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Charter Signs Agreement With Viacom Restoring Its Cable Networks to Spectrum Select

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Viacom and Charter Communications today announced a multi-year renewal of a carriage agreement that will bring back Viacom’s cable networks to almost all Spectrum cable television customers.

As part of the agreement, Charter has agreed to return Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Spike (Paramount Network), VH1, TV Land and CMT to Spectrum Select, Charter’s entry-level cable television tier. In 2016, Charter began moving Viacom’s cable networks to its most expensive tiers, Spectrum Silver or Gold, to protest Viacom’s high carriage prices. Most existing customers never realized the networks were moved because the company grandfathered current customers to keep the channels from disappearing. But as Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable customers migrated to Spectrum packages, many were annoyed to learn Viacom’s networks were missing from the lineup of Spectrum’s most popular cable television tier. Customers had to pay at least $11 a month extra to get many of those networks back.

Charter indicated its agreement allows Spectrum to keep other Viacom-owned networks not mentioned above on its Silver or Gold tiers. The agreement also grants Charter customers access to Viacom networks’ on-demand programming through set-top boxes or mobile apps.

Viacom and Charter have also entered into a partnership for co-production of new original content that will exclusively premiere for subscribers on Charter’s platform in the U.S. Under the agreement, Viacom’s Paramount Television and Charter will jointly produce programming. Viacom will distribute the co-produced programming internationally, as well as in additional domestic markets, including potentially on Viacom Networks, after Charter’s premiere period.

Viacom has also agreed to collaborate on Charter’s forthcoming effort to crackdown on unauthorized password sharing, allowing non-cable subscribers access to programming using a friend or family member’s Spectrum account details.

Charter’s SpectrumU on Campus Gets Little Interest from Students

Phillip Dampier September 25, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Charter Communications has been quietly testing a streaming video lineup of services on selected college campuses in its service area — so quiet very few students know or care about the service.

In Rochester, N.Y., Charter this year introduced SpectrumU at two suburban colleges – St. John Fisher and Nazareth College. The 50+ channel service at St. John Fisher includes five local network stations, but not the low-powered MyNetworkTV or secondary CW affiliate that are found on the traditional local cable lineup. According to Nazareth’s channel list, SpectrumU at the college comes from Spectrum Enterprise’s Fiber Connect service and lists six network affiliates on the lineup imported from Buffalo, a city 70 miles away. The service is accessible around each campus on the schools’ Wi-Fi networks.

Charter wants participating colleges to set aside a 1Gbps connection to manage Wi-Fi streaming for every 5,000 students on campus. Stop the Cap! found anecdotal evidence Charter may be dramatically overestimating how many students actually use the service. A recent visit to both campuses and guest participation in online college forums found almost zero interest in SpectrumU at either college. Students, it seems, have mostly moved on from linear, live television and do much of their viewing on-demand from other streaming services and apps.

Charter Communications kept publicity and expectations low for the service, setting the monthly subscription price for SpectrumU at $0.00. No password or authentication is required to use the service, and logging into the campus network is simple at schools like Nazareth, where the Wi-Fi password GoldenFlyers was easy to come by on and off campus. While driving around, we could easily access SpectrumU from Wi-Fi on streets surrounding St. John Fisher, although Nazareth’s wireless network was tougher to reach on a tree-lined campus set further back from the main road.

Television services at St. John Fisher College, located near Rochester, N.Y.

Charter dictates the terms and availability of the service, which requires participating schools to subscribe to Charter Spectrum’s Enterprise Fiber Connect service, which supports campus internet and video services. Schools must offer:

  • Charter Clear QAM or fiber video services
  • Charter fiber internet services (preferred)
  • 1Gbps dedicated bandwidth per 5,000 students (~500 concurrent users) recommended
  • Wi-Fi network utilizes WPA or WPA2 encryption
  • Public IP addresses/ranges for whitelisting
  • PAT IPs are supported
  • IP requirements: IPv4: /24 – IPv6: /48
  • AP’s consistent with current fifth generation Wi-Fi technology, 802.11ac (no older than fourth generation 802.11n)

SpectrumU is designed to work exclusively over Wi-Fi, and only with portable smartphones and tablets:

  • iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 8 or above
  • All major Android smartphones and tablets running Android 4.2 or above
  • Kindle Fire Phone, all Kindle Fire models except for the 1st generation model

There is no support for streaming set-top boxes like Roku or Apple TV and SpectrumU works differently from the QAM cable TV service available in many dorm rooms. Casting isn’t supported either. The Android version of the app only attracted 69 mixed reviews as of the date of this article.

Charter seems convinced SpectrumU will soon replace traditional internet video streaming, telling campus managers that the service will have “minimal impact if the school’s internet service is robust today, as SpectrumU usage will replace usage of other streaming apps.”

Students doubt it.

“I have never heard of SpectrumU and don’t care,” said Cody, a student we ran into in the parking lot at Nazareth. “I have Amazon Prime and Netflix and I’m good with that.”

Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., are also an early adopter of SpectrumU.

Zephyr, a freshman at St. John Fisher who lives on campus said she doesn’t know anything about the service either, although a roommate in her friend’s dorm room brought their QAM-equipped television to school and can watch the campus TV lineup on it.

“Her boyfriend is a Buffalo Bills fan so he watches the games on her TV, but we really don’t watch it ourselves,” she told us. “Everyone has their own phone or tablet and most people are sharing  passwords from home to watch HBO, Hulu, or Amazon stuff.”

Dylan’s password trading brings him access to Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, and Sling TV. Even with SpectrumU available for free with no password required, he doesn’t care, preferring to watch on-demand content on his tablet or the PlayStation he brought to school.

“I don’t know anyone who watches Spectrum TV and their company sucks anyway,” said Dylan. “I hate ads and I pretty much only binge watch stuff now, so this is useless for me.”

A few students told us they did bring televisions to campus to watch live television, but many just use an antenna. Nazareth and St. John Fisher are only a short distance from Pinnacle Hill, the location for most Rochester television transmitters, and reception is easy.

“Televisions are what our parents watch,” Serena at Nazareth told us. “I don’t know anyone my age with cable.”

Stop the Cap! tested the Android version of the app at both colleges. It reminds us of Spectrum’s streaming TV app, only less capable. The app does not support DVR-type recording, pause and rewind, or on-demand services — things college students would probably look for the most. We experienced occasional buffering watching CNN in a parking lot, but note Wi-Fi signal strength was not ideal. We also found, despite warnings in student handbooks, a number of student-run hotspots and wireless access points. At one dorm at St. John Fisher, we found over 60 Wi-Fi signals competing with the college’s own wireless network.

Cable companies believe by offering cable services to college students, they will get hooked on those services and subscribe after they leave college. But evidence suggests those under 30 are increasingly unlikely to pay for a cable television subscription and are dubbed “cable-nevers” for having no interest in subscription television. They are, however, avid users of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Say Hello to Sports-Free Philo TV for Less Than $20/Month

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Philo TV 1 Comment

A group of cable networks are teaming up to offer the first over-the-top online streaming cable TV package for sports haters.

Philo TV, expected to soft launch within a few weeks, is a sports-free television package of popular cable networks expected to sell for under $20/month.

Instead of ESPN and Fox Sports, Philo TV will concentrate on dramas, documentaries, kids shows, reality television, and original productions aired on cable networks owned by the venture’s partners — Discovery Communications, Viacom, AMC Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive.

That guarantees networks like Food TV, HGTV, Discovery, AMC, Comedy Central, A&E, Nickelodeon, and other popular general interest cable networks will be on the lineup.

The partners elected to work with Philo TV, an existing venture supplying skinny bundles of cable programming on college campuses around the country. Based on Philo’s college TV lineups, it is not a stretch to assume the new streaming service will also include networks like The Weather Channel, CNN, FOX News, tru-TV, Animal Planet, National Geographic, MSNBC, History Channel, BBC America, Game Show Network, Hallmark, Spike TV, USA, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, Syfy, and perhaps even the Disney Channel.

The service is not expected to include over-the-air stations, but the exclusion of sports means plenty of savings for sports-loathing viewers. Sports programming fees are by far the highest of any network costs for cable and satellite providers. Eliminating costly networks like ESPN saves the average cable company at least $6 a month for that network alone.

The “Philo” venture is named after Philo Farnsworth, the American inventor of an all-electronic television system still partly in use today, which quickly dispensed with the earlier electro-mechanical television systems that preceded it.

Philo isn’t necessarily going to be limited to online streaming. The company is exploring cutting deals with existing phone and cable companies to distribute the package as a competing alternative to today’s bloated cable television packages.

Those interested in being notified about the venture’s imminent launch can register their email address or mobile number on Philo’s website.

Wall Street Analyst on TV Network Fees: “Companies Are Not Supposed to Make That Kind of Money”

Phillip Dampier July 26, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

A Wall Street media analyst called today’s television model of high returns and relentless rate increases passed on to pay television customers unsustainable.

Sanford Bernstein media analyst Todd Juenger told attendees of The Independent Show (courtesy: Multichannel News) in Indianapolis that media companies expecting to profit from linear TV’s increased advertising revenue and retransmission or carriage consent fees are going to get slapped in the face soon as consumers revolt.

Juenger, like BTIG’s Rich Greenfield, is becoming increasingly pessimistic about today’s costly bundled-TV model. Juenger warns high revenue and profit expectations are only going to accelerate the growth of disruptive technologies like on-demand, online video.

Juenger notes cable and television networks never seem satisfied with the massive amounts of revenue they are already earning, and keep seeking ways to raise prices further. The TV business, Juenger notes, already enjoys some of the highest profit margins of any U.S. business in modern history.

“This is a very, very rare thing,” Juenger said. “Companies are not supposed to make that kind of money.”

Most cable networks now expect 40% annual revenue increases and a 30% return on capital, which is what causes runaway programming rate increases to be passed on year after year to consumers. Yet the quality of those networks has not significantly improved in many cases, and consumers are gradually shifting away from watching live television (and the commercials that accompany it).

Viewers, starting with younger generations, are increasingly ditching linear-live television and finding on-demand content to be more appealing. Much of that viewing isn’t taking place on the cable industry’s on-demand or TV Everywhere platform, which has become as littered with advertising as live television. Instead, viewers are drawn to original productions produced by Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and other content platforms — often commercial-free, and on-demand network shows on platforms like Hulu.

“The whole reason for being for networks is called into question,” Juenger said.

Juenger dismisses the current industry trend of creating virtual online alternatives to cable television bundles — skinny or otherwise — for streaming online. Those efforts, like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue still depend on linear television as their core product, and cord-cutters are showing a growing lack of interest in this model.

Cord-cutters and cord-nevers don’t want smaller, more economical bundles of cable networks delivered online, according to Juenger.

“I don’t think there is anybody who wants these products on an incremental basis,” Juenger said. “If the purpose of these services is to recapture subscribers that were lost, they’re not going to work.”

Viewers want an entirely new model, built around on-demand access to individual shows without viewing restrictions or having to pay for unwanted channels. Many are also willing to pay a little more to avoid commercials altogether.

Spectrum Continues Its Campaign to Encrypt All TV Channels

Phillip Dampier July 3, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 3 Comments

Spectrum cable subscribers still watching cable television without a set-top box will soon need one, or a functional equivalent, for every television connected in their home or business as Charter Communications continues its effort to encrypt all cable channels.

The campaign has now reached Kentucky, where Spectrum is preparing to encrypt every television channel on the lineup and is sending notices to its residential and commercial customers.

The University of Kentucky is working to get the word out to facilities operated by UK they may lose all television service as early as July 11 if they don’t take action.

Encryption forces customers to use set-top boxes or other equipment, often at an additional expense, to continue watching cable television service. Cable companies use encryption to reduce signal theft and eliminate the need to send trucks to disconnect customers at the pole. Instead, Charter will simply deauthorize a customer’s set-top box or other equipment so they can no longer watch when the customer cancels or does not pay their bill.

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