UVA Darden Alum Launches New Network in the Era of ‘Peak TV’

14 October 2016

By Dave Hendrick

An actor before coming to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, NBCUniversal executive Ed Festa (MBA ’10) managed to successfully integrate his creative interests into the Darden curriculum, pioneering a global course on the Cannes Film Festival and helping to write a case on the Hulu streaming service that piqued his curiosity in exploring the cross section of technology and entertainment.

A first post-Darden job at Sony’s digital network Crackle solidified that interest, and Festa held a number of roles at the company, including the position of director of brand development and partnerships when he left to help launch NBCUniversal’s comedy-focused digital network Seeso.

Ed Festa

Ed Festa

Recounting the launch of the startup network to Darden students as part of a Hot Topics presentation hosted by Darden’s Media, Entertainment & Sports Club, Festa suggested Seeso was among the companies at the leading edge of a next generation of video content, likening the landscape to the one that saw broadcast television splinter decades ago.

“We see the digital world the way the broadcast TV landscape looked 30 to 40 years ago,” said Festa, senior director of operations and strategy of digital enterprises at NBCUniversal. “Back in the day, there were three networks, and they all had a little bit of everything, and that gave way to an explosion of cable channels in specific genres and specific verticals.”

In the view of Festa, the dominant digital platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu are akin to the major networks of yore, with startups like Seeso analogous to the cable networks.

Notably, it’s not an either-or discussion. Just as as Bravo and USA both thrive alongside NBC, the overwhelming majority of Seeso customers also subscribe to other subscription video-on-demand services like Netlfix.

In considering the new company’s value proposition in a fragmented landscape, Festa said the Seeso launch team saw the “comedy nerd” as the target audience, and while they knew they needed to launch with some familiar content, they expect it will be original content that could help the network rise above the saturated entertainment era commonly referred to as “Peak TV.”

“That’s the critical differentiator,” Festa said of the network’s bet on high-quality original programming. “The world doesn’t need another place to watch Parks and Recreation. You have to give them something else.”

The network launched in early 2016 with 22 original programs to go alongside canonical comedy programming like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and Monty Python.

The startup network is still finding its role in a young and rapidly evolving marketplace, and Festa took the opportunity to use the Darden students as an informal focus group.

Did the $3.99 per month price tag feel like the right price?

On what platforms would you expect to view Seeso?

How should the company continue to get the word out about the network?

Given the uncertainty and variables in the industry, Festa described the benefits of working for a startup within a large organization, noting the relative creative freedom to make the choices that seemed right for the digital network while knowing he had the resources of the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal in his corner.

Still, the network is at the leading edge of a new generation of consumer habits, where even the definition of success can be a moving target.

“In the digital world, you can easily go down a lot of rabbit holes to try to figure out the perfect model and perfect metric,” Festa said. “We’re still trying to figure out four or five critical KPIs.”

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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