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Lionsgate Alum Thomas Hughes Joins C-Suite Of Online Content Marketplace Vuulr In Startup’s U.S. Push

EXCLUSIVE: Thomas Hughes, whose nine-year run at Lionsgate culminated with a stint as EVP of worldwide digital distribution, has joined online content marketplace Vuulr as the startup’s CEO Americas.

Founded in 2019 and backed by investors in Singapore, Vuulr will now start to emphasize staffing and client development in the U.S. while continuing to raise funds to scale its operations. Hughes is joining as the company opens its first LA office.

Conceived of before the coronavirus pandemic shifted the entire business online, Vuulr aims to increase efficiency and enable buyers to find the right film and TV titles and not overpay — key priorities in the streaming era. Since launching its platform a year ago, the company has already managed to attract sellers like Sony, Legendary Television, Gaumont, Televisa and CNN. Buyers have come from companies like Disney, Viacom and the BBC.

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In all, more than 130,000 hours of finished content as well as 4,500 buyers have been on the platform, with about 1,200 licensing deals completed. Content owners pay no up-front fee to shop their wares on Vuulr, which the company cites as a key draw.

In an interview with Deadline, Hughes said the game plan of the company is to eliminate the “friction” and “pain points” of finding and acquiring content. Vuulr will be a complement to, not a replacement for, major festivals and markets around the world.

“There’s absolutely going to be a place for those, especially for building relationships,” he said. “And I do not believe entertainment is 100% a science – emotion of what people are experiencing in their living room can and should be a part of the process.” At the same time, bidding wars and “festival fever” can be ruinous to a buyer’s balance sheet. Plus, “Those inflated prices and festival deals are such a small percentage of the overall buying and selling that goes on.”

By using data to direct buyers to titles across 60 genres and 90 languages, Vuulr hopes to be an essential tool for business ramping up their offerings. Hughes said he plans to deepen relationships with the raft of major new players in streaming, among them WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, Disney, Discovery and ViacomCBS.

Unlike some other digital marketplaces, he said, “We don’t want to be a dumping ground. We want to help clients fill in gaps.” He cited a recent request from a buyer looking for titles with rights enabling “party viewing” functionality — a non-starter to some sellers but perfectly agreeable to others. Rather than booking a day of meetings in a hotel suite, users of Vuulr can obtain “concierge service” for specific requests, Hughes said.

At Lionsgate, Hughes worked closely with TV and digital distribution chief Jim Packer at a time when streaming became increasingly important to the entire industry. Before Lionsgate, he had a senior digital media role at MGM.

“Thomas is an incredibly experienced and dynamic executive with a rare combination of knowledge from both the buyers’ and sellers’ perspectives,” said Ian McKee, Vuulr’s founder and CEO. “His experience while with Lionsgate launching SVOD and AVOD services, along with many years of running digital sales, marketing, and content operations globally, position him uniquely to help Vuulr grow in the U.S. and beyond.”

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