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FCC Set-Top Box Vote Delayed Indefinitely

Today was meant to be the day that many have been waiting for all year long. After months of developing a plan that would provide an apps-related alternative to set-top boxes (STBs), the FCC was scheduled to vote on it.

Yesterday, in an effort to gain public support, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) heartily endorsed the FCC’s initiative on his Facebook page.

“The Federal Communications Commission—or FCC—has said that it’s time to “unlock the box” and give consumers a meaningful choice in how they access the content they pay for. Instead of renting one of those dust gatherers, consumers would be able to access the full content of their cable subscription via an app—just like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO GO—at no additional charge. That means you’d use the app with your smartphone, tablet, smart TV, or on a device like the Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire Stick. Can you imagine how much easier that would be than the outdated way we’re doing things now?” Franken said.

Then, at the very last moment, the FCC made a surprise announcement this morning.

"The Set-Top Box Order has been removed from the September Open Meeting Agenda. The proposal will go on the Commission’s circulation list and remain under consideration by Commissioners," the FCC said. “We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country.”

It is unclear if or when a final vote on the matter will occur at this time.

Several entities came forward with statements on this lack of action.

“We are pleased that the FCC has chosen to delay consideration of its set-top box item, and hope that additional time will lead to meaningful public review and comment on any newly-crafted proposal under consideration.  Our industry is committed to a future where viewers have the freedom to watch their favorite shows on a wide variety of tablets, streaming consoles, smartphones and other connected devices.   We will continue our efforts to innovate in the marketplace to expand consumer choice, promote market innovation, protect the rights of content holders, and respect consumer privacy,” NCTA said in a statement, cheering the decision.

Meanwhile, Public Knowledge, took an opposing view.

“We are disappointed that the Commission was unable to adopt this item today. While this appears to be a short-term delay, consumers are getting bilked more each day this drags on,” said John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge. “This issue has been under consideration at the FCC for two years now, and the benefit of further delay is unclear. Opponents of unlocking the box will continue to shift from one manufactured concern to another in an attempt to keep consumers renting the controlled, locked-down set-top box, costing consumers billions and holding back innovation and video competition. We will continue to push the FCC to act as soon as possible to end the set-top box ripoff.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge, attributed the delay to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

"Rosenworcel in particular is a very technically oriented commissioner," Feld told the Washington Post. "They clearly want to do something, but it's also clear that in her case she's not going to agree to a general shape of something and give editorial privileges to work out the details later. She is going to want to make sure the details are resolved."

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), also claimed to be let down by the FCC.

“Today’s vote delay is an unequivocal loss for the tens of millions of Americans across the country who are forced to spend their hard-earned money on overpriced set-top box leases that cost them hundreds of dollars a year. I am extremely disappointed that the majority of the FCC Commissioners have not yet come to an agreement to provide relief for consumers for these bloated set-top box rental fees and certainty to companies who wish to innovate with new products. I urge the Commission to complete this rulemaking as soon as possible. Consumers have waited for more than two decades for the promise of a robust set-top box marketplace to be fulfilled; they should not have to wait one more billing cycle,” Markey said.

And in more of a neutral position, tech industry trade group INCOMPAS encouraged a continuation of the discussion.

"Competition is the law, and the FCC has an obligation to continue working toward solutions that bring real choice, innovation and lower prices to consumers," said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS. "The members of the commission are smart, well intentioned, and we believe they will find common ground that will open the market and promote innovation. For competition to rise, the set-top box monopoly must fall, and we look forward to working with all members of the FCC toward this shared goal.”

It sounds like Pickering remains hopeful that the FCC will finalize the plan’s language and a vote will be held before the end of 2016.

Author: Brian Cameron

Image via Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com
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Where to Watch & Stream the 2016 Presidential Debates

On Monday, September 26, the first of three presidential debates between Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee businessman Donald Trump will occur at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

The 90-minute showdown will be available for viewing across numerous television networks and online streaming platforms.

Twitter will be carrying the Bloomberg debate coverage live, which will feature additional programming from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

“Twitter is where the 2016 presidential election is happening every single day,” said Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer. “Livestreaming the debates with Bloomberg combined with the live commentary and conversation on Twitter will create a one-screen experience at the center of the action unlike any other.”

The Twitter stream can be found at debates.twitter.com and Bloomberg’s @bpolitics.

Facebook Live will be hosting the presidential debates for the first time in a national election courtesy of a partnership with ABC News.

“We’re excited that ABC News will continue to bring people on Facebook the full breadth of what is happening, in real-time on the ground during these important moments in the election cycle,” Andy Mitchell, Director of News and Global Media Partnerships, Facebook, said in a press release. “With their robust Facebook Live coverage plans and deep bench of political journalists, ABC News will help facilitate an open dialogue among voters and create an engaging and immersive experience from each debate.”

Two hours prior to the debate, an original series entitled “Straight Talk” will be streamed, and afterward, “Nightline” co-anchor Dan Harris, Digital Host Amna Nawaz and ABC News contributor LZ Granderson will provide commentary.

ABC will also stream via abcnews.go.com/live, the ABC News mobile app, Apple TV, XBox One and Roku.

In a blog post, YouTube revealed that it will be streaming the debates too.

“Voting also requires you to get educated with the latest and greatest from the candidates. That’s why we’re also excited to announce that we’re live streaming the presidential debates from more news organizations than ever before including PBS, Fox News, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Telemundo,” wrote YouTube.

Navigate to youtube.com/youtube for its official election site.

On TV, tune in to NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, Bloomberg, Telemundo or Univision at 9 p.m. EST to find the historical event.

With so many options for viewing the debates this year, it will be difficult for viewers to miss out on what the candidates have to say.

Author: Brian Cameron


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Streaming Services Succeed at the 2016 Emmys

2016 Emmy Awards
Over the weekend, the 2016 Emmy Awards occurred – and OTT companies Netflix and Amazon Instant Video once again received a solid number of awards and nominations.

Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, co-creators of Netflix’s “Master of None” took home the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.

“I think what’s cool about ‘Master of None’ is Netflix is so trusting,” Ansari said in an interview before the ceremony occurred. “I think on another platform in another time, someone might have seen the episode ‘Parents,’ for instance, and been like, “This is too specific, a mainstream audience isn’t gonna get it”—with that just meaning that white people aren’t gonna get it. Netflix really believes in us and trusts us and I think after the first season we’re gonna be able to do that again with the season we’re doing now.”

After receipt of the trophy, Yang also had some kind words for Netflix.

"I think there's great stuff on network, on streaming, on cable," Yang said. "What's great about Netflix, for us, is that they gave us a lot of freedom and trusted us to pursue our personal stories, and that's why they're rewarded with stuff that feels fresh."

Netflix also won awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Ben Mendelsohn, “Bloodline”) and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special (Patton Oswalt).

Amazon was awarded two victories during the Primetime Emmys, both for “Transparent.” Jeffrey Tambor won Best Comedy Actor, while Jill Soloway won in the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series category.

Soloway gave credit to the founder of Amazon in her acceptance speech, and offered some high praise.

“I want to thank you, my sweet Jeff Bezos, because you changed the world, and you invited me to do this thing that these people call television, but I call a revolution,” said Soloway.

Which OTT business will get the most nominations next year?

Author: Brian Cameron

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The FCC’s STB Crusade Continues

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
It’s been an interesting year for the set-top box (STB). In January, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released the “unlock the box” STB proposal in an effort to encourage marketplace competition. This quickly received a lot of industry attention, which was only further amplified when President Obama weighed in on it.

Then, the FCC took public comment for a few months, and over the summer an alternative “ditch the box” plan was suggested by an alliance of several groups.

Now that we’ve entered the autumn, the FCC has released a new proposal – the “Plan to Increase Choice and Innovation in Video.”

The plan features five key points, among which include: 1) pay-tv providers will be required to offer a free app to viewers for TV content 2) this app should be available on all popular TV platforms and 3) consumers must be able to search all video services for programming.

Seemingly, we are witnessing a compromise of sorts coming together, but it’s likely another plan may emerge before winter.

Despite this, we are seeing many of the same names appear in the for/against column.

Once again, Public Knowledge has endorsed the FCC’s plan.

“With this action, the Commission could save consumers billions of dollars a year. Under the Commission's plan, consumers would be able to access their TV subscriptions on any device, and in many cases on devices they already own. In addition to saving consumers money, this action would allow consumers to access online video right alongside cable TV, in the same familiar interface. This will increase competition and innovation in the video marketplace while making it easier for programmers and creators who aren't carried by cable to get equal billing in viewers' homes … The modified approach the Chairman has described today addresses the legitimate concerns raised by these parties while preserving the benefits to the public, and fulfilling the Congressional directive that requires the FCC to ensure that viewers do not need to rent set-top boxes from their providers,” said John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge, in a statement.

And Comcast is denouncing it.

“The Chairman’s new proposal also violates the Communications Act and exceeds the FCC’s authority. It perpetuates many of the concerns that led hundreds of Members of Congress, content creators, diversity and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and over 300,000 individuals to object to his original flawed approach, including problems with privacy, copyright protection, content security, and innovation,” said Comcast.

SAG-AFTRA, the MPAA, and many other entertainment guilds also rejected the new proposal.

“By all reports, the FCC’s revised set-top box proposal fails to address concerns we have repeatedly raised. Instead, the FCC creates an unacceptable and unworkable de facto compulsory licensing regime that requires creators to allow their work to be shared across multiple platforms without compensation and without regard to the creators’ rights to exclusively control their distribution,” the creative community members said.

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. is investigating too.

"While I commend Chairman Wheeler for working to solve this difficult issue, I’m concerned that this latest proposal will not work, particularly when it comes to licensing," said Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). "Ultimately, I’m skeptical that the revised plan will benefit consumers.”

Today, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing involving the FCC, led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

In his opening remarks, Wheeler stated that he was “heartened” to receive feedback, and that the new rules “would mean consumers will more easily find content that is buried behind guides or not available from a pay-TV provider.”

However, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly came out against the plan.

“The latest version adds complicated and flawed provisions to [the ‘ditch the box’ plan], effectively threatening and undermining the viability of the entire apps-based approach … it is highly unlikely that it can even be accomplished, given unlimited time and resources, let alone in two years and with the resource demands of a highly competitive industry,” O’Rielly testified.

In exactly two weeks, Sept. 29, a formal vote on Wheeler’s new plan will occur. What will happen next, and how will it affect cable companies and viewers?

Author: Brian Cameron
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TV Critics Analyze the Industry In Reddit AMA

Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, acclaimed authors and television critics for hitfix.com and vulture.com, recently collaborated together for a new publication, “TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time.”

To promote its release, which occurred just last week on September 6, the pair participated in a Reddit AMA session, where they commented on the state of the TV industry, streaming/OTT and top television shows.

Here, find their intriguing answers to questions from readers that involve these topics.

The Future of TV

Q: “Do you think the (so-called) "Too-Much-TV" bubble will burst? Or has television taken some of the space movies used to occupy for good?”

Matt: Every bubble bursts eventually. I'd argue that the bubble might've burst for mainstream Hollywood studio films, probably sometime in the last five or ten years, and we're only now starting to figure it out. There are outlier hits, still, but much of the cultural excitement has moved to television, deservedly so, as you are more likely to see actual human adults on scripted TV than in most mainstream films.

Q: Do either of you have any particular hopes for where television as a whole might go from here, i.e. what trends and/or standards they might pursue more vigorously or discard entirely?

Matt: I think we're going to see a gradual shift away from long-form, serialized narratives because they don't fit the reality of people's lives anymore. Things are so fragmented now and the number one complaint I hear from a lot of people is that it's harder to concentrate on anything and that there's so much interesting or good stuff on TV that it's physically impossible to follow it all; there just aren't enough hours in a day.

The anthology format where the unit of measure is the season, as opposed to the episode, will benefit tremendously from this shift, I bet.

Q: Which peak TV show will likely get remade/rebooted the fastest?

Alan: At some point ABC will probably try to do a remade/rebooted LOST without Lindelof and Cuse.
Matt: What Alan said. There's too much money to be made for them not to try to do Lost again.


Q: Are you guys subscribed to all the streaming services? What do you think are strong suits of each and what they all could do better?

Alan: I have Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu subscriptions. Netflix has the best interface, and the biggest and most diverse array of original programming. Hulu probably has the best overall library of older shows right now, and I like that they are trying to release their original shows weekly, even if it doesn't always suit the show. (Casual is a much better binge, for instance.) Amazon has library rights to a bunch of my favorite shows that aren't available on the other services, like Americans and Hannibal, and Transparent is probably the best of all the original streaming series.
I talked before about how I think Netflix needs to rediscover the importance of the individual episode, which I also write about for HitFix a while back http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/why-your-tv-show-doesnt-have-to-be-a-novel-in-defense-of-the-episode

Q: How do you feel about streaming shows being treated as 8-13 hour long movies? Because I can't help but feel that's the main negative when I watch a Netflix drama. Even the ones I've enjoyed like Jessica Jones, I wish that they'd been tighter 8-10 episode shows with sub-50 minute running times.

TV (The Book)

Alan: I think that's a problem, as I've written about elsewhere in this AMA. Shorter seasons, shorter episodes, and more clearly-defined episodes would all help most of their shows.

Q: What can networks learn from the success of Netflix and other streaming services that have started providing their own critically acclaimed content? Subsequently, what can Netflix learn from networks and "the old way" of providing television content?

Alan: On the latter question, I think Netflix is sometimes too quick to rest on its own laurels and say that they're creating this new artform of the 10 or 13-hour movie, when virtually every Netflix series that's designed that way tends to really sag in the middle, and/or have a lot of dumb plot points (the Jessica Jones coffee shop scene), or not be rewatchable in the same way that other binge-able shows with clearly delineated classic episodes like a Breaking Bad might be.

On the former, I think it's become very clear that a lot of viewers want to be able to consume seasons of shows all at once, and we're seeing some traditional TV outfits dip a few toes in that water, like Starz putting all of The Girlfriend Experience online at once, or NBC with Aquarius. It's a tough balance, because that's not how those outfits tend to make their money, but it's what at least some of the audience wants, so they have to figure out how to tweak the business model.

Matt: This is a pet hobby horse of mine, so forgive me if this is repetitious, but: Not every idea needs to be an ongoing series. Not every idea needs to have a 10 or thirteen episode season as opposed to four or six. Netflix, the networks, cable, could all improve tremendously if they would accept this. But they won't because they are too attached to profits.

Author: Brian Cameron


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