Roku’s adds news to its free channel, including the new streaming network ABC News Live

Last fall, Roku launched its own channel to provide its cord-cutting customers with access to free movies and TV shows in a single destination. Today, it’s adding live news to its channel, too.

In partnership with ABC News and others, The Roku Channel will now feature live news streams and linear news programming, alongside its entertainment options.

ABC News will be the flagship partner for the launch, as Roku will be the exclusive over-the-top home for its new live and linear streaming network, ABC News Live. However, The Roku Channel will also include live and linear news from Cheddar, PeopleTV, and others.

Until now, The Roku Channel had offered a combination of free content aggregated across other partner channels, like FilmRise and Vidmark, plus content Roku itself licensed from studios like Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers.

Since its launch, The Roku Channel has become one of the top 15 on Roku’s platform, and the number three ad-supported channel.

One of Roku’s goals in offering its own channels is to help users find content that would otherwise be distributed across a number of places on its platform. Roku had already done something similar with its “4K Spotlight” channel launched in 2015, as well as with the “Roku Recommends” channel’s curated selection, launched in 2011.

With The Roku Channel, the goal was to organize the best free content you could find on Roku. And with the addition of news, Roku is once again aggregating partners’ streams in one easy-to-find destination.

Of course The Roku Channel isn’t the only way to watch news on Roku – most major news organizations offer their own channel app.

But many of the news experiences available today are based on clips from the linear TV world, instead of a digital equivalent to the 24/7 news channels found on traditional cable television. That means that instead of being able to “flip on the news” as you can on TV, watching news on Roku has been more of a “choose your own adventure”-style experience of browsing clips to find something you wanted to view, explains Roku’s VP of Programming, Rob Holmes.

“We recognized that users are looking for easy ways to find high-quality content and to engage in a lean back experience,” he says, of bringing streaming news to Roku.

The channel will serve as the launch platform for ABC News Live, the news organization’s brand-new live streaming news service, designed for over-the-top viewing.

Roku and ABC had been in discussions about building out a live news experience for over a year – even before the company launched The Roku Channel, in fact. But with its arrival, it seemed like the best place to introduce the streaming news experience.

“Our ambition here is not to re-create cable, but to reinvent what a 24/7 news channel looks like for [the nonlinear audience],”says Colby Smith, VP of ABC News Digital. “We’ve spent the last three years or so really building up our live operation – experimenting with thousands of live streams and production formats. Of course, we consider ourselves expert live producers – ABC News has been around for many decades. But we’ve also analyzed mountains of data through that experimentation to really dive in and understand what works on each screen size,” he continues.

“And what we’ve learned more than anything in non-cable environments is that viewers want to be shown what’s happening in the world, not told what’s happening,” Smith says.

ABC’s live stream will focus on the most interesting thing that’s happening around the globe in that moment, he says. The content, however, may come from a number of sources – ABC News’ own boots-on-the-ground reporting; its domestic or international partners’ streams; or even social media streams cleared through places like Facebook or YouTube.

ABC News Live, like The Roku Channel itself, will be free and ad-supported, but Roku and ABC aren’t discussing the revenue share or how the ads are sold. (It’s a bit unclear, then, to what extent this is a new revenue stream for Roku itself, versus just another means to woo potential customers to the Roku platform.)

Roku is the only streaming platform to host ABC News Live outside of other ABC News properties, including its own Roku channel and the ABC News website and apps.

ABC says it partnered with Roku on the launch because it wanted to work with a distributor that understood the non-linear TV audience.

“There so many distributors that just want to re-create a TV Everywhere experience, or just want to plop in cable into a digital environment for cord cutters,” says Smith. “That’s not at the heart of what we believe in.”

The channel itself will offer some scheduled programming – including its own take on an hourly news update, in addition to the live stream. It may also cut to its post-White House press briefing coverage at times, and it may stream its Emmy-winning ABC News featured stories during breaks from live coverage.

In addition to ABC News Live, The Roku Channel will also integrate Cheddar’s linear news feed, which has also newly become available on Hulu and YouTube TV. And it will include the ad-supported pop culture and celebrity news network, PeopleTV, from People and Entertainment Weekly.

Roku OS 8.1

The Roku Channel will also get a slight makeover alongside the launch of news. It will now organize content into thematic “Collections,” and “Continue Watching.”

The updates will launch in May with the release of Roku OS 8.1, which will add multicast private listening through the Roku mobile app. That means up to four people on iOS and Android can listen to the TV through their headphones, instead of through the TV set itself.

CBS All Access arrives in Canada to kick off international expansion efforts

CBS’ over-the-top streaming service, CBS All Access, is now available for the first time outside the U.S. The network today announced the service has arrived in Canada, ahead of a planned international expansion which will see the streaming service coming to more markets outside the U.S. in the future.

There are some differences between the U.S. version of the service, and the one now live in Canada.

While in the U.S., subscribers can choose from either an ad-supported or a commercial-free tier at $5.99 per month or $9.99 per month, respectively, Canadian viewers will only have a commercial-free option available at $5.99 CAD per month.

The subscription offers access to over 7,500 on-demand episodes, including full current seasons of CBS shows, entire past seasons of current shows, and full seasons of some classic shows.

Current season shows like NCIS, Survivor, Elementary, and Madam Secretary will be available, as will original series like The Good Fight and No Activity. However, the Canadian service will only offer the first season of The Good Fight, and most notably will lack Star Trek: Discovery – as CBS sold the international streaming rights elsewhere. Bell Media, for example, has Discovery, which set an audience record for its premiere in September.

Over 30 classic shows like Charmed, The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-O, and CSI will be offered, too, as well CBS daytime and late night shows such as The Talk, Rachael Ray, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

CBS’ 24/7 streaming news service, CBSN, is also bundled with the Canadian subscription, as it has been in the U.S. since August 2017.

The streaming service at launch works across several platforms, including the web via cbsallaccess.ca, plus iOS and Android mobile and tablet devices, Apple TV and Chromecast. Other connected devices will be supported in the coming months, the company says.

CBS All Access has been live in the U.S. since October 2014, and has been steadily growing its subscriber base since.

As of the first quarter of 2018, the service combined with Showtime’s over-the-top offering have reached a total of over 5 million subscribers – ahead of the company’s estimated goal of reaching 8 million subscribers for both services by 2020.

CBS has not detailed what other markets will gain the service next, only that further expansions are planned.

“The launch of CBS All Access in Canada is a significant milestone for the service,” said Marc DeBevoise, President and Chief Operating Officer, CBS Interactive, in a statement. “We’ve experienced incredible growth domestically and see a great opportunity to bring the service and CBS’ renowned programming directly to international audiences across a range of platforms and devices. We look forward to continuing to expand CBS All Access across additional platforms, with even more content, and bringing the service to other markets around the world.”

 

Original Content podcast: Netflix successfully reinvents ‘Lost in Space’

Lost in Space started out as a ’60s TV series, got rebooted in the 1990s as a feature film and has now been brought up-to-date by Netflix .

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we review the first season of the new show, which finds the Robinson family once again sent into space, facing constant peril on an alien planet while also getting help from a robot that’s fond of shouting, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Many of the classic elements have been updated in some way — perhaps the most effective change was casting Parker Posey as the villainous Dr. Smith. The new Lost in Space seems more serious and character-driven than its predecessors, but at the same time, it remains aimed at a family audience.

We also discuss our thoughts on the film version of Ready Player One, AT&T’s plans for a $15-per-month streaming service, ESPN’s new move into streaming and Amazon’s in-development series based on The Peripheral by William Gibson. (At one point in the episode, Jordan says Battlestar Galactica isn’t available on Prime Video, but for the record: It is.)

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly.

YouTube ads for hundreds of brands still running on extremist and white nationalist channels

It’s been more than a year since YouTube promised to improve controls over what content advertisers would find their ads in front of; eight months since it promised to demonetize “hateful” videos; two months since it said it would downgrade offensive channels; and yet CNN reports that ads from hundreds of major brands are still appearing as pre-rolls for actual Nazis.

The ongoing failure to police billions of hours of content isn’t exactly baffling — this is a difficult problem to solve — but it is disappointing that YouTube seems to have repeatedly erred on the side of monetization.

As with previous reports, CNN’s article shows that ads were running on channels that, if YouTube’s content rules are to be believed, should have been demonetized and demoted instantly: Nazis, pedophiles, extremists of the right, left, and everywhere in between. Maybe even Logan Paul.

And the system appears to be working in strange ways: one screenshot shows a video by a self-avowed Nazi, entitled “David Duke on Harvey Weinstein exposing Jewish domination. Black/White genetic differences.” Below it a YouTube warning states that “certain features have been disabled for this video,” including comments and sharing, because of “content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”

A cheerful ad from Nissan is running ahead of this enlightening piece of media, and CNN notes that ads also ran on it coming from the Friends of Zion Museum and the Jewish National Fund! Ads from the Toy Association ran on the channel of a guy who argued for the decriminalization of pedophilia!

I can’t really add anything to this. It’s so absurd I can barely believe it myself. Remember, this is after the company supposedly spent a year (at the very least) working to prevent this exact thing from happening. I left the headline in the present tense because I’m so certain that it’s still going on.

The responsibility really is YouTube’s, and if it can’t live up to its own promises, companies are going to leave it behind rather than face viral videos of their logo smoothly fading into a swastika on the wall of some sad basement-dwelling bigot. “Subway — eat fresh! And now, some guy’s thoughts on genocide.”

Some of the other brands that had ads run against offensive content: Amazon, Adidas, Cisco, Hilton, Hershey, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Netflix, Nordstrom, The Washington Post, The New York Times, 20th Century Fox Film, Under Armour, The Centers for Disease Control, Department of Transportation, Customs and Border Protection, Veterans Affairs and the US Coast Guard Academy.

I asked YouTube for comment on how this happened — or rather, how it never stopped happening. The company did not address my specific questions, but offered the following statement:

We have partnered with our advertisers to make significant changes to how we approach monetization on YouTube with stricter policies, better controls and greater transparency. When we find that ads mistakenly ran against content that doesn’t comply with our policies, we immediately remove those ads. We know that even when videos meet our advertiser friendly guidelines, not all videos will be appropriate for all brands. But we are committed to working with our advertisers and getting this right.

Very similar to previous statements over the last year or so. I look forward to hearing what brands it thought Nazism and pedophilia were appropriate for.

AT&T CEO says a new $15-per-month, sports-free streaming service is launching in a few weeks

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson revealed on Thursday the carrier’s plans to launch another live TV service called “AT&T Watch,” which would offer a cheap, $15-per-month bundle of channels for customers, and be provided to AT&T Unlimited Wireless subscribers for free. At this price point, the service would be one of the lowest on the market — less than Sling TV’s entry-level, $20-per-month package, and just a bit less than Philo’s low-cost, sports-free offering, priced at $16 per month.

Stephenson, who’s in court defending the proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner against antitrust claims, announced the service on the witness stand. He held up the soon-to-arrive AT&T Watch as a rebuttal of sorts to the Justice Department’s point about the company’s continually climbing prices for its DirecTV satellite service, according to a report from Variety.

The Justice Department is concerned that if the merger goes through, AT&T will then raise prices on Time Warner’s Turner networks, like TNT, TBS and CNN in a way that would hurt other pay TV providers.

Few other details were offered regarding AT&T Watch, beyond its price point — which is due to the fact that it will also be a sports-free offering, like Philo.

But AT&T’s advantage over competitors is the distribution provided by its AT&T Wireless business. Although its existing streaming service DirecTV Now is one of the newest on the market, it has already reached No. 2 in terms of subscribers, falling behind Sling TV.

Beyond its lack of sports, the channel lineup for AT&T Watch was not discussed, nor was an exact launch date.

Stephenson said the company hoped to launch it in the next few weeks.

Musiio uses AI to help the music industry curate tracks more efficiently

A former streaming industry exec and an AI specialist walk into a bar, they leave starting an AI company for the music industry.

That’s not exactly how Singapore-based startup Musiio was formed, but it’s close enough and the outcome is the same.

Co-founders Hazel Savage, formerly of Pandora and Shazam, and Swedish data scientist Aron Pettersson connected at Entrepreneur First in Singapore. The program began in London as a way to help likeminded tech connect with the potential to start projects, so it does mirror the serendipity of meeting new friends in a bar.

“We’d probably never have met each other if we hadn’t gone to EF,” Savage told TechCrunch in an interview.

Brit Savage was looking for new ideas after work brought her and her husband to Singapore, and after crunching through some problems that need fixing, the duo settled on an AI service that helps music platforms tackle content and curation.

Push for personalization

Personalization has been the big push for music streaming giants. The initial face of the streaming revolution was based on giving users instant access to millions of songs in a single place, removing the pain of downloads and paying per song. Now that streaming is established, the puck has moved to smarter solutions that help music streamers shift through those tens of millions of songs to find music they like, or better yet discover new tracks they’ll love.

Spotify has moved on this in a major way. Aside from consumer products such as Discovery Weekly, a playlist that pulls in a weekly selection of music tailored to a user, it has invested considerable resources in making its product smarter. That’s including acquisitions such as music intelligence company Echo Nest for $100 million, and smaller AI startup Niland which helps make recommendations and search results smarter. Spotify has also ramped up its internal hires, too.

While Spotify, which recently went public in an unconventional listing, might be the most visible company in need of smarts for music, it is not the only one by far. And we’re not even talking about direct rivals like Pandora, Apple Music, Google and co. Others involved in the less visible — but hugely lucrative — parts of the industry who also need help pouring through millions of tracks include labels, who filter through talent on a daily basis, and agencies that pick out music for brands, advertising, media, etc.

Musiio co-founders Hazel Savage and Aron Pettersson

Not just streaming smarts

That’s the focus for Musiio, which is aiming to use AI to help those without the spending power of Spotify to automate or partially-automate a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to scouring through music.

“Musiio won’t replace the need to have people listening to music,” Savage told TechCrunch. “But we can delete the inefficiencies.”

The AI uses a combination of deep learning and feature extraction, the latter of which Musiio said allows it to identify and understand patterns and features of a track. The training is focused on the audio itself, rather than stats and data from third-parties which some services use to categorize tracks. Pettersson runs the AI. For what it’s worth, he cut his teeth with an algorithm for the Swedish stock market that netted him a 28 percent annual return for eight years.

As an example of Musiio’s AI potential, Savage points to previous roles where she has observed music curators assigned piles of music as high as 1,300 tracks each day.

“That’s more than a day’s work!” she said. “It probably takes four days to tackle and then you are three days behind. Plus, the average person loses the ability to be efficient after about the first 20 tracks.”

Musiio wants to help take the burden by using AI to pick out the ‘best’ tracks, thus cutting the list of tracks to listen to down significantly.

“Our systems can listen to 1,000 tracks inside four hours, after which we can give a smaller selection. For labels, that can help them be more efficient, increase hit rate and spend more time with artists helping to develop them,” Savage said.

“Artists and repertoire (A&R) divisions have billion-dollar budgets, for every artist they spend maybe $2 million on development. We think we give them a better guarantee of success using AI, and [from early conversations with labels] they are very interested,” she added.

Free Music Archive

Musiio said it is developing solutions for a number of undisclosed clients, but one public name it is talking up is Free Music Archive (FMA), a Creative Commons-like free music site developed by independent U.S. radio station WFMU. The site offers up legal audio downloads that are particularly popular with filmmakers, non-profits, podcasters and remixers.

The site has over 120,000 tracks each of which is hand-selected, but with just one part-time developer the curation side is lacking. That’s where Musiio is hoping to help make a difference. The startup has begun working with FMA to develop AI-based playlists in a project that doesn’t generate revenue but is “a lovely example of what the tech can do,” so says Savage.

“Not only are we backfilling the Echo Nest partnership [after Spotify closed the service following its acquisition] but the lead track in the inaugural playlist (Kurt Vile, ‘I Wanted Everything’) had received 3,000 plays when we found it, after eight years in the database. Two days later after being playlisted by our AI, it had 6,000 plays. We are pretty excited that AI can have that kind of impact,” she explained.

The Vile track is now closing on 10,000 plays two weeks after the playlist was published.

For now, the playlists are created and held within Savage’s FMA account but Musiio confirmed that it is considering the potential to develop a dashboard that would allow listeners themselves to use the AI to develop playlists. That’s already part of what is building for other clients.

Funding-wise, Musiio has taken SG$75,000 ($57,000) as part of its involvement in Entrepreneur First. The startup will be part of the EF demo day in July, but Savage said it has already begun to have conversations with investors with a view to raising a seed round of funding.

Cheddar’s digital news network is coming to Hulu, too

Cheddar isn’t done making deals with the over-the-top streaming TV providers. Only yesterday, news came out that Cheddar was the first digital-only network to launch a channel on YouTube’s streaming TV service, YouTube TV. Today, the company is announcing a similar deal with Hulu, which will bring its programming to Hulu’s href=”https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/09/hulu-17m-subscribers/”> more than 17 million subscribers.

The new distribution agreement will see Hulu adding Cheddar’s live linear network, plus exclusive morning and afternoon news briefs, key highlights and a selection of Cheddar Originals.

This combination of live and on-demand programming will be available to Hulu’s Live TV subscribers, while the daily news briefs and select other content will be made available to Hulu’s on-demand viewers.

The on-air channel will launch to Live TV viewers later this month.

This is a slightly different deal than the one Cheddar cut with YouTube TV, which was focused more on making Cheddar’s linear programming available to the service’s users. In addition, YouTube TV didn’t only add Cheddar’s flagship business news network, it also added Cheddar’s new general news channel, Cheddar Big News.

However, YouTube TV is catering to a younger demographic who may be more familiar with the Cheddar brand, and more attracted to digital networks in general, rather than their cable TV counterparts. That fits well with Cheddar’s own viewership demographics — 1 in 5 millennials (ages 18 through 24) know of Cheddar, and they’re “decades” younger than those who watch traditional news networks, the company notes.

For Hulu, the new addition means it’s gaining a network that could make its service more appealing to “cord nevers” — the (often young) group of consumers who are choosing never to sign up for a pay TV subscription in the first place. These users still want access to TV news, though, says Hulu.

“Our live TV viewers watched more than 24 million hours of news in the first quarter of 2018, so clearly they are hungry for news content,” said Tim Connolly, SVP, Head of Partnerships and Distribution at Hulu, in a statement about the deal with Cheddar. “We’re happy to partner with a post-cable millennial-focused network like Cheddar to pack even more value into our live offering and give our younger viewers access to a greater, more diverse selection of live news options,” he said.

Cheddar has shifted away from consumer-facing subscriptions and is now an ad-supported network. Around 95 percent of revenue comes from ads and sponsorships. The company may be sharing a portion of ad revenue with streamers as part of these deals.

Live TV services are only one way Cheddar is being distributed. The company has a number of deals across the web and mobile devices, including on Sling TV, YouTube TV, Philo, Comcast X1, Altice One, Pluto, Molotov in Europe, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, Amazon and elsewhere. This month, it will also launch a show on Snapchat. Thanks to this wide distribution on tech platforms, Cheddar is seeing hundreds of thousands of daily live viewers and hundreds of millions of video views a month on social platforms.

Streaming sports service fuboTV raises $75 million from AMC and others

Days after Disney-owned ESPN launched its new streaming service, ESPN+, a three-year old streaming TV service for sports fans, fuboTV, is announcing the close of $75 million in Series D funding. The round included new investor AMC Networks, and existing investors 21st Century Fox, Luminari Capital, Northzone, Sky, and the former Scripps Networks Interactive, which was recently acquired by Discovery, Inc.

FuboTV has been working to carve out a niche for itself in the streaming TV market, where a number of competitors are delivering television programming to cord cutters by way of the internet.

In terms of subscribers, that space today is led by Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s newer DirecTV Now. But the market has also seen a lot of newcomers over the past year or so, with launches from Hulu’s Live TV, YouTube TV, and Philo. PlayStation Vue is a competitor as well, while CBS runs its own over-the-top streaming TV service with just its content, CBS All Access.

While many streaming TV services offer some sports content in their base packages, or sell additional access through add-ons, fuboTV’s core focus has been on serving the sports fan.

The service provides access to live games from the NBA, NHL, UFC, and more soccer than other streaming providers –
including matches from Bundesliga, EPL and La Liga to Liga MX, MLS, FIFA World Cup qualifiers, UEFA
Champions League matches and more.

That access doesn’t come cheap, however. FuboTV’s basic package with 70-plus channels, Fubo Premier, is $19.99 for the first month, which then becomes $44.99 per month after.

Customers can then customize their package with other options, like a “Sports Plus,” “Adventure Plus,” or “International Sports Plus” upgrade; a DVR with 500 hours of storage instead of just 30; or the option to add a third stream.

Even though the entry-level package is more than a full subscription to a mainstream service like Sling TV or YouTube TV, fuboTV managed to reach over 100,000 paid subscribers as of September 2017, and is continuing to see double-digit growth, it says.

Since the last funding round ten months ago, the company has streamed its first MLB All Star Game, Playoffs and World Series; Tour de France; NFL regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl; college football; and the Winter Olympic Games. And it has exited beta on Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS and Android; revamped its user interface; and debuted new features like “Lookback” and “Startover.”

The lineup it offers has begun to broaden beyond sports in recent months, as well.

While it has added several new sports additions in the last ten months, it has added entertainment networks, too  – including those from its strategic investors. These include AMC, BBC AMERICA, CBS, CBS Sports Network, CBSN, Food Network, FUSION TV, HGTV, IFC, MSG, MSG+, NESN, NFL Network, Pac-12 Network, Pop, SNY, SundanceTV, The Olympic Channel, Travel Channel and WE tv.

Combined, fuboTV offers viewers over 30,000 sporting events per year, 10,000+ titles in its video-on-demand library.

In addition, fuboTV has been adding broadcast affiliates and now offers Fox in 87 percent of U.S. households, and NBC and CBS in 72 percent and 68 percent, respectively. In total, it has 257 local broadcast affiliates and owned-and-operated stations on the service.

FuboTV doesn’t just generate revenue from subscriptions, however – it also sells advertising.

The company tells TechCrunch it’s forecasting a revenue run rate of over $100 million by this time next year.

“We are very bullish from an ad perspective, even though we only launched server-side ad insertion in January,” notes fuboTV co-founder and CEO David Gandler. “One quarter in, advertising represents low single-digit percentage of our overall revenue, but it is growing quickly. As a benchmark, we are already experiencing ad revenue per subscriber above Spotify’s recently published ad revenue per user data,” he says.

With the new investment, fuboTV plans to double its office space and engineers and product team, and open a second headquarters. The funding will also be used to develop new products and content offerings, and for marketing.

 

Correction, 4/18/18, 4 PM ET: AMC participated and is a new investor; AMC did not lead the round. The article has been updated to reflect.