At the beginning of the week, a slightly misunderstood collection of announcements were made by Hulu. First, their Hulu-branded free TV service was coming to an end. For the few of you who used it, the service provided the last 5 episodes of many TV Series for free with heavy commercial interaction. Once a new episode aired, the 5th oldest was retired and the new one would take its place.
Ben Smith, Hulu Senior VP and Head of Experience, said,
For the past couple years, we've been focused on building a subscription service that provides the deepest, most personalized content experience possible to our viewers. As we have continued to enhance that offering with new originals, exclusive acquisitions and movies, the free service became very limited and no longer aligned with the Hulu experience or content strategy.
The second announcement goes hand-in-hand with this one, though. Hulu has formed a new partnership with Verizon's Yahoo to launch a new video portal called Yahoo View, which will offer the last 5 episodes of many TV Series for free, with ad support. If that sounds familiar, that's because it is exactly the Hulu free service.
The new service will launch using Hulu's web-based video player, will offer Hulu's catalog of content and will contain advertising sold by Hulu's sales team. In other words, Hulu's free option isn't going away; it's just being rebranded. It's always possible that Yahoo View might bring this content to native apps, making it even better than it was before.
This week Facebook made a big play in the battle between the free web and ad blockers. The company created a way to show ads to its users who were using ad blockers, allowing them to once again generate the revenue that is required to keep the service operational.
VP of Advertising Andrew Bosworth, said,
We've designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we'll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.
The strategy worked for a short period, that is. It didn't take long for Adblock Plus to find a way around their changes. It didn't stop there, however. In fact, it went back and forth a couple of times before Facebook decided to take a step back.
The fact that Adblock Plus is fighting so hard is an indication that Facebook will inevitably win the battle. They know that Facebook legitimately holds all of the cards and could easily disrupt the internet with a single move - one that no other publisher has successfully implemented: blocking. Facebook could actually disable their service for people who are using ad blockers.
While Bloomberg is losing revenue just the same as Facebook, they could never implement a blocking policy, as there are plenty of other sources of information on the internet that users could readily switch to. There is not, however, another Facebook - at least not now. Much of the internet is dependent on the social network today, and losing access to it would cause havoc.
As the Editor-in-Chief of an online publication, I know exactly what ad blockers mean to our business - they mean less employees, less writers and less interesting shows for our fans. I also understand the issues that are posed by advertising: slow load times, more data usage and potential security threats. We try to be judicious about the ads we run, but not everyone works as hard. Major publishers get tricked by their advertisers into running unsafe ads which hurt their customers. There is a middle ground that we need to get to, or the free web will be over.
The battle for Google+'s soul is quickly drawing to a close and Google has lost. After force-implementing the beleaguered social network into YouTube, Google Play and other company-owned platforms in an attempt to get people to care, the company has been going back the other direction.
You no longer need a Google+ account to comment on YouTube, but can keep your profiles connected. Google Photos has been pulled from Google+ entirely. Even Hangouts on Air is being moved out of the network and into YouTube Live. This week, one of the last remaining holdouts, Google Play, has seen the end of its Google+ integration as well.
No longer will there be a +1 button on a product listing, nor will you be required to have a Google+ account to post a review, but instead would be tied to your existing Google account, which is required to interact with the store in any meaningful way anyway.
This may not be the end of Google+ entirely, but it certainly is the end of forcing users of other Google-owned products to sign-up for the unwanted network in an attempt to either trick them into using the service, or to make the numbers look more impressive for either advertisers or investors. Personally, I will be glad to have one less network to try and manage.
Videogame streaming has become a big business. 2 years ago, Amazon purchased streaming site Twitch for just under $1 billion. This year, TBS launched online and cable broadcasts of ELEAGUE, whose first season just wrapped up. But gamers were never going to be content just watching a game from someone else's decided perspective - they want to be able to control the action themselves.
Beam is a company that developed just such a platform. It allows individual control of the viewing angle within a game, allowing you to see what you want to see. For example, if you are watching a multiplayer FPS you would be able to follow the vantage point of any of the players instead of just one. You can also switch views, seeing the gameplay from a new angle entirely.
This capability exists in some games now, and is used for professional broadcasts, like TBS, to be able to switch from a map view to individual player view to be broadcast as part of the coverage. It is also used by individual viewers watching normal games. What has been missing has been a common way for game developers to integrate this feature into their games.
Microsoft's purchase of Beam this week will give game developers exactly that. Chad Gibson, Partner Group Manager for Xbox Live, said,
We at Xbox are excited about this convergence between playing and watching, and want to provide gamers with the freedom and choice to have great multiplayer experiences across all of Beam's platforms. This acquisition will help gamers enjoy the games they want, with the people they want, and on the devices they want.
That certainly suggests that the main intention of this acquisition is to give Play Anywhere developers the ability to easily add spectator mode to their games through common Xbox Live APIs. This would give a much-needed draw for 3rd party developers to fully embrace the Play Anywhere platform, as well as giving gamers a great way to interact with their favorite streamers.
Only a month after Dell moved away from Android, another big name in the computer industry seems to be going the same direction: Hewlett Packard. Currently listed on their website are 27 Windows tablets and only a single Android tablet (presumably because they have a lot of remaining stock). But the company is done trying to differentiate itself in the low-cost android marketplace.
Instead, HP is building its mobile strategy around Windows, the platform that made the company initially. In addition to the 27 Windows tablets currently available, their existing line of notebooks and desktops, HP also has a Windows Phone coming: the Elite x3. This phone will be fully Continuum capable, meaning it can be used as a phone or a desktop/laptop, with the docking station or VGA adapter. This is a capability the HP previously tried with a Slatebook running Android which was not well-received.
Just because they are getting out of low-cost Android doesn't mean that HP is going entirely high-cost. Just this week they also announced a new collection of Stream notebooks starting at $199, and they will continue to offer a small line of Chromebooks which, the company promises, will get the Android app update.
As with almost all platform decisions, except webOS which it hastily ditched, HP leaves a door open for Android's eventual return. Mike Nash, VP of Customer Experience and Portfolio Strategy said that if a consumer needs Android, they'll make it happen.
In the early days of streaming video services, it was easy to differentiate yourself. There were basically 2 services: Netflix offered movies, Hulu offered television. Today that's not exactly how it works. Hulu has exclusive access to the Criterion Collection, while Netflix gets episodes of CW shows a week after the season ends.
The next step for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the like was to create original programming. Programs like Orange Is The New Black for Netflix and 11.22.63 for Hulu have done them well. But a new breed of streaming services have arrived. HBO Now and Sling give live access to television stations without a cable subscription. How are services like Netflix and Hulu supposed to keep up?
Hulu recently announced that they were working on a live streaming service of their own. Fortunately for them, their three owners are three of the largest content producers in the world: Comcast, which owns NBC Universal; Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN; and News Corp., which owns Fox. That certainly gives them a leg up in network negotiations. The company also has an existing relationship with Showtime, which could give the new service access to that network as well. What it leaves is a hole in basic cable content.
This week, a fourth owner has joined with a minority stake in Hulu: Time Warner. This is a big deal for Hulu's live streaming ambitions. Time Warner owns Turner Broadcasting, which owns stations like TBS. With TBS come names like Conan O'Brien and Samantha Bee, both big draws to the network.
Unfortunately for Hulu there is still one looming content hole: CBS. CBS has its own live streaming platform on which the new Star Trek series will be an exclusive. If Hulu could somehow pull off a relationship like they have with Showtime, essentially bringing the new Star Trek series to their platform, their streaming ambitions will be a slam dunk.
We have yet to hear a launch date or a price for this new service, but it's clear that most of the big players are interested in being involved.