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AT&T loses 897K more pay TV subscribers in Q1 2020, adding pressure to HBO Max launch

By Sarah Perez

AT&T gave a first look into how the pay TV business is faring amid the coronavirus pandemic…and it’s not great. The company reported today as a part of its Q1 2020 earnings that its traditional pay TV services, including DIRECTV and its newer streaming option AT&T TV, saw a combined net loss of 897,000 subscribers in the quarter. Meanwhile, its over-the-top streaming service, AT&T TV Now, also lost 138,000 subscribers, following a number of price hikes.

The company’s newer pay TV service, AT&T TV, only just became available nationwide in March. But despite its “streaming” nature — it ships with an Android TV-powered box to deliver TV over the internet — consumers may have already caught on to the fact that it’s still just the worst of pay TV wrapped up in a new delivery mechanism.

The streaming service is expensive compared with today’s over-the-top and video-on-demand options. It’s also laden with fees for things like activation, early termination and additional set-top boxes. And its bundle with AT&T Internet offers each service for $39.99/month for the first 12 months, but ties subscribers into two-year contracts where prices climb in the second year.

AT&T’s Q1 TV subscriber numbers indicate how quickly the pay TV market is imploding. And perhaps it will decline even more rapidly now that people no longer want to risk coronavirus exposure by having service techs install equipment in their homes. While AT&T TV’s DIY installation may help in that area, it’s unclear if the new service will ever broadly appeal to consumers in the streaming era.

AT&T ended the quarter with 18.6 million pay TV subscribers, down from 19.5 million in Q4 when it lost 945,000 subscribers.

This all puts much more pressure on WarnerMedia to deliver with its May 27th launch of HBO Max. The new direct-to-consumer streaming service promises all of HBO, plus original content, and a library of movies, classic TV and film, fan favorites and more. But at only $14.99 per month, it won’t be able to replace the lost revenue from high-priced pay TV subscriptions — only offset it.

AT&T also today admitted how the coronavirus outbreak has forced it to rethink its theatrical model.

Just yesterday, WarnerMedia announced the new kids movie “Scoob!” would skip theaters and head straight into homes, where it will be offered at either a $19.99 rental or $24.99 digital purchase. It will later have its “exclusive streaming premiere” on HBO Max.

“We’re rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior from the pandemic,” said WarnerMedia CEO and AT&T COO John Stankey, as reported by The Wrap.

“When theaters are closed, it’s hard to generate revenue,” he said. “And I don’t expect that’s going to be a snapback. I think that’s going to be something we’re going to have to watch the formation of consumer confidence, not just about going to movies, just in general about being back out in public and understanding what’s occurring there,” Stankey noted.

Overall, AT&T missed on both revenue and earnings in Q1, largely citing impacts from the coronavirus outbreak, which reduced earnings by 5 cents per share ($433 million). Total revenue in the quarter was $42.8 billion, short of Wall Street estimates of $44.2 billion. Adjusted EPS was 84 cents per share, versus an expected 85 cents.

A $600 million decline in revenue was attributed to lost ad sales, specifically those that were expected from now-postponed live sports events like March Madness, as well as lower wireless equipment sales.

AT&T’s WarnerMedia division — which includes HBO and Turner broadcast networks in addition to Warner Bros. theatrical releases — was heavily impacted by the pandemic, as well, reporting $7.4 billion in revenue, down from $8.4 billion a year earlier.

“The COVID pandemic had a 5 cents per share impact on our first quarter. Without it, the quarter was about what we expected — strong wireless numbers that covered the HBO Max investment, and produced stable EBITDA and EBITDA margins,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We have a strong cash position, a strong balance sheet, and our core businesses are solid and continue to generate good free cash flow — even in today’s environment. In light of the pandemic’s economic impact, we’ve already adjusted our capital allocation plans and suspended all share retirements,” he added.

The company said it will continue investing in 5G and broadband, two of its only bright spots in the quarter, in addition to investments in HBO Max.

AT&T withdrew its financial guidance due to the “lack of visibility related to COVID-19 pandemic and recovery,” it said.

HBO Max debuts on May 27th with 10,000 hours of content, including a handful of originals

By Sarah Perez

AT&T’s WarnerMedia announced last fall its plan was to launch the new streaming service HBO Max in May 2020 for $14.99 per month. Today, we have a solid launch date: May 27th. AT&T has also now revealed its initial programming slate for the new direct-to-consumer service, which includes over 10,000 hours of premium content from both the HBO service and past and present titles form Warner Bros., in addition to a selection of original programming.

However, some of the more high-profile original projects won’t arrive on launch day.

Instead, HBO Max is promising a more modest slate of original programming at its premiere, including a scripted comedy called “Love Life,” starring Anna Kendrick; the Sundance 2020 Official Selection feature documentary “On the Record;” an underground ballroom dance competition series “Legendary;” a kids competition series “Craftopia,” hosted by YouTuber LaurDIY; the all-new “Looney Tunes Cartoons,” from Warner Bros. Animation; and Sesame Workshop’s “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.”

WarnerMedia also today released the trailers for the new shows for the first time, available on its YouTube channel.

The service’s added focus on family-friendly entertainment is meant to offer HBO a better way to compete with rival streamers, like Netflix and Disney+ in a crowded market. That said, the launch comes at a time when many families are stuck at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, in search of things to watch as a group. That could prove beneficial for HBO Max — at least in its early days, before the government lockdowns are lifted.

In the long run, HBO Max will easily convert its HBO NOW subscriber base — after all, it’s the same price — but will have to prove itself on the original front, to gain new customers. And unfortunately, it no longer has a breakout hit like “Game of Thrones” to lead the way.

“Our number one goal is having extraordinary content for everyone in the family, and the HBO Max programming mix we are so excited to unveil on May 27th will bear that out,” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer, in a statement about the launch. “Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, the all-star teams behind every aspect of HBO Max will deliver a platform and a robust slate of content that is varied, of the highest quality, and second to none. I’m knocked out by the breadth and depth of our new offering, from the Max originals, our Warner Bros library and acquisition titles from around the world, and of course the entirety of HBO,” he added.

WarnerMedia had been steadily announcing the shows it had greenlit for HBO Max to whet consumers’ appetite for the service, pre-launch. These included a “Game of Thrones” spin-off called “House of the Dragon,” plus new shows from Elizabeth Banks, Issa Rae and Mindy Kaling; new DC Comics titles “Green Lantern” and “Strange Adventures” from “Arrow’s” producer; and reboots of classics ranging from “Grease” to “Gossip Girl” to “Dune,” and more.

Last week, WarnerMedia also revealed the first three J.J. Abrams series for HBO Max, including “Duster,” “The Shining” offshoot “Overlook,” and an untitled DC Comics project focused on characters in the  Justice League Dark universe.

However, many of its more anticipated projects weren’t mentioned today as being in HBO MAX’s near-term future.

Instead, the next set of Max Originals to arrive this summer and fall include “The Flight Attendant,” starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco; all-new original episodes of DC fan favorite “Doom Patrol;” the return of the mystery comedy “Search Party;” a three-part documentary series “Expecting Amy,” starring comedian Amy Schumer; sci-fi series “Raised by Wolves” from director and executive producer Ridley Scott; the adult animated comedy “Close Enough,” from J.G. Quintel (creator of Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning “Regular Show”); and “Adventure Time: Distant Lands- BMO,” the first of four breakout specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning franchise “Adventure Time.”

In fact, the biggest draw in terms of can’t-get-it-elsewhere content may end up being the unscripted cast reunion special for “Friends,” which will arrive later this year, once it’s able to be filmed.

The service will also soon include the full run of “Friends,” along with the libraries of “The Big Bang Theory;” (new) “Doctor Who;” “Rick and Morty;””The Boondocks;” “The Bachelor;” “Sesame Street;” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air;” CW shows such as “Batwoman,” “Nancy Drew,” and “Katy Keene;” the first season of DC’s “Doom Patrol;” “The O.C.;” “Pretty Little Liars;” the CNN catalogue of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown;” and more.

“South Park,” “Gossip Girl,” and “The West Wing,” will be added in the first year.

Features films to arrive will include “Crazy Rich Asians,” “A Star is Born,” “Aquaman,” and “Joker,” along with others it acquired, the Criterion Collection, and the acclaimed Studio Ghibli. Classics will include “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Matrix,” “The Goonies,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Citizen Kane,” “Gremlins,” and the “Lego” movies, along with every DC film from the last decade, including “Wonder Woman,” “Justice League,” and every “Batman” and “Superman” movie from the last 40 years.

In total, HBO Max promises a library of over 2,000 feature films in the first year.

And finally, the service will also pull from WarnerMedia’s library of movies and TV, New Line, and library titles from DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, and Looney Tunes. And it will offer a selection of classic films curated in partnership with TCM, plus third-party acquired series and movies.

HBO makes some top shows, movies and documentaries free to stream on HBO NOW and HBO GO

By Jonathan Shieber

Giving people even more of a reason to stay home and follow the social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., HBO said it would be making 500 hours of programming free to stream over HBO NOW and HBO GO without a subscription, starting Friday, April 3.

Shows that audiences can stream include some of the best television shows ever made, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” and other very good HBO shows like “Veep” and “Six Feet Under.”

Movie titles like “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and back catalog gems like (one of my favorite movies of all-time) “Empire of the Sun” join docuseries including “McMillion$” and “The Case Against Adnan Syed” as free-to-stream offerings as well.

Viewers who want to watch what is inarguably the best show ever made (it’s “The Wire”) can download the HBO NOW or HBO GO apps or visit HBONOW.com or HBOGO.com.

The network’s distribution partners will also make the shows available to stream for free in the coming days, the company said. This offer marks the first time that HBO has made this amount of programming available for free outside of the paywall on either of its apps, the company said.

The full list of HBO content available to stream without a subscription includes:

  • Ballers (5 Seasons)

  • Barry (2 Seasons)

  • Silicon Valley (6 Seasons)

  • Six Feet Under (5 Seasons)

  • The Sopranos (7 Seasons)

  • Succession (2 Seasons)

  • True Blood (7 Seasons

  • Veep (7 Seasons)

  • The Wire (5 Seasons)

10 Docuseries and Documentaries

  • The Apollo

  • The Case Against Adnan Syed

  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher

  • I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

  • Jane Fonda in Five Acts

  • McMillion$

  • True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality

  • United Skates

  • We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest

20 Warner Bros. Theatricals

  • Arthur

  • Arthur 2: On the Rocks

  • Blinded By the Light

  • The Bridges of Madison County

  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

  • Empire of the Sun

  • Forget Paris

  • Happy Feet Two

  • Isn’t It Romantic?

  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

  • Midnight Special

  • My Dog Skip

  • Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

  • Pan

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

  • Red Riding Hood

  • Smallfoot

  • Storks

  • Sucker Punch

  • Unknown

Fox Sports to broadcast the full season of NASCAR’s virtual race series

By Kirsten Korosec

Esports racing, helped by record-setting viewership, is hitting the big time.

Fox Sports said Tuesday it will broadcast the rest of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series, following Sunday’s virtual race that was watched by 903,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

While those numbers are far below the millions of viewers who watch NASCAR’s official races — the last one at Phoenix Raceway reached 4.6 million — it still hit a number of firsts that Fox Sports found notable enough to commit to broadcasting the virtual racing series for the remainder of the season, beginning March 29.

The races will be simulcast on the FOX broadcast network, Fox Sports iRacing and the FOX Sports app. Races will be available in Canada through FOX Sports Racing.

Virtual racing, which lets competitors race using a system that includes a computer, steering wheel and pedals, has been around for years. But it’s garnered more attention as the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has prompted sports organizers to cancel or postpone live events, including the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, NBA, NHL and MLB seasons as well as Formula 1 and NASCAR racing series.

Classic. @JimmieJohnson checks in live with @JeffGordonWeb during the #ProInvitationalSeries and says he needs to "learn different cars" for his 2021 schedule. 👀

(And Jeff helps him notice a bit of damage 😂) pic.twitter.com/5gFgl1f0e3

— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020

NASCAR ran its first virtual race in the series on Sunday in lieu of its planned race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was canceled due to COVID-19. Not only was it the most watched esports event in U.S. television history, it was Sunday’s most-watched sports telecast on cable television that day.

50 seconds of #ProInvitationalSeries virtual engines. CRANK IT UP! pic.twitter.com/wyG1JhFkPQ

— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020

“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way,” Brad Zager, FOX Sports executive producer said in a statement. “We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”

Granted, there aren’t any live sports to watch in this COVID-19 era. Still, it bodes well for the future of esports, perhaps even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“The response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible,” said four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who is announcer for Fox NASCAR. “We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of ‘normalcy’ back to the weekend, and I can’t wait to call the action Sunday at Texas.”

You can see what the virtual racing looks like here in this clip from Fox Sports.

NASCAR isn’t the only racing series to turn to esports. Formula 1 announced last week that it would host an esports series, the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, with a number of current F1 drivers alongside a number of other stars.

The virtual Formula 1 races will use Codemaster’s official Formula 1 2019 PC game and fans can follow along on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, as well as on F1.com. The races will be about half as long as regular races, with 28 laps. The first race took place March 22. The first-ever virtual round of the Nürburgring Endurance Series kicked off on March 21.

Watchworthy’s personalized TV recommendation app will help you find your next binge

By Sarah Perez

Ranker, an online publisher that turns crowdsourced lists and fan rankings into a data business, is now turning its attention to the world of streaming services. The company this week launched a new app, Watchworthy, that helps you find something new to watch across TV networks and more than 200 streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Apple TV+ and many more.

Ranker, as you may already know, is the website that always pops up in search results when you’re looking for some sort of “best of” round-up — whether that’s in entertainment, music, sports, culture, history or across other topics. On the site, online visitors can vote on their favorites in categories as broad as the “best hip-hop artists” or as niche as the “best coconut oil brands.”

Ranker’s TV lists are among its more popular categories and one that makes the most sense for turning into an app. And right now, everyone is looking for something new to watch as we’re stuck indoors due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

While there are already a number of apps promising to offer TV recommendations — like Reelgood, TV Time, Yidio and JustWatch, for example — Watchworthy’s advantage is Ranker’s data powering its recommendations. Its machine learning platform applies first-party correlation data it has amassed over a decade from one billion votes on Ranker.com. As the company explains, this makes its data more “statistically relevant.”

For example, its data indicates that “Better Call Saul” fans tend to like other gritty, dark dramas like “House of Cards,” “Ray Donovan” and “True Detective,” but also more cerebral comedies like “Nathan for You” and “High Maintenance.”

To figure out what sort of TV programs interest you, Watchworthy at first launch jumps you into a rating experience to provide it with your data. In 60 seconds, you fly through a ratings feature that uses a Tinder-like interface, where a right swipe is a “like” and a left swipe is a “dislike” (and up is “not sure”). After you thumbs up and down a selection of shows, you can begin to browse your recommendations.

In my test, this initial set of recommendations was already above average compared with some of the other apps I’ve tried. Your mileage may vary, of course, as it’s a highly personalized experience. Watchworthy may not have offered dozens of precise matches to my tastes at first, but it did remind me of several shows I had seen in passing and thought at some point I might like to try, as well as a few new discoveries.

Its suggestions are ranked by a “worthy” score that indicates the likelihood that the show is worthy of your time. You can also filter the list of recommendations by service, genre, run time and MPAA ratings.

The app got a little better after spending a little more time to like and dislike more shows and to personalize it as to which streaming services I was using. This allowed me to integrate recommendations from more sources — like HBO, Apple TV+, Disney+, Showtime and others.

However, I did get to the point where liking and disliking didn’t refine my recommendations further, so there is a limit to what Watchworthy can do. I also found the app to be a little lacking on the reality and nonfiction side of things. It tended to push recommendations of scripted shows, despite my having “liked” shows such as “The Great British Bake Off,” “Windy City Rehab” and “Queer Eye,” among others.

As you find shows you like in the app’s recommendations, you can add them to the universal watchlist in the app for easy access.

You can also create an account to save your data. Watchworthy at launch supports Apple’s private sign-in option, as well as Google, Facebook and email.

The homepage of the app also integrates Ranker’s existing TV lists. The website has more than 50,000 of these, but the app isn’t an endless scroll. Instead, it updates the home page with relevant, timely content. For example, today’s lists include “Shows For Self Quarantine,” “Shows To Distract You,” “Funniest Shows On Netflix,” “Best Family Shows On Amazon Prime” and other round-ups.

The new app serves not only as a discovery tool for TV viewers, cord-cutters and binge-watchers, but also as fuel for Ranker’s data collection business. Ranker licenses its data and insights to third-parties, like marketers, advertisers, researchers, developers and service providers. However, its data isn’t focused on demographics so much as it is on “psychographics” — meaning, your tastes. Ranker isn’t asking you for private information, only what you like.

In a way, Watchworthy serves as a demo app of what can be done with Ranker’s psychographic insights, in this case, for TV viewers. But the same sort of system could be built for other categories, like music, cooking, film, travel and more.

The company says this year it will also make its Watchworthy app available to connected devices, like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. It also plans to add movie recommendations and shared watchlists.

Watchworthy is a free download on iOS with Android to come. On any mobile device, it works from watchworthy.app.

 

Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland and 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

By Ingrid Lunden

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching across 7 markets in Europe — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. From today, it will be live in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland; Disney also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7. It’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Caught in the crossfire of Covid-19

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught in the crossfire of world events.

The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home, and many people are turning to their televisions and other screens for diversion and information.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain or distract people who are now sheltering in place. And that has put a huge strain on broadband networks. So, to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) that it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.”

There are now dozens of places to get an online video fix, but Disney has a lot of valuable cards in its hand, specifically in the form of a gigantic catalog of famous, premium content, and the facilities to produce significantly more at scale, dwarfing the efforts (valiant or great as they are) from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple .

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years.

In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Amazon Prime Video is streaming kids’ movies and TV for free, no Prime membership required

By Sarah Perez

Amazon is making a selection of family-friendly and kids programming available for free streaming on Prime Video, as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis which has people trapped at home. The content is available to all Amazon customers, and includes a mix of Amazon Original kids and family shows as well as select third-party family movies and TV series licensed from studio partners.

Amazon says it’s continuing to work with content partners to widen the selection over time.

At launch, the U.S. version of the free service includes the following Amazon Originals: “Click, Clack, Moo: Christmas at the Farm,” “Big Diaries,” “Costume Quest,” “Creative Galaxy,” “Danger and Eggs,” “Dangerous Book for Boys,” “Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street,” “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “Jessy and Nessy,” “Just Add Magic,” “Just Add Magic: Mystery City,” “Little Big Awesome,” “Lost in Oz,” “Niko and the Sword of Light,” “Pete the Cat,” “Sigmund and the Sea Monster,” “The Snowy Day,” “The Stinky and Dirty Snow,” “The Kicks,” “Tumble Leaf,” and “Wisenpoof.”

Among the licensed content in the U.S., you’ll find: “Arthur,” “Bali,” “Caillou,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Design Squad,” “Dinosaur Train,” “FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman,” “Kraft’s Creatures,” “Martha Speaks,” “Nature Cat,” “Odd Quad,” “Peep and the Big Wide World,” “Peg + Cat,” “Postcards from Buster,” “Reading Rainbow,” “Ready Jet Go!,” “Wild Kratts,” “WordGirl,” “WorldWorld,” “Zoboomafoo,” “Rugrats All Grown Up,” and “Knight Squad.”

Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that Amazon Original kids and family TV series will be available for free worldwide, but licensed content will vary by country.

The majority of the content, at present, is aimed at the preschool crowd up to younger school-agers. The selection doesn’t include recently released movies or other popular G-rated or PG-rated box office hits that parents will also enjoy. But the offering will help parents who are struggling to work from home and using the TV as a babysitter of sorts to keep little ones occupied.

Typically, Amazon makes free TV and movies available only to Prime subscribers, as one of the many perks of Amazon’s Prime membership program. But in this case, consumers will only need to create a free Amazon.com account, if they don’t already have one, in order to watch the free programs.

Amazon isn’t the first streamer to add free content to help families staying in quarantine and self-isolating during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Sling TV launched free streaming that included news and entertainment, as well as kids TV. Hulu added free live TV news to its on-demand service on Friday. Elsewhere, studios are breaking the theatrical window to deal with ticket sale losses as theaters close down. NBCU recently said it was bringing “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man,” and “Emma,” to home viewers.

Disney, meanwhile, is making its own movies available early as well, including through its streaming service, Disney+, where both “Frozen II” and “Onward” are arriving ahead of schedule. (“Frozen II” is live now. “Onward” arrives on April 3).

Amazon says the new free programs will be available on the Prime Video app, which is a free download on  compatible smart TVs, mobile devices, Fire TV, Fire TV stick, Fire tablets, Apple TV, game consoles, Chromecast or via Prime Video on the web.

Oprah Winfrey’s new Apple TV+ show, ‘Oprah Talks COVID-19,’ arrives for free streaming

By Sarah Perez

Over the weekend, Apple introduced the first two episodes of its new Apple TV+ show, “Oprah Talks COVID-19,” for free viewing. In the first episode, Oprah Winfrey interviews actor Idris Elba, who recently tested positive for coronavirus, as well as his wife, Sabrina Dhowre, who is also positive. In the second episode, Oprah talks to longtime friend and supporter, Reverand Wintly Phipps about the pandemic.

The interviews are conducted over FaceTime video calls with guests and are meant to offer hope and thought leadership, Oprah explained on Twitter.

“Like millions of people all over the world, I’ve been staying safer at home for over a week now. I know a lot of people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, & uncertain,” Oprah wrote in a tweet. “[Because] of that, I want to offer some hope & gather thought leaders & people going through it to add some perspective,” she said.

Like millions of people all over the world, I've been staying safer at home for over a week now. I know a lot of people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, & uncertain. Bc of that, I want to offer some hope & gather thought leaders & people going through it to add some perspective

— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) March 22, 2020

In her interview with Elba, they talk about his decision to go public and his wife’s decision to quarantine with him, plus the result of her test. The shows have a more inspirational tone, compared with traditional news interviews.

“I think we all lose as human beings if we just think of this as a physical virus. I think it’s here to teach us, show us something about ourselves, as a world. This is a moment for our humanity to either rise or not,” Oprah says, in one episode.

Yesterday @Oprah discussed COVID-19 with @IdrisElba on the first episode of Oprah Talks. Catch up on the Apple TV app.

Watch now: https://t.co/ZBn2d8Ncwz pic.twitter.com/wRlbb0Hd1i

— Apple TV (@AppleTV) March 22, 2020

Though the majority of Apple TV+ programming is only available on a subscription basis, this COVID-19 show is available for free.

It can be watched across platforms, including via the Apple TV app for Mac, iPad, iPhone, tv.apple.com, and Apple TV, as well as through the Apple TV+ app for streaming platforms, or via AirPlay-enabled TVs.

The program is one of several Oprah is involved with for Apple TV+.

In 2018, Oprah and Apple announced a multi-year partnership on original content for the Apple TV+ streaming service. That has already resulted in an Apple TV+ show that brings back Oprah’s Book Club as a series of author interviews. Another show, produced in partnership with Prince Harry and focused on mental health, has yet to arrive. A third, a documentary about sexual assault in the music industry, was canceled.

This new show, put together quickly in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis and using lower-production values, is the first show of its kind on Apple TV+, where the content is typically highly produced and made available in 4K. Apple hasn’t said how many episodes will arrive in total, but this is a unique situation.

Following Disney+’s successful launch, AT&T positions HBO Max as family-friendly

By Sarah Perez

AT&T’s upcoming streaming service, HBO Max, is still on track for a May 2020 launch, said President and CEO John Stankey, speaking today at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference where he provided an update to shareholders. Though the HBO brand tends to be associated with adult fare, like “Game of Thrones,” Stankey positioned the new offering as more family-friendly by saying there would be content for children, tweens, and parents alike.

HBO has tried in the past to market itself to families. In 2015, it announced a deal with Sesame Workshop to stream the next five seasons of the popular preschooler show “Sesame Street” on its network. It later rolled out a “Kids” section on its app to feature Sesame Workshop shows and other kid-friendly titles. And this past fall, HBO Max and Sesame Workshop expanded their partnership with a new deal that brings four more shows and five more seasons of “Sesame Street,” plus annual specials, and its 50-year library to HBO’s new streaming service.

Despite these agreements, HBO isn’t a brand people think of when they want family entertainment. But in the wake of the successful launch of Disney+ — the company knows there’s massive potential in catering not only to the adults paying the bills, but to the whole household.

“It’s going to be a content offer[ing] that will have something for everybody in the household. They’re going to look at it and say, I see myself there,” said Stankey, speaking at the event. “It doesn’t matter whether you are a child in the household, a tween in the household, a mother, a father. You’re going to see something in that offering that wants you to say, I resonate with that and that’s relevant.”

He also noted that a beta version of HBO Max has been in testing with a controlled group. The second beta version was just released with new features, including customer profiles and content downloads.

Today, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ let customers set up profiles for all the users in their household. But while HBO NOW added parental controls and a kids lock feature for mobile, it hasn’t allowed customers to personalize their experience with individual profiles and watchlists. HBO MAX will need this feature if it truly wants to cater to families with children.

The company believes it will have a solid user base for the new service when it launches in May, thanks to its existing customers. HBO NOW customers will be immediately upgraded to HBO MAX, if they subscribe through hbonow.com, for example. Meanwhile, the 10 million AT&T customers who already subscribe to HBO by way of DirecTV, AT&T TV or U-Verse TV will get the service free.

In addition, Stankey said it will be distributed through AT&T channels, including AT&T wireless bundles, and via existing HBO partners, like MVPDs (cable or satellite providers). HBO Max also recently announced a deal with its first vMVPD (virtual multichannel video programming distributor), YouTube TV. Similar deals are in the works, as well, Stankey hinted. But he didn’t offer names.

WarnerMedia had already revealed most of these details, as well as the HBO Max pricing — $14.99/mo — and much of its content slate. The latter consists of 10,000 hours of content at launch, including the HBO library, Warner Bros. film library, and 31 Max Originals series. The service will also be the new streaming home for the 90’s classic “Friends,” as well as “The Big Bang Theory,” for which it paid over $1 billion.

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