U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren Seeks Regulatory Scrutiny of Walmart/Vizio Acquisition

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is advocating that federal regulators scrutinize Walmart’s $2.3 billion acquisition of Irvine, Calif.-based consumer electronics manufacturer Vizio.

In a Feb. 23 social media post, Warren, who positions herself as a consumer advocate, suggests Walmart’s purchase of Vizio could stifle competition, which she believes ultimately hurts consumers.

@Walmart‘s deal with @VIZIO is a warning bell,” Warren wrote on her X (formerly Twitter) post. “Giant corporations are copying @Amazon’s playbook: buy or kill competitors in commerce, entertainment, and advertising. Regulators should scrutinize whether this merger will extend Walmart’s dominance and threaten competition.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Three years ago, Warren led an unsuccessful attempt to break up Amazon, claiming the e-commerce behemoth unfairly quashed competitors, resulting in a market stranglehold.

“You can either be the umpire or a player on the field. But you can’t be both. That’s what Amazon does,” Warren said in a 2021 media interview. “What’s the solution here? Break Amazon up.”

Antitrust experts at the time criticized Warren’s position as one that would ultimately hurt consumers due to price increases that would result from the elimination of the larger companies taking advantage of economies of scale.

The Walmart/Vizio transaction is subject to the usual government regulatory approval required for any major publicly-traded business merger.

Walmart Buys CE Manufacturer Vizio for $2.3 Billion

Walmart and Vizio Feb. 20 announced an agreement for Walmart to acquire the Irvine, Calif.-based consumer electronics manufacturer in a deal worth about $2.3 billion. Following the completion of the transaction, Vizio’s business will be reported as part of the Walmart U.S. segment results.

The acquisition, which includes Vizio’s SmartCast Operating System (OS), would enable Walmart to connect with its customers in new ways, including smart televisions, in-home entertainment and related media experiences such as direct marketing.

The combination is expected to accelerate Walmart’s media business in the United States, including Walmart Connect, the retailer’s closed-loop omnichannel media business, by bringing together Vizio’s advertising business with Walmart’s reach and capabilities.

Seth Dallaire, EVP and chief revenue officer of Walmart U.S., said Vizio’s operating system would afford Walmart with a profitable advertising business that could help brands create connections with the millions of weekly Walmart customers.

“We believe the combination of these two businesses would be impactful as we redefine the intersection of retail and entertainment,” Dallaire said in a statement. “There is a lot to be excited about with this acquisition.”

Vizio’s growing device ecosystem and SmartCast have amassed more than 18 million active accounts, growing about 400% since 2018. The company’s platform business claims to have more than 500 direct advertiser relationships.

“We believe this is the ideal next chapter in Vizio’s history,” Vizio CEO William Wang said in a statement. “This transaction delivers immediate and compelling value to [our] stockholders, and is a true testament to the hard work of the entire Vizio team.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Walmart Looking Into Purchase of CE Manufacturer Vizio

Walmart is reportedly in talks to buy consumer electronics company Vizio. which manufactures smart TVs featuring its own WatchFree+ ad-supported service as well as other apps.

The retailer is looking at a more than $2 billion buy of the company, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The deal would offer Walmart an advertising platform for its goods.

Vizio Feb. 6 announced that its ad-supported WatchFree+ streaming platform doubled its viewing hours to an undisclosed amount in the past 12 months.

The platform, available to owners of connected Vizio televisions, offers more than 300 channels, 15,000 on-demand titles, 10 curated channels programmed in-house, and expanded studio partnerships with Warner Bros. Discovery, Electric Entertainment, Sony, and Lionsgate, among others.

“WatchFree+ has solidified its position as the premium, free streaming destination for Vizio households,” Katherine Pond, group VP of platform content and partnerships, said in a statement Feb. 6.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Vizio posted net income of $13.8 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared to net income of $2 million in the prior-year quarter, and net revenue of $426.2 million, compared to $435 million in Q3 2022. Gross profit grew 20% to $96.5 million. The Platform+ segment tallied net revenue of $156.2 million, up 22% from Q3 2022, and gross profit of $99.8 million, up 26% from the prior-year quarter.

Fragmentation, Content Discovery Key Topics for Speakers at EnTech Fest

Fragmentation in the digital marketplace and strategies to make finding content easier were key topics for speakers at the Feb. 7 EnTech Fest in Los Angeles, presented by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

During the conference, which DEG president and CEO Amy Jo Smith said drew 750 attendees, panel moderator Mark Finer of Communication Research unveiled a study conducted with Screen Engine that found nearly half of consumers want to access all of their content in one place.

LG Electronics’ Matt Durgin (left) and Communication Research’s Mark Finer on an EnTech Fest panel Feb. 7.

Smart TV home pages are a key entry point to finding content.

“The home page is where we’re impacting changes to the entertainment space, so it’s a big responsibility to manage these home pages,” said Matt Durgin of LG Electronics. That entry point often looks similar among manufacturers, he said.

“Look at everyone’s home page,” he said. “It’s FAST. It’s everyone’s service, and probably an ad.”

Still, manufacturers are trying to group content so that consumers can more easily find what they want to watch, speakers said.

For instance, Roku’s Jason Weber pointed to his company’s “Sports Zone” category, which aggregates all live and upcoming sports.

“We work with our partners to leverage metadata that they provide,” said Google TV’s Tom Gorke. Google TV’s home page surfaces “continue watching” content for the consumer, no matter where that content resides. Google TV also has a “live” tab to show available live content.

“We understand what services a user subscribes to, and we can then provide them with recommendations from those services,” he said, noting that for instance a Max title can appear right next to one from Paramount+.

Evolving personalization is “a core goal of ours,” he said.

Vizio’s Madhu Somasundaram (left) and Roku’s Vicki Liao on an EnTech Fest panel Feb. 7.

Vizio’s Madhu Somasundaram noted his company leverages automatic content recognition (ACR) data, which collects viewing data on Vizio TVs, “to see what consumers want.”

Fandango’s Cameron Douglas noted that the company’s Vudu digital transactional service has 25,000 AVOD titles, mostly independent films — part of a vast library of more the 250,000 titles.

“It’s easy for stuff to get lost,” he said. “The industry needs to get better at personalization. It amazes me how much stuff is found just through search.”

Paramount Streaming’s Will Gurman said the company links brands to boost the overall business and drive consumers to content they might like. For instance, the company used viewings of the Paramount hit show “Yellowstone” as a “hook” to drive audiences to other Westerns on Pluto TV. He said Paramount Streaming uses a mix of human curation and data to match consumers with content.

“We’re trying to lean in to hyperfocus on categories where we think audiences will cluster,” he said.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In helping consumers find content, “we’re really trying to emulate an experience similar to a rabbit hole” using “robust machine learning,” said Tubi’s Sam Harowitz. The AVOD company — which Harowitz said sees VOD (rather than linear FAST) as the future of streaming — last year mounted a Super Bowl ad in which a comedically aggressive rabbit pushes consumers down a “rabbit hole” of content, exhorting viewers to “find rabbit holes you didn’t know you were looking for.”

As FAST channels have exploded, Roku’s Vicki Liao said, “We have become more focused on selecting channels to fill where there’s an audience or genre need.”

She added, “We’re always looking at things that can be improved with product features or even human curation.”

Vizio WatchFree+ Streaming Viewership Doubled in 2023

Consumer electronics manufacturer Vizio Feb. 6 announced that its ad-supported WatchFree+ streaming platform doubled its viewing hours to an undisclosed amount in the past 12 months.

The platform, available to owners of connected Vizio televisions, offers more than 300 channels, 15,000 on-demand titles, 10 curated channels programmed in-house, and expanded studio partnerships with Warner Bros. Discovery, Electric Entertainment, Sony, and Lionsgate, among others.

New platform menu categories include enhanced navigation of its intuitive Electronic Program Guide (EPG), with newly added categories, including history, documentaries, nature + science, entertainment, mood + ambiance.

“WatchFree+ has solidified its position as the premium, free streaming destination for Vizio households,” Katherine Pond, group VP of platform content & partnerships, said in a statement.

The platform features 11 new WBD channels, including “Bachelor Nation” (channel 917), featuring favorite moments and episodes from the Bachelor franchise, the bridal reality show “Say Yes to the Dress” (channel 911), and the action thriller “Nikita” (channel 737). Episodes of these shows are also available on-demand.

Six Lionsgate channels include “MovieSphere by Lionsgate” (channel 611); content tailored to black audiences from “Ebony TV by Lionsgate” (channel 663), and content for women on “HerSphere by Lionsgate” (channel 631). Coming soon are fantasy titles on “Outersphere by Lionsgate,” and single IP channels such as the game show “Celebrity Name Game” and the paranormal reality series “Ghost Hunters” channels.

Also coming is Electric Entertainment’s 24/7 channel of cult-classic and drama series “Leverage” (channel 710), in addition to the pending ElectricNow FAST Channel.

Curated channels have become a popular destination for many Vizio viewers, with dedicated channels such as “Investigation” and “Fork & Flight” ranking in the top five in their genres, according to Vizio’s average daily unique devices data for Q4 of 2023.

Vizio also features 10 channels dedicated to specific interests. New channels include: “Comedy Club” (channel 950) featuring stand-up comedy, documentaries, and shows featuring comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and Lewis Black, among others, and “Valor” (channel 604) coming in February, featuring military films, TV series, and documentaries, highlighting America’s military services.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Vizio Bows Seasonal Programming With Holiday Home Screen

Vizio is promoting a collection of seasonal programming with its Holiday Greeting Cards activation on the home screen.

The last four such programs saw an average five times lift in engagement, according to Vizio.

Vizio is using capabilities in its new home screen, including expandable greeting cards with auto-play video linking to curated movies, shows, music playlists, DIY projects, cooking specials, and more. The holiday display featuring Romance: Under the Mistletoe, Comedy: Laughing all the Way, Free: ‘Tis the Season for Free, Kids & Family: Home for the Holidays, Movies: Snowed in Marathon, and Shows: Binge-mas. In its first week, the Season’s Greeting carousel has garnered two times the engagement of the average carousel, according to Vizio.

Vizio’s home screen Halloween carousel in October featured 3D-like tombstones inviting users to explore genres including kids and families, horror, and comedy, yielding an engagement five times higher than the same placement average.

Teaming up with Fox Now, Vizio also delivered a custom home screen campaign featuring floating Lego bricks that directed viewers to ungated episodes of “Lego Masters” in WatchFree+, generating a 52% higher click-through rate than the average benchmark, according to Vizio.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“We’re excited to offer home screen opportunities that make content search and discovery more enjoyable on Vizio Smart TVs,” Liz Buhn, VP of platform and content marketing at Vizio, said in a statement. “Through close collaboration with our media and entertainment partners, we enhance and elevate the viewing experience for millions. By fostering creativity and innovation, we can create engaging experiences that captivate audiences in new ways.”

BritBox Streaming Service Available on Vizio TVs

British-themed entertainment streaming service BritBox Dec. 15 announced that its $8.99 monthly/$89.99 annual subscription-based app is now available on Vizio connected televisions.

Vizio users have access to a variety of genres, including mysteries, dramas, comedies, lifestyle and documentaries, as well as Agatha Christie titles.

“With a diverse selection of titles spanning from crime to comedy, we will further enhance Vizio’s entertainment offering,” Reemah Sakaan, CEO BritBox International, said in a statement.

The VOD service, which is co-owned by BBC Studios and ITV, surpassed 3.4 million subscribers globally through November since launching in the United States in 2017.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Vizio Posts $13.8 Million in Q3 Net Income, Grows Platform Revenue 22%

Vizio posted net income of $13.8 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared to net income of $2 million in the prior-year quarter, and net revenue of $426.2 million, compared to $435 million in Q3 2022.

Gross profit grew 20% to $96.5 million.

The Platform+ segment tallied net revenue of $156.2 million, up 22% from Q3 2022, and gross profit of $99.8 million, up 26% from the prior-year quarter.

SmartCast average revenue per user (ARPU) was $31.55 in the quarter, up 14% from the prior-year quarter. The company tallied 17.9 million SmartCast active accounts, which streamed 5.2 billion hours, and grew average SmartCast hours per SmartCast active account to 97 per month, up 12% year-over-year.

The company reported it expanded direct ad relationships by 20% compared to Q3 2022, adding 66 net new advertisers in the third quarter of 2023. 

New WatchFree+ channels added during the quarter included Golf Nation, Celebrating Hispanic Heritage, Cheaters and getTV, bringing the total number of FAST channels to 290. Vizio also launched nine new apps including ESPN, Pet Collective, Black Voices+ and Local BTV, bringing the total number of built-in apps to almost 200.

On the consumer electronics side, Vizio rolled out new 65-inch ($499) and 75-inch ($699) quantum 4K QLED Smart TVs online and at major retailers including Walmart and Sam’s Club. Smart TV shipments to retailers and consumers fell 8% in the quarter to 1.1 million from 1.2 million in the third quarter of 2022.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“At Vizio, we continue to invest in delivering the best possible experience for our users and partners alike. Over the past few years, we have been continuously retooling and enhancing our operating system to unlock further growth opportunities,” William Wang, CEO of Vizio, said in a statement. “While these efforts not only successfully drove record ARPU in Q3, but they are also opening up additional strategic options as well. Today, we are excited to announce that we are beginning to explore partnerships with other TV OEMs looking for alternatives within the CTV market. Our deep expertise with integrated hardware and software provides a distinct potential for mutually beneficial outcomes for Vizio and future partners.”

Indeed, executives on the financial call touted the importance of the platform business in addition to the consumer electronics segment.

“You cannot think about our device business separate from our platform,” said CFO Adam Townsend, adding that “highly engaged units tend to be with us six-plus years.”

Mike O’Donnell, chief revenue/strategic growth officer, touted the quarter’s home-screen redesign as a “key driver” in improved results. He said consumers are using it more for search and discovery. 

“It’s great for Watchfree+ because we invest a lot of home screen real estate into driving consumers to our owned and operated app,” he said.

He also touted original content deals, such as the recent branded entertainment series “Merry & Bright,” presented by The Home Depot, produced by Vizio and hosted by Grammy-nominated “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks. The deal gives sponsor Home Depot, which offsets content spend, prime positioning on the home screen, he noted.

CraftsyTV FAST Channel Launches on Vizio Smart TVs

The CraftsyTV FAST channel is now streaming on Vizio Smart TVs, announced TN Marketing, the Minnesota-based media company specializing in how-to content and parent company of CraftsyTV. 

Vizio WatchFree+ users have 24/7 access to the channel’s curated programming, featuring expert instruction and DIY videos in a wide range of categories such as knitting, crochet, painting, baking, quilting, sewing and more. 

This launch coincides with CraftsyTV’s Fall Fest event, featuring craft-related programming for the holiday gift-making season. Content offers tips on how to create unique handmade gifts.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“This expansion with Vizio is an exciting opportunity for CraftsyTV,” Jim Kopp, COO of TN Marketing, said in a statement. “It provides us with the perfect platform to continue to reach and grow our audience and share our content with those passionate about learning and creating. We look forward to connecting millions of viewers with amazing how-to content that will inspire their creativity.”

Vizio Bows Shoppable Holiday Series With Home Depot

Vizio Nov. 1 announced the launch of an exclusive shoppable content series “Merry & Bright,” available now and running through Dec. 31.

The branded entertainment series, presented by The Home Depot, is produced by Vizio and is hosted by Grammy-nominated “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks, who Vizio brought on for the project.

“Merry & Bright” consists of three 10-minute episodes plus bonus shorts featuring Sparks’ “Holiday Tips and Tricks.” In each episode, Sparks introduces viewers to a family before guiding audiences through the decor transformation process and reveal, all with holiday products and expertise available at The Home Depot.

Each episode will include a holiday makeover ranging from enchanted forests to real-life snow globes to a nostalgic Christmas transformation. By scanning integrated in-episode QR codes, audiences are directed to a custom “shop the look” page on HomeDepot.com where they can add products seen on screen into their shopping cart.

The series can be found on Vizio’s Home Screen Hero, which will spotlight different episodes of the show each week. 

“The shift to streaming is allowing brands to think beyond the traditional 15 and 30-second spot and really become the entertainment,” Katlyn Wilson, director of branded content sales and strategy at Vizio, said in a statement. “It’s exciting to partner with such an established and innovative brand like The Home Depot, who is taking advantage of these opportunities to deliver emotion-led storytelling, centered around Vizio’s audience interests like holiday content and DIY.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Merry & Bright” is produced by Turn Card Content with Audra Smith, Courtney Smith, Jake Haelen and Amy Hurt serving as executive producers. The Vizio “Merry & Bright” partnership was negotiated by The Home Depot’s media agency OMD USA, and orchestrated by The Content Collective, OMD’s content marketing division.

“This partnership exemplifies how shoppable technology is expanding the role of brand storytelling from an upper-to-mid funnel tool to driving immediate commerce action and sales impact,” Brandon Helrich, Group director at OMD’s The Content Collective, said in a statement.