Roku to stream first season of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ for free

Roku is unlocking premium content from HBO for the first time without a subscription, with its second-annual holiday streaming fest, Stream-a-thon. The promotion will see Roku offering the full first season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for free to anyone with a Roku device. Also included during the event are full seasons and select episodes from other premium channels like Cinemax, Showtime, Starz and others.

The Stream-a-thon is a promotional effort aimed at capturing viewership at a time when many people are off work and relaxing at home, often watching TV. This year, the Steam-a-thon runs from December 26, 2019 through January 1, 2020.

This is the second year Roku has hosted the event, whose larger goal is to encourage Roku users to sign up for one of the premium channel subscriptions offered through Roku’s platform. The sampling of seasons and shows is meant to get viewers hooked on the content, as well as draw in users to Roku’s free content hub, The Roku Channel, where it features ad-supported free movies and shows year-round.

In addition to season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” other full first seasons being made available include Cinemax’s “Warrior,” Starz’s “Power” and Showtime’s “Billions,” “The Affair” and “Ray Donovan,” among others. Several individual episodes are being unlocked as well, including those from HBO’s “Barry,” “Chernobyl,” “Euphoria,” Sesame Street” and “Succession,” plus Showtime’s “Kidding” and EPIX’s “Get Shorty,” “Pennyworth” and “Punk.”

The full list of participants includes Cinemax, CONtv, Dove Channel, EPIX, FitFusion, The Great Courses Signature, HBO, Hallmark Movies Now, Pantaya, Smithsonian Channel Plus, Starz, Showtime, Stingray Karaoke and UP Faith & Family.

HBO also has a deal with Amazon to offer select seasons of its older shows, like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “True Blood,” “Deadwood,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Oz,” “Six Feet Under” and others which are free to Prime members. But those aren’t actually free to stream because they require an annual Amazon Prime membership to watch.

Related to the launch of Stream-of-thon, Roku is also for the first time offering a combination HBO + Cinemax value pack that discounts the subscriptions to $20.99 per month instead of paying for them separately at $14.99 and $9.99, respectively.

 

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are back in the first trailer for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Despite the financial success of of the goofily likable “Aquaman,” Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is probably still the biggest draw in DC’s Extended Universe. She’s returning to big screens next year in “Wonder Woman 1984”, and Warner Bros released the first trailer over the weekend.

As its title suggests, the sequel jumps about 70 years ahead from its predecessor’s World War I setting, as the trailer makes clear with some obligatory ’80s fashion and music.

The trailer features plenty of shots of Gadot in action, and she even gets to show off a new Wonder Woman costume. The film also brings back Chris Pine as Steve Trevor — fans will recall (spoiler!) that Trevor died at the end of the first film, but it seems that he’s back from the dead and back in the middle of the story.

The trailer also provides glimpses of Kristen Wiig as an archeologist who eventually becomes the villainous Cheetah and Pedro Pascal as the tycoon Maxwell Lord. And there are new scenes set in Wonder Woman’s childhood home, the mythical island of Themyscira.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is scheduled for release on June 5, 2020. Gadot and Pine aren’t the only “Wonder Woman” alums returning for the sequel — director Patty Jenkins is also back behind the camera.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ embraces middle age

“The Crown” has returned to Netflix with a new cast — Olivia Colman as a middle-aged Queen Elizabeth, Tobias Menzies as her husband Prince Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as her sister Princess Margaret.

Loyal listeners of the Original Content podcast may recall that we reviewed the show’s first two seasons last year. We didn’t have particularly high hopes, but “The Crown” quickly won us over with its stunning sets and costumes, talented actors, and serious exploration of the role that the monarchy plays in an evolving England.

As we explain in our latest episode, “The Crown” is both changed and unchanged in its third season.

Anyone who’s watched past episodes will recognize the new season’s tone and preoccupations, but the characters have evolved — not just thanks to new actors, but also as the real-life monarchs they’re portraying become more settled in their roles. Plus, a new generation of royals (including Prince Charles) is entering adulthood.

Our reactions to these changes were mixed. While Jordan enjoyed seeing a more recognizable period of history — one that foreshadows the dramas of the ’80s and ’90s — Anthony felt the show became a tiny bit less compelling. He had no complaints about Colman (who recently won an Oscar for playing a different English monarch in “The Favourite”), but he found the older Elizabeth less memorable than the young queen who was still struggling to define her role.

As for Darrell, he only watched a couple episodes before giving up. But he still had plenty of thoughts about why he has no interest in continuing.

In addition to reviewing “The Crown,” we also discuss Plex’s new ad-supported streaming service.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:35 Plex discussion
8:40 “The Crown” season 3 spoiler-free review
38:33 “The Crown” spoiler discussion

Netflix earmarks $420M to fight Disney in India

Netflix may still not have a million subscribers in India, but it continues to invest big bucks in the nation, where Disney’s Hotstar currently dominates the video streaming market.

Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said on Friday that the company is on track to spend 30,000 million Indian rupees, or $420.5 million, on producing and licensing content in India this year and the next.

“This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” he said at a conference in New Delhi.

The rare revelation today has quickly become the talk of the town. “This is significantly higher than what we have invested in content over the past years,” an executive at one of the top five rival services told TechCrunch. Another industry source said that no streaming service in India is spending anything close to that figure on just content.

While it remains unclear exactly how much capital other streaming services are spending on content, a recent KPMG report suggested that Hotstar was spending about $17 million on producing seven original shows this year, while Eros Now had pumped about $50 million to create 100 new original shows. (The report does not talk about licensing content expenses.)

Netflix, which entered India as part of its global expansion to more than 200 nations and territories in early 2016, has so far produced more than two dozen original shows and movies in India.

Hastings said several of the shows that the company has produced in India, including A-listed cast-starrer “Sacred Games” and “Mightly Little Bheem” have “travelled around the world.” More than 27 million households outside of India, said Hastings, have started to watch “Mighty Little Bheem,” an animated series aimed at children.

India has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for technology and entertainment firms. About half of the nation’s 1.3 billion population is now online and a growing number of people are beginning to transact online.

To broaden its reach in the nation, Netflix earlier this year introduced a new monthly price tier — $2.8 — that allows users in India to watch the streaming service in standard quality on a mobile device. (The company has since expanded this offering to Malaysia.)

More to follow…

Apple Music dives deeper into concert streaming with Billie Eilish

As music streaming apps struggle to differentiate, Apple is making concert video a more central part of its strategy with tonight’s big Billie Eilish show at its HQ’s Steve Jobs Theater. The Apple Music Awards concert will be streaming live and then on-demand to Apple Music’s 60 million subscribers. Apple would like to do more of these streamed concerts in the near future.

You can stream Apple’s Billie Eilish concert here

Beyond the concert streaming, Apple is looking to strengthen its perception as an ally to art and artists. Given Apple Music is just a tiny fraction of the iPhone maker’s massive revenues, it can look overly corporate and capitalistic compared to music-only competitors like Spotify that some see as more aligned with the success of musicians.

To grow its subscriber count amongst serious listeners and earn points with creators, Apple Music can’t look like it’s just designed to sell more Apple hardware. So tonight Apple is hoping to show its respect for artists, handing out its first Apple Music Awards. Billie Eilish has won artist of the year and Songwriter Of The Year (with her brother Finneas), while Lizzo is taking home Breakthrough Artist Of The Year. Additionally, based on Apple Music streaming counts, Eilish’s ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” has won Album Of The Year, and Lil Was X’s ‘Old Town Road’ is the Song Of The Year.

The award statues themselves are specially-crafted Apple artifacts, featuring overwrought design like you see in those WWDC videos of robots making gadgets. They start with a single 12-inch disc of nanometer-level flat silicon wafer — the same kind used to power Apple’s iPhones. Copper layers are patterned with ultraviolet lithography to etch connections between the billions of transistors on the wafer. It’s then sliced into hundreds of individual chips and lined up during the months-long process to create a reflective trophy suspended between glass and anodized aluminum. In what’s sure to become a kooky collector’s item, each award is packaged with its own special Apple spirit level and mounting screws for classy installation.

The hope seems to be that both the winners and their fellow artists will come away with the perception that Apple truly cares about music. That, plus Apple Music’s scale, could help convince them to share more links to their songs on the streaming service and feature their profile there ahead of their presences on competing listening apps.

On the concert front, Apple started holding its yearly Apple Music Festival, formerly the iTunes Festival, back in 2007. But after a blow-out 10th year where Apple streamed shows from Britney Spears, Elton John, and Chance the Rapper, it discontinued the event in 2017. Apple Music launched a dedicated Music Videos tab last year, but has done less recently with concert streaming other than a few events with Tyler, The Creator and Shawn Mendes. These concert videos can be tough to find inside Apple Music.

Yet this represents a massive opportunity for Apple. Across music streaming services, catalogs are becoming more uniform, everyone is copying each other’s personalized playlists and discovery mechanisms, and many are embracing radio and podcasts. Meanwhile, paying for exclusive music or whole artists has fallen out of fashion compared to a few years ago. Fragmenting the music catalog is hostile towards listeners, can be harmful for artists who lose out on mass distribution, and it can engender backlash from artists fans’ who don’t want to pay for multiple redundant streaming services.

Streaming concert videos, which typically aren’t available beyond shaky camera phone footage, feel additive to the music ecosystem. If platforms are willing to pay to shoot and produce the videos, they can be powerful differentiators. And if the recorded shows look unique from the typical tours, as with the tree-covered stage for tonight’s Billie Eilish show at Apple headquarters, they keep fans glued to their screens. Video viewing can lead users to develop more affinity for whichever company is broadcasting the shows compared to multi-tasking while they merely listen to a generic app.

Apple is already ahead of competitors like Spotify that do very little on the concert video front. Streaming more shows like tonight’s could help it better rival YouTube Music, which integrates traditional music streaming with a broad array of rarities, music videos, and streamed concerts like Coachella. Apple is also fortunate to have a global retail and office footprint that could help it throw and record more shows with fewer logistical headaches.

To date, Apple Music has leaned on its pre-installations on the company’s phones, tablets, and computers plus its free trial system to drive growth. But if it can spot holes in the industry’s content offering, leverage its deep pockets to invest in premium video, and prove to artists that it cares, Apple Music could build a brand separate from and with more street cred than Apple itself.

Original Content podcast: Reasons to be thankful for streaming and Star Wars

Since it’s a holiday week for those of us in the United States, we’ve put together an (even more) unstructured episode of the Original Content podcast.

Among other things, this gives us a chance to update our initial review of “The Mandalorian” by acknowledging the Disney+ show’s breakout character, known unofficially as Baby Yoda — maybe that counts as a spoiler, but he’s all over social media already, and he’s even the subject of new Disney merchandise that seems to have been rushed into production.

Beyond our “Mandalorian” catch-up, Star Wars comes up again during our discussion of things from the streaming and entertainment world that we’re thankful for.

Despite some behind-the-scenes turmoil, the Disney era at Lucasfilm has brought us some delightful films, particularly “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” It might seem kind of redundant to praise two of the most commercially successful films of all time, but it’s also an opportunity to address the online backlash and criticism directed primarily at Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

Moving beyond the galaxy far, far away, we also discuss topics like Netflix shows (“Another Life”) that we’re excited to see return, plus the streaming series (“See”) and movies (“Marriage Story”) that we’re currently enjoying.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/Thanksgiving plans
5:40 “Mandalorian” follow-up
18:33 What we’re thankful for

Netflix leases New York’s Paris Theatre

Netflix is expanding its theatrical presence by signing a long-term lease for The Paris Theatre, a historic single-screen venue in New York City.

This follows reports that Netflix is also working to buy the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. And while these might seem like odd moves for a streaming company, they may also be necessary if Netflix wants to continue working with high-profile filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach.

After all, although Scorsese’s latest film “The Irishman” and Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” are both playing in theaters, they’re appearing on a limited number of screens.

In the case of “The Irishman,” Netflix reportedly hoped for a bigger rollout but failed to get the major theatrical chains on-board because the company would only wait four weeks (shorter than the traditional window of theatrical exclusivity) before launching the movie online.

Despite its deep pockets, Netflix’s theatrical challenges could dissuade other Scorsese-caliber filmmakers from signing with the service, particularly if the issue hurts the chances that “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” (and last year’s “Roma,” which won three Oscars but lost out for Best Picture) will be able to win major awards.

So by buying or leasing theaters of its own, Netflix can ensure that its films will get the cachet of a big-screen release. It can also host glitzy premieres and other events.

As for the Paris Theatre, it opened in 1948, and reopened earlier this month to screen “Marriage Story.” (By the way: I highly recommend seeing “Marriage Story” on the big screen — I’ve already done so twice.)

“After 71 years, the Paris Theatre has an enduring legacy, and remains the destination for a one-of-a kind movie-going experience,” said Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a statement. “We are incredibly proud to preserve this historic New York institution so it can continue to be a cinematic home for film lovers.”

Entertainment as the new Oil

Oil is the ultimate benchmark for sizing the world’s leading industries. In recent years, headlines have quipped that “data is the new oil” or “information is the new oil”. In last week’s The Economist, the gist of the lead story is that entertainment – an industry that has been associated with flailing newspaper subscriptions and, relatedly, a sector struggling given the rise of technology – is in fact, the “new oil” for the contemporary epoch. 

The Economist’s cover story substantiated its oil equivalent by showing that the same amount is being invested in entertainment as the oil industry this year: $100 billion. More than investment, entertainment is one of the largest industries in the world in revenue terms, projected to reach $2.5 trillion by 2022 (Statista). Since 2010, just three groups (WarnerMedia, Netflix and The Walt Disney Company) ploughed $250 billion into programming. And last year alone Audible generated $1 billion in revenue for Amazon.   

Entertainment is more than newspapers, more than Hollywood, and more than the sum of specific verticals jousting for consumer eyeballs. Entertainment is how we choose to spend our time (and money) and is consumer driven. It’s constant, immersive and happens throughout the day, not just a weekend night movie. With the smartphone, entertainment is basically with us all the time, everywhere.

A Nielsen survey from 2018 shows that U.S adults spend 11 hours daily on consuming some form of media, from watching TV, listening to music, apps or games – that is a whopping two-thirds of their waking-time. Emarketer has pegged that number at over 12 hours for  2019. To no surprise digital video and audio are winners. Social usage is almost entirely spent on mobile. 

What, then, is the entertainment industry, exactly? Well, in many ways, in the 21st century it is the convergence of technology and attention. The large investment flows into entertainment fuel advanced in technology to produce, to distribute and monetise content that educates us, relax us, entertains us, and so on.

To answer the question of what it is, we explore the intersection of entertainment and technology. Startup landscapes, while not perfect, are useful as they provide a way for us to define a space/category and the players of that vertical. There are countless landscapes for almost every vertical you can think of, many of them are collected and published in this blog. But, search for “Entertainment Tech”, and you will come back empty handed, despite the ascendance of activities. 

Entertainment in 2019 represents a mix of various sectors, each of them an expansive world in its own right: movies & TV, online video, gaming, music, books, sports … and the list goes on, given that we spend so much of our time as creators and consumers of entertainment. Take AR/VR/XR for example. It’s definitely included in Entertainment Tech and is high on the agenda for many entertainment companies, but any Entertainment Tech landscape shouldn’t only include AR/VR companies. That’s not to say that you could not *easily* name 10 exciting AR/VR companies. Its just that AR/VR is very far from constituting Entertainment Tech. Is it only one exciting vertical within the broader umbrella.

As we specialise in Entertainment Tech at Remagine Ventures, we work to better define the constituent parts of the sector. In this post, we share how we conceive of Entertainment Tech. 

Wikipedia defines Entertainment Technology as follows:

Entertainment technology is the discipline of using manufactured or created components to enhance or make possible any sort of entertainment experience. Because entertainment categories are so broad, and because entertainment models the world in many ways, the types of implemented technology are derived from a variety of sources.

Source

The graphic below is an approximation of the categories we include. Each category represents a large vertical on its own, which together comprise of Entertainment Tech across content creation, consumption, distribution and monetisation.

Entertainment tech categories - Remagine Ventures

Within these categories, we see three trends emerging:

  1. Change in consumer behaviour: driven by demographic changes, new models of entertainment and consumption are emerging. According to “Global Trends Among Gen Z” report by Snap and GlobalWebIndex, the top 5 interests for Gen Z’s ‘always on’ generation is Music (69%), Movies (61%), Gaming (54%) and Technology (53%) 
  2. New technologies, primarily driven by AI/Automation: here we focus on machine learning, deep learning, NLP and computer vision/image recognition. 
  3. Convergence of disciplines – We find that the most interesting opportunities are at the intersection of trends. A few examples: 
    • Commerce + Content + 5G
    • AI + Video
    • eSports and Entertainment
    • Retail + Entertainment + Experiences
    • Cloud + Gaming 
    • Data + Consumer Products + Sustainability 

Looking at this broadly defined world, one might wonder how some of these categories are connected. Yet when we look at this space a lot of these verticals are already connected or even converging. The two main drivers, AI technology and consumer behaviour, are blurring the lines and we like to focus where these industries and technologies intersect. 

Content & Commerce is an obvious example, just take a look at Vice Media’s acquisition of Refinery29, the plethora of DTC startups disrupting traditional brands (see VC Cafe post) or Instragram’s shopping features and look-out for Snap to start monetising more through commerce in the future. 

Marketplaces & Classifieds have been part of the newspaper business almost since its inception. When the internet came along, these two pairs were split but the smart newspaper businesses acquired online classified & marketplaces around the world. Examples include Schibsted, which recently spun-out its classified business via an IPO or Axel Springer, which owns a range of online businesses including jobs, real-estate or automotive digital classifieds. 

To better understand the breadth & scope think of it this way: the internet has disrupted the TMT sector more than any other industry and shifted revenues away to new players (think facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple etc.). Yet more traditional TMT companies still create valuable content and reach millions of consumers daily. They missed the boat on some of the earlier technology driven innovations, but they are trying to catch up. In 2018, CVC investments surged dramatically, surpassing traditional VC investment in the US (see VC Cafe post). Every company that is in the “attention economy” is looking for ways to stand-out, engage and find new ways to monetise. And while all this is happening, new forms of entertainment, e.g. gaming/esports (e.g. Fortnite) or VR & AR (e.g. the Void) coupled with the need and opportunity to consume, watch, click & buy anywhere, anytime on any device compete with Netflix & Co. And when you think about it this way, new technologies are unlocking and driving trends in consumer health, fintech & data privacy. 

As the world is witnessing the increasing connectivity of various sectors, we at Remagine Ventures, are excited to invest in startups with cutting-edge technologies that are driving these changes forward.

This post was written jointly with Kevin Baxpehler. Thanks to Larry Aidem, Thomas Ebeling and Robyn Klingler Vidra for their feedback on earlier drafts.

Hulu is down, and nobody’s sure why

Hulu is currently down.

We’re not sure why, and neither does Hulu. A stream of tweets complaining about the outage surfaced Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast, but it seems like a global outage. In response, Hulu’s Twitter support didn’t seem to know either, instead telling frustrated users that it’s looking into it.

Fantastic.

We’ve reached out for comment but we haven’t heard back yet. Stay tuned for more. (Or switch to another streaming service instead.)

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Rhythm + Flow’ tweaks the music competition formula

“Rhythm + Flow” is Netflix’s take on a reality TV staple — the music competition show. With Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and Tip “T.I.” Harris on-board as judges, the series searches for the next big hip-hop star.

In some ways, “Rhythm + Flow” sticks to the formula popularized by “American Idol,” “The Voice” and similar shows, with several episodes devoted to auditions in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Chicago, followed by a gauntlet of challenges in which contestants hone their skills and prove their worth, culminating in a final showdown with one big winner.

But as fellow TechCrunch writer Megan Rose Dickey helps us explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the series stands out in a few key ways. For one thing, it’s the first music competition to focus on hip hop. And rather than asking the audience to watch live/week-to-week, the show is now fully binge-able (it was initially released in batches of episodes over a two-week period).

We appreciated the fact that “Rhythm + Flow” didn’t linger on the spectacularly bad performers (and there were some) — it reserved most of its screen time for the genuine talents.

We also enjoyed the judges, who seemed to be enjoying themselves while also offering thoughtful commentary. Cardi B, in particular, was always entertaining, whether she was being enthusiastic, supportive or dismissive.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

A quick warning: While we felt that you can’t really “spoil” a reality show that’s been out for a month, we do reveal who won.

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 Disney+ follow-up
8:28 “Rhythm + Flow” review