Going Over the Top with Sci-fi: Resistance is Futile

E.J. Kavounas, the Founder and CEO of the newly launched science fiction destination Recursor.tv, describes his OTT service as the first independent online platform entirely focused on sci-fi video content. The question is, if this is uncharted territory, why brave the waters? And what will be the biggest challenges moving forward? Here’s what Kavounas had to say:

EJ KavounasCynopsis: Why did you decide to pursue a sci-fi platform, in particular? A passion? Did you have data – or a gut feeling – about how receptive a potential audience might be?

E.J. Kavounas: I have had a passion for science fiction since childhood and worked on the television series Babylon 5 in the 1990s. I spent many years working in finance at a large investment bank helping clients in the technology and entertainment sectors identifying market opportunities, and recently it struck me that science fiction is significantly underserved. Last year, when we were forming Recursor, I partnered with two industry veterans, Ed de Lachomette and Steve Tao, both of whom have experience as producers, more specifically within the science fiction genre. Our business thesis is that as audiences continue to fragment, viewers seek dedicated platforms suited to their particular tastes (e.g. Funny or DieJash.com, Seeso, Shudder). But there is no platform dedicated to real science fiction.

Platforms dedicated to other genres have already proven successful. According to DigidayCrunchyroll had 20 million registered users at the end of 2015, while Fullscreen’s COO, Andy Forssell, is targeting 5 million paying subscribers. This is compounded by the cord-cutting trend and focus from younger demos on alternative video sources. According to GfK, of homes with a resident between 18 and 34 years old, 22% are using over-the-air reception only, while 13% are only watching internet TV, and these numbers are growing fast. We believe fans of our genre are as passionate and dedicated as those of horror, comedy and anime, and that if we deliver on quality, they will be willing to sit through ads and, eventually, pay for content. It is difficult to assess the size of the science-fiction market in the U.S., but Nielsen estimated that approximately 94.8 million American households received SyFy as of February 2015, while science-fiction drama series regularly reach over 4 million viewers per episode in the U.S.

Cynopsis: You say this is the first independent online destination wholly devoted to sci-fi content. Why do you think that is?

Kavounas: I think there are two main reasons for this. First is the democratization of visual effects. The cost of creating science fiction has, traditionally, been a barrier to entry. But Moore’s Law is reducing costs with cheaper, faster tools. Globally accessible training videos have made anyone with YouTube, editing software and an iPhone (and potentially a green screen if you want to get fancy) capable of using the same special effects techniques which 20 years ago were exclusively the domain of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and a handful of Hollywood effects houses. See the great Wall Street Journal article from a couple of years ago called “The New Era of Low-Fi Sci-Fi” for more. The second reason is a kind of inverse of economies of scale rule where a nimble startup can afford to focus on a niche market while a larger, far better capitalized company needs a much bigger platform to make money.

Cynopsis: What were the biggest challenges when it came to setting up the service? And what will be the biggest challenges going forward?

Kavounas: The biggest challenge was limiting the scope. From a genre standpoint, science fiction touches on horror, fantasy, and animation. We focused on being very disciplined in content selection. Just hard science fiction or modern or grounded science fiction, as it is sometimes called. The biggest challenge going forward will be to continue to build the community we’ve built and get the word out to a larger audience and then, of course, converting the audience into revenue streams. Initially we will be ad supported so that we can grow quickly with as little friction as possible. Later we will introduce a subscription service, which will present more challenges.

Cynospsis: How did you go about looking for content?

Kavounas: This was the fun part. We love watching and critiquing science fiction, so we watched every short form video we could find. Most of the videos we host on Recursor are available on Vimeo and YouTube. Now that we have an online presence and a community of filmmakers, we are beginning to receive content from visual effects houses, producers, and other sources contacting us directly.


The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected]

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