Japan’s Firebug wants to redefine TV viewing experience for mobile-addicted millennials


See the original story in Japanese.

Shogo Sato is known for having experience as a manager of famous Japanese comedian groups such as Ninety Nine and London Boots at Yoshimoto Kogyo (TSE:9665), a major Japanese entertainment conglomerate, and as the founder of Qreator Agent providing agent service for creators in 2015 as well. He had also been involved in managing and promoting celebrities like Rika Shiiki (female university student / entrepreneur) and Yoichi Ochiai (Assistant Professor at University of Tsukuba).

Sato has been managing a TV program production company called Firebug as well as Qreator Agent. Firebug recently launched a video app focused on 30-second episode broadcasts, named Thirty. The app is available for Android and iOS, so one can download it from Google Play or iTune AppStore (the app was initially named VEM but appears to have been rebranded).

TV programs for millennials become mobile viewing-optimized

Firebug has taken on production of programs or killer contents for famous video distribution services thus far. Based on such  experience and knowledge, Sato felt certain of demands for single and short-length contents in the video viewing experience by smartphone. Thirty, the first service by the firm, focuses on 30-second videos in vertically long screen optimized for smartphone display.

When one starts the Thirty app, a list of videos is displayed. Users can watch a 30-second video to the end or skip to the next one by swiping. Thirty learns each user’s taste by analyzing what videos he / she watched to the end or skipped viewing at the beginning. Applying cooperative filtering between users having similar attributes, the app displays a video considered to suit user’s taste on the top list and prompts them to view it preferentially.

Currently, the app prepares channels such as variety, information, comics or lifestyle as of the launch mainly providing contents to the general public, and allows users to view all of them for free of charge. Sato answered THE BRIDGE’s interview by noting that he would like to try establishing rather specialized channels such as fishing or documentary, as well as pay contents in the future:

In the future, we may introduce a charging system depending on contents. For example, we allow users to watch the first three episodes for free but charges for the rest. However, that would be after our users are fully established, which means six months or one year later.

Many of contents from Thirty will be provided as commercial spots to be inserted as in the way TV broadcasters handle them. Since the commercial spots have to be optimized for vertically long screen, advertisers will arrange for conventional TV commercials or produce original ones.

Through the experience of viewing video with smartphone, a combination with  user location information becomes available hitherto unable to be realized using  conventional TV. Utilizing the combination of location information and videos, Sato showed us some ambitious concepts: Thirty displays certain commercial videos only while riding on Yamanote Line, or users can watch certain programs only when climbing Mt.Fuji. In addition, he mentioned the possibility of O2O (Online-to-Offline) and geomarketing.

Production cost of each program becomes almost zero

Since Thirty can designate the time range to display each program episode freely, the program organization becomes flexible unlike typical TV or radio. Although it is a contrast to the live commerce growing lively, the firm does not plan to carry on live streaming at the moment, unless it has contents exceptionally acceptable by a mass audience. In short-length movie creation, creators can shoot 20 episodes together at one time and that contributes to reduction of performance fee or production cost per episode. Sato told us about the future vision for Thirty.

We will also invite posts of excellent short-length videos from public. The Firebug staffers will evaluate, edit and display them on Thirty. We want to make Thirty a place for select people, not for anybody.

This July, Firebug fundraised from an interesting line-up of investors, RKB Mainichi Broadcasting and Avex Ventures. If the app stored an overwhelming number of short-length videos, cinematization or provision of TV programs may be possible through rearrangement of these videos. As the number of Thirty users increase, the firm can construct a financial system returning a part of the profit to actors or creators.

Shogo Sato (R) talks with Yoichi Ochiai (L) at a startup event in Fukuoka by F Ventures earlier this month.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy