Apple is bringing iTunes content to Samsung’s Smart TVs

Ahead of Apple’s plans to introduce its own streaming service this year, the company has partnered with Samsung to allow iTunes content to be accessible on Samsung Smart TVs. Samsung announced this morning that it will offer access to iTunes Movies and TV shows through a new “iTunes Movies and TV” app on its Smart TVs across 100 countries, and it will offer AirPlay 2 support on its Smart TVs in 190 countries worldwide.

Samsung is the first TV maker to have direct access to iTunes content though this new “iTunes Movies and TV” app, but this is not the first time that iTunes content has been accessible outside of Apple’s own ecosystem.

iTunes content is already accessible today through the third-party Movies Anywhere application, alongside purchases from Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Vudu, and others. That app currently works on a number of streaming media devices, like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and others, but not yet on Samsung Smart TVs. In addition, Apple Music can today be streamed on Android devices and iTunes is available on Windows PCs. 

According to Samsung, Apple’s new “iTunes Movies and TV Shows” app will allow Samsung Smart TV owners to browse their existing iTunes library and the iTunes store, where they can purchase and rent hundreds of thousands of movies and TV episodes, including a large selection of 4K HDR titles. The movies and TV shows will also work with Samsung Smart TV features, like the Universal Guide, the new Bixby, and Search.

Meanwhile, Samsung is making AirPlay 2 support available on a range of Smart TVs, including QLED 4K and 8K TVs, The Frame and Serif lifestyle TVs, as well as other Samsung UHD and HD models. This will allow TV owners to play videos, photos, music, podcasts, and more on their TV.

“We look forward to bringing the iTunes and AirPlay 2 experience to even more customers around the world through Samsung Smart TVs, so iPhone, iPad and Mac users have yet another way to enjoy all their favorite content on the biggest screen in their home,” said Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, in a statement about the launch.

Given Apple’s plans to launch its own streaming service in 2019 – presumably through its existing iTunes app – it makes sense that Apple would make that app available on more devices in the living room, where it doesn’t have as much of a presence thanks to Apple TV’s small footprint.

The new app and AirPlay 2 will be offered on 2019 Samsung Smart TV models this spring. Samsung says. 2018 Samsung Smart TVs will receive a firmware update to enable access.

 

 

Alibaba Group takes majority control of loss-making movie unit Alibaba Pictures with $160M share purchase

Alibaba Group announced today that it will increase its stake in Alibaba Pictures from 49% to 50.92%, making it the loss-making movie production company’s controlling shareholder. Under the agreement, Alibaba Pictures will issue one billion new shares, priced at HKD $1.25 each share for a total of HKD $1.25 billion (about $160 million), to Alibaba Group.

The announcement of Alibaba Group’s new share purchases comes the week after Alibaba Pictures chairman and chief executive officer Fan Luyuan took charge of Youku, Alibaba Group’s video streaming unit, after its former president Yang Weidong stepped down. Yang is currently under investigation as part of a police anti-corruption probe.

Now that it has majority control over the movie company, Alibaba Group said there will be more integration between Alibaba Pictures and its services, including Youku. In a press release, Fan said “Alibaba Pictures is excited to become a subsidiary of Alibaba Group. As an internet film and TV company, we can leverage the Group’s edge in big data technology and e-commerce and enhance cooperation with other Alibaba’s digital media and entertainment businesses such as Youku, Damai and Alibaba Literature.”

In his statement about the deal, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said “the proposed share purchases is a vote of confidence in Alibaba Pictures, and we will continue to invest resources and take full advantage of our ecosystem to help Alibaba Pictures tap into the promising growth prospects of China’s film industry.”

Founded in 2014 to capitalize on China’s burgeoning movie market, expected to be the largest in the world soon, Alibaba Pictures has turned out to be a costly, money-burning venture. Despite doubling its revenue and posting its first profit in 2017, Alibaba Pictures’ losses also grew to $165 million in the same period. It’s misfortunes continued this year when its big-budget fantasy picture “Asura” became “the most expensive flop in Chinese history,” according to Variety.

YouTube quietly added free, ad-supported movies to its site

YouTube quietly added around 100 ad-supported Hollywood movies to its site, beginning last month, according to a new report from AdAge. The titles include a mix of classics like “Rocky” and “The Terminator,” as well as other family fare like “Zookeeper,” “Agent Cody Banks,” and “Legally Blonde,” among others.

Before, YouTube had only offered consumers the ability to purchase movies and TV shows, similar to how you can rent or buy content from Apple’s iTunes or Amazon Video.

Currently, YouTube is serving ads on these free movies, but the report said the company is open to working out other deals with advertisers – like sponsorships or exclusive screenings.

YouTube’s advantage in this space, compared with some others, is its sizable user base of 1.9 million monthly active users and its ability to target ads using data from Google .

The addition of a an ad-supported movies marketplace on YouTube follows Roku’s entry into this market, which began last year with the launch of its free collection of movies, called The Roku Channel.

This year, Roku has been expanding the type of content on that channel to also include things like live news from ABC News, Cheddar, Newsmax, Newsy, People TV, Yahoo and The Young Turks, and – more recently – entertainment and live sports. 

Walmart also offers its own free movies collection through Vudu, and recently teamed up with MGM on original content for the service. Tubi operates a streaming service with free, ad-supported content, too. And Amazon is rumored to be working on something similar.

 

 

AMC’s MoviePass competitor hits 380K users in 3 months, will increase U.S. attendance

As MoviePass flounders and runs out of cash, AMC’s competitive offering, AMC Stubs A-List, is scaling up quickly. The theater chain announced this morning the service is growing faster than anticipated, and has already signed up over 380,000 users in the three months since its late July launch.

The growth is notable also because much of it occurred during the traditional slow time for theaters – the back-to-school season in late August and September, when summer blockbusters come to an end, and families are tied up with other obligations.

Despite this, AMC says it added 120,000 A-List members during the last six weeks, and its members watched over 363 different movie titles to date.

In addition, AMC is projecting that it will see increased U.S. attendance for the first time since 2015, excluding the bump it got by acquiring Carmike Cinemas.

Its movie subscription service, which launched July 26, offers theater goers the ability to watch up to 3 movies per week in any of AMC’s U.S. locations for $19.95 per month, plus tax. This includes speciality theaters, like IMAX, RealD 3D, and others, and it works with AMC’s tickets reservations system both online and in its mobile app.

AMC also took a swing at MoviePass today by reminding potential customers that its service offers a 12-month protection guarantee against changes to the program that could impact its pricing or benefits. That’s remarkably different from MoviePass, which continues to fiddle with pricing plans and is constantly limiting what the service includes.

For example, MoviePass recently began limiting access to specific films and showtimes, as well as the number of visits it supports. It also said it would raise pricing in July to $15 per month, up from $9.99, as its cash flow concerns became a critical issue – especially in the face of new threats like AMC’s service and Sinemia. But it later backtracked on those plans, causing a lot of subscriber confusion.

AMC’s service is effectively promising that it won’t screw around with pricing or plans for at least a year, so you know what you’re getting. That clearly appeals to some portion of the market, given the number of sign-ups A-List has now seen in a short time.

AMC has been a thorn in MoviePass’s side for some time, having previously threatened legal action, which it said devalued the movie-going experience. It also went on record to state that it had “absolutely no intention” of sharing any of its admissions or concessions revenues with MoviePass. Eventually, MoviePass pulled out of some AMC theaters.

“With 380,000 members enrolled in just three months, AMC Stubs A-List is demonstrating that it encourages moviegoers of all ages, locations and backgrounds to come to movie theatres more often, and they’re bringing family and friends along with them,” said Adam Aron, AMC CEO and President, in a statement today about the milestone news. “The early success of this program is evident as AMC is projecting an attendance increase at our U.S. theatres for the first time in three years. This is very good for AMC, and very good for our guests and movie studio partners,” he added.

Coming to a theater near you: Amazon?

It looks like Amazon may be gearing up to make more moves in the brick-and-mortar world. Bloomberg reports that the e-commerce behemoth is putting itself in the running to acquire Landmark Theatres, which claims to be the United States’ largest chain of movie theaters focused on art house (indie and foreign) movies, with a network of 56 cinemas, covering 268 screens in 27 markets.

Bloomberg’s sources say that Amazon is going up against other potential acquirers in purchasing the business from Wagner/Cuban Cos., but that no final decisions have been made.

The companies aren’t publicly commenting on the reports, but it’s an interesting scenario to consider because of all the ways that it seems to fit into Amazon’s wider strategy. 

The company has done an incredible job of making it easy (and cheap) to buy virtually anything you want from it in the digital world, whether it’s necessities like toiletries, books, groceries, clothes and electronics, or digital products like movies, music and cloud storage space for your app or game, in as little as one click. Through its marketplace model — where it is both a middleman between consumers and sellers, and the seller itself of different goods and services — Amazon wants to be wherever people want to spend money.

But there are certain forms of retail that may never translate to the online world. Experiential retail — dining out at restaurants, going to a bar or event, picking a melon that you can smell before you pay for it and, of course, going to the movies — requires that you get up and go somewhere to do it.

Amazon knows this, and so it’s slowly, quietly amassing selective assets that will let people engage in the more physical side of commerce. These have included book stores, and its own futuristic, checkout-free food shops. And of course it spent $13.7 billion to gobble up the natural food leviathan Whole Foods.

The latter of these is very instructive when you consider how a movie theater chain might fit into the Amazon pantheon. Amazon’s Prime Fresh grocery delivery service gives busy users the convenience of skipping the grocery store, but Whole Foods also gives Amazon a way of capturing buyers who might prefer to make trips to a grocery store.

But that’s not all it does. It’s added Whole Foods discounts as yet another sweetener for Prime subscribers; it’s extending its formidable logistics muscle to Whole Foods ordering and delivery (first for Prime subscribers, naturally); and of course it has put in pop-up shops selling its other products, like the Kindle and the Echo, in prime spots when you enter a store.

Amazon owning a chain of theaters spells out a lot of opportunities for it in terms of expanding its interests in film; in experiential, physical commerce; and in leveraging the rest of the pieces in its commercial empire.

The world of movie theaters has been hobbling for years, with droves of consumers these days foregoing increasingly expensive tickets and snacks and opting to watch a slightly smaller screen in the comfort of their own home. But to the disruptive eye, that ageing business model is catnip, and so unsurprisingly, MoviePass has come along, seeing that there was an opportunity to try to revive the cinema experience by offering subscriptions for a flat rate to get more bums on those seats.

Yes, MoviePass is bleeding money, and it looks like a mess for many other reasons, but it’s had an impact, so much so that AMC has taken notice and launched its own competitor.

The world’s largest theater chain almost certainly won’t experience the same sort of pains that MoviePass has, because it both controls the means of distribution and has a sizeable support infrastructure, and of course owns the cinemas.

But if AMC has a safety net, then Amazon — one of the world’s most valuable companies — has airbags, collision sensors, seatbelts, automatic braking and maybe even an Alexa-powered predictive voice to tell you what to do next. If Amazon ran a loss-making chain of cinemas, it would be but a little drop in the bucket for it.

Amazon already has one of the biggest digital subscription businesses in the world, with more than 100 million Prime members, as of April 2018. Tacking a subscription to cinemas on to that, which either made going free or discounted, is a no-brainer.

But wait! You get more for the price of the Landmark Theatres! Amazon, as we know, also has a budding media business, offering movies, TV and music to Prime users. Included in that is its own original content machine, Amazon Studios, responsible for shows like Transparent and movies like Manchester by the Sea.

A theater chain acquisition would further open the distribution channels for Amazon’s own films, and give Amazon a much tighter grip on the costs for that distribution. And with a position covering theatrical, DVD and digital distribution windows, you can bet that will give Amazon more leverage when negotiating screen rights to films that it hasn’t produced itself.

Controlling distribution could also prove useful during awards season — the timing of a film’s release goes a long ways toward determining nominees. (And yes, those screens also become one more place where Amazon can run ads, too, in its budding advertising empire.)

And don’t forget the fact that theaters are, at the end of the day, also retail real estate.

It’s a long-known fact that cinemas make most of their money on concessions, and they have accordingly built out large lobby areas where people can mill about and spend money before and after sitting down in the darkened screening rooms. In addition to selling all the usual concessions (both made by Amazon and its marketplace partners), Amazon could use those spaces as they have with Whole Foods, creating retail experiences for products that might have nothing at all to do with what you came to the cinema for in the first place, but then suddenly seem like interesting places to try out something new.

Is it any wonder that even without Amazon or Landmark responding to Bloomberg’s report, theater chain stocks dropped on word of the news?

MoviePass subscribers will now pay surcharges for popular showtimes

MoviePass subscribers were just greeted with a special Fourth of July surprise from the company, but it’s not good news. Surprise!

The company’s plan to introduce summer surge pricing goes into effect today. In an email to subscribers introducing “peak pricing,” MoviePass tried to spin this like a new feature introduction rather than a notification that its monthly service had again worsened.

In an FAQ on its site, MoviePass explains its new dynamic pricing plan and the accompanying surcharges in more detail, but not a lot of detail. The company fails to really explain what exactly will determine price fluctuations beyond stating that “movies that are high in demand for title, date, or time of day will be impacted.” It doesn’t provide guidelines for what those surcharges will look like, though a screenshot it provides suggests we might pay $3.43 more to see Avengers: Infinity War at 7:00 PM.

Now, movies in the app will display a red lightning icon when they are in peak pricing and a gray icon when they are approaching peak pricing status. Subscribers will be able to waive one peak pricing fee per month, which is some relief for the thing you paid for now providing less value and convenience but also just makes the whole system more complicated.

Peak pricing will gradually roll out across geographic areas starting on July 5. If it hasn’t hit your local screen yet, rest assured that no one MoviePass subscribers will escape the company’s latest effort to bend its unsustainable business model toward realism.

Netflix’s latest hit ‘The Kissing Booth’ is a Wattpad success story

One of the most popular movies in the U.S. is a terrible teen rom-com called “The Kissing Booth,” and it’s not in theaters. Instead, this Netflix Original with its paltry 17 percent critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb, before more recently dropping down to No. 9. Its leads, Jacob Elordi and Joey King, also became the No. 1 and No. 6 most popular stars on IMDb’s StarMeter, respectively, shortly after the film’s launch.

The secret to the movie’s success, however, is not just a combination of teenagers’ questionable taste in entertainment and the power of Netflix’s distribution — though both play a major role, clearly.

Instead, it’s that “The Kissing Booth” is tapping into a built-in audience: teenage Wattpad users.

Yes, Wattpad.

In case you’re not familiar, Wattpad is an online site and mobile app where writers can share their original stories — often things like fan fiction or sappy love stories (ahem) — with a wide community of readers. Today, Wattpad is visited by more than 65 million monthly users, who spend a collective 15 billion minutes per month reading its online stories.

“The Kissing Booth” was one of its successes.

The original story was started on Wattpad back in 2011, and won one of the site’s “Watty Awards” that same year for “Most Popular Teen Fiction.”

The story was read a whopping 19 million times while on Wattpad, before the then 17-year-old author Beth Reekles scored a three-book deal with Random House UK in 2013 — becoming the youngest Wattpad writer to earn a book deal at that time, the company notes.

London- and L.A.-based Komixx Media — the movie’s producer, which specializes in finding young adult IP with commercial potential — reached out to the author within months of the book deal.

And Netflix ordered its adaptation of “The Kissing Booth” in 2016.

“The Kissing Booth is a great example of what is possible on Wattpad,” said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios, the online community’s studio arm that helps make deals for its authors.

“Beth was a fresh new voice whose story connected with millions of readers all over the world on Wattpad, before becoming a published book,” he noted. “We were able to work with Netflix to market the film on Wattpad and make sure the story’s fans around the world hit ‘play’ when it started streaming. And now it’s one of the most popular movies on the planet.”

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos also confirmed to Vulture the title is one of the streaming service’s most popular, saying that “The Kissing Booth” is “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe the world.”

He didn’t cite hard numbers — Netflix doesn’t do that — but the IMDb rankings indicate the movie is at least resonating with its core teen audience.

Since the movie launched on Netflix, the published book has also shot up the charts. It’s ranking in the top 10 of three “Teen” categories on Amazon, as of the time of writing, including No. 10 in the “Contemporary Teen Romance” category.

Of course, going from an online story to one of the most popular releases in the country is not unique to Wattpad. “50 Shades of Grey” famously began online as “Twilight” fan fiction, for example. But Wattpad has a different audience for its romantic fare than the more adult “50 Shades.” And studios, both traditional and digital, are taking notice.

Most recently, Sony Pictures Television acquired the rights to Wattpad story “Death is my BFF,” which was read more than 92 million times, and Hulu gave a straight-to-series order to “Light as a Feather,” which saw more than 2.9 million Wattpad reads. “Cupid’s Match,” which had over 36 million reads, got a pilot on CW Seed.

Wattpad has also worked with TurnerUniversal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), eOne and Paramount Pictures, among others.

Critical reviews of “The Kissing Booth,” are, as you may expect, fairly negative.

It’s panned as “lazy and amateur,” “clumsy and ham-handed” and just simply “not a good movie.”

But critical interest in films and what people actually watch are often disconnected. That’s certainly the case here as “The Kissing Booth” has an audience score of 71 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s better than the top theatrical release, “Ocean’s 8,” which has a 52 percent score; or the even the No. 2 movie, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which is at 65 percent.

“The Kissing Booth” may not be a “good” film, but that hardly seems to matter at this point.

It’s popular among a largely younger crowd — a key target for streaming services. These kids and young adults have grown up watching TV and movies on mobile and computer screens, and often stay home from theaters. And they’re reading their fiction on the web and in mobile apps, too.

Netflix has catered to this young audience before, with arguably “bad” but popular original films like “Bright” (26 percent critics versus 85 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes); or the “so bad it’s good” holiday film “A Christmas Prince.”

With Netflix’s now 125 million subscribers and its $1.5 billion in new debt financing, the service has the potential to tap into any key demographic like this time and time again, and serve up a hit — terrible as it may be. And that hit can reach a mass audience, bigger than cable TV or even the Hollywood productions in theaters, in some cases. Hopefully, at least some of them will be “good” by all measures, though, not just viewership.

MoviePass pulls out of AMC’s top theaters as negotiations fail

 MoviePass, the monthly subscription service for seeing movies in theaters, has pulled out of 10 high-traffic AMC theaters, as a negotiating tactic with the theater chain. AMC, so far, has shown no interest in working with MoviePass or sharing revenue with the service for the foot traffic it brings to theaters. For instance, in a call with analysts in last year, AMC’s chief executive… Read More

MoviePass tops 1 million subscribers

 Last month, the movie subscription service MoviePass, which lets customers go to unlimited movies in theaters for a monthly fee, lowered its pricing to under $7 per month, when billed annually. This followed an earlier price drop announced in August that brought the service down to $9.95 monthly. Today, the company says the introduction of its new pricing model has pushed membership to over… Read More

MoviePass drops pricing to under $7 per month, if you opt for the annual plan

movie theater MoviePass, the subscription service that lets consumers pay a monthly fee to see unlimited movies in theaters across the U.S., is slashing its prices yet again. The company announced today it’s now offering its service for $6.95 per month, down from the current price of $9.95 per month, when customers commit to a one-year subscription plan. That works out to a flat fee of $89.95… Read More