Flickr CC: Pentadact

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Voddler, the Swedish VOD startup has announced a new round of financing with total of $8 Million led by Nokia Growth Partners. Transaction is to be closed during Q1 2011. No terms or co-investors are disclosed (guess not Creandum), but according to Anders Sjöman, Head of Communications Voddler, they don’t include any direct involvement with Nokia (Press release).
Voddler is joining Nokia Growth Partners portfolio, which has a heavy focus on mobile, digital entertainment and advertising services, such as Kyte (just acquired by KIT Digital), Kong.net and Rocket Fuel Inc. Nokia Growth Partners is also known from its high investment presence in China and Asia.

Voddler has for the past six months raised approx. $17,4 Million funding in total. The latest investment is to boost the development focus on smart phones, tablets, Internet-connected TVs and set-top boxes, i.e. to enable customers to experience film anytime on any device. Btw, try find one on demand service that is not aiming to offer its service on every platform and device possible.

VOD – The Most Wanted Mission Impossible Space To Be In

Flickr CC:Profound Whatever/Mission Impossible

It’s almost an understatement to say, that there’s a turmoil in the online video space as a whole: We’re hardly pass January, and already have LoveFilm, Dailymotion (49%), GoViral, KickApps, Kewego & Kyte been acquired. And who wouldn’t want to monetize this growing appetite of online video consumption:

“In North America, Real-Time Entertainment is the largest contributor to data consumption on both fixed (43% of peak period traffic) and mobile access (41%) networks. Within that category, Netflix is a major source of content, representing more than 20% of downstream traffic during peak hours on fixed access networks, and is heaviest from 8pm to 10pm.”

Every single player on the market wants to be ready to get piece of the sweet pie when the old business models with geographical, device dependent release dates, time constraints and copyrights issues, are being disrupted. And it’s only a matter of time until we get there, whether the traditional broadcasters like it or not.

The user behavior of consuming digital content is getting mature along with more devices being interconnected and content available on multiple platforms. Mark Suster has written a great and exhaustive post on the future of television, describing the behavioral changes in consuming media and the convergence into digital living room.

State Of Swedish VOD

4550376314_bcf4e5c7d7_bFlickr CC: Combinedmedia

Few interesting statistics of Swedish online video consumption

  • 25% of Swedes in ages 16-65 watched TV on the web on weekly basis, an increase with 60% from -09 (May -10)
  • 13% of Swedes watched TV via mobile Q3 2010, an increase with 100% from -09 (approx. 2 Million Swedes have a smartphone).
  • Public service VOD SVT Play served 445 Million streams in 2010. Add the commercial TV channels with their players showing same hockey stick figures. No wonder the pre-roll ads on commercial channels are being sold out and lasting up to 40 seconds instead of average 12-14 seconds.

Since my earlier in-depth coverage of the different approaches to Nordic VOD market by  Headweb and Voddler, I have for the past year been following closely with great interest the rapidly changing VOD landscape. I can also add at least one eager and determined player to the VOD playground: Viaplay.

So, how are Headweb and Voddler doing today, when the new title releases are simultaneous, leaving very little to differentiate the services from each other?

Voddler

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Voddler showed 5 million movies last year from a catalogue of 3 500 titles to over 850 000 customers throughout the Nordics, Sweden being the biggest market with 650 000 users, compared to Finland’s 50 000. Over 80% of the content on Voddler is ad supported, thus free to the consumer, downside being that the newest titles are rarely available for free.

For the past six months Voddler has been speeding up its long to-do list with both functionality and corporate communication approach. It recruited last fall a new Head of Communications, Anders Sjöman, with great domain competence both within public relations, film, and social media. He has worked hard to improve both its public image and customer service relations with greater presence on social networks. The service has gotten a facelift and become a bit more intuitive, an Android app to browse titles with, but nonetheless, it still suffers from some technical shortcomings, such as browser compatibility and install issues with the player. It’s also still possible to only stream previews and clips directly in the browser.

Headweb

Headweb_jonah_hex

Headweb, free from ads, also launched across Nordics last year, offers approx. 4 000 titles to date. It released a video store on Facebook back in November (still only one available title?) and signed partnership with phone operator 3 on streaming DVD quality movies on 3’s mobile broadband. It’s introduced Boxee integration and added new easier payment solution via Klarna. During the harsh and cold winter last year, it also leveraged social media for marketing and branding by offering delayed train travelers with free movies while stuck. With all the goodwill and lots of improvements, I’m still missing a deeper integration with user data to deliver added value and more personalized user experience, factors I believe it needs to be able to strengthen its offer, and stay competitive.

Both Voddler and Headweb reported red numbers for 2010, proposing to break even 2011.

Viaplay / ViaSat OnDemand

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This is how fast things are moving: While writing this, ViaSat OnDemand changed its name to Viaplay. Viaplay, part of Viasat Broadcasting owned by MTG, that has been offering on demand video online since 2007, made last year a move to handheld devices by releasing its service on iPhone, iPad and Android. The message was clear when I asked about the future approach at the press conference in May: Any way or any device the users would prefer consume content, they will be able to. It has since then closed additional content deals with NBC Universal och SF (Svensk Filmindustri), partnership with LG Electronics, and offering more content in HD quality. Prices and titles match the competitors. Silverlight is required for Mac users.

Who Are Next Ones To Flirt With Nordic VOD Audiences?

Flickr CC:Minifig

Even with no immediate risk of new competitors, and most certainly with tons of content regulations and deals to overcome when entering new markets, I wouldn’t sleep too deep at night. The race is on, and I place my bet on LoveFilm to be the first one to stir the pot.

LoveFilm / Amazon

Amazon having acquired the remaining shares in the pan-European movie rental and streaming service LoveFilm with over 1 Million active subscriber households across Europe, I don’t think we have to wait fortoo long before it opens up its streaming service to the Nordic audiences. The new Netflix and Hulu killer “Prime Instant Videos” service, that reportedly has unlimited instant streaming of 5 000 movies and TV shows at no additional cost to Amazon Prime subscribers for $80 per year, gives a good idea what Jeff Bezos and Amazon is aiming for on a global scale.

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer reports 139 Million monthly requests for programmes across all platforms, a MoM increase with 22%, with requests up to 43% YoY (Oct -10). Figures support BBC’s plan to go worldwide with its global version on subscription-only basis on iPad later this year.

Hulu

Hulu dominates video advertising with nearly 800 Million monthly ad impressions (Aug -10) and counting 260 Million monthly content streams (Oct -10), has now released Hulu Plus on iPhone and iPad. Nonetheless, it’s also started to feel increased competition from Netflix, Google TV and Apple TV, and reports such as Apple TV has already surpassed iPad in Netflix streaming ought to be taken seriously. Whether Hulu’s going for IPO or to become virtual cable operator, or both, is highly unclear.

Netflix

Netflix, now also available on iPhone and iPad, is reporting plus 20 Million subscribers, new effort to go social and looking to expand into international waters. Its new streaming-only subscription has helped drive subscriber growth up 63% on Q4: “More than one third of new subscribers are signing up for the pure streaming plan”. Figures that should give a hint of future user behavior. Lastly: I would never forget, nor count out, YouTube and its Movies.

Flickr CC: Profound Whatever

When one no longer can differentiate oneself with price, content selection, device and distribution constraints, what’s left to compete with? The customer experience. An engaged and happy customer. A relationship. The kind one has with the Coen Brothers. Try to get that right while desperately struggling to adjust to Apple’s thousands of different mood changes with its App Store policies. Sigh.

Curiosa on how hot VOD is: Headweb and Voddler are the most popular keywords bringing search engine traffic to this site 🙂

Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. Rated as one of the very best startup mentors in Europe, she has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies on product, marketing and growth. Pick My Brain! is her fixed price service tailored to early stage startups, gender wage gap adjusted for female founders. Contact Paula for digital strategy work or book her as keynote speaker about #Startups #WomenInTech #GenderEquality #Entrepreneurship. Read more about her work and connect @Twitter, @LinkedIn. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen”Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital

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