Beyond the Big Five: Niche-Focused OTT Services

This is the final piece in a month-long series that will explore a number of alternatives to the “Big Five” streaming services (Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Apple, Hulu/Disney+) that have licensed or are open to licensing Canadian content, in English and French, making them viable options in terms of expanding traditional partnerships. While some will prefer to buy from a producer’s library and others will fund or co-fund projects, all are viable options to showcase and spread CanCon across the world. 

The data contained in the series is provided by Wendy Lynn Bernfeld, a digital-sector consultant, frequent jury member, and founder of international content and licensing consultancy Rights Stuff.

Today, we look at OTT platforms that serve specific niches.

> Read the other articles in the series

Rather than compete with mainstream providers and fail, there’s a growing contingent of viable, niche, and micro-niche SVoD services with content geared towards a targeted audience. Horror, kids, cultural, queer, and foreign-language content are just some of the subjects that fuel these platforms. For creators with catalog in these themes or niches, there is a growing opportunity to strike deals with some of these providers.

Hopster (London, United Kingdom)

> Visit the website

  • Countries served: Currently serving more than 100 regions (and 8 languages) including Canada, via RokuTV;
  • Business model: SVoD, some EST, and funding originals;
  • B2B model: Flat-fee SVoD. The service is ad-free, but some content and downloads can be on a revenue share or sponsored basis.

This preschool platform has partnered with telecom and cable operators as well as OTT devices in order to bring its localized and foreign-language programming to kids around the world. A Best Streaming Video Platform winner at Kidscreen, Hopster began funding originals in 2018, and it also offers games and educational materials in addition to its programming. Its non-exclusivity terms mean sellers could potentially execute multiple agreements with their content in Canada and around the world.

OUTtv / OUTtv Pro (Amsterdamm, the Netherlands)

> Visit the website

  • Countries served: Regions include Benelux, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, UK, Ireland, Hungary, Finland, Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic;
  • Business model: SVoD, Pay-TV;
  • B2B model: (Low) flat-fee deals for multi-region non-exclusives.

Not to be confused with OutTV Canada, this Netherlands-based, LGBTQ+-focused platform can be viewed on cable and digital as a premium channel in certain countries, and it has grown into the largest (and only) curated content provider in Europe of its kind. In addition to a large range of features, series, shorts and webseries across all genres, OutTV incorporates a news and social media component to its platform. It is currently not funding originals or copros, but in July 2020 it acquired Dutch arthouse distributor CINEMIEN, with an eye on spanning theatrical and traditional in addition to online. In the past this platform and the Canadian one had explored collaborations and an unsuccessful merger; now they operate distinctly — and sometimes competitively — so sellers can target programming at both services.  

Trace TV / Trace Play (Clichy, France; and London, United Kingdom) 

> Visit the Trace TV website

> Visit the Trace Play website

  • Countries served: United States, United Kingdom, all of Africa, France, Benelux, Canada, Brazil, Caribbean nations;
  • Business model: SVoD, funding;
  • B2B model: Flat-fee for SVOD, some revenue sharing.

As an international brand and media group with pay-TV channels and content (including music and sports entertainment), Trace focuses on programming that speaks to the younger-skewing Black community. TraceTV is available in French and English, and it commissions its own series in addition to investing in copros and acquisitions from around the world. TracePlay, meanwhile, is a hybrid service offering programming, radio, live music, and sports. 

Walter Presents (London, United Kingdoms)

> Visit the website

  • Countries served: United Kingdom and Ireland (for parent company Channel4), United States, Australia, Belgium, Italy, New Zealand (for SVoD or carriage blocks);
  • Business model: Free TV (via Channel4), and AVoD (via All4), AVoD and SVoD for Walter Presents depending on the region;
  • B2B model: Flat-fee for free TV, AVoD and/or SVoD, revenue sharing for TVoD on All4. Deal-specific exclusive and non-exclusive licensing.

Under parent company Channel4 and in partnership with All4, Walter Presents boasts a lineup that is mainly focused on foreign language series, although its library also contains some feature films with local recognition. Their projects are mainly acquired rather than funded (although Channel4 does fund programming), and they typically prefer dramatic series (including French-Canadian offerings) over other content. In order for consideration, series must already be popular in their home country, they must either be critically acclaimed or award-winning, or they should feature an established cast, writer and/or director. Of note: Walter Presents recently announced it had acquired the rights to stream a first Québecois series, Les pays d’en haut

Shudder / Acorn TV / Sundance Now / Planet Horror (New York and Los Angeles, United States)

> Visit the Shudder website

> Visit the Acorn TV website

> Visit the Sundance Now website

> Visit the Planet Horror website

  • Countries served: United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada (channel specific). Shudder is also available in Germany, Austria, and New Zealand; Acorn in Australia, Latin America, Spain, and the Nordics;
  • Business model: SVoD and funding;
  • B2B model: Flat fees and revenue sharing for SVoD (typically nonexclusive), funding (investment is normally pre-buy instead of equity).

These four platforms, which live under mother service AMC, each serve their own specific niche. Shudder places emphasis on horror programming, Acorn on British dramas and the Commonwealth, Sundance Now on crime and thriller series, and Planet Horror on Spanish-language horror. The first two have a track record of funding originals and copros or pre-buys with an Anglo-focus. Sundance Now, meanwhile, continues to expand opportunities in Europe.

Amber Dowling
Amber Dowling is a Toronto-based freelance lifestyle and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in various newspapers, magazines and websites across Canada and the United States. A previous president of the Television Critics Association and former editor-in-chief of TV Guide Canada, she’s covered all aspects of the platinum age of television and the emerging industry for publications including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire, Playback, The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. Aside from watching too much boob tube she’s a world traveller and mom with a serious penchant for bold reds and stinky cheese.
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