Comcast, RCN or Verizon. Dish Network of DirecTV.
That’s the basic list of TV content providers in the Corridor. The options and the flexibility are relatively scant.
That’s why Suresh Kadagala thinks it time for Vibble TV to enter the picture. Vibble TV, the product of Columbia-based Internet Broadcasting Co. (IBC), is a new option in the area’s cable TV game, and it’s offering local and national viewers something different: “An à la carte service with content, said Kadagala, the company’s CEO, “that viewers can select as they wish for multiple screens, a video-on-demand alternative via the Internet.”
With Vibble rolling out, IBC will be focusing its early marketing efforts on attracting a subscriber base from the South Asian population in the U.S., then from other ethnic groups before eventually honing in on a saturated mainstream U.S. market.
Flush with cash after a $2 million infusion from its investor group and Silver Stone Capital, IBC is ready to offer a service that transmits video content directly to subscribers’ smartphones, tablets and computers, as well as TV sets via a proprietary set-top box — and it hopefully will deliver.
The Twice Over
Kadagala came to IBC in 2011 to launch Vibble TV after spending more than a dozen years in the telecommunication and medical informatics industries. He said IBC is offering Vibble as “a Netflix-type business for TV. It’s the same model, just distributed over the Internet.
“Our goal is to replace traditional cable programming with our service,” Kadagala said. “Since the market is so big, we’re targeting the ethnic markets before we move back toward the mainstream.”
He offered two reasons for that strategy. “First, we want to build up the international subscriber base, hopefully to about 50,000 subscribers, before we approach the domestic market. By offering a large ad base is how we hope to get the interest of domestic advertisers.”
Secondly, doing just that will help enable IBC to target advertisers. “If an advertiser wants to advertise on Vibble, we will have enough subscribers for them to pick from various demographics,” Kadagala said, “so they can choose those that benefit them the most, instead of making the usual blanket effort.
“Today, Comcast, for instance,” he said, “can only offer its advertisers certain counties. But our options will be based on demographics and habits of our viewers, and the spots can be targeted like they are on Facebook — but our targeting will be done on regular TV.”
One at a Time
Kadagala said that IBC is going the ethnic route because those markets are underserved in the U.S. TV business. “That’s why we’re penetrating them first with programming that we will deliver, but originates overseas. Being near D.C. is a big benefit in that way.”
The initial “targets” will be the South Asian, with Latin American, Korean and Japanese markets, in that order — who will be able to again see their favorite TV shows that have not been available domestically.
After Vibble is up and running in the Baltimore-Washington region, IBC then plans to target other metros around the country “one at a time, such as New York, Chicago and the Bay Area,” he said. “Then, within three years, we plan to offer all of the typical U.S. channels, as well.”
Kadagala has spent the last year preparing IBC’s backend system, spending more than $1 million in the process; as noted, IBC’s wallet is open, and he’s ready to make more moves. The company presently operates a big satellite dish farm in Columbia, “but we’re looking to build a bigger facility elsewhere in Howard County,” he said.
As for the viewers, as long as they have an Internet connection from any current provider, customers will be able to connect to the service. Vibble TV’s pricepoint starts at $15 for a basic package of about a dozen stations and, of course, customers can also opt for à la carte service.
The greater ease of access and more fluid distribution to different platforms, like smartphones and tablets, will provide an opportunity to make such keenly targeted programming more viable, said Allison Dollar, CEO of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Interactive Television Alliance.
“We’ll be seeing a lot of action in this arena. The next wave of advanced broadband video services is upon us,” said Dollar. “Not only do consumers expect to access video through their mobile devices, they want that content to be on demand and, if possible, tied to interactive and social experiences.
“Moreover,” she said, “the number of hours of video viewing online continues to rise and the use of companion devices for two-screen experiences in the living room continues rapid growth.”
Will It Fly?
While also calling the concept of Internet TV “very viable,” Alan Wolk, global lead analyst with Kit Digital in New York, expressed concerns about Vibble TV making the transition from an ethnic focus to the mainstream.
“That seems less likely,” said Wolk. “I say that because, in terms of content, it will be hard to switch from showing Bollywood movies to the more expensive Hollywood movies when Vibble begins to compete against the existing channels in this country, as well as Google, Netflix, Amazon,” etc.
“In other words,” Wolk said, “Vibble may not translate to the mainstream market at that point.”
And Alan Brody, CEO with Scarsdale, N.Y.-based iBreakfast, a digital media executive community, isn’t sold on the viability of the content that Vibble TV will provide en route to the domestic market.
“The reality of immigrant TV is that they watch sports, and if the country is in trouble, the news,” he said. “They might watch some of their favorite local soaps, but that [early habit tends to trail] off pretty quickly.
“What they really want,” said Brody, “is their ethnic take on U.S. news and goings-on. That’s what Univision does for U.S.-based Hispanics, and it’s expensive. [But] on the other hand, [that content] can be sold back home.”
Still, Kaladaga feels IBC’s approach will make Vibble TV a hit.
“I see our service as a Wal-Mart for TV viewers who will be able to make à la carte selections of what channels they want to watch,” he said, with each station priced, roughly, from $1.99 to $5.99 per month.
“That’s what Vibble TV is all about,” he said. “We want to provide options for the consumers to watch what they want, however they want, whenever they want.”