AVOD Service Crackle April 9 Bows Original Docu-Series ‘Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life’

AVOD service Crackle April 9 will debut the original docu-series “Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life.”

The 10-part series follows hip-hop artist Yelawolf as he drifts through Southern backwaters and Northern inner cities, unlocking a world the likes of which you’ve never seen before.

Also in April, Crackle hosts the exclusives Wonders of the Sea 3-D, a science documentary narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Memory: The Origins of Alien, a 2019 documentary tracing the origin of the classic “Alien” franchise through the script from Dan O’Bannon, the work of James Cameron and other filmmakers, the dark arts of H.R. Giger, to the unsettling works of H.P. Lovecraft and even the mythos of ancient Greek legends.

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Ficto, Free Mobile Streaming Alternative to Quibi, Launches App

Los Angeles-based Ficto, a free, ad-supported streaming service with content produced exclusively for mobile, has launched its mobile app, available on both iOS and Android.

In addition to being free, another advantage Ficto has over Quibi, the pending short-form mobile service from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman bowing April 6, is that Ficto offers interactive programming, according to CEO and co-founder Mike Esola.

“We’re doing stuff that they’re not doing, emphasizing interactivity,” he said. “If you happen to be in your 20s today, you look for things that are more than a passive experience.”

Ficto’s interactive features include live-stream, viewer geo-location, live chat, instant polling, choice-based narratives, 360 viewing, augmented reality (AR) characters and click-through e-commerce.

Ficto offers shows and series ranging from original dramas and licensed film adaptations, to comedies, docuseries, talk shows, game shows and news. The service is launching with 30 shows, averaging 5 minutes per episode, and anywhere from three-10 episodes in a season — with an additional 20 shows already in production, and more added to the content pipeline weekly.

Ficto developed a unique technology similar to Quibi’s turnstile technology where editors retain creative choice of their series in portrait mode frame-by-frame while also having the ability to stream horizontally, according to Esola, who spent 15 years as a Hollywood talent agent.

Among the programs on the service is “Ingress: The Series by Niantic, developer of mobile AR games Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It’s a narrative show that includes episodes interwoven with the real world game. The show will allow viewers to seek out clues at real-world locations with augmented reality, according to Esola.

“Storytelling is incredibly important at Niantic and we are always looking for interesting ways to expand on the narrative of our real world mobile games,” said “Ingress: The Series” director Spencer McCall in a statement. “Ficto is creating a platform that is a perfect fit for diving deeper into the mystery of Ingress, and we’re looking forward to creating fun and interactive episodes layered into the gameplay experience which players can enjoy on their mobile devices.”

Other content includes:

  • “Represent,” a docu-series that follows the women who are ready to take the sport of surfing to the Olympic stage, even as the 2020 games experiences a rare postponement;
  • “East of La Brea,” executive produced by Paul Feig, a series that tells the untold stories of Los Angeles through the lives of two very different Muslim women from working class backgrounds;
  • “Date & Switch,” a modern dating show with live polling that lets the audience decide who the bachelor or bachelorette chooses;
  • “Brothers From the Suburbs,” a comedy series that chronicles the highs and lows of three African American teenagers coming of age in an affluent, suburban, white, private school community;
  • “Nothingman,” which follows Otis Tremmel, a selfless, community-minded man with a complicated past, is now homeless and living on L.A.’s Skid Row;
  • “Tom & Grant,” about some heartland bank robbers with a bad plan;
  • “Real Artists,” about a young animator in the near future who is offered what should be her dream job, but discovers the truth of the modern “creative” process;
  • “Hermit,” a comedic series that explores the daily life of a woman who hasn’t left her apartment in six months; and
  • “Dakota,” a musical comedy-drama feature film with an all new original soundtrack by international pop-star Phoebe Ryan, who also plays the titular character.

A full roster of available shows can be found on Ficto’s shows page.

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Ficto is among the first streaming services to pay royalties, according to the company release, utilizing blockchain-based smart contracts creating “a radical new transparency payment layer for all parties involved in production.” Ficto automatically pays royalties in directly to artists based on how often their content is viewed, according to the service.

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At the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the company launched Ficto Studio, designed to work with CMOs, brand marketers, and agencies to help them design immersive brand promotions that leverage Ficto’s interactive capabilities. Ficto’s branded promotional options range from exclusive title or category sponsorship of a series, to custom augmented reality (AR), geo-location, click-to-purchase, product integration, launch events and creator collaborations. Ficto Studio’s custom sponsor programs provide comprehensive performance metrics, including viewer engagement, interactions, social sharing and listening as well as interactive polling to drive instant, two-way dialog with Ficto fans, according to the company.

Hulu Launches Free 24/7 Stream of ABC News Live to On-Demand Subscribers

Hulu has partnered with ABC News Live to bring the channel’s 24/7 live coverage to Hulu and Disney billed on-demand subscribers.

“More than 45 percent of Hulu viewers have either cut the cord or never had cable, and may not have access to live, televised news to receive critical information during times of national crisis,” according to a Hulu release. “Given the rapidly-evolving situation around COVID-19, and to ensure that our viewers can stay informed during this time, we’re partnering with ABC News Live to bring the channel’s 24/7 live coverage to Hulu and Disney billed on-demand subscribers as part of their subscription.”

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Beginning March 20, subscribers to Hulu’s ad-supported and Hulu (no ads) plans can access the ABC News Live stream by visiting the “Hulu Picks” collection.

“With this live stream, we aim to keep our viewers informed during this unprecedented time when having access to information is vital to our communities,” read the Hulu release.


Hulu Launching on Comcast Xfinity Flex and X1

Comcast’s Xfinity Flex customers can stream Hulu using the Hulu app on their Flex devices, according to the streaming company.

Xfinity Flex customers new to Hulu will also be able to customize their viewing experience with Hulu features such as Taste Picker and Like and Dislike buttons as well as stay up to date with their favorite shows and movies by adding them to My Stuff.

Current Hulu subscribers can sign in with their Hulu login through the Hulu app on Flex. Flex users new to Hulu can sign up here. Once they have their log-in credentials, they can access Hulu through the app on Flex.

Hulu will also roll out on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 platform within the coming weeks.

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Analysts: Home Entertainment ‘Virus’ Bump Could Be Short-Lived

With studios shuttered and live sports on indefinite suspension due to the threat of the coronavirus, home entertainment options ranging from broadcast and pay-TV, transactional VOD, DVD and streaming video are projected to see at least short-term bumps in viewership and revenue during the “social distancing” period, according to media analysts.

Nielsen reports “TV usage” in South Korea, Italy and the United States increased double digits during the initial weeks of the virus. Nielsen’s classification includes broadcast/pay-TV, VOD, AVOD, SVOD and the DVR.

Data from Sensor Tower found Netflix sign-ups via its app increased 57% and 34% in Italy and Spain, respectively. Streaming Elements reported live streaming via Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and other platforms jumped 66% in Italy in February. The country is on virtual lockdown after more than 2,500 people have died from the virus.

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“[SVOD] is an obvious beneficiary if consumers stay home due to coronavirus concerns, and this has been reflected in considerable stock price outperformance this week,” Dan Salmon with BMO Capital Market wrote in a March 13 note.

JC O’Hara, analyst with MKM Partners, told CNBC that consumers “stuck inside” all day during a pandemic quarantine would inevitably turn on the TV. O’Hara said streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, as well as ad-supported VOD platforms, would all benefit.

Neil Begley, with Moody’s Investors Services, back in January suggested that if the virus became widespread but short of panic, home entertainment content such as TV shows and films on Netflix, Disney+, Comcast’s Peacock, AT&T’s HBO Max, among others, would rule the day.

But should the pandemic last longer, leading to a global recession as some have projected, consumer spending on home entertainment would fall to the wayside, according to analysts Laura Martin with Needham and Craig Moffett with MoffettNathanson.

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“[SVOD] will be replaced pretty quickly by the necessity of reducing monthly bills, when people will have to deal with the financial impacts of a recession,” Moffett told The New York Times. “Cord-cutting will accelerate with a vengeance.”

A long-term pandemic and fiscal gains in home entertainment would likely be offset by a fiscal hardships in households as viewers — suddenly out of job due to sever downturns in the economy — reconsider spending on non-essential items.

“Cost will become that much more urgent,” Moffett said. “There are going to be very large parts of the population out of work.”

And some of those unemployed could work in media. With ESPN and sports-themed channels unable to broadcast live content, consumers would question spending on platforms largely streaming classic reruns and endless coronavirus chatter.

Disney-owned ESPN and WarnerMedia Entertainment’s Turner are projected to lose $481 million and $210 million in NBA-related ad-revenue alone. NBCUniversal has $1.2 billion in advertising at stake for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics — with President Trump now suggesting the latter could be postponed — a scenario one Games executive has called “impossible.” NBCU parent Comcast says it has insurance should the Games be canceled.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has already cautioned the tech giant would miss quarterly fiscal projections on iPhone sales due to the virus, told Fox Business he thinks the virus has run its course in China, epicenter to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It feels to me that China is getting the coronavirus under control,” Cook said on March 12. “You look at the numbers, they’re coming down day by day by day. And so I’m very optimistic there.”

Indeed, China March 18 reported no new COVID-19 infections throughout the country on March 17. That news comes the day after government officials expelled media representatives from major U.S. news organizations.


Sling TV Offering Free Service During Coronavirus Crisis

Sling TV March 18 announced a new promotion to provide consumers without a subscription free access to select news and entertainment content as the nation confronts the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Launched in 2015 by Dish Network, Sling TV was the first standalone online TV platform featuring premium channel ESPN and marketed as an alternative to the traditional pay-TV bundle and SVOD.

“To stay informed in these uncertain times, Americans need access to news from reputable sources,” Warren Schlichting, group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “With many Americans finding themselves staying at home, we have an opportunity to use our platform to help them deal with this rapidly evolving situation.”

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Free access includes ad-supported movies and shows suitable for kids and families, in addition to ABC News Live, a 24/7 streaming video news channel for breaking news and live events. Access is available through an app download on a Roku, Amazon or Android device, or by visiting sling.com on a Chrome, Safari or Edge browser and following the instructions on the welcome screen.

Current Sling TV subscribers can access free content within the user interface on any supported device, without changing their service plan.

Dish is also offering the Sling Blue service plan for $20 the first month (a $10 discount). In addition to free content, Sling streams channels, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, through its base services, Sling Orange and Sling Blue, starting at $30 per month.

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Fox Corp. Buys Tubi TV for $440 Million in Cash

Fox Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company following the sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, March 17 said it has acquired ad-supported video-on-demand service Tubi TV for $440 million in cash. Fox used its previous 5% ownership stake in Roku to fund the transaction.

Tubi founder/CEO Farhad Massoudi will continue to head the service. The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to close before June 30.

The purchase price is about $100 million more than what ViacomCBS paid for Pluto TV last year. The deal underscores media companies’ desire to enter the over-the-top video space with an alternative product to SVOD platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

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Tubi brings Fox an expanded consumer offering with a sizable, younger-skewing and directly connected user base that spends over 160 million hours per month watching content on the service.

San Francisco-based Tubi, which is currently available on more than 25 digital platforms in the United States, features over 20,000 titles and 56,000 hours of film and episodic television programming from over 250 content partners, including many of the major studios. The combination of Tubi’s reach, the resonance of its content and the quality of its technology platform have doubled the service’s usage and monetization over the last 12 months.

“Tubi will immediately expand our direct-to-consumer audience and capabilities and will provide our advertising partners with more opportunities to reach audiences at scale,” CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement.

Fox plans to continue to run Tubi as an independent service anchored by its consumer offering of licensed entertainment content. Fox said it would “evaluate” opportunities to expand the AVOD offering not through original content, but rather in a cost-effective manner by leveraging “its expertise” in national and local news and sports programming.

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Fox Corp. owns and operates Fox News and SVOD platform Fox Nation, among other properties.

“Tubi provides a substantial base from which we will drive long-term growth in the direct-to-consumer arena,” Murdoch said.

On the sale of Fox’s ownership stake in Roku, Murdoch said the company continues to admire the ongoing accomplishments of founder/CEO Anthony Wood and his team.

“We are pleased to expand our partnership with them as a result of the Tubi acquisition,” he said.


Pluto TV Adds Four New Channels

As Americans hunker down at home due to the coronavirus outbreak, AVOD service Pluto TV March 17 launched four new channels — TokuSHOUTsu (Ch. 681), Cops (Ch. 308), Blaze Live (Ch. 250) and America’s Voice News (Ch. 247).

TokuSHOUTsu (Ch. 681) offers tokusatsu entertainmant. Tokusatsu is the Japanese term for TV dramas and live-action films with special effects, monster brawls, superhero stunts and sci-fi. Content includes “Super Sentai,” “Ultraman” and “Kamen Rider.”

Cops (Ch. 308) gives viewers access into the daily lives and work of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and others in law enforcement. Filmed on location across the United States, the series follows real-life officers on patrol as they conduct high-speed pursuits, arrests and more.

America’s Voice News (Ch. 247) is a political news network.

Blaze Live (Ch. 250) is news and entertainment “for people who love America,” according to Pluto TV. Hosts include Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Steven Crowder, Dave Rubin, Phil & Jase Robertson and Sara Gonzales.

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In addition to these four new channels, Pluto TV will be running programming blocks:

  • Sci-Fi Action on Pluto TV Movies 1 & 2, Channels 54 and 56, March 18, 7 p.m. (EST/PST),Stealth, Virtuosity, Aeon Flux;
  • Athletically Funny on Pluto TV Comedy, Channel 60, March 19, 7 p.m. (EST/PST), Kingpin, Bull Durham, Nacho Libre, Necessary Roughness, The Foot Fist Way;
  • Character Comedies on Pluto TV Comedy, Channel 60, March 25, 7 p.m. EST, The Dictator, The Love Guru, Superstar, Night at the Roxbury; and
  • Family Adventures on Pluto TV Movies 1 & 2, Channels 54 and 56, March 30, 7 p.m. (EST/PST), Lemony Snicket, The Tuxedo, Young Sherlock Holmes.

Shout! Factory March 17 Launches Streaming Channel TokuSHOUTsu on Pluto TV

Shout! Factory TV March 17 will launch a new linear streaming channel, TokuSHOUTsu, on AVOD service Pluto TV.

The 24/7 channel explores the world of tokusatsu — the Japanese entertainment genre known for its unique special effects and epic battles. Appearing on Channel 681 in the Tech + Geek section, TokuSHOUTsu presents tokusatsu content not available on any leading streaming service, curated especially for fans of the genre, according to Shout!.

Free to Pluto TV’s 22+ million monthly active users, the ad-supported TokuSHOUTsu will be home to the U.S. debut of the cult classic “Kamen Rider,” debuting with the inaugural 98-episode series from 1971. TokuSHOUTsu will also launch with “Ultraman Leo,” as well as “Super Sentai,” the series that ultimately led to the “Power Rangers” phenomenon.

Pluto TV is available on all leading digital streaming devices and services, including Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Google Chromecast, as well as major smart TVs and game consoles. For viewers looking to stream content on demand, “Kamen Rider,” “Ultraman Leo” and “Super Sentai” will also be available on Shout! Factory TV.

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“We’re so proud to launch TokuSHOUTsu as the ultimate destination for fans to watch the best tokusatsu content spanning more than 60 years,” said Gene Pao, Shout! Factory’s SVP, digital enterprises, in a statement. “We know fans have come to appreciate the carefully curated content that Shout! Factory distributes, and we’ve created this channel with the legions of tokusatsu enthusiasts in mind. We’re thrilled to add it to our umbrella of fan-centric streaming options.”

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“’Kamen Rider’ is the number one kids’ program in Japan, and is still beloved after all these years,” said Shin-ichiro Shirakura, producer of the series. “We are so excited that the show will finally be available for all of our fans in North America.”

TokuSHOUTsu also will feature original content, including “Let’s Talk Toku,” a new, original weekly talk show produced by and for tokusatsu fans and hosted by genre expert Squall Charlson.

Print Goes Video in New Flipboard TV Streaming Service

In a competitive move against Apple News, online news aggregator Flipboard announced the launch of Flipboard TV, a curated video service inside the Flipboard app featuring content from publisher partners and local TV stations.

The ad-supported platform, which launches on Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, debuts with 16 channels, featuring video from publishers including The Associated Press, Bonnier Corporation, Bustle Digital Group, Digital Trends, Hearst Magazines, Lonely Planet, Mansueto Ventures and McClatchy.

These new partnerships support existing programming, which includes videos from Dow Jones, Hearst Television, Penske Media, American Media, Bloomberg Media and The Recount.

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Print contributors include Elle, Seventeen, Harper’s Bazaar, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, Delish, Clevver News, Clevver Style, Popular Mechanics, Women’s Health; Mansueto Ventures, the parent company of Fast Company and Inc. magazines; and Bustle Digital Group, which operates nine media brands, including Bustle, Elite Daily, Mic, NYLON, Input, Inverse, Romper, The Outline, The Zoe Report.

“The interest we’re getting from publishers to collaborate to develop an ad-fee subscription service for video content is encouraging,” Claus Enevoldsen, VP of business development at Flipboard, said in a statement.

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In a rapidly changing media landscape, print publishers are moving into high-quality video they hope will make their brands more discoverable among video consumers.

‘The market seems to be getting used to paying for premium content, which makes me bullish about our [AVOD] model for Flipboard TV,” Enevoldsen said.

Indeed, participation of McClatchy and its 30 newsrooms, including the Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee  newspapers, which includes video from dozens of local news stations from groups like Hearst Television, comes at an opportune time for the media company. It filed for bankruptcy last month, citing declines in print advertising and more than $700 million in debt.

“We are excited to expand our partnership with Flipboard and congratulate them on this innovative launch,” said Angela Lunter, senior director, business strategy and operations at McClatchy. “Flipboard is well positioned to build on its knowledge of delivering curated content by adding video to its offerings. We appreciate the team’s efforts to elevate local news in this new service.”