Netflix adds 8.8M paid subscribers globally, says it now accounts for 10 percent of U.S. TV screen time

Netflix just released its fourth quarter earnings report, which looks mixed compared to Wall Street expectations.

The company added 8.8 million subscribers, well above the 7.6 million that it had predicted at the beginning of the quarter. It also beat estimates for earnings per share — analysts had predicted EPS of 24 cents, but actual EPS came in at 30 cents. However, revenue was a bit lower than expected — $4.19 billion, compared to predictions of $4.21 billion.

As of 4:50pm Eastern, Netflix shares were down about 2 percent in after hours trading.

The investor letter also includes viewership numbers for several popular titles, including “Bird Box,” which the company says will be viewed by more than 80 million households in its first four weeks (45 million accounts streamed the movie in its first week, setting a record for Netflix). It also says that “You” and “Sex Education” are on-track to be viewed by more than 40 million households in their first four weeks on the service.

And these aren’t just people accidentally tuning in for a few seconds — Netflix says it only counts someone as a viewer of they watch at least 70 percent of a movie or an episode.

The letter emphasizes the popularity of these original shows and movies as a way of suggesting that Netflix isn’t reliant on outside studios for its content and continued success.

“As a result of our success with original content, we’re becoming less focused on 2nd run programming,” it says, noting that Netflix originals now account for the majority of unscripted viewing on the service. “We are ready to pay top-of-market prices for second run content when the studios, networks and producers are willing to sell, but we are also prepared to keep our members ecstatic with our incredible original content if others choose to retain their content for their own services.”

Later, the letter returns to the theme of growing competition in the streaming world, claiming that Netflix currently accounts for 100 million hours of viewing per day on U.S. TV screens — which it estimates to be 10 percent of the total. It also suggests that it’s going up against a “very broad set of competitors”: “We compete with (and lose to) ‘Fortnite’ more than HBO.”

“Our focus is not on Disney+ or Amazon, but on how we can improve our experience for our members,” the company says.

Prisma’s style transfer tech creeps into kids’ books

The style transfer craze kicked off by an app called Prisma a couple of years ago led to a tsunami of painterly selfies flooding social feeds for several months, as we reported at the time, before the rapacious, face-snapping hoards shifted their attention toward fresh spectacles. But that’s not the end of the story.

The same tech is now creeping into (paper) kids’ books, via a partnership between children’s publisher startup, Kabook, and Prisma Labs: aka the b2b entity that the original app makers pivoted to in late 2017.

So instead of AI sending robots into a human-slaying frenzy, per the usual dystopian sci-fi storyline, we find ourselves confronted with neural nets being used to serve up contextual illustrations of children so parents can gift personalized books that seamlessly insert a child’s likeness into the story, thereby casting them as a character in the tale.

Not the end of the world then. Well, not unless you view this kind of self-centered content manipulation as a threat to children’s imaginations and developing sense of empathy. (The research on any ‘little princes in training’ will, unfortunately, have to wait a few decades to come through though.)

The Kabook integration is the first consumer product partnership that Prisma Labs has scored, according to a press release from the pair.

And while they note there are other publishing services that offer the chance to insert a bit of custom text and photography into a book they claim their collaboration is the only publishing technology that does this “seamlessly”, i.e. thanks to the AI’s style blending fingers.

“We are excited to be able to work directly with the team at Kabook! to create a truly unique user experience; one that has offered young readers a completely personalized way to enjoy reading,” said Andrey Usoltsev, CEO of Prisma Labs, in a statement.

“Part of our mission at Prisma Labs is to develop new ways for people to express their emotions through digital creations, and through this partnership with Kabook! we are able to take that one step further and bring that to life on the pages of an actual book.”

Kabook, which was set up last year — describing itself as “a technology-based” children’s book publisher, with a focus on kids aged 0-7 years — is currently offering four stories that can be personalized with a kid’s AI-generated likeness.

Three of the books incorporate just one custom image into the story. While a fourth, called Hornswoggled!, makes uses of seven photos in a pirate-themed buried treasure adventure. 

The personalized stories start at $24.99 per book, with hard and soft cover versions available. 

Roku explains why it allowed Infowars on its platform

Roku has just made a bad decision with regard to its growing advertising business by associating its brand with the toxic conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. As Digiday first reported this morning, Roku has chosen to add the Infowars live show hosted by Jones to the Roku platform as a supported channel, much to the disgust of customers now hammering the company on its social media platforms.

The company, apparently, is opting for the “we’re a neutral platform” defense in the matter, despite the fact that most major platforms have backed away from this stance with regard to Jones.

Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even YouPorn have removed Infowars from their respective platforms.

The decision to allow the channel comes at a time when Jones and Infowars are in the headlines again because of a recent update in the legal battle between the Sandy Hook families and the Infowars program. The families are suing the conspiracy theorist for spreading the false claim that the school shooting was an elaborate hoax, and that Infowars peddled these stories to stoke fear and sell more products like survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia, The New York Times reports.

A judge has ordered Infowars to turn over internal documents to the families that relate to its business plan or marketing strategies, the shooting itself, crisis actors, or mass shootings in general.

Roku’s decision to allow the channel at all is a poor one not only in terms of taking a moral stance on complicated matters (if you’re of the mindset that’s something companies should do) – it seems to go against Roku’s own policy that bans content which is “unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights.”

This is the same general premise that saw Infowars banned everywhere else.

Because of Jones’ claims, the Sandy Hook families have received death threats and have been continually harassed, even offline. Jones has also promoted other theories that led to violence, like Pizzagate.

Roku’s position, seemingly, is that the channel hasn’t done any bad stuff yet on its platform, never mind its past.

Many Roku customers on social media are threatening to boycott. A search for terms including “roku,” “boycott,” and others related to the news are picking up speed on Twitter, the #boycottroku hashtag has just now re-appeared, as well. (It was used previously by customers protesting the NRA channel.)

Given Amazon Fire TV and Roku’s tight race and Roku’s hunt for ad revenue through newer initiatives like its Roku Channel, a boycott could have material impact. (It looks like Amazon picked the right day to launch its updated Fire TV Stick with the new Alexa remote. At $40, it’s not going to be hard for consumers to switch streamers, if it comes to that. A search for “infowars” in Amazon Fire TV apps is not currently returning results, if you’re curious.)

Roku has become one of the top streaming media device makers in the U.S. and globally, recently having reached nearly 24 million registered users. Digiday notes that it’s projected to generate $293 million in advertising in 2018, per eMarketer, putting it just behind Hulu.

Apparently, Roku believes it can distance itself from the content it hosts on its platform.

That’s not a good look for advertisers, however, many who won’t want their brand appearing anywhere near Infowars. And because Roku runs ads right on its homescreen, that means advertisers’ content can actually sit directly beside the Infowars channel icon, if not in the program itself.

For example:

It may also make advertisers hesitant to work with Roku on other initiatives because it shows a lack of understanding over how to manage brand safety, or because they fear a consumer backlash.

Roku’s full statement is below:

Our streaming platform allows our customers to choose from thousands of entertainment, news and special interest channels, representing a wide range of topics and viewpoints. Customers choose and control which channels they download or watch, and parents can set a pin to prevent channels from being downloaded. While the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint.

We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.

While open to many voices, we have policies that prohibit the publication of content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights, among other things. If we determine a channel violates these policies, it will be removed. To our knowledge, InfoWars is not currently in violation of these content policies.

Netflix will raise prices for US subscribers, with its most popular plan going up to $13 per month

Netflix is raising fees for U.S. subscribers in its biggest price increase since the company first launched its streaming service 12 years ago.

Depending on your plan, the cost will go up between 13 percent to 18 percent. For the most popular plan (which includes high-definition streaming for up to two devices simultaneously), the price will increase from $11 to $13 per month.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience for the benefit of our members,” the company said in a statement.

Given the increasingly competitive market for streaming, it seems inevitable that Netflix would have to raise prices to pay for its ever-growing investment in original content, and to pay for high-profile titles from other studios that may also be launching their own competing services. At the same time, price hikes could also drive away subscribers as they have more streaming options to choose from.

Still, Wall Street seems happy with the news — Netflix shares were up 5.9 percent as of 9:53am Eastern.

Updating

NBCUniversal announces streaming service that will be free to paid TV subscribers

NBCUniversal is joining the long list of media giants looking to compete with Netflix.

The company today announced plans to launch its own streaming service in early 2020. The still-unnamed service will include advertising and will be available at no additional cost to pay TV subscribers. If you aren’t a pay TV subscriber, or if you want to watch without ads, you’ll also be able to buy a standalone subscription.

Many of the specifics have yet to be announced, but CNBC reports that it will include NBC TV shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Parks & Recreation,” with a subscription costing around $12 per month.

“NBCUniversal has some of the world’s most valuable intellectual property and top talent, both in front of and behind the camera,” said CEO Steve Burke in a statement. “Many of the most-watched shows on today’s popular streaming platforms come from NBCUniversal. Our new service will be different than those presently in the market and it will be built on the company’s strengths, with NBCUniversal’s great content and the technology expertise, broad scale and the wide distribution of Comcast Cable and Sky.”

Does this mean your NBC shows will disappear from Netflix and other services? Maybe not — at least not entirely.

In the announcement, the company says it will continue selling content to other studios and other platforms, which Burke also emphasized in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter: “We as a matter of policy plan to sell to everyone. It will be attractive for us to have another buyer in the form of our own direct-to-consumer service, but we’re going to constantly be looking at all the alternatives and put shows where they belong and where they maximize value.”

Still, with NBCUniversal, Disney and WarnerMedia all planning to launch streaming services in the next year or so, it seems that Netflix, Amazon and others will be losing out on popular shows, and will be paying more for the shows they do hold on to.

For example, Burke noted that the American version of “The Office” is “often the No. 1 show on a monthly basis on Netflix.” Apparently Netflix has the streaming rights until 2021, at which point “we’ll look at our existing direct-to-consumer service and what kind of volume it has and how much we could expect to make if we moved it over, and we’ll have a discussion with Netflix and we’ll decide what’s right for the show.”

As part of the news, NBCUniversal also announced some leadership changes and restructuring. Bonnie Hammer, who previously led the company’s cable division, has been promoted to chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, where she’ll be in charge of the new service. NBCUniversal’s existing digital enterprises group will become part of Hammer’s team.

Sling TV rolls out free content to non-subscribers, initially on Roku

Last year, Dish-owned streaming service Sling TV launched a free tier to its service designed to attract those with lapsed subscriptions to come back and watch. On Roku devices, former customers were able to tune into over 100 hours of TV shows and movies without a subscription by launching the Sling TV app. Today, the service is extending a similar offer to newcomers. On Roku devices, those who have never signed up for the streaming TV service will have the chance to browse and watch free shows, without the need for a subscription.

In other words, this is not a “free trial,” it’s a free – if limited – selection of content.

To access the free tier, newcomers can click “Browse as Guest” in order to then browse and watch from content in the “My TV” section of the app. This section includes TV shows like Shameless, The Big Interview with Dan Rather, Heartland, and others. Users can also browse over 5,000 movies that can be watched if they choose to subscribe.

Sling TV is targeting Roku because it’s one of the most well-adopted media player platforms in the U.S., which makes it a prime target for a user acquisition strategy like this.

Having a functioning app instead of a static landing page may prompt users to subscribe to the base subscription, and it may also prompt sign-ups for Sling TV’s newer à la carte channels.

At the same time last year when the company announced its free tier for lapsed subscribers, it also launched à la carte programming, as a way to differentiate itself from other live TV services. Unlike Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV. This feature allows Sling TV users to buy access to standalone paid channels, without needing to subscribe to a TV package – like how Amazon Prime Video Channels works.

As a result, Sling TV can today serve as a place to watch paid channels like Showtime, CuriosityStream, NBA League Pass, Docurama, Stingray Karaoke and others.

Newcomers on this free tier can also rent PPV events without a subscription, the company says.

Free programming today is being used a lure to attract customers to various platforms in the streaming video market and beyond. Amazon offers a ton of free video, including originals, to Prime subscribers and just last week launched a new ad-supported streaming service from IMDb. Roku offers free content on The Roku Channel, and Plex recently said it will venture into this area in 2019, as well.

Alongside the launch of the free programming, Sling TV is rolling out an improved search experience which now shows “popular searches,” and a new binge-watching feature.

The latter will prompt users to watch the next episode in an on-demand or recorded series after you’ve completed the current episode, and will auto-play it if no action is taken in 10 seconds.

The new free tier is initially rolling out to Roku users, starting today, but will come to other devices in the future.

The updated Search option is live now on Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku devices. And the binge-watching feature is first coming to Roku devices in the weeks ahead, with support for others also arriving in the future.

 

The NYT gets into voice with 5 new Alexa skills, including a daily briefing, quiz and more

The New York Times is expanding its efforts around audio programming and voice assistants, the company announced today. The NYT says it’s launching a daily flash briefing for Alexa devices, as well as an interactive news quiz, and — in an interesting twist — it will be introducing “enhanced coverage” in its Sunday paper that prompts readers to launch dedicated Alexa skills to learn more about the stories they’re reading.

On weekdays, the Times will offer a short news briefing for Alexa devices that’s hosted by Michael Barbaro of The NYT’s popular podcast, “The Daily.” Listeners can enable the Alexa skill, then ask to hear the top stories by saying “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing,” or “Alexa, what’s in the news?,” for example.

For now, the flash briefing consists of the last portion of “The Daily,” where Barbaro says “Here’s what else you need to know today.” Over time, the company plans to expand upon that with new stories and sound bites.

Also new today is a daily news quiz, created by “The Daily’s” producers. This will be available on Fridays, and is triggered by saying “Alexa, play The New York Times News Quiz.”

The quiz will ask questions that listeners answer to then be told if they are right or wrong. The skill will provide additional context, as well.

While daily briefing skills and quizzes are among the most popular types of Alexa skills today, the way the paper is experimenting with its Sunday paper contest is interesting.

Skill discovery is still a huge challenge on voice assistants. And even when you enable a skill, you may forget to use it or not remember what it’s called, if it’s not something you launch regularly.

The NYT’s solution is to add Alexa prompts to its printed edition of the Sunday paper, for select sections including travel, music and books.

Starting this weekend, a special section will feature Travel’s annual list of 52 Places to Go. Readers can choose to listen to the Times’s new “Traveler” writer Sebastian Modak, as he visits all the places on the list, by saying, “Alexa, open the 52 Places Traveler.”

In addition, a command to “open The Pop Music Roundup” will offer a voice round-up from Times pop music editor Caryn Ganz, while saying “Alexa, get book recommendations from The New York Times” will trigger Alexa to tell you what the paper’s book critics are reading and recommend.

All three of these Alexa skills will continue beyond this weekend and will include fresh content.

“We’ve only just begun to explore the ways that voice technology can bring Times journalism to our audience, where and how they want it,” said Monica Drake, assistant managing editor, The New York Times, in a statement about the Alexa skills. “This project is a great starting point in this effort as we begin to experiment the ways voice can work in conjunction with stayed mediums like print while also exploring native Times experiences like the flash briefing and interactive news quiz, built specifically for voice services,” she added.

The NYT already offered some of its news through Alexa and other voice assistants prior to today, as its podcast “The Daily” has been available across platforms. But this is the first time it has rolled out dedicated Alexa skills like this.

Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

Hulu redesign will drop the confusing home screen called ‘Lineup,’ simplify navigation

Hulu is preparing to update its streaming app in order to make its simpler to navigate to and discover content you want to watch. Some of the changes coming in the weeks ahead are smaller, but worthwhile tweaks – like adding buttons or re-arranging where menus sit. But the more notable change is that Hulu is testing doing away with the app’s existing home page – currently known as “Lineup” – and replacing it with a new experience.

That’s a change that could have a significant impact, as the Hulu home page is the place everyone first lands when they launch the app. The page today sees the most engagement and is biggest driver of content discovery for the streaming service.

Hulu found that users have short attention spans when hitting this page, however – in 30 to 60 seconds’ time, they’ve lost interest. Plus, when users decide to play a piece of content from this landing page, they’re doing so after five actions or less. That means Hulu has only a small window to connect viewers to content they’ll like, before they click away to elsewhere in the app – or close it altogether because they can’t find something to watch.

What Hulu now wants to learn is what sort of content makes the most sense for this landing page. “Lineup,” after all, is a vague term. It sounds like it’s something highly personalized to the viewer – and it’s clearly not, as any Hulu user can tell you, the suggestions here are often hit-or-miss.

“Lineup is confusing,” Hulu’s new VP of Product, Jim Denney, admitted, in a discussion with TechCrunch at CES about the new features. “Lineup, the way it is today, is a combination of editorial picks and recommendations…that combination of things is not as effective as we’d like it to be,” he said.

In its place, Hulu will trial two different variations: a “Hulu Picks” collection, which is curated by staff, and an “Unwatched in My Stuff” option that will show you things you have on your list, but haven’t yet watched.

The former, “Hulu Picks,” would allow the company to have more control over what sort of content suggestions you see first. While the latter option would showcase content you’ve explicitly indicated interest in viewing.

The company says it will test both options with a portion of Hulu’s user base in order to determine which one sees the best response. This will roll out in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, other changes to the Hulu app will be focused on helping you view more content while searching for something to watch, as well as helping you to more easily navigate, and start watching with less confusion and fewer steps.

For example, Hulu will soon have more content appear on the screen as you scroll down in the user interface, so you can scan the thumbnails and make a decision more quickly.

It’s also adding a larger, more prominent “Details” button on content within its various collections – like the Lineup (or whatever replaces it), as well as sections like “Kids,” “News” or “Sports,” for example. This button will take you to the details page for that show or movie you’re interested in.

 

It’s adding more metadata next to the content, too, including things like the genre, rating, and the year which will help users make a choice more quickly.

On the content’s Details page, there will be a stacked list of quick actions for things like playing the next episodes, adding items to “My Stuff,” or managing your relationship with the show.

This latter option is a small but useful tweak that takes you to an area where you can adjust your suggestions and watch history – meaning you can mark something as watched or unwatched. This will be particularly beneficial for those times when you’ve begun watching a program on another streaming service, and now want to pick it up again on Hulu. Today, Hulu wouldn’t have any way of knowing if you’ve viewed those episodes outside its app – but now you’ll be able to explicitly say so.

You’ll also be able to mark content as unwatched, which could help if you’ve fallen asleep while watching TV, for example, or someone else watched the show while logged into your profile.

New visual templates will make finding news, sports and kids content easier with things like matchup artwork for games and movies identified by their poster, for instance.

On the Live TV side, subscribers will be able to view a full two weeks out on the programming guide, instead of just what’s airing now and next. The navigation here – like Recent Channels, My Channels, All Channels, etc. – has also moved from the top to the left side for easier access.

While these various changes will be rolling out this spring, Hulu plans to continue to iterate on the user interface through the year, says Denney.

“I think you should expect to see the UI continue to evolve,” he said. “We’ll make modifications based on what we’ve learned. We’ll continue to make changes in the UI and make changes to the way we do our recommendations. The mission is to make sure people appreciate the amount of content they have access to without being overwhelming. This home redesign is an ingredient in that,” he added.

 

 

 

 

Tablo’s new DVR for cord cutters skips the commercials for you

Nuvyyo, the makers of the Tablo OTA DVR aimed at cord cutters who want to watch and record live TV, just gave their DVR a big upgrade. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company launched a redesigned DVR called the Tablo Quad, a four-tuner DVR that now offers the option for an internal SATA drive instead of only external USB drives. But the more exciting news is Tablo’s new ability to automatically skip the commercials when you play back a recording. There’s not even a button to press – the software does it for you.

The commercial-skipping feature is still in beta, and the company won’t get into its secret sauce too much here. We understand, however, that Tablo is licensing the technology from a partner, as opposed to using something it built itself in-house.

According to the company, it’s not using human labor to mark where shows end and commercials begin. Instead, the tech is described as a “cloud-based hybrid of digital signal processing algorithms and machine learning.”

To work, the shows are uploaded to the cloud, where the commercials are marked on the recording.

It’s able to figure out which portions of a program are commercials because of how they’re filmed – with quick cuts, for example. That’s why it works well on a show like “Big Bang Theory” but doesn’t work too well on your local news.

Still, the feature is notable because it’s automatic – you don’t have to worry with fast-forwarding or even pressing a commercial skip button, as on TiVo. It also works across all timeslots and shows, for the most part – not only those airing during primetime.

When the commercials are detected, Tablo will skip past them in the Tablo apps for Roku, Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV, the company says.

However, the feature is only available to Tablo customers who pay for a subscription for their Tablo OTA DVR – including the Quad as well as older devices.

The Tablo Quad, like other Tablo DVRs, offers an option guide data subscription service, which provides the episode and series synopsis, cover art, and metadata for programs airing over the next two weeks. It also includes access to advanced DVR features like one-touch recording and out-of-home streaming through Tablo Connect, as well the new commercial-skipping feature.

The subscription is $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, depending on how you choose to pay. You can also opt for a one-time payment of $149.99 for lifetime service.

Tablo QUAD will be available in late Q1 2019 at an MSRP of $199.99.

The commercial-skipping open beta will launch in March for any subscription-enabled Tablo OTA DVR.