The Judges’ Club: FX Digital on creating a balance between CTV vendors and developers
The August 11 entry deadline for The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries is looming. Ahead of then, we meet one of the award’s expert jurors, Matthew Duhig, founder and managing director of FX Digital.
Matthew Duhig, founder and managing director of FX Digital
The Digital Industry Awards celebrate the best work, companies and people behind the most effective digital campaigns around the world. You can find out more about how to enter here.
Fresh-faced from university, Duhig and co-founder Tom Smith founded the over-the top (OTT) app technology company FX Digital as a web design and build business from the latter’s family home. After setting up an office in London in 2015, Duhig began looking into augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), before eventually stumbling on connected technologies. Now with over 60 employees, FX Digital has seen successful campaigns with the Discovery Channel, ATP media, UK TV, the BBC, GCN and Eurosport.
As a judge for The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2022, we caught up with him to find out more about unfair app processes, the rise of AVOD and his journey to the top.
What is the biggest problem with connected TV (CTV) today?
The device manufacturers and vendors are the gatekeepers of the applications and, in a lot of instances, they’re not up to scratch in terms of getting these applications reviewed and following a good process to get things done. It’s not like the web where you can just launch a website and change it in seconds. We’ve had instances where we will submit an application to a certain vendor, and it will take them 12 weeks to get back to us before it can launch.
It just isn’t good enough for the industry. If we want to be launching applications on these devices in a quick manner and making them more accessible to other content owners, then the device vendors need to be getting devices and applications reviewed in a much quicker timeframe. They also need to be doing it in a way that is fair, because you’ll get instances where the likes of Netflix will have much more sway than anyone else that applies. It could submit an app and probably get it tested and checked within an hour.
What trends are you seeing in the space right now?
There’s a big shift toward AVOD. Subscription churn is a real thing, especially with the cost-of-living crisis. People are now looking at the number of subscriptions they’re stacking, and potentially canceling. Netflix had its quarterly earnings recently and it lost subscribers – not as many as it predicted, but it still took a loss.
In response to that, a lot of companies, Netflix included, are introducing advertising tiers to their subscription models. So customers can now or will be able to pay a smaller fee to subscribe to say Netflix and just consume advertising as part of that.
What can we expect from CTV down the pipeline?
There’s no hiding the fact that it’s going to be a tough year for many because of the uncertainty in the economy. But we’re lucky to be in an industry that, by and large, should do well during a difficult time, because it’s media and plenty of people would probably rather be spending money sitting at home watching TV than spending lots of money going out.
It’s an interesting time for the streaming industry. There’s a shift at the moment from a lot of these providers such as Disney, Amazon and even Apple to offer what I see as more of a subscription to the brand than a subscription to a video delivery service. Take Amazon, for example. You don’t just get video on demand (VOD), you get music and you get your Amazon Prime shipping, all within the same description – whereas Netflix has just got video streaming at the moment. And I know it’s introducing gaming and it remains to be seen how successful that’s going to be. But it’ll be interesting to see how these bigger membership brands fare against the more specific niche VOD brand subscriptions.
What is a great piece of tech that you’ve seen recently?
Samsung has joined up with Xbox to stream games over a Samsung TV. You won’t need the Xbox device. It’s in a way a response to the chip shortage because Xbox and PlayStation can’t create devices quick enough. And as a result, it looks like they’re doing a lot of cloud rendering so the Xbox can essentially distribute its games down to Samsung TVs without users needing an Xbox device.
There’s potential for this technology, but it’s still very early days because we have internet connectivity issues, frame-rate issues and buffering to contend with. But as the internet grows in strength in terms of 5G and internet speeds, cloud gaming makes a lot of sense.
What is your proudest career moment?
The launch of Eurosport player. After launching Dplay (now Discovery +) in Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, they invited us back. Four years ago we built the Eurosport player application. But when we did that we rebuilt an entire architecture for it. And by this time, we had around 25 people, mostly engineers, and brought out a new architecture for the Eurosport player application that was then used across Discovery for different brands.
We launched it across a fair few credited TV devices, initially Samsung, Amazon Fire, Android TV, PlayStation and Xbox. It was a seamless global launch and the project itself went on for between six and nine months. It was a real effort to get it done and launched.
We’ve also helped to train and support Discovery’s internal teams to then take on that code base and use it for Discovery Plus. We initially took a leading role and then started to pull back and hand it off to those guys.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
From a personal perspective; surround yourself with the people that you want to become, because you become the net average of the people you surround yourself with. And the best piece of business advice is to have confidence in yourself. When we first started the business, we rented our first office space and it was around £300 a month. At the time, it felt like such a massive commitment, because it was the first time we’ve ever committed to spending something on a thing that comes out monthly from the bank account. So suddenly we had to make money every month to sustain what was a small business at the time. We then moved during the pandemic to a new office space and the rent on this office space was significantly more, but I felt more nervous coming into the £300 office space than I did in our current one.
How important is it for the industry to celebrate excellence?
It’s incredibly important for an industry where there’s not any accreditation – for example, an engineer. You don’t have to go to university and study for seven years like architects. You can go online, read a few things and then say you’re an engineer. That’s a really great thing. But it’s also a really dangerous thing, because it means that there are a lot of suppliers or providers, or maybe people out there that aren’t quite able to deliver the certain level that they say they can or they need to.
One way of offsetting that is through awards and peer recognition. We won the Grand Prix at The Drum Recommends Digital Awards in 2018 when we were a much smaller business. And being able to say to potential clients that we were voted the Grand Prix winner of the recommended agencies was a massive thing.
When we were speaking to clients, it gave them the confidence in us that we knew what we were doing. For companies of any size, awards are a great way of getting that peer recognition and that recognition compliance.