“Let’s Watch One More…”

In college, our dining hall’s official policy—as proudly proclaimed on a sign on the cafeteria wall—was “All You Care to Eat.”  Give them points for truth in advertising: there’s a distinct difference between that and “all you can eat.”  Most days, there were two choices, which we very cleverly (or so we thought) dubbed “bad” and “worse.”

In retrospect, perhaps it was a sloppily-imposed weight maintenance regime.  Given the spotty (at best) overall quality of the product being served, incentives to over-consume were minimal.  Putting on the proverbial “freshman 15” was certainly possible, but it required a cast iron gut.

One looking for an example of the end results of a combining a high-quality product with unlimited availability need look no further than the video streaming market of the early 21st century.  “Binge watching” is now part of the vernacular, as providers regularly release full seasons of programming all at once, allowing those so inclined to consume an entire season in one sitting.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by Time Warner Inc.  Last week, the company announced a new strategy designed to combat the success of Netflix in offering viewers “all you care to watch” programming. Time Warner is negotiating to make more full seasons of shows available on an “on demand” basis to their TV customers.  At the same time, Time Warner’s Warner Brothers studio announced it had sold a new series, “Lucifer”, to 21st Century Fox.  The entire first season of “Lucifer” will be available for binge watching by cable subscribers—the first time Warner Brothers has made a full season of a program available to a broadcast network. Read more

“And in This Corner…”

Undoubtedly, when Ralph Kramden got together with his pal Ed Norton to watch the Friday night fights on his small, black and white TV set, he thought he had it pretty good.  Little did he know that decades into the future, fans of the sweet science would be able to step into the ring with their favorite pugilists.

Virtually, anyway. DirectTV has announced plans for a virtual reality (VR) app that will enable boxing fans to view fights up close and personal.

Affiliated with Big Knockout Boxing (BKB), the virtual reality app for VR-ready smartphone users is now available for Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition and Cardboard (Android and iOS) headsets.

The app allows users to select from a variety of fight highlights and select their choice of up-close camera feeds.

“We know that VR can be a deeply engaging entertainment medium. It delivers a compelling sense of ‘being there’ that’s unmatched by any other technology,” said DirecTV’s VP of Digital Entertainment Products Jon Molod. “We believe that much of VR’s growth will be mobile driven. As the technology evolves we hope to find new ways to use VR to enhance not just BKB, but all sports experiences.”

Other providers are following DirecTV’s lead. Netflix and Hulu have announced plans for their own VR apps, and SyFy has already brought theirs to market. In the very near future, fight fans—and sports fans of all stripes—can put themselves into the middle of the action.

Just don’t forget to duck.

(Here’s a bonus for you Honeymooners’ fans: Ralph Kramden’s surprisingly accurate vision of the future of television.)

Hulu Trying to Keep Up With Netflix?

Hulu’s CEO announced this week that the company is in discussions with pay TV providers to add Hulu Plus to their set-top boxes. This announcement came about a week after Netflix announced that it will be available as a channel on three small cable providers’ Ti-Vo set-top boxes.

In fact, this was not the only announcement Hulu made this week. For one, Hulu Plus just passed 6 million subscribers. Not a lot compared to the 35.7 million that subscribe to Netflix, but still not bad.

Hulu also announced that starting this summer, mobile device users will be able to watch select Hulu programming for free from their devices without a Hulu Plus subscription. A next generation version of Hulu Plus for the iPhone is also reportedly on tap for late summer.

And, finally, Hulu is working on a new feature that allows users to purchase things they see in ads without leaving Hulu. Pizza Hut is reportedly going to be the launch partner; Hulu is tying right into Pizza Hut’s online ordering system.

So, while Netflix (with the interconnection deals with Comcast and Verizon) has been getting all the attention lately, Hulu is quietly improving its features. It will be interesting to see what Amazon Prime comes up with next in the head-to-head battle for streaming TV.

Hulu Sale Postponed—For Now?

The joint owners of Internet TV service Hulu—21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Co.—announced that they would retain their ownership positions in the company and invest an additional $750 million to grow the business.

However, shortly after the release of that announcement, a Bloomberg report indicates that the owners are “continuing talks to sell a stake in the video-streaming service to Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC).”

Hulu had been on the market for approximately six months. DirecTV, AT&T and Chernin Group (jointly), and TWC have been the past three suitors for Hulu. But while Hulu’s owners had hoped to receive $2 billion for the company, no bids above $1 billion have been extended.

The Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal indicated that they intend to move Hulu more toward a subscription video-on-demand service, in order to better compete with Netflix.

According to the source for the Bloomburg article, there is no definite time horizon on when a deal might be reached.

Yahoo Joins Long List of Bidders for Hulu

Joining at least seven other companies in the bidding, Silicon Valley giant Yahoo has reportedly submitted a bid for video site Hulu. Other bidders include DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. Hulu, which is currently jointly owned by News Corp., Disney and Comcast, has both a subscription and an advertising business.

While the deal is an effort to boost Yahoo’s video offerings, the company already has a respectable amount of exclusive video content. For example, comedian Jack Black is producing a Web series that debuted on Yahoo Screen in March. So, while Google has YouTube and Amazon has Amazon Instant Video, Yahoo is not far behind.

Yahoo has reportedly offered multiple amounts for Hulu, from $600 to $800 million. That price range is tied to the length of the licensing rights for content available on Hulu. Assuming that the licensing issue can be resolved, the big question for Yahoo is Hulu’s place in the market, where consumers already have access to TV Everywhere and Netflix. Read more

Hulu Making Alterations

In a move that will protect broadcast network content, Hulu appears headed toward an authentication-style service, migrating away from from its present ad-supported model. A second move in the form of a buy out appears intent on tightening control over content.

On April 26, Hulu.com owners Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Comcast announced that they are near a deal with Providence Equity Partners to buy out the investment company, according to articles in the New York Post and several online blogs. The industry views this as a precursor to a fundamental change in Hulu’s current open business plan.

Providence invested $100 million for its 10% share of Hulu in 2007. According to an April 26 Bloomberg article, the buyout will earn Providence $200 million. The article indicates that Comcast has not been party to the buyout discussions under terms applied to the Comcast-NBC Universal merger in 2010. Read more

Boxee Adds Local Ability

Intent on drawing the video cord-cutting crowd to the Boxee solution, Boxee today introduced a new add-on that helps keep viewers in the Boxee box.

The new “wrinkle” is a dongle that attaches to the Boxee via USB and provides a coaxial connection to an antenna or pay-TV device.  The live dongle will allow a user to integrate local broadcast signals or content from cable, satellite or telco into the Boxee experience.

According to Boxee, the majority of highly rated television programs originate on “free,” over-the-air broadcast channels.  For many viewers, the all-in-one approach of Boxee integrating OTT content like Hulu and Netflix along with the over-the-air signals creates a compelling alternative to pay-TV.

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