UPDATE: Amazon Prime Video Eyeing Live Television — a Non-Starter

Amazon Prime Video was reported to be the latest SVOD considering offering ad-supported live television to subscribers — similarly to Hulu with Live TV and online TV services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, The Roku Channel and AT&T TV Now, among others.

An Amazon representative June 24 disclosed that reports about the e-commerce behemoth recruiting people on social media with live TV experience, including those with executive experience launching online TV, have nothing to do with launching a proprietary online TV platform.

“There is nothing new here as we already offer hundreds of live TV stations around the world today,” the rep said in an email.

The rep said job postings referenced are for the teams currently supporting third-party live TV stations via Prime Video Channels, and include linear channels such as CBS All Access and Showtime in the U.S., Stack TV in Canada, Eurosport in Germany and U.K., among others.

“Customers who sign up for these type of channel subscriptions already get access to their 24/7 station stream,” the rep said.

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The confusion started when media reports surfaced about LinkedIn post such as this: “We are seeking an experienced product manager for the Prime Video Linear TV team to redefine how customers watch 24/7 linear broadcast TV content,” read the listing. “Linear TV enables customers to watch 24/7 streams of their favorite TV stations airing programs including sports, news, movies, award shows, special events and TV shows.”

Prime Video heretofore has avoided live TV with the exception of its “NFL Thursday Night Football” and English Premier League soccer webcasts, preferring SVOD and transactional VOD and third-party OTT platforms via Prime Channels.

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Online site Protocol, citing personnel familiar with the situation, had reported Amazon was seeking to offer individual live-TV channels as opposed to the conventional bundle. Indeed, when Dish Network in 2015 bowed the first standalone online TV platform, Sling TV, it was able for the first time to market ESPN without the traditional pay-TV bundle. ESPN at the time was the most expensive pay-TV channel offered.

Sling TV, which once led all platforms in subscribers, has been steadily losing subs. And Sony Interactive Entertainment in January shuttered PlayStation Vue, citing a lack of consumer demand.

“Unfortunately, the highly competitive pay-TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected,” Sony said in a statement.

Philo Adds Starz and Epix to Online TV Service

Online TV service Philo June 16 announced that it is adding MGM-owned Epix and Lionsgate-owned Starz premium options to its programming portfolio. Philo’s standard $20 monthly subscription package includes more than 50 channels, including A&E, AMC, Comedy Central, Food Network, HGTV, ID, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon, OWN, Tastemade, WE TV, among others.

Philo subs can add Epix for $6 monthly, following a promotional $3 fee for three months. Similarly, Starz is available for $9 monthly, after an initial promotion pricing of $5 per month for the first three months when customers subscribe to these services before July 13.

“In these challenging times, we remain committed to offering high-quality entertainment content at a considerable value and with the addition of Epix and Starz we continue to deliver on this commitment,” Mike Keyserling, COO and head of content acquisition at Philo, said in a statement.

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Philo currently allows subs three separate streams on three different devices; everyone who shares the account can create their own profile and have their own sign-in credentials, saved shows and viewing history. Philo features a streamlined interface, intelligent search, and the ability to easily send your favorite shows to friends.

All Philo subscribers can watch their shows live from wherever they are in the U.S. on most Web, mobile and TV streaming devices, including Apple TV, FireTV and Roku. Additionally, subs also have free access to 30-day unlimited-storage DVR.

Analyst: ESPN+ Approaching 15 Million Subs as Sports Goes Digital

As live sports readies for a return with or without live spectators, people consuming sports at home on digital platforms is projected to increase, according to new data from eMarketer.

Disney-owned ESPN+ ($4.99) is expected to reach 14.9 million viewers this year, representing 40.8% of digital live sports viewers in the country. The platform grew rapidly last year thanks to a $9.99 bundle with Disney+ and Hulu.

eMarketer said 36.5 million people in the country will watch live sports digitally this year (when they resume) — including 23.7% watching via digital channels.

Almost half of those digital viewers will watch live sports through online platforms, including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV and YouTube TV. The research firm says 17.1 million people will watch live TV on these platforms, up 13.3% from 2019. And 69.3% of online TV subscribers will use vMVPDs to watch live sports.

“In recent years, TV networks and pay TV providers have relied more on live sports as cord-cutting and audience erosion accelerate,” analyst Eric Haggstrom said in a statement. “Live sports represents billions of dollars in advertising and affiliate fees for the networks. Advertisers are eagerly awaiting the likely return of live sports in the fall as it is one of the few ways to reach a large, younger audience at scale.”

Fubo TV Comes to Xbox One

Online TV service FuboTV is launching its first app on Microsoft’s Xbox One video game platform. With the new app, Xbox users (with a $54.99 subscription) can stream sports, news and entertainment TV channels, VOD movies and TV shows. Xbox One X and Xbox One S users can also stream 4K content.

FuboTV features include replaying the last live channel watched when the app is launched. Users can flip through other channels while watching live video. They can also browse recommended sports, news and entertainment content — both live and on demand.

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Subs can DVR entire series, including upcoming episodes, and monitor available cloud DVR storage via a progress bar. All DVR content is available in perpetuity until the user deletes it.

Fubo also lets up to six users within a subscription personalize their viewing options. Each user can create their own profile, favorite channels (which sets the preferred order of how channels appear in the Electronic Program Guide) and DVR the content they want to watch. Personalized content recommendations for each profile will be launched soon.

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Xbox users can subscribe to fuboTV by navigating to the app from the Microsoft Store on Xbox. Additionally, fuboTV will optimize Xbox’s faster load times to ensure less buffering such as when the user selects a live new channel to watch.

“Microsoft makes it easy for us to bring our HTML5 TV application to their platform,” Geir Magnusson Jr., CTO, fuboTV, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to iterate on the app to leverage even more Xbox One features. We look forward to bringing fuboTV’s HTML 5 TV application to even more platforms, including other gaming consoles and smart TVs.”

COVID-19 Driving Cord-Cutting — at Online TV

When Dish Network launched Sling TV in 2015, it represented pay-TV’s answer to the pricey cable bundle and Netflix. Competitors such as Sony PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, DirecTV Now quickly joined the party. But the industry shine seems to be fading.

Speculation U.S. consumers quarantined in their homes would temporarily stem pay-TV cord cutting was dispelled with the industry’s largest first-quarter decline for traditional multichannel subscriptions. At two million, it was the largest quarterly drop to date.

New data from media research group Kagan estimates it was also the first quarterly decline for virtual multichannel alternatives. The broadband-delivered services collectively lost 261,000 subs or 2.8% to finish the quarter with 9.2 million subs.

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Gains from Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV were erased by the declines from Sling TV and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) as well as Sony’s decision to shutter PlayStation Vue in January.

By comparison, subscriptions to traditional cable, direct broadcast satellite and telecommunications video services dropped 2.4% in the quarter.

As a result, Kagan updated its forecast for video market share in the U.S. due to mounting unemployment and the COVID-19 economic downturn. The revised projections suggest broadband-only households to surpass combined traditional and virtual multichannel subscribers. Indeed, online TV services have narrowed their cord cutter appeal and are expected to account for less than 10% of occupied households and reach nearly 11 million by the end of the year.

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Meanwhile, broadband homes are increasingly satisfying home entertainment needs through a combination of free and subscription-based streaming services, including adding 24.7 million subs by the end of 2020, accounting for more than 19% of occupied households.

“Home isolation should have stemmed multichannel defections, but the cruel irony of the interruption in programming and ensuing economic turmoil is expected to blunt the benefits,” Kagan wrote in a note. “We forecast an 11% drop in traditional multichannel subscriptions in 2020, and penetrations of less than 56% at the end of the year.”

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.”

AT&T Stops Selling New U-verse Pay-TV Service Subscriptions

As expected, AT&T has stopped selling new subscriptions to U-verse, the telecom’s 14-year-old pay-TV service, in an attempt to move consumers toward upstart online TV service AT&T TV (formerly DirecTV Now).

“To help our employees serve our existing customers, we’re no longer selling U-verse TV. Service for existing U-verse TV customers is not impacted,” AT&T said in a statement on its website.

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AT&T lost more than 3.4 million linear TV subscribers in 2019, including 945,000 subs in the fourth quarter, ended Dec . 31. That included DirecTV and U-verse.

The telecom is pinning much of its video future on AT&T TV and HBO Max — the latter $14.99 monthly SVOD platform slated to launch in May.

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FuboTV Merging With AI Company, Plans IPO

Online live-TV streaming platform fuboTV and FaceBank Group, a sports-themed virtual entertainment company, March 23 announced a definitive merger agreement. Financials details of the agreement were not disclosed. The boards of directors of both companies and the major stockholders of fuboTV have approved the transaction, which is anticipated to close during the first quarter of 2020, subject to the satisfaction of certain closing conditions.

Following the closing, fuboTV will become a subsidiary of FaceBank, and FaceBank will be renamed fuboTV Inc. The combined company is expected to be headquartered in New York and led by fuboTV CEO David Gandler. Additional announcements regarding the combined company’s management structure and the board of directors will be forthcoming.

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The merger would combine fuboTV’s live TV streaming platform with FaceBank’s technology-driven IP in sports, movies and live performances. This combination will create a content delivery platform for traditional and future-form IP.

“As a tech-driven IP company, FaceBank was looking to find the perfect delivery platform for its celebrity and consumer driven content,” founders John Textor and Alex Bafer said in a statement.

fuboTV said it plans to leverage FaceBank’s IP sharing relationships with celebrities and other digital technologies to enhance its sports and entertainment offerings.

The companies also believe the merger will position fuboTV to continue its global expansion with FaceBank’s Nexway AG, an ecommerce and payment platform with a business presence in 180 countries, accepting payments in roughly 140 currencies. fuboTV was the first virtual MVPD to commit to global expansion and in 2018 entered Europe with its launch in Spain.

“The business combination of FaceBank Group and fuboTV accelerates our ability to build a category-defining company and supports our goal to provide consumers with a technology-driven cable TV replacement service for the whole family,” Gandler said in a statement.

Gandler said that in the current COVID-19 environment, stay-at-home stocks make perfect sense.

“We plan to accelerate our timing to up-list to a major exchange as soon as practicable,” Gandler said.

Since its founding in 2015 as a soccer streaming service, fuboTV has evolved into a live TV streaming platform with sports, news and entertainment channels.

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CFO: AT&T TV Streaming Service Focusing on ‘Long-Term Value’ Customers

When AT&T launched online TV platform DirecTV Now in 2016, it offered subscribers access to 60 channels of content for a $34.99 monthly fee. Consumer response was strong with more than 2.5 million people signing up for the promotional pricing, which included a free Apple TV device.

Additional programming price points ranged from $50 to $70 monthly, with a cloud-based DVR in the works. For AT&T, the loss-leader price point aimed at competing against Dish Network’s Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, among others. It expected the service to generate 20 million subscribers.

Instead, as the telecom initiated price hikes, subscribers dropped the service — in droves. In the third quarter alone last year, DirecTV Now lost more than 190,000 subscribers. Since 2016, AT&T has lost more than 5 million pay-TV subs.

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The telecom attributed the sub losses to “higher prices and less promotional activity,” meaning that consumers had balked at ongoing price increases and a refusal to extend discounts.

“We’re in the early innings,” COO John Stankey said at the time.

Fast-forward to the Deutsche Bank 2020 Media, Internet and Telecom Conference on March 10 in Palm Beach, Fla., where AT&T CFO John Stephens said it was too early to comment on the recent launch of the rebranded AT&T TV (formerly AT&T TV Now and DirecTV Now before that).

John Stephens

AT&T TV ranges from $59.99 to $79.99 monthly and are only guaranteed for 12 months, with the initial plan increasing to $93 monthly after a year.

Stephens said the telecom spent most of 2019 transitioning through about 2.5 million unprofitable online TV subs who balked at paying prices commensurate with pay-TV.

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“We had a lot of customers that decided that they weren’t going to stay with us,” he said. “The linear TV industry is going through transition. And we’ll continue to see that ourselves.”

The executive believes AT&T TV will “very cost efficiently” add new profitable customers, including people who also subscribe to AT&T broadband or fiber distribution “because it’s so easy to use.”

“We are expecting that by the end of the year, you’ll see improvements in our trends that … will look like the rest of the industry,” Stephens said.

AT&T Launches New Online TV Service

AT&T March 2 launched a new online live TV service, AT&T TV, nationwide following a 13-market pilot test. Powered by Android TV, the platform includes live TV packages and access to third-party apps without having to switch inputs.

Programming choices and voice searches can be done with Google Assistant. AT&T is launching a national advertising campaign next week.

AT&T TV works with a compatible high-speed Internet connection. Customers can bundle AT&T TV and 1 gigabit of data are available for $39.99/month for video and $39.99/month for Internet for 12 months with a 24-month TV agreement.

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Separately, 1 gigabit of AT&T Internet is available for $49.99/month for 12 months with a 24-month agreement.

“Our customers told us what they want from their TV service and we built AT&T TV around that,” Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Consumer, said in a statement.

AT&T TV includes live TV packages, sports and access to more than 5,000 apps on the Google Play Store, including HBO Max when it launches in May.

Subscribers can switch between a live basketball game, Netflix, YouTube or listen to music on Pandora or Spotify without switching inputs. The platform includes a cloud-based DVR with 500 hours of storage.

AT&T TV, which replaces shuttered DirecTV Now, joins a niche market that includes Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Philo TV and fuboTV, among others.

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