Sky Bowing OTT Video Service Featuring NBA, NFL Games — Including Super Bowl LIII

Comcast-owned Sky in January is launching an over-the-top video service in the United Kingdom showcasing 40 games from the NBA and NFL – including Super Bowl LIII, Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Dubbed Sky Sports USA, the service will be offered from Jan. 3 through Feb. 5 as part of Sky’s £18 monthly Sky Sports subscription, or from £7.99 daily via the broadband-specific Now TV Sports pass.

Sky Sports USA will feature every NFL game through the playoffs. On the hardwood, U.K. subs can stream NBA’s annual London game, featuring the Washington Wizards against the New York Knicks on Jan. 17. On Jan. 21, the league marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day with three games, headlined by the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Every year, the NFL and NBA London games sell out in a matter of minutes and every year the following for both sports in the U.K. gets bigger,” Barney Francis, managing director, Sky Sports, said in a statement.

“It’s a perfect time to launch a pop-up channel to make sure our customers get the very best of American sports.”

 

 

Report: Netflix Set to Pass Comcast-Owned Sky in U.K. Subscribers

Netflix is projected to pass Comcast-owned satellite pay-TV operator Sky in subscribers by the end of the year, according to new data from Ampere Analysis.

The London-based research firm expects Netflix to end 2018 with 9.78 million subscribers compared to 9.64 million for Sky – which is down 55,000 subs from the end of 2017, according to The Guardian.

Netflix entered the U.K. market in 2011 – its second foreign market after Canada. The SVOD pioneer launched global access (130 countries) in January 2016.

Ofcom, media regulator in the U.K., in July projected Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Sky’s Now TV over-the-top video service would reach a combined 15.4 million subs by the end of the year – surpassing 15.1 million pay-TV subs.

With British-centric programming at the core of American SVOD services such as BritBox and Acorn TV, Ofcom in November called on U.K. public TV broadcasters to join forces to create a competing over-the-top video platform.

The U.K. represents the second-largest SVOD markets for Netflix and Prime Video.

“It does indicate the growing power of subscription video-on-demand services that Netflix has managed to achieve greater household reach in the U.K. than one of the most successful satellite TV companies in the world,” Ampere analyst Richard Broughton said in a statement.

At the same time, Broughton says Sky’s average-revenue-per-subscriber (ARPU) dwarfs Netflix.

“Netflix makes just £7.99 a subscriber; Sky makes on average almost £50 per subscriber per month,” he said.

 

Report: Comcast, Disney to Control 40% of U.S. Content Spending; 20% Globally

Netflix currently tops global spending on original and licensed content with more than $12 billion in 2018. Following the mergers of Comcast/Sky and Disney/Fox, two of every five dollars spent on content in the United States will be spent by these four companies alone, according to new data from Ampere Analysis.

On a global basis, the companies will account for one-in-five (20%) content dollars spent, with overall spending on content almost even between the two merged companies. By Ampere’s estimates, the combined projected content spend between the two is set reach $43 billion – with Disney/Fox spending $22 billion per year on originated and acquired content and Comcast/Sky spending $21 billion by the end of 2018. This is more than the combined outlay of the next ten largest content spenders in the U.S., including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

London-based Ampere attributed the recent media mergers – including AT&T and Time Warner – as a reaction to the increasing power of online video platforms.

“[Netflix] has repeatedly stated it will continue to increase its content budget,” Ampere said in a statement. “Prior to the mergers, Netflix was on course to catch and overtake the top Hollywood studios in terms of content spend. However, in light of the two new combined entities, Netflix would now be required to nearly triple its spend to achieve this.”

Ampere said Comcast/Sky and Disney/Fox help strengthen the pay-TV and studio groups’ positions in the global market, as well as adding protection against the rising strength of online video.

Indeed, each company controls an increasingly vast library of original content that can be exploited through proprietary and third-party direct-to-consumer offers. Disney has already indicated it will stop licensing content to Netflix in favor of its own direct to consumer offer.

 

 

 

FCC: Nearly Half of 22 Million Public Comments on Net Neutrality Fake

During the 2017 run-up to the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 during the Obama Administration, the agency solicited public comments on the proposed decision not to treat the Internet as a public utility.

The FCC on Dec. 14, 2017 voted 3-2 along party lines to nullify the Open Internet Order affirmed under previous chairman Tom Wheeler. In doing so, Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter were no longer prohibited from charging online streaming services such as Netflix market rates for broadband access, among other issues.

In new FCC disclosures following Freedom of Information Act requests by The New York Timesand other media groups, it was revealed that nearly 11 million of the 22 million comments received online regarding net neutrality were fraudulent, including 500,000 comments received from Russian sources.

The revelation underscores the widespread influx and influence social media can have on more than national elections. Indeed, about 8 million fake comments originated from domain sites associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. Another 2 million comments used stolen identities.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a statement to Congress, claimed that much of the “overheated rhetoric” against his proposed net neutrality rollback originated from fraudulent sources. In fact, most of the authentic comments reportedly consisted of form-letter responses.

Regardless, the New York State Attorney General’s Office in October opened an investigation to the fake comments, including subpoenaing public action groups on both sides of the issue.

 

Comcast Xfinity Digital Store Seventh Digital Retailer to Join Movies Anywhere

Digital movie collection service Movies Anywhere on Dec. 5  added Comcast’s Xfinity Digital Store as its seventh digital retail partner.

Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Apple’s iTunes and Walmart’s Vudu were partnered with the service at launch last October. FandangoNow, Fandango’s on-demand video service, came aboard in March, joined in August by Microsoft Movies and TV.

Comcast’s 22 million Xfinity TV subscribers are now able to synchronize their accounts with Movies Anywhere,  combine eligible movie purchases from the Xfinity Digital Store with those from other Movies Anywhere digital retailers, and access them on Xfinity X1, the Xfinity Stream app and other Xfinity TV platforms.

Comcast is the first pay-TV provider to join Movies Anywhere. For a limited time, consumers who sync for the first time with Xfinity or one of the other participating digital retailers will receive a free digital copy of Happy Feet, a 2006 computer-animated musical family film with a domestic box office gross of nearly $200 million. Those who sync for the first time with two digital retailers also receive digital copies of The Martian and The Fate of the Furious.

“Comcast is one of the country’s leading pay-TV providers, with a customer base that, like ours, consists of people who are passionate about the movies they love,” said Karin Gilford, general manager of Movies Anywhere. “We are thrilled to now include Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers among those who can benefit from Movies Anywhere’s ability to bring their favorite movies together in one place that can be accessed across a multitude of devices using the Movies Anywhere app and across Xfinity TV platforms.”

“Xfinity X1 is the only platform that provides customers with seamless, integrated access to all of their entertainment choices within one user interface, whether that content is live, on demand, streamed, recorded, rented or owned,” said Daniel Spinosa, VP of entertainment services at Comcast Cable. “And by joining Movies Anywhere, Xfinity TV customers can now easily link their accounts across participating digital retailers and watch their consolidated digital library on X1, or anywhere in the country via the Xfinity Stream app and portal.”

With the addition of Comcast to the Movies Anywhere lineup, Movies Anywhere collections owned by the cable company’s customers will be accessible for the first time directly on the TV through Xfinity On Demand, and on devices via the Xfinity Stream app and web portal. All Movies Anywheres users are also able to access their collections via the Movies Anywhere app and web portal on an array of additional platforms.

One of the top digital retailers for new releases, the Xfinity Digital Store offers Xfinity TV customers the ability to easily purchase and access thousands of movies, many featuring enhanced extras via X1 and across devices via the Xfinity Stream app and web portal.

Movies Anywhere is backed by five Hollywood studios — Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Film, Universal Pictures (including Focus Features, DreamWorks and Illumination Entertainment), The Walt Disney Studios (including Disney, Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm) and Warner Bros. Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate are not part of the service, which also does not feature television programming.

In October, Movies Anywhere celebrated its one-year anniversary, announcing that since launch fans have streamed more than 35 million movies on more than 100 different devices. The service turned 1 with 6 million registered users, 150 million movies collected and more than 1 billion minutes viewed.

Movies Anywhere in February 2018 won Media Play News‘ inaugural “Fast Forward” award, honoring people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward. The awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree.

Movies Anywhere also was nominated for “Fan Favorite App” in the Google Play Best of 2018 Awards.

Consumer spending on digital purchases of movies, TV shows and other filmed content rose 18% in the third quarter of this year compared with the same quarter in 2017, a significant uptick from the single-digit gains posted in prior years, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Comcast Adds Amazon Prime Video to X1 Platform

Comcast Dec. 5 announced that Amazon Prime Video will launch over the next week on its broadband-based Xfinity X1 platform. Prime Video joins Netflix and YouTube as major third-party over-the-top video services afforded direct access to Comcast subscribers.

The move underscores Comcast’s ongoing tug-of-war between branching out into branded OTT video and staying true to its pay-TV legacy.

“Prime Video is a fantastic extension of the programming choices available to our customers,” Matt Strauss, EVP, Xfinity Services, Comcast Cable, said in a statement.“By integrating hundreds of thousands of live and on demand choices from the best networks, studios and streaming services, our customers can instantly search, control and watch all of their entertainment in one place with their voice.”

X1 subs will be able to search Prime Video original programming, including Homecoming with Julia Roberts, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselThe RomanoffsGoliath, Bosch, The Man in the High Castle, The Grand Tour  and a growing library of Prime Video programming in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.

Comcast users can launch the Prime Video app by saying “Amazon Prime Video” into the voice remote or by navigating to the X1 apps menu.They can also search an entire genre of programming, such as saying, “Watch The Americans, ”Show me Sneaky Pete,” or “Find comedies” into the voice remote.

“The launch arrives just in time for Season 2 of Emmy-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Season 3 of “The Grand Tour” and holiday classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, which is now available exclusively on Prime Video,” said Greg Hart, VP of Amazon Prime Video.

In addition to the thousands of titles included with a Prime Video subscription, subscribers can access titles for rental or purchase, or choose from more than 150 Prime Video Channels to add to their video service, including Showtime and Starz.

 

CFO: Comcast Wants ‘Healthy’ Relationship with Hulu

Hulu, the subscription streaming video service and online TV platform co-owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WarnerMedia, is valued by its corporate parents at more than $9 billion – despite posting hundreds of millions of dollars in equity losses.

Disney’s pending close of its $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film, which includes Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu, will make the media giant majority owner going forward.

With WarnerMedia revealing a desire to sell its 10% Hulu stake, that leaves Comcast as a minority stakeholder to Disney’s vision for the 11-year-old over-the-top video platform going forward.

Speaking on last month’s fiscal call, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company planned to incorporate Fox’s television production to up original programming at Hulu.

“We feel [that] will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace,” said Iger.

Meanwhile, Comcast reported a $132 million equity loss at Hulu for the fiscal period ended Sept. 30 – up from an equity loss of $62 million during the previous-year period. Through nine months Hulu generated a $370 million equity loss for Comcast – more than double the cabler’s $168 million equity loss last year.

Speaking Dec. 4 at the UBS 46th Annual Global Media and Communications confab in New York, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh reiterated the company’s support for Hulu and belief that “some form of direct-to-consumer” product “will make sense for us.”

Whether that includes Hulu remains to be seen. Cavanagh wouldn’t offer any insight on possible changes in management’s mindset, saying only that the platform remained a good home for select NBC Universal programming.

“We want to continue to have a healthy relationship with Hulu,” he said. “We think much of our content finds a great home on that platform. And one way or the other, we want to make sure we have a good and healthy and constructive for everybody ongoing relationship with Hulu.”

 

Pluto TV Bows Service in Germany, Austria

Pluto TV, the Los Angeles-based ad-supported online TV platform, has begun streaming operations in Germany and Austria. The launch follows a similar move in the United Kingdom in October through a collaboration with satellite TV operator Sky.

Sky, which was recently acquired by Comcast, is an investor in Pluto TV, along with ProSiebenSat.1 in Germany.

“The current timing of the launch of Pluto TV in Europe, especially in the German-speaking market, is ideal to harness the great potential for the distribution of linear video offerings via the Internet,”Olivier Jollet, managing director Europe, said in a statement.

Based in the company’s Berlin office, Jollet said the online TV platform’s marketing approach is to underscore the platform’s simplicity at a time when he says typical households subscribe to upwards of three or more – often redundant – over-the-top video services.

“[Consumers] are increasingly losing interest in this,” he said.

Pluto TV launched in 2016 as an app on Sony PlayStation about a year after Dish Network’s groundbreaking rollout of Sling TV – the first standalone online TV service offering pay-TV channels without a long-term contract.

The online TV market now includes PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Charter’s Spectrum TV Plus, among others.

Last month, Pluto inked a licensing deal with Discovery for channels such as Discovery Channel, HGTV and Food Network, Animal Planet, ID, Discovery Life, Science Channel, and TLC, among others.

 

 

 

Hulu Eyeing 23 Million Subs by Year’s End

Hulu is reportedly expected to top 23 million subscribers by the end of the year, according to comments made Dec. 4 by CEO Randy Freer at the Business Insider’s Ignition confab in New York.

The SVOD service co-owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WarnerMedia includes online TV platform Hulu Live with TV as part of its subscriber growth. The tally suggests Hulu added more than 3 million subs since it disclosed reaching 20 million subs at its upfronts content presentation earlier this year.

“I think our numbers will be really impressive,” Freer said, as reported by TechCrunch.com. “But we need to get 30, 40, 50 million homes in a way that we can scale.”

Indeed, even reaching an improbable 50 million subs would keep Hulu seven million shy of Netflix’s Q3 domestic count.

“Netflix has solidified their place for now,” said Freer. “Everybody else is going to fight out over what those four or five other selections are.”

Hulu has achieved one distinction even Amazon Prime Video can’t match: “The Handmaid’s Tale” remains a weekly Top 10 streaming favorite, according to Parrot Analytics.

Launched in 2008, Hulu is the only streaming service that offers both ad-supported ($7.99) and commercial-free ($11.99) subscription streaming options. Hulu with Live TV ($39.99) bowed in May, reaching 1 million subs in September.

The service features libraries of network TV series and movies; in addition to original content such as Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Emmy-nominated series “I Love You, America With Sarah Silverman,” Emmy-nominated series “The Looming Tower,” “Future Man,” “Marvel’s Runaways,” “Castle Rock,” “The First” and Golden Globe-nominated comedy “Casual,” as well as upcoming series “Catch-22,” “Ramy” and “Little Fires Everywhere.”

 

AT&T Looking to Sell Off Hulu Stake

When AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion, the purchase price pushed the telecom’s net debt skyward to about $170 billion by the end of the year.

Corporate debt (debt-to-pre-tax earnings ratio) is a relative thing. Too little and investors worry a company isn’t maximizing revenue potential. Too high and concerns about financing the debt and or worse loom into the picture. Wall Street looks for a company to have a debt ratio between 0.3 and 0.6, according to some analysts.

AT&T will end 2018 with a debt ratio of 2.8.

For CFO John Stephens, who is tasked with decreasing that ratio, the solution involves scrutinizing internal overhead costs, reducing redundancies and liquidating non-core assets — such as WarnerMedia’s 10% stake in Hulu.

WarnerMedia, which includes Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, acquired the Hulu stake in 2016 for $583 million when it was Time Warner. The SVOD and online TV platform with 20 million subscribers is co-owned by Disney, Fox and Comcast and reportedly valued at more than $9 billion.

With WarnerMedia planning to launch proprietary SVOD service in late 2019, co-owning a rival service makes little sense.

Indeed, eliminating corporate headquarters, minority investments in Sky Mexico and Hulu, among other options, could generate AT&T upwards of $8 billion in cash, according to Stephens.

“If we’re successful in that, that would bring us down to that 2.5 [debt ratio] range [by the end of 2019],” Stephens said on AT&T’s Nov. 29 analyst day event. “We’re going to focus on getting that done. With our [$500 billion] balance sheet, we are in a very good position.”

The CFO contends AT&T will have free cash flows approaching $12 billion at the end of the year, which he said will be applied to reducing the debt. The company expects to generate $26 billion in free cash flow in 2019.

AT&T expects to generate $1.5 billion in cost savings (corporate overhead, procurement purchasing, marketing, etc.) and another $1 billion in revenue savings (churn reduction, cross-selling products) by 2021, including $700 million in savings by the end of 2019, $2 billion by the end of 2020.

“People who know our company, know we’re pretty good with cost synergies,” Stephens said. “Sharing assets and capabilities across the business, we can learn from them and WarnerMedia can hopefully learn from us.”