AMC, IFC and Epix go live on Sling TV

Don Draper, meet Sling TV: The recently launched online TV subscription service started to carry AMC and IFC as well as the Epix family of movie channels Wednesday, which means that Sling TV subscribers can now tune in live for episodes of shows like The Walking Dead and Mad Men.

AMC and IFC are part of Sling’s $20 base package, which also includes ESPN1 and ESPN2 as well as TNT, TBS, Galavision, HGTV and a handful of other cable channels. Sling TV is also introducing a new Hollywood add-on package that includes Epix, Epix 2, Epix 3, Epix Drive-In and Sundance TV. The add-on package will cost customers an additional $5 a month, just like Sling’s existing add-ons.

The Hollywood add-on package will come with a replay feature to catch up on shows up to seven day after they aired. That’s neat, but likely won’t help to make Sling’s catch-up policy any less confusing.

Currently, the service offers three-day catch-up for channels like HGTV, Food Network, Galavision and a few others, but no catch-up at all for ESPN, Cartoon Network and TNT. But wait, there is more: “AMC and IFC will have the 3-Day-Replay feature for select content,” a Sling TV spokesperson told me, adding: “We are looking to work with AMC Networks to expand this feature moving forward.”

Inconsistent catch-up rights notwithstanding, the addition of Epix, IFC and especially AMC could help Sling to win over more would-be cord cutters looking to ditch pay TV for a cheaper alternative. Mad Men and The Walking Dead are some of those appointment TV shows that fans try to watch as soon as they air in order to avoid spoilers. Getting access to them through a $20 plan does sound pretty reasonable, considering that buying individual episodes in HD would cost consumers $12 per month for a single show.

For a first look at Sling TV, check out my previously recorded video below:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3yR0D-c68]

It’s official: Sony caves to hacker threats, pulls The Interview

In a clear victory for North Korea, Sony has responded to terrorist threats by officially cancelling the December 25 release of “The Interview,” a comedy featuring Seth Rogen.

The decision is a reminder that, while the tech world likes to natter about how U.S. copyright laws can lead to censorship, the biggest threat to free expression these days is coming from beyond America’s borders.

The Sony announcement comes after major cinema chains like AMC, Cineplex and Cinemark on Wednesday likewise announced they would not screen the movie.

The news comes after a hacker group, which has already gained notoriety by publishing Sony’s internal documents, issued a new threat warning cinemas of 9/11-style terror attacks if they screened the movie.

The hacking attacks and the threats are widely believed to emanate from overseas cyber soldiers who object to the movie’s plot, which centers on bumbling Americans who are recruited to kill North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un. On Wednesday night, the U.S. government confirmed that North Korea, which had previously described the hacking episode as a “righteous deed,” is behind the affair.

The decision by Sony and the movie houses comes even after the Department of Homeland reportedly stated that there is no evidence that a credible threat related to the movie houses exists.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, however, Sony and the movie theaters may be less concerned about an attack than they are about the prospect of terrorist threats keeping people away from multiplexes and depressing ticket sales during the holidays.

Whatever the rationale, the outcome is appalling since it sets a precedent for other repressive regimes to induce self-censorship in democratic countries simply by making threats.

Indeed, this has already occurred with YouTube and a 14-minute video called “Innocence of Muslims,” which a California judge ordered to be removed following overseas outrage, stoked by fanatical clerics, that the video was offensive.

These events are a sobering reality check that Hollywood’s harebrained efforts at censorship via copyright laws are child’s play compared to the calls for censorship through threats of mass murder by the likes of North Korea. The most frightening thing of all is that such tactics appear to be working.

This story was updated at 5:20pm ET to note Sony’s formal announcement.

DramaFever and AMC to launch horror streaming site Shudder.tv

Cable network AMC and Korean drama specialist DramaFever are getting closer to the launch of their second niche online subscription service: AMC plans to launch a service dubbed Shudder.tv, targeting horror fans, sometime in the coming months. Shudder will be powered by DramaFever, which also supports AMC on another venture: a subscription service for documentary fans that quietly launched earlier this year.

Shudder recently published a splash page that promises “screams on demand — coming soon,” and asks consumers to register to be notified when the service launches. AMC previously spent $10,000 to acquire the Shudder.tv domain, and more recently registered Twitter and Facebook accounts for the new venture. The network’s Digital Store LLC subsidiary, which is better known as SundanceNOW, also registered a trademark for Shudder.tv.

shudder

It’s still unclear when exactly Shudder is going to launch, or how the service will be priced. DramaFever co-CEO Seung Bak revealed in June that his company was working on a streaming site for horror movies, which he said at the time was going to launch in 2015. The Information subsequently reported that DramaFever was cooperating with AMC on the service. Since then, both companies have been hush-hush about their cooperation — DramaFever declined to comment for this story, and AMC didn’t return multiple requests for comment. But both companies have quietly been very busy.

AMC’s first online subscription site is up and running

AMC has been dabbling in online video for some time, with some of its sites including YeahTV and its SundanceNow VOD service. The latter has been offering streaming rentals of select documentaries since 2010, and it also introduced a limited subscription tier, “Doc Club,” two years ago, offering subscribers access to six movies per month for $3.99. However, while SundanceNow may have been a good concept, it never had the solid technology to actually make a dent, and quickly looked outdated compared to services like Netflix.

docclub homepage

That’s why AMC quietly relaunched the SundanceNow Doc Club as a separate site this year. The new service offers consumers unlimited streaming from a selective catalog of 600 titles for $6.99 a month. AMC is inviting guest curators like Ira Glass to compile their lists of newly added favorites every month. The service, which was previously only available on the web, now also has mobile apps, with support for Chromecast and Roku forthcoming. The site looks a lot more modern and professional than it did before, and a small icon on the bottom of each page explains why: It is “powered by DramaFever.”

Why AMC is doing this

AMC isn’t the only TV network looking to embrace online video these days. Amid a bigger shift toward online viewing and increasing competition from streaming market leader Netflix, CBS launched its own online TV service last October. HBO has announced that it wants to offer an online subscription sometime in 2015, and Univision is looking to do the same.

However, taking on Netflix head-on is hard, especially if you don’t have the breadth of HBO’s content catalog. I suggested in the past that AMC might be one of the few networks to pull it off, but the company apparently decided to go down a different route, and instead embrace the niche.

That’s a smart strategy: Even Netflix content officer Ted Sarandos recently admitted during an investor conference appearance that the company may not be best suited to serve each and every niche. Niche streaming services like DramaFever and its competitors Viki and Crunchyroll have shown that you can build businesses catering to devoted fans of genres like Korean drama, Anime or even telenovelas.

With both the DocClub and Shudder.tv, AMC is now hoping to repeat those success stories. This may not work; fans of these particular genres may be fine with what Netflix has to offer, or not willing to pay at all. But in the end, the niche may be the network’s best shot at reinventing TV online.

Season 4 of The Killing goes live on Netflix

The Killing may have been too depressing for network TV, but thanks to Netflix, (S NFLX) the dark and brilliant crime drama is now back for a short final season: All six episodes of season four went live on Netflix Friday. The Killing is not a newbie on Netflix: The streaming service previously collaborated with AMC on the production of season three. But with this season being a Netflix exclusive, you’ll actually get to hear some swear words, according to an interview with executive producer Veena Sud.

Netflix revives The Killing for a short final season

Much like detective Linden, Netflix (s NFLX) just can’t let go: The streaming service just revealed that it has renewed crime drama The Killing for a final, six-episode fourth season. This is actually the second time for Netflix to save The Killing: AMC canceled the show after season two in 2012, but Netflix stepped in and partnered with the network for a third season that didn’t get any better ratings, prompting AMC once again to axe the show this year. However, all three seasons remain available on Netflix, where they have apparently performing well enough to warrant the investment. There’s no word yet on when the fourth season will come to Netflix, but it will once again be released in bulk, and available to all Netflix subscribers worldwide.