Spotify rolls out new personalized experiences and playlists, including a mid-year review and a blended mix with a friend

Spotify today is expanding its investment in personalization features with the launch of dedicated in-app experience called Only You, which focuses on your favorite music and how you listen. The experience is similar to Spotify’s popular annual review, Spotify Wrapped, as it highlights the artists, songs, genres and other aspects of your music listening experience that are important to you, which can then be shared across social media, just as Wrapped is. The company is also today debuting Blend, a new way to create a personalized playlist with a friend.

The Only You hub will live alongside the existing Made for You hub on the Search page inside the Spotify app. In Made for You, you’ll find your other personalized playlists like Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Daily Mixes, and others, liek Your Time Capsule or Summer Rewind, for example, as well as the more recently added trio of playlist sets, Spotify Mixes.

From now through the end of the month, Only You will be a separate hub in the Spotify app, but it will ultimately be relocated to live inside the Made for You hub.

Image Credits: Spotify

The new Only You experience, meanwhile, will help you discover new trends beyond what you might see in your personalized playlists. This includes “Your Audio Birth Chart,” where the Sun is the top artist you listened to over the last 6 months, Rising is your most recent discovery, and the Moon is an artist you listen to that shows your emotional side; “Your Dream Dinner Party,” where you pick 3 favorite artists for a custom, frequently updated Spotify Mix featuring favorite songs and fresh picks; and “Your Artist Pairs,” which features unique pairings you’ve listened to recently, like those spanning genres.

It will also contain other personalized insights like the different time periods of music you’ve enjoyed, the music or podcasts you listen to at what time of day, and your favorite music genres and podcast topics.

For example, your “Song Year” will show how you’ve traveled through different periods of time, based on the tracks you listened to throughout the year. The first year that will pop up here is the year you’ve streamed the most, while the second year that appears will represent the earlier release year that you’ve listened to. The third year is the most recent song year that’s been streamed.

To gather all this data, Only You looks at your Spotify in-app listening experience over the last 6 months (Dec. 2020 – May 2021). Users must have streamed 30 tracks across 5 different artists over the past 6 months in order to be eligible for the new experience. Spotify says the data isn’t being used for ad targeting purposes. (And despite astrology’s connection to birth months and years, the “Your Audio Birth Chart” isn’t asking for users’ birth year to create this experience.)

Image Credits: Spotify

Another key part of the Only You campaign is the launch of Blend, currently in beta.

This feature will sit on the “Made for Two” shelf within the Only You hub, allowing you to invite any other Spotify user to create a playlist with you. Using similar mixing technology that powers Spotify’s Family Mix and Duo Mix in their respective plans, Blend lets you invite any other Spotify user (free user or paid subscriber) to merge their musical tastes with yours to create a curated playlist featuring songs you both like.

This playlist is updated daily and will grow with users over time as their listening habits change, Spotify says.

Because it works with free accounts, Blend could encourage more users to try Spotify so they can create a playlist with a significant other, best friend, family member or others, even if they’re not on a shared plan.

Image Credits: Spotify

Both the Only You experience and Blend build on technology Spotify had already developed to power other features, like Wrapped and various multi-user blended mixes, rather than creating something entirely new. But the bigger message Spotify wants to convey here is that it’s far ahead of competitors when it comes to personalization features. Even if rivals are duping its playlists, it wants to be the forerunner when it comes to personalized music.

Of course, that’s not always the case. The newer Spotify Mixes, for instance, were a lot like a feature Pandora had launched years prior, which created custom playlists across a number of attributes, including genre and mood. But where Spotify succeeds is its continual release of new personalization features, as it works to make its app customized to the end user. By doing so, the switching costs increase — that is, users will find it harder to jump to rival services due to how many custom playlists they may have on hand.

Spotify will begin heavily marketing the launch of Only You with a number top artists by creating sets of stats for various fandoms, including those for Harry Styles, Selena Gomez, Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Justin Bieber, SZA and others. The campaign will run through June 30.

#apps, #artist, #media, #mobile, #mobile-apps, #music, #personalization, #playlist, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Struum launches its ‘ClassPass for streaming’ service to the public

Struum, the new streaming service from former Disney and Discovery execs, is today officially launching to the public. Unlike traditional on-demand streamers, such as Netflix, the Struum model is more akin to a “ClassPass for streaming,” as its plan is to aggregate content from smaller video services then provide access under its own subscription.

Today, the streaming landscape is dominated by larger subscription services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, and YouTube, who together have a 75% share of the market, according to Nielsen. But Struum believes there’s a potential for another service powered by the long tail of  the over 250 niche and speciality streamers.

Many of these smaller services offer their own subscriptions, but will never achieve Netflix-size scale because of their more limited catalog and scope. Struum offers them an alternative path to revenue. Each month, Struum customers will pay a $4.99 subscription fee to access the Struum app where they’re then provided with 100 “credits” they can use to sample and consume content — just as ClassPass did with gym classes.

Over time, if the customer continues to use their subscription to routinely access content from one service, they can then opt to become a subscriber to that service from within the Struum app. This part of the business isn’t all that different from Amazon Prime Video Channels or others like it. But the difference is that Struum’s sampling model is what helped the customer discover the niche streamer in the first place.

Struum, meanwhile, generates its own revenue from customers’ subscriptions, which it shares with its content partners. It won’t say what sort of cut it takes, however.

Image Credits: Struum

At launch, there are more than 25 partners available through the Struum app, including Tastemade, Tribeca, Cheddar News, Kocowa, Dekkoo, Magellan TV, History Hit, Gusto, Young Hollywood, Indieflix, Filmbox, Echoboom Sports, Social Club TV, Cinedigm, Magnolia Pictures, Little Dot Studios, Group 9, Stingray and SPI/Filmhub.

Later this summer, the lineup will grow to more than 50 partners, with additions that include BBC SELECT, REVOLT, France Channels, InsightTV, Docubay, FuelTV, The Great Courses Signature Collection, Shout Factory TV, OUTtv, SVTV, CGOOD TV and Alchimie.

In total, Struum’s partners will provide customers with access to tens of movies and TV shows across a range of categories and genres, like classic films, indies, foreign content, cult hits, lifestyle programming, reality, true crime, and more.

Image Credits: Struum

Struum’s app guides users to their interests through a simple interface where it curates content into editorial groupings organized much like the rows of recommendations you’d find in Netflix. This includes the company’s own picks (“Struum Selects”), as well as groupings by genre — like Comedy, Action Thrillers, LGBTQ + Documentaries, Class Movies, Incredible Science, and others. You can also browse by type from categories across the top, to filter by only Movies, TV shows or Shorts.

When you find something you want to watch, you can click a button to stream the content for a certain amount of credits. You can then view that content at any time for the next 30 days and even download it for offline access.

At launch, Struum’s service is available on iOS and web, and supports AirPlay and Chromecast. This summer, it will expand to more platforms, including Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Image Credits: Struum

The idea for the company comes from founders Lauren DeVillier, the former head of Product for Discovery Ventures; Eugene Liew, former vice president of Product and Technology at Disney+; Paul Pastor, former executive vice president of Strategy, Revenue and Operations at Discovery Networks; and Thomas Wadsworth, the former lead of Advanced Product Development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The team came together in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out across the U.S., which drove increased demand for streaming content. And though that demand may be here to stay, it remains to be seen whether Struum’s ClassPass-like model makes the best sense for streaming’s long tail.

Despite its unique streaming business model, the service will effectively compete with AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) players in terms of aggregating both older and niche content. AVOD services — like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, and others — also help users who can’t find anything they want to watch on their preferred paid subscription apps. And they often aid consumers who are in search of a particular movie or show but don’t want to pay for a rental. Struum believes by aggregating content it can encourage these users to pay for yet another subscription.

In other words, Struum will have to convince users to change their existing TV habits in order to find success, and that’s a risky bet.

But Struum believes the fragmentation of the streaming market may actually work in its favor. As consumers get fed up so many different services and content that jumps around as rights owners forge new licensing agreements, Struum could step in as someone’s fourth subscription.

We view ourselves as the ultimate complementary service and a perfect fit for TV and film lovers who are increasingly frustrated by the costs, complexity and effort required to discover and watch what they want,” noted Struum CEO Lauren DeViller.

Struum is backed by a multi-million-dollar investment from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner through his firm, Tornante Company. Other investors include Firstlight Media, whose technology powers the video service, and Gaingels, which focuses on backing LGBTQ+ founders and allies.

#apps, #classpass, #internet-television, #media, #mobile, #streaming, #streaming-service, #struum, #united-states, #video-on-demand, #video-services

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SiriusXM partners with TikTok on a new music channel, Pandora Playlists, and more

SiriusXM is leaning into TikTok. The satellite radio company and Pandora parent today announced a partnership with the social video platform to power several new initiatives, including a TikTok channel on SiriusXM, hosted TikTok playlists on Pandora, and re-airings of Pandora LIVE events on TikTok.

The hosted playlists on Pandora are the first of the new initiatives to launch.

Starting today, popular TikTok creators will curate, host and promote their own Pandora playlists to their fans on TikTok, starting with Bella Poarch. The TikTok influencer, who now has 69.6 million followers, is best-known for her viral lip-sync video to “M to the B,” which blew up to become the most-liked video on TikTok. She also makes videos featuring singing, dancing, and gaming content, among other things, and this month released her first single, “Build a B*tch,” which has broken into Spotify’s U.S. and Global Top 50 charts.

As of the time of writing, Poarch’s TikTok announcing her playlists, launched 4 hours ago, has 187.6K likes and 1 million views.

Image Credits: SiriusXM

Other “TikTok Tastemakers,” as SiriusXM has dubbed them, will release their own playlists in the months to come, including Christian Shelton and Nick Tangorra.

In addition, Pandora users will be able to tune into the TikTok Hits Playlist at any time, which features popular and trending songs from TikTok.

Pandora is not the first music streamer to tap into TikTok’s influence for its own ends. Today, TikTok’s trends are driving songs up the Billboard charts and delivering Spotify streams as younger users look for their favorite TikTok songs on their preferred streaming music app. Spotify is now curating TikTok hits across editorial playlists like Viral Hits, big on the internet, Teen Beats, and others. Apple Music also got in on the TikTok action when it introduced 10 new playlists last year aimed at younger, Gen Z users. This included its own Viral Hits playlist, which pulls in top tracks from TikTok and other social media channels.

Among the other SiriusXM initiatives is the soon-to-launch TikTok Radio, a full-time music channel featuring tracks trending on TikTok which will be presented by TikTok creators, influencers and D.J.s. The channel will debut later this summer, and will stream across SiriusXM, including in vehicles as well as in the SiriusXM app for desktop, mobile and connected devices.

TikTok fans will also later be able to watch selected re-airings of Pandora’s original events series, Pandora LIVE — a continuation of Pandora’s live events that went virtual during the pandemic. Pandora LIVE events feature artists from across genres, including country, rock, pop, R&B and more, and have typically been re-aired, in part, the day after on SiriusXM.

Recently, Pandora LIVE celebrated Women’s History Month with a virtual event that included performances by Gwen Stefani and Jazmine Sullivan, which was re-aired on TikTok.

More Pandora LIVE events will soon do the same. SiriusXM says it will announce which events will re-air on TikTok throughout the year.

“We are excited to collaborate with TikTok to create new content that brings the vibrancy of the leading social networking service to life on live radio and our streaming platforms,” said Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM President and Chief Content Officer, in a statement. “The effect TikTok has on music, and pop culture in general, is undeniable. Our platforms will provide a unique opportunity for TikTok creators to engage with our listeners with content experiences that have never been done before in audio,” he added.

@bellapoarch✨ Excited to help launch ##TikTokTastemakers on @pandora ✨ Listen exclusively on ##PandoraMusic

♬ Build a B*tch – Bella Poarch

SiriusXM’s move to partner more closely with TikTok could help it to attract a younger set of listeners and subscribers, who may follow their favorite fans over to Pandora to tune into their playlist content. However, it’s unable to benefit from the full impact that working with TikTok could bring as the integrations are split across its two services, instead of being focused on just one.

Plus, SiriusXM, like others, still faces the looming threat of Resso, TikTok owner ByteDance’s own music streaming app that could one day make its way to the U.S., as part of its global expansion efforts. It has the potential to more closely tie TikTok’s music discovery features with streaming, impacting demand for rival services.

For the time being, however, TikTok sees the potential in partnering with a U.S. music streamer.

“We are excited to work with SiriusXM on TikTok Radio and to bring TikTok creators to Pandora to make the trends, music, and creative influences that are playing such a defining role in modern culture even more accessible,” said TikTok’s Global Head of Music, Ole Obermann, in a statement. “We’re really excited to see this come to life and thank the SiriusXM team for being such an innovative and visionary collaborator,” he said.

#apps, #bytedance, #media, #mobile, #music, #pandora, #playlist, #playlists, #sirius-xm, #siriusxm, #streaming-music, #streaming-service, #tiktok, #united-states, #viral

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Apple launches an affiliate program for paid podcast subscriptions

Apple last month unveiled its plans for paid podcast subscriptions in a newly redesigned Apple Podcasts app. Now, it’s introducing a new program that will help podcast creators grow their subscriber base: affiliate marketing. The company’s “Apple Services Performance Partner Program,” which already exists to help market other Apple services like Apple TV, Apple News, and Apple Books, is today expanding to include paid podcasts.

The new program — “Apple Services Performance Partner Program for Apple Podcasts” (whew!) — will be open to anyone, though the company believes it will make the most sense for publishers and creators who already have an audience and a number of marketing channels where they can share these new affiliate links. When users convert by clicking through one of the links and subscribe to a premium podcast, the partner will receive a one-time commission at 50% of the podcast subscription price, after the subscriber accumulates their first month of paid service.

So, for example, if a paid podcast was charging subscribers $5 per month, the commission would be $2.50. This commission would apply for every new subscriber that signed up through the affiliate channel, and there’s no cap.

Podcast creators can also use the affiliate links to promote their own paid programs, which would allow them to generate incremental revenue.

While anyone can apply to join the affiliate program, there is an approval process involved. This is mainly about keeping spammers out of the program, and ensuring that those signing up do have at least some marketing channels where they can distribute the links. The sign-up form asks for specific criteria — like how many channels are available and how the partner intends to use them to promote the affiliate links, among other things.

The program will be made available to anyone in the 170 countries and regions where paid podcasts subscriptions are being made available.

Once approved and signed in, affiliate partners will gain access to an online dashboard where they can create links (i.e. shortened URLs) much like any other affiliate program. They can also create multiple URLs for an individual podcast to make it easier to track how well different channels are performing. The URLs can be posted on their own, tied to a “Listen on Apple Podcasts” badge, or can be made available as a QR code. The latter may make more sense when live events return, as it could be printed on signage or in flyers that were distributed during a live taping, for example. It could also be used in other sorts of advertising, including both print and digital.

Though premium podcasts already existed, until more recently that often involved paying a podcaster directly to access a private RSS feed. Smaller services like Stitcher also used subscriptions to provide paying customers with a series of perks, like ad-free listening and exclusive content. The new efforts by both Apple and Spotify are focused on wooing creators to their platforms, where they’ll take a cut of the subscription revenues. Spotify is waiving its 5% fee for the first two years, while Apple is employing its usual model of 30% in year 1 that drops to 15% in year two.

While people can begin to enroll in the new affiliate program starting today, paid podcasts aren’t actually launching until later this month, per Apple. When they do, those enrolled in the affilate program will be able to create links and begin earning commissions on subscriptions.

 

#affiliate, #affiliate-marketing, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #creators, #marketing, #media, #mobile, #podcast, #podcasters, #podcasts, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Spotify expands into the audiobooks market by partnering with Storytel

Spotify is further expanding into audiobooks — but not in the way you may think. The company today announced a new partnership with audiobooks platform, Storytel, which will allow existing Storytel subscribers to connect their account through Spotify to access their audiobooks within Spotify’s app. The partnership is the first example of what’s possible with Spotify’s recently introduced Open Access Platform, which aims to give creators and publishers a way to extend their reach.

The company briefly spoke about its plans for Open Access Platform during its press event, Stream On, earlier this year where it also detailed plans for paid podcast subscriptions, Spotify HiFi,  and other new features. The Open Access Platform gives a publisher or creator a new way to deliver their content to their existing subscriber base, by allowing their customers to stream the content through Spotify.

The technology supports using the creator or publisher’s existing login system and allows them to maintain direct control over their relationship with listeners. For example, a paid podcast could use the system to stream to existing subscribers. In Storytel’s case, however, the company offers audiobook content, not podcasts.

“We want everyone to have access to great stories, and today Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks on a global basis across 25 markets,” said Jonas Tellander, Storytel founder and CEO, in the company’s announcement. “Partnering with Spotify make amazing audiobook experiences and exciting authorships easier than ever to access for our customers, while we will also be tapping into the opportunity of reaching new audiences who are on Spotify today, but have not yet experienced the magic of audiobooks,” he added.

A competitor to Audible, Storytel offers audiobooks in a variety of languages, including some in English, for a fixed monthly price. Its unlimited library access may make it a better deal for people who listen to more than one than one audiobook per month. Typically, Storytel customers would stream via the mobile app for iOS or Android.

The company has 1.6 million subscribers, per a Reuters report. Spotify, meanwhile, has 356 million users, including 158 million subscribers across 178 markets.

The integration itself will go live later in 2021, allowing Storytel customers to sign into their accounts then stream through Spotify by linking their accounts.

Spotify had dabbled in audiobooks before Storytel. In January this year, for example, it began testing the format with a handful of classics, like “Frankenstein,” “Jane Eyre,” “Persuasion,” and others, narrated by celebs. It had also previously offered the first “Harry Potter” book with chapters narrated by stars like Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham, and Dakota Fanning.

More partners for the Open Access Platform will be introduced this summer, Spotify says.

#apps, #audiobook, #creators, #media, #publishers, #spotify, #storytel, #streaming, #streaming-service, #subscription-services

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Amazon makes its its lossless music streaming service a free upgrade

On the heels of this morning’s announcement of Apple’s next-generation music service featuring lossless audio and spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos, Amazon is making a move likely aimed at retaining its own streaming music subscribers. The company says that going forward, its high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, will be made available to all eligible Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers at no extra cost.

Amazon first announced Amazon Music HD in fall 2019 with access to over 50 million songs that would stream in what Amazon is calling HD, with a bit depth of 16 bits, and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (around CD-quality). It also promised “millions” more songs that would stream in Ultra HD, or 24-bit, with a sample rate of up to 192kHz (or better than CD quality).

Today, Amazon Music’s HD catalog has grown to over 70 million songs and there are over 7 million Ultra HD tracks available. Amazon Music HD customers can also access a growing catalog of songs remixed in 3D Audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360RA, which can be played back on Amazon’s own high-fidelity speaker, the Echo Studio.

Music in 360RA can also be streamed via Amazon Music HD on Sony’s RA5000 and RA3000 speakers by using Alexa Cast, the company notes.

The launch of HD streaming was seen as a way to counteract the threat from the music streaming service Tidal, which had been catering to audiophiles with higher quality streams, as well as a way to differentiate its service from larger streaming rivals, like Apple and Spotify — the latter which recently announced a high-end subscription of its own, Spotify HiFi, whose pricing and launch date is yet unknown.

Before today, Amazon Music HD was priced at $12.99 per month for Amazon Prime subscribers and $14.99 per month for anyone else. Now, Amazon says that new and existing subscribers to the Amazon Music Unlimited Individual Plan ($7.99/month for Prime members and $9.99/month otherwise) or the Family Plan ($14.99/month) can upgrade to Amazon Music HD at no additional cost — essentially a $5 per month savings.

The changes will kick in at the next billing cycle, and are supported in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, France, Italy, and Spain.

“When we first launched Amazon Music HD, our goal was to lead the industry by enabling music fans around the world to stream the best quality recording, the way artists intended their music to be heard,” said Steve Boom, VP of Amazon Music, in a statement about today’s news. “We’re thrilled now to make Amazon Music HD available to everyone at no extra cost. All music fans should have access to this quality of music, and now they do,” he added.

The move by Amazon to make its HD catalog a free upgrade follows this morning’s announcement from Apple that it will add lossless audio to Apple Music at no additional cost, starting next month. The upgrade will also bring spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Given the shift in the market, the pressure is on Spotify to make its HiFi music service competitively priced, as well.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-music, #amazon-music-unlimited, #amazon-prime, #echo-studio, #media, #music, #music-streaming, #prime, #streaming-service, #surround-sound

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Roku will launch original programming fueled by Quibi’s content on May 20

Roku today announced the launch of its own original programming, which will initially become available to viewers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada through the media platform’s free streaming hub, The Roku Channel, starting on May 20th. The debut lineup will include 30 titles, including both the scripted and reality programming Roku had acquired from the short-form streaming service Quibi earlier this year, following its shutdown.

Quibi, of course, had launched at an inopportune time for a service that was designed for on-the-go viewing, when it arrived in the middle of a pandemic. But some have argued that much of Quibi’s content wasn’t compelling enough to pull in the number of subscribers to make the service a success. It will be interesting to see how well that same content now fares on Roku where it will no longer be “mobile-first,” but will more likely be streamed on a big-screen TV.

Among the better-known Quibi shows that will now be joining Roku are Chrissy Teigen’s “Chrissy’s Court,” Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!,” Kevin Hart’s “Die Hart” action series, Emmy-winning “FreeRayshawn,” documentaries “Blackballed” and “Big Rad Wolf,” and reality show reboot “Punk’d.”

These and others will become Roku’s first original programs, joining the over 40,000 other free movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. This free streaming hub has been growing rapidly, in part due to the pandemic which forced people to stay at home, but also because of broader demand for free streaming content.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, The Roku Channel reached 63 million people in U.S. households, up more than 100% year-over-year. Streaming hours also doubled year-over-year — growth that’s twice as fast as the overall Roku platform itself, the company notes. In the first quarter of 2021, The Roku Channel grew to reach an estimated 70 million people.

The full list of Roku Originals includes available for the May 20th launch include: #FreeRayshawn,” “About Face,” “Bad Ideas with Adam Devine,” “Barkitechture,” “Big Rad Wolf,” “Blackballed,” “Centerpiece,” “Chrissy’s Court,” “Cup of Joe,” “Die Hart,” “Dishmantled,”Dummy,” “Fight Like a Girl,” “Flipped, “The Fugitive,” “Gayme Show, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” “Last Looks, “Let’s Roll with Tony Greenhand,” “Most Dangerous Game,” Murder House Flip,” “Murder Unboxed,” “Nightgowns,” “Prodigy,” “Punk’d,” “Reno 911!,” “Royalties,” “Shape of Pasta,” “Thanks a Million,” and “You Ain’t Got These.”

Roku will market the shows to viewers inside The Roku Channel, through an ad unit below the left-side navigation on the Roku home screen, and even through a coveted slot in the navigation menu itself.

In addition to the 30 new programs launching in May, more Roku Originals will roll out over the course of 2021. In total, Roku acquired more than 75 titles from Quibi, in a deal that reportedly valued the content at “significantly less” than $100 million. That means Roku users will eventually gain access to the Quibi shows that had been in the pipeline, but never got a chance to debut.

Quibi’s content made sense for Roku because it was designed for ad-supported viewing and not because of Quibi’s mobile gimmicks — like “turnstyle” which made both portrait and landscape orientations look great, or horror shows that only stream after dark, for instance.

“There’s always unique ‘stunt-y’ ways to bring shows to life, and we will explore those for shows that make sense,” noted Roku VP Sweta Patel, who leads the company’s Engagement and Growth Marketing. “But it’s going to have to make sense for how our viewers view — which is primarily on a [Roku] device,” she says.

In other words, Roku viewers won’t care about all the Quibi tricks, just the content itself. However, the shows will stream through The Roku Channel mobile app, for the subset of viewers who do watch on the go.

Roku will also leverage the existing ad breaks Quibi had built into its content, it says. That means after every 8 to 10-minute long “episode,” a one-minute ad will play. That’s still a lighter ad load than traditional TV, Patel notes. The same ad-selling structure that The Roku Channel uses today will also apply to Originals, including the potential for brand sponsorships.

While Roku believes the Originals can help to bring in a younger, 18-34 year-old demographic, it’s not necessarily signaling a plan to increase investments in exclusive, original programming like this. Instead, Roku will watch to see how the new content performs and then use those insights to add more content to The Roku Channel’s library over time.

“This really It was a unique opportunity for us to get some incredible content for our growing base. We are always sourcing content and — whether that’s producing it or acquiring it — it has to make sense for our AVOD business model,” says Patel. However, now that Roku has its own programming to offer, it will make sense for the company to roll out The Roku Channel to its global markets outside the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

The company wouldn’t comment on those plans.

Alongside the launch of Roku Originals, Roku also announced a partnership with Laugh Out Loud, the comedy brand founded by Kevin Hart. It will now bring the linear channel LOL! Network to The Roku Channel, joining the now over 190 live, linear channels featured on the service.

#ad-supported-streaming, #avod, #chrissy-teigen, #media, #original-programming, #originals, #quibi, #roku, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #tc, #television, #tv

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Amazon’s over-the-top business, including IMDb TV and Twitch, tops 120M monthly viewers

Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV is getting its own mobile app. The company announced the news today at its first-ever Newfront’s presentation to advertisers, where it also shared that its over-the-top streaming businesses combined — meaning, IMDb TV, Twitch, live sports like Thursday Night Football, Amazon’s News app, and others — have now grown to over 120 million monthly viewers.

IMDb TV viewership, in particular, jumped 138% year-over-year, Amazon noted.

The ad-supported service, which likely benefited from the same pandemic bump that drove streaming service viewership higher across the board last year, is something of a rival to other free, ad-supported streamers, like Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, or Roku’s The Roku Channel. However, more like Roku’s hub, Amazon leverages IMDb TV to help it sell its own media devices by promising users easy access to free, streaming content.

Today, that’s resulted in the IMDb TV app seeing the majority of its usage on Fire TV. But over the past several months, the app has become more broadly available, with launches on Roku, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation 4 consoles, Xbox One and Series X devices, LG Smart TVs, Nvidia, Sony Android TV, and TiVo Android TV devices, Amazon says.

Now it will get its own dedicated mobile app, as well, instead of only a small section inside the IMDb app where the service’s content can be found today on smartphones. The new standalone app will arrive this summer on both iOS and Android, says Amazon.

Amazon also told advertisers about IMDb TV’s current user base, noting that 62% were in between ages 18 and 49. And they spend 5.5 hours per week on the app, on average.

The forthcoming mobile launch was one of several announcements Amazon made today at its Newfronts presentation today.

The company also detailed its upcoming IMDb TV slate, including unscripted series Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road DiaryBug Out and Untitled Jeff Lewis Project as well as scripted releases Blessed and Highly Favored, Greek Candy, Primo, The Fed, and The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, PA. Music duo Tegan and Sara’s memoir High School will be adapted as an original series for IMDb TV. IMDb TV also announced a new crime drama Leverage: Redemption and police drama On Call. 

IMDb TV parent company, Amazon, meanwhile, expanded its deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which now run 11 seasons, starting with the 2022 season instead of the following year.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #digital-media-players, #imdb, #media, #mobile, #mobile-app, #streaming, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv

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Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide

Netflix today is officially launching a feature that will make it easier to find something to watch when you’re stuck browsing and unable to make a decision. The service is introducing a tool called “Play Something” to users worldwide — the final iteration that “shuffle” feature you may have already seen during Netflix’s tests over the past year. When selected, Netflix will play another show or movie it thinks you’ll like, based on your interests and prior viewing behavior.

In other words, it won’t play random content, but will instead bring up either a movie or show you’re already watching, a series or movie on your list, an unfinished series or movie you may want to revisit, or a brand new series or film that Netflix’s personalization algorithms suggest.

The feature has been in testing under various names and styles for some time. A year ago, the feature was called Shuffle Play, for example. During its Q4 earnings, Netflix said the shuffle feature would roll out to its worldwide users sometime in the first half of 2021, describing it as a way for users to “instantly watch a title chosen just for them.”

For today’s launch, not much has changed beyond the feature’s name and style.

Image Credits: Netflix

The new option can be found on Netflix’s TV app underneath your profile name, on the navigation menu to the left of your screen and on the tenth row on your Netflix homepage — a location that hopes to find users after they’ve been scrolling for some time without landing on anything they want to watch.

Netflix users with screen-readers can use Text-to-Speech (TTS) to use Play Something, the company notes.

While Netflix is always testing features that make it easier for users to jump from browsing to watching, this feature in particular comes at a time when Netflix is seeing slower subscriber growth — something it’s blaming on the lighter content slate due to COVID. But the reality is that Netflix is no longer the only streamer in town. And some of the content it has shipped has been weak, as evident in the growing list of cancellations. It has also lost top titles like “The Office” to rivals as rights’ holders have pulled their content back to their own new services.

Image Credits: Netflix

For those reasons, too, Netflix needs a way to addict its current user base to what’s available in its existing catalog before they churn out.

The new Play Something feature is available today on Netflix on TVs, and will soon begin testing on mobile devices, starting with Android.

#media, #netflix, #streaming, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #television, #tv

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Netflix gives its Kids’ profiles a visual upgrade

Netflix is giving its Kids’ profiles a revamp, the company announced today. While adults’ profiles are personalized with horizontal rows of recommendations that appear as they scroll down, the Kids profiles’ redesign is more visual in nature. When kids now log in to their account on a TV, they’ll be greeted with their favorite titles and characters right at the top of the screen, Netflix says.

Previously, the layout for the Kids profile was similar to an adult’s, with rows that showed Trending shows and other suggestions from Netflix’s library (See below). Now, the top row will feature the kid’s most-watched content — and for early readers, the characters will help direct kids to the show they want to watch.

Image Credits: Netflix old Kids profile

Image Credits: Netflix new Kids profile

To customize this row for each user, Netflix uses information about what was watched to improve its recommendations. It notes that the favorite shows featured at the top of the screen will come from the full Netflix catalog, not just its original programming. For the title to appear in their row, a child must watch a show at least once, Netflix says. When selected, the background updates to reflect the chosen show, as well.

Younger kids often navigate Netflix visually. Even toddlers can be found using iPads or TV remotes, moving through Netflix like a pro, at times. And during the COVID era where parents were stuck at home trying to both entertain their little kids while homeschooling older ones and somehow also finding time to work, it makes sense to update one of the most popular “TV babysitter” apps to make it something that younger children could use on their own without parental assistance. The need to serve the overwhelmed parent was part of the thinking behind the upgrade, pitching how the update would give parents who “need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to knock out some work” time to do so. (Uninterrupted time during the pandemic? What’s that?)

Netflix says the new profiles are rolling out now to TV devices globally, but will be tested on tablets and mobile devices in the coming months.

#family, #kids, #media, #netflix, #parents, #streaming-service, #tv

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Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads

ViacomCBS executives held a virtual investor event today where they outlined the strategy for Paramount+, the streaming service set to launch on March 4 that’s basically a rebranded, expanded version of CBS All Access.

In addition to launching in the United States, executives said the service will be available across Latin America and Canada on March 4, with a Nordic launch a few weeks later and an Australian launch also planned for this year.

And they said that Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads in the U.S. (less than the $5.99 charged for CBS All Access), or $9.99 without ads and with additional sports, news and live TV content. There are also plans to bundle this with the company’s premium subscriptions, such as Showtime.

Yes, it’s yet another streaming service with a plus in its name. But the company’s streaming president and CEO Tom Ryan said research has shown that ViacomCBS brands — not just Paramount and CBS, but Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and more — are well-known to viewers, and they’ll all be front-and-center in the new service. Plus, it’s worth noting that ViacomCBS already produces a number of hit streaming shows on other services, such as “13 Reasons Why,” “Emily in Paris” and “Jack Ryan.”

ViacomCBS executives also argued that Paramount+ will have a unique combination of live news, live sports and (to use a phrase repeated throughout the event) “a mountain of entertainment.” And from a product perspective, the service will offer originals in 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision, with easy downloads.

On the entertainment side, the service is supposed to have more than 30,000 TV show episodes and 2,500 movies. And the library will expand with new shows like a new version of “Frasier” with Kelsey Grammer returning to the role, as well as a “Halo” TV show that will now debut on Paramount+ instead of Showtime in early 2022. The service is also rebooting a variety of Paramount properties like “Love Story,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Flashdance.”

And like CBS All Access before it, Paramount+ will be home to new Star Trek shows — not just the already launched “Discovery,” “Picard” and “Lower Decks,” but also the upcoming “Strange New Worlds” and the kids animated series “Prodigy.”

On the movie side, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos said the company is still a big believer in the theatrical model, but it will be bringing some 2021 releases — including “A Quiet Place Part 2,” the first “Paw Patrol” movie and “Mission Impossible 7” — to Paramount+ in an accelerated fashion, 30 to 45 days after they come to theaters (a much less aggressive strategy than HBO Max, which will stream all Warner Bros. movies this year simultaneously with their theatrical release). And there will be new straight-to-streaming movies as well, starting with reboots of “Paranormal Activity” and “Pet Sematary.”

#media, #paramount-plus, #streaming-service, #tc, #viacomcbs

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Spotify to launch Spotify Audience Network, an audio ad marketplace

Spotify provided more details today about how it plans to monetize its investments in podcasts. The company said it’s launching a new audio advertising marketplace, the Spotify Audience Network, which will allow advertisers to reach listeners across Spotify’s own Originals and Exclusives, as well as podcasts via Megaphone and creation tool Anchor, and its ad-supported music, all in one place. The company also said it plans to offer podcasts on its self-serve ad platform, Spotify Ad Studio, starting with Spotify Originals and Exclusives in the U.S., in a beta test phase.

This will expand to include third-party podcasts in the future, the company noted today during its live online event, “Stream On.”

Currently, Spotify Ad Studio is being used by advertisers across 22 markets following its 2017 launch, to reach Spotify music listeners with both audio and video advertisements. Spotify said the service is its fastest-growing buying channel, but didn’t provide specific figures to detail that growth.

Image Credits: Spotify

However, the larger news on the advertising side was the launch of the new audio ad marketplace, Spotify Audience Network. Similar to some of its other forward-looking announcements today, Spotify was light on details about how exactly Spotify Audience Network would work — saying only that it’s in the “early stages of developing the offering,” and it expects to be able to share more at a later date.

However, the company positioned the marketplace as a “game changer,” particularly for podcasters looking to make money from ads, as well as for advertisers who want to reach Spotify’s audience of hundreds and millions, both on and off Spotify.

This news follows an investigative report by The Verge earlier this year which found Spotify was the main sponsor for Anchor advertising to date — despite its promises to find sponsors for smaller podcasters. It now appears Spotify has been in the process of building out its ad marketplace and tooling to make good on those promises, and may not have prioritized advertiser outreach in the meantime.

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify today also spoke about how its recent acquisition of Megaphone would allow it to scale its Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology, launched in early 2020, to publishers beyond its own Originals and Exclusives audio programs. Today, SAI is available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the U.K., and will expand to other new markets in 2021.

Since its debut, SAI has been rolling out new features like audience-based buying, native ad placements, and reporting on creative performance. Later this year, Spotify says it will make SAI available to Megaphone podcast publishers and “leading” Anchor creators.

But Anchor creators won’t be limited to advertising to grow revenues.

Spotify also briefly noted it will, in a few months, begin beta testing a new feature that will allow Anchor creators to publish paid podcast content to Spotify aimed at their most dedicated fans, as TechCrunch previously reported.

 

#ad-tech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #anchor, #media, #megaphone, #music, #podcast, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Spotify hints toward plans for podcast subscriptions, à la carte payments

Spotify again signaled its interest in developing new ways to monetize its investments in podcasts. In the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, chief executive Daniel Ek suggested the streaming media company foresees a future where there will be multiple business models for podcasts, including, potentially, both ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte options.

The company, which also revealed its podcast catalog has grown to now 2.2 million programs, said it’s seen increasing demand for the audio format in recent months.

For example, 25% of Spotify’s monthly active users now engage with podcasts, up from 22% just last quarter. Podcast consumption is also increasing, with listening hours having nearly doubled year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Today, podcasts on Spotify’s platform are available to both free and paid users and are monetized with ads. This is still a key focus for the company — Spotify even recently acquired a podcast hosting and monetization platform, Megaphone, to help make streaming ad insertion technology available to its third-party publishers while also growing its targetable podcast inventory.

But Spotify recently put its feelers out about different means of monetizing podcasts, too.

Late last year, for instance, the company was spotted running a survey that asked its customers if they would be willing to pay for a standalone podcast subscription, and if so what would it look like and how much would it cost?

At the time, the survey offered a few different concepts.

At the low end, a subscription could offer ad-supported exclusive episodes and bonus content for $3 per month. This would be similar to Stitcher Premium, which today provides exclusives from top shows and other bonus episodes. But Spotify’s suggested version included ads, while Stitcher Premium is ad-free.

A middle option suggested a plan that would be even closer to Stitcher Premium, with exclusive shows and bonus material but no ads. This even matched Stitcher Premium’s price of $5 per month. And at the high-end, subscribers could get early access to ad-free interviews and episodes for $8 per month.

A survey, of course, is only meant to gauge consumer demand for such a subscription, and doesn’t indicate that Spotify has a new product in the works. (Spotify said the same when asked to comment on the news at the time.)

However, it’s clear that investors also want to know what Spotify is thinking when it comes to recouping its sizable investments in podcasts.

Asked if Spotify thought customers would be willing to pay for podcasts, Ek on the earnings call responded that he believed there were several new models that could be explored.

“I think we’re in the early days of seeing the long-term evolvement of how we can monetize audio on the internet. I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe that it’s a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “I believe, in fact, that we will have all business models, and that’s the future for all media companies — that you will have ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte sort of in the same space, of all media companies in the future.”

“And you should definitely expect Spotify to follow that strategy and that pattern,” Ek added, more definitively.

The answer seemed to indicate that Spotify is considering some of the ideas in that recent survey — of getting consumers to pay for some podcasts, instead of accessing them all for free or having them bundled into their music subscription.

Of course, that would change the meaning of the word “podcasts,” which today refers to freely distributed, serialized audio programs that get distributed via RSS feeds.

If Spotify chooses to paywall podcasts behind subscriptions or à la carte payments, then they’re no longer really podcasts — they’re a new sort of premium audio program.

This is an area where Spotify has plenty of room to grow, considering the significant investment it has made in podcasts over the years. To date, that’s included buying up content producers like Gimlet Media, The Ringer and Parcast, as well as signing top creators like Joe Rogan, Addison Rae, Kim Kardashian West, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. Spotify also bought podcast tools like Anchor and other ad technology and hosting services.

The advantage with podcasts is that Spotify has the ability to monetize them in multiple ways at once — with ads and subscriptions or direct payments, if it chose. And, of course, there are no licensing fees or royalties to contend with, as with streaming music.

Spotify could also adjust the podcast payments model as needed to fit its different geographies and the way customers around the world prefer to consume and pay for podcast content.

None of this thinking was about near-term launches, Ek also clarified.

“I think it’s early days, though, to specifically kind of look at how that could play out,” he said, talking about how the different models could take shape. “But, obviously, if that were to be the case, that revenue profile would be different than how we do music.”

#audio, #media, #music, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Plex launches a subscription-based retro game streaming service, ‘Plex Arcade’

Plex, the media software maker that’s expanded into streaming in recent years, is adding to its service once again with today’s launch of game streaming. Unlike other game streaming efforts from companies like Microsoft or Google, the new “Plex Arcade” isn’t focused on top gaming titles and new releases, but rather on retro games. At launch, the service is offering around 30 games, including titles like Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Adventure, and Ninja Golf.

The game streaming service was spun out of Plex’s in-house incubator, Plex Labs, and represents more of a passion project for the company, rather than some larger shift in direction, we’re told. The technology to make it available was already 95% built, so the team decided to put together the game streaming service as a surprise for users, as well as a way to expand Plex’s core mission of becoming a broader entertainment platform.

The company says it actually kicked around the idea of adding games to Plex for years, but over the course of 2020 in particular, the team was drawn to the idea even more out of personal interest and a need for a distraction.

Image Credits: Plex

The game service was built the help of new partner Parsec and its underlying, low-latency streaming technology, Plex says. This made it possible to bring fully playable game libraries to Plex.

To build the game library, Plex partnered with Atari to license a catalog of classic titles.

At launch, the full list of games include: 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Adventure, Alien Brigade, Aquaventure, Asteroids, Avalanche, Basketbrawl, Centipede, Combat, Dark Chambers, Desert Falcon, Fatal Run, Food Fight (Charley Chuck’s), Gravitar, Haunted House, Human Cannonball, Lunar Battle, Lunar Lander, Major Havoc, Millipede, Missile Command, Motor Psycho, Ninja Golf, Outlaw, Planet Smashers, Radar Lock, Sky Diver, Sky Raider, Solaris, and Super Breakout.

Due to the partnership and licensing fees involved with the project, Plex Arcade will not be a free addition.

Instead, it will be offered as a separate subscription for $2.99 per month for existing Plex Pass subscribers (Plex’s existing $4.99/mo plan). For non-subscribers, Plex Arcade is $4.99 per month. A free, 7-day trial is also available.

Plex Arcade’s server will require either a Windows or Mac to run (due to Parsec’s limitations), which means it won’t work on Linux, NAS devices, or NVIDIA Shield. Gameplay, meanwhile, is restricted to iOS, Android (mobile or TV), tvOS, and the Chrome web browser.

It will also support Bluetooth and USB game controllers that are compatible with your device, or you can use a keyboard for Chrome-based gaming. Plex recommends the Sony DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller for the best results.

Image Credits: Plex

The company is taking a wait-and-see approach to expanding the service over time. If it demonstrates interest and traction in the form of subscriptions, Plex may consider growing it further.

Plex Arcade is the latest addition to what’s now a growing lineup of entertainment options for Plex users.

Over the past several years, the media software company has moved beyond being a tool to organize home media collections to also allow users to do things like stream live TV from an antenna or via the web, listen to music and podcasts, watch ad-supported movies and TV, watch the news, and more.

These efforts are slowly paying off in terms of user growth. In 2017, Plex had 10 million registered users. A couple of years later, it had 15 million. Today, Plex says it has 25 million users.

Plex Arcade is available as of today.

#game-streaming, #games, #gaming, #media, #plex, #streaming-service

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Netflix’s ‘Shuffle Play’ feature will roll out to all users worldwide this year

Netflix is always in search of a better way to instantly connect users to something to watch, instead of having them waste time unsuccessfully scrolling through all the available programming options. Now, the company says a recent test focused on solving this problem, Shuffle Play, has proven popular enough to roll out to all users worldwide.

In the streamer’s Q4 2020 earnings, announced today, Netflix noted the product development only briefly. It referred broadly to a test of a new feature that “gives members the ability to choose to instantly watch a title chosen just for them versus browse.” It also noted the feature would reach all users worldwide sometime in the first half of 2021.

Netflix confirmed to TechCrunch the test in question is Shuffle Play, which we first covered back in August 2020. However, the company tells us the actual name of the feature is something that’s still being tested.

Shuffle Play puts a big button right on the Netflix home screen, beneath your profile icon. When clicked, Netflix randomly plays content its personalization algorithms think you’ll like. This could include a movie you’re currently watching, something you’ve saved to your watch list, or a title that’s similar to something you’ve already watched, for example.

A variation has also been spotted in the TV app’s sidebar navigation. More recently, we’ve found this sidebar option relabeled as “Shuffle Play,” instead of “Play Something” as before.

In addition, as you start scrolling down through the Netflix home screen on the TV, you’ll eventually come across a screen that explains what the option is for and points to the new button with a red arrow.

“Not sure what to watch?,” this page asks, before explaining how Shuffle Play works.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The button has already appeared on some users’ Netflix app for TV devices, due to the ongoing tests.

In its letter to shareholders, Netflix said the user response to Shuffle Play has been positive — which is funny because the original responses to the feature on social media were decidedly mixed. However, the company doesn’t make its decisions based on what a handful of tweets once said, but rather in how Netflix members actually used the product, of course.

Netflix also tells us the feature is still being tested only on TV devices, not other platforms like web or mobile. It declined to say how many users or what percentage had been opted into the test to date.

Shuffle Play is the latest in a long series of tests where Netflix has tried to make it easier to find something to watch right away.

In 2019, for example, Netflix tried out a shuffle mode that let you click on a popular show to start playing a random episode. This may have worked well when users wanted to play a random episode of their default pick, like the “The Office” or “Friends,” but Netflix has lost both.

It has also promoted its shows on the login screen and as screensavers, and notoriously autoplayed previews until last year, when it finally caved in to user demand for a way to turn this off.

Overall, the goal is to make the Netflix experience closer to that of traditional TV, where you could switch the set on and content just started playing.

Netflix says Shuffle Play will roll out globally in the first half of 2021, but didn’t share more specifics.

#media, #netflix, #streaming, #streaming-service, #television, #tv

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Paramount+, the successor to CBS All Access, launches March 4 in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America

Last year, ViacomCBS announced its CBS All Access streaming service would soon rebrand as Paramount+, to better reflect the expanded content lineup following the Viacom-CBS merger in 2019. Today, the company says it has set a launch date for Paramount+ in the U.S.: March 4, 2021. It’s also sharing the launch dates for other international markets, including Latin America, Canada and the Nordics.

The service will debut on March 4 in Latin American markets, and will rebrand from CBS All Access to Paramount+ in Canada at the same time. However, Canada won’t receive the expanded lineup until later in 2021. The Nordics region will see the service arrive on March 25, 2021, which is followed by a launch in Australia in “mid-2021.”

The company had been touting its plans for the rebranded service since earlier last year, explaining how the new streaming offering, an expansion of CBS All Access,  would allow it to showcase the company’s biggest franchises and its deep library, while also offering a home to its growing collection of original content, like the multiple “Star Trek” series now streaming on CBS All Access and “The Good Wife” spin-off, “The Good Fight,” among others.

The service will also continue to stream sports, like NFL games and those from other leagues, like the NCAA and PGA, and live stream news from CBSN and local stations.

Last year, ViacomCBS additionally announced other originals it had planned for the new service, including “The Offer,” a scripted limited series about the making of “The Godfather;” CIA spy drama “Lioness,” created by Taylor Sheridan; a reimagined version of MTV’s “Behind the Music,” which will focus on the past 40 years; a true crime docu-series, “The Real Criminal Minds,” based on the fictional TV hit; and a revival of BET’s “The Game.”

There will be expanded children’s programming, too, including a new kids original series “Kamp Koral,” from Nickelodeon’s “Spongebob Squarepants.” And it it will be the subscription video on demand home for the “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”

CBS All Access had already been expanding its lineup ahead of the full rebrand, with the goal of reaching more than 30,000 episodes and movies, by incorporating content from ViacomCBS-owned brands like BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Pictures.

Despite its plans to make Paramount+ a standalone destination, ViacomCBS has been licensing its content to other streamers, as well. During its first full year as a newly combined company in 2020, ViacomCBS made carriage deals with Comcast, Dish, Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent), Nextstar, Meredith, Cox and Sinclair, and hashed out agreements with YouTube TV and Hulu for incremental revenues. Both YouTube TV and Hulu added over a half dozen ViacomCBS-owned channels to their respective lineups and hiked prices, as a result.

Because Paramount+ is built on CBS All Access’ existing tech platform, it will have the same distribution across platforms (TV, web, and mobile) as its predecessor from day one.

Today, CBS All Access is estimated to have around 8 million subscribers, which makes it far smaller than other newer rivals like Disney+ (73M+) and HBO Max (12.6M “activated users”).

#cbs, #cbs-all-access, #media, #streaming-service, #television, #viacom, #viacomcbs

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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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Streamers, including Netflix and CBS All Access, roll out new family-friendly features

As competition in the streaming service market heats up, services are looking for ways to differentiate their offerings. One area of increased interest — especially in light of fierce competition from newcomer Disney+ — is how to make their services more family-friendly. On this front, Netflix today announced the rollout of new features for families, the Kids Activity Report and Family Profiles, while CBS All Access added a Kids Mode and other updates aimed at families.

Streamers for years have marketed their services towards families with children, not only because these customers will often pay for higher-priced tiers offering more simultaneous logins, but also because strong kids’ entertainment offerings helps to keep subscribers loyal.

Netflix has led on this front with investments in children’s programming and long time support for parental controls, a “Kids” profile, and more.

Today, the company says it’s testing new features to better improve the Netflix experience.

One is a new Kids Activity Report that provides parents with information about what their kids are streaming on Netflix.

Image Credits: Netflix

This includes information about the child’s recently watched shows and interests, as well as suggested conversation topics and activities — like coloring pages or jokes —  that parents can use to engage kids further. This could help those families where parents may not be clued in as to how kids’ are spending their time on Netflix — like those where the kids often watch independently or on their own device, for example.

It also arrives at a time when families are stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited the options for kids’ entertainment, leading to increased screen time. A feature that turns something parents worry about — too much screen time — into offline activities for family engagement could help this increased Netflix usage been seen in a more positive light.

Netflix says the report, which is sent via email, is being tested globally in select markets.

Another test involves a Family Profile, that focuses on helping family members find programming they can all watch together. Like other profiles, the Family Profile would be accessed from the main screen with its own icon and maintain its own recommendations and watch lists, separate from an individual’s own profile.

Unlike a kids’ user profile, which has a specific age range depending on the settings, the Family Profile would feature a selection of titles that extend up to PG-13 for movies TV-14 for shows.

This content can still be surprisingly hard to find these days, as much of what some streamers consider “family” viewing are titles that are actually aimed at little kids –titles that are often painful for full-grown adults to sit through, that is. Family-friendly profiles could instead include less of this preschool fare, perhaps, and more of popular family titles like the recent hit, “Enola Holmes.”

Netflix suggested you also might find titles like the upcoming animated short “Canvas,” animated special “A Trash Truck Christmas,” or live action family movie “We Can Be Heroes,” on a Family profile.

Image Credits: Netflix

This test is also running globally, but only on the TV, Netflix says.

The Verge first reported on the tests.

“We’re always looking for new ways to improve the Netflix experience for members of all ages,” a Netflix spokesperson told TechCrunch about its new features. “We run these tests in different countries and for different periods of time – and only make them broadly available if people find them useful,” they said.

Of course, new family features could also help Netflix overcome some of the customer backlash against its service following the “Cuties” scandal earlier this year.

The French film and award winner, was meant to be social commentary on the hypersexualization of children, but was condemned for exploiting children instead, possibly even denting Netflix subscriber growth. (The controversy was heavily tied to the QAnon #SavetheChildren conspiracy, too, though not all customers objecting to the film knew they were participating in the broader movement driven by QAnon.)

Netflix was not the only streamer to launch family-friendly features today.

In addition, CBS All Access today announced the roll out of new family-friendly features of its own. However, it’s playing catch-up with other streamers with its launches.

Image Credits: CBS All Access

The company says it will add a new feature that allows families to create up to 6 profiles per account and manage those using a “Kids Mode” option. This allows parents to create profiles that limit content to younger and older children based on content ratings. In addition, the service’s existing parental controls (the PIN-based controls) will also be available across these new profiles.

The features arrived alongside the addition of nearly 800 more episodes of kids’ content, including Nick Jr. favorites like Paw Patrol, Blaze and the Monster Machines, Blue’s Clues, Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, Shimmer and Shine, and others. The service already had over 1,000 episodes of children’s programming before the new shows arrived, including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Danger Mouse, Lassie, George of the Jungle, and Mr. Magoo. A SpongeBob spinoff, Kamp Koral, will arrive next year, along with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. 

In related news, a top streaming platform, Fire TV, is also looking to better serve multi-person households and families with its latest changes.

Image Credits: Amazon

Fire TV today offers a platform for engaging with streaming apps, games and other content, but organizes this into an interface complete with tailored recommendations and other features. Its redesign, first announced in September, rolls out starting today.

The update brings a brand-new look-and-feel to Fire TV, which now reorganizes the navigation and improves how it makes recommendations. But one of the bigger changes is that Fire TV users — including kids — will now each get their own profile for a more personalized experience.

All the updates are rolling out starting today. Netflix’s tests, however, won’t reach all users at this time.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #cbs, #cbs-all-access, #families, #fire-tv, #kids, #media, #netflix, #parents, #streaming, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #television, #tv, #viacomcbs

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Netflix’s latest experiment is a TikTok-like feed of funny videos

Netflix already borrowed the concept of short-form video “Stories” from social apps like Snapchat and Instagram for its Previews feature back in 2018. Now, the company is looking to the full-screen vertical video feed, popularized by TikTok, for further inspiration. With its latest experiment, Fast Laughs, Netflix is offering a new feed of short-form comedy clips drawn from its full catalog.

The feed includes clips from both originals and licensed programming, Netflix says. It also includes video clips from the existing Netflix social channel, “Netflix Is A Joke,” which today runs clips, longer videos and other social content across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Fast Laughs resembles TikTok in the sense that it’s swiped through vertically, offers full-screen videos and places its engagement buttons on the right side. But it’s not trying to become a place to waste time while being entertained.

Like many of Netflix’s experiments, the goal with the Fast Laughs feed is to help users discover something new to watch.

Instead of liking and commenting on videos, as you would in a social video app, the feed is designed to encourage users to add shows to their Netflix watch list for later viewing. In this sense, it’s serving a similar purpose to Netflix’s “Previews” feature, which helps users discover shows by watching clips and trailers from popular and newly released programming.

As users scroll through the new Fast Laughs feed, they’ll encounter a wide range of comedy clips — like a clip from a Kevin Hart stand-up special or a funny bit from “The Office,” for example. The clips will also range in length anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds.

In addition to adding clips to Netflix’s “My List” feature, users can also react to clips with a laughing emoji button, share the clip with friends across social media, or tap a “More” button to see other titles related to the clip you’re viewing.

The feature was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, based in the U.K. In his app, Fast Laughs appeared in front of the row of Previews, where it was introduced with text that said “New!”

Netflix confirmed to TechCrunch the experiment had been tested with a small number of users earlier this year, but has recently started rolling out to a wider group this month — including users in the U.K., the U.S. and other select markets.

It’s currently available to a subset of Netflix users with adult profiles or other profiles without parental controls on iOS devices only. However, users don’t need to be opted in to experiments nor do they need to be on a beta version of the Netflix app to see the feature. It’s more of a standard A/B test, Netflix says.

And because it’s a test, users may see slightly different versions of the same feature. The product may also evolve over time, in response to user feedback.

Netflix is hardly the first to “borrow” the TikTok format for its own app. Social media platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, have also launched their own TikTok rivals in recent months.

But Netflix isn’t a direct competitor with TikTok — except to the extent that any mobile app competes for users’ time and attention, as there are only so many hours in a day.

Instead, the new feed is more of an acknowledgment that the TikTok format of a full-screen vertical video feed with quick engagement buttons on the side is becoming a default style of sorts for presenting entertaining content.

“We’re always looking for new ways to improve the Netflix experience,” a Netflix spokesperson said, confirming the experiment. “A lot of our members love comedy so we thought this would be an exciting new way to help them discover new shows and enjoy classic scenes. We experiment with these types of tests in different countries and for different periods of time — and only make them broadly available if people find them useful,” they added.

#apps, #comedy, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #netflix, #social, #social-media, #streaming-service, #tc, #tiktok, #video, #video-clips

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Spotify CEO says company will ‘further expand price increases’

Spotify is planning further price increases, according to comments made by co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek during the company’s third quarter earnings on Thursday. The streaming service had added 6 million subscribers in Q3 to achieve a total 144 million paying customers across 320 million active users, but fell short on both sales and earnings, driving the stock lower.

By raising prices for its service, Spotify could pull in higher revenues in markets where the company believes users will continue to see the value in paying for their streaming subscription.

The company didn’t specifically detail its plans for price increases in terms of dollars and cents or geographies. However, Ek explained how the company was thinking about possible price hikes in broader terms.

He said although Spotify’s primary focus continues to be user growth, there are markets where the service is more mature and has increased the value it provides subscribers, including with its “enhanced content.”

What he means by “enhanced content” are Spotify’s investments in growing its content library, specifically podcasts. Today, the service has 1.9 million podcasts. This quarter, it released 58 original and exclusive podcast shows, bringing this offering to a total of 16 markets.

Among the highlights, “The Michelle Obama Podcast” sent the new show to No. 1 on the platform for its July launch through August. Spotify’s partnership with DC Comics is kicking off with the “Batman Unburied” podcast. It’s also working with Riot Games‘ “League of Legends on an esports partnership and with Chernin Entertainment to turn its podcasts into film and TV.

However, Spotify’s “The Joe Rogan Experience” deal has been more controversial. It could potentially cause moderation headaches for the company now that it’s been brought in-house, and could lead to some portion of users to unsubscribe as a political stance.

This month, Spotify also rolled out new tools for Anchor users that let them include licensed music in their podcasts to help create a new type of music-and-spoken word programming.

Combined, Spotify sees these efforts as reasons why its service could be priced higher in some markets.

In its mature markets, Spotify says it’s seen engagement and value per hour grow over the years.

“I believe an increase in value per hour is the most reliable signal we have in determining when we are able to use price as a lever to grow our business,” noted Ek.

He also said that early tests of price increases have performed well.

“While it’s still early, initial results indicate that in markets where we’ve tested increased prices, our users believe that Spotify remains an exceptional value and they have shown a willingness to pay more for our service,” said Ek, in his remarks. “So as a result, you will see us further expand price increases, especially in places where we’re well-positioned against the competition and our value per hour is high,” he added.

Spotify has been openly hinting about price increases all year.

In the first quarter, Ek had slightly opened the door to the idea, saying it was “encouraging” to see the company had the opportunity to raise prices when the economy improved. In Q2, Ek again suggested higher prices were coming, and added that Spotify’s exclusive podcast content enables “pricing power,” along with its overall improving service and the existence of higher ARPU (average revenue per user.)

Today, Ek’s statement suggests higher prices aren’t just being weighed or discussed — they’re coming.

To date, Spotify has tested price hikes at its upper tiers of its service in several markets.

Last year, for example, Spotify tested price increases for its Family Plan in some Scandinavian markets, upping the cost by around 13%. The goal of those tests was to figure out if it would make sense for the streamer to roll out higher pricing on a worldwide basis.

Just this month, reports indicated Spotify had increased the price of its Family Plan in Australia from AUS $17.99 to AUS $18.99 — or, approximately US $13.69. This change was effective October 1 for new subscribers.

Today, Spotify notes it also raised the price of the Family Plan in a half dozen other markets this month, including Belgium, Switzerland, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, alongside its Duo Plan (2-person plan) in Colombia.

There was one caveat to Spotify’s plans for higher pricing, however: the pandemic. Ek said the company would “continue to tread carefully in these COVID times to ensure we don’t get ahead of the market.”

In other words, it doesn’t make sense to raise prices in a recession, where people have lost jobs and are cutting unnecessary expenses — like their streaming subscriptions.

#earnings, #family-plan, #media, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-music, #streaming-service, #tc

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Spotify introduces a new music-and-spoken word format, open to all creators

Spotify today is launching a new feature that combines spoken word audio commentary with music tracks. The new format will allow Spotify to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or a music journalist offering their perspective on the music. But Spotify is also making it possible for anyone to use the format to create a music-filled podcast through an integration with Spotify’s own DIY podcasting app, Anchor.

Spotify says the new shows will still compensate the artist the same as if the track was streamed normally, as the format relies on Spotify’s music catalog licenses just like regular streams.

However, the experience will be customized to listeners based on what tier of Spotify’s service they use.

Image Credits: Spotify

Premium subscribers will be able to hear the full tracks as part of the shows, Spotify explains, while free listeners will only hear the 30-second previews.

Listeners can also interact with the music content within the shows as they otherwise could in a playlist — by liking the songs, saving the track, or viewing more information about the track without having to leave the episode page or do a search. To do this, you’ll hit “Explore Episode” on the show’s episode page, or tap the play bar at the bottom of the screen to pull up the track list.

Image Credits:

The format is similar in some ways to Pandora’s Stories, also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced last year. But Pandora’s effort focused on allowing artists to add narratives to their music — like talking about the meaning of a song or what inspires them. Other creators could also apply for access.

Spotify’s new format, meanwhile, is immediately open to all users in supported regions.

As of today, the Anchor app will now allow any user to create a show using this format in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, to start.

The app’s update will allow users to select a new “Music” tool, which then connects them with the entire Spotify music catalog of over 65 million tracks. Users will also be able to connect their Spotify account to browse and select songs from their own playlists to add to shows.

This is a significant update, as limitations around streaming rights had previously limited podcast creators from being able to easily integrate licensed music in their programs.

Image Credits: Spotify

Creators will also be about to insert ads in their shows, via Anchor Sponsorships. The company notes that this process is still considered a beta, and it will be manually reviewing shows using the format for now. The review process can take up to 24 hours.

Spotify says the feature will expand to more markets soon.

At launch, Spotify is also launching its own set of seven Spotify Original Shows that put the new format to work, which can be found in the new “Shows With Music” hub in the Browse section of the Spotify app or in a programmed shelf in your Home tab.

These first seven shows include (descriptions via Spotify):

  • Halleloo Happy Hour with DJ Shangela – Grab a drink and join our effervescent host, “Shangela” (A Star is Born, Ru Paul’s Drag Race), for her weekly happy hour playlist! Featuring games, guests, and tea. Halleloo!
  • Murder Ballads – Explore the history and folklore behind some of America’s most mysterious and violent songs.
    60 Songs That Explain the 90s – The 1990s were a turning point in music. Listen along as The Ringer’s preeminent music critic Rob Harvilla curates and explores 60 iconic songs from the ‘90s that define the decade.
  • Our Love Song – Every week a couple shares the soundtrack that defines their love story. As a culture we are fascinated by love and romance. It is why the majority of songs are about love and heartbreak. This show will not only explore entertaining love stories, but also the classic songs that define these relationships.
  • Conspiracy Theories: Music Edition – A deeper look at some of the most fascinating theories surrounding famous artists and the music industry as it affects the world.
  • Rock This with Allison Hagendorf – Rock This with Allison Hagendorf is a weekly show celebrating all things Rock & Alternative culture, featuring one of a kind interviews and highlighting music from your favorite and emerging artists.
  • 10 Songs That Made Me – An artist or celebrity creates a storytelling playlist of 10 songs that mark meaningful moments in their lives, providing personal insights into each song choice.

This isn’t Spotify’s first attempt at combining spoken word and music on its platform. Last year, the company launched “Your Daily Drive,” a personalized playlist that included both your favorite music and podcasts. But this could be a disjointed experience, as the music and podcasts generally do not relate to one another.

The new format, meanwhile, is more of a storytelling experience and could prompt creators to make more music-filled podcasts, helping Spotify to expand its podcast listenership and revenues.

Spotify said earlier this summer it had already grown its podcast catalog by 50% to reach 1.5 million shows, and its podcast advertising outperformed in the most recent quarter.

The company has also been busy adding big names to its podcast catalog, including Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian West, and Joe Rogan. But some early data on the efforts indicate these deals may be more useful in retention than new user acquisition. And the deals are pricey. (And in Rogan’s case, controversial).

By opening up music-filled podcast creation to all, Spotify has a more affordable way to expand its podcast library and even reach a long tail of listeners.

#media, #music, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming-music, #streaming-service

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Spotify and Chernin Entertainment enter first-look deal to turn podcasts into TV shows and movies

More Spotify podcasts could soon become TV shows or movies thanks to a new, multi-year partnership announced today between the streaming music provider and film and television production company, Chernin Entertainment. The agreement will allow Chernin to identify and adapt film and TV shows from Spotify’s library of over 250 original podcast series, totaling thousands of hours of content.

The two companies, by way of Spotify-owned Gimlet Media, were already working together in collaboration with Pineapple Street Media on the forthcoming adaptation of the podcast series, The Clearing, about serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. Those efforts will continue, while the deal opens up Spotify’s larger podcast library of shows from around the world to Chernin.

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot via TechCrunch

The production company is known today for movies like Ford v Ferrari, The Planet of the Apes Trilogy, The Greatest Showman, and Hidden Figures as well as TV shows like New Girl and Apple TV+’s See and Truth Be Told. This spring, it signed a first-look deal for feature films with Netflix, after losing a previous first-look deal with 20th Century Fox that ended when Disney acquired Fox’s feature film operations.

Those and other industry changes have put Chernin on the path to seek out new sources for IP that can be translated into movies, TV, and other sorts of digital video.

Meanwhile, the growth in podcasting has made audio programming a viable new source for original content that can be translated into other media, like film and TV. This podcasting market is also one Spotify has heavily invested in, with its acquisitions of podcast companies, like Gimlet and The Ringer, as well as podcasting tools that allow more people to become creators, like Anchor.

“Audio is by far the fastest-growing medium in the entertainment business, and with over 250 originals and thousands of hours of content, Spotify has one of the largest libraries of unattached IP that exists in the world today and that library is being added to daily,” said Chernin Entertainment Chairman and CEO Peter Chernin, in a statement. “This treasure trove of content plus the acceleration of new voices and stories provides an enormous opportunity to transform these addictive stories and IP into content for the screen,” he said.

Spotify tells TechCrunch the deal doesn’t include any commitment to adapt a certain number of podcasts into video projects, but it believes the volume will be high. Specific deal terms were also not being disclosed, including any possible revenue-sharing details. However, the deal doesn’t prevent Spotify from working with other production companies on programs Chernin decides to pass on. It also doesn’t specify any marketing or promotional commitments. Those will be handled on a project-by-project basis, Spotify says.

Spotify’s library of 250 original shows, as well as those it continues to release in the weeks and months ahead, will remain at the center of this agreement, but there may be scenarios where the companies also collaborate on adaptations beyond that group, Spotify tells us.

The aim is to discover what sorts of programs translate well into movies and TV. On this front, Spotify says it believes its diversity of content, ability to analyze data, and creator access will be to its advantage.

The Spotify original podcast library today includes popular shows across a variety of genres, which is a key asset in this deal. In addition, Spotify will be able to tap into data on how well shows are performing thanks to its prior development of specialized tools for analytics.

For example, Spotify currently allows podcasters to track their own show’s performance and other anonymized audience data through the Spotify for Podcasters service. Now, the company will be able to use this same data set to help identify possible adaptations that would do well. And because Spotify also owns several of the podcast production companies, it can also help work to identify creators with vision who may be better-suited to help with larger adaptations of this nature.

This is not the first time Spotify’s podcast content has been turned into movies or TV. The company today has nearly a dozen projects in various stages of completion, including the adaptation of Homecoming for Amazon Prime Video, plus upcoming projects like The Two Princes for HBO Max and The Horror of Dolores Roach for Prime Video.

Spotify and Chernin aren’t announcing any of the first projects that will result from this deal today but, given standard development and production timelines, 2021 would be the very earliest that such content would make its debut.

“At Spotify, we believe that the extraordinary growth of audio will continue to attract the world’s great creators and make podcasts a premier destination for original IP,” said Spotify Chief Content and Advertising Business Officer Dawn Ostroff, in an announcement. “As we continue to expand our content ambitions, we are thrilled to collaborate with Peter Chernin, who, along with his exceptional team, are the perfect partners to help us share these stories with audiences across mediums and around the world. Together, we can usher in a new era for podcasts as source material,” she said.

#chernin-entertainment, #media, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming-service

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Sling TV launches a co-watching feature for live TV, Sling Watch Party

Live TV streaming service Sling TV is joining in on the co-watching trend. The company today announced the launch of its own version of a co-viewing feature, which allows friends and family in different locations to watch live TV together at the same time. What makes Sling TV’s implementation unique, however, is that it’s allowing for both text and video chat alongside live TV, which is a first for the live TV industry, it says.

The feature, called Sling Watch Party, is initially available to existing Sling TV customers. But during the beta preview period, the company says guests will also be able to join a Watch Party by creating a free Sling TV account. However, this free access will only be available through month-end (Sept. 30).

To get started with a Watch Party, users should look for the new Watch Party icon on supported content.

Currently, Watch Party requires the Google Chrome web browser on a desktop or laptop computer in order to work. After clicking to start the Watch Party, users will sign into their Sling TV account if they hadn’t already, then send out an invite link that allows friends and family to join the Watch Party session. Sling TV will provide a built-in tool to quickly email the link or you can copy the link and distribute in other ways — like a preferred messaging app, for example.

Image Credits: Sling TV

At launch, Watch Party-enabled content can be viewed by 4 total participants at the same time. It’s also not available across all of Sling TV’s online library or live programming. Instead, the company says that it works on “most” live, On Demand and Lookback content, but not local channels like NBC and FOX, rentals, Pay-per-view events, Premium or standalone channels, or programming saved on the Cloud DVR. Standard regional blackouts will also apply.

The feature is supported across Sling TV plans, including its domestic base service (Sling Orange and/or Sling Blue), Sling Latino, Sling International or any Sling TV Extra, depending on subscription.

That means users can co-watch content from channels like TNT, TBS, AMC, CNN, A&E, History, IFC, BBC America, TruTV, and others. Sling TV suggests the feature would be great for co-watching the NBA Western Conference Finals Game 4 or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on TNT, The Walking Dead on AMC, American Pickers on History, or the first presidential debate on CNN, for example.

During the Watch Party session, the content will live stream in the middle of the screen while text chat sits off to one side of the screen (where it can be optionally hidden) and video chat is on the other. Sling TV recommends all users wear headphones for the best experience. Individuals will also be able to control what volume at which they hear each guest separately from the show itself by hovering over a friend’s video and adjusting their audio bar.

Customers can only host one Watch Party at a time, but there’s no limitation on how often the feature can be used otherwise.

Several streaming services and video chat applications have rolled out co-viewing experiences in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited real-world gatherings. In addition to Hulu and Amazon Video, users are co-watching Netflix with an unofficial extension, Netflix Party, and co-watching on Plex. HBO is working with Scener to support virtual theater experiences and Facebook just launched co-watching within Messenger, too.

For Sling TV, the feature’s launch may also be tied to hopes of stemming subscriber losses. The company in February posted its first-ever subscriber decline as streaming competition heated up. It then shed 56,000 more subscribers in Q2 as the pandemic took its toll. With the support for temporary guest access, Sling TV may be hoping to convert some new subscribers, as well. But the feature is being offered for such a brief period that users may not have time to make co-viewing the sort habit they later decide to pay for, and instead use it for a one-off co-viewing session of sorts.

 

 

#dish, #live-tv, #media, #sling-tv, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv

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Hulu tests its co-viewing feature ‘Watch Party’ with ad-supported viewers

Hulu was one of the first major streaming services to introduce a “co-viewing” feature that allows friends and family to watch Hulu content together from different locations. The feature, Hulu Watch Party, was initially only available for subscribers on the the ad-free tier of Hulu’s streaming service. Now, the company is making Watch Party available to ad-supported subscribers as well, but in a more limited capacity.

When Hulu Watch Party launched in May, it worked across thousands of movies and TV shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library. As Hulu explained at the time, if a show is available for co-viewing, it will indicate this with a “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. Users can then provide the co-viewing link to those they want to watch together with. Currently, a Watch Party session supports up to 8 people.

What makes Hulu’s implementation different from those seen on rival services is that viewers can control their own Watch Party experience. If someone wants to grab a snack or needs a bathroom break, for example, they can pause playback. But doing so doesn’t impact the group’s shared stream. Then, when they return, the viewer can either watch what they missed or tap a “Catch Up” button to get back in sync with the group.

Hulu says since the product debuted, viewers have used Watch Party to host movie nights and watch new series premieres. “Palm Springs,” “Parasite,” and “Love, Victor” were among the top titles that were co-viewed to date.

Now, Hulu wants to bring the feature to ad-supported viewers.

Image Credits: Hulu

The company is testing co-watching on “Pen15,” whose season 2 premieres on Friday, Sept. 18.

Over the next 10 days, Hulu subscribers on both the ad-supported and ad-free plans will be able to join Watch Parties for this particular program.

Hulu is also trying out a branded experience within Watch Party for this particular test.

In a nod to the show, the Watch Party interface will be designed to resemble a classic instant messenger chat room, and will include screen names taken from the series. This design will only display when Watch Party is used to stream “Pen15,” not other shows. It’s an interesting example of how Watch Party could help to build out more of a fan community around a show by theming the chat interface in a unique way for viewers.

Users today have to be 18 and up to use Watch Party, Hulu says. Support for co-viewing of “Pen15” across Hulu’s tiers is live as of Wednesday and will continue for 10 days from that date.

The company is now one of several to either officially support co-viewing or at least endorse it.

Amazon’s Twitch launched Watch Parties for Amazon Prime Video following by a built-in feature on Prime Video itself. Plex added Watch Together in May, and HBO teamed up with Scener for co-viewing experiences. Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, while HouseParty debuted co-watching of events in May. More recently, Instagram Messenger and Messenger Rooms added the ability to co-view Facebook Watch content.

#co-watching, #hulu, #media, #streaming-service, #watch-party

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CBS All Access to rebrand to Paramount+, expand internationally in 2021

Viacom-owned streaming service CBS All Access is becoming Paramount+, the company announced this morning. The name change, which will take place next year, aims to better reflect the expanded content lineup that has joined the service following the Viacom-CBS merger in 2019, including content from brands like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Smithsonian Channel, TV Land, VH1, Paramount Pictures, and other sports programming. In addition, Paramount+ will expand internationally in 2021, initially to markets like Australia, Latin America and the Nordics.

ViacomCBS’ plans to rebrand the service were previously known. The company earlier this year had told investors a rebranded and expanded service would arrive sometime the summer. It later pushed that timeframe back to 2021, but continued to roll out new content.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish had earlier described the company’s plans for the expanded service as one which would allow it to showcase the company’s biggest franchises and deep library, but also one that would leverage the company’s IP for original content, as it has already done now with its multiple “Star Trek” series and “The Good Wife” spin-off “The Good Fight,” for example. The rebranded service would also continue to promote the company’s sports offerings, including its continual airing of NFL games as well as those from other leagues, like the NCAA and PGA.

All this would run on CBS All Access’ existing tech platform, not a new service built from scratch.

Today, ViacomCBS notes that the new service Paramount+ will also feature an expanded array of originals. This includes “The Offer,” a scripted limited series about the making of “The Godfather;” CIA spy drama “Lioness” created by Taylor Sheridan; a reimagined version of MTV’s “Behind the Music,” that will focus on the past 40 years; a true crime docuseries “The Real Criminal Minds,” based on the fictional TV hit; and a revival of BET’s “The Game.”

These shows will join previously announced plans for new kids original series “Kamp Koral,” from Nickelodeon’s “Spongebob Squarepants,” and the service’s plan to be the SVOD home for “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”

Paramount+ will also continue to feature existing originals, like “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” Tooning Out the News,” “No Activity,” Why Women Kill,” “Interrogation,” “The Thomas John Experience,” “Tell Me a Story,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Star Trek: Picard,” “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” as well as upcoming series “The Stand,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “The Harper House,” “Guilty Party,” and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

The company says the broader lineup from this summer has already impacted the service’s viewership and demographics. Following the addition of the new content, including over 3,500 episodes of TV from across ViacomCBS’ brands, CBS All Access broke its records for total monthly streams in August and saw one of its best-ever months for new subscribers. These users were also measurably younger than the service’s overall average subscriber age, thanks in part to the addition of UEFA and other content.

As CBS All Access nears its 2021 rebrand to Paramount+, it will further expand its content lineup to reach more than 30,000 episodes and movies and continue to develop new originals from brands including BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and others.

“Paramount is an iconic and storied brand beloved by consumers all over the world, and it is synonymous with quality, integrity and world-class storytelling,” said Bob Bakish, President and CEO, ViacomCBS, in a statement about the changes. “With Paramount+, we’re excited to establish one global streaming brand in the broad-pay segment that will draw on the sheer breadth and depth of the ViacomCBS portfolio to offer an extraordinary collection of content for everyone to enjoy.”

Paramount+, notably, is also the latest to embrace the plus sign (+) suffix as part of its branding, following the launch of newer streaming services like Disney+, Apple TV+, ESPN+, TiVo+, and just yesterday, the kids-focused media catalog, Amazon Kids+. It’s unclear, however, if the name “Paramount” will resonate with prized younger viewers as much as the company hopes, or if this general trend toward adding a “plus” sign is helping these services truly carve out their own space.

ViacomCBS didn’t announce any plans to change pricing when the new service goes live.

In Q2 2020, ViacomCBS said its domestic paid streaming services, including CBS All Access and Showtime, had reached 16.2 million subscribers, up 74% year-over-year. CBS All Access had also broke its own records for paid subscribers, streams and minutes watched in the quarter.

 

 

 

#cbs, #cbs-all-access, #cord-cutting, #media, #paramount, #paramount-plus, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #viacomcbs

0

Google Play Music to shut down starting in September, will disappear by December

Google’s plans to wind down its Google Play Music service in favor of the company’s newer YouTube Music have been known for some time. But Google this week has given users a deadline on making the switch. The company says YouTube Music will fully replace Google Play Music in December 2020, at which point Google Play Music users will no longer be able to stream from or otherwise use the Google Play Music app.

Though December is the final deadline for being able to export from the Google Play Music app, your ability to stream from the Google Play Music app will end before then.

In September 2020, users in New Zealand and South Africa will be the first to lose access to stream or use the Google Play Music app. The rest of the world will lose their access in October.

However, Google will continue to make your content available for export through December. Through the transfer tool released in May, Google Play Music users will be able to export their playlists, uploads, purchases, likes and more to YouTube Music. Alternately, users can use the Google Takeout service to export their data and download their purchased and uploaded music.

For those considering making a switch to a rival streaming service, like Spotify, there aren’t official tools available, but there are third-party options, like Soundiiz, TuneMyMusic, MusConv, and others.

Google says it will also be making changes to the Google Play store and Music Manager.

Starting this month, users will no longer be able to make purchases or pre-order music from Google Play Music through Music Manager, nor will they be able to upload and download music.

The company has been preparing YouTube Music in advance of this shift to address complaints Google Play Music users had with earlier versions of the service. This year, Google increased playlist length from 1,000 to 5,000 songs and added support for uploads (up to 100K tracks — 50K more than on Google Play Music). It has also rolled out offline listening, lyrics, and Explore tab for discovery, and a tool for transferring podcast subscriptions and episode progress to Google Podcasts.

YouTube Music offers a variety of playlist options now, too, including collaborative playlists built with friends and new programmed playlists built by editors. Assistive technology now also make personalized suggestions of what to add when you’re building a YouTube Music playlist.

YouTube Music service has expanded its reach across platforms, as well, with support for Android TV, Google Maps (for music while navigating), and via Google Assistant in recent days.

For any user who doesn’t opt to move to YouTube Music, Google says subscriptions will be automatically canceled.

Google’s strategy with music has been overly complicated for some time (not unlike its strategy with messaging and communication apps). When users signed up for YouTube Premium (previously YouTube Red), they’d automatically receive access to Google Play Music, and vice versa. And Google continued to sell YouTube Music as a separate subscription. In other words, Google created a world where it wasn’t only competing against big streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora, it was also competing against itself.

Now it’s hoping to shift its streamers to YouTube Music. The idea came about because YouTube for a long time has been a way to access free music, thanks to a deep catalog of officially licensed music videos, live performances and other music content. So why not upsell YouTube’s freeloading music fans on an ad-free, upgraded music experience? That strategy may have worked to some extent, but it’s more recently being challenged. Last week, Facebook announced deals with record labels to make music videos free on its platform, as well. If user behavior shifts as a result, YouTube’s ability to funnel free music fans into a premium product could be impacted, too.

 

#google, #media, #music, #streaming, #streaming-music, #streaming-service, #youtube, #youtube-music

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Spotify users are streaming again, but ad revenues still suffer due to COVID crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on Spotify’s business was apparent in the results of the company’s Q2 2020 earnings today. On some fronts, Spotify had good news. As more users turned to streaming services to keep themselves entertained while social distancing, Spotify grew its active monthly users by 29% to reach 299 million in the quarter. Its paid subscriber growth also topped Wall St. expectations with 138 million paid users, versus estimates of 136.4 million. However, the pandemic took a negative toll on Spotify’s advertising business, with ad revenue down 21% year-over-year to €131 million in Q2.

Spotify’s Premium subscriptions, which still account for the majority (~90%) of its revenues, grew by 17% to reach €1.76 billion in the quarter. The company attributed this growth to a range of factors, including growth in more expensive Family Plan subscriptions and its new Duo option for two users, as well as the expansion of those plans to new markets, like Russia.

Meanwhile, the company touted that users’ listening hours are also now returning to levels near what they were before the COVID-19 health crisis.

In the first quarter, the pandemic had initially led to declines in daily active users and listening hours as consumers coped with their sudden lifestyle changes,. like working from home and homeschooling children. Spotify today said that as of June 30, global consumption hours have since recovered to “pre-COVID levels” in all markets except Latin America, which is still around 6% below peak levels prior to the global health crisis.

This recovery in listening hours was led by those areas where the COVID-19 spread is slowing, including the E.U. and Asia-Pacific regions, the company noted. Spotify is also now seeing growth in other areas where listening had slowed due to government lockdowns and the work-from-home shift, like in-car listening. This is now less than 10% below pre-COVID levels, up from a 50% decline at its lowest point in April.

On the downside, Spotify’s ad revenue suffered in the quarter due to an overall more conservative market than before the COVID crisis — a trend the company expects to continue throughout the year. This drove Spotify to miss on revenue expectations in the quarter. The company reported revenue growth of 13% to 1.89 billion euros, but this fell short of analyst estimates of 1.93 billion.

“Last quarter we noted a marked deceleration in sales brought on by the global health crisis where the last three weeks in March were down more than 20% relative to our forecast,” the company said in its shareholder letter. “Performance continued to lag our expectations through April and May, but we significantly outperformed expectations in the month of June. [Quarter to date] through May, ad-supported revenues were down 25% year-over-year, but performance in the month of June showed significant improvement and was only down 12% year-over year.”

Though advertising is not a main revenue driver at this time, it’s still a key part of Spotify’s strategy with regard to its podcasting business. The company is investing heavily in bringing in new and exclusive deals, including recently Kim Kardashian West, Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, DC & Warner Bros., TikTok star Addison Rae, and others. And it’s willing to spend — Joe Rogan’s deal reportedly cost the company more than $100 million, for instance.

It’s also selling its own podcast ads and building out other tools for podcast creation, editing, and distribution as part of its investment in this space. For instance, Spotify is developing new ad technology aimed at better monetizing podcasts, like its latest test of in-app offers, which will allow users to view and use coupon codes and other offers made in audio ads at any time from the Spotify app.

More recently, the company invested in video podcasts as well. Spotify also says its Streaming Ad Insertion technology will also become more broadly available to U.S. advertisers this summer and announced a $20 million ad partnership with Omnicom Media Group, which Spotify claims is the largest, global, strategic podcast ad partnership to date.

Overall, Spotify said its podcasting advertising outperformed in the quarter and is continuing into July.

 

 

 

#advertising, #media, #music, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming-service

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Plex launches a live TV service with over 80 free channels, most available worldwide

Streaming media platform Plex announced today it’s further expanding into live TV with the addition of over 80 free live TV channels accessible by free users and subscribers alike. The company had already allowed consumers to capture and record live TV by way of a digital antenna and tuner connected to a Plex media server, but this had required investment in additional hardware and involved a more complicated setup process.

The new Live TV service, meanwhile, will offer easier access to a broad range of free content across categories like news, sports, film, classic TV, comedy, game shows, anime, kids, entertainment, esports, and more.

The channel lineup include Reuters TV, Yahoo Finance, Toon Goggles, Kidoodle TV, KidsFlix,
fubo Sports Network, Cooking Panda, DrinkTV, IGN TV, AFV Family, Tastemade, Revry, FailArmy, Dove Channel, Docurama, The Pet Collective, WeatherSpy, Made in Hollywood, and others. There are also channels dedicated to individual programs, like The Bob Ross Channel or Deal or No Deal, for example. Others are more thematic in nature, like Surf TV, the Law & Crime Trial Network, Game Show Central, Retro Crush, Gravitas Movies, and more. A range of music video channels, also genre-based, fill out the selection.

While none of these are big names, they expand Plex’s service with a range of free content where you might catch something interesting upon browsing — like a cooking show, old movie, classic TV episode, funny video, or kids cartoon, for instance.

Initially, Plex users will access the service from a new section called “Live TV On Plex.” From here, you’re taken to a more traditional grid guide that shows you what’s currently airing on each channel and what’s coming up in the hours ahead. In the future, Plex says it aims to integrate the free live channels with its existing product for recording from live TV via the over-the-air antenna, in order to simplify navigation.

Unlike with its current Live TV product, you can only tune into and watch the free live TV programs — you can’t record the shows or movies. However, in true Plex fashion, it’s making it easy to customize the guide to your particular interests, by allowing you to do things like reorder channels to your liking or even hide those you don’t care about.

Though there are several “free TV” services on the market today, Plex aims to differentiate its offering by making over 80% of the live channels available to users outside the U.S., where “free TV” services are more limited.

The free content is supported by programmatic advertising, which also supports Plex’s on-demand Movies & TV library and its free News offering. The company says it has no plan to directly sell its own ads for any of these properties, but its continued expansions into ad-supported content have begun to return revenue.

The company declined to speak to its specific revenue situation. But Plex co-founder and Chief Product Officer Scott Olechowski described the numbers as getting “interesting.”

“It’s now becoming interesting enough that we’re able to expand this footprint, the licensing we’re doing, the resources we’re putting into it, and the marketing we’re doing it around it,” he explains. “Because of [Plex’s] independence, the quality of the catalog, and the quality of the app, the amount of interest we’re getting from demand partners is pretty impressive,” Olechowski adds.

Plex may also benefit from the increasing battles between media giants to run their own, competing free TV platforms. For example, Fox Corp. acquired free streaming service TUBI in March and ViacomCBS now runs the free service Pluto.TV, acquired last year. As these services now operate as an arm of corporate giants, it makes sense for them to highlight and promote the parent company’s own content over niche, third-party channels, where the revenue take is smaller.

Now that the service has launched, Plex says the plan is to further expand its lineup with more channels in time, potentially including those it programs itself using content from its existing free Movies & TV library. Longer-term, Plex envisions creating even more personalized channels for its users which would include content from its free services combined with content from your own media library.

More broadly, the company sees live TV as another hole to plug on its way to becoming a comprehensive media platform that includes not only access to users’ personal libraries, but also live and on-demand TV and movies, podcasts, music, news, web shows, and more. The company is still working to add a movies and TV rental and purchase library, and is figuring out a way to direct users to off-platform content, perhaps by way of its movie and TV database, Plex Mediaverse.

The new live TV channels are rolling out now in the U.S. and other international markets, where supported.

#cord-cutting, #live-tv, #media, #plex, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #tv

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Amazon Fire TV now pulls in live TV content from Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV

Amazon is upgrading its Fire TV’s live TV experience through new integrations with several live TV streaming services, including Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV. Live content from these services will now appear within key areas with the Fire TV user interface, including the Fire TV’s Live tab and Channel Guide, making Fire TV feel even more like a cable TV replacement than before.

Already, Amazon Fire TV had offered integrations with nearly 20 other apps in a similar fashion, including live TV apps like Philo and Pluto TV, as well as its own Prime Video Channels.

But the addition of Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV brings in the three largest and most popular apps among cord cutters who are paying for a live TV experience. Sling TV has 2.31 million subscribers; YouTube TV has over 2 million; and Hulu + Live TV has 3.3 million.

Live content from these apps will be found within three main sections: the Live tab, the “On Now” rows and the multi-app Channel Guide.

Streaming live TV over the internet has become a more popular option for cord cutters over the years, as it offers a less expensive way to have a cable TV-like experience. Unfortunately, that gap has been closing in more recent months, as live TV users have been subjected to continual price increases as the services expanded their channel lineups.

However, many live TV customers remain because even with the increases, it can still be slightly less than cable and offers more flexibility — like working across platforms and not tied to a cable box.

This trend toward live content has also been seen on Fire TV, Amazon says.

The Live tab has become the second-most-visited destination on the Fire TV interface after the Home screen, due to its integrations of live content, the company noted. In addition, live TV streaming apps on Fire TV have seen the total time spent in app and active customers more than double, on average, since Fire TV added its live TV discovery integrations.

Image Credits: Amazon

“Fire TV is hugely popular among Philo fans. Since integrating with Amazon’s live streaming discovery features, the number of active Philo users is up nearly 2.5x on Fire TV,” said Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, whose TV streaming app was one of the earlier additions to Fire TV.

To use new integrations, you’ll first need to log into the streaming app you subscribe to with your current account information. You can then access the app’s live content across the Live Tab, which organizes live content in the familiar Netflix-like style of scrollable rows. Here, there are rows for things like “Live Sports” and “Live News,” plus content from your subscriptions’ channels.

From here, you can hop into the Channel Guide, which offers the more traditional grid guide, similar to cable TV.

This format is proving popular among live TV service subscribers.

On Monday, for example, Roku introduced its own Live TV Channel Guide, accessible via a new tile, which allows Roku users to browse the free live and linear content Roku offers in a similar way.

Amazon’s Fire TV platform, however, has the perk of Alexa integration.

That means users can ask Alexa to open the Channel Guide or even change the channel, by saying “Alexa, tune to [name of channel],” for example. This works via built-in Alexa on the Fire TV Cube, via a paired Echo device, or by using the Fire TV’s Alexa Voice Remote, depending on your setup.

“We’re excited to welcome Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV into our integrated suite of Live TV discovery features,” said Sandeep Gupta, VP of Fire TV, in a statement. “We believe the future of Connected TV is one that brings live content forward, simplifies the streaming and OTT landscape, and enables customers to discover the programs they want to watch with ease,” he added.

Sling TV’s integration began rolling out earlier this year, Amazon clarifies, but is being officially announced today.

YouTube TV will be available starting today, and Hulu + Live TV will become available in the coming weeks.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #cord-cutting, #fire-tv, #live-tv, #live-tv-streaming-service, #media, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #tv

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