Netflix aims to retain subscribers with launch of a feature to track new releases

Hoping to keep viewers engaged with its content, Netflix today announced the launch of a new section called “Latest” in its TV app, designed to highlight the streaming service’s recent and upcoming releases. The addition isn’t just another row or two within the main Netflix homepage. Instead, the “Latest” section gets its own dedicated area in the Netflix TV app, which is accessible from the left-hand sidebar navigation.

Here, it’s found beneath the “Home” button and above the links to the dedicated “Movies” and “TV Shows” pages.

The section will be personalized to the end user, based on their viewing history, the company says.

At the top of “Latest” is a row that showcases new content that arrived this week, which is then followed by two rows showing content that’s due to arrive this week and the next.

Users can also click on these future releases and set alerts to remind them when the TV show or movie they’re interested in watching has arrived.

Netflix says the feature is now globally available on its TV app, which means you’ll only find it on streaming devices like the Fire TV, Apple TV or Roku, for instance, or on other smart TV or game console platforms. However, the company tells TechCrunch it already has a similar feature for Android users and is currently testing the “Latest” section on iOS.

The company first spoke to Variety about the addition, adding that the personalized suggestions update several times per day.

Netflix director of product innovation Cameron Johnson told the outlet the experience was similar, in a way, to movie trailers, as it’s also designed to get people interested in upcoming releases.

However, the launch comes at a time when people will soon be considering the value they receive from their Netflix subscription. The company recently posted a disappointing quarter where it announced it lost U.S. subscribers for the first time since 2011 and broadly missed estimates of 5 million subscriber additions, by adding just 2.7 million new subscribers globally.

The streamer blamed its light content slate for the declines. While it did claim a couple of bright spots in Q2, like the dark comedy Dead to Me and the limited series When They See Us, a good bit of Netflix’s original content is becoming formulaic and copycat-ish.

It’s now doing its own version of Project Runway, and has a slate of shows that are obviously inspired by (if not precisely copied from) popular reality TV hits like Million Dollar Listing, Say Yes to the Dress, Cupcake Wars, Top Chef, The Bachelor, Real Housewives, and others. It manages to snag beloved stars, but then puts them into mediocre fare. It underwhelms with its by-the-numbers original films.

That said, Netflix deserves credit for how far it has come since its early days as a mail-order movie service. Today, its multi-billion dollar investments in original content has led to the streamer being best known for its own breakout hits, like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, for example.

But as its sheds its catalog content in favor of shifting its audience to in-house productions, its image has changed as well. It’s no longer thought of a one-stop-shop for anything you want to watch combined with a rich slate of quality originals. And now it’s poised to lose some of its most popular licensed content — Friends and The Office — as the traditional media license holders move into the streaming market.

Variety had reported in July that content from NBCU, Disney/Fox and Warner Bros. accounts for 60%-65% of Netflix’s viewing hours.

Now Netflix is facing competition from Disney+, which will undercut Netflix’s pricing at $6.99 per month and be offered in a $12.99 per month bundle that also includes Hulu and ESPN+. That’s the same price as Netflix’s standard U.S. plan.

More than ever, Netflix needs to keep its viewers locked in, and one of the best ways to do this is to remind them there are new movies and shows they will want to watch.

Image credit: Netflix

Roku expands its free, live TV selection with 5 more channels, including fubo’s Sports Network

The Roku Channel continues to expand beyond ad-supported movies and premium subscriptions, with today’s announcement of the addition of several more live TV channels available to anyone with a Roku streaming device or Roku TV. The company says today it’s adding five free live TV channels to this offering, including most notably, fubo’s Sports Network.

The fubo Sports Network is streaming service fuboTV’s first-ever TV channel designed for distribution outside its own platform.

Soft-launched this June, fubo produces content for the channel, including original programming, event coverage, behind-the-scenes, and other exclusives. The network is already available to a few streaming platforms, including XUMO, Samsung TV Plus, and LG Channels (powered by XUMO.)

However, distribution to Roku’s popular entertainment hub is a big win for the new channel, given that Roku is now the top streaming device platform in the U.S., with a 39% share of streaming boxes and sticks and a 33% share of smart TV operating systems.

Other new networks arriving to The Roku Channel today include the ACC Digital Network, USA Today, Now This (news), and Comedy Dynamics.

In addition, The Roku Channel now offers the Sports Illustrated streaming service, SI TV, to any interested subscribers through its Premium Subscription lineup.

Roku has been rapidly expanding its Roku Channel hub since it first launched in September 2017 with a focus on free, ad-supported movies — similar to Vudu’s “Movies on Us” or Tubi, for example. But shortly after, the channel began to roll out more content like newssports, TV shows, and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks. This pushed the channel to become one of the most-watched on its platform.

And this year, Roku launched its own premium subscriptions alongside its free content, allowing The Roku Channel to become not just the place to find free entertainment, but where you tune in to your favorite shows as well. Today, its paid lineup includes top premium networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX, and many others.

The decision to invest in its own content hub gives Roku a powerful selling point for its devices — and that appears to be paying off with consumers and in terms of the company’s bottom line.

Roku recently closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and average revenue per user up from $19.06 in Q1 to $21.06 in Q2. Revenue was also up 45% year-over-year to $252.5 million.

 

PBS coming to YouTube TV later this year

YouTube TV has landed another network partner: PBS. The public broadcaster’s member stations will be able to stream live and o-demand to YouTube TV subscribers beginning later this year, PBS and YouTube announced today.

This is the first digital TV provider partnership for PBS, and the broadcaster is intent upon providing local livestreams to “as many Americans as possible” with the move. The partnership will also include PBS KIDS, providing educational and entertainment content for children via the platform. All content will be available through YouTube TV video-on-demand, and recordable via its DVR service without limits on how much content users can store, too.

YouTube has had its own share of criticism for the kind of content kids may be able to access from its platform, and its said to be considering a number of options for addressing misuse of the platform when it comes to children-focused videos. YouTube TV is distinct from its primary streaming video business, however, and is much more like a traditional over-the-top cable or satellite subscription, however, with a number of broadcast networks and premium channels signed on to provide U.S. viewers access for $49.99 per month.

Dish’s AirTV launches an $80 streaming stick for accessing Sling TV, Netflix & broadcast channels

Dish is expanding its hardware lineup today with the launch of a new 4K streaming stick, the AirTV Mini, designed to make it easier for cord cutters to access its live TV service Sling TV, plus Netflix and over-the-air channels from one user interface. The Android TV-powered device is meant to complement an existing setup that already includes an OTA digital antenna and an AirTV WiFi-enabled network tuner, the company says.

For a limited time, new and existing Sling TV customers can get the latter two items for free — an AirTV Wi-Fi-enabled network tuner and an indoor antenna — by prepaying for 3 months of Sling TV’s service.

In addition, the AirTV Mini also includes support for 2×2 802.11AC Wi-Fi, a lost remote finder feature, support for Google Assistant and Google Play, as well as support for VP94K decoding, which allows you to watch YouTube or Netflix content in 4K.

airtv mini

The company has been offering streaming devices for a couple of years. Dish first unveiled its AirTV Player, a 4K media streamer set-top box, at CES 2017. In 2018, it expanded its hardware lineup again to include a new device just called the AirTV,

This year, it expanded its hardware lineup to include a new device, just called the AirTV, a networked TV tuner that streams local programming via Wi-Fi.

Despite the new AirTV Mini’s streaming stick form factor, it’s not meant to compete with rival streaming sticks like the low-cost Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku streaming stick or Chromecast in terms of price. Instead, it’s a $79.99 alternative to the $119.99 AirTV Player bundle — perhaps for someone who doesn’t care for the sort of Playskool-inspired design of the original streaming box, but still wants over-the-air channels, 4K support, and easy access to Sling TV and Netflix.

The remote for the Mini is improved as well, in a more typical shade of black instead of the AirTV Player’s white and blue design. It’s also a more standard length and width than the stubby and seemingly childish AirTV Player remote. And it still has dedicated buttons for Sling TV, Netflix, and Google Assistant.

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Through the remote, users can issue voice commands to control their TV experience. For example, you can use voice search to find favorite shows and movies, or say things like “go to guide,” “show me my DVR” or “rewind 10 seconds.”

“The AirTV brand is committed to making local TV relevant and easily accessible to streamers,” said Mitch Weinraub, director of product development for AirTV, in a statement. “The AirTV Mini is a powerhouse streaming stick with more memory and a faster processor than anything else in the category. When combined with the AirTV network tuner and the Sling TV app, the Mini delivers a superior streaming experience, especially for Slingers who want premium features in a small package at an affordable price.”

The audience for this sort of product — or any AirTV device, for that matter — is fairly niche. While there’s certainly some demand for access to over-the-air programming among cord cutters, there are other solutions that don’t lock you into Sling TV, specifically.

For instance, you can easily switch to your connected antenna from a Roku TV or you could buy the (currently $179.99) Fire TV Recast, which offers a Fire TV interface plus access to stream and record from live TV with its built-in DVR. Neither the AirTV Mini nor the AirTV tuner come bundled with a DVR — you have to provide your own, and plug it into the tuner.

Overall, the solution makes sense for DIY’ers who also subscribe to Sling TV and prefer a Google Assistant-powered experience instead of Alexa.

 

AT&T’s new streaming service HBO Max arrives in 2020, will be the exclusive home of ‘Friends’

AT&T’s acquisition of HBO goes beyond just offering premium TV programming – the company revealed on Tuesday that it’s going to call its new streaming service HBO Max, and that this will launch next spring, with over 10,000 hours of content available to subscribers.

It’ll have ‘Friends,’ dear readers, which is all that matters in the modern streaming wars where weirdly services compete for dominion over a couple of decade-plus-year old TV shows including ‘The Office’ and this highly-unrelatable 90s NBC sitcom.

HBO Max won’t offer exclusively HBO content, as you can probably tell by the availability fo Friends, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the naming is meant to indicate how important HBO as a TV brand is to consumers. In other words, they’re going to make the most of that purchase, even if it dilutes the actual HBO brand in the process. It’s beginning to become much more clear why HBO CEO Richard Plepler resigned in February.

The new service enters a teeming field of competitors, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix and many more I can’t even remember off the top of my head. It’s also not launching until after Apple puts live its own Apple TV+ service, and Disney+ comes online in November, and per the WSJ, it’ll cost “slightly more” than HBO’s currently $14.99 per month pricing for Go alone.

AT&T is spending on content, however, including the high purchase price for ‘Friends’ rights, as well as development deals with a number of top talents from the film and television industry, including Reese Witherspoon, Greg Berlanti and more. Future CW shows will also reside in HBO Max instead of on Netflix, which is bad news for my habit of bingeing subpar DC superhero TV including ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash.’

MIT develops tiny ‘walking’ motor that helps more complex robots self-assemble

MIT Micro Robots 0It’s becoming increasingly apparent that robots of the future will be less ‘Wall-E’ and more ‘Voltron meets ant swarm’ – case in point, this new ambulatory motor created by MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld and his students at the school. The motor above is little more than a magnet and coil with some structural parts, but it can ‘walk’ back and forth or make the gears of a more complicated machine move back and forth.

On its own, this little moving microbes is impressive enough, but its real potential lies in what could happen were it to be assembled with others of its ilk, and with other building-block robotics components made up of simple parts, which is the vision of Gershenfeld and his research team. Previously, they’ve already shown that other core components can be assembled from the same limited set of fundamental ingredients, and in future, the idea is that these tiny core machines could actually automatically self-assemble into larger structures capable of carrying out specific tasks.

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These tiny bots can also move gears, which is key in terms of having them build bigger, more context systems. Credit: MIT.

That’s right: This little moving motor and its ilk might one day become part of a system that can become a agricultural robot one minute and a disaster relief bot the next. That’s an end-state that will take a lot of work to achieve, but Gershenfeld is already working with MIT graduate student Will Langford on a machine that combines 3D-printing with automated circuit builds, but that can handle much more sophisticated creation of fully functional robots using only digital blueprints as input.

Automated self-assembly is a tempting carrot in the world of cutting-edge robotics, and it’s obvious why. Here’s hoping they just don’t achieve T-1000 efficacy without proper behavioural limitations in place.

PlayStation Vue raises prices by $5 per month, following its recent content deals

Sony’s PlayStation Vue live TV streaming service is joining its rivals with the roll out of another price increase. The company announced today it will be upping the price for all its plans by $5 per month each. The change is live as of today for new subscribers, and will kick in for current customers with the beginning of the first billing cycle on or after July 31.

The company says the decision was made due to the rising costs of content — the same reason it raised prices by $5 just around a year ago. That made Vue’s cheapest plan $45/month; now its cheapest plan is $50/month.

Its most expensive “Ultra” plan is a whopping $85/month.

However, the company also said today it’s soon adding NHL Network and ACC Network to its plans. These additions, along with its optional Sports Pack for $10/month, makes Vue a compelling choice for sports viewers, as they gain access to NFL Network, NBC Sports, Fox Sports Networks, Stadium, beIN and regional networks, among others.

The company, we should note, is not alone in citing rising content costs as the reason for its price hike. Its competitors have all done the same at some point in recent months.

For example, YouTube TV raised its prices in April — and that one was a pretty substantial $10 to $15 per month increase, depending on when you signed up. (And this time, it didn’t grandfather in existing customers into old pricing like the last increase did.) Dish-owned Sling TV also raised prices last year, as did AT&T’s DirecTV Now — the latter which raised them again in 2019.

Hulu in early 2019 also raised its prices for Live TV, while dropping the price for its on-demand service.

For Vue, price increases have become something of an annual occurrence. In addition to last year’s $5/month increase, the service rolled out a $10/month increase in 2017, as well.

This latest price increase follows Vue’s recent addition of beIN Sports last week and a hefty set of June renegotiations with NBCU, Turner, AMC and Discovery/Scripps. 

The company at the time warned that changes could be in store, saying:

Most of the programming/content you watch on PlayStation Vue is licensed from programmers for the right to air their networks/channels. Once these agreements near expiration, we enter into renewal discussions where we work hard to try and obtain the best value for our customers. Though infrequent, sometimes certain licenses will not be renewed, in which case PlayStation Vue would no longer carry the affected channels or networks. This section will be updated periodically to list channels and networks coming up for renewal. Please note that the dates listed below are subject to change.

With the ongoing price increases, these live TV streaming services are no longer as much of a bargain over traditional cable or satellite subscriptions — they’re merely an alternative, albeit ones with better cross-platform support in some cases, or tools to better customize your lineup.

And while they don’t directly compete with on-demand services, they do in the sense that consumers only have so much they’re willing to spend on their TV entertainment. On that front, these services will be looking for customers who will soon have a lot more choice. On the horizon are new services like Disney+, Apple TV+, NBCU’s streaming service and something from WarnerMedia (whose plans keep changing). That may lead to services that offer a bundled discount — like Hulu with Live TV combined with Disney+ — to fare better.

MobiTV tunes into $50M for its set-top-box-free broadcast services for pay TV providers

After raising $21 million in 2017 for a late-stage pivot from mobile TV to set-top-box-free IPTV services for the home, MobiTV is announcing another large growth round. The company — an early mover in building services to stream broadcast TV on mobile devices (it was established in 1999) — has raised $50 million more to continue building momentum, in part by expanding internationally.

MobiTV today has deals in place with 90 cable and other TV operators, covering 2 million people, with its MobiTV Connect services — providing access to 350 channels including those from A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Crown Media Family Networks, C-SPAN Networks, Disney and ESPN Media Networks, SHOWTIME, and Viacom — making it possible to add new channels by way of apps — no need for a set-top box, with customers instead either using existing streaming devices such as a Fire TV stick, Roku or Apple TV; or their smart TVs.

“Our vision of creating leading edge video experiences and technology in a unique, cost-effective manner has allowed MOBITV to win business faster than anyone else in the industry… since we first launched the platform in 2016,” said Charlie Nooney, MOBITV Chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We continue to demonstrate our ground-breaking approach to addressing operator challenges as they upgrade their pay TV offering in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”

The funding comes from existing investors Oak Investment Partners and Ally Financial, along with investment from Cedar Grove Partners. We’re trying to find out the valuation. For some context, in 2017, its valuation was  between $400 million and $500 million, according to figures from PitchBook and also what sources told us.

The set-top box has developed as a cornerstone to how many pay-TV services work today: emerging at a time when TV sets were very limited in terms of their functionality — they were not designed for hundreds of channels that could be added and removed depending on what your subscription plan offered — they took on a key role for pay TV providers in the struggle for “customer ownership”: the set-top box ensured that would-be channel owners could only connect with viewers by going through pay TV providers.

But fast forward to today, and those set-top boxes have become a millstone for anyone but the very largest providers (and maybe the biggies, too, but it’s notable that the reference customers noted by MobiTV are not the Comcasts of the world, but companies like Citizens Fiber, Windstream, and EPB).

Set-top boxes can have technical faults, they are expensive, and they go out of date in terms of their functionality. The latter is an important point, because the rise of streaming and over-the-top services have completely transformed how consumers get their TV content today. They now have options for cord-cutting — that is, bypassing pay TV providers altogether — by getting channels and on-demand content over the Internet, and linking that through to their TVs to watch.

MobiTV’s technology was originally built for mobile phones, and as such bypassed the set-top box from day one. While broadcast TV viewing on mobile never became a mass-market phenomenon (people watch on-demand on mobiles, and some might watch broadcast streams, but mainly it’s for short pockets of time rather than the main, default screen people use). Then the team, led by Nooney, spotted the opportunity to bring the same technology to larger screens.

The promise of set-top-box-free pay TV services gives the operators a wider array of channels and potentially more flexibility in how they are provisioned. At the same time, a solution like MobiTV’s potentially lowers the total cost of ownership for providers by removing the need for the set-top boxes.

That’s not to say that some of its customers are not using both. Here, they can provide a certain set of channels directly through those boxes, with another set that are offered on top of that.

“We believe in MOBITV’s superior consumer experience and know that being the only true TVaaS commercially deployed solution in North America has differentiated their positioning in the marketplace,” said Bandel Carano, Managing Partner, Oak Investment Partners, in a statement. “They have reinvented pay TV by providing operators a platform that allows consumers to use their streaming devices or SmartTV, while eliminating the requirement of a STB – without completely alienating it! This leaves room for everyone to evolve and future-proof their cable offering at a pace comfortable for both operators and consumers.”

Low-cost TV streaming service Philo comes to Android

Despite a slight price increase in April, Philo’s live TV streaming service is still one of the more affordable options on the market because of its strategic decision to not stream sports. That helps keep its costs down while providing an option for cord cutters who mainly want access to the traditional cable TV networks focused on entertainment, news, movies, kids, and other lifestyle content. But until today, Philo hasn’t been well-serving a large portion of its user base: Android users. That’s now changing with the official launch of a native Android app.

Before, Android users could only access Philo from a mobile web browser, while iOS users had their own dedicated app.

Android Home Page

The new Android app will be generally comparable to the iOS experience, though it has a somewhat different layout.  While iOS features navigation buttons for Home, Live, Saved, Search, and Settings, the Android version switches things up a bit. Instead, its navigation features Home, Guide, Saved, Search, and a user profile button.

Android Recommended

It also includes a Recommended section, in addition to the Trending Live and New and Upcoming sections. And instead of row of thumbnails in iOS’s Live, it presents a grid-like TV guide for finding something to watch in Guide. Many of the live TV services have switched over to the grid guide format, having realized that when it comes to finding live content, people still prefer to see things organized by what’s on now in a more standard layout.

Schedule Screenshot

Philo users can choose to either watch TV live or save shows to watch later, on up to three devices. The company recently did away with its multiple tiered pricing to combine packages into a single $20 per month option with 58 channels.

In addition to the Android native app, Philo is also today launching an app for Amazon’s Fire tablets (Fire OS 5 and up).

Android Saved Channels

These new apps join Philo’s existing lineup of apps for web (Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox); TV (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and Roku); and iOS.

The company doesn’t disclose its subscriber numbers, but its app is further behind its rivals. Today, the iOS version ranks No. 153 on the App Store’s Entertainment category, according to App Annie. That’s behind live streaming TV services YouTube TV (No. 22), Sling TV (No. 68) and No. 2 Hulu — although the latter is top-ranked for its more popular on-demand product, not its live TV service. Sensor Tower says Philo has been downloaded close to 500,000 times on iOS to date, and grew around 181 percent (or 2.8x) year-over-year last month.

That said, Philo had been missing out on a reaching huge swath of potential customers until today. Now available cross-platform, it may better appeal to consumers who use multiple devices — as well as those who are budget conscious and own less expensive Android smartphones.

The app is available here on Google Play.

 

 

fuboTV inks Discovery deal, adds 13 more networks to its live TV streaming service

Live sports streaming service fuboTV is expanding further into non-sports content with today’s news that it’s inked a new multi-year deal with Discovery, Inc. that will bring 13 Discovery television networks to its service over the weeks ahead. The new additions will include Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Animal Planet, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and MotorTrend — all of which will be available on fuboTV’s $54.99 per month base package.

Here, they’ll join the other Discovery-owned networks which are already live, including HGTV, Food Network, and Travel Channel. These had joined fuboTV earlier by way of its deal with Scripps Network Interactive.

Scripps, now owned by Discovery, had invested in fuboTV’s $75 million Series C last year.

The new and expanded deal with Discovery also includes an agreement to renew the five Scripps networks, fuboTV says.

In addition to the base package expansion, the $5.99 per month add-on package called fubo Extra will get several more Discovery stations as a result of the new agreement, including Science Channel, Destination America, Discovery Family, American Heroes Channel, and Discovery Life. In total, fubo Extra will now include over 30 channels.

Meanwhile, Discovery en Español and Discovery Familia will be added to fuboTV’s Spanish-language package, fubo Latino which is $24.99 per month for 20 channels, and to the Latino Plus add-on that’s $7.99 per month for 15 channels.

The deal also includes a library of on-demand Discovery content, bumping up fuboTV’s VOD collection to over 60,000 movies and TV episodes per month, the company notes.

“Today’s content agreement broadens the strategic relationship between Discovery and fuboTV that began almost two years ago with the former Scripps Networks,” said fuboTV CFO Joel Armijo, in a statement about the new agreement. “We are excited to be adding more Discovery brands alongside their lifestyle networks, which we already carry. These brands, including HGTV and Food Network, are among our top performing entertainment networks, and this agreement allows us to extend our partnership for years to come. We expect to be similarly successful with our new Discovery networks.”

While fuboTV’s core focus is still on live streaming sports content, the service has been steadily expanding its lineup to include more non-sports content over the past couple of years. In addition to the Scripps channels and the soon-to-come Discovery networks, fuboTV has also forged deals with CheddarCBSN, CBS Sports Network, The CW, Pop, Viacom, and others in the past couple of years.

Thanks to an investor lineup that includes 21st Century Fox, AMC Networks, Luminari Capital, Northzone, Sky and Scripps, fuboTV today carries a lot of the cable TV channels you find on other TV streaming service. It also offers a good number of local stations thanks to agreements with over 200 broadcast affiliates.

That puts it on better footing to compete with other live TV streaming services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, Philo, YouTube TV, and others. Though it’s still smaller, it has the appeal of the live sports content to draw in viewers.

As for Discovery, the fuboTV deal gives it another means of making its programming available to cord cutters. The company touts agreements with a number of the major TV streaming services, including as of April, YouTube TV. 

“Our partners at fuboTV are building a unique programming service, and we are pleased to bring more of our portfolio of real-life passion brands and programs to their subscribers,” said Eric Phillips, President of Affiliate Distribution at Discovery, in a statement. “This agreement further exemplifies the viewer affinity for our beloved brands and talent, and fuboTV’s commitment to offering high-quality, world-class content to customers,” he added.