By Ole Martini, Director Consumer Channels at Nordisk Film Direct
Broadcasters tend to see the provision of OTT services as a way of extending and strengthening their brands, and some of them also use OTT as a way of reaching new viewers and developing new audiences. But OTT is an ideal means for creating new niche services that don’t fit within the normal boundaries of most broadcasters or large media organisations.
Nordisk Film is not a broadcaster, but since 2012 it has very successfully become a provider of OTT entertainment to niche audiences in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and all without having any of the traditional infrastructure and expertise of a broadcaster.
As part of Egmont, a larger group with varied media interests that include cinema chains, film production companies, distribution networks, and print media, Nordisk Film is the oldest continually operating film producer in the world, having been founded in 1906. In keeping with Egmont’s strategy to increase the proportion of its revenue from digital sources, Nordisk Film initiated a project to make the most of its unique library of content and reach new audiences with it by creating very specifically targeted services.
The company already licensed Danish-made movies for distribution in traditional ways – on DVD via retailers, or via third-party service providers with cable subscriptions and OTT services. But in addition to this content-provider role, we wanted to use our library of content in ways we thought had not yet been explored, and to do this we needed to become a direct service provider to end-users.
However with only limited technical knowledge and facilities for running a consumer service, Nordisk Film was – theoretically at least – at a disadvantage, compared to a broadcaster. It was essential to find a partner to provide the technical capabilities and operate a commercial service on our behalf, leaving us to concentrate on curating the content, designing the user experience and developing the branding.
The process of migrating to Vimond started in 2014. By the beginning of 2015 the new services were already available to subscribers, and showing rapid take-up. Our chosen development partner, Vimond, had a lot of experience enabling other customers to launch and run OTT services, but nearly all of these were broadcasters or media organisations with their own facilities and existing expertise. So for Nordisk Film and for Vimond, this project broke new ground: it was the first time that the hosting and operation of the OTT service was entirely provided by the vendor of the OTT platform.
Vimond’s commercially available OTT platform includes all the functionality required to operate an OTT service, but for Nordisk Film the company took on the migration of Nordisk Film’s Min Bio OTT children’s channel to its own platform, together with the hosting and operation of Min Bio and other new services thereafter.
Since there were existing subscribers for Min Bio, these had to be carefully migrated to the new platform while the service continued. It is difficult to migrating content and users from one platform to another without some problems occurring. Database structures are rarely exactly the same, and in theory the data should be easy to transfer but it never is in practice. Customer records can be lost, Conditional Access System settings can be disrupted – these are some of the inherent dangers when migrating databases. It was also necessary to change to a new payment provider to allow subscribers a wider range of options for payment. The migration of credit card information to was relatively pain and no records were lost.
The applications for the viewer devices were created especially for Nordisk Film by Vimond. They provided an application framework on which our team could develop our designs for iOS, android, connectedTV and a web player. This was the longest component of the project process, and included the time required to obtain approval from all the application stores to get the apps approved. This approval can take between two and six weeks, and in the context of the very accelerated schedule we had for the migration of Min Bio, this was a long time.
Vimond undertook the design and implementation of the hosting arrangements, with its own lightweight FFmpeg encoding, content storage and server platform based on Amazon. It is configured as virtual hardware so capacity can scale up and down instantly. Nothing is installed at Nordisk Film’s premises. As part of the package, Vimond signed up CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) and the DRM (Digital Rights Management) components for the services, and we will provide more comprehensive reporting for our own services and for the content-provider agreements we have with other service operators.
We now use the OTT platform for two services. Min Bio is a child-oriented service using Nordisk Film’s own content and third-party sourced material. Our differentiating advantage is the interface we have been able to optimise specifically for children to use. Bright colours and an easy eye-catching design make it an immediate experience for children using an iPad or other device. In February 2015 we launched a new service, Dansk Filmskat, to make available the catalogue of classic Danish movies from the 1930s and beyond. This is a service for which there is clear demand (take up has been rapid) and which has already registered more than 250K visitors. This type of niche content has a hard fan base, as evidenced by the fact that more than 15% of subscribers sign up for the yearly package skipping the free trial or monthly options altogether.
Our ongoing relationship with Vimond means we are able to work with them on the development of new projects and concepts for unique ways of using our content catalogue to get into the space for internet TV in the Nordic region. Vimond also has some advanced work in train on social media integration: the Vimond Platform’s features for editors such as chaptering and annotating videos allow the viewer to jump straight to the part of the video they want to see, and we are working together on ways of using this and other innovations to engage viewers in their social media experience.
The success of the services we have launched has taught us that it’s important to have strong local content to distinguish our offering from large international platforms. Nordisk Film is on a journey from traditional media organisation to digital technology operator, and the company is now doing much greater proportion of direct-to-consumer business as a result.