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20 August 2020

OTT Video News, Deals, Launches and Products

Sumner Redstone has died, aged 97, the venerable but often controversial executive who turned a New England movie theater into a global media empire – from National Amusements, to Viacom to Paramount and CBS. If you’ve ever used the phrase ‘content is king,’ Redstone was the one who penned it. This should bring an end to the bitter legal disputes between Sumner and his daughter Shari.

ViacomCBS is planning to rebrand CBS All Access, to create a product that it can launch globally. Currently priced at $5.99 per month with advertisements, and $9.99 without, the service is confined to the US. A new brand and different prices are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV AVoD service ended Q2 with 26.5 million MAUs in the US and 33 million globally.

Apple and ViacomCBS have signed a deal, to offer Apple TV+ subscribers CBS All Access and Showtime for $10 per month, which are usually priced at $10 and $11 respectively. Separately, Verizon has added ESPN+ and Hulu to its Disney+ mobile deals.

Apple, meanwhile, has confirmed that cloud gaming services violate its App Store guidelines, meaning that they are very unlikely to be approved for use on iOS devices. There are rumors Apple is about to launch a bundled service that combines Apple TV, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade too.

SK Telecom and Microsoft have partnered, to launch Xbox Game Pass Unlimited in South Korea, which will offer cloud gaming to customers for just under $15 per month. The country is perhaps best placed for cloud gaming, thanks to its world-leading average broadband speeds.

Tencent is offering to be the middleman in a merger between Chinese game streaming platforms Huya and Douyu. Tencent holds 50.1% of the former, and a smaller but significant stake in the latter. It seems this merger is just a matter of time, and would create a company supposedly valued at $10 billion.

Universal Electronics announced Q2 results, with net sales down to $153.1 million from $193.9 million this time last year. Gross margin was up to 24.9%, compared to Q2 2019’s 17.5%. In the first half of 2020, net sales stand at $304.9 million, down from $378.1 million in 2019’s first half, but UEI has posted a $14.5 million operating income, compared to last year’s operating loss of $2.3 million.

Roku reported its Q2 results, stating it has 43 million active accounts, adding 3.2 million this quarter, but that it suffered a net loss of $43.1 million – compared to a net loss of $9.3 million this time last year. Net revenues grew 42% year-on-year, to reach $356.1 million. It reports that ARPU rose 18%, to $24.92.

The FCC has approved the C-band auction procedures, scheduled to begin on December 8th. Auction 107 will offer some 5,684 flexible-use licenses in the 3.7 GHz to 3.98 GHz band, and this move sees the incumbent satellite operators forced to move to the upper 200 MHz of the band, to make way for new 5G licenses. Auction 105, meanwhile, has passed $2.4 billion so far.

Dish has acquired Ting Mobile, in the US, adding 154,000 subscribers to its portfolio. Ting’s owner, Tucows, negotiated a deal that will see Dish eventually transfer its entire MVNO operations onto Tucow’s Mobile Services Enabler (MSE) offering. Separately, Dish lost 96,000 total subscribers in Q2.

Locast is still plugging away, adding Minneapolis-Saint Paul to its coverage footprint. The nonprofit company makes an app that provides access to broadcast TV via smartphones and tablets, and it is unsurprisingly being sued by the four major TV networks. That case rumbles on.

The head of AT&T’s WarnerMedia division is confident that HBO Max will finally be made available on Amazon’s video devices in Q4. This suggests a deal is nearing completion. However, WarnerMedia is laying off around 600 staff, mostly in the Warner Bros wing, which itself is consolidating its Television and Horizon Scripted TV into a new single entity – the Warner Bros. TV Scripted Division.

Elsewhere, Disney has dropped the ‘Fox,’ and now runs 20th Television and Touchstone Television. It also now holds a minority stake in fuboTV, a vMPVD that is ostensibly a rival, after parent company FaceBank Group published new SEC filings. fuboTV’s Q1 revenues hits $51 million, up 78% year-on-year, and Disney inherited the share via 21st Century Fox. However, Q2 revenues of $44.2 million and a net loss of $99.8 million, have soured things somewhat.

AMC Networks is accusing AT&T of abusing its MPVD market power, in an official complaint to the FCC. AMC alleges that AT&T is “attempting to stifle AMC’s ability to compete fairly by using its colossal market power as a vertically integrated MVPD to disadvantage AMCN’s linear networks,” as well as AMC+.

GCI and Liberty Broadband are being merged together, by John Malone – chairman of both companies. It values the combined entity at $8.7 billion, and is an all stock deal.

Liberty Global has made a surprise $7.4 billion bid for cableco Sunrise Switzerland, a 32% premium on its share price. It comes less than a year after Sunrise tried to acquire UPC Switzerland from Liberty Global for $6.3 billion.

Liberty Latin America, owner of Cable & Wireless Communications, is acquiring Telefonica’s operations in Costa Rica, in an all-cash deal that values the assets at $500 million.

ComHem will shut down its analog TV service in September, saying that 70% of the 1.6 million homes affected have already switched to digital TV.

Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary Audible is gearing up to launch a podcast network to rival Apple and Spotify. However, leaked documents show that it wants a content agreement with shows on this network that would prevent them from criticizing the parent company. Amazon is now trying to handle the PR backlash.

Discovery’s SVoD streaming service CuriosityStream is about to go public, via a reverse merger with Software Acquisition Group. This deal is valued at $331 million, and the combined firm is apparently worth $512 million – thanks to its $180 million cash reserve.

Discovery’s CEO, David Zaslav has confirmed the company’s intentions to launch a D2C OTT service. His comments on the investor call followed a dismal set of Q2 results, with net income falling 71% to $271 million. Clearly unperturbed by a suspected growing subscription fatigue among consumers, Zaslav said the service would compete directly with the SVoD giants, by providing a “differentiated service” with “fresh and original content”. No details were given as to the timeline or pricing of the service.

Deutsche Telekom has reported its first quarterly numbers since Sprint joined the books, saying that its US wing now has 98.3 million customers. It reports 17.6 million fixed line customers in Germany, with 3.7 million video customers, with 9 million and 5 million for the rest of Europe respectively.

Nielsen has published its streaming numbers, stating that 25% of US ‘TV usage’ in Q2 was streaming, up from 19% in Q4 2019. Disney+ accounted for 4% of this, with Netflix on 34%, YouTube on 20%, and Hulu at 11%. Others accounted for 23%.

DOCSIS 4.0 has taken a step forward, on the silicon side of things. MaxLinear has publicly stated it has all the pieces in place to start making these 10G cable chipsets, and sources say that Broadcom has now secured financial R&D commitments from cableco customers. Broadcom seems to have been posturing about abandoning DOCSIS 4.0, in order gain leverage to force these customers to sign its Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) agreements.

Synamedia has debuted Iris, a new addressable advertising platform that it is pitching to video services, offering all manner of campaign management and measurement tools. It comes shortly after an AWS partnership, designed to accelerate uptake of cloud TV services.

Redbox has added some 20 new channels to its Redbox Free Live TV service, which was launched this year to help the rental kiosk firm pivot away from physical media. It has recently ended its video game rentals, and seems likely to try and relaunch Redbox Instant in the near future, as an expansion of its vMPVD service.

Reddit users have been posting their experiences with SpaceX’s Starlink beta program, with download speeds ranging from 11 Mbps to 60 Mbps, and an average of 42.8 Mbps. The upload speeds, which are crucial for meeting the FCC’s broadband criteria for funding, range from 4.5 Mbps, under the threshold, up to 17.7 Mbps. Latency ranges from 20 ms to 94 ms. These are promising early results, but whether they stay this high when the users-per-cell number climbs remains to be seen.

OneWeb needs $1.3 billion to cover its expected losses in the next year, meaning that the UK government is going to have to pitch in another $650 million, alongside equal partner Bharti. The two could sell more shares to try and raise funds, but this would dilute the UK stake.

DirecTV has signed up to the Movies Anywhere partnership, bringing this AT&T wing to the same table that Warner Bros. already sits at, alongside Universal and Sony Pictures. The group is essentially a successor to UltraViolet, making digital and physical purchases available across participant digital ecosystems.

HEVC Advance has filed two separate patent infringement claims in Germany against Xiaomi and Vestel. The H.265 patent pool claims that Xiaomi phones and Vestel TVs and set tops infringe against essential patents. Recently, MAS Elektronik Aktiengesellschaft has lost against the same claim, so it sounds like this is a forgone conclusion.

Cinemark, the third largest movie theater chain in the USA, has had to raid $400 million in new senior notes, as it tries to get its cards in order ahead of the gradual reopening of US cinemas.

NBCUniversal has announced that Ron Meyer has stepped down as vice chairman immediately. Meyer appears to have had an affair with Charlotte Kirk, an actress whose affair with Warner Bros.’ chief Kevin Tsujihara led to his dismissal after he tried to lobby casting decisions in her favor. Meyer says other parties have tried to blackmail him, about the affair.

Magine Pro has signed a deal with DRM firm, Endorphin, which will now use Magine Pro’s end-to-end streaming platform for distributing Croatia’s HNS First Football League from 2022 to 2032.

Polish public broadcaster, TVP, has renewed its distribution deal with transmission firm, Emitel. Emitel will transmit TVP for another 10 years on Poland’s third multiplex, MUX-3, and agreed to change to the DVB-T2 standard in 2022.

Comcast has revealed that it abandoned plans to unify the news operations of its two subsidiaries, NBC and Sky, back in April. The company has cited Covid-related financial difficulties as the main reason for ditching the NBC Sky World News project.

BBC iPlayer has reported 3.1 billion requests in the first half of 2020, up 47% YoY. The Q2 period of April to June also marked the most requests of any quarter in the service’s history.

Quibi is testing out an ad-supported, free tier in Australia and New Zealand – something the service does not offer in the US. The company is testing out various business models in different markets after a pitiful debut onto the OTT market in April. According to Kantar’s survey of 20,000 consumers, one third of Quibi subs plan to cancel within the next three months.

Most pay TV providers in Spain have seen the exodus of subscribers continue, with the curious exception of Vodafone Spain. The operator gained 100,000 subs in the first half of 2020, now totaling 1.4 million. In the same period, Movistar Plus lost nearly 20,000 subs, while Orange lost 46,000.

The Eutelsat-delivered Italian DTH service, Tivusat, will make the gradual switch to DVB-S2 and MPEG-4 codecs from December this year. Around 20 of its channels still use MPEG-2. Tivusat’s MD estimated that around 250,000 set-tops will have to be switched out in order to receive HD video. Paramount Network have already made the switch, while Sky Italia and Mediaset also plan to transition around the turn of the new year.

Google is hoping that new audio capabilities will boost its flailing ad revenues, having announced a new set of audio advertising tools for Google Ad Manager. The new features include dynamic ad insertion (DAI) and programmatic monetization for audio publishers such as Spotify and Pandora. Other capabilities include allowing advertisers to serve either audio or video ad content to audio streaming platforms depending on context. An in-browser ad creation platform, Audio Mixer, has also been launched, allowing creative departments to compose ads.

Content aggregator, Cinedigm, has partnered with Chinese children’s animation house, Fantawild, to launch a new streaming channel. Featuring hundreds of hours of Fantawild content, the channel will launch globally on linear and AVoD platforms in the second half of 2020, with Cinedigm set to distribute heavily in the US market.

TikTok doesn’t seem to think it’s going anywhere, as it’s now establishing itself on larger screens in the US, having just launched an app on Amazon’s Fire TV platform.

According to research from Dataxis, Latin America is seeing a surge in the uptake of Smart TVs. The market insights firm predicts that there will be 111 million smart TVs in LATAM by the end of the year, just over 41% of all TV sets in the region.

It seems Android TV is breaking new ground across Europe, as it has also just debuted in the Netherlands. Youfone is launching the country’s first Android TV service, powered by Amino and its subsidiary, 24i.

Regional US telecoms provider, Windstream, is launching the National Converged Optical Network (NCON) with help from Ciena, which is providing its optical networking platform and software. NCON will help Windstream meet the surge in bandwidth demands caused by a rise in remote working by using Ciena’s 800G solution that allows 100GbE and 400 GbE client connectivity over programmable 400-800Gb/s wavelengths.

Intelsat will continue distributing content for ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) in Central and Eastern Europe via its Intelsat 1 West neighborhood, as well as APAC, via the IS-19 satellite. VCNI delivers brands such as BET, MTV, and Nickelodeon.

RTL Group has come out of Q2 with a mixed bag of results. The first six months of 2020 saw a profit of $185 million, although this was down $340.5 million from the same period in 2019. Predictably, ad revenue took the biggest hit, down 40% from Q1. However, the company’s streaming offerings in Germany and the Netherlands saw subs increase 45% to 1.77 million. Not awful, but not great either.

AT&T is reportedly looking to sell its anime OTT platform, Crunchyroll. Sony is suspected to be the prime bidder, although according to The Information, AT&T’s initial asking price of $1.5 billion was rejected. Crunchyroll offers a two-tiered, freemium service for around 70 million anime fans and would make Sony a powerful force in the genre. Sony already owns Funimation, Crunchyroll’s main competitor.

After Q2 fared slightly better than expected for operators, UBS has revised its predictions for cord cutting in the US. The firm now expects the US pay TV industry to see a 6.7% decline in subs across 2020, losing 6.3 million across the year. Although telling of the muddled impact of Covid-19, this is still only a minor revision from the 8% decline initially predicted for 2020.

Virgin Media Ireland has pulled its supply of sports content to Eir as the company has failed to pay the distribution license fee. This means Eir Sport customers have been unable to watch the final matches of both the Champions League and the Europa League.

According to App Annie, consumers spent more than 1.6 trillion hours on mobile devices in the first half of 2020. The average user spent 27% of daily waking hours on their phone, up 20% from 2019. The report also found that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between user bases across mobile video streaming platforms. For instance, Netlflix’s iPhone users also using TikTok grew from 15% to 45% across Q2 of this year.