Roku Remains Top Streaming Media Device in U.S.

Roku’s streaming TV platform accounted for more than 30% of U.S. sales of connected TV devices in Q1 2019, further increasing its lead in streaming TV platforms, according to the latest data from Strategy Analytics.

The British research firm finds that there are more than 41 million Roku-based devices in use, including branded set-top devices, HDMI sticks and smart TVs, accounting for 15.2% of all media streaming devices.

Roku now has a 36% lead over the next major platform, Sony PlayStation, in terms of devices in use. The report predicts that this lead will stretch to 70% by the end of the year, largely as a result of the success of Roku’s smart TV partner strategy.

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Other key findings from the report include:

Amazon’s Fire TV OS was the second-most-sold streaming TV platform in Q1 2019, with 12% of sales, followed by Samsung’s Tizen at 11% and Google (Android TV and Chromecast) at 9%

By the end of 2019 more than 52 million Roku-powered devices will be in use, accounting for 18% of all connected media devices

“Roku had another strong quarter in Q1 and continues to hold a commanding lead in streaming media platforms in spite of Amazon’s growing influence in the living room,” David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics and the report’s author, said in a statement.

Watkins said Roku’s firs-mover status (it co-pioneered subscription VOD with Netflix), content offering of third-party streaming services, comprehensive search function and simple and intuitive user interface have contributed in its success.

The analyst cautioned Roku is less well-known outside of the U.S. and to succeed on the international stage would need to “face down” the challenges of building brand awareness and drawing users away from well-established players such as Amazon, Apple and Google.

“There was record growth in the smart TV market in the first quarter of 2019 and Roku and TCL have proved to be a great partnership in this rapidly growing segment,” added David Mercer, principal analyst at Strategy Analytics. “Roku is set to become the U.S.’s top smart TV platform this year in terms of sales share, and Google and Amazon clearly have their work cut out to stay in touch with the market leader.”

YouTube TV Offering Free Showtime This Summer

YouTube TV, the Google-owned social video behemoth’s online TV platform, reportedly is offering select subscribers free access to Showtime through Sept. 5.

The special offer for the CBS-owned premium channel — first reported by 9to5Google.com — was emailed to “longtime” friends of YouTube TV, which launched in 2017 for $35 monthly fee. In April, Google upped the fee to $49.99.

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YouTube TV currently charges subscribers a $11 monthly surcharge for Showtime and other premium channels, including HBO.

The platform reassured subs it would not automatically begin billing them for Showtime once the promotional period ended.

YouTube Expands MLB Partnership with Live-Game Streaming

YouTube April 30 disclosed it has expanded its relationship with Major League Baseball that includes the right to live-stream 13 games for free during the second-half of 2019 season in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

The deal mirrors last year’s deals between MLB, Amazon and Twitter that brought the national pastime to social media and beyond the league’s MLB.tv subscription streaming service.

Google-owned YouTube’s first-ever streaming deal with MLB follows previous deals that included Google Assistant serving as the presenting sponsor of the 2018 American and National League Championship Series.

That promotion marked Google’s first-ever presenting partnership around a U.S. professional sports league’s postseason event for its voice-activated technology.

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Previously, online TV subscription service YouTube TV served as the presenting sponsor of the 2017 and 2018 World Series.

YouTube TV also partnered with MLB on a season-long sponsorship — “First Pitch” – that showcased the YouTube TV brand during the first pitches of games on MLB Network and MLB.tv, and on MLB.com and MLB social channels.

In 2017, MLB’s engagement and content strategy on YouTube generated over 1 billion views.

“From live programming morphing into a YouTube TV spot, to prominent in-stadium placements, our innovative partnership [with MLB] allowed us to build awareness for YouTube TV,” Angela Courtin, global head of YouTube TV & originals marketing, said in a statement last year.

Spotify Music Streaming Service Tops 100 Million Subs; Ups Fiscal Loss

SpotifyTechnology S.A. April 29 announced its branded music subscription streaming service reached 100 million paid subscribers in the first quarter, ended March 31.

That beat the previous-year period with 75.5 million paid subs. It also nearly doubled Apple Music with 50 million subs.

Average monthly users grew 26% to 217 million (which includes free ad-supported music users), slightly lower than the company’s 215-220 million guidance range.

“Outperformance was driven by a better promotion plan in the U.S. and Canada,” founder/CEO Daniel Ek and CFO Barry McCarthy said in a statement, alluding to a 23% price reduction ($12.99 to $9.99 monthly) for the “Spotify Premium + Hulu” promotion in the U.S.

McCarthy was Netflix’s CFO from 1999 to 2010.

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Spotify launched India in late February expanding its global market footprint to 79 countries. More than 1 million users signed up for Spotify in the first week in India. The company now has more than 2 million users in India.

Regardless, the streaming service reported an operating loss of €47 million ($52.4 million) on revenue of €1.5 billion ($1.67 billion), which was up 33% from revenue of  €1.1 billion ($1.22 billion) last year.

 The service, along with Pandora, Google and Amazon Prime Music, remains embroiled in a royalty dispute with songwriters.

Last month, the Register of the Copyright Office approved upping songwriters’ royalties from music streaming services from 10.5% to 15.1%  through 2022.

It was biggest rate increase granted in CRB history, according to the National Music Publishers’ Association.

Spotify & Co. are appealing the hike, claiming it “harms music licensees and copyright owners,” among other issues. Apple Music is not appealing the ruling.

Verizon and Google Partner for YouTube TV Access

Faced with no proprietary over-the-top video offerings, Verizon April 23 announced a partnership with Google to bring YouTube TV to Verizon subscribers across all platforms, including Fios TV and pending 5G.

YouTube TV is a standalone online TV service that just raised its monthly subscription price to $49.99 from $39.99.

“As we pave the path forward on 5G, we’ll continue to bring our customers options and access to premium content by teaming up with the best providers in the industry and leveraging our network as-a service strategy,” Erin McPherson, head of content strategy and acquisition at Verizon.

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The partnership affords both wireless mobility and Fios broadband subs to stream YouTube TV. Verizon will also offer YouTube TV promotions to customers across platforms.

“With this partnership, we’re making it simple and seamless for Verizon’s customers to sign up to enjoy YouTube TV on-the-go on their mobile phones or tablets or at home on their big screen devices,” said Heather Rivera, global head of product partnerships at YouTube.

YouTube TV offers cable-free live TV that can be watched on any screen (phone, tablet, TV, computer). It includes more than 70 networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, in addition to cable networks HGTV, Food Network, TNT, TBS, CNN, ESPN, FX and on-demand programming.

A YouTube TV membership includes six accounts per household, each with its own unique recommendations and personal DVR with no storage space limits.

Amazon, Google Bowing Apps on Competing Streaming Media Devices

In a first, Amazon and Google April 18 announced the two companies will launch the YouTube app on Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV-enabled smart TVs, as well as the Prime Video app to Chromecast and separately-enabled devices.

Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku dominate the streaming media device market.

Google Chromecast

Prime Video will also be available across Android TV device partners, and the YouTube TV and YouTube Kids apps will also come to Fire TV later this year. Google owns Android TV.

The YouTube app will be the easiest way for users to watch YouTube content on Fire TV. Users will be able to sign in to their existing YouTube account, access their full library of content, and play videos in 4K HDR on supported devices. In addition, standalone YouTube TV and YouTube Kids apps will also launch later this year on Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs where available.

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Amazon Fire TV Stick

“Bringing our flagship YouTube experience to Amazon Fire TV gives our users even more ways to watch the videos and creators they love,” Heather Rivera, global head of product partnerships at YouTube, said in a statement.

Chromecast, along with Android TV users, will have access to the Prime Video catalog, including the latest seasons of Amazon Originals “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Hanna,” “Homecoming,” “Bosch,” “Catastrophe” and “The Grand Tour,” along with Amazon Original movies such as Donald Glover’s Guava Island, and Academy Award-nominated films The Big Sick and Cold War. 

With Prime Video users can also rent or purchase titles or choose from more than 150 Prime Video Channels, including Showtime, HBO, CBS All-Access, Cinemax and Lionsgate-owned Starz.

“Whether watching the latest season of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ catching teams go head-to-head on Thursday Night Football or renting a new-release movie, customers will have even more ways to stream what they want, whenever they want, no matter where they are,” said Andrew Bennett, head of worldwide business development for Prime Video.

YouTube TV Ups Subscription Price 25%

YouTube TV has raised its monthly subscription price 25% to $49.99 from $39.99. Subscribers billed through Apple Pay will see their plan increase to $54.99.

The Google-owned online TV service made the announcement April 10, which coincided with a content distribution agreement with Discovery. Subs now have access to eight new channels, including Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and MotorTrend.

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The additions bring to 70 channels available on YouTube TV, including local ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliate coverage in 90% of the markets the online TV service is available.

“We’ll also be adding OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network later this year,” Christian Oestlien, VP of product management, YouTube TV, wrote in a blog post announcing the changes.“In addition, Epix is now available for an additional charge.”

The price hike, which represents a 43% increase for initial (2017) YouTube TV subs paying $34.99 monthly, comes as over-the-top video services such as Netflix, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV initiated price hikes.

 

Luncheon Fetes Fast Forward Award Honorees

FandangoNow VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas, Redbox CEO Galen Smith, Google Play head of media and entertainment Jonathan Zepp, and the team at Apple iTunes were honored with Fast Forward Awards at a luncheon April 4 in Los Angeles at the Universal Hilton.

The awards, presented by Media Play News, recognize people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

The luncheon was produced by Media Play News and hosted by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which used the occasion to announce a new Leadership Development Foundation to foster executive talent.

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“All of today’s honorees are truly worthy of recognition for their leadership in our industry,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher.

Media Play News publisher Thomas K. Arnold noted that all of the honorees are involved in the digital transactional business. Not all consumers want to get their entertainment buffet-style with the content curated for them as offered by subscription streaming services; many consumers would like to choose the content they would like to see a la carte, he said.

Warner Bros. Entertainment SVP of sales Michael Rweyemamu presented the award to Smith of Redbox, which has nearly doubled the selection of films and TV shows available on its year-old digital movie store, Redbox On Demand, and last December announced a new deal in which its app is featured on all Vizio Smartcast TV. Rweyemamu noted the irony of the occasion, considering the rocky relationship between the studio and the kiosk company several years ago when the two fought over release windows for low-priced rentals.

“Ten years ago, had you told me I’d be presenting an award to Redbox, I’d have said, ‘Hell, no!’” Rweyemamu joked.

He praised Smith for his leadership.

“Galen, you’ve been a great partner,” he said. “We started off on a rocky road like some relationships, but we’re in a really good place right now. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that you were really tenacious. You were really disciplined, really open to conversations to allow us to be where we are today.”

Smith also noted the evolution of the relationship between the two companies.

“In a similar vein, receiving an award from Warner Bros. I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Smith said.

The company’s Redbox on Demand digital service “is a real natural evolution for our business,” Smith said.

“We’ve got 50 million customers that rent from us every year; it’s an opportunity for us to help them move to digital,” he said. “This is the last bastion of customers who haven’t moved yet. We have an opportunity to bring them over.”

He also praised the transactional model.

“We did a stint in a more of an SVOD-type business, and it didn’t really work,” he said, in reference to a failed joint venture with Verizon. “Our consumers are transactional, and so we want to do everything we can to support the business.”

In presenting the award to FandangoNow’s Douglas, industry veteran and former DreamWorks home entertainment chief Kelly Sooter praised him for his ability to anticipate trends and forge strong partnerships and lasting relationships — and for always being in touch with the consumer.

“He knows everything about … how consumers behave,” she said.

FandangoNow has been revving up its promotional muscle and is aggressively tying in digital purchases and rentals with its movie-ticket-selling sister company.

Douglas noted he got involved in the digital business at DreamWorks when he was asked to help with a startup (M-GO, which eventually was acquired by movie service Fandango and became FandangoNow).

“As we finally refined what we were doing and launched in 2013 as a transactional service, I truly felt like I was now building the future of digital home entertainment,” Douglas said.

He noted FandangoNow’s early and strong support for 4K and initiatives such as binge bundles and the “Fresh Picks” program, which curates titles deemed “Fresh” by sister service Rotten Tomatoes.

Praising Google Play’s Zepp, who was unable to attend, Paramount Pictures president of worldwide home media distribution Bob Buchi said, “He truly has the talent and the vision to market very impressively to consumers and really change the way that they behave.”

Buchi noted that Google Play, which is in its seventh year, “really put a movie store in the hand of millions of consumers with the Android mobile platform [and] really elevated and streamlined the experience of purchasing or renting a digital product, and opened up a whole new world in literally over 100 countries.”

“They continued to enhance the product day in and day out,” he said. “It’s now on every major television manufacturer and streaming sticks, so it’s really never been easier to rent or to purchase a movie.

“They’re also super champions of 4K which is great for adoption and great for all of our futures.”

Google Play Movies & TV is currently on a big 4K push, automatically upgrading customers’ past movie purchases to the new format, so they can stream them in 4K, even if the movies were originally purchased in standard or high definition.

Google Play’s Bill Kotzman accepted the award on Zepp’s behalf and read a statement from the honoree: “Transactional home entertainment is and will remain a key part of the media and entertainment business.… Google continues to invest heavily in transactional, and we’re excited to continue to grow the category in partnership with all of you.”

The EMA’s Steven Apple accepted the award for the iTunes team. Apple’s iTunes service began the year with a game-changing deal with No. 1 TV manufacturer Samsung. New Samsung SmartCast TVs will allow consumers to access their iTunes movie and TV show libraries through a new app.

Photos of the event are here.

Netflix Rated the Fastest-Growing Brand in 2019

As if it needs more attention, Netflix has been tapped the fastest-growing brand of 2019, according to Brand Finance, a brand valuation consulting company based in New York and Paris.

Based in part on a company’s ability to remain relevant and make an impact on the culture (home entertainment) it’s participating in, Netflix saw its brand value increase 105% over the past year to $21.2 billion.

The report said the subscription streaming video pioneer is set to play the “lead role in home entertainment,” building a disruptive business model as a universally accessible narrowcaster and effectively challenging traditional broadcasting brands and distribution.

“Netflix delivers high-quality and varied programming to anyone with Internet access and a credit card,” Alex Haigh, valuation director at Brand Finance, said in a statement. “The platform has embarked on a disruptive approach to media services and now has incumbents in the market looking over their shoulder.”

While Netflix’s brand keeps growing exponentially, Amazon (including Prime Video) remains the most valuable domestic brand, growing nearly 25% to $187.9 billion valuation.

“This year, Amazon’s brand is worth approximately half of the combined value of the 42 retail brands in the ranking,” Haigh said. “The retail industry is another sector at a crossroads as tech giants and online sellers encroach upon the traditional business model with a completely new proposition.”

With the media industry feeling the effects of tech disruption, another rapidly growing digital media brand is YouTube(up 46% to $37.8 billion) this year jumping 10 spots to 13th nationally.

Like Netflix, YouTube is building a broad platform for video content, in an effort to leverage its brand from merely peer-to-peer video creation and sharing to also include a growing premium and professional video library.

Among traditional media brands, Disney entered the top 10 nationally on the back of its M&A acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. The brand jumped 40% in value to $45.7 billion.

Tech giants, Apple (2nd, $153.6 billion) and Google (3rd, $142.8 billion) remained entrenched in their positions from last year.

With a 47% increase in brand value to $119.6 billion, Microsoft moved into 4th after the company’s successful turn towards a cloud-centric business.

With all eyes turned to 5G, AT&T dropped down a spot to 5th, after a modest 6% brand value increase over past 12 months to $87 billion.

Aside from calculating brand value, Brand Finance also determined the relative strength of brands using a scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance.

Though Facebook held onto its 6thspot, its brand strength suffered the second worst decline among the top 100 brands, resulting in a rating downgrade from AAA+ to AAA- after a year of privacy issues that have landed the company in the hot seat.

Behind tech, the largest industry with a combined brand value of over $1 trillion, the retail sector comes in second with $340.5 billion. Eighth-ranked Walmart (up 10% to $67.9 billion) is the nation’s most valuable brick-and-mortar retail brand, as it continues to push the boundaries of its physical store and logistics network.

Home Depot (up 39% to $47.1 billion) jumped from 11th to 9th, while its rival Lowe’s saw its brand value go up 49% to $23.9 billion.

Google Unveils ‘Stadia’ Video Game Service

As expected, Google is entering the $140 billion video game business with hopes its cloud-based Stadia service will rival industry benchmarks Xbox (Microsoft), PlayStation (Sony) and Switch (Nintendo) among consumers.

Google announced the new service March 19 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The search behemoth, which plans to roll out the service and cost details later this year, says Stadia would enable users to play games from major developers on most devices via YouTube.

Google Stadia video game controller

“Our ambition is far beyond a single game,” Phil Harrison, VP and GM at Google, told attendees. “The power of instant access is magical, and it’s already transformed the music and movie industries.”

Harrison, who previously held executive positions at Xbox and PlayStation, said Google tested the service (Project Stream) last fall with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that enabled users to play/stream the triple-A game via Google’s Chrome browser on any applicable device – including smart TV.

“We finally get to share Google’s vision of games,” Harrison said. “Our vision for Stadia is simple. One place for all the games you play.”

In a statement, Yves Guillemot, the co-founder/CEO of Ubisoft, said Google’s global expanse would give “billions” unprecedented opportunities to play video games.

“We are proud to partner with Google on Stadia, building on what we’ve learned with Project Stream via Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” Guillemot said. “This is only the beginning, and we can’t wait to continue collaborating closely with Google on what’s next for Stadia.”