Sling TV Bows ‘Watch Party’ Featuring Voice, Text

With most TV viewers multitasking on social media, Dish Network’s online TV streaming service, Sling TV, Sept. 23 launched a new feature in beta, “Sling Watch Party,” which enables subscribers to connect via voice and text with non-subscribing friends and family in remote locations to stream programming together — a first for the live television industry.

Through a special beta preview of Sling Watch Party ending Sept. 30, invited guests may attend a Watch Party simply by creating a Sling TV account.

“We know that for so many, it’s not just about what you are watching, it’s who you are watching with,” Jon Lin, VP of product, said in a statement. “We could all use more time together to enjoy our favorite sports and entertainment, which is why we created this new feature.”

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Sling Watch Party features include:

  • Video and text chat: Connect in real-time with other SLING Watch Party guests while viewing a program, via video or text chat.
  • Audio and visual controls: All participants have full control over their own video camera, the volume of their individual content stream and volume of video chat streams received from other participants.
  • Player controls: Slingers hosting a Watch Party can manage player controls, including play, pause and rewind for on-demand programming.
  • Sling TV programming: Choose from live or on-demand content available in Sling Orange, Sling Blue, Sling Latino and Sling International services, or any Sling TV Extra, depending on a customer’s current subscription.

The feature is available on Google Chrome web browsers and allows subscribers to invite up to three guests to for shared TV viewing.

To host a “watch party,” sign in on via Google Chrome web browser. Select any eligible live or on-demand title from a Sling TV ribbon; a Watch Party may be created up to 60 minutes prior to air time, for live program. Click “create watch party” from the title’s information screen. Invite up to three guests to join via a unique, shareable link or email. Click “start watching” when the selected title is scheduled to begin.

Vevo Inks Music Video Distribution Deal With Australia’s Telstra TV

Vevo, a music video streaming platform, announced that its catalog of 450,000 videos will now be available on Telstra TV, the streaming service owned by Australian telecommunications giant Telstra. The telco has more than 16 million subscribers.

The addition of music videos to the service comes at a time for consumers when their access to live music is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic and they are increasingly turning to premium music video to discover new artists, keep up with current hits, and rediscover old favorites.

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“Being able to tap into Telstra’s impressive reach and distribution is another step towards our goal of bringing music videos back to the living room,” Steve Sos, managing director of Australia and New Zealand for Vevo, said in a statement. “In doing so we are also able to significantly increase our growing pool of inventory on the big screen for our commercial partners.”

The latter part of 2020 sees Vevo continuing to expand its global distribution capabilities and execute on a strategy of music video viewership across connected television by more than 20% annually over the past two years.

Rebecca Haagsma, media executive, product and technology at Telstra, said adding Vevo content is key to expanding Telstra TV’s online appeal.

“We know our users love and enjoy the range of music content available via Telstra TV today and the addition of Vevo will only enrich that experience, and further extend on our ambition to become the best aggregator of entertainment for our customers,” Haagsma said.

Parks: 62% of Broadband Homes Still Have Pay-TV

Despite finding high-speed Internet service in almost every home, with weekly video consumption up more than 37 hours per household, new data from Parks Associates contends 62% of U.S. broadband households still subscribe to a traditional pay-TV service, down from 69% in Q1 2019.

“The explosion of online viewing options and video consumption came at the same time many shelter-in-place orders were enacted,” research director Steve Nason said in a statement.

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Nason said as households rely more on OTT services, the spike in online video consumption and decrease in linear-only households, the gap between OTT and traditional pay-TV is widening.

“Traditional services are looking to migrate to the cloud to get the best of pay-TV and OTT,” he said.

Nuno Sanches, GM, media & telecom at New York-based software company Kaltura, said the paradigm shift in the pay-TV consumption underscores the benefits of putting cloud-based TV at the heart of the ecosystem. He says cloud TV combines the agility, speed, and multiscreen usability of OTT, with the reliability, robustness and scale of pay-TV.

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“Just five years ago it was considered impossible to deliver operator-grade service from the cloud,” Sanches said. “The economics was perceived to be too expensive, and it seemed that telecom operators would not accept the perceived loss of control involved in utilizing the open Internet to deliver pay-TV services. But today, we have multinational pay-TV operators embracing online TV.”

FuboTV Balloons Fiscal Loss, Revenue Without Live Sports

Sports-themed online TV service FuboTV Aug. 14 said it generated a net loss of $99.7 million on revenue of $44.2 million for the second quarter, ended June 30. Launched in 2015 as a soccer subscription streaming service, the platform rebooted as an all-sports service in 2017 and then to an online TV platform — with plans to become publicly traded.

Revenue increased 53% driven by subscriber growth; subscription revenue increased 51% year-over-year to $39.5 million. Advertising revenue increased 71% year-over-year to $4.3 million. FuboTV ended the period with 286,126 subs paying $55 monthly, up 47% year-over-year.

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Total content hours streamed by fuboTV users (paid and free trial) increased 83% year-over-year to 98.6 million hours. Monthly active users watched 140 hours per month on average in the quarter, an increase of 54% year-over-year.

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“We delivered strong second-quarter results,” co-founder/CEO David Gandler said in a statement. “Consumer engagement continued to be strong in Q2, despite a shutdown of most major league sports both in the U.S. and internationally, and we successfully ramped up advertising revenue.”

Gandler said he expects paid subscribers to reach upwards of 350,000, which would be an increase of 20% year-over-year.

“The growth of streaming is one of the most significant changes to television, and television advertising, in the last several decades,” Gandler said. “fuboTV is at the forefront of the streaming revolution and we are excited for existing and new investors to join us on this journey.”

Dish Loses 96,000 Pay-TV Subs in Q2, Including 56,000 Sling TV Accounts

Dish Network Aug. 7 said it lost 96,000 pay-TV subscribers in the second quarter (ended June 30), including 56,000 Sling TV paid members. That compared with a loss of 79,000 pay-TV subs during the previous-year period, in addition to a gain of 48,000 Sling TV customers.

The company closed the quarter with 11.27 million pay-TV subscribers, including 9.02 million Dish TV subs and 2.25 million Sling TV subs. The online TV service has now lost more than 200,000 subs in the previous 12 months of the fiscal year, ending the prior-year period with 2.47 million subs.

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The satellite TV operator attributed the subscriber losses to ongoing economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including unemployment and loss of live sports programming. Sling TV launched in 2015 as the first online TV service, including the first to offer ESPN as part of non-traditional pay-TV bundle.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption in certain commercial segments served by Dish, including the hospitality and airline industries,” the company said in a statement.

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Dish said increased competition, including competition from other subscription video on-demand and online TV service providers have negatively impacted sub growth. Indeed, with the exception of Sony killing PlayStation Vue, the online TV market now includes AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Philo, FuboTV and Hulu with Live TV, among others.

Dish reported quarterly profit of $452 million on revenue of $3.19 billion. That compared with profit of $317 million on revenue of $3.21 billion in the previous-year period.

Streaming Service Plex Launches Free Live TV Channels

Plex, the ad-supported video-on-demand service, has launched an online TV platform, dubbed “Live TV on Plex,” featuring 80+ channels of customizable live programming available worldwide.

In 2019, Plex launched an AVOD service via digital antenna and tuner TV featuring TV shows and movies from Crackle, Warner Bros., MGM, Endemol Shine Group, Lionsgate, and Legendary. Plex over-the-air TV provides free access to local channels and major networks such as NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, the CW and PBS.

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The new Live TV platform offers consumers news from Reuters and Yahoo Finance, kids’ shows such as  Toon Goggles, food, travel, and home & design programming on Tastemade, sports including live games, original programming and movies/docs from fubo Sports Network, gaming and esports on IGN1, and two new LGBTQ+ channels from Revry.

“Two of the most important factors for an enjoyable streaming experience are finding something of interest to watch, and being able to watch it from any device you choose,” Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, said in a statement.

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Plex provides users with a range of viewing options beyond movies and TV shows, including podcasts, web shows, curated news, and a way to combine streaming music via TIDAL with a user’s personal music collection.

“Combining the new Live TV service with the over-the-air TV and DVR feature, Plex offers the most comprehensive and least expensive streaming TV service in the world,” Valory said.

Sling TV, Dish Add AMC Plus Streaming Service

AMC Networks July 20 announced an agreement with Dish Network that will make its AMC Plus SVOD service available on Dish’s online TV platform Sling TV.

Launched in June, AMC Plus ($6.99 monthly) affords subscribers access to all AMC Networks programming, including “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul,” among others.

The Sling deal is the second carriage agreement following AMC Plus’ initial availability on Comcast Cable’s Xfinity and broadband-only Flex platforms. Sling introduced the online TV market in 2015.

AMC Plus bundle also includes series from AMC, IFC and Sundance TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, IFC Films Unlimited, which offers a collection of theatrically released titles from IFC Films, among other sources.

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“This new bundle, available for the first time to Dish and Sling TV customers, was designed to offer fans of our programming greater choice and an enhanced customer experience, as we work with Dish and Sling TV to embrace the new ways in which viewers consume content today,” Josh Reader, president of distribution and development at AMC Networks, said in a statement.

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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.”