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Roku’s new channel with free movies and TV goes live for all

Top streaming media device maker Roku announced in September it was launching its own channel featuring free movies and TV shows, including those it licensed itself and those aggregated from other channels across its platform. However, the channel was not immediately available to all Roku customers, as it was a phased rollout.

That rollout has now completed, the company says this morning.

That means the Roku Channel is today available across all of Roku’s current generation devices – that is, those introduced after June, 2011.

The channel establishes Roku as a source of free video itself, similar to Walmart’s Vudu (via its “Movies on Us” selection) and Sony’s Crackle, instead of just a place to find other streaming services’ offerings.

However, this isn’t the first time Roku has created its own, curated selections of streaming content for its users – it had done this before with its “Roku Recommends” section in 2011 and again with a “4K Spotlight” section in 2015. But it is now making its own deals to license content from studios, instead of merely aggregating content from other channels hosted on its platform.

At launch, the company has licensed content from studios like Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers. It has also pulled in content from other channel publishers, like American Classics, FilmRise, Nosey, OVGuide, Popcornflix, Vidmark, and YuYu.

Because this is free content, you shouldn’t expect to find new releases or current shows on this channel. To give you an idea of the type of content, Roku says that today you’re able to stream “Mission: Impossible 3,” “Beauty Shop,” “Philadelphia,” and “Zookeeper,” and hundreds of other titles.

In addition to helping users find things to watch, the new channel will serve as another means for newly-IPO’d Roku to generate revenue. It will sell ads against the licensed content and participate in a rev-share arrangement with the content it aggregates.

Users won’t see the channel appear unless they add it directly, either by going to the channel store on the web and adding it there, or browsing the on-device channel store. There, you’ll find The Roku Channel under Streaming Channels section in the “Featured,” “New & Notable,” and “Movies & TV” categories.

The channel is only available to U.S. users at this time, due to licensing deals.

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Subscription video services’ recommendations aren’t working, study claims

Streaming video services invest heavily in technology to improve their ability to show users a set of personalized recommendations about what to what next. But according to a new research study released today by UserTesting, it seems that consumers aren’t watching much recommended content – in fact, only 29 percent of the study’s participants said they actually watched something the service recommended.

On some services, those figures were extremely low – for example, only 6 percent of HBO NOW users said they watched recommended content.

That’s probably because consumers found it difficult to locate HBO NOW’s recommendations in the first place. The service was given a low 16.8 “customer experience” score on this front, the study says. That’s a much lower score than all other services analyzed, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube TV – all of which had scores in the 80’s. (See first chart, below).

To be fair, HBO NOW doesn’t really do recommendations in the same way as the others.

Its app offers a “Featured” selection of content for all users, and, if you scroll down further, there are a couple of editorial collections, like “Essential HBO” or “14 Hidden Gems You Missed the First Time.” A separate “Collections” section includes more of these suggestions, like “New Movies,” “Just Added,” “Last Chance” and others.

The lack of personalized, easily located recommendations also impacted HBO NOW’s overall score in the UserTesting study, which rated the services across a variety of metrics including availability of content, friction-free viewing, ease of scrubbing and episode scanning, and other factors. HBO NOW was also was dinged by survey respondents for lagging, freezing and buffering issues, though they said they appreciated its clean design.

Netflix’s overall score was 89.5, making it the highest-rated streaming service among those analyzed due to having the most relevant recommendations, overall high ease-of-use, and a speedy service. It was followed by Hulu (86.8), Amazon Prime (85), YouTube TV (80.7), and then HBO NOW (71.8).

Coincidentally, Netflix also just beat HBO in a survey related to consumer appreciation for original programming, put out by Morgan Stanley. 39 percent of respondents in that survey said Netflix had the “best original programming” compared with HBO’s second place rank of 14 percent.

UserTesting’s study also backed up earlier research from Deloitte, as it found that subscription video customers are having to subscribe to more than one service in order to find all the content they want to watch.

More than half said they subscribe to at least two apps. For example, 90 percent of HBO NOW customers also subscribed to Netflix, while 80 percent subscribed to Amazon Prime.

The study additionally found that much of viewing (45%) takes place on TV or via streaming media devices like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. 37 percent preferred laptops, and 11 percent said their smartphone or tablet was their primary streaming device. For some services, TV viewing is even higher – Hulu recently said that the majority – 78 percent – takes place on TVs.

UserTesting’s study involved 500 subscription video customers, 74 percent of whom said they watched streaming media every day. The full report is available here.



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Over-the-top-only U.S. households nearly tripled since 2013, impacting TV ad dollars

The number of U.S. households using only over-the-top streaming services to access TV programming and movies has nearly tripled over the past five years, according to a new report (PDF) from the Video Advertising Bureau out today. While on its own, that figure sounds impressive, the report points out that cord cutters’ slice of the pie is still fairly small – there are 14.1 million over-the-top only households, which is just 11 percent of all U.S. TV households.

That’s less than the 12 percent of households that receive broadcasts over-the-air using a TV antenna, and far smaller than the 74 percent – or 90.3 million – multichannel households who access television through a cable, satellite or telco subscription.

In addition, the report found that over-the-top services are often being used alongside traditional pay TV subscriptions, not in place of them. In fact, 70 percent of over-the-top households also had a cable, satellite or telco TV subscription.

However, adoption of over-the-top services is growing. The VAB report forecasts that by 2021, over-the-top only households will grow 8.2 percent to 17.9 million homes, while multichannel households drop 2.4 percent.

This continued growth means these over-the-top customers may be spending less time watching traditional television going forward, too.

For starters, nearly a third of over-the-top streaming service subscribers have three or more means to access over-the-top content, which represents an eight-fold increase over just the past two years.

And 70.8 percent, or 193.3 million U.S. consumers. are today accessing an over-the-top video service at least once per month – a figure that will grow to 200 million U.S. consumers by 2021.

But the VAB report notes that streaming is still a small fraction of TV viewing hours, accounting for 11 percent of TV viewing hours from those ages 18 to 49 during October 2017. That’s up from 8 percent in 2016, and 5 percent the year prior.

Still, the shift to over-the-top streaming is starting to have an impact on the TV ad industry.

In a related report from eMarketer, also out this morning, analysts found that TV ad spending will continue to decline in 2018, following its initial drop in 2017. Specifically, TV ad spending will drop 0.5 percent in 2018 to $69.87 billion, resulting in TV’s share of total U.S. media ad expenditures dropping from 33.9 percent in 2017 to 31.6 percent this year.

Spending will perk back up in 2020 with the U.S. presidential election and summer Olympics in Tokyo, but then will fall again to reach only a quarter of total ad spend by 2022.

“The shift of audiences to [over-the-top] viewing is changing the climate of the TV ad market,” said eMarketer senior forecasting director Monica Peart, in a statement. “As ratings for TV programming continue to decline, advertiser spending will also continue to see declines, especially in years that do not boast major events such as presidential elections and Olympic games.”

As TV ad spending declines, digital ads will climb – and over-the-top platforms will play a big role here, says eMarketer.

For example, Roku’s ad revenues, which include both video and display ads, will surpass $293 million, up 93.0 percent over 2017. And Hulu’s ad revenue will grow more than 13 percent to $1.12 billion.

Emarketer’s figures on over-the-top viewers are roughly in line with the Video Advertising Board. It says the number of over-the-top viewers will grow to 198.6 million this year, versus VAB’s calculation that 193.3 million U.S. consumers now stream via an over-the-top service as least once per month.

“Over-the-top platforms are growing in number and size, and many compete directly with pay TV by offering bundles of live channels at attractive price points,” said eMarketer principal analyst Paul Verna. “Consumers who want to cut or shave the cord now have a wealth of options that didn’t exist a couple of years ago. And we expect the offerings to become even more robust as more players enter the market,” he added.


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TiVo officially announces its voice-controlled DVRs, the BOLT VOX and Mini VOX

DVR maker TiVo today officially confirmed the launch of its new DVR, the TiVo BOLT VOX, and its smaller counterpart, the TiVo Mini Vox, following yesterday’s leak. As had been reported, the biggest change is that these are the first TiVo DVRs to include a voice remote control, which allows users to search across live TV, DVR, video-on-demand and online streaming services just by speaking.

These voice searches will also return personalized recommendations based on users’ viewing habits, the company says.

Additionally, the voice remote goes a step further than some rivals’ products, as it lets TiVo owners refine their queries on the fly.

For example, you could say “show me the movies with Tom Cruise,” then refine the query by saying “only the comedies,” or “the one where he says ‘show me the money,’” explains TiVo.

What’s more is that some current TiVo owners won’t have to buy a new DVR to gain voice control features. The TiVo VOX Remote will be sold separately for $39.99, allowing existing BOLT, Roamio, and first-gen TiVo Mini customers to upgrade to voice control. The remote will be available in both black and white, so it can match the DVR customers already have. (The new BOLT VOX and Mini VOX come in black.)

The remote has been redesigned a bit from previous versions, as we noted yesterday. It now has a big blue voice button near the top, and overall, a more organized layout, plus a dedicated commercial skipping button and one for Netflix.

The BOLT VOX DVR will join the BOLT family of DVRs – TiVo’s newer devices, aimed at helping users bridge the world between online services and traditional TV.

Like the original BOLT, select BOLT VOX models let viewers watch and record from either digital cable or over-the-air TV via a digital antenna, and search for programs across TV, video-on-demand and online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and others.

The devices also support 4K Ultra HD which can be expanded to other rooms in the home with the addition of the TiVo Mini VOX.

Also as reported, the BOLT VOX will come in three sizes: a 500GB model (for up to 75 HD hours of storage space) and a 1TB model (150 HD hours), each with 4 tuners; and a 3TB model with 6 tuners which can record up to 450 HD hours. However, the latter model only supports recording from digital cable, not over-the-air. The devices start at $199.99, while the Mini is $179.99.

The DVRs will ship will TiVo’s new user experience, as well, which focuses on personalized recommendations and more visual elements, like poster art, actor and director bios, and team sports logos, to help users find what they’re looking for more quickly.

It also introduces a new QuickView feature that allows viewers to see shows playing on different tuners, favorite channels, a one-line channel guide, and TiVo’s SmartBar – a new feature that displays predictions of shows based on users’ past viewing behavior.

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Like prior products, the DVRs will also let you skip the commercials with a touch of a button; speed watch shows at faster-than-normal speed via QuickMode; and watch across web and mobile devices in and out of the home, using TiVo’s apps.

The new VOX products will go on sale at the end of the month, October 29, 2017, through, Amazon, and in Best Buy retail stores.

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