Apple TV+ Extends Free Access to July

Apple is reportedly extending free access to branded subscription streaming video platform Apple TV+ from February to July. When the media giant launched the SVOD service in November 2019, it offered 12 months free access to anyone purchasing Apple hardware. That $4.99 monthly promotion was later extended to February 2021, followed by the current new extension.

Existing Apple TV+ paying subs will get the monthly fees credited to their Apple Store account. The promotion is intended to give Apple more time to roll out new original content, including feature-film Cherry, starring Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as an opioid addled former soldier with PTSD who has morphed into a bank robber. The film is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, whose previous credits include Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

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Other Apple originals include series “For All Mankind,” “Dickinson,” “Ted Lasso,” “The Morning Show,” “Servant” and “See,” among others.

Apple has never officially released subscriber data for TV+, with media reports a year ago citing more than 33 million subs to the platform, according to third-party analytics.

Tom Holland in Apple TV+ original movie ‘Cherry’

Apple TV+ Orders World Surf League Docuseries

Apple TV+ has ordered a six-part documentary series from Box to Box Films and the World Surf League (WSL) offering a behind-the-scenes look at championship surfing.

The series chronicles the aspirations, failures and accomplishments of the world’s best surfers as they battle for the WSL title and struggle to remain on the elite WSL Championship Tour.

Each episode will be an exploration of the characters who make up the 2021 WSL Men’s and Women’s tour, taking viewers on a journey to surfing locations across the globe, starting in Hawaii on Dec. 4, 2020. The docuseries will dive into different surfing cultures, as well as timely subjects tied to the sport including eco-conservation, sustainability and marine preservation.

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The docuseries will be produced for Apple by Box to Box Films and in partnership with the WSL.

No Thanksgiving Ratings Feast for Charlie Brown

The perennial animated holiday classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving apparently didn’t entice viewers to Apple TV+ or PBS, the exclusive  distributors of the Emmy Award-winning 1973 special.

New data from Samba TV found 670,000 domestic households watched or streamed “Charlie Brown” in the nine days following its Nov. 20 release on Apple TV+ and Nov. 22 bow on PBS. That was 67% fewer viewers than the 2 million households than tuned into ABC TV to watch the show last year.

The largest single-day total viewership was on Nov 22 when Charlie aired on PBS with 381,000 households tuning in. Thanksgiving itself drew just 140,000 households tuning in, according to Samba.

Other holiday viewing traditions such as football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade fared only slightly better. The parade saw a 3% uptick in viewers to 12.1 million households. The Houston Texans win over the Detroit Lions on CBS drew 13.1 million households, which was down 6% from 2019 when the game was on Fox Sports.

Another 13.2 million households watched The Washington Football Team best the hapless NFC East Dallas Cowboys on Fox, which was down 12% compared to the same time last Thanksgiving when the game was on NBC.

Streaming Wars: Big-Money Upstarts Battle Established Leaders

It has been a calamitous year on many fronts due to COVID-19. And yet the global pandemic, with its stay-at-home orders and shuttering of movie theaters, has been a boon for streaming video services such as Netflix and Disney+, the two leaders of opposing factions now doing battle for viewership — and subscriber dollars.

There are now seven major subscription VOD services, counting the rebranding of ViacomCBS’s CBS All Access into Paramount+ early next year.

Netflix, along with Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, represent the old guard, established streamers with healthy track records and steady, progressive growth. Disney+, which only launched in November 2019, leads a quartet of high-profile newcomers — Apple TV+, HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and, soon, Paramount+ — seeking to unseat the incumbents by grabbing a dominant share of the spoils.

And the SVOD pie is getting bigger. Hub Entertainment Research found the average person is accessing 60% more streaming video services in 2020 than they did in 2018, while 90% of households with children living at home subscribe to more than one OTT video service.

“We’ve seen the number of providers per [survey] respondent rise to an all-time high during the pandemic,” analyst Jon Giegengack said. “The average respondent had 4.8 services. That was going up anyway, but the pandemic turbocharged it.”

Leading the way: Netflix. Long a favorite on Wall Street, the SVOD market co-creator (with Roku) again this year quieted would be critics with outsized subscriber growth (projected 34 million additions through the end of the year), strong financials (revenue up 25% to $18.35 billion through the first nine months of this year) and weekly chart-topping content.

“We’ve been doing high 20s [in millions of net adds per year] for four years,” co-CEO Reed Hastings said on the company’s most recent fiscal webcast. “And this year [we are] setting all kinds of records,” he noted, adding that increased revenue translates into more content spending, which “tends to generate more sub growth over time.”

Indeed, while Netflix may have fallen short of its own sub growth projections in the quarter ended Sept. 30, in many ways Q3 was a solid quarter, particularly in terms of retention, according to Parrot Analytics. The data analytics company said the effects of the “extraordinary” operating conditions caused by the pandemic are still benefiting Netflix.

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Several demand metrics relevant to subscriber retention, such as the demand decay rate, are trending upward, according to Parrot. This shows that Netflix is improving on measures that keep subscribers coming back for more. Netflix, in its shareholder letter, noted that “retention remains healthy.”

A study by Bank of America Securities found churn among Netflix subs (not renewing) during the pandemic has dropped significantly. That is an improvement from the 4% monthly churn Netflix experienced prior to the coronavirus.

“Viewer loyalties are shifting as subscriptions to traditional pay-TV services decline,” said Steven Nason, research director at Bank of America Securities. “The average Netflix subscriber has had the service over 50 months … all other services have much shorter subscription histories.”

That loyalty was tested following backlash to Cuties, an award-winning French movie about pre-teen girls in a Paris dance troupe, which threatened to explode Netflix churn, and worse. The service continues to find itself in the crosshairs of a criminal prosecution in the state of Texas.

“It’s a film that is very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States,” co-CEO Ted Sarandos said during the virtual French MIPCOM confab in October. “The film speaks for itself. It’s a very personal coming-of-age film; it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy, and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy.”

Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall said he believes that while the controversy may have cost Netflix 2 million North American subs in Q3, the decline was short-lived.

“We think the [issue] and elevated churn was essentially a flash in the pan,” Cahall wrote.

Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter called the criminal indictment “idiotic,” arguing the case is a First Amendment issue that
Netflix should win easily.

“The case has no merit at all,” Pachter said.

Indeed, the day after the district attorney in Tyler County, Texas, issued a statement explaining his motive for filing charges against Netflix, shares of the company increased nearly 6%.

“Netflix should remain the dominant SVOD player for the foreseeable future,” wrote Pivotal analyst Jeffrey Wlodarczak.

Naturally, Hastings agrees. The executive characterized the pandemic’s impact on the OTT video industry as a one-time phenomenon. Hastings said Netflix continues to compete against myriad other entertainment distractions, including TikTok, YouTube and video games, among others. He said Netflix user engagement, subscriber churn and related trends remain on par with what management expected a year ago.

“There was temporary learning when there was no [live] sports, but it’s like, well, it [wasn’t] really that interesting of a finding because it’s just not relevant to the [non-pandemic] world,” Hastings said. “Now we’re back in a world with partial [TV] sports and that’s fine and we’re [still] growing.”

In November, Netflix began testing a linear channel in France streaming original programs like an old-school TV channel without a DVR. Available only to subscribers and on the website, the channel could be Netflix’s eventual foray into ad-supported content. With nearly 200 million subs worldwide, Netflix’s challenge is to sustain viewer interest.

“The limiter for us is what’s the quality of our service, how many nights can you say, ‘Oh my God, I want to go to Netflix and watch the next show?’” Hastings said.

Rising Tide Lifts All Streamers

To put Netflix’s meteoric year into perspective is to understand that 2020 has been a banner year for OTT video, including ad-supported VOD. That’s because there’s been a wave of opportunity spurred by a captive audience sequestered at home. The year saw the table set among streaming competitors with Fox Corp.’s $440 million acquisition of AVOD service Tubi and the launches of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

ViacomCBS will launch a reboot of CBS All Access, dubbed Paramount+, for global access in 2021. Peacock became the first SVOD platform to offer a free ad-supported VOD option at launch. Max is slated to bow an AVOD option in 2021.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said Paramount+ would separate itself from other SVOD services by streaming the NFL, SEC college football, UEFA soccer, PGA Golf, live national CBS News and local affiliates, as well as news show “60 Minutes,” among others.

“It’s going to be a truly differentiated and compelling offering that’s unlike anything that’s really out there today,” Bakish said.

The lone anomaly: Quibi, the mobile-streaming SVOD app launched in early April by DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP boss Meg Whitman that lasted just six months before it was announced it was shutting down. The service targeted mobile-device users with original programming from five minutes to 10 minutes in length — and was backed by a $1.75 billion war chest. Despite the hype and big-name talent (Anna Kendrick, Chrissy Teigen, Christoph Waltz and Liam Hemsworth, among others) associated with content production, few consumers opted in beyond the free trial period.

Analysts suggested just 8% of initial free Quibi trial users converted to paying subs in the first month. Katzenberg, in media interviews over the summer, attributed the sluggish start to the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining that many potential subscribers were stuck at home watching TV instead of streaming video on their mobile devices. Quibi didn’t help itself at launch when content was available only on portable devices and not televisions.

The app lasted just a fraction as long as Verizon Communications’ $1 billion mobile-based video misstep, go90, which shuttered in 2018 after three underwhelming years.

Trendsetters

Like most markets, first movers typically hold the advantage. OTT video is no different as viewership on Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video accounted for 64% of the time consumers spent on Internet-connected TVs in July, according to Comscore. When adding Hulu and Disney+ to the mix, the five apps accounted for 83% of all streaming video consumption. The data underscores the fact that the TV ecosystem has embraced digital platforms, with streaming video at the center of an ever-more-dynamic path to content distribution.

There’s more good news ahead. Despite approaching market saturation, the number of U.S. SVOD subscriptions is projected to climb from 203 million in 2019 to 317 million by 2025, according to Digital TV Research. Even Netflix, with 12 years of service under its belt, is projected to add 10 million domestic subs in the period. This growth is overshadowed by projected gains at newcomer Disney+ (27 million sub additions) and Hulu’s expanding profile (22 million). Peacock, HBO Max and CBS All Access/Paramount+ will each add more subs than Netflix during the period, according to DTV Research. The six platforms will account for 82% of the 114 million total U.S. subscriber additions. Separately, All Access and sister service Showtime OTT ended the Sept. 30 fiscal period with nearly 18 million combined subs — up 72% year-over-year from 10.4 million.

“The depth of choice in the U.S. will not be replicated in any other country,” said analyst Simon Murray. “Eight U.S. platforms will have more than 10 million paying subs each by 2025.”

Murray predicts that SVOD subscriptions will increase by 529 million worldwide through 2025 to 1.17 billion. By 2025, one-third of the world’s TV households will have at least one SVOD subscription — up from a quarter at the end of 2019. China and the United States together will account for 51% of the global total. This is down from 63% in 2019 — suggesting SVOD growth in other countries is growing quickly.

Direct-to-Consumer Push

Disney in its Nov. 12 fiscal call reported that Disney+ had reached  73.7 million global subs, well ahead of company projections on the one-year anniversary of the service’s launch. It had passed 60 million in August. Thanks to a global brand, the service is expected to be the biggest SVOD mover in subscriber growth over the next five years, generating 142 million subs between 2019 and 2025 to reach 172 million, according to Digital TV Research. Netflix, by comparison, will add 91 million subscribers to total 263 million.

“We believe that Disney+ will have a huge impact,” said analyst Simon Murray.

At the same time, Murray lowered his Disney+ sub forecast through 2025 by 30 million, contending the streamer’s June results showed a deceleration of sub additions following international launches in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland. The service is also available in Australia, New Zealand, Holland and Puerto Rico.
Disney+ will roll out in Latin America beginning on Nov. 17.

“We expect this trend to be repeated elsewhere,” Murray said.

Indeed, with Disney+ now a year old, many subscribers who received free 12-month service deals as part of a Verizon promotion will have to start paying or cancel the service. Some analysts contend the Verizon promotion accounts for 15% of Disney’s subscribers. To stave off a possible uptick in churn, Disney just launched the second season of “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian,” in addition to original series “The Right Stuff” and The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special movie, among other content.

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Keeping consumers interested in Disney+ remains a priority for CEO Bob Chapek and key investors as much of the company’s business units remain idle due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a recent letter to Chapek, minority stake holder Dan Loeb said he wanted the board to re-direct annual dividends to content spending on Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+.

“By reallocating a dividend of a few dollars per share, Disney could more than double its Disney+ original content budget,” Loeb wrote Chapek. “The ability to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn and increase pricing present the opportunity to create tens of billions of dollars in incremental value for Disney shareholders in short order, and hundreds of billions once the platform reaches larger scale.”

Chapek continues to put digital distribution at the core of his corporate strategy. In October, Chapek formed a new Media and Entertainment Distribution group, led by Kareem Daniel, that is tasked with putting a “focus on developing and producing original content for the company’s streaming services.”

That move was preceded by Disney moving erstwhile Pixar Animation feature film Soul from the theatrical slate to Disney+ for Dec. 25 access. The film was previously scheduled for theatrical release on Nov. 20. Mulan, another Disney release intended for theaters, became the studio’s first “premier access” VOD experiment, affording Disney+ subs the ability to pay $29.99 to access the film months before it was due to become available on the service.

In crossing the PVOD line in the sand, Chapek dealt a major blow to exhibitors who had come to count on Disney movies luring moviegoers and concession sales. It was just over a year ago that Disney’s market share of the domestic movie box office reached 35% ($1.88 billion) — surpassing the next two studios combined.

“Over the last six months, marketplace conditions created by the ongoing pandemic, while difficult in so many ways, have also provided an opportunity for innovation in approaches to content distribution,” Disney said in a statement. “The Disney+ platform is an ideal destination for families and fans to enjoy a marquee Pixar film in their own homes like never before.”

Separately, ESPN+ added 6.8 million subs in the quarter to bring its total to 10.3 million. Hulu added 6.9 million subs to reach 32.5 million, up 27% from the previous-year period. Online TV service Hulu with Live TV added 1.2 million subs to end the period with 4.1 million. Disney ended the period with 120.6 million combined subscribers to its OTT platforms.

“The real bright spot has been our direct-to-consumer business, which is key to the future of our company,” Chapek said.

Hulu Eyeing Disney+ Future?

Long a runner-up to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Hulu has quietly increased subscribers while majority-owner Disney directs much of its focus to Disney+. More than three-quarters (78%) of all U.S. households have a subscription to Netflix, Prime Video and/or Hulu, according to the Leichtman Research Group. That’s up from 69% in 2018, and 52% in 2015. More than half (55%) of U.S. households now have more than one of these SVOD services, an increase from 43% in 2018 and 20% in 2015.

Hulu, over the summer, began offering a new discounted yearly plan for current subscribers to its $5.99 per month plan. Subscribers to that ad-supported plan have the option to get a one-year subscription for $59.99, or 12 months for the price of 10. The option will roll out to new ad-supported Hulu subscribers later this year, the company announced.

But to what end? Disney, under former CEO Bob Iger, had planned to expand Hulu overseas. But with Disney+ already doing that — including launching co-branded service with Disney-owned Star in India in 2021, Hulu’s international trajectory seems unsure. Indeed, a planned Hulu strategy meeting regarding international expansion was never held, according to Bloomberg, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

“In terms of the general entertainment offering internationally, we want to mirror our successful Disney+ strategy by using our Disney+ technical platform, bringing in content we already own and distributing it under a successful international brand that we also already own, which is, of course, Star,” Chapek told investors in August.

‘Coming 2’ Free Shipping

Amazon Prime Video made news in October when it reportedly paid $125 million to Paramount Pictures for streaming rights to the Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America. The movie, featuring original headliners Murphy and Arsenio Hall, in addition to co-stars Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharaoh, is slated to bow on Prime Video March 5, 2021. The 1988 original Coming to America was a blockbuster for Paramount, generating $128 million at domestic screens and $288 million worldwide, just behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Rain Man.

Amazon has been relatively quiet on content spending in 2020 compared with rivals Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple — reportedly on the hook for “only” $6 billion this year before the coronavirus hit. The Paramount deal represented another high-profile transaction for Amazon Studios under the direction of Jennifer Salke, following agreements for Sasha Baron Cohen’s second “Borat” flick and Dave Bautista’s My Spy.

Yet the movies mask an original content slate that saw just seven TV shows trickle out of Amazon through three fiscal quarters, including, most recently, the dystopian drama “Utopia.” By comparison, Netflix released more than 70 original programs through Oct. 9.

“The pace in which Amazon releases content does not place it in close competition with other streaming services,” Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter wrote in a note. “However, most of the 105 million Prime members did not sign up specifically for video content, but rather for the free shipping, and to enjoy movies and TV shows as an added perk to the service.”

Speaking on a recent fiscal call, CFO Brian Olsavsky said the number of Prime members who stream Prime Video outside the U.S. grew by more than 80% year-over-year in the third quarter, and international customers more than doubled the hours of content they watched on Prime video compared with last year. Prime Video expanded globally in 2016 to more than 200 countries.

While Prime Video, like Netflix, remains ad-free, Amazon is not turning its back on ad-supported content and incremental revenue opportunities. The company owns and operates ad-supported IMDb TV and is working with third-party apps on Fire TV for advertising opportunities.

“We’re seeing some good momentum with [AVOD],” Olsavsky said. “I won’t say too much about what we’ll look like next year, but that gives you kind of sense of priorities where we’re spending our time and focused on.”

‘Max’ Challenges

Backed by a $4.8 billion content war chest, HBO Max aims to expand the HBO brand beyond its usual offering of niche series such as “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones,” with the “Harry Potter” movies; cartoon libraries from Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Hanna-Barbera; original movies, TV shows and multi-topic podcasts; and re-runs of “Friends,” the iconic sitcom for which WarnerMedia “paid” itself (Warner Bros. Television) $425 million for exclusive streaming rights.

But there remains a problem. Max’s goal to secure 50 million new subscribers by 2025 remains optimistic, as app adoption among existing HBO subscribers remains sluggish. The service has generated just 8.6 million new subs through Sept. 30, despite the fact that more than 30 million existing HBO subs qualified for a free Max upgrade.

Max and HBO totaled 38 million combined subs through Sept. 30 when factoring in existing HBO subs able to access Max (for free) via third-party pay-TV operators. They had 36.2 million combined subs on July 23, exceeding the year-end goal of 36 million. Domestic HBO and Max subscribers do not include customers who are part of a free trial. The lack of sub growth at Max is glaring, considering rival Disney+ generated 22 million sign-ups in its first four weeks. A leading culprit hindering Max sub growth could be an ongoing stalemate with Roku and Amazon over placement of the Max app on their respective platforms.

The app is available on Apple, Google and Samsung devices, but not yet on Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices or connected TVs. This severely impacts Max since the two services combined are the primary way 70% of consumers connect to streaming video services, according to Comscore. Fire TV, with 40 million registered users, and Roku, with more than 43 million, are key platforms for the survival of third-party SVOD services. Indeed, Max predecessor HBO Now generated the bulk of its 8 million subs through Prime Channels, Fire TV and Roku. The platforms typically take a cut of subscription revenue, in addition to controlling user data — requirements WarnerMedia reportedly dislikes.

The imbroglio resulted in launch confusion whereby an HBO pay-TV subscriber, or HBO Now/HBO Go user, automatically upgraded to Max, but could only watch catalog content unless separately downloading and registering on the Max app.

“We believe Amazon looks at that consumer experience as subpar and overly complicated. And we agree,” Rich Greenfield, analyst with Lightshed Partners, said in a note.

Regardless, AT&T management says Max consumer engagement is 60% higher than for SVOD predecessor HBO Now.

“We continue to grow and scale Max, with total domestic HBO and Max subscribers … well ahead of our expectations for the full year,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey. The telecom giant has spent $2 billion on the launch of Max.

While Stankey put a positive spin on sub growth, activation figures underscore Max’s ongoing struggle to capture consumers. New subs were only about twice that of Netflix’s sluggish Q3 sub additions, which ended the quarter with 195 million paid subs.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he believes Max sub growth is not a sprint win in the first 24 hours of launch, but rather a steady progression over the course of a marathon.

“If you look at last year at where we hoped we would be at the end of 2020, which is 36 million HBO and Max subscribers … obviously the number is going up every day,” said Kilar.

The former Hulu co-founder, who was hired in April to jumpstart Max-based initiatives across Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, brought in former Hulu colleagues (Jean-Paul Colaco to head sales; Andy Forssell as GM of direct-to-consumer) while cleaning house companywide. In August, Kilar cut about 500 positions at Warner Bros., with plans to eliminate another 20% of the WarnerMedia workforce. Through it all, analysts say Max’s impasse with Amazon and Roku, and confusing consumer options stand out as missteps in a market dominated by Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Prime Video.

“There’s a reasonable shot that AT&T management will screw up HBO Max as a SVOD competitor,” said Pivotal’s Wlodarczak.

Peacock Spreads Its Wings

When NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Roku announced an agreement enabling the former’s app placement on the Roku platform, it was a big win for the industry’s newest SVOD service. The deal followed months of  negotiations that saw Peacock (like HBO Max) enter the market without distribution on Roku and Amazon Fire TV — both must-have distribution points in the OTT video ecosystem.

“Roku customers are engaged streamers, and we know they’ll love access to a wide range of free and paid content,” Maggie McLean Suniewick, president of business development and partnerships at Peacock, said in a statement.

The agreement came on the heels of Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts disclosing Peacock had attracted 15 million subscribers (without Roku distribution) since launching nationwide in July. A closer look revealed that most of the subs opted for the free ad-supported option, featuring more than 13,000 hours of content.

“That’s 50% more subs than just six weeks ago,” Roberts said in September at the virtual Goldman Sachs 29th Annual Communicopia Conference. The CEO said the convergence of entertainment distribution between media and tech companies across multiple platforms has become a reality — driven by broadband and streaming video.

“We saw this coming and feel we are one of the best companies to play offense in this environment,” Roberts said.

In addition to current-season programming from NBC and Telemundo, Peacock offers access to Universal Pictures movies and live sports, including Premier League soccer and the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Across the board, we’re better than expectations,” Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, said on Comcast’s most-recent fiscal call. “We didn’t expect this many sign-ups, we didn’t expect people to come back as frequently as they’re coming back, and we didn’t expect people to watch as long as they’re watching once they come back.”

Apple TV+ Battles Negative Media Mojo

Since its launch a week before Disney+ in 2019, Apple TV+ has struggled to achieve the same media support afforded Disney’s SVOD platform. Despite Apple’s record market valuation of $2 trillion, Apple TV+ is viewed by some observers as an ongoing missed opportunity. The $4.99 monthly service was recently judged as having the worst content (60%), the least amount of variety (64%) and the most unfriendly user interface (64%), according to a Flixed.io survey of 1,300 respondents. By comparison, the same respondents hailed Netflix for the best content (89%), content variety (88%), user interface (85%) and viewing recommendations (69%).

Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimates that fewer than 10 million people have signed up for the free 12-month Apple TV+ subscription in the company’s most-recent fiscal quarter. He characterized the tally as “surprisingly low” for a brand as well-known as Apple. The company hasn’t officially released any video subscriber data. Apple just announced it would extend the free Apple TV+ trial period 90 days through 2021 for new Apple device consumers.

Research firm Antenna said Apple realized a 10% spike in new subs from March 14 to 16 as the coronavirus spread in the United States. The firm said the increase was the lowest of any major streaming service. Apple was reported to be spending $6 billion on original content in 2020 (before COVID-19), buttressing an original slate that includes “The Morning Show,” “Dickinson,” “See,” “Ghostwriter,” “For All Mankind,” “Helpsters,” “Hala” and “Little America,” among others.

“[Apple is] still not in [OTT video] with both feet,” media executive Barry Diller told a podcast. “They’ve put some capital in, but relatively little [for Apple]. They’re not making a major effort.”

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter contends that despite a major marketing effort around Apple TV+, the finished product thus far has been wanting.

“Apple TV+ only has a handful of original shows and no catalog,” Pachter said.

AVOD Comes of Age

Subscription streaming video’s rival, advertising-supported VOD, continues to gain traction among consumers — and advertisers. New data from eMarketer suggests AVOD revenue will grow more than 25% in 2020 compared to 2019.

The AVOD market, which is spearheaded by The Roku Channel, Hulu, Peacock, Redbox TV, IMDb TV, Pluto TV and Tubi, among others, saw ad revenue leap 31% to $849 million in the most-recent quarter, according to MoffettNathanson Research.

“AVOD advertising benefited from heightened usage and a mix shift in advertising budgets to OTT platforms, growing sizably in the quarter,” Nathanson wrote in a note.

Speaking Aug. 20 on the DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group Mid-Year 2020 Digital Media Entertainment Report webcast, Nathanson called AVOD the underreported streaming video story of the year. He said AVOD’s 28% market share behind Netflix and the other services reinforces the idea free access to VOD is gaining the most traction among consumers.

“That 28% of streaming minutes is where we think the streaming wars are actually happening,” Nathanson said.

With four of the five AVOD platforms owned by major media conglomerates, much of the ad growth is likely due to shifting third-party ad dollars from linear TV to connected televisions. The 31% rise in AVOD revenue among the top platforms compares with an estimated 28% decline in national broadcast and cable TV ad spending in Q2, according to eMarketer.

Eric Haggstrom, forecasting analyst at eMarketer, said he believes that while marketers are warming to AVOD, much of the revenue revolves around media giants pushing advertisers to proprietary streaming platforms.

“Some advertisers who bought ads in the TV network upfronts are shifting money within the same media company to streaming services,” Haggstrom said.

Indeed, Tubi earlier this year added all episodes of Fox’s “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back,” in addition to 300 hours of separate Ramsay content, which includes “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Kitchen Nightmares” and “The F Word.”

“Making this show available on Tubi, alongside Gordon’s other series, will only grow his footprint while also further promoting his programs on Fox,” said Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials at Fox Entertainment.

Tubi also added Fox’s music competition show “The Masked Singer.”

Ampere Analysis found that nearly one in five U.S. Internet users are using AVOD. Citing Q3 data, the London-based research firm said 17% of domestic Internet households used one or more AVOD services in the prior month, up from 13% in the previous-year period.

“The VOD market continues to expand and fragment, offering viewers more choice of platforms,” Minal Modha, consumer research lead at Ampere, said in a statement. “Free ad-funded platforms will find themselves well-positioned to attract an audience that is either unable or unwilling to pay for multiple subscriptions.”

The growth in AVOD seemingly contradicts some consumer sentiment about too much advertising on broadcast television. Ampere found that 44% of consumers surveyed in the U.S. said they don’t mind seeing advertising on TV.

Interestingly, Ampere doesn’t believe AVOD and SVOD are competing for the same audiences. Active AVOD users, according to Modha, tend to be older than SVOD subscribers, and are more likely to be from lower-
income households. About 25% of AVOD users are between the ages of 45 and 54, compared with 22% of SVOD viewers. And 19% of AVOD users are between the ages of 55 and 64, versus 14% of SVOD subscribers.

Nearly half of U.S. AVOD users have an annual household income of less than $30,000 per year, compared with a third of SVOD users. Almost 20% of AVOD viewers live in households with annual earnings of less than $15,000 per year.

“With distinct audiences, we believe that these two offerings aren’t competing directly with each other but rather can coexist,” Modha said. “We have seen some companies offer both a free and paid-for tier, such as Prime Video and IMDb TV, Hulu and Peacock. In the current climate, with both economic uncertainty and a greater need for people to stay at home, we expect the use of AVOD services to continue to rise as more consumers will be turning to these platforms as they seek entertainment without increasing their financial outlay.”

Apple TV+, PBS Partner for Special Broadcast Airings of ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ and ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

In a marketing twist, the “Peanuts” specials A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas will stream on Apple TV+, in addition to airing ad-free on PBS and PBS Kids on Nov. 22 (7:30 p.m. local time/6:30 p.m. CT) and Dec. 13 (7:30 p.m. local time/6:30 p.m. CT), respectively.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving will start streaming on Apple TV+ Nov. 18, and the special will be available for free from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27. The Peanuts gang will also deck the halls with the premiere of A Charlie Brown Christmas, streaming on Apple TV+ on Dec. 4. The holiday special will be available for free from Dec. 11 through Dec. 13.

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After its launch on Nov. 1, 2019, Apple TV+ became the first all-original streaming service to launch around the world, and has premiered more original hits and received more award recognitions faster than any other streaming service. Apple Originals have been honored with 120 awards nominations and 39 wins and accolades in 12 months, including a Primetime Emmy Award, Daytime Emmy Awards, SAG Award, NAACP Image Award, Critics Choice Award, Peabody Award and more.

Apple TV Plus’ ‘Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special’ Gets Dec. 4 Launch Date

Apple TV+ Nov. 18 announced that the upcoming Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special will debut Dec. 4 on the SVOD platform. The exclusive will launch with a companion soundtrack and new single, “Oh Santa!”

Guest superstars appearing on the special include Tiffany Haddish, Billy Eichner, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg, Jermaine Dupri, Misty Copeland and Mykal-Michelle Harris. Extra special appearances are also made by Carey’s twins, Moroccan and Monroe.

Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special is executive produced by Carey, as well as Ian Stewart, Raj Kapoor and Ashley Edens for Done + Dusted. BAFTA Award winner Hamish Hamilton and Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Roman Coppola direct, and also serve as executive producers, and the special is written by Caroline Fox.

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The soundtrack single and new music video for “Oh Santa!,” co-written by and featuring Carey performing with Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson, will be will be distributed by Sony Music and released on Apple Music and other streaming platforms Dec. 4. The companion soundtrack to the special is full of brand new interpretations, and will also include Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri as additional musical guests, in addition to a new version of “Sleigh Ride.” The soundtrack will be available Dec. 4 exclusively on Apple Music, and all other platforms on Dec. 11.

Apple Music will release the Apple TV+ special in an exclusive interview with flagship anchor Zane Lowe on Dec. 7, where Carey runs through her personally curated playlist of favorite holiday songs, and talks about her new music and recent memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey. Then on Dec. 25, Carey will also appear on Apple Music Hits, Apple Music’s new radio station, for a six-hour Holiday Hits special, featuring the biggest festive songs, including “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and telling fans about her own holiday memories, with additional artists and hosts sharing their own Christmas messages.

The holiday event will premiere globally on Apple TV+, which claims to have set records as the only new streaming service to launch globally in over 100 countries, and to have been honored with 122 awards nominations and 39 wins and accolades in its first year.

 

Apple TV (Plus) on Pending Xbox Series X and Series S Consoles

Microsoft Nov. 2 confirmed that its next-generation video game systems, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, will launch Nov. 10 with the Apple TV app included. The app, which affords access to $4.99 monthly SVOD service Apple TV+, joins Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Showtime, CBS All Access, AMC+, Spotify, YouTube, YouTube TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Peacock, Vudu, FandangoNow, Sky Go, Now TV, Sky Ticket and Twitch, among other over-the-top video platforms.

The Apple TV app offers access to thousands of transactional TV shows and movies, in addition to Apple TV+, Apple TV Channels and personalized entertainment recommendations.

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“It’s not just your games that play better than ever before on our new consoles, your favorite movies and shows are about to sound and look more immersive on Xbox Series X and Series S,” Will Tuttle, editor-in-chief at Xbox Wire, wrote in a press release.

 

Apple TV+ Renews ‘Ted Lasso’ for Third Season

Apple TV+ has renewed “Ted Lasso” for a third season, ahead of its second season start of production in London in early January.

The series premiered on August 14, 2020.

“Ted Lasso” stars Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, a small-time college football coach from Kansas who is hired to coach a professional soccer team in England despite having no experience coaching soccer. The series also stars Hannah Waddingham, Brendan Hunt, Jeremy Swift, Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein, Phil Dunster and Nick Mohammed.

In addition to starring, Sudeikis serves as executive producer, alongside Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”) via his Doozer Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television, a division of NBCUniversal Content. Doozer’s Jeff Ingold also serves as an executive producer with Liza Katzer as co-executive producer. The series was developed by Sudeikis, Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, and is based on the pre-existing format and characters from NBC Sports.

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Apple TV+ is available at $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial.

Apple TV+ Getting Jon Stewart for New Current Events Series

Jon Stewart, who won 20 Emmys skewering national politics and other issues on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” is returning to TV and mobile screens with a new current events series on subscription streaming service Apple TV+. Stewart, who handed over the reigns of “The Daily Show” to Trevor Noah five years ago, has largely stayed out of the limelight since, spending time with his family, supporting military veterans and 9/11 first responders, and directing movies — including most-recently Irresistible, with Steve Carell and Rose Byrne.

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Each 60-minute episode of the untitled show, which begins in 2021, will focus on one topic of national interest, similar to what John Oliver —a former correspondent for Stewart’s “Daily Show” — does in 30 minutes on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” Each episode will include a podcast companion piece.

Notably, Stewart is an executive producer for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS.

Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen to Star in Comedy Series for Apple TV+

Apple TV+ will launch a new comedy series, “Platonic,” starring Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen.

The series will be co-written by Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco (“Friends From College”) and will be produced for Apple by Sony Pictures Television.

“Platonic” reunites Byrne and Rogen with director Nick Stoller following their collaboration on the “Neighbors” films.

The 10-episode, half-hour comedy explores the inner workings of platonic friendship. A pair of former best friends who met in their youth (played by Byrne and Rogen) reconnect as adults and try to mend the rift that led to their falling out. As their friendship becomes more consuming, it destabilizes their lives and causes them to reevaluate their choices.

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In addition to writing, Stoller will direct. Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen and Conor Welch will serve as executive producers.

Apple TV+ is available at $4.99 a month with a seven-day free trial.