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Viacom, Philo mull ad-free content offerings

Viacom Inc. and low-price streaming video distributor Philo Inc. are exploring advertising-free content options in the wake of such offerings from AMC (US) and FX Network (US).

Calling ad-free "a different viewing experience" that some subscribers are willing to pay more to receive, Philo CEO Andrew McCollum told attendees at New York Media Festival on Oct. 5 that Philo executives are contemplating how commercial-free presentations could be seamlessly integrated within the platform.

Philo, which launched late last year, offers nonfiction, lifestyle and knowledge-based programming from AMC Networks Inc., A+E Networks, Viacom and Discovery Inc., including the recently acquired Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. channels, for $16 a month. Subscription video services AMC Premiere and FX+ already afford viewers commercial-free options of original programming, attendant library and other curated fare from those networks for a monthly fee.

In a brief interview after the New York Media Festival panel, McCollum said Philo has been talking to AMC about ad-free offering "for some time, and hopefully, we can figure out a way to do it."

Philo not only wants the product to be available on the same date it airs live but would prefer to make programming available ahead of its linear premiere. That way, those watching a show in the live window would not come to the end of the episode and face a blank-screen gap for the time the ads would have run.

While Philo is interested in pursuing ad-free options, McCollum said its partners have to lead the way in developing offerings that "make sense to them."

Tom Gorke, Viacom's executive vice president and head of distribution and business development, said the company has been mulling ad-free offerings for various Viacom content in the streaming and direct-to-consumer space.

"AMC Premiere and FX are still pretty nascent," he said, noting that there are high levels of viewing and longer length of tune for commercial-free platforms offerings from AT&T premium network HBO (US) and streaming leader Netflix Inc.

Gorke said it is unclear if that type of behavior extends to all audiences and for all types of programming. "The beauty of the pay TV ecosystem is that it provides dual revenues stream [monthly subscriber license fees and advertising] that combine to build the funds use to create the programming," he said. "We're exploring different models that are complementary to the ecosystem that makes sense in the long run."

In other words, Viacom is examining where and when it could do this, according to Gorke.

The network executive sidestepped a query about the status of a library programming-based direct-to-consumer product that CFO Wade Davis had earlier said would launch before the close of Viacom's fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Gorke said Oct. 5 it was only the "first inning" of the direct-to-consumer evolution and the company is looking at various opportunities and iterations before it makes its move.

Gorke said there is content available across Viacom’s portfolio for which the company owns the rights and might appeal to different audiences, such as preschool service Noggin, which has received a boost via positioning on Amazon Channels.

Gorke also said the company found there was pent-up demand for Nickelodeon original series from the 1980s and 1990s among adults who remembered the programming from their childhood. NickSplat, which serves up the vintage Nickelodeon programming, recently launched on the VRV platform, which is part of the Ellation unit of Otter Media Holdings LLC. Gorke said NickSplat will eventually extend beyond that platform.