For Amazon, Live OTT Comes With A Twitch

At his Streaming Media blog, Frost & Sullivan analyst Dan Rayburn adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate over why Amazon kicked Apple TV and Chromecast products out of its online store. According to Rayburn’s sources, Amazon has been chatting up content owners about offering a live, over-the-top video service of some kind.

Rayburn speculates that such a plan could help explain why Amazon recently acquired the cloud-based live streaming platform provider Elemental Technologies at an unusually high valuation:

cable_TV_not1Insiders say Elemental is on a run rate to do close to $100M in 2016. So if the rumors of Amazon valuing Elemental at $500M are correct, Elemental is getting about 5x projected 2016 revenue, a rather high valuation, unless Amazon is also placing value on them for other reasons, like the ability to power their own live OTT service.

I’ll add another data point in support of the notion: Twitch, which Amazon acquired last year for close to $1 billion. As noted in a post here last week, Twitch is rolling out a new set of tools to help its broadcasters linear-ize their channels, by mixing live and on-demand content and creating playlists that turn the channel into a 24/7 experience. Read More »

Search Me, Search Me Not: Apple TV And The Battle For Screen Time

At $149, it’s hard to say at this point whether the new Apple TV will gain much traction against less expensive competitors that do substantially the same things. But as I and others have noted, Apple TV will have at least one potentially compelling feature the others don’t have: universal content search via Siri, with deep links into individual apps.

Users will be able to search for titles, actors, directors and other criteria by voice command across multiple apps and then choose which service to use to watch the content you were looking for. As confirmed by Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent interview with BuzzFeed, Apple TV will be able to tell you with a single search that the hulu_nocbs-1first three seasons of a five-season series you’re binge-watching are available on Netflix while the fourth season is available for purchase through iTunes and the fifth is available only on HBO, a provide you deep links to each without having to go through any particular service’s native UI.

Initially, universal search will only be available with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO. But in the same BuzzFeed interview, Cook said Apple will open an API for any developer that wants their app included in Universal search.

“[W]e’ll have five major inputs into universal search initially. But we’re also opening an API, so that others can join in,” Cook said. “I think that many, many people will want to be in that search.” Read More »

Amazon Opens Fire On Apple TV And Chromecast

Amazon this week has left little doubt as to the scale of its ambitions in over-the-top video. Just days after Amazon-owned Twitch announced plans to roll out new tools for uploading on-demand content to the platform to better compete with YouTube, the e-commerce giant declared war on Apple and Google for supremacy on the set-top.

In a memo to Amazon Marketplace merchants, first reported by BloombergBusiness, Amazon said it would stop selling the Apple TV set-top box and Google’s Chromecast streaming dongle, both of which compete with Amazon’s own Fire TV STB and Fire Stick dongle. No new listings for Apple TV and Chromecast will be Amazon_Fire_TVaccepted the memo said, and listings for existing inventories would be removed as of Oct. 29th.

According to the memo, the items are being removed because they are not fully compatible with  Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service.

“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” the memo said. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”

Translation: We can’t get our fully enabled Prime Video app onto iOS devices or supported by Chromecast because we refuse to fork over the 30 percent cut of in-app purchases demanded by Apple and Google. Read More »

Apple TV Phones It In

Apple didn’t exactly “tear up the set-top box” to create the new Apple TV, as Steve Jobs once insisted was essential to any viable go-to-market strategy for any new entrant to the TV space. What it came up with instead is precisely what Jobs claimed no one would buy: another box, with another remote to clutter up the set-top and the coffee table.

Worse, as other commentators have noted, many if not most of the features and functionalities of Apple’s new set-top are already available on other devices from other manufacturers, generally at a lower price.

So, the new Apple TV is DOA? I wouldn’t write the obituary just yet.

The key is to think about Apple TV not as a standalone device but as an extension of Apple’s ecosystem, particularly the App Store, to the living room. As was first reported by 9to5Mac, the new Apple TV shares many internal components with the latest generation of iPhones, and runs a full iOS core optimized for a 50-inch Ooyala-q2-2015-mobile-video-trendsscreen. The Apple TV’s new touch and gesture-powered remote is clearly designed to echo and evoke the iPhone’s familiar touch-driven UI. From a hardware and OS perspective, the new Apple TV is essentially an iPhone for the TV, capable of doing most of what an iPhone can do short of making phone calls.

While that may seem incidental, it will allow developers to create tightly integrated mobile and set-top experiences to a degree that hasn’t really been possible up to now on other TV apps platforms. With 44 percent of video plays now occurring on mobile devices, according to Ooyala’s latest Global Video Index report, tying mobile and set-top video together in a single, seamless platform is obviously critical, for content owners and marketers, as well as for consumers. At the same time, the integration will allow Apple to tap the creativity of millions of developers already familiar with creating rich experiences in iOS to populate the new Apple TV App Store. Read More »

From Over-The-Air To Over-The-Top

The over-the-top dam seems to be breaking for over-the-air broadcasters. Comcast announced last week that it will introduce a new streaming service called Stream later this summer, starting in Boston, that will offer access to local broadcast channels plus HBO and a mix of on-demand content for $15 a month. Seattle and Chicago will follow the Boston launch, with rollout to Comcast’s full footprint planned for 2016.

This week brought a new indications that over-the-air channels will also be core components of Apple’s planned OTT service when it launches later this year.

According watch_abc_tabletto a report in the NY Post, Apple’s talks with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are “rapidly gaining momentum” and now include access to the networks’ local affiliates’ feeds. That dovetails with an earlier report on Re/Code that the launch of Apple’s OTT service was being delayed to allow time to clear rights to local TV content.

According to the reports, Apple asked the networks to go back and get the streaming rights to their affiliates’ feeds. After initially balking, the networks agreed, and several major affiliate groups are now reportedly on board.

Previously, the networks had largely kept their content off third-party OTT platforms, preferring to launch their own proprietary apps like CBS All Access and Watch ABC. Read More »

Who Wants To Be An MVPD?

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler dropped a pretty broad hint last month that the commission is gearing up to reclassify at least some over-the-top video services as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) as described in the Communications Act, putting them on roughly the same regulatory footing as cable and satellite providers.

In theory, the change could make it easier for services like Sling TV and Apple’s long-rumored subscription video service to add local broadcast channels to their Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearinglineups because it would extend the same retransmission consent rules to online video distributors as apply to cable and satellite providers.

Under the current retrans rules, broadcasters are required to enter “good faith” negotiations with any qualified MVPD for carriage of their signals. Similar rules, which presumably would also be extended to OTT services, require that cable networks owned by or affiliated with cable operators, such as the NBC Universal cable networks now owned by Comcast, must make their programming available to all other MVPDs.

Whether any OTT services actually want to be classified as MVPDs, however could be another matter. Read More »

Apple Makes Music Fans An Offer They Might Refuse

As expected, Apple’s new music strategy is to try to be all things musical to all people. Or almost all people.

The newly christened Apple Music, unveiled Monday at the World Wide Developers Conference, includes a $10 a month streaming service that offers on-demand access to Apple’s 30 million song library, along with cloud storage and playback of your own music collection and the option to let Apple’s experts curate personalized playlists for you. It also includes a free, ad-supported internet radio service featuring featuring celebrity DJs and what Apple is billing as the world’s first 24-hour global radio station, Beats One. It also includes a reboot of Ping, Apple’s failed social media platform, now called Music Connect and featuring artist pages.

Apple_Music_iPhoneYou can also, of course, continue to purchase downloadable tracks and albums from the iTunes Music Store.

About the only thing Apple Music does not have is the sort of free, ad-supported on-demand tier that has helped make Spotify the world’s largest on-demand streaming service.

The lack of a free on-demand tier is partly Apple’s preference: It didn’t spend $3 billion to acquire Beats’ subscription-only music service last year to get into the free streaming business. But no free tier was also part of Apple’s pitch to the record labels, publishers and artists, all of whom have been agitating to get more people paying for music online, notwithstanding consumers’ demonstrably limited appetite thus far for paid streaming: Give us what we need to crush our rivals, Apple suggested, and we’ll do for paid streaming what they couldn’t. Read More »

Apple’s Changing Spot On the TV Dial

A report released Thursday by Adobe Digital Index provides Reason #4,327 why it never made any sense for Apple to build an integrated TV set: Apple devices already dominate over-the-top and TV Everywhere viewing, which is what “TV” is going to be the future.

According to the report, nearly one in four (24 percent) of all unauthenticated online video starts, including desktop, set-top and mobile, happen on an Apple mobile device. And as mobile viewing in general increases as a share of total online video viewing, Apple’s share is poised to increase disproportionately. According to the report, Apple devices (iPhone and iPad) account for more than two-thirds of all mobile views.

 

Adobe_smartphone_video_share
Apple devices also now dominate in authenticated (TV Everywhere) online viewing. In the first quarter of 2015, iOS devices accounted for 47 percent of online authentications, up from 43 percent a year ago, more than tripling the share of authentications via Android devices or via browsers. Again, as TV Everywhere usage increases overall — now up to 13.2 percent of pay-TV subscribers — Apple will benefit disproportionately due to its dominant market share in authenticated viewing.
Read More »

Apple Covers Its Musical Bases

There are two ways you could look at Apple’s emerging music strategy. It’s either extremely ambitious, or Apple isn’t sure what to do in music so it’s trying everything.

The two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, no one in the streaming music business seems terribly confident about their own business model right now, even as new players continue to pile into the market.

Apple is widely expected to announce a subscription music streaming service next week at its World Wide Developers Conference, offering unlimited, on-demand iTunes_adaccess to music from the major and leading independent record labels for $10 month. That will pit it Apple directly against Spotify, currently the leading subscription streaming service, with 15 million paying users and about 45 million users of its ad-supported free tier.

Unlike Spotify, Apple’s on-demand service will not include a free tier. But Apple isn’t writing off free music altogether. Far from it. According to the Wall Street Journal, is preparing to relaunch its existing free, ad-supported web radio service, iTunes Radio, adding programmed channels, some of which apparently will be hosted by celebrity DJs such as the rapper Drake, Pharrell Williams and Beats co-founder Dr. Dre, who is now working for Apple. Apple also recently hired away a group of producers and DJs from BBC Radio 1 to help with the programming. Read More »

With New Features For Chromecast, Google Ups The Ante In The Living Room

Google fanboys seem underwhelmed by this year’s I/O developers conference, which ends today, judging the ho-hum reactions from bloggers and tweeters: No new Nexus phones or tablets, no new wearables, nothing on the next iteration of Google Glass. But there was plenty of intriguing live, linear and  OTT news if you knew what to listen for.

Google revealed, for the first time, that consumers have purchased 17 million Chromecast devices since the $35 streaming stick was introduced two years ago. And those devices are getting used. A lot. Chromecast users cumulatively have hit the “cast” button 1.5 billion times in the U.S. alone, and they have increased their YouTube viewing time by 45 percent. Active users now watch 66 percent more content than they did at launch, as more content sites become Chromecast-enabled.

Chromecast_game_managerGoogle also unveiled a host of new capabilities coming to Chromecast, including Netflix-like autoplay and queing. Developers will now be able to buffer a second video while the first video is playing, enabling the second video to start playing automatically when the first is done. Unlike Netflix, Chromecast will also allow users to rearrange the clips in their queues and even add their own.

Google will also make available new game-manager APIs, simplifying the process of developing multiplayer games that leverage multiple Chromecast-enabled devices. The APIs will make it easier for developers to create common game elements such as a shared game “board” or playing surface on the TV.

Remote display APIs will allow game developers to “cast” elements of a game to the TV, such as a driver’s view of a racetrack, while keeping the steering wheel and other controls local, on a mobile device. Read More »

Apple’s Non-Disruptive 4K Strategy

For all the disruptive innovation Apple has unleashed on the markets for devices and software it has not been particularly disruptive to the content markets it has entered. Often just the opposite.

By the time Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store the record business was already reeling from the impact of Napster and its progeny. Rather than disrupt the business, Apple’s entry created a new market for paid downloads. The record companies later came to rue the terms of Apple_TV_portsthe deals they made initially with Apple, the iTunes store helped restore legitimate commerce to digital music platforms and on balance has been a net positive for the incumbent rights owners.

Apple is now trying to do the same thing in music streaming, relaunching a paid-only Beats Music service as the record companies try to marginalize free streaming platforms. Read More »

Apple’s Bring-Your-Own-Streams OTT Hedge

ipad_remote_appAccording to a report by Recode’s Peter Kafka, which apparently is not a joke despite its April 1 dateline, Apple is asking the TV networks to provide their own streaming infrastructure and handle their own video delivery as part of Apple’s planned subscription OTT service.

The two leading theories for why Apple is looking to take such a hands-off approach are a) to avoid the costs involved in building out its own streaming infrastructure, and/or b) Apple thinks cable-based ISPs would be less likely to engage in f@ckery against the service if the networks are delivering the streams.

Neither theory is entirely persuasive.

The costs associated with streaming video are not prohibitive. The markets for transit and CDN services are very competitive and Apple would have not trouble attracting very aggressive bids for its business.

Read More »

Apple’s Least-Favored Network: NBC

Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month on Apple’s evolving plans to launch a multichannel subscription streaming video service, much has been made, largely by those already inclined to be suspicious of Comcast’s motives, of the reported absence of Comcast-owned NBC from the talks Apple is said to be holding with the other broadcast networks.

apple_tv“It appears from press reports that Comcast may be withholding its affiliated NBC Universal (“NBCU”) content in an effort to thwart the entry of potential new video competitors. Apple reportedly is planning a Fall 2015 launch for an over-the-top (“OTT”) bundle of TV channels,” the consortium Stop Mega Comcast wrote to the FCC last week. “If the reports are accurate about Apple, it would be consistent with Comcast’s prior conduct in attempting to leverage affiliated content to thwart rival services, even when faced with merger conditions.” Read More »

From Apple Pay to Apple TV, Leveraging a Lack of Knowledge

We are not in the business of collecting your data,” Apple senior VP Eddie Cue declared in announcing the Apple Pay mobile payment system. “When you go to a physical location and use Apple Pay, Apple doesn’t know what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid for it.”

apple_pay_ogThe line was clearly meant as a swipe at Google and other competitors in the mobile payments space, who do collect purchase data and use it in ways that can implicate users’ privacy. But Apple’s studied indifference to the details of purchase transactions is also central to Apple strategy in launching Apple Pay. Read More »