Get to Know Ficto: Q&A with CEO Mike Esola


December 2018 saw the birth of Ficto, a free streaming service that offers interactive shows produced for mobile. Optimizing vertical and horizontal viewing while providing transparent metrics and meaningful revenue share, Ficto is working quickly to become the content platform of tomorrow as well as a home for brands and independent artists alike.

Just yesterday, Ficto announced its expanded slate of shows that will premiere in conjunction with its consumer launch in the first quarter of 2020, championing a robust line-up of shows, with genres ranging from reality and news to comedy and scripted programming.

Brand Storytelling sat down with Mike Esola, Co-Founder and CEO of Ficto, to learn more about the company’s content launch, consumer and creator experiences, and brand partnership opportunities with the new streaming service:

On Ficto.tv and in media coverage, Ficto makes the statement “We stand up for those who create.” Please explain.

Every month, Ficto takes 50% of its revenue and allocates it amongst all its creators based on the respective episodes’ view count. Ficto partnered with Decent in order to use their blockchain as an automated, verifiable ledger system for accounting and payment distribution. While theoretically Ficto could achieve a similar result without a blockchain backend, we wanted to address the lack of transparency that currently exists in streaming companies when it comes to performance-based compensation for content creators. Ficto is first to market with this and we have received tremendous feedback from celebrity actors, A-list directors and showrunners. We are at Fantastic Fest in Austin this weekend and the response has been terrific. We are part of a grassroots movement to make metrics and comp more transparent for artists.

It’s an unavoidable line of questions: Quibi… who came first, Ficto or Quibi? Did one inspire the other to launch? What are the main differentiators? How will Ficto compete with the massive investment behind Quibi or is this a case of rising tide lifts all boats?

The origins of Ficto were two years ago around the time I left the talent agency business. No one is doing what we are doing at Ficto. We are a free service. We’re interactive. Most importantly, we embrace diverse and emerging talent in order to bring unique, award-winning programming to your mobile phone. Creators are provided meaningful revenue share and brands are provided transparent metrics.

What is the subscription cost?

$0. While most streaming services seem to be clinging to the subscription model, Ficto is leading the way by innovating in the AVOD space. Consumer retention in subscriptions services showed us last year that there is a real problem. And people below the age of 25 just aren’t signing up for SVODs.

What are the opportunities for brands? Will there be ad units or is it all integrations and sponsorship?

Show sponsorship includes exclusivity, title, placement, bumpers, etc. Interactivity opportunities include e-commerce click-to-purchase, custom A/R and gamification. Activations include premieres, pop-ups and VIP celebrity launch opportunities. There are opportunities for social amplification, Pre/Post roll (:06 and :15), PR releases in first to market opportunities, and Carousel placement within the app.

What brands have come on for launch?

As soon as our agreements permit, we will announce some exciting new partners.

What is Ficto's front-facing launch date?

Public beta is set to launch in February.

How are you working with authors? for example: what is the plan for The Hating Game when there is a film being adapted and a Ficto series being created? Can you describe this program with author/film/Ficto?

Ficto licenses intellectual property in order to develop mobile series based on them. In this example, Ficto does not interfere with the development of the feature film. This is why the artists and producers involved see it as a win-win.

Describe your target audience – who will be the early subscribers and influencers that will drive awareness and adoption?

Older Gen Z and younger Millennials are our sweet spot. We currently have over 50 deals with celebrity influencers to promote.

Tell us about the executive team, beginning with yourself.

I was an agent for 15 years. I loved doing it. But it became clear in the end that the business was unsustainable. Every writer in Hollywood fired their agent in 2019. And unlike traditional television or theatrical, performance-tied compensation for content is non-existent in streaming. It was a great moment to jump. Like advertising and retail, the media business is still upside down today.

Annie Turkel is Head of Strategic Partnerships. She is nothing short of a terrific partner. We clicked because we both saw the opportunity. She’s lived the start-up world her whole career having been at Machinima and other places.

Jeff Mayo is Head of Ad Ops. He was employee 80 at YouTube and employee 300 at LinkedIn. He’s seen it all. He’s helping us integrate some really innovative things in our shows like click-thru purchases.

Tom McNulty is an industry veteran. He’s amassed over $3 billion in box office receipts across all the movies that he’s produced: The Night at the Museum franchise, Date Night, Spectacular Now and a slew of other hits. His relationships run deep within the showrunner and actor community in Hollywood.

What can guests of Brand Storytelling expect from Ficto next month in Deer Valley?

We are going to present some of our marquee programming. It will include a mini slate of terrific shows which are representative of the different categories on the platform: Lifestyle, docuseries, interactive, comedy, music and more. It will be a great opportunity for brands to get a head start in partnerships. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

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For more from Ficto, find them at Brand Storytelling 2020, A Sanctioned Event of the Sundance Film Festival.

About Mike Esola

Before founding Ficto, Mike was an accomplished talent agent at WME Entertainment and United Talent Agency. He closed over $250 million in gross revenue deals for his clients which included film sales, television packages and talent bookings. Mike has a deep understanding of technology’s impact on media and entertainment. As a leader in the theatrical industry, it afforded him a unique perspective into rapidly changing trends. Consumer preferences in mobile, engagement aspects in content and performance-tied compensation for artists were collectively being ignored by new streaming companies. Mike saw the urgent need for media’s integration into mobile applications which helped drive Ficto from concept to company through industry support, proven technology and market traction.

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