Orby TV Carves Out Its Place in the Attention Wars With a New Twist on an Old Model

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Orby TV Carves Out Its Place in the Attention Wars With a New Twist on an Old Model

One way to think about the entertainment industry is as a massive war for attention. Within that war rumbles the battle for at-home video dominance (often itself called a streaming war, which feels a bit like calling the Pacific theater of World War II the Pacific War).

At that battlefront, giants like Netflix and Disney spend boggling amounts of money and rack up mind-numbing debts. On the periphery, several smaller battalions like Tubi and Vudu wield their ad-funded service weapons. And scattered about it all, minor militias scurry in search of a patch to claim their own.

Orby TV thinks it's found one -- starting at about $40 a month compared to more high-priced competitors.


"We're looking at what we feel is an underserved segment," said Michael Thornton, Orby TV founder and chief executive. Previously chief revenue officer of Starz after stints at Disney and DirecTV, Thornton launched Orby TV in early 2019 out of Studio City for "people that are fed up with high prices and want a lean-back experience" where you "hit power, and then it's on."

For an installation fee and a monthly payment of less than half of what most cable or satellite services charge, Orby TV customers get dozens of cable channels via satellite dish, plus dozens more over-the-air (OTA) broadcast channels via digital antenna, all beamed through one coaxial cable into a TV that turns on with the click of a remote, complete with a program guide.

Orby TV's program guide integrates its broadcast and satellite channels

TV for a Toll

One reason Orby TV is relatively affordable is that it doesn't carry sports channels. Foregoing national and regional sports networks means saving on licensing costs, which the company can pass on to customers. Sports coverage from broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) and Turner stations (TNT, TBS) remains available.

Orby TV also eschews channels that can only be had as parts of a bundle, many of which are owned and operated by the networks. Those bundles tend to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

"The industry has been and always will be very paranoid in terms of how it sets itself up," Thornton told dot.LA. "They have most favored nations clauses out the ying-yang (so there's) very little ability to cherry pick services."

The upshot is that Orby TV viewers can lean back and watch Fox (via broadcast), but not its cable channels like Fox News or Fox Sports; NBC, but not Bravo, MSNBC or Telemundo; ABC, but not ESPN, Disney Channel, or National Geographic.

Nevertheless, with a stable that still includes TNT, A&E, CNN, AMC and others, Orby TV's basic package includes 46 satellite cable channels, per its website, with upgrades available for an additional charge.

The digital antenna, meanwhile, picks up not just the major network broadcasts but also the OTA "digital subchannels" that flow alongside these transmissions in the government regulated broadcast spectrum. (Think stations like ABC-2, ABC-3, NBC-7, etc.) Reception quantity varies by location but the company noted that 150 OTA channels are available in Hermosa Beach, and 88 just outside of Denver. These all fit on the broadcast spectrum thanks to decades of digital compression advances, noted an Orby TV representative.

Throw in the technological infrastructure afforded by the cloud, remote communication tools, and data management systems, and Orby TV's innovation is simply taking advantage of a set of "tried and true" technologies and combining it with a prepaid business model to enable a simple, flexible, low-cost service.

Customers can cancel their monthly subscription anytime and return at leisure, and meanwhile keep the broadcast channels coming in from the antenna – which remain on the program guide. Add it all up, and media analyst Dan Rayburn calls Orby TV a "niche service that works well for what it does." Affordability and flexibility, notes Thornton, could be "particularly relevant right now given what people are going through" with the coronavirus crisis.

Who's it for?

Thornton cited the growing pool of the Pay TV-world's net losses–six million in the past year–as a potential source of subscribers, who could be looking for cheaper options.

Michael Thornton, CEO of Orby TV and UCLA Anderson Alum

"The downward trend in traditional (cable) that we've seen for the better part of a decade has been accelerating as consumers look for less expensive and more flexible options," noted Ian Olgeirson, senior analyst at SNL Kagan.

Rayburn sees a smaller addressable market for Orby TV: those who live in rural areas with poor access to broadband. Such technological deprivation often forecloses internet-delivered alternatives like YouTube TV, Hulu TV, or Sling TV

Leichtman generally concurs. Orby TV, he says, is primarily for "rural, non-sports fans."

One plus side of that, added Rayburn, is that "it's much easier for them to have lower customer acquisition costs because they can target specific people in a zip code or zone."

Thornton, though, is more aspirational. He sees an addressable market that includes not just those lacking broadband and Pay TV's net losses, but anyone currently with an OTA-only setup (difficult to precisely quantify) and even the 40 million-plus who "have a prepaid cell phone service and are familiar with the model," he said.

But even modest numbers might be enough.

"They don't need a lot of subscribers to be profitable," said Rayburn.

Thornton pegs it at around 80,000. Already claiming "tens of thousands of subscribers and growing," across all 48 states, with Best Buy as its biggest retailer, the plan is to break even by no later than early next year.

"We're essentially on schedule," he reported.

Orby TV's lead investor, a pension fund that requests anonymity, will presumably be pleased.

"We've always told our investor that we're open to exit strategies," Thornton said. "(But) it was always about providing a self-sustaining service."

"There's value in being a small company that's profitable," said Rayburn. "Everybody is trying to build such a big company. What's wrong with being a small company that grows every year and makes a profit?"

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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