Fullscreen’s subscription video service will be ad-free but not brand-free

Fullscreen's subscription-based video platform won't carry ads when it debuts on April 26 but is open to hosting programs that involve brands like AT&T.

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YouTube star Shane Dawson on set of his Fullscreen series 'Shane and Friends.'

Fullscreen’s subscription service will feature original shows starring YouTube celebs like Shane Dawson.

The digital video industry is trending away from traditional advertising. YouTube has made the pre-roll skippable. Facebook has forsaken it entirely. And services like Hulu and Vessel have added ad-free tiers. Even Fullscreen’s new ad-free streaming video service is locked out only to brands looking to reach viewers in the traditional way.

When the digital video network officially launches its eponymous subscription-based streaming video service on April 26, viewers won’t find any traditional ads, but they’ll likely encounter at least one brand. AT&T — which co-owns Fullscreen’s parent company, Otter Media, along with The Chernin Group — is co-producing programs that will appear on the service in a nod to how Fullscreen plans to let brands play on the platform. Fullscreen already creates content with brands that can be syndicated across various social channels like YouTube and Snapchat, but its subscription service offers another option that could enhance the distribution strategy.

“Imagine a world where making of content and promo content and short-form, ancillary content lives on the free web and then episodes live on the Fullscreen platform,” Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos said of the service that’s been in the works since at least 2014, when it was code-named “Project Hampton.”

Brands could also find their way into some of the daily programming that Fullscreen is prepping for its platform. Those daily programs will appear in the service’s home feed and feature Fullscreen talent playing platform hosts a la the old days of MTV VJs. “Simple things to create a brand experience without creating a commercial, per se, can be valuable,” he said.

But if brands are welcome in this way, why not welcome them in the traditional way, as advertisers slotting commercials before or during shows? Because advertising is a scale game, and Fullscreen has more scale on other platforms, like YouTube and Facebook.

“We have a robust business with advertisers and marketers helping them connect with this audience on social. That’s the place where we have much more reach, where we’re reaching billions of video views on a monthly basis and hundreds of millions of viewers. That seems like a better place for advertisers to get the reach they typically want,” Strompolos said. He added that the subscription service “will be a smaller user base but it will be premium. So we think there’s opportunity for brand-integrated content here.”

But Fullscreen doesn’t expect its target audience of 13- to 30-year-olds to pay the service’s $4.99-a-month subscription fee for brand-related programming. Instead it’s stocking up on more than 800 hours of programming that people will be able to watch on Fullscreen.com or through its iOS and Android apps. That programming will span the aforementioned daily shows, as well as series starring big-name digital celebrities, like “Electra Woman & Dyna Girl” with Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart and Shane Dawson’s “Shane & Friends,” as well as a library of licensed TV shows and movies, such as “Dawson’s Creek,” “Saved by the Bell” and “Cruel Intentions.”

“The programming is a mix of original content, unfiltered talk shows, daily content, movies, specials and then a library of licensed, curated content from studios,” Strompolos said, adding he expects to roll out live programming later this year. Fullscreen may eventually syndicate its original content outside of its platform, but likely not for a year or two; Mr. Strompolos said he’s looking at how HBO has handled the syndication of its original shows, like “The Sopranos.”

It might seem weird for a company that started as a YouTube network five years ago to incorporate traditional TV and film programming on its digital video service. But it shouldn’t, considering the service’s target audience are the same people binge-watching “Friends” on Netflix. Strompolos doesn’t think people will pony up $4.99 just for the old shows and movies. That library is more of a sweetener. The primary draw would be the digital celebs, making Fullscreen’s service something of a Netflix for people who grew up with YouTube as their TV.

“We see a world where our target [audience] might be really happy that their family has a Netflix subscription. But at the end of the day this is for them,” Strompolos said. “This is their community where they belong and all the content is ripe for them. And they have a profile in this community and their favorite stars are having shows and they can respond to them and there’s a social element to it.”

But in an age where Netflix mines its audiences’ viewing patterns to make it easier to figure out what to watch, Fullscreen can’t just plop its programs in front of viewers and let them sift through it. Instead, its talent will present programs through those daily videos or playlists they create. Viewers will also be able to bring each other’s attention to the platform’s programming.

The service features a content-sharing tool that lets people clip a GIF-like portion of a video that they can post to outside social networks. When people see those links in their social feeds, they’ll be able to click on the link and watch the program at the exact point the clip is from, assuming they subscribe to the service. If people don’t already subscribe, then they’ll be able to sign up for a 30-day free trial, meaning the content-sharing tool doubles as a marketing vehicle.

Marketing also figures into AT&T’s involvement with Fullscreen’s service. The programs that AT&T co-produces with Fullscreen will air on the subscription service, as well as AT&T-owned DirecTV’s The Audience Network. And AT&T will help Fullscreen target promotions to customers of its cellular service, AT&T Mobility, who might be interested in signing up for free trials or receiving other benefits, Strompolos said.

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About the author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.

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