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February 23, 2019
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streaming TV

Pluto TV will expand its free service with paid subscriptions, says new owner Viacom

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Last month, Viacom picked up free streaming service Pluto TV for $340 million in cash. This week, the company spoke in more detail about its plans for Pluto TV – including its potential to for ad-supported streaming as well as the ability to market Viacom’s various subscription video properties directly to consumers, similar to how Amazon Channels works today.

At the time of the acquisition, Pluto TV offered over 100 channels of free content from 130 partners, and reached 12 million monthly users – many of whom are younger, and never intend to subscribe to traditional pay TV, like cable or satellite.

While Pluto TV built its brand on offering access “free TV,” Viacom sees the service not only as a way to grow an ad-supported video business, but also a way to upsell those free customers to paid subscription video products.

Viacom isn’t the only brand to have realized in recent months that a good number of consumers are uninterested in paying for TV and movies, when there are so many free alternatives for entertainment available on today’s web – including most notably, YouTube’s massive ad-supported video network, and to a lesser extent, the video offerings from places like Facebook Watch, and even those from social apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

That’s led many in the industry to launch their own, free and ad-supported video destinations. This includes Amazon’s recent debut of IMDb’s Freedive; Roku’s free TV and movie app known as The Roku Channel; Sling TV’s teaser package of free content for non-subscribers; and Walmart’s now over two-year old Vudu “Movies On Us;” among others. Plex also recently said it will venture into this area in 2019.

Viacom believes Pluto TV will give it a leg up in this growing ad-supported video market, explained Viacom CEO Robert Bakish, in a call with investors.

“We believe the majority of the Pluto TV audience is not watching pay-TV today. This segment already exists, so it makes sense for us – as Viacom – to take share,” he said. “Given the segmenting of the market, distributors need a free TV offering.”

The idea is that the free TV offered by Pluto TV will continue to attract consumers to the service. And Pluto TV will become more attractive on this front as Viacom adds its own content to the service – including all the programming it has been holding back from other subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services over the years.

“Our strategic decision to curtail large-scale library licensing to the SVOD players over the last couple of years – it cost us some money in fiscal 2017 and 2018 – but it means that we have large volumes of content to bring to bear now once we close the Pluto transaction,” Bakish noted.

In particular, the content Viacom plans to bring to Pluto TV spans genres like “kids, African-American, reality and comedy,” the company said.

Pluto TV will also gain access to Viacom’s marketing capabilities to grow its audience and its infrastructure, allowing the service to expand globally.

Meanwhile, Pluto TV offers advertisers an attractive audience, as it’s capable of reaching younger viewers who are opting out of pay TV, Viacom believes. Half of Pluto’s users today are ages 18 to 34, and the majority watch the service’s content on their TV’s big screen, thanks to Pluto’s integrations with smart TVs like those from Samsung and Vizio.

“It will provide a rapidly growing source of billions of monthly advanced TV impressions in young and hard-to-reach demos in a premium and safe environment,” said Bakish.

By noting that Pluto TV content would be “safe,” Bakish is taking a pointed dig at YouTube, which has struggled to police its user-gen content in a way that made it safe for advertisers, which even resulted in a brand freeze over ads in 2017. This is still a big concern for YouTube, CEO Susan Wojcicki said this week a letter to the YouTube community.

Last year, YouTube saw “how the bad actions of a few individuals can negatively impact the entire creator ecosystem,” wrote Wojcicki. “And that’s why we put even more focus on responsible growth,” she added.

In addition to the poor taste in programming choices made by various creators, at times, YouTube and more recently Roku, have also had to weigh decisions about how much extremist content they want to host in the name of being an open platform. The risk that comes with that is a significant impact to their bottom line as advertisers flee, the companies have found.

Viacom noted that Pluto TV’s ad inventory is today undersold – today, the company’s sales team sells less than 50 percent of ad space. That leaves room for growth.

In addition to free streaming, Viacom plans to use Pluto TV to grow its paid subscriber base, as well.

Through Pluto TV, Viacom will offer customers the chance to add on paid subscriptions to their account, Bakish said – a strategy employed today by Amazon and Roku.

These add-ons will include those for Viacom’s subscription products like Noggin, aimed at parents of preschoolers; Comedy Central Now; and the company’s newest subscription, NickHits, the CEO said. (The latter targets older kids and recently arrived on Amazon Channels.)

Viacom said the Pluto TV deal would boost revenue in 2019, but will be “slightly dilutive” to earnings. Viacom experts the deal to close in March.

The company reported a mixed quarter, with revenue of $3.09 billion that fell short of Wall Street forecasts, an earnings per share at $1.12 which beat analyst expectations.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Free streaming service Tubi plans to invest $100M+ on content in 2019, expand internationally

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Free TV and movie streaming service Tubi is preparing to double down on content acquisitions this year, the company announced this morning. The service today offers over 12,000 movies and TV series, totalling 40,000 hours of content. All of this can be streamed for free as the content is paid for not via customer subscriptions, but rather by advertising. Now the company is preparing to invest over $100 million to expand its library this year, after hitting profitability in Q4 2018, and tackle new markets.

Founded in 2014, Tubi has benefitted from the trend towards cord cutting, as well as the increasing number of younger consumers who never opt to pay for cable or satellite TV in the first place – sometimes called the “cord nevers.”

The company claims that its viewership increased by over 4.3 times from December 2017 to December 2018, which allowed it to hit the profitability milestone. In the fourth quarter alone, it saw more revenue than in all of 2017 combined, it also noted. And it grew revenues by 180 percent-plus in 2018.

On the advertising front, the company says it ran campaigns from over 1,000 advertisers in 2018, including those from the majority of the top CPG and automotive companies.

However, several aspects of Tubi’s business aren’t being disclosed alongside today’s news – only the highlights. What the company won’t say is how many monthly active users it has, how many hours they watch, or how many ad impressions take place across its platform. These sorts of metrics are critical to measuring success in ad-supported video.

Along with its plans to grow its library, Tubi is preparing to expand outside the U.S. and Canada, with the first market launching this quarter.

To help fund its growth and content acquisitions, Tubi closed on $25 million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank in December.

These plans come at a time when Tubi’s business model has been seeing increased competition.

For example, Roku entered ad-supported programming with its own The Roku Channel launch in fall 2017, and said earlier this month it now has 27 million user accounts. Of course, Roku doesn’t break that down by how many use its platform for other services, versus those who specifically launch Roku’s own free content – but that is its ad-supported channel’s potential reach.

In addition to Roku, Tubi competes against Walmart’s ad-supported video on Vudu; Amazon-owned IMDb’s new service FreediveViacom’s latest acquisition, Pluto TV; Sinclair’s local broadcaster-focused service Stirr; and soon, Plex. Comcast will also launch a free streaming service for its pay TV customers in 2020.

Tubi, like many of these services, believes in its potential as consumers tire of being nickeled and dimed for video subscriptions.

“In 2018 we at Tubi saw tremendous growth as consumers, fatigued by SVOD subscriptions and services, sought alternative entertainment choices,” said Farhad Massoudi, CEO of Tubi, in a statement. “We will continue to use profits to make bigger bets on content, enhance the viewing experience, and continue to press ahead into new grounds in what is our core advantage: technology and data,” he added.

In reality, however, Tubi competes for attention among a growing streaming market, which includes those paid subscription video offerings. Today’s consumers are building out customized bundles that make sense for them – a little Netflix and HBO perhaps, fleshed out with some free content through services like Tubi, for example.

Tubi’s advantage, of course, is that it doesn’t have to spend the billions on content and originals that subscription video services like Netflix do to win users. Instead, it relies on titles that have mainstream appeal, but may not be winning any awards – like older movies, kids shows, B-flicks, horror films, and reality TV.

At the end of the day, however, Tubi won’t necessarily gain from people tiring of subscription video, but from the growing influx of cord cutters who are searching for older or niche content not included in subscription libraries -or who just want to watch a free movie.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Suppose TV can now alert you to changes in TV packages, so you get the best deal

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Last year, a startup called Suppose TV entered the market to help consumers find the best deal on TV services. The site offers an online tool that lets you compare different services – including things like channel selection and pricing. But doing so still took a lot work in terms of entering your criteria, setting your channel priorities, and specifying other requirements . Today, the company is rolling out a new, automated feature to make this whole process even easier. With its “TV Service Alerts,” the startup can now email you when TV services change their prices, channel lineup or features. This way, you can make a cost-saving switch or jump to one that’s a better fit.

As the streaming landscape becomes more fragmented, this sort of thing could become a must-have tool for those who are getting overwhelmed by the various options, and don’t have the time to keep up with all the changes.

Today’s streaming services are constantly tweaking their offerings – editing their bundles, as well as hiking and lowering prices, as they try to figure out what works best.

Last year, for example, Sling TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue all raised their prices for live TV, and Netflix did for its subscription video service. Netflix has also just this month raised prices again, while Hulu dropped its price for subscription video, but raised its price for live TV.

Meanwhile, the packages are continually in flux, too. For example, Sling TV added a new free tier and  à la carte channel subscriptions; Hulu dropped some channels and put them into optional add-on bundles with newly added channels. And most keep adding channels to their packages and add-on selections over time.

Who can keep up with all this?

Suppose TV can help. The site may not be pretty, but it’s handy. Here, you can customize your prefered lineup, by setting your channel selections and feature preferences. Then, as the various streaming services’ packages change, it can now email you personalized alerts that tell you if you can get a better deal.

The company’s website can also help you find services where local broadcast and regional sports networks are available to you – something that varies on a market-by-market basis. (This is currently available across the largest U.S. markets and a selection of smaller ones.) And it can now point you to promo discounts and deals for streaming services, when available.

This sort of tool will become even more useful this year, as new services begin to arrive, like Disney+, Comcast’s NBCU streaming service, and the upcoming AT&T/WarnerMedia offering, among others.

For consumers, Suppose TV’s tools can help them make a better decision, but the startup’s business lies elsewhere.

The company is also today launching an API that provides access to its live TV database and recommendation engine, which will allow partners help their customers find the right mix of streaming services.

“With our API solution, Suppose supports the delivery of TV service selection tools by partner companies like broadband providers, television OS platforms, or retailers,” says Suppose TV co-founder Andrew Shapiro, in a statement about the API launch. “These companies are well positioned to help their customers sign up for and manage their TV services.”

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Streaming TV service Philo to launch a co-viewing feature for watching with friends

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Following last year’s $40 million raise, low-cost streaming service Philo is preparing to further differentiate itself from rivals with the launch of a new feature that will allow viewers to watch shows together in real-time. With co-viewing, the company hopes to make a case for choosing Philo that goes beyond its affordability.

Instead, the company hopes subscribers will pick Philo simply because it’s a better way to watch TV.

It’s only been 14 months since Philo first introduced its take on the modern “skinny bundle” of TV delivered over the internet. The service opted to drop sports in order to keep the cost down, in order to appeal to budget-minded cord cutters, and particularly the younger demographic that never signed up for traditional TV in the first place.

Today, Philo subscribers can pay $16 per month for 43 entertainment and lifestyle channels – like those you’d find on cable TV – or you can opt top pay $20 for a larger bundle of 56 channels.

Since its debut, Philo has been quickly rolling out support for numerous platforms, including Fire TV, Apple TV, and Android TV. It also last year added user profiles, kicked off a referral program to boost its subscriber base, and introduced built-in sharing features.

While Philo won’t talk subscriber numbers yet, CEO Andrew McCollum told us at CES earlier this month that the service was growing 40 percent month-over-month, on average, throughout 2018.

For 2019, Philo aims to continue that trajectory, he said. And one way it’s planning to do so is through the launch of new product features.

“I feel like we have a really strong and unique offering, so it’s nice that people are responding to it,” McCollum said.

However, he admitted that, so far, what Philo offers is still very similar to cable TV – the very thing it aims to replace.

“We give you a lot of the same experience you can get on a cable box, only it works on all your devices. It’s an unlimited DVR. It’s all in the cloud. It’s much simpler. It’s got a lot better search and discovery…by default, we do a lot things to make it easier and better,” McCollum said. “But, by and large, it’s a similar experience to what you’re used to with cable.”

Now that’s about to change.

The company has developed a synchronization technology that will allow users to share links in order to invite friends and family to watch TV with them, at the same time.

This technology has been available on other platforms. For example, YouTube in 2017 launched an experimental app for watching videos with friends called Uptime. Tumblr tried, then shuttered, a similar app called Cabana. There are also apps like Let’s Watch It, Rabbit, and others. Even Facebook has been working on a co-watching feature.

But none of the live TV streaming services – like Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, etc. – offer a way to co-watch TV with others.

McCollum said Philo’s co-watching feature is finished from a technical perspective, and the team is now polishing the user interface. The plan, at present, will have Philo subscribers using their TV and their phone in conjunction with one another to launch the co-viewing experience.

The way it works is this: After finding something to watch, you’ll be able to press a button to share a link with a friend through a text message. The friend opens the link on their own phone, casts the show to their TV, and Philo then links the two sessions together.

The team is finalizing how this all flows to make the process feel seamless and natural, with as few steps as possible, McCollum said. But the feature is ready to launch, and will arrive “soon.”

In addition to co-viewing, Philo is also working on a clever joint recommendations feature. With this, you and someone else – a roommate, a friend, or a significant other, for example – could connect your Philo profiles together in order to browse a set of recommendations based on your shared tastes and interests.

This may launch after the co-viewing experience, but the two features will be tied together at some point.

Also in 2019, Philo says it will explore expanding its service through add-ons. These may encompass premium cable channels (like Showtime and Starz, e.g.), premium digital content, or even traditional broadcasts networks, or sports channels.

“We want to balance creating more options with making sure people don’t feel like they’re being coerced into stuff they don’t care about,” said McCollum.

Philo’s coming updates could make the service more compelling at a time when there’s an overabundance of choice in terms of getting TV delivered over the internet. While on-demand video services like Netflix and Prime Video have amassed millions of subscribers, many consumers today are still deciding if they want to cut the cord with cable TV – only to replace it with something that looks very much like cable TV. Philo could encourage them to make the switch by offering something differentiated.

Philo to date has raised over $90 from investors including AMC Networks, Discovery, Viacom, A+E Networks, CBC New Media, NEA, Rho Ventures and Xfund.

(Image credits: Philo; images do not show the yet-to-launch features)

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sling TV rolls out free content to non-subscribers, initially on Roku

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Last year, Dish-owned streaming service Sling TV launched a free tier to its service designed to attract those with lapsed subscriptions to come back and watch. On Roku devices, former customers were able to tune into over 100 hours of TV shows and movies without a subscription by launching the Sling TV app. Today, the service is extending a similar offer to newcomers. On Roku devices, those who have never signed up for the streaming TV service will have the chance to browse and watch free shows, without the need for a subscription.

In other words, this is not a “free trial,” it’s a free – if limited – selection of content.

To access the free tier, newcomers can click “Browse as Guest” in order to then browse and watch from content in the “My TV” section of the app. This section includes TV shows like Shameless, The Big Interview with Dan Rather, Heartland, and others. Users can also browse over 5,000 movies that can be watched if they choose to subscribe.

Sling TV is targeting Roku because it’s one of the most well-adopted media player platforms in the U.S., which makes it a prime target for a user acquisition strategy like this.

Having a functioning app instead of a static landing page may prompt users to subscribe to the base subscription, and it may also prompt sign-ups for Sling TV’s newer à la carte channels.

At the same time last year when the company announced its free tier for lapsed subscribers, it also launched à la carte programming, as a way to differentiate itself from other live TV services. Unlike Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV. This feature allows Sling TV users to buy access to standalone paid channels, without needing to subscribe to a TV package – like how Amazon Prime Video Channels works.

As a result, Sling TV can today serve as a place to watch paid channels like Showtime, CuriosityStream, NBA League Pass, Docurama, Stingray Karaoke and others.

Newcomers on this free tier can also rent PPV events without a subscription, the company says.

Free programming today is being used a lure to attract customers to various platforms in the streaming video market and beyond. Amazon offers a ton of free video, including originals, to Prime subscribers and just last week launched a new ad-supported streaming service from IMDb. Roku offers free content on The Roku Channel, and Plex recently said it will venture into this area in 2019, as well.

Alongside the launch of the free programming, Sling TV is rolling out an improved search experience which now shows “popular searches,” and a new binge-watching feature.

The latter will prompt users to watch the next episode in an on-demand or recorded series after you’ve completed the current episode, and will auto-play it if no action is taken in 10 seconds.

The new free tier is initially rolling out to Roku users, starting today, but will come to other devices in the future.

The updated Search option is live now on Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku devices. And the binge-watching feature is first coming to Roku devices in the weeks ahead, with support for others also arriving in the future.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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