All you need to know about HBO’s new HBO Now streaming service

HBO Now is almost here: HBO officially announced plans to launch its online-only streaming service dubbed HBO Now during Apple’s spring event Monday, and promptly managed to confuse everyone with an exclusive that isn’t quite exclusive and a price that’s not set in stone.

Time to clarify a few things:

What HBO Now is: Think of it as HBO’s answer to Netflix – an online streaming service that gives you access to HBO’s programming, whether you subscribe to cable or not.

The launch date: HBO announced Monday that HBO will be available in early April, or in time for the Game of Thrones season premiere, which is on April 12.

The price: HBO Now will cost $14.99 if you sign up through Apple. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will be paying $14.99 for the service. “Prices may vary by participating partners,” the HBO Now FAQ states. That’s because HBO Now may soon also be available though your cable or internet company, which may decide to give you a deal that looks a lot more like HBO’s current pricing. $10 a month, for example, if you sign up for a certain broadband service tier for 12 months.

The devices: At launch, HBO Now will be available on iPhones and iPads as well as Apple TV and the web. Additional devices are supposed to follow soon, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for Chromecast and other devices during the first three months due to an exclusive deal between Apple and HBO.

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Where to sign up: At launch, likely the only way to get HBO Now will be to download the service’s iOS app on your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV and sign up from within the app. Apple got a three-month exclusive deal for HBO Now — with an important exception: Internet and pay TV providers will be able to launch their own HBO Now deals within that time period, but none of those deals have been announced yet. Or as the HBO Now FAQ puts it: “We are in discussions with our existing network of distributors that sell broadband and hope to announce such relationships soon.” And after the three months are over, it’s likely that Google, Amazon and others will start selling HBO Now as well.

Where not to sign up: On HBO Now’s home page. This isn’t a direct-to-consumer service, which is the biggest difference to Netflix. HBO still wants others to handle the billing and customer relationships, and has no intention to ask you for your credit card any time soon. “No, a subscription directly through HBO is not something that is currently in our plans,” said a HBO spokesperson when I asked her specifically about this.

What you’ll be watching: HBO Now promises “instant access to every episode of every season of the best of HBO’s award-winning original programming,” which means you’ll be able to binge on Game of Thrones, Girls, True Detective, Veep and more. The service will also offer Hollywood movies after they air in the theaters, documentaries, sports and comedy specials. Oh yeah, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight will be part of the mix as well. All in all, HBO Now will have more than 2000 episodes of content at launch, according to Monday’s announcement.

What you won’t be watching: Anything live. HBO Now is a pure on-demand service, and won’t carry a live feed of HBO’s cable programming. That also means you won’t be able to tune in live to any of HBO’s boxing games.

What about the rest of the world: HBO Now will only be available in the U.S. at launch — expect your streams to be blocked when you travel abroad as well. However, HBO operates in over 60 countries around the world, and there’s no reason that HBO Now couldn’t eventually expand as well. Again, from the FAQ: “We are exploring international opportunities and will provide updates as available.”

 

My Little Pony remains on Netflix, for now

Good news for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans: The cult show remains on Netflix for at least another three weeks, despite the fact that the original contract between Pony franchise owner Hasbro and Netflix reportedly expired earlier this month.

In January, [company]Netflix[/company] told its viewers that it would have to remove the show on February 2. That deadline passed, and Netflix updated its website with a notice that the show would disappear on February 17. However, this week, My Little Pony, as well as other [company]Hasbro[/company] shows including Pound PuppiesLittlest Pet Shop, Transformers Rescue Bots and Transformers Prime are still available for streaming, now sporting a March 16 removal notice.

So what’s really going on here? Spokespeople for Hasbro and Netflix didn’t respond to a request for comment when I contacted them for this story, but it looks as if both companies are still negotiating to strike a new deal, with Hasbro shows remaining on Netflix while talks are underway. Back in January, a Hasbro spokesperson told me that the company was “extremely hopeful” that it would be able to strike a new agreement with Netflix.

This means that with a little bit of luck, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic could remain on Netflix even after March 16. But it probably doesn’t hurt to start binge-watching anyway.

Sling TV reveals plans for sports package including Universal Sports

Sling TV, the internet-based TV service operated by Dish, just gave us a look at its plans for sports fans: Sling TV’s new website, which launched Friday, reveals the line-up of channels that will be available as part of a Sports Extra add-on package.

Sports fans who pay a little extra on top of their $20 base subscription for Sling TV will have access to the SEC Network, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, Univision Deportes, Universal Sports and beIN Sports, according to the site.

It was widely expected that the sports package would include a number of additional ESPN channels. Sling’s base package only gives users access to ESPN1 and ESNP2, and executives had long said that they were going to include more ESPN fare with an add-on package. The SEC Network is also owned by Disney and part of the ESPN family, and Univision Desportes isn’t a big surprise either — Sling announced a deal with Univision earlier this week, and also has plans to build a package that specifically targets Spanish speakers.

beIN Sports is a new addition, and so is Universal Sports, which is in part owned by NBC Universal. Universal Sports struck a multi-platform deal with Dish in 2012, but it’s unclear whether Sling TV was already part of that deal, or whether both parties have now reached a separate agreement. A Sling TV spokesperson contacted for this story confirmed the lineup for the sports package, but declined to comment further.

NBC Universal has long been seen as one of the easier gets for new online TV services like Sling TV, because the network is subject to merger conditions put in place when Comcast acquired NBC in 2011. Part of these conditions was a requirement to offer online rights under the same conditions as any of its competitors. However, a NBC Universal spokesperson told me that the broadcaster doesn’t currently have a deal with Sling TV, and that Universal Sports is part of a separately run corporate entity.

The sports package is still listed as “coming soon.” It will cost $5 a month, which is what Sling is charging subscribers for access to its news as well as kids’ add-on packages. Sling TV is still in an invitation-only beta phase, but is expected to open up to the public within the next few weeks.

Take a closer look at Sling TV in the video below:

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Correction: This post was updated at 1:42pm. A previous version stated that the addition of Universal Sports could signal a wider deal with NBC Universal, but a spokesperson of the broadcaster has since insisted that this isn’t the case.

It’s confirmed: Netflix is launching in Japan this fall

Netflix is getting ready to enter the Asian market: The video streaming service will launch in Japan this fall. News of the expansion first broke on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, with CNBC reporter Julia Borstin tweeting that “sources familiar with the situation” had told the network Netflix was going to Japan this fall. A Netflix spokesperson initially declined to comment when contacted for this story, but the service eventually confirmed the news on Twitter:

In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, Netflix said that it promoted its Chief Partnerships Officer Greg Peters, who speaks Japanese, to become the general manager of Netflix Japan. The release also quotes Netflix CEO Reed Hastings:

“With its rich culture and celebrated creative traditions, Japan is a critical component of our plan to connect people around the world to stories they love. As we expand into Asia, we’re excited Netflix members increasingly will have access to some of their favorite movies and TV shows no matter where they are.”

Netflix surprised investors last month when executives announced as part of the company’s Q4 earnings that they wanted to complete the company’s international expansion to a total of 200 countries within the next two years. Netflix currently operates in close to 50 countries, and has announced that it is going to launch in Australia and New Zealand next month.

The majority of Netflix customers still reside in the U.S., but the company has for some time seen more growth in international markets. In fact, late last year, Netflix added two international subscribers for every new domestic subscriber.

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Some international markets have in the past proven challenging for Netflix. In Latin America, for example, the company initially struggled with payment problems. But it has since managed to turn the situation around, and now has more than five million subscribers across that region.

The launch in Japan will be the first time Netflix has entered the Asian market, which comes with its own set of opportunities and challenges. Japan in particular is a very mobile-centric country, which Netflix should be well-prepared for: The company has been heavily investing in its mobile experience over the past couple of months.

Content and regulatory issues could also be challenging, especially as Netflix looks to take its service to other markets in Asia in its quest to cover the entire world by the end of next year. China is heavily regulated, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had to admit during the company’s most recent earnings call that it isn’t certain that Netflix will get a license to operate in China.

This post was updated at 4:38pm with Netflix’s official confirmation.

Sneak peek: This is TCL’s GoLive video streaming service

All eyes were on Dish’s new Sling TV service at CES this year, but others are moving forward with their own video streaming plans as well. One of them is TCL: The Chinese TV manufacturer has for some time talked about wanting to deliver live TV programming to its TV sets around the world, and the company gave a first preview of its GoLive streaming service at its booth on the CES show floor this week.

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TCL didn’t actually officially announce GoLive at the show, and the current status of the service was a bit unclear. Someone at the TCL booth told me that it is for now only available in China, but a spec sheet on display said that GoLive has already launched in 20 countries and is being accessed by more than 100,000 monthly active users. A premium movie component is apparently scheduled to launch in China and Australia this fall.

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The GoLive demo on display had access to 464 TV channels, all being streamed over the internet, with a big focus on Chinese and other international content.

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The GoLive app looked like any other streaming service, with one interesting difference: GoLive apparently lets users earn rewards points for watching ads, which can then be redeemed for premium content.

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It may be some time before GoLive becomes available in the U.S., but its focus on international content could be appealing to some audiences, plus possibly a first step for more to come. Dish actually did the same thing and launched its DishWorld services with live TV content from around the world first to build out its infrastructure and prepare itself for the launch of Sling TV.

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Netflix will launch in Australia and New Zealand next March

Netflix is going to launch in Australia and New Zealand in March of 2015, the company announced Tuesday. The launch will bring the number of countries Netflix is available in to over 50, and the announcement is not unexpected: Netflix CFO David Wells said earlier this month that the company plans a “sizeable expansion” for 2015, and Netflix has reportedly been preparing to enter Australia by hiring local agencies for a launch campaign.

This is why Netflix loves the little ones: 75 of its kids shows have 2+ million viewers

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Netflix continues to be everyone’s favorite babysitter: 75 of the kids shows currently on Netflix have attracted more than two million viewers in the U.S. alone this year, and more than a dozen kids titles even have an audience of more than five million viewers. The company revealed this nugget in its letter to investors Wednesday — a day that otherwise wasn’t the greatest for the streaming service: Investors punished Netflix in after-hours trading for slower-than-expected growth, sending stock down 26 percent. But at least the kids still love Netflix…

Net neutrality getting dis-connected

For all the sturm und drang over fast lanes and slow lanes, from the point of view of Netflix, YouTube and other video streaming services, it’s a bit of a red herring.