IOC Official: 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Likely Postponed

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, arguably the biggest media sporting event of the year, will be postponed likely to next year, according to an IOC official.

IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today March 23 the Games, which are slated for July 24 to Aug. 9, probably won’t happen until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.

Japan has more than 1,800 COVID-19 cases, including cases originating aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The modern Summer Olympics have been held consecutively every four year since 1896 — except during World War I and World War II (1916, 1940, 1944).

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Although the IOC has made no official announcement, there have been growing calls from countries’ Olympic committees to postpone the event due to athletes’ concerns. Canada and Australia both announced they would not be sending athletes due to the pandemic that has claimed more than 15,000 lives and infected more than 350,000, according to the World Health Organization. Johns Hopkins University said more than 100,000 of the infected have survived.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who until last weekend stressed the Games would go on as scheduled, began to change his mind as the pandemic expands.

“This decision by IOC is in line with what I have said, about holding the games in their entirety,” Abe told lawmakers over the weekend. “In case this becomes difficult, in order to make the athletes our top priority, we may have no choice but to decide to postpone the Games.”

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The delay is a huge blow to Japan and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, which have poured tens of billions of dollars into staging the event, not including billions more spent on marketing and advertising.

Organizers haven’t commented on the status of the traditional Olympic torch relay, which is slated to start March 26 (without spectators) in the northern part of the country.

Comcast, which has spent billions securing exclusive U.S. broadcast and streaming rights for NBCUniversal to the Games, stands to lose about $1.2 billion in advertising. CEO Brian Roberts has said the company has insurance should the Games be canceled.

NBC Sports plans to stream the games across several of its networks.

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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Sky Selling Theatrical Releases in the Home

With the shutdown of theatres worldwide, satellite TV operator Sky has begun offering digital video access to select theatrical releases in the home. The move is the latest among media companies upending traditional distribution channels as consumers face quarantine situations against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Sky, which is owned by Comcast, parent of NBCUniversal, has 24 million customers across seven countries in Europe. It is following a strategy taken by Universal Pictures in the United States, which has begun offering digital retail access to select theatrical movies.

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Sky Store will have a range of NBCU titles available the same day as their global cinema release. They will be priced at £15.99 ($18.99). This is available for Sky+ and Sky Q subscribers. Sky Store digital sales typically include a DVD backup sent in the mail.

The program begins with DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour April 6. This is the first time customers have been able to rent NBCUniversal movies as soon as they hit cinemas. On March 20, The Hunt, The Invisible Man and Emma will also be available on-demand on Sky Store, following their recent release in cinemas.

“We’re working hard at Sky to make sure we continue to look after our customers,” Stephen van Rooyen, EVP & CEO of Sky UK and Europe, said in a statement. “We’re also introducing some things to help make life a little easier for anyone at home trying to work, stay connected to loved ones, or keep the family entertained.”

During the ongoing pandemic, Sky will also make it “Go Extra” platform available free to all customers so European households have access to Sky TV on three screens at the same time. Calls to U.K. landlines any time of day will be free for existing Sky Talk customers through the end of April.

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Sky Mobile subscribers will get an extra 10GB data free added to their accounts. Call centers and engineers will prioritize the needs of existing customers to ensure their service keeps running smoothly.

Premium platform Sky Q will soon add over-the-top video platform Disney+ (March 24), in addition to YouTube Kids.

 

beIN Sports Xtra Launches on Xumo and Roku Platforms Across Canada

beIN Sports March 9 announced that its ad-supported English-language live sports streaming channel is joining Comcast-owned AVOD platform Xumo and The Roku Channel in Canada.

beIN Sports will offer analysis from Canadian native and five-time Saskatchewan Soccer Association Player of the Year Kaylyn Kyle. The former Canadian Women’s National Team player and Olympic medalist was recently on the ground in Madrid, Spain, covering LaLiga’s El Claśico match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

beIN Sports is also streaming live coverage of ongoing LaLiga, Ligue 1, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, and Turkish SüperLig soccer.

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“It’s easier than ever to catch [soccer] action in real-time,” Antonio Briceño, deputy managing director for beIN Sports in North America, said in a statement.

Launched in 2012, beIN Sports also features wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA), skiing and handball, among others.

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Comcast’s Flex Platform Adds Hulu, CBS All Access, Starz

Comcast’s Xfinity Flex is a free (i.e. ad-supported) platform and set-top device that affords broadband-only subscribers access to premium content, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, HBO, Showtime and more than 10,000 movies on demand.

Flex was launched to counter ongoing declines in linear pay-TV as consumers migrate to over-the-top video, which requires broadband connectivity. Comcast is one of the largest ISPs in the country, adding around 1.4 million broadband subscribers in 2019.

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While much of the media attention revolves around the cloud-based Xfinity X1 set-top and the April 15 launch of NBCUniversal’s subscription streaming video service Peacock, Flex has quietly gained momentum, according to Comcast Corp. chairman Brian Roberts.

Speaking this week at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Roberts said Flex enables the company to secure cord-cutters migrating to third-party services.

“Half of all our sales last year, give or take, were broadband only,” Roberts said. “So we want to give them a road map to consume video, to have lower churn, to have higher advertising and, ultimately, have a better experience with our company and perhaps buy X1 and more video products.”

The concept quickly gained traction, forcing Comcast to scale back Flex as it ran out of Xfinity set-top devices (similar to Roku devices) last fall. The platform just added additional content options, including CBS All Access, Starz and Hulu, which Comcast last year sold its 30% stake in to Disney for a reported $5.8 billion.

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Flex will also feature Peacock and about 100 other third-party apps. Roberts said it costs Comcast about $50 per Flex sub, which the executive considers a long-term investment.

“They now have our X1 [device] or any service we might dream up in the next 50 years,” he said. “It’s early days, but I can tell you, we put out more Flexes than we’ve lost video [subs],” he said.

 

Sky Bows ‘Ultimate TV’ With Netflix

The day after announcing a marketing deal with Disney for the European launch of the Disney+ subscription streaming video platform, Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky unveiled a new premium content bundle that includes Netflix.

“Sky Ultimate TV” on Sky Q is a £25 ($36) monthly bundle that features every episode of Sky shows and includes access to Netflix.

Sky originals include Emmy award-winning “Chernobyl,” “Catherine the Great,” “Brassic,” and U.S. comedies “Girls” and “Parks & Recreation” or “Sex Education,” “The Witcher,” “Narcos: Mexico” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

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The enhanced partnership between pay-TV operator Sky and Netflix (which began in 2018) underscores ongoing shifts in consumer video viewing habits.

Netflix through the third quarter last year had more than 11.8 million subscribers in the U.K., according to Statista. That tally is said to have surpassed Sky’s U.K. sub total around 12 million.

Sky Q  subscribers also get live TV, “Catch-Up TV,” BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and “All 4,” as well as apps from YouTube, Spotify and XITE, among others.

“With the launch of Sky Ultimate TV, all our customers will get the most talked-about shows from Sky TV and Netflix,” Liz Wynn, managing director, Sky TV, said in a statement. “From ‘Save Me’ to ‘The Crown,’ you’ll get all the episodes whenever you want them, all in one place on our award-winning Sky Q box.”

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Sky Ultimate TV includes Netflix Basic, but subs can upgrade to Ultra HD and Netflix Premium for an additional £10 ($12.82) a month.

Comcast claims 2020 is set to be the biggest year ever for Sky TV, with 80 Sky originals on air and a 40% boost to U.S. content. This includes the brand new Sky Comedy channel, with Sky Documentaries, Sky Nature and Sky History channels.

Pending Sky originals include thriller “Gangs of London”; “Breeders,” a parenting comedy with Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard; “Save Me Too,” a British drama from the producers of “Line of Duty” with Lennie James and Suranne Jones and “I hate Suzie,” a drama starring Billie Piper.

 

Comcast’s Sky Inks Disney+ Streaming Deal

Comcast-owned satellite TV distributor Sky and Disney March 3 announced a new multiyear distribution deal, making Disney’s subscription streaming video platform (Disney+) available for purchase in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky Q, to be followed by Sky’s Now TV in the coming months.

Disney+ launches in the U.K., Ireland and other European countries on March 24. Sky Q currently offers direct access to Netflix, in addition to new deals with the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Warner Media Entertainment.

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The agreement between erstwhile competitors Comcast and Disney gives Sky subscribers direct access to Disney+ original series such as “The Mandalorian” and “High School Musical: The Musical, The Series” and “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” among others.

As the deal also includes first-pay window access to 20th Century Fox movies, including Ford v Ferrari (known as Le Mans ’66 in some international markets) and Terminator: Dark Fate, a Paramount movie for which Fox has international distribution rights.

“We are delighted that Sky is selling the Disney+ service on their platform and, along with our other distribution partners, will deliver exceptional reach at launch,” Kevin Mayer, chairman of Walt Disney direct-to-consumer & international, said in a statement.

Jeremy Darroch, group chief executive at Sky, said the two companies have established a “strong partnership” over three decades.

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“This is a great start to what is set to be another stellar year for Sky — in 2020 we’ll launch new channels and genres, start building Sky Studios Elstree and we’ve got brilliant new and returning originals coming too,” Darroch said.

UPHE’s Eddie Cunningham to be Honored With Third Annual ‘Fast Forward’ Award

Media Play News on Feb. 28 announced that Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), will receive the third annual Media Play Fast Forward Award, which honors people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

Cunningham is being honored for his innovative and aggressive promotion of packaged media since he assumed his present position in 2014. Under Cunningham’s leadership, UPHE has scored a steady string of best-selling Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, spanning such global blockbuster franchises as “Jurassic World” and “Fast and Furious” as well as the breakout film sensations Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Us and Downton Abbey.

In an effort to further innovate for the industry, UPHE last June unveiled a completely reimagined bonus content menu for its physical disc offerings that is more easily accessible and navigable — a move the studio introduced to provide viewers with a more visceral and engaging experience for Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which Cunningham and his team believe is a key selling point for its physical product offerings.

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And when Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures in January 2020 announced plans to merge their domestic disc distribution businesses, Cunningham was chosen to lead the joint venture that pending regulatory approval will begin operation in early 2021.

Last year, the Media Play Fast Forward Award went to digital retailers Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Galen Smith of Redbox On Demand, Google Play Movies & TV’s Jonathan Zepp and the team at Apple iTunes.

The previous year, the inaugural Media Play Fast Forward Award was shared by Fox Innovation Lab and Movies Anywhere.

The Media Play Fast Forward 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. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first Visionary Award winner, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

Cunningham will be profiled in the March issue of Media Play News.

AMC Networks Inks Content Deal With NBCUniversal’s Peacock Streaming Service

AMC Networks continues to expand distribution beyond the pay-TV ecosystem. The home to “The Walking Dead,” and “Better Call Saul,” among others, signed a deal for reality-TV programming with Comcast’s pending Peacock streaming video platform.

Under the agreement, Peacock — which launches to Xfinity subs on April 15, nationwide in July — gets series such as “Cold Case Files,” “First 48,” “Storage Wars,” “American Pickers,” “Ancient Aliens,” “Curse of Oak Island,” and “Pawn Stars” in addition to History’s scripted drama “Project Blue Book.”

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“In addition to the strong portfolio of NBCUniversal programming available on Peacock, we continue to aggregate content from other networks and studios, like A&E and HISTORY, that maximizes the breadth and depth of choice for our customers,” Frances Manfredi, president, content acquisition and strategy, Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, said in a statement.

Peacock will launch with an ad-supported option, in addition to a Premium channel free to Comcast and Cox Communications subscriber. The latter will cost $4.99 monthly with ads; $9.99 without to other third-party pay-TV subs.

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“We strongly believe in the power of the A+E Networks’ library of content, and that it will prove to strengthen Peacock’s offerings,” said Steve MacDonald, president, global content licensing and international, A+E Networks.

When it launches, Peacock will have live sports (i.e. 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics) and news from NBC News and Sky News in the United Kingdom, in addition to scripted and non-scripted programming.

The service will also have access to Premier League soccer in the United Kingdom, and Ryder Cup golf.

AMC Networks earlier this week signed a distribution deal with Dish Network and the Sling TV subsidiary.

 

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.