Bad news for Netflix subscribers hoping to get faster broadband service.
Google’s heralded fiber optic network is likely to remain a minor player in the U.S. broadband market, with the search behemoth unlikely to deploy the service nationwide due its high cost, according to a new report from IHS Screen Digest.
Google Fiber, which bowed in Kansas City area and announced subsequent rollouts in Provo, Utah, Austin, Texas, regularly tops Netflix’s monthly bandwidth speed ranking for ISPs delivering its subscription video-on-demand service.
Google Fiber’s pricing plan in Kansas City includes free basic Internet connection at 5 megabits per second following a $300 construction fee, and 1 gigabit-per-second broadband available for $70 a month, or with TV service at $120 a month. These prices are similar to European offerings.
IHS believes Google Fiber will be offered only in smaller markets such Austin and Provo, which collectively have a population of about 1.4 million and roughly 600,000 households, respectively. The cities represent only about 0.4% of U.S. households, so even if Google managed to secure a high market share in these metropolitan areas, it would reach only about 0.2% of U.S. homes.
By comparison, Comcast in 2012 claimed 18.3 million broadband subscribers, AT&T totaled 16.4 million, Time Warner Cable had 10.9 million and Verizon reached 8.8 million. Matched against any of the top eight U.S. broadband companies, Google is a minor player, according to IHS.
Specifically, the research firm says rolling out fiber optic networks is expensive and not likely to break even in the short term. As a result, Google has been expanding its fiber network by buying up failed rollouts of unused fiber, otherwise known as dark fiber. In some ways, Google is being opportunistic in its experiment to bring high-speed broadband to various locations, according to IHS.
It said trials of 2.5-gigahertz service in California underscore Google primary focus to learn about trends in consumer usage of its content services. The company also is using this approach to gain a better understanding of how consumers use its core service: advertising.
However, if the fiber experiment is successful for Google, IHS said it could become a long-term undertaking for the company. This would allow Google to expand its activities beyond and leverage its entire ecosystem, which increasingly is encompassing a variety of business models and devices.
Some have argued that Google can deliver a lower-priced broadband service because it picks and chooses where to roll out — getting incentives from local governments to enter their communities. But AT&T also has announced its intention to roll out a fiber network in Austin, meaning Google will have a harder time in the Texas capital because of increased competition, according to IHS.
“While the deployment of Google Fiber to the cities may capture attention, the company’s plans are miniscule compared to what its competitors undertake in the overall market,” said Dexter Thillien, senior analyst for multiplay at IHS. “AT&T and Verizon have spent many billions of dollars establishing fiber networks in larger population centers, something Google is unlikely to be able to match.”
Popcornflix May 9 said it has launched an app for the Blackberry 10 platform and is available for download for free on the Blackberry storefront.
The app is available domestically for the Blackberry Z10 smartphone and also will be available for the Blackberry Q10 when it launches.
More than 2,000 movies are available on the ad-supported movie streaming service, with each title featuring pre-roll, spot ads and banner ads. Popcornflix enables users to search movies by genre, actor or director and select from new releases or the site’s most popular most films. Each month, 30 to 40 additional feature-length films are added to the channel.
The Blackberry 10 app can be shared via social media by posting a link to a user’s Facebook or Twitter account or via email.
“Blackberry 10 is all about bringing customers the content they love,” said Martyn Mallick, VP of global alliances and business development at Blackberry. “We are very pleased to have Popcornflix on the Blackberry 10 platform and think customers will thoroughly enjoy the range of titles from a variety of film genres available to watch for free.”
Popcornflix, a subsidiary of indie distributor Screen Media Ventures, in March said the number of app downloads on Roku media players in the United States exceeded 1 million. It is also available on Roku devices in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Apple’s iTunes Store remains the top-selling platform for movies and TV shows — despite the emergence of players such as Best Buy’s CinemaNow, Walmart’s Vudu, Amazon Instant Video and Microsoft’s Xbox Video, among others, according to new data from The NPD Group.
The iTunes platform, which celebrates its 10th anniversary April 28, represented 67% of the episodic TV show sellthrough market — significantly ahead of runner-up Xbox Video with 14% market share. Apple also dominated digital movie sales with 65% market share, compared with 10% for Amazon Instant Video and Xbox Video, respectively.
In movie sales, iTunes generated 45% of unit sales, compared with 18% by Amazon Instant Video, 15% via Vudu, 14% through Xbox Video and 8% for other platforms.
NPD said about 80% of iTunes video customers said their shopping experience was excellent or very good, 75% were pleased with the level of current releases and 73% praised the selection.
“We've seen big-name entertainment retailers lose share, and even close, as their customer satisfaction metrics faded; however, that's clearly not the case with iTunes. Customers are quite happy with the store,” Russ Crupnick, SVP of industry analysis at NPD, said in a statement.
Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD said 58% of consumers who rented a movie from iTunes in March also bought a music download in the prior three months.
The statistics are based on data from nearly 314,000 digital transactions between January 2012 and January 2013. Additional information comes from NPD's spring 2013 "Entertainment Trends in America" report. Data represents the U.S. population of Internet users age 13 and older.
“Apple has successfully leveraged its first-mover advantage of iTunes, iOS and the popularity of iPhone and iPad to dominate the digital sale and rental markets for movies and music,” Crupnick said. “While worthy competitors have come along, no other retailer has so thoroughly dominated its core entertainment product categories for so long.”
Multiplatform movie distributor Cinedigm April 22 began offering free 7-minute opening clips of Arthur Newman, starring Oscar winner Colin Firth and Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt, on file sharing network BitTorrent — four days before the indie launches theatrically April 26.
“Newman” follows the mid-life travails of Wallace Avery (Colin Firth), who decides to make a radical change by walking away from his old life. He buys a new identity and hits the road as Arthur Newman bound for Terre Haute, Ind., where he dreams of reinventing himself.
While sneak peaks and clips of theatrical releases online aren’t new, offering legitimate content on a file sharing network synonymous with piracy is a twist.
It underscores BitTorrent’s efforts to legitimize a reported user base of 170 million. Movie studios lost nearly $2 billion in revenue on potential disc sales for the top 10 pirated movies of 2012, according to a recent research report, which cited data from BitTorrent.
“We’re able to connect Cinedigm with real movie fans that actively support content creators and by doing so BitTorrent can demonstrate how we add value through continued innovation,” said Shahi Ghanem, chief strategy officer of BitTorrent, in a statement.
B. Riley & Co. analyst Eric Wold said Cinedigm is looking for creative ways to effectively promote their indie films to the right audiences and for the right cost.
Wold said Cinedigm has made mixing up traditional distribution of movies a hallmark of its business plan. It distributes indie movies and TV shows via 11,600 digital theatrical screens with 269 exhibition partners, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, electronic sellthrough, and transactional and subscription VOD.
The company’s library features about 19,000 movies and television episodes. Recent release The Invisible War, about rape in the military, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Feature Documentary category.
“If this initial effort with BitTorrent proves successful, I would expect them to continue to work together on future films,” Wold said in an email.
The analyst believes Cinedigm didn’t opt for Facebook and YouTube to promote “Newman” (besides cost) due to the fact visitors to those social media sites are looking for something other than movies. Meanwhile, people primarily frequent BitTorrent to watch movies — for free.
“Cinedigm is not held to the traditional marketing/promotional ways of other studios,” Wold said. “Can you imagine a large mega-studio partnering with BitTorrent?”
Rovi Corp. April 16 said Facebook will be using Rovi Video — a database on movies, TV shows and celebrities — to help its users identify entertainment they “like” on their profiles.
Rovi Video, a subset of Rovi's entertainment database, includes descriptive information on more than 4 million TV shows, movies and sporting events that span from classics to new favorites.
The integration of Rovi Video on Facebook will also offer app developers a standardized base of entertainment data. This will make it easier for Rovi's clients to include links to the corresponding movie and TV show Facebook pages in their products.
“We see the social interaction with movies, TV shows and video entertainment growing immensely over the next couple of years,” Ime Archibong of Facebook's platform partnerships said in a statement. "With this in mind, we've sought Rovi as a valuable source for TV and movie information to help provide the backdrop that we need to enable developers to create a connected experience for consumers in their apps and services."
Including Rovi Video enables third-party app developers to build new services on Facebook, according to Bob Shallow, SVP of sales and marketing at Rovi.
"We believe that high-quality data is core to enabling consumers to have a deeper connection to entertainment,” Shallow said. “We have continued to invest in our data to increase its breadth, depth and relevance in order to provide customers like Facebook with the ability to create a more robust user experience."
Lionsgate and Microsoft April 15 in a partnership bowed The Hunger Games Explorer website (www.thehungergamesexplorer.com) in advance of the Nov. 22 theatrical release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, co-starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.
The site is for fans of the franchise to track developments in the movies, including blogs, talent tweets, images and videos. The site will serve as a social aggregator, allowing both official and fan-generated content to be pulled from multiple social media platforms. Users will be able to search, filter and share content directly from the site, providing an incredible experience for utility and discovery.
The partnership would appear to be a major social media win for Microsoft at a time when Facebook increasingly positions itself as the leader in the field of social marketing.
The Hunger Games Explorer lets users swipe and scroll through content with the flick of a finger. Another feature called "sparking" lets fans "like" objects while driving discussion around each bit of news or fan-created content.
"The Hunger Games Explorer is not only a place for fans to spark the conversation around Catching Fire, but also a destination where we can continue to provide fans with new content, experiences and unprecedented behind-the-scenes access,” Danielle De Palma, SVP of digital marketing with Lionsgate, said in a statement.
Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer marketing, said the site works to bring innovative experiences to the Web, showcasing what's possible with content and an interactive modern browser with touchscreen functionality.
We wanted to change the game for how a movie can be extended to the Web, providing an intensely immersive experience for fans," Capriotti said in a statement.
Google Fiber’s 1 gigabyte high-speed Internet service reportedly is coming to Austin, Texas, following initial rollout in the Kansas City area.
While online media sources speculate Google could announce rollout of its fiber optic service during a news conference April 9. ABC TV affiliate KVUE.com confirmed the news, citing multiple sources.
Netflix has said Google Fiber is the fastest Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the United States at 2.55 Mbps — about 100 times faster than the next fastest broadband service.
Netflix, which tracks some of the highest Internet traffic during peak hours, posts a list on its website of fastest ISPs based on their performance delivering the subscription video-on-demand service’s streaming content.
Residents in Kansas City have been able to receive free broadband ISP service following a $300 installation fee, while faster gigabyte service is available for $70 a month, or $120 monthly when including Google TV, according to the search giant’s website.
“You could upload your entire DVD collection in less than a day,” Austin-based tech blogger Stacey Higginbotham told KVUE.
Four out of five connected-TV owners use applications on a regular basis, with 43% using apps to watch video, and 45% using apps to play games, according to a new report.
App developers are targeting connected TVs more and more, after initially focusing on smartphones and tablets, according to Heather Way, senior research analyst for Parks Associates, which conducted the survey.
“Seventy-nine percent of smart-TV owners are regular app users, but the use cases for TV apps are different than smartphones and tablets,” she said. “TV viewing is a lean-back, shared experience, with apps as access points to complementary content, whereas smartphone app use is more personalized. Apps will alter the TV viewing experience by opening new avenues to discover content and also serve as a means for content owners to push premium content to households.”
Smartphones have the highest penetration rate of all app platforms, with 60% of U.S. broadband households owning at least one smartphone, Way said, but connected TVs are coming on strong, with one out of four American homes expected to own one by the end of 2013.
“App developers are focusing on the smart-TV platform for new apps, and TV manufacturers such as Samsung and LG already have their own app developer programs, which control app distribution and monetization,” Way said.
Miramax April 2 said it named Emily Briggs VP of digital sales. Briggs most recently was director of content acquisition with Netflix. She reports to Beth Minehart, EVP of global digital, in Santa Monica, Calif.
Miramax also added two sales executives to its global television and digital market sales team in response to the growing distribution of digital entertainment online.
Richard Tulk-Hart joined as SVP, head of TV sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa (“EMEA”), reporting to Minehart and Joe Patrick, EVP of worldwide television at Miramax. Jo Sherlock joined as VP of TV sales EMEA, reporting to Tulk-Hart.
All appointments are effective immediately. Both Sherlock and Tulk-Hart are based at Miramax’s London sales office.
“As viewing platforms and fans of high-quality content flourish around the world, demand for Miramax content will continue to grow,” Patrick said in a statement.
Minehart said Miramax remains “deeply focused” on working with digital platforms, which continue to grow and present opportunities for the distributor’s content.
“We welcome Emily, who brings strong acumen in this dynamic space, to the digital sales group,” Minehart said.
Before joining Miramax, Tulk-Hart was VP of TV sales for Fremantle Media in the EMEA region. Sherlock was head of business development for BT Sport and BT Vision. While at The Walt Disney Co., Sherlock served as director of media distribution EMEA — Disney ABC ESPN Television.
The Miramax library holds more than 700 films, including Pulp Fiction; Good Will Hunting; The English Patient; Kill Bill Volume I and II; Life Is Beautiful; Reservoir Dogs; Sex, Lies and Videotape; Cinema Paradiso; and My Left Foot.
Home entertainment used to be so simple.
With VHS it was the movie. DVDs opened the door to commentaries, deleted scenes and any number of bonuses that could fit on a single (or dual-sided) disc. Then Blu-ray Disc made 1080p high-def and Internet connectivity to content commonplace.
But home entertainment isn’t as simple as a disc anymore. Consumers want more. And with content apps — for the computer, tablet and smartphone — the studios are realizing it.
“Obviously it’s a new technology, and we really felt going into it that consumers have these devices in the living room, smartphones and tablets, and they’re using them not only with television but with movies,” said Tracey Garvin, SVP of worldwide marketing for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has released second-screen applications for both The Smurfs and The Amazing Spider-Man. “We wanted to figure out how to extend that on-disc experience and give a more interactive, immersive experience.”
The Smurfs application today is still being downloaded thousands of times a week, even though the Blu-ray Disc was released in December 2011, Garvin said.
“We’re coming up with Smurfs 2 soon, and we’ll re-launch that second-screen app with additional content, so it becomes a really great bridge strategy for a franchise title,” said Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing for SPHE.
The app includes activities, games and a trailer, and by the theatrical release in late July, Sony expects it will have been downloaded a million times.
“We’re finding the second screen is becoming the first screen,” Garvin said.
Lori MacPherson, EVP of global product management for The Walt Disney Studios, said the studio has seen a direct, positive relationship between the second-screen apps and Blu-ray sales, with approximately 50% of respondents saying the apps played a part in them purchasing a title.
“Things like that are hard to quantify to the dollar or unit, but what we do know is that a lot of people say it’s positively influencing their decision to purchase,” she said.
Disney had the first second-screen application — Bambi — more than two years ago, and currently has the most among major studios. The latest one came with the theatrical release of Oz the Great and Powerful and, much like The Avengers before it, adds content up through the Blu-ray release. She said each second-screen app is better than the next, as Disney learns what people are using the apps for.
“It’s been somewhat of an evolution, and originally we knew through research and personal experience that people were watching their TVs with a connected device nearby,” MacPherson said. “Tablets had just come out in the market and were starting to take off, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we allowed people to legitimately use their tablets to get more supplemental information and experiences while they were watching the movie?’”
Some studio applications for home entertainment are obvious: Warner has made its Flixster-owned movie streaming and discovery service a go-to app for UltraViolet.
Sony’s Crackle app is a mainstay among ad-supported video services. And before “apps” was in the home entertainment lexicon, Universal’s pocketBLU Blu-ray Disc feature was a “second-screen” application … before the term became hip.
Yet day-to-day studio content applications have become extremely precise, accommodating (and anticipating) what consumers want with their entertainment. Starting before theatrical and past street date for disc, studios have used apps to keep consumers constantly engaged with content these past couple years:
■ Warner: In February 2011, the studio launched app-based versions of Inception and The Dark Knight, offering a few minutes of each theatrical release along with bonuses (trivia, games, soundboards, etc.), enticing app users to either stream or download versions of the films. In 2012 Warner went all out with second-screen applications for disc, first with Happy Feet Two, second with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and most recently with The Dark Knight Rises (the last building on an app available in conjunction with the theatrical release).
■ Paramount: In early January, the studio debuted a Star Trek Into Darkness application — a full five months before the film debuts in theaters May 17. That’s just a recent example: Paramount was among the first major studios to launch film-driven applications, starting with the Paranormal Activity iPhone app in late 2009. Using apps the studio went on to successfully promote a title (Foursquare-driven Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and its own heritage (“Paramount Pictures 100 Years of Movie Magic App” for the iPad).
■ Fox: In March 2012, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offered an application to let consumers “stop, scan and shop” for movies — spotlighting Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked — using mobile devices at shopping centers, encouraging users to scan a physical display and purchase content from the studio. Along with the September 2011 Blu-ray release of the “Star Wars” saga, the studio offered an application that opened up early access to the set’s bonus features. More recently, Fox credited its second-screen app for high Blu-ray Disc sales for the October 2012 release of Prometheus.
■ Sony Pictures: The studio offered up a smartphone app for the theatrical release of The Amazing Spider-Man in July, long before the studio debuted a tablet-only app for the disc release last November. And in late 2012, Sony offered an application for Men in Black 3 with the iPad in mind, allowing for the film to be downloaded for offline playback, or streamed using a Wi-Fi connection (along with more bonus features than offered on disc).
And if you’re a Monty Python fan, you could download “The Holy Book of Days,” an interactive iPad app tied into the March 6, 2012, Blu-ray release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
■ Disney: In July, Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment put out an involved second-screen application for The Avengers, two months before the September Blu-ray Disc street date. Disney was at it long before that, debuting a free studio-driven app in 2009 that offered Disney characters, music, video and games.
■ Universal: The studio has put out a few second-screen applications, including ones for Fast Five and Cowboys and Aliens, and its pocketBLU app works with a slew of Blu-ray titles, including everything from Snow White and the Huntsman and Jaws to Sixteen Candles and Smokey and the Bandit.
These studio applications are just the beginning, according to Bhanu Srikanth, CEO and co-founder of Jargon Technologies. To date, Jargon has provided multiplatform second-screen technology for applications from Fox, Warner, Sony Pictures and others.
Srikanth sees a bright future for studio apps, socially and economically, but only as long as the powers that be are careful not to turn “consumers away from this second-screen engagement.”
“Consumers love seeing more content, content that evolves, interacts and changes over time; Blu-ray provides content in a linear fashion as value added material on disc and over BD-Live,” Srikanth said.
And the second screen — the home entertainment application that the industry and consumers alike seem attracted to today — is worth paying attention to, she said.
“The second-screen app has the unique capability of tying in these scattered pieces of [value-added material] with the main feature as well as personalizing it for each user,” Srikanth said. “That is pretty powerful.”
Stephen White, president of metadata company Gracenote, said consumers deserve easy access to second-screen options, if nothing else.
“Viewers don’t want to constantly push buttons on their iPad or smartphone to engage in a second-screen experience; it’s too distracting,” he said. “They should be able to set the second-screen device down on a table or next to them on the couch and let the app trigger interactive content at key moments in the program.”
Gracenote — which develops audio and video watermarking technology that can identify what TV viewers are watching in real time — considers a consumer second-screen experience a priority, White said.
“The more time and effort put into developing a unique experience that helps engage viewers, the more likely viewers will use the app again,” he said. “A common mistake we see from broadcasters is treating the second screen as a place to dump content that has nothing to do with what’s happening on screen.
“When developing content for a second-screen app, broadcasters and advertisers should focus on being a part of the story, rather than interrupting it.”
Tom Woods, VP of user experience for metadata leader Rovi Corp., said home entertainment applications — second-screen or otherwise — are going to revolve around e-commerce, whether consumers can get what they want, when then want it.
“E-commerce is going to be huge,” he said. “In the future we’re going to see the ability for purchases for everything from clothing to furniture, while the show is going on.”
We’ve already seen that. Just ask Stephen Brooks, executive director of marketing of app developer Magic Ruby. His company specializes in watermarking apps with live content, specifically with FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”
“[What Fox was] looking for was an opportunity to reach out to their fans, those who have a somewhat aspirational relationship with the characters, members of a biker gang who tread on the line between being good and bad,” he said. “If you want to get a hoodie or a leather vest, and dress like your favorite character, you can do that without joining an actual biker gang.”
Via Magic Ruby’s application, Fox had more “SOA” in-episode purchases and “a much higher instance of returning customers than any other platform,” Brooks said.
“That is an extremely powerful mechanism, and it proves the model of synchronized commerce,” he said.
Fox is taking it further, announcing in late February it would make programming available on Fox Now apps synchronized to broadcast, allowing viewers of Fox shows to experience real-time, second-screen involvement with content.
“For consumers, this means the second-screen experience is more authentic and more a part of the show itself, as opposed to being a marketing ‘add-on,’” said Zane Vella, CEO of Watchwith, which contracted with Fox for the second-screen service. “While the specific types of content varies from show to show, it is all what the industry calls time-based … in other words, authored on a scene-by-scene basis to a program-length timeline that syncs up with the show itself.”
Peter Orullian, Microsoft’s senior product marketing manager for interactive entertainment, noted that the nascent Xbox SmartGlass feature works with movies, games and TV episodes alike.
“Developing rich and interactive content to run alongside programming takes time, and there can be technical hurdles,” he said. “We believe that second-screen applications are an important part of the entertainment experience because they offer better discovery, control and immersion into the content they care about.”
Shawn Patrick, co-founder of yap.TV, whose technology pairs TV viewing and social media for the second screen, said some apps have worked better than others, and some companies are going to stick around for the long haul, while others will fall behind.
Jason George, CEO of Telescope.tv, a second-screen development company, seconded that opinion: “There’s a lot left to be worked out, to see who the winners and losers are going to be.”