Crunchyroll Owner Targets Anime Fans With Video Bundle VRV

VRV Product Shoot Selects H 2016
Courtesy of Ellation

VRV will launch later this year for fans of anime, gaming and other genre content.

As the streaming wars play out between a few big providers fighting for dominance, how will smaller services stand out? Perhaps by banding together. 

That's the theory driving a new service from Ellation, the subscription video arm of AT&T and The Chernin Group joint venture Otter Media. San Francisco-based Ellation on Tuesday at E3 unveiled plans for VRV, a paid video platform that will bundle together programming from a variety of different services that all target fans of anime, gaming and other genre content. 

Ellation-owned anime service Crunchyroll will serve as the foundation for VRV, which will also offer channels from Rooster Teeth, NBC's Seeso, Nerdist and Cartoon Hangover. More channels are expected to be added before launch.  

Ellation CEO Tom Pickett tells The Hollywood Reporter that VRV was developed out of the question about how to build on the niche success of Crunchyroll, which has about 750,000 paid subscribers. "We decided the best strategy was to build off the audience we'd already built on Crunchyroll," he says. "There's a broader set of interests that they have. And as we looked at the market we realized there were interesting programming partners who already target these areas but were probably going to struggle to get sizeable audiences on their own."

VRV plans to make some content from each channel available for free through an ad-supported service. But access to exclusive and original content will require a subscription. Unlike other bundled services, however, VRV will not require members to opt in to all channels. Instead they'll have the choice of subscribing to the full bundle or picking select channels for an a la carte offering. 

Pickett says the goal is not to become another Netflix or Hulu. "They're developing great, big, broad services with premium longform traditional television," he notes. "Everybody will end up subscribing to a couple of those, but I think there's a gap in the ecosystem for an audience-focused type of offering." 

Building a subscription business is a trendy move in digital, and VRV follows in the footsteps of recent launches from YouTube, Otter-owned Fullscreen, Defy's Screen Junkies and others. All have faced questions about convincing people to pay for content that has long been found free online. And Pickett acknowledges that VRV will have to move past that brand perception, noting that each channel will feature content that is original or exclusive to VRV. "We're positioning it as a premium service out of the gate, but you have to create differentiated value," he says. "It has to be something that's different than what you would get on YouTube. We also think about the experience as a way to engage the community around video." 

Additional details about VRV, including a launch date and price points for the various services, are expected later this year. It will roll out in the United States first on mobile and living-room devices including Xbox One.