HBO Max Generates Underwhelming 87,000 First-Day App Downloads

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s high-profile SVOD platform, generated about 87,000 app downloads on portable devices, according to new data from Sensor Tower. While the tally doesn’t include migration of HBO and HBO Now subs to the new platform, it still is significantly below the 300,000 app downloads upstart Quibi generated on its first day April 7.

Distribution is key to over-the-top video penetration, and HBO Max didn’t quite have all its channels lined up when it launched service on May 27. Notably missing: Amazon Prime Channels, Roku and Comcast Xfinity.

Later in the day, Max parent WarnerMedia announced it had come to an agreement with Comcast enabling Xfinity and Flex subs to access Max (separate subscription required). This was a big deal since Comcast Cable has more than 20 million video subs and its own competing Peacock SVOD/AVOD service.

Regardless, Max desperately needs as many distributors as possible to stay competitive in the subscriber numbers game with Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu.

“We’re thrilled to cap off the excitement of today’s launch by adding Comcast’s Xfinity to our roster of distributors who are now offering HBO Max to their customers,” Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution, said in a statement. “This deal marks another important step in the distribution of HBO Max and provides millions of Xfinity customers with access to the product.”

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Max still lacks distribution through Amazon Prime Channels and Roku — both traditional must-haves for generating OTT subs if the service is going to reach 50 million subs without cannibalizing existing HBO Now, Go and pay-TV subs. Former HBO CEO Richard Plepler acknowledged Amazon was key to HBO Now generating 50% of its 8 million subs.

An Amazon spokesperson said that AT&T’s decision to bypass Prime Channels hurts HBO subs.

“We believe that if you’re paying for HBO, you’re entitled to the new programming through the method you’re already using. That’s just good customer service and that’s a priority for us,” Amazon said in a statement.

Ultimately, financial and data issues beneficial to all parties drive OTT video distribution deals via third part platforms such as such as Prime Channels, Roku and Apple TV+ Channels.

“Unfortunately we haven’t reached agreement yet with HBO Max,” Roku said in a statement. “While not on our platform [with 40 million subs] today, we look forward to helping Max in the future successfully scale their streaming business.”

Rebecca Heap, SVP of entertainment at Comcast Cable, said Max offers X1 and broadband-only Flex subs added content depth, including live content.

“We look forward to partnering with WarnerMedia to integrate the HBO Max app on our platforms alongside close to 200 other streaming services — all searchable with the award-winning Xfinity Voice Remote,” Heap said in a statement.

Comcast’s Xfinity ‘Watchathon Week’ to Feature Hulu Originals

Comcast Cable’s annual Xfinity “Watchathon Week” pay-TV smorgasbord is slated for May 11-17 featuring more than 10,000 free TV shows and movies from more than 70 networks and streaming services, including, for the first time ever, Hulu originals such as “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Ramy,” “Shrill” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Other original programming includes Epix’s “Godfather of Harlem” and “Belgravia”; Starz’s “Outlander,” “Power,” and new series “Hightown,” and Showtime drama “Billions”. Programming will be available across Xfinity platforms including X1, Flex and Xfinity Stream.

New this year, X1 customers can tune into an Xfinity Watchathon Week Channel featuring free programming across providers curated by Xfinity’s team of editors. The channel can be accessed within the guide on channel one.

Launched in 2013 as an antidote to streaming services such Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, “Watchathon” affords Xfinity subscribers free access for one week to practically every major TV show and recent movie.

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“With so many customers still at home, we’ve not only seen a 50% increase in Xfinity On Demand viewing across genres of programming from drama and comedy to reality, but we’re noticing other interesting trends like a more than double-digit growth for discovery-related voice commands such as ‘what to watch’ and ‘surprise me,'” Rebecca Heap, SVP of video and entertainment, said in a statement.

Comcast Lost 409,000 Video Subs in Q1

The hits keeps coming for pay-TV regardless of a pandemic.

Comcast Cable April 30 reported it lost 409,000 video subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31), which included 22,000 business accounts. That compared with 121,000 subs lost in the previous-year period, including 14,000 business accounts.

The sub losses underscore ongoing shifts how consumers watch television and stream video, including alternative channels such as online TV and subscription video-on-demand.

The cable operator ended the quarter with 19.9 million residential video subs — down 952,000 subs from the same period in 2019. It finished the period with 944,000 business subs, compared with more than 1 million during the previous-year period.

Fortunately, Comcast is the largest Internet Service Provider in the country, underscored by the addition of 477,000 broadband subs in the quarter — up from 375,000 high-speed Internet sub additions last year. Comcast ended the period with 29.1 million broadband subs compared to 27.5 million subs last year.

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Video revenue was consistent with the prior year period, due to an increase in average subscription rates, offset by a decline in the number of residential video subs. Advertising revenue was consistent with the prior year period, primarily reflecting an increase in political ad revenue, offset by reduced advertiser spending due to the coronavirus. Excluding political ad spending, advertising revenue decreased 4.6%.

“While parts of our business have been more impacted by COVID-19 than others, we have continued to innovate,” CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement. “We are distributing our content in new ways, as evidenced by the recent launch of [streaming video platform] Peacock on Xfinity X1 and Flex.

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Roberts said a strong balance sheet, portfolio of assets, and “world-class” management team would help Comcast to grow and succeed through the virus pandemic.

“This is a moment in time; and when it passes, I am very confident that the decisions we are making now will enable us to emerge from this crisis as a healthy, strong company,” he said.

NBCUniversal Bows Peacock Streaming Service to Comcast Xfinity/Flex Subs on April 15; Possible Expedited Nationwide Launch

NBCUniversal April 15 begins offering its branded Peacock streaming service to Comcast Cable Xfinity/Flex subscribers. Programming will include catalog TV shows and movies, including former NBC standouts, “Parks and Recreation,” “30 Rock” and “Law & Order: SVU,” the entire “Saturday Night Live” catalog, and Universal Pictures movies Jurassic Park, E.T. and Schindler’s List, among others.

The Peacock app will be available with the nationwide, which could be moved up from its previously announced July 15 date, Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock (and former Media Play News “Digital Driver”) April 14 told a media conference call.

Peacock Premium will be available for free to Comcast pay-TV subscribers; $4.99 monthly with ads to non-subs; and $7.99 with out commercials.

Strauss said NBCUniversal is “evaluating” moving up the launch date with millions of Americans quarantined in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The SVOD/AVOD platform was expected to play a major role in NBC’s 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics coverage — plans that were turned upside down when the quadrennial event was pushed by to 2021.

“We feel even more strongly we need to bring Peacock as quickly to market as possible,” Strauss said.

Matt Strauss

The longtime Comcast executive said Peacock originals, including “Brave New World,” an update of “Saved By the Bell,” with original cast members Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez, among others, would be available on the platform later this year or in 2021.

Peacock Free will include 7,500 hours of content, including next-day access to current NBC TV series.

Peacock Premium showcases 15,000 hours of content, in addition to early access (by 3 1/2 hours) to “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”

 

Comcast Ups Free Diversity Content as Pandemic Continues

Comcast Cable April 7 announced it is making on-demand programming from more than 12 entertainment networks and subscription video services available for free to its Xfinity X1 and Flex subscribers.

Comcast ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than 20 million video subscribers.

“We’re happy to work with our content partners to make a selection available for free,” Rebecca Heap, SVP of video and entertainment at Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

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On-demand programming currently available for free includes African American Networks and SVOD services AFRO, Aspire TV, Black News Channel, Brown Sugar, Impact Network, kweliTV, REVOLT, The Africa Channel and TV One.

Latino Networks/OTT services include CBeebies, Cinelatino, Cine Sony, Cinema Dinamita MX, Kanal D Drama, Kids Central en español, Pantaya, RCN Novelas, Universo, ViendoMovies and Vme Kids.

International Networks and Subscription Video Services: Filipino On Demand, GMA Pinoy, Hi-YAH!, KOCOWA (all programs subtitled in English) and TV5MONDE.

Comcast said it offers subs access to 160 independent networks, 100 of which are targeted to diverse audiences. Additionally, its customers have access to 20,000 hours of diverse on demand and online programming accessible across Xfinity video platforms, including in specially curated destinations for Black Film and TV, Latino, Asian American Film and TV and International.

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The programming partners join a broad range of other premium networks and subscription video services making on demand programming available free for Xfinity TV and Internet customers.

Beyond free content, Comcast has undertaken a comprehensive COVID-19 response inclusive of opening Xfinity WiFi hotspots located in business and outdoor locations across the country to anyone who needs them for free (including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers), pausing data plans, creating a COVID-19 news destination and a K-12 education destination on X1 and Flex, and making its “Internet Essentials” program free for new families for the first 60 days of enrollment.

Comcast Expecting ‘Material Adverse’ Impact on Business

With its amusement parks business shuttered, Hollywood movies on hiatus and Olympics coverage postponed, Comcast issued a warning to investors that its myriad business segments could have “material adverse” impact in the short-term — including the first quarter ending March 31.

The warning mirrors what The Walt Disney Co. is going through, with some observers speculating Bob Iger’s sudden decision to hand over CEO duties to Bob Chapek revolved largely around his realization of what was in store financially for the Mouse House.

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Comcast Treasurer William Dordelman, in the filing, said the company has closed all theme parks, and delayed Universal Pictures’ distribution of films both domestically and internationally, in addition to the disruption in production and availability of movies and television programming in the United States and globally, postponement of sports events, including the Olympics, and suspension of entertainment content production.

Dordelman said the global situation will “materially exacerbate” Sky’s previously deteriorating economic environment and advertising market in the U.K. and Europe.

“Our Comcast Cable business, while our network performs well to meet the challenge of business and schooling from home, will not be unaffected either as economic stress impacts our residential and business services customer base,” he wrote.

The CFO expects the “ultimate significance” of the impact of COVID-19 on businesses will vary, but will generally depend on the extent of governmental measures affecting day to day life and the length of time that such measures remain in place to respond to the virus.

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Dordelman said it is impossible to predict the extent and duration and the degree to which supply and demand for Comcast products and services, including advertising, will be affected.

“This uncertainty makes it challenging for management to estimate the future performance of our businesses, particularly over the near to medium term. However, the impact of COVID-19 could have a material adverse impact on our results of operations over the near to medium term,” he wrote.

Comcast Offering Free Wi-Fi Access During Coronavirus Pandemic

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest ISPs, March 13 announced it is making available free access to its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide, among other services, over the next 60 days during coronavirus pandemic. The cable giant is also suspending all data cap limits for subscribers during this period.

Hot spot access will be available to anyone, including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. To find a local Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot, click here. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

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The company said it would also not cancel a subscriber’s Internet service or assess late fees if the sub contacts Comcast informs the service he/she can’t pay their bill during this period. Comcast said it would work with subs offering flexible payment options, in addition to finding other solutions.

“During this extraordinary time, it is vital that as many Americans as possible stay connected to the Internet — for education, work, and personal health reasons,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a statement. “Our employees also live and work in virtually every community we serve, and we all share the same belief that it’s our Company’s responsibility to step up and help out.”

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Comcast Acquires AVOD Service Xumo

Comcast Feb. 25 announced the acquisition of Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service based in Irvine, Calif.

Xumo will continue to operate as an independent business inside of Comcast Cable.

Xumo offers free, live and on-demand streaming entertainment, news, sports and more, organized in a channel guide, and features more than 190 genre-grouped channels. Xumo’s multi-screen network of distribution partners include major smart television brands, the Comcast release noted.

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“The talented team at Xumo has created a successful, growing, and best-in-class set of streaming capabilities,” read the release. “We are excited for this team to join Comcast and look forward to supporting them as they continue to innovate and develop their offerings.”

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

 

Another Cable TV Operator Switching to Streaming Video

The migration from pay-TV to over-the-top video among distributors is gaining momentum.

Gigabit Minnesota, a regional pay-TV operator near Minneapolis, is getting out of the TV distribution business. In an acknowledgment of changing market forces toward streaming video, Gigabit has begun informing its 10,000 customers that it would cease distributing linear TV on Jan. 31.

In a statement, Gigabit cited increased carriage fees from content holders for the decision to focus on high-speed Internet service and help facilitate access to third-party online TV services such as Sling TV and Philo TV, among others.

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“The TV business is changing,” the company said. “This [content] cost increase makes our TV service just way too expensive so we’re going to be leaving [the business],” the company said.

The move follows a North Kansas pay-TV operator that announced it would switch toward broadband distribution and away from linear TV. Major pay-TV operators such as Comcast Cable continue to hemorrhage subscribers, including 149,000 subs in the most-recent fiscal period.

Gigabit, like Rainbow Communications in Kansas, is seeking to direct customers to online TV platforms, in addition to SVOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney-owned Hulu.

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It offers myriad high-speed Internet plans, including fibre-optic, priced from $69.95 for 500 Mbps. Indeed, Comcast said it added more than 400,000 broadband subs in Q4, and 1.4 million subs in 2019.

Comcast Q3 Video Sub Loss Balloons to 238,000

Comcast Cable Oct. 24 reported it lost 238,000 video subscribers in the third quarter ended Sept. 30. The company lost 95,000 video subs in the previous-year period.

The cable operator, along with other traditional linear TV distributors, continues to face secular challenges as consumers migrate away from the traditional cable programming package.

For the nine-months of the fiscal year thus far, the cabler has jettisoned more than 550,000 video subs, compared to 325,000 subs during the same period last year.

As a result of growing OTT consumption, Comcast Corp. unit NBC Universal is launching branded SVOD service, Peacock, early next year.

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Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, up 13.4% from 334,000 net broadband additions in the previous-year period. The uptick in broadband subs didn’t go unnoticed at the corporate level.

“Cable had its highest third quarter broadband net additions in 10 years, which drove its best quarterly net additions in total customer relationships on record,” chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.