AT&T Eyeing HBO, Warner Content for AVOD Distribution

AT&T currently markets standalone over-the-top video services DirecTV Now and Watch TV — the latter offering mobile access to 30 pay-TV channels for $15 monthly and no long-term contract.

Watch TV has generated about 500,000 subscribers since its debut last June. DirecTV Now, which jettisoned more than 260,000 subs after ending promotional pricing late last year, has about 1.6 millions subs.

The telecom now appears to be considering ad-supported VOD — long a stepchild to subscription streaming VOD service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

With Amazon subsidiary IMDb.com launching a free ad-supported VOD service, Hulu’s basic SVOD plan featuring commercials, and Comcast launching AVOD for Xfinity subscribers in 2020, AT&T is pondering ad-supported distribution for select content from subsidiary WarnerMedia.

Speaking on the Jan. 30 fiscal call, CEO Randall Stephenson reiterated that companies with “very strong” IP, “deep libraries” of IP are the ones that are going to succeed over time.

He said Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara and WarnerMedia boss John Stankey have been analyzing optimal distribution channels and license opportunities for content.

Tsujihara helped craft the recent non-exclusive license extension with Netflix for “Friends,” a deal that lets WarnerMedia stream the venerable sitcom through its pending SVOD service launching later this year.

Stephenson said WarnerMedia content would be targeted toward what he called “two-sided” business models that include SVOD and AVOD.

“There’s a demand and the customers have become accustomed to advertising free subscription services,” he said. “And we think HBO and a lot of the Warner content [is] premium content will fit into that mold.”

While Stephenson didn’t reveal AVOD specifics, he said the recent acquisition of Xandr to help sell targeted digital advertising to AT&T’s 170 million mobile and broadband subscribers, underscored opportunities for advertising-supported models that help keep content (i.e. catalog) prices down, keep consumer costs down and help fund additional content acquisition and purchasing.

“Xandr is a big part of making that model work,” he said. “So, our model will be a two sided model, with a heavy subscription service, with some ad-supported elements to it as well.”

 

 

 

Tubi TV AVOD Service to Spend $100+ Million on Content in 2019

Tubi TV, the advertising-based video-on-demand service, Jan. 30 announced plans to spend more than $100 million on content in 2019.

The San Francisco-based service currently features a library of more than 12,000 movies and television series from more than 200 content partners, including most major studios.

Launched in 2014, Tubi said viewership increased 430% in 2018 compared to 2017, with December generating nearly as much content streamed as all of 2017.

The company said it turned a profit in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2018, with revenue up more than 180% in 2018. More than 1,000 advertisers ran spots on Tubi, including consumer products and automotive advertisers reaching audiences via ads on movies and TV shows.

Late last year, Tubi became the third streaming service to be made available on Comcast’s X1 platform — behind Netflix and YouTube. The service plans to launch beyond the U.S. and Canada, with the first territories expected to be announced this quarter.

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

 

Viacom to Acquire Pluto TV

Viacom announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire U.S. free ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV for $340 million in cash.

Among the benefits of the deal is creating a scaled direct-to-consumer offering, giving Viacom direct access to millions of consumers, according to the Viacom press release. It also gives Viacom an opportunity to monetize library product, according to the release.

“Today marks an important step forward in Viacom’s evolution, as we work to move both our company and the industry forward,” said Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish in a statement. “Pluto TV’s unique and market-leading product, combined with Viacom’s brands, content, advanced advertising capabilities and global scale, creates a great opportunity for consumers, partners and Viacom. As the video marketplace continues to segment, we see an opportunity to support the ecosystem in creating products at a broad range of price points, including free. To that end, we see significant white space in the ad-supported streaming market and are excited to work with the talented Pluto TV team, and a broad range of Viacom partners, to accelerate its growth in the U.S. and all over the world.”

“Since our launch less than five years ago, and particularly over the past year, Pluto TV has enjoyed explosive growth and become the category leader in free streaming television,” said Pluto TV CEO and co-founder Tom Ryan in a statement. “Viacom’s portfolio of global, iconic brands and IP, advanced advertising leadership and international reach will enable Pluto TV to grow even faster and become a major force in streaming TV worldwide. Viacom is the perfect partner to help us accomplish our mission of entertaining the planet.”

Ryan will continue to serve as CEO of Pluto TV, which will operate as an independent subsidiary of Viacom upon closing of the transaction, according to the Viacom press release. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019, the release stated.

Founded in 2013, Pluto TV streams more than 100 channels and thousands of hours of on-demand content spanning television and movies, sports, news, lifestyle, comedy, cartoons, gaming and trending digital series, according to the release. The AVOD service features programming sourced from more than 130 partnerships with media networks, major film and television studios and a wide range of digital content producers.

Pluto TV has more than 12 million monthly active users, 7.5 million of which are on connected TVs, according to the release. Its audience streams billions of minutes of content each month across devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Sony PlayStation consoles, as well as built-in integrations on smart TVs from Samsung and Vizio, and mobile apps on Android and iOS, the release stated. Pluto TV has also secured new distribution deals that will make the service available on tens of millions of additional devices in the coming months, according to the release.

“The acquisition of Pluto TV will advance Viacom’s key strategic priorities, including expanding its presence across next-generation distribution platforms and growing its advanced advertising business,” the press release stated. “Additionally, access to Viacom’s global reach, leading brands and vast, unencumbered library will help solidify Pluto TV as the leader in the free streaming video market in the U.S. and accelerate Pluto TV’s global growth.”

The deal “benefits from Viacom’s strategic decision to curtail the licensing of large library packages to SVOD over the last two years,” according to the release.

Viacom’s current-window programming will remain in the pay-TV ecosystem on its branded networks, the release stated.

Sinclair Launches AVOD Streaming Service

Sinclair Broadcast Group has launched a free, ad-supported streaming video service — dubbed Stirr – that includes access to national news, sports, entertainment and digital channels, a video-on-demand library and local channel featuring programming based on a user’s location.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based service joins a burgeoning field of SVOD alternative services that include Sony Crackle, Shout! TV, IMDb Freedive, Tubi TV, The Roku Channel and Pluto TV, among others.

It is available on iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and on the Web at: www.Stirr.com providing viewers with a variety of linear networks that cater to all interests, such as movies, news, sports, sci-fi and action, family-friendly programming, and comedy.

Stirr is offering 20 national networks at launch: Buzzr, Charge, Cheddar, Comet, Cinedigm’s CONtv and Dove Channel, Dust, FailArmy, Futurism, Gravitas, Mobcrush, MovieMix, NASA TV, Outdoor America, The Pet Collective, Soar, Stadium, TBD, The T and World Poker Tour.

Stirr has also developed original channels, including Stirr Movies, Stirr Sports, Stirr Life, and Stirr City. It plans to add new linear networks monthly growing to over 50 by the end of 2019.

“We are entering a new era of broadcast television and our number one priority at Sinclair is to help advance the industry and increase access to broadcast content in the midst of a digital age,” Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley said in a statement. “With the launch of STIRR, we intend to offer audiences an easy, convenient and free way to watch live local and national channels, as well as access a deep selection of on-demand programming.”

In addition to national networks, the service will be anchored by a unique local channel called, “Stirr City,” offering a curated 24/7 program lineup based on where a viewer lives. The new channel lineup includes live local news, local and regional sports, entertainment and city-focused lifestyle programming provided by the local Sinclair TV station in that city.

“Despite the explosive growth of new national over-the-top (OTT) services, local TV station’s programming, especially local news, has remained some of the most popular and desired content to audiences and advertisers alike,” said Stirr GM Adam Ware. “By creating the Stirr City channel format, local TV stations can now extend their programming strength to OTT. Stirr will offer viewers both a new local channel and an extensive local on-demand library relevant to the place they call home.”

In addition to Ware, Sinclair tapped digital media veterans Ben Lister, director of content acquisitions, and Stacie Anthony, editor-in-chief, who are leading efforts in Santa Monica. The app was developed by Sinclair Digital based in Seattle.

 

News Analysis: AVOD Just Got Real

The biggest news during last week’s CES occurred hundreds of miles away in Los Angeles.

Amazon’s IMDb.com movie industry website confirmed previous rumors and nixed executive denials with the launch of a branded ad-supported video streaming platform.

IMDb Freedive enables customers to watch TV shows, including “Fringe,” “Heroes,” “The Bachelor” and “Without a Trace,” as well as movies, such as Awakenings, Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster, Run Lola Run, The Illusionist, The Last Samurai and True Romance, without purchasing a subscription, according to Media Play News’ Stephanie Prange.

The launch is significant. Heretofore, AVOD was a distant stepchild to SVOD — the latter spearheaded by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. With a media landscape littered with SVOD and subscription-based online TV, ad-supported platforms offer an economical (i.e. free) alternative.

To be sure, Sony Crackle and Shout! TV have offered ad-supported content without subscription largely to niche audiences for some time. The Roku Channel upped the format by tapping into a user base of more than 27 million Roku subscribers — users who registered to the platform for access to third-party platforms such as Netflix.

The channel, which features catalog TV shows and movies, is now among Roku’s Top 5 accessed platforms. Roku recently licensed the platform to Samsung’s Internet-connected TVs.

“Strong active account growth and accelerating streaming hours point to consumers’ growing enthusiasm for [free] streaming,” said Roku CEO Anthony Wood.

Freedive takes AVOD to another level.

Long before there was Google, IMDb.com was the go-to source for actors, TV shows, movies and behind-the-scenes information. Through October, the platform had about 5.3 million titles (including episodes) and 9.3 million personalities in its database, as well as 83 million registered users. Subscription-based IMDb Pro is considered a must-have database for the business-side of Hollywood.

“Once you’ve signed up for Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, you’re more than $30 deep,” Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo, an-ad-supported live TV/on-demand platform, told Digiday.com. “Price-sensitive consumers are seeing [free video streaming services] as viable alternatives or complements to paid services — that’s probably the biggest factor.”

Los Angeles-based Pluto TV launched in 2013 featuring about 100 channels via an ad-supported app that operates on 14 platforms, including Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and PlayStation consoles.

Last August, Irvine, Calif.-based Vizio rolled out WatchFree, a proprietary ad-supported streaming video platform that partnered with Pluto TV featuring action movies, black cinema, news channels, NBC News, MSNBC, Fox Sports and related fare.

NBC Universal plans to roll out an ad-supported streaming video service in 2020. The media company Jan. 14 re-organized its management structure to accommodate the future streaming service.

Bonnie Hammer, who was named chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, will also oversee NBCU stakes in digital media outlets, including Vox, Snap and BuzzFeed.

The ad-supported service will be available at no cost to NBC Universal’s pay-TV subscribers in the U.S. and major international markets. Comcast Cable and Sky will provide the service to their 52 million subscribers. An ad-free version will also be available for a fee.

Additionally, non-pay TV customers can purchase a subscription to the service. Consistent with the company’s long-standing strategy to distribute its content broadly, NBC Universal will continue to license content to other studios and platforms, while retaining rights to certain titles for its new service.

“Our new service will be different than those presently in the market and it will be built on the company’s strengths, with NBC Universal’s great content and the technology expertise, broad scale and the wide distribution of Comcast Cable and Sky,” said Steve Burke, CEO, NBC Universal.

Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, doubts AVOD will threaten Netflix & Co. anytime soon. He considers the formats largely supplemental to SVOD.

“I’m sure that there are people who can’t afford Netflix who will watch, and there are a handful of subscribers who will defect from Netflix, but most subscribers appreciate the unique content available only on Netflix and will remain subscribers so long as there is fresh original content,” he said.

IMDb Launches AVOD Entertainment Streaming Channel

Movie website IMDb Jan. 10 announced the launch of IMDb Freedive, a free, ad-supported streaming entertainment video channel.

The channel is available in the United States on the IMDb website (www.imdb.com/freedive) via laptop, personal computer and on all Amazon Fire TV devices, according to the company, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.com.

IMDb Freedive enables customers to watch TV shows, including “Fringe,” “Heroes,” “The Bachelor” and “Without a Trace,” as well as movies, such as Awakenings, Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster, Run Lola Run, The Illusionist, The Last Samurai and True Romance, without purchasing a subscription, the company announced.

In launching the site, IMDb is expanding its video offering beyond short-form original series, trailers and celebrity interviews. Customers also can use “X-Ray,”  powered by the information on IMDb, to get information about cast, crew, trivia, soundtracks and more.

IMDb original video series, including “The IMDb Show,” “Casting Calls” and “No Small Parts,” are also available to stream on IMDb Freedive.

“Customers already rely on IMDb to discover movies and TV shows and decide what to watch,” said Col Needham, founder and CEO of IMDb, in a statement. “With the launch of IMDb Freedive, they can now also watch full-length movies and TV shows on IMDb and all Amazon Fire TV devices for free. We will continue to enhance IMDb Freedive based on customer feedback and will soon make it available more widely, including on IMDb’s leading mobile apps.”

Fire TV customers will see the IMDb Freedive icon in the “Your Apps & Channels” row. On Fire TV, consumers can say “Alexa, go to Freedive,” to access the site.

The IMDb Freedive catalog will continue to evolve, with new titles added regularly, according to the company.

CES: Speakers Discuss the Growing Pains and Promise of Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment

LAS VEGAS — Speakers discussed the variety and expansion of online services, as well as strategies to cut through the content clutter and engage the online entertainment consumer during the panel “Into the Zeitgeist — The Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Economy” at CES Jan. 9.

The panel took place at the Variety Entertainment Summit during the Las Vegas show.

The advent of pending services from the Walt Disney Co., WarnerMedia and Apple “certainly makes our lives more interesting,” said Hulu’s Kelly Campbell, adding the question is if they can scale quickly.

Farhad Massoudi, of the AVOD service Tubi, said there was a limit to what average consumers will spend on subscription services and that it was “ludicrous” that average income folks would subscribe to a growing smattering of subscription video-on-demand services. That’s where ad-supported platforms such as Tubi, which sports a movie and TV library much bigger than Netflix, come in, he said.

“Most SVOD services are going to struggle,” he said.

FandangoNow’s Cameron Douglas doesn’t consider these services competitors to the company’s transactional VOD business.

“We’re really agnostic as to what people are consuming and where,” he said.

In fact, they successfully distribute Amazon’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and would love to have a transactional offering of Netflix’s hit Bird Box.

“We do hope all of the studios, Netflix included, allow us to monetize those products,” he said. “There’s no reason that movie content that starts in the digital space can’t find a home on transactional.”

Whatever the distribution model, engaging the consumer is key, panelists said.

“We always want to super serve the super fans,” said Discovery Networks’ Peter Faricy. Discovery along with the PGA Tour created the Golf TV brand, which underpins a new live and on-demand international video streaming service specifically for golf fans.

Another way to attract consumers is by offering products that serve their needs.

“Consumers want choice, flexibility and control,” Hulu’s Campbell said. To that end, Hulu offers the choice of live, ad-supported and ad-free subscription options.

FandangoNow’s Douglas said the VOD service leverage’s its relationship with online movie ticketing platform Fandango by “taking 60 million Fandango uniques every month” and touting availability of transactional digital movie and TV offerings for home viewing.

“The [transactional] space is growing about 10% each year, and we are tripling that growth,” he said.

The service also attracts consumers with superior content quality, such as 4K UHD titles and — through a deal just announced — Imax content.

YouTube’s Neil Mohan said the online behemoth, which adds 400 hours of content a minute every single day, serves its viewers with recommendations that cater to them.

“The recommendations that we give to you should really speak to you,” he said.

Tubi, too, uses recommendation algorithms to serve its audience, Massoudi said.

The content itself should also engage consumers, said Conde Nast Entertainment’s Oren Katzeff. His company, which he said has some of the most binged shows on Netflix, creates content in a way that makes viewers want to watch more episodes.

He said engaging consumers also requires looking at data to see not just what they want, but when they want it and how they want it.

Ideally, content should build a relationship with consumers.

“From a creation standpoint, how do you create content that people not only want to watch [but to comment on and engage with further],” he said.

Cinedigm Makes Deal to Put CONtv Digital Channel on OONA Indonesia TV

Cinedigm, in conjunction with global distribution company JungoTV, will launch its fandom-focused digital channel CONtv on the mobile platform OONA Indonesia TV as an AVOD offering.

The deal gives OONA TV’s 185 million users free access to the channel’s library. The subscription-free OTT OONA mobile app provides interactive entertainment and customizable live linear and VOD content for users on the go. It is on course to provide content to billions of people in other parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, the U.S. and Europe, according to a Cinedigm release.

CONtv, devoted exclusively to fandom, showcases an eclectic catalog of cult films, classic TV shows, and genre movies encompassing sci-fi, horror, fantasy, anime, grindhouse and martial arts action.

“OONA TV has quickly emerged as a major power in the digital entertainment landscape,” said Erick Opeka, Cinedigm’s president of digital networks, in a statement. “Through partnering with a truly cutting-edge platform such as OONA TV, Cinedigm continues its commitment to redefining and revolutionizing the traditional viewing experience for users across the world. Indonesia is a beacon for the fandom lifestyle, and we’re excited to provide OONA TV’s 185 million subscribers with classic fan-favorites, rare television series, and original programming that they can only find on CONtv when we launch.”

“Cinedigm is synonymous with entertainment magic,” said Dominique Ullmann, head of content partnerships at OONA, in a statement.

Cinedigm Adds Combat Go and Wham to Ad-Supported Roku Channel

Cinedigm has added two more digital channels — the martial arts platform Combat Go by JungoTV and the esports network Wham — as linear offerings on the free, ad-supported Roku Channel.

Both channels also feature a VOD component, and join Cinedigm networks The Dove Channel, CONtv and Docurama, which launched in the Roku Channel Store in September.

The Roku Channel is a top five channel on the platform in active account reach, according to the Cinedigm release. Customers can access content via Roku devices, including Roku TV, as well as via the Web.

Combat Go is a partnership between Cinedigm and the global distribution company JungoTV. Created by JungoTV CEO George Chung, a five-time World Karate Champion and Inductee in the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Combat Go presents curated content selected by martial arts experts, featuring fight commentary and analysis, original docuseries and martial arts movies.

Created for gamers, Wham Network provides programming covering all aspects of the gaming industry from esports to casual gaming. The channel’s offerings include original series, top teams competing in esports tournaments, in-depth coverage of special gaming events, and updates on the latest in esports and gaming news.

“Cinedigm is proud to continue our partnership with Roku, as we bring Combat Go and Wham Network to one of the best-selling streaming devices on the market,” said Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks. “Martial arts and esports have quickly emerged as two of the most popular sports in the world. Now, with the additions of Combat Go and Wham Network, Roku users will be able experience this global phenomenon first-hand, as they discover and enjoy a diverse range of hard-hitting martial arts action and in-depth esports programming carefully curated by the industry’s top experts.”

Cinedigm Will Launch Chinese Content Channel Bambu in First Quarter 2019

Cinedigm announced it will launch Bambu, its Chinese content entertainment channel, in the first quarter of 2019, unveiling the channel’s logo.

Bambu will be available as both a free, ad-supported service and an ad-free subscription-based service providing content for $3.99 a month.

“While the network will appeal to Americans of all ages, Bambu’s primary focus is on Gen Z viewers ages 16-24, and Millennial viewers ages 25-35,” according to the Cinedigm announcement. “These ‘digital natives’ have been exposed to global culture from an early age, and hunger to stay at the forefront to discover the latest global trends — as evidenced by the unparalleled rise of Anime and K-Pop in North America in recent years.”

These viewers represent more than 27 percent of the U.S. population, according to Cinedigm, and Bambu aims to provide Chinese entertainment previously unavailable to American audiences.

Curated offerings will span beyond martial arts and period epics to contemporary action epics, serial dramas, romantic comedies, sci-fi, horror, fantasy adventure sagas, music and reality series, and educational programming ranging from instructional Chinese language courses to cultural cooking shows, according to Cinedigm.

The company billed the site as “the only complete Chinese entertainment platform in the United States.”

Cinedigm will provide content for Bambu from licensor partners, as well as from Chinese licensors and distributors, according to the announcement. Content will potentially include hundreds of hours of first-run television programs, made available through Cinedigm’s partnership with state-run broadcaster Central China Television and others, the company announced. Select titles include the bomb squad thriller Shock Wave, starring Andy Lau; the sci-fi epic Kung Fu Traveler; and Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-Fat in the 2016 fable The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace. Bambu will also feature such series as the most watched show in Chinese TV history “Journey to the West”; “Nirvana in Fire”; the thriller “Lost in Translation”; the popular food/cooking documentary series “A Bite of China”; the fantasy crime show “The Four”; and new shows such as “The Advisors Alliance” and “Diamond Lover.”

“Young Americans are incredibly culturally savvy, and proudly receptive to the latest global trends,” said Erick Opeka, Cinedigm’s president of digital networks, in a statement. “Bambu allows these modern tastemakers to stay at the cultural forefront, introducing them to a roster of new series and up-and-coming artists that they can discover and show their friends. It also presents tremendous potential for substantial marketing opportunities, opening up China’s prolific and profitable content industry to a massive American audience. This is phase one in what we envision as a fruitful partnership between the United States and China, enriching both cultures by providing them with the absolute best in Chinese and American entertainment, respectively.”

“Bambu is another very important step in our bilateral content distribution strategy for China and North America,” said Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group, in a statement. “We have made tremendous progress in that regard over the last year with the key Bison, Starrise and Youku agreements, as well as many other important content and distribution deals with key Chinese media companies either announced or in final stages. Bambu is the perfect vehicle to expose undiscovered quality film and TV content to North American audiences and provide vital feedback to Chinese producers, which should help them create Chinese content with the potential to be much more successful abroad.”

Bambu is “an important vehicle to provide immediate and invaluable” audience feedback to Chinese producers working to produce films and television for a global audience, according to Cinedigm, and the consumer data should help better inform the development process in China about the categories of entertainment content, stories and characters that appeal most to an American and eventually a global audience.