Roku Dominates ‘March Madness’ Streaming

With the 2021 NCAA College Basketball National Championship Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness, readying for the Sweet 16 elimination rounds, sports fans are increasingly streaming games via standalone media devices and connected televisions. The opening round set new records with more than a billion minutes streamed across 32 games in just two days, according to new data from Conviva.

The tournament thus far reveals an ongoing trend streaming games on the big TV screen. Historically the first day of round one sees the most viewership. This held true this year as day one netted 15% more time spent streaming than day two, according to the report.

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Streaming on television increased significantly in the first two rounds to 68% share of time spent in round one, from 48% in 2019 and just 41% in the opening days of 2018. While streaming games on the PC lost market share, the increase in TV consumption comes primarily at the expense of mobile viewing, which decreased to less than half the share held during the previous March Madness. The report attributed this to the pandemic-trend of in-home viewing and the overall, multiyear trend of increased streaming via televisions.

More than 40% of the tournament thus far has been streamed on TVs through Roku devices, followed by Amazon Fire TV (26%), Samsung TV (10%), and Apple TV with 8% share. LG TV and Xbox each tallied 4% share, with Chromecast picking up 3%. Irvine, Calif.-based Vizio, Android TV, and PlayStation lagged behind the field with under 2% share of viewing time.

Conviva reported that social media engagements per post rose an average of 164% for teams in round one as compared to the regular season. Teams tallied 3 million total cross-platform engagements over just two days in the first round of the tournament, with Wisconsin, Syracuse, and Illinois taking the top three spots for total cross-platform engagements.

March Madness often vaults unexpected teams into national view. This year it’s Oral Roberts with 15 times the number of social media engagements per post versus the regular season, and leading in cross-platform, Twitter, and Instagram engagement rates.

Report: Amazon Topped Roku in Q4 Streaming Media Device Sales

Roku, along with Netflix, invented the subscription streaming video market more than a decade ago. Along the way, Roku streaming devices have led the market in unit sales. That trend reportedly changed in the fourth quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2020).

New data from Strategy Analytics found that Amazon Fire TV controlled 12.1% of the 109.1 million (13.2 million) streaming media devices sold in the period. Samsung Smart TVs and Sony PlayStation 5 followed with 11.9 million (10.9%) and 8.9 million (8.2%) units, respectively.

Meanwhile, Roku finished sixth in the quarter with 6.3 million (5.8%) units sold. Google Chromecast and Apple TV finished with 4.7 million (4.3%) and 4 million (4.3%) devices sold, respectively.

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“[The fourth quarter] is always a strong period for home entertainment products, and, in spite of the pandemic 2020, didn’t disappoint,” David Watkins, director, TV streaming platforms, said in a statement. “Demand for connected TV devices remained strong throughout the holiday period as consumers in most major economies preferred to enjoy streaming video services on their big screens.”

 

Vudu Coming to Amazon Fire TV Edition Smart TVs and Fire TV Streaming Devices

Vudu, the transactional VOD service owned by Fandango, is launching in March on Amazon Fire TV Edition smart TVs and Fire TV streaming devices.

Consumers will be able to purchase or rent titles from Vudu on a mobile device or computer and the titles will appear instantly in their Vudu library on Fire TV for playback.

Consumers can also stream Vudu’s catalog of 4K Ultra HD content on Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Cube, or the Fire TV Edition smart TV’s 4K models.

Vudu offers more than 150,000 new-release and catalog movies and TV shows, along with an extensive library of content in 4K Ultra HD. The service has experienced double-digit growth in new accounts in 2020 year over year, according to a Fandango release.

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 “We want Vudu fans to be able to watch movies and TV shows on all of their favorite devices, and Fire TV has been one of our customers’ most-requested devices for streaming content,” Kevin Shepela, EVP and chief commercial officer at Fandango, said in a statement. “With Vudu’s vast library of premium content from new release event movies to favorite films and TV shows, we are excited to deliver to Fire TV users so many new viewing options to watch in their living rooms, many in breathtaking 4K.”

Last week, Vudu launched on Xfinity Flex and X1, and in 2020 it launched on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and S, and TiVo. Vudu can also be found on dozens of connected television devices and streaming platforms from Roku, LG, Sony and many others.

Jeep First Auto Maker to Offer Access to Amazon Fire TV

The upcoming launch of the 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs will include a first: onboard access to Amazon Fire TV, the streaming video intermediary to Prime Video and third-party video apps.

“Amazon Fire TV for Auto” interacts directly with Jeep’s Uconnect 5 software system, expanding on Alexa Auto in-vehicle technology to help drivers stay focused on the road and keep passengers entertained. Content syncs with an existing Amazon account like other Fire TV devices, making it easy to navigate favorite apps and resume playback of a show. With Fire TV built-in, customers can pause a show in their home and seamlessly continue watching once they get into their vehicle.

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“Launching Fire TV for Auto as an industry-first technology to the Wagoneer lineup illustrates one of the many ways we intend to deliver class-leading technology and connectivity to our customers,” Christian Meunier, Jeep Brand CEO, said in a statement.

Passengers can view Fire TV in high-definition from the rear seats and the front passenger screen (a privacy filter disables driver viewing). When the vehicle is in park, the driver also can view Fire TV on the main Uconnect 5 screen

Touchscreen controls and support for compatible content can be downloaded on trips where wireless service is limited or to save on data. A Fire TV for Auto-specific remote provides control of the experience and includes push-to-talk access to Alexa, making it easy to find and quickly play shows. The remote includes a button that connects Fire TV with the new Uconnect 5 system for control of vehicle features, such as climate, maps and more.

“We reimagined Fire TV for the automobile with a purpose-built experience that delivers the best in entertainment, anywhere you go,” said Sandeep Gupta, VP and GM of Amazon Fire TV. “With Fire TV built in, customers can stream their favorite shows, and see if they left the lights on at home with Alexa.”

Fire TV for Auto will be packaged with other connected services and made available in fall 2021 in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Fox Rolling Out ‘Free Like Tubi’ Weeklong AVOD Promotion

Tubi, the AVOD platform Fox Corp. acquired in 2019 for $440 million, is mounting a week-long promotional campaign — dubbed Free Like Tubi — with third-party services and consumer electronics manufacturers, to attract viewer eyeballs.

Beginning Feb. 8, Tubi will sponsor ad-free listening through the week on streaming music provider Pandora. Listeners will have free “Video Plus Access” throughout the week. Tubi will give mobile app players free rewards on mobile game provider Zynga if users watch and engage with sponsored Tubi video content.

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Additional cross promotions include unlocking the paywall on Ad Age and giving readers complimentary access. Beginning Feb. 9, Tubi and Postmates will launch a “National Pizza Day” partnership to celebrate the special day and Free Like Tubi Week in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. On Feb. 10, Tubi will host free Amazon Fire TV 4K with Alexa Voice Remote device giveaways.

On Feb. 11, Tubi will partner with “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” where one audience player takes a popcorn quiz and goes on a search for the correct title in a huge bucket of popcorn. Additionally, 100 winners on Ellen’s IG (@theellenshow) stories will receive Visa gift cards courtesy of Tubi.

On Feb. 13, Tubi will give away one Vizio 55-inch V-series SmartCast TV and one Vizio V-series V21-H8 Soundbar. The next day, Tubi and Spotlight Cinema Networks will celebrate Valentine’s Eve with free concessions for the first 20 moviegoing cars at the Arena Cinemalounge in Hollywood, The Frida Cinema in Los Angeles, as well as the Skyline Drive-In and Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center in New York City.

Tubi will host free Roku Express device giveaways on Feb. 14. On Feb. 15, to wrap up the campaign, Guillermo from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” will treat the audience to free giveaways. Additional swag giveaways include “The Masked Singer” (@MaskedSingerFox), “The Masked Dancer” (@MaskedDancerFox) and “Name That Tune” (@NameThatTune).

WarnerMedia Extends HBO Max Discount Pricing

WarnerMedia has quietly extended to March special pricing for subscribers willing to prepay for 12-months of HBO Max service. The service, which traditionally costs $14.99 — the most expensive SVOD on the market — is effectively charging $11.66 monthly for subs paying the annual $69.99 charge.

Since launching May 27, 2020, HBO Max has aggressively sought to boost sluggish subscriber growth that tallied just 8.6 million subs through Sept. 30, 2020 (upped to 12.6 million in December). WarnerMedia now combines Max subs with HBO to boast more than 38 million members.

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The growth was hampered from the start when WarnerMedia failed to secure distribution through Roku and Amazon Fire TV — two major consumer gateways to third-party SVOD services. The Max app is now available on both platforms.

“We’re breaking new ground in the months ahead, and we can’t wait to work with our longtime partners at Roku to build on our past successes and bring Max’s entertainment to Roku’s large and highly engaged audience,” Tony Goncalves, chief revenue officer at WarnerMedia, said in a statement last month.

Amazon: Fire TV Saw More Than 50 Million Active Monthly Users Worldwide in 2020

Amazon’s branded streaming video device, Fire TV, generated more than 50 million monthly active users in 2020, a record according to the e-commerce behemoth. Fire TV, along Roku, Apple TV and Google Chromecast, represents the primary way most consumers connect the Internet to the television.

For 2021, Amazon is upgrading the Fire TV user experience with enhanced content selection software and content recommendations, among other features. The upgrades will be coming to all Fire TV Stick third-generation and Fire TV Stick Lite devices globally in the coming weeks. 

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The new experience is more personal and intuitive with user profiles, improved content discovery features, and Alexa voice navigation. The device also launched two-way video calling on the Fire TV Cube, new apps such as HBO Max, Pluto TV, and expanded live TV content integrations in the U.S.; live discovery features in Japan and India; dedicated experiences with Alexa on Fire TV in Mexico, Brazil, and Australia; Fire TV Cube in France, Italy, and Spain, among others.

 

HBO Max (Finally) Joins Amazon Fire TV Platform

WarnerMedia’s SVOD platform HBO Max Nov. 16 got a huge boost when it announced the streamer would officially join Amazon’s Fire TV platform, including Fire TV Edition smart TVs and Fire tablets, on Nov. 17. Max has been conspicuously absent from Fire TV (and the Roku platform) since launching six months ago — hindering subscriber growth, according to experts.

This launch brings HBO Max into the living rooms of tens of millions of Amazon device customers.

Upon Fire TV availability, current subscribers of HBO through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels will be able to log in to the Max app with their Amazon credentials at no additional cost. The HBO app on Fire TV and Fire tablets will automatically update to become the Max app; customers will be able to log in using their existing HBO credentials. New customers can also subscribe to Max directly in the app. Additionally, all existing Max customers — regardless of how they subscribe to the platform — can now access all of Max via supported Fire TV and Fire tablet devices using their existing provider credentials.

Previously, Max users could only access original and exclusive content when downloading and registering separately with the Max app — a scenario that hindered sub growth, according to observers. Max remains absent from the Roku platform.

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“We are very excited that Amazon customers will now be able to enjoy the best-in-class content that lives within HBO Max,” Tony Goncalves, head of sales and distribution for WarnerMedia, said in a statement. “Fire TV is a favorite among customers and we look forward to working with the Amazon team to engage and grow our existing subscriber base by showcasing all that Max has to offer.”

With Amazon Alexa, at launch customers can navigate to the Max app by saying “Alexa, find HBO Max” with Fire TV’s included Alexa Voice Remote or a paired Echo device for hands-free control. Max content is also integrated into universal search on Fire TV, meaning that its content will appear in searches such as “Alexa, find dramas” or “Alexa, find ‘Game of Thrones.'” Customers can also ask Alexa to start watching something specific; “Alexa, play The Undoing.”

“We’ve worked closely with HBO for many years to bring their great content to Fire TV and to make it easier to discover and enjoy with features like search integration, Alexa and personalized recommendations,” said Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon Entertainment Devices and Services, “We are excited to continue that partnership with the launch of HBO Max to bring even more incredible content to customers on Fire TV.”

This month, Max features the debut of Max Originals, including “The Flight Attendant,” starring Kaley Cuoco, Superintelligence with Melissa McCarthy and the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion,” plus the premieres of HBO’s new series “Industry” and special event “Between the World and Me,” an adaption of the New York Times best-selling book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Movies Magic Mike, 13 Going on 30 and The Dark Knight are also available on Max this month. December brings the return of “Euphoria” with a special episode and the debut of Steven Soderbergh’s film Let Them All Talk, starring Meryl Streep, as well as the platform’s very first holiday special, My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood.

Disney Offering ‘Mulan’ Access via Roku, Apple, Google Play

The Walt Disney Co. is a longtime champion of preserving the traditional theatrical window, eschewing industry efforts to push premium VOD in the home for new release movies.

As a result, the company’s decision to offer the live-action remake Mulan directly to consumers on Sept. 4 for $29.99 is a one-time bet requiring maximum distribution.

To that end, Disney will sell “premium access” to Mulan to Disney+ subscribers via Google Play, Apple and Roku. The move is significant considering that when CEO Bob Chapek first announced direct-to-consumer access to Mulan on the the company’s fiscal call, it was through Disney+ exclusively. Now Disney will share Mulan revenue with Apple, Roku and Google.

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The move suggests Disney might be having difficulty convincing Disney+ subs to directly purchase the film on its app.

“Starting Sept. 4, with Premier Access, you can watch Mulan before it’s available to all Disney+ subscribers,” Disney said in its FAQ section. “Disney+ will offer Premier Access to Mulan for $29.99 on DisneyPlus.com and select platforms, including Apple, Google and Roku. Once you have Premier Access to Mulan, you can watch as many times as you want on any platform where Disney+ is available. Your access to Mulan will continue as long as you are an active Disney+ subscriber.”

The movie thus far is not available through Amazon Fire TV, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox, despite the platforms affording access to the Disney+ app.

SVOD Spotlight This Week: Netflix Posts Numbers; Peacock Bows Service

With the entertainment industry still largely on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, two over-the-top video services this week look to confirm the market reality and potential of subscription video-on-demand in an age of uncertainty.

Netflix, which releases second-quarter (ended June 30) financial results at the close of the market on July 16, is coming off a first quarter that blew expectations out of the park. The service added more than 15.8 million new subscribers worldwide (obliterating all projections), driving revenue and profit skyward while much of the entertainment economy came to a screeching halt.

NBCUniversal on July 15 formally launches Peacock nationwide to a saturated direct-to-consumer market featuring both subscription and ad-supported distribution options.

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For Netflix, the week aims to justify renewed Wall Street salvos that saw the company’s stock balloon 8% at market close on July 10 to an all-time high of $548.73 per share. Netflix thinks it will quietly add 7.5 million new subs in Q2, while Goldman Sachs contends the streamer will add 12.5 million. Revenue is projected to skyrocket 123.5% to $6.o8 billion from $4.92 billion during the previous-year period.

“[Cautious sub growth] fails to capture the reality of Netflix’s earlier stage markets and a dramatically changing world that is pushing changes into every corner of consumer behavior,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a note, adding it thinks the SVOD pioneer will boast more than $100 million in free cash due to the dearth of new content production.

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The Peacock bow comes as consumers face a plethora of choices driven by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, with newcomer Disney+ quietly achieving podium status with more than 53 million subs through May.

The $9.99 monthly Peacock without ads ($4.99 with commercials) will showcase NBC programming, including new and catalog, in addition to Universal Pictures movies and some third-party content.

Similarly to rival newbie HBO Max from WarnerMedia Entertainment, both services lack key distribution through third-party streaming devices Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

Neither platform is carrying Max or Peacock apps — critical to consumer adoption. At issue reportedly is the hosts’ mandate keeping third-party user data, including viewing habits and content choices. Both Roku and Fire TV would offer Peacock and Max on The Roku Channel and Prime Channels distribution platforms rather than as separate standalone apps as is the case for Disney+ and Netflix. Both Disney and Netflix maintain control of their user data.

“This severely limited the [Max] launch, considering that [Roku, Amazon] combined have a dominant market share and are the primary way a large portion of the population connects to SVOD,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, wrote in a July 7 note. “Commentary from HBO post-launch suggests that it is playing hardball with Roku and Amazon, and in our view it did not suggest that a resolution was imminent.”