“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

You Stream, I Stream, We All Stream…

It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if I were to tell you that streaming of video and music is taking up increasingly large chunks of bandwidth.  But you might be shocked to learn just how widespread streaming has become.

According to broadband services company Sandvine, streaming now accounts for more than 70% of all U.S. downstream traffic. And it’s not just the volume of streaming that’s so astounding, but the rapid rate of growth, as well: just five years ago, that figure stood at 35%. And as broadband adoption rates continue to steadily climb, there’s no reason to believe that the growth of streaming will slow.

The continued growth in popularity of both YouTube and Netflix have contributed mightily to this 70% figure. But relative newcomers Amazon and Hulu, still nascent in 2010, now account for nearly 6% of usage combined.

On the mobile front, video and audio counts for 41% of mobile traffic, most of that via YouTube. Social media—primarily Facebook and Snapchat—represents 22%.

With the continued critical and commercial success of Netflix and Amazon’s original programming, and the viewing public’s newly-acquired penchant for “binge watching,” expect to see these streaming numbers to continue to grow well into the foreseeable future.

“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.)

“It’s Tough to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future”*

Netflix CEO Chairman and CEO Reed Hastings predicts that within 10 to 20 years all television will be headed to the Internet.

Speaking with Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, Hastings cited the success of Netflix’s original programming such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” as prototypes for the future of all television. “The Internet is changing so many sectors of our economy, and we are Internet TV; and that sector has grown from very small 15 years ago to starting to be significant now.”

Hastings stopped short of saying that cord cutting would be the end of traditional television. “There are a few people who have cut the cord, but it is very, very small still today.” He said that cord cutting will be more of a long-term problem.

Hastings believes that sports networks will be the first to go to an on-demand format, to be followed by an increasing number of linear networks. HBO has already begun to move in that direction; Hastings expects they will be followed by many more.

While Hastings’ remarks raised eyebrows in the industry, the business of prognostication is not nearly as easy as it might first appear. I can’t help but think of October 21, 2015–the date in the then-distant future that Marty McFly visited in the movie “Back to the Future II,” released in 1989. Though it’s amusing to look back with modern eyes at the late-80s vision of today, whenever I think about the film I can’t help but feel a pang of regret that we don’t yet have hoverboards. Darn it, we were promised hoverboards. Read more

We’re Number Deux! We’re Number Deux!

What does the average U.S. Netflix streaming speed in July have in common with the 2014 U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team?

Give up? Both came in second place to Canada.

Netflix’s recently released July ISP speed index shows that the average prime time streaming speed in the U.S. was 3.2 Mbps, slightly below the 3.29 Mbps speed north of the border.

The Netflix index measures average Netflix streaming speeds across all devices during prime time.

In the U.S., Cox finished atop the standings, with an average speed of 3.62 Mbps. Cablevision-Optimum was second at 3.59 Mbps, and Verizon FiOs third at 3.54 Mbps. The positions of these three were unchanged from June.

Charter moved up two places from June, averaging 3.46 Mbps in July. Comcast dropped one spot to fifth (3.45 Mbps), Bright House was up one spot to sixth (3.42 Mbps), and Suddenlink dropped two positions to 7th (3.42 Mbps.)

The top half of the Netflix ISP speed index was dominated by cable providers, while DSL carriers tended to be lower down in the standings. All of the DSL carriers came in below the U.S. average. Read more

Netflix and ‘House of Cards’: The Numbers Don’t Lie

There’s a reason why the ice storm that struck the D.C. area this past weekend—Mother Nature’s latest insult in this seemingly interminable winter of 2015—didn’t sting quite as much as it might have: on Friday, Netflix made the entirety of the third season of its political thriller “House of Cards” available for viewing. Let the binge watching commence!

The series, which debuted in 2013, marked a significant gamble for Netflix. The company was in the process of morphing from a mail-based DVD distributor to a provider of streaming video content. Yet without a way to differentiate themselves from other online content providers, Netflix’s market share would never be truly secure. The key to the service’s ongoing viability would be coming up with something that nobody else could provide consumers. It rolled the dice with Frank Underwood and “House of Cards.” Read more

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.

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