OTT Plays First for Wham Network

New video game, eSports-focused network will also seek distribution with MVPDs

The pervasiveness of broadband connectivity has blown open windows of opportunity for a new breed of genre-focused streaming networks that would probably find the sledding tough if they were trying only to gain distribution on traditional pay TV platforms.

Though over-the-top distribution comes with some challenges of its own with respect to outreach and attracting viewers, it’s the platform that currently presents the path of least resistance.

A new 24/7 channel that will take that OTT-first angle is The Wham Network.

The yet-to-launch free, ad-supported network, which will focus on video-game culture with an emphasis on the red-hot eSports market, will initially target OTT distribution in partnership with Cinedigm.

Wham Network will become Cinedigm’s fourth digital channel, joining Docurama, CONtv (fare tailored to Comic-Con devotees) and Dove Channel (faith and family-friendly programming). The trio has accumulated 3.34 million app downloads, 610,000 registered users and about 80,000 “active” subscribers between them.

20 SERIES SET

Gary Kleinman, Wham Network’s founder, said the channel would launch by mid-June. It already has 20 original series slated for production and is aiming for at least 160 hours of original programming for 2017. Shows and series will include eSports industry news, celebrity gaming and documentaries and reality/gaming competitions, as well as some live event coverage. It’s also on tap to host Button Mash Live, a gaming festival set to get underway this October in Los Angeles.

Among the shows under development are Good Morning Gamers (a daily, one-hour news program); Wham-Live (live gaming and eSports competitions); CGC (for Celebrity Gaming Channel, a competition involving a mix of recording artists, actors, athletes and other celebrities); and One to One (offering interviews and insights from eSport players and teams).

“Our first priority is on having a robust OTT distribution platform,” Kleinman said, noting that Wham Network will be plugged into Cinedigm’s distribution ecosystem, and that the aim is to appeal to casual and competitive gamers as well as eSports newbies.

But direct-to-consumer OTT is just one part of the playbook, as Wham Network will also seek out distribution on MVPD platforms.

“Those discussions have already begun,” he confirmed.

How that distribution might manifest is still unclear, though, as it’s unknown whether Wham Network will seek out a regular channel spot or become an integrated OTT option alongside the regular TV channel lineup.

“It may well be both,” Kleinman said.

The good news is that there’s no shortage of potential options.

MVPD OPPORTUNITIES

Comcast, for example, has begun to integrate OTT services like Netflix (with Sling TV and YouTube on deck) on its X1 platform for set-tops. Dish Network has been weaving OTT services on its Hopper platform. Several TiVo cable partners also integrate OTT services into their set-top boxes.

Vendors such as Wurl TV, Zone TV and Frequency are also working with big and small MVPDs on systems that would stitch and weave OTT “channels” into the set-top guide.

Sling TV, meanwhile, has been broadening its programming mix with OTT content from partners such as Cheddar. Another possible target could be Pluto TV, a free OTT service with a linear lineup that includes online native content with channels one might find on a cable TV service, including CNBC and Bloomberg Television. Yet another candidate is Xumo, which has built a native OTT channels platform for smart TVs from companies that include LG Electronics, Vizio, Panasonic, and Funai Electronics (Magnavox, Sanyo and Philips).

In addition to a free standalone offering and making The Wham Network available as part of subscription packages, the new network might also consider a “freemium” model, Kleinman said.