Plenty of Bundles, Not Much Joy in Linear OTT

YouTube this week formally unveiled its long-gestating linear over-the-top services, YouTube TV, which will feature a skinny-ish  bundle of about 40 live channels for $35 a month. When it begins rolling out later this year in select cities YouTube TV will join Dish Network’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, and Sony’s Playstation Vue in the linear OTT sweepstakes, and will soon by joined by a previously announced entry by Hulu and perhaps one from Apple.

As with those other services, however, the lineup of channels in YouTube’s bundle is a bit of a hit and miss affair at this point. Subscribers will get all the major broadcast networks, along with ESPN, USA, Bravo, Fox News and MSNBC, but no CNN, Turner or TBS, and no Viacom-owned networks.

Sling TV will get you CNN and Turner but the broadcast networks are only available in select markets, and again, no MTV, Nickelodeon or Comedy Central.

DirecTV Now will sell you a big bundle of 100 or so channels at the skinny-bundle price of $35 a month, but so far AT&T hasn’t figured out how to deliver it to you without its crashing. Read More »

Disney’s Split UI Personality

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger this week said he is “very excited” about the user interface Hulu has designed for its planned virtual-pay-TV service launching next year.

“We’ve seen the interface because we’re partners [in Hulu]” Iger said Wednesday at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit. “It’s a great interface, a tremendous user experience, and we’re in discussions with them about our channels and about prices.”

hulu_nocbs-1He also used the opportunity to take a swipe at traditional pay-TV operators for the lack of innovation in their UIs over the years.

“I’ve been frustrated over the years by the UI” of cable and satellite TV services Iger said. “Maybe because I’m getting older I don’t have the patience anymore, but we’re all getting more and more spoiled by what technology makes possible,” in terms of surfacing, discovering and accessing content.

According to Iger, consumers raised on digital platforms today simply won’t tolerate any glitches or difficulty in access the content they want when they want it, and the traditional pay-TV industry simply hasn’t kept up with the times. Read More »

What UI Voodoo Will Hulu Do In Linear Debut?

One of the more interesting subplots to Hulu’s apparently pending rollout of an over-the-top bundle of linear channels will be what it does with the user interface.

As I’ve noted here previously, the traditional programming grid that still drives navigation on most pay-TV systems today is at the core of the current tussle over Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to “unlock” the set-top box to allow third-party devices and applications to interoperate with pay-TV services. And apart from pay-TV operators themselves, the loudest objections to Wheeler’s proposal have come from programmers, who fear those third parties will not honor the agreements networks have with operators concerning their position within the traditional pay-TV UI.

“ArmHulu_homepage’s length agreements between MVPDs and programmers provide the necessary licenses to transmit the content, and in exchange the MVPDs agree to a range of license terms, including security requirements, advertising rules, [electronic programming guide] channel placement obligations, and tier placement requirements,” the Motion Picture Association of America wrote in comments submitted to the FCC. “These terms are material to the grant of the copyright license, and to copyright holders’ ability to direct the exploitation of their works in a manner that enables them to continue to invest in the high-quality programming that viewers expect. ..The only terms the proposal would explicitly recognize are copy, output, and streaming limitations. Extensively negotiated terms on matters including “service presentation (such as agreed-upon channel lineups and neighborhoods), replac[ing] or alter[ing] advertising, or improperly manipulat[ing] content,” are all left unaddressed by the FCC’s proposal.” Read More »

We’re All Netflix, Now

On April 10th Showtime will make all 13 episodes of its new Steven Soderbergh series “The Girlfriend Experience” available on its VOD platform in a single, binge-ready dump. So too will Starz, with all six episodes of the new Andrew Dice Clay comedy “Dice,” as the pay-TV networks increasingly ape the strategy pioneered by Netflix.

They don’t have much choice. Bingeing is how Americans watch TV now. According to Deloitte’s latest Digital Democracy survey, 70 percent of viewers admit to binge-watching, defined as viewing three or more episodes in a single sitting, and one in three say they binge at least once a week. The average number watched during a single binge, fact, is an astonishing five episodes, which in the case of a drama series could easily eat up four or five hours. Millennials in the survey average six episodes per sitting.

We binge-watch so much TV in fact that we’re making ourselves anxious, depressed and lonely, according to a separate study by researchers at the University of Toledo. Yet our appetite is only growing. According to Deloitte, all age groups in its study binged more in 2015 than they did in 2014.

The seemingly irresistible trend, however, poses a dilemma for traditional linear networks. Making new series or seasons available for bingeing risks undercutting primetime ratings. Read More »

CBS All Access: Live Long And Differentiate

The original five-year mission of the Starship Enterprise was to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new lives and new civilizations. When it next leaves space dock, in 2017, it’s mission will be to explore a new strategy for transporting network TV content over-the-top.

CBS this week thrilled Trekkers throughout the galaxy by announcing the debut of a new, as yet untitled Star Trek series in January 2017, the first new series since the cancellation of “Star Trek: Enterprise” in 2005. But in a plot twist worthy of a Romulan cloaking device, the series will only be viewable in the U.S. on CBS All Access, the network’s $5.99 a month over-the-top streaming service.

Mr-SpockThe move caused many a media head to be scratched. CBS hasn’t disclosed how many subscribers CBS All Access has, but it’s almost certainly fewer than a million, a tiny fraction of the audience reach of CBS itself. Even if CBS wanted to make the new series streaming-only, Netflix has 40 million U.S. subscribers, Amazon Prime Video isn’t far behind, and Hulu has more than 9 million.

CBS All Access is sure to grow between now and 2017, of course. The app is on the new Apple TV and other OTT platforms, and the network continues to negotiate with the NFL for streaming rights to at least some of the games CBS currently broadcasts, all of which should help drive subscriptions. But even with those opportunities it isn’t going to reach Netflix-like numbers by 2017, and maybe not even Hulu numbers. So why such a small platform for such a big franchise like Star Trek? 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 »

Hulu’s Ad-Free Epics

Those looking for evidence that Hulu is getting ready to introduce an ad-free, premium-plus tier got a big helping of it Sunday when the streaming service announced a deal with digital movie network Epix after Netflix decided it would not renew its expiring, five-year old deal with the three-studio consortium.

The deal brings to Hulu films from Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, including such recent hits as  “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “World War Z,” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” marking a major expansion of Hulu’s movie offehulu_nocbs-1rings.

“Hulu already offers some of the best and biggest titles in television programming, but our subscribers have been asking us for more, and more recent, big movies. We
listened,” Hulu’s senior VP and head of content, Craig Erwich said in a statement. “Through this new deal with Epix, we are proud to now be able to offer a huge selection of the biggest blockbusters and premium films. This is a landmark deal for Hulu and it marks a huge expansion for our offering of premium programming.”

Added Epix CEO Mark Greenberg: “Hulu has become one of the most popular premium streaming services and Epix’s agreement is evidence of their understanding of the value that our blockbuster Hollywood films, deep library of classic film titles and original programming brings to consumers.” Read More »

Apple's media strategy: There's an app for that

It’s here. After nearly a year of carefully orchestrated speculation and hype, Apple has finally unveiled: the “iPad,” thus causing millions of women across the blogosphere, in unison, to go, “eewwww.”  (Are there no women in the marketing department at Apple?)

Among the less lunationally sensitive, the verdict has been more mixed, but the rough consensus seems to be that, at this point at least, the iPad is basically an iPod Touch on growth hormones: neat, but not quite overwhelmingly amazing, fantastical and way-cool the way the iPhone seemed when it launched.

Particularly disappointing to some, or at least puzzling, was the relative scarcity of media apps at launch for a device that was billed as revolutionizing the media industry, leading many to wonder what you’re supposed to do with the thing.

I have no doubt those apps will come, however, not only because Apple has already released an iPad SDK but because of what it offers media companies. Read More »

Paying for Hulu is not about Hulu

The Twitter- and blogosphere got a case of the vapors yesterday over a report that News Corp. plans to throw up a pay wall around Hulu. Speaking at an industry event, newly installed News. Corp. president Chase Carey said, “I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, he added, “Hulu concurseliza_dushku_hulu with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.”

OMGZ! came the response from Hulu tweeters. “Sell out,” cried the bloggers. Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade saw it as part of a Rupert Murdoch paid-content propaganda campaign.

Maybe. But I suspect it has more to do with cable retransmission consent for Fox than it does with pros and cons of free content. While much of the blogosphere focused on Carey’s Hulu comments, John Ourand of SportsBusiness Daily caught the real news in his report from the same industry event: 

Carey warned that retransmission consent battles may be brewing as his company tries to convince cable operators to start paying to carry the Fox broadcast channel. “It’s not about trying to pick a fight,” Carey said… “It’s about trying to get our business to a place where it can be a healthy, long-term business.” In the past, Fox has used retransmission consent rules to help launch its cable channels, like FX and Fuel. Now, broadcasters want to get paid for their broadcast networks so they can better compete with cable networks. Carey specifically singled out sports rights as “a real challenge,” adding that “it’s not rocket science” to figure out how broadcasters can compete with cable networks. “It starts with making dual revenue.

If you’re looking to start charging cable operators retransmission fees for your free broadcast content, you really can’t be giving the content away for free online.

As Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson pointed out in a research note last week:

chase-careyFox is beginning to negotiate its retrans deals including, we believe, one with a top-5 cable operator right now. We expect Fox is asking for $1+/sub/mo given Chase Carey, Newscorp COO and former DirecTV CEO, knows how crucial broadcast carriage is to pay TV operators, especially sports programming (like the World Series), and also given Fox’s success getting about $0.65 for carriage of Fox News. Newscorp certainly has the balance sheet to tolerate ad losses if it has to pull its channel for some time.

[snip]

In exchange for significant affiliate fees, we would expect broadcasters would dramatically expand VOD availability and place greater limitations on free internet availability of their shows. Ultimately, we expect the networks and TV stations to convert to hybrid local/national cable networks (think RSNs paired with programming from a national feed), and then sell or give back the local broadcast spectrum. With 100m pay TV households, $1/sub/mo would be $1.2b of revenue and EBITDA per network per year that could be shared among the networks and station groups (80/20?), making broadcast a viable business model.

 That would be a much bigger pay-off to News Corp. than anything it’s likely to see from Hulu, with or without a pay wall.

Net neutrality is Comcastic! Or not.

The Media Wonk co-produced and moderated the panel discussion at the first Digital Breakfast DC event on Thursday and if you missed it, boy did you miss some first-class jaw-boning over net neutrality, fair use and the mysteries of HADOPI. Not to mention chance to practice your skills at balancing a bagel and fruit plate atop a cup of coffee with one hand, while handshaking and schmoozing with the other. There was some genuine talent in the room in that category, let me tell you.

fcc-sealOne person who was scheduled to be there but wasn’t was Rick Cotton, general counsel of NBC Universal. Cotton’s office sent word on Monday that he would likely have to cancel his planned trip to DC this week because, “something had come up,” back in NY so he wouldn’t be able to make the panel. They didn’t say what the “something” was but when the first reports of talks between GE and Comcast over a deal involving NBC broke Wednesday night two and two seemed to come together neatly to equal four (for the record, his office cautioned against putting two and two together).

While it was unfortunate that Rick couldn’t make it (thanks again to Michael O’Leary of the MPAA for stepping in at the last minute), if his absence was in fact related to the reported Comcast talks it at least was on topic. Among the issues discussed by the panel was the FCC’s recently announced plans to conduct a formal rule-making on net neutrality, and in particular chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal that in enshrine a “principle of non-discrimination”: Read More »

What media companies could learn from OpenTable.com

UPDATE: OpenTable successfully sold 3 million shares in its initial offering Thursday at $20 a share–well above its target range of $16 – $18. The shares closed up nearly 60% in their first day of trading, to $31.89.

We’re a long way from the heady days of a decade ago when justaboutanything.com could go public almost before it launched and in spite of having no profits, few assets and no idea how to make money.

Good times. Read More »

Disney wins the race to be third on Hulu

In Hollywood, there’s always a race to be the third studio into any new platform, format or distribution channel. No one ever wants to go first, because it usually means pissing off your existing distribution partners, some of which (Wal-Mart) have the leverage to make their displeasure hurt. Going second is okay, but you still take some heat and you look like you’re just me-too-ing the leader. The best place to finish is third. Read More »