Sling TV Reverses Q4 Sub Loss, Still Down for Fiscal Year

Online TV market founder Sling TV Feb. 22 reported a gain of 16,000 subscribers for the fourth quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2020). That compared with a loss of 94,000 subs in the previous-year period. It was the second-consecutive quarterly subscriber gain after three quarters of losses. The Dish Network-owned subsidiary ended the fiscal year with 2.47 million subs, down 118,000 subs from the end of 2019.

Dish’s legacy satellite TV service lost 133,000 subs in the quarter, in addition to 578,000 in the year. The operator ended 2020 with 8.81 million subs compared with 9.4 million in 2019.

On the fiscal call, Dish CEO Charlie Ergen lamented the lost opportunities around Sling’s first-mover advantage in online TV.

“We stumbled a little there with the quality of the user experience,” Ergen said. “Our network was the best and the first, but we got a little complacent.”

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When Sling launched in early 2015, it was the first time a pay-TV operator had offered a standalone online TV service, including landmark access to ESPN outside the traditional cable bundle. The market, which quickly included DirecTV Now (now AT&T TV), Charter Spectrum TV Plus, YouTube TV, Philo, Fubo TV, and (now shuttered) Sony PlayStation Vue, among others, was seen as a strategic alternative to cord-cutting and the exploding over-the-top video ecosystem driven by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

Interestingly, Hulu’s branded online TV platform, Hulu+Live TV, now leads the online TV market with more than 4 million subscribers, compared with 3.2 million at the end of 2019. Hulu is now the fifth-largest pay-TV operator in the country.

While Hulu’s growth is due in part to being bundled with Disney+ and ESPN+ in a promotional $12.99 monthly package, the online TV market has upped availability of transactional VOD movies to drive subscriber growth and retention.

Parks Associates found that 60% of pay-TV subs (accounting for nearly half of U.S. broadband households) stream movies and TV shows from an online video service as part of their legacy subscription. Linear-TV subs subscribing to online video services has increased 50% in the past year.

Free Ad-Supported ‘Disney+Star’ Set to Launch Feb. 23 — Outside the U.S.

Disney’s over-the-top video ecosystem is about to get larger with the scheduled Feb. 23 launch of Star within the Disney+ platform. The free AVOD tier will offer thousands of hours of movies and television programming from the company’s multiple studios, including content from the 21st Century Fox acquisition, i.e. FX, Searchlight, and 20th Century Studios, along with Star-branded exclusive originals and local programming, tailored to specific markets.

Star Plus is bowing in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, with an additional rollout slated for Latin America in June.

Disney acquired the India-based Star brand through the Fox deal, which includes existing streaming service Hotstar. The latter includes exclusive access to Indian Premier League professional cricket, a national pastime. Hotstar is responsible for 30% of Disney+’s 94.9 million global subscribers.

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Disney+ features exclusive and catalog content from Disney, Marvel (“WandaVision”), Pixar (Soul), Star Wars (“The Mandalorian” and upcoming “The Book of Boba Fett”  and “Andor” series) and National Geographic.

“Star will be integrated into Disney+, as a distinct sixth brand tile,” CEO Bob Chapek said on the Feb. 11 fiscal webcast. “And will offer easy to use parental controls to manage access to the content.”

The platform looks to expand Disney’s OTT base of 146 million subs, which includes Disney Plus, Hulu, Hulu with Live TV and ESPN+.

“We’re less than two weeks away from launch and we’re seeing tremendous excitement amongst consumers,”Chapek said.

Disney+ Streaming Service Ends Q1 With 94.9 Million Subs

Walt Disney’s branded subscription streaming video service Disney+ continues to impress, ending the first quarter (ended Jan. 2) with 94.9 million global subscribers. The service ended the previous-year period with 26.5 million subscribers. In a continuing trend, 30% of Disney+ subs come from India via Disney+ Hotstar (and IPL cricket league), with further growth from operations in Latin America.

Hulu finished the quarter with 35.4 million subs, compared with 27.2 million subs at the end of 2019. Online TV platform, Hulu+Live TV, ended the quarter with 4 million subs, compared to 3.2 million in the previous-year period. The increase in Disney+ subs and costs reflected the ongoing expansion of the service, including launching in additional markets.

Overall, Disney now has 146 million paid over-the-top video subscribers to its services, when including ESPN+, which ended the quarter with 12.1 million subs, compared to 6.6 million in the previous-year period.

In studio results, a lack of content in the both the theatrical and retail pipeline negatively affected revenue. In home entertainment, the decrease in results was due to lower unit sales, partially offset by lower marketing costs. The prior-year quarter reflected the performance of Toy Story 4, The Lion King and Aladdin compared to no significant titles in the current quarter.

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Theatrical distribution was lower as there were no significant worldwide theatrical releases in the current quarter compared to Frozen II, which was released in the prior-year quarter. The current quarter was negatively impacted by COVID-19 as many theaters globally were either closed or operating at reduced capacity.

Regardless, CEO Bob Chapek said direct-to-consumer would continue to drive Disney during the pandemic and beyond.

“We believe the strategic actions we’re taking to transform our company will fuel our growth and enhance shareholder value, as demonstrated by the incredible strides we’ve made in our direct-to-consumer business,” Chapek said in a statement. “We’re confident that, with our robust pipeline of exceptional, high-quality content and the upcoming launch of our new Star-branded international general entertainment offering, we are well-positioned to achieve even greater success going forward.”

ViacomCBS Expands Distribution With Hulu Online TV Platform

ViacomCBS has its upcoming launch of Paramount+ streaming service, but the media giant hasn’t forgotten about its pay-TV business. The company Jan. 4 announced a new distribution agreement that adds more content from its portfolio of news, entertainment and sports networks to Disney-owned Hulu’s live TV subscription streaming service, Hulu + Live TV — the largest online television platform.

The multiyear deal includes continued carriage of CBS broadcast stations, CBS Sports Network, Pop TV, Smithsonian Channel, and The CW, as well as continued distribution of subscription streaming video service, Showtime. The deal will also introduce 14 additional ViacomCBS networks to Hulu + Live TV, including BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, VH1, CMT, Nick Jr., TV Land, BET Her, MTV2, NickToons, TeenNick and MTV Classic.

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“We are excited to have reached an expanded agreement with Hulu that underscores the value of our powerful portfolio of brands to next-generation TV platforms and viewers,” Ray Hopkins, president of U.S. Networks Distribution for ViacomCBS, said in a statement. “Hulu continues to be a great partner, and this agreement ensures that Hulu + Live TV subscribers are now able to enjoy the full breadth of our leading content across news, sports and entertainment for the first time.”

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

WGN America Inks First-Ever Carriage Agreement With Hulu

WGN America, the Chicago-based cable TV network owned by Nexstar Media Group, has reached its first-ever multiyear distribution agreement with Disney-owned Hulu + Live TV.

Under the deal, the network’s programming will be carried by the online platform beginning Jan. 19, 2021. The agreement also restores Nexstar’s ABC-affiliated television stations to Hulu + Live TV. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Hulu + Live TV ended its most-recent fiscal period with more than 4 million subscribers, tops among all online TV platforms, and fifth among all pay-TV networks nationwide.

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WGN America has approximately 75 million television households across the United States. WGN America is the home of “NewsNation,” the country’s only live nationwide newscast airing in prime-time nightly.

“We’re looking forward to making our entertainment content and “NewsNation” available to 4 million new subscribers throughout the country,” Sean Compton, president of the networks division of Nexstar, said in a statement.

Global Pay-TV to Add 35 Million Subs by 2025 — Driven by Online TV

Pay-TV consumption in the United States is declining, but globally, there’s still life in the distribution channel — thanks to online TV.

New data from London-based Digital TV Research suggests there will be 35 million new pay-TV subs through 2025, with the global base reaching 1.06 billion across more than 138 countries.

Driving growth is online TV, which includes platforms such as Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, AT&T TV Now and YouTube TV in the United States. IPTV will add 84 million subs through 2025, topping 391 million. Online TV will grow its global market share in pay-TV from 30% in 2019 to 37% in 2025.

Satellite TV, which is projected to lose another 4 million subs through 2025, will generate 20% of pay-TV subs, down from 21% in 2019.
Cable will decline 7%, accounting for 40% of all pay-TV subs by 2025 — a near 50% drop from 74% market share in 2010. There will be 430 million cable TV subs (both analog and digital) by 2025, 101 million fewer than in 2010.

“Our forecasts are based on the assumption that professional sports will restart in August following relaxations in the COVID-19 lockdown,” analyst Simon Murray said in a statement. “If this does not happen, then pay-TV will experience considerable churn.”

Hulu Missing From Chicago Cubs Spring Training Lineup

The Chicago Cubs, like many Major League Baseball teams, begin their 28-game Spring Training season Feb. 22 in Mesa, Arizona. While inclement weather is delaying the start to many games on Saturday, Disney’s online TV platform, Hulu with Live TV, won’t be around to stream the action regardless of projected rain in the forecast.

The Cubs, together with Sinclair Broadcast Group, are bowing their jointly created Marquee Sports Network, which was supposed to stream on Hulu, priced at $54.99. Subs were to get access to 148 regular season games (not being broadcast nationally), in addition to Spring Training.

In a Feb. 21 statement, the Cubs said Marquee would be available to stream on AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and “Hulu+Live TV in the near future.” No reason was given for the delayed launch on Hulu, which recently disclosed 2.7 million subscribers — topping Dish Network’s Sling TV.

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“The provider determines the launch date for the service,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green told the Chicago Tribune.

Per ongoing secular changes in media distribution, the Cubs for the first time in their history will not broadcast games locally over-the-air TV after 71 years.

Marquee has also bowed a branded Sports Network App, enabling fans with pay-TV contracts access to live and on-demand mobile and desktop access.

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YouTube Readying Third-Party OTT Video Platform

Google-owned YouTube is reportedly looking to borrow a page from the Amazon Channels playbook with a new platform featuring third-party subscription streaming video services.

Amazon launched Channels in 2015 featuring direct access to services such as HBO Now, Dove Channel, Acorn TV, Shudder, UMC, Showtime OTT and Starz. Amazon handles the billing and backend support for a fee or percentage of subscription revenue. Apple is doing the same type of business platform with Apple TV and Apple News.

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The Information, citing sources familiar with the situation, said the YouTube platform would enable a “wide range of subscription-streaming services,” including YouTube TV, which costs $49.99 monthly.

Google in 2015 launched ad-free video streaming subscription service YouTube Red, later bowing YouTube TV for $35 monthly. The platform recently topped two million monthly subscribers — just behind market leaders Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV.

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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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YouTube TV Extends Free Trial Period

Google-owned online television service YouTube TV is extending its free trial period to 14 days through Jan. 15. The service with more than 1 million subscribers had offered new members a free seven-day trial period.

Launched in 2016, YouTube TV costs $49.99 monthly featuring 70 channels, including most major sports networks. The channel has been a presenting sponsor of the MLB World Series.

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YouTube TV is less expensive than Hulu with Live TV and fuboTV ($54.99) and AT&T Now ($64.99), but costs more than Sling TV ($30) and Philo TV ($20).

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