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Disney to Move Hotstar Content to Hulu, ESPN+ in US as Part of Disney Bundle

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 September 2021

Walt Disney said on Tuesday that content from its streaming service Hotstar — home to India’s IPL cricket tournament and original shows like Aarya — will migrate to its ESPN+ and Hulu streaming platforms in the United States.

Disney, which has 174 million paying customers across its four streaming services, is looking to slowly consolidate its content into a Disney Bundle, which includes ESPN+, Hulu, Disney+, and more than 100,000 movies, TV episodes as well as sports events.

Sports content from Hotstar will move to ESPN+, and Hotstar movies as well as TV shows will migrate to Hulu, which is home to series like The Handmaid’s Tale.

A Hotstar annual subscription costs $49.99 (roughly Rs. 3,650) per year, while the Disney Bundle, which starts at $13.99 (roughly Rs. 1,020) per month, will cost subscribers at least $167.88 (roughly Rs. 12,260) for a year.

Hotstar users in the US will receive a redemption code to avail an offer to shift their subscriptions to the entire Disney bundle, at no cost.

IPL comes to ESPN+

Hotstar is popular in India as it streams Bollywood movies, local TV shows, and cricket tournaments.

In the first half of 2021, the Hotstar mobile app had only about 0.04 percent market share of installs among the top 100 streaming services in the US, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower. In cricket-crazy India, however, it had a 29 percent market share of all new downloads among the top 100 mobile streaming video on demand apps.

The Indian Premier League (IPL), which has an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion (roughly Rs. 49,660 crores), is the richest Twenty20 league and attracts many of the best players from around the world.

The league’s fourteenth season was suspended on May 4 with 31 matches left to play after several players and backroom staff tested positive for COVID-19 amid a devastating second wave of infections in India.

The remaining matches will stream on ESPN+ in the US when the tournament resumes from September 19.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Netflix Sees Disappointing Subscriber Growth in Q4 2021, Adds 8.3 Million Users Worldwide

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By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022

Netflix delivered its latest quarter of disappointing subscriber growth during the final three months of last year, a trend that management foresees continuing into the new year as tougher competition is undercutting the video streaming leader.

The Los Gatos, California, company added 8.3 million worldwide subscribers during the October-December period, about 200,000 fewer than management had forecast. Besides releasing its fourth-quarter results Thursday, Netflix also projected an increase of 2.5 million subscribers during the first three months of this year, well below analysts’ expectations for a gain of 4 million, according to FactSet Research.

The disappointing news caused Netflix’s stock price to plunge by about 20 percent in extended trading after the numbers came out, deepening a steep decline during the past two months.

It capped a challenging year for Netflix after it reveled in eye-popping gains during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 that drove homebound people to its service.

Netflix picked up 18.2 million worldwide subscribers during 2021, its slowest pace of annual growth in five years. It came after Netflix gained more than 36 million subscribers during 2020. The service now boasts nearly 222 million worldwide subscribers worldwide, more than other video streaming leader.

But other services backed by deep-pocketed rivals such as Walt Disney and Apple have been making inroads in recent years, and a bevy of other networks also are wading into video streaming in an attempt to grab eyeballs and a piece of household budgets. The escalating competition is one reason Netflix decided to expand into video games last year.

“The 2022 backdrop for Netflix seems to have been set with a theme of competition abound,” said Third Bridge analyst Joe McCormack.

While acknowledging the competition is having a “marginal” effects on its growth in i ts quarterly shareholder letter, Netflix emphasized its service is still thriving in every country where it’s available.

In a Thursday conference call, Netflix executives also said uncertainty caused by the ebb and flow of the pandemic during the past year has made it more difficult to gauge future growth.

COVID “has created a lot of bumpiness,” co-CEO Ted Sarandos said. The company’s other co-CEO, Reed Hastings, also expressed some frustration before adding, “For now, we’re just like staying calm and trying to figure (it) out.”

Despite the choppiness, the company is faring well financially, even though its profit margins are being squeezed and cash is being drained by spending on more original programming to attract subscribers. Netflix earned $607 million (roughly Rs. 4,525 crore), or $1.33 (roughly Rs. 100) per share, in the fourth quarter, a 12 percent increase from the same time in the prior year. Fourth-quarter revenue rose by 16 percent to $7.7 billion (roughly Rs. 57,400 crore).

Investors, though, are getting more worried that Netflix may be nearing its peak in popularity. Those concerns have caused Netflix’s stock price to plummet by more than 40 percent from its peak of roughly $700 (roughly Rs. 52,190) reached in mid-November.

The opportunities for future growth have become particularly tough in Netflix’s biggest market – the US and Canada – where it’s starting to appear that most households interested in subscribing to the service already have an account. Netflix ended 2021 with 75.2 million subscribers in the US and Canada, translating into a paltry one-year gain of 1.3 million subscribers in that region.

Last week, Netflix raised its price by roughly 10 percent within the US and Canada – a move that could cause some subscribers to cancel the service, based on the company’s past history with previous price hikes.

On the upside, Netflix on Friday will unveil the fourth season of Ozark, one of its most popular series and a potential magnet for new subscribers.

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TV Star Paris Hilton Launches Metaverse Business ‘Paris World’ on Roblox

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 December 2021

Paris Hilton commands as much as $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.47 crores) a night working as a celebrity DJ, entertaining partiers at clubs in China, Dubai and on the Spanish vacation island of Ibiza.

This New Year’s Eve, she will be playing an electronic set for the revelers who drop by a venue of a different sort — her virtual island on Roblox.

Hilton created an island in the online virtual world, dubbed Paris World, where visitors can explore digital replicas of her Beverly Hills estate and its dog mansion, stroll a boardwalk inspired by the neon carnival wedding celebration she and husband Carter Reum hosted earlier this year at the Santa Monica Pier in California, and explore the island in a luxury sports car or Sunray yacht.

Like other virtual hangouts, Paris World will collect small payments for purchasing virtual clothing or booking a ride on a jet-ski.

“For me, the metaverse is somewhere that you can do everything you can do in real life in the digital world,” said Hilton, who worked to create aspects of her globe-trotting life for fans. “Not everybody gets to experience that, so that’s what we’ve been working together on over the past year — giving them all my inspirations of what I want in that world.”

Hilton, 40, joins a clutch of celebrities and brands rushing to embrace the metaverse, a broad term referring to a persistent virtual world. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg popularised the term this year he renamed the company to Meta to emphasise the metaverse’s central role to the company’s future.

Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger brand launched a line of digital ready-to-wear fashion for Roblox avatars. Nike opened a virtual world called Nikeland in November, where visitors can play dodgeball with friends, lace on a pair of virtual Air Force 1 sneakers and win medals. Rappers Lil Nas X and Travis Scott have also held concerts last year for millions of virtual concertgoers.

For the socialite and reality TV-star turned entrepreneur, Paris World is the latest venture launched by her new media company, 11:11 Media. She and veteran media executive Bruce Gersh aim to capitalise on the burgeoning creator economy, in which celebrities like Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James leverage their influence to produce films, television shows and podcasts, brand marketing and to sell merchandise.

Hilton is most widely known for the reality television show “The Simple Life,” in which she and celebrity socialite Nicole Richie ditched their limos to travel America aboard a Greyhound bus.

Hilton says the dumb blonde act was a put-on, “I was always in on the joke, but I knew exactly what I was doing. Behind the scenes, I was building a brand.”

She has leveraged her gossip pages notoriety into 19 different consumer product lines, including perfumes, apparel, lingerie, cosmetics, sunglasses watches, shoes, handbags and jewelry, which together generated an estimated $4 billion (roughly Rs. 29,883 crores) in revenue over the past decade, the company disclosed.

Investment-banker husband Reum introduced Hilton to Gersh, a former Walt Disney and Time executive, to create a media enterprise around one of pop culture’s original influencers.

Since those early discussions, 11:11 Media has launched “This Is Paris,” a podcast in which she speaks candidly about her family and friends, and a pair of reality TV series, “Cooking With Paris” on Netflix and “Paris In Love,” about her engagement and marriage to Reum.

Hilton has also tapped into the mania for non-fungible tokens, collaborating with designer Blake Kathryn to sell three unique pieces of digital art — one of which fetched in excess of $1.1 million (roughly Rs. 8.21 crores), according to online auction platform Nifty Gateway.

“The final piece of the digital space is the metaverse,” said Gersh. “ We think that there’s a real opportunity for Paris to influence, even at a younger level than who her core customer is. We’ve built a fantastic, whimsical world that we believe her fans and new fans will just love.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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YouTube TV Reaches Deal to Restore Access to Disney Channels

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 December 2021

YouTube began restoring access to Walt Disney channels on its platform on Sunday, after the companies reached a distribution agreement to end a two-day blackout.

YouTube tweeted that “we’ve reached a deal with Disney and have already started to restore access to channels like ESPN and FX.”

–tw–

On Sunday, YouTube said a monthly subscription had reverted to $64.99 (roughly Rs. 4,940), but affected users would receive a one-time $15 (roughly Rs. 1,140) discount.

“We appreciate Google’s collaboration to reach fair terms that are consistent with the market,” Disney said in a statement on Sunday.

YouTube earlier this month struck a multi-year pact with streaming platform Roku to distribute YouTube’s flagship app and TV service, ending a months-long battle over accusations of anti-competitive conduct.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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YouTube Says Services Fixed After Disruption Affects Thousands

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By Reuters | Updated: 15 December 2021 

Alphabet’s YouTube said on Tuesday it has fixed an issue that caused thousands of users to lose access to its platform or face slow services.

Downdetector, which showed there were more than 15,000 incidents of people reporting issues with YouTube, tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

“If you were having a slower than normal experience or were having trouble accessing YouTube earlier today – this has been fixed! The issue ran for about 20 mins,” YouTube tweeted.

YouTube experienced 65 outages over the past 12 months, according to Web tool reviewing website ToolTester.

A major outage disrupted Amazon’s cloud services for several hours last week that resulted in Netflix, Disney+, Robinhood, and a slew of other services being inaccessible, including Amazon’s e-commerce website.

Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime, and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot, that use Amazon Web Services (AWS), reported issues according to their social media pages.

“Netflix which runs nearly all of its infrastructure on AWS appears to have lost 26 percent of its traffic,” Doug Madory, head of Internet analysis at analytics firm Kentik, said.

Amazon said the outage was related to network devices and linked to application programming interface, or API, which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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YouTube Hides ‘Dislike’ Counts to Protect Creators From Harassment, Targeted Attacks

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 November 2021

YouTube announced Wednesday the tally of “dislike” clicks on videos will no longer be visible to the public to protect creators from harassment and targeted attacks.

A public count of likes — or dislikes — that social media posts rack up is regularly cited by critics as harmful to well-being, and Facebook as well as Instagram have allowed users to opt out.

Users on the Google-owned video sharing platform will still be able to click on the “dislike” button below a clip, but they will no longer see the negative review count.

“To ensure that YouTube promotes respectful interactions between viewers and creators… we experimented with the dislike button to see whether or not changes could help better protect our creators from harassment, and reduce dislike attacks,” YouTube said in a statement.

“Our experiment data showed a reduction in dislike attacking behavior.”

Content creators — the social media stars who draw crowds online — will be able to see the number of thumbs-down icons their clips elicit.

YouTube said smaller scale or new creators reported being unfairly targeted in attacks, where people work to drive up the number of dislikes on videos.

The changes at YouTube come as major social networks and video platforms are frequently accused by lawmakers, regulators and watchdogs of not doing enough to fight online harassment.

Facebook is battling one of its most serious reputational crises ever, driven by leaked internal documents showing executive knew of the potential harm of their platforms.

The revelations from the leaks by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen have put fresh impetus behind talk of regulating Big Tech companies.

Worry about Facebook’s potential harm has spilled over to other platforms with TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube trying to convince US senators in a hearing last month that they were safe for their young users.

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Squid Game Craze Lifts Netflix Quarter With Over 4 Million New Subscribers

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 October 2021

Netflix’s global sensation Squid Game helped lure more new customers than expected, the world’s largest streaming service said on Tuesday as it predicted a packed lineup would further boost signups through the end of the year.

After a sharp slowdown in the first half of 2021, Netflix added 4.38 million subscribers from July through September to reach 213.6 million worldwide. Wall Street analysts had projected 3.86 million additions, according to Refinitiv data.

Netflix enjoyed a subscriber boom last year as COVID-19 kept audiences at home, but growth stalled early this year. At the same time, Walt Disney’s Disney+, AT&T’s HBO Max, and other competitors bolstered their offerings. Netflix blamed the earlier weakness in part on a thin slate of new programming caused by production shutdowns from the pandemic.

Then, South Korean drama Squid Game debuted on September 17 and surprised executives by becoming the streaming service’s most-watched original series in its first month. On Tuesday, Netflix said a “mind-boggling” 142 million households had watched the dark drama about people who compete in a deadly competition to erase financial debt.

The series, made with a relatively small budget, shot to the top of Netflix viewing charts in 94 countries, kick-started sales of track suits and Vans sneakers, and kindled interest in learning Korean, Squid Game merchandise is now on its way to retailers, Netflix said.

The fervour around Squid Game also is expected to lift the current quarter. Netflix projected it will pick up 8.5 million new customers by year’s end, ahead of industry forecasts of 8.33 million, as it releases a heavy lineup of new programming. Upcoming debuts include big-budget action flick Red Notice and a second season of fantasy drama The Witcher.

It also expects a more normalised programming slate in 2022 spread throughout the year, “assuming no new COVID waves or unforeseen events,” the company said in a quarterly letter to shareholders.

Shares of Netflix were close to even in after-hours trading at $641 (roughly Rs. 48,130) following the earnings report.

Overseas growth

Most new customer pickups in the quarter came from the Asia Pacific market, where Netflix now has 30 million subscribers. Industry experts believe the region may rival the United States and Canada – Netflix’s largest market – in three to five years, said Third Bridge senior analyst Joe McCormack.

Netflix is trying new ways to attract customers overseas, including offering a free plan in Kenya. It will take one to two years to tell if that tactic leads to more paying subscribers, the company said.

For the quarter that ended in September, diluted earnings-per-share came in at $3.19 (roughly Rs. 240), beating analyst expectations of $2.57 (roughly Rs. 190). Revenue rose 16 percent to $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 56,325 crores).

Before the earnings report, Netflix shares had risen roughly 22 percent this year and were trading near record highs, but their gains lag behind the 54 percent increase in the Nasdaq.

Netflix, which keeps much of its viewership data secret, also said it will release information more frequently and shift its main publicly reported metric to hours viewed, rather than the number of accounts that watched a title for at least 2 minutes. The company noted that it competes with a large set of activities beyond TV including TikTok and Fortnite. When Facebook suffered a global outage in early October, “our engagement saw a 14 percent increase during this time period,” Netflix said.

Executives did not address worker complaints about a Dave Chappelle comedy special, which the company has previously defended. Some employees say Chappelle made comments that harmful to transgender people, and they plan a walkout on Wednesday.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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