Detroit’s Ubi Video Offers Smaller Cable Providers a Way to Compete

The only shows I watch on regular TV anymore are sporting events. I’m an avid consumer of television, particularly those shows in the HBO-Showtime-AMC stable, but appointment television has become a thing of the past as I’ve discovered the joys of on-demand and its magnificent pause and fast-forward buttons. On Thanksgiving, I took my TV viewing habits to a new level. I turned off the Detroit Lions in favor of the Dillon Panthers because I was deep into binge-watching the entire “Friday Night Lights” series and, well, when’s the last time the Lions won on Thanksgiving?

Turns out my style of TV consumption is becoming the norm, and Detroit startup Ubi Video has developed a platform to revolutionize the way smaller cable providers deliver content. Ubi has drawn the attention of Silicon Valley investors, and a few weeks ago, co-founder and CEO James Norman spoke to me from a fundraising trip to San Francisco.

Ubi Video started as a video content aggregator, a “Pandora for video,” Norman said. But as Ubi has refined its aggregation platform, the company has also undergone a slight pivot in order to tackle what it sees as problems in the television ecosystem, particularly for cable providers not named Xfinity.

Ubi Video started when five guys quit their jobs in Los Angeles and moved back to Detroit to launch a startup. They found an office in Rivertown and began building their product. Ubi Video, which is in its public beta launch now, curates a daily list of video content pulled from places around the web like Hulu and YouTube. Ubi also allows users to create shortcuts to favorite shows, launchable from a computer or smartphone, and share what they’re watching on Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier this year, Ubi Video was chosen to participate in San Francisco’s NewME accelerator program, which was created to support minority entrepreneurs. Norman was interested in NewME because, as he said in a Grow Detroit blog post, he hadn’t gotten enough bad feedback in Detroit and if Ubi was going to fail, he wanted to do so quickly. But instead of failing, Ubi attracted the attention of the Bay Area tech community and its investors, who loved the product and saw a market for it—but wanted to see more before investing.

That’s when Norman got serious about pitching Ubi’s platform to cable companies. “We’re focusing more on solving problems for cable providers,” Norman explained. “We have a cloud-based platform that we can license to cable providers.”

The problem, as Norman sees it, is that with a glut of free content available, people are less likely to pay for cable. (That’s why you’re seeing cable companies branching out into the home security realm—they’re frantically seeking new sources of revenue, he said.) What Ubi’s platform does is allow smaller cable providers to compete with giants like Xfinity by seamlessly integrating Netflix, video on demand, and Youtube into a one-stop cable experience, along with a dashboard that allows the provider to see what people are watching on a region-by-region, city-by-city basis. “Today, there’s so much content pouring out, but a lot of it is crap,” Norman said. “This would allow providers to find out what can be dropped.”

Norman envisions a television future where consumers can watch highly personalized cable content across a variety of devices, which is a premium service that only a few big cable providers currently offer. He admits content creators might see this concept as a threat to their profitability, but he said the way to neutralize that fear is to charge by the show. “If people pay up to $2 to watch a show, that’s more money on the back end than [content providers are] getting.”

So, as Silicon Valley investors watch and wait, Norman continues to reach out to cable providers and so far, he said, the reaction has been positive. He’s confident that a year from now, Ubi Video will have at least two cable clients. “We have talked to every U.S. cable company and probably half of them have called us back,” he added. “A lot of them want to compete with Xfinity, but the smaller companies don’t have the staff to pull that kind of platform together for a very reasonable cost.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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