OTT Innovator Helps Build a New Platform

Mike Aragon has had a front-row seat during the recent rise of over-the-top video services. After working at the corporate development group at Sony Pictures, he shifted gears and spent about eight years on the PlayStation Network team as the division sought ways to expand beyond core gaming.

It was there that Aragon helped forge a strategy that included OTT video and third-party apps and got to know Crunchyroll, the popular anime-focused subscription VOD service.

Aragon joined the video platform VRV about seven months ago as general manager, where he’ll play a key role in the expected fall launch of an OTT distribution platform/service that will feature a slate of curated “channels,” including Crunchyroll, which is part of VRV parent company Ellation, as well as Rooster Teeth, Seeso, Nerdist Alpha, and a new premium offering from Cartoon Hangover.

Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner recently caught up with Aragon to talk about his priorities and plans. An edited transcript follows.

Next TV:Tell us a bit more about what attracted you to this opportunity at VRV.

Mike Aragon: My initial perspective on VRV is really born out of the PlayStation experience, which is a very similar audience [to Crunchyroll’s], where we have these passionate fans who love anime and love gaming. It’s very adjacent psychographically… whether it’s the hard-core gamer who follows eSports and is interested in roll-playing games or the animation enthusiast who likes quirky comedies.

We saw that on PlayStation…where we had this growing audience that had similar attitudes, aspirations and interests. [VRV] is a really exciting opportunity for me because I could see how this audience was growing on my prior job.

NTV:What are your top priorities as VRV inches toward launch?

MA: It’s about adding more partners. With our initial announcement at E3 [in June 2016], we put our flag in the ground that we’re here. We’ve been approached by a lot of partners. It’s about making sure we stay true to the audience. We’re actively working on more partners to bring to the service that meet this psychographic... that we’re trying to target.

NTV:What’s the process for an SVOD service that’s interested in working with VRV?

MA: We do spend a lot of time with partners that want to be on our platform. They don’t necessarily have to be an SVOD today, but they have to have aspirations to get into SVOD. An example is Cartoon Hangover. They weren’t an SVOD before they were with us, but they had aspirations to produce more premium content and wanted to do it in the SVOD environment.

We do look at adjacency into that core psychographic because I think our strength is the fact that we have this fervent audience. We want to make sure we stay as close to that core audience as possible. We also…look at what types of content they’re bringing that’s unique to an ad-supported service [and] what types of things they’re going to do to upscale their content to make it premium so that people will want to pay.

NTV:VRV has already announced some initial partners and more are to be announced, but is there a ballpark number you want to get locked in for the launch?

MA: We’re still aiming for between 15 to 20 partners total. We’re very much on target for that. For us, it’s really more about quality than quantity.

NTV:In addition to offering SVOD services on an à la carte basis, VRV has also said it will offer a core bundle of services for a reduced price. Is there any more detail you can share on the number of channels that will make up that bundle?

MA: With à la carte, our policy has been, our partners should know best on how to price those channels. So they’ll be setting the price for that, and some already have established pricing in the market.

As it relates to the bundle, we are working on [one] that will add a lot of value for the customer. We don’t have any new details to [share] but that’s going to be a very core and important part of what we’re doing and something that I’m actively working on as we speak.

NTV:What do you see as the biggest challenge VRV will be facing in the early phases of its commercial launch? Will it be the technology or trying to reach this audience and tell them who you are and what you’re doing?

MA: The benefit and beauty of VRV is that we’re going to be communicating the value of VRV to the millions of people who use Crunchyroll today, so we have this audience that we will engage with immediately.

We have audiences with our content partners who have very robust social presences or have channels on YouTube we can engage with. I think we’ll have reach through the sheer numbers of people who we’ve chosen to be on our platform.

On the technology side…we are launching from scratch, but we do suspect that a lot of folks from our partners or from Crunchyroll will be interested in this, so [it’s about] making sure it’s scalable and robust.