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Eisner-backed streaming service Struum shuts down

The service ran out of cash in June 2022, and quietly dismantled from that point on.

The service ran out of cash in June 2022, and quietly dismantled from that point on.

The logo of streaming television service Struum. (Logo courtesy Strumm, Graphic by The Desk)
The logo of streaming television service Struum. (Logo courtesy Strumm, Graphic by The Desk)

A streaming aggregation platform that allowed TV and film fans to buy content through a credit-based system quietly shut down last year after running out of cash, The Desk has confirmed.

The service, called Struum, was financially-backed by Michael Eisner’s investment firm Tornante and counted several well-known industry veterans from the Walt Disney Company, Discovery Networks and CBS Entertainment among its startup executive team.

Launched in 2021, Struum offered users the ability to purchase content from around 50 small and niche streaming services that sold access to their TV series and films through the platform. Rather than paying a flat monthly or annual fee to access all content, Struum asked users to purchase tokens that could be redeemed toward a particular series or film offered through each of its streaming partners.

The service was compared in media reports to ClassPass, a membership-based product that offered a similar credit-based system for fitness classes. At launch, Struum courted around five dozen small-size and niche streaming services that were willing to sell content through the platform. The services included Stingray, BBC Select, Cinedigm (now Cineverse), Indieflix, Magellan TV and Shout Factory TV.

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Eisner and Tornante offered an undisclosed amount of money to get Struum off the ground in May 2021, then helped raise another $7 million led by Canadian media firm Corus Entertainment by November.

Despite all that cash, Struum never resonated much with streamers, according to people familiar with the matter, and there were signs early on that the model was not almost certainly going to work. Between March and April of last year, executives began approaching some of their early content partners with a warning that the service was projected to run out of cash by summer, according to two people who were involved in those discussions.

At some meetings, Struum executives asked if streaming services were willing to forego payments for a brief period of time, while the service worked to raise another round of funding. A few content partners were asked if they were interested in “buying into” Struum, which involved a plan where partners would put up cash for a non-equity stake in the venture, then see their subscription payments increase over a set period of time.

Struum found no takers, and by May, Eisner and Corus were helping the service look for a full-on buyer, according to one former executive who spoke on background. By this time, Eisner had moved away from promoting Struum as an aggregate streaming service and was instead characterizing Struum as a technology platform that could enable microtransactions for a variety of consumer goods and services.

Despite his best efforts, the pitch didn’t resonate. Struum ran out of cash in early June, and its skeleton staff of executives and support workers were not paid from that point on.

Struum’s business troubles, and the company’s eventual shutdown, have not been previously reported. A message sent to Tornante Company seeking comment was not returned. Eugene Liew, one of Struum’s co-founders, also did not return multiple requests for comment.

Several executives left Struum around the time that the company stopped making payroll, including co-founder Thomas Wadsworth, Product Manager Lauren Schultz and Global Head of Partnerships Kerry Ball. But a few executives — including CEO Lauren DeVillier and Liew — stayed on without pay on the belief that the company would be sold, either as a whole or in parts.

A Quiet Dismantling

On the consumer side, Struum didn’t immediately shut down. But, over time, there were signs that the company was in trouble.

In July, one month after running out of cash, the home page for the Struum website broke due to a corrupted database (the issue was never fixed). Around the same time, content partners who had not been paid started pulling access to their TV and film libraries. Customers started encountering bugs when they tried to buy and redeem credits. Customer support messages went unacknowledged and unreturned.

By August, some of Struum’s technology partners began pulling their support for the platform over non-payment, according to a former executive. As a result, Struum’s TV and mobile apps started to freeze and crash — and, eventually, stopped launching entirely.

The Struum website went offline completely earlier this year. In January, an online casino based in Indonesia scooped up the web address for Struum; it now redirects to a webpage for a gambling app.

DeVilier stepped down as CEO of Struum and its parent company, TV Pass, in February and now focuses full-time on her consulting firm, Standing Ear Productions. Paul Pastor, Struum’s chief business officer, now works in the same capacity for Quickplay, a company he co-founded in 2020. Other former executives and employees have moved on to roles at A+E Networks, Apple, Disney, Paramount Global and Samsung.

‘We Missed the Signs’

So, what went wrong? One former Struum employee, who asked only to be identified as someone who “was more on the business than technical side,” said the service spent too much time convincing others that their business model worked, when there were clear issues.

First, the business relied too much on the ClassPass model, with no clear indication that it would work for streaming. By 2021, consumers had been conditioned to pay for streaming in one of two ways — by renting videos through marketplaces like Apple’s iTunes Store, Amazon Video and Vudu, or through the “buffet” model by which a customer gets access to everything a service has to offer by subscribing to it for a flat monthly or annual fee.

“Asking people to buy a bundle of credits before they knew what they wanted to watch sounds good in theory,” the former employee said. “You’re giving people options, and we figured, not only do people like options, but they’re also signing up for all these streaming service that, in aggregate, are getting expensive. And here is a way to just pay for what you want to watch.”

There were signs early on that Struum users weren’t receptive to that model. “We noticed people were buying credits, and buying content, but most users didn’t buy more credits,” the source said. “That should have stood out as a red flag that the model wasn’t working, but it was early, and we figured we just needed to get more content partners on board.”

Content was another problem. Struum’s decision to focus on niche streaming partners meant it had little popular appeal with mainstream consumers. The company tried to court a “big name” media company — it held informal discussions with AMC Networks, Lionsgate and Curiosity Stream, among others — but nothing ever progressed to the point of a formal meeting or offer.

“Two years ago seems like not so long ago, but it was a very different time in the streaming space,” the former worker said. “Consumers weren’t experiencing hesitation about buying a half-dozen streaming subscriptions, like they are today, and companies weren’t considering ways to bundle, like they are now. Maybe if we had launched this year, instead of 2021, things might be different. We might have a better value proposition to offer a mainstream media company, one that would have better served our niche streaming partners, too. Because the pitch early on was exposure, right? We’ll give you exposure, and open up a new revenue source, and our business will be good for your business. But we just never had a moment of good business.”

To that end, the source admitted Struum and TV Pass focused too much on generating money for their streaming partners and themselves, at the expense of a good user experience.

“The amount of time we spent thinking about the business — and I’m including myself here — was too much, and we didn’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what the customer wanted or needed,” the former worker said. “We missed the signs that customers were gravitating toward those [free, ad-supported streaming] services like Pluto, until it was too late.”

Launching a free, ad-supported product would have been a serious shift away from Struum’s mission of providing premium content paid for through a credit system. But, in retrospect, some believe a product that unified free and premium content would have worked well.

“We had content partnerships with Tastemade and Cineverse, and guess what? They have free, ad-supported content streams,” the source said. “It would have made a lot of sense to put those free, ad-supported content streams into Struum, and use that to drive viewers to buy credits and pay for more premium content through those same partners.”

Many who worked on Struum are haunted by hindsight — they believed the service was too good to not work, but now realize that there were serious issues in its strategy and execution. Ultimately, what came to market was a service so forgettable that Struum was quietly dismantled without anyone, save for a few customers, realizing it was going away.

“I guess you could say Struum failed,” the former worker said. “It doesn’t feel like much of a failure, because it never had much momentum. But it’s something I would kind of like to forget about.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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