Paris-based startup Molotov has raised $24 million and launched a service that is poised to revolutionize the way we watch live TV, doing what Apple has tried but thus far failed to do.
“The main problem we see is people sitting on their couch at 9 p.m. at night, and after 10 minutes of navigating through channels, feeling like there is nothing on,” said Jean-Marc Denoual, vice president of operations and partnerships and a cofounder of Molotov. “That’s something we feel frustrated by, as users and as members of the whole TV industry. And what people see as ‘nothing on’ is quite paradoxical, because free channels in France are spending about 300 billion euros on content.”
Molotov is a free app that allows users to watch any of the 70 basic free channels in France. It works in partnership with French TV stations, so it’s all perfectly legal. And no cable subscription is required to access the stations. It is a big step toward making those over-the-top (OTT) dreams a reality.
Its selling point is an elegant interface that immediately shows the user what is being broadcast at that moment. There is no full video-on-demand. Instead, users can “bookmark” their favorite shows, and a limited number of past episodes are stored in the Molotov cloud to be viewed later if you miss them when they are live. The company offers additional storage for premium users.
By bookmarking a show, you get alerted when it’s going to be on, or that an episode has been saved. If you come to a show late while it’s on live, you can start it at the beginning. Unlike DVR services, Molotov doesn’t let you skip commercials. Denoual said the goal is to improve the experience for users, help them discover more great content and manage it, and create new revenue sources for TV partners.
“It’s not designed to kill the business models of channels,” he said. “We want to give you a clear and rapid outlook of what is live.”
Of course, after failing to strike a deal with TV producers for months, Apple launched its own app recently, called “TV,” which attempts to create a unified interface across all video apps on Apple TV. While Siri allows users to search for live content, it’s focused on the existing, rather than live, video in those apps. And viewing ultimately requires you to go into those apps. Meanwhile, rumors continue that what Apple really wants to create is its own subscription TV service.
It’s no surprise that Molotov is working with rather than against the established TV industry. Denoual and the other cofounders have backgrounds working in France’s television industry. That’s allowed them to approach executives nervous about disruptive digital models from a sympathetic viewpoint and to work together to develop Molotov, he said.
Molotov’s app has been available on almost all iOS, tvOS, Windows, and Android platforms. It allows for a continuous viewing experience across all those platforms. But it also solves the problem of needing a dozen apps for each channel to catch what limited live streams may be available.
This week, the company announced new partnerships with smart TV makers, including Samsung and LG, that place the app on the TVs and offer special deals on premium cloud storage plans. Molotov said it was expanding to add some bundles of paid channels, including Canal+, Cine+, and OCS (the French equivalents of HBO).
The $24 million Molotov raised will also allow it to begin thinking beyond the French market. Its investors include SKY, the European TV distributor, as well as current investors, such as Idinvest and some angel funders. The company had previously raised a round of $12 million and has about 50 employees.
“What’s amazing is that people don’t know what’s on TV,” Denoual said. “They don’t know how rich and how great the channels are. Our goal here is to show you there’s a lot of cool stuff on TV.”