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  1. U.S. Consumers Now Pay $47 Monthly for Streaming Services — Up 24% Since COVID Hit, Survey Finds AP The “streaming wars” are now in full swing, but so far the competition has produced a rising tide lifting all boats — the adoption of subscription-video services has soared across the board during the time of the coronavirus. The question now is whether that will mostly stick, or if there’s a wave of SVOD cancelations coming in the months ahead. Americans now subscribe to four streaming services on average, up from three at the outset of the COVID pandemic last year, according to a new J.D. Power survey. And they’re shelling out 24% more to get their on-demand fix: U.S. consumers spent an average of $47 per month in December 2020 on video subscription services, up from $38 in April. That’s been fueled by the arrival of new streamers like HBO Max and Peacock, while players like Netflix (203.7 million subs at year-end, up 22% year over year) and Disney Plus (nearly 87 million in its first year) have continued to surge — against the backdrop of stay-at-home quarantines as the coronavirus shut down public venues for most of 2020. The losers, of course, are pay-TV providers, which have continued to shed customers. About 49% of respondents on J.D. Power’s survey said that their households now subscribe to four or more streaming services. In April, that figure was 39%. In fact, 13% said they use as many as seven or more services (versus 8% in April 2020). But a sector shakeout could be looming once lockdowns lift and “streaming fatigue” sets in. “When we emerge from this pandemic and people have less time to consume content at home, it will be intriguing to see how regularity of use factors into streamers’ decisions to potentially unsubscribe from some of these services,” MoffettNathanson analysts led by Michael Nathanson, wrote in their Q4 2020 SVOD track report released Friday. Note that MoffettNathanson’s study found lower average household SVOD penetration than J.D. Power’s did. Per MoffettNathanson, whose survey was conducted with HarrisX, the average U.S. pay-TV household as of the end of 2020 subscribed to an average of 3.33 SVOD services while non-pay-TV homes subscribe to an average of two. About 81% of respondents on J.D. Power’s survey said they subscribe to Netflix, the No. 1 streamer. Amazon Prime Video ranked second at 65%, followed by Hulu at 56%, Disney Plus at 47%, HBO Max at 22%, Peacock at 18%, and Apple TV Plus at 14%. Meanwhile, J.D. Power’s survey found Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” was the most-watched TV show on streaming platforms in December 2020. That helped Disney Plus boost user time spent on the platform, rising from 4.8 hours per week in April to 5.0 hours per week in December. Among the services in the survey, Netflix had the biggest decline from the spring, dropping from 10.2 hours to 9.5 hours weekly. The J.D. Power TMT Insight survey of 1,745 U.S. adults was conducted Dec. 16-19, 2020. The margin of error for the survey results is +/- 2% at the 90% confidence interval, according to the researcher. A copy of the study is available at this link. Source: U.S. Consumers Now Pay $47 Monthly for Streaming Services — Up 24% Since COVID Hit, Survey Finds
  2. Disney Plus' gangbusters rollout helped all three of Disney's streaming services round out the top-five US video subscriptions, following perennial leaders Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Disney's bumper launch of Disney Plus in the last year has helped all three of the company's streaming services -- Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus -- to rank in the top-five most popular US streaming-video subscriptions, according to estimates from researcher Parks Associates Wednesday. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video continue to hold court as No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, respectively. But Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus round out the top five, according to Parks' latest ranking of the biggest over-the-top subscriptions services in the US through the end of September. Disney Plus' launch was already widely regarded as one of the strongest rollouts ever in the streaming-video market. Among the raft of newer services that've launched in the last year -- including Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Peacock -- Disney Plus has emerged as the clear front-runner by subscribers. Disney Plus has grown to 73.7 million subscribers as of Oct. 3, the company said last week as it reported earnings. Disney also introduced a three-way bundle lumping all of its streaming services together for $13 a month last year, helping piggyback ESPN Plus on Disney Plus' popularity. (Hulu has consistently been No. 3 in Parks' ranking.) Notably, Apple TV Plus, which launched the week before Disney Plus did last year, hit No. 8 in Parks' annual ranking. Apple has never divulged subscriber numbers for its streaming service, making its popularity a bit of a mystery. Apple also offered unusually generous free trials lasting a year or more to anyone who's bought an Apple device since September 2019, meaning many of Apple's subscribers have likely never paid for the service. In Parks' ranking, Apple TV Plus is now positioned right below HBO Max, which its parent company recently disclosed has 8.6 million sign-ups. NBCUniversal's Peacock didn't make Parks' list, which is based on the number of people signed up to a paid subscription. Peacock is unique among many of its competitors in that it has a free tier. Free Peacock accounts are limited in how much of its catalog is available to stream; by upgrading to a paid subscription, a member can watch anything Peacock has available. "Peacock is starting to make inroads in terms of paid subscriptions, but currently the base for that service is mainly comprised of users of the free ad-supported tier," Parks said. Parks full ranking of over-the-top video subscriptions in the US is as follows: Netflix Amazon Prime Video Hulu Disney Plus ESPN Plus HBO Max Apple TV Plus CBS All Access Showtime Starz Source
  3. How Artist Imposters and Fake Songs Sneak Onto Streaming Services When songs leak on Spotify and Apple Music, illegal uploads can generate substantial royalty payments—but for whom? Last December, new music from Beyoncé and SZA appeared out of nowhere on Spotify and Apple Music. Released under the names “Queen Carter” and “Sister Solana” respectively, these full-length projects initially seemed like surprise drops with a twist. Soon fans realized that something wasn’t right: Many of the Beyoncé recordings came from old sessions, and the SZA songs sounded like unfinished demos, which the singer later confirmed. Neither Beyoncé nor SZA had anything to do with the releases, in fact. It wasn’t the first time a big artist’s music had been uploaded illegally to Spotify and Apple Music, and it wouldn’t be the last. In the most troubling of these scenarios, fake releases have actually crept up the streaming charts. In March 2019, when a fake Rihanna album called Angel was uploaded to iTunes and Apple Music under the name “Fenty Fantasia,” it made it as far as No. 67 on the iTunes worldwide albums chart before being yanked off the platform. Then, in May, a leak of Playboi Carti and Young Nudy’s “Pissy Pamper / Kid Cudi” was uploaded to Spotify as “Kid Carti,” under the artist name “Lil Kambo.” Two million-plus streams later, “Kid Carti” topped the service’s U.S. Viral 50 chart before being removed. Ironically, “Pissy Pamper / Kid Cudi” was never released officially because of sample clearance issues involving Mai Yamane, whose 1980 song “Tasogare” serves as the basis for its beat. None of the involved artists—Yamane, Carti, Nudy—ultimately saw a dime from streams of the song. The related artists on Lil Kambo’s page revealed even more Playboi Carti leakers, as well as “artists” who were masquerading as Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert. Given the prevalence of such impersonators, it came as no surprise when “Pissy Pamper / Kid Cudi” made its way up the Spotify Viral chart again, under a different name, a month after the first fake was removed. Before the end of June, five more unreleased Playboi Carti tracks appeared on the rapper’s official Apple Music page. Fans celebrated the leaks, which made headlines on Genius and The Fader before being removed the following day. Suspicious bootlegs and fraudulent uploads are nothing new in digital music, but the problem has infiltrated paid streaming services in unexpected and troubling ways. Artists face the possibility of impersonators uploading fake music to their official profiles, stolen music being uploaded under false monikers, and of course, simple human error resulting in botched uploads. Meanwhile, keen fans have figured out where they can find illegally uploaded, purposefully mistitled songs in user playlists. Here’s how the process works: Artists who use independent distribution companies such as DistroKid or TuneCore get paid royalties for their streams and typically cash out via services like PayPal. TuneCore states that their royalty calculations typically operate on a two-month delay, while DistroKid has a three-month delay on payments, meaning that royalties accrued from streams in January may not be available to cash out until March or April. Distribution companies generally stipulate that users must agree not to distribute copyrighted content that they do not own, and streaming services similarly specify that copyright-infringing content is not allowed. However, it’s easy for leakers to simply lie and upload infringing music, which may or may not be caught by the distributors’ fraud prevention methods. By abusing the limited oversight in the digital supply chain, it’s possible that leakers can make significant amounts of money off music they have zero rights to. One leaker told Pitchfork that they were paid upwards of $60,000 in royalties this year by DistroKid and TuneCore, after uploading unreleased tracks by artists including Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert onto Spotify and Apple Music. The leaker, who spoke under the condition of anonymity and provided transaction records in addition to withdrawal confirmations from distributors, said that they released the songs in order to please “eager fans” of the artists. And while much of the music was later removed, the documents viewed by Pitchfork indicate that royalties were still paid out, as much as $10,000 at a time. Pitchfork reached out to representatives at DistroKid, TuneCore, Spotify, and Apple Music for comment regarding the possibility of royalties generated by copyright-infringing music being paid to an illegal uploader. A spokesperson for Spotify said: We take the protection of creators’ intellectual property extremely seriously and do not tolerate the distribution of content without rightsholder permission. As with any large digital services platform, there are individuals who attempt to game the system. We continue to invest heavily in refining our processes and improving methods of tackling this issue. TuneCore Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Gardner said: In addition to subjecting all uploaded material to a detailed content review process before it is delivered to any digital music service, it is also TuneCore’s policy to respond expeditiously to remove or disable access to any material which is claimed to infringe copyrighted material and which was posted online using the TuneCore service. By agreeing to TuneCore’s Terms of Service, each user also agrees, among other things, that, in the event that TuneCore is presented with a claim of infringement, TuneCore may freeze any and all revenues in the user’s account that are received in connection with the disputed material. While we cannot comment on any specific claims, we can say that TuneCore is committed to preventing our services from being used in connection with infringing or otherwise deceptive behavior. DistroKid founder and CEO Philip Kaplan did not directly address the claims and instead offered this: DistroKid recently launched DistroLock, which is an industry-wide solution to help stop unauthorized releases. Any artist, label, or studio can register their music with DistroLock, for free, to preemptively block it from being released by distributors and music services. We made DistroLock available for free to our competitors and other music services because by working together, we can help protect legitimate artists from fraud and infringement. When reached by Pitchfork, a representative for Apple Music declined to comment. Source
  4. Bell Wants Canada to Criminalize Pirate Streaming Services Canadian telecoms giant Bell is recommending that the Government should criminalize people who are involved with pirate streaming services, including those who advertise or sell pirate set-top boxes. The proposal is seen as a prime tool to combat online piracy. In the same submission, Bell also revives its call to institutionalize site blocking. To ensure that the Internet is able to function to the benefit of the broader public, the Government of Canada appointed an external panel to review Canada’s communications legislative framework. The panel is expected to release its findings next month, which will in part be based on input received from public submissions earlier this year. Thus far, most submissions have surprisingly been kept from public view. However, University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist filed an Access to Information Act request and will publish the responses he receives. The first one comes from Canadian telco Bell and stretches to 167 pages. Bell’s submission deals with a wide variety of topics ranging from online video regulations to online privacy requirements. For the purposes of this article, however, we focus on the company’s suggestions when it comes to piracy and copyright infringement. One of the Government’s prime policy priorities, according to Bell, should be to combat content piracy. “Canadian creators, the Canadian broadcasting system, and the Canadian telecommunications system do not have effective tools to protect the content that is central to the creative and digital economy against the rampant growth of digital piracy,” Bell writes. The submission goes on to cite various piracy studies that support this claim. It reports, for example, that 26% of all Canadians admit to having accessed pirated content online. In addition, it mentions that 15.3% of all Canadian households use set-top-boxes with piracy add-ons or access piracy subscription services. According to Bell, now is the time to address the online piracy issue and it provides two concrete proposals. The first one is aimed at tackling pirate online streaming services, including the previously mentioned streaming sites and set-top boxes. Bell equates this relatively new type of piracy to the boom in black market satellite piracy roughly three decades ago. At the time, lawmakers responded by updating the Radiocommunication Act to criminalize the decoding of encrypted signals and the possession and sale of devices intended for that purpose. “This stimulated law enforcement activity in the area of satellite piracy, which contributed to the investigation and shutting down of piracy operations and also had a significant deterrent effect,” Bell notes. The telco stresses that a similar response is now required to deal with the online streaming epidemic. Most pirate streaming services no longer rely on encryption but are based on rebroadcasting content over the Internet instead. This type of streaming activity should be criminalized in the Broadcasting Act, Bell recommends. Not just the services and sites that do the ‘broadcasting,’ but also people who advertise or sell related products. “Accordingly, we recommend that a provision be added to the Broadcasting Act making it a criminal offense for anyone subject to an exemption from the requirement to hold a license to knowingly operate, advertise, supply, or sell or offer to sell access to a distribution undertaking that retransmits broadcasting without lawful authorization from a programming undertaking.” Criminalize “Such an approach would concentrate criminal liability on commercially-motivated operators engaged in organized crime and would stimulate additional law enforcement activity to address this pressing threat,” Bell adds. This measure doesn’t appear to be aimed at end-users but will certainly affect pirate streaming sites, vendors of pirate set-top boxes, as well as those who promote them. The second anti-piracy proposal put forward by Bell is to make it possible for ISPs to block pirate sites more easily. This is the same plan proposed by Fairplay Canada Coalition last year, but with a twist. “By far the most important tool that modernized legislation should adopt is the ability for an independent authority to grant orders requiring all Internet service providers (ISPs) to disable access to sites that are blatantly, structurally, or overwhelmingly engaged in piracy,” Bell writes. This Fairplay blocking proposal was deniedby the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last fall, which noted that it lacks jurisdiction. According to Bell, this is something the Government could change through an update of the Telecommunications Act. Specifically, it wants the Government to amend current legislation to authorize the CRTC to approve and require Internet providers to disable access to sites that are blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy. That blocking is not a perfect solution, shouldn’t matter. Even a partial reduction in traffic to pirate sites, as has happened in other countries, should already be rather effective, Bell argues. “A policy that reduces the total level of piracy by up to 40% from the level that would otherwise have prevailed, and that substantially increases the legal consumption of content, can only be considered incredibly effective. The fact that it does not eliminate 100% of piracy is not a justification for inaction,” the telco writes. Website blocking also finds support in a separate submission from Shaw Communications, another major Canadian telco. Similar to Bell, Shaw believes that an update to the Copyright Act is required to achieve that. The company, however, rejects a proposal to tax ISP subscriptions to support copyright holders. By criminalizing pirate streaming services and blocking pirate sites, Bell hopes to make a significant dent in Canada’s piracy rates. Whether the government’s expert panel will adopt these recommendations has yet to be seen. Many copyright holders are likely to side with Bell, but there is plenty of opposition as well. Michael Geist, for example, characterizes Bell’s submission as “self-serving in the extreme,” noting that it poses shocking risks to many stakeholders in Canada’s communication industry. Source
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