the end of the year. “Money will follow eyeballs,” he says.

“Studio+ is the first premium mobile content service that is available across the World. In fact we are probably a little in advance of the market. But it’s backed by Vivendi and there is an excitement on the part of the telcos that actually took us by surprise – they all believe in the product and the app and they are ready to invest in co-marketing it over the coming few years,” says Delport.

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