Charter and Comcast Announce Joint Venture to Develop New Streaming Platform

Charter Communications and Comcast April 27 announced that the two companies have formed a 50/50 joint venture to develop and offer a next-generation streaming platform on a variety of branded 4K streaming devices and smart TVs. The joint venture will offer app developers, streamers, retailers, operators, and hardware manufacturers the opportunity to reach customers in major markets across the country with the platform.

Comcast will license Flex, its aggregated streaming platform and hardware to the joint venture, contribute the retail business for XClass TVs and also will contribute Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service it acquired in 2020.  Charter will make an initial contribution of $900 million, funded over multiple years.

The XClass TVs will be available through national retail partners and potentially direct from Comcast and Charter to provide more customer choice. Xumo will continue to operate as a free global streaming service available through the joint venture’s products and third-party devices. Charter will offer the 4K streaming TV devices and voice remotes beginning in 2023. Comcast will continue to offer the Flex streaming platform as a streaming device and service to its customers.

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“These products are all designed to make search and discovery across live, on-demand and streaming video seamless and incredibly simple for consumers,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a statement.  “This partnership uniquely brings together more than a decade of technical innovation, national scale and new opportunities to monetize our combined investment.”

“As the video landscape continues to evolve, this venture will increase retail consumer options, compete at scale with established national platforms, and join our existing lineup of options for the Spectrum TV App available on most customer-owned streaming devices,” added Tom Rutledge, Charter CEO.

The joint venture’s products claim to give consumers a state-of-the-art streaming experience to access their favorite apps, based on Comcast’s Flex product, which currently delivers all the most-watched streaming apps in the marketplace. The products will feature hundreds of free content choices through Xumo, currently delivering more than 200 unique streaming channels. Peacock also will be featured on the joint venture’s streaming platform, alongside other popular apps.

The closing of the joint venture is subject to customary closing conditions. This joint venture does not involve the broadband or cable video businesses of either Comcast or Charter, which will remain independent.

Fox Weather Streaming Service Adds Roku, Xumo, FuboTV, Amazon, YouTube Distribution

Fox Weather, the ad-supported streaming television (FAST) service launched last October, will now be available on YouTube TV, Amazon News, The Roku Channel, FuboTV and Comcast-owned Xumo.

Additionally, the full linear service will be accessible on Fox Television Stations’ Diginet channels in 17 markets and select simulcast hours on FTS duopoly stations across the country.

“We are excited to significantly expand our distribution footprint and deliver Fox Weather’s coverage to millions of viewers on many of television’s most popular streaming services and devices,” Sharri Berg, president of the platform, said in a statement.

Fox Weather made its debut on Amazon News on Fire TV and Fire Tablet yesterday and was added to the channel lineup of YouTube TV last week. The service is also now available on The Roku Channel and will launch later this month on Xumo and FuboTV.

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Additionally, the platform will now be accessible across FTS’s Diginet footprint in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco, with plans to expand to the station group’s remaining 14 markets. The streaming service will also simulcast one hour per weekday and two hours on weekends on FTS’s 11 duopoly stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Orlando. Fox Television Stations owns and operates 29 full power broadcast television stations in the U.S. These include stations located in nine of the top ten largest designated market areas, or DMAs, as well as the duopolies in 11 DMAs. Of these stations, 18 are affiliated with the FOX Network.

After launching, Fox Weather claimed to become the most-downloaded free app on Google Play and the Apple App Store, delivering more than 1 million downloads in its first week. The streaming service has rolled out expanded distribution over the past three months on Fox Business Network, as well as on Tubi and Fox Nation, the politically driven subscription streaming video service. The Fox Weather app is also available for iPad.

Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network Heading to Xumo

Cinedigm Jan. 18 announced that the El Rey Network, co-founded by director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, Spy Kids), has launched on Comcast-owned Xumo as both a FAST (free ad-supporting streaming TV) and ad-supported VOD channel.

El Rey Network joins Xumo’s catalog of more than 200 channels across 12 genres and streamed across smart TVs, the web, mobile and set-top devices. The English-language network includes content curated by Rodriguez and his artistic collective’s vision to create a destination that more fully represents the changing face of America.

Other features include the director’s conversations with creatives like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino in “The Director’s Chair”; “Rebel Without a Crew: The Series,” in which filmmakers set out to make their first feature under Rodriguez’s guidance.

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“Lucha Underground” introduces U.S. audiences to the high-flying, explosive moves of lucha libre, an ancient combat tradition as good and evil wage war in a gritty battleground called “The Temple.” Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike’s Yakuza’s Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2; blaxploitation film The Final Comedown, starring Billy Dee Williams; and late director Wes Craven’s horror films The Hills Have Eyes and The Hills Have Eyes 2.

“Robert Rodriquez has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers,” Jennifer Soltesz, VP of business development and strategy at Cinedigm, said in a statement. “More than ever, representation matters, and, with this channel, Rodriguez has given a platform for Latinos to tell their stories and define themselves.”

Since embracing over-the-top video distribution, Cinedigm’s strategy remains to build a portfolio of enthusiast channels and services for the streaming generation. Through a diverse mix of premium SVOD services and dedicated AVOD and FAST channels, Cinedigm’s streaming portfolio reaches indie film (Fandor), horror (Screambox & Bloody Disgusting) and family entertainment (Dove Channel), as well as dedicated channels for iconic entertainers, led by Bob Ross (The Bob Ross Channel). 

Comcast’s AVOD Service Xumo Streaming Ad-Free Movies

Xumo, Comcast’s ad-supported video streaming service, has launched a weekly series of ad-free catalog movies. Irvine, Calif.-based Xumo, which claims 24 million monthly average users, Oct. 4 made available the 2016 movie Miss Stevens, starring Timothée Chalamet‎ and Lily Rabe, among others. Future releases include Hero, the Halloween-themed Marrowbone and We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Comcast reportedly tested the ad-free movie concept in August to its Xfinity X1 platform subscribers and saw an uptick in Xumo usage. The media giant acquired the AVOD platform in February 2020.

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“As an AVOD industry first, we’re excited to bring Xumo’s Ad-Free Movie of the Week to millions of users across all of our Xumo owned and operated properties,” Fern Feistel, SVP of content operations and marketing at Xumo, said in a statement. “Not only are we delighting our audience, this is already proven to be a significant driver of retention as we continue to test new experiences.”

OTT.X Panelists Discuss Growth and Challenges of OTT Market

While the OTT market is growing exponentially, OTT players are facing several “pain points,” including the need to improve content discovery, better manage data and compete in an ever-more-crowded marketplace, said panelists Sept. 1 during the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles.

Clunky content discovery is still a problem for consumers and the OTT services that serve them.

“How do we shorten the distance between discovery and either purchase or consumption, either in terms of clicks or in terms of satisfaction to the customer?” said Chris Yates, GM of Redbox on Demand, adding it’s challenging “helping a customer find what they want to watch quickly and in the business model that matters to them.”

And the problem of discovery is only getting more complicated, especially in the ad-supported space, where the number of players is exploding, noted Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo.

“Today across the ecosystem there are maybe 1,500 linear free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels across all the platforms,” he said. “That’s going to be 10,000 in three years’ time.”

Unlike during the rise of broadcast and cable, the barriers to entry in the digital ad-supported marketplace are lower.

“Linear TV or cable TV used to be one of those places you had to have a lot of money to get access to,” Petrie-Norris said. “It is now being democratized. To get a linear national, even global TV channel is now possible for a much more humble budget.”

And that makes for a competitive landscape.

“The biggest challenge is that the FAST space is a gladiator pit where only the strong will survive,” said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer at Cinedigm.

“Building our audience is the biggest pain point in the sense that there’s an increasingly fragmented distribution environment,” said Philippe Guelton, president of Crackle.

Getting the viewership data for digital content and evaluating what to do with it is a challenge as well.

Some platforms are “walled gardens” and do not share data, Opeka noted.

“In this ostensibly purely digital environment, you would think aggregating data and getting insights from the ecosystem would be much easier,” he said.

Data can also be overwhelming.

“We’re drowning in data and getting really good at making smart decisions out of it is tough,” he said.

Despite the challenges, the market for digital ads is hot.

“We see much more advertising demand than we have supply, which in my 30 years in working in ad-supported media I’ve never seen before,” Guelton said.

“I think advertisers today, frankly they just love the space,” Petrie-Norris added. “It’s all digital. You can track results. … It’s almost magic.”

Still, panelists said that delivering those ads could use some improvement.

Yates pointed to the “coming back soon” screens that pop up sometimes for minutes at a time when an ad doesn’t load.

“That’s an experience that the industry needs to solve,” he said.

Ad placement could also become more attuned to the viewer, perhaps with a smaller load while a consumer is casting around for something to watch and with more ads once the consumer is hooked.

Panelists also addressed the growth of PVOD — a higher-priced digital rental early in or concurrent with the theatrical window — during the pandemic as theaters shuttered.

“The real question is how long is this model sustainable,” Opeka said. “We’ve seen some pretty fantastic revenues out of the few [titles] that we’ve experimented with, way beyond what we would have thought possible … three or four times what we would have thought would be the potential pre-pandemic.”

“The one thing I can predict is if the revenues for PVOD continue to be as astronomical even for independent releases I can almost guarantee the market will be flooded with them,” he added.

Documentary+ Streaming Platform Joins Comcast’s Xumo Network

Documentary+, the streaming video platform of nonfiction films and series, is joining Xumo’s expanding library of 200+ premium ad-supported channels reaching more than 24 million unique users each month.

Documentary+ launched as an AVOD streaming service in January featuring an extensive library housing titles, including Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour and VICE’s JungletownSluteverThe Last Shot and films from award-winning filmmakers such as Spike Jonze, Kathryn Bigelow, Penny Lane, Elaine May, Jessica Beshir, Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog and Sam Pollard, with The Imposter, Cartel Land, and Life, Animated to name a few

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The Documentary+ channel on Xumo will feature 24/7 curated content from feature documentaries to cult classics and shorts and series, providing XUMO audiences access to their premium library of documentaries. Launching first on XUMO, the Documentary+ channel will be available on more FAST platforms soon, further expanding the platform’s streaming presence.

“With Xumo we can reach big new audiences and give our fans a 24/7 experience to watch the best in documentary film and television,” founder/CEO Bryn Mooser said in a statement.

Comcast-owned Xumo is available via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, Web and popular streaming boxes. The Documentary+ on-demand streaming app is available globally for free on all streaming platforms including Apple TV, Amazon and Roku, mobile devices and www.docplus.com.

“The Documentary+ channel will engage millions of Xumo users with its extensive range of premium documentary films and series,” said Stefan Van Engen, SVP of content partnerships and programming at the Irvine, Calif.-based platform. “[We continue] to partner with best-in-class content providers and this new offering from Documentary+ is no exception.”

Data: 60% of Connected-TV Households Stream Ad-Supported Content

Consumer interest in free ad-supported VOD (AVOD) content and live television (FAST) continues to proliferate. New data from The Diffusion Group suggests 60% of connected-TV households stream ad-supported content across myriad platforms — spearheaded by YouTube.

AVOD and FAST services driving the market include ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, Fox Entertainment’s Tubi, Comcast-owned Xumo and Amazon’s IMDb TV, among others.

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TDG found that 24% of connected-TV households consume ad-supported streaming content on a daily basis, while 32% stream weekly. Among AVOD/FAST consumers, 76% stream YouTube, the longest-running streaming video platform, followed by Pluto TV, Tubi and Xumo.

“Clearly the effects of work-from-home and lack of traditional leisure options during the pandemic accelerated consumer use of free ad-supported streaming services,” Doug Montgomery, senior analyst and author of Back to the Future: The Rise of Ad-Supported Streaming Video, said in a statement. “Most major video providers have been preparing for this moment for years and thus able to quickly adapt to an accelerated timeline. It is a unique moment in the history of the entertainment business and those who move quickly and boldly will likely reap the benefits for years to come.”

U.S. Spanish Channel Service Sony Canal Available on Xumo and Pluto TV

Sony Canal — the free, ad-supported streaming television (FAST) suite of channels from Sony Pictures Television for Spanish-speaking viewers in the United States — is now available on Xumo’s free streaming platform with Sony Canal Competencias, and via Pluto TV in the en Español category with Sony Canal Comedias and Sony Canal Escape Perfecto.

The Sony Canal channels are also available to consumers via Samsung TV Plus, The Roku Channel, Plex and Vizio SmartCast.

Sony Canal Novelas is dedicated to popular classic telenovelas and modern serial dramas, including “Doña Barbara,” “Si Me Miran Tus Ojos,” “Los Caballeros Las Prefieren Brutas​,” “Señorita Pólvora” (“Miss Dynamite”) and “Paraíso Travel.”

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The Sony Canal Comedias channel offers culturally relevant modern remakes, featuring sitcoms and comedy series including “Casados Con Hijos” (“Married With Children”), “Aqui No Hay Quien Viva,” “Quién Manda a Quien?” (“Who’s the Boss”) and “Mi Bella Genio” (“I Dream of Jeannie”).

Sony Canal Competencias is dedicated to reality competition shows from Latin America such as “Escape Perfecto” (“Raid the Cage”) and “Ruleta Rusa” (“Russian Roulette”).

Sony Canal Escape Perfecto, available on Pluto TV, is a channel dedicated entirely to competition series “Escape Perfecto” (“Raid the Cage”), which has been remade all around the world.

OTT.X Summit Speakers Talk FAST (Free, Ad-Supported Television)

Free, ad-supported television dominated the discussion during the OTT.X summit’s opening-day keynote panel.

Known by the acronym FAST, the market certainly is in growth mode. Media heavyweights ViacomCBS and Comcast Corp. have acquired Pluto TV and Xumo, respectively, while Comcast’s much-ballyhooed Peacock streaming service also will have a free, ad-supported component.

And as Media Play News reported earlier this week, new data from eMarketer suggests AVOD revenue will grow more than 25% this year compared with 2019.

The AVOD market — spearheaded by The Roku Channel, Disney-owned Hulu, Peacock, Redbox TV, Amazon’s IMDb TV, Pluto TV and Fox Corp.’s Tubi — saw ad revenue skyrocket 31% to $849 million in the most-recent quarter, according to MoffettNathanson Research.

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“It’s something I’m really excited about — this is the thing that’s really hot,” moderator David Bloom, a tech journalist and consultant, said during the panel on Sept. 1. (The OTT.X summit continues through Sept. 3; click here to register.)

Anthony Layser, VP of content partnerships at Xumo, agreed.

“Things have changed so quickly over the last couple of years,” he said. “I joined Xumo in 2017 and I think at first there were some things that felt a little bit like a gimmick — you’re starting to string together types of content into a linear experience.

“And then I really got a sense, after a few months in, that what’s old is new again. People don’t necessarily want to spend all night searching through box art; they may be interested in a very specific series they are comfortable with — maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s lifestyle.”

The FAST market, he said, “is always changing and it’s exciting to come to work every day and look at data and say, ‘Wow, look at how this piece of content we licensed years ago is taking off.’”

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Networks, said his company over the past 18 months has sought to build “a nice portfolio of premium FAST and AVOD services to complement our four niche subscription services we still operate.”

“We got out of the real heavy, direct-to-consumer side,” he said, “and now focus on what I call the classic model of third-party distribution. You get a lot of bang for your buck — you don’t have to spend a lot of money on marketing, and you can focus all your energy on content spend and everyone else handles all the rest. So it’s a good model. Where we really thought the growth for us was going to come was in the ad-supported space.”

Advertising spending, he said, is “completely disconnected from the consumption right now. If you look at the data coming out of Samsung, where 55% of all consumption on smart TVs is not with traditional environments — the trend is not going to reverse; it’s not going to suddenly swing back the other way, especially given that 265 million sets are sold annually that have linear and VOD baked in, not to mention hundreds of thousands of apps.”

With FAST, Opeka said, “consumers love the choice, they love getting tons of entertainment for free that they don’t have to pay for. A couple of years ago, Pluto really educated all of us. … People mistake linear being dead for pre-programmed, tuned-in being dead. But I think there’s a very different piece here. Leanback is not dead. There’s a real specific use case for a big chunk of the week where you don’t have a lot of time and don’t want to spend 30 minutes digging through thousands of titles or hoping the algorithm finds you. You just want something on while you’re having leftovers. What we’re really talking about is hand-curated, passive, feed-my-eyes, against active, algorithm-driven recommendations. There’s a place in the world for both.”

Tedd Cittadine, VP of content distribution at Roku, said, “There’s no secret we’re really excited and optimistic about the AVOD business in general. We started just over three years ago with the Roku Channel, and the reason we launched it is because our consumers were disproportionately searching for free content. We knew there was pent-up demand for it. And we’ve seen significant growth — it’s been growing faster than the platform as a whole.”

He noted that the “AVOD landscape has changed significantly” over the past few years. “It’s gone from many startup independents to Roku, CBS, Fox, Amazon, YouTube, Comcast”

He noted that as the business becomes increasingly competitive, there are “three key things that drive success.” One is access to a “huge audience.” “It’s incredibly expensive to acquire consumers,” he said. “If you don’t have that huge installed base you can market to and deliver your content to, it can be very challenging to build that audience.” Second is having a “one-to-one, proprietary relationship with data for consumers, and having access to that data to make your advertising more effective.” And the third, he said, is having a “large and successful, well-funded direct ad sales organization to take advantage of monetization opportunities.”

Also speaking on the panel was Andrea Clarke-Hall, VP of business development at Tubi, acquired by Fox in April. “If you take COVID and add an acquisition, it makes for interesting times,” she said. “But it has been awesome. It’s still very early days, but it seems to be a really great partnership. Fox has given Tubi tremendous autonomy, and I think what we’ve seen is continued announcements every week about leveraging Fox ownership to bring better and better content to Tubi.”

Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango, gave a nod to the transactional side of the business, noting that stay-at-home orders, and the movie theater shutdown, during the coronavirus pandemic has given the business a boost.

“You feel like the last few months have brought transactional back,” he said. “People have discovered there’s new content, movies you might not have ever seen — like The Tax Collector, which has been No. 1 on our service for the last couple of weeks.”

OTT.X Adds Six Members

OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association) has added six members: Breaking Glass Pictures, Here Media, MVD Entertainment Group, MyBundle.tv, Vizio and Xumo.

Founded in 2009 by industry veterans Rich Wolff and Richard Ross, along with Susan Helfrich, Breaking Glass Pictures is a film distribution and media company that focuses on releasing independent films, inclusive of all genres, from around the world. In addition to theatrical, DVD, digital, and VOD releases in North America, Breaking Glass functions as an international sales agent. With an average release slate of 45 to 50 titles a year, and a catalog of more than 400 titles, Breaking Glass also represents other studio’s catalogs for platform placement as aggregators.

Here Media operates media brands serving the LGBT market across the print, television, digital, social media, tablet, events and mobile.

MVD offers a catalog of audio and visual digital rights and has direct relationships with the major digital and VOD platforms.

MyBundle.TV guides consumers through the cord-cutting process by recommending customized bundles of streaming services based on a user’s set of circumstances. At the same time, MyBundle.TV provides OTT services a platform to reach their potential consumers.

Vizio is an American-based TV brand and sound bar company formed in 2002 offering among its products smart TVs.

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Xumo, an ad-supported streaming service, offers more than 190 digital channels of programming across 12 genres in 45 million U.S. households via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, web and streaming boxes.