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Power

Samsung TV Plus launches on phones after becoming a runaway success on TVs

Samsung has long failed to build successful media services, but TV Plus seems to break that cycle.

Samsung

The success of TV Plus is especially striking when compared to Samsung's earlier endeavors.

Photo: Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Samsung is doubling down on free, ad-supported streaming: After turning Samsung TV Plus into a massive success story on smart TVs, Samsung is launching the service on some of its latest mobile phones this week. People who own a Galaxy Note20, Galaxy S20, Galaxy Note10 or Galaxy S10 will be able to access TV Plus on their devices starting Wednesday, the company announced Tuesday.

The mobile launch of TV Plus is remarkable for a few reasons. It underscores the growing popularity of ad-supported video viewing, and particularly the kind of linear lean-back viewing that TV Plus is known for. Beyond that, it's also a remarkable redemption for Samsung, which has long struggled to win over consumers for its own media services, and goes to show how important services have become to the company.

If you don't own a Samsung TV, chances are that you have never heard of TV Plus. However, among Samsung TV owners, the service has become a bit of a sleeper hit: "We stream billions of minutes every month," revealed Samsung Electronics SVP Sang Kim during a recent conversation with Protocol. TV Plus is one of the five most-used apps, and the second-most popular free video app, on Samsung smart TVs.

Much of that success is owed to the fact that TV Plus is integrated directly into the guide, with programming being presented in a linear fashion, much like old-fashioned TV networks are displayed in your typical cable box programming guide. The service is also prominently displayed on the home screen of compatible Samsung TVs, and there's a button on remote controls for easy access. With some models, all consumers have to do is turn on the TV, and TV Plus will start streaming immediately.

It's also completely free, which has helped to grow audiences; Kim said that engagement and viewing numbers more than doubled during the pandemic. "It surprised us how successful it has been," he said.

The success of TV Plus is especially striking when compared to Samsung's earlier endeavors. Back in 2014, the company embarked on an ambitious strategy to launch a family of services under the "Milk" brand, including Milk Music and Milk Video. However, both failed to gain enough traction to stick around; Samsung shuttered the video service in late 2015, and then pulled the plug on Milk Music in 2016.

Following that widely publicized failure, TV Plus launched under the radar as a bit of an experiment. The company first launched TV Plus as a video rental service in the U.S. in 2016, while at the same time experimenting with ad-supported videos in its homeland of South Korea. "After seeing the data about a year into it, we clearly saw that there's a lot more scalable opportunity within the AVOD space," Kim said, using the industry shorthand for ad-supported video service.

So Samsung changed the model in the U.S. "It just exploded after that," Kim said.

Samsung is not alone with its success in the ad-supported video space. Linear streaming services like TV Plus, Pluto and Xumo have become massive success stories, which in turn has driven a growing number of programmers to jump on the bandwagon.

A few years ago, these linear streaming services still largely featured unknown and online-only video brands. These days, Samsung streams programming from CBS, Bloomberg, MTV, Fox and Nick among others on TV Plus. In addition, Samsung also began to curate its own channels, including a "Kitchen Nightmares" channel featuring Gordon Ramsay.

Samsung has also begun to increase geographic distribution, with TV Plus now being available in 10 countries. The company has plans to launch in additional markets in the coming months. Kim declined to comment on revenue numbers, but said that "it's one of the key strategic drivers for the company."

The fact that TV Plus is now making the jump from TVs to phones underlines how big of a deal the service for the company is. Samsung has long operated extremely siloed, with little overlap between the phone and the TV business. Insiders have also described product development as entirely dictated by hardware marketing cycles. Every year's newest phone or TV needed to ship with a new lineup of apps, even if that meant reinventing the wheel over and over again.

TV Plus seems to have succeeded in breaking that cycle. "It is shaping our thinking," Kim said, adding: "This is here to stay and grow, I think, in a phenomenal way."

Politics

'Woke tech' and 'the new slave power': Conservatives gather for Vegas summit

An agenda for the event, hosted by the Claremont Institute, listed speakers including U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute. The speakers include U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as a who's-who of far-right provocateurs.

Photo: David Vives/Unsplash

Conservative investors, political operatives, right-wing writers and Trump administration officials are quietly meeting in Las Vegas this weekend to discuss topics including China, "woke tech" and "the new slave power," according to four people who were invited to attend or speak at the event as well as a copy of the agenda obtained by Protocol.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that says its mission is to "restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life." A list of speakers for the event includes a combination of past and current government officials as well as a who's who of far-right provocateurs. One speaker, conservative legal scholar John Eastman, rallied the president's supporters at a White House event before the Capitol Hill riot earlier this month. Some others have been associated with racist ideologies.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Power

What TV remotes tell us about power struggles in streaming

TV remote controls are a major battlefield in the TV wars, which are fought one branded button at a time.

LG's 2021 smart TV remote control features a total of three buttons for voice control.

Image: LG

Don't touch that dial: As TV manufacturers are unveiling their 2021 models at this year's virtual CES, they're also giving us a first look at the remote controls that will be shipping with those big, shiny and smart TV sets.

There were a few surprises. LG's remotes come with built-in NFC to transfer videos from mobile devices to the TV, and Samsung's remotes incorporate solar cells that are meant to reduce battery waste. The new crop of 2021 TV remotes also perfectly encapsulates the conflicts and power struggles in the TV industry, from streaming services vying for attention to voice assistant platforms' fierce competition.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Power

Roku is becoming the most powerful company in streaming

A growing user base will give it even more power in content negotiations.

Roku's emerging as one of the streaming war's biggest winners.

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Roku's bet on smart TVs is paying off: Seven years after the company first began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers, it has become a market leader in North America. Roku and its hardware partners sold more smart TVs in the U.S. in 2020 than competitors like Samsung, LG and Vizio, according to data from the NPD Group released by Roku on Friday.

Roku TVs had a 38% market share in the U.S. and a 31% market share in Canada, according to NPD's data. Roku also announced earlier this week that it had ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts, adding around 14 million accounts over the past 12 months. Altogether, consumers streamed 58.7 billion hours of entertainment through their Roku devices in 2020, according to a news release.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Deepdub uses AI to dub movies in the voice of famous actors

Fresh out of stealth, the startup is using artificial intelligence to automate the localization process for global streaming.

Deepdub promises AI dubbing at the click of a button.

Image: Deepdub

The streaming wars aren't just about domestic viewers anymore: Netflix, Disney, HBO Max and the like increasingly compete around the world. Around a third of Disney+ subscribers, for instance, are based in India, and the company is looking to further grow its international audience in Europe and Latin America.

Tel Aviv-based startup Deepdub wants to help streaming services accelerate this kind of international rollout by using artificial intelligence for their localization needs. Deepdub, which came out of stealth on Wednesday, has built technology that can translate a voice track to a different language, all while staying true to the voice of the talent. This makes it possible to have someone like Morgan Freeman narrate a movie in French, Italian or Russian without losing what makes Freeman's voice special and recognizable.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

People

How a startup fixed the future of TV

Reelgood doesn't make shows, and it doesn't make TVs. What it does is try to make sense of the future of TV and movies — and it's doing that really well.

Before the pandemic, Reelgood's offices were bustling (and messy).

Photo: Christie Hemm Klok

David Sanderson's journey to fix the future of TV started with a simple and extremely familiar problem: He canceled cable and suddenly couldn't find anything to watch. This was 2013, and the Canada-born Sanderson had moved to Silicon Valley to work at Facebook's headquarters after a year and a half in its Dublin offices. After one look at the price of cable TV, he decided against it, thinking, "I don't really watch TV anyway." Netflix was enough.

In his day job, Sanderson, tall and confident and relentlessly cheerful, was a rising star. He "fell into product management," he said, but had a knack for it. He was on the ad-product team, working on the tool that made Facebook a self-serve ad platform (and helped turn Facebook into the ad giant it is today). When that did so well, his bosses told him to write his own job description going forward.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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