Long Term Hulu Plus Thoughts

hulu_plusI have been using Hulu Plus for several months, and I have a few additional comments about the service.

I tend to watch lots of science documentaries. Over time, I’ve seemed to nearly exhaust the documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon videos. One of the things I really like about the Hulu Plus is that it includes shows from the BBC, Canada and Australia. This opens up a new world of high quality documentary material that isn’t available to me otherwise.

From a technical streaming point of view, the service always seems to stream well. I have encountered no server issues streaming either via DSL or mobile data connections.

The various Hulu Plus apps themselves do have a few issues. I regularly use the iOS, Android and Roku versions of the Hulu Plus apps. The interfaces seem mostly straightforward, though there are a few quirks and differences from one app to the next.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered is the service being able to remember where I’m stopped at in an individual video as well as a series of videos. For example, let’s say I’m in the 5th episode of a season. The service may or may not remember that I’ve already watched the previous 4 episodes.

Additionally, if I pause in the middle of a video, there’s at least a 50% chance that if I come back to the series later, instead of starting me out exactly where I was in the paused video, the service will kick me to the next episode even though I haven’t finished watching the prior episode.

These synching problems seem to be consistent across all of Hulu Plus’ apps. I can use only one app, say on my iPad Air, and will likely encounter the synching issue the next time I open the app to try to get back to where I left off. Moving to a different device entirely I will still encounter the same synching problem.

These synching issues are areas where Netflix and Amazon really seem to have this nailed down and leave Hulu Plus lagging behind.

Even with the synching issues, I really like Hulu Plus and make extensive use of it. In my view it is well worth the $8 monthly charge.

Netflix New Years Gift? Drops 80 Movies, TV Shows from Streaming Subscription

Netflix_Web_LogoIf you are a fan of “Titanic”, “Top Gun”, or even “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” — you have only a few hours left to watch them on Netflix.

More than 80 movies and a group of TV shows including “Saturday Night Live” will be removed from the service on January 1, 2014. Netflix adds and removes movies and TV shows on a regular basis. This is all due to licensing contracts.

Nonetheless, TV shows like “Mr. Bean”, “Dark Shadows”, and “Kids in the Hall” will be removed for the new year. Movies include “Platoon”, “Flashdance”, “Being John Malkovich”, amongst others.

These movies might come back with new licensing deals. In the meantime, new movies and TV shows will be added including “Jack Reacher”, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”, and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. TV shows like “Dexter” seasons 5-8 will also be added in the coming weeks.

The full list of Netflix titles ending can be found on this Reddit post

 

Netflix – the Streaming Cable Channel?

netflix for ps3Netflix is in talks with multiple cable companies to create an on Demand channel with Netflix content. According to the Wall Street Journal, they are in talks with Comcast and Suddenlink Communications to add this service.

Last month Netflix signed a deal with Virgin Media to put their service on the set top box. There wouldn’t be a Netflix channel per-say, just an app on their on Demand lineup similar to what Dish did when they purchased Blockbuster.

Netflix dominates as one of the top streaming platforms on the Internet. With their app on all set top boxes (Apple TV, Roku, Boxee, etc.), game consoles and app driven TVs; along with an expectation of 40 million streaming subscribers by 2015, the company would be an asset to any device. Even a cable box.

Still, cable companies are declining. Time Warner and AT&T have said no to adding the channel. That could all change in the future if a good deal is worked out.

What About Netflix as an Actual Cable Channel?

While they don’t normally program their content, would a physical cable channel to compete with HBO and Showtime be a possibility? Scheduling their shows like House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black could bring more promotion to the streaming service. It might even break that wall between cable and streaming content.

Netflix definitely has content to show on a cable channel. They might have to reconfigure contracts, but with a good mix of movies and TV binges (similar to what USA is doing with Modern Family and NCIS marathons), those people who don’t like to pick and choose will be satisfied with programmed content.

What Netflix Could Bring to Cable Companies

Netflix has spent that last couple years refining their search algorithms. What is to say that could not be a bargaining chip? Currently, most cable systems online guides are bland and sometimes hard to navigate. If Netflix was to inject their style into an on Demand menu, the user experience would get out of 2002 and more of a web interface that we are currently used to.

With adding Netflix, there is possibility for cable channels to profit. For one example – maybe customers won’t be so quick to cut their cable. Maybe they would even hit the “On Demand” button a little more – or even for the first time. Might not be the best idea to quickly dismiss this idea…

House of Cards Emmy Win: Further Validation of Netflix and Streaming

House of Cards

House of Cards

Last night at the Emmys, Netflix took a win by taking the Best Director prize for his original “House of Cards”. One of a few original shows you can get when you subscribe to Netflix.

Although they didn’t sweep the Emmys by any means, Netflix’s win shows an award winning TV program can be found through streaming media. It also means publishing a series all at once does not change the fact it’s an Emmy contender.

This Emmy could bring more original independent works to Netflix. It doesn’t mean they all can win Emmy’s – as Netflix’s store-bought “Arrested Development” and prison show “Orange is the New Black” shows us. However, Netflix now can show and compete with premium channel content such as those shows found on HBO and Showtime.

Binge Watching or Weekly Episodes?

Netflix_Web_LogoHouse of Cards was released all at once – causing people to “Binge-watch”. This might also cause people to go over to a friends’ house for 12 hours and not invest in the service themselves. If Netflix plans to put out a regular schedule of shows, will the same model be relevant? Will putting out 1-2 episodes weekly be a better alternative?

A couple years back, Netflix had a contract with Starz; along with that the rights to Starz original programming. At the time, Sparticus was in it’s first season. You could watch Starz live from Netflix (SD through Internet Explorer) or wait a couple days for the episode to show up in the streaming section.

There is one big advantage to weekly episodes – build-up to the next week. AMC has really taken the lead on this with their “Talking Dead” talk show right after the episodes air. New guests on the show make it for a great companion to the Walking Dead – and you stay on AMC for another 30 minutes.

Of course the other advantage to weekly episodes would be subscribers – instead of someone going to a friend’s house to binge-watch, they just pay the $8 a month and watch at their convenience.

So congratulations to Netflix and House of Cards for disrupting the Emmys. I can’t wait to see what other streaming content will be part of next year’s Emmys.

Print Magazine Sales Plunge

Single-copy print magazine sales plunged by another 10% in the first half of 2013 according to the AAM’s (Alliance for Audited Media) 2013 half-year report. Extensive details can be found on their website here at this link to their report.

I remember back in the 1980’s subscribing to print magazines such as Stereo Review, Digital Audio & Compact Disc Review, Popular Photography, Videomaker Magazine, PC World, PC Computing, Hot CoCo, etc. I originally came into contact with most of the magazines I ended up subscribing to via magazine news stands.

Somewhere along the way my interest seemed to wain and I allowed those magazine subscriptions to drop. Looking back, it’s probable that the Internet itself via desktop computers started consuming the time that would otherwise default to reading magazines, which in turn caused me to lose interest and allow those magazine subscriptions to drop.

Today, I subscribe to the digital version of Mac Life via the Barnes & Noble Nook app. I might subscribe to more digital versions of magazines if I could find some I really liked on a consistent basis. Though many magazines offer digital 30 day trials, I’m not easily enticed to take the plunge.

With movies and TV shows Netflix offers unlimited streaming for thousands of movies and TV shows, akin to renting unlimited access to their giant ever-changing movie and TV catalog . Services such as Google Music are offering unlimited streaming and downloading of millions of MP3 files for a monthly fee, sort of akin to renting unlimited access to a huge chunk of all available music, including most of the latest stuff. Stop paying the subscription and the movies and music immediately go away.

If someone were to offer a monthly subscription to a large catalog of digital versions of magazines, I would probably bite if they were an appealing collection of magazines. I don’t know if the print magazine business is desperate enough yet to move to this sort of digital magazine stand subscription model, but looking at the successful trends set by Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, and services such as Google Music, it seems to me the handwriting is on the wall for the magazine business.

Smartphone and tablet time are encroaching heavily on time that used to be spent with desktop and laptop computers, and that encroachment continues to accelerate. We are therefore turning into tablet and smartphone consumers. Apps with good content are what generate much of the appeal of tablets and smartphones. Tablets in particular can offer a good, clean digital magazine experience via apps. I believe there is an opportunity for the print business to close the circle and reinvent themselves as the right digital magazine news stand apps, offering all-you-can-eat subscription access to the right racks of digital versions of magazines. It will happen sooner or later. The process can be more or less painful for the magazine industry depending on how long they are able to remain in denial, and how much they drag their feet.

We are now tablet consumers. The new name of the game is going after my tablet time as that tablet consumer. Content creators and sellers are now competing with things like Angry Birds, Netflix, Amazon, various music services, etc.

Offer me a clean, all-you-can-eat, easy-to-use package to a large digital magazine stand where I can browse through and skim through articles and adds just like I can in the real world at a physical magazine stand, and I will subscribe.

BBC content coming to Netflix

Netflix_Web_Logo

Netflix, in its battle with Amazon Prime and, more recently, Redbox Instant, continues to add new content. Now the company is bringing some of the BBC Worldwide content to its streaming platform. Elizabeth Bradley,vice president of content acquisition at Netflix, made the announcement this morning — “We’re thrilled to let Netflix members in the US know that we’re introducing three new extraordinary series from the BBC Worldwide this spring and summer”.

Bradley tells us that Call of the Midwife, Top of the Lake and Ripper Street are all coming to Netflix. Both Call of the Midwife (season one) and Top of the Lake (a mini series) are available immediately, while Ripper Street will hit the service on July 18th.

Netflix announced on April 15th that it would be moving from Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. “Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the HTML5 Premium Video Extensions” said Netflix’s Anthony Park and Mark Watson.

Finally Mobile Streaming Becomes Truly Practical

I remember driving around back in the early 1980’s dreaming of what it might be like if I could listen to what I wanted when I wanted to. Back in those days, in many areas of the country, there was nothing to listen to but farm reports and hog prices. AM and FM stations would quickly fade in and out. Driving cross-country it was necessary to constantly change stations as they faded in and out, often vainly searching for something worthwhile to listen to.

When podcasting came along in 2004, in many ways it was the answer to that dream. Suddenly there was new content to listen to, on demand, on a wide variety of topics. It had to be downloaded and put onto a player in advance.

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with mobile streaming. For a long time, it just wasn’t practical in rural areas. Pandora would generally work better than all the other streaming services, but attempting to stream regular radio stations or even podcasts was generally not going to work.

However, now things have changed once again. With the widespread deployment of LTE mobile networks, successful casual streaming all kinds of different audio is not only possible, but practical in most of the areas I’m driving in. This opens up yet another new world of possibility.

Podcasting itself is a good case in point for something that came together because enough bandwidth was available. MP3 files had been around for a long time. Computers had already had the capability of recording digital audio for quite a number of years. RSS had been around for a while. All of these things converged and became something new.

Today I’m spending a lot of time with the Stitcher app on my Google Nexus 7 here in my truck, suction-cupped to the truck’s windshield and connected to stereo speakers via Bluetooth. Stitcher makes a great streaming mobile radio service. Now that the mobile data network is good enough in most areas to make streaming practical in the real world, new possibilities have opened up.

All of these things have been around a while. Stitcher is not new. The streaming concept has been around for quite a number of years. Podcasting as well has been around for probably at least nine years. What is different is now I don’t have to fuss with downloading them ahead of time. I really like the way stitcher lets you search for a keyword or two and then sequentially plays the different podcasts that showed up in the search. I find myself on a voyage of discovery, bumping in to podcasts I’ve never heard of. Because everything is on demand, like watching Netflix or Amazon streaming video, if I find an audio podcast I don’t like I simply skip ahead to the next one.

I can’t predict exactly how this will eventually develop. However, I can say, now that the mobile data bandwidth is a reality, there’s something here, and it’s pretty interesting. It beats the heck out of listening to farm reports or hog prices. It also beats having to fumble around with an iPod and auxiliary audio cables.

Behind the scenes – Netflix on the Wii U

You probably already know that Netflix is available on both Nintendo consoles — the Wii and the Wii U. However Netflix pointed out the Wii U version marked the first time the company has ever built an app for a brand new game console.

Now, the DVD giant has produced a behind-the-scenes video that shows a bit of what went into all of this. It is especially interesting given that Netflix claims that “it was also the first time we worked on a second screen experience, for the Wii U GamePad”. If you want even more geeky information then UI Engineer Joubert Nel has written about building Netflix on Wii U over at the Netflix Tech Blog.

In the meantime, you can check out the video posted below to get a feel for how this works.

Amazon Prime Video announces move to stay ahead of stiffer competition

amazon prime logoAmazon today announced a new partnership to bring even more content to its Prime video service. Prime is, of course, more than just video — it is also free second-day shipping on all orders (which often arrive next day) and a lending library for Kindle customers, allowing for one free book per month.

Now, in the face of growing competition from rivals, the retail giant has snagged a deal with TV network A&E, which will bring “popular series from A&E, bio, HISTORY and Lifetime to the Prime Instant Video service.”

Amazon announces these deals fairly regularly, but there are a couple of reasons why this particular one is a bit more important. First of all, it is a slap in the face of rival Netflix, who previously had, and lost, this deal. Second, there is a looming problem on the horizon and it is, potentially, a big one.

Redbox, the company who brought us those irresistible kiosks, has teamed with Verizon and plans to launch a competitor in early 2013. I have been among the early beta testers for the service and, I must admit, it is compelling.

So, is this enough to keep Amazon ahead of the market? Certainly Netflix still seems to be the dominant player, but Amazon is moving steadily up and now Redbox is coming. Competition, of course, is good for all of us.

Netflix Adds New Features to Android App

This morning DVD and video streaming giant Netflix announced major changes to their popular Android app.  Netflix Director of Product Innovation Chris Jaffe, who made the official announcement, called the update “a completely new Netflix experience for Android-powered phones.”

The Android phone app is now much like their tablet app, which has been available for some time.  It now displays more titles and galleries than ever before.  The title bar features the ability to pick up watching TV shows and movies where you left off and the home screen now features the Instant Queue and TV show and movie recommendations.  Tap on any title to find out more information about it and double-tap to begin playback.

“Tapping the browse menu gives you access to an extensive list of genre galleries that show even more titles organized into categories. Parents–like me–will really appreciate the children and family gallery with many titles organized by age.”

The new features require users to be running Android version 2.3 (Gingerbread) or newer.  It will apparently be rolling out today, although the Google Play Store doesn’t yet reflect the update as of this writing.  To find out more you can watch the demo video below and also head over to the Netflix announcement.