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Hulu… by Disney; Comcast Becomes Passive Partner in Streaming Service

Effective today, Hulu is now under the full control of the Walt Disney Company, ending a decade of a sometimes-uneasy partnership between rivals NBC-Universal, 21st Century Fox, Disney-ABC and Time Warner (Entertainment).

This morning, Disney and Comcast, the last two partners in the streaming venture, reached an agreement that will give full operational control of Hulu to Disney, in return for either company having the right to force Disney to buy out Comcast’s remaining 33% interest in the service beginning in 2024. In effect, with Comcast giving up its three seats on Hulu’s board and its veto power, the cable company now becomes a passive partner in the venture. At a Disney-guaranteed value of at least $27.5 billion five years from now, Comcast could eventually walk away from Hulu with at least $9 billion in compensation.

Today’s agreement means Disney will own and control multiple streaming services. Disney today announced it has big plans for Hulu, despite preparing to launch its own Disney+ streaming service and already operating its own streaming platform for ESPN. Disney CEO Robert Iger said Disney+ will now be focused on kids and family-friendly entertainment, while Hulu will be Disney’s platform for adult-focused movies and series. Disney’s recent acquisition of the 20th Century Fox content library and FX’s suite of cable channels gives it plenty of additional content to bring to both of its general entertainment streaming services.

To make sure of a smooth transition, both companies have agreed to a lucrative extension of Hulu’s license to stream NBC-Universal content and networks, as well as a retransmission consent agreement to allow Hulu Live to continue carrying NBC-Universal networks and TV channels until the end of 2024. That will deliver a significant revenue boost to Comcast, which can use the money to help build its own forthcoming streaming platform, launching in 2020.

“We are now able to completely integrate Hulu into our direct-to-consumer business and leverage the full power of The Walt Disney Company’s brands and creative engines to make the service even more compelling and a greater value for consumers,” said Iger in a statement.

NBC-Universal chief executive Steve Burke said in a statement that the deal is “a perfect outcome for us” because the “extension of the content-licensing agreement will generate significant cash flow for us, while giving us maximum flexibility to program and distribute to our own direct-to-consumer platform.”

For consumers, Iger is expected to consider offering a discounted bundled package to Hulu subscribers who also sign up for Disney+. With a combination of Hulu and Disney+, Netflix’s biggest U.S. rival is about to get considerably bigger.

Apple iOS Update Includes Apple TV App for Subscribing to Streaming Services

Phillip Dampier May 13, 2019 Apple TV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Apple today released a software update for iOS device owners and some smart televisions that includes a new Apple TV streaming app designed to simplify the online streaming experience.

The Apple TV app works similarly to Roku’s collection of subscription services. Through the app, viewers in 100 countries can subscribe to individual networks and access them without launching multiple separate apps to watch. Apple TV app also manages billing and collects viewing interests to provide recommended new shows and movies.

At present, most premium channels are available through the app for subscription, but you will pay a non-discounted price for each service, often at a premium. HBO, for example, can be had for as little as $5 a month through some platforms, but costs $14.99 through Apple TV. Other services often run their own discounted specials, but Apple TV customers will not get that pricing. Cord Cutters News reports these networks were available for purchase as of this morning (others are being beta tested):

  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • Starz
  • Cinemax
  • Epix
  • Smithsonian Plus
  • PBS Living
  • Acorn TV
  • Sundance Now
  • Lifetime Movie Club
  • Urban Movie Channel
  • Tastemade
  • Curiosity Stream
  • MTV Hits
  • Comedy Central Now

Apple TV is a precursor to the company’s more elaborate streaming and original content platform — Apple TV+ — expected to launch this fall. For now, Apple is taking a cut from reselling other companies’ content and wrapping it around its own interface. Some early subscribers report Apple TV subscribers get more generous multiple viewer allowances, and a large selection of live streams of certain networks like HBO that are not even available from HBO’s own app. Because finding content across a wide array of subscription services is becoming more complicated, users can also access a search utility to find favorite shows.

By developing its own ecosystem, Apple hopes to build an audience and subscriber loyalty by getting customers accustomed to visiting Apple TV to access their subscription content, which gives Apple an audience to sell other programming and content. In return, customers will not have to install multiple apps, or keep track of usernames and passwords for each of them.

Owners of recent Apple devices, as well as those with 2019 Samsung smart TVs (and some 2018 models) will find software updates including Apple TV starting today. Later this year, customers with certain Vizio, LG and Sony TVs will be able to use the TV app using AirPlay 2.

There are some caveats. Netflix is missing. The largest streaming provider in the world has made it clear it will not be a part of the Apple TV app. Also, only a handful of cable and streaming providers have signed on to allow customers to authenticate their TV subscriptions through the Apple TV app so far: Charter Spectrum, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue.

Those looking for convenience might find the Roku or Apple TV platforms a good place to bring content from multiple services together, but those looking for the best price will save money shopping around for subscription deals not available from Apple TV.

Discovery’s Streaming Service Likely to Cost $4.99/Month

Discovery’s forthcoming streaming service will focus entirely on family-friendly factual, historical, and natural history content and will be sold for around $4.99 a month when it launches in 2020.

“There is really nobody in our space,” said Discovery CEO David Zaslav, talking to investors on a quarterly results conference call. “Discovery’s strategy is different than any other media company. While everyone else is focused on big and expensive movies and scripted series, very crowded space, we have a different approach. We have brand people identify with and love. We’re gaining distribution in all key bundles in the United States and around the world and enjoy a unique global footprint.”

With a decade long content deal with the BBC’s Natural History Unit in place, Zaslav told investors Discovery is about to flood North America with an unprecedented amount of factual, on-demand programming.

“The most strategic element of our BBC deal was securing all of the [streaming/video on demand] rights for the BBC’s library of factual landmark series and specials, a marvel like library for the factual and natural history genre,” Zaslav said. “Our ambition is to take that library along with the best of the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Science libraries, together with additional exclusive original content […] in the genres of natural history, science, adventure, exploration, history, space and technology, and package it together into the definitive natural history and factual streaming platform in the world and take that above the globe.”

 

14,000 Consumers Cut Cable TV’s Cord Every Day Says New Study

The top 10 service providers in the United States collectively lost over 1.25 million paid television customers in the first three months of 2019, providing further evidence that cord-cutting is accelerating.

Multiscreen Index estimates if that trend continues, an average of 14,000 Americans cancel their paid cable or satellite television service daily.

AT&T suffered the greatest losses, primarily from its satellite television service DirecTV. More than a half-million satellite customers canceled service in the first quarter of the year. AT&T lost another 89,000 streaming customers as news spread that the service was increasing prices and restricting generous promotions to attract new subscribers. DISH Network, DirecTV’s satellite competitor, also lost more than 250,000 customers.

Many cable television providers announced this quarter they would no longer fret about the loss of cable TV customers, and many have dropped retention efforts that included deeply discounted service. As a result, customers are finding it easier than ever to cancel service. Comcast lost 107,000 TV customers, while Charter Spectrum lost 152,000. Spectrum recently increased the price of its Broadcast TV Fee to $11.99 a month and has pulled back on promotions discounting television service.

United States
Service Change
quarter
Subscribers
(millions)
1,280,200 81.90
AT&T TV/DirecTV -544,000 22.36
Comcast -107,000 20.85
Charter Spectrum -152,000 15.95
DISH Network -266,000 9.64
Verizon FiOS -53,000 4.40
Altice USA -10,200 3.30
Sling TV 7,000 2.42
DirecTV Now -89,000 1.44
Frontier -54,000 0.78
Mediacom -12,000 0.76
Source: informitv Multiscreen Index.

“There were losses across the top 10 television services in the United States, with even the DirecTV Now online service losing customers following previous heavy promotion. Between them, they lost over one-and-a-quarter million subscribers in three months. They still command a significant number of customers but the rate of attrition has increased,” said Dr. William Cooper, the editor of the informitv Multiscreen Index.

The total figures for the quarter show roughly 81.90 million Americans are still paying one of the top-10 providers for cable or satellite television service, amounting to less than 70% of television homes — a significant drop. Privately held Cox Communications is excluded because it does not report subscriber numbers or trends.

Pluto TV’s Lineup Has Gotten Huge: Adds Viacom Networks, “Signature Channels”

Phillip Dampier May 2, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Pluto TV No Comments

Ad breaks on Pluto TV are not always elegant. This screen can appear for a minute or more instead of commercials.

Viacom is not wasting any time remaking Pluto TV into a more formidable possible cable-TV replacement, after acquiring the streaming service in March for $340 million. Now the service is adding Pluto-branded versions of Viacom’s cable networks that anyone can watch for free.

Unlike Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime Video, Pluto TV has no subscription fees and is entirely supported by commercial advertising.

Much like in the early days of cable television, many of the networks on the Pluto lineup still feature second-rate programming or niche interest, low-budget original programming. But Viacom obviously intends to change that perception, launching special Pluto-branded versions of name-brand cable networks like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and others.

In an effort to protect their contractual relationships with cable and satellite providers that pay substantial fees for Viacom’s cable networks, Pluto TV’s free versions are not exactly the same as what you’d find on your cable or satellite dial. But many of the most popular shows found on those networks also can be found on Pluto TV’s Viacom channels, some at different times or perhaps a day or two later.

Recognizing many viewers have turned away from live, linear television in favor of on-demand viewing, Pluto TV has also created binge channels that will “pop up” from time to time, allowing viewers to catch up with earlier seasons of popular shows or see a current show’s missed episodes on channels where they repeat continuously.

Because Viacom also has an extensive content library of its own, it was not difficult to assemble a range of “Signature Channels,” which group shows from multiple networks together on a series of theme-based channels. For example, CMT Westerns feature reruns of classic western TV shows seen on various networks. Several MTV networks target different audiences, like MTV Guy Code, MTV Teen, and MTV Dating. Comedy Central gets a side-network as well. Comedy Central Pluto offers many of the shows you’d find on the primary cable network, plus there is Comedy Central Stand-Up, which features continuous stand-up comedy routines.

Although Pluto TV retains the familiar concept of “channel” numbers, grouped by theme, Viacom is clearly starting to shift the viewing experience more towards individual shows instead of networks.

There are now so many individual channels on the Pluto platform, we won’t list them here. It is easier just to visit and view for yourself.

Pluto TV by Viacom is clearly a work still in progress. There are some significant issues. Commercial advertising inserts are clumsy and often cut shows off mid-sentence on some channels. Sometimes, an extended “we’ll be right back” screen appears where advertisements normally would. There is also no built-in way to record shows for time shifted viewing, and Pluto TV has so far refused to offer an online program guide beyond the next two hours of viewing, so you cannot easily know what shows will be aired when.

Other weaknesses are in sports and news. The network news channels are identical to those you can see on their respective websites by yourself, and a number of advocacy news channels including Newsmax, The Young Turks, and RT America are poor replacements for typical cable news channels. CNN’s presence on Pluto TV is limited to a curated playlist of stories airing on the network that day, and Sky News, Bloomberg, and Weathernation are not comparable to MSNBC, CNBC, or The Weather Channel.

Sports programming is mostly talk shows about sports and events larger sports networks would never cover. Pluto Sports also runs movies about sports.

Still, Pluto TV is free, and with the huge number of channels, chances are excellent you will find something to watch without much trouble.

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