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Comcast Adding Netflix Subscription as Option to Its Bundled Packages

Phillip Dampier April 16, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Comcast will soon offer its cable subscribers the option of subscribing to Netflix as part of the cable company’s cable television packages, the company announced Friday.

It will be the first time a Netflix subscription will be bundled like a premium movie channel into a cable company’s offerings. Analysts say the move is a defense against cord-cutting, on the theory that a Netflix subscription bundled into a video package will give cable TV customers the best of cable television and streaming media. But many cord-cutters doubt it, citing Comcast’s expensive and bloated cable TV packages that require customers to pay for dozens of networks they will never watch.

“Netflix is about on-demand viewing of just the movies and shows I want to see, not what Comcast wants me to see and pay for,” said Jack Codon, who cut the cord on Comcast in 2017 at his Georgia home after his latest promotion ended. “They were reluctant to give me a better deal so I gave myself a better one by no longer paying for cable television.”

Codon now subscribes to YouTube TV for local channels and a slimmed-down TV package and has paid subscriptions to Hulu, Netflix, and CBS All-Access Pass.

“It still adds up when you subscribe to a lot of services, but my satisfaction has never been higher because I am getting services with a lot of things I want to watch instead of hundreds of channels I don’t,” Codon said. “When you flip through the channels and run into Sanford & Son, Law and Order, home shopping, and terrible reality show trash, you just get angry because I was paying for all of it. Now I pay Netflix and they spend the money on making more shows I will probably want to watch, as opposed to reruns I don’t.”

Comcast customers have been able to subscribe separately to Netflix and watch its library of content on Comcast’s X1 set-top box since 2016. But now Comcast will bundle that subscription into a package directly billed to customers. Comcast claims subscribers will appreciate the simplified billing their new Netflix bundle will offer. Pricing and exact date of availability have not yet been announced.

ESPN+ Launches Thursday; Amex Cardholders Get 30-Day Free Trial

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2018 Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

American Express cardholders will get 30 days of free service from ESPN+, ESPN’s new streaming video service, when it launches this Thursday, after the credit card company announced it would be the official launch sponsor.

Cardholders will have to enroll in the service during launch week to qualify for the 30-day trial, which can be canceled with no obligation. Those without Amex cards will likely get a 7-day free trial before the monthly $4.99 fee begins.

“It is fitting to have a renowned brand like American Express on board as the official launch sponsor for a renowned moment in our company’s history,” Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN global sales and marketing said in a statement. “Disney and ESPN continue to lead the industry in delivering innovative ad experiences and solutions for advertisers, and with ESPN+, we now have more opportunities to reach fans in new and engaging ways.”

Some sports fans are skeptical about the merits of ESPN+, which is designed to protect ESPN’s cable television partners. The Ringer reports a deeper look at the lineup reveals ESPN+ is likely to be underwhelming. Although the service may prove valuable to less-followed soccer, boxing, golf, tennis, rugby and cricket sports fans, devoted baseball and hockey fans are likely to be frustrated by slim offerings.

“It’s lacking the main thing sports fans want to watch: sports.”

“[It’s] programming not valuable enough to appear on one of ESPN’s eight cable networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes, Longhorn Network, SEC Network),” opines The Ringer. “ESPN’s press release makes no mention of the NFL or NBA at all. There will be no Monday Night Football, and neither of ESPN’s two weekly NBA games will appear on the platform. Plus, no live event that is on one of ESPN’s eight cable networks will be on ESPN+.”

ESPN+ will be available on a redesigned ESPN app and through ESPN.com.

CenturyLink Ends Prism TV Service Expansion

Phillip Dampier April 10, 2018 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

CenturyLink’s Prism TV

CenturyLink has stopped expanding its cable TV alternative Prism TV, and will no longer promote the service to its customers.

“Due to emerging market trends in video content and delivery, we do not plan to expand our Prism TV service offering,” CenturyLink spokesperson Francie Dudrey told Fierce Cable, in a statement delivered at the NAB Show yesterday. “We will continue to provide service and support to our current Prism TV subscribers and make the service available to qualified customers who request it in the markets where we currently offer Prism TV.”

As Stop the Cap! reported last month, CenturyLink is planning to pull back on residential broadband upgrades and services it was expecting to sell on its improved internet platform after the company announced senior management changes. One key sign CenturyLink was moving away from Prism TV was the sudden retirement of Duane Ring on March 30. Ring, a 34-year veteran at CenturyLink had been recently promoted to help oversee CenturyLink’s residential broadband upgrades and was instrumental to the launch of Prism TV in 2005.

Wall Street and activist shareholders had pushed CenturyLink hard to replace long time CEO Glen Post III, who had recently turned bullish on costly residential broadband upgrades. Post’s replacement, former Level 3 CEO Jeff Storey, wants to refocus CenturyLink on its more profitable commercial customers.

Ironically, Level 3 was acquired by CenturyLink in 2016. Now some of Level 3’s top executives will firmly control CenturyLink itself. Shareholder activists were pleased with CenturyLink’s new direction under Storey’s leadership, arguing CenturyLink shouldn’t be devoting significant resources or funding to its legacy phone and copper broadband businesses. CenturyLink will now move away from home broadband services and towards commercial and enterprise broadband, metro ethernet, and cloud/backup services. About two-thirds of CenturyLink customers are commercial enterprises.

CenturyLink will now promote DirecTV to its residential customers instead of Prism TV.

Longer term, a growing number of analysts suspect CenturyLink’s new management will want to sell off some or all of CenturyLink’s residential customers to refocus the business entirely on its commercial customers. The company refused to discuss that issue at this time. CenturyLink may find a difficult market for would-be buyers. Frontier Communications, a regular buyer of wireline assets, is itself mired in debt and financial difficulties.

Investors continue to be skeptical of the merits of costly network upgrades for the nation’s copper wire phone networks. In areas where fiber-enabled phone companies compete directly with cable, price wars can develop, reducing profits and the incentive to invest.

Cable Industry Prepares Solution for TV Password Sharing Abuse

Phillip Dampier April 4, 2018 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

A company is testing a solution to video subscription password abuse that will register each device authorized to access streaming video, while giving customers a Forever Login, ending the need to regularly re-enter usernames and passwords to watch.

Synacor is responding to growing concerns from some in the cable industry that subscription television password sharing is allowing unauthorized access to content viewers did not pay to view. The new system is an attempt to upgrade the authenticated TV Everywhere experience to reduce subscriber inconvenience while locking down the number of concurrent devices allowed to view online content.

Currently, when a customer accesses subscription-required content online, they are asked to select their TV provider and then enter their assigned username and password to verify they are a current subscriber to a video package that includes that network. Once authenticated, the network’s website controls how long user credentials are kept before they must be re-entered, as well as how many concurrent viewing sessions from multiple family members are permitted.

TV Everywhere services were originally designed to allow the subscriber and anyone else living within the home to be able to access networks like CNN, HBO, ESPN, and others on portable devices in-home and while on the go. But many customers also share their user credentials with extended family members and friends who do not live at the same address. Unauthorized third parties also occasionally obtain user credentials through brute force hacking and sell them on the black market. The subscriber usually only discovers a security problem with their account when they reach the concurrent viewing limit, which displays as an on-screen message stating the maximum number of viewers are already watching content through a subscription and at least one must disconnect before a new stream can be viewed.

Cable company executives hold a variety of opinions about the seriousness of password sharing. Altice and Comcast, and programmers like Time Warner, Inc., which owns HBO and Cinemax, have not shown much concern about the practice, but Charter/Spectrum executives have, and are leading the charge to lock down subscriber authentication.

Synacor’s new system introduces a new layer of cable company-defined limits on streaming: registering each device allowed to view content as well as checking how many people are attempting to stream content simultaneously.

Under the new system, a customer will be permitted to register a limited number of “trusted devices” allowed access to streamed video content. A cable company, for example, could limit subscribers to two smartphones, one tablet, and one smart/internet-enabled TV or Roku box. Even if the subscriber has other devices, they would have to unregister an existing device before being allowed to register a new one. Additionally, a cable operator could limit concurrent streams to two or three, either per network or per account, regardless of what networks are being watched. That would mean, in one example, a family of four would designate a maximum of five “trusted devices” and be allowed to watch up to three concurrent streams per account. “Bill” could watch ESPN on the bedroom television, “Mary” could watch a murder-mystery on the Hallmark Channel on her tablet on the patio, and “Dylan” could watch a movie on HBO on his phone at the same time. But if “Sara” decided to watch a show on Lifetime on her phone, the system would block the request.

In the past, it was likely all four family members could watch concurrent streams of their shows on virtually any device they like, and they could also share login credentials with “Jeff” — a family member at college, who in turn shared his username and password with the other people living in his dorm room — exactly the kind of thing Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge would like to stop.

Synacor claims its new system is still a positive for consumers because it allows user credentials to be stored in perpetuity, ending the need for frequent logins to re-verify and re-authenticate one’s account, regardless of where they are. Synacor’s executive director of identity services, John Kavanagh, suggests it is a win-win for companies and consumers.

“They wanted to deliver the same user experience benefit…and we brought the trust along with it with device registration,” Kavanagh said. “The end-user experience of home-based authentication really set a high bar. They wanted to take that high bar and extend it elsewhere.”

But many subscribers, especially those with larger families, are likely to balk at the new restrictions, especially if cable operators offer to ease them in return for additional fees. The process of registering devices is also likely to be seen as cumbersome by those not technically proficient, as well as those who own a large assortment of electronic devices.

Multichannel News reports a recent study from Hub Research and CTAM that monitors the TV Everywhere market surveyed 3,491 TV subscribers who watch at least five hours of television a week and discovered 28% claimed that password sharing with friends and family members was okay and permitted by their provider, although generally it is not. Another 33% believed password sharing was allowed for family members who have since moved out of the family home and live elsewhere. No provider authorizes such viewing.

The cable industry generally does not mind password sharing for family members who are traveling or attending school and live outside of the home in a dorm, or watching on a device that belongs to a friend. They do mind if that friend keeps the user credentials and watches programming without their own subscription.

Kavanagh claims the biggest concern is “commercial-level” black market sales of user credentials to third parties who have no relationship to the account owner.

“Once we’re able to register that device securely as part of the sign-in flow, we then connect that with a complete list of devices that have been used with a given subscription,” Kavanagh said. “We not only expose that master list to the end user for their own benefit on things that might be suspicious, but on the operator side, it gives them a depth of awareness they haven’t had before. It allows them to have a fine instrument to enforce their business rules and security policies.”

Both customers and cable operators can see who is currently accessing content using their account and cancel authorization for device(s) they no longer own, lost, or are being used by those who do not have an association with the account holder at all.

The new system is being introduced on an experimental basis to some current customers, starting with Service Electric Cablevision. It is likely similar rollouts will happen with Synacor’s other clients, which include:

  • Streaming Services: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, HBO
  • Telco TV: AT&T, Cincinnati Bell, Verizon, Windstream, CenturyLink
  • Fiber/Cable TV: WOW!, Armstrong Cable, Atlantic Broadband, Cable One, Mediacom, GCI, Hotwire Communications, Charter/Spectrum, Grande Communications

42% of Frontier’s Customers in Nevada are “Very Dissatisfied” With Their DSL Service

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Only six Frontier Communications customers surveyed in Elko, Nev. gave the phone company an “A” for its DSL service, while 42% flunked Frontier for what they considered unacceptable internet service.

The Elko Broadband Action Team has surveyed residential and business customers about broadband performance and found widespread dissatisfaction with Frontier Communications over slow connections and service interruptions.

“I’m pretty disappointed in them,” said Elko councilman John Patrick Rice.

Businesses and residential customers were in close agreement with each other rating Frontier’s service, with nearly 87% complaining they endure buffering delays or slowdowns, especially when watching streaming video. When browsing web pages, nearly three-quarters of surveyed customers still found service lacking.

Among the complaints (Res)-Residential (Bus)-Business:

  • Service interruptions: 74.43% (Res)/79.69% (Bus)
  • Too slow/not receiving advertised speed: 72.16% (Res)/65.75% (Bus)
  • Price: 63.64% (Res)/37.5% (Bus)
  • Customer Service: 38.07% (Res)/45.31% (Bus)

The Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection received a steady stream of complaints about Frontier’s DSL service in the state over the past year.

Answering the survey question, “would you be interested in faster download and upload speeds at prices that are somewhat comparable to what you are paying now?” 97.87 percent of residential respondents said yes.

Frontier representatives responded to the survey results at a March 27 Elko City Council meeting.

“Frontier did recognize it could improve upstream and downstream flow and educated the council and the public on some of the issues,” Elko assistant city manager Scott Wilkinson said.

Javier Mendoza, director of public relations for Frontier’s West region, explained much of the area Frontier services in Nevada is very rural, so customers are “located many miles from the core Frontier network facilities used to provide broadband service, which makes it technologically and economically challenging to provide faster internet speeds. However, Frontier is continually evaluating and working to improve its network and has and will continue to undertake various initiatives at a customer and community level to enhance its internet services.”

Mendoza said Frontier was currently testing fixed wireless internet service to serve rural areas, but had few details about the service or when it might be available.

Frontier also noted internet traffic was up 25% in the Elko area, primarily as a result of video streaming, social media, and cloud services.

But Councilmen Reece Keener complained Frontier was underinvesting in its network, meaning the company is not well-equipped to deal with increases in demand, something Mendoza denied.

“Several areas of the network providing internet service to Elko have been and continue to be upgraded, providing enhanced service reliability, and ultimately will enable new and upgraded services,” Mendoza said.

It can’t come soon enough for students of Great Basin College, where those taking online courses using Frontier DSL have problems uploading their assignments, claimed Rice, who taught online classes at the college.

“We can get the classes out to the students, but the challenge is for students to get assignments back to the college,” Rice said in a phone interview with the Elko Daily Free Press.

Frontier also claimed improved service performance so far in 2018, up from the fourth quarter of 2017. The company claimed 98.3% of service orders met performance goals, up from 94.37% and  commitments met scored at 92 percent, up from 89.98 percent. Trouble tickets declined from 1,712 to 1,244 across Nevada, the company also claimed.

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