CBS brings its ad-supported streaming service to Amazon Channels

CBS in the beginning of the year brought its streaming service for cord cutters, CBS All Access, to Amazon’s a la carte TV service, Prime Video Channels. At the time, however, only the higher-priced, $9.99 per month commercial-free subscription was offered to Prime members. At the time, CBS said its $5.99 per month ad-supported tier would arrive in the months ahead. It’s now making good on that promise with the launch of the Limited Commercials plan option on Amazon’s Channels.

The expanded availability of the more affordable version of the streaming service could help to boost its numbers, given Amazon’s reported impact on delivering over-the-top subscribers through the Amazon Channels platform.

A report from Digiday citing TV network sources even claimed that Amazon can account for anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of a company’s direct-to-consumer subscribers. (An earlier report that Amazon Channels could deliver as many as 55 percent of subscriptions has been disputed by a couple of networks, however. They said it’s a top driver, but that figure was too high.) Regardless, Amazon Channels is one of the only ways to really pick and choose your streaming subscriptions, as most other services are focused on “skinny bundles” where a small number of channels is wrapped up for around $40 per month.

CBS today says there are over 2.5 million CBS All Access subscribers, but declined to break out how many of those have come from Amazon. However, around the time of the original announcement in January, the company had also reported having 2 million All Access subscribers. Some portion of that subscriber base likely did come from Amazon, but maybe not as many as would have signed up had the lower-cost subscription been available at launch.

CBS recently said it believes it will have 4 million All Access subscribers by next year, and 8 million by 2022.

Many of those are drawn in by its flagship program, “Star Trek: Discovery,” whose new season won’t kick off until 2019. The company will also next year premiere a reboot of “The Twilight Zone,” in association with Jordan Peele’s (“Get Out”) Monkeypaw Productions and Simon Kinberg’s Genre Films.

It more recently announced Patrick Stewart would return to star in a new “Star Trek” series as Jean-Luc Picard, as part of its larger investment in expanding the “Star Trek” universe on its service.

 

 

Stop whining about ‘the politics of envy’. Executive pay is indefensible

Bosses now get paid 300 times what workers do. In the 60s, that ratio was far lower, and growth and investment were higher

Defenders of the astronomical amounts routinely being trousered by leading executives have a stock response to critics who say that such rewards are excessive. Chief executives have to be paid the going rate. Without the right incentives, these alpha males (and occasionally alpha females) would take their talents elsewhere and everyone would lose. It’s a global marketplace out there. The market rate for talent has to be paid. Having a pop at these titans of industry over their remuneration packages is simply the politics of envy.

Interestingly, the same explanation is used to justify the nugatory pay awards executives hand out to their staff. When it comes to people lower down the pay s cale, the message is that jobs can always be outsourced overseas if the workers get too bolshie about pay.

Continue reading…

Netflix tests video promos in between episodes, much to viewers’ dislike

Netflix is testing video promos that play in between episodes of shows a viewer is streaming, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The promos are full-screen videos, personalized to the user, featuring content Netflix would have otherwise suggested elsewhere in its user interface – like on a row of recommendations, for example. The promos also displace the preview information for the next episode being binged, like the title, description, and thumbnail that previously appeared on the right side of the screen.

The test was first spotted by Cord Cutters News, following a Reddit thread filled with complaints. A number of Twitter users are angrily tweeting about the change, too. (See below examples.)

We understand the introduction of promos in between the episodes is not a feature Netflix is rolling out to its subscribers at this time.

Instead, it’s one of the hundreds of tests Netflix runs every year, many of which are focused on how to better promote Netflix’s original programming to its customers.

This test is currently live for a small percentage of Netflix’s global audience.

And unlike some prior tests, the promos may feature any content in Netflix’s catalog – not just its original programming.

There is some misinformation about the way the test works out there because of what may be user error on the part of the original Reddit user, or an undocumented bug.

Image credit: Reddit user WhyAllTheTrains via this post

The original Reddit post said these new video promos are “unskippable,” noting there’s a Continue button with a countdown timer on it that looks similar to the one you’d see on a YouTube ad.

But we understand that the test in question does allow users to push that Continue button at any time to move forward to the next episode.

The promos, in other words, are interruptive, but they are not unskippable.

Needless to say, consumer reaction to these promos – which consumers perceive as advertisements – has been fairly critical so far. Netflix is a paid subscription service, not an ad-supported one like Hulu with Limited Commercials. That means customers expect on-demand viewing with no ads. And they think of anything that disrupts their viewing as an advertisement, as a result.

But Netflix is always trying to figure out how to better showcase its content for subscribers, in order to help them discover new shows and keep them engaged.

It has run many experiments like this over the years, not all of which pan out. For example, last year it toyed with pre-roll video previews, and more recently it began a test that promotes its shows on the background of the login screen.

Only when Netflix sees data that proves a test increases user engagement or another metric it cares about will it roll out the feature to all subscribers. That’s been the case with those auto-playing trailers, for instance. While not necessarily beloved, they seem to be doing the job.

The company’s longer-term goal is to make its user interface more video-rich and personalized, so it’s not surprising that it’s finding new ways to insert video into that experience.

Netflix, reached for comment about the new test, offering the following statement:

At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can better understand what helps members more easily find something great to watch. A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the TV experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helped them find something they would enjoy watching even faster. Since then, we have been experimenting even more with video based on personalized recommendations for shows and movies on the service or coming shortly, and continue to learn from our members.

In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster. It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at anytime if they are not interested.

Tweets from testers:

Facebook’s Kodi box ban is nothing new

According to recent reports, Facebook has updated its Commerce Policy to specifically ban the sale of Kodi boxes on its site – that is, devices that come with pre-installed Kodi software, which are often used for illegally streaming digital content. However, the ban is not a new one – Facebook confirms its policy on Kodi box sales hasn’t changed since last summer, and its external Policy Page – the one being cited as evidence of the new ban – was updated in December.

It’s true that the changes have flown under the radar until now, though.

The policy change was first reported by Cord Cutters News, and later linked to by TorrentFreak and Techdirt.

The original report claims that Facebook added a new rule on its list of “Digital Media and Electronic Devices” under “Prohibited Content,” which specifically calls out Kodi boxes. It says that Facebook posts “may not promote the sale of devices that facilitate or encourage streaming digital content in an authorized manner or interfering with the functionality of electronic devices.”

The Policy page lists a few examples of what this means, including wiretapping devices, jamming or descrambling devices, jailbroken or loaded devices, and, then “promoting the sale or use of streaming devices with Kodi installed.” (The only permitted items are “add-on equipment for Kodi devices, such as keyboards and remotes.”)

But this ban on Kodi boxes, Facebook says, is not a recently implemented policy.

According to a Facebook spokesperson, it launched a new policy last summer that prohibited the sale of electronic devices that facilitate or are intended for unauthorized streaming or access to digital content – including Kodi boxes. This policy has not changed since last summer, but its external Policy Page – this one being cited by the various reported – was updated in December 2017 to offer additional illustrative examples and more detailed information on all its policies, including the one related to unauthorized streaming devices.

In other words, Facebook has been banning Kodi boxes since it decided to crackdown on unauthorized streaming devices last year. It’s just now being noticed.

The ban affects all posts on Marketplace, Buy and Sell Groups, and Shop Sections on Pages.

Facebook explains it takes a very strong enforcement approach when “Kodi” is mentioned with a product for sale.

As Techdirt pointed out, that’s problematic because the Kodi software itself is actually legal.

However, device makers like Dragon Box or SetTV have been using the open-source Kodi platform and other add-ons to make copyright infringement easier for consumers.

Facebook does seem to understand that Kodi software isn’t illegal, but it knows that when “Kodi” is mentioned in a product (e.g. a device) listing, it’s very often a product designed to circumvent copyright. The company tells us that its intent is not to ban Kodi software altogether, however, and it’s in the process of reviewing its guidelines and these examples to more closely target devices that encourage unauthorized streaming.

That could mean it will, at some point, not outright ban a device that includes Kodi software, but focus more on other terms used in the sale, like “fully loaded” or some sort of description of the illegal access the box provides, perhaps. (Facebook didn’t say what might change.)

As for Kodi, the company says Facebook’s move doesn’t affect them.

“It doesn’t impact us, since we don’t sell devices,” says Keith Herrington, who handles Business Relations at the XBMC Foundation (Kodi).

He said his organization would love to talk to someone at Facebook – since they’ve never been in touch – in order to ensure that devices that are in compliance with Kodi’s trademark policy are not banned. Both Amazon and eBay have worked with Kodi on similar policies, he added.

“We’ve gotten thousands of devices which were in violation of our trademark policy removed from eBay,” Herrington said.

It’s unclear how well-enforced Facebook’s ban really is – I’m in Facebook groups myself where people talk about how to jailbreak “Fire sticks” and include posts from those who sell them pre-jailbroken. (It’s for research purposes. Ahem.)

Industry crackdowns go beyond Facebook

Facebook isn’t the only company that’s attempting to crack down on these devices. Netflix, Amazon and the major studios are suing Dragon Box for facilitating piracy by making it easy for consumers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows.

In January 2018, a U.S. District Court judge handed down a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, a Georgia-based set-top box maker that was sued by the major studios, along with streaming services Netflix and Amazon, for profiting from the sale of “Kodi boxes.”

Google has removed the word “kodi” from the autocomplete feature of Search, along with other piracy-related terms.

And more recently, the FCC asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes. It said these boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo to give them the appearance of legitimacy, but are actually used to  perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud,” the FCC said in letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig.

Why Streaming Piracy is Growing

There’s a reason Kodi devices are so popular, and it’s not just because everyone is being cheap about paying for access to content.

For starters, there’s a lack of consequence for consumers who do illegally stream media – it’s not like back in the day when the RIAA was suing individuals for pirating music. While there has been some activity – Comcast several years ago issued copyright infringement notices to Kodi users, for example – you can today basically get away with illegal streaming. The copyright holders are currently focused on cutting off piracy at the source – box makers and the platforms that enable their sale – not at the individual level.

The rise of cord cutting has also contributed to the issue by creating a highly fragmented streaming ecosystem. Shows that used to be available under a single (if pricey) cable or satellite TV subscription, are now spread out across services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, HBO NOW, and others used by cord cutters.

Customers are clearly willing to pay for some of these services (largely, Netflix and maybe one or two others), but most can’t afford a subscription for each one. And they definitely don’t want to when all they’re after is access to a single show from a network. That’s another reason they then turn to piracy.

Finally, there is the fact that film distributors have forever withheld their movies from streaming services for months, creating a demand for illegal downloads and streams. Though the release window has shrunk some in more recent years, the studios haven’t yet fully bought into the idea of much smaller windows to cater to the audience who will never go to the theater to watch their movie. And when this audience is cut out the market, they also turn to piracy.

Eventually, the record industry adapted to consumers’ desire for streaming, and services like Spotify and Apple Music emerged. Eventually, streaming services may be able to make piracy less attractive, too. Amazon Channels, could become a key player here if it expands to include more add-ons. Today, it’s the only true a la carte TV service available. And that perhaps – not skinny bundles – is what people really want.

Coming to a theater near you: Amazon?

It looks like Amazon may be gearing up to make more moves in the brick-and-mortar world. Bloomberg reports that the e-commerce behemoth is putting itself in the running to acquire Landmark Theatres, which claims to be the United States’ largest chain of movie theaters focused on art house (indie and foreign) movies, with a network of 56 cinemas, covering 268 screens in 27 markets.

Bloomberg’s sources say that Amazon is going up against other potential acquirers in purchasing the business from Wagner/Cuban Cos., but that no final decisions have been made.

The companies aren’t publicly commenting on the reports, but it’s an interesting scenario to consider because of all the ways that it seems to fit into Amazon’s wider strategy. 

The company has done an incredible job of making it easy (and cheap) to buy virtually anything you want from it in the digital world, whether it’s necessities like toiletries, books, groceries, clothes and electronics, or digital products like movies, music and cloud storage space for your app or game, in as little as one click. Through its marketplace model — where it is both a middleman between consumers and sellers, and the seller itself of different goods and services — Amazon wants to be wherever people want to spend money.

But there are certain forms of retail that may never translate to the online world. Experiential retail — dining out at restaurants, going to a bar or event, picking a melon that you can smell before you pay for it, and of course going to the movies — requires that you get up and go somewhere to do it.

Amazon knows this, and so it’s slowly, quietly amassing selective assets that will let people engage in the more physical side of commerce. These have included book stores, and its own futuristic, checkout-free food shops. And of course it spent $13.7 billon to gobble up the natural food leviathan Whole Foods.

The latter of these is very instructive when you consider how a movie theater chain might fit into the Amazon pantheon. Amazon’s Prime Fresh grocery delivery service gives busy users the convenience of skipping the grocery store, but Whole Foods also gives Amazon a way of capturing buyers who might prefer to make trips to a grocery store.

But that’s not all it does. It’s added Whole Foods discounts as yet another sweetener for Prime subscribers; it’s extending its formidable logistics muscle to Whole Foods ordering and delivery (first for Prime subscribers, naturally); and of course it has put in pop-up shops selling its other products, like the Kindle and the Echo, in prime spots when you enter a store.

Amazon owning a chain of theatres spells out a lot of opportunities for it in terms of expanding its interests in film; in experiential, physical commerce; and in leveraging the rest of the pieces in its commercial empire.

The world of movie theaters has been hobbling for years, with droves of consumers these days foregoing increasingly expensive tickets and snacks and opting to watch a slightly smaller screen in the comfort of their own home. But to the disruptive eye, that ageing business model is catnip, and so unsurprisingly, MoviePass has come along, seeing that there was an opportunity to try to revive the cinema experience by offering subscriptions for a flat rate to get more bums on those seats.

Yes, MoviePass is bleeding money, and it looks like a mess for many other reasons, but it’s had an impact, so much so that AMC has taken notice and launched its own competitor.

The world’s largest theater chain almost certainly won’t experience the same sort of pains that MoviePass has, because it both controls the means of distribution and has a sizeable support infrastructure, and of course owns the cinemas.

But if AMC has a safety net, then Amazon — one of the world’s most valuable companies — has airbags, collision sensors, seatbelts, automatic braking and maybe even an Alexa-powered predictive voice to tell you what to do next. If Amazon ran a loss-making chain of cinemas, it would be but a little drop in the bucket for it.

Amazon already has one of the biggest digital subscription businesses in the world, with more than 100 million Prime members, as of April 2018. Tacking a subscription to cinemas on to that, which either made going free or discounted, is a no-brainer.

But wait! You get more for the price of the Landmark Theatres! Amazon, as we know, also has a budding media business, offering movies, TV and music to Prime users. Included in that is its own original content machine, Amazon Studios, responsible for shows like Transparent and movies like Manchester by the Sea.

A theater chain acquisition would further open the distribution channels for Amazon’s own films, and give Amazon a much tighter grip on the costs for that distribution. And with a position covering theatrical, DVD and digital distribution windows, you can bet that will give Amazon more leverage when negotiating screen rights to films that it hasn’t produced itself.

Controlling distribution could also prove useful during awards season — the timing of a film’s release goes a long ways toward determining nominees. (And yes, those screens also become one more place where Amazon can run ads, too, in its budding advertising empire.)

And don’t forget the fact that theatres are, at the end of the day, also retail real estate.

It’s a long-known fact that cinemas make most of their money on concessions, and they have accordingly built out large lobby areas where people can mill about and spend money before and after sitting down in the darkened screening rooms. In addition to selling all the usual concessions (both made by Amazon and its marketplace partners) Amazon could use those spaces as they have with Whole Foods, creating retail experiences for products that might have nothing at all to do with what you came to the cinema for in the first place, but then suddenly seem like interesting places to try out something new.

Is it any wonder that even without Amazon or Landmark responding to Bloomberg’s report, theater chain stocks dropped on word of the news?

Netflix signs exclusive deal with ‘Black-ish’ creator Kenya Barris

Netflix just announced a multi-year deal with Kenya Barris, creator of Black-ish and its spinoff Grown-ish.

While Barris will remain an executive producer on those shows (and on the upcoming Besties), he will be exclusively developing new series for Netflix.

The deal only covers TV, as Barris (who was one of the writers of Girls Trip) has a first-look movie deal at Fox. That’s according to The Hollywood Reporter, which also cites sources who say the deal is for three years and is in the “high-eight-figure range.”

“When my agents reached out to me about this little garage start-up called Netflix, I wasn’t sure what to think,” Barris said in a statement. “But after I talked to [Netflix executives Ted Sarandos and Cindy Holland], I started to believe that maybe this mom-and-pop shop with only 130 million subscribers might just be something… so I decided to take a swing… a leap of faith if you will, and take a chance with the new kids on the block.”

In the past year, Netflix shook up the television industry by signing big deals with Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy — Rhimes’ deal was reportedly worth $100 million, while Murphy’s was for $300 million.

In each case, Netflix isn’t just betting on one big show. Rhimes and her production company Shondaland, for example, recently announced seven projects in development for the streaming service.

Streaming TV services now reach 5% of U.S. Wi-Fi households, up 58% since last year

The number of U.S. households watching streaming TV services – those that deliver cable TV-like programming over the internet – has grown a remarkable 58% over last year, according to new data from comScore. However, these services still account for a small portion of the overall market, as only 5 percent (4.9 million) of U.S. households with Wi-Fi streamed TV over one of these services in April 2018.

In citing that number, comScore was specifically looking at what it called “pure-play” vMVPDs (virtual multichannel video programming distributors) – a variation on a fancy industry term that refers to live TV services like Sling TV. These services stream multiple channels over the internet without supplying infrastructure like coax cable to do so, and don’t offer other content like original programming or user videos.

Today’s lineup of these “vMVPDs” includes: Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Playstation Vue, fuboTV, Philo, YouTube TV, and Hulu with Live TV. These “pure-play vMVPDs,” as comScore referred to them, are basically that same list, excluding Hulu Live and YouTube TV, as those also include access to non-linear, digital-only content like original programming.

The firm found that consumer adoption of these “pure-play” live TV services is growing significantly, as more people cut the cord with traditional pay TV.

For example, these “pure-play” streaming services accounted for 10% of all the time spent streaming shows and movies over-the-top during the month of April 2018. That’s up 53% from last year.

And in households where one of these live TV services is present, nearly half the time that household spends streaming programming over-the-top is via that service.

Also interesting is the fact that, unlike with a lot of new technology, these live TV services aren’t just being adopted by younger demographics.

In April 2017, 29% of U.S. households using one of these service had a head of the household who was under the age of 35. In a year’s time. that percentage dropped 8 points to 21%, which indicates there are more older viewers now signing up.

Another finding from the report is that the live TV services are coming into households that are already doing a ton of over-the-top streaming.

In April 2018, these households streamed an average of 128 hours of over-the-top content. That’s far more than the average of 54 hours. Around half the hours they spent was on streaming live TV, and the other half is streaming from other services, like video-on-demand services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

comScore estimates these live TV services will continue to grow in the months ahead, and even forecast that newcomers like Hulu Live and YouTube TV to well exceed a million users each sometime this year.

That would put all the vMVPDs at more than 7 million total users – or nearly one-third the number of households with satellite TV.

Revcontent is trying to get rid of misinformation with help from the Poynter Institute

CEO John Lemp recently said that thanks to a new policy, publishers in Revcontent‘s content recommendation network “won’t ever make a cent” on false and misleading stories — at least, not from the network.

To achieve this, the company is relying on fact-checking provided by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network. If any two independent fact checkers from International Fact Checking flag a story from the Revcontent network as false, the company’s widget will be removed, and Revcontent will not pay out any money on that story (not even revenue earned before the story was flagged).

In some ways, Revcontent’s approach to fighting fake news and misinformation sounds similar to the big social media companies — Lemp, like Twitter, has said his company cannot be the “arbiter of truth,” and like Facebook, he’s emphasizing the need to remove the financial incentives for posting sensationalistic-but-misleading stories.

However, Lemp (who’s spoken in the past about using content recommendations to reduce publishers’ reliance on individual platforms) criticized the big internet companies for “arbitrarily” taking down content in response to “bad PR.” In contrast, he said Revcontent will have a fully transparent approach, one that removes the financial rewards for fake news without silencing anyone.

Lemp didn’t mention any specific takedowns, but the big story these days is Infowars. It seems like nearly everyone has been cracking down on Alex Jones’ far-right, conspiracy-mongering site, removing at least some Infowars-related accounts and content in the past couple of weeks.

The Infowars story also raises the question of whether you can effectively fight fake news on a story-by-story basis, rather than completely cutting off publishers when they’ve shown themselves to consistently post misleading or falsified stories.

When asked about this, Lemp said Revcontent also has the option to completely removing publishers from the network, but he said he views that as a “last resort.”