Chinese TV Manufacturer TCL Launches AI-Generated Streaming Content Production Studio

China consumer electronics manufacturer TCL April 12 announced the launch of a content production studio for its ad-supported TCLtv+ streaming platform.

Dubbed “TCLtv+ Studios,” the production team includes animators, VFX experts, AI engineers and writers to create episodic programming. The first original production is an AI generated short film “Next Stop Paris,” a romance launching this summer on the TCLtv+ app.

The streaming platform is using original content as a complement to the hundreds of FAST and AVOD channels being launched on the service through partnerships with Fox, A&E and the NFL.

“Next Stop Paris” was developed in house and written by Chris Regina, chief content officer, and Daniel Smith, chief creative officer. The movie is animated by a global team, including artists from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Poland, and layering tech and design animation over traditional narrative.

Regina said TCLtv+ Studios aims to use custom AI models, including new technology such as “stable diffusion,” in addition to writers and voice actors to produce content.

AI, among other issues, was at the heart of last summer’s Hollywood strikes that saw the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA picket studios regarding safeguards against artificial intelligence impacting jobs for human actors and writers.

“Next Stop Paris” uses AI generated visuals for human actors that are providing both voice and performance behind the scenes.

“We are empowering creators and storytellers to use this new [AI] technology, so the human experience is enriched, and we believe that creatives with limitless imagination will drive endless innovation,” Regina said in a statement.

According to TCL, the AI technology used to create its characters and fictional world allows the creative teams to push boundaries and “invigorate” the viewer experience, while also creating new “opportunities” for marketing partners.

“Storytelling will be at the heart of everything we do,” Regina said in a statement. “We are empowering creators and storytellers. We view Next Stop Paris as an early experiment…to see how it’s received in the town square.”

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Best Buy Launching AI-Generated Customer Support, Says Tech Will Assist Staff

Best Buy April 9 announced it is working with Google Cloud to launch generative AI technology to assist consumers on the consumer electronics giant’s website, app and phone access.

Expected to launch in late summer 2024, this new option will allow U.S. customers to get help from a gen AI-powered virtual assistant. This assistant will help customers troubleshoot product issues, make changes to their order delivery and scheduling, and manage their software and Geek Squad subscriptions, among other functions.

Mindful of the ramifications AI could have on actual Best Buy employees, the company reiterated that the technology would be used to assist staff. As a result, Best Buy said that in the coming months it will also launch a new suite of gen AI-enabled tools to help the chain’s customer care agents better serve customers over the phone.

The AI tools will help Best Buy agents assess customer conversations in real-time, providing them with in-the-moment, relevant and human-focused recommendations. At the same time, the tools will summarize conversations, detect sentiment and utilize data from the call to reduce the likelihood a similar issue will occur in the future.

“For our store employees across the country, we’re working to develop an AI-powered assistant to provide easier access to things like company resources and product guides,” read a Best Buy statement. “This will allow them to help customers more efficiently than ever.”

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Circana: U.S. Consumer Technology Revenue to Grow 2% in 2024

After two years of decline, U.S. consumer technology sales revenue is projected to grow 2% in 2024 as consumers begin to replace devices purchased during the pandemic, according to new data from Circana (formerly IRI and The NPD Group).

Initial results indicate that 2023 dollar sales will end 10% below the prior year, marking the second year of revenue contraction. This year’s growth will come by the third quarter after continued declines early in the year.

“Consumers continued to spend fewer total dollars on tech products in 2023 through a combination of falling prices and shifting share of wallet to services and core needs,” Paul Gagnon, VP and technology industry advisor for Circana, said in a statement.

Gagnon believes consumer purchases will ramp up in late 2024 for key large-dollar categories such as computers.

Indeed, the computer category will account for almost half of the $1.7 billion consumer technology industry growth expected this year. Circana also anticipates unit sales of TVs and home automation devices will remain positive throughout the forecast period. TV unit sales are expected to grow by low single digits year over year through 2026 as larger sizes become more affordable and economic headwinds ease, allowing more growth in premium price points.

Ben Arnold, executive director and CE analyst with Circana, contends that new product launches in computing, virtual reality (VR) and home automation, can help to reignite demand and give consumers fresh reasons to spend on consumer technology products.

“New technologies also typically sell for higher prices, which should provide additional industry sales support,” Arnold said in a statement.

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Roku Updates Platform Features

Roku Oct. 4 announced new platform features, including new personalized content discovery features, with updates rolling out across Sports, Live TV, What to Watch, Music Playlists and Roku Photo Streams, among other screens. The SVOD market co-creator with Netflix, now boasts more than 73 million active accounts globally.

Updated features include “Favoriting,” where users can track live and upcoming sporting events in one curated row. “Highlights” enables users the ability to watch clips from recent sporting events.

New expanded live sports will include motorsports in early 2024, and sports content from Max in the coming weeks, which will join the list of currently supported channel partners across the platform.

“Personalized Live TV” offers more than 400+ free live linear TV channels. New updates now will enable simpler live TV browsing by personalizing the order of channels in the guide and removing channel numbers.

In celebration of Atlantic Records’ 75th Anniversary, Roku has collaborated with Warner Music Group and their artist services, media & creative content division WMX, to create 75 playlists in The Roku Channel iconic Atlantic Records recording artists through the years. Five exclusive playlists have also been curated by music artists Debbie Gibson, Jim “Soni” Sonefeld of Hootie & the Blowfish, Kathy Sledge, Nile Rodgers, and Paul Rodgers.

Other platform enhancements include new support for Roku Smart Home Video Doorbell events, users with a Camera subscription can now go back and see who was at their front door using the Cameras app on any Roku streaming players and Roku TV models. As previously announced, users can also access Smart Home Camera events history within the Cameras app.

Roku Cameras and Doorbell owners with a Camera subscription will now get instant notifications on their Roku streaming players and Roku TV models.

“As the leaders in streaming TV, we’ve made it our priority to offer a platform that anticipates our user’s needs and adapts in real time,” Preston Smalley, VP of Viewer Product at Roku, said in a statement. “With endless content to choose from and ways to watch, we will continue to innovate and release feature updates to our millions of users that better the viewing experience, making Roku the go-to destination for TV streaming.”

The new features listed below will arrive on Roku devices in the U.S. in the coming months.

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NPD: Internet Access, Speed Impact Consumer Electronics Ownership, Including Smart 4K TVs

Internet access and speed are key to determining the amount and type of consumer electronics devices in U.S. homes, including connected 4K UHD TVs, according to new data from The NPD Group.

While household internet and speed can vary widely from state to state, or even county to county, there are a number of consumer electronics devices that have reached parity levels among connected households in rural and urban U.S. markets. Those include TVs, video game consoles, smart watches, activity trackers and tablets, according to NPD.

However, NPD found that wider gaps exist in ownership levels of devices that are more dependent on an internet connection, such as 4K UHD TVs, where a broadband connection is required for high-definition streaming, and smart home devices, where higher download speeds are needed for live video streams.

In the United States, 50% of households do not currently have a broadband connection (25Mbps per second download speed or greater). In addition, 15% of homes in the United States have no internet access, while 10% use a smartphone-only solution. Based on NPD’s findings, this lack of internet access or lack of internet speed has the biggest impact on rural markets. As a result, in rural markets ownership of 4K TVs and home automation products have trailed ownership levels reported in urban areas.

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While other factors also influence the CE ownership gap, such as income levels, one theme that is consistent across 4K TV ownership for connected households in rural and urban markets is that as home internet download speeds increase, so too do household ownership levels. The same can be said of smart home devices, such as internet security cameras that require higher download speeds.

“Consumers with slower internet speeds have less incentive to purchase 4K TVs,” Eddie Hold, president of NPD Connected Intelligence, said in a statement.

Hold said consumers with slow ISP speeds present a challenge for manufacturers that need usage data and advertising revenue to help sustain manufacturing.

“The internet is essentially the lifeblood of all consumer electronics products,” he said. “Understanding where coverage gaps exist can help explain trends and identify future opportunities.”

CTA: CES on Track for Record Post-Pandemic Growth

The Consumer Technology Association Nov. 30 reported that the 2023 CES show is on track for record post-pandemic growth.

Owned and produced by the CTA, CES 2023 will take place in Las Vegas on Jan. 5-8, 2023. 

As of Nov. 28, the CTA reported: 

  • 2 million-plus net square feet of exhibits (50% bigger than CES 2022)
  • nearly 1,000 new exhibitors and more than 2,400 in total
  • one of the largest global auto shows
  • a record 2,100 CES 2023 Innovation Award entries
  • a 100,000 attendee goal with one-third from outside the United States
  • sold out Media Days on Jan. 3-4
  • 3,000-plus media registered

 

“The growth of, and excitement for, CES 2023 continues as we get closer to the moment where the world’s most influential technology innovators meet in person with customers, media, investors and policymakers,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA. “We are thrilled with the show’s momentum and look forward to opening the halls of innovation in January. We’ll learn about emerging global economic trends, what’s next in healthcare, automotive, Web3/metaverse and see the nexus of technology for good.”

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Adena T. Friedman, president and CEO of Nasdaq and the first woman CEO to lead a global stock exchange, will join Shapiro for a Great Minds session, “What’s Next for the 21st Century Economy,” on Jan. 6.

CoinDesk is the title sponsor and producer of the “CES Web3 Studio Presented by CoinDesk.” The company will curate a half-day Web3 conference program, and the studio will feature interviews with some of the most influential Web3 voices. It will cover the latest cryptocurrency and blockchain news and innovations from CES. The show will also feature Web3 programming by the Blockchain Association.

Dozens of conference tracks and 200 sessions will cover the key show themes that include digital health, Web3/metaverse, sustainability and human security for all. Registration is open and prices increase on Dec. 5.

Vizio Updates Watchfree+ User Streaming Experience

Vizio Nov. 11 announced an upgraded design and user experience for WatchFree+, the Irvine, Calif.-based consumer electronics manufacturer’s ad-supported free streaming service featured in Vizio Smart TVs. The update brings a new look and feel, intuitive electronic program guide (EPG), faster and easier navigation, and personalization features to the free streaming service. WatchFree+ has grown to include more than 260 free channels and 6,000 titles on demand, offering an ever-expanding library of movies, TV shows, news, sports, music and programs.

The WatchFree+ Guide now displays upcoming content segmented in 30-minute intervals, allowing viewers to explore the collection of streaming content in a familiar format. In addition, the interface allows advertisers to promote contextually relevant content seamlessly within the program guide.

Additional updates include a schedule of all WatchFree+ programs in a simple grid format, segmented in half-hour intervals. View movie and show descriptions as you move through the WatchFree+ Guide. Continue to watch a show while browsing additional WatchFree+ channels. Long press the “OK” button while in the EPG guide to get a list of channel genres, making navigation easier. Quickly launch an on-demand movie or show directly from the program guide.

“This redesign makes it easier than ever to navigate and explore the continually expanding universe of entertainment across live and on demand programming,” Steve Yum, VP of software product management at Vizio, said in a statement.

WatchFree+ has grown to become the second-most-watched free ad-supported streaming app on Vizio. Driving this momentum are more than 260 premium channels and 6,000 movies and shows spanning 13 content genres, from news, movies and sports to kids and family, music and reality.

Vizio recently announced the launch of exclusive TV series premieres, including “Boston George: Famous Without the Fortune” (Cinedigm), “Sanitarium” (producer Bryan Ramirez and creator Kerry Valderrama), “Haunted Gold Rush” (Blue Ant Media) and the Space Science Now channel (MagellanTV).

With more than 6,000 movie and TV show titles to choose from, On Demand content can now be launched directly from the program guide including recently added titles COPs (Langley Productions), Canada’s “Drag Race and Hotel Paranormal” (Blue Ant Media).

A top performing format on WatchFree+, single series channels provide a unique viewing experience not available on traditional broadcast TV and gives viewers 24/7 free access to shows like “Ice Road Truckers” (A+E), “America’s Test Kitchen” (PBS), “Hell’s Kitchen l Kitchen Nightmares” (FilmRise) and new to WatchFree+, the British fantasy-adventure drama, “Merlin” (Fremantle).

Vizio has expanded crime programming with the addition of the “JAIL” pop-up channel from Langley Productions, the team behind the long-running reality series “COPs”.

Viewers can also enjoy shows on the recently added ION channel, which features series such as “NCIS,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Blue Bloods.”

Vizio Swings Back to Q3 Profit as Ad-Supported Platform Revenue Surges

Consumer electronics manufacturer Vizio Nov. 9 reported third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net income of $2 million on revenue of $435 million. That compared with a loss of $18.6 million on revenue of $588.3 million in the prior year period.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company reflected a 39% drop in device sales to $307 million, from $502.5 million a year ago. The decline in smart-TV and soundbar revenue was surprising considering The NPD Group touted Vizio TV as the No. 2 smart-TV brand in the quarter.

The company shipped 1.2 million smart-TVs in the quarter, down 15% from 1.4 million units shipped in the previous-year period.

Meanwhile, Vizio’s decision to launch an ad-supported streaming platform continues to pay dividends. The platform surpassed 16.6 million active accounts in the quarter, generating $128 million in ad revenue — up 49% from revenue of $85.5 million a year earlier.

Total Vizio user hours increased 11% to 8.12 million hours, from 7.3 million. SmartCast hours increased 17% to 4.2 million, from 3.6 million. More importantly, average revenue per user increased 39% to $27.7, from $19.9.

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“Our platform revenue [growth] and adjusted pre-tax earnings all surpassed the high-end of our guidance ranges,” CEO William Wang said in a statement.

Kaleidescape Appoints Priscilla Morgan Chief Operating Officer

Movie player maker Kaleidescape has appointed Priscilla Morgan chief operating officer.

She will be responsible for sales, marketing, content licensing, customer support and customer engagement. She was previously a member of the board of directors for the company.

“Priscilla brings more than 25 years of experience building and advancing sales, finance, and field operations initiatives for companies like Dolby and Oracle,” Kaleidescape chairman and CEO Tayloe Stansbury said in a statement. “Through many years of developing deep-rooted customer and industry relationships and navigating the landscape of entertainment technology, Priscilla has developed a unique and tremendously successful approach to scaling organizations. With her transition from our board of directors, she brings a strong understanding of Kaleidescape’s trajectory and customer base to this executive leadership role.”

“I am thrilled to take on this new role at Kaleidescape and contribute to its growing success alongside a tremendous leadership team,” Morgan said in a statement. “I look forward to leveraging my strategic and tactical experience, along with my industry ties, to establish a customer-centric approach to operations that will continue to grow the company.” 

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Prior to joining Kaleidescape, Morgan served as chief revenue officer at Alliance Consumer Group, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of branded consumer products. Additionally, she oversaw worldwide sales and business operations and new business design and implementation in VP roles at Dolby. She created and implemented systems to achieve complex financial and operational objectives and enabled global scaling of the business to more than $1 billion. As VP of business operations and development at Oracle, she led cross-functional teams to refine business practices, operations, and opportunity management for on-demand and support services. She also served as the CFO at TuVox and conducted client engagements at KPMG.

Morgan holds a bachelor of arts in English with an emphasis in accounting from the University of California, Berkeley. She was selected as one of the Most Influential Women in Business by The San Francisco Business Times

Roku to Launch New Smart Home Products Line at Walmart

Roku and Walmart Oct. 12 announced the launch of Roku’s new suite of smart-home products, including security cameras, video doorbells, lighting, and streaming plugs in nearly 3,500 Walmart stores beginning Oct. 17.

The move comes as Roku expands it branded internet-connected television operating system to other household devices.

“Branching further into the smart-home category is a natural extension of our business, and we are proud to partner with Walmart to make the experience simple and affordable,” Mustafa Ozgen, president of devices at Roku, said in a statement.

At launch, Roku TV Operating System integration will allow users to see who is at their door with their Roku video doorbell while streaming their favorite shows. Users will also be able to view live streams from their Roku cameras, use a Roku voice remote to bring up video feeds, and more. Roku Smart Home will be compatible with third-party voice integrations, as well as Roku Voice.

Developed in partnership with Wyze Labs, Roku smart devices will make it easy for consumers to connect with a smart-home experience. The Roku Smart Home lineup offers two-factor authentication, user data encryption, secure boot, and numerous other advanced security capabilities. In addition, Roku Smart Home devices are certified by ioXt Alliance, the global standard for IoT security.

“We’re expanding the Roku ecosystem for the tens of millions of households who already use [our] devices – or anyone looking for a new option to level-up their spaces with smart lighting, cameras and more,” said Mark Robins, VP of Roku Smart Home.

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The Roku Smart Home initial lineup includes:

  • Floodlight Camera
  • Indoor and Outdoor Cameras
  • Indoor Camera 360°
  • Video Doorbell & Chime
  • Smart Bulbs (white and color)
  • Smart Light Strips
  • Indoor and Outdoor Smart Plugs

 

“Roku’s new line of Smart Home devices … allows our customers to easily enjoy the security and convenience afforded by these new products,” added Laura Rush, SVP of electronics, toys and seasonal for Walmart U.S.