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Sony Shutting Down PlayStation Vue Streaming TV Service

Sony is throwing in the towel on its streaming TV service, PlayStation Vue, with the announcement the service will close down early next year.

“Today we are announcing that we will shut down the PlayStation Vue service on January 30, 2020. Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected. Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business,” the company said on its blog.

PlayStation Vue debuted over four years ago, but was immediately met with two difficulties that proved insurmountable:

  1. Many wrongly believed the service was only available to those owning a PlayStation gaming console. While there are over 100 million PlayStation 4 units in use today, a significant number of cord-cutters do not own any gaming console and thought that put PlayStation Vue out of reach.
  2. Sony has no ties to other TV providers, making it impossible to get the kinds of volume discounts available to large satellite, telco TV, and cable operators. As the costs of video programming continue to increase, PlayStation Vue losses widened for Sony and left customers looking for savings off a traditional cable TV bill frustrated by increasing rates for streaming providers. PlayStation Vue hiked rates $5 a month last July, reaching $50 a month, and it was clear more rate hikes would be needed in the future.

PlayStation Vue was always a money loser for Sony and reportedly has around 500,000 subscribers — a relatively small number in comparison to services like Sling and AT&T TV Now. Within the last week, reports leaked out that Sony was looking for a buyer for PlayStation Vue, but apparently could not find one that met the company’s terms. Sony is under pressure by Wall Street activist investor Daniel Loeb, who wants the company to restructure and eliminate money-losing services like PlayStation Vue to boost Sony’s stock price.

PlayStation Vue primarily offered live feeds of linear TV channels. Linear TV viewing is on the decline as viewers increasingly move towards on-demand viewing and services like Netflix and Hulu that deliver plenty of that content at a much lower cost.

SiriusXM Hiking Rates Nov. 13; Satellite Radio Monopoly Makes Rate Increases Easy

Phillip Dampier October 24, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, SiriusXM 4 Comments

The satellite and app-based radio service SiriusXM has announced a broad-based rate increase for its customers that will take effect Nov. 13, 2019. Most customers will see a rate hike of $1 per month.

The company made the announcement with little fanfare, announcing the rate changes in private e-mails sent to customers.

Sirius and XM Radio used to be separate, competing satellite radio services. But in the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration, regulators approved a merger between the two entities after a 57-week review process, establishing a satellite radio monopoly.

The Bush Justice Department approved the Sirius and XM Radio merger on March 24, 2008, after being persuaded that satellite radio faced significant competition from traditional AM and FM radio, online streaming services, and the growing use of MP3 players. The FCC under Chairman Kevin Martin followed with a 3-2 approval on a party-line vote favoring the Republican commissioners. Martin said the internet delivered all the competition a combined SiriusXM could handle.

“The merger is in the public interest and will provide consumers with greater flexibility and choices,” Martin said of the merger at the time.

Martin’s predictions turned out to be largely untrue, as the combined company quickly merged into a single satellite radio service, began a series of rate increases, and faced the wrath of state attorneys general for its poor customer service and difficulty processing subscriber cancellations. For years as competing providers, Sirius and XM charged $12.99 a month, with substantial discounts for customers agreeing to multiple-month subscriptions. Lifetime subscriptions were also available. As of November 11th, the most popular subscription options — XM Select will cost $16.99/mo and XM All Access will cost $21.99/mo.

SiriusXM also now charges a range of fees customers may face:

  • Activation Fee: For each radio on your account, SiriusXM may charge a fee to activate, reactivate, upgrade or modify your subscription package.
  • U.S. Music Royalty Fee: Package pricing does not include the U.S. Music Royalty Fee, now 21.4% of the price of most audio packages which include music channels.
  • Invoice Administration Fee: If you request to receive a paper invoice, SiriusXM will charge you an invoice administration fee on each paper invoice rendered, except where prohibited.
  • Late Fee: If payment is not received in a timely manner, a late fee may apply.
  • Returned Payment Fee: If any financial institution or credit card refuses to honor your payment, a fee may be charged.
  • A La Carte Channel Change Fee: If you have an “A La Carte” Package, for each subsequent transaction to change your initial channel selections, you may be charged a fee.
  • Transfer Fee: If you transfer a Subscription from one radio to another you may be charged a transfer fee.
  • Cancellation Fee: Cancellation fees may be applied to Subscriptions activated in combination with a device purchased directly from SiriusXM.

SiriusXM customers can always get a much lower rate by threatening to cancel service. To cancel, call 1-866-635-2349 Monday through Friday 8:00 AM through 10:00 PM, ET, Saturday and Sunday 8:00 AM through 8:00 PM, ET. Tell the representative you are canceling because the service costs too much. You should be offered a retention rate of $30-35 for the next 5-6 months of service or around $60-100 a year (the lower end for Select, the higher end for All-Access). Just set a calendar reminder to repeat the cancellation threat a week or two before your retention rate is scheduled to expire and you can usually get that offer renewed. Note that the Music Royalty Fee will continue to be charged separately. A credit card is often required to get retention pricing, and service will automatically rebill at the prevailing rate after the promotional rate expires.

November 13, 2019 SiriusXM Subscription Rate Change

When will the subscription rates change? 

For packages that are impacted by the rate adjustment, the new subscription rates will be effective November 13, 2019. The new rates will apply to subscription purchases made on and after that date, or renewals of existing subscriptions that are processed on and after that date.

Which packages will be impacted by the rate change on November 13, 2019?

The standard monthly rates for Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly packages will increase. The standard monthly rates for A La Carte, A La Carte + Howard, A La Carte + Sports, A La Carte + Howard + Sports, and A La Carte Gold packages will increase.

The standard monthly rates for additional radios that are eligible for the Family Discount for these same packages will also increase.

By how much will the rates change?

The standard monthly rates for Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly packages, and A La Carte packages for a primary radio will increase by $1 per month. The standard rates for additional radios that are eligible for the Family Discount will also increase by $1 per month.

Which packages or plans are not impacted by the November 13, 2019 rate change?

The standard rate adjustment does not apply to the following packages: SiriusXM Premier Streaming, SiriusXM Essential Streaming, Mostly Music, News, Sports & Talk, Basic, Basic Plus, Español, Español Plus, MiRGE All-in-One, Traffic, and Travel Link, as well as Aviation weather packages.

My current subscription plan does not renew until November 13, 2019 or later. When will I be billed at the new rates?

You will be billed the new rate the next time your plan renews on and after November 13, 2019.

I have a plan for the Lifetime of my radio. Does the rate adjustment on November 13, 2019 impact the Lifetime plan?

No. Lifetime plans are not impacted by the rate adjustment.

Will the rate adjustment affect my trial subscription?

No. Trial subscriptions are not impacted by the rate adjustment.

I’m still on a trial subscription but I’ve already ordered a new subscription that will start when my trial subscription ends. Will you charge me the new rate?

If you have already purchased a Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly, or A La Carte package in a plan that will start when your trial ends (or if you purchase it before November 13, 2019), you will be charged the current rates for your first billing period, even if your trial does not end until after November 13, 2019. Then, whenever your plan bills again, you will be charged the new rates (or the rates in effect at that time) for those packages.

Examples:

If you chose a monthly billing plan to follow your trial, the first month will not be impacted by the adjustment. The new rates will apply to the second and subsequent months of your plan.
If you chose a quarterly billing plan to follow your trial, the first three months of your service will be at the current rates. You will not be billed at the new rate until your plan bills again (after the first three months).

Will the subscription rates for my ‘infotainment’ services from SiriusXM, such as traffic, Travel Link, Aviation, or Marine weather change on November 13, 2019?

The rates for traffic, Travel Link, and Aviation services will not change on November 13, 2019. The rates for Marine packages will change on November 13, 2019.

If I subscribe to one of the packages impacted by the rate adjustment, will you notify me before my subscription rate changes?

Yes, if we have valid contact information on your account, we sent or will send a notification to you by mail or email, before your plan bills or renews. This might be a good time to visit the Online Account Center to make sure your contact information is correct. If you have never before visited your online account, you will need to go through a short registration process before you can access your account.

When will the subscription rates for Marine weather change?

The new subscription rates will be effective November 13, 2019 for packages impacted by the rate adjustment. The new rates will apply to subscription purchases made on and after that date, or renewals of existing subscriptions that are processed on and after that date.

Which Marine weather packages will be impacted by the rate change on November 13, 2019?

The standard monthly subscription rates for all SiriusXM (Inland, Coastal, and Offshore), XM (Skywatch, Fisherman, Sailor, Master Mariner) and Sirius (Inland, Mariner, Charter) will increase.

How much will the rates change?

Effective November 13, 2019:

  • The standard rate for SiriusXM Marine Inland and Sirius Inland subscription packages will increase by $2 per month.
  • The standard rate for SiriusXM Marine Coastal and Offshore, XM Skywatch, Fisherman, and Sailor, and Sirius Marine and Charter subscription packages will increase by $5 per month.
  • The standard rate for XM Marine Master Mariner subscription packages will increase by $10 per month.
  • The standard rate for Sirius Marine Voyager subscription with Select, All Access, and Premier packages will increase by $1 per month.

My current Marine weather subscription plan does not renew until November 13, 2019 or later. When will I be billed at the new rates?

You will be billed the new rate the next time your plan renews on and after November 13, 2019.

Verizon Customers Get a Year of Disney+ for Free

Phillip Dampier October 22, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Disney+, Online Video, Verizon No Comments

Some Verizon customers can receive 12 free months of Disney+, starting Nov. 12.

All Verizon Wireless Unlimited customers, new FiOS Home Internet, and 5G Home Internet customers qualify for the offer.

Customers must enroll for the offer between Nov. 12, 2019 and June 1, 2020. One subscription per account. Must be 18 years of age or older and a legal U.S. resident. After the 12-month promotional period, customers will be charged the prevailing subscription rate of $6.99+tax/month until canceled. Charges will be billed to your Verizon account. For New Mexico residents, Disney+ ends automatically after 12 months. Verizon is not zero-rating Disney+ usage, so it will count towards your total data usage.

Customers can get more information here: http://verizon.com/disneyplus.

The deal with Disney+ is an exclusive among U.S. wireless carriers. The Wall Street Journal reports under the latest agreement, Disney and Verizon will share the cost of providing the content to the carrier’s subscribers, according to a person familiar with the arrangement.

“Giving Verizon customers an unprecedented offer and access to Disney+ on the platform of their choice is yet another example of our commitment to provide the best premium content available through key partnerships on behalf of our customers,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg. “Our work with Disney extends beyond Disney+ as we bring the power of 5G Ultra Wideband technology to the entertainment industry through exciting initiatives with Disney Innovation Studios and in the parks.”

Locast Adds Phoenix and Atlanta to Its Free Over The Air Streaming TV Service

Phillip Dampier October 21, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video No Comments

A small sample of Locast’s program guide for Phoenix viewers.

Internet customers in Phoenix and Atlanta can now watch local, over the air TV stations for free thanks to Locast, a not-for-profit streaming TV service that is fighting the escalating costs of online streaming of network and local television programs.

That brings a total of 15 cities to the Locast roster, and the service has also expanded the number of stations it streams in many of its existing markets to include additional digital sub-channels it neglected previously.

Locast geofences its service, requiring viewers to allow Locast to verify location data proving a viewer is within a Locast service area. That is an effort to comply with current copyright law, which allows Locast to operate as a local relay service. That has not stopped a coalition of TV networks from suing Locast, claiming it violates that copyright law and is only masquerading as a non-profit organization. The lawsuit cites Locast’s increasingly aggressive fundraising messages found on its app and as a pre-roll streaming message each time a viewer switches channels. Some viewers claim the only way to get rid of those messages is to enroll as a donor member and contribute several dollars a month to the service.

Locast says it uses contributions to bolster its legal defense fund and also acquire equipment and resources to launch the service in new cities. Locast officials claim they will eventually launch in all 210 TV markets if contributions are adequate to cover the costs.

Locast carries all major network affiliates, independent and PBS stations, and most ethnic language and general interest sub-channels. Some religious stations are also included, but most home shopping channels and those dedicated to airing paid commercial programming 24/7 are omitted. In Atlanta, Locast carries nearly three dozen local channels. In Phoenix, 40 stations are available.

Locast does not offer time-shifting DVR service or on-demand programming. It relies entirely on live streaming, but offers viewers an on-screen program guide.

Civil Rights Group Shenanigans: Promoting the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger in Quid Pro Quo Deal

Many of the same civil rights groups that regularly advocate their support of giant corporate telecom mergers are back once again to show their support for the controversial T-Mobile/Sprint merger. But that support does not come for free.

A “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that includes “philanthropy and community investment” that does not exclude direct financial contributions from the two wireless companies to these civil rights groups is a major part of a new “understanding” announced today between several organizations founded to represent minority interests and T-Mobile and Sprint that the wireless companies hope will deliver an imprimatur for the troubled merger deal with regulators and politicians.

The key items in the MOU:

  1. Standing up a national diversity and inclusion council comprised of non-employees from diverse groups, including each of the multicultural leadership organizations that are party to the MOU, and other highly esteemed community leaders to facilitate open communication over the development, monitoring, and evaluation of diversity initiatives and to provide advice to the New T-Mobile senior executives.

  2. With the help and input of the council, developing and implementing a Diversity Strategic Plan addressing each of the key elements of the MOU and reflecting best practices in the industry.

  3. Increasing the diversity of its leadership and workforce at all levels including its Board governance, to reflect the diversity of the communities in which it operates.

  4. Making a targeted effort to increase partnerships, business, and procurement activities with diverse business enterprises in a range of categories such as financial and banking services, advertising, legal services and asset sales. New T-Mobile aims to become a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable by 2025.

  5. Expanding wireless offerings to low-income citizens, underserved minority populations and insular and rural areas, and to organizations serving these underserved communities [including] a significant philanthropic investment for institutions serving disadvantaged or underrepresented communities to support tech entrepreneurship and to bridge the gap in literacy.

The groups, most familiar to Stop the Cap! readers that have followed civil rights groups engaged in pay for play advocacy, include:

In a joint statement, the groups urged the FCC to approve the T-Mobile/Sprint merger “so the combined New T-Mobile can definitively launch these enhanced diversity efforts and expansion of service to all communities included in the MOU.”

“T-Mobile is honored to partner with these visionary organizations to create an action plan of this magnitude that includes commitments to diversity and inclusion that are bolder than ever before,” John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile and CEO of New T-Mobile, said in a statement. “With this MOU, we have doubled down on ensuring we represent the communities we serve today and will serve as the New T-Mobile in the future. We are excited for the New T-Mobile to become a reality so we can get to work on delivering these commitments.”

Except in most cases, these kinds of arrangements serve mostly as window dressing, gussying up otherwise nakedly anti-consumer merger deals under the guise of serving minority or disadvantaged interests. Money often quietly flows between the corporate and the non-profit side, usually in the form of donations. Some groups may also offer token advisory board positions to executives, which usually cements an ongoing advocacy relationship.

Members of these civil rights organizations have a right to be puzzled why such groups are spending significant time and resources engaged in corporate advocacy. The interests of two major corporations cementing a multi-billion dollar merger deal and civil rights groups trying to fight discrimination and improve the lives of their constituents are often tangential, if not in direct opposition to each other. Apparently the money that usually comes with these arrangements matters much more.

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