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Hulu’s New Owner Is Likely to Be Disney As Comcast Contemplates Selling Its Stake

Phillip Dampier September 25, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video No Comments

Hulu could soon be in the hands of Disney, as a high stakes game of asset trading overseas could have a dramatic impact on the streaming service.

After a winning $39 billion bid to acquire British satellite TV company Sky, CNBC reports Comcast is willing to shed some of its assets back home, including its 30% minority stake in Hulu.

Analysts report Comcast has lost interest in the streaming venture because the cable company will face a permanently-reduced say in the venture after Disney completes its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, which controls 30% of Hulu. After the dust settles, Hulu will be 60% owned by Disney, 30% by Comcast and the remaining 10% held by AT&T, as part of its merger with Time Warner (Entertainment).

Originally formed in 2007 as an almost equal partnership between Disney, Comcast, and Fox, Hulu provides a controlled streaming platform for ABC, NBC, and FOX shows. Originally offering free, ad-supported access to recently aired network programs, Hulu has since grown dramatically under a subscription model, deepening its catalog of TV shows and movies and launching original content. In the last year, it launched its own cable-TV replacement service, offering streaming live television. Hulu is estimated to have 20 million paid streaming subscribers and an additional 1 million are signed up for Hulu with Live TV.

If Disney takes control of Hulu, CEO Bob Iger claims it will operate independently of Disney’s own, forthcoming subscription streaming service, set to debut in 2019. Iger said Disney may offer bundled discounts if customers subscribe to both Hulu and Disney’s own streaming service.

Amazon Introduces a “Cord-Cutters” DVR to Record Over-the-Air Channels

Phillip Dampier September 24, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 3 Comments

The Fire TV Recast DVR is among several new products Amazon is preparing to release for this year’s holiday shopping season, and it was a runaway favorite for Amazon-watchers given a preview of Amazon’s newest products last week.

The Recast is designed to appeal to cord-cutters who miss their cable-TV DVR box. Amazon’s TV recording solution is strictly designed to record over-the-air/free TV broadcasts, and won’t work with satellite, telco, or cable television. Oddly, it does work with one streaming cable-TV alternative: PlayStation Vue, but for the most part, Recast will make sense if you spend a lot of time watching and recording local TV stations. In larger cities, this means the ability to record 35-50 different stations and their digital subchannels. In smaller markets, a dozen or so stations ‘worth recording’ is more likely.

During brief demonstrations given to reporters, it quickly became clear Amazon designed Recast to work best within Amazon’s own product ecosystem, which means it requires at least an Amazon’s Fire TV stick ($29.99 each, when bought bundled with Recast) for each television. The Fire TV home screen adds a “DVR” menu automatically to the list of user options when it senses the presence of a Recast device. Amazon promises Recast playback will also work on tablets and phones, but not web browsers.

Recast is a larger-than-expected device, about the size of a shoebox, and contains TV tuners and a 500 GB hard drive. Customers will also need to supply an antenna (or buy the $24.99 ’50 mile’ window antenna offered by Amazon as an accessory). The box is designed to be placed anywhere out of sight, and has just three ports — one for power, another for USB to power the antenna, and an Ethernet connection. Amazon says Recast will work best placed where television reception is the strongest. Received signals are sent via Wi-Fi to Fire TV, PlayStation Vue, and the appropriate Amazon Fire apps for iOS and Android. Recast also offers built-in Wi-Fi Direct, which works with Fire TV and Amazon’s Echo Show, but Recast also supports traditional Wi-Fi. Amazon claims videos stream up to 1,440 x 720 at 60 frames per second.

Amazon Fire TV Recast

Recast’s standard configuration ($229) has two tuners and a 500GB hard drive, supporting two concurrent recordings and up to 75 hours of stored HD content. A deluxe version containing four tuners capable of recording four different shows/channels at the same time and a 1 TB drive doubles storage capacity for just $50 more, and will go on sale Nov. 14 for $279.99. Amazon is accepting pre-orders for both now.

PROS:

  • Finally a mainstream DVR that works for over-the-air recordings without expensive monthly service fees.
  • Amazon has kept the box simple, and has a tutorial/setup procedure to help you find the best place to locate the DVR to receive as many channels as possible.
  • Reviews indicate recordings were of good quality, assuming one gets reasonably good TV reception.
  • Integrates well with PlayStation Vue and Amazon’s Fire TV.
  • Box can be placed anywhere, out of sight, because it connects with your other devices wirelessly.
  • Deluxe box offers four tuners and lots of recording space for just $50 more than the base unit.

CONS:

  • Amazon should have just bundled an antenna in the box because it is required to assure good reception.
  • Recast is clearly designed for use with Fire TV, which means it is not a great option for other box owners.
  • Recast limits playback to its own apps and Fire TV. No browser support.
  • It only works with one streaming service (PlayStation Vue) and over the air stations. No support for cable, satellite, or telco TV.
  • It’s big and bulky.
  • Asking $229 for a box that only records over the air stations may be a high hurdle for some.
Size 7.1” x 7.1” x 2.9” (180 mm x 180 mm x 73 mm)
Weight 2.4 lbs (1066 g)
Processor Dual Core
ATSC Tuners 2 Tuners
Transcoders (for playback) 2
Storage 500 GB up to 75 hours of HDTV
Memory 2 GB
Wi-Fi Connectivity 2.4 G Wi-Fi 2×2 Wi-Fi b/g/n and 5 G Wi-Fi 2×2 Wi-Fi a/n/ac
Voice support Fire TV Recast can be controlled using voice through supported Alexa endpoints like Echo Show, and the Alexa Voice Remote on Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition televisions.
Ports 1 x Type A USB 3.0 (does not support storage), TV Antenna Input, Gigabit Ethernet, Power
System requirements Fire TV streaming media player, Fire TV Edition television, or Echo Show, and compatible mobile device.
Setup requirements Fire TV mobile app (available on Amazon Appstore, Google Play Store, or iOS Appstore) on a Fire tablet (5th Gen or newer), an iOS device running iOS10 or higher, or an Android device running Android 4.4 or higher
Required for playback Any one of the following: Fire TV streaming media player, Fire TV Edition television, Echo Show, Fire tablet (5th Gen or newer), an iOS device running iOS10 or higher, an Android device running Android 4.4 or higher
Warranty and service 1-Year Limited Warranty and service included. Optional 2-Year and 3-Year Extended Warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately. Use of Fire TV is subject to the terms found here.
Regional support U.S. only
Accessibility features VoiceView screen reader enables access to the vast majority of Fire TV Recast features for users who are blind or visually impaired. Watch videos and TV shows with closed captioning displayed. Captions are not available for all content.
Included in the box Fire TV Recast, 50W Power Supply, Quick Start Guide

Amazon introduces Amazon Fire TV Recast, a home DVR for over the air television stations that works best with Amazon’s own Fire TV. (1:14)

T-Mobile Rebrands MetroPCS “Metro by T-Mobile;” Introduces New Plans

MetroPCS is getting a new name and new unlimited plans as its owner T-Mobile rebrands the provider “Metro by T-Mobile” starting today.

Current MetroPCS customers are largely attracted to the carrier for its simple, budget-priced mobile plans that offer 2-10 GB of data for $30-40 a month. In an effort to boost average revenue per customer, Metro will introduce two new plans that offer “unlimited” LTE data, mobile hotspot usage with data allowances from 5-15 GB, Google One cloud storage and mobile backup, and for its $60 plan, Amazon Prime membership:

T-Mobile USA John Legere argues that Metro’s new plans will change the perception that prepaid wireless plans are lacking.

“In the past, being a prepaid customer meant subpar devices, service and coverage. No more,” a press release from T-Mobile says. “Metro has been quietly changing the prepaid landscape for years, and wireless users have noticed. In the past five years, the number of people choosing Metro has doubled. Metro by T-Mobile offers a wide variety of both Android and iOS smartphones for every price point, including the absolute latest releases.”

The carrier, formerly an independent provider with its own cellular network serving 15 cities, was acquired by T-Mobile five years ago and today is run like a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) on T-Mobile’s nationwide network. The company takes care to protect its lucrative base of T-Mobile postpaid customers by giving them absolute priority on T-Mobile’s network. If a cell tower becomes congested, Metro customers will be the first ones to feel the impact.

“When the network gets busy in a particular place, Metro by T-Mobile customers may notice a difference in speed compared to T-Mobile customers, but otherwise, they get the same T-Mobile network,” T-Mobile warns in its press release. In the fine print, T-Mobile also discloses it throttles speeds for unlimited customers using more than 35 GB of data per month until the next billing cycle begins. It also limits video streaming to 480p resolution all the time.

In an effort to differentiate itself from similar prepaid offers, Metro has teamed up with Amazon to give its premium plan customers a free month-to-month membership in Amazon Prime, which in addition to free two-day shipping, also bundles Amazon Prime Video, Music, and Photos.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere introduces a makeover of MetroPCS, now called Metro by T-Mobile. (3:03)

Fixed Wireless Not a Good Solution for Rural Areas; Usage Demand Outstrips Capacity

Morrow

Australia is learning a costly lesson finding ways to extend broadband service to rural areas in the country, choosing fixed wireless and satellite networks that will ultimately cost more than extending fiber optic broadband to rural customers.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is tasked with supplying virtually all of Australia with internet access, using fiber/wired broadband in urban and suburban areas and fixed wireless and satellite internet access in the country’s most remote locations.

But just a few years after debuting satellite broadband and fixed LTE 4G wireless service in many parts of the country, demand has quickly begun to overwhelm capacity, forcing costly upgrades and punitive measures against so-called “heavy superusers.” The NBN has also scrapped plans to introduce higher-speed fixed wireless services, fearing it will only create additional demands on a network that was not envisioned to manage heavy broadband usage from video streaming.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has elected to place most of the blame on his customers, specifically “superusers” that he characterized as “online gamers” who spend hours during the day and peak usage periods consuming large parts of the fixed wireless network’s available capacity.

“In the fixed wireless, there’s a large portion [of end users] that are using terabytes of data,” Morrow said. “We’re evaluating a form of fair use policy to say, ‘We would groom these extreme users.’ Now the grooming could be that, during the busy period of the day when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they’re taking down what everybody else is taking down.”

Under the current NBN fair use policy, monthly downloads per household are capped at 400 GB, with maximum usage during peak usage periods limited to 150 GB a month, which is already significantly less than what most average American households consume each month. With expensive and unexpected early upgrades to more than 3,100 cell towers to manage rapidly growing usage, the cost of service is starting to rise substantially, even as usage limits and speed reductions make these networks less useful for consumers.

In areas where the NBN extends a fiber optic network, the fixed wholesale price for a 50/20 Mbps connection is $32.00 (U.S.) per month. (A 100/40 Mbps connection costs $46.25). For fixed wireless, prices are rising. A 50/20 Mbps fixed wireless connection (with usage cap) will now cost $46.25 a month.

Morrow took heat from members of Parliament over his claim that online gamers were chiefly responsible for slowing down the NBN’s fixed wireless network.

“With great respect to everything you said over the last 15 minutes, you have been saying to us the problem here is gamers,” said MP Stephen Jones (Whitlam).

Morrow clarified that online gamers were not the principal cause of congestion. The main issue is concurrency, which drags down network speeds when multiple family members unexpectedly use an internet connection at the same time. The worst congestion results when several family members launch internet video streams at the same time. Online video not only leads average users’ traffic, it can also quickly outstrip available cell tower capacity. High quality video streaming can quickly impact 4G LTE service during peak usage periods, driving speeds down for all users. The NBN now considers these newly revealed capacity constraints a limit on the feasibility of using wireless technology like LTE to supply internet access.

The current mitigation strategy includes limiting video bandwidth, discouraging video streaming with usage caps or speed throttles, capacity upgrades at cell towers, and public education requesting responsible usage during peak usage times. With capacity issues becoming more serious, Morrow canceled plans to upgrade fixed wireless to 100 Mbps speeds because of costs. The proposed upgrades would have cost “exponentially” more than wired internet access.

Hype vs. Reality: Most Australians reject fixed wireless and satellite internet as woefully inadequate. (Source: BIRRR)

Actual Fixed Wireless speeds

Actual Satellite Internet speeds

The concept of supplying fixed wireless or satellite internet access to rural areas may have made sense a decade ago, but there are growing questions about the suitability of this technology based on growth in consumer usage patterns, which increasingly includes streaming video. The cost to provide a sufficiently robust wireless network could easily rival or even outpace the costs of extending traditional fiber optic wired service to many rural properties currently considered cost prohibitive to serve. In Australia, fixed wireless and satellite has delivered sub-standard access for rural consumers, and requires the imposition of “fair usage” caps and speed throttles that inconvenience customers. For now, Morrow believes that is still the best solution, given that Australia’s national broadband plan relies heavily on wireless access in rural communities.

“[The benefit of a fair usage policy is] big enough to where if we did groom them during the busy time of the day, it would be a substantial [speed] lift for people,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in any of this – this is going to require us to think through a number of different areas.”

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Rural Australia (a volunteer consumer group) shares horror stories about relying on satellite to solve rural broadband problems. (7:50)

 

Altice Dismisses Wireless Broadband as Inadequate, “There is No Substitute” for Wired

Goei

While Wall Street and the tech media seems excited about the prospect of 5G and other fixed wireless home broadband services, Altice, which owns Cablevision and Suddenlink, dismissed wireless broadband as inadequate to meet rapidly growing broadband usage.

“In terms of usage patterns, our customers are taking an average download speed of 162 Mbps as of the second quarter of 2018, which is up 74% year-over-year,” Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA told investors on a recent conference call. “[Our customers now use] over 220 GB of data per month, which is up 20% year-over-year, with 10 in-home connected devices, on average. If you take the top 10% of our highest data consuming customers as a leading indicator, they are using, on average, almost 1 terabyte of data per month with 26 in-home connected devices. To support these usage patterns, which are mainly driven by video streaming and the proliferation of new over-the-top [streaming] services, it requires a high quality fixed network like ours. There is no substitute.”

Goei argued America’s wireless carriers are not positioned to offer a credible, serious home broadband alternative.

“For example, so-called unlimited data plans from the U.S. mobile operators start capping or significantly throttling customers at 20 GB of usage per month,” Goei said. “Over 60% of our customers are now using over 100 GB of data per month right now, which the mobile operators do not and will not have the capacity to match on a scaled basis unless they overbuild with a new dense fiber network.”

Altice just so happens to be building a dense fiber network, scrapping Cablevision’s remaining coaxial cable in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in favor of a fiber-to-the-home network that will eventually reach all of its customers.

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