April 14, 2022
Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re taking a look at HBO Max’s app strategy, the latest ad revenue numbers from IAB and a nerdy little detail from “Severance.”
Move fast and feel the heat: When HBO was getting ready to launch its own video subscription service, it was struggling to keep up with the competition. Netflix was growing its audience by millions of people every quarter, and Amazon was starting to throw serious money at original shows.
The competition was multiplying. “Disney launched during our planning, and we knew others were coming,” recalled Sarah Lyons, head of HBO Max’s Product Experience, during a recent conversation with Protocol. That’s why the network decided to push out what everyone knew were imperfect apps, with the goal of revamping them once the service had achieved some scale.
Customers were very public about their misgivings when HBO Max launched with apps based on that legacy platform in May 2020. “Best content worst app” was how one Reddit user put it, while another asked, “Why does this app suck so hard?”
HBO Max has been moving its apps to this new platform over the past several months. Last week, the company launched a new Apple TV app, after previously revamping the experience for Roku, PlayStation, Android TV, LG and Vizio.
Getting to this point was painful, but Lyons still believes it helped build momentum and global scale, even if that meant working on new tech while simultaneously maintaining the existing apps. “We’ve been changing out the engine of the plane while we’re flying the plane,” she said. “I do think it was the right decision to try to balance both.”— Janko Roettgers
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but people seem to really like free video, and they’ll even tolerate ads to watch it. Digital video advertising revenue grew 50.8% in 2021, according to a new report authored by PwC and released by the IAB this week.
Streaming video is hot, but there’s a new kid on the block. Video ad growth rates were surpassed by digital audio, which grew 57.9% year-over-year. However, in total dollars, audio is still a lot smaller, only bringing in $4.9 billion last year. You’ve got to start somewhere, right?
— Janko Roettgers
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IMDb TV is now called Freevee. Amazon is rebranding its free, ad-supported video streaming service … again. Maybe third time’s a charm?
Crunchyroll CEO: Anime is a community, not a niche. Crunchyroll’s CEO Colin Decker tells us why he is not afraid of Netflix, what other streaming services can learn from Crunchyroll and why you should pay attention to the dirty kid in the parking lot.
FIFA launches its own streaming service. The new service is free and ad-supported, and promises to carry 40,000 live games per year. That’s a lot of soccer! Still, don’t expect games from some of the world’s biggest clubs, at least not at launch.
Plex is getting rid of podcasts. Following the launch of its new universal search and discovery features, Plex is sunsetting a content category that had just a bit too much competition.
Spotify’s top dealmaker jumps ship. Speaking of podcasts: Courtney Holt, who lured Joe Rogan and the Obamas to Spotify, is leaving the company.
Another bombshell in the Activision case. A member of the state agency responsible for suing the game publisher has resigned in protest, accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom of interfering with the case on behalf of Activision, Bloomberg reports.
Nintendo and Sony adjust auto-renewal practices. A U.K. regulator has succeeded in pushing the video game giants to change how they charge customers for subscription products to make them more consumer-friendly.
Bungie shifts to “digital-first” hiring. The Destiny developer said it opened fully remote positions in seven U.S. states after receiving proper approval. As part of its pivot to digital work, the company will no longer require employees to work from its Bellevue, Washington, offices.
You know why TV shows cost so much to make these days? Okay, the fact that a growing number of streaming services are competing on a global scale with each other may have something to do with it. However, I’d like to think that it’s also because it’s that much easier today to pause, take a screenshot and share it with the world.
That’s how I learned that the keyboards in the Apple TV+ show “Severance” have no escape key. It’s that level of attention to detail that makes “Severance” so brilliant, and probably also pretty expensive to produce. The goat budget alone! Oh wait, I said too much …
— Janko Roettgers
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