Media fragmentation is annoying consumers

Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications division published its 13th-annual Digital Media Trends survey, focused on identifying changes in the ways US consumers engage with various types of media.

Led by an independent research firm, the survey had roughly 2,000 consumer respondents across demographics – with the report categorizing respondents based on age (Gen-Z: ages 14-21, Millenials: 22-35, Gen-X: 36-52, Boomers: 53-71, and Matures: 72+).

While already accompanied by a succinct 13-page executive summary, the report can largely be summarized in just a couple of sentences: more people are using streaming or alternative media services than ever before, largely due to more user freedom and customization, though the growing quantity and fragmentation of platforms are becoming more frustrating for users to manage.

The survey results directionally echo already well-discussed dynamics, which we’ve previously dug into such as here, here and here. Instead, the most poignant aspects of the report were not the answers or conclusions themselves, but the immense level of support many of them received.

 

Somewhat interesting:

TiVo prepares to split its business into two as it pursues sale

DVR maker TiVo is preparing to split its company into two businesses: one, focused on its products like its Bolt family of DVRs, and the other on its licensing and intellectual property businesses. The move will help to address some of the complexities with those businesses, TiVo Interim CEO Raghu Rau, explained, which may make it more attractive to buyers.

By splitting the company into two, TiVo may be able to “facilitate strategic transactions,” with interested parties, Rau said, on the company’s Q4 earnings call this week with investors.

The CEO also noted that TiVo was in active discussions with parties who were interested in each its product and its IP businesses, but the overall strategic review process – which began a year ago – was taking longer than TiVo had anticipated.

“So we do agree that this process has taken longer than we had hoped particularly because of the complexity and uniqueness of our two businesses,” Rau told investors. “We’re hoping that we’ll give you another update the next quarter based on the ongoing discussions that we are having. But beyond that, I’m not willing to put a time limit on when this will happen because the interest of the Board and the management is to ensure that we get the best outcome for the shareholders and that’s what this whole review process has been focused on,” he said.

The issue seems to be that potential acquirers may want either the licensing business or the products business, but not both.

According to a report from LightReading, that’s definitely the case with potential buyers, sources told them. In addition, TiVo was described as being reluctant to move forward on anything significant until it knew more about the outcomes of its legal battles with Comcast over licensing and patents.

Rau noted that TiVo hadn’t actually announced that TiVo is separating, only that it’s now working on the various logistics issues that have to be addressed in order to separate the business, like the preparation of historical financials, audits and understanding of tax implications.

The company also said it ruled out a “transformative acquisition” a couple of quarters into its ongoing strategic review process, which began in February 2018.

TiVo itself was acquired by Rovi Corp. for $1.1 billion in 2016, and the combined entity kept the name TiVo. The deal enhanced TiVo’s patent portfolio, and today 9 of the top 10 pay TV service providers in the U.S. license its portfolio of IP, except for Comcast, whose license lapsed (which is why it’s in the courts.)

Given the relative recency of that merger, TiVo’s decision to now split the business again strongly hints that it’s had trouble finding a deal for the company as it stands today.

TiVo remains a household name, thanks to its line of TiVo branded DVRs which cater to pay TV subscribers and cord cutters alike. But the company has made some missteps along the way, as it tried to keep up with the increasingly competitive market. For instance, in an effort to differentiate itself, its newer Bolt DVR adopted an odd, angled shape that some found aesthetically displeasing. That matters, of course, because these DVRs have to be on display in your living room. (Unlike, says, Amazon’s new Fire TV Recast which can be hidden away in a back room of the house.)

In addition, TiVo’s model which relies on monthly subscriptions (or a larger “lifetime” fee) are harder for consumers to stomach at a time when there’s so much choice among media devices.

Combined with the larger shift away from pay TV and consumer adoption of players like Roku and Amazon Fire TV – even among pay TV subscribers – TiVo’s business is not what it once was.

The company in its earnings reported this Tuesday brought in a loss of $2.33 per share to end fiscal year 2018. In the year-ago quarter, TiVo had posted a profit of 28 cents. Its revenue for the period was $168.46 million, 21 percent down from Q4 2017, and under analysts’ estimates of $173.85 million.

Roku on track for $1 billion in revenue in 2019

Roku plans to be a billion-dollar company in 2019, the company said on Thursday as part of its announcement of strong earnings. The company beat analyst estimates and reported strong growth in active users and streaming hours with earnings of $0.05 per share, compared with the $0.03 analysts had estimated, and revenues of $276 million, compared with the expected $262 million.

Roku also reported 40 percent year-over-year active user growth, with 27.1 million active users by year-end, and a 69 percent year-over-year increase in streaming hours, which reached 7.3 billion.

The company said it plans this year to invest in international expansion, its ad-supported service The Roku Channel, advertising, and its Roku TV platform.

While cord cutting is driving some of Roku’s growth, only around half of Roku’s customers fit this description, CEO Anthony Wood pointed out. The other half are more like “cord shavers” – those who are still pay TV subscribers, but are shifting more of their TV viewing to streaming services.

Roku’s ability to also attract pay TV customers combined with the fact that 1 in four smart TVs sold in the U.S. now runs its software, is helping the company’s market share grow.

Roku estimates that 1 in 5 U.S. TV households now uses the Roku platform for at least a portion of their TV viewing. In the year ahead, Roku aims to better capitalize on its traction by increasing the monetization per user and scaling the number of households using Roku.

In addition, the company sees a big opportunity in international.

“International is one of the top four areas we’re investing in,” Wood noted.

“Roku has more than 27 million active accounts globally today. Most of those are in the United States. But we believe many of the assets we built for the U.S. market will help us expand into other markets. And clearly streaming is a global opportunity with one billion households worldwide,” he said.

The company begin investing more substantially in international in 2018, and has now reached 20 countries. It has added more local content and is expanding its relationships with international resellers, said Wood. “We think you’ll start to see the results of this increased investment bearing fruit in 2020,” he added.

Roku also has high hopes for The Roku Channel.

The channel is now one of the top five most popular on the platform and grew from around 1,000 free movies and TV episodes in 2017 to now around 10,000. Last year, it added more streaming partners like ABC, Cheddar and People TV and even expanded into subscriptions, with add-ons like Showtime, Starz, and Epix.

The company believes the channel will continue to become a main destination on its platform, which helps Roku to monetize through advertising and its cut of subscription revenue, when customer opt to add on extra packages. But today the channel is still lacking many of the major subscription services, compared with the more robust lineup offered by Amazon Channels. For example, HBO is not offered through The Roku Channel today, nor is CBS All Access.

However, the company believes its financial performance will improve this year – reaching the billion in revenue mark, with platform revenues accounting for two-thirds of that. This, in part, will be due to growing its installed base and extracting more revenue from each customer, including through The Roku Channel.

It’s worth noting that Roku recently made it possible to stream from The Roku Channel directly on mobile devices, which will likely play a role here.

Roku has been growing at a rapid pace alongside the larger cord cutting and streaming TV trend.

In the past three years, it increased active accounts by 4 million, 6 million and then nearly 8 million, respectively, it said. And it quadrupled the size of its platform revenue from just over $100 million in 2016 to over $400 million in 2018. In the U.S., its active account base of 27+ million would make it equivalent to the No. 2 traditional pay TV provider.

In addition to international expansions in 2019 and investments in The Roku Channel, Roku aims to increase its Roku TV market share, and roll out new ad products in areas like marketplace, programmatic, and self-serve.

Roku’s investments in its platform led to 77 percent year-over-year growth to reach 151.4 million in revenue in Q4. But the player business is still growing too – 21 percent year-over-year to reach 124.3 million in revenue, Roku said.

However, a lot will changing in the streaming landscape this year, as new offerings from AT&T (WarnerMedia streaming service), Apple, Disney, Viacom (which just bought Pluto TV), and NBC hit the market.

But Roku believes it will weather these changes, too.

“I founded this company on the belief that all television was going to be streamed,” Wood told investors. “And it wasn’t that many years ago when there was no streaming, and then the only streaming was Netflix. It took a long time for the incumbents to embrace streaming. But they have. And that’s very gratifying to see every major media company in the world developing streaming strategies, which is great — it’s great for us, because we’re the leading streaming platform,” he said.

 

 

Netflix says new episodes of “Arrested Development” will debut on March 15

It’s time for another hit off the juice box. Netflix announced today that it will release the remaining eight episodes of “Arrested Development’s” fifth season on March 5, ten months after the first half premiered. In the intervening time, however, the show has dealt with several controversies revolving around accusations of abusive behavior from star Jeffrey Tambor, who plays family patriarch George Bluth.

The Netflix installments of the show, which began in 2013 with season 4 and marked the show’s return after running from 2003 to 2006 on Fox, have received mixed reviews and failed to achieve the iconic status of the original episodes. The controversies surrounding the show’s cast has also dampened some fans’ enthusiasm, at least for the new seasons.

Tambor will appear in the upcoming episodes despite being fired from Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” last year after he was accused of sexual harassment by two of his colleagues on the series. Then Tambor’s “Arrested Development” co-star Jessica Walter said he had verbally abused her during filming. In a New York Times cast interview to promote the first half of season five, Walter said she was “over it now,” but tone-deaf responses from male castmates, including Jason Bateman, underscored how warped gender dynamics and Tambor’s misbehavior might have been enabled on set (Bateman later apologized).

Tambor has denied the sexual harassment accusations, but a year and a half after the MeToo Movement began taking off, it is likely to continue casting a pall over the latest installment of “Arrested Development.” The new season picks up story lines involving the Bluth company’s involvement in building the border wall and Buster’s murder trial.

T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

T-Mobile doesn’t want to compete with other carriers or teleco’s by developing its own “skinny bundle” of streaming TV channels, the company said today on its earnings call with investors, noting the market was already oversaturated on that front. Instead, the mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

According to T-Mobile President Mike Sievert, today’s customers have a number of choices for streaming TV thanks to the massive expansion of OTT (over-the-top) services that are now available.

“It’s subscription-palooza out there. Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market,” he said. “They’re learning about that. They don’t have distribution networks like us; they don’t have access to the phone like we have.”

Instead, the exec explained that T-Mobile wants to help customers access paid subscriptions that already exist, by simplifying aspects of that process such as search, discovery and billing.

“We don’t have plans to develop an nth undifferentiated skinny bundle,” Sievert continued. “There are plenty of those. We think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription — and smaller pieces five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time,” he said, adding that T-Mobile would begin this work in 2019.

The cord cutting-focused news site The Streamable was first to report T-Mobile’s news.

T-Mobile’s announcement comes at a time when the carrier’s mobile TV plans have been more of a focus, as everyone is trying to figure out what the carrier is up to.

Recently, a Cheddar report said T-Mobile would be launching a free mobile TV service in the weeks ahead. But that turned out to be just a “snackable content app” for T-Mobile’s Metro brand, MetroPCS, and only on two phones to start.

T-Mobile’s decision to go with an Amazon Channels-like offering, where consumers build their own “skinny bundles” by mixing and matching paid subscriptions, is not an uncommon choice. This is the same direction that many in the industry are heading, as of late.

This week, for example, Viacom said it would add paid subscriptions to its newly acquired free TV service, Pluto TV. Roku recently rolled out paid subscriptions to its free TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. And Dish’s Sling TV last year launched à la carte paid subscriptions to premium networks, without requiring the core package subscription.

However, the mobile operators aren’t necessarily going that route. AT&T, for instance, has been leveraging its Time Warner acquisition to launch multiple streaming services. Meanwhile, Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) saw its some of its streaming TV ambitions dashed with go90’s failure last year.

As the over-the-top streaming TV market is still a sliver of the larger pay TV space, it still remains to be seen which strategies and services will ultimately win over consumers. But companies are placing their bets now, experimenting, and sometimes failing then starting again.

Separately, T-Mobile today discussed its Layer3 home TV service, which was expected to launch nationwide in late 2018. That service is now planned for the first half of 2019, the company said.

Free streaming service Tubi plans to invest $100M+ on content in 2019, expand internationally

Free TV and movie streaming service Tubi is preparing to double down on content acquisitions this year, the company announced this morning. The service today offers over 12,000 movies and TV series, totalling 40,000 hours of content. All of this can be streamed for free as the content is paid for not via customer subscriptions, but rather by advertising. Now the company is preparing to invest over $100 million to expand its library this year, after hitting profitability in Q4 2018, and tackle new markets.

Founded in 2014, Tubi has benefitted from the trend towards cord cutting, as well as the increasing number of younger consumers who never opt to pay for cable or satellite TV in the first place – sometimes called the “cord nevers.”

The company claims that its viewership increased by over 4.3 times from December 2017 to December 2018, which allowed it to hit the profitability milestone. In the fourth quarter alone, it saw more revenue than in all of 2017 combined, it also noted. And it grew revenues by 180 percent-plus in 2018.

On the advertising front, the company says it ran campaigns from over 1,000 advertisers in 2018, including those from the majority of the top CPG and automotive companies.

However, several aspects of Tubi’s business aren’t being disclosed alongside today’s news – only the highlights. What the company won’t say is how many monthly active users it has, how many hours they watch, or how many ad impressions take place across its platform. These sorts of metrics are critical to measuring success in ad-supported video.

Along with its plans to grow its library, Tubi is preparing to expand outside the U.S. and Canada, with the first market launching this quarter.

To help fund its growth and content acquisitions, Tubi closed on $25 million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank in December.

These plans come at a time when Tubi’s business model has been seeing increased competition.

For example, Roku entered ad-supported programming with its own The Roku Channel launch in fall 2017, and said earlier this month it now has 27 million user accounts. Of course, Roku doesn’t break that down by how many use its platform for other services, versus those who specifically launch Roku’s own free content – but that is its ad-supported channel’s potential reach.

In addition to Roku, Tubi competes against Walmart’s ad-supported video on Vudu; Amazon-owned IMDb’s new service FreediveViacom’s latest acquisition, Pluto TV; Sinclair’s local broadcaster-focused service Stirr; and soon, Plex. Comcast will also launch a free streaming service for its pay TV customers in 2020.

Tubi, like many of these services, believes in its potential as consumers tire of being nickeled and dimed for video subscriptions.

“In 2018 we at Tubi saw tremendous growth as consumers, fatigued by SVOD subscriptions and services, sought alternative entertainment choices,” said Farhad Massoudi, CEO of Tubi, in a statement. “We will continue to use profits to make bigger bets on content, enhance the viewing experience, and continue to press ahead into new grounds in what is our core advantage: technology and data,” he added.

In reality, however, Tubi competes for attention among a growing streaming market, which includes those paid subscription video offerings. Today’s consumers are building out customized bundles that make sense for them – a little Netflix and HBO perhaps, fleshed out with some free content through services like Tubi, for example.

Tubi’s advantage, of course, is that it doesn’t have to spend the billions on content and originals that subscription video services like Netflix do to win users. Instead, it relies on titles that have mainstream appeal, but may not be winning any awards – like older movies, kids shows, B-flicks, horror films, and reality TV.

At the end of the day, however, Tubi won’t necessarily gain from people tiring of subscription video, but from the growing influx of cord cutters who are searching for older or niche content not included in subscription libraries -or who just want to watch a free movie.

 

TV broadcaster Sinclair launches STIRR, a free streaming service with local news and sports

Local TV broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group today announced the launch of a new streaming service called STIRR that aims to bring local TV news and other content to the growing number of cord cutters across the U.S. The company today owns over 190 TV stations, which it’s leveraging in order to create its own “skinny bundle.” However, unlike TV streaming services such as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, or YouTube TV, for example – STIRR will be free and ad-supported instead of a paid subscription.

The service will offer access to national news, sports, entertainment and digital-first channels and a video-on-demand library in addition to its local content, which serves as the anchor for the new service.

In a special channel called STIRR CITY (yes, all caps), the service will stream a curated, 24/7 program lineup based on where the viewer lives. This will include local news, local and regional sports, entertainment and city-focused lifestyle programming from the local Sinclair TV station in that city.

STIRR CITY joins other original channels developed for the service, including STIRR Movies (for some reason, no caps), STIRR Sports, and STIRR Life.

STIRR Sports and Life will offer locally focused programs, we’re told. For example, the Sports channel may show high school football, and the Life channel might show a local lifestyle show like “Seattle Refined.” When local content isn’t available, the channels will be fleshed out with content aggregated from other networks on STIRR.

STIRR Movies will also be aggregated content, but the company is exploring additional deals, we’re told.

At launch, there are over 20 national networks and digital-first stations available, but few are notable.

The list includes: BUZZR, Charge, Cheddar, Comet, CONtv, Dove Channel, DUST, FailArmy, Futurism, Gravitas, Mobcrush, MovieMix, NASA TV, Outdoor America, The Pet Collective, SOAR, Stadium, TBD, The T, and World Poker Tour.

The company says it plans to grow its selection to over 50 networks by the end of 2019.

It’s clear, however, that the network selection won’t be the draw here – it’s the local content.

Today, it’s still fairly difficult for cord cutters to access local programming. While consumers can use a digital antenna to capture over-the-air TV signals for free, it requires the installation of a not-very-aesthetically-pleasing antenna. (At least Amazon’s Fire TV Recast gives you the option of hiding the antenna in a back room so as not to junk up your entertainment center.)

But even with an antenna, signals can be hit-or-miss – some areas have poor reception, or are too far from the signal’s source for a good experience.

And while the new crop of live TV streaming services provide another means of accessing local channels, they are not free.

Plus, the live TV services include cloud DVRs which subscribers use to record programs then skip the ads. STIRR doesn’t have a recording option, which may make it attractive to advertisers.

“Despite the explosive growth of new national over-the-top (OTT) services, local TV station’s programming, especially local news, has remained some of the most popular and desired content to audiences and advertisers alike,” said Adam Ware, STIRR’s General Manager, in a statement. “By creating the STIRR CITY channel format, local TV stations can now extend their programming strength to OTT,” he added.

Ware also points out that STIRR will give advertisers a way to reach a different demographic who is no longer watching traditional TV.

“Local broadcast traditional skews older. Streaming skews younger,” he tells TechCrunch. “This brings the two together for the first time,” he says.

STIRR’s ad sales will be coordinated between Sinclair Digital, OTT Compulse and Sinclair’s local stations. And its ad revenue is shared with content partners. (The company hasn’t ruled out a premium version that eliminates ads, we understand, but has nothing like that at launch.)

Also of note, you don’t have to live in a particular city to tune into its local programming via STIRR. That’s good, too, because STIRR doesn’t have a presence in all major metros. But it will suggest your closest markets when you load the app.

One caveat about STIRR: while local programming is available, STIRR won’t stream the primetime shows that these networks carry – you’ll still need your antenna or a paid streaming service for that. (Or, if you’re like a growing number of TV viewers, you don’t watch much network TV these days, in favor of streaming shows on Netflix and Amazon.)

In time, STIRR’s selection of content could be enhanced by more regional sports channels, as it’s a top bidder for those being sold by Disney and Fox. That could make the service more compelling.

STIRR is available for free on the web, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

*We’ve run into some launch bugs when testing STIRR, and have gotten page load errors when trying to access the Channel Guide. Hopefully these will smooth out in time as traffic stabilizes.

 

 

 

 

New trailer reveals when Game of Thrones will return

Winter is coming this spring.

HBO is finally revealing when season 8 of Game of Thrones will begin. On Sunday, HBO released a new teaser for Games of Thrones that announced the first episode will air April 14. The season 8 teaser, called Crypts of Winterfell, was released on YouTube and played before the third season premiere of True Detective.

The teaser depicts Jon Snow, Sansa and Arya Stark walking through a crypt that includes three statutes bearing their likeness. TechCrunch won’t spoil what comes next. Watch below.

Fans of Games of Thrones have been waiting more than a year for the HBO series based on George R. R. Martin novels to return. Last January, HBO broke it to dedicated fans that Game of Thrones wouldn’t be returning until 2019.

The season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” aired on August 27, 2017.

HBO didn’t provide any other details about season 8, including if episodes would be longer than 60 minutes. HBO has previously said the final season would have six episodes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court says Vizio’s secret smart TV tracking class-action settlement can move forward

A long-running class-action lawsuit filed after consumer electronics giant Vizio was caught spying on customer viewing habits can be settled, subject to a final approval, a court has ruled.

The group of Vizio customers alleged in its 2016-filed complaint that the company was covertly collecting viewing data from customers’ internet-connected smart TVs.

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton said in a ruling on Friday that the settlement is preliminarily approved, subject to any final complaints or objections from Vizio. That will secure a settlement of $17 million for an estimated 16 million Vizio customers affected by the television tracking.

That should amount to a little over a dollar per affected customer, but will be drastically less after attorneys fees and expenses.

Vizio will also be compelled to make “certain business practice changes,” including displaying on-screen prompts and give the customer the ability to opt-out of data collection. Any historical viewing data collected to date must also be deleted, the proposed order says.

A spokesperson for Vizio did not immediately respond to a request for comment

The proposed settlement comes almost two years after the Federal Trade Commission took a shot at the company, fining the company a total of $2.2 million for its covert tracking.

According to the FTC, the company’s covert customer data collection was vast. Vizio collected a portion of the television display “on a second-by-second basis” to see if “matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content,” allowing the company to know exactly what consumers were watching at any given time.

Vizio captured “as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs,” according to the FTC’s initial complaint.

The company said that this was part of its “smart interactivity,” part of which was to suggest television and movie content based on what a customer has already watched.

But the FTC said that Vizio “turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others.” Not only that, this data was provided to data aggregators to build up profiles on unwitting consumers who were further targeted by trackers and advertisers.

And it did this without the user’s consent or knowledge. The FTC forced the company to stop tracking what its customers watch. Yet, as part of the FTC’s settlement, Vizio neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

A final decision on the class action suit will be held before the next hearing on May 31.