Report: Apple Considering $9.99 Monthly Sub Price for Apple TV+

Apple’s subscription streaming service Apple TV+ will roll out by November and executives are looking at a price of $9.99 a month, according to Bloomberg report citing anonymous sources.

The launch will likely include a free trial, according to the sources cited by Bloomberg.

The company is weighing different release strategies for shows, according to the report, and is considering offering the first three episodes of some programs at once, followed by weekly installments.

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Apple’s slate will include “The Morning Show,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell; Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories”; “See” with Jason Momoa; and “Truth Be Told” with Octavia Spencer.

Apple+ is joining an increasingly crowded SVOD space that includes established services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, which debuts in November at $6.99 a month, and upcoming services from WarnerMedia and NBC Universal.

Finding the Key to SVOD Success

Original content has been the star on SVOD services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, with upcoming services Apple TV+ and Disney+ teasing originals in celebrity-filled press conferences. But catalog content is an important supporting player.

Certainly, originals can attract eyeballs, said the NPD Group’s Kathi Chandler-Payatt at last month’s EMA summit. She noted that while both original movies and episodic shows are a small percentage of content on Netflix, they garner an outsized share of viewing.

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Still, originals aren’t the only shows that keeps viewers subscribing, noted Screen Engine/ASI’s Mark Orne at the event. Subscribers often stay with a service based on go-to backup shows, mostly long-running hit comedy series, such as “The Office,” “Friends,” “South Park” and “Family Guy.” It’s why Disney+ streaming “The Simpsons” from its Fox acquisition is a smart move, he noted.

No wonder WarnerMedia pulled “Friends,” and Universal “The Office,” from Netflix for their upcoming services.

Indeed, speakers on a consumer panel at the EMA summit said that they like to stream while doing other activities, such as cleaning a room, not the kind of thing one can do while viewing a gripping original. One even noted she likes to go to sleep to certain familiar shows.

Meanwhile, a few hits might not be enough to keep viewers subscribing, as consumers are willing to pay for a month or take the free trial, watch and cancel, or share passwords, Orne said.

While they may like the occasional title equivalent of a gourmet meal, consumers also like to binge on titles that are comfort foods. SVOD services that can offer a wide menu may be the winners in the OTT race.

Facebook Testing Third-Party Streaming Service Access

Facebook has taken a page from Amazon offering users direct access to third-party subscription streaming services such as BritBox and CollegeHumor’s DropOut, Tastemade and MotorTrend.

The social media behemoth, which announced the domestic test Aug. 8, hopes to get users to remain on the platform longer — a draw for advertisers.

“We’re testing video subscriptions on Facebook, starting with a limited set of partners,” the company said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring more of people’s favorite shows and video to Facebook. We’ll be listening to feedback from our community.”

The campaign mirrors efforts by Amazon Prime Channels and Apple TV+ offering third-party SVODs services direct access to their consumers.

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SVOD services such as Lionsgate’s StarzPlay and Cinedigm’s Dove Channel, Docurama and CONtv have credited Amazon with jumpstarting subscriber growth for their platforms.

CollegeHumor’s DropOut service is priced at $4.99 monthly, with BritBox at $6.99; Tastmade at $2.99 and MotorTrend at $4.99.

Facebook, similarly to Amazon and Apple, will handle the billing. It wasn’t immediately clear if it would also take a revenue cut as Amazon and Apple do. Amazon also maintains control on all third-party user data.

AVOD Service Tubi Targets Netflix, Hulu in Outdoor Branding Campaign

Tubi, the San Francisco-based ad-supported streaming video service, has rolled out what it says is its largest-ever outdoor branding campaign.

Beginning Aug. 5, billboards and high-res images, including, “Dear Netflix, I had my first freesome last night. Tubi was amazing,” and “Dear Hulu, I was with Tubi last night, but I only watched,” will be on display along high-traffic locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

The creatives are a tongue-in-cheek campaign that takes into account the price hikes of current and growing number of soon-to-be-launched streaming services (i.e. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, etc.) in the coming year.

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Tubi says its marketing campaign comes at a time when consumers are experiencing “subscription fatigue,” contending AVOD offers premium streaming for free.

Other banners include, “Dear Netflix, I didn’t think you’d find out. I streamed Tubi last night”; “Dear Hulu, you’re cool and all, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tubi last night”; and “Dear NYC. You free tonight? Because we are.”

Tubi features more than 15,000 library movies and television series from more than 200 content partners, including Warner Bros., NBC Universal, MGM and Lionsgate, among others.

The service in June announced that its monthly users topped 20 million in May with more than 94 million hours of content consumed.

As part of the campaign, San Francisco-based Tubi said it would take to the skies — which it apparently did in a midday flyover of Netflix’s Sunset Boulevard office in West Hollywood.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Tubi

 

 

Parks: Streaming Media Player Ownership Flattening With Roku and Amazon Leading Space

More than a third (39%) of U.S. broadband households own a streaming media player, but that’s a mere 1% increase from 2018, according to new research from Parks Associates.

Ownership has flattened, the firm noted, although purchase intentions are higher for 2019 compared to previous years.

The report, 360 Deep Dive: Adoption and Use of Connected Video Devices, found connected video device manufacturers may need to shift focus from hardware sales to service and advertising revenue, as ownership reaches saturation, according to Parks.

“Streaming media has reshaped how U.S. consumers interact with entertainment content and services, so as the market matures, sales increasingly come at another vendor’s expense,” said Parks senior analyst Kristen Hanich in a statement. “Video-quality features are the most important factors when consumers buy a connected video device, although Roku and Amazon have certainly benefited among streaming media players by having broad product portfolios that include lower price points.”

Among streaming media players, Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV are the clear market leaders with almost 70% of the installed base of streaming media players in the United States, according to the firm. Consumer-reported data reveals that between Q1 2017 and Q1 2019, Roku’s share of the U.S. streaming media player installed base grew from 37% to 39%, while Amazon’s share of the installed base increased from 24% to 30%.

The report looks at the state of the connected video device space, including smart TV platforms, streaming media devices, smart set-top boxes and gaming consoles, examining the changing roles of these devices and how consumers are engaging with new functionality, such as voice control and live TV integration.

“As the addressable market shrinks, rivalry increases,” said Parks senior analyst Craig Leslie in a statement. “The combined installed base for Roku and Amazon is three times larger than the nearest competitor. The adoption of Roku and Fire TV streaming media players continues to grow at the expense of Chromecast and Apple TV.”

EMA Event Spotlights Digital Delivery

The over-the-top market is exploding, and the Entertainment Merchants Association this year at its annual Los Angeles conference gave it a starring role.

The OTT_X conference, focusing on the OTT market, ran July 16-17 concurrent with the eighth annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit presented by the EMA. In addition to OTT panels and spotlight presentations, the EMA facilitated OTT business meetings in addition to meetings scheduled for LAES participants. The joint event attracted about 400 attendees.

The new focus is part of a bigger shift for the EMA.

“It was really apparent last year that the event needed to change,” said EMA CEO and president Mark Fisher July 16 in opening remarks, adding “as the industry changes so does the EMA.”

“We’ve intentionally shed our support and income from the video game segment,” he said, to be more focused. The organization has also shed physical retail members and distributors.

“It’s a pivot,” he said, but “we’re not going to leave behind the TVOD space.”

A leader in that transactional VOD market, FandangoNow chief Cameron Douglas, also chair of the EMA board, noted the annual confab “used to be an event with meetings between retailers and studios.”

Now, the EMA, via its Ultimate Movie Weekend promotion, is promoting cooperation between studios and digital retailers.

“Who would have thought there would be a major studio backed campaign — except Fox and Disney — that was focused on rental instead of EST,” Douglas said.

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks and chair of the OTT_X  conference, explained the name in opening remarks.

“The X in the name really reflects the core mission of why we’re all here today,” he said. “It’s an exchange. First and foremost, it’s an exchange of ideas.”

Such collaboration is crucial in an era of fast digital disruption.

“These changes are happening so frequently and at such a precipitous pace, the only way we can come out of this is by fostering a community,” he said.

Key challenges for OTT video platforms are customer acquisition and retention, monetization and content discovery, according to speakers at OTT_X.

Having original content is one way OTT platforms are meeting these challenges, said presenter Kathi Chandler-Payatt, executive director and entertainment analyst, The NPD Group. Using Netflix Originals as a case study, she noted that while both original movies and episodic shows are a small percentage of content on Netflix, they garner an outsized share of viewing. Originals made up 16% of new seasons vs. licensed in 2019, but those originals garnered a prodigious 24% of minutes watched. The same holds true for original movies, which are 11% of content and 22% of minutes.

Part of the reason for the uptake of originals is preferential marketing, she noted.

“It’s very smart from a platform perspective to push originals,” she said because the platform owns it. Thus, making a show with Netflix may give content producers a leg up in discovery.

“People think content is king, but discovery is king,” she said.

Originals have a short window to prove themselves, she said. She quoted Netflix VP of originals Cindy Holland as saying that the service generally knows within 28 days whether a new show or season meets Netflix’s expectations in terms of audience reach. In addition to viewership during that period, metrics such as season completion also figure in renewal.

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OTT_X event chair Opeka moderated the panel “Monetization Trends in OTT.” Ad-supported VOD streaming services, such as Xumo, whose CEO Colin Petrie-Norris was on the panel, are ascendant, many speakers noted. Xumo has 160 curated channels and 40 million households in the United States, Petrie-Norris said.

AVOD “can generate very high yield per consumer” with advertising, he said.

Tubi chief content officer Adam Lewinson also cited the growth of AVOD in a keynote presentatoin. AVOD aggregator Tubi has 20 million monthly active users, with 100 million minutes streamed in June and well over 15,000 titles or 44,000 hours of content, “more than double the content volume of Netflix,” he said. June yielded its largest revenue month ever, he said.

“AVOD is for real,” he said.

There are challenges, however.

“The biggest challenge in streaming right now … in all VODs, it’s really about customer acquisition, retention and churn,” he said. “A subset to that is content discovery. Once you crack those problems, that’s when you get to scale.”

A seamless experience on the platform is also “incredibly important,” he said, “just having a seamless experience where the tech fades away.”

“You also want to be ubiquitious,” he said. “You do want to be everywhere that people are streaming.”

Tubi has also employed machine learning in its proprietary content personalization engine.

“The more data that we have on our viewers the more we are able to personalize,” he said.

A key advantage to AVOD is the “barrier to entry is so low” because viewers don’t have to pay, he said.

As for Tubi getting into original programming like its paid SVOD counterparts, “we have no intention of going down that road,” he said. “It’s tremendously competitive. You wind up overpaying for content.”

There is already too much content, he noted.

“Original series are just whizzing by at an epic pace,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Tubi isn’t willing to spend on content.

“I have a nine-figure content budget for the year, and we’re spending it,” he said.

On a panel about windowing of content, Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media, said he was “worried that [AVOD is] the emperor’s new clothes,” a false hope of a monetary savior, noting the amount of revenue that trickles down to content producers who license their titles to such services is small.

Still, competition from increased content is pushing content owners to find new outlets.

“It used to take years for us to put up content on AVOD,” said Cinedigm’s Natasha Pietruschka, adding that now, “Where else can we fill those revenue gaps?”

Transactional digital retailers took the stage during the LAES session. Panelists noted that since consumers are paying directly for content, whether for rental or purchase, the key concern for TVOD platforms is making that experience seamless and easy and the quality top notch.

“The bar is so high because you have paid specifically for that title whether rental or purchase,” said FandangoNow’s Douglas, who was on the transactional panel. “It better play.”

He said FandangoNow has concentrated on making the viewing experience top-quality with extensive 4K offerings and a living room app that rivals any.

While Redbox has made its name on physical disc rentals, Chris Yates, GM of Redbox On Demand, said the new digital sales and rental arm doesn’t cannibalize that core business, it supplements it. It offers a choice when consumers don’t want to go to a kiosk and has resulted in “improved affinity for our brand,” he said.

Speakers at both events discussed the looming launch of new SVOD services, including Walt Disney Co.’s $6.99 Disney+.

Disney is “out in front of the others,” said IHS Markit’s Sarah Henschel during a research presentation. Awareness of the service jumped from 24% in Q1 to 35% in Q2 even before the Disney marketing machine really gets rolling, she said.

The firm expects upcoming services to add 36.7 million paying domestic subs by 2023.

“I think Disney and Apple [with its pending SVOD service Apple TV+] have a leg up because they are already consumer facing brands,” Henschel said. “Disney has the strongest hold in my opinion right now.”

When asked how many in the audience would buy the new service when it launches, the majority of attendees raised their hands.

‘Star Wars’ Director J.J. Abrams Reportedly Close to Mega Deal with WarnerMedia

One of the reasons Netflix claims it doesn’t pursue live sports programming is fiscal common sense. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos argues he doesn’t want to become embroiled in vanity battles over escalating rights fees lavished by networks on MLB, the NBA and NFL for access.

Observers say that’s an odd reason, considering the SVOD pioneer has pushed content spending into the professional sports stratosphere. Netflix recently signed TV producers Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”) and Shonda Rimes(“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) to record-breaking content deals valued at $300 million and $100 million, respectively.

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Warner Bros. TV shelled out a reported $400 million for producer Greg Berlanti (”Dawson’s Creek,” “You,” “Riverdale”).

And Apple inked deals with Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg and Reese Witherspoon, among others.

Now, Warner’s corporate umbrella, WarnerMedia, is reportedly close to signing director J.J. Abrams (Star Wars, “Westworld”) to an exclusive deal worth $500 million. An amount pushed by losing suitors Apple, Comcast and Netflix, among others.

WarnerMedia is swinging for the fences in part because it is backed by telco parent AT&T’s mushrooming debt spending ($171 billion) seeking a creative backstop for a pending branded SVOD service as well as leverage against the November OTT launch of Disney+.

WarnerMedia also recently signed smaller deals with Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us”), Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”) and is reportedly close to re-signing Chuck Lorre (“Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men”) to another long-term production deal.

“With more streaming services competing for available content, we expect more [production] consolidation [i.e. spending] to occur over the next few years,” Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a note.

Apple Replacing iTunes with Three New Apps

After 18 years, Apple iTunes is history.

As expected, Apple June 3 previewed macOS Catalina, a new desktop operating system that replaces iTunes with three entertainment apps — Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and the Apple TV app.

The three apps — unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Confab in San Jose, Calif., — are designed to simplify and improve the way Mac users discover and enjoy their favorite music, TV shows, movies and podcasts.

The new Apple Music app helps users discover new music with over 50 million songs, playlists and music videos. And users will have access to their entire music library, whether they downloaded the songs, purchased them or ripped them from a CD. For those who like to own their music, the iTunes Music Store is just a click away.

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The new Apple TV app brings together different ways to find and watch movies and TV shows into one app.

The app features Apple TV channels, personalized recommendations and over 100,000 iTunes movies and TV shows to browse, buy or rent — so users can enjoy 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos-supported movies.

The “Watch Now” section features “Up Next,” where viewers can keep track of what they are currently watching and resume on any screen. This fall, Apple TV+, Apple’s original video subscription service, will be available in the Apple TV app.

Separate “Sidecar” software enables users to extend their Mac desktop by using their iPad as a second display or as a high-precision input device across creative Mac apps. New security features keep users better protected and “voice control” software lets users control their Mac entirely with their voice.

“With macOS Catalina, we’re bringing fresh new apps to the Mac, starting with new standalone versions of Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and the Apple TV app,” Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering at Apple, said in a statement. “Users will appreciate how they can expand their workspace with Sidecar, enabling new ways of interacting with Mac apps using iPad and Apple Pencil. And with new developer technologies, users will see more great third-party apps arrive on the Mac this fall.”

Apple Unveils New Apple TV 4K Operating System

Apple June 3 at the developers confab in San Jose, Calif., previewed tvOS 13, the media giant’s new operating for TV shows, movies, music, photos, games and apps via Apple TV 4K inside the home.

With tvOS 13, Apple TV 4K gains a new home screen; multi-user support for customers to access their own TV shows, movies, music and recommendations; support for Apple Arcade; expanded game controller support; and new 4K HDR screen savers filmed under the sea.

tvOS 13 features the all-new Apple TV app, which brings together different ways to find and watch TV shows and movies into one app. The app offers Apple TV channels, personalized recommendations and over 100,000 iTunes movies and TV shows, including the largest collection of 4K HDR titles to browse, buy or rent.

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As previously reported, Apple TV+, Apple’s original video subscription service, will be available in the Apple TV app. The Apple TV app is also available on other Apple devices and select third-party platforms.

“tvOS powers the Apple TV 4K experience and continues to set the standard for home entertainment,” Greg Joswiak, VP of product marketing, said in a statement. “With more personalized features to enjoy your favorite TV shows, movies, photos and music, expanded gaming support and stunning new screen savers, tvOS 13 delivers the most complete entertainment experience to everyone in the home.”

Features include a new home screen designed for full-screen video previews so users can view new TV shows, movies, music and games.

The new Apple TV control center simplifies switching users so everyone gets their own personalized entertainment experience. Users see their unique Up Next list and receive TV and movie recommendations based on their tastes. The control center also provides users with quick access to key Apple TV features, including system sleep and audio routing.

Apple Music on tvOS 13 takes advantage of multi-user support, so everyone at home can easily play their personalized playlists and recommendations. In the control center, users can quickly access the song that is currently playing. In addition, users can now follow along to onscreen lyrics timed in sync with their favorite songs.

Apple Arcade is coming to Apple TV 4K. With a single subscription, a family of six will have unlimited access to over 100 new and exclusive games, all with no ads or additional purchases, and many will offer support for game controllers. Customers will be able to play Apple Arcade games across iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac and Apple TV.

tvOS 13 adds support for Xbox One S and PlayStation DualShock 4, making it even easier for gamers to take advantage of Apple Arcade and other games on the App Store.

 Apple is expanding its collection of 4K HDR screen savers available on Apple TV 4K by taking viewers under the sea.

Filmed in collaboration with the BBC Natural History Unit, the team behind “Blue Planet,” these immersive videos captured from the depths of oceans around the world showcase mesmerizing creatures and scenes.

 

‘Apple Channels’ Platform Launches Offering Access to Third-Party Streaming Services

Apple May 13 has formally launched “Apple Channels,” an app enabling users access to third-party subscription streaming services such as HBO Now, Showtime OTT and Lionsgate-owned Starz, among others.

The platform mimics Amazon Prime Channels, which bowed in 2015 offering Prime members direct access to HBO Now, Showtime, CBS All Access, Shudder, Sundance Now, Dove Channel, Acorn TV, Urban Movie Channel, among other others.

Amazon Channels, which maintains control over third-party OTT usage among Prime members, in addition to revenue sharing deals, has been credited by WarnerMedia, LIonsgate and CBS for driving subscriber growth for their respective brands.

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Apple Channels reportedly is getting from 15% to 30% of third-party revenue from subscribers registering through The App Store on Apple devices.

In addition, Apple Channels users can only stream third-party content through its app on Apple devices; not on other platforms such as Roku, Google Chromecast or PlayStation Vue, among others.

Current third-party SVOD subs can access the platforms through Apple Channels. The platform is not Apple TV+, the new SVOD platform launching later this year.