YouTube TV Tops 2 Million Subscribers

High-profile marketing around the World Series and Super Bowl is apparently paying off for Google’s proprietary online TV service, YouTube TV.

Google announced that the online TV service now has more than 2 million subscribers since launching in 2016. The tally puts the platform just behind Dish Network’s pioneering Sling TV with 2.68 million subs and Hulu with Live TV, reportedly at 2.7 million subs.

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YouTube (excluding $1.2 billion in ad-revenue from YouTube TV) generated more than $15 billion in advertising revenue in 2019 — up from $11 billion in 2018.

The tallies pale in comparison to overall revenue for Google parent Alphabet Inc.

“In 2019 we again delivered strong revenue growth, with revenue of $162 billion, up 18% year over year and up 20% on a constant currency basis,” CFO Ruth Porat said in a statement.

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Sling TV Granted Technology & Engineering Emmy Award

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Jan. 15 awarded Sling TV a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for its work developing and launching the nation’s first live over-the-top television service.

A pioneer in adaptive bit rate streaming, Dish Network launched Sling TV on Feb. 9, 2015 as the first streaming service to deliver live television over-the-top. Sling, which ended the most-recent fiscal period with 2.66 million subscribers, offers a wide range of free programming in addition to a full lineup of live news, sports and entertainment channels, including Fox News, CNN, ESPN and HGTV, as well as Cloud DVR capabilities.

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The market now includes AT&T TV Now, Philo TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Spectrum TV Plus, Hulu with Live TV and Vidgo.

Sling TV’s premium service is available for a monthly subscription on a variety of smart televisions, tablets, game consoles, computers, smartphones, virtual reality headsets and streaming devices.

In addition to offering live television, Sling offers users access to a suite of free content, à la carte channels and services, transactional live events and movies on-demand, without requiring a base subscription.

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“Our journey over the past five years has been about the customer, offering exceptional value with unprecedented flexibility. In short, making TV better for everyone,” Warren Schlichting, EVP and group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “[Dish] has a history of fostering innovation and disrupting the industry, and Sling’s leadership in live streaming TV is another example of our culture.”

Sling TV will receive the Technology & Engineering Emmy Award in the category of “Pioneering Development of Large Scale, Cloud Served, Broadcast Quality, Linear Channel Transmission” at the 71st annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards on April 19 at the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference in Las Vegas.

 

Sling TV Raises Subscription Pricing 25%

Online TV pioneer Sling TV Dec. 23 raised subscription pricing 20% to 25% depending on the monthly service plan. It is the second price increase by Dish Network since it launched Sling in 2015, priced at $20 monthly.

Sling Orange and Sling Blue are now priced at $30, with a Sling Orange/Blue combo offered at $45/month (from $40/month). The TV add-on also increased by $5 to $25. Add-on packages include premium movie, sports and TV programming.

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Notably, Sling TV — which tallied more than 2.6 million subs at the end of Q3 — was the first online service to offer standalone access to ESPN following Dish’s landmark carriage agreement with Disney. Now Sling is offering DVR functionality (up to 10 hours) for ESPN and other content channels, which includes the ability to skip commercials during playback.

“Sling customers have been clear: they want more live news and sports, and they want a cloud DVR included at purchase — and we listened,” Warren Schlichting, EVP/group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “Over the past five years, we have proven our dedication to making Sling an exceptional value with unmatched flexibility. These announcements today are further proof points that Sling is the premier live streaming service.”

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Other changes include Sling TV adding Fox News, MSNBC and CNN’s HLN to Sling Blue base service. Fox Business Network launching into Sling Blue News Extra.

Big Ten Network (BTN) will launch on Sling TV ahead of the 2020-21 college football season. FXM will launch into Sling Blue Hollywood Extra, which will also add FXX, including the linear feed.

Nat Geo Wild is joining Sling Blue Heartland Extra, including the linear feed.

Sling Orange recently launched Longhorn Network and ACC Network to the service’s Sports Extra, as well as the ability to record Disney and ESPN channels with Sling TV’s Cloud DVR.

Dish Brings Google Nest Hello Doorbell to Hopper DVR Platform

Dish Network Dec. 20 announced that its Hopper and Wally DVR receivers now support the Google Nest Hello Video doorbell. When the doorbell rings, Nest Hello sends on-screen notifications directly to the television.

Dish is the first pay-TV provider to integrate a Google Nest device into its ecosystem with the Device Access program. The Nest Hello announcement is the first in a series of Google Nest integrations coming to the Hopper platform.

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“Google Nest on Hopper is about giving our customers added choice and control over their home environment — with the subtle on-screen alerts delivered by the Nest Hello, customers are better equipped to hit pause and take action right away,” Rob Sadler, director of product management, said in a statement. “This is just the beginning of a powerful relationship with Google Nest and their vast portfolio of products.”

After pairing their Google Nest account with their Dish Hopper or Wally receiver, customers will receive on-screen notifications, including an image, when their Nest Hello has been pressed.

In 2018, Dish introduced the ability for Google Assistant to control its Hopper receivers. It expanded that capability earlier this year, with the introduction of the Google Assistant-enabled Dish Voice Remote.

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The Nest Hello feature is available to all broadband-connected Hopper and Wally receivers beginning today. Support for Joey (all clients) will begin rolling out in the following weeks.

Nest joins Dish’s suite of smart-home control options, including the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Josh.ai.

The whole-home Hopper platform claims to lead the industry in DVR features and functionality. The Hopper 3 boasts 16 tuners, two terabytes of DVR storage, live and on-demand 4K compatibility, PrimeTime Anytime, AutoHop and integrated apps Netflix, YouTube, YouTube Kids, Pandora and Amazon Prime Video, among others.

Voice-control capabilities through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and the DISH voice remote give customers easier access to their favorite programming. Hopper (all generations) gives customers access to live, on-demand and recorded content on Dish’s online streaming app, Dish Anywhere.

Amazon Prime Video Debuts on Dish Hopper 3

Dish Network Dec. 16 announced that the Amazon Prime Video app is now available on Hopper 3, the cloud-based set-top box/DVR. Prime Video joins Dish’s catalog of integrated video streaming options, including Netflix, YouTube and YouTube Kids.

The satellite  TV operator said Prime Video complements the existing “Dish experience” by allowing subscribers to instantly stream Amazon Originals, including “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Emmy Award-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” from the same platform as their pay-TV programming.

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“Rather than switching between inputs, devices or even remotes to watch Prime Video, our customers get the convenience of having all of their programming in one place, providing more value to the Hopper 3 experience,”Brian Neylon, group president of Dish TV, said in a statement.

To access the Prime Video app, users can say “Launch Prime Video” into the Dish voice remote or launch via the guide on channel 301.

“We’re committed to providing customers with the best viewing experience possible and that means giving them even more ways to watch Prime Video,” said Andrew Bennett, director of worldwide business development for Amazon Prime Video. “With Prime Video now available on Hopper 3, we are making it easy for even more Dish customers to immediately start enjoying their favorite TV shows and movies on Prime Video.”

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Prime Video is available to all Hopper 3 customers and accessible via the app menu or Dish voice remote. Amazon’s 4K content is also available to Hopper 3 customers with a 4K TV.

Sling TV Offering Free Google Nest Hub With Three-Month Pre-paid Subscription

Dish Networks’ online television service Sling TV is offering new subscribers a free Google Nest Hub ($129 value) voice-activated streaming media device when pre-paying for three months service.

Sling TV options include Sling Orange for $20 monthly and Sling Blue ($25), in addition to separate premium content additions.

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Google Nest is a brand used to market smart home products, including smart speakers, smart displays, streaming devices, thermostats, smoke detectors, routers and security systems including smart doorbells, cameras and smart locks.

Launched in 2015, Sling TV helped create the online TV market, which today includes AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and fubo TV, among others.

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DOJ Drawn Into Comcast, Starz Carriage Dispute

With legacy pay-TV under siege from cord-cutting subscribers and high-profile alternatives such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and now Apple TV+, the status quo for traditional carriage agreements has gone out the window.

And so it was that Comcast last month quietly announced it would soon end Xfinity subscriber access to Starz, the premium movie and TV service it acquired in 2016 for $4.4 billion.

The news was significant since Comcast represents about a third of Starz’ 24.4 million subscribers. Starz, which operates its own branded $8.99 monthly subscription streaming service, has been a profit vehicle for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Lionsgate.

Comcast reported it will replace Starz on Dec. 10  with Epix, the premium service owned by MGM and formerly Lionsgate, unless a new agreement can be reached. The news has contributed to a 9% drop in Lionsgate’s stock valuation — which is already down nearly 50% in the fiscal year.

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The negotiation impasse has reportedly caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which continues to have Comcast in its crosshairs ever since its acquisition of NBC Universal in 2009. Back then, regulators forced the cable giant to relinquish management input on its stake in Hulu, citing antitrust issues.

Earlier this year Comcast sold its Hulu stake to Disney after acquiring Sky satellite TV operator in the United Kingdom.

Comcast’s NBC Universal unit is readying its own SVOD service, Peacock, early next year.

The situation prompted Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to contact Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to investigate the situation. Delrahim played a significant role in the DOJ’s failed attempt to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.

“These changes could lessen competition in the video programming market and limit choices for many thousands of consumers in Maine and millions more across the nation,” Collins wrote in a letter to Delrahim as reported by CNBC.

“I encourage both of you to seek a win-win solution and consider all options to keep Starz programming on the air,” Feinstein wrote in a separate letter.

Comcast is employing strategy out of Dish Networks’ playbook, which typically includes threats to halt access to third-party content distribution for more favorable distribution terms. Indeed, Dish currently has HBO blacked out to it subscribers.

Comcast, like Dish, contends its subs can access services such as Starz and HBO independently, thus negating what it considers to be excessive carriage fees.

“At the end of the day, this is a routine commercial negotiation that raises no conceivable antitrust concerns,” Comcast said in a statement.

Starz countered that Comcast is forcing its subs to pay more for its service.

“By unilaterally taking Starz out of its packages with no refund … Comcast is unfairly depriving them of relatable programming that reflects their cultural experience,” read a Starz statement.

Lionsgate reports third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) financial results Nov. 7.

 

Sling TV Expands Free Access to Roku, Amazon Devices

Could Dish Network’s Sling TV be transitioning into an ad-supported online television platform?

Launched in 2015 as the first standalone online Tv service offering access to ESPN and other pay-TV channels outside of the traditional bundled cable package, the $25 monthly platform is expanding its “free experience” to Roku and Amazon devices, including Fire TV.

After downloading the app, users can watch select Sling TV programming for free without entering their credit card information. Once in guest mode, users can browse and watch content from the “My TV” screen.

Users also have the option to create a Sling account and sign up for service, purchase pay-per-view movies (Android and Roku only) and subscribe to standalone channels like Showtime and Starz, among others.

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Sling ended the most recent fiscal period with more than 2.3 million subscribers — a sub count that hasn’t grown much in recent quarters.

With Apple and Disney bowing branded subscription streaming platforms next month, coupled with the rise in ad-supported VOD services such as Tubi and Pluto TV, pushing marketing outside the box is the new normal.

Free shows on Sling include “Live PD: Police Patrol,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” and movies The Illusionist or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

Users without a subscription can also access Showtime or Lionsgate-owned Starz for a separate fee. Users can also purchase access to channels, including Curiosity Stream, Up Faith & Family and Hallmark Movies Now, among others.

“As the only live streaming service that allows you to purchase à la carte channels without subscribing to a base service, Sling makes it easy to stream all of your favorite content in the same interface,” the service wrote in a blog post.

 

Private Equity Group Looking to Acquire DirecTV and Dish Network

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management is reportedly negotiating to acquire AT&T’s satellite TV service, DirecTV, along with competitor Dish Network.

The complicated transaction would enable AT&T to offload about $20 billion in debt, while maintaining control of the satellite service. It would also allow Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen to unload the company’s declining pay-TV business, according to Fox Business, which first reported the story based on information from sources familiar with the situation.

Ergen, who has recently moved the company’s focus toward wireless networks and 5G, has made no secret his desire to combine the two satellite businesses.

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AT&T, which acquired DirecTV in 2015 for $49 billion, also purchased Time Warner for $85 billion, sending its debt load into the stratosphere.

Apollo, which has about $250 billion in its asset portfolio, would provide financing for the deal in exchange for a minority stake in the combined entity. The firm specializes in leveraged buyout transactions and purchases of distressed securities involving corporate restructuring, special situations, and industry consolidations.  Its holdings include Caesars Entertainment Corporation, CareerBuilder,  ADT and Rackspace.

AT&T told Fox it has received the offer but that there were no active discussions at this time.

COO John Stankey, who is also CEO of WarnerMedia, last month reiterated AT&T’s support DirecTV and over-the-top video unit, AT&T TV Now.

“We’re constantly looking at the [business] portfolio,” Stankey told The Wall Street Journal. “That’s the normal course of business and it’s not unique to DirecTV.”

 

AT&T Reportedly Considering Spinning Off DirecTV or Merging Unit With Dish Network

Facing mounting mergers-and-acquisition debt, criticism from an activist investor and changing consumer habits toward pay-TV, AT&T is reportedly considering spinning off its DirecTV subsidiary or combining it with competitor Dish Network.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said CEO Randall Stephenson is exploring the option despite telling an investor event this week he still the supports the satellite TV business AT&T acquired in 2015 for $49 billion.

While nothing could come of the situation, Dish co-founder/CEO Charles Ergen Sept. 17 told the same investor group he welcomes merging the two satellite providers. Ergen tried pursuing DirecTV in 2014, but lost out to AT&T.

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Indeed, with 12 million subscribers — largely buttressed by standalone online TV service Sling TV — Dish would benefit from consolidation. AT&T has projected it would lose more than 1.4 million satellite subs in 2019, including rebranded DirecTV Now (AT&T TV) online subs.

However, when the former parents of Dish and DirecTV considered merging in 2001, federal regulators quashed the idea on antitrust issues.

The Trump Administration is still licking it wounds from a failed attempt to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner — a move some observers contend was largely based on politics involving the president’s dislike of Time Warner subsidiary CNN.

How that would impact a Dish/DirecTV combination is anyone’s guess.

“From a regulatory perspective, it hasn’t been successful and I don’t know that there is any change in that regulatory perspective,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said recently. “I understand the industrial logic, but quite frankly it’s been tried and has been rejected.”