WarnerMedia tries to simplify HBO branding by sunsetting HBO Go and renaming HBO Now

WarnerMedia is hoping to make things simpler for anyone wondering whether to get HBO Max, HBO Go or HBO Now.

Back in simpler times, there were only two HBO streaming apps — Go for cable subscribers, and Now for viewers who wanted a standalone streaming subscription. Then the company launched launched HBO Max last month.

Content-wise, Max encompasses the HBO library plus a bunch of additional movies and shows. Meanwhile, from an app perspective, it was released as an update to HBO Now … except on Fire TV and Roku, where WarnerMedia has yet to reach a deal to offer Max, so the app is still HBO Now.

Just typing that out made me feel tired. And after all that, here’s what WarnerMedia announced today:

Now that HBO Max has launched and is widely distributed, we can implement some significant changes to our app offering in the U.S. As part of that plan, we will be sunsetting our HBO GO service in the U.S. We intend to remove the HBO GO app from primary platforms as of July 31, 2020. Most customers who have traditionally used HBO GO to stream HBO programming are now able to do so via HBO Max, which offers access to all of HBO together with so much more. Additionally, the HBO NOW app and desktop experience will be rebranded to HBO. Existing HBO NOW subscribers will have access to HBO through the rebranded HBO app on platforms where it remains available and through play.hbo.com. HBO Max provides not only the robust offering of HBO but also a vast WarnerMedia library and acquired content and originals through a modern product.

While the changes are tedious to explain, it sounds like they will actually result in a (somewhat) simpler set of consumer choices. Basically:

  • The HBO Max app is going to be the primary HBO app going forward.
  • If you subscribe to HBO through one of the supported cable providers (including AT&T, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Hulu, Optimum, Spectrum, Verizon Fios or YouTube TV), you should be able to use the HBO Max app at no additional cost.
  • If you’re trying to watch HBO on a device that doesn’t yet support HBO Max — namely, Fire TV or Roku — then you’re going to be using an app that doesn’t have all the extra content. That app has the no-frills name HBO.

See? Simple!

Coronavirus could push consumers away from influencers and toward streaming TV

As the nation struggles with a pandemic and economic uncertainty, fundamental shifts in consumer habits are leading marketers to rethink existing strategies and budgets allocated to influencers and streaming TV.

These significant shifts are nothing new; just as the dot-com bubble reduced landline penetration and boosted mobile phone adoption, the last recession pushed traditional ad spend to digital. It was an option before, but the recession accelerated the trend to targeting select audiences on social media platforms, giving rise to influencers.

Today, social media influencers are so ubiquitous, they risk becoming meaningless.

Prior to the onset of coronavirus, we saw the influencer trend diminishing while the streaming TV trend became more prominent. Today, streaming is still trending up and influencers have actually seen increased levels of engagement, but they face credibility issues, which could lead to a reduction in perceived value to brands.

Streaming has similar, if not more, targeting capabilities as social media, but now it has the eyeballs — the captive audience of quarantined Americans — up 20% this March, according to Nielsen. Marketers on a tight budget will be forced to reevaluate their relationships with influencers as they seek to increase ad spend on streaming TV services.

The evolving realms of influencers

Players Ntwrk launches celebrity gaming channel backed by WME, Daylight and Stratton Sclavos

Emerging from the smoldering wreckage of Echo Fox and Vision Venture Partners, the investor Stratton Sclavos is rising again to launch a new esports-related venture — a gaming-focused digital network also backed by the WME talent agency and Daylight Holdings.

Tapping Daylight and WME’s roster of talent, Sclavos has created Players Ntwrk, a new gaming-focused production company that will look to compete with other upstarts angling to tap into esports and competitive gaming’s newly dominant place in the entertainment firmament.

Players Ntwrk will feature original programming, unscripted series, celebrity gameplay and live events tapping talent from music, traditional pro-sports and the esports gaming world.

Sclavos and the multifaceted talent manager and president of Daylight Holdings, Ben Curtis, dreamed up Players Ntwrk as a way to tie together disparate groups of athletes and entertainers around their shared love of gaming and entertainment. The network will initially leverage relationships with WME and Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’ longtime manager, Rich Paul, to find talent for programming.

The network will launch on Tuesday at 5:00 pm Pacific for two hours of gameplay featuring the New Orleans Pelicans Guard/Forward Josh Hart and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox on the Players Ntwrk Twitch channel. Additional live streams will be broadcast Friday and Saturday, the company said.

Over the next 12 weeks the network will add live programming featuring all of its “First Squad” talent and experimenting with different gaming and unscripted formats. Ultimately, the network will produce between 12 and 15 hours of original programming per week by the end of the second quarter and will ramp up to 20 to 24 hours of programming per-week by the end of the year.

Initial programming is going to be devoted to charity fundraising, with proceeds going to designated charities based on direct audience donations, the company said.

Players Ntwrk’s First Squad talent roster includes:

  • Professional athletes: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Josh Hart (New Orleans Pelicans), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
  • Music and Entertainment: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Murda Beatz, producer Boi-1da, actor/former athlete Donovan Carter (Ballers)
  • Creators/Streamers: KatGunn, Sodapoppin, Cash, Jesser, Jericho, Octane, Sigils, Sonii and DenkOps

Players Ntwrk joins companies like Venn, which are angling to gain a slice of the roughly 37.5 million monthly viewers that are expected to watch live streams on Twitch by the end of 2020, according to research done by eMarketer.

“The number of viewers and subscribers consuming gaming entertainment across YouTube and Twitch tops other entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO, Spotify and ESPN combined,” said Sclavos, in a statement. “Entertainment spectacle is trumping hardcore gaming competition. That kind of engagement makes it clear; gaming entertainment is the next pop culture phenomena. PLAYERS NTWRK is the only platform embracing and executing this new reality by creating original content with the most influential people who also happen to be fans themselves.”

HBO makes some top shows, movies and documentaries free to stream on HBO NOW and HBO GO

Giving people even more of a reason to stay home and follow the social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., HBO said it would be making 500 hours of programming free to stream over HBO NOW and HBO GO without a subscription, starting Friday, April 3.

Shows that audiences can stream include some of the best television shows ever made, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” and other very good HBO shows like “Veep” and “Six Feet Under.”

Movie titles like “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and back catalog gems like (one of my favorite movies of all-time) “Empire of the Sun” join docuseries including “McMillion$” and “The Case Against Adnan Syed” as free-to-stream offerings as well.

Viewers who want to watch what is inarguably the best show ever made (it’s “The Wire”) can download the HBO NOW or HBO GO apps or visit HBONOW.com or HBOGO.com.

The network’s distribution partners will also make the shows available to stream for free in the coming days, the company said. This offer marks the first time that HBO has made this amount of programming available for free outside of the paywall on either of its apps, the company said.

The full list of HBO content available to stream without a subscription includes:

  • Ballers (5 Seasons)

  • Barry (2 Seasons)

  • Silicon Valley (6 Seasons)

  • Six Feet Under (5 Seasons)

  • The Sopranos (7 Seasons)

  • Succession (2 Seasons)

  • True Blood (7 Seasons

  • Veep (7 Seasons)

  • The Wire (5 Seasons)

10 Docuseries and Documentaries

  • The Apollo

  • The Case Against Adnan Syed

  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher

  • I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

  • Jane Fonda in Five Acts

  • McMillion$

  • True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality

  • United Skates

  • We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest

20 Warner Bros. Theatricals

  • Arthur

  • Arthur 2: On the Rocks

  • Blinded By the Light

  • The Bridges of Madison County

  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

  • Empire of the Sun

  • Forget Paris

  • Happy Feet Two

  • Isn’t It Romantic?

  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

  • Midnight Special

  • My Dog Skip

  • Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

  • Pan

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

  • Red Riding Hood

  • Smallfoot

  • Storks

  • Sucker Punch

  • Unknown

Disney debuts its streaming service in India for $20 a year

Disney+ has arrived in the land of Bollywood. The company on Friday (local time) rolled out its eponymous streaming service in India through Hotstar, a popular on-demand video streamer it picked up as part of the Fox deal.

To court users in India, the largest open entertainment market in Asia, Disney is charging users 1,499 Indian rupees (about $19.5) for a year, the most affordable plan in any of the more than a dozen markets where Disney+ is currently available.

Subscribers of the revamped streaming service, now called Disney+ Hotstar, will get access to Disney Originals in English as well as several local languages, live sporting events, dozens of TV channels, and thousands of movies and shows, including some sourced from HBO, Showtime, ABC and Fox that maintain syndication partnerships with the Indian streaming service. It also maintains partnership with Hooq — at least for now.

Unlike Disney+’s offering in the U.S. and other markets, in India, the service does not support 4K and streams content at nearly a tenth of their bitrate.

Disney+ Hotstar is also offering a cheaper yearly premium tier, priced at Rs 399 (about $5.3), that will offer subscribers access to movies, shows (but not those sourced from aforementioned U.S. networks and studios) and live sporting events; it won’t include Disney Originals.

Access to streaming of sporting events, especially of cricket matches, has helped five-year-old Hotstar become the most popular on-demand video streaming in India. During the cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, the service amassed more than 300 million monthly active users and more than 100 million daily active users.

It also holds the global record for most simultaneous views on a live stream, about 25 million — more than thrice its nearest competitor.

Prior to today’s launch, Hotstar offered its premium plans at 999 Indian rupees, and 365 Indian rupees. Existing subscribers won’t be affected by the price revision for the duration of their current subscription.

The service, run by Indian conglomerate Star India, offers access to about 80% of its catalog at no cost to users. The company monetizes these viewers through ads.

But in recent years, the company has begun to explore ways to turn its users into subscribers. Two years ago, Hotstar stopped offering cricket match streaming to non-paying users.

People familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Hotstar has about 1.5 million paying subscribers, lower than what most industry firms estimate. But that figure is still higher than most of its competitors.

And there are many.

India’s on-demand video market

Disney+ will compete with more than three dozen international and local players in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Times Internet’s MX Player (which has over 175 million monthly active users), Zee5, Apple TV+ and Alt Balaji, which has amassed over 27 million subscribers.

“The arrival of Disney+ in India is another case study in the globalization of entertainment in the digital era. For decades, the biggest companies in the world have expanded their reach into different markets. But it’s new, and actually quite profound, that everyone on earth receives the very same version of such a specific cultural product,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch.

As in some other markets, including the U.S., streaming services have inked deals with telecom networks, TV vendors, cable TV operators and satellite TV players to extend their reach in India.

Most of these streaming services monetize their viewers by selling ads, and those who do charge have kept their premium plans below $3.

Why that figure? That’s the number most industry executives think — by spending years in the Indian market — that people in the country are willing to pay for viewing content. The average of how much an individual pays for cable TV, for instance, in India is also about $3.

“I think everyone is still trying to sort out the right pricing. It’s true the average Indian consumer is used to far lower prices and can’t afford more. However, we need to focus on the consumers likely to buy this, who have the requisite broadband access and income, etc,” said Ball.

Commuters drive along a road past a billboard in Mumbai advertising the Amazon Prime Video online series “The Forgotten Army”. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP via Getty Images)

At stake is India’s booming on-demand video streaming market that, according to Boston Consulting Group, is estimated to grow to $5 billion from half a billion two years ago.

Hotstar’s hold on India could make it easier for Disney+, which has launched in more than a dozen markets and has amassed over 28 million subscribers.

As the country spends about two more weeks in lockdown that New Delhi ordered last month to curtail the spread of coronavirus, this could also compel many to give Disney+ a try.

On the flip side, if the lockdown is extended, the current season of IPL, which has been postponed until mid-April, might be further delayed or cancelled altogether. Either of those scenarios could hurt the reach of Hotstar, which sees a massive drop in its user base after the conclusion of each cricket tournament.

Disney initially planned to launch its streaming service in India on March 28, the day IPL was supposed to commence. But the company later postponed the launch by six days.

Industry executives told TechCrunch that if IPL is cancelled, it could severely hurt the financials of Hotstar, which clocks more than 50% of its revenue during the 50-odd days of the cricket season.

Some said Disney+’s premier catalog might not be relevant for most of Hotstar’s user base, who seem to care about this streaming service only during the cricket season or to catch up on Indian soap operas.

Hotstar has also received criticism for censoring more content on its platform than any other streaming service in India. Last month, Hotstar blocked from streaming on its platform an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. YouTube made that segment available without any edits.

John Oliver slammed Hotstar for censoring the episode and noted that the streaming service had additionally edited out parts from his older episodes where he made fun of Disney. In 2017, Hotstar also edited out a segment from Oliver’s show in which he mocked Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. Hotstar and Samsung had a commercial partnership.

Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment in 2017. Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the recent controversy.

Disney blocks John Oliver’s new episode critical of India’s PM Modi

Disney-owned Hotstar, India’s largest on-demand video streaming service with more than 300 million users, has blocked the newest episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The move has angered many of its customers ahead of Disney+’s launch in one of the world’s largest entertainment markets next month.

In the episode, aired hours before U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India, Oliver talked about some of the questionable policies enforced by the ruling government in India and recent protests against “controversial figure” Modi’s citizenship measures. The 19-minute news recap and commentary sourced its information from credible news outlets.

The episode is available to stream in India through HBO’s official channel on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 4 million views. Hotstar is the exclusive syndicating partner of HBO, Showtime and ABC in India.

Spokespeople of Star India, which runs Hotstar, and Disney, which acquired the major Indian broadcasting network as part of its Fox deal, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the governing agency which regulates information, broadcasts, movies and the press in India, said the government was not involved in any censorship discussions.

Numerous people in India began speculating on Monday whether Hotstar, which like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video self-censors some content, would stream the new episode at 6am on Tuesday, when it typically makes new episodes of Oliver’s show available on the platform.

It became quickly apparent on Tuesday that the Disney-owned platform, which has a knack of censoring numerous sensitive subjects, including sketches that make fun of its sponsors, was not going to risk upsetting the ruling party.

Last year, Amazon also removed from its streaming service in India an episode of the CBS show “Madam Secretary” in which references to Hindu nationalism and extremists were made. Netflix also pulled an episode in Saudi Arabia of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” that criticized the kingdom’s crown prince.

WarnerMedia’s new streaming service HBO Max is coming to YouTube TV, along with HBO & Cinemax

WarnerMedia and YouTube TV today announced a distribution deal that will bring HBO and Cinemax to the Google-owned live TV streaming service for the first time as well as, notably, WarnerMedia’s new service HBO Max, set to launch this spring.

That means that YouTube TV customers will have the option to add-on either HBO or Cinemax to their current subscription, as they can today on other streaming services like Hulu. Alternately, they’ll be able to opt for HBO Max’s expanded streaming service instead.

The new agreement will also allow YouTube TV to continue to carry the WarnerMedia networks TBS, TNT, truTV, CNN, HLN, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network, which have been available to YouTube TV since 2018.

“As consumers’ media consumption habits continually evolve and the landscape becomes more and more dynamic, our goal remains constant, and that is to make the portfolio of WarnerMedia networks available as widely as possible,” said Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution, in a statement. “YouTube has been a valued partner for a number of years, and we’re pleased to not only extend our existing agreement, but also make HBO and Cinemax – and soon HBO Max – available to YouTube TV customers for the first time.”

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s previously announced direct-to-consumer streaming service, which includes the HBO library as well as films from Warner Bros., third-party licensed programs and 31 Max Originals. Combined with HBO series, HBO Max will stream 69 originals in its first year.

Among these is a “Gossip Girl” sequel, a Mindy Kaling comedy called “College Girls,” an adaptation of the popular novel “Circe,” a superhero series “DC Superhero High,” a “Dune” series, a “Grease” reboot, a reboot of “The Boondocks,” “The Green Lantern,” an Issa Rae comedy, a Ridley Scott sci-fi series, a new documentary on Anthony Bourdain, a documentary about Amy Schumera Melissa McCarthy comedy filma documentary with Monica Lewinsky and other scripted and unscripted shows. It also has a new deal with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot and an overall deal with Lisa Ling. 

The company says the service will debut in May with 10,000 hours of film and TV, but will continue to grow over time. It is set to cost $14.99 per month.

With the additions of HBO, YouTube TV viewers can gain access to shows like “Watchmen,” “Big Little Lies,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Succession,” “Westworld,” “The Outsider,” “Barry,” “Insecure,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as well as classics like “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Sex and the City.” Upcoming HBO releases will include “High Maintenance,” “My Brilliant Friend,” “The Plot Against America,” “The Undoing” and “I Know This Much Is True.”

Meanwhile, Cinemax brings its own slate of originals, including “Strike Back,” “Trackers” and “Gangs of London,” as well as movies like “Boy Erased,” “First Man” and “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

While HBO and Cinemax are offered to cord-cutters as over-the-top subscriptions in a number of places, WarnerMedia’s distribution plans for HBO Max are only now starting to be revealed. It makes sense that WarnerMedia would look to grow its distribution partnerships in the wake of the increased streaming competition arriving this year, including NBCU’s Peacock and an expanded CBS All Access, announced today by ViacomCBS.

How the founder of Pocketwatch sees the future of children’s entertainment

When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube.

Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences.

On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating.

The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming.

“If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams.

That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.”

The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming.

“When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams.

For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

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.

 

Quibi series from Steven Soderbergh starring Tye Sheridan focuses on smartphone survival skills

People dramatically proclaim all the time that they don’t think they could survive without their smartphones, but a new series form the forthcoming streaming service Quibi from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman approaches smartphone survival in a much more literal way. The scripted series, which will premiere on Quibi at launch in April 2020, stars Ready Player One‘s Tye Sheridan, and counts Steven Soderbergh as an executive producer.

The series, called ‘Wireless,’ was created by Jack Seidman and Zach Wechter, who are the creators of the short film Pocket, which is shot entirely as though it was taking place on a person’s phone, almost like a screencast of that device. Wireless will similar cinematic, which is a good fit for Quibi’s short-form, made for mobile approach to original streaming content. Wechter and Seidman have a head-start in this regard, in fact, since their film collective Pickpocket is specifically aimed at making this kind of feature.

‘Wireless’ will tell the story of Sheridan’s lead character, who is described as “a self-obsessed college student whose only hope for survival is the tool he has spent his whole life learning to use: his smartphone.” Said character will apparently be trapped inside of his freshly crashed car during the action, and using the smartphone (which is low on battery) to try to survive his predicament.

Quibi has already made a whole host of slate announcements, with new ones coming all the time, but it’s going to have a lot to prove once it actually debuts, into what will be by April a very crowded streaming content market. Apple TV+ and Disney+, two new entrants from heavyweights who aren’t building a name from scratch with consumers, just debuted, and there are more coming early next year from NBC, HBO/AT&T and more.