MediaFile

British TV app Zeebox comes stateside

Are your Facebook friends or Twitter followers tired of your incessant posts about The Voice or Game of Thrones? Enter Zeebox, a new app available in the U.S. catered to the most avid TV watchers to keep the conversation going while a show is being aired.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company  and its entertainment unit, NBC Universal, are investing in a start-up called “Zeebox”, which makes an app meant to be a so-called “second screen” used by viewers while they are watching television.

The companies declined to provide financial details of Comcast’s stake. UK TV provider BSkyB invested a reported $15 million in the company in January. The free app has already gained some popularity in the UK, where it has 1.5 million users signed up.

More than 300 shows across 28 Comcast-owned networks will be represented on the Zeebox app, said NBC Universal’s Executive Vice President of Strategic Integration Page Thompson.
NBC already has apps designed to complement live TV shows such as an e-book based on the supernatural show “Grimm” and viewers using Zeebox will be able to find it easier, Thompson said.  NBC will also launch an ad campaign on TV and the Internet in October which will encourage viewers to weigh in on Zeebox while watching TV.

While it pulls from Twitter feeds and lets you connect with your Facebook friends, Zeebox also has its own messaging service and trending topics called “z-tags” that make it easy to track what TV viewers are talking about. ZeeBox sees advertising opportunities for z-tags on its service.

Data shows thousands circumvented NBC Olympics coverage

At least one company benefited from Olympics fans in the United States who tried to circumvent NBC’s television coverage during the London Games. AnchorFree, the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup released data to Reuters on Monday showing a major bump in users who installed a product that gives U.S. users an anonymous IP address in the United Kingdom. Presumably the people who signed up for the product, called ExpatShield, used it to watch BBC’s online streams of the Olympics.

According to the data, the number of installs of the free software surged 1,153 percent in the United States during the games. The company, which recorded an average of 220 installs a day before the Olympics, saw the number of installs increase to 2,753 installs during the 17-day event.

Its daily number of users also quadrupled to 8,121 compared to 2,040 average users before the Olympics. The peak day was on July 31 when 10,105 users logged in to catch the  U.S. women take gold in the gymnastics team final while in swimming, South Africa’s Chad le Clos edged out Michael Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly.

Archery is the ‘new’ curling? I don’t think so, NBC

Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and development, said on the network’s Olympics conference call Thursday that archery is the new curling.

As a former “vice skip”* on my high school’s curling team, I have a message for Mr. Wurtzel: archery is no curling, sir.

Of course I am being a bit tongue-in-cheek here and I’m not that offended. Plus, Wurtzel has some compelling numbers to back up his claim.

Comcast turns the landline into mobile phone

Comcast, the largest U.S cable operator, is pushing ahead with its drive to transform the way Americans live with a range of new communications and video services launched at this year’s Cable Show  in Boston.

The latest is a new service called Voice 2go, part of its Xfinity Voice landline phone service, which offers lots of the features customers have become used to with cellphones.

The new features are based within a new Xfinity Connect mobile app that works on iPhones, iPads and Android phones. It enables Xfinity Voice customers to make free calls within a WiFi network — which is even more useful now that the Comcast and several other operators have enabled a common WiFi network across major U.S. cities. It also allows customers to use the service on 3G and 4G phones without eating up valuable minutes. As part of this it also enables free text messaging.

ESPN’s John Skipper doesn’t see any benefits in new TV models – yet.

ESPN chief John Skipper is happy to talk to any of the so-called new over-the-top Web video players surfing around the fringes of the cable TV business. But he doesn’t see any major deals happening soon — if ever.

In a conversation with Reuters at this year’s cable show, Skipper was blunt about his skepticism over the idea his network –  the best paid in the business according to SNL Kagan data — could work with a new Web partner, a tie-up that may in some way threaten the cozy $100 billion a year cable programmer-distributor relationship which feeds the entire industry.

“We have a significant stake in maintaining the current model. There’s no advantage to us in new models that undercut what we have today,” said Skipper, speaking from the NCTA Cable Show in Boston.

Netflix: The New Arch-Frenemy

Albanian Army marching in Tirana's main square (Photo: Reuters)

 

The Albanian Army is coming everyone, watch out!

We’re only into week 1 of big media companies reporting their quarterly earnings and the most prominent name hasn’t been CBS Corp, Time Warner Inc, Comcast Corp, and Viacom — instead it’s all been about Netflix.

Pretty much on each of these companies’ conference calls, the $4 billion company from Los Gatos, California was a key reason for a boon to the bottom line by supplying  ’found money’ by digital licensing of shows that would have been gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in Hollywood. But also on the calls for several of the same companies, Netflix was seen by analysts as a threat to their future. Let’s not forget the four who reported this week have combined market value of over $160 billion.

At CBS on Tuesday, which most people see as a broadcast and billboards advertising company, the first quarter was given a nice bump from its licensing of old CBS shows like”‘Cheers” but also by newer cable shows like Showtime’s “‘Dexter” and “Sleeper Cell”. Here’s the ever ebullient CBS CEO Les Moonves telling analysts on Tuesday how great Netflix and other copycats are:

Could a Netflix-cable alliance spur HBO to go rogue?

A potential alliance between online video streaming company Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> and cable companies could spur cable television’s biggest premium player HBO to consider its options beyond the set-top box and go directly to customers on the Web.

But not anytime soon.

Analysts say Time Warner Inc’s  HBO, which has more than 28 million customers through its cable, satellite and phone partners, would be in no hurry to risk hurting their very profitable business based on a perceived threat from Netflix or any other newcomers.
“Why fix it if it’s not broke,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Tuna Amobi. “You’re virtually jeopardizing billions of dollars, it seems remote from our perspective.”
People familiar with HBO executives’ thinking say this has been looked at and they ‘have done the math’ and are even more sceptical it makes sense.
Yet the question, which is often asked, comes up again with the news that Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings has opened early talks with cable operators for a partnership.

Reed Hastings, Netflix Chief Executive

If these Netflix talks come to fruition the alliance could start out as a billing partnership — with Netflix appearing as a line on cable customers’ bills. But the talks have also encompassed the possibility of Netflix shows one day being offered on-demand say people familiar with the talks.
On a financial basis the two could not be more different. Netflix has warned investors it will likely turn in a loss this year, while HBO will likely grow its $1.5 billion in operating profits. In creative terms, Netflix is dipping its toe into producing original shows, while HBO is a record-breaking Emmy-award winner nearly every year.
The concern for cable investors is that even though Netflix is still seen as a poor man’s HBO, with its package of older TV series and movies with few original shows, it will compete on a level playing field in the battle for customers’ time on a set-top box.
Hastings frequently says Netflix will look more like HBO in the future. Last month, his company launched ‘Lilyhammer‘, the first of five new original series on its service and likely will look at more as it tries to give its customers reasons to stay on even as programming costs rise.
But in a potential partnership with cable, Hastings focus will primarily be on pay television’s 100 million home distribution.
“We believe distribution agreements with the cable providers could materially increase Netflix’s subscriber base in a relatively short period of time,” said Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente. “The question for Netflix, however, is how to reach greater scale without sacrificing all the economics to its cable partners.” Such a partnership could also lower acquisition costs and improve profitability he added.
Even after guessing a fairly high overlap between Netflix’s 23 million subscribers and those homes. There would still be plenty of room for growth if Netflix is offered as some sort of discounted add-on deal to consumers.
“Netflix is at a point where they are trying to get as much distribution as possible. However, I think Netflix needs the cable distributors more than vice versa,” Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said.
Such a deal would not be a million miles away from something Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> has already been announced the launch of Streampix, a Web-based extension of its on-demand programming with a wide range of older TV shows and movies.
Perhaps the earliest example of how this could work is seen with the lastest version of Apple Inc’s <AAPL.O> Apple TV set-top box, which now allows users to sign up and get billed directly for Netflix through the box.

‘The Lorax’ jumps from page to screen

Dr. Suess tale “The Lorax” comes to the big screen this weekend with Danny DeVito voicing the tree-loving creature in the 3D movie version of the classic children’s book.   Distributor Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, projects opening-weekend sales upwards of the $38 million domestic opening for the animated “Rango” during the same weekend last year.   The weekend’s other new wide-release movie is comedy “Project X” from Time Warner’s Warner Bros. studio, which forecasts $17 million to $19 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales from Friday through Sunday.   The film about three high-school students who try to throw a party to remember — and which proceeds to careen out of control — already took in $1.5 million at midnight showings early Friday.   Elsewhere, best-picture Oscar winner “The Artist” will expand to 1,756 theaters from 966, as independent film studio The Weinstein Co. tries to spin some of that Oscar gold into green.   Photo Credit: Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.

In Super Bowl streaming deal, Verizon scores again

What a delightful week this is turning out to be for Verizon. First, archrival AT&T decides it will ditch its $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA (as if they weren’t grinning madly in the halls of Verizon’s Art Deco building down on West Street) and then they get a piece of this NBC deal to stream the Super Bowl.  No doubt, in the greater scheme of things the AT&T news trumps the streaming deal — but every little thing helps in the crazy competitive telecoms world.

Here’s the upshot: For the first time NFL postseason games — including the Super Bowl — will be streamed live online over NFL.com and NBCSports.com and over mobile devices through an app supplied by Verizon.  This is NBC’s deal;  Fox tells us they have “no similar plans” while we’re CBS declined to comment on whether they would do a streaming deal..

The advantage for Verizon is clear: It’s just one more differentiator. (Verizon has really been on a roll lately. Beyond the events mentioned above, they swooped in to buy a ton of cable spectrum for $3.6 billion and made headlines with their plans to take on Netflix with a streaming service).

Howard Stern’s TV judging stint a boost for Sirius XM

Howard Stern is going to be a judge on the NBC show “America’s Got Talent,” this summer and Wall Street is already betting this is going to benefit the shock  jock’s satellite radio home, SiriusXM Radio.

Stern, who will replace the less potty mouthed Piers Morgan, will raise the profile of his radio show and drive new subscribers, at least one analyst said on Thursday.

“We see this as a positive for Sirius, holding potential for free on air-promotion, positive for awareness and sub growth, depending on how the TV show fares,” said Lazard analyst Barton Crockett in a research note.