TiVo’s ad-supported streaming service, TiVo Plus, launches today

TiVo’s answer to The Roku Channel, TiVo Plus, is launching today. The company had already unveiled its plans for ad-supported streaming earlier this month with the debut of two new models of its DVR, the TiVo Edge. Like The Roku Channel, TUBI, Vudu’s Movies on Us, and others, TiVo Plus is available to stream for free. But unlike others in this space, TiVo Plus is available exclusively to TiVo devices owners.

The service is enabled by a TiVo partnership with XUMO, Jukin Media and other publishers.

It includes a variety of content from sources like TMZ, America’s Funniest Home Videos, FilmRise, Outside TV+, PowerNation, FailArmy, Hell’s Kitchen | Kitchen Nightmares, Food52, Ameba, BatteryPOP, Baeble Music, Kid Genius, Journy, NatureVision, People are Awesome, Puddle Jumper, The Asylum, The Pet Collective, The Preview Channel, Unsolved Mysteries, Adventure Sports Network, AllTime, Complex, and others.

TiVo also has deals with Gannett, Loop Media, Revry, Newsy, Tastemade, Latido Music and Mobcrush to expand TiVo Plus even further.

The company says there will be “thousands” of movies and TV shows available in an app-free environment.

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Despite the obvious comparisons to The Roku Channel, the TiVo Plus interface isn’t as well-designed. Where Roku puts the focus on the content that’s available for free streaming, TiVo Plus highlights the publishers. The content is organized in generic and broad groupings, like “Movies and TV,” “Sports,” “Kids and Family,” “Entertainment, Comedy Pop Culture,” and others, instead of being more editorially curated or personalized to the viewer.

Though TiVo Plus is a free service, being a TiVo owner is not. For example, the new TiVo Edge DVR for cable customers is $400, followed by a $14.99 per month service fee, which can be paid either as an annual fee ($149.99) or all at once with a lifetime plan ($549.99).

The same DVR for cord-cutters is $350 and the service fee is $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year and $249.99 for a lifetime fee.

The DVRs include support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision HDR, 2TB of storage, TiVo’s OnePass, SkipMode (automatic commercial skip),

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This was the first time that TiVo lowered its subscriptions for the DVR for antenna users, in an effort to respond to market pressures. Most streaming media devices — like Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, etc. — don’t require subscriptions, as the companies don’t license TV guide data for their users nor do they operate with cable TV-like business model involving ongoing service fees. That’s allowed customers, and particularly cord-cutters, to get comfortable with one-time purchase fees and has weakened TiVo’s position.

With a dwindling customer base, TiVo has turned to advertising — not only with its new ad-supported streaming service on its devices, but also with skippable pre-roll ads on DVR recordings, as recently reported and confirmed by TiVo. 

TiVo Plus is rolling out starting today and continuing over the next few weeks to customers with Series 6 devices with Experience 4 (TE4). It will be available on the Home screen, when it goes live.

Disney+ tweets all the movies and shows coming to its streaming service

In an impressive bit of pre-launch marketing, Disney today announced by way of a massive Twitter thread basically every movie and TV show coming to its upcoming streaming service Disney+. The thread, which was posted in chronological order starting with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, reveals not just Disney’s best-known titles but also its long tail of cult classics, flops, oddities and other lesser-known films.

To date, Disney has advertised the extensive catalog coming to Disney+, which launches on November 12, by highlighting the top titles from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, NatGeo and more.

It has also touted its dozens of upcoming original productions like “The Mandalorian,” a “Lady and the Tramp” remake, a “Rogue One” prequel, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” and many others.

But today’s Twitter thread is a reminder that Disney’s back catalog goes deep.

For every Disney animation classic, there’s a crappy direct-to-video sequel, like “Belle’s Magical World,” for example. There are the cheesy ’80s TV shows. And while Pixar may have spun “Toy Story” into one of its best-known franchises, it also produced the broadly panned “Cars 2.”

Then there are the titles you may have forgotten — or never knew existed in the first place — from “Meet the Deedles” to “Zenon Girl of the 21st Century” to “Fuzzbucket” to “The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoesto that movie about the country bears.

For anyone who grew up on Disney, the list is a nostalgic look back at not just the studio’s hits, but also the titles that quickly faded from your memory, or those that even make you cringe.

While most streaming services today round out their catalog lineup with less popular content in order to claim a larger number of total titles available, they don’t tend to promote their B movies and crappy TV shows in any of their marketing or advertising, for obvious reasons.

Disney’s approach, by comparison, is refreshingly transparent.

While you may never have watched “The Biscuit Eater” or “Justin Morgan Had a Horse” or “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” and may never care to, Disney+ is at least letting you know what sort of filler content comes with your $6.99 per month subscription.

As you scroll your way down through one of the biggest tweetstorms ever, you’ll likely come across a few niche titles that appeal to you, despite not being the stuff of headlines. And because each title gets its own tweet, you can let everyone know exactly how excited you are for “The Cat from Outer Space,” or anything else that strikes you.

Today’s massive tweetstrom wasn’t the only way that Disney overloaded one of its social channels to demonstrate the size of its back catalog. It also put together an over 3-hour YouTube video that previews everything coming to Disney+.

Disney+ is available for pre-order ahead of its November 12 launch.

NBCU launches LX, a local news network aimed at younger cord cutters

NBCU is again going after Gen Z and millennials with the launch of a new digital news brand and soon-to-arrive streaming network, called LX — short for “Local X.” Local, because the focus is on local news and “X” because…well, it sounds cool? (NBCU says it’s for LX’s “exponential abilities,” if you want the official reasoning.)

The service will be run by NBCU’s 42-station group, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, which will next year begin delivering LX’s programming as both an over-the-air and streaming network.

The company says the news programming on LX will feature “visually rich,” longer-form content — which is a switch from NBC’s other, earlier efforts in targeting the younger demographic.

For instance, NBC’s new streaming news network, NBC News Now, launched in May, delivers hourly live updates called “Briefly’s” as one of its key features. NBC also invested in a Snapchat news show, “Stay Tuned,” where it delivers a selection of top stories in just a few minutes.

LX is a different sort of news-telling experience — one that’s more akin to a news magazine, rather than a traditional local newscast.

Its “Visual Storytellers,” as the reporters are called, will work within their own communities — including L.A., Boston, Dallas, Miami, and New York  — to offer local stories and background on complex issues, says NBCU.

Among the group of storytellers are L.A.’s Chase Cain, formerly of Hulu, who will use 360-degree videos as part of his storytelling efforts; Ngozi Ekeledo, previously a reporter for the Big Ten Network in Chicago, now in Boston; a two-time Emmy winner whose background is in local TV news, Clark Fouraker, in Dallas; plus Bianca Graula a bilingual journalist who will focus on Miami stories; and former Vice News Tonight reporter Alexa Liautaud, in New York.

The programming launched on Monday with stories about climate change, urban farming, a surfing program for black women in C.A., and a young female Asian chef and James Beard nominee who launched a successful restaurant without experience or training.

Currently, the content is airing on YouTube at NBCLX, on LX.com and across social media platforms (@NBCLX.)

In April 2020, LX will debut as an over-the-air streaming network with live programming included, too. That means local newscasts will be added into the mix of coverage.

And the network will feature fewer and shorter ad breaks at that time, the company says.

More broadly, the service aims to attract an audience of younger people who no longer watch television in the traditional sense. Today’s cord cutters and “cord nevers” often get their news from social media, podcasts, apps, and other digital-first sources.

That’s a challenge for a news division focused on local TV.

“Our younger audiences want stories that are relatable. They want to feel a connection with the people delivering the news to them. They want more context about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. LX will deliver this and more,” said Valari Staab, President, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, in a statement. “Our team has been working hard to create a place that younger audiences can go to watch stories that are about them, and get the background about complex issues happening in their own backyard but still walk away feeling inspired about the power we all have to affect positive changes for our communities,” she added.

 

AT&T faked DirecTV Now numbers, lawsuit alleges

AT&T faked the numbers for its DirecTV Now streaming service ahead of the company’s Time Warner merger, according to a lawsuit filed by investors, Bloomberg reported. The suit alleges the media giant pressured employees to boost DirecTV Now’s numbers by secretly adding the product to existing customers’ accounts. It also claims the company touted DirecTV Now’s user growth, when in reality, subscribers were leaving as their promotional periods ended and the service’s price hikes were limiting new sign-ups.

The suit says a variety of tactics were used to promote the idea that DirecTV Now was growing organically. For example, it claims that employees were taught how and encouraged to convert activation fees that customers typically had to pay to upgrade their phones into DirecTV Now subscriptions. This involved the customer being told the fee was being “waived,” when instead the customer was charged anyway and the payment was applied to up to 3 DirecTV Now accounts using fake emails.

One former employee even said that around 40%-50% of customers he dealt with in early 2017 were complaining about being charged for DirecTV Now, which they had never signed up for. This was supported by other employees, the suit cites, and was a directive that came top from upper management to the sales channel.

In addition, the suit speaks to overly aggressive sales quotas, high churn from deeply discounted promotions, technical issues, and unsustainable pricing. It noted how AT&T finally disclosed that by the end of 2018, none of the 500,000 heavily discounted DirecTV Now subscribers remained on the service, and subscriptions had dropped by 267,000 as a result. In April 2019, it reported another 83,000 subscribers had left the service, and in July, 168,000 had abandoned it.

But ahead of the Time Warner merger, AT&T touted the service’s success, the suit said. It didn’t disclose any of the risks associated with DirecTV Now, despite SEC obligations. The plaintiffs believe AT&T should have noted what made its stock risky, including the fact that DirecTV Now was not profitable, its growth had been dependent on aggressive promotions, and it faced severe technical challenges.

“By buying AT&T’s securities at these artificially inflated and artificially maintained prices, the Class members suffered economic losses, which losses were a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ fraudulent conduct,” the suit states.

“We plan to fight these baseless claims in court,” AT&T said in a statement to Bloomberg.

DirecTV Now had a rough start to begin with, having suffered heavily from glitches, including freezing, buffering, and more. While that can happen at first with new streaming services, AT&T’s glitches were bad enough that many wanted to cancel.

TechCrunch reported in 2017 how customers complained they weren’t able to get refunds from AT&T, even though they weren’t able to use the service as promised. Some had even filed complaints with the FCC, we found. In January, we also noted how the service’s price hikes and promotional packages ending led to a sizable loss of subscribers and that AT&T was “losing the cord cutters.”

The filing of the lawsuit comes at a time where AT&T has seen much upheaval. This month, activist investor  Elliott Management Corp. disclosed its $3.2 billion stake in AT&T and criticized the company’s acquisition strategy. It also suggested that AT&T should sell some assets that don’t fit its future direction, like the DirecTV satellite service and Mexican wireless business.  AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended the company’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner today, in response to this criticism.

In addition, AT&T CEO of Communications, John Donovan, recently announced his retirement, with WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey being promoted to president and chief operating officer at AT&T.

The full complaint is below.

 

NBCU’s streaming service ‘Peacock’ announces originals slate, including a Battlestar Galactica reboot

NBCUniversal is sharing a few more details about its new streaming service, due to launch in April 2020, including the service’s name and content lineup. In a nod to the NBC logo, the service will be called “Peacock,” (yes, really), and will offer subscribers over 15,000 of content, including both film and TV, plus original content.

Notably, Peacock will be home to “The Office,” which Netflix will lose as a result of NBCU paying $500 million to pull the hit from Netflix when its deal ends in 2021. Peacock will also host other classic shows, like “Parks and Recreation,” plus news, sports, late-night TV, and Spanish-language programming, along with films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination, and others.

In terms of its popular and classic TV lineup, Peacock will include: “30 Rock,” “Bates Motel,” “Battlestar Gallactica,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Cheers,” “Chrisley Knows Best,” “Covert Affairs,” “Downton Abbey,” “Everyone Loves Raymond,” “Frasier,” “Friday Night Lights,” “House,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “King Of Queens,” “Married…With Children,” “Monk,” “Parenthood,” “Psych,” “Royal Pains,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Superstore,” “The Real Housewives,” “Top Chef,” and “Will & Grace.”

On the film side, the service promises  “American Pie,” “Bridesmaids,” “Knocked Up,” “Meet the Parents,” “Meet the Fockers,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Back to the Future,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Casino,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Erin Brockovich,” “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” “Field of Dreams,” “Jaws,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Shrek,” and “The Breakfast Club.” It will also feature films from the franchises: “Bourne,” “Despicable Me,” and “Fast & Furious.”

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What’s more interesting (or concerning, if you’re a “Battlestar Galactica” fan) are Peacock’s plans for original content. This includes a reboot of the sci-fi classic (nooo, don’t do it!), as well as reboots of “Saved by the Bell,” and “Punky Brewster.”

The company this morning announced the following originals:

  • “Dr. Death,” based on the true-crime podcast starring Jamie Dornan, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater
  • A “Battlestar Galactica” reboot from Golden Globe winner and Emmy-nominated “Mr. Robot” and “Homecoming” EP Sam Esmail
  • “Brave New World,” based on the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley and starring Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”) and Demi Moore
  • “Angelyne,” a limited series from Emmy Rossum
  • “One of Us Is Lying,” based on the New York Times best-selling young adult mystery-thriller.
  • “Rutherford Falls,” co-created by Emmy and Peabody Award-winner Mike Schur, Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas, and starring Ed Helms
  • “Straight Talk,”from Emmy Award nominee Rashida Jones and NAACP Image Award winner Jada Pinkett Smith;
  • “Saved By the Bell” reboot from Emmy Award winner Tracey Wigfield (“30 Rock”), featuring original cast members including Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez
  • “Punky Brewster,” starring Soleil Moon Frye as a grown-up version of her former character;
  • A new season of “A.P.Bio,” starring Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt
  • The second movie spinoff from the long-running series “Psych.”
  • A new “Saturday Night Live” docuseries, “Who Wrote That,” from creator Lorne Michaels, exploring the famous personalities in front of and behind the camera
  • An original talk show series from Jimmy Fallonin collaboration with Matador Content and Universal Television Alternative Studio
  • A weekly late-night show starring Amber Ruffin and executive produced by Seth Meyers
  • Another spinoff of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives” franchise.

Much was already known about NBCU’s streaming service, ahead of today. The company had already discussed its vision and the launch time frame during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call. At the time, NBCU noted the serivce’s April 2020 arrival, as well as its monetization strategy.

The company said then that the service would be ad-supported with a paid, ad-free option. It has not yet announced its pricing or distribution plans, however.

The service is launching at a time when competition among streamers is heating up, as more companies enter the fray to battle with Netflix. In addition to the big three — Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu — Disney+ is poised to launch Nov. 12, and Apple just announced Apple TV+ would arrive Nov 1. HBO Max is also right around the corner, in spring 2020.

Surprisingly, it’s the classic shows that the media giants are fighting over, in massive, multi-billion dollar deals.

NBCU snagged “The Office,” Netflix’s most-watched series, for $500 million. WarnerMedia (HBO Max) grabbed “Friends” from Netflix for $425 million. Netflix got back in the game yesterday, with a $500 million-plus deal for “Seinfeld” that includes global streaming rights. And just this morning, WarnerMedia broke records with a multi-billion dollar streaming deal for “Big Bang Theory,” for HBO Max.

Peacock, its terrible name notwithstanding, has a shot at grabbing at least some of the market, given its decent back catalog, which includes hits like “The Office” and “Parks and Rec,” and its access to a larger film library. It also snagged some high-caliber Hollywood names for its originals.

The service will be heavily promoted during the Summer Olympics, airing on NBC.

“The name Peacock pays homage to the quality content that audiences have come to expect from NBCUniversal – whether it’s culture-defining dramas from innovative creators like Sam Esmail, laugh-out-loud comedies from legends like Lorne Michaels and Mike Schur, blockbusters from Universal Pictures, or buzzy unscripted programming from the people who do it best at Bravo and E!,” said Bonnie Hammer, Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer and Digital Enterprises, in a statement about today’s news. “Peacock will be the go-to place for both the timely and timeless – from can’t-miss Olympic moments and the 2020 election, to classic fan favorites like ‘The Office’.”

 

Quibi is partnering with the BBC on international news show for millennials

The BBC and Quibi are partnering to make a new daily international news show for millennials.

The two companies said that the new programming, which will be featured as part of Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” programming, will be filmed in the Beeb’s central London headquarters five days a week and each segment will be five minutes long.

The show aims to catch viewers up with all the news from around the world in five minutes, according to the two companies.

“Since the BBC began life as a start-up in 1922 we have been focused on two things: innovating to reach our audiences in new ways; and providing trustworthy news and entertainment of the highest quality,” said BBC Global News chief executive, Jim Egan in a statement. “Technology is changing constantly, as is the world at large and we’re delighted to be working with an innovative new player like Quibi to bring young audiences a daily made-for-mobile global news update of the highest quality from our unparalleled network of international correspondents and experts.”

The BBC also has news programming distributed on Snap and Facebook’s Instagram. So the company seems to be covering its bases to ensure it doesn’t miss out on the potential next big thing in media platforms.

“BBC News is one of the most respected news brands around the globe, and in particular for millennials in America today,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and chairman of the board of Quibi. “We’re proud to partner with them to create a daily international news report for Quibi.”

The deal with the BBC follows a July announcement that Quibi had also hooked up with NBC News for programming. As we reported at the time, that deal includes a six-minute morning and evening news show for Quibi’s service.

NBC News also runs a Snapchat news show called Stay Tuned that reaches millions, and recently launched its own digital streaming news network, NBC News Now, delivered through its NBC app.

The mobile-only streaming service is set for an April 2020 launch, and has already announced a big slate of programming from top-tier filmmakers and actors.

Some of the highlights include commitments from filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum to create series for the service, plus a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake.

As we’ve reported, subscribers to Quibi can also expect a show about Snapchat’s founding, an action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, a murder mystery comedy from SNL’s Lorne Michaels, a beauty docuseries from Tyra Banks, a Steven Spielberg horror show, a comedy from Thomas Lennon, a car-stunt series with Idris Elba and more.

Apple TV+ to launch November 1 for $4.99/month, one year free comes with select Apple devices

Apple today formally announced its launch plans for its new TV streaming service, Apple TV+, which will be available starting on November 1st, 2019 and will cost just $4.99 per month for the whole family. The service will be available across Apple’s platforms in over 100 countries through the Apple TV app.

As an unexpected surprise, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that when buy an Apple device — including an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV — you’ll get a year of Apple TV+ for free.

According to Cook, only some of the shows will be available at launch. Others will be added every month.

A higher price point of $9.99 per month was previously reported by Bloomberg, which would have made Apple TV+ more expensive than rivals like the $6.99 per month Disney+, $5.99 per month Hulu (with ads), or the $8.99 per month single screen Netflix plan. It would have been less expensive than Netflix’s $12.99 per month standard plan.

The $4.99 per month price undercuts all. And bundling a free year with new Apple hardware should boost sales as well.

Apple’s entry into the TV streaming market has been public for some time thanks to leaks and reports from Hollywood media news sites and announcements of programs from Apple itself. The company then officially introduced Apple TV+ this March at a special event focused on the company’s services and subscriptions.

The event brought out a cavalcade of stars to discuss their involvement in the new streaming platform, including Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, Kumail Nanjiani, J.J. Abrams, Sara Bareilles, and even Big Bird.

Some of the more anticipated shows arriving include a morning show drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston; a Witherspoon-backed comedy based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s “You Think It, I’ll Say It;” a thriller called “Truth Be Told” starring Octavia Spencer; a revival of “Amazing Stories” exec-produced by Steven Spielberg; a new space drama “For All Mankind” from “Battlestar Galactica’s” creator Ronald D. Moore; a show from “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle; an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation;” original shows produced by Oprah Winfrey; a psychological thriller “Servant” produced by M. Night Shyamalan; an animated series called “Central Park” from “Bob’s Burgers” creator, and many others.

(Here’s a full list.)

Despite the numerous high-profile names attached, Apple’s service isn’t really a Netflix alternative. There’s not a big back catalog of licensed TV shows and movies, as you’d find elsewhere. Instead, the focus is on original content. If you want more, Apple TV Channels offers paid subscriptions to other premium services.

As Apple SVP Eddy Cue told attendees at SXSW 2018: “we’re not after quantity, we’re after quality.”

Services, like Apple Music, iCloud and AppleCare, have been a bigger focus for Apple in recent years, and may even become its most profitable sector, according to reports. As of its third-quarter earnings, Apple reported its services revenues, which include App Store fees, subscriptions, and other online services, had grown to $11.456 billion. At the same time, the iPhone made up less than half of Apple’s business.

The slowing iPhone sales have to do with the quality of the devices — even older models are still very good, and the improvements in new versions are not enough to prompt as frequent upgrades. To diversify, Apple has been focused on growing services revenues with launches like Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and now Apple TV+.

Apple is also clearly willing to spend in order to grow its media business further.

Last year, Apple had said it would spend around a billion dollars acquiring ten shows for the streaming TV service. But it later signed deals with Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and Sesame Workshop, which likely pushed that number much higher. A newer report from the Financial Times in August claimed the figure was now around $6 billion instead. 

What we don’t yet know is how well Apple’s investment will attract new subscribers in a market where there’s an increasing number of services offering premium, award-winning on-demand content, including Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and soon, Disney+.

The few trailers Apple has released so far have been fairly iffy — the first one of “The Morning Show” almost felt like a parody, while the latest, “Dickinson” seems to have turned the celebrated poet Emily Dickinson into a CW-style feminist punk rock hero.

Apple said the trailers had been watched over 100 million times.

At the event, it unveiled the trailer for the post-apocalyptic drama starring  Jason Momoa, “See,” which is Apple TV+’s take on Netflix’s “Bird Box,” apparently. It takes place in a world where all have gone blind.

As media critics finally get their hands on the shows for reviews, we’ll know more about whether Apple TV+ is worth the price.

“Our mission for Apple TV+ is to bring you the best original stories from the most creative minds in television and film,” said Cook, speaking to the audience at the iPhone press event today. “Stories that help you find inspiration that are grounded in emotion. Stories to believe in. Stories with purpose,” he said.

Roku expands its TV licensing program to Europe

Roku TV today represents more than 1 in 3 smart TVs sold in the U.S. Now, the company is bringing its TV licensing program to European markets. At the consumer tech show IFA in Berlin, Roku announced it will now allow manufacturers to license its TV reference designs and use its Roku OS to build smart TVs for sale in Europe. It also said Hisense would be its first European Roku TV partner.

Today, the connected TV market is no longer limited to just the dongles, sticks, and streaming media players that plug into the HDMI ports of consumers’ TV sets.

Top companies like Roku, Google and Amazon are also making their operating systems and reference designs available to TV makers themselves, in a battle to gain consumer market share. Apple has been rumored to be working on its own television set powered by tvOS, as well.

Roku, to date, done well on this front in its home market, after first introducing the Roku TV platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014. Hisense was then one of its first partners on the effort. Fast-forward to 2019, and there are now over 100 models available from over 10 brands in North America, and the company estimates that Roku TV is now the No. 1 selling smart TV OS in the U.S.

Roku isn’t alone in targeting Europe with its TV platform. Amazon this week announced more than 20 new Fire TV devices, 15 of which were TVs licensing its Fire OS. Many of these were also aimed at European consumers through partnerships with local brands and retailers.

The new Hisense Roku TV models will support 4K Ultra HD resolutions and HDR, and will come in sizes ranging up to 65 inches, Roku says. The models will launch in the U.K. in the fourth quarter.

“While consumers love Roku TV’s simplicity and advance features, TV manufacturers benefit from the low manufacturing cost, a variety of technology options, and support from Roku,” said Roku CEO and Founder Anthony Wood, in a statement. “The ability to quickly bring to market a leading smart TV experience that is regularly updated by Roku and is packed with entertainment gives TV manufacturers an edge in the competitive TV business. We are pleased to bring the Roku TV licensing program to Europe and look forward to the first Hisense Roku TVs in market this year,” he said.

 

Netflix officially launches a ‘Latest’ section with built-in reminders

Last month, Netflix was spotted testing a new section in its TV app called “Latest,” which would connect viewers with a personalized list of upcoming content due to be released over the course of the current week and the next. Today, Netflix is formally announcing the launch of the feature with a focus on its ability to remind you of shows and movies you want to watch.

Netflix had confirmed in August that the Latest section would be available on its streaming app for TVs, including Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, and others. But it also had a similar feature available on Android and is testing the feature on iOS, it said at the time.

Today, the company confirms the new tab will now be available on many game consoles and Roku, with smart TVs and other devices getting the upgrade in the next couple of months.

The tab itself will feature content from across categories, like drama, comedy, horror, docs, foreign, original, licensed and kids, the company notes. These recommendations will be organized into three sections: New this Week, Coming this Week, and Coming Next Week.

When you see something of interest, you can click “Remind Me” to receive a notification when the title is available to stream.

Netflix says the new feature was inspired by its popular “Now on Netflix” newsletters which help subscribers keep up with the ever-changing content slate.

The feature’s launch is significant for a few reasons.

For starters, it’s a rare addition to Netflix’s top-level navigation in its app which before was limited to Home, Search, TV, Movies, and My List. The Latest section will now get a prominent position, just beneath the Home button.

It will also be an important tool that Netflix will use to keep viewers engaged with its content so they’ll continue to pay for the subscription service. This is now more of a concern for Netflix, which recently posted a disappointing quarter, where it lost U.S. subscribers for the first time since 2011. It’s also poised to face serious competition from newcomers to the streaming market including, most notably, Disney whose soon-to-launch Disney+ will cost less than Netflix and can be bundled with Hulu and ESPN for the same price as a standard Netflix subscription.

The new addition will help to address another challenge, as well — helping subscribers figure out what to watch. Unlike traditional linear TV, Netflix doesn’t just drop you into live TV — you have to make a decision. This often leads to people scrolling for several minutes to find a show to stream, getting frustrated or overwhelmed by the choices, then just launching an old standby, like “The Office.” With reminders and notifications, Netflix can gently nudge viewers towards titles they already want to watch, which could mean less timing browsing and more time streaming.

 

Amazon unveils a new Fire TV Cube, soundbar, and over a dozen Fire TV Edition products

At the big European tech trade show, IFA 2019, Amazon today announced over 20 new Fire TV-branded devices, including a next-generation Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Edition soundbar from Anker — its first foray into Fire TV Edition audio products — and 15 new Fire TV Edition products, including the first OLED Fire TV Edition smart TVs.

The announcement represents a significant expansion of Amazon’s Fire TV hardware line and integrations at a time when Roku has gained a lead over Amazon in the U.S., in terms of connected-TV market share, while Fire TV has been claiming the top spot in some European markets and an international lead over Roku.

The company today said its Fire TV devices now have over 37 million monthly active users globally, which is ahead of the 30.5 million Roku reported in Q2. Both companies offer products that may be used by more than one person in a household, of course, but each household only gets counted as one user (or account) as long as they’ve streamed through the platform in the past month. It’s a relatively fair comparison, in other words.

Of the new devices, the new Fire TV Cube is one of the more interesting additions to the lineup as it represents the second generation, and a big upgrade, over the existing product. The device offers a hands-free Fire TV experience, and has become the testing ground for many Fire TV software enhancements before they roll out to the wider product lineup.

All new Fire TV Cube side

The updated Fire TV Cube now includes a faster, “hexa-core” processor that’s twice as powerful as the one that shipped in the first generation device. It provides “instant access” to Dolby Vision and 4K Ultra HD content, Amazon claims, at up to 60 frames per second. The new Cube also includes on-device processing with Local Voice Control, which lets you more quickly execute some of your common voice commands like “Alexa, go home,” or “Alexa, scroll right,” for example. These commands will now execute up to 4 times faster, says Amazon.

The Fire TV Cube will also ship with far-field voice recognition capabilities with 8 microphones and technology that helps to suppress noise, reverberation, content currently playing, and even competing speech so Alexa better hears your voice commands even when the TV is on in a room full of people.

Customers will be able to control their compatible TV, soundbar, A/V receiver, cable or satellite box, as well as other smart home devices by way of the device’s support of multi-directional infrared technology, cloud-based protocols, and HDMI CEC, combined with Alexa. 

“Fire TV Cube was the first hands-free streaming media player powered by Alexa, and since launching last year we have gathered a wealth of feedback from customers about how they use voice in the living room,” said Marc Whitten, Vice President of Amazon Fire TV, in a statement. “Over the past year, we have continued to expand and advance the Fire TV Cube experience based on this feedback with dozens of new features including Multi-Room Music, Follow-Up Mode, and Alexa Communications. These key learnings carried over and guided the development of the second-generation Fire TV Cube, and we are excited to introduce this new-and-improved experience to customers around the world,” he said.

The new Fire TV Cube is available for pre-order in the U.S. for $119.99, in Canada for $149.99, the United Kingdom for £109.99, Germany for €119.99, and Japan for ¥14980.  It ships on Oct. 10 in all markets except Japan, where it ships on Nov. 5, instead. And it will be sold in a package with Ring Video Doorbell 2 for $249.99 (or $69 off).

Fire TV Cube Couch

Amazon’s Fire TV Edition lineup is expanding, too. This is the licensed version of the Fire TV OS available to other manufacturers for use in their own products.

The company announced more than 15 new products from brands including Skyworth, Arcelik, TPV, Compal, and others.

In partnership with Dixons Carphone, Amazon is teaming up to launch JVC – Fire TV Edition Smart 4K Ultra HD HDR LED TVs, which are the first Fire TV Edition products in the U.K. They’ll be sold by Currys PC World and online at Amazon.co.uk and are priced at £349 and up.

With IMTRON, a company of MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, Amazon is launching a lineup of Fire TV Edition smart TVs under the private label ok. These will be available in Germany and Austria, as will the 11 Fire TV Edition smart TVs from Grundig including the first OLED Fire TV Edition television ( available in 55” and 65” models, starting at €1,299.99 for hands-free; or starting at €1,199.99 if not; pictured below). 

Grundig OLED Fire TV Edition display

Other more affordable Grundig Fire TV Edition products will be sold on Amazon.de in 32″, 40″, 43″, 49″, 55″, and 65″ variations, starting at €239.99. They’ll also come to retailers including MediaMarkt, Saturn, Euronics, Expert, EP:, Medimax, and others.

In the U.S., Amazon and Best Buy announced the first 65-inch Toshiba – Fire TV Edition smart TV with Dolby Vision, which will be available for customers in the United States next month for $599.

Finally, following Roku’s lead into home audio, Amazon also announced the first expansion of Fire TV Edition beyond the TV itself with the launch of the Nebula Soundbar from Anker. (Roku also today launched its own wireless soundbar).

The new device supports 4K Ultra HD, a unified smart TV user interface, near-field Alexa voice control, Dolby Vision pass-through, and more. It can also be added to a multi-room speaker group through the Alexa app, and comes with a 90-day trial to Amazon Music Unlimited. 

Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition 4

It’s available for pre-order today for $229.99 in the United States, $269.99 in Canada, £179.99 in the United Kingdom, and €209.99 in Germany. It will begin shipping on November 21.

The expansion of Fire TV Edition-branded products is also meant to challenge Roku on the success of its Roku TV-branded television sets, which are similarly manufactured by partners but run the Roku OS.

In the U.S., Roku OS is the No. 1 licensed TV OS in the U.S. and now powers more than 1 in 3 smart TVs. Amazon is today is clearly answering that challenge by focusing on the international markets with a suite of new partners for Fire TV Edition.

 

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