Media companies and well-known personalities are lined up as YouTube gets ready to produce original content for 100 online video channels.
Sources indicate Google is dedicating $100 million to the initiative, aimed at transforming YouTube into a next-gen cable-like platform for specialized video channels.
“The Internet search giant on Friday said it had signed major deals with Hollywood to bring professional, high-quality programming to YouTube that could help it increase the time viewers spend watching videos on the site and attract more advertisers,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
The company is also launching a software update to Google TV, designed to integrate with the new content.
“The partnerships that YouTube announced Friday with dozens of media companies, production companies and online-video creators will generate about 25 hours of new programming each day for YouTube.”
Michael Eisner’s digital studio Vuguru, Stan Lee’s POW Entertainment and television production company Magical Elves are a few of the early partnerships. Celebrity channels will feature personalities such as Ashton Kutcher, Amy Poehler and former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
Hollywood studios are starting to use Facebook as a direct-to-consumer platform for streaming films, possibly cutting out services such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon in the process.
Universal, Lionsgate and Warner Bros. have distributed some 45 films via the Social Cinema app from Milyoni (pronounced million-eye). “What Zynga is to social gaming, Milyoni is to social entertainment,” reads the company’s website.
Miramax and Paramount have used similar apps to offer movies for Facebook credits on fan pages.
Rentals based on credits are running the equivalent of $3-$5. Facebook draws a 30 percent cut of transaction revenues.
Ad Age Digital suggests the studios’ willingness to offer rentals via social network sites “may reflect their desire to foster competition among online distribution platforms,” adding, “Miramax CEO Mike Lang said that digital monopolies were a greater threat to the film industry than piracy and that his studio had been aware of the importance of a competitive marketplace when doing deals with Netflix and Hulu.”
Google’s music download store is expected to link with Google+ within the next two weeks. However, the service may prove disappointing if the company cannot secure deals with the four major music labels.
Tentatively named Google Music, the service would follow in the footsteps of Spotify, which earlier this fall linked with Facebook to promote its music service.
The Google+ integration would allow users to recommend songs to Google+ contacts, who could then listen to those songs once for free. MP3 downloads would then be available, most likely for 99 cents each.
Music labels have shown hesitation about the service’s propensity to allow piracy, in addition to the lack of revenue for record companies, as the music locker is free.
Peter Kafka interviews Peter Chernin in this interesting 11-minute video from the AsiaD conference.
“As News Corp.’s longtime chief operating officer, Chernin was instrumental in developing Hulu,” reports All Things D. “He explained why he wanted to build the video site — in part to compete with Google and YouTube — and why he thinks its studio owners should help it thrive today — in part to compete with Netflix.” Chernin also expresses his thoughts on purchasing Yahoo.
Chernin knew IPTV would be big, but didn’t want one dominant video distributor like YouTube. Thus, the studios got together to create Hulu, which today competes with Netflix.
Chernin believes online viewers will pay $2 per month for premium content. He talks about the future of video and creating something like a digital HBO.
New platform from San Francisco-based Veokami aggregates user generated videos of concerts.
Veokami crawls YouTube and automatically puts together a playlist of videos from a single concert.
Videos are then synchronized with each other to offer Veokami users the ability to switch between the different camera views that were found on YouTube, without interrupting the flow of the music. Clips can also be arranged based on audio and video quality.
According to GigaOM, “the goal is to extend its platform so that artists, promoters and — most importantly — fans will be able to build these pages themselves. That could end up being a very powerful promotional tool for artists as they look to show listeners what it’s like to be at one of their shows.”
The company’s site also suggests the tool could be useful for organizing videos from political events and conferences.
Janus Friis, co-founder of KaZaA, Skype, Joost and Rdio (with partner Niklas Zennstrom) is working on a new online video subscription service that will be available soon in the UK.
According to GigaOM, Friis has been “assembling an A-team of media and Web technology experts to launch a site that seems destined to replicate the model behind their music subscription site Rdio in the video space.” Offices have been set up in Santa Monica and Europe.
From the follow-up Q&A: Vdio (Vee-dee-o) is in closed beta for the UK and is privately funded, while the assembled team’s experience comes from companies such as Netflix, Microsoft, TV Guide and Napster.
A spokesperson for Zennstrom’s VC company Atomico confirmed that Zennstrom is not involved in the project.
Google has announced that through the new Merch Store feature, YouTube partners “will be able to sell artist merchandise, digital downloads, concert tickets and other experiences to fans and visitors.”
The Merch Store evolved from multiple partnerships: Marketing enabler Topspin will handle merchandise sales, while concert organizer SongKick will handle ticket sales. Amazon and iTunes will power transactions for music download transactions.
“The ability to add merchandise sales, ticket sales, digital downloads and more to an artist’s YouTube site definitely gives these sites more of an engaging presence for artists with their fans,” reports TechCrunch. “These destinations will now become more than just a way to discover music videos, but also a way to transact business and actually see the artist and buy their works.”
The feature should arrive in the coming weeks. YouTube will take a percentage of sales to cover costs.
After months of bidding, Hulu’s owners — News Corp., NBCUniversal, Disney and Providence Equity Partners — have decided to stop its sale.
“Since Hulu holds a unique and compelling strategic value to each of its owners, we have terminated the sale process and look forward to working together to continue mapping out its path to even greater success,” explained the partners in a short statement. “Our focus now rests solely on ensuring that our efforts as owners contribute in a meaningful way to the exciting future that lies ahead for Hulu.”
In a related TechCrunch post, it was suggested that media companies saw more value in retaining licensing fees than selling them.
Bidders were not willing to pay more for Hulu knowing that the costs for content rights would increase dramatically after the two year period being sold. (Google reportedly bid $4 billion, but wanted streaming rights for longer than the guaranteed “couple of years.”)
Netflix returned from MIPCOM last week with several new foreign TV shows it hopes will draw interest from its 25 million subscribers.
Programs include Norwegian gangster drama “Lilyhammer” starring Steve Van Zandt, French/German co-production “Borgia,” and the British supernatural drama “Being Human.”
The slate of foreign programming will join the remake of BBC drama “House of Cards” as Netflix turns to original, first-run drama series.
“Netflix has already committed to a second season of both ‘Borgia’ and ‘Lilyhammer,’ suggesting its taste for original and foreign-made fare is no passing fancy,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “The company is also in a bidding war with Showtime and Hulu for the rights for the relaunch of cult comedy series ‘Arrested Development.’”
Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos points out the strategy is in response to customer demand, since TV shows account for 50-60 percent of total viewing on Netflix.
“We’ve moved very aggressively into this space,” Sarandos said. “The growing audience for these 1 hour serialized dramas is typically on pay TV: Showtime, HBO or Starz, those ones who are least likely to want to sell their shows to me on our (second-run) season-after model. So we have to develop the muscle to create and distributing these shows ourselves.”
Streaming music service Spotify, which recently partnered with Facebook, saw its revenue more than quintuple last year. However, the British company still showed losses totaling $42 million, an increase from $26 million in 2009.
“Spotify’s performance has been closely monitored by the music industry, which sees it as a kind of litmus test for the viability of digital music by subscription, which pays labels each time a listener streams a particular song,” reports The New York Times. “That system brings in lower royalties per song than downloads, but with a large enough listener base could in theory bring in substantial amounts.”
Spotify subscriptions cost about $10 to $15 per month and includes an ad-supported free version. Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, recently announced that the service had reached the 2 million mark with paid subscribers, although there are believed to be more than 10 million total users.
CinemaNow — the online video service launched by electronics chain Best Buy in 2010 — has announced it will offer 1080p HD movies from Fox and Warner Bros. on personal computers. “Until now, only standard-definition movies were available from CinemaNow on the PC,” writes Carolyn Giardina in The Hollywood Reporter.
Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, indicates that CinemaNow is using Intel technology to make secure HD content available. “Intel Insider is a hardware-based security technology in second-generation Intel Core processors,” reports THR, “which is the fastest-shipping Intel product with more than 75 million units shipped to date.”
“The partnership with Intel and Best Buy’s CinemaNow to bring HD digital downloads of our movies to the PC will expand our reach to millions of devices in the U.S. and potentially more around the world,” adds Mike Dunn, worldwide president at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
CinemaNow currently offers approximately 15,000 movies and TV shows.
Netflix has announced it will drop its controversial plan to split its streaming and DVD businesses, taking recent public outcry (and negative Wall Street reaction) into consideration.
“This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster,” wrote CEO Reed Hastings on the company blog and via email to subscribers. Hastings also explained that the company is “now done with price changes.”
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, told an industry crowd at MIPCOM in early October that he was “very convinced” the proposed split was “good for the long-term health of the business. And the long-term clarity of the brand.” Hastings had also been quoted as saying the split would be necessary for improving the services in moving forward. “But,” added Sarandos, “we also hear our customers, and we want to make sure we react to that.”
Netflix’s stock was up 6.8 percent yesterday following the announcement, giving it a market value of $6.57 billion.
YouTube is reportedly putting up $100 million in advances to well-known personalities and major media companies to produce original content channels on on its video site.
The plans include attracting major advertisers and getting higher ad rates for professional video programming. Insiders suggest that YouTube hopes to launch the channels sometime next year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that agreements are underway with the likes of pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, Warner Bros., News Corp.’s ShineReveille unit, BermanBraun, Fremantle Media (“The X Factor”), “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker, and others.
According to WSJ: “With its channels initiative, Google — which has been under pressure to turn YouTube into a profit center since buying the site for $1.6 billion in 2006 — is aiming to position the site for the rise of televisions and cable set-top boxes that let people watch online video in their living rooms, said the people familiar with the matter. More people are also watching videos on their smartphones and tablets, pressuring traditional cable and satellite operators to make content available on smaller screens.”
ComScore numbers indicate YouTube had more than 600 million unique visits in September.
Subscription-based music service Rhapsody has acquired Napster from Best Buy in a deal expected to be finalized the end of November.
“There’s substantial value in bringing Napster’s subscribers and robust IP portfolio to Rhapsody as we execute on our strategy to expand our business via direct acquisition of members and distribution deals,” said Rhapsody president Jon Irwin.
Rhapsody and Napster have the two largest music service subscriber bases and the acquisition could impact other music services such as Rdio, Spotify and MOG.
Irwin emphasized the importance of a strong subscription base: “This is a ‘go big or go home’ business, so our focus is on sustainably growing the company.”
“Apparently it takes more than Facebook sharing to win the subscription war,” comments Gizmodo. “Too bad I haven’t seen a Rhapsody or Napster song actually shared on Facebook.”
A comprehensive comparison between Netflix and other streaming services shows that, even after the recent criticism regarding the split of its businesses, “Netflix is still the champ, but only if you count both its the streaming and DVD mailing services.”
In his evaluation of current offerings, David Strom of ReadWriteWeb examined services such as Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Vudu.com and Justin.tv.
“Overall, once you leave Netflix you will find fewer choices and searching won’t be as easy to find something to watch,” he writes. “Netflix has a great search engine that won’t just look for movie titles but also check for actors and other principals involved in the movie itself, something the other services don’t do as well at.”
Another upside to Netflix is the ability to use devices such as the iPad or TiVo box to stream movies. While of the services enable streaming to your Windows or Mac Web browser, they’re not all compatible with other devices.
“So while you might be upset about paying for two bills for your video rentals from Netflix, unless you are willing to spend more time searching for content, you are probably better off sticking with the service for the time being, at least until the others catch up with their content licenses,” Strom concludes. “Or if you already have a cable TV subscription, investigate whether it offers something similar to Comcast’s Xfinity and see what their coverage is there. Ironically, that might be your best alternative to Netflix after all.”