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Streaming TV may never be as simple or inexpensive as it is now

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Streaming TV may never again be as simple, or as affordable, as it is now.

Disney and WarnerMedia are each launching their own streaming services in 2019 in a challenge to Netflix’s dominance. Netflix viewers will no longer be able to watch hit movies such as Black Panther or Moana, which will soon reside on Disney’s subscription service. WarnerMedia, a unit of AT&T, will also soon have its own service to showcase its library of blockbuster films and HBO series.

Families will have to decide between paying more each month or losing access to some of their favourite dramas, comedies, musicals and action flicks.

“There’s definitely a lot of change coming,” said Paul Verna at eMarketer, a digital research company. “People will have more choices of what to stream, but at the same time the market is already fragmented and intimidating and it is only going to get more so.”

Netflix viewers will no longer be able to watch hit movies such as Black Panther or Moana, which will soon reside on Disney’s subscription service. (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios-Disney via The Associated Press)

Media companies are seeking to capitalize on the popularity and profitability of streaming. But by fragmenting the market, they’re also narrowing the once wide selection that fuelled the rise of internet-based video. About 55 percent of U.S. households now subscribe to paid streaming video services, up from just 10 percent in 2009, according to research firm Deloitte.

Just as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime tempted people to “cut the cord” by cancelling traditional cable TV packages, the newer services are looking to dismember those more-inclusive options.

Disney Plus, WarnerMedia and others set to launch

Disney Plus is set to launch late next year with new Marvel and Star Wars programming, along with its library of animated and live-action movies and shows. It hasn’t announced pricing yet, but Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an August call with analysts that it will likely be less than Netflix, which runs $8 to $14 US a month, since its library will be smaller.

AT&T plans a three-tier offering from WarnerMedia, with a slate of new and library content centred around the existing HBO streaming app. No word on pricing yet.

Individual channels, such as Fox, ESPN, CBS and Showtime, are also getting into the act. Research group TDG predicts that every major TV network will launch a direct-to-consumer streaming service in the next five years.

Netflix and others have invested heavily in original movies and TV shows to keep their customers loyal. Netflix, for instance, said Wednesday that 45 million subscriber accounts worldwide watched the Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box during its first seven days on the service, the biggest first-week success of any movie made for the company’s nearly 12-year-old streaming service.

Netflix said 45 million subscriber accounts worldwide watched the Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box during its first seven days on the service, the biggest first-week success of any movie made for the company’s nearly 12-year-old streaming service. (Merrick Morton/Netflix via The Associated Press)

That first-week audience means nearly a third of Netflix’s 137 million subscribers watched the movie from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27 — a holiday-season stretch when many people aren’t working and have more free time.

But Netflix, Hulu and others may soon have to do without programs and movies licensed from their soon-to-be rivals. In December, Netflix paid a reported $100 million to continue licensing Friends from WarnerMedia.

Data and dollars

Why are media companies looking to get in? Data and dollars. Sure, they get money when they sell their programs to other services like Netflix. But starting their own service allows networks and studios access to valuable data about who is bingeing on their shows.

For services with ad-based options, that data translates into more dollars from advertisers. And services that rely only on subscription revenues, media companies can use the data to better tailor their offerings for individual tastes, helping to draw in more subscribers.

To get a full slate of programming, TV watchers may soon have to subscribe to several services instead of just Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. (Dan Goodman/The Associated Press)

“I think all media companies are coming to grips with the reality that you better establish a relationship directly with your audiences,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at an analyst conference earlier this month.

The business model that some networks and content companies are currently using, distributing their TV shows and movies only by licensing them to streaming platforms, is getting “disrupted aggressively” as more companies launch their own services, said Stephenson, whose company acquired WarnerMedia in June.

Forrester analyst Jim Nail compares this moment to the “Cambrian explosion,” a historic era when plant and animal species rapidly multiplied after Ice Age glaciers receded.

“Big brands like Disney have to evaluate: Are we only going to access this market by licensing our content to Netflix, Hulu and others?” he said. “Or, can we go direct to the consumer with our own service?”

But a multiplicity of streaming services could easily overwhelm or confuse consumers. To get a full slate of programming, TV watchers may soon have to subscribe to several services instead of just one or two.

Tiered services to become more common

Among those options will be services like Netflix and Hulu that offer a wide range of video from a variety of sources; cable-like “skinny bundles” such as FuboTV, Sling and YouTube TV that offer a variety of live channels; and channel- or network-specific services like Disney Plus.

Consider just AT&T’s plan to launch a three-tiered service this year centred on HBO. An entry-level bundle will offer mostly movies; a second, slightly more expensive tier will include original programming and newer movies. A third and still more expensive offering would add more WarnerMedia entertainment such as Friends.

In December, Netflix paid a reported $100 million US to continue licensing the TV sitcom Friends from WarnerMedia. (Warner Bros./Canadian Press)

The cost of multiple streaming services could quickly approach the average cost of a cable bill — not counting the cost of internet service. That’s around $107 per month, according to Leichtman Research Group.

“It’s unlikely any of the services individually can charge more than $10 per month,” Forrester’s Nail said. “The great unknown is how many individual streaming services people are willing to sign up for.”

Cable-like “skinny bundles” such as FuboTV, Sling and YouTube TV offer a variety of live channels. (Reed Saxon/The Associated Press)

Companies are already trying to tame this chaos by bundling multiple streaming services together. Amazon Prime customers can add-on subscriptions to HBO, Showtime or Starz. Roku and Chromecast viewers can access their different services from a central place; Roku said Wednesday it will start selling in-app access to Showtime, Starz and other channels as well.

How should consumers deal with all the coming change?

“Be patient,” said Michael Greeson, president of research group TDG. “We’re in a time of dramatic change for the TV and video business. There’ll be great benefits, and question marks and consequences.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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