cord cutting

Epix launches a $6 per month streaming service offering 4K video and offline access

MGM-owned Epix is joining other premium networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz with the launch of its own over-the-top streaming service aimed at cord cutters. The service, called Epix Now, offers access to Epix’s original series and thousands of Hollywood movies and classic films for $5.99 per month, and supports offline viewing and 4K video, the company says.

Initially, Epix Now is available on Apple TV, iOS and Android devices, but Roku and Amazon Fire TV apps are arriving soon.

Epix has been working for some time to reposition its network to better compete in the streaming market.

Following MGM’s $1 billion acquisition of Epix in 2017, the company last year announced plans to enhance the service’s offerings with a variety of original series. MGM said by spring 2019, it aimed to have 50 to 60 hours of original scripted content, and 70 to 80 hours of scripted fare, in addition to its first-run theatrical and library film content, according to Deadline.

As of today’s launch of Epix Now, the network has been making good on those promises.

Its service now includes access to several new original shows, including: “Pennyworth,” the origin story of Batman’s butler, Alfred; “Godfather of Harlem,” starring Forest Whitaker; “Perpetual Grace, LTD.,” featuring Sir Ben Kingsley; the docu-series “PUNK” from Iggy Pop; and “Elvis Goes There,” with Elvis Mitchell.

Returning originals include “Get Shorty,” starring Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano; “Berlin Station,” starring Richard Armitage, Ashley Judd and Richard Jenkins; and “Deep State,” starring Mark Strong and Joe Dempsie.

Epix also features unscripted series and films like the late-night comedy docu-series “Unprotected Sets” from Wanda Sykes; Mark Burnett’s boxing competition “The Contender;” 2018 Sundance audience award-winner “This Is Home: A Refugee Story;” and sports documentary “Serena.”

Meanwhile, the network’s film library includes both new and classic movies, like “A Quiet Place,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Fences,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut, “Me Before You” and franchises like James Bond, Rocky, Mission Impossible and Star Trek.

On connected TV devices, Epix Now users can also stream all four Epix linear live channels, and on mobile, they can download content to watch offline.

This is not the first time that Epix has made its content available for streaming, however.

In addition to offering a way for authenticated pay TV customers to stream its shows and movies online, the company had also offered access through streaming TV services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, as an add-on.

In February, Epix said it would launch a standalone subscription service at some point in the future, but had declined to share a time frame for those plans.

Though new to the standalone streaming market, the company believes there’s plenty of room for growth as more consumers cut the cord with traditional pay TV.

For example, HBO had grown its streaming service to more than 5 million subscribers, as of last year. And CBS’s streaming properties, CBS All Access and Showtime, had grown to a combined more than 5 million subscribers as of that time, as well.

Epix additionally believes its support for 4K Ultra HD streaming will help differentiate it from others.

“2019 is poised to be an incredible year of growth for our network,” said Michael Wright, Epix president, in a statement. “Launching Epix Now and providing consumers nationwide with access to our premium original programming and blockbuster movies is an exciting moment for our company and solidifies our commitment to bring high-level storytelling to as many people as possible. We look forward to welcoming new audiences to our network,” he said.

T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

T-Mobile doesn’t want to compete with other carriers or teleco’s by developing its own “skinny bundle” of streaming TV channels, the company said today on its earnings call with investors, noting the market was already oversaturated on that front. Instead, the mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

According to T-Mobile President Mike Sievert, today’s customers have a number of choices for streaming TV thanks to the massive expansion of OTT (over-the-top) services that are now available.

“It’s subscription-palooza out there. Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market,” he said. “They’re learning about that. They don’t have distribution networks like us; they don’t have access to the phone like we have.”

Instead, the exec explained that T-Mobile wants to help customers access paid subscriptions that already exist, by simplifying aspects of that process such as search, discovery and billing.

“We don’t have plans to develop an nth undifferentiated skinny bundle,” Sievert continued. “There are plenty of those. We think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription — and smaller pieces five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time,” he said, adding that T-Mobile would begin this work in 2019.

The cord cutting-focused news site The Streamable was first to report T-Mobile’s news.

T-Mobile’s announcement comes at a time when the carrier’s mobile TV plans have been more of a focus, as everyone is trying to figure out what the carrier is up to.

Recently, a Cheddar report said T-Mobile would be launching a free mobile TV service in the weeks ahead. But that turned out to be just a “snackable content app” for T-Mobile’s Metro brand, MetroPCS, and only on two phones to start.

T-Mobile’s decision to go with an Amazon Channels-like offering, where consumers build their own “skinny bundles” by mixing and matching paid subscriptions, is not an uncommon choice. This is the same direction that many in the industry are heading, as of late.

This week, for example, Viacom said it would add paid subscriptions to its newly acquired free TV service, Pluto TV. Roku recently rolled out paid subscriptions to its free TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. And Dish’s Sling TV last year launched à la carte paid subscriptions to premium networks, without requiring the core package subscription.

However, the mobile operators aren’t necessarily going that route. AT&T, for instance, has been leveraging its Time Warner acquisition to launch multiple streaming services. Meanwhile, Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) saw its some of its streaming TV ambitions dashed with go90’s failure last year.

As the over-the-top streaming TV market is still a sliver of the larger pay TV space, it still remains to be seen which strategies and services will ultimately win over consumers. But companies are placing their bets now, experimenting, and sometimes failing then starting again.

Separately, T-Mobile today discussed its Layer3 home TV service, which was expected to launch nationwide in late 2018. That service is now planned for the first half of 2019, the company said.

Netflix launches ‘smart downloads’ feature on iOS to automate offline viewing

Netflix today is launching a new feature on iOS devices that will help make it easier to watch its shows when you’re offline. The “smart downloads” feature, as it’s called, will automatically delete a downloaded episode after you’ve finished watching, then download the next one — but only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The idea is that users will no longer have to go through the tedious work of managing their downloads — deleting those they’ve watched or downloading new titles, for example. Instead, the app can manage the downloads for you, so people can spend more time watching Netflix shows.

Smart downloads make sense for those who plan for intermittent connectivity — like commuters who take underground trains, for instance, or those who travel through dead spots where wireless coverage drops. It also makes sense for those on limited data plans, who are careful about not using streaming video apps unless they’re on Wi-Fi.

Offline features like this are key to attracting and retaining users in emerging markets where connectivity concerns are the norm. That’s likely why Netflix prioritized Android over iOS, for the initial launch of smart downloads.

The feature had first arrived on Android last summer. It’s now offered across platforms, including iOS and in the Windows 10 Netflix app, the company says.

Offline access is only one area where Netflix is focusing on the needs of those in developing markets. The company late last year also began testing a more affordable, mobile-only subscription.

Non-U.S. users accounted for 7.31 million of the 8.8 million new subscribers Netflix added in the last quarter, as the U.S. market has become more saturated.

To use smart downloads on iOS, you can toggle the option in the Netflix app settings. It then turns itself on when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, to ensure your data plan won’t be used and your device storage won’t fill up as you watch offline. The feature will alert you when the episode in question has been downloaded.

“The faster our members can get to the next episode of their favorite stories, the better. Now, fans on the Netflix iOS app can get in on the fun and convenience of Smart Downloads, spending less time managing their downloads and more time watching,” said a Netflix spokesperson in a statement about the launch. “The feature is one more way we’re making it easier for Netflix fans to take the stories they love wherever they go,” they added.