Roku debuts a 15-minute weekly series that recommends what to watch next

Roku is expanding its programming for its free content hub, The Roku Channel, with today’s launch of its own weekly entertainment program called “Roku Recommends.” The 15-minute show will leverage Roku’s data to highlight the Top 5 titles for viewers to stream that week. While not exactly “original programming” the way that Roku’s recent additions of its acquired Quibi content is, the series will run only on Roku, where it can be found in The Roku Channel and Featured Free, with new episodes every Thursday.

The series is the first production to emerge from the new Roku Brand Studio — a studio that aims to produce video ads and other custom branded content for ad partners. The show is produced by Funny Or Die and Mike Farah, Beth Belew, and Jim Ziegler serve as executive producers.

The show’s co-hosts include entertainment reporter and AfterBuzz TV co-founder Maria Menounos and former NFL player, Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins. The duo will present the Top 5 titles to viewers. These recommended shows or movies may come from any of the thousands of channels across the Roku platform, based on data exclusive to the platform.

“According to Nielsen data, the average streamer spends more than seven minutes searching for what to watch next,” said Chris Bruss, Head of Roku Brand Studio, in a statement. “We are uniquely positioned to use our trending data both to help consumers find incredible movies and shows and to help advertisers go beyond the traditional 30-second ad to entertain streamers who otherwise spend time in ad-free, subscription-only environments,” he added.

The series will also allow for ad sponsors. The company says it has already signed on several national advertisers, starting with Walmart, to sponsor the program. Advertisers will have access to Roku’s Measurement Partner Program to determine whether or not their integration reaches subscription video on-demand (SVOD)-only streaming users, as well as view other metrics about their video ad campaign’s reach, brand perception and impact.

The series comes at a time when the streaming landscape is shifting. Today’s streaming services regularly serve up recommended content based on what their customers are watching — Netflix, for example, shows rows of popular and trending content, as well as a Top 10 list of newly popular titles. But as the number of available streaming services grows, larger entities merge, and content jumps around as licensing agreements end and start, consumers may be more in need of a set of current recommendations from across channels and services, not just those isolated inside one service.

Amazon Fire TV’s update recently addressed this need with the introduction of a new “Find” feature that aims to make it easier for users to search and browse movies, shows and free content across its platform. Roku, however, didn’t have a recommendation system of its own.

It’s also interesting to see that Roku is willing to use its proprietary streaming data in this way — something it could choose to do more with further down the road to help build out a broader set of recommendations, if it chose.

 

#cord-cutting, #funny-or-die, #internet-television, #media, #multimedia, #player, #quibi, #roku, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-services, #television, #tv, #walmart

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Quix raises $3.2M from Project A and others for its ‘Stream centric’ approach to data

Quix, a platform for Python developers working on streaming data, has secured a £2.3 Million ($3.2M)Seed funding round led by Project A Ventures in Germany, with participation from London’s Passion Capital and angel investors. The Quix Portal is also providing developers with a free subscription to a real-time data engineering platform.

Quix attracted angel investors including Frank Sagnier (CEO, Codemasters), Ian Hogarth (Co-author, State of AI Report), Chris Schagen (CMO, Contentful), and Michael Schrezenmaier (COO, Pipedrive).

Quix wants to change the way data is handled and processed from a database-centric approach to a ‘stream-centric’ approach, connecting machine learning models to real-time data streams. This is arguably the next paradigm in computing.

Use cases for Quix, it says, include developing electric vehicles, and fraud prevention in financial services. Some of its early customers are the NHS, Deloitte and McLaren.

Indeed, the founding team consists of former McLaren F1 engineers who are used to processing real-time data streams from the systems used by most Formula 1 teams.

Co-founder and CEO Michael Rosam said: “At Quix, we believe that it will soon be essential for every organization to automatically action data within milliseconds of it being created. Whether it’s personalizing digital experiences, developing electric vehicles, automating industrial machinery, deploying smart wearables in healthcare, or detecting financial fraud faster, the ability to run machine learning models on live data streams and immediately respond to rapidly changing environments is critical to delivering better experiences and outcomes to people.”

Over email he told me that Quix’s main advantage is that it allows developers to build streaming applications on Kafka without investing in cloud infrastructure first: “Uniquely, our API & SDK connects any Python code directly to the broker so that teams can run real-time machine learning models in-memory, reducing latency and cost compared to database-centric architectures.”

Quix is entering the data ecosystem alongside batch data processing platforms like Snowflake and Databricks, and event streaming platforms like Confluent, Materialize, and DBT. However, this ecosystem is very complementary with organizations usually combining multiple products into a production infrastructure based on the strengths of each proposition.

Sam Cash of Project A Ventures said: “Data streaming is the next paradigm in data architecture, given end-users accelerating demand for live, on-demand and personalized applications. The Quix team are leading the way in this market, by democratizing access to data streaming infrastructure, which until now has been the reserve of the largest companies.”

Malin Posern, Partner at Passion Capital commented: “The world today is generating unimaginable amounts of data from digital and physical activities. Businesses of all types and sizes will want to make use of their data in real-time in order to be competitive.”

#api, #ceo, #cloud-infrastructure, #codemasters, #computing, #coo, #data-stream, #databricks, #deloitte, #europe, #financial-services, #germany, #healthcare, #ian-hogarth, #kafka, #machine-learning, #mclaren, #nhs, #passion-capital, #pipedrive, #project-a-ventures, #python, #streaming-applications, #streaming-data, #streaming-media, #tc, #technology, #wireless-networking

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Roku alleges Google is using its monopoly power in YouTube TV carriage negotiations

Roku is alerting its customers that they may lose access to the YouTube TV channel on its platform after negotiations with Google went south. The company alleges that Google is attempting to use its monopoly power to insist on unfair, anticompetitive terms with regard to how Roku handles search results for YouTube content, customer data and more. The email also urges Roku customers to reach out to Google to voice their concerns.

Details of the spat were first reported by Axios.

Roku says Google continues to ask for special treatment on Roku’s streaming media player platform, which today includes a dedicated search results row for YouTube that appear after a customer performs a universal voice search. Roku claims YouTube over a year ago threatened to remove the YouTube app if Roku didn’t comply with this particular demand. It now wants to ask Google to not preference its own service in the search results, as it believes this row doesn’t serve its customer base well. The row returns YouTube results at the top of the search results page, even when this isn’t relevant to what the customer was searching for in the first place, Roku explains.

In addition, Google is adding on to its earlier demands with a new series of requests to only show only YouTube or YouTube Music search results when the YouTube app is open — even overriding Roku user preferences to do so. Today, Roku allows its customers to set their own preferred music service provider for their music requests. Google’s ask that if a user presses the Roku voice search button while YouTube is open, that query returns only YouTube results. That means YouTube Music would play any music request, and YouTube search results would appear for any other request.

Roku says this also disadvantages the customer because it doesn’t honor the user’s preferences — like if their preferred music service is Roku, for example. Also, Roku couldn’t even use the search results to tell the customer if they’ve already paid for the content being requested — like showing them a movie they’ve already bought on another service or one of their paid subscriptions that carries the title.

There are other concerning demands as well, including asks for customer data that goes outside the realm of industry standard practices, Roku told TechCrunch. Roku says this data isn’t available to any other partners and it doesn’t want to share it with Google, either.

Finally, Google wants to reserve the right to ask for new certification requirements, as needed, for carrying YouTube — changes that could impact the cost of Roku’s hardware. By increasing the specs — say, asking for a faster processor speed or more memory — Google could close the gap between Roku’s low-end $29 device with Google’s new $50 Chromecast with Google TV. Roku admits Google has asked for those sorts of hardware changes before, but it now wants that in the YouTube TV agreement, too.

More broadly, Roku is concerned how Google is leveraging YouTube as it asks for these changes, even though the agreement being negotiated is YouTube TV. It says its deal with YouTube is not up for renewal at this time. We understand Google may have also issued similar requests to some TV platforms, but not larger companies like Apple (for Apple TV).

“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anti-competitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Given antitrust suits against Google, investigations by competition authorities of anti-competitive behavior and Congressional hearings into Google’s practices, it should come as no surprise that Google is now demanding unfair and anti-competitive terms that harm Roku’s users,” they said.

Roku declined to say whether or not it would bring its complaints before antitrust investigators, noting that, for now, its focus on closing the deal for YouTube TV.

While it’s common to see carriage disputes when contracts come up for renewal, those tend to involve requests for more money to allow a platform — like a pay TV provider, for example — to continue to carry a channel or group of channels. In this case, Roku says its not asking for any change in economic terms.

In the email sent to customers this morning at 6 AM, Roku says it won’t accept Google’s terms and its “anticompetitive requirements to manipulate your search results, impact the usage of your data, and ultimately cost you more.”

The full letter is below:

Dear Roku Customer,​

We are sending this email to update you on the possibility that Google may take away your access to the YouTube TV channel on Roku. Recent negotiations with Google to carry YouTube TV have broken down because Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms as we believe they could harm our users. ​

Ensuring a great streaming experience at an exceptional value is the core of our business. We will always stand up for our users, which is why we cannot accept Google’s unfair and anticompetitive requirements to manipulate your search results, impact the usage of your data and ultimately cost you more. ​

While we are deeply disappointed in Google’s decision to use their monopoly power to try and force terms that will directly harm streamers, we remain committed to reaching an agreement with Google that preserves your access to YouTube TV, protects your data and ensures a level playing field for companies to compete. We encourage you to contact Google and urge them to reach an agreement to continue offering YouTube TV on Roku and to follow standard industry practices pledging not to require access to sensitive search data or to manipulate your search results. ​

Google has not yet provided comment.

#chromecast, #companies, #digital-media-players, #google, #internet-television, #media, #pay-tv, #roku, #search-results, #streaming-media, #technology, #youtube

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Plex raises $50M growth round to fuel ad-supported streaming, expansions

Streaming media software maker Plex announced today it has raised a $50 million growth equity round from existing investor Intercap ahead of its planned business expansion into rentals, purchases and subscription content. This is the first financing Plex has taken on since 2014 and is being partly used to purchase shares and options from Plex’s early seed investors and shareholders from prior acquisitions, and to give the company’s earliest employees a bit of liquidity. Of the $50 million raised, $15 million will be put to work as new growth capital.

The company declined to disclose its valuation as a result of the funding — technically Plex’s Series C — but says it resulted in a relatively low dilution for its existing investors who have stayed in, including Kleiner Perkins and Nexstar, for example. Meanwhile, some of its earliest investors were able to get a 10x return or greater on their shares.

As part of the round, Intercap chairman and CEO Jason Chapnik joined the board of directors as chairman, and Intercap president James Merkur also joined the board. Including this financing, Plex has raised more than $60 million.

To date, Plex has been cautious about fundraising because, as Plex CEO Keith Valory says, “we really hadn’t had to.” That is, the company has been profitable on its own.

But things have been changing at Plex in recent years. Though it has always catered to the home media enthusiast with its software for organizing movies, TV, music and photos on users’ home networks, Plex more seriously began to go after the larger market of cord cutters with its 2017 launch of a low-cost, DIY streaming TV service. In the years since, it expanded into free, ad-supported streaming and last year took on rivals like ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV with its own launch of a live TV service, also supported by ads.

Today, Plex now offers more than 20,000 free on-demand movies and shows and over 150 free live TV channels in 193 countries, alongside access to other content, including personal media libraries, streaming music and podcasts.

As it expanded the types of services it offers, it also lowered the barriers to entry for Plex newcomers. Users now no longer have to sign up for an account to access the ad-supported video or live linear streaming service, which impacts Plex’s business model.

Image Credits: Plex

“That is much more tailored towards paid marketing — like getting integrated into the search capabilities for devices like Roku, Fire TV or Vizio, etc. But then, also, using [search engine marketing] and Facebook and other, even on-device paid marketing programs to get people to get in and start watching something,” says Valory. “We found that the kind of paid marketing and customer acquisition costs for that business is really efficient. We’ve been able to get profitable on that marketing investment really, really quickly,” he adds.

That model is what prompted Plex to consider raising capital to grow this aspect of its business and expand in new areas, as well.

That included managing subscription content and offering rentals and purchases — something Plex began to talk about last year as part of its roadmap, saying they could potentially arrive in 2020. But then COVID hit, and though streaming itself grew — particularly ad-supported video in April through June or July — some Plex employees were hit harder than others by the pandemic. And Plex also needed more time to ready the infrastructure involved.

It’s now preparing to launch these efforts this year, perhaps initially with a video rental marketplace or a subscription aggregator. (Plex says it’s not sure which will get out of the gate first because both are being built simultaneously.)

With the subscription play, Plex isn’t looking just at selling subscriptions the way that say, Amazon or Apple do through Prime Video Channels or Apple TV Channels. It’s also considering deep linking technology to get users to their favorite streaming apps, including those from the big-name brands that otherwise wouldn’t want to be a part of someone else’s service. This could position Plex as a competitor to services like Reelgood, which today allows users to track what they’re watching and get recommendations across all their streaming apps, not just within each individual app.

Plex’s video rental (and maybe purchases) marketplace, meanwhile, will be much like any other, offering users a chance to pay for content they couldn’t find a way to stream.

Both ideas fit in with Plex’s larger goal to become a one-stop shop for all your media needs.

“We’ve always had a fairly audacious mission. You shouldn’t have to go to 20 different apps to get the content you care about. You should be able to go to one place and we should be able to do all that for you,” notes Valory.

Image Credits: Plex

To fuel its growth on both this front and for its ad-supported businesses, Plex plans to use the funds to expand its now 100-person team with investments in marketing and monetization teams, as well as on the development side.

“Certainly, there’s still way more work to do in terms of amplifying the efforts on our performance and growth marketing and engagement,” Valory says. “I mean, the business is growing super fast, so we’ve done a pretty good job, to date, of building out the muscles to get new users in the pipeline for the AVOD business. There’s still a ton of work to do there, but a lot of the muscles that we’re building there will help in terms of the top-of-funnel and increasing engagement for the whole product,” he adds.

Intercap, which led Plex’s round, is in it for the long haul — citing in particular how the fragmentation happening now in the streaming landscape could ultimately be good for Plex’s own growth.

“Content providers, creators and consumers are all paying the price for the explosion of so many streaming media services and the industry needs a trusted way for the experience to be as enjoyable as possible,” says Chapnik. “Plex has always been at the forefront of solving new media challenges and we believe they are primed to solve this problem — they are the cable company of the future.”

#avod, #intercap, #media, #movies, #plex, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-tv, #tv, #vod

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Netflix shares soar as it passes 200M paying subscribers

Netflix capped off a year of impressive streaming growth by adding 8.5 million net new paying subscribers during the fourth quarter.

That means the streaming giant now has a total of 204 million paying subscribers worldwide — net growth of 37 million new subscribers for the full year, up from 28 million net additions in 2019.

The company also reported that it brought in $6.64 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $1.19 during Q4, compared to analyst predictions of $6.63 billon in revenue and EPS of $1.39.

In response to the earnings report, Netflix shares were up 12.4% in after-hours trading (as of 4:43pm Eastern).

Looking ahead, Netflix projected that it will add 6.0 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021 — the same as its old forecast for Q4, and less than half the 15.8 million subscribers that Netflix added in Q1 2020 (right as lockdowns were beginning in the United States).

The company’s investor letter also highlights a number of hit titles from the quarter, projecting that 72 million households will “choose to watch” (watch at least two minutes of) “The Midnight Sky” in its first 28 days of release, while 68 million households chose to watch “Holidate.” It also said the most recent season of “The Crown” was its most popular yet, with more than 100 million households choosing to watch the show “since its initial launch.”

“In addition to titles with big viewership, we also aspire to have hits that become part of the cultural zeitgeist,” Netflix said. “In 2020 alone, we had ​’Tiger King,​’ ‘​Bridgerton​’ and ​’The Queen’s Gambit​.’ … In fact, Netflix series accounted for nine out of the 10 most searched shows globally in 2020, while our films represented two of the top 10.”

The company acknowledged growing competition from new(-ish) streaming services like Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max, but its user numbers still put it far ahead of any streaming competition — Disney+, for example, had 86.8 million subscribers as of early December (Disney’s service launched a little over a year ago and is still rolling out globally).

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said. “This past year is a testament to this approach. Disney+ had a massive first year (87 million paid subscribers!) and we recorded the biggest year of paid membership growth in our history.”

eMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom made a similar point in a statement:

Netflix ended 2020 on a high note, adding over 36 million subscribers and passing 200 million subscribers. Despite increasing competition from Disney and others, Netflix had its strongest year yet and will look to grow further in 2021, with a strong content release slate already planned. So far, Netflix has been a clear winner of the streaming wars.

#earnings, #media, #netflix, #streaming-media, #streaming-services

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Hulu discounts its on-demand service to $1.99 per month for students

Looking to gain traction with a younger user base, Hulu this morning announced it’s dropping the price of its on-demand streaming service to $1.99 per month for students over 18 who are attending a U.S. college or university. This represents an over 65% discount off Hulu’s ad-supported subscription, which typically sells for $5.99 per month, the company says.

The students will gain access to the same version of Hulu’s streaming service, which includes its library of thousands on-demand movies and TV, including Hulu Originals. They’ll also be able to use the recently launched Watch Party feature that allows users to co-watch with friends and family in different locations as well as use group chat in a sidebar as the content plays.

Over the past few years, Hulu has offered a variety of deals and discounts aimed at growing its user base. In fall 2017, for example, it partnered with Spotify on a combo deal, also aimed at students. It later expanded this deal to include Showtime and then opened it to a broader audience. In 2019, Hulu also again dropped the standard price for its streaming service while raising the cost of its Live TV add-on and rolled out an even more discounted Spotify-Hulu combo.

These promotions help to boost Hulu’s subscriber base to its entry-level service in the hopes that users will later choose to upgrade to Hulu’s more expensive plans. For students, in particular, the goal is to capture the market while users are young and paying for subscriptions possibly for the first time. When the students graduate, Hulu believes they’ll continue to still see the value in its service and convert to fully-paid customers.

This new student deal arrives a couple of months after Hulu once again raised the price of its Hulu with Live TV plan – this time to help fund the addition of 14 new ViacomCBS channels. As Hulu’s Live TV service becomes to look more like traditional pay TV in terms of its pricing, it becomes even more important to attract users to Hulu’s on-demand plan as the first step toward later upsells.

Hulu says the new student deal is “evergreen” and begins to roll out today.

#hulu, #media, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-service, #students, #television, #tv

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Haystack News adds 16 live news channels ahead of Election Day

Ad-supported streaming news platform Haystack News is announcing a significant expansion ahead of U.S. Election Day. The company this morning introduced sixteen 24/7 live streaming news channels, including ABC News Live, CBSN, Al Jazeera, Euronews, Newsmax, Yahoo Finance and several more live local news broadcast stations across the U.S.

These are the first live news channels Haystack News has added to its previously video-on-demand (VOD) only news service.

The expansion follows another recent update to Haystack News that brought its service to over 350 total news sources, thanks to the addition of Fox owned-and-operated local stations. This change allowed Haystack News to reach 100% of the top 30 DMAs (designated market areas).

With today’s update, Haystack News aims to become a one-stop shop for live Election Night coverage, as well  — particularly for cord cutters looking for a service offering a combination of both national and local news coverage.

Haystack News has particularly benefited from the rapid shift to over-the-top streaming and rise of cord cutting.

Earlier this year, the company rebranded from Haystack TV to Haystack News to better reflect its position as a destination for ad-supported video news coverage. And in June, Haystack News reported record growth for its service with “millions” of new users signing up year-to-date, and 145% audience growth year-over-year. It also said the app was on pace to more than double usage in 2020, exceeding millions of hours monthly.

As part of its rebrand, Haystack News updated its app’s user interface and rolled out Newsline — a personalized and dynamic news TV ticker.

Today, Haystack News tells us the company has doubled its net new users for each of the past five years and that number has reached about 3 million users for 2020.

It also offered a new data point, noting for the first time that Haystack News has surpassed 2 billion minutes of news content consumed in 2020.

As a free service, Haystack News is supported through advertising, but claims its ad load is less than of traditional TV. This makes the service appealing to cord cutters in particular, who may have lost access to TV news when they dropped their traditional pay TV subscription and are looking for a free replacement.

While there are a number of ways to access streaming news from a smart TV or streaming media device, Haystack News’ advantage is that it now, as of this update, offers a variety of content — including both on-demand and live streaming news, and both national and local news coverage.

However, the company tells us its larger competitive advantage will continue to be how it personalizes the news to the end users — a feature that will help to differentiate itself from other streaming rivals, it says.

Haystack News is offering across a range of smart TVs, including Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL and Vizio Smart TVs, as well as on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Android and iOS mobile devices. On the web, it’s available at haystack.tv.

To date, Haystack News has raised $6.5 million, including its most recent round of funding that closed in 2019. The service is backed by AltaIR Capital, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Stanford University’s StartX Fund, SVLinks, Uhuru Capital, and Zorlu Ventures.

#haystack-news, #haystack-tv, #live-news, #live-streaming, #media, #news, #streaming-media, #streaming-news, #streaming-tv, #tv

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The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

#apps, #entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #streaming-media

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Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% of a £60 bundle isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

#apps, #disney, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #peter-ramsey, #streaming-media, #tc, #the-walt-disney-company, #ui, #user-experience, #user-interface, #ux

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Tencent Music bets on China’s crowded podcasting space

Listeners of podcasts, audiobooks and other audio shows are estimated to number 542 million in China this year, according to a third-party survey by marketing firm iiMedia. It’s a healthy jump from the 489 million users recorded in 2019, and it no doubt has attracted new players to the game.

That includes Tencent Music Entertainment (TME), the Tencent spin-off that is sometimes regarded as the Spotify of China but differs on many fronts in practice. The group’s main line of businesses goes beyond music streaming to encompass virtual karaoke, live streaming and audio content, a category that has recently seen a big push from the firm.

In its newly released quarterly report, TME said it has made “significant progress in expanding” its audio library by adding thousands of new adaptions from popular IP pieces and works from independent producers. This intensifies competition in what is already a crowded space.

Like Spotify, TME is late to voice-based content, an umbrella term that can include everything from podcasts, audiobooks, radio stations to more innovative listening experience like audio live streaming. This sector in China has for years been occupied by leading companies Ximalaya, the main investor in San Francisco-based podcasting firm Himalaya, and Nasdaq-listed Lizhi.

TME’s thrust into audio content holds no immediate promise, for there is still no obvious path to profitability. Chinese users are known to be reluctant to pay for digital content, and when they do, say, for educational and self-improvement podcasts, the enthusiasm tends to fade quickly. Deep-pocketed platforms often resort to offering content for free to gain market share, relentlessly forcing out smaller contestants. The result is that everyone needs to find more indirect ways to monetize.

Lizhi, for instance, primarily generates revenues by selling virtual items through its live, interactive audio sessions, while the contribution from user subscriptions and advertising remains paltry. The seven-year-old company hasn’t turned a profit, recording a net loss of 133 million yuan or $19.1 million last year.

Indirect monetization is nothing new in China’s internet industry. Tencent, most famous for its WeChat messenger, notably relies on gaming revenues that its social networking products help drive. TME, similarly, gets the bulk of its money by selling virtual items in music-themed live streams, while only 6% of its 657 million monthly active users on music streaming apps are paying. The MAU growth has also come to a standstill as China’s online music market saturates; from 2017 to 2020, TME added only 50 million new users to its music streaming services. The question is whether the music titan can breathe new life into the adjacent audio sector.

#asia, #china, #lizhi, #media, #music-services, #online-content, #online-karaoke, #podcast, #spotify, #streaming-media, #tencent, #tencent-music-entertainment, #wechat

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AWS launches the $995 Elemental Link for streaming video to its cloud

AWS today announced the launch of the Elemental Link, a small hardware device that makes it easy to connect a live video source to the AWS Elemental Media Live service for broadcast-grade live video processing in the cloud. The $995 Link, which weighs in at less than a pound, is meant to allow Media Live users to connect a camera or video production setup to the AWS cloud.

The fanless Link has an Ethernet port and inputs for either an HD-SDI or HDMI cable. In the AWS Management Console, it’ll show up as a media source for MediaLive and it’ll automatically adapt the streaming video based on available bandwidth.

In sophisticated environments, dedicated hardware and an associated A/V team can capture, encode, and stream or store video that meets these expectations,” explains AWS’s Jeff Barr in today’s announcement. “However, cost and operational complexity have prevented others from delivering a similar experience. Classrooms, local sporting events, enterprise events, and small performance spaces do not have the budget or the specialized expertise needed to install, configure, and run the hardware and software needed to reliably deliver video to the cloud for processing, storage, and on-demand delivery or live streaming.”

Amazon obviously has quite a bit of experience with streaming video, not only because of the broadcast networks it partners with but also thanks to Twitch.

The Link devices aren’t meant for Twitch streamers, though. AWS is clearly targeting these devices at more sophisticated organizations that are already using the AWS cloud for their broadcast infrastructure. And while the Link takes away some of the complexities of managing the streaming hardware, the MediaLive cloud piece isn’t exactly as trivial to manage as the more consumer-grade live streaming platforms available today. For those platforms, OBS Studio and a maybe a prosumer switcher like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini is all you need to get started with a multi-camera setup anyway.

Barr says AWS is working on a CloudFormation-powered solution that can take care of setting up the output from MediaLive and make actually doing something with the video that’s coming from the Link devices a bit easier.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #ethernet, #hdmi, #jeff-barr, #medialive, #streaming-media, #streaming-video, #tc, #twitch, #twitch-tv

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Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching across 7 markets in Euopre — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. From today, it will be live in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; and Disney also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Caught in the crossfire of Covid-19

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught in the crossfire of world events.

The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home, and many people are turning to their televisions and other screens for diversion and information.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain or distract people who are now sheltering in place. And that has put a huge strain on broadband networks. So, to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) that it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.”

There are now dozens of places to get an online video fix, but Disney has a lot of valuable cards in its hand, specifically in the form of a gigantic catalog of famous, premium content, and the facilities to produce significantly more at scale, dwarfing the efforts (valiant or great as they are) from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple .

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years.

In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

#amazon, #animation, #apple, #austria, #belgium, #broadband, #chairman, #companies, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #deutsche-telekom, #disney, #disney-channel, #e-commerce, #emmy, #entertainment, #europe, #executive, #france, #germany, #google, #internet-television, #ireland, #italy, #kevin-mayer, #lg, #media, #microsoft, #mobile-phones, #national-geographic, #netflix, #pixar, #pixar-animation-studios, #portugal, #roku, #smart-tv, #sony, #spain, #streaming-media, #streaming-media-players, #streaming-services, #switzerland, #telefonica, #the-walt-disney-company, #the-simpsons, #united-kingdom

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