Most video streaming platforms — the Netflixes and Hulus of the world — rely on the quality and quantity of each movie or TV show they offer to attract subscribers.
But a brand new player called VRV (pronounced “verve”) is banking on a different model: fan loyalty to a large collection of dedicated independent content creators, all gathered under one glorious geek-friendly roof.
The latest of the digital streaming media platforms to enter a competitive field, VRV isn’t as interested in competing with the major players as it is in curating its programming to serve a specific niche audience.
VRV has partnered with several fan-favorite content networks to compile a huge variety of geek-friendly genre programming
VRV was founded by Ellation, the parent company of influential anime streaming service Crunchyroll. Over the past decade, Crunchyroll has emerged as a preeminent US source for streaming anime and has carefully cultivated a loyal fan base (no small feat, given that it essentially killed off a thriving fan bootleg culture in the process). Now Ellation hopes to replicate Crunchyroll’s success, through the same pattern of drawing on fan loyalty, with VRV.
To that end, it’s uniting a list of partner networks that reads like a roster of geek internet royalty: Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue, RWBY), Seeso (HarmonQuest, The UCB Show), Nerdist, Geek & Sundry (TableTop), Crunchyroll, Funimation, Machinima (Street Fighter: Resurrection), RiffTrax, Tested, GINX eSports, and Shudder, with plans to add CollegeHumor at a later date. Additionally, VRV is debuting two new, exclusive channels built on the backs of popular web series: Cartoon Hangover (centered on Bee and PuppyCat) and Mondo (centered on Happy Tree Friends).
Outside of the two new channels, all of these networks are already known for their quality content and large cult followings. Some will continue to exist independently as well as on VRV; others are hoping to move away from hosting their content on YouTube and its oft-criticized monetization practices, which rely primarily on revenue generated by ads rather than fan loyalty. VRV is hoping its audience will recognize the value-add of having so many geek-friendly independent networks with large cult followings under one streaming umbrella.
VRV officially launched on November 14 for mobile devices and Xbox (desktop and living room device compatibility is on the way). The app features a three-tier subscription model that offers free ad-supported content, paid à la carte options, and subscription bundles. The goal is to allow users to customize their experience to suit their interests while still having the opportunity to sample and discover new content.
And the discovery element seems to work. Clicking around the app quickly serves up a full coterie of anime, animation, comedy, gaming content, and more. I especially enjoyed discovering Pear Cider & Cigarettes through the Mondo channel; it’s a gorgeous animated film that was originally crowdfunded through Kickstarter. For fans of these and related genres, the opportunity to peruse such a wide variety of programming will make the app an easy sell.
Eventually the app will also feature account linking, so if you subscribe to one of its member services and sign up for a premium VRV account, you’ll be able to watch those services’ content on either platform.
VRV’s business model appears to be a win-win situation for genre fans and the content networks they love
“We’re all geeks here; we all started out as fans and nerds ourselves,” Ellation’s head of content, Ace St. Germain, told Vox, explaining that the company’s goal in starting VRV was initially just to give Crunchyroll fans more of what they were looking for on Crunchyroll itself.
While exploring the possibilities for expanding Crunchyroll’s media selection, Ellation came to realize there was room for an entirely new streaming network that brought many of geek media’s finest together under one umbrella. St. Germain told Vox that VRV “needed to be a service that meant something to a very special group of people ... we were very particular about the channels that could make their way onto this platform.”
“When we look at how we differentiate ourselves from everything else that’s out there,” St. Germain said, “we want to be a really great home for fans. We don’t want to be everything for everyone; we want to be everything for someone.”
Geek culture in particular is primed to welcome this narrower focus, not only because geek identity is built around a certain level of visible passion but also because fans of traditionally geeky properties tend to gravitate toward the same types of genre media. The days of Star Wars versus Star Trek are long gone: The true modern geek is a fan of both. This basic principle has led to the rise of multi-fandom conventions the world over, mega sites of nerddom that unite people and allow them to discover new stories and products to enjoy.
The core idea of VRV is that if nerds of a feather flock together, then so should the content creators they enjoy. “Our partners find that they have a really engaged, passionate audience, and the best way to expose new fans and grow is to work together,” Ellation vice president of marketing, Arlen Marmel, told Vox. In other words, VRV partners like Crunchyroll and Funimation — two longtime competitors in the world of anime — can work together to attract a larger audience while appealing to existing anime fans who want to sample both product offerings. It’s the same type of collaboration that Fox, NBC, and ABC created when they founded Hulu: The joint venture allows viewers to consume lots of different content, and everyone makes money.
“The channels we brought on all have huge and passionate audiences,” St. Germain told Vox. “It is quite challenging to be a standalone on your own little island. But you go to a place like Comic-Con, you can see them all converging in one spot.“
VRV also offers a way for fans to directly support content creators
In addition to offering fans a wide variety of content, Ellation hopes VRV will give them a way to directly support content they love while also serving as an “additive” for its member networks’ existing websites.
St. Germain likened VRV’s subscription model to crowdfunding subscription sites like Patreon, which allow users to directly support creators in exchange for small perks — but noted that VRV subscribers will ultimately enjoy much bigger returns than such sites generally offer.
“If we’ve picked the right channels, we think that people will want to support them,” Marmel said. “The way to help Cartoon Hangover create more Bravest Warriors [a popular animated web series] is to [subscribe] to the channel. There’s definitely an element of participatory contribution.”
Ellation continually emphasizes fan communities while discussing VRV; Marmel promises the site will eventually be expanded to encourage even greater interaction, whether it’s through a forum or messaging feature or some other enhancement. (Currently, users interact primarily in comments on individual episodes.)
Marmel also promises that the company is actively looking for new voices and programming to share with its viewers, though he declined to say what other channels (apart from CollegeHumor) will be joining the site in the future. “We’re listening to the community to see what they want to see here,” he said.
The VRV app is available now on iTunes, the Google Play Store, and Xbox One. Options for desktop, Chromecast, and living room devices are coming soon.