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AMC launches private theater rental program

Private screenings will have precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19

AMC Entertainment has announced that it’s launching a private theater rental program

The movie theater chain was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and recently reported a staggering $905.8 million quarterly loss. Company officials are hoping to bolster revenue by offering consumers the option of renting out an entire theater for as little as $99. 

On its official website, AMC said private screenings will have COVID-19 safety measures in place, and the number of guests allowed in each theater will be capped at 20. 

“As part of our AMC Safe & Clean initiative, private movie showings can accommodate 1-20 total guests (host included), so the auditorium can remain at 40% capacity (or less based on municipality guidelines), leaving plenty of space for social distancing,” the company said. 

Masks will be required “unless you are actively enjoying food or drinks,” AMC said. The company added that outside food and drink may not be brought into private screenings. 

Test showed significant interest

Consumers who rent out a theater can choose from one of the movies AMC is offering. The theater chain is currently offering 17 films including “Jurassic Park” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” New releases -- such as “Tenet,” “The War With Grandpa” and “Freaky” -- can be viewed for a higher price of between $149 to $349, depending on location.

AMC said it recently tested the program and it drew “110,000 inquiries around the country” in the span of a month -- more than four times higher than the total number of requests it got in all of 2019 for private theater rentals.

“The results and feedback from our guests about AMC Safe & Clean have been overwhelmingly positive, and Private Theatre Rentals at AMC provides an additional layer of safety and security to those moviegoers who are looking to see movies with just their family members and friends,” Elizabeth Frank, executive give president of worldwide programming and chief content officer, said in a statement. 

“It’s unprecedented for AMC to receive 110,000 contacts in four weeks about a private theatre rental, based only on word of mouth and organic publicity, and we are excited about and appreciative of the interest this has sparked among AMC guests,” she said. 

AMC Entertainment has announced that it’s launching a private theater rental program. The movie theater chain was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and...
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Netflix raises its monthly subscription price again

The company’s goal is to become part of the conversation for every video content lover

It’s full steam ahead at Netflix. After adding 26 million new subscribers worldwide in the first half of the 2020 pandemic, its users are going to have to pony up another dollar or two per month starting soon. 

On Thursday, the company raised the prices of its standard and premium plans to $13.99 (from $12.99) and $17.99 (from $15.99) per month, about the same jump in price it took in 2019.

While that price increase might appear incidental, it could sure mean a lot to Netflix’s bottom line. Tacking on a dollar or two per month to its 73 million U.S. subscribers and an estimated 195 million worldwide is a healthy shot of black ink to the company’s bottom line. 

The changes to expect

The big change for Netflix is the monthly subscription price, but there a few other items that Netflix users should take note of:

  • When the price will go upSo as not to be surprised when the price increase comes, current Netflix subscribers will be notified 30 days before any rate change happens. They should be ready to see the updated prices on their bill sometime in the next two months, according to a comment Netflix made to CNBC.

  • Basic plan changes. The basic plan holds steady at $8.99 a month, the same price Netflix rolled out in 2019.

  • Free trials. Will there be more free trials? Those appear to be in limbo. While Netflix continues to offer free trials outside of the U.S., it recently closed the lid on the promotion in the U.S. and began emphasizing that it lets subscribers cancel anytime at no cost.

  • Streaming qualityWhile Netflix didn’t mention any changes in quality, ConsumerAffairs reminds Apple Mac users who want to use their computers to stream Netflix 4K (reportedly when Apple’s next system software, macOS Big Sur, is released) that Netflix will only stream in 4K to Macs that have a T2 security chip.

Becoming part of the conversation

As ConsumerAffairs read the transcript for its latest earnings call, our biggest takeaway was that Netflix wants to be fundamental in the viewer’s go-to streaming services. 

Netflix’ co-founder, Wilmot Reed Hastings, said the company has come to realize there are no gimmicks or techniques, but that it’s really about member satisfaction. In his words, “If we please you on a Wednesday night, you're more likely to come back on a Thursday night.”

“Primarily, what we're trying to do in our marketing is get people to talk about those things that they're watching and got to get it into the conversation … and to excite the fan base so that when they're talking about a movie, they're talking about a Netflix movie. And when they're talking about a TV show, they're talking about a Netflix TV show. And that's the thing that we're building toward every day,” added Theodore A. Sarandos, the company’s Co-CEO, Chief Content Officer & Director.

It’s full steam ahead at Netflix. After adding 26 million new subscribers worldwide in the first half of the 2020 pandemic, its users are going to have to...
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Moviegoers starting to feel confident about returning to theaters

A survey finds consumers are beginning to think of going to the movies as a safe activity

A new survey of U.S. moviegoers from Comscore shows that movie fans are starting to feel more confident heading off to a theater, mostly because of the aggressive safety procedures implemented by exhibitors. 

The survey results are a welcome sigh of relief for theaters, especially for the country’s largest theatre chain, AMC, which was about to throw in the towel after trying every trick it could -- including 15-cent movies -- to try and stay afloat while moviegoers hunkered down at home bingeing on Netflix and other streaming services. 

The key takeaways

Comscore’s survey revealed three key insights into the rehabbed moviegoer experience:

  • Consumers had positive experiences. An impressive 92 percent had a positive experience at the movies with 60 percent of those saying, “It was great, glad to be back at the movies.”

  • Boredom was a driving factor: Pandemic-driven boredom turned out to be a big reason why movie fans have returned to the box office. Fifty-one percent say they were driven back to the movies by their desire to socialize, particularly with their friends and family, and get back to normal outside-the-home routines.

  • New films brought in customers. Finally, aside from going to the movies being considered a safe activity, recently released blockbuster films were considered very compelling as “a new film I had to see” was one of the most important factors in their decision to return to the movie theater.

“Now that US moviegoers have begun going back to the multiplex, exhibition is clearly doing a great job of creating an environment that exudes the essential values of health and safety in the era of COVID-19,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst, Comscore. 

“A great in-theater experience combined with new and exciting movies from the most notable studios are a combination that is resonating strongly with audiences who are responding enthusiastically to their big screen theatrical experience.”

Trivia nights and classrooms?

Yes, the public’s perception that it’s safe to return to the theaters is a good sign, but not every theater has the muscle and reserves that a chain like AMC does. In some situations, smaller operators are turning to other ways to generate some income while the pandemic is still a factor.

In its coverage of the situation, CNBC found that National Amusements, owner of the Showcase Cinemas chain, is working with libraries to show movies that are based on books and also with museums to play documentaries that are tied to exhibits.

Another creative play or two came from the smaller players. Some turned parking lots into concert venues, others traded blockbuster opening weekends for trivia nights, and some of the more future-thinking ones cut deals with local colleges to rent out the space for in-person learning.

“We’ve made the commitment to keep our doors open, keep our people working,” Jason Ostrow, vice president of development at Texas-based chain Star Cinema Grill, told CNBC “Their sole purpose is to innovate and find ways to drive business however they can.”

A new survey of U.S. moviegoers from Comscore shows that movie fans are starting to feel more confident heading off to a theater, mostly because of the agg...
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AMC Theatres says it could be out of business by the end of the year

For the moment, it’s hanging on by trying to make moviegoing a safe and health outing

How bad have things gotten for the movie industry? So bad that AMC Theatres, the planet’s biggest movie chain, says it could completely run out of money by the end of the year. 

Early Tuesday, the company said that its cash on hand would be "largely depleted" by the end of 2020 or early 2021. It noted two reasons for that, including a "reduced movie slate for the fourth quarter" and "the absence of significant increases in attendance from current levels."

Holding out hope

Despite the dire picture and the misfortune of other movie chains, AMC thinks it has two ways out of its money problem. If more customers started buying tickets, that would help. So would finding new ways to borrow money.

However, the film industry isn’t helping to make that first wish happen. As an example, Sony Pictures said it’s not releasing movies that it thinks have big box office appeal -- like ‘Morbius’ and ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ -- until the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is over. Other filmmakers are following suit, pushing films like Marvel's "Black Widow" and the new James Bond "No Time to Die" to 2021. 

Over at Universal, company brass have decided to take an alternate route of skipping coronavirus-shuttered theatres altogether by going direct to digital. That move paid off handsomely, with ‘Trolls: The World Tour’ raking in nearly $100 million in three weeks. Pixar also went the digital route, pulling "Soul" from theaters to debut on Disney's streaming service Disney+.

It can’t be said that AMC hasn’t tried to find something that works. Earlier this year, it reopened some of its theatres with a 15-cent ticket deal. After Universal did its end-around with ‘Trolls,’ AMC struck a deal with the film company that drastically shortened the length of time that films have to play in theaters before they can be parceled out for on-demand, rental, or for sale. That was apparently nothing more than a band-aid when the chain needed a giant tourniquet.

For the moment -- or until cash reserves completely dry up -- AMC is keeping 520 of its 600 locations open. If it can get people back inside, it promises a healthy and safe environment by requiring social distancing and mask wearing all the way up to high tech solutions like electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums, and enhanced air filtration. 

How bad have things gotten for the movie industry? So bad that AMC Theatres, the planet’s biggest movie chain, says it could completely run out of money by...
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Regal Cinemas to close U.S. theaters on October 8

The theater chain said it hopes to reopen at an appropriate time

​Regal Cinemas will temporarily close all 536 of its locations in the U.S. on October 8 due to limited consumer demand and a “challenging theatrical landscape.” Regal’s parent company, Cineworld Group, said Monday that the pandemic has led to prolonged theater closures in key markets, which has taken a massive toll on its business. 

Additionally, studios haven’t been releasing new movies due to suppressed demand and the popularity of streaming. The lack of new movies has, in turn, perpetuated low demand, even after Regal implemented new COVID-19 protocols. 

"This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support a safe and sustainable reopening in the U.S.– from putting in place robust health and safety measures at our theatres to joining our industry in making a collective commitment to the CinemaSafe protocols to reaching out to state and local officials to educate them on these initiatives.

“We are especially grateful for and proud of the hard work our employees put in to adapt our theatres to the new protocols and cannot underscore enough how difficult this decision was," said Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld.

Will resume business at “appropriate” time

Regal said it will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation as it pertains to its business. The theater chain said it hopes to resume operations “at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen.” 

In the U.S., the suspension of operations will affect about 40,000 jobs. Cineworld will also be suspending operations at 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas in the U.K.

​Regal Cinemas will temporarily close all 536 of its locations in the U.S. on October 8 due to limited consumer demand and a “challenging theatrical landsc...
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Disney+ launches new co-watching feature

Participants can synchronize video viewings

With the pandemic still keeping consumers at home, Disney+ has added a new co-watching feature to enable friends and family to watch movies together while in different places. 

The streaming platform’s new GroupWatch feature was already in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic, but company officials said they sped up its timeline for deployment in light of the circumstances.  

The new Disney+ feature will let people synchronize movie viewings, enabling friends and family to stay connected even while physically apart. The technology doesn’t require a browser extension and will work on any device. 

Watching with other subscribers

Jerrell Jimerson, chief product officer for Disney’s streaming services, said the co-watching feature was designed to be “super easy for consumers to use.” After selecting “GroupWatch” from the Details menu of a movie or show on Disney+, users can invite up to six other Disney+ subscribers to participate in the viewing. 

Once the movie or show has started, participants can play, rewind or fast forward the video for the whole group and share emojis in response to what’s happening. Jimerson said that although the feature doesn’t have a chat option, other communication capabilities could soon be added.  

“There are other opportunities to integrate communication capabilities, but we haven’t shared any timing on those things,” he told TechCrunch.

The new co-watching feature was launched Tuesday. It works on the Disney+ website, smart TVs and connected devices, and on the Android and iPhone apps. 

With the pandemic still keeping consumers at home, Disney+ has added a new co-watching feature to enable friends and family to watch movies together while...
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Disney World reveals plans for a phased reopening

Theme parks, resorts, and shops are all included, but so are a new set of guidelines for ticketing and safety precautions

Get out your mouse ears -- Disney World is gearing up for a reopening.

In a pitch to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force in Florida on Wednesday, Disney proposed a phased reopening of Walt Disney World Resort theme parks that is planned to begin on July 11.

With Shanghai Disney Resort and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort already reopened and operating smoothly, Disney feels it has all the proper safety and sanitation measures in place to move things forward.

The new timeline

Pending Orange County and state approval, here are the dates Disney World attractions will reopen:

Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. A phased reopening for the general public will begin July 11.

EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. July 15 is the requested date for those two park sections. 

Expect changes

Disney’s devotees may not get the same exact experience they had the last time they visited a park if they plan to go during the reopening. The company said that visitors should expect changes on how the theme parks will be managed all the way down to how cast members will engage with guests and “create magical Disney memories.”

Its list of modifications goes like this:

Deliberate approach. Disney is not simply opening the gates and letting everyone in. It’s taking a phased approach with limits on attendance and controlled guest density that aligns with guidance on physical distancing. 

Until further notice, experiences that draw large group gatherings, such as parades and nighttime spectaculars, are on hold. The “high-touch” like makeovers, playgrounds, and character meet and greets are also temporarily unavailable. Nonetheless, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Snow White will still be roaming the park grounds to entertain and bring some smiles.

New reservation system. There will be no more going to the ticket window when you get there and buying an admission on the spot. Attendance will be managed through a new reservation system that will require all guests to secure their reservation in advance. 

No new ticket sales or hotel reservations. For visitors who have an existing ticket, they’re good to go. However, the resort is pausing new ticket sales and Disney Resort hotel reservations. Additional details are available on the Disney Parks Blog.

Resorts and campgrounds reopen June 15 and June 22. Disney Vacation Club resorts in Vero Beach, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, will open to members and guests starting on June 15. Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground plan on reopening June 22.

Shopping and dining. The World of Disney retail shop at the Disney Springs shopping and dining complex at Walt Disney World has already reopened. The remainder of those venues will be phased in over the next month or so. 

Enhanced safety protocols. Disney is taking its responsibility in this area seriously and asks guests to do the same. “Our destinations will continue to follow enhanced safety protocols based upon applicable guidance from health authorities and government agencies,” the company said in a news release. 

Those new protocols include anyone 3 years old or older -- even cast members. Here are the new requirements:

  • Face coverings: Guests will be required to wear appropriate face coverings in theme parks and common areas of resort hotels. 

  • Temperature checks: All guests will undergo temperature screenings prior to entering a theme park. To add another layer of safety for visitors, cast members will also have temperature checks. 

  • Paying for things: Cashless transactions are preferred. 

Get out your mouse ears -- Disney World is gearing up for a reopening.In a pitch to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force in Florida on Wednes...
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MoviePass files for bankruptcy and prepares to liquidate

The company’s financial troubles led to a slow fade to black

There have been a lot of “disrupter” businesses in the last decade that threatened to shake up the status quo. MoviePass is one that just didn’t work out.

MoviePass presented itself as a subscription service that allowed consumers to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters for a monthly subscription fee. The company filed for bankruptcy this week and said it would liquidate its assets.

In the end, MoviePass faced some headwinds that other disrupters like Uber and AirBnb didn’t. It didn’t help that the Hollywood box office went into a nosedive over the last couple of years. There just weren’t that many movies that consumers wanted to see.

At the same time, Nexflix was spending billions of dollars on content. For the same subscription fee, consumers could stay at home and watch great content, usually on big-screen 4k TV sets.

Not much of a surprise

The bankruptcy did not come as much of a surprise. In September, MoviePass lowered the curtain, suspending operations and not saying when, or if, it would resume. In July, the service informed its subscribers that it would be temporarily interrupting service while it worked on improving its app. Prior to that, it had been forced to change its business model numerous times in an effort to overcome financial struggles. 

At its peak, MoviePass was able to sign up nearly 3 million subscribers who paid $9.95 a month. But as there was less and less to see at movie theaters, subscribers dwindled to a low of 225,000 in April of last year.

When it filed for bankruptcy this week, the company listed, by name, 12,000 subscribers it said were creditors -- who had paid in advance and were owed refunds. According to CNN, that list took up 174 pages of the filing.

MoviePass’ problems gained momentum in 2018 when it suffered severe cash flow issues. In early 2019, the parent company was delisted on the NASDAQ stock exchange. 

There have been a lot of “disrupter” businesses in the last decade that threatened to shake up the status quo. MoviePass is one that just didn’t work out....
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NBCUniversal joins the streaming wars with the launch of Peacock

The base tier of the new streaming service will be free for all consumers

NBCUniversal is joining the streaming sweepstakes, announcing the launch of a new video service called Peacock. 

The service, which will debut later this year, is made up of three tiers: a limited content package that will be free, a premium tier that will contain ads, and an ad-free platform.

Peacock will offer more than 600 movies and 400 series, as well as live and on-demand content across news, sports, late-night, and reality. 

Parent company Comcast is one of the nation’s largest cable TV providers, so the new service appears carefully designed not to cannibalize that revenue. Peacock Free will be available to everyone at no charge so there’s less pressure for cord-cutting.

Over 7,500 hours of programming

Peacock’s free tier will offer more than 7,500 hours of NBCUniversal programming. Subscribers will get next-day access to current seasons of new broadcast series, complete classic series, popular movies, curated daily news, and sports programming that includes Olympics coverage.

Peacock Premium is another ad-supported tier but costs $4.99 a month. It will include about twice the amount of content offered on the free tier. It will be provided at no charge to 24 million Comcast and Cox subscribers.

The third tier is just like Peacock Premium but without ads. That will be provided to subscribers for $9.99 a month. The service will be available to Comcast and Cox subscribers in April and will roll out for all other consumers in July.

“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” said Steve Burke, chairman of NBCUniversal. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

Following Disney

Peacock follows the wildly successful launch of Disney+ in late 2019. Sandwiched in between AppleTV+ at $4.99 a month and Netflix’s basic service at $8.99 a month, Disney+’s initial price is $7 per month. Because Disney now owns Hulu and already had ESPN in its portfolio, consumers who add in services from either of those two channels will get an extra $5 off, creating a $13 a month bundle for Disney+, Hulu (with ads), and ESPN Plus.

Disney says it has signed-up more than 10 million subscribers to its new video service since launching in early November. Peacock has now made the streaming field even more crowded.

While more options are good for consumers, it may be an even bigger challenge to figure where to spend a monthly subscription budget. For its 13th annual Digital Media Trends survey released in March 2019, Deloitte surveyed more than 2,000 digital consumers across the U.S. and found that nearly half said the rapidly growing market for streaming services is causing them to experience “subscription fatigue.”

Deloitte’s survey showed strong growth in streaming video subscription services, with 69 percent of households now subscribing to one or more.

NBCUniversal is joining the streaming sweepstakes, announcing the launch of a new video service called Peacock. The service, which will debut later thi...
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Disney+ is here, large and in charge

Consumers are in for a long couple of years with all the video streaming launches and changes about to unfold

The Mouse is officially in the house. 

Say hello to Disney+, the new subscription video on-demand (SVOD) streaming service from the Walt DIsney Company. The service is making its debut Tuesday in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.

All in all, Disney+ will have at its fingertips close to 7,000 television episodes and 500 films. To kick-start the service, the company will lean heavily on five properties: 

  • Star Wars: Included will be the first six films of the Star Wars franchise, plus The Force Awakens and Rogue One

  • National Geographic: Since Disney owns 73 percent of National Geographic Partners, it’s a no-brainer to include all that National Geographic already has on the shelf and in current production. National Geographic will also be producing the documentary series Magic of the Animal Kingdom and The World According to Jeff Goldblum.

  • Pixar: The animation studio is a motherlode of its own with 21 feature films, including all the Toy Story movies, Finding Dory, Coco, and The Incredibles.

  • Marvel: Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films will all be available from day one; however, seven films -- Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Spider-Man: Far From Home -- won’t be available for a while because the rights to many of those were previously licensed to Netflix. In other cases, the distribution rights for some films are shared with different studios (e.g., Sony Pictures for the Spider-Man films).

  • Disney: As any video-consuming person knows, this is a goldmine of its own. The entire Disney film library, including films currently in the "Disney Vault" -- Pinocchio, Fantasia, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, etc. -- will eventually find their way into the channel. And for the D'oh!’ers among you, Disney+ also owns the rights to the first 30 seasons of The Simpsons, and those are expected to be part of the lineup at launch. 

To sweeten the deal for Disney-loving consumers, the service has also created a boatload of new original -- and exclusive -- series and movies. Those include High School Musical: The Musical: The Series; Forky Asks a Question (Forky, by the way, is a character in Toy Story); a new version of Lady and the Tramp; and the video version of the young adult novel Stargirl.

How do you get Disney+ and what does it cost?

Out of the chute, Disney+ will be available on the web, so consumers can use their computers to watch its content. Offerings can also be found on certain apps -- like its own Disney+ app, Android TV, and Apple TV -- and devices such as Roku, PlayStation 4, a variety of smart TVs, and both Amazon’s Fire HD and Fire TV.

The company deserves kudos for going the distance for consumers with disabilities so they can also enjoy the service. The app will offer support for closed captioning, descriptive audio, and navigation assistance.

Cost-wise, it appears to be a good deal -- or at least a competitive one. Sandwiched in between AppleTV+ at $4.99 a month and Netflix’s basic service at $8.99 a month, Disney+’s initial price will be $7 per month. And because Disney now owns Hulu and already had ESPN in its portfolio, consumers who add in services from either of those two channels will get an extra $5 off, creating a $13 a month bundle for Disney+, Hulu (with ads), and ESPN Plus.

Goodies galore -- and one little bump in the road

With all that will be taking place over the next year or so with NBC-Universal’s new streaming service, changes at Hulu, and the recent roll-out of AppleTV+, Disney+ is starting out gloves off and in full bravado, daring competitors to match its consumer offerings and allowing subscribers to:

  • Get it for free -- or close to free, anyway. CNET reports that Verizon is giving away a whole year of Disney+ with its Unlimited plans;

  • Watch commercial-free;

  • Concurrently stream video content on up to four registered devices with no up-charges;

  • Have access to unlimited downloads of shows and movies on the Disney+ app to watch offline later on up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded per year; and

  • Share with up to seven other people. Interestingly, at least as far as ConsumerAffairs’ report on Netflix, HBO, and other SVODs going after consumers who allow others outside their household to use their subscription, Disney+ says that subscribers “can set up to seven different profiles.” There’s not one mention of “household,” “family,” or finger-wag warning that users better not let others ride on their subscription’s coattails. 

The bump in the road? CNN reported that as many as 8,415 site visitors experienced issues as soon as the service launched. Users were greeted by error pages starring Disney's own Wreck-It Ralph.

"Unable to connect to Disney+," said the error page, with Wreck-It Ralph holding a WiFi signal, reading, "There seems to be an issue connecting to the Disney+ service." 

However, the issue turned out to be temporary. EntertainmentWeekly reported that it was able to get the service going after a few restarts of the Disney+ app.

Around and around and around we go…

...and where this streaming service merry-go-round stops, nobody knows.

With all the buy-outs, shake-outs, and roll-outs in the streaming service game, the next couple of years will be interesting to say the least. 

“While competition is generally considered a positive thing for consumers, and rightly so, there can be too much of a good thing, as subscribers of video streaming services may soon come to learn,”  says Statista’s Felix Richter. “The industry that was once dominated by Netflix could become too fragmented for its own good.”

What Richter is essentially saying is that all the little pieces that Netflix had licensing deals for and could lose in the shake-out might force consumers to piecemeal their perfect world of shows together by subscribing to multiple services to get all they want. Cases-in-point are Friends, The Office, and the Disney and Marvel movies -- all of which consumers could find inside Netflix.

However, that smorgasbord is closing down: Disney is pulling its content out of Netflix; Friends will move to HBO Max in 2020; and shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation will eventually be exclusive to NBC-Universal’s new Peacock service.

“For consumers this means either limiting their content choices or subscribing to multiple streaming services rather than just one,” Richter says. “For existing streaming services, Netflix in particular, the situation is also highly dangerous. According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult and the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year, many Netflix subscribers would cancel their subscription in case the service loses some of the aforementioned content.”

The Mouse is officially in the house. Say hello to Disney+, the new subscription video on-demand (SVOD) streaming service from the Walt DIsney Company....
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Netflix to offer $2 billion in debt to fund content creation

The company is focusing on content spending to keep its subscriber numbers up

Netflix announced Monday morning that it’s planning to offer another $2 billion in debt to fund its investment in content. The streaming giant also offered $2 billion in new debt for the same purpose back in April. 

The company said it intends to use the net proceeds from its latest offering “for general corporate purposes, which may include content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”

The move comes ahead of the November launch of highly anticipated streaming services from both Disney and Apple. 

Rising streaming competition

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings insisted last week that the company isn’t particularly worried about new competition in the streaming market. In a letter to shareholders accompanying its third quarter earnings report, Netflix said Apple TV+ and Disney+ aren’t likely to bump Netflix from its current spot as an industry leader. 

Hastings said that Disney is going to be a “great competitor,” but he assured investors that the new services will only bolster the streaming industry’s ability to compete with linear TV.  

“We’re all relatively small compared to linear TV,” Hastings said. “So we’re not really competing with each other, but with broadcast.”

Netflix executives said the launch of the new streaming services will be “noisy” and may bring “some modest headwind” to its near-term growth. However, the company said it doesn’t anticipate a big impact on its long-term growth. 

Netflix’s latest investment will help to fuel and sustain its expansive content lineup, which it says is crucial to keeping its subscriber numbers up.  

Netflix announced Monday morning that it’s planning to offer another $2 billion in debt to fund its investment in content. The streaming giant also offered...
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Netflix not worried about competition in streaming market

The company says the launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+ won’t impact its long-term growth

On Thursday, Netflix released its third quarter earnings report and said in an accompanying letter to shareholders that it’s not particularly worried about the November launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+. 

While the new streaming services do represent “increased competition,” Netflix said the soon-to-launch services won’t offer consumers the same amount and selection of content that it currently does. 

“The upcoming arrival of services like Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and Peacock is increased competition, but we are all small compared to linear TV,” the company said. “While the new competitors have some great titles (especially catalog titles), none have the variety, diversity, and quality of new original programming that we are producing around the world.” 

‘Modest headwind’ 

The streaming giant said the rollout of Apple TV+ (on November 1) and Disney+ (on November 12) may bring “some modest headwind” to its near-term growth. However, it expects to bounce back and “grow nicely” in the long term. 

CEO Reed Hastings said the newcomers to the streaming market don’t represent a “big change” in the competitive landscape, but he admits that linear TV providers do still pose a threat. 

“We’re all relatively small compared to linear TV,” Hastings said, according to CNBC. “So we’re not really competing with each other, but with broadcast.”

With new services on the way, Hastings predicted that more consumers will begin subscribing to multiple streaming services because of their unique content offerings. As a result, they’ll stop paying for linear TV and have more to spend on streaming services. 

“In our view, the likely outcome from the launch of these new services will be to accelerate the shift from linear TV to on demand consumption of entertainment,” he said. 

On Thursday, Netflix released its third quarter earnings report and said in an accompanying letter to shareholders that it’s not particularly worried about...
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AMC launches new streaming service

Consumers can rent or buy movies that have left theaters and stream them at home

In an effort to contend with competition from the at-home streaming service industry, theater chain AMC Entertainment is launching its own streaming program, according to the New York Times. 

The service, dubbed AMC Theatres On Demand, will offer about 2,000 movies for U.S. consumers to rent or buy, allowing them to stream shows at home after they’ve left theaters. Prices will range from $3 and $6 for rentals and $10 and $20 for purchases.

AMC reportedly struck deals with five major movie studios -- Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony, and Paramount -- who signed on to offer their movies on the platform. 

The theater chain previously introduced a service called AMC Stubs, which allowed subscribers to see up to three movies per week at movie theaters.

“The addition of AMC Theatres On Demand, which extends our movie offerings for AMC Stubs members into their homes, makes perfect sense for AMC Theatres, for our studio partners and for our millions of movie-loving guests,” Adam Aron, CEO and President, AMC Theatres, said in a statement. “Through the launch of AMC Theatres On Demand, we can reach movie lovers directly and make it easy for them to access films digitally.”

The company says new releases will become available on the service the same time they become available digitally, “following the traditional theatrical window set by each studio for each movie.” 

Consumers can rent or purchase movies on AMC’s website or mobile app, or through a Roku or SmartTV. AMC said it plans to add more services and devices “in the near future.” The full service is set to launch this week.

In an effort to contend with competition from the at-home streaming service industry, theater chain AMC Entertainment is launching its own streaming progra...
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Court blocks FCC rule changes on broadcast media ownership

The agency says the court is attempting to assume the FCC’s authority

A federal appeals court has vacated a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would have liberalized media ownership rules.

In a 2-1 vote, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the agency did not “adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities."

The court ruled against the FCC because it said it "cited no evidence whatsoever regarding gender diversity," the judges wrote. The FCC had previously stated that there was no available data on female media ownership.

The court said the FCC’s failure to address the impact on female ownership was egregious enough but added that the agency failed to properly consider the evidence of minority ownership.

Drastic changes

Rules covering radio and TV station ownership have changed drastically in the last 40 years. It was not that long ago that the FCC prevented one company from owning more than seven AM, FM, and TV stations, and none in the same market.

Today one company may own hundreds of stations, including multiple stations in a single market.

The FCC adopted a rule in 2017 that eliminated some of the cross-ownership rules, declaring that they had little effect on diversity of ownership. 

The court ruling also overturned a 2018 FCC order that created a special program to help new players in the broadcast industry. The court found that the FCC's definition of "new entrant" made "no overt reference to race, gender, or social disadvantage." 

The FCC says it plans to appeal the court’s ruling. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai complained that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently assumed FCC authority, attempting to block the agency from modernizing broadcast regulations.

A federal appeals court has vacated a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would have liberalized media ownership rules.In a 2-1 vote, the...
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MoviePass shuts down indefinitely

The company says it’s unsure what the future holds for it

MoviePass announced on Friday that it would be shutting down its service on Saturday, September 14. At this time, it’s unclear whether the movie subscription service plans to resume service at any point in the future. 

In a press release, MoviePass parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics said the company’s "efforts to recapitalize MoviePass have not been successful to date." 

"The Company is unable to predict if or when the MoviePass service will continue.” Helios and Matheson Analytics wrote. “The Company is continuing its efforts to seek financing to fund its operations."

In July, MoviePass informed its subscribers that it would be temporarily interrupting service while it worked on improving its app. Prior to that, the company had been forced to change its business model numerous times in an effort to overcome financial struggles. 

Refunds promised 

The service was able to amass nearly 3 million subscribers by offering a $9.95 per month subscription plan, but profitability challenges ensued and subscriber numbers dwindled. As of April, MoviePass’ subscriber count was down to 225,000. 

On its website, MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe assured subscribers that they will be given a refund for any period of service they had already paid for.  

“Subscribers will not need to request a refund or contact MoviePass customer service to receive a refund,” Lowe wrote. “Subscribers will not be charged during the service interruption. At this point, we are unable to predict if or when the MoviePass service will continue.” 

"We still deeply believe in the need for the MoviePass service in the marketplace, to maintain affordable access to theaters and provide movie lovers with choices of where to go to the movies," he continued. "Although we do not currently know what the future holds for the MoviePass service, we hope to find a path that will enable us to continue the service in the future."

MoviePass announced on Friday that it would be shutting down its service on Saturday, September 14. At this time, it’s unclear whether the movie subscripti...
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CBS and Viacom plan to merge once again

The two media giants hope their marriage is better the second time again

CBS and Viacom, two entertainment companies that once were one company, are joining forces once again. The two entertainment companies have announced an all-stock merger that will form a new company called ViacomCBS Inc.

Should the deal close as expected, CBS’ broadcast network will be part of an entertainment package that will include Viacom's MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, as well as its Paramount film and TV studio and CBS’ showtime cable network.

Bob Bakish, who heads Viacom, will become CEO of the new company. He’s confident the merged operation can shake things up in the industry.

“Our unique ability to produce premium and popular content for global audiences at scale – for our own platforms and for our partners around the world – will enable us to maximize our business for today, while positioning us to lead for years to come,” Bakish said. 

Not unexpected

Wall Street had been pushing for months for the former partners to patch things up and get back together. The announcement was hardly a surprise to investors who say both companies will be much stronger under one roof.

Industry analysts say the combined company will own a number of powerful consumer brands, as well as one of the largest libraries of valuable intellectual property. The collection includes more than 140,000 TV episodes and more than 3,600 film titles.

The two companies have spent more than $13 billion on content in the last 12 months and that level of investment is expected to continue. The combined company will own the lucrative Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises.

Broadcast and cable

The combined company will also have one foot in broadcasting and another in cable. While its stations cover key U.S. markets, its cable operations will reach more than 4.3 billion cumulative TV subscribers worldwide. Internationally, it will own broadcast networks in the UK, Argentina and Australia, as well as pay-TV networks across more than 180 countries. 

It will also have significant global production capabilities across five continents – creating content in 45 languages.

CBS and Viacom merged for the first time in 1999, only to split apart in 2005. But as other media mergers took place around them the two companies found themselves much smaller than their rivals and at a competitive disadvantage.

CBS and Viacom, two entertainment companies that once were one company, are joining forces once again. The two entertainment companies have announced an al...
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Cord-cutting is becoming the norm for many consumers

Researchers say pay TV services aren’t doing enough to keep their customers

If you’ve cancelled your cable TV subscription and are relying on video streaming services for your entertainment, you are no longer just a trend-setter. You may soon be in the majority.

A new forecast from eMarketer predicts that the number of pay TV households in the U.S. will drop by 4 percent by the end of the year to around 86.5 million homes. It further expects the freefall to continue, with pay TV subscriptions falling below 80 million by 2021.

In fact, eMarketer researchers say it won’t be long before there will be as many households going without a pay TV subscription as there are subscribers. The company suggests the industry has arrived at a tipping point, with more consumers preferring to subscribe to services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu that cost little more than $10 a month.

That space is about to get even more crowded as Disney, WarnerMedia, and Apple get ready to launch streaming services of their own. And then there’s YouTube, which costs nothing.

Follow the money

According to eMarketer, money may have a lot to do with the wave of cord-cutting. The researchers say pay TV providers have responded to their loss of business by trying to increase profit margins. 

They often offer an attractive introductory price that surges once that limited time period ends. Subscribers often drop the service once the price goes up. There is also little flexibility if a subscriber asks for a lower price in return for not cancelling.

While pay TV services are losing customers, they are also facing higher costs -- which is putting many companies in an increasingly difficult position.

"Their answer has been to raise prices across the board, and it seems that they are willing to lose customers rather than retain them with unprofitable deals," the authors wrote.

Previous research

eMarketer’s research is in line with previous reporting on the subject. Earlier this year, the Convergence Research Group projected that 34 percent of American cable and satellite TV subscribers would cut the cord by the end of 2019.

These consumers sometimes opt for personal bundling of services like Hulu or Sling, where they subscribe to specialty channels they have a particular interest in, like the SEC Sports Network.

Live programming, it seems, is the main thing keeping consumers paying more to subscribe to pay TV services. Sports fans depend on ESPN to see games, and political junkies are hooked on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News.

Local news, of course, is still available for free over the air. Viewers may need an external antenna, but they can receive it in HD over a regular TV set if they live near a TV station.

If you’ve cancelled your cable TV subscription and are relying on video streaming services for your entertainment, you are no longer just a trend-setter. Y...
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Comcast will pay 9.1 million to Washington State to settle ‘slamming’ charges

The company allegedly added its service plan to customers’ accounts without their consent

A Washington State court has ordered Comcast to pay nearly $9.1 million for allegedly charging consumers in the state for a service protection plan without their consent. The court found that the unauthorized charges affected about 31,000 Comcast customers in the state.

In addition to the penalties paid to the state, Comcast has been ordered to make restitution to affected consumers.

“Comcast refused to accept responsibility for its egregious conduct that resulted in Washingtonians losing money every month for a product they did not want or request,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability.”

The $9.1 million penalty is the largest trial award in a state consumer protection case in Washington, even before restitution to taken into consideration. In a statement, Comcast said it is pleased to have resolved the matter and has “fully addressed” the issues raised in the lawsuit.

Allegedly hid the true cost

The court found that Comcast added the additional subscription to the accounts of 30,946 Washingtonians without their knowledge or consent. Additionally it found that the company’s sales reps did not disclose the trust cost of the plan when they sold it to more than 18,000 other consumers.

The court ruled that Comcast must refund affected consumers and pay 12 percent interest on the restitution. The court did not specify the amount of restitution.

“Despite Comcast’s systemic guidelines and policies, the practice of subscribing customers without meaningful consent was widespread,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

Reviewed the tapes

Ferguson says a review of 1,400 customer call recordings and internal company documents shows the sales reps were adding the additional charges to customers’ accounts without their consent and that the company knew they were doing it.

The attorney general says that in at least 34 percent of customer accounts connected to the calls, Comcast added the charge without consent, sometimes after the customer had declined the plan.

The practice is known as “slamming” and was widely used by telephone companies nearly two  decades ago to switch a customer’s long distance service without their permission. Ferguson charges that Comcast did not respond to numerous complaints about the alleged “slamming” until his office filed its lawsuit in 2017.

Ferguson’s complaint says Comcast collected more than $85 million in gross revenue from Washington in monthly charges for the service plan.

A Washington State court has ordered Comcast to pay nearly $9.1 million for allegedly charging consumers in the state for a service protection plan without...
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Video streaming providers start to fight back in the binge-and-cancel game

Will the service with the most exclusive shows win? That’s where it appears to be headed

With cable and satellite video providers playing carrot-and-stick with their “introductory price” scheme and then walloping the consumer with a more costly “regular” rate after the introductory period is over, consumers are doing the same thing back to the providers by playing the “binge-and-cancel” game.

On Thursday, Axios laid out a new study showing that more than 30 percent of all consumers are likely to cancel a subscription streaming service after the show or series they are watching has ended. A more timely data point came out of that Axios/Harris poll, which revealed that 16 percent of HBO subscribers say they planned to cancel their subscriptions once “Game of Thrones” completed its run.

Not all consumers play this game, but evidence is growing that most people plan to hang onto subscription services for less than 6 months after their original sign-up. The bulk of those gamers are from Gen Y millennials at 44 percent. Those numbers drop off slightly with older millennials (41 percent), baby boomers (34 percent), and Gen Xers (30 percent).

An interesting side note in Axios’ research is that the subscription service game is less likely to occur when consumers primarily rely on cable as their primary source. The reasons are logical: consumers don’t want to go through the hassle of rewiring their system and returning the cable box. Signing up or cancelling streaming services can be done online without having to talk to anyone who begs you to stay or offers an “if you’ll stay” deal.

Where this game is headed

Streaming services are onto the binge-and-cancel game and are doing their best to plug the dike. Many are tossing in additional services -- like Spotify recently offering free Hulu with a subscription. Others -- like Amazon Prime -- are creating cultural events like the pop-up delicatessen it rolled out in an effort to buoy its comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

This game is going to take a while to play out, so buckle up. Companies are already wheeling and dealing like crazy. Only last week, ConsumerAffairs wrote about the NBCUniversal-Disney-Comcast swap meet.

This week came news that  WarnerMedia is launching its own streaming video subscription service later this year. That one alone could be a disrupter, simply from the fact that it has the rights to fan favorites like Friends, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory.

With cable and satellite video providers playing carrot-and-stick with their “introductory price” scheme and then walloping the consumer with a more costly...
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New study finds more and more consumers are cutting the cord

Whether you subscribe to a pre-bundled service or try to customize your own bundle, the bottom line is that TV is expensive

Earlier this year, ConsumerAffairs reported that the rate of cord-cutting has continued its meteoric rise. Recent reports show that AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon’s first-quarter loss ran precariously close to a million subscribers.

Now comes a new report forecasting a loss of 4.56 million American households by the end of 2019.

The Convergence Research Group -- consultants in the internet, content, telecom, and technology arena -- found that 34 percent of American cable and satellite TV subscribers will cut the cord by the end of 2019 and likely opt for a personal bundling of services like Hulu or Sling, where they subscribe to specialty channels they have a particular interest in, like the SEC Sports Network.

Taking the leap of faith

Cutting the cord and cobbling together the services that are most important is all personal preference. While it would be nice if a streaming provider like Hulu offered every single thing you want, it’s likely you’ll either have to find an additional provider that offers what you’re looking for or learn to live without it.

“Tried cord cutting once a number of years ago but just couldn’t live without all the channels and eventually went back to cable,” posted one user on CordCutters’ Facebook page. “But now that we’ve got all these live streaming and OTA (over-the-air) channels I’ve since cut the cord again and will never go back.”

Despite how much a consumer dislikes having to pay for cable or satellite TV, cutting that cord and creating the perfect bundle can be expensive -- maybe more than basic cable.

“There was hope within the TV industry that skinny bundles from ‘virtual MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributor)’ such as YouTube TV, Hulu and DirecTV Now would help fight cord-cutting,” is how Digiday views the current landscape.

“And to some extent, these services have done that — but at what is proving to be a steep cost. Now, these services are raising prices and looking for other bundling and distribution options in pursuit of profitability and sustainability. What that ultimately proves, yet again, is a very simple fact: No matter how you slice, dice or bundle it, live TV is expensive.”

Please don’t go

Unfortunately for consumers, there are streaming providers that seem to want to hold on to customers at all costs.

“Verizon FIOS is trying hard to lose customers,” writes one ConsumerAffairs reviewer. “I wanted a specific package that I had already been using, I signed a new 2-year contract with the understanding (including an agent sharing with me and assuring me that I will have the channels I watch in particular a golf channel) that I will get the channels I really wanted.”

“They shared the list of channels, etc. Then within two weeks, I found that they had migrated the golf channel to another package. To get it, I need to pay an additional $10 a month. So, the motto of Verizon seems to be, ‘Let's screw the customer. Provide him with a contract and then renege on it.’"

Earlier this year, ConsumerAffairs reported that the rate of cord-cutting has continued its meteoric rise. Recent reports show that AT&T;, Comcast, and Ver...
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Disney’s new streaming service may impact Netflix’s subscriber base

Over 14 percent of Netflix users polled said they might leave Netflix and get Disney+

Just under 14.5 percent of Netflix subscribers say they might leave the streaming platform and get Disney+, according to a survey recently conducted by Streaming Observer. That figure would represent a loss of almost 9 million customers for Netflix, which would translate to about $117 million in lost revenue per month.

About 37 percent of Netflix subscribers (or about 22 million users) said they would try Disney’s $7-per-month streaming service, and one in five Netflix subscribers said they are planning to subscribe to both streaming services.

Parents of young kids were more than twice as likely as non-parents to say they would prefer Disney+ over Netflix.

Family-friendly content may compel parents

Of the 602 Netflix users who participated in the survey, 23 percent of users who were parents with children aged 15 and younger said they might cancel Netflix for Disney+. Just 10 percent of respondents without children said they may cancel.

“While Netflix has been steadily adding more kids content to its library, it’s hard to imagine it can match what Disney offers on this front, which could be a source of concern for the streaming giant,” the survey said.

During a first-quarter earnings discussion, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings said that he doesn’t “anticipate that [Disney+ and other new streaming services] will materially affect [Netflix’] growth.”

However, Disney recently said it intends to grow its subscriber base quickly over the next few years by luring consumers with a more affordable monthly fee compared to rival streaming services. Disney said the service’s $7 a month (or $70 a year) price tag is intended to make the service “accessible to as many consumers as possible.”

The company forecasts that it will have amassed between 60 million and 90 million subscribers by the end of 2024. The service is set to launch on November 12.

Just under 14.5 percent of Netflix subscribers say they might leave the streaming platform and get Disney+, according to a survey recently conducted by Str...
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Disney announces pricing for upcoming streaming service

At $7 per month, the service for families will be more affordable than competitor Netflix

At an “investor day” event on Thursday, Disney revealed additional details about its forthcoming streaming service called Disney Plus, which will compete with video streaming services such as Netflix.

Disney said its new ad-free service will cost $7 a month, or $70 a year. By comparison, Netflix charges a $13 monthly fee to consumers who subscribe to its most popular plan -- a recently announced increase of $2.

The company said Disney Plus, which will launch on November 12, will include all of Disney's kid-friendly classics, 18 of Pixar’s 21 movies, and new titles that will hit theaters this year.

The platform will also include some content that may be of interest to parents, including “Star Wars” movies and all 30 seasons of “The Simpsons” (the latter thanks to its acquisition of 21st Century Fox). Disney Plus will not, however, include any sports content.

“If consumers want sports, they can subscribe to ESPN+. If they want adult content, they can subscribe to Hulu, and if they want family, there’s Disney(+),” CEO Bob Iger said, according to CNBC.

Iger said the platform’s affordability compared to rival streaming services is intended to make the service “accessible to as many consumers as possible.” Disney forecasts that by the end of 2024, it will have amassed between 60 million and 90 million subscribers.

The company told investors that it expects to spend about $1 billion on original content for the service next year and $2 billion by 2024.

At an “investor day” event on Thursday, Disney revealed additional details about its forthcoming streaming service called Disney Plus, which will compete w...
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Disney bans smoking, vaping, and large strollers from its parks

The company says that oversize strollers block walkways, but it will offer parents rental strollers for $15 a day

If you’re the type of parent who likes to block walkways with your child’s massive stroller while smoking a vape pen at Disneyland, get prepared to make some changes.

Disney announced yesterday that smoking, vaping, and oversized strollers will be banned from its parks in California and Florida starting May 1.

The parks will no longer have designated smoking areas, meaning that smokers will have to partake outside the gates. As for strollers, Disney says that the devices must be no wider than 31 inches and no longer than 52 inches. Stroller wagons are also prohibited. If a parent’s stroller does not comply, they can rent one from the park for $15.

Disney enthusiasts say that the new rules seem reasonable.

"Restricting stroller size and prohibiting wagon strollers will, hopefully, eliminate the traffic problems they can cause -- blocking walkways, bumping into guests (especially the little ones) and taking up space in queues and elsewhere," the editor of one Disney fan site told CNN.

If you’re the type of parent who likes to block walkways with your child’s massive stroller while smoking a vape pen at Disneyland, get prepared to make so...
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Survey finds many consumers are experiencing ‘subscription fatigue’

The crowded streaming market is causing consumers to feel overwhelmed

At an event on Monday, March 25, Apple is expected to announce the launch of its TV and movie streaming service. However, as the market for streaming services continues to expand, a new survey finds consumers are beginning to suffer from “subscription fatigue.”  

For its 13th annual Digital Media Trends survey, Deloitte surveyed more than 2,000 digital consumers across the U.S. and found that nearly half (47 percent) said the rapidly growing market for streaming services is causing them to experience subscription fatigue.

Deloitte’s survey showed strong growth in streaming video subscription services, with 69 percent of households now subscribing to one or more.

But with more than 300 streaming services now available to choose from -- and in some cases, multiple subscriptions and payments to keep track of -- many consumers are “beginning to feel weighed down” by the number of options and subscriptions to manage.

Crowded market

The new findings come ahead of the launch of several new streaming services, including one from Disney (called Disney+) expected to launch later this year, a service from HBO and Time Warner, and a service from NBCUniversial that will launch next year.

Many upcoming services will focus on offering their own original content, which may translate to the need for many consumers to subscribe to multiple services to ensure they can watch the content they like.

Deloitte’s survey found that over half of consumers (57) surveyed said they feel frustrated when content they enjoy disappears or is no longer on a particular streaming service.

Deloitte predicts that these changing consumer attitudes could lead streaming providers to develop “the next generation of the home entertainment platform” by creating a service that would combine video streaming, music, and gaming all under a single umbrella.

At an event on Monday, March 25, Apple is expected to announce the launch of its TV and movie streaming service. However, as the market for streaming servi...
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Netflix says it won’t be part of Apple’s new TV app

MoviePass is back with a $9.95 subscription plan

Competition continues to heat up in entertainment media with Apple’s expected announcement next week that it is launching a video streaming service.

The company has an event scheduled for March 25 at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif., and it has done nothing to temper expectations. The tagline on the event announcement was “It’s show time” and featured a film-inspired countdown.

While it’s not clear what programming will be available, it is known that Netflix content will be absent. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has confirmed that Netflix won’t participate in Apple’s venture, saying he prefers that people watch Netflix content on the Netflix platform.

Netflix entered the conversation because it is believed Apple will offer subscriptions to other video content channels through its app. Meanwhile, 9to5Mac reports Apple has signed a number of deals to produce original content, including with Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Anniston,  Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, as well as with directors J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg.

Users reportedly will be able to subscribe to Apple’s content and use the app to watch other content they subscribe to, such as HBO.

A premium price

An analyst at Goldman Sachs told Bloomberg News that he expects the Apple Video subscription to cost about $15 a month. That’s slightly more than both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

While Apple is gathering content for the small screen, MoviePass is launching a limited-time promotion for big screen content. It’s offering an “uncapped” subscription plan for $9.95 a month for a limited time if the subscriber pays for a full 12 months. Those who prefer to pay monthly will pay $14.95, $5 off the regular price.

“We are – and have been – listening to our subscribers every day, and we understand that an uncapped subscription plan at the $9.95 price point is the most appealing option to our subscribers,” said Ted Farnsworth, Chairman and CEO of MoviePass’ parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc.  

Farnsworth says the company has had to modify its service a number of times in order to “continue delivering a movie-going experience to our subscribers.” The company changed its subscription plan at least twice in 2018.

Competition continues to heat up in entertainment media with Apple’s expected announcement next week that it is launching a video streaming service.The...
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The pace of cord-cutting picked up speed last year

Satellite services suffered the biggest hit

Nearly 3 million pay TV subscribers cut the cord last year, with AT&T’sDIRECTV taking the biggest hit, according to an industry report.

Leichtman Research reports the largest pay TV providers in the U.S. lost 2.8 million subscribers in 2018 as more consumers increasingly turned to over the top (OTT) sources of video services. The numbers are worrisome for the industry since cord-cutting nearly doubled from 2017.

Much of the attrition occurred among satellite TV providers. DIRECTV lost more than 1.2 million subscribers last year, up from 554,000 the year before.

In all, satellite TV providers accounted for the lion’s share of cord-cutting, losing more than 2.3 million customers last year.

Cable losses were slightly less

Losses were slightly less among the top six cable TV providers. They shed 910,000 customers last year, an increase over the 680,000 they lost in 2017. Top cable providers together lost 1.9 percent of their customers last year, compared to a 1.4 percent loss in 2017.

There were losses across the board except in the telephone companies’ video services. While the overall category lost ground, AT&T’s U-verse actually added 47,000 subscribers. The category saw its total losses fall from 885,000 in 2017 to 245,000 last year.

While traditional sources of programming lost customers, internet-delivered sources continued to see gains. The top publicly reporting internet-delivered (vMVPD) services, Sling TV and DIRECTV NOW, added about 640,000 subscribers in 2018. That’s significantly fewer than the  1.6 million net adds in 2017.

Lost 3.1 percent of its customers

“The pay-TV market saw net losses increase in 2018.  Overall, the top pay-TV providers lost 3.1 percent of subscribers in 2018 compared to a loss of 1.6 percent in 2017,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group.

Leichtman says the pay TV industry peaked in the first quarter of 2012. Since then, he says about 6 million consumers have cut the cord.

“This reflects a decline of about 10,000,000 subscribers for traditional services, offset by the addition of about 4,000,000 subscribers for the publicly reporting vMVPD services,” he said.

The three largest cable companies lost 730,000 customers last year. Comcast lost 371,000; Charter lost 244,000; and Cox lost 115,000 subscribers.

Nearly 3 million pay TV subscribers cut the cord last year, with AT&T;’s DIRECTV taking the biggest hit, according to an industry report.Leichtman Rese...
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AT&T announces new management team for its media content business

The move suggests the combined company plans to be a major player in entertainment

AT&T has begun consolidating its media content assets, acquired in the Time Warner acquisition, in an effort to streamline its entertainment properties.

The move could lead to cost-cutting that would undoubtedly be applauded on Wall Street. Investors have worried in recent months about the level of AT&T debt and the consolidation appears aimed at making the company’s entertainment products more cost-effective.

WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced that Robert Greenblatt, most recently chairman for NBC Entertainment, will become chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer.

Other changes were also announced. Jeff Zucker becomes chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports, and president of CNN. Kevin Tsujihara will continue as Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. with additional responsibilities including a new global kids and young adults business.

Gerhard Zeiler has been elevated from the position of president, Turner International to WarnerMedia chief revenue officer.

Establishing brands

“We have done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers,” said Stankey. “Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin, and Gerhard – who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success – gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth.”

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner gives its distribution system access to a huge amount of content. The announced changes are designed to give the combined companies the agility and flexibility needed to build WarnerMedia’s brands across a variety of evolving distribution models with an emphasis on the company’s original programming.

“I’m honored to be joining WarnerMedia during such an exciting time for the company and the industry as a whole, and I look forward to working alongside the many talented executives and team members across the company,” Greenblatt said. “WarnerMedia is home to some of the world’s most innovative, creative and successful brands and we’re in a unique position to foster even deeper connections with consumers.”

Opposition to the merger

The U.S. Justice Department went to the mat in an effort to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

The merger was announced in 2016 and drew strong opposition from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, then engaged in a feud with CNN, a Time Warner property. While poles apart politically, Trump and Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist senator from Vermont who was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, were both against the merger.

At the time, Sanders urged the U.S. Justice Department to challenge the deal, saying it "represents a gross concentration of power that runs counter to the public good."

In the end, the Trump Justice Department found no grounds to block the merger. Just last week a federal appeals court found there was no justification for blocking the merger, which took place months earlier.

Last year, the combined companies began piecing together the elements of new content distribution systems, including streaming, and indicated that HBO would play a greater role in its content mix.

AT&T; has begun consolidating its media content assets, acquired in the Time Warner acquisition, in an effort to streamline its entertainment properties....
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MoviePass delisted by Nasdaq following tumultuous 2018

Subscriptions are still valid, but who knows for how long

MoviePass ended Wednesday with one foot in the grave.

Less than two weeks after MoviePass subscribers filed a class action lawsuit for pulling a “bait and switch” con, and less than a month since the company went back to its original subscription model in an attempt to win back subscribers, the grim reapers at the Nasdaq have delisted the company.

Once and for all?

The situation is looking bleak for the once-popular movie subscription service. MarketWatch reports that HMNY, the stock for Helio & Matheson Analytics (H&M), MoviePass’ parent company, was suspended from trading when the markets opened on Wednesday. However, the stock will still be available to traders via the over-the-counter market system, where trading can be done directly between two parties, without the supervision of an exchange.

Nasdaq sent H&M word in December that its stock would be delisted if it failed to maintain the minimum $1 bid price and the company appealed, but with no success. H&M has an extra 15 days to ask for one reprieve, but the company says it has no plans to make that move.

What about my movie subscription?

Consumers who are signed up for the movie subscription service can still take advantage of it, at least for the time being.

An H&M spokesperson told CNN that the delisting "has no effect on the day-to-day business operations" of Helios & Matheson and its subsidiaries, including MoviePass, adding that there’s a possibility that MoviePass may be in for a partial spin-off.

MoviePass ended Wednesday with one foot in the grave.Less than two weeks after MoviePass subscribers filed a class action lawsuit for pulling a “bait a...
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Super Bowl ratings hit record 10-year low

Reporters in New Orleans said that a street party for people boycotting the NFL was more fun than the game

Average viewership for Super Bowl XLIII dipped below 100 million, marking the first time since 2009 that ratings were that low.

Nielsen said yesterday’s game scored a 44.9 household rating, a five percent decrease from last year and the lowest score since the 2009 game.

The New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams also made for the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history, and it was widely described by football fans as one of the most boring games they had ever seen. But that may not have been the only factor.

Amid allegations of racism, unfair calls, and other problems plaguing the NFL, people across the country called for a Super Bowl boycott this year. In New Orleans, Saints fans and others even organized a massive street party to give boycotters alternate entertainment to the big game. Reporters on the scene said the festival was more fun than the actual game.

Average viewership for Super Bowl XLIII dipped below 100 million, marking the first time since 2009 that ratings were that low.Nielsen said yesterday’s...
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Bud Light uses the Super Bowl to start a conversation about corn syrup

Corn growers aren’t happy, and neither is Bud Light’s competitors

What would Super Bowl commercials be without a little controversy?

Anheuser Busch set off the Twitterverse with its commercial promoting the fact that Bud Light contains no corn syrup while the ingredient is part of beers made by the MillerCoors.

While that might not seem offensive to many consumers and viewers of last night’s game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, the folks who grow corn didn’t like it one bit.

“America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you,” the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) said in a tweet directed at Bud Light. “Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn!”

The tweet then went on to thank Miller and Coors for supporting the corn industry, thereby making the commercial’s point. In case you missed it, the commercial is below.

Implies that corn syrup isn’t good

In the commercial, Anheuser Busch never explains why its Bud Light product is better because it doesn’t use corn syrup, but it implies that’s the case.

Corn syrup is a sweetener used in place of sugar in a wide range of processed foods and beverages, but there is a difference between regular corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is also widely used in processed foods and beverages. The two are often confused.

Dr. Mike Roussell, who writes a nutritional blog, says HFCS is made up of approximately 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose. Plain corn syrup is simply glucose, “the most basic sugar molecule.”

Recent studies have suggested HFCS’s high caloric content may play a role in the obesity epidemic, something the beverage industry has pushed back against with research of its own.

A study published on a National Institutes of Health website says the consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased more than 1000 percent between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in consumption of any other food group.

“HFCS now represents greater than 40 percent of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States,” the authors wrote.

While MillerCoors took to Twitter last night to point out that none of its products contain HFCS, it  claimed “a number” of Anheuser Busch products do. It also claimed that Miller light has fewer calories and carbs than Bud Light.

What would Super Bowl commercials be without a little controversy?Anheuser Busch set off the Twitterverse with its commercial promoting the fact that B...
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Another year, another go for MoviePass

The company is attempting to go back to its original model to win back subscribers

Here we go again…

MoviePass is attempting to revitalize itself for the umpteenth time. Since ConsumerAffairs started writing about the subscription service’s woes, we’ve seen a myriad of changes ranging from subscription plans to a fraud investigation to taking out a $5 million emergency loan to keep the wolf away from its door.

On Thursday, the company decided to return to the core of its original model.

Here’s the deal

Through all its ups and downs, the company firmly believes that it’s found a way to, at minimum, break even. And breaking even is a lot better that throwing in the towel, so -- for now -- here’s MoviePass’ new 3-tiered subscription plans:

  • Select: Choose from a selection of available 2D movies in the app. The available movies are published weekly. See up to three movies per month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range from $9.95 to $14.95 per month.

  • All-Access: Choose from ALL 2D movies in MoviePass’ theater network. See up to three movies a month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range from $14.95 to $19.95 per month.

  • Red Carpet: Choose from ALL movies in MoviePass’ theater network -- with IMAX and REAL D 3D movies included. See up to three movies per month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range of $19.95 to $24.95 per month.

MoviePass claims that it’s beginning to win back subscribers and is feeling a much better vibe than it had in the last year.

“I feel like we’re turning a corner,” Khalid Itum, executive VP of MoviePass, told Variety. Itum also let the cat out of the bag that, coming next week, there’s “some sort of unlimited program” that will give subscribers the clearance to see all the movies they want.

Here we go again…MoviePass is attempting to revitalize itself for the umpteenth time. Since ConsumerAffairs started writing about the subscription serv...
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YouTube TV expands to subscribers nationwide

Google’s service for cord-cutters will soon cover a total of 195 regions

As of today, YouTube TV is available to consumers nationwide. On Wednesday, Google said that its TV streaming service will reach 98 percent of U.S. households; the remaining two percent will be reached “shortly thereafter.”

Prior to today’s announcement, YouTube TV was available in the “top 100” markets in the U.S. The service has now been launched in another 95 markets.

“Just in time for the Big Game, you can now bring together some tasty game day snacks with the full experience of YouTube TV,” the company said in a blog post. “That’s exciting news for living rooms, cord-cutters, and cord-nevers in neighborhoods far and wide, from Bozeman to Gainesville, Anchorage to Yuma, and Erie to Topeka.”

More than 60 live channels

The $40-a-month service, which launched in 2017, includes live-streaming from over 60 networks like CNN, ABC and FOX. It also includes local affiliate coverage, premium networks like STARZ for an additional monthly charge, and cloud DVR recording with no storage space limits. To see what channels are available in your area, simply enter your zip code on the company’s website.

YouTube TV saw its subscriber count grow between January 2018 and July 2018, from 300,000 at the start of the year to 800,000 by mid-summer. The company has not shared an update on how many YouTube TV subscribers there currently are.

The expansion puts the service in a position to compete with live-TV streaming rivals such as Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which now have 2.5 million and 1.8 million subscribers, respectively.

As of today, YouTube TV is available to consumers nationwide. On Wednesday, Google said that its TV streaming service will reach 98 percent of U.S. househo...
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NBCUniversal to launch its own streaming service in 2020

The service will be free for traditional pay-TV subscribers

NBC has announced that it plans to launch a free, ad-supported streaming service for customers who pay for cable in early 2020.

The service will include 1,500 hours of NBC-TV shows, such as Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation, and “hundreds of hours” of Universal movies, the company announced Monday. For those who don’t subscribe to a pay-TV service, the service will cost $12 each month as an ad-free, standalone service.

The launch of NBC’s streaming service is “contingent on striking deals with the largest pay-TV providers, which it hasn’t yet done,” CNBC reported, citing a source with knowledge of the company’s plans.

“Still, the product will be free for customers of those providers, so NBC doesn’t plan on any challenges when it comes to inking those agreements,” the news outlet said.

Banking on ad revenue

The service will be free to Comcast Cable and Sky pay-TV subscribers. However, NBC will air between three and five minutes of ads per hour, said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.

“We think we can get around $5 a month from people who would use a free service,” Burke told the Hollywood Reporter.

“One of the interesting things about this that makes it different and innovative is that we’ll have a big emphasis on free-to-consumer,” Burke said. “We want to create a platform that has significant scale and can scale quickly. The best way to do that, is make it free to consumers and leverage the fact that NBCUniversal’s sister company is a cable company and now owns Sky.”

Prior to the announcement, Disney and AT&T’s Warner Media both said they will launch video-streaming services of their own at the end of 2019. CBS already offers ad-supported streaming for sports and news, as well as a subscription streaming service called CBS All Access. Fox News launched its Fox Nation subscription service toward the end of last year.

NBC has announced that it plans to launch a free, ad-supported streaming service for customers who pay for cable in early 2020. The service will includ...
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Amazon, IMDb launch free streaming service

IMDb Freedive lets users watch films or TV shows without a subscription

Amazon and IMDb, a site the online retailer has owned since 1998, have officially launched a free streaming video channel that will be available in the U.S. on the IMDb website and Amazon Fire TV devices.

IMDb Freedive currently offers a selection af around 130 movies and 29 TV titles, but Amazon plans to continually expand the selection and rotate out content. IMDb said the service will soon be “available more widely, including on IMDb’s leading mobile apps.”

"Customers already rely on IMDb to discover movies and TV shows and decide what to watch," IMDb CEO Col Needham said in a statement. "We will continue to enhance IMDb Freedive based on customer feedback and will soon make it available more widely, including on IMDb's leading mobile apps."

A few movies users can watch for free through the platform include "Awakenings," "Monster," "The Illusionist," "The Last Samurai" and "True Romance." Some of the TV shows currently available include "The Bachelor," "Fringe," "Heroes" and "Without a Trace."

Since the service is ad-supported, it doesn’t require a subscription. Freedive joins other ad-supported video on-demand services, including The Roku Channel, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube, and PopcornFlix.

The addition of IMDb Freedive to the growing lineup of streaming options comes on the heels of a recent IAB study showing that 73 percent of adults who typically watch streaming over-the-top (OTT) video say they watch ad-supported OTT video.

Amazon and IMDb, a site the online retailer has owned since 1998, have officially launched a free streaming video channel that will be available in the U.S...
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A new plan to rescue MoviePass shows up at the box office

If you go to the movies only once a month, you might be better off paying as you go

Here we go again.

MoviePass is rolling out its umpteenth pricing plan. This time, the movie subscription service swears it’s got it right. Not that the company hasn’t said that before, but it’s holding out hope that there’s still a few believers out there.

Mind you, there’s a 50-pound can of if’s, and’s, or but’s, but here’s the basics:

Select plan - $10 a month: Subscribers can see three movies per month, but they’ll have to pick from a menu of titles MoviePass will announce weekly. Subscribers can forget seeing a flick during opening weekends or anything other than standard-issue 2D movies.

All Access plan - $15+ a month: Same as the Select plan except moviegoers can see their choice of any three 2D movies they like.

Red Carpet plan - $20+ a month: Like the others, there’s a cap of three movies a month, but subscribers can also see specially-formatted films such as 3D or IMAX.

Will it work this time?

"What we announced is a solid business plan that will be profitable,” said Mitch Lowe, MoviePass’ CEO, in an interview with CNN. "It actually accelerates our point of time of being profitable versus the go-to-a-movie-everyday (model)."

What Lowe seems to be banking on is the 85 percent of consumers who go to the movies three times a month or less. In MoviePass’ way of thinking, the remaining 15 percent go to the movies so much that it jeopardizes the 85 percent that make the model profitable.

"We already know what the average usage will be in this model and, believe me, it’s closer to one than it is three," Lowe said.

Casual fan or aficionado?

If you live in New York City, where the price of going to a movie runs $16.81 a person, or Silver Springs, Maryland, where an average ticket runs $14.42, rolling the dice on a $15 subscription may make sense. But if you live anywhere else, you should weigh the cost of going to see what you want when you want versus having to kowtow to a restrictive plan like MoviePass’ basic tier.

If there are movie aficionados on your Christmas list, CNN reported that Lowe felt they might be "better served" by AMC’s subscription service, "Stubs A-List."

Here we go again.MoviePass is rolling out its umpteenth pricing plan. This time, the movie subscription service swears it’s got it right. Not that the...
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Nexstar agrees to purchase Tribune Media

The deal would make Nexstar America’s largest broadcaster

Nexstar Media Group has agreed to purchase Tribune Media for $6.4 billion, a deal making it the largest broadcast operation in the U.S.

The acquisition comes just four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected Sinclair Broadcasting’s bid to acquire Tribune. The agency rejected the merger on technical grounds, citing objections to the deal’s structure.

The Sinclair deal also drew opposition from a number of consumer groups that said it concentrated too much media power within one company. It remains to be seen if the Nexstar-Tribune deal draws the same objections.

Tribune Media owns 42 TV stations reaching approximately 50 million households. They would join Nexstar’s 174 stations, giving it an exceptionally large broadcast footprint. According to Nexstar, the combined companies would reach 39 percent of U.S. households.

Fifty percent audience boost

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook says the merger would increase his company’s audience reach by 50 percent.

“Furthermore, the addition of the Tribune Media broadcast assets further expands our geographic diversity, as pro forma for the completion of the transaction, we will serve 18 of the nation’s top 25 markets and 37 of the top 50 markets,” Sook said.

If the deal is approved it would give Nexstar the largest number of TV stations in the U.S., surpassing Sinclair’s 194. Tribune Media has been seeking a buyer since 2012, when it emerged from bankruptcy. It sold off its newspaper assets in 2014.

Based in Chicago, Tribune not only owns TV stations but also cable network WGN America, which reaches 77 million households. It also owns several web-based media operations.

Potential opposition

The deal could face the same kind of grassroots opposition that lined up against the Sinclair bid. The ACLU, American Cable Association, and Communications Workers of America opposed Sinclair’s attempt to buy Tribune, insisting that Sinclair’s conservative edge was not the reason. Rather, the group said it was too many stations for one company to own.

Under current regulations there is no numerical limit on the number of stations one company may own, although the FCC will consider potential overlap in individual markets when two broadcasters merge.

Under the Communications Act of 1934, broadcasters could not own more than seven stations and they could not own more than one station in a single market. That stipulation fell by the wayside as broadcasting began to be deregulated in 1982.

Nexstar Media Group has agreed to purchase Tribune Media for $6.4 billion, a deal making it the largest broadcast operation in the U.S.The acquisition...
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AT&T to launch streaming service with three subscription tiers

The company is aiming to appeal to a wider audience

AT&T revealed during a presentation in New York to investors that it will use its acquisition of Time Warner to roll out a three-tiered streaming service in late 2019.

Each level of the upcoming streaming service will offer the following, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

  • First tier. An entry-level option that will be “movie-focused” and include films from WarnerMedia’s catalogue.

  • Second tier. A “premium” level that includes WarnerMedia TV series and “blockbuster movies”

  • Third tier. The top level will be an option that “bundles content from the first two plus an extensive library of WarnerMedia and licensed content,” likely to include shows from HBO.

John Stankey, chief executive of WarnerMedia, told reporters on Thursday that the ultimate goal is to have subscribers want access to all three tiers.

"We really want the customer to want all three tiers," he said. "We want the customer to commit all the way."

The multi-tiered approach lets customers start at a price point that is financially comfortable for them but is intended to sow the desire to shell out more for original TV shows and access to WarnerMedia’s extensive collection of films and television series. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson didn’t say how much each tier would cost.

Competing with Netflix

Disney -- which is set to become Hulu’s majority shareholder once its acquisition of 21st Century Fox is finalized -- is also gearing up to launch new streaming video service in 2019. Disney is reportedly looking to offer a digital bundle option for consumers that will include Hulu and ESPN+.

Companies are rolling out streaming services in an effort to compete with Netflix, which currently has more than 137 million subscribers. AT&T’s DirecTV Now online streaming service is going to lose subscribers this quarter as well as next.

Stankey said competitors like Netflix "should expect their libraries to get a lot thinner" over the next 18-24 months.

“We want to broaden the relevant demographic base,” Stankey told investors. “Our goal now is to open the aperture. We want to pick up more content and get more engagement on digital content.”

"We are well positioned for success as the lines between entertainment and communications continue to blur," Stephenson said. "If you're a media company, you can no longer rely exclusively on wholesale distribution models. You must develop a direct relationship with your viewers. And if you're a communications company, you can no longer rely exclusively on oversized bundles of content."

AT&T was given the green light to merge with Time Warner in June. The acquisition cost $84.5 billion.

AT&T; revealed during a presentation in New York to investors that it will use its acquisition of Time Warner to roll out a three-tiered streaming service...
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YouTube launches lower-cost YouTube Music and Premium plans for students

Eligible students can get a subscription for half the price

YouTube is now offering lower-cost YouTube Music and YouTube Music Premium subscription plans for full-time students at an accredited college or university in the U.S.

The new student plans for YouTube Music and YouTube Premium give eligible students “discounted access to a world of music, original series and movies —  all ad-free and at a wallet-friendly price,” YouTube said in a blog post.

YouTube Music Premium plans cost $5 per month for students instead of the usual $10 per month, while YouTube Premium costs $7 per month instead of $12 per month.

Students who sign up before January 31, 2019 can take advantage of a special promotion that offers YouTube Premium -- a platform on which consumers can watch ad-free videos and get access to YouTube Originals -- for $5.99 per month instead of $6.99. That rate that will remain in place for the length of their student membership (for up to four years, says YouTube).

With its new plans for students, YouTube is positioning itself to compete with rival Spotify, which is currently promoting a $4.99 per month student package that includes its music service, as well as Hulu with limited commercials and the TV channel Showtime.

For now, YouTube’s student plans are only available to full-time college students in the U.S., but YouTube says it will extend the offer to more countries in the future.

YouTube -- which launched its streaming services last year -- revealed in May that it had 1.8 billion logged-in monthly users. It hasn’t yet released an estimate of how many users are paying subscribers to YouTube Premium or YouTube Music Premium.

YouTube is now offering lower-cost YouTube Music and YouTube Music Premium subscription plans for full-time students at an accredited college or university...
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Disney to pour billions into its theme parks

The company’s parks and resorts are a key part of its overall growth plan

Disney will be investing around $24 billion to “supercharge its theme park division,” according to a report from the New York Times. The company will spend more money on parks than it did on Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar combined (more than $15 billion).

Disney’s parks, resorts, and other vacation destinations -- a roster that includes six locations in America, France, China, and Japan, as well as the Disney Cruise Line -- will receive new attractions and immersive upgrades.

“It can’t just be special — it has to be spectacular,” Bob Chapek, Disney’s theme park chairman, told the Times.

‘Enhancement on steroids’

Chapek, who described the overall expansion plan as “enhancement on steroids,” said a major goal is to add capacity to Disney’s most popular parks (Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). Other locations will get upgrades that will help spread visitors more evenly throughout the grounds.

“You can only let so many people in a park before you start to impede on satisfaction level,” Chapek said.

Several resorts will get “Frozen” and Marvel rides, and a “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” park is headed to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida next year. The latter will feature provide guests with an interactive experience where they can board an Imperial Star Destroyer or “pilot” the Millennium Falcon.

Star Wars enhancements will also arrive at its hotel, where Disney is expected to unveil an experience of sleeping aboard a luxury Star Wars starship. In place of regular windows, the company will have screens projecting a view of space as the ship travels through the galaxy.

Disney’s investment in its Cruise Line will also be significant. The company has ordered three new ships costing roughly $1.25 billion each. Disney is also buying 746 acres on a Bahamian island to build a second Caribbean port.

Parks continue to do well

The company’s parks and resorts have continued to do well in recent years. They’ve seen a 100 percent increase in profits over the last five years. Disney reported an estimated $4.5 billion for the 2018 fiscal year, according to The Times.

“It’s the highest return on investment that Disney has,” said bank analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Jessica Reif.

By contrast, the company’s TV networks, like ESPN and ABC, pulled in a profit of $6.6 billion, a 3 percent decline.

Disney will be investing around $24 billion to “supercharge its theme park division,” according to a report from the New York Times. The company will spend...
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MoviePass is going to the… dogs?

The movie subscription service tries a ‘barketing’ gimmick to soften up its remaining patrons

It’s not April Fools Day, right?

Then, why is MoviePass sending out an email to its customers saying that the company’s marketing department is now being run by a… dog?

MoviePass sent out a note on Thursday to its dwindling email list, saying "Woof! I’m Chloe, the Director of Barketing at MoviePass. I’d like to explain why from time to time you may have had a "ruff" experience with us but it turns out that I’m a dog and I can’t talk."

"What I do know is that I see these humans working like crazy to make MoviePass better and better for you as fast as possible. They are so grateful for your membership and support while they work it out. We’re listening. We’re learning. We’re changing."

Well, Chloe, your "humans" need to work a little harder and a lot faster.

Between jerking customers around with plan changes, trying to 'restore' users’ accounts without permission, an investigation for fraud, borrowing $5 million to keep the company afloat, and racking up hundreds of millions in losses quarter after quarter, 2018 is indeed "the year of the dog" at MoviePass.

Holding out hope?

Psychoanalysis aside, MoviePass’ perky "barketing" seems like just another deflection to keep subscribers, investors, and the legal world distracted.

But, the company may have too much invested in developing and releasing movies to pull down the shade, yet. It could be holding out hope that one of its new releases -- like the sports flick "In Search of Greatness," "The Irishman” with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, or any of the 12-15 movies it wants to produce and/or release every year -- hits big at the box office and reverses the company’s fortunes.

"We have envisioned owning and developing our own studio content and using the power of our several million subscribers to bolster the success of the box office for our films," MoviePass’ CEO Mitch Lowe told Forbes earlier this year.

"I believe MoviePass Films will accelerate those efforts and demonstrate the power of MoviePass to drive movie theater attendance and downstream sales, for the benefit of moviegoers, movie theaters, studios and the film entertainment ecosystem as a whole."

Lowe has the credentials -- as a Netflix co-founder and president at Redbox -- to run the company, but MoviePass’ parent, Helios and Matheson (HMNY), isn’t helping matters.

HMNY’s track record runs toward deplorable. Accusations of pump-and-dump schemes and claims that its technology division (HMIT) defrauded thousands in the company’s home country of India do little to keep a positive spin on the company’s perception, no matter how many box office smashes MoviePass churns out.

It’s not April Fools Day, right?Then, why is MoviePass sending out an email to its customers saying that the company’s marketing department is now bein...
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Comcast reportedly developing set-top box for internet-only customers

The box is said to unify apps and services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube

Comcast is developing a video-streaming set-top box for broadband-only customers that would be available sometime in 2019, CNBC reports.

The set-top box will have a voice-activated remote control, similar to devices from Apple and Amazon, according to a source familiar with the matter. The box will aggregate offerings from online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Prime and YouTube into a single place.

Executives haven’t decided on the final number of apps and services that will be made available through the product, nor have they decided on a monthly price for the service. Comcast’s new product won’t have cable TV, but it will give users option to rent movies and shows.

Comcast also wants the set-top box to serve as a smart home hub for its internet-only customers. The upcoming box would enable users to control things like thermostats, smart-locks, and anything else that is connected to the internet.

News of the company’s planned hardware follows a recent report showing that more than a million consumers ditched their traditional TV subscription in the third quarter.

Comcast announced last month that it added 334,000 residential broadband subscribers in third quarter. The company currently has about 25 million home broadband customers.

Comcast is developing a video-streaming set-top box for broadband-only customers that would be available sometime in 2019, CNBC reports.The set-top box...
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Cord cutting isn’t showing signs of slowing down

New research shows consumers are dropping pay TV subscriptions at record rates

The nine largest traditional TV providers lost about 1.1 million subscribers between July and September 2018, according to research firm MoffetNathanson.

The latest figure represents another staggering quarterly subscriber loss for cable and satellite TV providers.

Satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network lost the most subscribers last quarter, accounting for two-thirds of the industry losses. Dish lost 367,000 customers -- its highest quarterly loss ever. DirecTV lost a net 297,000 subscribers during the quarter.

Cord cutting accelerates

In August, MoffettNathanson said the rate at which consumers were canceling their pay TV subscriptions appeared to be dropping. The firm found that pay TV subscriptions declined by 3.3 percent in Q2, a one-tenth of a percentage point improvement over the prior year.

However, the latest tally suggests the trend of cord cutting isn’t slowing down at all. Rich Greenfield, a media and technology analyst with financial services firm BTIG in New York, said the last quarter was TV’s “third-worst quarter in industry history and worst since Q2 2016."

The 1.1 million figure doesn’t account for live TV streaming services such as Dish’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, and YouTube TV. But streaming alternatives haven’t reported growth high enough to offset subscriber losses to traditional TV, partially due to competition from other digital live TV alternatives such as Google's YouTube TV, Sony's PlayStation Vue and Fubo TV and non-live TV alternatives like Amazon and Netflix.

Analysts at MoffetNathanson said slowing growth for DirecTV Now and Sling TV could suggest "price sensitivity" of broadband-delivered TV services may be "turning out to be greater than expected" after several of the services raised their prices.

The nine largest traditional TV providers lost about 1.1 million subscribers between July and September 2018, according to research firm MoffetNathanson....
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The T-Mobile/Sprint merger catches the ire of New York’s Attorney General

Critics claim that customers who depend on prepaid services will take the biggest hit if the merger goes through

T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint has come under scrutiny at New York’s Attorney General’s (AG) office. According to the New York Post, at issue are concerns that the two companies could jack up prices on less expensive prepaid services if their packages are combined.

This isn’t the first red flag that’s been waved. It was only last month that the FCC pressed the pause button on the merger after the two mobile giants determined that the engineering model was more complex than thought and the companies needed more time to review it as well as respond to the “various economic analyses” in the FCC’s Petitions to Deny.

The Post reports that New York AG Barbara Underwood began examining the arrangement soon after Sprint and T-Mobile announced their $26 billion merger. According to sources, Underwood’s staff already views T-Mobile’s MetroPCS service and Sprint’s Boost and Virgin Mobile services as aggressive and has asked executives at both companies for clarification on how pricing would be postured.

President Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has just begun a review of the prepaid markets and has yet to make any conclusions, a source familiar with its thinking told the Post.

In discussions with federal regulators, T-Mobile’s brass tried to angle that the two services serve different types of customers and, because of that, T-Mobile told the FCC that it didn’t plan to dispose of or consolidate any of the lower-priced, prepaid services if its merger with Sprint gets approval.

“The business plan calls for aggressive pricing from day one,” said T-Mobile executives according to the Post’s report.

Would the merger “cut the cord” for people of color?

Naysayers aren’t biting, however, and say that the companies need to promise the customers who depend on prepaid wireless services that they won’t see their costs go up.

In reality, this merger would make life harder for everyone — especially low-income communities and people of color, who disproportionately rely on T-Mobile and Sprint for more affordable plans and prepaid services,” wrote Collette Watson of media watcher Free Press.

“If the merger goes through, the new gigantic T-Mobile will have no reason to compete for low-income customers and others on the margins of society. Three companies -- T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon -- will control the market and call the shots.”

“The new T-Mobile won’t be the ‘Un-Carrier’ we grew to love. It will be a corporate behemoth like Verizon, with the power to set prices as it sees fit and no pressure to make services affordable,” wrote Watson.

It’s this or nothing at all for Sprint

All of this is making Sprint, for one, nervous. The company says it can't promise it’ll make it as a solo act if the merger isn’t approved.

According to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing, Sprint said it is losing customers at a meteoric rate and has had to cut $10 billion from its budget to make ends meet.

Sprint claims there’s no fat left to trim which, in turn, puts it in a losing position to try and be competitive as technology advances. Its only saving grace appears to be the T-Mobile merger.

T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint has come under scrutiny at New York’s Attorney General’s (AG) office. According to the New York Post, at issue are c...
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MoviePass takes another shot at staying alive

The spin-off might save the parent company, but can it save the service?

On the business scale ranging from brilliant down to laughable, MoviePass is pushing its luck.

Again.

Tuesday, MoviePass’s parent company Helios and Matheson (HMNY) announced that its board of directors has preliminarily approved a plan to spin off the gasping movie subscription service into its own company.

To pull this off -- considering the company gets regulatory approval -- HMNY would create a new subsidiary named MoviePass Entertainment Holdings Inc. which would assume the shares of MoviePass Inc. as well as the company’s other movie-related assets. The proposition calls for a stock dividend of a minority of the holding company's stock which would permit Helios and Matheson to hang on to a controlling interest.

HMNY’s maneuver is a bit maze-like, but essentially the spun-off entity would include the production unit MoviePass Films, the movie listing and information service Moviefone, and the film acquisition division MoviePass Ventures which produced ‘The Row,’ ‘American Animals,’ and ‘Gotti’ featuring John Travolta.

“For many years, HMNY has been focused on data analytics, and in that capacity we own assets like Zone Technologies which provides a safety and navigation app for iOS and Android users and a global security concierge service,” said Ted Farnsworth, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of HMNY, in the company’s announcement.

“Since we acquired control of MoviePass in December 2017, HMNY largely has become synonymous with MoviePass in the public’s eye, leading us to believe that our shareholders and the market perception of HMNY might benefit from separating our movie-related assets from the rest of our company.”

On the news of MoviePass’ move, its stock held at 2 cents a share, but it fell below that mark after the market opened on Wednesday.

Try as it might...

The once golden child of subscription models has fallen on its sword time after time, and many are surprised that the company keeps rolling the dice when it should probably be working on its last will and testament. Only last week, the New York Attorney General launched an investigation of possible fraud by MoviePass’ parent company.

Over the last decade, the HMNY story has become a business version of Twister -- one so convoluted that a biopic of its twists and turns, questions of pump-and-dump, and an accusation of its technology sibling HMIT (Helios and Matheson Information Technology) defrauding thousands in the company’s home country of India -- may have been a box office smash.

“I do not expect HMNY to survive this year, although I hope it does, as I'll hate to see MoviePass die along with it,” wrote a blogger on crowd-sourced Financial commentary and analysis site SeekingAlpha.

“I believe the MoviePass business model, although faced with nearly insurmountable challenges, has a real chance at survival, especially under the leadership of Mitch Lowe. But given the kind of folks running HMNY, I think anyone that wants to touch it, should not throw any serious money at it.”

On the business scale ranging from brilliant down to laughable, MoviePass is pushing its luck.Again.Tuesday, MoviePass’s parent company Helios and...
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MoviePass’ parent company under investigation for fraud

Fortunately, movie fans have options to replace their subscription with the beleaguered service

Another week, another MoviePass on-the-ropes story?

Yep.

CNBC reports that an investigation into MoviePass’ owners, Helios and Matheson, reportedly deceiving investors is underway.

The main focus of the New York Attorney General’s office is to ascertain “whether the company misled the investment community regarding the company’s financials.” The attorney general is leveraging New York’s Martin Act, a New York anti-fraud law, widely considered to be the most severe blue sky law in the country.

The Martin Act has proved to have some mighty teeth; it has served as the basis for a number of high-profile cases, including a 2002 investigation of Merrill-Lynch for alleged conflicts of interest, the 2012 suit against Bank of New York Mellon Corp. for allegedly defrauding customers through foreign currency transactions, and CitiBank’s use of an illegal account sweeping program.

“We are aware of the New York Attorney General’s inquiry and are fully cooperating,” a Helios and Matheson representative said in emailed statements to members of the press.

“We believe our public disclosures have been complete, timely and truthful and we have not misled investors. We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that to the New York Attorney General.”

MoviePass’ never-ending story

Waking up and seeing the Attorney General’s folks at your front door is just another day for MoviePass. The movie theater subscription service has been underwater for months, trying everything from modifying its ticketing plans to trying to 'restore' users’ accounts without permission.

The company seems desperate to find something -- anything -- that will stop the bleeding of quarterly losses that amount to hundreds of millions. It was only a month ago that the company’s proposed one-for-500 reverse stock split sent the shares tumbling out of control to little more than a penny in value.

MoviePass’ subscribers are jumping ship by the score, too. “UR service now officially sucks. For $9.95/mo U went from unlimited 2 3 movies per month.*NOW* I only have *1* movie that shows up N UR app each day that I can C?! #SinkingShip,” tweeted one unhappy subscriber.

Don’t forget: movie-loving consumers have other choices

MoviePass isn’t the only movie rodeo in town. While its subscription service continues to stumble, AMC Theatres’ subscription plan seems to be the king-in-waiting. AMC’s deal continues to pick up steam with more than 400,000 members according to Subscription Insider.

“While we do not plan to issue A-List enrollment statistics on a weekly basis, our hitting more than 400,000 enrolled members only three months and a week after launching the program is an enormous milestone,” said AMC Theatres’ CEO and president Adam Aron.

“Those who have been following our progress with A-List are aware that we had originally expected 500,000 enrollments at the one-year mark and 1,000,000 enrollments at the two-year mark. Above our wildest hopes, in just 14 weeks, we have achieved 80 percent of our one-year goal and 40 percent of our two-year goal. This all bodes well for the future of increased moviegoing in America.”

Consumers have other movie plans to choose from besides AMC’s. There’s Sinemia, which offers 3 Movie Tickets for only $9.99, and Cinemark which offers a single ticket for $8.99 a month. The main draw that Cinemark’s plan offers is a “rollover” trigger for those who don’t use their ticket in a month’s time.

Another week, another MoviePass on-the-ropes story?Yep.CNBC reports that an investigation into MoviePass’ owners, Helios and Matheson, reportedly d...
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AT&T jumps in the streaming pool with both feet and big promises

Its WarnerMedia subsidiary is set to tangle with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others

On Tuesday, AT&T's WarnerMedia announced its intent to launch a new streaming service by late 2019.

The streaming field is crowded with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney's imminent streaming service, but AT&T’s assets catapults the company to the top of the content food chain.

The stream will be built on the backbone of the company’s successful HBO Now, an app- and smart TV-driven service which streams live and on-demand HBO programming.

That HBO connection will certainly allow the company to connect a lot of content dots. Besides the flagship service, HBO brings niche channels like HBO Comedy and HBO Family, plus its massive movie library, sports shows like Inside the NFL, and sisterhood with Cinemax and others.

“This is another benefit of the AT&T/Time Warner merger,” said WarnerMedia CEO John Starkey in announcing the company’s plans. “We are committed to launching a compelling and competitive product that will serve as a complement to our existing businesses and help us to expand our reach by offering a new choice for entertainment with the WarnerMedia collection of films, television series, libraries, documentaries and animation loved by consumers around the world.”

Warner gears up for skirmish with competitors

WarnerMedia’s assets include Turner, Boomerang, FilmStruck, and of course, the treasure trove of Warner Brothers with its library of 100,000+ hours of programming.

According to CNN, WarnerMedia is still mulling over specifics like pricing and a moniker for the new service, as well as how far it will go in tapping its own CNN news programming.

One thing that’s for certain is that given the number of content barons that have gobbled the others up, WarnerMedia will have to traverse a thick underbrush of existing deals it already has in place with distributors like Comcast and Netflix. Warner appears ready for that possible skirmish.

"We expect to create such a compelling product that it will help distributors increase consumer penetration of their current packages and help us successfully reach more customers," the company said in its filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

The cable-cutting continues

There’s barely a month that goes by without a streaming service trying out a new angle to move consumers from cable to a la carte channels. Netflix always has a new wrinkle it’s testing; Hulu is starting to find its own groove after four years in the game; and upstarts like Sling are doing their best to find a place in the app space of smart TVs.

Consumers keep cutting the cable cord and putting their satellite dish in the recycling bin. First quarter losses in 2018 amounted to 375,000 satellite subscribers and 285,000 for cable.

On Tuesday, AT&T's WarnerMedia announced its intent to launch a new streaming service by late 2019.The streaming field is crowded with Netflix, Amazon...
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MoviePass tries to 'restore' users’ accounts without permission

Is this the movie subscription service’s last trick?

Will the last MoviePass subscriber leaving the theatre, please turn out the lights?

The neverending saga of MoviePass may have reached the end. Or, at least, one might hope so.

MoviePass has decided to add insult to injury by taking one last swing at keeping the lights on.  According to the Verge, the company’s latest last gasp effort comes in the form of pinging a “select test group” of customers who the company says didn't opt into its latest three-movies-a-month deal.

The ultimatum

In the emails to those customers, MoviePass was heavy-handed, saying that those subscribers' accounts will be reactivated unless they officially opt-out by jumping through the hoop of clicking on a specific link.

“To be clear, unless you opt out, your unlimited subscription will be restored and you will begin enjoying unlimited movies again (up to 1 new movie title per day based on existing inventory) at $9.95 a month, and your credit card on file will be charged on a monthly basis beginning Friday, October 5, 2018,” said the email.

Month after month, the movie subscription service has been thought to be on the brink of closing its doors for good, but it always seems to come up with some twist that keeps its financial hope, albeit faint, alive. Only a couple of weeks ago, the company made a last gasp play at staying afloat via a proposed one-for-500 reverse stock split. As of yet, the gimmick hasn’t worked and MoviePass’ stock still sits below 2 cents a share.

Be sure to check your email

ConsumerAffairs hasn’t heard from any customers who previously “officially” cancelled their MoviePass membership but still received the “auto-renewal” email.

Still, with the tone of this ploy and the ever-present technical wrinkles, consumers should double-check their inboxes to make 100 percent sure they’re not being re-enrolled and set up for automatic -- and recurring -- billing.

Will the last MoviePass subscriber leaving the theatre, please turn out the lights?The neverending saga of MoviePass may have reached the end. Or, at l...
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Disney says yes to selling its stake in Sky to Comcast

​Cable TV as we know it may have seen better days

It was only last week that Comcast landed UK TV magnate Sky. Now, the Walt Disney Company has agreed to permit 21st Century Fox to sell its stake in Sky -- 39 percent -- to Comcast for roughly $15 billion.

As ConsumerAffairs readers know, this mega-media wedding dance has been long and fraught with partnership proposals.

In the end, the bidding war for Sky came down to a fight-to-the-finish between Comcast and Fox. In Fox’s corner, the company had been angling to acquire the remainder of Sky, while Comcast was maneuvering the purchase of Fox. Eventually, Comcast gave up hope on its bid for Fox and redirected all its energies on acquiring Sky.

"Along with the net proceeds from the divestiture of the RSNs (regional sports networks), the sale of Fox's Sky holdings will substantially reduce the cost of our overall acquisition and allow us to aggressively invest in building and creating high-quality content for our direct-to-consumer platforms to meet the growing demands of viewers," said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company, in a statement.

Comcast says ‘bring it!’

Comcast comes into this deal loaded for bear. Over the last 10 years, the company’s stake in news and journalism has become significant.

It increased its investment in news production by 40 percent with more than $1 billion spent on news production in the last year alone. Its cable footprint covers 39 states and 29 million subscribers. And its content team has a very deep bench including NBC, Telemundo, NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, USA Network, E!, Bravo, and Syfy.

Having Sky on its squad makes Comcast a geographic double threat, allowing it to extend its reach into another 20 million homes in United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain, plus rights for 18 different professional sports from horse racing to soccer. It also lines the company’s pockets with nearly $17 billion in annual revenue.

Goodbye bundle?

The great cable channel bundle may have seen better days. It’s a new day, thanks in part to over-the-top media services (OTT) -- content providers that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the Internet, bypassing traditional means like TV as a distributor of such content -- and broadcasters want their toes in as many content streams as possible.

Channel bundling was a cable TV darling for nearly 30 years, but cable providers are seeing subscribers drop like flies.

The reckoning is now officially here. Broadcasting companies know full well that they need to grow their content assortment and widen their global reach to compete with nouveau riche rivals like Netflix -- or sell.

“You’ve got high prices, big bundles, and broadband,” said Warren Schlichting, group president of Sling TV in comments to Bloomberg News. “At some stage, the consumer is going to revolt.”

It was only last week that Comcast landed UK TV magnate Sky. Now, the Walt Disney Company has agreed to permit 21st Century Fox to sell its stake in Sky --...
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Ticketmaster caught partnering with scalpers, hiding tickets from fans

Scrutiny of a Bruno Mars show and an undercover investigation appear to show how scalpers and Ticketmaster profit at the expense of fans

Concert and sporting event tickets could become even more expensive if Ticketmaster gets its way.

The ticketing behemoth has been accused of using its near-monopoly on the market to form a profitable relationship with scalpers, according to a new report by The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Star.

Because Ticketmaster also operates a ticket reselling service, going into business with scalpers allows Ticketmaster to collect numerous, hefty fees on the same ticket.

Undercover journalists posing as scalpers attended a ticketing industry conference this summer in Las Vegas, where Ticketmaster employees approached them with an odd business opportunity: an invitation to game Ticketmaster’s site without worrying about getting caught.

Accused of encouraging scalpers

According to the journalists, Ticketmaster salespeople assured scalpers at the event that they wouldn’t get caught for using bots, false identifies or other tricks to hog ticket sales.  

"It's not something that we look at or report,” a Ticketmaster representative is quoted as saying.

It’s not a secret that Ticketmaster has been able to aggressively inflate the cost of concert tickets thanks to its 2010 merger with concert promoter Live Nation and a notorious fee-based model. Some government research suggests that Ticketmaster and Live Nation fees inflate the price of concert tickets by as much as 27 percent.

Music fans may love to hate Ticketmaster, but they often have no choice but to pay its fees if they want to see a show at one of the hundreds of venues across the country operated by Live Nation.

Artificially creating higher demand

Fees now only appear to be telling part of the story behind Ticketmaster’s success.

An analysis of a Bruno Mars concert in Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also suggests that Ticketmaster arbitrarily keeps hundreds of seats unavailable and raises prices hours or days after they initially go on sale, part of an attempt to artificially create higher demand.

As for scalping, it’s not a secret that Ticketmaster has ties to the industry. Ticketmaster for years has operated a resale service of its own in an attempt to compete with firms like StubHub.

But consumers who buy resold tickets through Ticketmaster may not realize how much higher the fees will be.

On one ticket, ”Ticketmaster collected $25.75 on a $209.50 ticket on the initial sale,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says. “When the owner posted it for resale for $400 on Ticketmaster, the company stood to collect an additional $76 on the same ticket.”

In a statement responding to the new reports, Ticketmaster distanced itself from the ticketing business altogether. Taking a page out of the sharing economy playbook, Ticketmaster instead characterized itself as a simple online service that connects people.

“Ticketmaster is a technology platform that helps artists and teams connect with their fans. We do not own the ticket sold on our platform nor do we have any control over ticket pricing,” the company said.

Concert and sporting event tickets could become even more expensive if Ticketmaster gets its way. The ticketing behemoth is using its near-monopoly on...
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MoviePass makes a last gasp play at staying afloat

Great ideas and great prices don’t always produce great profits

Like they say, desperate people do desperate things. With only $10 million left in MoviePass’ piggybank, the movie subscription service’s parent company -- Helios and Matheson -- is asking its shareholders to weigh in on a plan that could increase the stock by as much as 500 times.

The company’s proposed one-for-500 reverse stock split sent the shares tumbling out of control on Monday to little more than a penny in value -- a far cry from the stock’s 2018 high of $2,442 in February.

Helios and Matheson’s proposed plan was outlined in a new document filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a vote is set for an October 18 shareholder meeting. A blessing from the shareholders would enable stockholders to swap as many as 500 shares for a single share worth about 500 times as much.

If all goes according to plan, the stock price could theoretically move from about its current penny’s worth to as much as $10, which should be sufficient to keep the stock trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Nasdaq has given Helios and Matheson fair warning that its stock might be delisted because of its low value.

MoviePass has tried this trick before. In July, it attempted to juice its stock from 8 cents to $21 with a similar move, but stock buyers weren’t biting and the new price fell below $1 in a matter of days, forcing the company to borrow an emergency $5 million to keep things afloat.

The woebegone saga continues

It was only a year ago when MoviePass was a darling in the subscription model world. Its $10 a month all-you-can-watch deal may have been a homerun for movie lovers, but it couldn’t be sustained when it came to paying vendors and theatres.

After its original business model proved itself implausible, the company changed its subscription plans and the movies it made available.

For the moment, MoviePass offers customers the ability to watch three movies per month for $9.95 with restrictions on the number of titles a moviegoer can watch at any given time.

It remains to be seen if anyone can pull off a movie subscription model and make it attractive enough for movie lovers to give up being a couch potato with their Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscriptions. Sinemia, another movie subscription service just announced a $30 a month deal for a movie-a-day at any theatre with no blackouts. The catch there is that to get that rate, a subscriber has to fork over $359.88, a single year’s subscription fee, in advance.

Like they say, desperate people do desperate things. With only $10 million left in MoviePass’ piggybank, the movie subscription service’s parent company --...
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Amazon is looking to buy a chain of movie theaters

Movie theaters could be Amazon’s next big venture

Amazon is currently in the running to buy Landmark Theaters -- a private movie theater chain with 56 locations across the country that specializes in independent and foreign films. Currently, the company is run by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s company 2929 Entertainment.

According to Bloomberg, which first broke the story last week, talks could still fall apart, as Amazon is one among several other interested parties at this point. Amazon, 2929 Entertainment, and Landmark have yet to comment on the proceedings.

“This is probably a move to get broader distribution of film content,” said Leo Kulp, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets LLC. “Netflix had been discussed as a potential buyer of Landmark for a similar reason.”

Why Amazon would move to the movies

While many are scratching their heads as to why Amazon’s next big thing would be movie theaters, several analysts see it as a smart next move for the company.

Though known primarily as an internet shopping service, the company has since branched out to include Whole Foods under its umbrella, and it has never shied away from expansion opportunities.

“For the first 25 years of the internet we’ve seen the world in two competing domains: digital and physical,” said Gene Munster, managing partner with venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “Amazon clearly believes the future of the internet lies in the convergence of digital and physical offerings to meet customer needs.”

Jonathan Kuntz, a film historian and lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television believes acquiring Landmark could help bolster Amazon’s reputation in a new arena.

“Amazon is buying a little bit of prestige -- the quality end of the market,” Kuntz said.

The Landmark deal could also bring new users to Amazon’s Prime platform. According to Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley FBR, regular theatergoers may not currently be Prime members -- the subscription service needed to stream Amazon Prime Video content. The theaters could serve as a physical space to screen Amazon’s content, while also encouraging theatergoers to subscribe to Prime.

Bloomberg predicts the price for Landmark would be small, but Amazon is likely to get a huge buzz for entering the physical consumer world in a new realm.

“I don’t know the dollar values involved here, but they are not betting the whole company on the Landmark deal,” Kuntz said.

Amazon is currently in the running to buy Landmark Theaters -- a private movie theater chain with 56 locations across the country that specializes in indep...
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MoviePass confesses to $126 million quarterly loss and faces a lawsuit from investors

Debt and disgruntled subscribers continue to mount for the beleaguered ticketing service

To borrow a line from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ it may be time to “bring out your dead.”

MoviePass, the subscription ticketing service, can retort with “I’m not dead” all it wants, but it may be soon.

Helios and Matheson, MoviePass’ parent company, posted a humiliating quarterly earnings report on Tuesday, disclosing that the company’s operating losses have mushroomed from less than $3 million in the second quarter of 2017 to $126.6 million in the second quarter of 2018.

MoviePass has tried every trick in the book to reframe its model, but time is running out. At the rate it’s going through the money in its bank account -- approximately $73 million a month -- the service could well be belly-up by October.

Investors cry foul

As if losing millions isn’t enough of a bad day at the box office, the folks at MoviePass are also facing a lawsuit. On Monday, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. investors filed a class action suit alleging that the company pulled the wool over the public’s eyes regarding the profitability of MoviePass before the stock tanked, according to a filing submitted in New York federal court on Monday.

"Helios was touting MoviePass’ valuation and path to profitability even though there was no reasonable basis to even imply that the MoviePass business model could lead to profitability for Helios," reads the filing by shareholder Jeffrey Braxton.

"MoviePass’ business model was not sustainable because there was no reasonable basis to believe that MoviePass could monetize the model to a degree that could be maintained before being too buried in debt to survive."

The class action group might be getting some love from MoviePass’ competition. The group’s Twitter account, @MoviePassLaw, claims that “AMC has contacted us, before our Moviepass case is presented to the Supreme Court they are hoping to provide each victim a one-year subscription to AMC Stubs A-List. Fantastic! Moviepass has failed us and we will show them!”

To borrow a line from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ it may be time to “bring out your dead.”MoviePass, the subscription ticketing service, can ret...
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MoviePass now limiting subscribers to two movie choices per day

The company says its policy change was made in an effort to stay financially stable

Earlier this month, MoviePass announced that it would be dropping its all-you-can-watch for $9.95 per month plan and replacing it with a plan that allows three movies for $9.95 a month.

Now, the movie subscription service is forcing moviegoers to choose between just two movies a day, the New York Post reports.

On Friday, hours before the app crashed, consumers had to choose between “Slenderman” and “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” However, those not interested in seeing the horror film with less-than-stellar reviews didn’t have very good odds of securing the showtime they wanted.

At an AMC location in Times Square, Mission Impossible was only available at two showtimes for those using MoviePass: one in the mid-afternoon and the other at around 10:45 pm.

Maintaining financial stability

MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe confirmed the change in an interview with The Post and implied that the policy was only temporary and intended to stem its financial loss during the time before it moves to its three-movies-a-month plan in September.

“Unfortunately, in order to stay financially stable we’ve had to curtail the service,” Lowe said. “We had to right the ship as far as the amount of money we were burning.”

Lowe suggested that, over the next few weeks, subscribers may see the movie selection change throughout the day. He insisted that MoviePass wasn’t intentionally offering inconvenient showtimes.

“This has been a challenging time for us and our customers. We’re just trying to save our service to be able to be available long term,” he said.

The CEO said that investors were confident in the company’s new pricing plan but are waiting to see what percentage of customers were willing to continue to use the service under the new three-movies-per-month plan.

Consumers not interested in continuing to use MoviePass under the new policy have alternatives, including AMC’s $20-per-month service which lets users see three movies a week. Another option is Sinemia, which lets subscribers see three movies per month for $14.99 and requires a $19.95 initiation fee.

Earlier this month, MoviePass announced that it would be dropping its all-you-can-watch for $9.95 per month plan and replacing it with a plan that allows t...
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Tribune, Sinclair officially break it off

Broadcasters drop their plans for a controversial merger

Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group have called off their planned merger. It wasn't an amicable break-up.

Tribune is suing its former suitor, claiming breach of contract. In a conference call with reporters, Tribune CEO Peter Kern laid the blame on Sinclair, saying the broadcaster only pursued its own interests, damaging the deal.

Regardless of who is responsible, the merger faced a rough regulatory road. Last month, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai expressed reservations, suggesting Sinclair's plan to sell some of its TV stations wouldn't go far enough to satisfy regulators.

"The evidence we've received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law," Pai said.

In particular, regulators expressed concern that Sinclair's divestiture plan involved selling the stations to entities close to the Smith family, the principal shareholders. Days later, the FCC passed on the deal.

Would have been the largest broadcaster

In essence, all of Tribune's 42 TV stations would have moved to Sinclair, raising Sinclair’s total ownership to 215 stations. In their application to the FCC, the combined companies said the new arrangement would reach 72 percent of U.S. television households and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

The proposed deal had also become a political lightning rod, since progressive groups have criticized Sinclair stations for displaying an alleged conservative bias in news coverage.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said its opposition to the deal had nothing to do with ideology. Rather, the group said it didn't like the idea of one company owning more than 200 TV stations, "virtually guaranteeing less viewpoint diversity in local news.”

Before broadcasting was deregulated in the early 1980s, no one corporation could own more than seven television stations.

Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group have called off their planned merger. It wasn't an amicable break-up.Tribune is suing its former suitor, cla...
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MoviePass decides on a plan that should solve its woes

The big questions are whether the plan is sustainable and if customers will stay onboard

On the eve of the first anniversary of its $9.95 price point, MoviePass has finally found a solution it likes and is sticking to it.

The subscription service announced on Tuesday that it’s moving from the all-you-can-watch for $9.95 per month plan to a plan that allows three movies for $9.95 a month.

MoviePass spent the last two weeks putting on its own horror show — one that included shutting subscribers out of seeing the latest chapter in the Tom Cruise ‘Mission: Impossible’ series and borrowing an emergency $5 million to pay its processing partner.

“We know that at times, the frequent changes to our service have been frustrating to you,” wrote MoviePass chief Mitch Lowe in an email to subscribers.

“Over the last year, we have tried different things and we’ve discovered what our members love about our service — the low price point and the ability to go to more than 91 percent of theaters nationwide. We’ve also learned what people don’t like about the service — features including Peak Pricing and Ticket Verification.”

Lowe claims his company’s changes cater to the majority of MoviePass’ movie-going customer base. Backing up that assertion, Lowe pointed to a research study which showed that 85 percent of MoviePass members go to three movies or less per month.

The deal going forward

Under MoviePass’ new plan:

  • Members will be able to see up to three standard movies per month for $9.95 and be given up to a $5.00 discount to any additional movie tickets purchased.

  • Many major studio first-run films will be included; however, there will be some exceptions.

  • Peak Pricing and Ticket Verification requirements for all members will be suspended.

Lowe said that MoviePass members with a monthly subscription renewing on or after August 15th will be given the option in the MoviePass app to transition to the new plan. Quarterly and annual subscribers will not be impacted until their renewal date.

Deal or no deal?

MoviePass’ decision may have quieted the moviegoers yelling “Fire!,” but its relentlessness in yanking the customer’s chain left many in its subscriber base still complaining.

“This is why I canceled #MoviePass. The constant spin & utter lack of accountability for ANYTHING. You offered an impossible deal, people took advantage of it, now it’s ‘unfair’ that they did so. I’m happy over at AMC A-List, which MoviePass mocked, now offering 4x the movies,” tweeted film critic Dan Murrell.

Still, the service has its believers. In a StrawPoll about the change, the early results show that at least half of MoviePass subscribers plan to hang on to their membership.

Are there other options?

For those who: a) live in a large market where movie ticket prices are high; or b) those who will actually go to three movies a month, MoviePass’ three-for-$9.95 can still be considered a good deal.

But for those looking for alternatives to MoviePass, the AMC Theatre conglomerate’s “Stubs A-List” offers three movies a week for $19.95 a month. The AMC chain has produced none of the same consumer fright that MoviePass did, and may be in a better position to cut deals with movie producers because it can commit to system-wide deals for its 661 U.S. theatres and 8,200 screens.

Sinemia is another MoviePass competitor. Its current promotion is three movies per month for $14.99 and requires a $19.95 initiation fee.

On the eve of the first anniversary of its $9.95 price point, MoviePass has finally found a solution it likes and is sticking to it.The subscription se...
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Government files brief to overturn AT&T-Time Warner merger

Claims Judge 'ignored mainstream economics' in approving the deal

The Justice Department (DOJ) has submitted its brief explaining why it thinks an appeals court should overturn a judge's decision to approve the merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

The government claims U.S. District Judge Richard Leon "ignored mainstream economics" and refused to see the "appreciable danger" to consumers when he rejected the government's attempt to block the $85 billion deal.

In its case against the union, the Justice Department had argued that AT&T and Time Warner would have enormous bargaining power in its dealings with pay-TV distributors if they were allowed to join forces.

Popular networks give it bargaining power

Because the combined entity would control popular cable networks like CNN, TBS, and TNT, the government argued it could raise the price and competitors like Comcast and Dish Network would have to pay it. Otherwise, AT&T could limit those networks to DIRECTV, an AT&T subsidiary.

The government argued that the judge "gave no consideration to the fact that these distributors had a direct and immediate stake as customers in the negotiations with Time Warner."

In a 172 page opinion, Leon dismissed those concerns and others, telling the Justice Department lawyers that they had failed to make their case. In a statement to the media after the DOJ filed its brief, AT&T General Counsel David McAtee agreed, saying the government should call it a day

"Appeals aren't 'do-overs," McAtee said. "After a long trial, Judge Leon weighed the evidence and rendered a comprehensive 172-page decision that systematically exposed each of the many holes in the government's case. There is nothing in DOJ's brief today that should disturb that decision."

Other critics of the deal

The government's argument is supported by some consumer groups and other critics of the deal, who worry AT&T can now favor content from Time Warner on its network, particularly now that it is legal to do so with the demise of net neutrality.

The Trump administration Justice Department sided with those critics, filing a suit to block the merger back in March and claiming the combination of the two companies would be harmful to competition.

The government said AT&T is not only a huge wireless provider, it now has a foot firmly planted in content production since Time Warner is one of the nation's largest content providers.

It's not clear what would happen if the appeals court sides with the government. AT&T and Time Warner completed their merger in late June, with Time Warner operating under a new division called Warner Media.

The Justice Department (DOJ) has submitted its brief explaining why it thinks an appeals court should overturn a judge's decision to approve the merger of...
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MoviePass borrows an emergency $5 million to keep its service alive

The company continues to add caveats to its all-you-can-watch model

To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend.

First, the subscription-based movie ticketing service had to take out a $5 million emergency loan to pay fulfillment partners so customers could keep using the service.

It seems MoviePass’ parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, had failed to pay the companies that are in charge of customers’ payments, so the contractors simply stopped processing the payments which, in turn, left MoviePass customers without a way to buy tickets.

Ironically, the title of the new Tom Cruise movie -- ‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’ -- was next on MoviePass’ list of faux pas as customers were prevented from seeing the new flick.

MoviePass danced around the heart of the matter when it tweeted out its “issues” on Thursday. First it was, “To our subscribers - we are aware an investigating an issue that is preventing users from checking-in to movies this evening. We ask for your patience as we look into this and recommend waiting for further updates before heading to the theater.”

Then it was, “We are still experiencing technical issues with our card-based check-in process and we are diligently working to resolve the issue.”

That was later followed up with, “We've determined this issue is not with our card processor partners and will be continuing to work on a fix throughout this evening and night. If you have not headed to the theater yet, we recommend waiting for a resolution or utilizing e-ticketing which is not impacted.”

So, what’s it going to be, MoviePass?

The company’s CEO Mitch Lowe did his best to rally MoviePass’ 3 million users, but his comments veered more towards the new demand-based pricing model and away from the $9.95 a month all-you-can-see model.

“As we continue to evolve the service, certain movies may not always be available in every theater on our platform,” Lowe said in a statement on Friday. “The first of those features, Peak Pricing, has rolled out nationally. Bring-a-Guest and Premium Features will begin rolling out soon.”

Lowe’s hue and cry about MoviePass trying to “fundamentally change an industry that hasn’t evolved much in years” is a worthy crusade, but are moviegoers willing to work through the subscription’s provisos in order to get a good deal?

“Don't get me wrong. Between the $5m loans and mission impossible and the surges costing as much as a ticket, moviepass is doomed,” wrote a subscriber on Reddit.

“But i'm gonna ride it till the end because surge pricing and card outages and stub photos don't affect partner theaters with e-ticketing. And it just so happens that my local e-ticketing theaters have the specific releases I am most interested in. And amc a-list is the better service but amc does not get the movies I like. I will be milking this service until the day it dies.”

For the movie buff -- particularly those patient enough to work within MoviePass’ rules -- $9.95 a month for all-you-can-watch can still be a pretty good deal -- especially when you compare that to the cost of a single ticket. The National Association of Theater Owners reported that the average ticket price for a movie was $9.16 in the first quarter of 2018 versus the same quarter a year ago at $8.84.

To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend....
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DOJ investigating Sinclair, Tribune over ad sales practices

The Justice Department is looking into whether TV stations coordinated efforts in a way that raised prices

The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in the way their ad sales teams communicated with one another about their performance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The coordinated efforts between the ad sales teams might have led to higher rates for TV commercials, the Journal said, citing sources familiar with the matter. The probe was launched following an examination of Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune by the Antitrust Division.

“It is our policy not to comment on a potential investigation. It is our understanding that this is not specific to Sinclair, but focuses on the larger broadcast industry,” a Sinclair spokesperson told the Journal.

FCC opposes

The proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribute would create a broadcast television station with more than 200 stations.

In their application to the FCC, the two media companies said they would reach 72 percent of American households under the deal. The combined companies would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed “serious concerns” about the plans, particularly the proposed “sidecar agreements” that would allow Sinclair to retain control of stations without owning them.

The FCC voted unanimously to send the merger to an administrative law judge for review -- a move that Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called a “de facto merger death sentence.”

On Thursday, President Trump voiced his displeasure over the FCC’s opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

"So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn't approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," the president said in his tweet. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!"

The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in t...
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Report finds consumers dropping pay TV at a record pace

Research projects the number of cord-cutters will rise 32.8 percent this year

The news just keeps getting worse for your local cable company.

A new report from eMarketer shows consumers have stepped up their pace of “cord-cutting” by cancelling pay TV subscriptions and using streaming services instead.

The report projects the number of adults who have cancelled a cable or satellite TV service and will continue without it will rise 32.8 percent this year, to a total of 33 million.

A year ago, the number of cord-cutters was expected to grow by only 22 percent. The new forecast leaves pay TV services with about 186.7 million subscribers this year, down 3.8 percent from 2017.

Pay TV-OTT partnerships

To stop the hemorrhaging, Christopher Bendtsen, eMarketer's senior forecasting analyst, says most pay TV providers found ways to integrate the most popular over-the-top (OTT) streaming service, Netflix, into their systems.

“These partnerships are still in the early stages, so we don’t foresee them having a significant impact reducing churn this year,” Bendtsen said. “With more pay TV and OTT partnerships expected in the future, combined with other strategies, providers could eventually slow—but not stop—the losses.”

Meanwhile, the eMarketer analysis shows OTT streaming services are growing just as fast as pay TV is losing customers. It says viewership increases for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are being fueled by increases in original video content.

Increasingly, OTT services have found ways to provide live TV channels, so that consumers can pair a couple of these streaming services together and have all the TV they want to watch, at much less cost than subscribing to cable.

For example, while the typical mid-tier pay TV package is normally around $100 a month or more, OTT subscriptions are typically between $10 and $15 a month. A consumer subscribing to two or three services can put together a customized viewing package at a huge savings – if they cut the cord.

Losing track of subscription costs

But consumers who continue to subscribe to pay TV, while adding OTT subscriptions to supplement their viewing choices, are adding to their monthly budget. A new report suggests many consumers are blissfully unaware of how much extra they are spending.

Researchers at Waterstone, a management consulting firm, asked consumers to estimate how much they spend each month on subscription services, including OTT video streaming services like Netflix.

They found the average consumer underestimates the total costs of monthly subscriptions by 197 percent.

“Clearly, most Americans are unaware of how much they spend on subscription services,” the authors write. “When pressed for a quick answer, they dramatically underestimate the amount.”

Since so many industries have moved to a subscription business model, the report concludes it makes it harder for consumers to keep track of their subscription costs, which tend to be small amounts but, added together, take a big bite out of the typical household budget

The news just keeps getting worse for your local cable company.A new report from emarketer shows consumers have stepped up their pace of “cord-cutting,...
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FCC gives the final thumbs-down to the Sinclair-Tribune merger

The outcry over too much influence in too many places was loud and clear

In an unanimous vote likely to quash the deal, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted against approval of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of Tribune Media Company.

In a nutshell, the FCC thought Sinclair’s plan was fraught with too many ifs, ands, or buts. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s disapproval of the merger is centered around the structure of the acquisition. Pai says Sinclair's plans for divested stations would violate the law and recommended a “hearing designation order” (HDO) which would require Sinclair to appear before an administrative law judge and explain its offenses, a move that could kill the deal completely.

"When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction,” Pai said. “Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”

The proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media was quite a can of worms. In essence, all of Tribune's 42 TV stations would move to Sinclair, raising Sinclair’s total ownership to 215 stations. In their application to the FCC, the combined companies said the new arrangement would reach 72 percent of U.S. television households and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

Too much influence?

Naysayers had been lining up in opposition to the merger. The ACLU, American Cable Association, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Newsmax Media, and the Communications Workers of America all submitted thunderous objections.

“Our opposition to the Sinclair merger has nothing to do with where Sinclair sits on the ideological spectrum,” the ACLU wrote in a press release. “The problem is that Sinclair’s attempt to acquire Tribune Media would give it control over some 200 TV stations, virtually guaranteeing less viewpoint diversity in local news.”

The public wasn’t shy about its issues with the deal, either.

At a public protest outside Sinclair’s Hunt Valley MD headquarters where it was holding its annual meeting, Max Obuszewski of Baltimore held a sign that read “enough is enough.”

“I’m against the merger of bringing so many stations together, and I’d be opposed even if it was a more progressive diet of news,” Obuszewski told The Baltimore Sun. “Nobody should have so much concentration of the media. … And you have political messages disguised as news. I’m very offended by that.”

In an unanimous vote likely to quash the deal, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted against approval of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchas...
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Comcast drops its bid for Fox

The move clears the way for Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets

This morning, Comcast announced it will no longer be in the mix to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets. Instead, the company will focus on the acquisition of the European satellite provider Sky. The decision is likely to clear the way for Disney, who recently upped its bid to $71.3 billion -- split between cash and stock.

“Comcast does not intend to pursue further the acquisition of the Twenty-First Century Fox assets, and, instead, will focus on our recommended offer for Sky,” the company said in a statement.

Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast, said, “I’d like to congratulate Bob Iger and the team at Disney and commend the Murdoch family and Fox for creating such a desirable and respected company.”

Fox has currently set a shareholder meeting for July 27 to vote on the deal with Disney. If either Comcast or Fox’s acquisition of Sky has yet to be completed by that date, Disney would be forced to bid £14 a share for the 61 percent of Sky that Fox doesn’t own -- which is less than the £14.75 a share that Comcast offered last week.

History with Disney

Last December, Fox and Disney agreed to a $54.2 billion deal that would include control over many of Fox’s assets, including: the FX and Nat Geo cable channels, the 20th Century Fox film studio, and Fox’s stake in Hulu.

Then, just last month, Comcast came onto the scene with an “unsolicited” $65 billion offer.

That prompted Disney to raise its bid to $71.3 billion in late June. The new deal increases the value of Disney’s original offer from $28 a share at $52.4 billion to $38 a share at $71.3 billion -- plus a new cash component. At the time of the bid’s announcement, a Fox representative said the offer was “superior to the proposal” from Comcast.

Fox’s Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said a Disney-Fox merger “will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world.”

“We are extremely proud of the businesses we have built at 21st Century Fox, and firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace at a dynamic time for our industry,” Murdoch said.

Comcast and Sky

Now out of the bidding war for Fox, Comcast is looking to focus its efforts on acquiring Sky Network.

Early last month, 21st Century Fox was given the green light to proceed in negotiations for Sky Network, in an entirely different bidding war involving both Disney and Comcast. Initially, U.K. Culture Minister Matt Hancock was skeptical of the United Kingdom’s media losing its independence based on the Murdoch family’s influence. However, both Sky and Fox were pleased with the decision.

Comcast made a $29 million offer for the British broadcasting network, and acquiring the company would be a huge win. Sky currently has 23 million subscribers across five countries, and owns broadcasting rights that are particularly valuable in today’s market, such as English Premier League games, Formula One races, and other sporting events.

This morning, Comcast announced it will no longer be in the mix to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets. Instead, the company will f...
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AT&T plans big changes for HBO

The cable network is being told it needs to produce more content

If you subscribe to HBO, get ready for some changes. AT&T, the new owner, has served notice that the premium content provider, acquired in the Time Warner merger, is going to have to contribute more to the bottom line.

The New York Times, which obtained a recording of a town hall meeting with HBO employees, reports John Stankey, now heading AT&T's new Warner Media division, is setting an ambitious goal of producing more content and attracting more viewers.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”

Lately, HBO has been known for producing a limited amount of quality programming, like Game of Thrones and Westworld. HBO is most often marketed to cable and satellite TV customers as a premium tier.

Fighting for smartphone viewers

Going forward, Stankey told employees the network will have to change, producing more content to compete with providers that distribute through smartphone apps.

The AT&T executive set out the twin goals of expanding HBO's subscriber base and increasing the number of hours consumers watch HBO content.

“We need hours a day,” Stankey said during the presentation. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”

HBO currently spends about $2 billion a year on content, much of it critically acclaimed. Since there has yet to be any discussion of increasing HBO's budget – AT&T went significantly into debt to purchase Time Warner – the assumption is the network must do more with its current budget.

Could lead to a dip in quality

Both Stankey and HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who hosted the session, admitted that increasing the amount of content the network produces could lead to a dip in quality. But Stankey said producing more content is a key strategy in attracting more subscribers and convincing them to watch longer.

Stankey said HBO needs to change from being a boutique network, with an emphasis on its Sunday night line up, to “something bigger, broader.” He didn't say “like Netflix,” but there is little doubt that's what he meant.

Netflix has become the dominant streaming service with a massive increase in original content, not all of it award-winning. However, it spends more to produce it than other content providers.

In the session, Stankey signaled AT&T's willingness to invest more in HBO to help it compete in the ever-shifting media landscape.

If you subscribe to HBO, get ready for some changes. AT&T;, the new owner, has served notice that the premium content provider, acquired in the Time Warner...
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MoviePass changes its subscription plan once again

Subscribers say they’re tired of the ‘bait and switch’

Remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” That’s what MoviePass’ three million users might be thinking after the company added a kicker called “summer surge pricing” to its existing subscription plan.

Couched as an “evolution of our product,” the company’s Peak Pricing addendum “goes into effect when there’s high demand for a movie or showtime,” according to an email to MoviePass’ subscribers.

“You may be asked to pay a small additional fee depending on the level of demand. You can avoid the surcharge by selecting a different showtime or movie. Over the coming weeks we’ll also be introducing Peak Pass, which will allow you to waive one peak fee per month,” the company wrote to its customers.

The long and winding road

The monthly subscription service’s path to success has been long and winding. Since launching in 2011, MoviePass has bounced through several pricing configurations ranging from plans based on market size and the number of movies a subscriber could view in a month to monthly fees ranging from $30 down to the current $9.95.

The $9.95 plan proved to be the pivot point the company was hoping for, and its membership skyrocketed from there.

“After years of studying and analysis, we found that people want to go to the movies more often, but the pricing keeps going up, and that prevents them from going more. We're making it more affordable for people," MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said at the time of the $9.95/month relaunch.

The fine print

The company’s frequent changes to its terms of use and changes in subscription prices have created confusion and frustration with its subscriber base. However, MoviePass is putting the responsibility of staying clued in on the consumer.

“MoviePass reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of these Terms of Use, at any time, without prior notice,” reads its latest terms of use dated July 5, 2018.

“IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO CHECK THESE TERMS OF USE, AND THE MOVIEPASS APP PERIODICALLY FOR CHANGES. YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE SERVICE AND THE SITE FOLLOWING THE POSTING OF CHANGES WILL MEAN THAT YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO THE CHANGES,” the company emphasized.

To long-term subscribers, this is more than a tempest in a teapot.  “MoviePass CEO trying to convince shareholders that surge pricing, company merchandise, changing the Terms of Service twice a month and manipulating audience scores for their own movies will somehow save the company,” posted one Twitter user.

On Facebook, another subscriber threw up her hands and simply quit: “We just cancelled!! So sick of the bait and switch!!! DONE!!!”

Is there an alternative?

Movie lovers are no longer stuck with MoviePass alone. Since the company’s rise, two new players have come in ready to give solace to MoviePass’ ex-pats.

The nation’s largest theatre chain -- AMC -- just rolled out “AMC Stubs A-List” and offers three tickets per week for the monthly price of $19.95. Members collect points from concession purchases and have access to premium formats like IMAX and 3D. The only real downside is that you are limited to AMC theatres, whereas MoviePass has deals with a variety of movie chains.

Another entry in the movie subscription game is Sinemia. Its price tier runs from $4.99 per month for 1 standard movie ticket up to $14.99 per month for 3 of any movie ticket (3D, 4D, IMAX included).

Both AMC and Sinemia offer subscribers the option to watch a movie more than one time versus MoviePass’ one-and-done restriction.

Remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” That’s what MoviePass’ three million users might be thinking after the company ad...
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AT&T to launch ‘skinny bundle’ service next week

A small number of channels will be available for as little as $15 per month

AT&T has unveiled a new video service called WatchTV, a skinny bundle of channels that will be available “on virtually any smartphone, as well as on certain streaming devices.”

AT&T said Thursday that its new service will feature 31 TV channels, including recently acquired CNN, TNT, and TBS, as well as channels from AMC Networks, Discovery Communications, and Viacom.

Coming "soon" after launch, AT&T says it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick and VH1 to its live channel lineup. In addition to live channels, there will be 15,000 movies and TV shows available for on-demand viewing.

For non-AT&T customers, the package will be available as a standalone service for as little as $15 per month. It will be offered free to AT&T customers with AT&T’s “Unlimited & More" or “Unlimited & More Premium" plans. The new unlimited data plans and WatchTV launch next week.

Competing with streaming services

The debut of the new service comes as a growing number of consumers are choosing to drop traditional pay-TV and instead get their entertainment through video-on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.

The new offering also comes a week after the telecommunications giant closed its deal to acquire Time Warner and renamed the entity WarnerMedia. During testimony related to obtaining regulatory approval for its acquisition of Time Warner, CEO Randall Stephenson noted that traditional cable lost 3 million subscribers on a base of 90 million in 2017.

AT&T’s new service for cord-cutters will compete with Netflix, Sling TV, CBS All Access, and other streamers, as well as with big cable providers like Comcast and Charter Communications.

”We were the first wireless provider to bring entertainment and unlimited data together, and, once again, we’re redefining what that means,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, on Thursday.

“This is no longer about including one channel or service with your wireless plan, but an incredible lineup of content that delivers more of what you care about," Christopher said.

AT&T; has unveiled a new video service called WatchTV, a skinny bundle of channels that will be available “on virtually any smartphone, as well as on certa...
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Disney ups its offer for 21st Century Fox assets

The company is now in a bidding war with Comcast

The Walt Disney Company has raised its bid for 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets to $71.3 billion, the two companies announced on Wednesday.

The new deal increases the value of Disney’s original December 2017 offer from $28 a share at $52.4 billion to $38 a share at $71.3 billion, with a new cash component.

A representative for Fox said this agreement "is superior to the proposal" from Comcast made earlier this month. The new Fox-Disney deal would let Fox shareholders receive their consideration "in the form of cash or stock,” subject to 50/50 proration.

Bidding war has begun

Last week, Comcast put in a competing offer to buy the assets at $35 per share for a total of $65 billion in cash. The offer followed the U.S. Justice Department’s approval of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.

Disney has now topped Comcast’s offer.

In a statement on Wednesday, Fox's Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said a Fox-Disney combination "will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world."

"We are extremely proud of the businesses we have built at 21st Century Fox, and firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace at a dynamic time for our industry."

"We remain convinced that the combination of [Fox's] iconic assets, brands and franchises with Disney's will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world,” Murdoch added.

Whichever company ends up winning the bidding war for 21st Century Fox will gain control of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 film production studios, and Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu.

Disney CEO Robert Iger Murdoch said in a statement Wednesday that the Fox-Disney combination would allow Disney to create more appealing content, expand its direct-to-consumer offerings, grow its international presence, and "deliver more personalized and compelling entertainment experiences to meet growing consumer demand around the world."

The Walt Disney Company has raised its bid for 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets to $71.3 billion, the two companies announced on Wednesday. ...
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ACLU speaks out against proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger

The organization said the deal would grant an unprecedented amount of control over local news to one company

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to convince federal regulators to block a controversial proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcasting Group and Tribune Media company, the group said on Tuesday.

The influential organization could add some muscle to consumer advocates’ otherwise uphill battle in convincing a big business-friendly FCC to block the merger.

The ACLU and others say that the merger, if allowed to go through, would give one corporation an unprecedented amount of control over local media.

In a comment it submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, the ACLU argued that neither Sinclair or the Tribune have proven that joining forces would serve the public interest.

“This proposed merger, which would create the largest television broadcasting company in history, is anticompetitive to its core, in direct contradiction of the Commission's public interest requirement,” the ACLU’s public comment says.

“Our opposition to the Sinclair merger has nothing to do with where Sinclair sits on the ideological spectrum,” the ACLU adds in a press release. “The problem is that Sinclair’s attempt to acquire Tribune Media would give it control over some 200 TV stations, virtually guaranteeing less viewpoint diversity in local news.”

Monopolizing local news

The Sinclair Broadcasting Group is already enormously powerful, owning an estimated 200 local news channels in 100 markets, or a reach that expands into nearly 40 percent of American households. This control was made abundantly clear to viewers in March, when local anchors across the company were required to film a commercial and read the same script warning viewers about “one-sided, irresponsible news sources plaguing our country.”

If it merges with Tribune Media, Sinclair would reach an estimated 72 percent of American households. Some analysts predict that the $6 billion deal would allow the company to build a conservative network to rival Fox News.

The FCC under Trump seems poised to allow the merger to happen. Though federal law says that a single broadcasting corporation cannot control more than 39 percent of the marketplace, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is planning a vote in July to lift that cap, Bloomberg News reported last week.

“This unprecedented concentration of control, which contradicts the FCC’s own policies about how wide a broadcasting company’s reach can be, would stifle the diversity of views in the press that’s essential for a healthy democracy,” the ACLU said.

While Americans watch less TV news than they used to, those who do tend to prefer local news, according to the Pew Research Center.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to convince federal regulators to block a controversial proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcasting G...
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Comcast makes $65 billion cash offer for Fox

The offer sets up a probable bidding war with Disney

Now that a federal judge has cleared the way for AT&T to acquire Time Warner, Comcast is entering the battle to acquire the assets of New Fox.

Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal, is offering $65 billion in cash, trumping the $52.4 billion bid from Disney, parent company of ABC. Both traditional media companies are eyeing Fox's assets as a rich source of content, both for over-the-air distribution and streaming.

“Our draft merger agreement differs from the Disney agreement only to reflect the superior terms described in this letter, to adapt the agreement to reflect an all-cash transaction, including no Comcast shareholder vote, and to provide greater certainty by eliminating the need for any 21CF charter amendments,” Comcast said in a letter to Fox principals.

Bidding war?

As in a high-stakes game of poker, it's now up to Disney to decide whether to raise the ante, turning the competition for Fox into a bidding war.

Like AT&T, Comcast is also an internet service provider (ISP), and is well-positioned to get into over-the-top (OTT) content distribution. The company says there are few regulatory hurdles to its proposed deal, especially since many of the Fox assets in question are located outside the U.S.

However, there are plenty of U.S.-based assets in play. They include Fox's television and motion picture studios, including the FX channel and Fox Searchlight. Both Comcast and Disney would like to get their hands on Fox's foreign satellite holdings, such as Europe's Sky TV, to broaden their international footprint.

Fox is also trying to sell its stake in the Netflix competitor Hulu, and the rights to some Marvel superhero characters.

Existing agreement

Fox and Disney have already reached a deal for the assets, so selling them to Comcast instead would be a complication. Fox has scheduled a shareholder meeting for next month to finalize the Disney deal, though that could be postponed now that a new deal is on the table.

The driving force behind this sudden wave of media deals is Netflix, the streaming service that now dominates video entertainment. Even though AT&T, Comcast, and Disney are much larger media companies, Netflix spends nearly four times their respective budgets on creating original content. Acquiring a company with vast entertainment production capability is seen as a way to catch up.

Tuesday's decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to allow AT&T to acquire Time Warner is viewed as a very big green light for more of these kinds of mergers. The judge rejected the government's argument – and that of some consumer groups – that allowing an ISP to control major sources of content would harm consumers.

Now that a federal judge has cleared the way for AT&T; to acquire Time Warner, Comcast is entering the battle to acquire the assets of New Fox.Comcast,...
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Consumers continue to cut the cord

The use of streaming services has exploded, leading to big subscriber losses for cable providers

Fed up with the high price of cable, more consumers are switching to video-on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu -- and cable TV providers are feeling the impact in the form of major subscriber losses.

A new study from entertainment research company Leichtman Research (LRG) finds that cable TV providers have lost 3.4 million subscribers since 2012.

The biggest pay-TV providers lost about 305,000 customers in the first quarter of 2018. That’s a decrease in cord-cutters compared to the same quarter last year, when the top providers lost about 515,000 subscribers.

However, LRG's principal analyst Bruce Leichtman says the numbers reflect a continuing trend and that the cord cutting phenomenon is likely to speed up during the summer when many college students are home.

Satellite TV providers hit hardest

"The number of pay-TV subscribers for the top providers peaked six years ago. Since 1Q 2012, top providers have lost about 3.4 million total pay-TV subscribers," Leichtman said. "Since the industry’s peak, traditional services have lost about 7.2 million subscribers, while the top publicly reporting Internet-delivered services gained about 3.8 million subscribers."

First quarter losses in 2018 were biggest for satellite TV providers, who lost 375,000 subscribers in Q1 2018, compared to 285,000 for cable. DirecTV and Dish lost 188,000 and 185,000 traditional satellite customers, respectively.

AT&T and Dish have each started offering their own streaming video services (DirecTV Now and Sling TV) to cater to consumers’ changing interests. Together, the two companies added 405,000 subscribers in Q1 2018 via their streaming alternatives.

However, subscriber growth isn’t translating to profit for the two companies, since DirecTV Now is cheap and AT&T offers numerous discounts to existing subscribers. Revenue in AT&T’s video entertainment segment dropped 7.3 percent, while operating income was down 16 percent.

The cord-cutting phenomenon has had a significant impact on the value of cable company stocks, with multiple companies (including Charter and Comcast) suffering double-digit declines, FierceCable notes.

“In a span of a few short months, cable has fallen badly out of favor,” Craig Moffett, media analyst with MoffettNathanson Research, wrote in a note to investors this week. “We don’t need to rehash the litany of horribles about video, broadband and M&A here. Suffice it to say that there is no cable company out there that hasn’t been painted with a black brush."

Fed up with the high price of cable, more consumers are switching to video-on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu -- and cable TV providers are...
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AT&T/Time Warner merger trial opens in Washington

The Trump administration is seeking to block the two media companies from joining forces

Lawyers representing the U.S. Justice Department and AT&T faced off in federal court in Washington on Thursday as the government attempts to block the company’s merger with Time Warner.

The outcome will likely shape the media landscape for years to come, affecting what entertainment is offered to consumers, how they access it, and what they pay for it. The government claims the union would create a media company that is just too big and powerful, which it says would limit competition.

The Justice Department says AT&T is not only a huge wireless provider, it also owns DirecTV. Time Warner is already a huge content provider. It owns Warner Brothers Studios, along with cable channels like HBO, CNN, and TNT.

But lawyers supporting the merger insist AT&T and Time Warner are not really competitors, arguing their services overlap. They also point out there is plenty of media competition from traditional broadcast networks, as well as over-the-top providers (OTP) like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon.

Early opponent to the merger

Even as a candidate, Donald Trump was against the deal. When AT&T announced the merger deal in 2016, candidate Trump said his administration would block it, though some critics suggested his opposition had more to do with his intense feud with CNN than any antitrust concerns.

Even so, the Consumer Federation of America this month found itself in the odd position of agreeing with the Trump administration, co-publishing a paper that argues the government's case against the merger is both warranted and consistent with past enforcement practices.

The paper concluded that the proposed merger poses a “severe threat” to competition. It argues that when there are policies in place to prevent discrimination against independent service providers, consumers benefit in terms of the quality of content and consumer choice.

Calling the current media landscape a “tight oligopoly on steroids,” the paper argues that the Trump administration's decision to oppose the merger is not only right on the facts but also in line with past enforcement of antitrust law. Reducing competition, the paper argues, would slow innovation, stifle the growth of online video distribution, and raise consumer prices.

Best hope for consumers

“‘Over-the-Top’ competition is the best hope consumers have, but network operators will kill that competition if they are not stopped,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA's director of research. “The most effective way for antitrust authorities to protect competition is to reject vertical mergers that threaten to dramatically increase the market power of network operators like AT&T.”

In opening statements, government lawyers argued that a combined AT&T and Time Warner would be “a weapon,” used to charge rivals more for access to consumers.

Lawyers for the companies, meanwhile, promised that as the case goes forward, they would prove that wouldn't happen.

Lawyers representing the U.S. Justice Department and AT&T; faced off in federal court in Washington on Thursday as the government attempts to block the com...
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Half of American households now subscribe to a streaming service

A survey shows consumers spend $2.1 billion a month on video streaming service subscriptions

Half of American households (55 percent) now subscribe to at least one video streaming service, according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 12th annual digital media trends survey.

That figure represents an increase from last year, when 49 percent of households subscribed to at least one streaming service. The number has surged dramatically since 2009, when just 10 percent of consumers subscribed to a video streaming service.

The average streaming customer subscribes to three streaming services, and U.S. consumers spend $2.1 billion a month on video streaming service subscriptions.

Exclusive content important to many

Of the 2,088 consumers surveyed, over half said they decided which video streaming service to subscribe to based on the amount and quality of exclusive content the service had. Others said factors such as commercial-free content and the ability to watch movies and shows at anytime guided their decision.

The survey found that the average American consumes 38 hours of video content each week -- 15 hours (or 39 percent) of which is streamed.

“Consumers now enjoy unparalleled freedom in selecting media and entertainment options and their expectations are at an all-time high,” said Kevin Westcott, vice chairman and U.S. media and entertainment leader for Deloitte.

“The rapid growth of streaming services and high-quality original content has created a significant opportunity to monetize the on-demand environment in 2018.”

Drop in pay-TV subscriptions

The number of households that subscribe to a traditional TV service delivered via cable, satellite, and fiber has dropped to 63 percent from 74 percent in 2016, according to the report.

Among millennials (ages 21-34), 22 percent said they have never subscribed to pay TV. Of those who said they no longer had pay TV, 27 percent said they had “cut the cord” within the past year.

Nearly half (46 percent) of pay TV subscribers said they are dissatisfied with their service and 70 percent of all consumers said pay TV wasn't a good value. Around half (56 percent) of consumers who currently subscribe to a pay TV service say they keep it because it’s bundled with broadband service.

Half of American households (55 percent) now subscribe to at least one video streaming service, according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 12th annual digital...
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Consumers increasingly satisfied with pay TV providers

Study finds consumers are a little less willing to 'cut the cord'

Consumers are increasingly satisfied with their pay TV providers, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates. The findings run counter to the prevailing wisdom that consumers are abandoning pay TV in favor of so called "over the top" video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

J.D. Power researchers discovered that consumers are increasing their consumption of both types of video content. Satisfaction with the overall streaming video service experience improved slightly over last year.

At the same time, consumers are spending nearly an hour more per week watching regularly scheduled television programming than they did two years ago.

Peter Cunningham -- Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Practice Lead at J.D. Power -- says the typical household is watching an average of 17.4 hours of regularly scheduled programming in a typical week, up from 16.6 hours in 2015.

Economic issue?

Several years ago the economy was still struggling to recover. Cunningham says "cord cutting" -- the trend of people giving up pay TV for streaming services like Netflix -- was largely an economic issue. Now that the economy is recovering, consumers are less likely to cut the cord and more likely to obtain content from a variety of sources.

"Our study finds the vast majority of people paying for traditional TV services also subscribe to streaming services," Cunningham told ConsumerAffairs. "So when economic times are tougher, they sometimes are willing to give up the more expensive pay TV services."

When consumers can afford both pay TV and video streaming services, they are more likely to use both.

Technology drives satisfaction

AT&T/DIRECTV scored highest in customer satisfaction among pay TV providers. On a regional basis, Verizon was highest in the East; Dish Network leads the South and North Central Regions; and AT&T DIRECTV took top honors in the West.

Cunningham notes that increased satisfaction with pay TV might have as much to do with technology as content. As an example, he cites Comcast's X1 service, which has a voice activated remote and intuitive menu.

"What we see is customers are much less likely to cut the cord if they have a good experience engaging with a provider's technology and the set top box experience," Cunningham said. "What customers care about the most is just making sure the product works. They just want to make sure the network itself is solid."

Satisfaction with streaming services can also often be influenced by consumers' satisfaction with their internet service providers (ISP). In the East, J.D. Power found ISP satisfaction is highest for Verizon. In the North Central region, AT&T/DIRECTV has the most satisfied customers. Cox Communications ranks highest in the West.

Consumers are increasingly satisfied with their pay TV providers, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates. The findings run counter to the pr...
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Entertainment landscape shifting to consumers' benefit

More streaming content, cheaper movies the result of ongoing disruption

The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.

Last week, Disney announced it was setting up its own streaming services and would pull its content from Netflix. This week, Netflix responded by signing a huge content deal with producer Shonda Rhimes to produce shows for the streaming service.

Daily Variety reports Netflix may also reach an agreement with Disney for rights to Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” and Marvel Entertainment titles after 2019. At the same time, it says the approximately $200 million it had been paying Disney for content will be plowed back into creating new movies and series for the streaming site.

CNN has added up all the Netflix commitments and estimates the streaming service will spend nearly $16 billion on new content in the coming years, as it fights off an increasing number of competitors.

Netflix model at the movies

Meanwhile, entertainment start-up MoviePass has more or less adopted the Netflix model as a way to help Hollywood's sagging box office numbers.

The company has announced on its website that for a reduced monthly membership fee of $9.95, members can go to as many movies they want, as long as the theater accepts debit cards. The theaters get reimbursed the full price of the ticket.

It works on the same principal as Netflix. Instead of charging a movie-goer for each ticket, the monthly subscription allows them to watch as many movies as they want, limited to one movie per day. Some screens, such as IMAX, are excluded.

Lifeline for theaters?

Still, it may be a hopeful sign for movie theaters, which have seen audiences decline over the summer. Last weekend, ComScore reported the top grossing movie in the U.S. was Annabelle: Creation, which brought in just $35 million, followed by Dunkirk at $11.4 million.

During the same weekend in 2014, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles raked in $65 million and Guardians of the Galaxy followed at $42 million.

Last December, MoviePass co-founder Stacey Spikes said the company's research showed a subscription model for theaters would help small, independent films find an audience faster since consumers were more likely to wait for these films to show up on streaming services if they had to pay for each movie theater ticket.

The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.Last week, D...
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Facebook wants you to watch Watch, its new video channel

Instead of cat videos, Watch will be professionally produced content

There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed it, even more video.

The latest light and nimble entrepreneurial venture to wade into video is none other than Facebook. It's starting something called Facebook Watch -- clever, no? 

Watch will be just what you expect -- a video distribution platform that we're told will be chockfull of scintillating, original video. And, of course, like everything else these days, it will be "personalized," meaning you'll be shown videos that Facebook thinks you want to see. Or, to be a bit more precise, videos that Facebook's advertisers want you to see.

Like everything else on Facebook, it will also be driven at least partly by what your friends -- and your "Friends" -- are watching and raving about. We're told you will find it on the Facebook menu bar, replacing the tab that currently says "Video."

"Watch is personalized to help you discover new shows, organized around what your friends and communities are watching," said Daniel Danker, Facebook Director of Product. "For example, you’ll find sections like 'Most Talked About,' which highlights shows that spark conversation, 'What’s Making People Laugh,' which includes shows where many people have used the 'Haha' reaction, and 'What Friends Are Watching,' which helps you connect with friends about shows they too are following."

Professional content

It's important to note that, unlike videos of cute cats and bouncing babies posted by your supposed friends, Watch will be the real thing -- you know, professional content: movies, series, and even sports. Facebook says it will live-streaming one Major League Baseball game each week and has several other attractions up its sleeve.

Not everyone will have Watch right away. It's being rolled out, in usual Facebook fashion, on a staggered basis. So let's just say you'll be seeing it soon -- and, Facebook hopes, watching it ever after.

There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed i...
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Six companies fined $4.19 million for using bots to buy tickets to New York shows

New York AG Eric Schneiderman vows to continue fighting the 'rigged' ticketing system

There’s nothing quite like a good Broadway show or tickets to a live concert, but consumers have found it difficult to secure online tickets recently because of ticket bots – software used by scalpers and resellers to grab large numbers of available tickets as quickly as possible.

The problem became so bad that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law last November that increased the penalty for knowingly reselling tickets obtained by a ticket bot to a class A misdemeanor. The change guaranteed harsher penalties than the previously mandated civil penalties, something that six companies now know full well.

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that Renaissance Ventures LLC (d/b/a Prestige Entertainment), Ebrani Corp. (d/b/a Presidential Tickets), Concert Specials Inc., Fanfetch Inc., BMC Capital Partners, and JAL Enterprises (d/b/a Top Star Tickets) had been fined a total of $4.19 million for using ticket bots to procure and resell tickets in the state.

“Unscrupulous ticket resellers who break the rules and take advantage of ordinary consumers are one of the major reasons why ticketing remains a rigged system,” Schneiderman said.

Snatching up tickets

The Attorney General’s office found that one of the ticket brokers, Prestige Entertainment, had used two different bots and thousands of credit cards and Ticketmaster accounts to buy tickets for many New York shows. The investigators allege that the company used IP proxy services to hide its use of bots from retail ticket marketplaces. In one specific case, the company allegedly used its bots to purchase over 1,000 tickets to a 2014 U2 concert at Madison Square Garden in just one minute.

Because of its pervasive use of ticket bots, Prestige will be paying the highest fine at $3.35 million. Concert Specials will pay $480,000; Presidential Tickets will pay $125,000; BMC Capital will pay $95,000; Top Star Tickets will pay $85,000; and Fanfetch will pay $55,000.

In addition to paying the fines, each company is required under the settlement to maintain proper ticket reseller licenses and abstain from using ticket bots in the future.

“We will continue to fight to make ticketing a more fair and transparent marketplace, so fans have the opportunity to enjoy their favorite shows and events. Anybody who breaks the law will pay a steep price,” said Schneiderman.

There’s nothing quite like a good Broadway show or tickets to a live concert, but consumers have found it difficult to secure online tickets recently becau...
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Rare Frank Zappa albums to be re-released

A new generation will get a taste of the pioneering rock artist

During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.

He leaned heavily on rock, pop, and jazz, but also tossed in intriguing bits of jazz fusion, orchestral, and works that used various eclectic sounds. He and his band, The Mothers of Invention, had an extremely devoted following in the late 1960s.

Now, the Zappa Family Trust and Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) are teaming up to release 24 Zappa albums, some of them rare, later this month. The music will be available on CD, digital downloads, and streaming on March 24.

"For more than two decades, the only place to get exclusive Frank Zappa albums was through our mail order and website," said Ahmet Zappa, son of the late artist and the Trust's executor. "We are thrilled to be able to make these titles available to fans across the globe with the help of our friends at Universal."

According to UMe, nine of the albums in the collection, including Zappa's 100th release, "Dance Me This," and the cult favorite live disc, "Roxy By Proxy," have never been made available for download or for streaming.

The collection also includes a recording from a 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall and a 1974 recording made at KCET-TV studios in Los Angeles, which ended up being used in a number of different Zappa projects.

Zappa died in 1993 after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.

During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.He leaned heavily on r...
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Congress to hold hearings on AT&T-Time Warner merger

Company facing skeptical lawmakers and president-elect

A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of content provider Time Warner.

President-elect Trump is already on record opposing the deal and a number of lawmakers have expressed skepticism as well.

The $108.7 billion acquisition would join America's largest pay TV provider with a media and entertainment company that has a massive catalog of movies and TV shows.

From the beginning, AT&T executives have maintained the merger is a “vertical” one that brings together two entities providing different products, and therefore will not decrease competition. But AT&T could face some pointed questions at Wednesday's hearing.

“This proposed massive consolidation of distribution and content raises potentially serious questions about competition, consumer choice, and privacy across the media, cable TV, wireless and broadband industries,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

'Zero-rate' could be the sticking point

Even though the proposed merger would be “vertical,” critics charge it could give the telecom giant a huge advantage in the marketplace. At issue is something called “zero-rate.” That means the ISP, in this case AT&T, won't count a customer's viewing of AT&T-owned content against his or her data allowance.

Currently, AT&T has such a promotion with DIRECTV. AT&T wireless customers who also subscribe to DIRECTV can watch that content on their mobile devices without it counting against their data allowance.

If you are both an AT&T and DIRECTV customer, that's a great deal. But if you are a small ISP trying to compete against AT&T, you may think the playing field has suddenly become a lot less even.

Small ISPs worried

Jimmy Carr of All Points Broadband in Ashburn, Virginia, who chairs the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) Legislative Committee, says it will hurt the mostly small companies that are bringing broadband to underserved rural areas.

“AT&T has recently begun to zero-rate its DIRECTV content, and it has stated its intention to expand zero-rating to the Time Warner content it would obtain through this proposed merger,” Carr said. “Allowing any ISP to favor certain content has a direct, harmful impact on thousands of small, competitive ISPs that do not own content and lack the ability to negotiate fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to content.”

Carr says AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner raises serious concerns and should be rejected by federal regulators.

So far, AT&T is batting one for two on proposed mega-mergers. Last year it's deal to acquire DIRECTV got a green light from regulators. Before that, its deal to acquire rival T-Mobile did not

A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T; executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of co...
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New York law creates harsher penalties for users of ticket bots

Lawmakers hope that consumers will no longer have to compete with software when buying tickets

The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One popular kind of gift this year will be a gift of experience, like tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event.

Unfortunately, demand for tickets far outweighs supply most of the time, so it’s up to consumers to try and grab them as soon as they become available online. However, many buyers often walk away with nothing because the tickets seem to magically disappear within minutes or even seconds.

While slow internet speeds or bad luck can play a factor, one reason for the lack of available tickets has been the existence of ticket bots -- software used by scalpers that manipulates sales systems to buy up as many tickets as possible. Then, after all the available tickets are gone, they sell them at ridiculously inflated prices to desperate consumers.

However, the practice may become less common thanks to a new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Previously, state laws had banned the use of ticket bots and imposed civil penalties on violators, but now the use or control of ticket bots, or reselling tickets knowingly obtained by ticket bots, is a class A misdemeanor.

The classification change means harsher penalties for those who break the law. Violators can now expect exorbitant fines or even jail time if they’re caught using or knowingly benefitting from the software. The definition of a “ticket bot” has also been expanded under the new law to mean any system, whether autonomous or human-controlled, used to quickly buy up tickets before the general public has access to them.

Predatory and wrong

Ticket bots have long-been abhorred by performers in New York. Back in June, Lin-Manuel Miranda – creator and original lead of the Broadway hit Hamilton – railed against users of ticket bots and how the profited from his show; The New York Times reported that scalpers made around $15.5 million from reselling tickets to Miranda’s last 100 shows before stepping down from his role as the titular character.

“My concern is that our show is about the founding of our country and if bots are buying up all the tickets and charging this insane secondary market price, most of the country can’t see it,” he said.

Gov. Cuomo agreed with the sentiment in a recent statement, saying that “these unscrupulous speculators and their underhanded tactics have manipulated the marketplace and often leave New Yorkers and visitors alike with little choice but to buy tickets on the secondary market at an exorbitant mark-up.”

“It’s predatory, it’s wrong and, with this legislation, we are taking an important step towards restoring fairness and equity back to this multi-billion dollar industry.”

The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One pop...
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AT&T to launch new video streaming services

It could make it easier to cut the cord

AT&T is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.

The telecom provider sees a lucrative market of consumers who have cut the cable TV cord, or who are thinking about it.

“We’re extending our entertainment portfolio for those who value premium content but also want more TV freedom suited for their lifestyle, whether watching at home or on their mobile devices. This is TV your way,” said John Stankey, CEO, AT&T Entertainment Group.

Stankey says the services are built around AT&T's mobile platform. He says once you sign up for either DIRECTV NOW or Fullscreen, you can stream video content using a variety of mobile devices without set-top-boxes, satellite dishes, or annual contracts.

Won't count against data allowance

The services are also designed to promote the company's main product. AT&T Mobility customers will not use their allotted data when watching DIRECTV NOW or FreeVIEW in the App. Neither will Fullscreen users if they stream in the Fullscreen App on the AT&T network.

DIRECTV NOW is a collection of four television packages of current DIRECTV content, including live sports, on demand, cable networks, and premium channels.

The company says the DIRECTV NOW service will be compatible with most mobile devices and platforms, as well as Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; Chromecast (Android at launch; iOS in 2017); Google Cast-enabled LeEco ecotvs and VIZIO SmartCast Displays; and Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari web browsers.

More devices next year

AT&T says it plans to add more devices next year, including Roku streaming players and Roku TV models, Amazon Fire tablets, and Smart TVs.

The Fullscreen video service launched earlier this year at $5.99 a month. It provides more than 1,500 hours of on-demand programming, including original productions.

FreeVIEW is a free, ad-supported video service. It offers programming from AUDIENCE Network, Otter Media properties, and other channels on DIRECTV NOW.

AT&T's new video services will compete with Dish Network's Sling TV and Sony's Playstation Vue, but Business Insider suggests it could raise a controversial Net Neutrality topic. It will have an advantage over its competitors, in that it is also an internet service provider (ISP) that can choose whether or not to make video streaming count against data allowances.

AT&T; is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.Th...
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Proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger likely to face strong opposition

Public interest, political sectors grow increasingly skeptical of these deals

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

Time to grab your wallet

"Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it’s time to grab your wallet and hang on tight,” Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives.”

Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

"It’s a good thing there’s a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania,” Wood said. “It’s also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts.”

Bipartisan opposition

Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying “deals like this destroy democracy.” If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

“I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers,” Franken wrote in a post. “And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed.”

In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.Over the weekend, AT&...
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Actors' ages become protected information in California

A new state law requires content providers to take down age information in some circumstances

Maybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, though maybe not for much longer.

A new California law that takes effect in January will require IMDb and other entertainment industry websites to remove birthdates when a subscriber requests it.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, AB 1687, Saturday. It was backed by the Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA as a way to combat age discrimination in Hollywood.

“Gov. Jerry Brown today stood with thousands of film and television professionals and concerned Californians who urged him to sign AB 1687, a California law that will help prevent age discrimination in film and television casting and hiring," said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement issued after the bill was signed. 

The measure was authored by Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), who said revealing actors' ages online could lock them out of roles before they even had a chance to audition.

“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Calderon said. “AB 1687 provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”

Privacy groups unhappy

Privacy groups argued against the measure, saying it was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which normally takes a pro-privacy stance, said the law infringes on companies' First Amendment right to publish truthful information.  

Among the sites most obviously affected is Amazon's IMDb, a vast database that contains just about everything anyone could want to know about movies, actors, and the producers, directors, and screenwriters who form the core of the entertainment industry.

The measure got its start several years ago when actress Junie Hoang sued Amazon for revealing her true age on IMDb.

Hoang alleged that Amazon violated her privacy by accessing credit card data to learn that she was 40 and then added that information to her professional profile. 

Hoang said she looked younger than 40 but couldn't get as much work after her true age became known.

A jury ruled against Hoang, however, and an appeals court declined to reinstate her suit.

Maybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, thoug...
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FCC prepares to vote on freeing consumers from cable set-top boxes

A free app would substitute for the expensive and bulky boxes

It's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be settled by the end of the month.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today began circulating his "Unlock the Box" plan, publishing an abridged version as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times and posting the full version on the FCC's website.

In a nutshell, Wheeler proposes eliminating set-top boxes except for consumers who want to keep them. Everyone else would use a free app to watch pay-TV and streaming video on the device of their choice, such as Roku, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4, smart TVs, or Windows, iOS, and Android devices. 

Cable companies and the entertainment industry have been lobbying the issue heavily, claiming that eliminating the boxes will open up new avenues for thieves to steal content, depriving content creators of their just desserts.

But Wheeler has held that protecting consumers and encouraging competition take precedence over industry interests. He argues that 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers currently rent set-top boxes because there aren’t meaningful alternatives.

"Few choices and high prices"

"Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers – $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household. Altogether, U.S. consumers spend $20 billion a year to lease these devices," when they could be using free apps, Wheeler says in his plan.

"Apps will liberate consumers from set-top boxes: The new rules will require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app, controlled by the pay-TV provider, to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, streaming devices or smart TVs," Wheeler writes.

Consumers will still have to pay for pay-TV programs, but they'll be freed of paying for the set-top box. Wheeler and others argue that the use of free apps will also create a bigger market for content and innovation in device development.

"Pay-TV providers must provide their apps to widely deployed platforms, such as Roku, Apple iOS, Windows and Android. Doing so will spur competition in the marketplace to develop new competitive products like next-generation streaming devices, smart TVs and tablets," Wheeler contends.

"A win for consumers"

The proposed rule is expected to be voted on by the full commission before the end of September, setting the stage for a final few weeks of fervent lobbying by both sides.

Competition advocate Chip Pickering, CEO of the advocacy group INCOMPAS, called Wheeler's plan "a win for competition, consumers and innovators."

"Competition is the law, and we commend Chairman Wheeler and the FCC for standing up for consumers who want lower prices, more choice, and the freedom to discover new and exciting content streaming online, said Pickering. “The FCC has made the critical key choice for an open, not closed future. By presenting a balanced approach, which takes input from all sides of the debate, the FCC has come down on the side of the consumer, and the innovators of the future.

Although Wheeler's plan is seen as firmly pro-consumer, it is still something of a compromise from his initial vision. The cable industry lobbied for the provision that would allow consumers to keep their set-top boxes if they wanted, but otherwise the plan falls pretty squarely on the consumer side of the issue.

Some commissioners wanted to go a bit further. Republican Ajit Pai wanted to eliinate set-top boxes altogether. But Wheeler said in his op-ed that his plan adequately protects the cable and entertainment industries.

"To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy," he said.

"This is a golden era for watching television and video. By empowering consumers to access their content on their terms, it’s about to get cheaper—and even better," Wheeler concluded.

It's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be se...
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Comcast objects to FCC proposal to restrict 'pay-for-privacy' broadband pricing

ISPs want consumers to pay extra to avoid being tracked for advertising purposes

Comcast is objecting to proposed rules that would outlaw the growing practice of charging broadband subscribers who don't agree to watch behaviorally targeted ads.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a rule that would do just that, but rather than protecting consumers, Comcast says it "would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings."

In a filing with the FCC, Comcast argues that, "a bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem" and says it is "consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy."

But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler notes some crucial distinctions in the case of broadband advertising. In a July 11 letter to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Wheeler observed that: "A consumer, once connected to broadband service, cannot simply avoid the network in the same manner as a consumer can instantaneously (and without penalty) switch search engines, surf among competing websites, and select among diverse applications."

Wheeler said consumers wanting to switch services would face charges including: "(1) early termination fees; (2) installation fees; (3) activation fees; and (4) the cost of new or replacement equipment (if owned equipment is not compatible with the new service)."

Wheeler noted that even if the consumer could afford those costs, many cities lack a competing broadband provider. 

"Devastating impact"

Privacy groups beg to differ. The non-profit advocacy organization Free Press says widespread adoption of the practice would have a "devastating impact on our most vulnerable populations."

"It could mean that only people with the necessary financial means could protect their privacy and prevent their ISPs from sharing their personal information with predatory online marketers," said Sandra Fulton, Free Press' government relations manager, in a blog posting.  

"Under pay-for-privacy models, consumers who are unable to pay the higher broadband cost will likely see their ISPs share their data with shadowy online data brokers who use this information to tailor marketing messages," Fulton said. "While unregulated and unaccountable data brokers are a threat to everyone’s privacy, they’re notorious for targeting low-income communities, people of color and other vulnerable demographics."

Senators object

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are supporting the FCC's proposed rule. In a letter to the FCC, the senators said, "Every click a consumer makes online paints a detailed picture of their personal and professional lives, and this sensitive information should be protected by strong privacy standards." 

"Not only is a pay-for-privacy standard counter to our nation's core principle that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, but it also may disproportionately harm low-income customers, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations," the senators wrote.

Comcast is objecting to proposed rules that would outlaw the growing practice of charging broadband subscribers who don't agree to watch behaviorally targe...
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DraftKings takes its games to the UK

Will allow North American players to compete against those in Britain

The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?

No doubt that's part of the reason behind DraftKings' announcement that it is launching games in the UK, where soccer and cricket matches may prove to be more popular draws than American football.

“DraftKings will bring a totally new experience for sports fans, offering players the opportunity to test their skill at fantasy contests with the immediacy of daily play,” Jason Robins, co-founder and CEO of DraftKings, said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “Alongside our new partners Arsenal, Liverpool and Watford, our ambition is to bring players as close to the action as possible, with all the information they need to assemble the best teams.”

DraftKings says it anticipates the move will open up what it called “healthy competition” between players in North America and the UK. The company says the DraftKings FC site will give players access to all the research, strategy and news they need to assemble their line-up.

The company no doubt hopes UK government authorities are less litigious than in the states. Several state governments – most notably New York – have made moves to limit, license or outright ban the games, declaring them to be illegal gambling.

New York state's suit seeking to bar New Yorkers from from the games is awaiting a hearing by a state appeals court. The games continues to operate under a court-granted stay, meaning New Yorkers will be able play pending the court's ruling.

The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?No doubt th...
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New York seeks refunds from DraftKings, FanDuel

If the attorney general gets his way, New York players might get their money back

Usually, when you play a daily fantasy sports (DFS) through DraftKings and FanDuel, you either win or you don't.

But players from New York stand to recover the money they paid to play -- if New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gets his way, anyway.

Schneiderman has amended his lawsuits against the two enterprises, which he has accused of violating New York state gambling laws, to include a demand for restitution. The suit now asks that FanDuel and DraftKings be required to produce an accounting of monies collected from consumers in New York playing any of its games in violation of the law.

Not only is Schneiderman asking the court to order the two companies to repay all entry fees to New York players, his suit seeks a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation.

The Wall Street Journal reports the sites took in a combined $200 million from 600,000 New York players last year. A judgment could potentially be staggering.

Investigation began in October

Schneiderman opened an investigation into DFS in October following reports of an employee at one of the companies profiting through the use of insider information. Not long afterward, Scheiderman issued a cease and desist order before going to court to have the two companies declared illegal gambling operations.

“DFS is a new business model for online gambling,” the suits allege. “The DFS sites themselves collect wagers (styled as 'fees'), set jackpot amounts, and directly profit from the betting on their platforms. DFS’ rules enable near-instant gratification to players, require no time commitment, and simplify game play, including by eliminating all long-term strategy."

Schneiderman's suit claims New Yorkers have been harmed by the games, especially those who have a gambling addiction.

Usually, when you play a daily fantasy sports (DFS) through DraftKings and FanDuel, you either win or you ...
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New York raises the ante against DraftKings and FanDuel

Attorney general seeks preliminary injunction, shutting them down

A day after a New York judge refused a bid by Fanduel and DraftKings to slap a temporary restraining order on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Schneiderman has gone to court against the two daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises.

Schneiderman is seeking a preliminary injunction against the two companies, which already face a cease and desist order the attorney general issued last week.

In the court filing, Schneiderman lays out his case that the two companies constitute illegal gambling under state law.

“Under New York law, a wager constitutes gambling when it depends on either a (1) 'future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence' or (2) 'contest of chance.' So-called Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) wagers fit squarely in both these definitions,” Schneiderman wrote. “DFS is nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting. It is plainly illegal.”

Disputing the game of skill argument

Schneiderman went on to reject the two companies' argument that their games involve skill, not chance. He says chance plays just as much of a role, if not more, than it does in games like poker and blackjack.

“A few good players in a poker tournament may rise to the top based on their skill; but the game is still gambling,” Schneiderman declared. “So is DFS.”

Schneiderman goes on to charge both FanDuel and DraftKings are winking at the law, maintaining in public that they run games of skill, but privately evoking the profits of gambling to investors.

He says DraftKings has also embedded gambling keywords into the programming code for its website. Some of these keywords include “‘fantasy golf betting,’’ “weekly fantasy basketball betting,” ‘‘weekly fantasy hockey betting,” “weekly fantasy football betting,” “weekly fantasy college football betting,” “weekly fantasy college basketball betting,” “Fantasy College Football Betting,” “daily fantasy basketball betting,” and “Fantasy College Basketball Betting.” This increases the likelihood that search engines, like Google, will send users looking for gambling straight to the DraftKings site.

Nevada was first

New York is the second state to find that DFS amounts to gambling. In October, Nevada gaming officials reached the same conclusion.

In a memorandum, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said he asked the state attorney general's office and others to examine enterprises like DraftKings and FanDuel to determine if they were gambling operations.

“Based on these analyses, I, along with staff, have concluded that DFS constitutes gambling under Nevada law,” Burnett wrote. “More specifically, DFS meets the definition of a game, or gambling game pursuant to Chapter 463 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.”

Under current law, Burnett says, if you are going to operate such games – as DraftKings and FanDuel do – then you must be licensed.

The Nevada decision isn't nearly the problem for the two companies, however, that New York's action is. That's because a large percentage of players in both companies' games live in New York.

In light of the state attorney general's action, both companies have barred New Yorkers from playing until the matter runs its course in court, resulting in a significant drop in revenue.

A day after a New York judge refused a bid by Fanduel and DraftKings to slap a temporary restraining order on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, ...
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AT&T launches DirecTV bundle

Company promotes wireless and satellite TV services on one bill

Bundles aren't exactly a new thing. Cable TV providers often bundle TV, Internet, and telephone services.

But AT&T;claims to have broken new ground by bundling DirecTV and wireless services starting August 10. It can make that offer by virtue of its purchase of DirecTV, a merger that got regulatory approval only last week.

Consumers who sign up will be able to watch cable TV on their smartphones and tablets, not just at home.

AT&T; says the savings will be substantial. Customers will get HD and DVR service for up to four TV receivers, unlimited talk and text for four wireless lines, and 10GB of shareable wireless data for $200 per month. By AT&T;'s calculations, that's an annual savings of $600 or more in the first 12 months, but as a practical matter, it works out to a $10 a month discount for getting all the services on a single bill.

“We’re going to deliver more TV and entertainment choices to more screens – when and where our customers want it,” said AT&T; VP Brad Bentley. “And we’ll offer incredible value with more flexibility and convenience through our integrated packages that deliver a great experience.”

Immediate wireless access

Hoping to spur new subscriptions, AT&T; is offering new customers immediate access to DirecTV on their wireless devices as soon as they walk out of the store; customers won't even have to wait for the satellite receiver to be installed. That feature will be delivered through the DirecTV app, which can be downloaded and installed during the sales and activation process.

AT&T; said it is now offering DirecTV service in more than 2,000 AT&T; retail stores nationwide, built around different bundling packages. They include:

  • DirecTV Select or U-verse U-Family, $50 per month
  • DirecTV Xtra or U-verse U-200, $70
  • DirecTV Ultimate or U-verse U-300, $75
  • DirecTV Premiere or U-verse U-450, $125

Customers will be able to include AT&T;’s wireless services, with 10GB of shareable data and unlimited talk and text for four phone lines, for $160 per month. Add that to the basic TV plan for $50, with service on up to four TVs, AT&T; says consumers will pay $200 per month for the All-in-One plan after a $10 a month combined bill discount.

Part of the promotion is designed to entice defections from rival companies. AT&T; says DirecTV and U-Verse TV customers who switch to AT&T; wireless service from another wireless provider will get a $300 credit when they buy a smartphone on AT&T; Next and trade in an eligible smartphone.

Adding Internet service

Customers can add AT&T; high-speed Internet services and get price incentives as part of the “All-Included” plans. Introductory 12-month promotional pricing includes the wi-fi gateway with no monthly fees for equipment. Different pricing is available for three speed tiers, including:

  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 6Mbps, $30 per month
  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 24Mbps, $40 per month
  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 45Mbps and 75Mbps, $50

With the completion of the merger and the new bundle offer, AT&T; says it is now the largest pay TV provider in the world, providing service to more than 55 million customers in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

More importantly, industry analysts say it's another step toward the convergence of old and new media, with consumers expecting to be able to “watch TV” on their wireless devices, and providers taking steps to make that happen.

Bundles aren't exactly a new thing. Cable TV providers often bundle TV, Internet, and telephone services.But AT&T claims to have broken new ground by b...
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More public venues to consider selfie-stick bans

Others will follow Disney's lead, expert predicts

The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick.

The monopole allows a camera user to grip the device and hold it a further distance from his or her body, allowing for a more natural photograph. As annoying as some people think selfies are, these people tend to view selfie sticks with even more contempt.

Disney made news recently when it imposed a ban on selfie sticks at all its theme parks, apparently because their use posed risks to users and other guests. Eric Olson, assistant professor of event management at Iowa State University and former Disney employee, said Disney at first planned to only prohibit selfie sticks on specific thrill rides and attractions, but it has since announced a park-wide ban.

Quite a few incidents

“I was recently talking with some of my colleagues at Disney and there have been quite a few incidents where guests were pulling the selfie sticks out on attractions and rides,” Olson said. “I think a lot of families, as well as the cast and employees will be thankful for the decision. I do know attractions were being stopped if a guest pulled one out on a ride or attraction to take a photo. So it really caused an inconvenience for all guests.”

Olson said he and many consumers will be pleased with the ban. Not only that, he predicts that other theme parks and public venues will follow Disney's lead and ban the selfie stick.

But the popularity of the selfie stick suggests that there will be plenty of people who are not happy with the theme park's new policy. Olson says Disney is taking steps to communicate the change through its website, at its hotels, and at park entrances.

It's not a big deal, he says. The ban on selfie sticks is no different than the list of other items, such as coolers and lawn chairs, you can't bring into the park. Olson expects the response to be similar to a decision Disney made during his time there, to only allow smoking in designated areas.

“Initially, there was a little uproar, but I think it was just a matter of communicating the policy change and now it’s not an issue,” Olson said. “Initially, some guests will be upset, but long-term, as with any policy change, guests will accept it.”

Idea catching on

Olson thinks keeping selfie sticks out of public venues is a good idea and one that is catching on. On his recent rip to China he noticed the Shanghai Museum does not allow visitors to use selfie sticks either.

As for why everyone seems to feel the need to visually document their every move, Olson defers to his Iowa State colleague, Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology.

“The modern culture of self-promotion certainly fuels such use of selfies, with social media sites providing a sort of a competitive race to whose life is more interesting,” Krizan said.

But isn't that just a wee bit nascissistic? Krizan says it might indicate some narcissism, but that the standards for how we self-present have shifted, so that most selfie behavior is now considered normal.

“Taking a selfie, while flexing or wearing underwear, is more debatable,” he said.

Use of selfie sticks may not be as dangerous as using a chain saw, but plenty of users have mishaps. Time magazine reports a family in Massachusetts got pulled into a rip tide and nearly drowned this week while recording a video with a selfie stick.

Time, by the way, listed the selfie stick on its list of “25 Best Inventions of 2014.”

The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick. The monopole allows ...
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Satellite, cable providers often strike out when it comes to sports

Channels come and go, often leaving sports fans alone in the bleachers

Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers, putting the TV subscription and Internet service business a slot or two below airlines in the public estimation.  

Consumers rate DISH Network

DISH Network is certainly no exception. Consumers complain about everything from reliability to fees to contract terms to program selection. The signal fails when it rains (and even when it's sunny), they say. Fees are higher than expected and contracts seem to run forever.

And as for the channel line-ups, there've been several near-uprisings over the last year or so, when DISH booted channels from Fox, CNN and others in contract disputes. Some of the channels returned, some didn't.

But while we can all live without news and old movies, baseball is another matter. Fans who signed up for DISH and other providers often think they'll get to see all of their favorite team's schedule but it doesn't always work out that way.

Take Jay of Cartersville, Ga., a Braves fan. He filed this video review:

It's not just the Braves. Joel of Bangor, Pa., thought he'd get all the Pirates games but it didn't turn out that way.

"I switched from DirecTv to DISH Network as part of a package deal from my phone company. I asked and was told that there would be no problem getting Pittsburgh Pirate baseball," Joel said. "I was not able to get the games and was told they were blacked out. However, a neighbor down the road was able to get those games on DirecTv so they were not blacked out."

Joel switched back to DirecTV and now faces a $440 contract termination charge from DISH.

DISH is not alone, of course. All the TV subscription services generate similar complaints. Take Comcast, for example. 

"I have 'basic cable.' I used to get the Red Sox baseball games and the local news on basic cable," said Richard of Groveland, Mass. "Xfinity changed that so all I get with 'basic cable' is a bunch of Spanish channels, two Boston channels, and a bunch of PBS stations. I can no longer get Red Sox baseball or the New England Patriots football."

The only way to avoid situations like this is to read the contract very carefully before signing it, while ignoring whatever the salesperson is telling you. In most cases, cable and satellite companies have the option to add and drop channels as they see fit. And sometimes, upstream changes in licensing leave them no choice. 

Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers,...
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Nothing goofy about the new prices at Disneyland

Disney parks hit the $100 a day mark but there are ways to save

Mickey is acting Goofy since he got his raise. Disney theme parks have hit the $100 mark to be able to stay and play with all your Disney friends.

A one-day ticket to the Walt Disney World Resort's flagship theme park, the Magic Kingdom, now costs $105, up from $99. They just had a $4 increase last year. The price of admission applies to anyone 10 years and older entering the Orlando-area theme park. Younger children, aged 3 to 9, pay $99.

Prices also increased for the other Disney World theme parks -- EPCOT, the Animal Kingdom Park and Hollywood Studios -- to $97 for visitors aged 10 and older, compared to $94 last year.

An adult one-day ticket to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure will rise from $96 to $99. A one-day park hopper add-on will increase from $54 to $56.

Tickets for children ages 3 to 9 will climb from $90 to $93. A price for a Premium annual pass with parking and no blackout dates will go up 11 percent, from $699 to $779.

Cutting corners

It's not easy for a family to afford a vacation like this. There are some ways to cut corners though when visiting.

The best route is to avoid single park tickets altogether and buy a "Park Hopper" instead. A "Park Hopper" allows you to hop from one Disney park to another in a single day, and it's only an additional $50 per person

Decide where you are going to stay -- at one of the Disney hotels or off-site.

Disney hotels are crazy expensive and just because you can get a wakeup call from Mickey or Snow White you need to think if that is really worth it. On the other hand having to pay for parking at $15 a shot and lug a stroller around can also be enough to wear you out before you get there.

Food at a theme park is overpriced. Pack a lunch and agree with your kids that they can buy one treat. You can easily save $100 a day by bringing your own food and drinks. You can get lockers if you don’t want to carry around your items -- or swing a backpack over your shoulder and save the extra walking to go back to the locker.

Everyone wants a souvenir but if your kids are young enough that you can get by with it, buy them ahead at Walmart -- they are so much cheaper and what a surprise you can give them when you get back to the room and Donald Duck is in your suitcase.

Buy things on sale at the Disney Store ahead of time and have them sent directly to your hotel. Imagine the surprise when it comes right to your door. Yes this requires planning but you will save money and make your kids happy and what is the goal

There are several free apps that you can download to keep track of the wait times for rides. If you stay at a Disney Hotel you can get into the park an hour early. That hour goes crazy fast (and note there are big lines at the hotel too so don’t leave your room at the last second or you might miss part of your hour.)

Would you like to have this site at your fingertips while you’re at Disneyland? Accessing MouseSavers.com on a smartphone (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.) makes it convenient to look up tips and tricks, check on dining discounts, see what events are happening during your stay, and lots more.

Although this costs nothing remember to have fun.

Mickey is acting Goofy since he got his raise. Disney theme parks have hit the $100 mark to be able to stay and play with all your Disney friends....
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A Monopoly game with real money? Oui, but only in France

Hasbro is celebrating the game's 80th anniversary with real euros

You may not win Park Place but you could be lucky and win about $23,000. If you live in France.

It's Monopoly's 80th anniversary and to commemorate, Hasbro is issuing a handful of special sets in France with real euros in place of the usual colorful paper money.

There will be 80 special sets; 69 will be complete with five 10-euro notes and five 20-euro notes, another 10 will come with five 20-euro, two 50-euro and one 100-euro bills, and one set will be all cash. That comes out to  20,580 euros -- or about $23,650 in American money.

I know the big question is whether we will see the same limited edition here in the States. Mum is the word on that and Hasbro hasn't pulled a Chance card yet for the U.S.

The 80th anniversary edition is out in the U.S. It has  a vintage-styled board, cards and money, wooden houses and hotels along with classic tokens from across the decades such as the lantern and money bag. No real money though.

Monopoly editions come in a variety of versions from a make-your-own game board, which allows you to customize all the game equipment and rules to your liking, to San Francisco jeweler Sidney Mobell who has the most expensive Monopoly set, a $2 million game with a golden board and diamond-studded dice.

Monopoly can be traced back to the early 20th century. The earliest known version of Monopoly, known as The Landlord's Game, was designed by an American, Elizabeth Magie, and first patented in 1904 but existed as early as 1902.

Some stats on Monopoly from Hasbro:

  • More than 275 million sets have been sold worldwide.
  • Monopoly is available in 111 countries in 43 languages.
  • The longest game on record lasted for 70 days. That was on terra firma; Monopoly has also been played underwater and in a treehouse.
  • There are 32 houses and 12 hotels in a standard Monopoly set.
  • A Monopoly board has 40 spaces, including 28 properties. Yes, that includes the railroads.
  • The lowest rent in Monopoly? Mediterranean Avenue with no houses.  It'll cost you $2 to land on it. The most expensive? Boardwalk with a hotel, worth a cool $2,000. Wouldn't it be nice to be a hotel at that bargain price.
  • In 2008, more than 3,000 people played the game at the same time, a record.

You may not win Park Place but you could be lucky and win about $23,000. If you live in France....
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Court finds Dish Network violated telemarketing rules "tens of millions" of times

More charges going to trial later this year; penalties not yet levied

Dish Network has been taking lots of heat lately for its licensing battles with CNN and Fox News but what has left consumers steaming for years are annoying and seemingly endless calls from telemarketers.

The CNN and Fox tussles have been settled but the phone calls may be a bigger problem. A federal court in Illinois has found Dish liable for tens of millions of calls that violated the Federal Trade Commission’s telemarketing rules.

Cindy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of the millions of consumers annoyed by Dish's calls.

"I received numerous phone calls from Dish Network from telemarketers from a 208 area code. The reps were rude and threatening and ran up excessive charges on my cell phone despite blocks that were added," she said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs. "I incurred a $139 vs. $49 phone 1 month and $89 vs. $49 the 2nd month before they called."

"Today I was at my parents and the phone rang, I answered it and it was a telemarketer trying to sell Dish Network," Patrick of Beaverton, Mich., said in a similar complaint. "I explained I was not interested and hung up. The phone rang every time I had it hung up for over an hour."

The FTC’s complaint alleged that Dish and its agents made telephone calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. Other charges are still pending and will be resolved at trial later this year.

Millions and millions

In the current ruling, the court found Dish liable for 4,094,099 calls it or its vendors made to numbers on the Registry and for 2,730,842 calls its retailers made to numbers on the Registry.

The complaint also alleges that Dish made calls to people who had previously said that they did not wish to receive such calls. On this count, the court ruled that Dish is liable for 1,043,595 calls to consumers whose telephone numbers were on Dish’s internal do-not-call list or were marked “DNC” by Dish’s telemarketing vendor.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Dish and its agents abandoned calls, in violation of the “abandoned-call” provision of the FTC's telemarketing rules. On this count the court ruled that Dish is liable for 49,738,073 abandoned calls that Dish and three of its retailers made. The court found that Dish is liable for both its own calls, and for causing these retailers’ abandoned calls.

Dish Network has been taking lots of heat lately for its licensing battles with CNN and Fox News but what has left consumers steaming for years are annoyin...
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Fox returns to Dish after three-week hiatus. Was it fair? You decide.

The fight may have looked political but relax, it was just about money

Dish Network may have saved a few dollars in its contract tussle with Fox but it has rebranded itself as Satan in the minds of many loyal Fox fans.

"I called and told them that if they lost Fox News I would leave...They did and I did!!!" said an angry Fox follower named Wayne in one of many angry reviews and emails submitted over the last few weeks. 

"Dish has violated my contract," said a viewer who signed herself Mary Mary. "When I joined Dish you offered Fox News. Since you no longer supply what I signed up for i no longer have to pay you. I will not pay until Fox News is back."

Not to be contrary, but Mary Mary should check her contract, as should anyone else who tried to dump out of their Dish agreement. There are numerous clauses that hold Dish harmless if any of its suppliers (i.e., program producers) can't or won't deliver the goods. 

What Wayne and many others missed was that the dispute was not political -- after all, Dish had a similar falling out with CNN just a few weeks earlier -- but just another in a seemingly endless series of disputes over licensing fees.

After all, while Fox, MSNBC, CNN, et al, may seem like political organizations to their viewers, the truth is that they and their distributors, like Dish, are in it for the bucks and both parties are trying to maximize their return. It's like the coffee bean farmers who sell their produce to Starbucks, although the networks are in a stronger position than your average coffee bean farmer.

News is a lot like coffee, actually. You have to keep brewing up a fresh batch or it gets stale and bitter. 

Consumers rate DISH Network

So despite the turmoil among a healthy number of its 14 million subscribers, Dish Network is now back on track, Fox is back on the satellite and all is right with the world for at least the next three years, which is how long the companies' new contract extends.

Besides Fox News, the new deal covers Fox Business as well.

“We thank the viewers of Fox News and Fox Business and Dish customers for their patience throughout this process,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Gee, thanks guys. Feel free to hold us hostage anytime. 

Dish Network may have saved a few dollars in its contract tussle with Fox but it has rebranded itself as Satan in the minds of many loyal Fox fans....
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DirecTV launches streaming Spanish-language service

Yaveo brings U.S., Latin American and Spanish programming to the Internet

While Dish Network is locked in its latest licensing fight -- this time with Fox -- competitor DirecTV is launching Yaveo, a new streaming video service for Hispanic consumers.

It's an Internet-only subscription video service that promises access to thousands of hours of movies, TV shows and sports, all for $7.99 a month. No DirecTV subscription is needed and there is no contract; the service is month-to-month, with the first month free. It's available only in the U.S.

“Yaveo gets DIRECTV into the OTT (over-the-top) business and we’re excited to start with a compelling Spanish-language service targeted to the Hispanic community,” said Paul Guyardo, chief revenue and marketing officer. “We’ll learn a great deal, use the findings to grow and improve the Yaveo platform and expand our OTT offering over time.”

The Yaveo linep includes Univision telenovela “La Malquerida;” “All the Pretty Horses” with Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz; Roberto Rodriguez’s 1995 “Desperado,” starring Antonio Banderas; and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” starring Kevin James.

Program sources include:

beIN Sports en Español
Nick en Español
Canal 22
Pasiones
Canal Once
RCN
Caracol
TMN (The Movie Network)
Cine Sony Television
Tr3s
El Garage
Univision suite of networks
¡Hola!TV
Video Rola
MTV

While Dish Network is locked in its latest licensing fight -- this time with Fox -- competitor DirecTV is launching Yaveo, a new streaming video service fo...
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Dish dishes up Netflix

It's the first pay-TV service to add the popular streaming channel

Dish has been in the news lately for dropping, then reinstating, CNN and CBS stations in licensing disputes. Now it's adding something -- Netflix, the most popular and widely-watched streaming network.

Netflix will be available on Dish's second-generation Hopper box, rolling out today. That gives customers the ability to instantly stream Netflix movies and TV shows, including "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," from the same platform used to access their linear television channels.

"This app integration eliminates the need to switch television inputs to access content on varying devices. It gives our customers easy access to their favorite shows and movies, on both DISH and Netflix, without ever having to leave their Hopper," said Vivek Khemka, Dish senior vice president of product management.

Hopper customers will find the same Netflix user interface found on most other platforms. The app is easily accessible from any channel by clicking the blue button on the Dish remote and selecting the Netflix icon, or from the Netflix icon on the Hopper main menu. 

The Netflix app is currently available on all broadband-connected second-generation Hopper set-top boxes. In the coming months, DISH expects the app to rollout to Joey, Super Joey and Wireless Joey clients.

Additionally, in the future, titles available on Netflix could be integrated into the search functionality across live, recorded and Video On Demand programs for both the Hopper as well as DISH's forthcoming OTT service.

Dish has been in the news lately for dropping, then reinstating, CNN and CBS stations in licensing disputes. Now it's adding something -- Netflix, the most...
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Sony agrees to partial refunds for Play Station Vita buyers

Feds said Sony exaggerated the "game changing" features of the device

Sony has agreed to cough up partial refunds for consumers who bought the PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2011 and early 2012, after the Federal Trade Commission charged that it deceived consumers with false advertising claims about the “game changing” technological features of the handheld gaming console.

Sony will provide consumers who bought a PS Vita gaming console before June 1, 2012, either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher for select video games and services. Sony will provide notice via email to consumers who are eligible for redress after the settlement is finalized by the Commission.

“As we enter the year’s biggest shopping period, companies need to be reminded that if they make product promises to consumers -- as Sony did with the “game changing” features of its PS Vita -- they must deliver on those pledges,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC will not hesitate to act on behalf of consumers when companies or advertisers make false product claims.”

As part of its launch campaign for the PS Vita, Sony claimed that the pocket-sized console would revolutionize gaming mobility by enabling consumers to play their PlayStation 3 games via “remote play,” and that they could engage in “cross platform” play by starting a game on a PS3 and then continuing it on the go, right where they left off, on a PS Vita. The FTC alleges that each of these claims was misleading.

Misleading claims

In a related action, the Commission charged that Deutsch LA, Sony’s advertising agency for the PS Vita launch, knew or should have known that the advertisements it produced contained misleading claims about the console’s cross platform and 3G capabilities.

The FTC also alleges that Deutsch LA further misled consumers by urging its employees to create awareness and excitement about the PS Vita on Twitter, without instructing employees to disclose their connection to the advertising agency or its then-client Sony. Under a separate settlement order, Deutsch LA is barred from such conduct in the future.

The PS Vita is a handheld gaming console that Sony first sold in the United States in February 2012 for about $250. Unlike the PS3, which allows consumers to play video games on a television, the PS Vita is a portable device that enables gamers to play “on the go,” untethered to a television screen.

The FTC said Sony made false claims about the PS Vita’s “cross platform gaming” or “cross-save” feature. Sony claimed, for example, that PS Vita users could pause any PS3 game at any time and continue to play the game on their PS Vita from where they left off. This feature, however, was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game.

The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Sony’s PS Vita ads falsely implied that consumers who owned the 3G version of the device (which cost an extra $50 plus monthly fees) could engage in live, multi-player gaming through a 3G network. In fact, consumers could not engage in live, multiplayer gaming.

Sony has agreed to cough up partial refunds for consumers who bought the PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2...
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Snake-snack stunt draws hisses from animal lovers

Filmmaker plans to feed himself to an anaconda, hopes to be regurgitated

Would you lather yourself up in pig's blood, hoping to persuade an anaconda to swallow you and regurgitate you? I can think of things I would rather do but there is always that one person who wants to be the first.

Of course it's happening on TV. The Discovery Channel's "Eaten Alive" show, which claims it will show a man being eaten alive by an anaconda, will not only torment the snake. It is also getting under PETA's skin.

"Anacondas go days without eating and expend the energy needed to do so selectively. Making this snake use up energy by swallowing this fool and then possibly regurgitating him would have left the poor animal exhausted and deprived of the energy that he or she needs," the animal rights group said in a statement.

Paul Rosolie who is an author, environmentalist and -- you guessed it -- wildlife filmmaker is the planned snake snack. Rosolie will be wearing a tether that can pull him back out should he go too deep, along with a custom-built snake suit. (Custom built because this is just not the type of outfit one can pick up at Target.)

He will lather himself up with pig's blood so he becomes enticing for this huge powerful snake. An adult anaconda can weigh up to 550 pounds and grow to be 29 feet long.

And although Rosolie sent a message on Twitter on Nov. 4 saying he would "never hurt a living thing," he's not very popular with animal lovers right at the moment.

Around 20,000 people have already signed a petition on Change.org saying they will boycott the show and calling on Discovery to cancel its scheduled Dec. 7 airing.

Would you lather yourself up in pig's blood and then let an anaconda swallow you and regurgitate you? I can think of things I would rather do but there is ...
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Walking Dead's longevity on DirecTV in doubt

AMC and the satellite channel are trying to negotiate a new contract

A few days ago, the news was Dish Network dumping CNN. Now it's DirecTV possibly putting a stake through the heart of "The Walking Dead," "Mad Men" and other popular AMC shows.

AMC says its contract with DirecTV has expired and it says the satellite channel “has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, which leaves us to doubt whether a timely renewal is possible."

But DirecTV says not to worry, promising that the risen dead series will live on for the rest of the season, saying that it intends to "renew our AMC partnership at a price that’s fair to our customers."

Translation: Both parties are playing hardball seeking the best deal they can get while preparing to shift the blame to the other party if negotiations fail.

"Great respect"

It's still fairly early in the process so both sides are trying to stay positive. AMC says it has "great respect" for DirecTV, which in turn is assuring its subscribers that it has their best interests in mind.

"You come first," says DirecTVPromise.com, a website where the network puts its spin on contract talks. "DirecTV is committed to bringing you the best TV experience at the most reasonable value."

For its part, AMC has been inserting adroit advisories in its popular shows and using its website to urge fans to contact DirecTV.

"You are at risk of losing AMC and your favorite series, including 'The Walking Dead,' 'Mad Men,' 'Better Call Saul' and much more," the AMC site claims.

But zombie enthusiasts should be able to rest in peace for the next few months. The current contract runs through the end of the calendar year and "Dead" is scheduled to take a mid-season break in Novembrr, resuming in February.

Industry watchers say that DirecTV is trying to avoid unnecessary controversy while the Federal Communications Commission and other regulators consider whether to give the go-ahead to its purchase by AT&T.

A few days ago, the news was Dish Network dumping CNN. Now it's DirecTV possibly putting a stake through the heart of "The Walking Dead" and other AMC show...
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Customer says Comcast overcharged him and got him fired; sues in federal court

Comcast admits to bad service and billing errors, but denies role in man's firing

Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none is likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee of the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (which, incidentally, does a lot of business with Comcast).

Last Thursday, O'Rourke filed suit against Comcast, alleging among other things that the cable giant violated federal privacy law when, presumably in retaliation for O'Rourke's complaints of bad customer service, someone at Comcast contacted O'Rourke's employer and had him fired.

The Consumerist first broke the story of O'Rourke's firing on Oct. 6, after he'd contacted them with his initial complaint: in early 2013, he said, he signed up with Comcast to take advantage of a nine-month promotional offer.

Problems from the start

But he had problems from the start: Comcast charged him for set-up boxes not yet activated, and misspelled his name on mailings so that some of his bills went undelivered. When the promotional period ended Comcast upped his monthly bill by $20, continued charging him for the still-unactivated set-up boxes, and also charged him for modems he never received.

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

When O'Rourke tried canceling his Comcast service in Oct. 2013, a Comcast rep talked him out of it by assuring him that his billing issues would be resolved shortly, and offered him free DVR service and a free three-month subscription to The Movie Channel as compensation for his troubles.

He accepted. Then things got worse. Comcast sent him a dozen pieces of equipment – DVRs, modems and things he didn't recognize – and billed him $1,800 for it all. O'Rourke disputed these charges, frequently contacting the company and sending them detailed spreadsheets he'd made showing all the errors in his bills.

It didn't help. Last February, Comcast sent O'Rourke's bill to collections even though it was not yet past due. So on Feb. 6, thoroughly fed up with Comcast's regular customer service, he went over their heads and contacted the office of the company Controller. And here's what happened next, according to the Consumerist:

He spoke to someone in that office who promised Conal would receive a call back to address the issues.

He describes that callback as “bizarre,” with the rep not identifying which company she was calling from, just starting out with “How can I help you?” Then she kept insisting that a technician had shown up for an appointment, but wouldn’t specify which appointment. The rep then began asking him for the color of his house.

So he tried the Controller’s office again, to let them know that the rep they’d sent his way had failed miserably at her job.

During this call, he says that he mentioned that Comcast’s billing and accounting issues should probably be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation. This ultimately led to two service calls where no one ever showed up and no explanations were given.

As a professional accountant who at the time worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, of course O'Rourke knew about the PCAOB, whereas your average non-accountant Comcast customer probably would not.

Ethics investigation

Some time after that call, somebody at Comcast contacted PriceWaterhouseCoopers to complain about O'Rourke, who was soon fired after an “ethics” investigation even though he'd previously received excellent reviews at his job.

In a prepared statement, PwC said: "Mr. O’Rourke was employed in one of our internal firm services offices. The firm terminated his employment after an internal investigation concluded that Mr. O’Rourke violated PwC’s ethical standards and practices, applicable to all of our people. The firm has explicit policies regarding employee conduct, we train our people in those policies, and we enforce them. Mr. O’Rourke’s violation of these policies was the sole reason for his termination." 

Comcast and O'Rourke tell slightly different versions of what happened when O'Rourke called the Controller's office; Comcast says he name-dropped his employer, whereas O'Rourke maintains he never said who he worked for, but figured that after the call, someone at Comcast looked him up online and figured out who he worked for.

Comcast has not yet released the recordings of the disputed phone call.

That was the story as of Oct. 6. Two days later, Comcast executive Charlie Herrin, whose full title is given as “Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, Comcast Cable in Customer Experience” on the Comcast corporate blog, posted “A Public Apology To Conal O'Rourke,” in which he apologized for the poor customer service and billing errors O'Rourke suffered, but denied any role in O'Rourke's loss of employment:

What happened with Mr. O’Rourke's service is completely unacceptable. Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us and we’re making this one publicly. We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired.

Then, last Thursday, O'Rourke's lawyers filed suit (available here in .pdf form) against Comcast the corporation, Lawrence Salva the individual (who also works as Comcast Controller), and unnamed “Does [as in John and Jane] 1-20,” certain Comcast employees whose names and identities O'Rourke and his attorneys do not yet know.

$30 million a year

Remember when O'Rourke called the Controller's office and suggested that the company deserved to be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board? The lawsuit says that this is what happened next:

Within an hour after this second call, Mr. Salva personally called Joe Atkinson, a principal at Mr. O'Rourke's employer, PWC. Because Comcast pays more than $30 million a year to PWC for consulting services, Mr. Atkinson took the call. Salva demanded that Mr. O'Rourke be fired from PWC, falsely claiming that Mr. O'Rourke had violated accounting ethics standards by using PWC's name as 'leverage' in his 'negotiations' with Comcast.

The lawsuit also describes what happened the day O'Rourke got fired:

"Less than an hour after Mr. O'Rourke's second call with Comcast's Controller's office, Mr. O'Rourke received a call from Mr. Atkinson. Mr. O'Rourke was shocked to receive the call -- he had never before had occasion to deal with Mr. Atkinson. An angry Atkinson informed Mr. O'Rourke that he had received a call from Comcast's Controller about Mr. O'Rourke. Mr. Atkinson told Mr. O'Rourke that the client was very angry, very valuable, was in fact the Philadelphia office's largest client with billings exceeding $30 million per year, and that Mr. O'Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast."

The suit charges Comcast and the other defendants of defamation, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practice, and violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act for disclosing information about him to his employer without his permission.

The Communications Act is very strict regarding ISPs and cable companies, who by the nature of their business know a lot about you (including your TV-viewing and web-surfing habits), and so the confidentiality of the information they have is protected by federal law. It would be illegal for Comcast even to reveal the seemingly harmless information that he was a Comcast customer with complaints about his service without O'Rourke's prior consent, let alone call his employer to either reveal specifics or make false claims about anything O'Rourke the Comcast customer might have said during a Comcast customer service call.

O'Rourke has, though his lawyers, repeatedly asked Comcast and PriceWaterhouseCoopers to release their recordings of the disputed phone calls and conversations. So far, neither company has done so.

Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none are likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee...
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CBS jumps into video streaming

"CBS All Access" includes current and classic program; no football though

Years ago, we fidgeted through a speech by a network news executive who was appalled by the "river of video" that had been loosed on the world. He was referring only to closed-circuit feeds of video from newly-independent news producers. 

Think how he must be feeling today as one network after another puts its precious programming out on the Internet, making it available to anyone -- even those without a cable subscription.

Just yesterday, it was HBO that announced it would go "over the top," as they say in the business. Loosely translated, that means going around (or over) cable and broadcast stations to distribute programming directly to consumers.

If HBO's decision was an unkind cut at cable systems, the CBS move announced today is a club on the head for both local television affiliates and cable systems. 

$5.99 a month

"CBS All Access," as it's been dubbed, is available for $5.99 per month beginning today at CBS.com and on mobile devices through the CBS App for iOS and Android. 

“CBS All Access is another key step in the Company’s long-standing strategy of monetizing our local and national content in the ways that viewers want it,” said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation.

All Access offers current seasons of 15 primetime shows with episodes available the day after they air, live streams of local CBS stations in 14 of the largest markets and past seasons of many popular series.

What it doesn't include, at least for now, is NFL Football, although Moonves said that may change.

CBS is also said to be developing a live streaming news feed that may begin to air as early as Oct. 28, according to industry sources -- potentially dealing a major blow to CNN and other cable news channels that are already struggling with moribund ratings and aging audiences. 

To sign up for CBS All Access, visit: http://www.cbs.com/allaccess

Years ago, we fidgeted through a speech by a network news executive who was appalled by the "river of video" that had been loosed on the world. He was refe...
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FCC blacks out Sports Blackout Rule for good

The rule made "no sense at all," FCC chair said

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were struggling to fill stadiums and television signals were still a rare commodity.

Under the rule, whenever a sports league ordered a local broadcaster not to televise a game due to unsold tickets, the local cable, satellite, and other video distributors could not televise the game either. The National Football League, along with the National Association of Broadcasters and the NFL Players Association, strongly opposed efforts to end the rule,  arguing that to do so would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” said David Goodfriend, Chairman of Sports Fans Coalition. “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today’s FCC action makes clear: if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but when it comes to getting government out of the business of mistreating sports fans, we are in total agreement,” said Brad Blakeman, Sports Fans Coalition Board Member. “The era of government writing a blank check to sports leagues is over.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had made no secret of his stance. “Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said earlier this month.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

"With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out," he added.

“The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a longtime critic of the rule. "Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions. Today the FCC officially threw a flag on the NFL’s anti-fan blackout policy.”

Blumenthal, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act of 2013– complementary legislation that would remove the NFL’s antitrust exemptions, unless the league ends its practice of requiring broadcasters to blackout games that don’t sell out.

More to come 

The Sports Fans Coalition said it intends to keep the momentum going after today’s FCC action, specifically by pursuing the following initiatives:

1. Eliminating sports leagues’ anti-trust exemption for imposing local blackouts;

2. Enacting the FANS Act; 

3. Conditioning taxpayer funding of professional sports arenas on direct benefits for fans, including free tickets for certain categories of veterans and school children, or in the alternative eliminating such public funding altogether; and

4. Working with domestic violence prevention professionals to help make professional sports something parents can once again proudly share with their children.

“American sports fans love their home teams, love the games, and will fight to make sure that government policies uphold the best that sports have to offer,” said Goodfriend.

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were s...
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AT&T/DirecTV merger gets go-ahead from DirecTV shareholders

The deal still faces anti-trust security and consumer opposition, however

Who wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would strengthen AT&T's hand by giving it a nationwide TV service to add to its bundle.

What it does for consumers isn't quite as clear but AT&T has been promoting it as particularly beneficial for rural dwellers. An AT&T executive said recently that it would use DirecTV's satellite to deliver broadband speeds of 15 megabits per second or better in rural areas. 

AT&T has technology “ready to go” by late 2015 to deliver high-speed wireless Internet service that’s faster than LTE, because it is delivered via a dedicated swath of spectrum, said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's mobility division, at a conference earlier this month.

Although AT&T's Uverse delivers cable and broadband service, it's only available in some markets. By combining its wireless, landline and satellite capacity post-merger, the telecom giant could offer a complete package of broadband, wireless and TV service nationwide. 

Hurdles remain

The deal still requires approval by the Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department and possibly other agencies and, although opposition has not been as strident as in the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, it is far from a certainty.

Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

A group of state attorneys general was formed recently to look into the deal as well. The top state legal officers said they were also investigating the Comcast/Time Warner deal. 

Consumer groups tend to hate both deals, saying they amount to nothing more than consolidation that will limit consumer choice and drive up prices. 

“For the amount of money and debt AT&T and Comcast are collectively shelling out for their respective mega-deals, they could deploy super-fast, gigabit-fiber broadband service to every single home in America,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said recently. 

“But these companies don’t care about providing better services or even connecting more Americans. It’s about eliminating the last shred of competition in a communications sector that’s already dominated by too few players,” Aaron said.

Who wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would ...
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Verizon's customizable TV service could really shake things up

But could there be some industry push-back?

Consumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam revealed his company is preparing a 2015 roll-out of a customizable TV service delivered to digital devices. As McAdam pointed out, the channels would have to be offered a la carte because who, he asked rhetorically, wants 300 channels on their smartphone?

Who indeed? But what McAdam sees as logical – and many consumers would heartily agree – is in fact revolutionary, because that is definitely not how cable TV is packaged and sold. It would appear to open the door to changing the way television services are marketed.

If a consumer can customize their TV service on their phone, they are soon going to ask why can't they customize it in their living room.

Music industry lesson

The music industry has already been down this road. For decades artists released albums of perhaps 12 songs. Consumers might purchase the album because they liked 2 or 3 of them. To get those songs, however, they had to purchase the complete album.

Digital music services like iTunes changed all that. Individual songs can be downloaded for 99 cents. That's great for consumers but has not been so great for artists or music companies.

Just since the introduction of iTunes in 2003, music sales in the U.S. have dropped sharply. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, inflation-adjusted sales revenue fell more than $4.5 billion over a 10 year period.

At the same time, more people were buying music. They just weren't buying as much of it, for as much money. If the music industry had it to do over, it would probably try a different approach to digital.

Protecting the status quo

Content providers can be expected to be leery of any changes to the status quo, especially if these changes may systematically alter revenue models. Netflix learned this the hard way a few years ago.

In 2011 Starz Entertainment, a major supplier of feature film content, abruptly broke off contract renewal talks with Netflix, announcing it would no longer provide movies to Netflix.

The reason was not completely financial. Netflix was reportedly agreeable to terms and willing to pay a reported $300 million to continue its access to Starz's content. The loss had more to do with Netflix's business model.

“This decision is a result of our strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said at the time. “With our current studio rights and growing original programming presence, the network is in an excellent position to evaluate new opportunities and expand its overall business."

In other words, Starz was concerned that Netflix's $8 a month price to consumers was too cheap, threatening its other customers – cable TV networks that charge a lot more.

Netflix has been able to adapt nicely, producing original content and loading up on TV series that have fundamentally altered viewing habits, with consumers now “binge watching” an entire season of shows over a short period of time. It didn't hurt Netflix that a lot of TV series are of higher quality than the movies Hollywood turns out.

The lesson may be that it's hard to stop a revolution. The landscape has changed significantly since 2011 and content providers may now be more willing to adapt to, rather than fight, radical changes.

Verizon's new customizable TV service, which McAdam says could be rolled out in mid 2015, may be the next test.

Consumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it....
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FCC may end sports blackout rule

The rule "makes no sense at all," says FCC chair Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just the guy who can do it.

Wheeler has scheduled a vote for Sept. 30 on a proposal to end the nearly 40-year-old rules, which were enacted back in 1975, prohibiting cable providers from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out.

That's a situation that Wheeler says belongs in the era of fender skirts and buggy whips, when barely 40% of games sold out and gate receipts were the league's primary source of revenue.

"Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television," Wheeler said yesterday on his blog. "NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out."

The NFL and major broadcasters are opposing Wheeler's proposal, arguing that it would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts. They say eliminating the rule would endanger stadium attendance and threaten local businesses. 

Wheeler's not buying that argument. 

“Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just t...
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Free apps prove to be a disruptive force for satellite radio

Many consumers find they can get plenty of stations for free

Satellite radio was a novel concept when it debuted in 1990. You could get hundreds of stations, reflecting all types of programming, and no matter how far you drove, you would never go out of range.

Even so, as a business model satellite radio has struggled. In the U.S. the two competing providers, Sirius and XM, merged into one company in 2007. Selling subscriptions starting at around $8 a month, the company has faced continued strong competition from terrestrial radio stations, which are free.

Now technology has served up even more competition – smartphone apps.

Bluetooth is a game-changer

Most new cars now provide Bluetooth connectivity between mobile devices and the vehicle's entertainment system. The primary purpose is safety – when a call comes in on a connected smartphone, it plays through the entertainment system speakers, providing hands free capability.

But that same connectivity provides some entertainment options. Free smartphone apps like I Heart Radio and TuneIn allow users to play hundreds of radio stations on their phones.

If the programming can be played on a phone, it can also be played through the vehicle's entertainment system. Someone driving on I-95 in North Carolina can listen to their favorite jazz station in Los Angeles if they want.

Abundant programming

Besides the hundreds of terrestrial radio stations available through both apps, both offer access to Internet radio stations that have few, or no commercials, just like many of the satellite stations. They may not have Howard Stern, the big draw for Sirius, but these apps have hundreds of podcasts from up and coming comedians or an archive of public radio programming, like This American Life.

Unlike satellite radio, access to this content costs nothing, except for the data you consume through your wireless plan. If you have T-Mobile as a carrier, that's not even an issue since T-Mobile now has a policy that the music you stream doesn't count against your monthly data allowance.

Satellite radio does provide traffic reports for major markets, which is fine if you happen to be driving in one of those cities. But more than likely you're on an Interstate highway when you need to know if there is an accident a few miles ahead.

Waze

Fortunately, there's an app for that. Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation smartphone app. Its content – information about road conditions – comes from other users who happen to be on the same road at the same time.

After typing in their destination address, users just drive with the app open on their phone to passively contribute traffic and other road data, but they can also take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents, police traps, or any other hazards along the way, helping to give other users in the area a 'heads-up' about what's to come.

This doesn't help solo drivers, because as we all know drivers should not be looking at their phones while behind the wheel. But a passenger looking at the Waze screen can track the movement of the vehicle on the road and be aware of upcoming hazards, like accidents or broken down vehicles on the shoulder.

The map also shows rest stops and other travel landmarks as they approach on your route. The interface tells you how many other users – they're called Wazers – are in the vicinity. A chat feature lets you communicate directly with them or ask a question.

Waze even offers advice on where to fill up. Users can post the location of the cheapest gas they've encountered.

Satellite radio was a novel concept when it debuted in 1990. You could get hundreds of stations, reflecting all types of programming, and no matter how far...
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Lightning on the beach! It's not that unusual

Safety tips for surviving lightning strikes

The weekend lightning strike that killed one person and injured several others on Venice Beach got a lot of attention but the only thing unusual about it was that it happened in Los Angeles, which doesn't get many thunderstorms.

In much of the country, however, thunderstorms are common and lightning strikes routinely kill and injure hundreds of people each year. The Los Angeles death was the 15th in the U.S. this year. 

Beaches, athletic fields and other flat, open spaces are particularly dangerous.

So what's the safest place to be if you're outdoors? The simplest answer, according to the National Weather Service, is that there is no completely safe place outside during a thunderstorm -- the best place to be is inside a building.

If you can't get inside, a car or truck with windows and doors closed offers the best protection from a lightning strike, since the tires offer insulation that keeps the electrical current from penetrating the car. A fully-enclosed structure, such as an outdoor restroom facility at a park or beach, also offers good protection.

Open structures such as picnic shelters and sports dug-outs are not safe and should be avoided, NWS says.

Safety inside

Inside a home or office, avoid corded phones and electronic equipment that is plugged into electrical power or your computer network. It's also a good idea to avoid plumbing fixtures, which can provide a route for the current from a lightning strike to enter a building. 

Your valuable appliances and home electronics -- computer, TV, etc. -- are vulnerable to damage from lightning and, unfortunately, there's not much you can do to protect them. Once a storm has started, it's too late to run around pulling plugs, and surge protectors aren't generally able to withstand a direct lightning strike. They're designed to protect against surges caused by nearby storms or equipment malfunctions, not direct lightning strikes.

Risk management analysts refer to lightning strikes as "low probability/high consequences calamities." In other words, they don't happen often but when they do, they cause a lot of damage. If you're unfortunate enough to suffer a direct strike to your home, the damage can be both extensive and expensive. While it should be covered by most homeowners insurance policies, you'll likely end up paying a hefty percentage out of pocket.

Just ask Dan of Muskegon, Mich., whose house was hit by lightning. 

Had Frankenmuth Insurance with 3 cars and 2 homes for about 11 years. Filed one petty claim all those years,

"Lightning damage, blown holes in my walls, blown switches out of the walls, wiring, etc.," Dan said in a June 2014 ConsumerAffairs review of Frankenmuth Insurance. "Burned up my television, computer, phone, all my cable equipment, etc."

Dan said the damage came to $3,700 but after a $500 deductible and depreciation, he received only $1,799. 

The weekend lightning strike that killed one person and injured several others on Venice Beach got a lot of attention but the only thing unusual about it w...
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10% of U.S. beaches fail safety test

"Urban slobber" contributes to high bacteria count that can cause disease

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according to the 24th annual beach report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick."

Each year, the NRDC collects and analyzes water testing results from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state beach coordinators at nearly 3,500 beach testing locations nationwide.

This year, the report found 35 popular “superstar” beaches with excellent water quality, and flagged 17 “repeat offenders” that exhibited chronic water pollution problems. The full report, including a Zip Code-searchable map can be found here.

Superstar beaches      

NRDC designated 35 popular beaches across 14 states as “superstars” – popular beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • Alabama:  Dauphin Island Public Beach
  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (1 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach - 38th Street
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach-Swedes in Sussex County
  • Florida: Bowman’s Beach in Lee County
  • Florida: Coquina Beach South in Manatee County
  • Florida: Fort Desoto North Beach in Pinellas County
  • Georgia: Tybee Island North in Chatham County
  • Hawaii: Hapuna Beach St. Rec. Area in Big Island       
  • Hawaii: Po’ipu Beach Park in Kauai
  • Hawaii: Wailea Beach Park in Maui
  • Massachusetts: Singing Beach in Essex County
  • Maryland: Point Lookout State Park in St Mary's County
  • Maryland: Assateague State Park in Worcester County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Main St. and Sunset Blvd. in Brunswick County
  • North Carolina: Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Dare County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Salisbury Street in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover  
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Ocean Blvd. and Crews Ave. in Topsail Beach in Pender County           
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Rd. in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Jersey: Washington (Margate) in Atlantic County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Avalon) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Sea Isle City) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Stone Harbor at 96th St. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Upper Township at Webster Rd. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Wildwood Crest at Orchid in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Broadway (Pt. Pleasant Beach) in Ocean County
  • New York: Long Beach City in Nassau County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 28th St. in Virginia Beach County    
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 45th St in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Back Bay Beach in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach - Little Island Beach North in Virginia Beach County
  • Washington: Westhaven State Park, South Jetty in Grays Harbor          

Repeat offenders

Over the last five years of the NRDC report, sections of 17 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25% of the time each year from 2009 to 2013:

  • California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County
  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
  • Massachusetts: Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County
  • Maine: Goodies Beach in Knox County
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County
  • New York: Main Street Beach in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Wright Park – East in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County
  • Ohio: Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Noble Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Sims Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County
  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

Based on EPA’s BAV safety threshold, the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate of beach water quality samples, with 13% of samples failing to pass the safety test in 2013. The Delmarva region had the lowest failure rate, with 4% of samples failing the safety test. In between were the Gulf Coast (12%), New England (11%), the Western Coast (9%), the New York and New Jersey coasts (7%), and the Southeast (7%).

Individual states with the highest failure rates of reported water samples in 2013 were Ohio (35%), Alaska (24%) and Mississippi (21%). Those with the lowest failure rates last year were Delaware (3%), New Hampshire (3%) and New Jersey (3%).

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary overflows each year. Beach water pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders, and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can even be fatal.

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according...
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Patent Office cancels Washington Redskins trademarks

The team has turned aside complaints its name is racist and demeaning to Native Americans

Back in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.

The boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., city bus system helped get the civil rights movement rolling, and the grape boycott gave farm workers a leg up.

But consumer boycotts have lost a lot of steam since then. Take the Washington Redskins. For years, fans, non-fans and assorted do-gooders have earnestly and, later, angrily called on the National Football League team to change its name. Attempts to organize boycotts haven't made it out of the end zone. 

Just a few weeks ago, the United Church of Christ's Mid-Atlantic Conference announced a boycott of the team and called on other churches in the D.C. area to do the same. The answer, so far, has been a resounding silence.

Billionaire team owner Dan Snyder has angrily refused, saying he would "never" change the name and claiming that Native Americans don't find the term "redskins" offensive.

The term, of course, refers to the body parts of Native Americans that were collected by federal troops during the Indian Wars that raged for more than a century during the settlement of the American West.

Native Americans may have had a derogatory term for the scalps they sometimes collected from white people but, if so, it's not in common usage and certainly isn't used in interstate commerce. 

The PTO speaks

Amidst all the back-and-forth, five Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asking that the team's trademarks be vacated on the grounds that they are "disparaging."

The PTO agreed and has canceled the team's 6 trademarks.

"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a)  of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)."

Most likely, we haven't heard the last of this. The PTO issued a similar ruling back in 1992 and it was reversed after the Redskins' lawyers appealed.

Some Redskins fans took to social media claiming the PTO ruling infringed Snyder's free speech rights. However, the ruling means only that the federal government no longer grants ownership of the term "Redskins" to the team.

Theoretically, the team could continue to use the name without trademark protection but it would then be unable to claim royalties from the sale of sweatshirts, caps, beer mugs and other spoils of war.

Source: WikipediaBack in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.The boycott of th...
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AT&T agrees to $49 billion purchase of DirecTV

Initial effect on consumers is expected to be minimal

If you're a DirecTV subscriber, you may soon be an AT&T customer. And if you're an AT&T U-verse customer, you could soon be getting your TV channels via satellite.

It's all because AT&T has agreed to buy DirecTV for $49 billion, potentially giving it 26 million cable TV subscribers, second only to Comcast and Time Warner, which would have about 30 million in their proposed merger goes through.

Both deals are contingent on regulatory approval. The AT&T transaction was approved by both the AT&T and DirecTV boards in special Sunday meetings.

Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

Consumers were not exactly gleeful about the announcement. 

"Have had a Uverse account for about three years now. The service is continuously interrupted," said Theresa of Buena Park, Calif., in a review submitted to ConsumerAffairs. "I have a pixelated TV almost every week I need to reboot one or more of my 5 boxes. ... ATT is just too big and busy to care that my reception sucks. They will however call write and text me to tell me my bill is ready."

For Christina of Carlsbad, Calif., U-verse interruptions are more than just an inconvenience. She said she had been without cable for two days.

"My box died and when I call Customer Service they said they will mail me one, the need didn't justified a service call. So in the middle of getting ready to evacuate because of the Poinsettia Fire, I couldn't watch the news."

Tom of Minneapolis said he has been a DirecTV customer for more than a decade but had to cancel his service when he moved to a building that doesn't allow satellite dishes.

"I'd rather keep their service, but that sentiment went away when I heard I would be charged $20 for each of the 6 months left on my contract. I would have switched back as soon as I could, but won't go back now. I will no longer be someone who recommends their services either, but will turn on them to become a detractor."

Urge to merge

Why this sudden urge to merge? It's mostly because the TV business is changing faster than anyone expected -- sort of like climate change. Streaming video is becoming a threat to cable -- but only if it can acquire the first-run, top-tier programming that for the last few decades has been tied up by cable channels like HBO.

To acquire the best content, and to have the wherewithal to produce their own first-rate content, distribution companies need to bulk up, so that they can wrestle the best deals out of content producers and produce the revenue they need to brew their own.

This is not a new problem. Ben Franklin dealt with it back in the 1700s. He started with a print shop, then began publishing a newspaper, then a magazine and, finally, got himself appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia, enabling him to give his competitors the dead letter treatment and basically creating America's first vertically integrated media empire. 

It was, says Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson, "an early example of the tension that often still exists between those who create content and those who control distribution." ("Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," Simon & Schuster).

AT&T may be reading from Franklin's primer but the scale is quite a bit bigger. The acquisition would give AT&T a nationwide wireless network, a nationwide satellite video distribution system and 70 million household broadband subscribers. 

Not bad for a company that was broken up into little pieces 32 years ago because it had gotten too big. 

Effect on consumers?

Consumers rate DirecTV

What it means for consumers, at least initially, is that you can expect AT&T to begin offering service bundles that include satellite TV. That could mean existing Uverse customers would get their TV shows by satellite while enjoying faster broadband service if cable programming is removed from Uverse.

Nothing much more significant than that is in the cards in the short-term, most observers think. AT&T, of course, spins it as a dream-come-true for consumers.

"DIRECTV is a great fit with AT&T and together we’ll be able to enhance innovation and provide customers new competitive choices for what they want in mobile, video and broadband services," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T Chairman and CEO. "This is a unique opportunity that will redefine the video entertainment industry and create a company able to offer new bundles and deliver content to consumers across multiple screens – mobile devices, TVs, laptops, cars and even airplanes."

AT&T said it would commit to abide by net-neutrality rules, invest in rural broadband and spend at least $9 billion in an upcoming government auction of wireless airwaves.

If you're a DirecTV subscriber, you may soon be an AT&T customer. And if you're an AT&T Uverse customer, you could soon be getting your TV channels...
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Study: Americans have maxed out their TV-viewing time

So many channels, so little time

It had to happen eventually. What with sleeping, eating, working, commuting and just generally staying alive, folks can't squeeze in any more TV viewing time.

This is the discovery of Nielsen, the ratings service that has for decades measured audiences for broadcast television. Now, with video streaming out of laptops, phones, tablets and every other nook and cranny, Nielsen says we've essentially maxed out our viewing time.

In a new report, Nielsen says the number of channels viewed by the average household has stabilized at about 17.5 since 2008, even as the number of available channels has grown by 60 since then.

Nielsen, which will start measuring Internet and mobile Web viewing later this year, admits it is still trying to figure out how to define the concept of "channels" as new video sources like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube turn the distribution system on its head.

Since the primary purpose of ratings is to set advertising rates, this is not just an academic exercise -- there are big bucks at stake.

So maybe that means that serious minds will take it seriously and do something to expand the time available for viewing. Could this be where Google's driverless car comes in? After all, with an average commute of 30 minutes or so each way, that could open up another hour of video- and commercial-viewing time.

It had to happen eventually. What with sleeping, eating, working, commuting and just generally staying alive, folks can't squeeze in any more TV viewing ti...
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Today's USA, as seen via Facebook

"Facebook Newswire" may not be polished but there's a lot of it

A few days ago, Facebook announced with much bravado the inauguration of "Facebook Newswire," something it billed as a tool for journalists. Considerable scoffing ensued, with many journalists saying they would rather take tips from psychics than rely on Facebook.

But you know what? Facebook Newswire may be rough, but it's proving itself ready, if not for prime time then at least for the lead-in to prime time, as they say in the TV biz. 

The idea is simple: consumers -- you know, regular folk -- see something, they shoot it with their smartphone and upload it. Human editors find the most newsworthy and compelling material and post it to FB News.

You might call it first-responder journalism -- the first, fragmentary reports from the scene of a disaster, riot or particularly cute story involving pets.  

Take today's train derailment in downtown Lynchburg, Va. One of the first reports came form Adam Miller, who saw the smoke that billowed from the wreckage of the train, which later reports said had been carrying crude oil.

While heavy black smoke was billowing from that derailed train in Virginia, lighter but still dense smoke was coming from a wildfire in California, as shown in this photo from KTLA5 News.

Smoke would have been a welcome site in much of the Southeast and Midwest, where torrential rains and tornadoes inflicted heavy property damage and many deaths.

OK, it's not Pulitzer Prize material but you can't say it's not breaking news. It's also a platform that, while still just a few days old, could grow into something pretty powerful. 

It's not hard to image behind-the-lines documentaries exposing outrages and injustice in totalitarian countries or in prisons, nursing homes or other places where the powerless are too often voiceless.

The postings are curated and verified by professional editors at Storyful, which calls itself a social news-verification company, so it's not a totally wild-and-crazy gathering spot.

“Our goal is that the Newswire will be an invaluable tool for journalists, helping them to tell richer, more engaging stories using public content from Facebook,” said Andy Mitchell, Facebook’s director of news and global media partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported.

While it's aimed at journalists, anyone can visit https://www.facebook.com/FBNewswire. Take a look. It's what they used to call "news as it happens." 

// Post by Rob Wooters.A few days ago, Facebook announced with much bravado the inauguration of "Facebook Newswire," something it billed as a tool ...
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Dish planning a summer launch for its Internet-TV service

The service would be a cable-like subscription plan delivered over the Web

A long time ago, satellite communications was a new idea. Today it's pretty ho-hum so Dish Network, which runs what amounts to a cable service delivered via satellite, is trying to get with the times.

Consumers rate DISH Network

The company is putting together an Internet-based service that would sort of duplicate cable -- offering subscribers packages from a number of program providers.

Dish has reportedly signed with the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC and several other channels, and is pursuing deals with A&E, Turner Broadcasting, CBS and others, Bloomberg News reports.

Dish is reportedly targeting the 18-34 crowd that only wants to pay $20 or $30 a month to watch TV on their smartphones and tablets instead of on a traditional TV.

Of course, you still need Internet access, which may turn out to be a stumbling block.

Not unique

This is not exactly a new idea. Several other firms are planning similar roll-outs. Perhaps more significantly, Amazon today announced it will be offering HBO programming to its Prime Instant Video members, in addition to the thousands of movies and TV series already in its catalog.

Amazon's new Fire TV box will also provide access to HBO GO, the companies said.

It's not too hard to imagine Amazon and its primary competitor, Netflix, continuing to pile up deals with program producers at a fast clip. They have the advantage of a huge base of subscribers, while Dish and others new to the streaming video field are essentially starting from scratch.

Plenty of others are trying to get their toe in the water before the pool closes to new entrants. AT&T said yesterday that it is planning a streaming-video venture called Over the Top.

Verizon bought a failed Intel Corp. venture and is said to be developing a new venture, while Sony has reportedly signed an agreement to stream Viacom programming.

A long time ago, satellite communications was a new idea. Today it's pretty ho-hum so Dish Network, which runs what amounts to a cable service delivered vi...
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HBO series coming to Amazon Prime

Also, HBO GO being added to Amazon's Fire TV

One thing that keeps many consumers from dumping their expensive cable TV service is HBO. Sure, you could do without ever seeing "Extreme Cheapskates" on TLC again but HBO is another story.

Amazon has just solved that problem. Amazon and HBO today announced that Amazon's Prime Instant Video will be the exclusive online source of much of HBO's catalog, including award-winning shows such as "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "Big Love," "Deadwood," "Treme," early seasons of "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Blood."

Currently running series will be added to the online catalog over the course of the agreement.

The first wave of content will arrive on Prime Instant Video May 21. This is the first time that HBO programming has been licensed to an online-only subscription streaming service.

In addition, HBO GO will become available on Fire TV, targeting a launch by year-end. HBO GO is HBO’s authenticated streaming service offering subscribers instant access to over 1,700 titles online including every episode of new and classic HBO series, as well as HBO original films, miniseries, sports, documentaries, specials and a wide selection of blockbuster movies.

“HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking, beloved and award-winning shows in television history, with more than 115 Emmys amongst the assortment of shows coming to Prime members next month,” said Brad Beale, Director of Content Acquisition for Amazon. “HBO original content is some of the most-popular across Amazon Instant Video — our customers love watching these shows. Now Prime members can enjoy a collection of great HBO shows on an unlimited basis, at no additional cost to their Prime membership.”

Amazon announced in March that it was raising the annual fee for Prime membership from $79 to $99. Prime also includes free two-day shipping of most products and access to thousands of streaming video titles, including a growing number of original content produced by Amazon.  

“Amazon has built a wonderful service—we are excited to have our programming made available to their vast customer base and believe the exposure will create new HBO subscribers,” said Charles Schreger, President of Programming Sales for HBO.

Details

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

  • All seasons of classics such as "The Sopranos,""The Wire,""Deadwood,""Rome" and "Six Feet Under," and of recent favorites such as "Eastbound & Down,""Enlightened" and "Flight of the Conchords;"
  • Miniseries, including "Angels in America,""Band of Brothers,""John Adams,""The Pacific" and "Parade’s End;"
  • Select seasons of current series such as "Boardwalk Empire,""Treme" and "True Blood"
  • Hit original movies like "Game Change,""Too Big To Fail" and "You Don’t Know Jack;"
  • Documentaries including the "Autopsy" and "Iceman" series, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" and "When the Levees Broke;" and
  • Original comedy specials from Lewis Black, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK and Bill Maher. 

The multi-year deal will bring additional seasons of the current series named above, along with early seasons of other series like Girls, The Newsroom and Veep to Prime members over the life of the deal.

One thing that keeps many consumers from dumping their expensive cable TV service is HBO. Sure, you could do without ever seeing "Extreme Cheapskates" on T...
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AT&T plans "over the top" video services venture

Meanwhile, Netflix says AT&T's streaming speeds are pathetic

AT&T, perhaps noticing that it is once again falling behind the game, says that it and The Chernin Group plan to invest $500 million to create a new venture that will acquire, invest in and launch a new video services venture, which at least for now is going by the sobriquet of OTT -- or, Over the Top video.

The companies said the goal of the venture will be to invest in both ad-supported and subscription-based video on demand channels as well as streaming services. The idea is to launch new Internet-video services, rather than deliver a “virtual pay-TV” service that would be designed to compete with traditional cable or satellite TV, an AT&T rep was reported to have said.

AT&T did not bother to post information about the venture in its media relations section, where the last posting at 3 p.m. ET today was dated March 5, not exactly over-the-top public relations hustling.

Not much else is known about the venture, except that it will include Chernin's majority stake in Crunchyroll, a subscription VOD service focused on anime content.

Subpar streaming

The timing was ironic in that it came on the same day that Netflix called out AT&T for offering subpar video streaming, even slower in some cases than the outmoded DSL service still offered in some parts of the country.

Netflix said AT&T provided an average speed in March of 1.73 megabits a second for Netflix’s service on fiber-based connections, trailing CenturyLink Inc. and Windstream Holdings Inc., which use older DSL lines, Netflix said. 

If AT&T wanted to serve its customers better, it could do so with a free direct hook-up to Netflix, the company said.

“AT&T customers expect a good quality Netflix experience given how much they pay AT&T for their Internet service,” Netflix said in its earnings report.

AT&T, perhaps noticing that it is once again falling behind the game, says that it and The Chernin Group plan to invest $500 million to create a new ve...
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DISH agrees to $2 million in refunds to Washington state consumers

The satellite TV company began charging an illegal line-item surcharge in 2012

DISH Network has agreed to refund about $2 million to customers in Washington state, following complaints that the company collected an unlawful monthly line-item surcharge beginning in May 2012.

In an agreement with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, DISH agreed to:

• Refund approximately $2 million to Washington state consumers;

• Provide additional benefits to consumers that could total up to $3 million; and
• Pay the state $569,500 for costs and fees.

Ferguson said that hundreds of thousands of Washington consumers were illegally charged a dollar per month for up to eight months. From May through December of 2012, DISH charged consumers a “WA State Surcharge” or “WA Surcharge” ranging from $1.00 to $1.09 — stopping only after Ferguson's office began an investigation.

“DISH’s actions cost hard-working Washingtonians millions of dollars, one buck at a time,” said Ferguson. “The Attorney General’s Office will prosecute any company that tries to make a buck through deceptive billing.”

Consumers to receive a full refund

Consumers rate DISH Network

Consumers will get a full refund of the surcharge they paid, regardless of whether they are still DISH customers.

Consumers do not need to do anything to get their refund — it will be issued as a bill credit for current customers or a check to former customers who paid the surcharge. DISH will contact all eligible consumers via mail or email.

In addition, residential subscribers who paid the surcharge, and who are still DISH customers, will get to choose one of the following benefits:

1. A ten dollar credit applied to their monthly bill;
2. Two free pay-per-view movies; or
3. Two months of free access to Epix movie channel (if they are not already subscribed to Epix).

Commercial subscribers, such as bars or restaurants, who paid the surcharge and are still DISH customers and who file a claim will receive a $10 bill credit.

Depending on the number of consumers who file a claim, DISH could provide about $3 million in additional benefits to Washington consumers.

The settlement applies only to consumers in Washington state.

What to do

While no action is needed to receive the refund, affected consumers must submit a claim form to choose and receive their additional benefit.

DISH is developing a web page — www.WaDISHsettlement.com — where consumers will be able to submit claims forms. The web page goes live on April 25, 2014.

Consumers wishing to claim their benefits under this settlement must submit a claim form and choose their benefit by Aug. 17, 2014.

DISH Network has agreed to refund about $2 million to customers in Washington state, following complaints that the company collected an unlawful monthly li...
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Study: better weather leads to better restaurant reviews

Your environment affects your taste more than you think

If you're a restaurant owner wondering why your delicious offerings always generate such negative commentary on review sites like Foursquare, Citysearch and others, well – maybe the problem is that your restaurant isn't as great as you think it is, sure.

But maybe the problem boils down to bad location, or even bad weather—say, if your restaurant's a failure in a rainy city like Seattle, maybe you'd do better in the Sun Belt. Or at least figure out a way to only operate on warm sunny days, when your customers are most likely to be happy.

A doctoral student at Georgia Tech (working with researchers from Yahoo Labs) inspected restaurant reviews from all over the country at all times of the year, and found a distinct correlation between the quality of restaurant reviews and how nice the weather is.

Foodies are also weather people

The published study, titled “Demographics, Weather and Online Reviews: A Study of Restaurant Recommendations,” basically concluded that restaurant reviews written when it's rainy or snowy, “too cold” or “too hot” tend to be overwhelmingly more negative than reviews written on nice days, even when other variables are taken into account.

The study's lead author, doctoral candidate Saeideh Bakhshi, said: “People love to describe themselves as foodies. But in the end, it looks like we’re all weather people, whether we realize it or not …. The best reviews are written on sunny days between 70 and 100 degrees. Science has shown that weather impacts our mood, so a nice day can lead to a nice review. A rainy day can mean a miserable one.”

Of course, restaurant and food reviews are inherently subjective anyway—even if two people agree “food ought to taste good,” there's still disagreement regarding just what “tastes good” actually means. But if Bakhshi's findings are any indication, the weather shapes your food preferences more than you even realize.

If you're a restaurant owner wondering why your delicious offerings always generate such negative commentary on review sites like Foursquare, Citysearch an...
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"House of Cards" comes to Comcast

More Sony titles headed for Comcast's Xfinity Store

Syndication has always been a big deal in the TV business. Once aired on their primary network, shows go on to live forever in syndication, and the advent of streaming video is doing nothing to change that.

The difference this time around is that "House of Cards" is going from Netflix streaming video to Comcast's Xfinity Store, skipping the over-the-air TV route entirely.

Netflix is retaining exclusive streaming rights to the series but Comcast will be selling episodes from the first season, as Amazon and Walmart’s Vudu are already doing. Individual episodes are priced at $1.99, which could be a tough gtsell, considering you can subscribe to all of Netflix for $7.99 a month.

Comcast is adding other titles to its Xfinity Store, including ”American Hustle,” to be available for rent or purchase starting tomorrow (Tuesday). 

In May, anther popular Netflix drama original, “Orange Is the New Black,” will be hitting the Comcast Xfinity Store on May 13.

The Xfinity Store titles come out before traditional video-on-demand and don't require the use of a laptop or smartphone to order. They can be called up right from the TV set-top box. 

It's similar to Verizon’s FiOS Flex View, which has offered movies for purchase and viewable on multiple devices since late 2010.

Syndication has always been a big deal in the TV business. Once aired on their primary network, shows go on to live forever in syndication, and the advent ...
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Judge orders Aereo to shut down in Denver, Salt Lake City

It's the first win for broadcasters in their battle with Aereo

Television broadcasters have finally managed to eke out a small victory against Aereo, the rogue cable-like service that has been sucking money out of their cash drawers.

A federal appeals court judge in Denver said Aereo was violating broadcasters' copyrights. Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Dale Kimball ordered the service shut down in Denver and Salt Lake City and blocked it from starting in Idaho, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

The victory may be short-lived, however. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case, which pits the fast-growing start-up against broadcast giants including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

The case revolves around the royalty payments that cable systems pay to broadcasters for redistributing their programming. Aereo claims it is not a cable system; it says it simply operates a bank of miniature antennas in each city it serves -- one antenna per customer.

Aereo thus argues that it is not redistributing the broadcasters' programs for profit but is merely acting as a remote antenna for each of its customers.

Objections dismissed

Federal district and appellate judges elsewhere have dismissed the broadcasters' objections, leaving the broadcasters in a state approaching hysteria.

Some network executives have gone so far as to argue that they will pull the plug on themselves and take their stations off the air if Aereo is victorious in court. The stations would then be available only on cable.

Of course, this would shut off service to millions of consumers who have their own antennas but consumers have been an afterthought in this as in so many other debates that pitch supposed Davids and Goliaths against each other.

While the seemingly noble warriors grunt, strut and smack each other, playing to the cheering crowds in the stands, it's worth remembering that the prize they're fighting for is not peace, love and freedom. Instead, it's the lowly consumer, who will be taken out back and stripped of his worldly goods as soon as the main event is over.

Television broadcasters have finally managed to eke out a small victory against Aereo, the rogue cable-like service that has been sucking money out of thei...
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Feb. 9, 1964: the day Beatlemania arrived in America

It was 50 years ago today, Ed Sullivan told the band to play...





Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and entertainment, popular culture, perhaps even the world was never the same.

“Now yesterday and today our theater has been jammed with newspapermen and photographers from all over the nation and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool,” Sullivan said as he introduced John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to a massive U.S. audience.

Polished image

But America was a bit late to Beatlemania, which had been in full bloom for months in the group's native England. After playing small clubs in and around Liverpool, the group hired Brian Epstein as its manager. Epstein quickly and cleverly gave the Beatles a polished, professional image. Their music did the rest.

Teenagers, young women especially, screamed their approval at appearances and mobbed the four musicians if they happened to see them in public. Sullivan is said to have been at Heathrow Airport in London in the fall of 1963, where he witnessed throngs of screaming girls as the Beatles disembarked from a plane.

There is an alternate version of how the group came to Sullivan's attention. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite aired a lengthy feature story about Beatlemania in late 1963, which can be seen below.

Overnight sensation

Following the Ed Sullivan appearance the Beatles, almost overnight, became the most popular pop music group in America. Capital Records released one Beatles hit after another.

“I Want To Hold Your Hand” shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 immediately. By the time the group quit performing in 1970 it had held the number one spot on that chart for a total of 59 weeks while topping the LP charts for 116 weeks.

Perhaps more significantly, something about the Beatles captured the imagination of young people, not just in the U.S. but around the world. The group seemed to possess an authenticity that helped launch a social revolution. Some commentators mark the start of the decade of the 1960s on that cold Sunday night in February 1964.

Huge consumer product

Before they were finished as a group the Beatles had become a huge consumer product as well. In addition to their records there were books, movies and cartoon shows and their likeness appeared on hundreds of products, including lunchboxes and bed sheets.

Today these products are collectors' items. On eBay, a Beatles lunchbox has a price tag of $349. A set of Beatles bobble-head dolls has a "buy it now" price of $500.

Debra Hess Norris, a University of Delaware professor and expert on photographic preservation, says she still has a few treasured artifacts from her days as a Beatles fan which she carefully preserves. For those buying aging memorabilia, she urges careful treatment.

"Protect these materials from high and fluctuating temperatures and humidity," she said. "Do not store memorabilia in attics or basements. House them in a stable, low-humidity environment, such as an interior closet." 

Lasting legacy

After the Beatles broke up the four individual members continued solo musical careers. Today only two members of the group survive and one, Paul McCartney, has been knighted by the Queen of England.

Every few years their music is remastered and released, not just for nostalgic former teenagers with gray hair but also a new generation of fans, who find something to relate to in their music.

Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and ...
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Could reality TV be a force for good?

Researchers think two shows may have helped reduce teen pregnancy

There's general agreement that unmarried teen-age girls should not be encouraged to have babies. So when MTV came up with reality TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” social critics went ballistic.

They warned that the shows glamorized teen motherhood and thousands of young girls would think they, too could land a reality show if they just got pregnant. While the concern is understandable, there is some evidence to suggest the shows had just the opposite effect.

Research by Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa Schettini Kearney finds that since the shows began, there has been a 5.7% drop in births to teen-age mothers.

Could there be a link?

Whether there is any direct link has yet to be proven. After all, the teen birth rate was already in decline. But the economists say the introduction of the series does in fact coincide with a significant drop in the pregnancy rate. They say the critics may have been right that the media holds enormous influence over young viewers. They may have just been wrong about what the young female viewers would take away from the programs.

"In some circles, the idea that teenagers respond to media content is a foregone conclusion, but determining whether the media images themselves cause the behavior is a very difficult empirical task," Kearney said.

Negative reinforcement

And maybe the images of being up all night with a crying baby and not being able to go out with friends send a sobering message. The researchers believe there may be something to this and theorize that the timing of the shows and the rather significant drop in pregnancies do in fact have a link.

Kearney and Levine reached that conclusion after conducting an in-depth empirical study, analyzing Nielsen ratings data and metrics from Google and Twitter. The researchers then examined the impact on teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality microdata.

"Our use of data from Google Trends and Twitter enable us to provide some gauge of what viewers are thinking about when they watch the show,” Levine said. “We conclude that exposure to '16 and Pregnant' and 'Teen Mom' was high and that it had an influence on teens' thinking regarding birth control and abortion."

Abortions down too

While teen births were down, so were teen abortions, leading Kearney and Levine to conclude the drop in the teen birth rate is attributable to a reduction in pregnancies, not in an increase in abortion.

They further suggest that "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" drew in female viewers who were most at risk of an early pregnancy. What they saw as the programs unfolded was akin to the drivers education films of yester-year, which showed graphic footage from real auto accidents. In other words, after seeing what it was like to be a mother, not that many teens were all that keen on trying it.

Kearney and Levine have advanced the contrarian notion that not all reality TV is worthless trash. Some may, in fact, have redeeming social value. The researchers, in fact, would like to see more.

"This approach has the potential to yield large results with important social consequences," they conclude. "Typically, the public concern addresses potential negative influences of media exposure, but this study finds it may have positive influences as well."

There's general agreement that unmarried teen-age girls should not be encouraged to have babies. So when MTV came up with reality TV shows like “16 a...
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DirecTV gives the Weather Channel the boot

It's the latest fee dispute among the giants of the TV world

If you like to sit around and watch The Weather Channel, you'll have to do it somewhere other than on DirecTV, which has ousted the Weather Channel from its line-up, replacing it with a start-up called WeatherNation.

Both sides, as usual, accuse the other of being greedy and unreasonable, though in slightly more polite language.

“This is unprecedented for The Weather Channel. In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement. We offered DirecTV the best rate for our programming, and I am shocked they have put corporate profits ahead of keeping a trusted channel that subscribers rely on every day," said David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Company.

"We are not looking for a large fee increase. We are simply looking for a fair deal that allows our company to continue to invest in the science and technology that enables us to keep people safe, deliver the world’s best weather, and tell weather stories to help people be prepared and informed," Kenny insisted.

"Cheap start-up"

Consumers rate DirecTV

Kenny accused DirecTV of putting finances before safety, claiming that WeatherNation is a “cheap start-up that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts.”

Not content to just gaze out the window, WeatherNation is beefing up its operations. Itannounced yesterday the deployment of sophisticated weather visualization tools from Baron Services, Inc., that will include tools for real-time weather forecasting software and 3D mapping.

"We're pleased to bring aboard additional services from a premier weather technology company like Baron Services," said Michael Norton, President of WeatherNation. "With the addition of Omni Weather Systems, our WeatherNation meteorologists can provide viewers with a more accurate and realistic illustration of what the weather will be."

DirecTV has not been too forthcoming about the dispute but told CNN that TV viewers have plenty of other options for weather information nowadays. “When information is readily available everywhere, it’s no longer necessary for people to have to pay a premium.”

DirecTV's chief content officer, Dan York, also said he's hopeful the dispute will be worked out. 

If you like to sit around and watch The Weather Channel, you'll have to do it somewhere other than on DirecTV, which has ousted the Weather Channel from it...
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New Dish system can record eight TV shows at once

Dish says the system reduces "channel conflict" but who has time to watch all this?

For most people, the trick isn't remembering to record TV shows and movies, it's finding the time to watch all of them.

Dish Network isn't going much to help. At the Consumer Electronics Show today, Dish unveiled a new digital recorder system that can record eight TV shows at once. It uses Dish's Hopper DVR and a new Super Joey add-on box for separate rooms.

There is one catch -- four of the recorded shows have to be from the broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. 

Dish also unveiled partnerships with LG Corp. and Sony Corp. so that Hopper users can watch recorded shows in a second room without needing a Joey. Instead, the system uses an app on a smart TV or PlayStation game console.

"The Hopper continues to break new barriers in terms of accessibility, affordability and mobility," said Joseph P. Clayton, DISH CEO and president. "You see that in the way in which DISH delivers more content and virtually ends channel conflict with SuperJoey. Our new Wireless Joeys and software-based Virtual Joeys make in-home installation options almost limitless."

The system gives DISH customers the ability to record, pause, and play back shows from any room in the home and on the go. 

Less channel conflict

Customers can record up to eight shows simultaneously with Hopper by pairing it with DISH's new "SuperJoey," a client that adds two network tuners to the Hopper's native three tuners.

"With so much to watch on the Hopper, customers have asked for even more recording capability," said Vivek Khemka, DISH senior vice president of Product Management. "This upgraded ability, combined with the Hopper's capacity to store 2,000 hours of content, will anchor its place as simply the best DVR available."

While extending the capabilities of a Hopper to any television in a household, SuperJoey gives users the ability to record up to eight shows simultaneously -- any four shows plus the four major broadcast networks. Alternatively, the five network tuners give users the ability to watch and record any five shows from any network.

SuperJoeys are backwards compatible for all models of the Hopper.

BusinessWire photoFor most people, the trick isn't remembering to record TV shows and movies, it's finding the time to watch all of them.Dish Network...
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More cable subscribers are cutting, or at least thinning, the cord

Consumers are starting to add up their monthly entertainment bills

It's pretty eye-opening to look at what consumers are paying each month for cable TV, Internet access, telephone service, wireless and other information products like satellite radio, streaming music and video, just to name a few.

It's not surprising that consumers are not only becoming price-conscious but are starting to look for ways to cut back on their information and entertainment spending, as a new survey from Digitalsmiths finds.

The cable bill -- the highest monthly entertainment bill in most households -- is where most customers are starting to whittle away at their expenditures, with Digitalsmith finding that pay-TV "cord-cutting" and "cord-thinning" both climbed a bit in the third quarter.  

Among pay TV customers -- representing some 90% of U.S. TV homes -- 17% either trimmed pay TV networks and services or removed them completely in the third quarter -- up from 14% in the second quarter and 13.4% in the first quarter.

And the trend shows no signs of stopping. The study found that 34% of respondents answered “maybe” when asked if they were considering changing their pay-TV packages. Nearly 7% are planning to change their cable, satellite and telco company while nearly 3% are planning to cut service altogether.

Fully 43.6% of respondents said they are paying more for TV service versus a year ago; 39.3% are paying the same, and only 17.1% are paying less. Over 21% of TV consumers are paying $151 or more per month for all TV, Internet and phone services; 16.9% are at $126 to $150; 19.4% are at $101 to $125; 19.3% are at $76 to $100; and 15.5% are at $51 to $75.

The survey results came from 3,177 consumers in the U.S. and Canada, 18 years and older.

It's pretty eye-opening to look at what consumers are paying each month for cable TV, Internet access, telephone service, wireless and other information pr...
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AOL, Roku launch news channel

More than 1,000 publishers will be contributing content

Being a pipe is one thing but being a publisher adds a lot of value to a brand. That's why you see Netflix and Amazon producing their own movies and series. HBO and other premium channels did the same thing back in the early days of cable, establishing themselves as something more than just a distribution system.

Now Roku -- one of the early players in the streaming-video business -- is teaming up with AOL to produce a news channel that will be distributed through Roku's set-top boxes.

The companies said the news channel will include news videos from eight categories, including business, entertainment and technology. More than 1,000 premium publishers will also be contributing content, including the Wall Street Journal, BBCNews, HuffPost Live, The Associated Press and Reuters.

The integrated news service will be available free of charge in the U.S. on the new Roku LT, Roku 1 and Roku 2 players. It is slated to automatically roll out as a free software update in the coming weeks to all current-generation Roku devices.

"News is among the fastest growing categories on the Roku platform and this parntership pwith AOL makes it even easier for customers to find and starat watching a variety of news videos," said Steve Shannon, general manager of content for Roku. "This is the first ingrated news service on a TV streaming platform."

Being a pipe is one thing but being a publisher adds a lot of value to a brand. That's why you see Netflix and Amazon producing their own movies and s...
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Blockbuster continues its disappearing act

Most remaining Blockbuster stores will close, ending the neighborhood video-rental store era

Blockbuster was the chain Americans loved to hate. Sure, it had stores everywhere, more than 5,000 of them at its peak, and offered a huge treasure trove of movies on DVD and VHS but it also seemed to have a knack for finding ways to scalp customers with late fees and other penalties that made an evening's home viewing more expensive than a ticket to a Broadway show.

It got its comeuppance as the rise of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming video services made movie watching easier and cheaper, and eliminated the late fee problem.

Battered on all sides, Blockbuster sank into bankruptcy a few years ago and was purchased by Dish Network, the satellite TV company, for reasons no one ever quite understood. Dish quickly closed many of the remaining stores and now says it will close the remaining 300 by early January, at a cost of about 2,800 jobs.

About 50 stores that are operated by franchisees will remain open.

Consumers rate Blockbuster

Dish paid $234 million for the chain, saying it would bring it up to speed as a digital retailer. Not much panned out, though, and its efforts amounted mostly to changing signs, rearranging stores and trying to attract more Hispanic customers in inner-city neighborhoods.

Blockbuster tried to emulate Netflix' DVD-by-mail effort, with about as much success as it displayed in its other efforts.

"This is ridiculous. I have not received any new releases in months now," said Jack of Brooklyn, NY, in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs a few months ago. "I have been with them for several years and this started happening about seven months ago. Not one movie at all."

Dish CEO Joe Clayton said this week that, although it was closing the stores, Dish continues to "see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings."

The Blockbuster store, a fixture of many American neighborhoods for 25 years, will all but disappear in coming months, the chain's owner, Dish Network...
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NBA reaches agreement to stream local games

It's the first major league to reach a a deal for local streaming

Live video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to let fans watch their local teams live online, a first for a major sports league in the U.S.

Sports Business Journal says the games will be streamed under the TV Everywhere banner and reports that deals have already been inked with Fox and NBC Sports, the country's two biggest owoners of regional sports networks.

National sports contests have been streamed before, but the NBA will become the first major national league to allow live streaming of local games. They're previously been blacked out in local markets to encourage attendance.  

You'll still have to be a cable TV customer but there will be no extra charge for the live streaming, at least initially. The deal reportedly runs through 2016. 

“It is not going to roll out at one time for everyone,” said Bill Koenig, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the NBA, according to Sports Business Daily. “My sense is that Fox, from a technical standpoint, is further along. The good news is that I think it will happen in a significant way this year.”

Live video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to ...
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Use your psychic powers to become a millionaire ... or not

The James Randi Educational Foundation pays $1,000,000 for proof of the paranormal

Here at Consumer Affairs we’re acutely aware of our own limitations which is why, when investigating various claims or complaints made by our readers, we generally stick with the standard mainstream, scientifically-accepted human senses: things we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Claims of psychic phenomena or extra-sensory perception (ESP) are, by definition, excluded from this list because if psychic talents do exist, they have not been bestowed upon us.

We mention this because, when we checked our email today, we found a press release offering a review copy of a self-published book claiming to discuss psychic phenomena. “Author warns of government harnessing the ‘God Spot’,” read the email’s subject heading, and the text assured us that “many people today experience psychic phenomena and have no real way to talk about or document them,” which means that “government intervention and destruction of privacy could eventually take place not only on social media and telephones but also psychic abilities targeted in the brain.”

A new plateau in surveillance

In other words, the author is warning that, besides eavesdropping on our telephone calls, emails and social media activities, the government may soon be looking inside our minds to see what we're thinking. 

You can, of course, find people roaming the streets of any big city, already claiming that the government is reading their thoughts. Our editor once narrowly escaped being stabbed by a butcher-knife-wielding woman who accused him of broadcasting her dreams on the local all-news radio station.

Nevertheless, this does pique our interest. After all: if psychic, supernatural or extrasensory powers can be proven to exist, that would arguably be the greatest scientific discovery in history. Unfortunately, as we said already, we’re utterly unqualified to investigate such claims ourselves.

However, there is an established non-profit organization that not only investigates psychic or supernatural claims under controlled laboratory conditions, but has established a million-dollar trust fund payable to anyone capable of demonstrating genuine psychic or extra-sensory abilities under these conditions.

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) is “an educational resource on the paranormal, pseudoscientific and the supernatural” which for several years now has sponsored the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. (Actually, JREF’s financial records show that, thanks to compound interest, the account balance had grown to over $1.4 million by March 2013.)

The ground rules for the million-dollar challenge are pretty straightforward. JREF’s website says:

“The Foundation is committed to providing reliable information about paranormal claims. It both supports and conducts original research into such claims.

“At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the ‘applicant’ becomes a ‘claimant.’”

The application form and a more detailed copy of the rules can be found on JREF’s website here. We're not recommending this, mind you. Merely passing it along for what it's worth. 

We can’t investigate paranormal claims, but we know someone who can ...
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Europe to Disney: Please fix Disneyland Paris

French Disney park strikes visitors as most un-Disneyfied

There’s two levels of irony beneath the recent Change.org petition  begging the Walt Disney Company to clean up its Disneyland park in Paris: one, many Americans have this idea that anything in Paris (or Europe in general) must surely be better and more sophisticated than its American counterpart; and two, the Disney name has become so associated with clean, shiny, family-friendly fun that “Disneyfied” has become an actual slang term referring to a sanitized, family-friendly version of something.

But if the Change.org petition is to be believed, Disneyland Paris has become a most-unDisneyfied place during its 20 years of existence.

The petition starts out by flattering Disney in general and CEO Bob Iger in particular:  “When Disneyland Park (then Euro Disneyland) opened its gates back in 1992, it truly was Disney's greatest achievement; a technological and artistic marvel. Its high quality shows, rides and theming proved successful with European audiences, and its guest experience was similar, if not superior, to that of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.”

So what went wrong? “[D]ue to constant financial problems, the overall quality of the experience has slowly deteriorated over the years. The many years of budget cuts in maintenance, entertainment and food and beverage, have left the resort in an unacceptable neglected state.”

Neglected state

The petition divides its complaints into four sub-categories: Maintenance (“Many themed elements are decaying and crumbling, while others are literally falling apart”); Budget Cuts (resulting in shuttered theaters and under-utilized rides); Food (“the quality is never as good as what’s offered in your American parks”); and Walt Disney Studios Park (described as “the only park to open without a traditional Disney [p]ark ride, the park that is struggling with its identity; in short the park that never met the ‘Disney standard’”).

 Semi-related anecdote: since at least 2006, psychologists have noted the existence of a rare, but real, psychological disorder known as “Paris syndrome.” Japanese tourists who visit the city are particularly prone to suffering from the disorder, a form of depression that strikes when visitors expecting to see a beautiful, idealized version of Paris experience brutal disillusionment upon visiting the actual city.

Thus far there is no official psychological disorder known as “Disneyland Paris syndrome,” but it sounds like Change.org petitioners are getting close.

"Paris syndrome" is bad enough. "Disneyland Paris syndrome" is worse....
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CBS signs with Verizon, offering consumers an alternative to Time Warner

Time Warner has blacked out CBS in major markets in a contract dispute

While the struggle between CBS and Time Warner Cable over license fees is an inconvenience for millions of consumers, it's turning into an attractive opportunity for Time Warner's competitors.

Meanwhile, in a gesture that gives new meaning to the word "token," Time Warner said it would give its customers free TV antennas so they can try to pull in a CBS signal while the dispute drags on. Of course, some of those customers just may discover the antenna works so well they don't need Time Warner anymore, but who cares about them anyway?

Verizon is the latest to take advantage of the situation, signing a three-year deal that will provide carriage of CBS stations to FiOS customers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, where about 3.5 million Time Warner subscribers have been unable to get CBS programming through their cable service since the dispute began.

CBS President Les Moonves said the deal snapped up by Verizon was "almost exactly the same" as the one rejected by Time Warner.

“We’ve reached this agreement in partnership with CBS for our customers, so that they may continue to enjoy CBS content on FiOS,” said Terry Denson, Vice President of Video Content and Strategy at Verizon. “Verizon continues to address areas of change where necessary in current policies to better reflect the interests of consumers.”

Streaming rights

Consumers rate Time Warner

The agreement allows CBS to retain its digital streaming rights, something that's been an issue in the Time Warner talks.  “FiOS TV will also continue to provide – free to the viewer – CBS programming via Verizon’s industry-leading video on demand services to all subscribers,” Moonves said in a statement.

In addition, CBS said the CBS Sports Network will "dramatically increase its distribution with FiOS." Separately, CBS and Verizon have an existing agreement for FiOS to carry Showtime Networks and Smithsonian that will continue in the years to come as well, the companies said.

CBS has also reached agreement for Dish Network to carry its programming and Radio Shack and other electronics retailers report growing demand for TV antennas while Aereo, which distributes broadcast TV over the Internet, has been quickly expanding the list of cities it serves, including many affected by the Time Warner dispute.

While the struggle between CBS and Time Warner over license fees is an inconvenience for millions of consumers, it's turning into an attractive opportunity...
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Apple iTunes Radio debuts next month; Google talking with NFL

Apple has a lot of top-drawer advertisers lined up for its version of Pandora

Pandora may be feeling about the way Borders did a few years ago, although it insists things are just fine, thanks.

Apple iTunes Radio is about to take to the airwaves, or whatever you want to call the broadband universe.

There'll be no shortage of commercials. Apple has a handful of top-drawer sponsors ready to go, including McDonald's, Nissan, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble.

So is Pandora worried? Quite the opposite, if you can believe Chief Financial Officer Mike Herring, who told analysts recently that iTunes Radio will be good for Pandora and other streaming music services. 

It will bolster the exposure of digital radio and accelerate the move to it from traditional broadcast radio, he said. He recalled the entry of iHeartRadio from Clear Channel, the nation's biggest radio chain, a year or two ago.

"When iHeartRadio launched a couple years ago, we had the same questions," he said. "We've gone from 50 percent market share to 70 percent market share, and they've stayed flat. ... We won't do much different."

YouTube-NFL

Google has some big dreams as well. It's holding formal talks with the National Football League about broadcasting NFL games on YouTube.

Google would get the NFL's "Sunday Ticket" package, which consists of all the out-of-town games. DirecTV currently has that package at a reported price of $1 billion a year, but the deal expires next year so potential bidders are starting to put on their helmets and shoulder pads. 

Pandora may be feeling about the way Borders did a few years ago, although it insists things are just fine, thanks.Apple iTunes Radio is about to take to...
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The Post is the past; Is CBS next?

Gouging consumers for content was fun while it lasted

Comedian Bill Maher likes to portray Republicans as being in a "bubble," a bubble that isolates them from the realities of the world. It's a frequent feature of his Friday night HBO series.

But bubbles are everywhere. Not too long ago, real estate was in a bubble that popped with disastrous results. And the daily newspaper industry has been drifting along in a great big bubble for quite some time.

Most recent example: This week's stunning announcement that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was buying the Washington Post -- home of the fabled though somewhat long-in-the-tooth Woodward-Bernstein team -- for $250 million cash, a mere pittance in Big Media terms.

Over the weekend, The New York Times sold the Boston Globe for $70 million, about 6 percent of the $1.1 billion it paid to buy the newspaper in 1993. Investor Warren Buffet has been buying newspaper companies by the armful for prices that amount to less than 10 percent what they were worth just a few years ago.

The same trend was seen earlier in the music, magazine and local radio business. Companies that have been around so long they seem like institutions collapse virtually overnight and are sold for a song, or are simply wafted away like a leaf in the breeze.

Shock and awe

What's perhaps saddest about all this is that it's so surprising to the executives and corporate officers who for years have been drawing six- and seven-figure salaries to keep their businesses healthy. There are expressions of shock, concern and outrage when board chairs and CEOs discover what everyone else already knew.

Over on 15th Street, NW, the Washington Post has for the last few years bemoaned the falling advertising rates that have left its bottom line on the wrong side of zero. But it's not just ad rates and Craigslist that dragged down the Post. Circulation fell from 800,000 to around 400,000 in a decade.

Readers went elsewhere.

Was it because of the Internet? Or could it have been the free weeklies, The Washington Times, NewsChannel 8, Politico and all the other new news sources that nibbled away at the Post's grip on Washington? Could it have been the Post's stubborn concentration on the relatively tiny city of Washington (population about 500,000) while relegating the Virginia and Maryland suburbs (with about five times as much population)  to the inside pages?

Post Company chairman Donald Graham not long ago derided coverage of consumer news as nothing more than a way to hype the ratings. Thanks, Don.

Could it have been that the New York Times and Wall Street Journal somehow managed to deliver their printed newspapers to Washington-area subscribers without a hitch while the Post's independent distributors went out of their way to antagonize customers and throw their papers in the ditch or simply not deliver them at all?

No one knows, because no one has much cared, certainly not the Post's Circulation Department. It's likely, though, that Jeff Bezos, fabled for his concentration on customer experience, will find out.

Business as usual

Meanwhile, back at other Old Media watering holes, it's pretty much business as usual, as illustrated by the current unseemly battle between CBS and Time Warner.

Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt and CBS CEO Les Moonves have been fighting to see who can gouge their customers most effectively and, failing to agree, are taking it out on those very same customers.

Time Warner subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and other mega-markets have been locked out of watching CBS the last few nights as the media titans squabble over how they should share the spoils. The battle has featured all the usual weapons -- dueling TV and newspaper ads, Internet petitions, social media postings and media pitches from p.r. agents.

But while Britt and Moonves are arguing over splitting the take, consumers are finding more and more ways around Time Warner and CBS. There's Dish Network and even the quaint Old World practice of hanging an antenna out the window. Netflix and Amazon, which just a few years ago mostly recycled old movies and TV series, are now producing high-quality original series. YouTube is developing endless channels of new content and a little company called Aereo is making CBS and other broadcast channels available over the Internet.

Tellingly, when Aereo first came on the scene, the networks threatened to take themselves off the air and force consumers to pay their cable systems to watch network shows. The empty boast was met with the ridicule it deserved.  

Not paying enough

We haven't heard the networks threatening to go dark much lately, although we still hear them complaining that consumers aren't paying enough for their priceless programming.  

Someone should point out to Moonves & Co. that that's the exact same song the newspapers were singing a few years ago, when they complained that consumers were not sufficiently eager to pay for news on the Internet. Papers raced to throw up paywalls to lock out the freeloaders who might otherwise see the stories and, not coincidentally, the ads that local businesses were paying to put on the newspapers' web sites.

The paywalls worked out fairly well for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which actually produce world-class content, but not so well for the Mulkeytown Messenger. There's a lesson in that for broadcasters and cable systems.

Punishing the customer by throwing the paper in the ditch and building paywalls -- or taking the signal off the air -- well, it might feel good at the time but like scratching a mosquito bite, it only makes matters worse.

You listening, Glenn and Les? Consumers are paying big bucks for cable. Unseemly squabbles like this simply make them determined to look elsewhere. And there are plenty of elsewheres out there.

Comedian Bill Maher likes to portray Republicans as being in a "bubble," a bubble that isolates them from the realities of the world. It's a frequent featu...
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Google gives TV another try with Chromecast

Plug this thumb drive into your TV and that's it. Simple enough?

In some ways, Google is like the young hotshot musician, actor or entrepreneur who peaks too soon. Its search engine and contextual advertising system were such smash hits that everything else seems, well, kind of flat.

But you have to give them credit, the Googlers keep trying when they could just sit around and clip coupons. One problem Google and other great minds of the modern age have been trying to solve is television -- namely, how to rescue TV from its tower and marry it to the Internet.

It's not as though anyone else has solved this conundrum. Apple has struck out several times. Now it's starting to look like both Google and Apple may have been guilty of over-engineering. They both came up with set-top boxes that were monuments to complexity -- something that anyone who has ever tried to master his TV, DVR, cable box, DVD player and audio system needs no more of.

Simple, very simple

So Google, like Apple, has adopted the KISS protocol (come on, you know what this is -- Keep it simple, stupid) and the result is something called Chromecast -- a little $35 thing that looks sort of like a thumb drive. 

OK, it is a thumb drive, but instead of plugging it into your laptop, you plug it into your high-def TV and, voilà, you can stream video from the tablet, computer or smartphone that you have paired with the thumb drive.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the way Apple TV works, except that Apple TV costs $99 and restricts you to using Apple-brand devices. Chromecast lets you use Android, Windows, Google's very nifty brower-based Chrome OS and, ahem, Apple. 

Sound confusing? It's not. Here are the stunningly simple set-up instructions from Google: "Plug Chromecast into any HDTV, connect it to WiFi, then send videos and more from your smartphone, tablet or laptop to your TV with the press of a button."

Initially, it works with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play and Chrome but you can expect lots more sources to sign on. It's pretty hard, in fact, to see how any major program producer would want to miss sailing on this boat. And it's also hard to see how this doesn't cause major angina for cable TV executives and the folks at Roku, whose neat little devices have previously been the simplest way to get hold of lots of high-def programming.

To sweeten the deal even further, for the $35 you pay for the Chromecast device, you get three months of free Netflix service -- an offer that applies even to current subscribers. Netflix' most basic plan is $8 per month, so that means Chromecast costs you $11. Cheaper than a Chevy Volt anyday.

In some ways, Google is like the young hotshot musician, actor or entrepreneur who peaks too soon. Its search engine and contextual advertising system were...
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TV business sweats as Internet giants stoke the flames

Google, Apple, Aereo, Dish -- they're all hungry for a bite of TV's hide

It wasn't long ago that the TV business was so simple. A handful of networks bought shows, sold ads and kept the local stations fed and watered.

Times have changed and it won't be long before the TV business is as upended as newspapers and magazines. 

Google is trying to line up shows for a new TV service, Apple is working on an ad-skipping service similar to Dish Network's Hopper and cable-bypass service Aereo has won another court challenge, all part of the frenzied state of affairs that typifies the TV business today.

Here are the gory details:

Unoriginal original programming

Google has been approaching media companies about licensing their content for an Internet TV service that would stream traditional TV and cable programming. It might be a great idea but it's not particularly unique; Intel, Sony and Apple are all working on similar schemes. Broadcasters and program producers are wary, however.

Google has also started underwriting some original (though pretty pedestrian) programming on its YouTube channel and is launching traditional cable service on its Google Fiber network in Kansas City. And for years, it's been fooling around trying to develop a cable-TV-style set-top box.

A bite of the Apple

Apple reportedly is developing technology that would let viewers skip commercials in TV shows but, unlike Dish Network, would pay the media companies for the skipped spots. Who would pay Apple? Viewers? It's not yet clear.

The networks sued Dish when it came out with the Hopper but if Apple's checkbook is fat enough, it may get a better reception. After all, it's no secret that many -- maybe most -- consumers use their DVRs to skip commercials. That has been slowly but steadily eroding the whole TV business model, so Apple might be seen as savior rather than villain.

Aereo still airborne

Aereo's antennas

Aereo, on the other hand, has broadcasters absolutely foaming at the mouth, pounding the table and circling the wagons. It's the upstart service that delivers local broadcast signals over the Internet, bypassing cable systems and depriving broadcasters of the licensing fees the cable systems pay them for each subscriber.

In the latest development, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has denied a broadcaster's request that the full court review a three-judge panel's April decision that Aereo could continue operating while a lower court considers further appeals.

And don't even mention Netflix and Amazon, which are producing high-quality original programming on a par with HBO in its prime.  

Yoo-hoo Yahoo!

Oh, and then there's Yahoo, which is still kind of nowhere, one of the few Internet titans not visibly seeking to pull the blocks out from under the TV game. Marissa Mayer has been the CEO for a year now and has managed to stop the decline in traffic but ad sales are still anemic and revenue for the last quarter disappointed Wall Street. There may be a lot going on there but if so, it's beneath the surface, which isn't necessarily the same as underwater.

It wasn't long ago that the TV business was so simple. A handful of networks bought shows, sold ads and kept the local stations fed and watered.Times hav...
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How long will folks choose cable over online programming?

With rising costs and sometimes nothing to watch, are the high costs of cable worth it?


All right, so you've just plopped down on the couch after a hard day, and the only thing you want to do is zone out in front of the television. There really isn't anything specific that you want to watch, but you figure with over 400 channels, you'll be able to find something. But many times that simply isn't the case.

So how much are people really getting from cable television? Especially in these days when you can practically watch anything you want online and on your mobile device.

According to a report released by CouponCabin.com, 45% of people believe cable TV is a total waste of money. In addition, 11% of folks in the U.S. said they used to have satellite or cable TV, but they eventually got rid of it.

In a separate survey conducted by the consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Company, it showed that 20% of consumers have cut down on the number of services they have and chose to spend less money for cable than they did one year prior.

Nothing to watch

Many experts say it's not just the rising cost of cable television that convinces people to either change or cancel their service, it's the fact that a lot of people just don't watch shows when they actually air on television.

According to findings released by the site Deal.com, 193.1 million people will be watching full length programs online by 2014, which is a substantial increase from 2010 when the number was 147.5 million. 

In fact, since 2009, the number of people choosing online programming over cable has increased quite steadily.

Statistics show that in 2009, 49.6 million people watched online programming instead of television. In 2010, 58.9 million people did the same thing. And in 2011, 72.2 million people chose to stream a program instead of watching one on TV.

And when it comes to the cost between subscribing to online services and paying for cable, the difference is pretty substantial.

Based on a report commissioned by the NPD Group, the average monthly cost for cable is $86, compared to the cost of a monthly Netflix subscription which is $7.99.

And a monthly subscription to Amazon Prime, which allows you to stream online programming and receive free two-day shipping on Amazon products, costs $6.67 a month.

In addition, the CouponCabin report shows that 69% of U.S. adults spend $1 to $100 on either cable or satellite, 16% spend $101 to $149, 10% spend $150 to $199 and 5% spend $200 or more each month.

Despite the cost ...

But despite the costs, 81% of folks still subscribe to cable television, and Senior Savings Adviser Jackie Warrick says it'll probably take a while before more people cut their cable chords for good.

"Despite the big bills that arrive month after month for TV services, most Americans continue to subscribe," said Warrick. "In fact, 15% of cable subscribers we surveyed said they would never consider dropping cable TV services. 

"As more viewing options arise at lower price points, though, it's likely more consumers will pull the plug."

But Scott Mirer, Netflix's director of product management, says people shouldn't expect cable TV to go away completely, regardless of how much costs increase.

"Clearly, a lot of people would like this to be a reality, that there's this evolution coming, that everything's going to be different, but that's probably not going to be the reality," said Mirer in an interview with PC Magazine.

Diehard sports fans

And it probably won't be a reality for sports fans either, as 43% said they have no desire to cut their cable services, due to all the live sports they're able to watch.

When sports fans were asked what would make them cancel their cable subscription, 56% said they would do so if there was a cheaper alternative.

Additionally, 55% said they'd cancel cable if they could no longer afford it, 27% would cancel it if they stopped watching the same amount of television and 17% they'd cancel cable if there were other ways to watch live sports broadcasts.

Duncan Stewart, who's the director of research, technology and communications for Deloitte, says the change of seasons is another reason a lot of people can't get rid of their cable service.

"Another thing that happens is that people cancel cable subscriptions and enjoy a month or two of the outdoors, or pursuing other hobbies," he said in a published interview. "And then winter comes, or the new television season, and the show they love isn't available on the Internet, so they sign up again."

Additional research shows that by the year 2014, 77% of Internet users will be watching their programming online instead of on TV, but whether they'll cut their cable services altogether remains to be seen.

Alright, so you've just plopped down on the couch after a hard day, and the only thing you want to do is zone out in front of the television.There really...
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Barnes & Noble backing out of the Nook-making business

BN says it will sell "co-branded" devices made by others

Did it ever seem like a good idea for struggling book retailer Barnes & Noble to go head-to-head against Apple, Amazon, Google and other rich and powerful technology companies?

Maybe it did to someone but, as Bill Clinton might say, a little arithmetic shows otherwise. So now, BN says it will stop making the color Nook e-reader and will sell co-branded devices made by others while continuing to make its own black-and-white Nook. 

The company says the Nook losses have wiped out the profits the company managed to eke out of its book retailing business. Nooks have been losing ground all around, losing market share while the size of the overall e-reader market declines.

After all, most people who want an e-reader already have one or more. More significantly, most folks are occasional readers who can do all the reading they can stand on their iPad or other tablet or smartphone.

While there will no doubt be those who see this as bad news for the book business, we know of quite a few Nook owners who will not be sorry to learn of the devices' demise. 

"The Nook keeps telling me to go to an area with WiFi when I try to download books in my library but is sufficiently connected to sell me a new book! Weird," said Alan of Crowborough, England in a ConsumerAffairs posting. "I have tried to de-register and reload but now it's completely locked. I am waiting for Nook customer service to suggest what to do. The Nook app on my iPad works fine. It's the Nook that is the problem. Really wish I'd gotten a Kindle instead."

"My Nook Color will not charge past 19%," said Brandy of Charlotte, N.C. "I've replaced the charger twice in less than a year. I was told since it was over one year old, I had to pay $60 for a refurbished Nook or $85 for a new one. I've decided on a new reader from a different manufacturer. My sister had the same problem with her Nook Color. We're both shopping elsewhere."

The Nook news was sort of tucked into Barnes & Noble's financial results, which showed that for the quarter, Nook revenues dropped by 34% to $108 million as device sales fell. And for fiscal 2013, Nook revenues declined by 16.8% to $776 million.

The slow nook sales also dragged down sales of music, books and other digital content, which was down 8.9% for the quarter.

Did it ever seem like a good idea for struggling book retailer Barnes & Noble to go head-to-head against Apple, Amazon, Google and other rich and ...
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Suit: Time Warner’s sports offerings inflate cable costs

It's just the latest complaint against cable bundling

Complaining about the cost of cable is a popular American pastime. But four California consumers have decided to stop talking and do something about it, filing suit against Time Warner for anticipated costs due to the provider’s recent acquisition of Lakers and Dodgers rights.

The suit focuses on two separate acquisitions made by Time Warner. In 2011, the cable provider gained a 20-year-long right to broadcast Los Angeles Lakers basketball games. Then, in January, Time Warner acquired a 25-year-long right to air Los Angeles Dodgers games.

According to the suit, the Lakers deal, which cost Time Warner $3 billion, will add $4 to every customer’s monthly bill; the Dodgers deal, which ran $8 billion, will cost consumers $4 or $5 extra per month, the suit claims.

“There is no legitimate business, legal, technological, or economic reason why TWC cannot offer these Lakers and Dodgers games on a standalone channel basis so that only those subscribers who want and are willing to pay for them would do so and those who did not want these channels could ‘opt out,’” the complaint says.

The suit also names the Dodgers and the Lakers as defendants.

A popular complaint of late

This isn’t the first uproar over “bundling,” the practice of only offering content and channels as part of a larger group. (Bundling is the reason that you can’t, say, subscribe only to HBO and ESPN, while avoiding The Food Network and Lifetime.) In February, cable provider Cablevision sued media conglomerate Viacom, claiming that Viacom only offered popular networks like Nickelodeon and MTV if Cablevision also accepted a slew of less-demanded networks. Cablevision claimed that that practice, knowing as “tying,” violates antitrust laws.

And in May, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, which would allow consumers to choose the channels they wanted, and eschew the ones they didn’t.

Complaining about the cost of cable is a popular American pastime. But four California consumers have decided to stop talking and do something about it, fi...
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Useful apps for the film buff

If you really like movies, there are some pretty cool ways to discover them

Every summer there's usually at least one movie for every type of film fan.

This summer, "Man of Steel" will probably satisfy those who like action and adventure. And the film "Before Midnight" -- with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy -- will most likely draw in a good number of indie film fans.

But what can you do to find out what else is playing? While there are millions of ways to do a search, the most convenient is probably to search with an app. There are a few good ones out there that can assist the hardcore film buff and tell the occasional moviegoer what's playing around town.

Get Glue

Take Get Glue. It started as a social networking site for TV shows, but now includes music, books, sports and yes, movies, and it tells you what's playing in theaters and what's being streamed.

Although Get Glue has added other features since it launched, the creators still kept the social networking parts of the app, so you can communicate with other fans once a film ends or while it's still playing.

Plus the app gives you movie recommendations, lets you watch clips and gives you behind the scenes info. And you can win prizes and special perks for using the app, too.

Movie vault

Movie Vault is another great app mainly for its wide variety of content and for having a collection of obscure movies that would be hard to locate on other apps.

The creators claim Movie Vault has well over a thousand movies from the last hundred years and that new content is being added all the time.

You can use the site's search bar to look for movies by title, actor, director or in other ways. You can search by genre, too. In addition, Movie Vault gives you all of the film's background information as well as the cover art.

All the background info comes from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). And like Netflix's site and phone app, you can either stream movies on the spot or save them to your queue for another time.

Movie Vault's boosters say it's extremely easy to use and that you'll be able to navigate through it very easily. It'll cost you $1.99 to download the app, but there are no charges afterwards.

RunPee

Then there's RunPee, a good app with a bad name. You'd think the creators could have come up with a name that's a little less descriptive, but the app is still pretty useful.

Simply put, RunPee tells you when it's okay to take a bathroom break without missing a crucial part of the movie. 

They choose these times based on parts of the movie where nothing much is going on. And when you return to your seat, the app tells you what you've missed.

The app lets you know other things too. It gives you a brief synopsis of the first few minutes of a film, in case you're running late, and it lets you know if there's something coming after or during the final credits -- because sometimes it's hard to decide whether to stay or leave.

Location Scout

Location Scout is another movie app for film lovers, but it works much differently than the rest of the apps mentioned here. It doesn't show movies or tell you where the nearest one is playing; it directs you to  famous film locations instead.

So if you're in Miami and you want to get a peak of Tony Montana's house in the movie "Scarface," the app will help you find it.

Location Scout pulls the information from IMDb and brings it up on a map to direct you to the exact spot. And whether you use the app to discover filming locations in your area or while you're on vacation, it could be a fun thing to have -- especially if you like visiting places where the rich and famous have roamed.

Every summer there's usually at least one movie for every type of film fan.This summer, "Iron Man 3" will probably satisfy those who like action and adve...
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Tips on saving money at theme parks this summer

Roller coasters are getting bigger, more attractions are being built, but it'll cost you.

If you and the family are planning to head to Walt Disney World this year, you might want to save a few extra bucks.

Ticket prices for the Florida-based theme park just went from $89 to $95, so if you have a family of four, let's say, you're looking at spending nearly $400 -- and that's just to enter.

And if you happen to be a family of five or six, you're really going to be spending some major cash. Some might say it's time for Mickey to get a salary cap.

So what can you do to save money at a theme park this summer?

Plan ahead

The last thing you want to do is buy tickets at the gate, say experts. You're much more likely to find better deals either online or through special coupons or promotions.

Check social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as well, as a lot of amusement parks announce special prices throughout the summer.

Sometimes supermarkets and fast food chains will carry coupons and promotions. Or you can call the amusement park directly and ask what types of special offers are going on. And you always want to buy your tickets ahead of time, experts advise.

According to the folks at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), consumers should look for bundle packages that include general admission, lodging, meals and access to special attractions.

If you're planning to attend a theme park more than once during the summer, you should consider buying a season pass, as it will pay itself off in about three visits, says the IAAPA.

Another way to get cheaper theme park tickets is by being a member of an organization like AARP or AAA. A lot of companies have access to coupons and discounted tickets as well, so you may want to check with your job. Your credit card company may offer some discounts too.

Buy now

Jennie Sanford of Savings.com and BargainBlessings.com, told Fox News that consumers should purchase everything they need before hitting the amusement park. And she wasn't just talking about buying food to eat in the parking lot.

"Anything you forget last minute will be outrageously priced anywhere in the theme park or hotel," she said. "Sunscreen, hats, raingear and emergency medicine should all be purchased and brought with you -- don't be worried about purchasing when you get here."

Plan ahead

And when it comes to getting the most out of your amusement park trip, it's best to plan ahead.

Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, says avoid going to theme parks during the weekend, as it'll be hard for you to do everything you want to do.

"Avoid Saturdays and Mondays," he said in an interview with ABC News. "Saturdays are the busiest day of the week at a park. Mondays are often the second busiest and busier than Sundays since many others thought Sunday would be worse. The least crowded days to visit are Tuesdays and Wednesdays." 

Corinne McDermott, of HaveBabyWillTravel.com, said to bring a few healthy snacks with you to keep you and the kids naturally energized.

"Theme park food can be surprisingly good, but most of the snacks are of the salty or sugary variety," she says. "Having healthy snacks on hand helps make sure that everyone's fueled up and ready to play."

Additionally, McDermott says try not to do everything in one day. Trying to do too much could backfire and ruin the whole experience for both you and the children.

"Probably the worst mistake a parent can make in planning a day at the amusement park, is trying to cram too much in, especially if your kids are little," she says.

If you and the family were planning to head to Disney World this year, you might want to save a few extra bucks.Ticket prices for the Florida based theme...
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Fan TV: What's all the hubbub about?

It seems people are really excited about this little black contraption

Between video streaming, using the DVR and watching television the traditional way, there are many ways for people to watch their favorite programs these days.

That's why set-top boxes like Apple TV and Roku have been introduced,  as companies want to get a quick jump on the new way people are now watching TV.

Fan TV

Arguably the biggest buzz about set-top boxes surrounds Fan TV, which is a tiny contraption that resembles a computer mouse that sits on top of your television and offers streaming, DVR and live television all in one shot.

And Fan TV comes with a unique remote control that doesn't have any buttons, which allows users to scroll through content like a smartphone, and click on what they want to watch.

In addition, Fan TV is supposed to replace your cable television service, which is different from the way Roku and Apple TV work.

So far there haven't been any reports that suggest a cable provider has signed on with Fanhattan -- the makers of Fan TV -- which is probably why a release date and price point haven't been announced yet.

Fan TV lets you access web-based content too, so if you're a Netflix subscriber or you use Hulu or Hulu Plus, you wouldn't have to shift back and forth from service to service. Overall, the set-box is supposed to make it easier for you to scroll, search and click on whichever service you want to access.

Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa, says watching television has become a bit of a chore these days, since there are so many different services and shows one can access. 

"It is challenging for consumers to feel they are in control of their entertainment," said BianRosa in an interview with USA Today. "We are trying to bring the magic back to the discovery process."

Trending component

Fan TV has a trending component as well, and it gives users recommendations from industry insiders and other users about what you should be watching.

Additionally, users can update their list of shows they want to watch through their iPad or iPhone and content can be accessed on mobile devices.

The folks at Fanhattan say they want to remove the whole channel surfing thing and make it easier for users to know what's on, what can be watched in the future and which shows are trending at the moment.

But Fan TV isn't the only set-top box that's being anticipated by consumers and tech enthusiasts.

Amazon

The e-commerce giant Amazon is throwing its set-top box into the fray too, and hopes to be the first company to really change the way we watch television -- something that Apple TV and Roku haven't been able to do yet.

 Although there hasn't been an official announcement yet, it's been rumored that Amazon's set-top box will allow users to access both the Amazon Video on Demand store, as well as its instant streaming service.

Additionally, Amazon has been putting together a string of TV pilots to   release its own shows, which will probably be added to the set-top box service as well. 

Users will be able to watch current TV shows too, so it's evident that Amazon is really making some major moves to raise awareness of its existing content and the new shows it's developing for the future.

Jason Krikorian, who co-founded Sling Media, told Bloomberg that Amazon is in the perfect position to offer a set-top box, since it already has millions of users, who seem to already trust the Amazon brand.

"They have a ton of content, an existing billing relationship with millions of users, and existing Android app marketplace that could be leveraged on the box, a reputation for solid hardware products, and a terrific channel through which to promote the product," he said.

Between video streaming, using the DVR and watching television the traditional way, there are many ways for people to watch their favorite programs thes...
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Does the world need another LinkedIn?

It may be getting one. The Wall Street Journal is planning a social network

"News Corp poised to challenge LinkedIn," reads the headline in The Times of London. News Corp owns the Times as well as the Wall Street Journal, which would reportedly be the brand slapped onto the social network.

It may be a little late to be starting a social network, although perhaps it's still early in newspaper years. Things move slowly over there, you know.

It's one of a number of initiatives being dreamed up as Rupert Murdoch's new News Corp. splits off its marginally profitable newspapers from its highly profitable entertainment, television, cable and and satellite business.

Besides the social network, word is the Journal is setting up an instant messaging service for its readers. The world already has a few of those too, of course, but the thinking apparently is that the Journal's imprimatur is such that no respectable hedge fund manager would think of using Google Chat if he could use RupertSpeak, or whatever it will be called.

Meanwhile, in other News Corp news ...

  • Robert Thomson, News Corp CEO, said there will be "relentless" cost cuts in store for the newspaper business as it prepares to separate from  Murdoch's entertainment empire (maybe News Corp should open a resume-writing business for its employees);
  • The company is getting a new logo (see above). In a 643-word memo, eager employees were told the logo is “based on the writing of Rupert and his father.”
  • No grass will grow under the new News Corp's feet, employees were assured. "We will boldly try new businesses and models, unafraid to learn, confident of overall success together," CEO Thompson said in his memo, which appeared to have been cribbed from a graduation speech.

"News Corp poised to challenge LinkedIn," reads the headline in The Times of London. News Corp owns the Times as well as the Wall Street Journal, whic...
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What to do? Check an event site

There are plenty of good sites that provide one-stop shopping for local activities

With a little less than a month until summer, many people are making plans to go to concerts, festivals and local outside events. But with so many activities going on all at once, what's the best way to find out what to do?

Today there are a bunch of apps and websites that let you know what's going on in your area, so we decided to pick out some of the best ones, like Zvents for example.

The company began in 2004 and since then Zvents has been a pretty popular site that tells you what's going on both in and out of your area. It allows you to purchase tickets to events too.

The creators of the site say 10 million people use it each month and 15,000 advertisers promote all kinds of events every month as well.

Whether you're looking to attend a ballgame in your area, some sort of community event or a local play, all you have to do is go to the events page of the site and you'll see a list of things that are up and coming. You can search for events by event type, city or by date.

The site allows you to click on different holidays throughout the year too, just to see what events are taking place on that day. And if you have an event of your own, you can put it on the site and get the word out to millions of users.

And besides clicking on the events tab, you can click on movies, venues, performers and restaurants too. 

In the restaurant section, you can make your selection by cuisine, price, city or user rating and the restaurant page automatically brings up places to eat in your area--without you having to do a search. And by clicking on a particular event, you can buy tickets on the site, but you can't purchase them on the mobile app.

A couple of years back Zvents was purchased by Stubhub, which is a part of