video programmers complain OTT platforms aren’t sharing enough audience data

Video programmers that are going direct to consumer by launching streaming apps are grappling with third-party distributors that have access to huge audiences, but offer very little in the way of audience data.

Today, video app programmers have a growing number of third-party distribution options. Marketplaces such as the iTunes App Store and Google Play ensure that their apps are available on almost every smartphone and tablet. Streaming video devices such as Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV offer similar app distribution on TV screens. Amazon and Roku are also channel resellers, which allows them to sell media companies’ apps as “channels” inside their own branded apps. (Apple is reportedly working on a similar product for its TV app.)

All of these distributors, whether it’s an app marketplace or channel reseller, allow users to subscribe through the distributor’s ecosystem (and billing system) instead of having to sign up directly with the programmer. This has created a challenge for video programmers, which need to be on third-party distribution platforms in order to reach a wider user base, but get a limited view into who is actually subscribing and how they are using the apps.

For instance, video programmers that agree to be on Amazon Prime Video Channels and The Roku Channel do not receive the email or credit-card information of those that have elected to subscribe. That information remains with Amazon and Roku, which also take a share of the revenue generated by their wholesale marketplaces. Last year, Amazon expanded its channels program to include ad-supported channels, which meant that the company does deliver back some anonymized user data on viewership trends and age and gender demographics, sources said. But again, there is no identifiable information that programmers could put to use outside of Amazon’s own ecosystem.

“Amazon wants you to do well on ads, because they want people to come back and buy stuff on Amazon, so they’ll give you some anonymized data,” said an executive at a TV programmer that distributes on Prime Video Channels.

“Amazon Channels and the wholesalers, in general, are basically a black box; you don’t really see what’s happening in terms of what people are watching,” added an exec at a niche subscription video programmer.

And yet, the potential to find new audiences in both Amazon and Roku’s customer base — Amazon’s Fire TV platform alone has 30 million active users and Roku has 27 million active users — makes both distributors difficult to ignore. It’s a big reason why Amazon Prime Video Channels has become a significant driver of subscription revenue for OTT programmers, accounting for anywhere from 25 percent to more than 50 percent of a subscription streaming app’s total number of users. (The fact that both Amazon and Roku also supply the technical infrastructure and handle billing services can be another benefit for programmers that don’t have the resources to handle both.)

The data challenge with OTT wholesalers also varies by programmer. For instance, ad-free subscription programmers such as HBO, Showtime and Starz are not as gung-ho about audience data as those that sell ads.

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Amazon launches Freedive; ad supported OTT channel

Amazon has launched Freedive, an ad-supported streaming channel featuring movies and TV shows, with the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

The AVOD will be available in the US, beginning today, on the IMDb website and on all Amazon Fire TV devices.

Freedive TV customers will see the new IMDb Freedive icon in the “Your Apps & Channels” section.

Without a Trace

The channel will enable customers to watch hit TV shows including Fringe, Heroes, The Bachelor and Without a Trace, as well as top Hollywood hits such as Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster and The Illusionist without purchasing a subscription.

Customers can also dive deeper into the titles they are watching by using X-Ray, powered by the information on IMDb about cast, crew, trivia and soundtracks.

IMDb already has a list of original video series, including The IMDb Show, Casting Calls and No Small Parts, which will be available on the service.

IMDb says the Freedive catalogue will continue to evolve, with new titles added regularly.

“Customers already rely on IMDb to discover movies and TV shows and decide what to watch,” said Col Needham, founder and CEO of IMDb.

“With the launch of IMDb Freedive, they can now also watch full-length movies and TV shows on IMDb and all Amazon Fire TV devices for free. 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.”

In October it was reported that Amazon will allow marketers access to its proprietary data in order to help target video advertising on the platform.

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Amazon Fire TV tops 30 million active users

Amazon’s Fire TV may be moving into the lead among video streaming devices, with its lineup of products attracting “well over” 30 million active users, the company said Wednesday at CES. 

That’s up from the 25 million Amazon disclosed in October, suggesting growth of 5 million new accounts in three months. And Amazon expects the number to grow soon, too. 

“We’re still in the middle of the ‘buy’ to ‘turn on’ period” from the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s head of Fire TV, Marc Whitten, said in an interview with CNET on Wednesday at CES. 

The 30 million figure seems to put Fire TV ahead of Roku, widely considered one of the most popular streaming-video products. Earlier this week, Roku estimated it had 27 million active users. The company said it defines an active account as one that has streamed content in the last 30 days; a single account may include streaming on multiple devices with multiple individuals in the household. Roku declined to comment on Amazon’s announcement.

Amazon didn’t characterize its definition of a monthly active user. The company has Fire devices that work in more than 80 countries, according to its support page. Roku operates in 23 countries.

The market for video streaming devices is exploding. The number of households with a streaming player has quadrupled in the last five years, according to Parks Associates, and Roku and Amazon have been competing for market share since Amazon launched the Fire TV line in 2014. 

Whitten plans to grow the Fire TV business this year by expanding Amazon’s international partnerships, though he avoided offering any specifics about those efforts. Whitten added that the company has been “very happy” with sales of Fire TV Edition smart TVs, which are sets that have Fire TV built into them.

As an example of a recent partnership, Amazon signed a deal last April with Best Buy to bring a new lineup of Fire TV Edition sets to customers in the US and Canada. 

“Smart TV powered by Fire TV Edition, we think, is a great experience, and we want to build more of them,” Whitten said.

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Hulu 2018 performance soars driven by big content spend, losses grow too

According to the latest data from Hulu, the company continues to grow at a spectacular pace. Hulu grew subscribers to 25 million in 2018, an increase of 8M from the previous year. As well, advertising revenue increased 45%, to reach $1.5 billion.

Such growth does not come cheap. Estimates put Hulu’s losses at around $1.5 billion in 2018. As well, the company spent $2.5 billion on content in 2017, and likely more than that in 2018. However, though the company is spending a lot, it appears to be spending it wisely.

More content driving Hulu’s growth in every dimension

Hulu boosted its on-demand library to 85,000 episodes, including exclusive rights to every episode of shows such as ERLostKing of the HillFamily Guy, and Bob’s Burgers. It also delivered marque originals including season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale and the very successful Castle Rock.

The boost in content available through Hulu is also driving increased usage by subscribers. The company says the average time each month spent on Hulu per subscriber increased 20% during 2018. A lot of that time is spent binge watching. Hulu reports that over half of viewing sessions of the top 100 shows were of three or more episodes back-to-back.

Moreover, on-demand viewing appears to be Hulu’s sweet spot. Hulu Live subscribers, who have access to live TV channels and the on-demand catalog, spend half their viewing time watching on-demand. Nielsen says the average adult in Q2 2018 watched 3 hours and 59 minutes of live TV per day and only 32 minutes of time-shifted TV.

Breaking down Hulu’s subscriber base, it’s clear why the company is investing so much in on-demand content.

Subscription revenue remains king at Hulu in 2018

Hulu’s subscriber’s breakdown into three primary groups:

  • Regular subscribers to Hulu’s basic $7.99 a month on-demand video service
  • On-demand subscribers that have upgraded to ad-free service for an addition $4 a month
  • Customers of Hulu’s virtual MVPD service ‘Live’ paying a minimum of $39.99.

As a private company, Hulu does not regularly report on its performance. However, it does provide irregular guidance on progress. In May of 2018, Hulu said it had reached 20 million subscribers, an increase of 3M from the end of 2017. The latest news from the company says it now has 25 million total subscribers, an increase of 8 million from 2017.

Hulu subs splits between live, basic, and ad-free

The company has never been specific about the number of ad-free subscribers it has. Last year, company insiders said the “vast majority” of people that sign-up watch ads. They have also said it’s about 50-50, between ad-free and ad-watching subscriber.  I have estimated the population of ad-free viewers in 2018 at 28%.

Hulu Live launched mid-2017. Just over a year later, in September 2018, the company confirmed that Live had the 1 million subscriber milestone, a gain of 200,000 subscribers over April 2018. Given that the fourth quarter has been strong for Netflix and other providers, Hulu Live likely finished the year with around 1.2 million subscribers.

Hulu revenue split between subs and ads

This data allows nScreenMedia to estimate Hulu earned $2.7 billion in subscriber revenue in 2018. Total revenue was approximately $4.2 billion, up over 50% from 2017.  36% of revenue comes from ads and 54% from on-demand subscribers. Hulu Live is responsible for just 10% of total revenue. The revenue picture helps explain Hulu’s intense focus on on-demand viewing.

Disney plans further growth

Assuming Disney’s purchase of Fox assets closes as expected this year, it will assume a controlling interest in Hulu. When that happens, Disney CEO Bob Iger plans to continue heavy investment in the service and may push to accelerate it.

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Report: Netflix ramps up local content production

Netflix is aggressively ramping up global productions, particularly in Europe and Asia according to a report from Ampere Analysis. Netflix has seen impressive growth in these markets, adding eight and nine million subscribers respectively between 2017 and 2018. Hoping to replicate the success of hits such as Dark from Germany and Sacred Games(pictured) from India, Netflix announced 24 new titles for Europe in Q4 2018 – that’s equivalent to the total for the region in 2017 and represents 22 per cent of the upcoming catalogue.

Netflix and the giant Dahl catalogue

Netflix has said it will increase the number of European titles it produces by another third during 2019, having delivered 141 projects including recommissions in 2018. The streaming service also announced a major rights deal with the Roald Dahl Company, with ambitions to produce a vast ‘Dahl Universe’ of children’s titles.

International productions are a double whammy for Netflix

Netflix’s investment in localised foreign language content not only maintains subscriber growth, it helps fight domestic competition by captivating users with high-quality international productions. The success of series such as Elite,Narcos and Sacred Games with both native and English language audiences illustrate how international productions can deliver a double whammy for the service. Thirty-six per cent of Netflix’s upcoming originals will be non-English, and 46 per cent will originate from outside the US and Canada.

Netflix is currently producing new content in 25 countries, with 133 titles originating outside of North America, including its first African title. It is heavily focused on specific markets, with the top two international producers of the UK and India accounting for 32 per cent of international productions, and the top five accounting for 56 per cent. Additionally, it is rapidly increasing production in key markets across Asia and Europe, particularly those that have created hit shows for the streaming service in the past. The UK has added 10 titles so far in Q4 2018, India eight, Germany six, and five each in Japan and Spain.

Central and South America misses out in Q4

  • Central and South American productions represent 9 per cent of the entire upcoming Netflix slate, but have only accounted for 5 per cent of the slate in the fourth quarter of 2018
  • So, although the region is home to hits Narcos and 3 per cent, only five titles from South America have been announced for the last quarter of 2018
  • With Mexico currently considering a similar quota policy to that of the EU, Netflix may need to review its strategy in Latin America in the future

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Why OTT recommendations aren’t better, yet!

Have you ever wondered why video recommendations never seem to be a close match to your interests or mood? Why when you ask your favorite voice assistant to suggest a dark movie with plenty of action all you hear is “sorry, I don’t know how to help with that.” It could be that the metadata – data about movies and TV shows – that those systems use doesn’t have the detail needed.  Gracenote wants to change that with its new Video Descriptors.

Traditional metadata captures information such as show title, actors, description, and genre. The data was enough to populate a grid TV guide and display the program details when requested by the user. It was also enough to power simple searches on names and general categories. Unfortunately, this level of data falls far short of what’s needed by more sophisticated applications like recommendations and voice search.

Capturing more information about video

Gracenote’s Video Descriptors, part of the company’s Advanced Discovery products, extends the metadata to capture much more information about the video. For example, details such as mood, theme, scenario, and characters can be added to a show or movie description.

The extended metadata allows the video to be characterized with much greater detail. For example, consider a movie like Die Hard. Along with the usual description data, Video Descriptors can capture more abstract concepts like “Good versus Evil,” and “Sweet Revenge” and moods such as “Gripping” and “Dark.” It can also capture character names, like “John McClane,” and well-remembered quotes, like “yippee ki yay.”

Why more detail is needed

Details such as these are critical if a recommendation engine is to make links between different movies and shows. For example, it could be that a Die Hard fan would enjoy Game of Thrones. The show is also “Good versus Evil” and “Sweet Revenge” and also feels gripping and dark. The detail also allows voice search systems to respond to vague requests like “What was that movie where the main character says yippee ki yay?”

Getting the extra data

Populating the new data in Video Descriptors is not a trivial matter. Simon Adams, Gracenote’s Chief Product Officer, put it this way:

“There’s a real challenge around scale based on the amount of legacy content already out in the world and new content being created every day by established and emerging players.”

Relying solely on people would take a very long time and would be prohibitively expensive. Gracenote is using advanced machine learning technologies to automate much of the processing. Mr. Adams commented:

“Our in-house editors develop and define the taxonomies and training sets that are used to sharpen the algorithms. Editorial experts are critical to the process as they have the ability to define descriptors, add correlations and address cultural nuances. The AI/machine learning component is equally critical because, not only do machines enable us to achieve scale, they’re outstanding at performing highly systemized and complex tasks.”

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Video Services May Use Artificial Intelligence to Crack Down on Password Sharing

Still using your ex-roommates cable credentials to watch “Game of Thrones?” That may soon be getting a lot harder, thanks to new efforts to crack down on password sharingfor pay TV and online video services. One of these efforts, launched by London-based Synamedia ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), even uses artificial intelligence to uncover notorious password sharers.

Credentials Sharing Insight, as the new service is being called, targets both casual password sharing as well as criminal enterprises looking to resell pay TV login information. However, the focus clearly is on friends and family taking their generosity a bit too far, explained Symanedia chief product officer Jean-Marc Racine in an interview with Variety this week.

“The way you secure OTT is evolving,” said Racine. Previously, TV operators largely relied on secure devices, including locked-down set-top boxes and smart cards to decrypt satellite TV. These days, everything is moving to streaming, and operators are looking to make things as simple as possible for consumers. The flip side of that move to convenience is a lack of control, he argued. “Passwords are easy to share.”

And while TV operators in the past downplayed password sharing, claiming that it was just as much promotion, there’s a lot more caution about the topic these days. Parks Associates recently estimated that the industry could lose as much as $9.9B due to password sharing by 2021.

Most services have tried to curtail password sharing by limiting the number of simultaneous streams, with little else to go by to identify abuse. “Today, you are in the dark,” he said.

Synamedia’s solution on the other hand digs through lots of data to cluster users based on their streaming behavior. This can include user’s physical location (someone streaming from both coasts at the same time) as well as general usage patterns (someone streaming 24/7).

The company can even take a look at the specific content streamed by a user to identify unusual patterns. Based on these clues, Synamedia trains models to score users on a scale of 1 to 10, indicating whether they are likely sharing their passwords or not.

What the streaming service ultimately does with likely offenders is up to each company, said Racine. He suggested that the response doesn’t have to be punitive. Instead, companies could target password sharers with up-sell options for tiers with additional simultaneous streams. Services could also target users of shared passwords with specific messaging to convince them to pay up, or restrict access to the most popular content.

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch: what to know about Netflix’s interactive film

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is Netflix’s latest entry in the popular series and the company’s first real foray into the world of what it’s calling “Interactive Films.” In other words, Bandersnatch is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure movie, complete with branching paths and a variety of different endings. Thankfully, rather than making you play through — or watch — Bandersnatch multiple times, Netflix allows you to watch most of these endings simply by finishing the movie once.

Bandersnatch clocks in at around 90 minutes, making it a little longer than most traditional Black Mirror episodes. The catch, however, is that Bandersnatch can last a whole lot longer if you go back through to see just how differently things can go in the story. If you don’t have time for multiple viewings, however, you do have the option of quickly watching most of the other endings. As soon as the credits roll on whatever ending you first received, you’ll be prompted with new options.

Depending on which choices you made to get there, at the end of the movie you’ll be greeted with either the option to see the credits, or to go back to one of the story’s crucial moments so that you can change up your choices a little and see what things might have been like. This means that you’ll be able to see all, or at least most, of the possible variants without having to start things over from the beginning.

It’s not clear if there’s a limit to this or not. In our testing, we used it to see every ending that’s been found so far, and after repeating a few of them several times, the movie eventually took us all the way back to the Netflix homepage, though it isn’t quite clear why that happened. While it seems that most of the endings for Bandersnatch have been discovered for now, it’s also possible that some more complicated ending, requiring all the right choices, could exist. For now though, we’ll just have to wait and see what other Easter eggs Black Mirror: Bandersnatch might hold.

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OTT Overload: All the Media Companies Preparing to Launch New Streaming Services in 2019

It’s hard to imagine that the OTT space could get even more crowded than it already is, but that’s what 2019 is about to usher in. A slew of new streaming services will arrive on the scene, going toe-to-toe with current big players like Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, Showtime, Amazon and YouTube Premium.

Here are the biggest streaming offerings set to roll out next year.


The company, which completed its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner in June, will launch a direct-to-consumer offering in Q4 of 2019.

The still-unnamed OTT product, which AT&T first announced in October and shared more deals about with investors last month, will rely heavily on content from WarnerMedia, including HBO and the Warner Bros. library.Randall Stephenson said earlier this month that it will be a three-tiered service with a “core platform of movies,” which will be followed by a second tier of original programming and blockbuster movies and a third layer that features the library content (some of which could be licensed from third-parties), including classics, kids/family and niche programming.

AT&T doesn’t intend for the service “to become another Netflix,” said Stephenson, explaining that it is “not our ambition” for the OTT product to rival Netflix as a “warehouse of content.”


Disney has slowly rolled out information about its upcoming OTT channel, Disney+, which is expected to launch in late 2019.

The channel will feature a second live-action Star Wars series, currently in development, and though it will have less content than Netflix, Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Robert Iger said it would be cheaper. The app will feature programming from brands such as Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

“We’re going to walk before we run as it relates to volume of content, because it takes time to build the kind of content library that ultimately we intend to build,” Iger said in August.


Apple has greenlit a number of original shows during the past year—including one about the morning news starring Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston—but it’s not clear on which platform that content will live when it is finally released. That content is finally expected to be rolled out next year, though specifics remain under wraps.


Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said his company is taking a “multifaceted” OTT strategy and will include direct-to-consumer options as well as producing content to sell to other services or content library.

“We do believe there is an opportunity on AVOD, ad-supported video on demand, and that is useful for building a funnel into our subscription products,” Bakish said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference.

Viacom has already tiptoed into the OTT space and has content from its Nickelodeon brand on a standalone “NickSplat” channel on video aggregation platform, VRV.


Discovery, Inc. executives have said they’re considering a direct to consumer offering, especially now that the company has 17 networks in its portfolio after merging in March with Scripps Networks Interactive.

Though execs have said they’re only considered the options, which could include bundling a number of brands, like HGTV, Food Network and TLC, in one channel. In theory, it could cost as low as $5 to $8 per month, said president and CEO David Zaslav in July.

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Linear TV Is Still the Advertising King But its Days Are Numbered

Linear TV is still the biggest ad category, but digital video and mobile are making inroads. Advertising research company Warc took a look at 12 major markets, and found most ad spend went to display ads (which here includes TV, radio, mobile devices, out of home, and some online formats) and that linear TV was the biggest chunk of that spend.

Linear TV

Looking at 12 major markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.), all display ad platforms took in $140 billion in 2018, and of that linear TV took 41.9 percent. That’s a 1.0 percent year-over-year (YOY) improvement. The next biggest area was mobile devices.

Taking a step back, the data shows linear’s share has been declining for years, while mobile is improving. In fact, mobile has risen 16.6 percentage points since 2009.

One curious finding is that even though linear attracts fewer eyes every year, advertisers still flock to it. It offers unparalleled reach for top-of-funnel marketing campaigns, and nothing else can match it. Daily viewing time for linear averages 1 hour 54 minutes, which fell by 4 minutes this year.

When it surveyed brands about their plans for 2019, Warc learned that 32 percent planned to spend less on TV next year. Also, 18 percent will increase spending and 49 percent will maintain their current spend.

Addressable online video ads will certainly take a growing share of spending from linear, but Warc notes that the are has its own hurdles. In the U.S., consumers don’t like giving up their data to marketers and often see targeted ads as creepy: 61.5 percent in the U.S. don’t want to trade their personal data for more relevant ads.

“We believe TV spend will dip 1.5 percent in our 12 key markets next year, to $138 billion,” says James McDonald, data editor at Warc. This will largely be due to an expected 4.6 percent fall in the U.S. (to $61 billion). Addressable TV still has a long way to go to make up the expected shortfall in linear investment, but recent developments, such as AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and AppNexus, could instigate a new arms race in the industry.”

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