Sling TV Narrows Online Subscriber Loss

Dish Network’s online TV platform Sling TV in the first quarter of this year lost 100,000 subs, an improvement from a loss of 281,000 subs in the previous-year period. The platform ended the three-month period, which ended March 31, with 2.37 million subs, compared with 2.47 million subs at the end of 2020.

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The decrease in Sling sub losses was primarily related to lower subscriber disconnects resulting from Dish focusing on acquiring and retaining higher-quality (i.e. more expensive) subs, partially offset by lower Sling TV subscriber activations.

“We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription video on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers [such as Hulu and AT&T TV],” the company said in a filing. “The three months ended March 31, 2020, was negatively impacted by delays and cancellations of sporting events as a result of COVID-19.”

Sling TV launched in 2015 to help pay-TV operators offer standalone access to premium linear channels. Since then, the service has struggled to maintain its market position, as Disney-owned Hulu with Live TV now leads the market with more than 4 million subs.

Pay-TV subs decreased by about 230,000 in the first quarter, compared to a decrease of about 413,000 subs in the previous-year quarter. The company closed the quarter with 11.06 pay-TV subs, which includes 8.69 million Dish TV subs and 2.37 million Sling TV subs.


Parks: Monthly Consumer Spending on OTT Video Services Doubled in 2020

Parks Associates March 25 reported that U.S. broadband households spent an average of $16 per month on OTT video services in early 2020, double ($8) what they spent in 2018. The Dallas-based research firm also found that 45% of survey respondents with traditional pay-TV said they are likely to switch to an online TV multichannel video programming distributor in the next 12 months.

Online TV platforms include market leader Hulu+Live TV, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV and Philo, among others.

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“Today’s video services market is in a historic state of disruption and disarray,” senior analyst Paul Erickson said in a statement. “Our Q3 2020 survey finds 29% of current subscribers to traditional pay TV are unhappy with the price and value of their service, and [online TV providers] are seeking to address that need with a variety of different bundles and value propositions.”

“We saw an unprecedented acceleration of consumer interest in aggregators and [online TV] in 2020, and there’s still a lot of room to grow viewership — especially through exceptional content discovery, 47% of viewers still turn to traditional pay-TV to find their next show, compared to 18% for [online TV],” added Nic Wilson, head of customer success at TiVo.

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.

YouTube TV Bows 4K Content, Will Launch Mobile Phone Video Tool to Compete With TikTok

Online TV platform YouTube TV has 3 million subscribers, 85 channels and access to the MLB World Series and the NFL, among other high-profile events. Now, the Google-owned platform is offering subs access to 4K content (4K HD TV required), offline content, and unlimited concurrent streams at home so the whole family can stream on different screens at once.

YouTube TV now supports a combination of SD, HD, 4K, VR, HDR and live video, as well as DVR on nearly every device with an Internet connection — from desktops to mobile, and gaming consoles to VR headsets.

“While the majority of YouTube videos are watched on mobile, our fastest area of growth is the TV,” Neal Mohan, chief product officer for YouTube, wrote in a blog post. “Later this year, we’ll launch a redesign of the YouTube VR app homepage to improve navigation, accessibility and search functionality.”

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Separately, Google in March will roll out YouTube Shorts, a mobile phone-centric platform that aims to compete with TikTok, enabling creators and artists to shoot snappy videos. Currently, Shorts is available in beta in India. Since the beginning of December, the number of Indian channels using Shorts creation tools has more than tripled, and the YouTube Shorts player is now receiving more than 3.5 billion daily views globally, according to the company.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll begin expanding the beta to the U.S., unlocking our tools to even more creators so they can get started with Shorts,” Mohan wrote.

Comcast Discloses 9.3% Stake in Fubo TV

Comcast has acquired a 9.3% minority stake in fubo TV, the online TV subscription service featuring live sports and soon gambling. The corporate parent to NBCUniversal and Peacock and Xumo streaming services disclosed the stake in a Feb. 12 fiscal filing. Other media company co-owners include Disney and ViacomCBS.

Fubo TV, which launched an IPO last year, has been on a rollercoaster for investors as its stock fluctuates wildly (up 275%) on market speculation. Driving the interest is sports wagering. Fubo, like Disney, Fox and others, is looking to appeal to more than live-sports streamers through legalized gambling.

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Fubo entered 2021 with about 545,000 subscribers paying from $65 monthly for access to more than 100 channels, including 40 sports-themed. The six-year-old service last year acquired Balto Sports, a backend developer of fantasy sports gaming software. Last month, fubo expanded to sports gambling by acquiring Vigtory, an interactive sports gaming company.

The moves don’t excite Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Lightshed Partners, who contends Fubo is just another online TV service struggling to compete in a market led by Hulu+Live TV, AT&T TV and Dish-owned Sling TV. Hulu has about 4 million subs, while industry pioneer Sling has slightly more than half that.

Online TV launched in 2015 as way for pay-TV operators to compete against Netflix and the rising tide of over-the-top video distributors. Despite initial success, Sling has struggled to retain subscribers. Sony shuttered PlayStation Vue, while AT&T rebooted DirecTV Now with AT&T TV.

“Fubo TV is not Netflix, Fubo is not Flutter/FanDuel, DraftKings nor even Penn/Barstool Sports, Fubo is not Roku and Fubo is not Trade Desk,” Greenfield, Brandon Ross and Mark Kelley wrote in a December post. “Fubo is simply just another virtual multichannel video programming distributor facing the same obstacles and financial challenges as every other [online TV platform].”


Data: It’s Not Just a Netflix World

Netflix has started 2021 the same way it ended 2020: On top of the over-the-top world. The latest Nielsen weekly Top 10 streaming VOD chart saw Netflix’s programming again dominating with 90% of the most-viewed programs on the television.

But new data from Reelgood finds Netflix isn’t alone when it comes to the Top 10 services offering original and catalog movies and TV shows. Indeed, among the top domestic streaming services based on total hours of content, Disney/Comcast-owned Hulu ranked No. 1, followed by Fox Entertainment’s AVOD platform Tubi and Amazon Prime Video. Netflix ranked fourth, ahead of online TV service Philo, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, Fubo TV, CBS All Access, Vudu and IMDb TV.

Reelgood scans data on movies TV shows across more than 150 SVOD, AVOD and TVOD platforms.

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Hulu also ranked No. 1 based on hours of exclusive content, followed by Netflix, Philo, Prime Video, Tubi, Fubo TV, CBS All Access, Pluto TV, IMDb TV and HBO Max.

Netflix ranked No. 1 based on hours of “fresh” and original content, ahead of Hulu and Philo, and HBO Max and Hulu, respectively.

In a move that likely comes as no surprise, many of the major SVOD services are steadily increasing their catalog of original TV shows at the expense of licensed content. Netflix is the biggest mover with original series making up 39% of its TV shows catalog through Jan. 15 — up 14 share points from the same period in 2019. While HBO Max does have 31% more originals this year than HBO Now did last January, the number of licensed TV shows on the service also went up to 330 from 40, hence the dramatic decline in catalog real estate occupied by its homegrown content.

“In an effort to retain and acquire new subscribers, the leading SVOD platforms are working to maintain a high percentage of content in their libraries that cannot be found elsewhere,” read the report.

Among content genres, Tubi and Hulu topped action/adventure and animation, respectively. Crunchyroll and Hulu topped anime and comedy, respectively, while Hulu and Philo topped crime and documentary, respectively, according to the report.

Netflix and Hulu ranked No.1 for family and drama, while Tubi and Hulu ranked firs for horror and romance. Netflix and Tubi were No. 1 for sci-fi and westerns, respectively.

Parks: 60% of Pay-TV Subs Covet Streaming Movies/TV Shows From Online Video Service

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

“If there was ever a time when entertainment service providers believed that OTT video was a phase, they are now convinced of its permanence,” senior analyst Kristen Hanich said in a statement. “In late 2019, the market reached the crossover point where the same percentage of U.S. broadband households subscribed to an OTT service as subscribed to a pay-TV service, and now OTT adoption outpaces pay-TV by double digits.”

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Hanich said the good news for providers is consumers often have both pay-TV and OTT video, with 79% of pay-TV households having both pay-TV and OTT subscriptions.

“Providers are in a spot where they must redouble their efforts to engage these subscribers by executing new innovations and business models, or risk accelerating customer losses,” she said.

Dallas-based Parks said COVID-19 dramatically accelerated adoption of online video services, providing a small boost to online TV services specifically. The average number of OTT services among households that have any OTT service is 3.8, while households with pay-TV services plus at least one OTT service subscribe to 4.2 OTT services, on average.

At the same time online video grew, cancellation rates for traditional pay-TV accelerated, with millions more cancellations occurring in 2020 compared to 2019. The question now is how stable are the remaining pay-TV customers and how to ameliorate cancellations. Video streaming is the most popular value-added service among pay-TV households, but there is growing interest for other advanced features.

Parks found that 43% of pay-TV households are interested in having video calls on their TV; 40% are interested in controlling smart home devices and security systems from the TV; and 34% are interested in playing video games on the TV through a cloud gaming service.

“Pay-TV providers must keep offering their most valuable content, which includes live sporting and cultural events,” Hanich said. “Additionally, they must offer access to streaming, target new service to their interested customers, and perhaps be willing to take a hit on pricing until this chaotic market stabilizes.”

Parks: 43% of U.S. Broadband Households With Pay-TV Likely to Switch to Online TV in Next 12 months

New data from Parks Associates found 43% of U.S. broadband households with pay-TV are likely to switch to an online TV platform in the next 12 months. While the absence of live sports and live performances during the coronavirus pandemic created challenges for online TV, services such as Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV have been able to push the advantages in pricing, content and platform flexibility to drive subscriber growth.

Disney-owned Hulu with Live TV is now the largest online TV platform, with more than 4 million subscribers.

“Subscriber losses in traditional pay-TV continue, while the online TV category continues to grow, thanks to consumer price sensitivity and preferences for platform flexibility,” senior analyst Paul Erickson said in a statement. “Traditional pay-TV operators have online delivery in their roadmaps, if not already deployed. We expect online TV will continue to grow dramatically, and will gradually become the dominant offering in the pay-TV landscape.”

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Parks found that 17% of online TV subs switched from traditional pay-TV within the last twelve months. The factors driving defections include pricing and perceived value, while consumers positively respond to the flexibility of online TV to deliver unique and targeted content packages on a variety of connected entertainment platforms.

Prior to the pandemic’s effects on streaming video consumption, online TV sub growth was waning, with some services posting continued losses. Though COVID-19 has driven growth and in some cases recovery in the category, recent increases in online TV pricing make it uncertain how consumers will respond long term.

“Online TV has substantial opportunity if they can avoid the pitfalls that typically drive pay-TV customer dissatisfaction, such as rising prices and inflexible content and platform options,” Erickson said. “With content prices rising and competition increasing, online TV should remain conscious of consumer price sensitivity while keeping a strict adherence to a consumer-centric experience.”

Philo Launches AccuWeather Service via Online TV Platform

Online television service Philo Jan. 26 announced that it is adding AccuWeather to its line-up of entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge-based programming for its 800,000 subscribers. Philo’s standard $20 monthly subscription package features more than 60 channels from networks, including A&E, AMC, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, ID, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon, OWN, TLC, TV One and WE tv, among others.

AccuWeather TV Network delivers 24/7 in-depth coverage on a local, regional and national scale. Backed by a team of meteorologists and in-field reporters, AccuWeather provides advanced severe weather warnings and forecasts with Superior AccuracyTM.

“The inclement winter season often means weather news needs to be timely and accurate,” Mike Keyserling, COO and head of content acquisition at Philo, said in a statement. “Philo is focused on bringing new and differentiated content to our service while maintaining value for our subscribers.”

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Sarah Katt, GM of AccuWeather TV Network, said the weather service is “committed to delivering the most accurate and reliable local and breaking coverage,” and looks forward to bringing this “breadth of weather forecasts, news and insights” to Philo.

Philo, which remains the least-expensive option in a niche market that includes AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV and FuboTV, currently offers 64 channels and allows three separate streams on three different devices; everyone who shares the account can create their own profile (up to 10 profiles) and have their own sign-in credentials, saved shows, and viewing history.

Philo is available in the U.S. on most Web, mobile, and TV streaming devices, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast via Android. Additionally, subscribers have 30 days unlimited-storage DVR at no additional cost, and can watch thousands of shows and movies on-demand — for an additional fee.

AT&T Dropping ‘Now’ Online TV Service

AT&T has quietly dropped offering new subscriptions to AT&T Now TV, the erstwhile DirecTV Now online television service aimed at replacing traditional pay-TV and competing with Sling TV, Philo TV, YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV, among others.

AT&T Now TV has been replaced by AT&T TV, which offers consumers three programming options priced from $69.99 to $94.99, with the  more expensive plans featuring a free year of HBO Max. While the addition of Max might seem intriguing, Now TV was priced from $55, with a $79 option including free access to Max.

“AT&T TV Now packages are no longer available for new customers,” reads the AT&T website.

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Now TV (a.k.a. DirecTV Now) was launched on Nov. 28, 2016, with much fanfare for $35 monthly, quickly adding 200,000 subs by the year’s end. The service topped out at 1.86 million subs in 2018, before losing about 1.2 million subs through Sept. 30, 2020 after AT&T instituted price hikes.

AT&T has now hung much of its digital future on HBO Max, with AT&T TV seen as backstop to ongoing DirecTV and AT&T U-verse pay-TV subscriber declines. U-verse lost about 4 million combined subscribers in 2019.