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Average Broadband Usage Reaches Cap-Bustin’ 190GB a Month

online-videoThe average American broadband-equipped household now uses 190GB a month, more than 95% of which is online video, according to a new report from iGR Research.

The detailed 125-page study of broadband speeds and usage, priced at $1,950, included some surprising changes in usage patterns.

In the past, as consumers upgraded their broadband plan to get faster speeds, their corresponding usage also increased. But iGR Research found that trend is no longer true as speed increases accelerate.

Iain Gillott, president of iGR Research, noted households with higher-speed connections don’t necessarily consume more data than those with lower-speed connections. Once broadband speeds achieve a rate fast enough to support high quality online video, further speed increases don’t always result in substantially higher consumption.

Gillott pointed out his own family recently upgraded to a 200Mbps connection and found little change in their monthly usage. That could be a problem for internet providers that cap customer usage while blaming increased demand.

“If we download a movie, it used to take 20 minutes to get HD. Now it takes three,” Gillott told Telecompetitor. “But it doesn’t mean we use any more data; it’s just that it took longer.”

Gillott noted customers upgrading from a slow speed DSL connection are another matter. Because DSL may only be able to support one or two concurrent video streams, many customers intentionally limited their simultaneous use of the internet to maintain usability. But once speeds increase to manage online video demands, usage often increases.

The report, U.S. Home Broadband and Wi-Fi Usage Forecast, 2015-2020, does forecast advancements in online video are likely to drive usage substantially higher than the current broadband allowances offered by many providers. The growth in 4K video alone could spike usage to as much as 500GB a month.

“What drives usage is more high-definition [content],” commented Gillott. “It doubles the amount of data used.”

Online video is driving almost all the usage growth in the United States. Gillott points to a cultural change in how television programming is being viewed in the United States. In short, fewer people are sharing time together watching the same show. Today, many people watch their own shows on their own devices.

“TV has become a personal activity,” said Gillott. “If you have four people in a household now, that means four times the data going in.”

Programmer Conglomerates Preparing to Ax Smaller Cable TV Networks

directv

Is this the future of satellite TV?

Ten years ago, large programmers like NBC-Universal, Fox, Viacom, and Time Warner started bundling new niche channels into their programming packages, forcing pay television providers to add networks few wanted just to get a contract renewal agreement in place for the networks they did want. Now, in the era of cord-cutting, those programming conglomerates are preparing to slim down.

One of the largest — Comcast/NBCUniversal — is the first to admit “there are just too many networks,” to quote NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.

Burke warned investors back in July that axing networks like Style and G4 was just the beginning.

“You’ll see us and others trimming channels,” Burke said during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call. “We will continue to invest what we need to invest into our bigger channels, and we’ll continue to trim the smaller ones.”

Cable operators hope that day arrives sooner rather than later as cord-cutting continues to have an impact on cable-TV subscriptions.

For every popular cable network like USA and Bravo, cable operators get stuck carrying ratings-dogs like CNBC World, Centric, Cloo, VH1 Classic, Fox Business Network, and Fuse — all of which attract fewer than 100,000 viewers nationwide at any one time. Fuse barely attracted 51,000 viewers in 2015. But just about every cable TV customer pays for these channels, and many more.

Many cable channels wouldn’t survive without subscription fees because advertisers consider them too small to warrant much attention.

cable tvWhile Burke’s prediction has yet to slash the cable dial by more than a few networks so far, it has slowed down the rate of new network launches considerably. One millennial-targeted network, Pivot, will never sign on because it failed to attract enough cable distribution and advertisers, despite a $200 million investment from a Canadian billionaire. Time, Inc.’s attempts to launch three new networks around its print magazines Sports Illustrated, InStyle and People have gone the Over The Top (OTT) video route, direct to consumers who can stream their videos from the magazines’ respective websites.

Fierce Cable this week opined that forthcoming cord cutter-targeted TV packages streamed over the internet from players including DirecTV/AT&T and Hulu, among others, will likely start a war of cable network attrition, which may make the concept of a-la-carte cable a thing of the past. Editor Daniel Frankel believes the future will be a finite number of cable networks delivered primarily over IP networks, which are expected to dramatically pare down the traditional cable TV bundle into fewer than 100 channels. Only the most popular networks will be included in a traditional cable TV lineup, and some of these providers expect to deliver a bundle of fewer than 50 channels, including local stations. Those booted out of the bundle may still find life from viewers going OTT, if those networks can attract enough people to watch.

AT&T is hoping for the best of both worlds as it prepares to launch an internet-based package of networks under its DirecTV brand called DirecTV Now. Sources told Bloomberg News AT&T is hoping DirecTV Now will attract more subscribers by 2020 than its satellite service. At some point in the future, it may even replace DirecTV’s satellite television service.

directvDirecTV Now is expected by the end of this year and will likely offer a 100 channel package of programming priced at between $40-55 a month, viewable on up to two screens simultaneously. The app-based service will be available for video streaming to televisions and portable devices like tablets and phones. No truck rolls for installation, no service calls, and no equipment to buy or rent are all attractive propositions for AT&T, hoping to cut costs.

Since AT&T has taken over DirecTV, it has lost over 100,000 satellite customers. The threat to AT&T U-verse TV is also significant as customers increasingly look for alternatives to cable TV’s bloated and expensive programming packages. AT&T no doubt noticed the impending arrival of Hulu’s cable TV streaming platform next year and other services like Sling TV. Deploying their own streaming alternative with AT&T’s volume discounts from the combined subscribers of DirecTV and U-verse means AT&T can sell its streaming service at a substantial discount.

If consumers find the offerings from DirecTV Now and Hulu a credible alternative to traditional cable television, cord cutting could dramatically accelerate, provoking a response from cable operators likely to offer their own slimmed-down packages. So being among the 100 or so networks carried on DirecTV Now, or among the 50 or so networks Hulu is planning to offer, could be crucial to the future survival of any cable network. Those stranded in the 500-channel Universe of today’s cable television packages could be forced off the air or to an alternative means of reaching an audience such as OTT.

The lesson learned by the cable television industry is that customers are tapped out and unwilling to pay ever-rising cable TV bills for dozens of networks they’ve never watched and don’t intend to. The longer term lesson may be even more scary for some networks. Live, linear television as a concept may have seen its time come and go, at least for entertainment programming. While viewers are always going to seek live television for sports and breaking news, alternative on-demand viewing of everything else, preferably commercial-free, is a growing priority for many, especially if the price is right.

Walmart Educating Consumers on How to “Cut the Cord”

Phillip Dampier September 14, 2016 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 3 Comments

walmartWalmart is recommending customers consider cutting off cable television for good with a step-by-step guide advocating an end to high-priced bills for hundreds of channels you’ll never watch:

When you sign up for cable, you are sold on the possibly hundreds of channels you will have access to, but how many do you actually watch? Most people find that they have, at most, a couple dozen channels that carry all of their favorite shows, while the rest are just filler. Unfortunately, whether you watch them or not, you’re still paying for all of those extra channels. Part of the tremendous savings (an average of $80 a month) in cutting the cord is moving to services that offer a smaller set of channels representing only what you want to watch. Not only do you just have the channels that you actually want, but streaming services are far more convenient, since they’re geared towards on-demand delivery of content. You watch what you want when you want. Most are month-to-month, meaning you can switch it up anytime rather than being stuck in a long-term contract.

The guide gives Walmart the obvious opportunity of selling customers on new televisions and equipment to enhance their streaming experience, and they don’t forget to mention how to hook up an antenna they just happen to sell to get local stations back on your cable-less television.

Walmart also uses its “cord-cutting” guide to upsell customers on VUDU, an often-forgotten pay-per-view streaming service Walmart just happens to own.

FCC Chairman Announces Compromise Set-Top Box Reform; Free ‘Apps’ for One and All

explorer 8000[Editor’s Note: Federal Communications Commission chairman Thomas Wheeler today released a compromise proposal hoping to get the cost of set-top box equipment down for millions of Americans forced to lease equipment to watch cable television.

Wheeler originally proposed requiring an open standard for set-top box equipment that would open the market to competition by allowing manufacturers to directly sell equipment to consumers and compete for their business. Cable operators, programmers, and various special interest groups that depend on financial contributions from those operators immediately launched an unprecedented pushback claiming set-top box reform was racist, anti-minority, promoted copyright theft, and was illegal and unconstitutional. Small cable operators claimed they might be driven out of business, and programmers claimed companies like Google might fundamentally change the channel lineup on new equipment that would leave them in a disadvantaged position.

In fact, the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue earned by cable operators charging the same price for equipment fresh out of the box or handed down in beat up condition to the fifth customer in eight years was more likely the driving factor.

Mr. Wheeler capitulated and released a more modest proposal promising cable operators would be forced to offer free “apps” for devices like Roku and Apple TV. But cable operators will likely own and manage those apps and have direct control of authentication methods and anti-piracy measures that are likely to be proprietary. Still, apps like TWC TV which covers Time Warner Cable’s lineup on devices like Roku have allowed consumers to ditch expensive set-top equipment and irritating Digital Adapters that don’t function well and have almost tripled in price since their introduction. Making sure these apps provide comparable functionality with set-top boxes and are released to a variety of devices will be key to whether Wheeler’s proposal, delivered in full below courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, has a measurable impact on cable bills.]

FCC chairman: Here are the new proposed rules for set-top boxes

There’s never been a better time to watch television in America. We have more options than ever, and, with so much competition for eyeballs, studios and artists keep raising the bar for quality content. But when it comes to the set-top-box that delivers our pay-TV subscriptions, we have essentially no options, creating headaches and costing us serious money in rental fees. That makes no sense, which is why I’m sharing a proposal with my fellow commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission to change the system.

Wheeler's compromise

Wheeler’s compromise

Ninety-nine percent of pay-TV subscribers currently lease set-top boxes from their cable, satellite or telecommunications provider, paying an average of $231 a year for the privilege, according to a recent analysis. The collective tab is $20 billion annually in rental fees. In a recent study, 84% of consumers felt their cable bill was too high. What they may not realize is that every bill includes an add-on fee for their set-top boxes. We keep paying these charges even after the cost of the box has been recovered because we have no meaningful alternative.

Pay-TV providers will be required to provide apps — free of charge — that consumers can download to the device of their choosing.
Earlier this year, the FCC launched a process to unlock the set-top-box marketplace. We were motivated by the desire to give consumers relief, but we were also mandated to take action by Congress and the law, which says that consumers should be able to choose their preferred device to access pay-TV programming.
Over the past seven months, the Commission conducted an open proceeding where we heard from pay-TV providers, programmers, device and software manufacturers, consumers groups, and, most important, the American people. We listened.

Now, I am proposing rules that would end the set-top-box stranglehold. If adopted, consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box, month after month. Instead, pay-TV providers will be required to provide apps – free of charge– that consumers can download to the device of their choosing to access all the programming and features they already paid for.

appletvIf you want to watch Comcast’s content through your Apple TV or Roku, you can. If you want to watch DirectTV’s offerings through your Xbox, you can. If you want to pipe Verizon’s service directly to your smart TV, you can. And if you want to watch your current pay-TV package on your current set-top box, you can do that, too. The choice is yours. No longer will you be forced to rent set-top boxes from your pay-TV provider.

One of the biggest benefits consumers will see is integrated search. The rules would require all pay-TV providers to enable the ability for consumers to search for pay-TV content alongside other sources of content. Just type in the name of a movie, and a list will come up with all the places it is scheduled for broadcast and where it can be streamed (like Amazon Prime or Hulu).

Integrated search also means expanded access to programming created by independent and diverse voices on the same platform as your pay-TV providers. Consumers will more easily find content even if it’s not on the pay-TV service to which they subscribe.

These rules will open the door for innovation, spurring new apps and devices, giving consumers even more choice and user control.

While our primary focus during this proceeding was to promote consumer choice and fulfill our congressional mandate, we recognize that protecting the legitimate copyright interests of content creators is also key to serving the public interest. To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy.

Large pay-TV providers, which serve more than 90% of subscribers, will have two years to fully implement the new requirements.  Medium-sized providers will have an additional two years to comply, and the smallest providers would be exempt.

This is a golden era for watching television and video. By empowering consumers to access their content on their terms, it’s about to get cheaper — and even better.

Net Neutrality End Run: AT&T Exempts Its Own DirecTV Content from Its Mobile Data Caps

directvAT&T Mobility customers can now stream AT&T-owned DirecTV video on their mobile devices without fear of hitting their data allowance, because AT&T has exempted its own content from mobile data caps.

AT&T customers using the DirecTV iPhone app discovered the sudden exemption in an update released today, according to a report in Ars Technica:

“Now you can stream DirecTV on your devices, anywhere—without using your data. Now with AT&T,” the app’s update notes say under the heading “Data Free TV.” This feature requires subscriptions to DirecTV and AT&T wireless data services.

It sounds like the data cap exemption may not apply to all data downloaded by the app, as the update notes further say that “Exclusions apply & may incur data usage.” The service is also “Subject to network management, including speed reduction.” We’ve asked AT&T for more information and will provide an update if we receive one.

Customers can also use the app to download shows recorded on their home DVR straight to their mobile device(s) for viewing. Updates to the DirecTV apps for Android and iPad devices introducing similar exemptions are still pending as of this morning.

A description of "what's new" in the DirecTV app released this morning in the iTunes app store.

A description of “what’s new” in the DirecTV app released this morning in the iTunes app store.

AT&T is engaging in a practice known as “zero rating,” which exempts certain provider-preferred or owned content from that provider’s own data caps or allowances. Critics call zero rating an end run around Net Neutrality because users are more likely to use services that don’t count against their data allowance over those that do. The FCC’s definition of Net Neutrality prohibits providers from artificially enhancing the performance of certain websites at the expense of others, but says nothing about data caps or zero rating.

Chima

Chima

“All forms of zero rating amount to price discrimination, and have in common their negative impact on users’ rights,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, policy director of Access, a group fighting for global preservation of Net Neutrality. “Zero rating is all about control. Specifically, control over the user experience by the telecom carrier — and potentially its business partners. We can see this is true when we look at how zero rating is implemented technically. Technologically, it is about manipulation of the network, where you guide or force the user to change the way they would otherwise use it.”

The FCC seemed to agree with Chima, specifically banning AT&T from exempting its own streaming video services and those of DirecTV from AT&T’s data caps in the agreement allowing AT&T to acquire DirecTV. But the FCC only mentioned AT&T’s caps on its DSL and U-verse home broadband services, not AT&T Mobility. AT&T took full advantage of the apparent loophole for its mobile customers.

AT&T has previously stated it does not discriminate against online content and is happy to exempt other video services from its data allowances and caps if those companies pay AT&T for the privilege.

The benefit of zero rating is obvious for AT&T. The company can now market its cell phone services to DirecTV customers with a significant advantage over competitors — free access to DirecTV video not available from Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. It can also strengthen its earlier promotion offering unlimited DSL/U-verse service to those who bundle either product with a DirecTV subscription, by pitching zero rating for customers on the go.

AT&T’s competitors T-Mobile and Verizon also engage in zero rating on their mobile service plans.

Warner Bros. Demands Google Remove Its Own Website from Search for Copyright Violations

Phillip Dampier September 6, 2016 Consumer News, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

WBP-3D-99A company hired by Hollywood giant Warner Bros. to manage online piracy reported the studio to Google for violating U.S. copyright laws and demanded its website be stripped from Google’s search results.

The request was submitted on behalf of Warner Bros. by Vobile, a company that regularly reminds search engines it is authorized to represent the studio’s interests in the war against online copyright violations.

Torrent Freak scanned through a very large Vobile database of hundreds of thousands of takedown requests it files every month, but among the torrent and illicit streaming sites Vobile usually targets, the online security firm turned on its own boss in August.

Vobile filed formal requests to remove Warner Bros.’ own website from Google search results, along with official websites for films like Batman: The Dark Knight and The Matrix. Also on the hit list: legitimate movie streaming websites run by Amazon and Sky that sell access to Warner Bros.’ movies, and IMDB, a well-known film database.

Critics contend the war on online piracy has now gotten so out of hand, it is targeting legitimate content.

“Warner is inadvertently trying to make it harder for the public to find links to legitimate content, which runs counter to its intentions,” said Torrent Freak’s Ernesto van der Sar.

Vobile has filed more than 13 million requests for websites to be de-listed, according to Google’s transparency report. But most of the work ultimately falls on Google employees who wade through takedown requests. Thankfully for Warner Bros., an eagle-eyed Google employee reviewing Vobile’s submissions decided not to honor the takedown request involving the studio’s own website, at least this time.

Better Late Than Never: CBS Adds $9.99 Ad-free Option to Its All Access Pass

Phillip Dampier August 31, 2016 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

cbs all accessViewers hoping to see their last Cialis ad while watching 60 Minutes online now have that option as CBS announces the introduction of a commercial-free plan for its All Access subscription service.

For an extra $4 a month, CBS will remove all online advertising from its current run and new shows.  Those who don’t mind the ads can continue to pay $5.99/month, which includes an ad free experience for older content the network calls CBS Classics. Current CBS programming includes a heavy load of advertising and it is often repetitious. For some, $9.99/month is not too much to pay for the complete removal of commercials.

“The foundation of CBS All Access is not only about giving CBS fans access to more of the content they want, but also giving them more choice in how they watch their favorite CBS programming,” said Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer of CBS Interactive. “The addition of a commercial-free plan gives our subscribers even more ways to customize their CBS viewing experience – from which devices to whether they watch in or out of the home, and now with commercials or without.”

Current subscribers will have the option to move to the commercial-free plan by logging on to their account through CBS.com.

For the commercial-free plan, CBS All Access’s live-streaming offering of local CBS Television stations, available throughout the U.S. in more than 150 markets, will continue to feature the same commercials as the over-the-air broadcast, and select on-demand shows will include promotional interruptions.

CBS All Access is available online at CBS.com, on mobile devices and tablets via the CBS App for iOS, Android and Windows 10, and on Roku Players, Apple TV, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Chromecast, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, with more connected device platforms coming soon.

36 New Schools Join Xfinity on Campus Program; Now Includes Cloud DVR

Phillip Dampier August 31, 2016 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Comcast has expanded its online video service Xfinity on Campus to 36 new schools, allowing college students who live on campus to watch live and on-demand TV at no cost.

XOC-Logos

The cable operator pitches the service to universities that are trying to move away from traditional coaxial cable networks and get cable TV wiring out of the dorms. Comcast’s program is essentially an investment for the future. Students exposed to Comcast’s cable TV service might become accustomed to having it, increasing the possibility they will stay with Comcast after they graduate.

Participating colleges set up a Metro Ethernet connection to the Comcast network and agree to support both an on-campus network that can support IPTV and a joint authentication solution that allows students access to the service by logging into their university accounts. The service is only available over the college’s campus network.

Comcast claims the service requires little or no equipment and students use their own devices — IPTV-ready televisions, as well as PC’s, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones to access the content.

New this year is free cloud DVR service, letting each student record up to 20 shows to view later. Comcast has also consolidated the on-campus service with traditional on-demand viewing available to all Comcast customers through the Xfinity TV app.

Roku Preparing 5 New Models for Late 2016

Phillip Dampier August 30, 2016 Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Online Video 1 Comment
HBO NO GO on Time Warner Cable & Bright House Networks

New models for 2016

Roku is preparing to completely overhaul its current lineup of streaming video set-top boxes with five new models designed to support higher quality video and more features.

Dave Zatz from ZatzNotFunny was able to correlate a redacted filing with the Federal Communications Commission and a not-so-redacted heads-up given to Canadian electronics suppliers preparing to inventory the newest models to analyze what Roku plans to offer this holiday season.

The biggest change is the end of Roku’s numerical designations for its units. No more confusing Roku 2 or 3, supplemented with the exact model year to account for production changes along the way. Instead, Roku is naming its newest units similar to a multi-level rewards program. With units ranging from Roku Express to Roku Premiere, to the top of the line Ultra, there should be something for everyone.

Both the “Express” and “Premiere” series have “Plus” models as well, which seems to include additional connection options.

roku-premiere-1

(Image courtesy of Dave Zatz)

Basic Lineup: Roku Express/Express Plus

The new entry-level Roku model will likely replace the Roku 1. A processor upgrade is likely because some applications and services have historically stopped supporting older model Roku units. Introducing a more robust basic product will protect its usefulness to owners in the years to come. We’re not certain what the Plus features will include on this model.

Mainstream: Roku Premiere/Premiere Plus

This will likely be the best value for money option for a lot of Roku users. Both models will include support for 4K video. The Plus version is suspected of including support for High Dynamic Range (HDR), a big improvement over the 2015 model. Other Plus features are expected to be an Ethernet port for direct wired connection and a microSD slot.

High End: Ultra

For the person who wants it all, the Roku Ultra will replace the Roku 4. In addition to all the features found on lesser models, the Ultra is expected to include a remote control finder, optical out, and a USB port.

The anticipated price points of the different models seem to be similar to current Roku pricing: Roku 1/Express: $50, Roku Premiere/Roku 2: $70, Roku Premiere Plus/Roku 3: $100, Roku Ultra/Roku 4: $130.

Dave Zatz offers additional insight if you’re interested in more technical details on his website.

Hulu’s Money Blowout: Analyst Predicts Forthcoming Live TV Service Will Lose Real $$$

huluTM_355Hulu’s still-to-be-announced live TV streaming service designed to give subscribers an alternative to bloated and expensive cable-TV packages will lose “real money” if it is priced at around $40.

BTIG Reseach analyst Brandon Ross’ research note to investors (reported by Fierce Cable) claims Hulu faces big expenses to include sports and CBS programming — the one network that isn’t a part-owner of Hulu — into its forthcoming package of live and on-demand programming. With most sources claiming Hulu intends to price the service starting at prices as low as $35-40 a month for a slimmed down package of cable television and over-the-air stations viewable on one device and $50 a month for those wanting to watch on multiple devices, Ross predicts the service will rapidly run into the red because of programming costs.

Hulu’s live streaming service could be a real game changer for online cable TV alternatives, because it is expected to contain a robust assortment of popular cable networks and regional sports channels that could appeal to a wider marketplace than even slimmer packages from Sling TV.

Video margins are dropping, which means smaller operators have less to invest in broadband.

Video margins are dropping as programming costs continue to grow. Cable operators are turning to broadband to make up the difference, but virtual providers like Hulu don’t have that option.

“The ramifications of success could have an effect that goes far beyond just Hulu’s partners, from [competing cable TV providers] to cable networks to Netflix. A failed Hulu virtual [cable-TV provider] could dispel the idea of widespread competition for incumbent bundles from virtual bundled competitors,” Ross wrote in his research note. “We are skeptical that the Hulu bundle will meaningfully impact the [cable-TV] landscape from a subscriber standpoint. We simply wonder whether the price/value will be strong enough to attract customers at ~$40, with much less content than the current larger bundles.”

Ross predicted Hulu will bundle several expensive sports networks, as indicated in surveys Hulu sent to potential customers. Those surveys suggested Hulu’s service will include a variety of Regional Sports Networks from Hulu’s owners, which include Fox and Comcast-NBC. One potential exclusion is Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), a potential omission that concerned MSGN investors enough to drive the share price down after a significant spike in mid-August.

The issue of MSG could open an interesting new front in the war on cable television pricing. MSG’s viewership is focused in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and one of the largest cable providers in the region is cost-conscious Altice USA, which took over Cablevision. Ross states MSG Network’s addition on the Hulu lineup could give Altice more leverage to force better contract renewal terms.

“For instance, Altice could theoretically tell those that want MSGN to switch their video provider to Hulu, while staying on Altice for broadband,” Ross wrote. “We do not believe this would be an ideal approach for either party, but it is possible.”

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