Today is a pretty big day in the internet TV universe: Dish Network’s new streaming service, Sling TV, went live for preregistered customers as a first move toward a la carte channel selection by a pay-TV aggregator. Although a half-step toward true liberation from tiered cable — because you still have to buy a bundle of streaming channels – there is no contract and its costs $20 a month. I haven’t tried it yet but that seems like a pretty good deal for live streams and some on-demand content from a dozen basic cable channels like CNN, ESPN and ESPN2, the Travel Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TNT, TBS, the Disney Channel, ABC Family and Cartoon Network.
Reviews have been mixed, with some in the tech press criticizing the interface as “not ready for prime time,” and others comparing the weird conglomeration of live TV and limited on-demand content negatively with Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. But most saw this baby step into a new dawn of television and movie watching as positive. Dish is still issuing invitations to Sling TV for those who preregister, so give it a whirl and let me know what you think.
It has been four years and change since Netflix launched in its first international market — Canada — with much fanfare and a minor but embarrassing episode involving paid extras who were sprinkled into the crowd at a company-sponsored street party in Toronto. Then came the 2011 Latin American barnstorm-style rollout — Netflix’s most complicated — in which it confronted issues with weak broadband penetration, fewer digital devices, language and credit card processing issues. Great Britain and Ireland followed — with much jockeying from established competitors. Last year’s European launches looked like a snap and those markets, according to the company, been a bigger-than-expected success. And we learned last week that Netflix is fixin’ to take over the world. In two years.
Netflix’s fourth quarter earnings presentation contained the startling statement that the company can complete its international expansion– while staying profitable — in two years. That means growing from about 50 international markets to 200. And even more delightfully, it means that Content Chief Ted Sarandos soon will have the might to negotiate global content deals that enrich selection — opening new worlds of international content to U.S. subscribers and creating a new reality in which Netflix subscribers around the world are watching the same “channel.” Imagine the water cooler talk.
The company’s discovery that its original content – Marco Polo, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards — performs more efficiently than the stuff it licenses has led to its decision to triple its spending on originals, from 100 hours in 2014 to 320 hours this year. This lovely explosion of films, documentaries, original series and comedy specials presumably will further minimize the importance of “windowing” — distribution deals that cause TV shows and movies to hopscotch aggravatingly across pay-per-view and broadcast services.
Here’s the relevant information from the earnings presentation.
This is pretty cool — Netflix has tens of millions of viewers in China and other countries where it does not officially offer service yet. U.K.-based GlobalWebIndex estimated that some 54 million people use VPNs to watch Netflix on a monthly basis.
A job listing for a language specialist on Netflix’s web site gives us clues about where the internet television channel may expand internationally in 2015 and beyond. The job description asked for native speakers of Arabic, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish and Vietnamese who would “translat(e) content materials and customiz(e) marketing for target markets…”
The company already has announced it launch into Australia and New Zealand in March. Here is the Bloomberg story and the job listing that brought these far-flung international ambitions to our attention.
So much for easing the sting of back-to-school with a new fall TV schedule. Netflix said at the Television Critics Association press tour that it will debut a bunch of new original series over the U.S. spring break season. The new series will debut simultaneously in all international markets. These are the new series and debut dates:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Friday, March 6
A half-hour comedy series by “30 Rock” co-creator Tina Fey stars Ellie Kemper of “The Office” as Kimmy, who escaped a doomsday cult and started life over in New York City. The 13-episode series (also starring Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, and Carol Kane) was written for NBC’s 2014 fall schedule but never aired.”Kimmy” will get a second season on Netflix, and it’ll be interesting to see how Fey and Carlock write the series for streaming.
Bloodline – Friday, March 20
Netflix describes this show, starring Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, as a combination family drama and psychological thriller. The teaser looks cool and very dark.
Marvels Daredevil – Friday, April 10
“Daredevil,” the first of a four part series planned by Marvel and Netflix, stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, the blind superhero who battles injustice by day as a lawyer and takes on villains, including Vincent D’Onofrio’s character Wilson Fisk, by night in modern day Hell’s Kitchen. The 13 one-hour episodes debut simultaneously, of course, at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time on Netflix. The four-part epic begins with 13 0ne-hour “Daredevil” episodes and continues with at least three more 13-episode seasons featuring “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist” and “Luke Cage” in coming years. The series culminates in Marvel’s “The Defenders” mini-series.
Grace and Frankie – Friday, May 8
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star in a 13-episode comedy about a pair of frenemies (Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston) who are thrown together after their husbands run off with each other.
And for the kiddos — The Adventures of Puss in Boots debuts Jan. 16.
This survey by Leichtman Research Group about DVR use uncovers a couple of home entertainment trends that goosed up Netflix’s share price today: first, that people are spending a lot of money on DVRs so as not to be tied to a TV schedule, and second, that a hefty chunk of cable subscribers also pay for Netflix and use it every day.
Here are a few more interesting points from the survey, followed by the link to the report:
- 36% of pay-TV subscribers get Netflix — compared to 48% of non-subscribers
- 36% of Netflix subscribers stream video daily, and 72% weekly — up from 10% daily, and 43% weekly in 2010
- 32% of pay-TV subscribers with Netflix stream Netflix daily — compared to 53% of non-subscribers with Netflix
Binge watching of “Friends” — newly added to Netflix’s catalog — apparently supplanted many people’s New Year’s Day football watching tradition yesterday. Major media outlets and blogs provided guides to the best of the 200+ episodes that became available for streaming on Jan. 1. Remember how new TV shows debuted on broadcast and cable television back when “Friends” was huge, and anchored NBC’s Thursday night “Must See TV” lineup? Ah, doesn’t the idea of appointment television seem a bit … quaint?
At first, the strange intrigue around “The Interview” seemed like a brilliant ploy by Sony to get attention for a holiday release that, though controversial, looked like a box office dud. The whole thing, delightfully nasty leaked emails aside, looked like a marketing plan gone terribly wrong.
I mean, look at this message from the purported North Korean hackers:
“The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”
It reads like a line from a South Park movie.
Well, Sony has now pulled the movie’s Christmas Day release and Homeland Security’s involved so it must be real. Some want to let pirates distribute it. But Sony can turn this lump of coal into a great gift for consumers — by simply switching the theatrical release to a streaming release.
“The Interview” could be the best test case ever for releasing a first-run movie via streaming now that the viewing public has been primed by round-the-clock publicity. Terror threats presumably would not be part of a normal first-run streaming release but the necessity, in the case of “The Interview,” of moving the whole shebang online to avoid violence creates an interesting paradigm for future releases. It would be cool to watch uncut interviews from the movie junkets, maybe a fake red carpet (shot on a soundstage) and all the trailers in one place as part of the price of admission.
Of course, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu may not want to touch this because of potential hacking danger to their own online systems, but it is a real shame that this threat could stop even a supposedly silly movie like “The Interview” from being seen.