WWE Network Adding Download, Free Viewing Options

WWE Network, the $9.95 monthly professional wrestling subscription streaming video service/app with 1.58 million subs, is reportedly rebooting the platform.

WWE’s YouTube channel touts more than 50 million free “subscribers.”

The entertainment service will soon offer WWE Network users a free option, in addition to two paid tiers, WWE co-president George Barrios told The Verge.

Barrios said the changes come as WWE’s relationship with Disney-owned BAMTech changed. The backend software provider, which also supported HBO Now, among other third-party streaming services, is now focused on the pending Disney+ service.

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As a result, WWE has partnered with Endeavor Streaming and Massive Interactive for backend support.

“We made the decision to move off, but [Disney was] incredibly professional,” Barrios said. “[Disney Streaming Services president] Michael Paull and his team, I couldn’t speak higher of.”

The rebooted WWE Network will offer free videos exclusive to the WWE Network app. The basic subscription will feature free content, in addition to live pay-per-view events, on-demand and original content.

The yet un-priced premium option will offer additional content, in addition to free shipping on all merchandise shipments, among other features.

Barrios said the platform is finalizing a download option enabling users to stream content without access to Wi-Fi. The executive said all content would be streamed in 720p resolution, with forays into 4K resolution not panning out.

“4K, I think that will be driven more by the penetration of 4K devices and then 4K consumption,” Barrios said. “We’ve experimented with it, but I wouldn’t expect a significant amount of video content in 4K this year certainly.”

Streaming Red: Disney’s OTT Venture Down a Fiscal Black Hole

NEWS ANALYSIS — Disney bought Marvel Studios in 2009 for $4 billion. It bought Lucasfilm (“Star Wars”) for another $4 billion three years later.

The acquisitions helped Disney reign supreme at the box office in 2018, 2017 and 2016, according to data from BoxOfficeMojo. And it has a commanding lead in 2019 thanks to Avengers: Endgame.

At the same time, the Mickey Mouse company is set to lose more than $2 billion on streaming investments — “Disney Streaming Services” (formerly BAMTech), Vice Media, ESPN+ and Hulu — before it even launches its much-ballyhooed new $6.99 monthly SVOD service Disney+ in November.

Earlier this year, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said ESPN+ is projected to lose $650 million annually through 2020. The company just wrote-off more than $300 million on its minority stake in Vice Media.

And the much-hyped Disney+ SVOD platform is not projected to become profitable until 2024 — three years after CEO Bob Iger plans to retire.

“Streaming requires a strong stomach for losses, especially as you are playing catch-up,” Rich Greenfield, analyst at BTIG Research, told CNBC earlier this year.

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Down the OTT Rabbit Hole

As Disney saw Netflix growing exponentially worldwide — much of it based on streaming movies and TV series based on Marvel intellectual property, it switched its business focus from SVOD enabler to over-the-top provider.

Indeed, Iger says OTT video is the company’s No. 1 focus in 2019, regardless of the financial hits to the bottom line.

Hulu, which Disney majority owns along with Comcast, lost $580 million in 2018, while BAMTech, the backend tech firm acquired from Major League Baseball Advanced Media in 2017, spearheaded another $470 million operating loss for the company’s new direct-to-consumer and international operating unit (which also includes home entertainment).

And the fiscal hits continue.

DTC & International lost $393 million in the most-recent fiscal quarter (ended March 31), up from $188 million loss in the previous-year period. Through the first half of the fiscal year, DTC has lost $529 million, twice as much was lost in 2018.

“We expect our direct-to-consumer businesses to have an adverse impact on the year-over-year change in segment operating income,” McCarthy said in an understatement on the May 8 fiscal call.

Disney, of course, can arguably absorb the losses. It generated a $12.5 billion profit on almost $60 billion in revenue in 2018. That was before closing the 21st Century Fox transaction, which could help Disney reach $100 billion in revenue.

At the same time, the Fox acquisition upped Disney’s long-term debt from $18 billion to about $52 billion. Disney is also expecting about $2 billion of cost synergies absorbing 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and related businesses.

Thus far, Wall Street appears supportive, contending the Disney brand has the best chance of narrowing the SVOD divide with Netflix.

“I think Wall Street is at least accepting of the fact that we’re doing this, that it’s the most important thing we’re doing,” Iger told Barron’s in January. “And while I won’t say they’re cheering us on, they’re definitely giving us the room to prove that we can do it.”

A Lot Riding on ‘Disney Plus’ Unveiling

NEWS ANALYSIS – Much like Apple’s recent Apple TV+ media event, Disney’s April 11 investor unveiling of its branded Disney+ subscription streaming service promises to be the digital media story of the day.

CEO Bob Iger has said the over-the-top video product slated to launch in November is the media giant’s top priority in 2019.

In short, Disney is betting billions on the distribution channel – a strategy that included removing branded content (and sacrificing millions in license revenue) from pay-TV operators, Netflix and even theatrical.

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Disney got the ball rolling in 2017 when it acquired backend streaming provider BAMTech from Major League Baseball Advanced Media for $2.5 billion. The company has powered numerous OTT services, including HBO Now, MLB.tv, PGA Tour Live, ESPN+, and NHL.tv, among others.

That acquisition, in addition to investment in ESPN+ and Disney+ resulted in an increased fiscal loss of $136 million in the most-recent fiscal period for Disney’s direct-to-consumer & international segment. That compared to a loss of $42 million during the previous-year period.

The DTC segment generated a fiscal loss of $738 million in 2018, up from a loss of $284 million in 2017.

Disney needs Disney+ to succeed where its previous OTT attempt, DisneyLife, has stumbled. The $13 monthly SVOD service launched in the U.K. in 2015 and briefly in China before being shut down there by the government.

DisneyLife in the U.K. reportedly has been challenged by a lack of original content and branded movies licensed to third-party distributors such as Sky. As a result, Disney is holding back current theatrical hit Captain Marvel from the pay-TV window for Disney+.

“In all cases, the results [for DisneyLife] were bleak,” according to Bernstein Research as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “It might even be described as a ‘failure.’ ”

Regardless, Disney+ plans to launch anchored by the “Star Wars” and “High School Musical” franchises. Jon Favreau is directing a Star Wars spin-off series, “The Mandalorian.” A series based on Monsters, Inc. is in the works as well.

Interestingly, Kenny Ortega — producer/director of “High School Musical” — just signed a production deal with Netflix.

Amazon Channels Adds Major League Baseball Streaming Service

Just in time for the start of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Amazon March 20 announced it has added the league’s MLB.tv subscription streaming video service to its Channels platform.

Amazon Channels affords Prime members direct access to third-party over-the-top video services, including Starz, Showtime OTT, Dove Channel and HBO Now.

Prime members in the U.S. can subscribe to MLB.TV for $24.99/month, or a one-time payment of $118.99 for a season pass, after a 7-day free trial.

MLB.tv, which launched 10 years ago, was one of the first professional sports standalone SVOD services offering out-of-market live-game streaming access to any of its 30 franchise teams.

The platform is supported by BAMTech, the backend technology company Disney acquired from Major League Baseball Advanced Media for nearly $3 billion. BAMTech is supply IT support for Disney’s pending Disney+ SVOD service.

“Prime members love the convenience of streaming live sports on-the-go—and now with MLB.tv, they won’t have to miss watching their favorite teams play,” Marie Donoghue, VP, global sports video, said in a statement. “We know Prime members can’t get enough of sports, and we’re dedicated to providing more access to the Major League Baseball games they want.”

Prime members streaming MLB.tv on Fire TV devices (Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Fire TV Edition) will have access to Prime Video’s exclusive X-Ray feature, which allows users to access live in-game stats, team and player details and play-by-play information while they watch.

To access the X-Ray feature, simply click up on the Fire TV remote control while the game is playing.

 

Neulion Rebranded to Endeavor Streaming, Snatches WWE from Disney’s BamTech Media

Backend tech support for streaming video is becoming big business.

Endeavor Talent Agency, whose subsidiaries include William Morris Endeavor, IMG, and Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced the formation of Endeavor Streaming, encompassing the company’s video streaming products and services.

The over-the-top video venture is driven by Neulion, which Endeavor acquired in 2018 for $250 million.

NeuLion, which provides backend support for live-sports streaming, is being absorbed within the new group alongside Endeavor’s internally developed video platform technology, and now operates under the Endeavor Streaming moniker.

Endeavor Streaming provides backend tech support for the NFL, NBA, UFC, and Euroleague. Notably, the platform just signed professional wrestling brand WWE away from Disney’s BamTech Media.

BamTech, which Disney acquired for about $3 billion, provides streaming tech support for ESPN+, HBO Now, PlayStation Vue, The Blaze and WatchESPN, among other services. It will also power Disney’s upcoming branded SVOD service.

With more than 1.6 million subscribers, WWE Network is one of the largest sports-entertainment OTT platforms in the world. Endeavor also supports U.K.-based BT and its new service, BT Sport Box Office; and OSN, the Middle East and North Africa’s entertainment network.

Endeavor Streaming will be co-led by chief technology officer Nick Wilson and president of business operations Will Staeger. Staeger previously served as SVP within IMG’s original content division following time at ESPN, WWE, and Dick Clark Productions.

“We’ve integrated Endeavor’s scalable platform with NeuLion’s industry leading technology and feature set to provide clients with the best tools and services in video streaming, removing technology as a barrier in reaching their consumers,” Wilson and Staeger said in a co-statement.

Endeavor Streaming will continue servicing major media providers, including Univision, Sportsnet, Sky Sports, MSG, National Geographic, and Big Ten Network. The group will also continue supporting Endeavor properties like PBR (Ride Pass) and UFC (UFC.tv and Fight Pass).

The platform recently streamed “UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor,” and received the “OTT TV Service of the Year” award at the Content Innovation Awards ahead of MIPCOM for its work on the NBA League Pass International product.

Meanwhile, the group has launched several new consumer products, including “Serie A Pass” and “Strive,” the latter of which features action from both Serie A and La Liga, Italy and Spain’s professional soccer leagues, respectively.

 

 

ESPN+ Streaming Video Service Tops 1 Million Subs

The Walt Disney Co.’s direct-to-consumer and international segment Sept. 20 announced that ESPN+, the subscription streaming video service, has surpassed 1 million paying subscribers since its April launch.

The $4.99 monthly service ($49.99 per year) represents Disney’s first foray into branded standalone OTT video – a strategy Disney began implementing with the $3.75 billion acquisition of BAMTech in 2017.

“Reaching one million paid subscribers … in such a short time is an incredible testament to the teams from DTCI and ESPN who have worked tirelessly to bring this product to market,” Kevin Mayer, chairman, direct-to-consumer and international, The Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.

ESPN+ is intended to complement the ESPN pay-TV network, while focusing on global sports and original programming, including new “30 for 30 documentary, “Seau” (directed by Kirby Bradley); original studio programs, “Always Late with Katie NolanDetail from Kobe Bryant, The Fantasy Show with Mathew BerryESPN FC”, “In The Crease”, “Ariel and the Bad Guy with Ariel Helwani; original series like Earn Everything” about Duke Basketball, NBA: YearOneDraft Academy and Quest for The Stanley Cup; and the entire “30 For 30” library, among other shows.

ESPN+ is part of the ESPN app available across mobile (iOS, Android) and living room devices (Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku. ESPN+ is also available on the Web through ESPN.com.

An update to the ESPN App (v 6.2) last month integrated “ESPN Insider” into the ESPN+ service, enabling subs access to editorial analysis on players, teams, and leagues, as well as analytics tools to help users get an edge in their fantasy games.

ESPN+ subs get a differentiated advertising experience throughout the entire ESPN App or website, with no display ads and no pre-roll ads within video content (ads remain in the natural advertising breaks of live sports content).

“Combining sports, technology and the ESPN brand is a very powerful combination,” said Jimmy Pitaro, president of ESPN and co-chair, Disney Media Networks.

 

ESPN+ Streaming Service Launching April 12

ESPN+, Disney’s much-anticipated first standalone over-the-top video service, is launching April 12, priced at $4.99 per month. ESPN+ will be an integrated part of a redesigned ESPN App, also available through ESPN.com.

“ESPN was built on a belief in innovation and the powerful connection between sports and a remarkable array of fans. That same belief is at the heart of ESPN+ and the new ESPN App,” James Pitaro, president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks, said in a statement.

The OTT platform is the first direct-to-consumer service offering from Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, the newly-created multimedia unit created by Disney’s Media Networks and Studio Entertainment groups.

A Disney-branded direct-to-consumer service, offering SVOD viewing of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm movies along with a host of exclusive content, will launch in late 2019. Both streaming services are powered by BAMTech, a unit of Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“The launch of ESPN+ marks the beginning of an exciting new era of innovation for our media businesses – one defined by an increasingly direct and personal relationship with consumers,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Co.

The ESPN+ programming lineup will offer four key pillars of content: live sports events, original shows and films, exclusive studio programs, and on-demand content. Additional details about content in the ESPN+ programming lineup will be announced in the coming days.