Time Warner’s CEO Jeff Bewkes said on this morning’s earnings call that HBO Now has passed the 2 million subscriber mark. That would be an increase from the 800K HBO Now had at the end of 2015.
On the one hand, gaining 2 million subscribers since launching HBO Now in April, 2015 is a positive sign of market acceptance for the SVOD service, which entered the market relatively late. But on the other hand, the pace of HBO Now’s monthly subscriber additions seems static, suggesting the service has not been able to accelerate its momentum.
Last Thursday Amazon announced Anime Strike, its own branded SVOD service, available to Prime members in the U.S. for $4.99/month. Anime Strike is the first SVOD service from Amazon (aside from its flagship Prime Video service), and based on an interview I did with Michael Paull, VP for Amazon’s Channels program, it won’t be the last. Rather, Anime Strike is the latest signal of Amazon’s ever-expanding video ambitions.
The Channels program itself (which launched in December, 2015 and was originally called the Streaming Partners Program), has grown by leaps and bounds, and now includes over 100 different SVOD services that Prime members can easily add, with all video viewable in the Prime Video app across devices. For content providers, Amazon handles all hosting, delivery and billing, in exchange for a revenue share.
Talk about showing up late to the party: the WSJ is reporting that Apple is now planning to invest in original scripted TV shows and movies. Whether the move actually materializes though is unclear. But if it does, it would be happening years after countless false starts and rumors about the company’s plans to build out a content strategy. Importantly, it would also happen as the number of scripted TV shows rocketed to over 450 in 2016, marked by “Peak TV’s” escalating budgets and intense competition.
According the WSJ article, Apple is engaged with various producers and could be offering scripted TV shows by the end of 2017. Apple’s commitment still seems modest by the standards of Netflix, Amazon and numerous TV networks, with just a handful of productions planned.
Roku’s strategy of powering TV manufacturers’ smart TVs is meeting with success as the company announced yesterday that its Roku TVs accounted for 13% of smart TV sales in the U.S. as of December, 2016 according to IHS. So naturally Roku’s success is attracting others to the model, with Amazon announcing yesterday that it has partnered with 3 Chinese brands, Seiki, Westinghouse Electronics and Element Electronics to integrate Fire TV functionality into multiple new 4K TVs.
The Amazon integrations mean that the Fire TV experience, including all of its 7,000 apps, will be available on the new TVs without needing an external connected TV device. This is the same benefit of Roku TVs - all the functionality of a Roku, but without the box. This type of integration makes it more straightforward for users to access OTT content alongside broadcast and cable TV content from separate sources. The Amazon integrations also feature voice search powered by Alexa to search content, launch apps, play music, etc.
Categories: Smart TV
Just prior to the holiday break FX released its latest update on “Peak TV” - the name company president John Landgraf coined a couple years ago to describe the exploding number of original scripted TV programs being produced. According to FX, which is tracking Peak TV, in 2016 there were 455 scripted originals, up from 421 in 2015 and 182 in 2002.
In that 14-year time period, the biggest volume contributor has been ad-supported cable TV networks, increasing from 30 shows in ’02 to 181 shows in ’16. But zeroing in on just the last 3 years, it’s the SVOD providers (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) that have had the biggest impact. The group tripled their output from 24 shows in ’13 to 93 in ’16 while ad-supported cable TV rose from 161 to 181, broadcast TV bumped up from 131 to 145 and premium TV (HBO, Showtime, etc.) was basically flat, from 33 in ’13 to 36 in ’16. Put another way, in 2013, SVOD accounted for just 6.9% of all scripted TV and in 2016 they tripled their share to 20.4%.
Amazon has officially made Prime Video available in over 200 countries and territories around the world, a move that has been expected. Prime Video will be included for Amazon Prime members in Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy and Spain. Elsewhere, Prime Video is being offered for a special rate of either $2.99 or 2.99 Euros per month for the first 6 months, after which it will revert to the standard rate of $5.99 or 5.99 Euros per month.
When HBO Now launched in April, 2015, its $14.99/month price was well above competing SVOD services such as Netflix ($11.99/month), Hulu (ad-free $11.99/month) and Amazon ($8.99/month or included with Prime for $99/year). On the one hand, an argument could be made that an HBO subscription is more valuable due to HBO’s rich library and therefore should be priced higher than newer competitors. But HBO’s market-skimming high price strategy means its more aggressively priced competitors are growing far faster than HBO, enabling them to have greater scale, which will be the key to future success.
In a move that was long, long overdue, Netflix announced yesterday that it was enabling downloading of content to iOS and Android mobile devices. Not all shows and movies are available for download, but importantly, it looks like most, if not all, of Netflix’s original productions are included. I tried downloading last night and it worked perfectly.
I’ve been saying since 2012 that downloading is a bona fide killer app, after I first started using TiVo’s excellent downloading feature to watch recordings on my iPad when traveling. Amazon totally understood the value of downloading as well, enabling it back in September, 2015. In a press release that both touted the new feature and implicitly tweaked Netflix, Amazon proclaimed it as “The First and Only Subscription Streaming Service to Offer This Feature.”
Evidence of Amazon’s expansive video ambitions is everywhere these days. The company has transformed itself into arguably the most influential industry player heading into the new year. There are now so many Amazon video initiatives, it’s getting hard to keep track.
First and foremost, it’s critical to understand the most important attribute Amazon is bringing to bear in video, that enables everything else and makes it such a formidable new competitor: its unique business model, based on Prime. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained in a Recode interview this past summer (see 37:32 cue point), Prime has become a “physical digital hybrid membership program that is unlike anything else.” Bezos clearly spells out how video helps drive new Prime memberships and retention. Prime members are more loyal to Amazon, purchasing more products.
I'm pleased to present the 342nd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Earlier this week I wrote about the success Amazon is having with its Streaming Partners Program, which now includes 75 different SVOD services, likely representing about three-quarters of all SVOD offerings in the U.S. As I explain on the podcast, the program appears to be a win for all parties, including viewers.
Colin is enthusiastic as well, noting he’s signed up for 3 different services already. Amazon’s early aggregation success will likely lead to others to follow its model, and one example that’s hit Colin’s radar is VRV ("verve"). Colin shares details about VRV’s strategy and why Mondo Media, a successful adult animation creator, just signed up with VRV.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 12 seconds)
Amazon now has 75 SVOD services participating in its Streaming Partners Program (“SPP”), which is approximately three-quarters of all the SVOD services available in the U.S. As of this past April, Parks Associates said there were 98 SVOD services in the U.S. though clearly more have launched since.
The update on SPP was provided by Michael Paull, Amazon’s VP of Digital Video, at last week’s On Demand conference in NYC, as reported by Multichannel News.
When an SVOD service joins SPP, it is included in a “Channels” section for Amazon Prime members, who can then quickly add it (see below image). All services include a trial period. Once the channel is added, it’s available on all devices that support Prime Video. Amazon provides billing, delivery, operational support as well as periodic promotions and recommendations for the SVOD service, including on Fire TV, all in exchange for a share of the monthly revenue.
Yesterday YouTube announced YouTube Go, a new mobile app that provides sophisticated new features for offline video use. While YouTube Go will initially only be available in India, it will no doubt be introduced in other geographies once proven in.
YouTube Go builds on YouTube’s embrace of downloading for offline viewing in India and other Asian territories begun nearly two years ago with the introduction of YouTube Offline, which allowed downloading of certain videos for viewing within 48 hours. Earlier this year YouTube added the “Smart Offline” feature that allows users to schedule their downloads to take advantage of off-peak data use.
I'm pleased to present the 338th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Today we first dig into an idea Colin outlined earlier this week, that pay-TV could become a “dumb authentication service” as the trend of subscribers migrating their TV viewing away from set-top boxes and toward authenticated TV apps on connected TV devices gains momentum. This is an important shift that is already happening for many people (listen to our podcast 2 weeks ago for more).
In this model pay-TV operators still continue to authenticate viewers and manage billing, but do little else. In fact, the FCC’s current plans to “unlock the box” mean the scenario has even more credibility. We agree that’s a precarious place for operators to be and opens up opportunities for disruptors, like Amazon.
Speaking of Amazon, just this week it made 2 important updates to its Fire TV devices which reinforce the growing role the company is playing in the SVOD and TV ecosystems and why it so well-positioned. Building on this, just today Bloomberg reported Amazon is now eyeing live sports deals, which would push it even further into pay-TV’s turf.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 32 seconds)
Yesterday Amazon unveiled new search and recommendation features for its Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices, aimed squarely at improving users’ experience with third-party SVOD services. The device updates are automatically downloaded and will enable universal voice search to over 75 video apps, including Netflix, HBO GO and soon HBO Now, as well as personalized recommendations across apps to be visible in custom rows on the Fire TV home page.
Both updates continue the evolution of Fire TV’s role as a hub for SVOD and free video services. That’s not a novel approach, as other devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV are also aiming to be central hubs for online video. And arguably, Comcast is starting to take its first steps for X1 to also become a hub, by announcing plans to incorporate Netflix later this year.
Yesterday Amazon placed pilot episodes for 10 of its of its original programs on YouTube and Facebook. On the surface, this seems like a smart move, allowing these huge communities to get a taste of popular Amazon shows like “Transparent” and “The Man in the High Castle.” Amazon’s larger goal is to hook viewers and convert them to Prime membership. Free access to pilots have long been available at Amazon itself.
Clearly it is still very early in terms of mining the potential of YouTube and Facebook, but a day in, it’s somewhat surprising to see how few views there are. On Amazon’s YouTube channel, which has a cumulative 34 million views to date, “The Man in the High Castle” has done the best of the 10 pilots, but has just 1,583 views (see below). A distant second is “Transparent” with 258 views. Kids show “Tumble Leaf” is last with only 71 views.
Last week’s Q2 earnings reports provided another valuable window into how Amazon, Comcast, Google and Facebook have all hit on winning formulas in video (at least for now), while Apple continues to spin its wheels, under-optimizing its ability to capitalize on the massive shifts underway in video and TV.
To briefly review, Comcast lost just 4K subscribers in Q2, vs. a loss of 162K three years ago, as its sleek X1 set-top box gains further traction and satellite and telco competitors stumble. Facebook reported a blow-out quarter, with earnings of $2 billion, double what they were just 6 months ago. Facebook has become a mobile powerhouse and is now laser-focused on video, as Facebook Live becomes widely adopted (though still under-monetized).
Netflix reported disappointing domestic and international results for Q2 ’16, extending the company’s bumpy and unpredictable growth. Netflix added just 160K subscribers domestically (down from 900K in Q2 ’15, a quarter which now looks like it was an anomaly after all) and below its own 500K forecast. Meanwhile international subscribers increased by 1.52 million (vs. 2.37 million in Q2 ’15) and below the company’s forecast of 2 million additions.
In both cases, Netflix blamed price increases that were felt as “un-grandfathering” of older subscribers kicked in, which in turn led to higher churn. In the U.S. Netflix went one step further, blaming press coverage of the un-grandfathering process, which it believes led some subscribers to believe a new price increase was coming.
I'm pleased to present the 330th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin and I were both very enthusiastic about news earlier this week that Comcast will integrate Netflix into its X1 set-top box, a move we’ve been advocating for a while. In this week’s podcast we discuss how complicated this negotiation must have been, and why joint subscribers will be the big winners.
Surely a motivating factor for Comcast was the acknowledgment that viewers are spending more time on SVOD, which new research from IBM Cloud Video highlighted this week.
More specifically, the research showed how important video has become for Amazon Prime members, with 75% of them now watching. By not charging for video in Prime, Amazon is potentially a big disruptor in the video/TV industry down the road.
Listen now to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 9 seconds)
Three-quarters of Amazon Prime members are watching the service’s video offerings, according to new survey data released by IBM Cloud Video. 61% of Prime members surveyed said they signed up for the service for the shopping benefits, but also watch the video, while another 14% said they signed up specifically for the video. Just 7% of members surveyed said they didn’t know about the video offerings, with another 18% saying they were aware, but didn’t watch.
I'm pleased to present the 324th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Earlier this week provided a synopsis of a fascinating article in Vulture describing the massive changes that big SVOD providers have brought to the TV production business. The most startling statistic is that the number of scripted TV shows has soared from 36 in 2005 to over 400 in 2015.
In today’s podcast we discuss the consequences of this explosion and speculate on whether all of this is sustainable, or whether a bubble has been created, and if so, what might cause it to burst. Colin is more optimistic that current production volumes can continue, while I’m more skeptical simply because SVOD business models are still in flux.
Another dimension to the value of more TV shows is how important both stacking rights for current seasons and access to back catalogs are becoming for the existing ecosystem. With VOD, binge-viewing and time-shifting all on the rise, there appears to be an emerging consensus on broader availability of TV shows. We explore all of this as well.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 1 second)