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.”

peacock homepage

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’.”

 

Apple TV+ will cost $5.99 in Canada, £4.99 in the UK and INR 99 in India

At its big press event yesterday, Apple announced that its TV+ streaming service would cost $4.99 per month and a launch date on November 1. But it’s supposed to be available in more than 100 countries, so what does that pricing look like outside the United States?

The Streamable has rounded up TV+ pricing in different countries — and you can verify the number yourself by checking out the countryspecific versions of Apple’s announcement.

The service will cost $5.99 CAD ($4.54 US) in Canada, £4.99 ($6.15) in the United Kingdom, 4.99€ ($5.50) in the rest of Europe, A$7.99 ($5.48) in Australia, 600 JPY ($5.57) in Japan and INR 99 ($1.38) in India. That’s significantly cheaper than Netflix or Disney+ across-the-board — though in India, it’s still more expensive than Disney-owned Hotstar.

And if that’s not affordable enough for you, you’ll also get a year of free access when you purchase select Apple hardware.

The launch titles should include “The Morning Show” (a drama set in the world of morning TV and starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell) and “See” (a post-apocalyptic series starring Jason Momoa).

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.

 

Google’s new feature will help you find something to watch

Google Search can now help you find your next binge. The company this morning announced a new feature which will make personalized recommendations of what to watch, including both TV shows and movies, and point you to services where the content is available.

The feature is an expansion of Google’s existing efforts in pointing web searchers to informative content about TV shows and films.

Already, a Google search for a TV show or movie title will include a “Knowledge Panel” box a the the top of the search results where you can read the overview, see the ratings and reviews, check out the cast, and as of spring 2017 find services where the show or movie can be streamed or purchased.

The new recommendations feature will instead appear to searchers who don’t have a particular title in mind, but are rather typing in queries like “what to watch” or “good shows to watch,” for example. From here, you can tap a Start button in the “Top picks for you” carousel to rate your favorite TV shows and movies in order to help Google better understand your tastes.

01 7.max 1000x1000

You can also select which subscriptions you have access to, in order to customize your recommendations further. This includes subscriptions services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and HBO NOW, Prime Video, Showtime, and Showtime Anytime, CBS All Access, and Starz.

You can also indicate if you have a cable TV or satellite subscription. And it will list shows and movies available for rent, purchase or free streaming from online marketplaces like iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, and Vudu, plus network apps like ABC, Freeform, Lifetime, CBS, Comedy Central, A&E, and History.

To get started, you’ll use a Tinder-like swiping mechanism to rate titles. Right swipes indicate a “like” and left swipes indicate a “dislike.” You can also “skip” titles you don’t know or have an opinion on.

After giving Google some starter data about your interests, future searches for things to watch will offer recommendations tailored to you.

02 7.max 1000x1000

The company notes that you can even get specific with your requests, by asking for things like “horror movies from the 80’s” or “adventure documentaries about climbing.” (This will help, too, when you can’t remember a movie’s title but do know what it’s about.)

Google’s search results will return a list of suggestions and when you pick one you want to watch, the service will — as before — let you know where it’s available.

The company already has a good understanding of consumer interest in movies and TV thanks to its data on popular searches. Now it aims to have a good understanding of what individual users may want to watch, as well.

The new recommendations feature is live today on mobile for users in the U.S.

 

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.

 

[gallery ids="1876671,1876670,1876669,1876668,1876667,1876666,1876665,1876664,1876663,1876662,1876661,1876660"]

AT&T’s CEO of Communications, John Donovan, to retire in October

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, announced today his plans to retire effective October 1, 2019. Donovan has for the past two years led AT&T’s largest business unit, which services 100 million mobile, broadband and pay-TV customers in the U.S., as well as millions of business customers, including nearly all the Fortune 1000.

The news comes amid several big changes in that business unit itself, and more in the broader telecom industry.

For starters, AT&T had just rebranded its over-the-top streaming service DIRECTV NOW to AT&T TV NOW, and  just last week rolled out a brand-new TV service, AT&T TV, in 10 test markets.

While DIRECTV NOW (aka AT&T TV NOW) is meant to compete with other over-the-top streaming services like Dish’s Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and others, the new AT&T TV is a more conventional — though still “over-the-top” — option that can work with any broadband connection.

However, it locks in customers to two-year contracts, requires a set-top box and has packages that range from $60-$80 per month, much like a traditional TV subscription.

Elsewhere at AT&T, its WarnerMedia division is working a streaming service of its own, HBO Max, which is meant to battle more directly with premium offerings, like Disney+ or Apple TV+, for example. AT&T also operates a low-cost streaming service, Watch TV.

And the company continues to offer pay-TV offerings like DIRECTV (satellite service) and U-verse (cable).

It seems AT&T is due to consolidate these efforts at some point, and Donovan’s departure could signal some changes on that front, perhaps. Plus, as The WSJ reported, Donovan and WarnerMedia head John Stankey had a strained relationship at times. That could because HBO Max will end up competing with other AT&T offerings and services, the report suggested.

In addition to its various streaming ambitions, AT&T is also starting to roll out 5G, a move Donovan spearheaded. The company is also preparing for competition from new players, including what arises from a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and from Dish’s plans to enter the wireless market.

Donovan had been CEO of AT&T Communications for two years, after having joined the company as CTO in 2008. Prior to his CEO role starting in July 2017, he had been promoted to AT&T’s chief strategy officer and group president — AT&T Technology and Operations.

He previously worked at Verisign, Deloitte Consulting and InCode Telecom Group.

Donovan, 58, was nearing the company’s retirement age of 60, but his departure was still unexpected, The WSJ also said.

“It’s been my honor to lead AT&T Communications during a period of unprecedented innovation and investment in new technology that is revolutionizing how people connect with their worlds,” said John Donovan, in a statement. “All that we’ve accomplished is a credit to the talented women and men of AT&T, and their passion for serving our customers. I’m looking forward to the future – spending more time with my family and watching with pride as the AT&T team continues to set the pace for the industry.”

“JD is a terrific leader and a tech visionary who helped drive AT&T’s leadership in connecting customers, from our 5G, fiber and FirstNet buildouts, to new products and platforms, to setting the global standard for software-defined networks,” added Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO. “He led the way in encouraging his team to continuously innovate and develop their skill sets for the future. We greatly appreciate his many contributions to our company’s success and his untiring dedication to serving customers and making our communities better. JD is a good friend, and I wish him and his family all the best in the years ahead.”

Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon by way of Verizon Media Services. This does not influence our reporting. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Netflix