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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TSM Suspends Partnership With FTX — The Latest in a String of Departures

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

TSM Suspends Partnership With FTX — The Latest in a String of Departures

Esports team owner Team SoloMid (TSM) announced Wednesday that it suspended its partnership with embattled cryptocurrency exchange FTX. The $210 million naming rights agreement was set last July. It was the biggest in esports history.

In a statement to dot.LA, TSM spokesperson Gillian Sheldon said, “TSM is suspending our partnership with FTX effective immediately. This means that FTX branding will no longer appear on any of our org, team and player social media profiles, and will also be removed from our player jerseys.”

Earlier this week, dot.LA reported that TSM would likely pull out of the partnership and cut its losses. In addition, we noted the esports outfit would probably look to divest itself from the controversial FTX moniker as soon as possible. On Monday, TSM said it was “consulting with legal counsel.” Currently, it remains unclear if TSM will look to sue the crypto exchange for lost sponsorship revenue – after all, the esports company was set to receive payments of $21 million across 10 years, no small chunk of change.

TSM also noted that it “may take some time” for fans to see the change back to non-FTX branding since “some social platforms have made changes to their product features.” Given Twitter’s recent issues, it’s likely that’s the platform giving TSM a headache.

TSM’s deal with FTX is far from the first to crumble in the wake of the crypto exchange’s bankruptcy filing last week.

Numerous payment companies have terminated their contracts with FTX, including Visa, which broke off a global agreement to offer an FTX debit card Nov. 15.

The majority of FTX’s ambitious deals to sponsor big-name teams across professional sports have also evaporated. The Miami Heat terminated a $16.5 million deal that would have seen FTX’s name attached to their arena until 2040 earlier this week. The Golden State Warriors also paused FTX promotions and removed all in-arena advertisements on Monday. And last Friday, Mercedes’ Formula One team suspended its agreement to be sponsored by FTX.

Investors who shilled FTX are also now the subject of a new class action lawsuit filed in Miami Nov. 16. The list of celebrities named in the suit includes Tom Brady, Steph Curry, Larry David and Gisele Bündchen. All of whom have been accused of violating the state of Florida’s Securities and Investor Protection Act and the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The suit is being brought forth by controversial attorney David Boies, who previously represented Theranos and Harvey Weinstein.

LA Venture: R-Squared Ventures’ Roy Rubin on the Evolution of Ecommerce

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
R-Squared Ventures’ Roy Rubin
Photo provided by Roy Rubin

On the episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, R-Squared Ventures’ co-founder Roy Rubin talks about investing, ecommerce and how he got started in tech at UCLA.

R-Squared, the venture firm Rubin co-founded with his partner and former Loop Commerce co-founder Roy Erez, focuses on early-stage startups. The firm writes checks of between $500K to $1.5 million, with a focus on ecommerce, fintech, marketplaces and SaaS. R-Squared has made about 30 investments in the past 18 months.

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