Softonic Speaks to… NeuLion EVP & co-founder, Chris Wagner

Tina On Tech



As a fan, I believe that there are levels of being a fanatic. At the bottom, are “associated” fans. These people begrudgingly watch the game or attend an event because of a friend, spouse, or geographic region. Once their association with the friend or region ends, so does their involvement. Then, there are “fair weather” or “trendy fans”. If the sports team is winning, they’re all over it. If the show or item is hot, they’ll pay or forego anything to get the latest model or front row seats. And then, in a class all by themselves, is the “lunatic fan“. These are the people who sell their home, buy a Winnebago, and travel across the country or world to experience their crazy of choice.

Softonic Speaks to… NeuLion EVP & co-founder, Chris Wagner

The “lunatic fan” has an insatiable appetite, a primal connection which cannot be broken. They are hyper-connected to all things that momentarily soothe their vice. They exhibit extraordinary behaviors such as completely morphing into a comic book character and not understanding why EVERYONE doesn’t know who you are, or  knowing every bit of trivia or information to the point of going to blows with anyone who challenges the numbers, or conducting superstitious game rituals that must be strictly followed to ensure a team win. That type of wacky is just the tip of the “lunatic fanatic” iceberg! Regardless of the level of fanaticism, one thing holds true – fans want to be connected to their raison d’etre when they want, as much as they want, and how they want.

Enter NeuLion. The Over-The-Top technology and service company touts an end-to-end digital platform that allows fans to experience unique live and on-demand content, up to 4K/HDR, on any device. NeuLion also offers video management, distribution, and monetization mechanisms for content rights owners like the NBA, NFL, SKY Sports, Univision, and more. Fans can watch their favorite sporting event from multiple camera angles, slo-mo by finger, or learn which stars are exiting their favorite Novella, all through NeuLion OTT channels.

The numbers are impressive: 12 million credit card transactions, $22 million in total revenue Q3 2017, 63,000 live events streamed, 38 million NeuLion apps downloaded, 307,000 TB of streaming content delivered and 180 countries served. Do I sound like a “lunatic fan” yet?

By all accounts, NeuLion seems to be at the top of the OTT jungle. But how did they get there? What were some of the challenges during the start-up phase? How does NeuLion give back to the community? For answers, we went straight to the lion’s mouth, Chis Wagner. Wagner is the Executive Vice President, Marketplace Strategy, and Co-Founder of NeuLion. Here are the highlights from our interview.

Q: What is NeuLion?

A: NeuLion is a technology and services company so that makes us different from some of the OTT companies you may know. We’re really not in the game of buying video rights which is quite expensive. Our customers are companies that own video rights, sports rights, entertainment rights, news rights.  They use our technology platform and our services, and we build for them their own OTT service.

Q: Neulion’s clients include a lot of well-established sports brands. Why such a dominate sports focus?

A: Well we started with sports. My partner owns the New York Islanders so that was an easy sell. We started streaming NHL hockey for the Islanders, pre-game shows, post-game shows, post-game interviews and that turned into a league-wide deal with the NHL. That attracted other sports brands like the NFL, UFC, NBA. If you add all that up, we did about 63,000 live sports events that we streamed last year and then the business started to expand to other verticals that are not sports related, like entertainment and news. Univision in the United States is a big customer of ours. We power a product for them called Univision Now. But sports is great. Audiences are very passionate. They want to be connected all the time.

Q: Let’s turn to government regulation and recent changes like net neutrality. How vulnerable are companies like NeuLion when it comes to regulatory changes?

A: Our business is driven by the number of customers that we can sign up. As I mentioned our customers are content rights holders. So if fewer people want to stream on the internet and you’re a content company, then you’re impacted in some way by net neutrality or you’re impacted by the cost of being able to deliver content. If you’re an  ISP that is providing better costs and lower rates to bigger companies and that makes it difficult to get your business online then that has an impact on us. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with net neutrality. I think consumers are demanding to connect to more and more devices on more and more platforms. Broadband companies are going to have to meet that demand from consumers. So we’re pretty bullish on opportunities to grow the business. More and more companies are coming online.

Q: What were some of the initial challenges when establishing the NeuLion platform?

A: Interesting enough, a lot of the challenges had less to do with our technology and more to do with the business of television. And the business of television has changed over the last ten years. It was really advertising, cable affiliate fees, re-transmission fees driven and really controlled by the legacy TV distributors, cable companies, and satellite companies. What’s changed is consumers are now driving the content businesses and companies that own sports rights and entertainment rights. They want content more directly, at any time, on any device. That change has opened up the market for NeuLion.

Q: Where do you see the OTT market in five years? What’s going to separate the haves and the have-nots?

A: I think there’s going to be the super duper OTT products that are out there for big audiences. Amazon, Hulu, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix will continue to be big leaders there. But I think that you’re going to have a lot of content following audiences that have an interest in a particular area like surfing or sports. Let’s say that you watch the game on FOX. But, if you want to watch pre and post game content or if you really want to feel like your inside the locker room, there’s just not a lot of programming time for the big guys. So the smaller niche players are going to offer more content which gives people who are passionate in those areas more time in that arena. Bigger networks have to appeal to a larger audience.

Q:  Consumers and fans tend to more passionately support companies that are giving back to the community. What is NeuLion doing to better the global community?

A: We have a great partnership with an organization called Smile Train. Smile Train is a charity organization that helps kids with cleft palate. We’re both a technology partner and a contributor. We really use technology and contributions to help doctors in China and South America eradicate cleft palate. It takes about 45 minutes and about $250 to fix a kid with cleft and it has a lifetime impact. My partner Charles Wong and the group here, we’re passionate about kids. He started Smile Train some years ago and I think they’ve fixed one million kids with cleft so far. The impact of doing a simple surgery like that can change a kids life.

Q: So NeuLion is more than a technology and service company? NeuLion is about people?

A: Yes. We are passionate about our clients and fans. We create unique fan experiences that consumers can experience on any device. NeuLion is in about 180 countries. I’m excited about growing our company and creating great fan experiences.

Tina Tyler is a veteran broadcast journalist and syndicated writer. She is the host of Tina On Tech, the only weekly radio/TV technology program produced and hosted by an African American woman with distribution in the United States and the United Kingdom. Tyler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, National Academy of Television Arts and Science, and recently has been nominated for a Women In Technology Award.

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