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September 21, 2018
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Streaming service CBS All Access rolls out support for offline viewing

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CBS All Access, the network’s over-the-top streaming service for cord cutters, will now let subscribers save shows for offline viewing. The feature, “Download & Play,” is only available to those on CBS’s Commercial Free plan, not those on the cheaper, ad-supported tier. It also supports a range of programming, including CBS All Access Originals, reality shows, primetime dramas, news magazines, and other classics from the CBS library.

At launch, the lineup of supported shows includes originals like Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, One Dollar, Strange Angel, and No Activity, plus Big Brother, Survivor, Blue Bloods, Bull, Hawaii Five-0, MacGyver, NCIS: New Orleans, 60 Minutes, and 48 Hours. All classics will also be available for offline access, meaning you can download old Star Trek episodes, Cheers, Twin Peaks and many others.

Content from local stations, local news and sports will not be available for offline viewing.

There are a few caveats in using the download feature. The content is only available offline for 30 days after the download, or 48 hours from the time of playback. If it expires, you’ll then have to download it again.

Downloads are also only available in the U.S. for the time being, CBS says.

However, users are able to download up to 25 videos at once, and can watch videos on up to 5 different devices.

The feature is going live on both iOS and Android, on version 6.0 of the CBS All Access app and higher.

The company considers this a “premium” option, which is why it’s only making it available to Commercial Free subscribers, it says.

In reality, though, CBS may need more time to make ad attribution work on offline content – something that’s still fairly new.

Hulu, for example, only recently announced it would allow offline viewing, including the download of commercials for those on its ad-supported plan. It then became the first in the industry to support downloads with ads, it said during its Upfronts presentation in May.

CBS may choose to invest in similar technology in the future, but for now, it’s easier to just roll out offline support to those who pay more to skip the commercials.

Other major streamers have allowed for downloads for years, it’s worth noting. Netflix added support on mobile back in 2016, following Amazon Prime Video’s launch of offline support the year prior.

The addition of offline support for CBS All Access means you’ll be able to watch shows when you’re out of reach of a network or good signal – like when traveling, commuting, or on a plane, for example. (Maybe I’ll finally finish this new, not so great Star Trek). Or you can use the option to save money on your data plan.

But the feature will matter even more as CBS expands its originals catalog, which will include new shows like a reboot of The Twilight Zone from Get Out director, Jordan Peele; Scream writer and producer Kevin Williamson’s twisted fairytale series Tell Me a Story; and a new Star Trek series led by Patrick Stewart, among others.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Dish’s AirTV box now lets you watch and record live TV, access recordings through Sling TV

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Following reports that Amazon is preparing to launch a new device that would allow Fire TV owners to record live TV, Dish’s AirTV has just done the same. The company announced the launch of a “Local Channels DVR” feature for AirTV customers that lets users watch and record live TV both in and outside the home. The recorded content is made available within Dish’s Sling TV application, alongside subscribers other Cloud DVR recordings.

Dish first unveiled its AirTV Player, a 4K media streamer set-top box, at CES 2017, then later began doling out digital antennas to Sling TV subscribers with the AirTV Player as part of deal for pre-paying for the company’s streaming service.

This year, it expanded its hardware lineup to include a new device, just called the AirTV, which is a networked TV tuner that doesn’t connect directly to a TV, but rather streams local programming via Wi-Fi.

As with Plex – and, presumably, with Amazon’s forthcoming plans – being able to record and stream from live TV is one way companies are working around cable providers, or having to make content deals in order to expand their streaming line-ups. It gives cord cutters way to watch hard-to-access programming, like local news and sports, for example.

Dish’s new Local Channels DVR feature will require an external storage device in order to work, which is not included.

This means it’s similar to something like Tablo’s OTA DVR for cord cutters, which has customers attach their own USB hard drive. In AirTV’s case, the maximum supported drive size is 2 TB.

The DVR also supports dual-tuner functionality, so customers can record up to two shows at once, or watch one live while recording another.

TV show recordings can also be scheduled by the episode or by the series.

Once AirTV is set up, the recorded content is available through the Sling TV app across platforms, including iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

It will be found in the same menu as the Cloud DVR content – where you find the movies and shows you record through Sling TV’s DVR. But these recordings will have an OTA icon next to them to help users differentiate the AirTV content from the rest.

Upon playback, the content can be paused, rewound, or fast-forwarded. In addition, if watching a recording in real-time, users can pause the live TV stream.

To gain access to the feature, AirTV users will have to update their device and restart their Sling TV app.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Hulu and Discovery announce partnership for live and on-demand programming

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Hulu and Discovery this morning announced a wide-ranging partnership that will see Discovery’s live and on-demand programming added to Hulu’s streaming service. The multi-year agreement will see nearly 4,000 episodes of Discovery’s shows added to Hulu’s on-demand library, as well as five additional Discovery TV networks – Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Motor Trend, the rebranded Velocity network, and Animal Planet – to Hulu’s live TV service.

This will bring the total number of Discovery TV networks on Hulu with Live TV to now eight. They join existing channels, HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel which were available through a prior agreement with Scripps Networks, which Discovery acquired for $14.6 billion.

The new channels will begin to stream live in December, Hulu says.

Meanwhile, all Hulu subscribers will be able to watch on-demand programming like Deadliest Catch, MythBusters, Say Yes to the Dress, Naked and Afraid, Property Brothers, Gold Rush, Street Outlaws, Chopped, Chopped Jr., Fixer Upper, House Hunters and House Hunters International. 

Hulu and Discovery had been in talks about this deal for well over a year, reports Variety – even before Hulu with Live TV launched in May 2017.

“At Discovery, we are committed to bringing our portfolio of high-quality, safe family friendly brands and content to viewers across every screen, service and device around the world,” said Eric Phillips, President of Affiliate Distribution at Discovery, in a statement. “Our new agreement with Hulu affirms the strength of our brands and their value to viewers in a marketplace with an increasing array of options.”

Along with the overall Discovery partnership, Hulu has also reached a licensing agreement with OWN, part of the Discovery Networks family, which will bring four of the network’s top shows to Hulu. This includes all past episodes of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots, If Loving You is Wrong, The Paynes and Love Thy Neighbor, which are available to stream for the first time. Hulu was already streaming another OWN show, Queen Sugar from Ava DuVernay and Warner Horizon.

Despite the new additions, Hulu’s pricing remains the same. It’s still $40 per month for its cable-like Live TV service, which also includes the on-demand programming and Hulu Originals. Its on-demand only offering, meanwhile, starts at $8 per month, and goes up to $12 for the ad-free plan.

For Hulu, the deal will allow the service to better compete against a growing number of competitors for cord cutters’ dollars. In addition to the major on-demand offerings from Netflix and Amazon, Hulu’s live TV service is up against rivals like Dish’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, Google’s YouTube TV, Philo, fuboTV, and AT&T’s DirecTV Now and WatchTV.

Hulu claims that the addition of Discovery has now put it over the top in terms of content. When the additions go live, Hulu with Live TV will stream more than 60 live TV channels along with Hulu’s entire streaming TV library, which it says is now the largest in the U.S.

However, Hulu’s live TV service continues to lack AMC Networks and Viacom channels, Variety also notes.

“As the only streaming service offering a complete television experience, Hulu continues to strike strategic, efficient deals with top brands that bring extraordinary value to all of our subscribers,” said Lisa Holme, Vice President of Content Acquisition, and Reagan Feeney, Vice President of Network Partnerships at Hulu, in a joint statement. “Discovery’s brand is synonymous with high-quality unscripted entertainment that TV fans love, which is why we are excited to bring their entire portfolio to our platform, across all of our subscription plans.”

The news of the Hulu deal follows remarks made by Discovery CEO David Zaslav at an industry event earlier this summer, where he said the company was considering a streaming service of its own, where all its networks would be available for a price of $5 to $8 per month.

Going live on Hulu doesn’t necessarily negate that plan – Discovery could always launch on Amazon’s a la carte service, Amazon Prime Video Channels, for example, or even go it alone. But it could reduce consumer demand for such a service, given that Hulu today reaches over 20 million U.S. subscribers.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Plex Cloud will shut down November 30 due to technical challenges

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Plex today announced it’s shutting down its troubled Plex Cloud service, via a forum post that hasn’t found its way over to the company’s official blog – likely a choice the company made in order to downplay the news, or avoid media scrutiny. Plex Cloud, launched in fall 2016, was meant to serve as a way for Plex customers to save their files to online storage services like OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive, instead of having to host their saved files locally on their own machines or network-attached storage devices.

But now that will no longer be an option, as the service will stop functioning on November 30, 2018, Plex says.

Plex Cloud had struggled from the beginning with technical issues.

Almost immediately, its debut launch partner, Amazon, stopped working with Plex Cloud. Users were complaining that Amazon Drive files couldn’t be accessed and wondered if Amazon was imposing upload limits. There were also concerns that Plex Cloud users whose libraries included pirated movies and TV shows could be putting themselves at risk by publishing those files to the cloud.

Unlike Plex’s Cloud Sync, which syncs select local media to the cloud to access when the local server was offline, Plex Cloud is a full-fledged Plex Media Server in the cloud. That meant the media was hosted independently of local storage, and was transcoded for compatibility with Plex player apps, as needed.

This led to some technical challenges Plex hasn’t been able to overcome, though it sometimes declined to explain what exact challenges Plex Cloud was facing.

The company admitted last March the problems it was having were very difficult.

“It’s definitely not a trivial thing to take the best media server on the planet and make it work seamlessly as a scalable cloud service, load-balanced and clustered across multiple geographic regions. It turns out a lot can go wrong,” a blog post then admitted.

In February 2018, Plex announced it would disable new server creation for Plex Cloud users – something it said it had to do while “working to address challenges with performance, quality, and overall user experience inherent with cloud provider integrations.”

At the time, it said it would “evaluate the long-term plan for the service.”

The subtext, of course, was that Plex Cloud may be shut down if Plex couldn’t figure out how to overcome the technical issues.

Today’s that day, unfortunately.

Plex says it tried to address the issues that came up while keeping costs under control, but hasn’t found a solution.

The announcement states:

We’ve made the difficult decision to shut down the Plex Cloud service on November 30th, 2018. As you may know, we haven’t allowed any new Plex Cloud servers since February of this year, and since then we’ve been actively working on ways to address various issues while keeping costs under control. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and unfortunately, after a lot of investigation and thought, we haven’t found a solution capable of delivering a truly first class Plex experience to Plex Cloud users at a reasonable cost. While we are super bummed about the impact this will have on our happy Cloud users, ending support for it will allow us to focus on improving core functionality, adding new features and content, and delivering on our mission to provide a world-class product that we can all rely on and enjoy.

On November 30, 2018, Plex Cloud users will no longer be able to access their cloud server. That means customers who want to continue to stream those files through Plex will need to download them locally on a media server or NAS device on their local network.

Plex, of course, will not delete the files you’ve uploaded to cloud services, like Dropbox or Google Drive. They will remain there as long as you have a subscription to those services.

While the loss of Plex Cloud will be upsetting to Plex users who were happily enjoying the service without issues, the company’s decision to shutter instead of solve the problems is indicative of the new direction Plex has been headed in recent months.

Originally a software application designed for hosting users’ personal media collections, Plex has since launched its own tools for watching live TV through an antenna and recording shows to a DVR in an effort to attract the growing number of cord cutters. It has also launched support of podcasts and rolled out personalized apps in order to bring in more mobile users.

It’s unclear how well Plex’s shifts have been working to attract new users and paying subscribers, as the company doesn’t break out the latter figure. As of May, Plex said it had 15 million registered users.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify expands its $4.99 per month student bundle with Hulu to include Showtime

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Spotify today is announcing a new way for students to access its Premium service, along with Hulu and Showtime, for a discounted price of $4.99 per month for all three. The new deal is an expansion of the existing Hulu and Spotify bundle for students, which launched around a year ago at the same price. Now those existing subscribers as well as new ones will be able to stream from all three services when they sign up.

The new bundle consists of Spotify Premium for Students, Hulu with Limited Commercials, and Showtime . Students will need to be attending a Title IV accredited institution in the U.S. to qualify for the discounted pricing.

When Spotify teamed up with Hulu back in September 2017, it was the first time it had ever partnered with a streaming video service on a bundle deal. The deal had arrived just as Spotify’s own efforts into original video were failing, and its head of video Tom Calderone was departing amid a shift in content strategy.

For both Spotify and Hulu, a bundle of music and video allows them to steel themselves against the looming threat from Apple, and its expected launch of its own streaming video service, which itself could be bundled with an Apple Music subscription. Because of Apple’s built-in advantage that comes with the iPhone, Apple Music has already outpaced Spotify in the U.S. – and clearly, the streaming services are concerned about its video plans.

According to Spotify, the reasoning behind a bundle has to do with the fact that college students are streaming entertainment more than any other age group. It wanted to reach them with better pricing, it says.

“We’ve been really pleased about the uptake of the original Hulu bundle, so are happy to be expanding the offering,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The company, however, declined to share the number of students who had taken advantage of the bundle discount so far. Spotify had also expanded this same bundle to all customers in April, at $12.99 per month for both, instead of $7.99 per month for Hulu and $9.99 per month for Spotify, when sold separately.

Spotify has added subscribers since those launches, but it’s unclear how many were from bundles. Today, it has 83 million paying subscribers out of 180 million monthly users. That’s up from the 60 million paying subscribers it had when the student bundle was first announced, when it was then twice as big as Apple Music.

With the addition of Showtime, students will be able to watch series like “Shameless,” “Who Is America?,” “The Chi,” “Billions,” “Ray Donovan,” “Smilf,” “The Affair,” Homeland,” “Twin Peaks,” the upcoming Jim Carrey comedy “Kidding,” and upcoming “Escape at Dannemora,” among others, plus movies, documentaries, sports and comedy specials.

Showtime currently costs $10.99 per month over-the-top, when purchased directly from the network itself, though it’s possible to find it for less elsewhere. For example, Amazon Channels sells the subscription a la carte for $8.99 per month, at present.

To get all three services for $4.99 per month is an almost ridiculous price at this point, and one that’s intended to serve as a way to addict students at a time when their media consumption is heavy, so they’ll become avid users.

Once students have created their playlists, downloaded their songs, followed their favorite bands, networks, and shows, they will benefit from the personalization these services offer. After a few years’ time, it will be difficult for the students to abandon the services when the price increases after graduation – or, at least, that’s the thinking on the streamers’ part.

Spotify won’t discuss the partnership particulars, but it’s obviously subsidizing the services here.

To sign up for the triple-play bundle, students can go to spotify.com/us/student. During the first three months, Spotify will only be $0.99, bringing the cost down even further.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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