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.

 

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. 

Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode so you can watch two shows at once

Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode that will allow users to stream two shows at the same time, TechCrunch has confirmed. The feature’s forthcoming launch was first reported by Apple news site 9to5Mac earlier today, following today’s release of new beta software for all of Apple’s operating systems, including tvOS.

After installing tvOS beta 2, Twitter user Nikolaj Hansen-Turton noticed a new option — the ability to play content in a smaller window in the bottom-right of the screen, overlaid on top of the main Apple TV interface. Or, simply put, it’s a Picture-in-Picture mode. (See tweets below).

Several publications soon ran the news.

But what wasn’t clear at the time was whether this was just a minimized video player window or a true Picture-in-Picture experience. The tweeted photo and video, after all, seemed to show a static background on the main screen — not two programs playing simultaneously. However, we understand that Apple TV will support the ability to stream two shows at once.

There are some caveats, though.

Picture-in-Picture support will only be available for content provided by Apple. That includes content purchased through iTunes, TV shows and movies streamed the Apple TV+ subscription service launching later this year, and videos streamed through Apple TV Channels.

Channels, which arrived with the updated TV app in May, lets users subscribe to premium add-ons including HBO, Starz, Showtime, EPIX, Tastemade, Smithsonian Channel and others. The idea is similar to the premium subscriptions available through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels or the more recently added subscriptions offered through Roku’s streaming hub, The Roku Channel.

To be clear, that means if you subscribe to HBO through Apple’s Channels, you will be able to watch HBO in Picture-in-Picture mode when the new version of tvOS ships to the public later this fall. But if you subscribe to HBO through the HBONOW.com website and then watch via the third-party HBO NOW app, you won’t be able to use Picture-in-Picture mode.

Apple intends to expand its catalog of premium subscriptions in time, which will make it possible to view more programming in the Picture-in-Picture mode in the future.

Apple hasn’t yet announced plans for third-party developer tools that would allow them to customize their own apps to support Picture-in-Picture mode. If those aren’t immediately available, it gives Apple TV owners a compelling reason to subscribe to premium programming through Apple TV Channels, instead of through a third-party website or app. (Which would be a nice perk for Apple’s TV platform revenue, as well.)

Support for Picture-in-Picture mode wasn’t announced earlier this month at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference where the company previews its upcoming software releases, which made today’s reveal a pleasant surprise for Apple TV fans.

Picture-in-Picture mode will be supported on both Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD, we understand.

“Russian Doll” will return to Netflix for a second season

Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” might be ringing through your ears once again. “Russian Doll,” co-created by and starring Natasha Lyonne, has been picked up for a second season by Netflix. A release date hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the new season will have eight episodes.

The renewal was announced today by Lyonne and Netflix vice president of content acquisition and original series Cindy Holland during Recode’s Code Conference and is noteworthy for several reasons. As a dark, time-bending comedy written and directed by all women, the show is an example of how Netflix and other streaming services can give a platform to content that might otherwise have a hard time finding a distributor. Though Lyonne is a well-respected actress, she has mostly appeared in supporting roles, but her lead performance was one of the reasons “Russian Doll” became a breakout hit earlier this year.

During their Code Conference panel, Holland said “Russian Doll” was a “hit relative to cost” and underscored the “eclectic tastes” of Netflix’s audience, while Lyonne described Netflix’s algorithm as “a bit of a relief,” adding that “boundaries are sort of healthy for the creative process in a way.”

HBO cancels daily news show ‘Vice News Tonight’

Just ahead of the 2016 presidential election, HBO announced its plans to carry a nightly news show courtesy of Vice News, called “Vice News Tonight.” That show is now being canceled, which puts an end to HBO’s seven-year-long relationship with the new media brand Vice Media, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter out on Monday.

HBO and Vice had expanded their relationship over the years, with a 2013 deal for a weekly news magazine, “Vice;” plus multiple documentary specials and, later, the launch of the nightly news program.

The goal with “Vice News Tonight” was to reach a younger audience who had grown “increasingly skeptical of daily broadcast news,” Vice had explained in its announcement at the time of launch.

The media company argued that the nightly news format hadn’t changed in roughly 60 years, but the way younger viewers consumed information has. They no longer watch nightly news out of obligation, but because the show has earned their time and attention, the company said.

The program grew to reach an audience of over 500,000 viewers per episode and won five Emmys, but still faced a ton of competition in the broader news market.

The show also meant to appeal to younger viewers who have cut ties with traditional pay TV. But today, these viewers have a number of ways to stream the news — including through live TV internet services like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu with Live TV, for example, as well as via the streaming platforms themselves, like within Roku’s The Roku Channel or dedicated apps for media players like Apple TV. They can also now get the news through other dedicated news streaming services, like CBSN, CBS All Access, NBC News Now, Cheddar, or even on social networks like Snapchat.

Today, news streamer NewsON announced it was coming to Amazon Fire TV, as another example.

In addition, THR points out that “Vice News Tonight” was more of a passion project of former HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who left earlier this year following AT&T’s acquisition of WarnerMedia.

Along with the cancellation of “Vice News Tonight,” Vice Media news chief Josh Tryrangiel will depart at the end of the month, a report from The Wrap notes. Meanwhile, former New York Post CEO and publisher Jesse Angelo will come on board as president of global news and entertainment.

“Jesse is a news pioneer and has built an incredible career by successfully expanding the world of publishing into wider forms of distribution through a multitude of platforms, including digital, social, audio and television,” Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubuc, in a statement. “With him joining our executive team, Vice’s strategic growth plan for news will begin and complement wider partnership opportunities already underway. We’ve had a great run with our friends at HBO and now we’re excited to launch our news products on new platforms, solidifying our place as one of the most trusted brands out there, drawing the youngest audience of anyone in hard news.”

The cancellation follows layoffs of 10% of Vice staff in February and the hiring of Katie Drummond, previously deputy editor at Medium, as SVP of Vice Digital in March.

Though “Vice News Tonight” may be over, it’s not the end of Vice’s streaming platform presence. The company is reportedly working on a new show for Hulu, a report a few months ago said. That deal hasn’t yet been announced. And Vice is shopping a daily news show to other networks and platforms, THR says.

“Vice News Tonight” will end in September when the contract is up.

Farewell iTunes: Apple brings standalone Music, Podcasts and TV apps to Mac

Apple is dismantling its aging iTunes software with today’s announcement that it’s launching standalone versions of its Music, Podcasts and TV apps for Mac users on the next version of macOS, Catalina. These same apps are currently available on iOS where they’re separate from Apple’s two marketplace apps, the iTunes Store and the App Store.

The company announced the end of iTunes today at its Worldwide Developer Conference, where Apple VP of Engineering Craig Federighi joked about iTunes’ bloat.

“Customers love iTunes and everything it can do. But if there’s one thing we hear over and over, is can iTunes do even more?,” he teased before presenting a version of iTunes that bundles in other Apple apps like Calendar and Mail, which got a laugh.

In reality, iTunes’ individual components are getting their own Mac apps.

The new Music app will be based on iTunes, and will support several standard iTunes features including smart and personalized playlists, library management, and Apple Music streaming as previously reported in a leak ahead of WWDC.

Syncing your iOS device, however, has been left to the Finder. That is, when you plug in your iPhone to your Mac, nothing happens on your screen. Instead, you can open Finder where you’ll find your device and all the syncing options there.

Meanwhile, the Podcasts app for Mac offers a way to search, discover, subscribe and listen to your favorite audio programs, much as it does on iOS. Your listening data will be synced across devices, and you can listen directly in the new app.

But it’s also got a new trick: it will now use machine learning technology to index the spoken words in podcasts. That will allow you to find more podcasts — or even individual episodes — that reflect your interests.

As on Apple TV and iOS, the TV app will allow Mac users to access third-party streaming services and premium channels, buy or rent movies and TV shows from Apple, authenticate with their cable provider to access content in “TV Everywhere”-powered apps, and stream the new original content from Apple TV+, launching this fall.

Apple had previously announced its intention to bring a TV app to the Mac, as part of its larger plans for its streaming TV service, Apple TV+

The new streaming service will include a variety of original content Apple has either funded or acquired, including TV series and movies. To make this content more accessible, Apple is also bringing its TV app to third-party platforms for the first time, including smart TVs, streaming boxes, and streaming sticks.

Apple first began porting some of its iOS apps to the Mac starting last year as part of a larger effort focused on making it easier for iOS apps to work on Mac.

At WWDC 2018, Apple announced its plans to port its own Stocks, News, Home and Voice Memos to macOS.

It clarified at the time that it was not “merging its operating systems,” as had been rumored. Instead, its Mac apps had been built using new technologies (reportedly codenamed Marzipan) that make it easier for developers to bring iOS apps to the Mac. Apple didn’t clarify on stage which technologies it used in breaking up iTunes.

There were hints ahead of today’s event that Apple was planning to shift some aspects of iTunes to their own, standalone apps. It shut down the social media accounts for iTunes on both Facebook and Instagram, and began to shift iTunes links to a new Music domain.