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Streaming Services Are Monitoring Customers for Signs of Password Sharing

Large media companies and streaming services are on to many of you.

If you are among the two-thirds of subscribers that have reportedly shared your Netflix, HBO GO, Hulu, or Disney+ password with friends and family, your provider probably already knows about it.

A recent report from HUB Entertainment Research found that at least 64% of 13-24-year-olds have shared a password to a streaming service with someone else, with 31% of consumers admitting they are sharing passwords with people outside of their home.

The reason many people share passwords is to save money on the cost of signing up for multiple streaming services. Many trade a Netflix password in return for a Hulu password, or hand over an HBO GO password in exchange for access to your Disney+ account. Research firm Park Associates claims that streamers lost an estimated $9.1 billion in revenue from password sharing, and can expect to lose nearly $12.5 billion by 2024 if password sharing is not curtailed.

Oddly, most streaming services are well aware of password sharing and the lost revenue that results from sharing accounts, and most care little, at least for now.

Marketplace notes a lot of the complaints about password sharing are coming from cable industry executives, shareholders, and Wall Street analysts, but for now most streaming services are just monitoring the situation instead of controlling it.

“I think we continue to monitor it,” said Gregory K. Peters, Netflix’s chief product officer, on the 2019 third quarter earnings call. “We’ll see those consumer-friendly ways to push on the edges of that, but I think we’ve got no big plans to announce at this point in time in terms of doing something differently there.”

Netflix sells different tiers of service that limit the number of concurrent streams to one, two, or four streams at a time. The company believes that if customers that share accounts bump into the stream limits, many will upgrade to a higher level of service which will result in more revenue.

Newcomer Disney+ not only recognizes password sharing is going on, it almost embraces it.

“We’re setting up a service that is very family friendly. We expect families to consume it,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview with CNBC. “We will be monitoring [password sharing] with the various tools that we have.”

The biggest tool Disney has to monitor account sharing is Charter Spectrum, which is aggressively encouraging streaming services to crack down hard on password sharing. Spectrum internet customers who watch Disney+ are now tracked by Spectrum, recording each IP address that accesses Disney+ content over Spectrum’s broadband service. When multiple people at different IP addresses access Disney+ content on a single account at the same time, Spectrum can flag those customers as potential password sharers.

Synamedia, a streaming provider security firm, uses geolocation tools to determine who is watching streaming services from where. If someone is watching one stream from one address and another person is watching from another city at the same time, password sharing is the likely culprit. For now, most companies are quietly collecting data to learn just how big a problem password sharing is and are not using that information to crack down on customers.

Streaming providers are more interested in stopping the pervasive sale of stolen account credentials on services like eBay and shutting down stolen accounts used to harvest content for unauthorized resale. But as sharing grows, so will calls from stakeholders to curtail the practice. Those in favor of vigorous crackdowns on password sharing argue billions of dollars of lost revenue will be lost. If a service like Netflix blocked password sharing, that could lead to dramatic increases in account sign-ups. But less established brands like Disney+ seem more concerned about losing the unofficial extra viewers that are watching and buzzing about shows on its new streaming platform.

Cable companies are frustrated about losing scores of cable TV customers to competitors that may be effectively giving away service for free. That has raised tempers at companies like Charter Communications.

“Pricing and lack of security continue to be the main problems contributing to the challenges of paid video growth,” Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said in recent prepared remarks with Wall Street analysts. “The traditional bundle … is very expensive, and the actual unit rate of that product continues to rise, and that’s priced a lot of people out of the market. And it’s free to a lot of consumers who have friends with passwords. So our ability to sell that product is ultimately constrained by our relationship with content [companies], and we have to manage that in terms of the kinds of power that the content companies have.”

Charter’s power comes from its willingness to distribute cable networks like The Disney Channel to tens of millions of homes around the country. That forces Disney to listen to Charter’s concerns about piracy and password sharing and the issue is even documented in the latest carriage contract between the two companies.

Cable industry executives believe a crackdown on password sharing is inevitable, eventually. Just as the cable industry was forced to combat cable pirates during its formative years, streaming providers that welcome extra viewers today may lament the lost revenue those subscribers don’t bring to the table tomorrow.

 

Marketplace reports on the growing issue of streaming service password sharing. (2:19)

Cable Companies See Big Growth in Broadband and Wireless, Big Losses in TV

Most analysts are predicting this past year will be the worst yet for video customer losses, with nearly two million cable TV customers cutting the cord in 2019, up from 1.26 million in 2018. Business is even worse for satellite TV operators, which lost 1.2 million customers in 2018 and are expected to have shed another 3.25 million customers in 2019 — mostly because of mass customer defections at AT&T’s DirecTV. Altogether, over five million Americans are estimated to have cut the cord over the past year.

Investors have largely stopped worrying about video subscriber losses, and cable operators have boldly told Wall Street they have stopped chasing video customers threatening to cancel service, claiming many are no longer profitable enough to keep. Their key competitors, online streaming video services like Sling TV, AT&T TV Now, and Hulu with Live TV are also seeing subscriber gains slowing, most likely because of price increases. One analyst predicted these online cable TV replacements would add a combined 804,000 customers in 2019, less than half of the 2.3 million they added in 2018.

Cable companies seem unfazed, in part because of record-breaking gains they are expected to have made in internet and wireless customers in the last year. One analyst suggests that most of those gains are coming directly at the expense of phone companies.

Comcast and Charter are the two largest cable companies in the United States.

“Cable’s clear speed advantage in roughly half the U.S. is driving continued strong share performance,” Jayant told clients in a research note. Jayant expects some of the biggest gains will come from ex-DSL customers in Comcast and Charter Spectrum’s service areas.

Nationwide, cable operators likely added 3.1 million new broadband customers in 2019, up 15% over last year. Phone companies are predicted to have lost at least 402,000 internet customers, up from 342,000 in 2018. Most of those departing customers are not served by fiber broadband.

Both Comcast and Charter Spectrum are also successfully attracting a growing number of mobile customers, as is Altice USA. Charter and Comcast offer their broadband customers the option of signing up for wireless mobile service, powered by Verizon Wireless. Altice USA resells Sprint service at cut-rate prices.

Comcast is estimated to have added 778,000 wireless customers in 2019 and analysts predict that the company will add another 909,000 in 2020. Charter Spectrum is expected to have gained 923,000 wireless customers in 2019, with another 1.04 million likely to sign up in 2020. Altice USA’s deal with Sprint in its Cablevision/Optimum service area has already attracted about 80,000 customers, with 550,000 more likely to follow in 2020.

Another Cable Company Drops Cable TV

Phillip Dampier January 23, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Another independent cable company is dropping cable television service.

Rainbow Communications of Everest, which serves customers in northeastern Kansas, has set a “TV End” date for customers of June 30, 2020, after which it will only sell broadband and phone service:

As your local communications provider, we strive to bring innovative solutions for both entertainment and business purposes. Now a high-quality and less-expensive technology exists for watching TV by using an internet connection. In fact, most of our customers have chosen this route because watching video now accounts for 80% of our internet network traffic. Therefore, we have decided to focus our efforts on delivering the best internet experience possible, and end our TV service offering.

Rainbow TV service will end on June 30, 2020.

Rainbow, like many smaller cable operators, faces spiraling costs for video programming without the benefit of the volume discounts large national cable companies routinely receive. As streaming live TV video providers expand, they can now out-compete many independent cable companies by delivering a lower cost lineup of video channels. As a result, a growing number of small cable companies are deciding to exit the video business, concentrating on selling broadband and, to a lesser extent, phone service to their customers.

Rainbow claims customers will save up to $600 a year dropping its cable TV service in favor of a streaming video package from providers like YouTube TV or Sling. As large streaming providers continue to add local over the air channels to their lineups, many consumers can get the same or better lineup from a streaming provider at a lower cost.

The move will also allow Rainbow to dedicate all of its cable bandwidth towards data services, including digital phone service. That could allow the company to boost broadband speeds.

Spectrum Telemarketer: “Are You Busy?” Answer “Yes” and You Are Signed Up for Service

Residents in upstate New York are finding Spectrum bills in their mailbox for services they didn’t order and don’t want, after telling Spectrum telemarketers they were too busy to talk.

Three residents in Tupper Lake have been in touch with the village mayor, complaining they were enrolled in a $30-per-month Spectrum streaming TV service without their knowledge or consent.

Mayor Paul Maroun says recent robocalls from the cable operator were responsible for the surprise bills.

“It was a robocall that said, ‘Are you busy at the moment?'” Maroun said. “Once you said ‘yes,’ they record the ‘yes’ and they bill it.”

Maroun said he believes one or more Spectrum telemarketers are ordering new services for consumers using recorded customer responses to a different question as consent to start service. Within a month, bills start arriving in the mailboxes of consumers. Even worse, some consumers do not immediately realize they are being billed for new services they did not authorize because they chose electronic billing and autopay, which automatically pays the bill without customer intervention each month.

The problem was serious enough to be a topic of discussion by the village board, reports the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

One alleged victim of the call is retired village electric department superintendent Marc Staves, who returned to the village board for a meeting on Wednesday as a civilian to tell the board about his experience and to warn others.

Staves said he caught the additional charge on the first month it landed on his bill. He said he is not sure how it happened because he does not remember taking a call. Staves said Spectrum told him a robocall was placed, but he said his phone records show he never answered it.

“That’s kind of underhanded,” Staves said when he learned how the call works at the village board meeting.

He has automatic payments set up on his account, but still checks the amount.

“It’s always good to keep track of your automatic deductions,” Staves said.

He was told the company would refund his money, but said after a week it still hadn’t. When he called again he said he was told the $30 charge would be taken off his next month’s bill.

“I was okay at that point until I hung up the phone and thought about it,” Staves said. “It’s really no different than me going into your wallet, taking $30 out of your wallet and telling you I’m going to work it off next month.”

He said he is “not satisfied” with the resolution Spectrum offered him, saying it is being done in a “roundabout way.”

Maroun told Staves he has received two other calls from villagers about the same problem, both for $30-per-month charges. He said those people have gotten their money back.

Mayor Maroun

Spectrum spokesperson Lara Pritchard said this was the first time she heard of this complaint and suggested third party scammers might be “spoofing” customers.

“If an offer doesn’t sound right, customers can ask the representative on the phone to validate they are an employee by looking up their account number,” Pritchard wrote in an email. “Spectrum representatives will always have an account number. Then call Spectrum (at their customer service number on your bill) and ask if there is any such person working there.”

But since consumers are being billed for the unauthorized service(s) on their Spectrum bill, the telemarketers must have a business relationship with the cable operator. It could be a third party marketing company hired by Spectrum to sell service. A bonus or commission is likely payable for each successful sale, which could be an incentive for a dishonest employee to game the system.

Stop the Cap! recommends not answering Spectrum’s telemarketing calls or just hang up immediately. Be sure to verify your bill through the My Spectrum app or website and report any unauthorized charges immediately. Consumers can also file complaints with your state Attorney General’s office. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for New York’s Attorney General told the newspaper while the office has received a number of complaints about Spectrum, none were related to this issue. That could change if consumers report these kinds of scams.

Comcast/NBC’s Peacock Launches This Spring – Free for Comcast & Cox Video Customers

Comcast video customers will be the first to get Comcast/NBCUniversal’s new streaming platform, dubbed “Peacock,” featuring over 400 TV series and 600 movies, mostly from the library of Universal Studios, beginning this spring.

“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke said at an event this afternoon announcing details about the service to Comcast’s investors. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

Peacock will feature multiple tiers of service, at least two available for free:

  • Peacock Free: This ad-supported tier (promised to include only five minutes of ads per hour) will be available to all and will feature about half of Peacock’s content library (7,500 hours). Similar to Hulu’s basic service, this free tier will offer next-day access to currently airing NBC TV series, entire seasons of selected older shows, selected movies, news, and sports programming. Some of Peacock’s original series will also be available on the free tier, along with a selection of clips and shows highlighting NBC content like Saturday Night Live, Family Movie Night, and the Olympics.
  • Peacock for Authenticated TV Subscribers (free): If you are a current Comcast or Cox cable TV subscriber, you can get Peacock’s Premium offering with a complete selection of Peacock content at no charge. This tier offers 15,000 hours of live/on-demand content, but has advertising. You can get rid of the ads by paying an extra $5 a month.
  • Peacock Premium: If you are a cord-cutter or do not subscribe to a TV package with a Comcast-partnered provider, you can subscribe directly to Peacock’s premium, ad-free version for $10 a month. This unlocks the complete lineup of Peacock content.

NBCUniversal officials also used today’s event to announce more original programming deals beyond those already announced, including new original comedies from Tina Fey, Sky Studios, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. Almost all of Dick Wolf’s ubiquitous Law & Order (and its various spinoff series) will also be available for streaming, as will his current roster of Chicago-based series Fire, P.D., and Med. Peacock Premium customers will also be able to stream NBC’s late-night shows before they air on NBC. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be available as early as 8 p.m. ET and Late Night with Seth Meyers will be available by 9 p.m.

Peacock will enter a very crowded field of streaming services, and is the last previously announced streaming service to launch, likely shortly after AT&T launches HBO Max. The fact there will be a free version may make the service more palatable to consumers weary of subscribing to yet another paid streaming service, on top of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and a range of specialty streaming services featuring international programming, sports, movies, and documentaries.

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