Entertainment Industry

Category: iPad

CW switches to next-day streams for episodes of prime-time series

Joseph Morgan in a scene from the CW hit
After studying the viewing behavior of its young audience, the CW television network has switched strategies and is no longer delaying the online release of such popular shows as "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries."

CW -- a joint venture of CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. -- said Thursday that it would begin making episodes of its prime-time series available several hours after their initial television broadcast. The move is significant because it illustrates how television companies are moving quickly to adapt to rapid changes in technology in an effort to protect important revenue streams.

"Consumers have been telling us that they want the ability to watch their shows whenever and where ever they are," said Rick Haskins, CW executive vice president of marketing and digital programs. "If we don't listen to them, we will be missing an opportunity."

In recent years the CW has made dramatic changes in its online strategy as the network has figured out how to better monetize digital views of its programs.

Early on, the network hesitated to put its shows on the Web at all. But since September 2010 the CW has been delaying the online release of its episodes until three days after airing.

The three-day blackout was designed to boost the TV ratings, and thus protect the important TV advertising revenue. Advertisers pay premiums to reach viewers who watch shows on TV or within three days of their original airing, if the program has been digitally recorded.

CW executives were betting that viewers would be so eager to watch fresh episodes of their most popular shows, including "The Vampire Diaries," "One Tree Hill," and "90210," that they would watch them on TV rather than wait to see them on their laptops.

Viewers were eager to see the latest episode, all right. Research by the Warner Bros. anti-piracy group discovered that nearly a third of online viewers of CW's most popular shows were so motivated that they watched them on a pirate website.

"And 50% of that consumption was done during the first three days after the television run," Haskins said. "That's a lot of money out of our pockets."

By releasing its shows just a few hours after their TV broadcast (at 3 a.m. Pacific time), the CW hopes to reach viewers who otherwise would have pirated them. New technologies also allow the CW to measure the number of online viewers and determine whether they watch the commercials, providing another source of reliable audience data to share with advertisers.

The CW also has been at the forefront of advocating heavier "commercial loads," so the online streams contain as many ads as would be seen in a TV broadcast.

That is a departure from conventional wisdom among most online video distributors. Many believed that online viewers would lack the patience to sit through too many commercials. Sites such as Hulu offer episodes with about half the number of ads that would run on TV.

"We have found that viewers were indeed willing to watch a full commercial load," Haskins said.

CW also announced Thursday that it was introducing its first mobile application for iPad, iPhone and Android platforms. The app enables full-episode streaming of the network's prime-time series and provides a feature for fans to alert their friends on Facebook and Twitter that they are watching a particular episode.


CW to offer new TV episodes to Hulu

Fox restricts free online access to its shows

Netflix deal makes CW pay off for CBS and Warner Bros.

-- Meg James

Photo: Joseph Morgan in a scene from the CW hit "The Vampire Diaries." Credit:  Quantrell Colbert /  CW

Electronic Arts buys Firemint, developer of Flight Control and Real Racing

Electronic Arts on Tuesday said it purchased Firemint, an Australian developer of games for smartphones and tablets, for an undisclosed sum.

Firemint, which has 60 employees in Melbourne, is best known for two games that were first developed for Apple's iPhone and iPad, Flight Control and Real Racing. The company sold 4.5 million copies of Flight Control and 2 million copies of Real Racing.

The acquisition is the second in the last two months made by the company's mobile games division, EA Interactive, based in Playa Vista. In April, EA bought Mobile Post Production, a 60-person company based in Phoenix that specializes in adapting games to multiple devices and operating systems.

The two deals highlight EA's continued push into mobile games, a business that has blossomed since Apple released its iPhone and its iTunes App store opened in 2008. The online store now sells more than 350,000 applications made by a range of independent developers.

"They’re both small, but they’re very key to our overarching strategy," said Barry Cottle, general manager of EA's mobile games business.

EA in October bought Chillingo, a publisher of games for the iPhone and smartphones using Google's Android operating system, for less than $20 million in cash.

Cottle predicted that the overall pace of acquisitions for small innovative companies in the app space will increase over the year as more consumers turn to their mobile devices for entertainment.

"You’ll see more acquisitions of small creative shops," Cottle said. "You’re also seeing the power of scale, and publishing is more critical than ever."

-- Alex Pham




Time Warner Cable's iPad approach is to ask forgiveness rather than permission

When it comes to distributing content on tablet devices such as the iPad, cable operators appear to think it's better to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

At least that's the approach of Time Warner Cable, which last week announced that it would be offering live TV to its nearly 15 million subscribers via Apple's iPad at no extra charge. Comcast and Cablevision are also planning similar apps.

However, some of the programmers whose content Time Warner Cable would be offering have been rumbling quietly that the cable company does not have the rights to stream their programming to iPads. Most, however, are not yet ready to go on a public offensive against the cable operator.

That the Time Warner Cable app only works in the home is of little concern to the programmers. If the contract with the cable company doesn't specifically say streaming on tablet devices is part of the deal, they will balk and probably try to seek more money.

The app has proved to be very popular, although frankly, given its limited usage it seems more of a vanity play than anything else. Why would anyone choose to watch TV on an iPad at home, where they already have at least one TV? In the ad on Time Warner Cable's website, a woman is shown watching an iPad while taking a bath. Not sure if most people will take a device that starts north of $500 into the tub with them.

Among the 32 channels being offered are networks from Disney (although no ESPN), Viacom, Discovery, and NBC Universal. None of the channels have been pulled yet, according to a Time Warner Cable spokesman.

Media analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG Research wrote last week that he looks at the issue and wonders, "Why should a content owner care?" He notes that networks have not to his knowledge made a stink about the Slingbox, a technology that allows its users to be hooked up to their home TV no matter where they are.

"Not only is Slingbox re-encoding the live stream coming out of your multichannel video box in your home (as TWC is doing), but it is also allows you to skip commercials and you can use it in home, out of home and on a wide array of mobile devices," Greenfield wrote. 

All the flashiness aside, the Time Warner Cable iPad app looks like a solution in search of a problem. But it is interesting that cable networks, who have gotten on board with the TV Everywhere initiative in which their content can be viewed online only by those who already subscribe to a pay TV service, are balking over the iPad app.

-- Joe Flint

Time Warner Cable brings live TV to the iPad

Time Warner iPad app

Time Warner Cable Inc. is launching an iPad application that will bring live television to the iPad, although don't plan on going farther than your frontyard as viewing will be restricted to the home.

The app, available for free download Tuesday, provides Time Warner Cable customers who pay for video and Internet to watch 30 cable channels on their Apple tablet, including Comedy Central, MTV and Fox News.

"We are tremendously excited about this app, which is the first of many that will allow our customers to harness the power of their tablet-type  devices," Time Warner Cable President Rob Marcus said in a statement.

For the moment, technical limitations prevent the app from providing access to broadcast network programming, because of the difficulties in handling regional blackout requirements and re-creating local feeds from TV stations, according to a spokesman.

Nor does Time Warner Cable have the rights to allow iPad owners to watch live TV such as "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" once they leave home. Such flexibility would require separate agreements with programmers --and probably cost the cable operators more in license fees.

Over time, Time Warner Cable envisions adding more features, such as the ability to use the tablet as a remote control, to set home recording or watch on-demand video.

Comcast Corp. began offering its digital subscribers on-demand access to about 3,000 hours of programming last fall, including shows from HBO, Showtime, Cartoon Network and BBC America. The iPad app has been downloaded more than 1.3 million times since it launched last November. The nation's largest cable operator plans to offer live TV via the iPad before the end of the year, but like Time Warner Cable it will be available only in the home.

Cable operators are seeking to hold onto their subscribers in the face of competition from Netflix Inc. and Hulu Inc., which already stream movies and TV shows to the iPad -- effectively bypassing traditional distribution channels.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo of Time Warner Cable's iPad application that plays live TV. Credit: AP Photo/Time Warner Cable Inc.

Rdio CEO Drew Larner on the future of digital music subscriptions

Apple Inc.'s announcement last week that it would start enforcing a 30% tariff on subscription services running on its iPhones and iPads sent waves of sturm und drang through the digital entertainment landscape.

Rdio CEO Drew Larner It seemed to be particularly bad news for music streaming services such as Rhapsody, eMusic, MOG and Rdio, which already pay more than half of their revenues to music publishers and record labels for the rights to stream millions of songs on demand. Slicing an additional 30% for Apple would leave these services with little left over to run their businesses, according to Rhapsody Chief Executive Jon Irwin.

Drew Larner, the chief executive of San Francisco-based Rdio, recently gave The Times a more sanguine point of view.

"Apple is obviously a very powerful and successful company, but it’s not the only platform out there," Larner said. "There will always be multiple ways to access music."

Apple's curveball is only the latest challenge to hit the music subscription business, which has struggled for years to get traction with consumers. Music analysts have estimated that the total number of subscribers in the U.S. who pay monthly fees between $5 and $10 has been stagnating at around 2 million, even though such services have been around since 2001, when Rhapsody launched.

Even so, Larner, a former executive vice president of Spyglass Entertainment and before that vice president at 20th Century Fox, said there are several reasons to think subscription music services will eventually thrive. Here are five:

1. The lightbulb moment. Most people aren't aware music subscriptions exist. Even giant retailer Best Buy, which purchased Napster, has had some difficulties marketing the service. Larner believes that once people catch on that they can get access to virtually any song they want on demand for less than the price of a CD per month, they'll pull the trigger.

"Subscription music services will still take some time for people understand why it is the future," Larner said. "Once we reach the tipping point, though, I think it will move quickly."

2. Idiot-proofing. Until recently, many services came with a number of head-scratching limitations. Some services worked only with certain devices. Others were saddled with lengthy copyright restrictions meant to curb unauthorized copying.

Now, there are fewer restrictions and device compatibility is much less of an issue. "The labels have become much less restrictive and more forward thinking with their digital strategies," Larner said.

3. Smart phones. They comprised 31% of the U.S. cellphone market in the fourth quarter last year, according to Nielsen, and are projected to hit 50% this year. Able to reliably stream music from a wireless connection and cache thousands of songs in their generally prodigious memory, smart phones have become portable mini-computers for a large chunk of the population. As a result, music subscription services are able to run far more seamlessly between a computer account and a mobile account, Larner said.

4. The What-to-Listen-to-Next problem. Earlier services played only what listeners directed them to play. But most people didn't want to constantly mess with the settings and had a hard time figuring out what to play next once they've run through their own top 40 list. Next generation services, such as Slacker and Pandora, solved that problem by asking the listener what they like to listen to, and then playing a constant stream of music that's similar.

The latest generation of music subscription services, such as Rdio, try to take things one step further by incorporating what their subscribers' friends are listening to. "It's Twitter meets Facebook meets music," Larner said.

5. Better software designs. It's not just about making the services easy and simple, Larner said. It's also about designing digital music services that let people can manage the thousands of albums they like to listen to while also discovering new music. This, as with points one through four, is a work in progress.

Will Apple's subscription plan slow down the work further? Most think that it will.

"The mobile platform as a whole is providing a growth opportunity for the industry as a whole," said David Krinsky, chairman of the subscription services working group of the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers and head of label relations at Rhapsody. "To threaten that is extremely concerning."

Krinsky and Larner agree that most music subscription services would be forced to pull out of the iPhone and iPad if Apple follows through with its 30% levy in June.

Larner, for one, is looking ahead to see what's next on Rdio's playlist beyond Apple. "We’ve seen great uptake on Android," Google's mobile operating system, which made up 27% of the smart phone market in December, according to Nielsen. Rdio, founded by Skype creators Janus Friis with Niklas Zennström, also works on Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system, BlackBerrys and, as of Thursday, Roku players.

"It’s an opportunity for us to push the gas on distribution on other available platforms," Larner said.

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Rdio Chief Executive Drew Larner. Credit: Zachary Larner / WithExtraVinyl.








CES: Comcast to stream live TV to Apple's iPad

In an effort to follow its subscribers onto portable devices, Comcast Corp, the nation's largest cable-television and broadband provider, says it plans to stream live TV to Apple Inc.'s iPad and other tablet computers powered by Google Inc.'s Android software.

The service, available later this year, would convert the iPad into another viewing screen in the home. This would allow subscribers to watch news, television shows and movies on the device -- presumably while the big screen is displaying some other programming or in a room where -- God forbid -- they don't have a television. Of course, you already have to be paying for Comcast's cable service for access.

For now, Comcast's offering will be available only in the home. But the Philadelphia-based cable giant also announced plans to offer 3,000 hours of on-demand content -- including movies and HBO and Showtime shows -- on the iPad that could be viewed at any location, through Comcast's Xfinity TV application.

“Live streaming and the play now feature on our Xfinity TV app are two important pieces of our strategy to deliver any content to any device, any time,” Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a statement. “Comcast has a series of upcoming online enhancements and app releases that are part of a much larger effort to reinvent how customers interact with their entertainment on TV, online and on mobile devices.”

The Xfinity TV app can already be used as a sophisticated remote control, allowing viewers to search TV listings, change channels and program the DVR to record a show. Future updates will incorporate social-networking components, so viewers can further annoy their friends by constantly telling them what they're watching.

Pay-TV providers are scrambling to hold on to subscribers, who are increasingly using portable devices like the iPad to watch video. Established cable operators are feeling the competitive heat from online subscription services such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, which already deliver programming on the go. 

In a related development, Cisco Systems Inc. is expected to unveil a new TV set-top box at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that would combine Web video with more traditional programming, the Wall Street Journal reports.

These set-top boxes won't be sold directly to consumers, as are products from Apple, Roku Inc. and Boxee Inc. Instead, the hybrid devices would be available through cable operators looking for a way to compete with Web-TV services such as Google Inc.'s Google TV. 

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

“Live streaming and the play now feature on our Xfinity TV app are two important pieces of our strategy to deliver any content to any device, any time,” said Brian L. Roberts, Chairman & CEO of Comcast Corporation. “Comcast has a series of upcoming online enhancements and app releases that are part of a much larger effort to reinvent how customers interact with their entertainment on TV, online and on mobile devices.”

Mobile gaming binge continues; Intel, The9 invest $8 million in Aurora Feint

OpenFeint_logo These may be tough times, but not if you're a mobile game company.

A day after Electronic Arts announced it bought iPhone game publisher Chillingo, Intel Capital and Chinese online gaming company The9 said they have invested a combined $8 million in Aurora Feint Inc., a company in Burlingame, Calif., that helps players find friends, explore new games and post achievements.

Aurora Feint compares its mobile social gaming service to Microsoft's Xbox Live, but for games played on Apple's iPhones and iPads, as well as cell phones and tablets that run Google's Android operating system. The company has more than 3,400 games played by more than 45 million people in its service, called OpenFeint.

“Over the past few years, interest in mobile gaming has exploded, creating a huge market opportunity to deliver these games to the one billion plus mobile device users worldwide,” Mike Buckley, managing director of Intel Capital, said in a statement. Intel Capital is the venture investment arm of Intel Corp., the Santa Clara, Calif., semiconductor company.

It's not just Intel that's interested in Aurora Feint. DeNA Co., a Japanese company that last week paid up to $400 million in cash to buy Ngmoco Inc., also invested an undisclosed sum for a 20% stake in Aurora Feint a year ago. Ngmoco's Plus+ network is considered a rival to OpenFeint.

-- Alex Pham



News Corp. explores national news app for iPad, mobile phones

News Corp. is laying plans for a ground-breaking national news offering to be distributed via downloadable application for Apple Inc.'s iPad and for mobile phones.

The venture, still in preliminary stages, would have its own dedicated reporting and editing staff and could nonetheless draw from New Corp.'s publishing assets, such as the New York Post and Dow Jones. Readers would pay an yet-to-be-determined subscription fee.

If green-lit, News Corp. could invest anywhere from $30 to $40 million in the venture, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. New York Post executive editor Jesse Angelo would oversee the separate digital news operation, in addition to his responsibilities at the tabloid.

The initiative, which would directly compete with The New York Times, USA Today and other national publications, is the latest attempt by a major media organization to harness new devices to reach readers who increasingly consume their news on the go. Stories would range from the short, snappy variety on which the Post made its mark to more lengthy journalistic articles.

Dawn C. Chmielewski

See related story:

News Corp. plans national news offering for iPad and mobile phones

Hulu Plus gets lots of minuses on iTunes

One the sacred commandments of retail is "Thou shalt not raise prices, at least not so noticeably as to incur the wrath of thy customers."

Seems that rule also applies to online videos. Hulu Plus, a $9.99-a-month video service introduced Tuesday, is getting lots of minuses when it comes to user ratings for its iTunes app, which lets subscribers view Hulu videos on Apple Inc.'s iPads. 

Hulu Plus iTunes Ratings As of 9 a.m. Friday, the Hulu Plus app had received 3,173 one-star ratings out of a total 3,836 on iTunes. That's 83% of reviewers claiming to be unhappy with the app. Check out a snapshot of the full ratings profile, pictured on the left.

Just for comparison, 24% of those who reviewed the Netflix app gave it one star.

Why all the frowns for Hulu Plus?

Hulu executives this week said the new service would be in addition to the site's current offering of free TV shows. But viewers aren't seeing it that way. One reviewer summed up the rage in a relatively tame comment, saying, "Why pay $10 a month for something that was free on my computer?"

Another common complaint: the ads. One reviewer wrote, "They want $10/mo to watch TV shows WITH COMMERCIALS included. No thanks." Another review, entitled "Useless," read, "What idiot would pay 10 bucks a month to watch ads."

Note to TV executives: Fabulous app! Except for one small thing. Viewers don't seem to like it.

-- Alex Pham

For beleaguered media companies, iPad 'magic' looks a lot like a tollbooth

WSJ on iPad

Steve Jobs' "magical" iPad is about to work its mojo for the newspaper and magazine business. Hint: Apple's solution has less to do with conjuring illusions and more to do with hard economics.

To illustrate, the Wall Street Journal's iPad app is listed as free. That's enough to get most people, including cynical journalists, to download the app. But when the app is fired up, readers are greeted by what we'll call, tongue firmly in cheek, the reality screen (see screen shot above).

The subtext is clear: Content isn't free to produce, so pay up if you want to read any of it. At least that's the version Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns the Journal, is proselytizing. For the Journal on the iPad, that will be $3.99 a week, please.

Time on iPad It's a view being shared by more and more media companies, including Time Warner, the publishers of Time magazine, which charges $4.99 for a digital copy of its weekly magazine, which coincidentally features Jobs on the cover of its maiden issue for the iPad (see right).

The iPad version of Time delivers some of the features talked about in the Sports Illustrated tablet demo video that's made the rounds within publishing circles, including embedded videos and interactive photo slide shows.

Not everyone's going down the pay path, at least for now. USA Today, NPR, BBC, Associated Press and Reuters, among others, still serve up news for iPad gratis. The New York Times, as with the Web version, offers some stories, called Editor's Choice, for free, but charges readers for deeper access to its stories.

The Los Angeles Times currently has an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but not the iPad. Instead, readers can access the Times, most of it for free, via the iPad's We browser, said Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan.

"We’re looking at optimizing our digital delivery channels for both the iPad and a number other interesting mobile platforms coming down the line," Sullivan said.

Will the iPad offer salvation for the publishing business? The way things are going, it's going to need all the magic Apple can muster.

-- Alex Pham


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