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Free episodes to disappear from Hulu

Hulu is dropping free TV episode as it works on an online television service to rival cable TV.

Free episodes — typically the most recent four or five episodes from a show’s current season — will be gone from the site within a few weeks. Instead, Hulu is making free episodes available through Yahoo.

While Hulu started as a free site, supported by advertising, free video has become increasingly more difficult to find as Hulu tries to lure viewers into a subscription — $8 a month for a plan with ads, and $12 without. In recent months, visitors to Hulu.com have been presented with prominent links to subscribe, with links to free video buried in a menu after signing in.

And free episodes haven’t been available on Hulu’s mobile apps or streaming-TV devices, just on Hulu.com from a traditional computer. Now, they won’t be on Hulu.com at all.

Devotees of Hulu’s free on-demand videos will be able to find them by visiting the new Yahoo View site from a computer. The Yahoo site will not have free episodes of CW shows such as “Arrow” and “The Flash,” as Hulu has been offering, because CW has a broader deal with Netflix instead. Yahoo says it will have the past five episodes of ABC, NBC and Fox shows available. The Fox shows will appear eight days after their TV airing, as is the practice at Hulu.com now. Yahoo will also have some older CBS shows.

The episodes on Yahoo are not currently available on a phone, although Yahoo is working on a mobile web version and an app. Yahoo says the mobile version will be free, but it may not have all the same video as the desktop computer site because of content licensing restrictions.

Hulu says relatively few people watch the free videos. It now has about 12 million subscribers who pay for original shows, the entire current seasons of some network shows and access to Hulu’s library on mobile and streaming-TV devices like Roku.

Hulu also plans to launch a live online TV service next year. It would show broadcast and cable channels in real time, without making viewers wait until the next day for episodes. In a move that could make that service more appealing, Time Warner Inc. recently took a 10 percent stake in Hulu, joining the TV and movie conglomerates — Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and Comcast’s NBCUniversal — that already owned it. Time Warner plans to contribute some of its channels, including TNT and TBS, to the new service.

Several other companies already offer live, paid TV over the internet, including Sony and Dish. DirecTV plans a service for later this year as well.

Yahoo also has broader ambitions for View. It wants to add video from other Yahoo properties and from other networks and studios. However, its previous attempt at an online video hub, Yahoo Screen, shut down in January, despite having new episodes of the cult comedy “Community” after its cancellation by NBC.

Verizon, which is buying Yahoo to help the phone company grow a digital advertising business , makes TV episodes and short videos available on its go90 mobile app. Phil Lynch, the head of media and content partnerships at Yahoo, says that as the deal gets closer to closing early next year, it “makes sense that we have integration discussions.”

At a Glance: Internet TV options

You’ve heard about Comcast’s new streaming video service. A glance now at the ever-changing viewer’s scape of Internet TV options.

COMCAST

Monthly price: $15.

Live offering: A dozen networks, including HBO.

On demand: Yes.

Restrictions: Internet customers only.

AMAZON

Monthly price: $8.25; only through $99-a-year Amazon Prime subscription.

Live offering: None.

On demand: Apart from original shows such as “Transparent,” offerings tend to be past seasons, plus movies. Next-day access to shows for $2 or $3 an episode.

Restrictions: Not available directly on Apple TV. Prime requires one-year commitment.

CBS ALL-ACCESS

Monthly price: $6.

Live offering: More than 90 markets.

On demand: Day-after access to shows on mobile devices (on traditional computers, it’s free without a subscription). Full seasons for many shows, not just past five episodes. Past seasons for a handful of shows, including “The Good Wife,” ‘’Survivor,” ‘’The Amazing Race” and “60 Minutes.”

Restrictions: No apps for streaming TV devices. Some sports blackouts.

DISH’S SLING TV

Monthly price: Starts at $20.

Live offering: About 20 channels, including ESPN, ABC Family, AMC and Food Network. No broadcast channels like CBS or NBC. Add-on packages for sports, movies, kids, lifestyles and world news available for $5 each and HBO for $15.

On demand: No recording of channels, though some offer older episodes, including HBO. Access to WatchESPN on-demand app, with others coming.

Restrictions: Can watch only one stream at a time, so members of households will need multiple subscriptions, although HBO content can be streamed on three devices at a time. DVR controls, such as pause and rewind, aren’t available for many channels. NFL blackouts on mobile devices.

HBO NOW

Monthly price: About $15.

Live offering: New episodes are available through apps about the same time they are shown on TV.

On demand: Current and past seasons of most HBO shows, including “Games of Thrones,” ‘’Girls” and “The Sopranos.” Hundreds of movies, including those from Universal, Fox, Warner Bros. and Summit.

Restrictions: Can subscribe only through a partner. Apple has exclusive deal among non-traditional distributors and requires Apple TV, an iPhone or iPad to sign up (you can then watch through a browser on other devices). Cablevision is the only pay-TV provider so far to offer HBO Now.

HULU

Monthly price: $8 for Plus, though many shows are free on Windows and Mac computers.

Live offering: None.

On demand: Next-day access to shows from ABC, NBC, Fox and CW, along with some cable channels. Some movies and original shows.

Restrictions: Fox and CW shows restricted to pay-TV subscribers for first week. ABC requires pay-TV or Hulu Plus subscription during that time. Plus also needed for viewing on mobile and streaming TV devices.

ITUNES

Monthly price: None.

Live offering: None, except for special events such as iTunes music festival.

On demand: Next-day access to shows for $2 or $3 an episode.

Restrictions: No Android devices. Apple TV is only streaming device supported.

MLB.TV

Monthly price: $20 (or $110 for full season).

Live offering: All Major League Baseball games, subject to hometown blackouts.

On demand: All games.

Restrictions: Lots of blackouts. Extra $5 a month or $20 for season to watch on mobile and streaming TV devices. Separate package available for minor-league games.

NETFLIX

Monthly price: Starts at $8.99

Live offering: None.

On demand: Apart from original shows such as “House of Cards,” offerings tend to be past seasons, plus movies.

Restrictions: Ultra high-definition (4k) streaming for $3 more, standard-definition only for $1 less.

NICKELODEON’S NOGGIN

Monthly price: $6

Live offering: None.

On demand: Games and activities created for service alongside archives of shows no longer on any of Nickelodeon’s TV channels. Aimed at preschoolers.

Restrictions: Available on Apple mobile devices only at first.

SONY’S PLAYSTATION VUE

Monthly price: Starts at $50.

Live offering: Base plan with CBS, NBC and Fox broadcast channels and cable channels from AMC, Discovery, Fox, NBCUniversal, Scripps, Turner and Viacom. Additional sports and other channels for $10 or $20 more. More than 50 channels in basic; more than 85 in all. Main omissions: CW network and Disney channels, including ESPN and ABC.

On demand: Recording capabilities with unlimited storage, though shows expire after 28 days. Many shows over the past three days are automatically available. Access to some channels’ on-demand apps.

Restrictions: Available in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles only. Up to three simultaneous streams in a home, but each must have a separate PlayStation 3 or 4, and only one can be PS4. Some content is available on an iPad app for out-of-home viewing, but a PlayStation is still required for set-up.

UK TV series take root in Acorn streaming service

Here’s an offbeat mystery: Why did detective Hercule Poirot’s final U.S. small-screen bow come not on his familiar stage, PBS, but on a niche website devoted to streaming British whodunits and dramas?

And why did Robert L. Johnson, the business mogul who founded Black Entertainment Television and sold it to Viacom for $3 billion, buy Acorn Media Group and gladden the hearts of Anglophiles everywhere?

The answers lie in a company’s reinvention of itself when faced with industry changes that presented both threat and opportunity.

That’s how Acorn Media Group viewed the advent of streamed content on Netflix and elsewhere several years ago, when the “lines between broadcast and home video became more blurry,” said Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment Inc. and former chief executive of Acorn Media.

The expansion by traditional TV and online outlets into streaming represented increased competition to Acorn Media, founded in 1984 as Atlas Video to sell documentaries on videocassettes.

If PBS, for example, were to air the final Poirot TV movies and retain streaming rights for two years, that could “cannibalize” Acorn Media’s 21st-century version of home video sales, including DVD and Blu-ray, Penella said.

The company’s move in July 2011 was to launch its own streaming service, Acorn.TV, and gain further control over content by buying up intellectual property rights and co-producing series.

So far, that’s given Acorn dibs on the three concluding TV films about Agatha Christie’s famed sleuth, including “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case,” and made it home to popular series including “Foyle’s War,” “Doc Martin” and Australia’s “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”

The company’s control of Christie’s work is especially firm. Before it was acquired by RLJ Entertainment, Acorn Media bought a majority interest in Agatha Christie Limited, which owns and represents the late author’s catalog that includes 80 novels and short-story collections, 19 plays and dozens of TV movies.

More recently, there was the release of “The Monogram Murders” by Sophie Hannah, the first Christie family-approved new Poirot novel.

Also from the franchise: a new TV movie adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” is in development with Fox.

Brad Adgate, a TV analyst with Horizon Media, said RLJ Entertainment’s approach fits a changing industry and mirrors the evolution of cable channels from rerun havens to a more competitive approach.

Acorn TV and other streaming video websites are “following a programming strategy originated by cable networks several years ago, which is a combination of acquired and original content,” Adgate said.

The main competitors to Acorn are BBC America and PBS’ “Masterpiece” showcase, although public TV isn’t being snubbed, according to Penella. For instance, he said, individual deals are being made with public stations to air the Poirot films by year’s end, with the majority of U.S. markets covered.

“We want consumers to see Acorn TV as an add-on to their entertainment choices. We don’t see it as a substitute for ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ or Netflix or Amazon Prime” or DVDs, Penella said.

Acorn’s target demographic is 40-plus-year-old consumers who are educated, affluent and avid readers. The popularity of programs such as “Sherlock” and “Dr. Who” has begun to pull in younger viewers, Penella said.

Although programs like “Sherlock” can draw several million viewers to PBS, Acorn TV’s paid subscriber base is 100,000-plus — not impressive, but more than four times what it was a year ago. An annual subscription is about $50.

Johnson, who in October 2012 bought Acorn Media Group for $108 million in cash and stock and combined it with independent film-oriented Image Entertainment as RLJ Entertainment Inc., said he is confident Acorn has a “tremendous opportunity to grow.”

“This is an exciting time within the industry, and the Internet and its digital viewing platform allows for thousands of voices to be heard,” Johnson said in a statement.

On the web…

http://www.Acorn.tv 

Hulu plans series based on Stephen King’s ’11/22/63′

The internet TV service Hulu plans to stream a nine-hour series based on Stephen King’s time-travel book about the Kennedy assassination.

Hulu announced its plan for “11/22/63,” produced by King and J.J. Abrams, on Sept. 22.

King said in a statement that if any of his works cried out for “long-form, event TV programming,” then “11/22/63” is it.

In the 2011 novel, a high school teacher goes back in time to try to prevent the killing of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald.

The release date for the series was not announced. The cast also was not announced by Hulu or Warner Bros. Television.

Rainbow streamers: Netflix celebrates LGBT Pride Month

Netflix is celebrating LGBT Pride Month with a series of films and TV shows with an LGBT theme or LGBT characters or available for streaming.

The video-streaming service also will make Season 2 of “Orange is the New Black” available beginning June 6.

A sampling of what’s on:

• “Pit Stop.”

• “Yossi.”

• “Beyond the Walls.”

• “Bear City.”

• “Interior Leather Bar.”

• “GBF.”

• “COG.”

• “Dawson’s Creek.”

• “Glee.”

• “Clueless.”

• “Torchwood.”

• “Xena.”

• “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

• “The Venture Bros.”

• “The Boondock Saints.”

• “Stranger by the Lake.”

• “Jack and Diane.”

• “Heavenly Creatures.”

• “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.”

• “Queer as Folk.”

• “Brothers & Sisters.”

• “Grey’s Anatomy.”

• “Paris is Burning.”

• “Rent.”

• “The Crying Game.”

• “Camp.”

• “Pageant.”

• “The Kids are all Right.”

• “Brokeback Mountain.”

• “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

• “Bridegroom.”

• “Boys Don’t Cry.”

• “Mulan.”

• “Just One of the Guys.”

• “Shakespeare in Love.”

Netflix joining program lineup of 3 cable-TV providers

Netflix’s Internet video service is about to join the programming lineup of three small cable-TV providers in the U.S., a breakthrough that acknowledges the growing popularity of online entertainment.

The agreements with Atlantic Broadband, RCN Telecom Services and Grande Communications gives Netflix’s subscription service a channel on the TiVo boxes that the three cable services provide their customers. Netflix will debut on Atlantic and RCN on Monday and then will expand on to Grande’s service by end of next month.

Collectively, the three cable-TV services have about 820,000 subscribers scattered through nine states and Washington D.C.

Although that’s a small fraction of the cable-TV market, the deals represent another milestone for Netflix Inc. as it tries to make its Internet video service more like premium channels such as HBO and Showtime.

Netflix already had landed spots on the cable-TV boxes of services in England, Denmark and Sweden, but hadn’t been able to make similar inroads in the U.S. until now. The company’s nearly 36 million U.S. subscribers typically have to buy a separate device, such as video game console or a player from Roku or Apple Inc., if they want to stream video on to their TVs. That method usually requires a separate remote and an additional step to flip over to a different TV input to see the picture.

Now, Netflix will be like any other channel on the cable-TV dial except that it relies on a high-speed Internet connection to deliver its video.

“We think this signals a new generation of cable-TV service of offerings,” said David Isenberg, Atlantic’s chief marketing and strategy officer. “It’s a watershed moment.”

He likened what Netflix is doing for Internet video to what HBO did for cable-TV when that service began transmitting through satellites in the early 1970s.

Netflix has been striving to become more HBO-like since it expanded upon its DVD-by-mail service and began offering Internet streaming seven years ago. In the past two years, the Los Gatos, Calif., company has been featuring more original programming, such as the critically acclaimed “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black,” to persuade more U.S. subscribers to pay $8 per month for its service.

To help pay for its rising programming costs, Netflix plans to raise its prices by $1 or $2 by July. The higher prices initially will only affect new customers.

HBO, which is owned by Time Warner Inc., views Netflix as such a competitive threat that it has steadfastly refused to licenses its old TV shows, such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” to the Internet video service. Those HBO shows instead will be streamed through a rival Internet video service offered through Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime shipping service as part of deal announced earlier this week.

“HBO fears Netflix’s growing industry power,” BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield wrote in a Thursday blog post. “We suspect HBO wanted to balance Netflix’s growing media industry hegemony by helping to bolster their largest direct-to-consumer … competitor – Amazon.”

Unlike their partnerships with HBO and Showtime, the cable-TV providers aren’t offering a Netflix subscription as part of their bundled packages. People will still have to open a Netflix account through the company’s website or mobile application, although Atlantic is trying to make that process easier by offering a way to sign up on the TV screen.

Netflix is still hoping to be added to the programming lineup of a major cable-TV service. It seems unlikely that Netflix will make its way onto a cable box offered by the biggest service, Comcast Corp any time soon. The relationship between the two companies has grown frosty because Netflix is opposing Comcast’s proposed $45 billion purchase of another major cable-TV service, Time Warner Cable Inc.

RCN Telecom has 440,00 subscribers in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Chicago and Leigh Valley, Pa. Atlantic, which is owned by Canada’s Cogeco Cable, has 230,000 subscribers in western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Miami Beach, Fla. and Aiken, S.C. Grande has 150,000 subscribers in Texas.

WiGWIRED: Five great features that the Amazon smartphone is expected to offer

A report this week in The Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning to release a smartphone has prompted industry analysts and technology blogs to muse about what the device might offer.

Amazon hasn’t confirmed that it has plans for a smartphone. Introducing such a device would be tough in a crowded market dominated by Apple and Samsung. Even so, innovations like the Kindle Fire and Prime membership program demonstrate that the online retailing giant has a knack for using its massive size and marketing budget to capitalize on gaps in the marketplace.

Some unconfirmed reports say the phone could have a 3-D interface and multiple front-facing cameras.

Here’s a look at five features technology experts believe Amazon might include on its smartphone.

1. 3-D shopping

A 3-D interface doesn’t require special glasses could have a lot of uses. For example, when you’re shopping online, you could pull up a 3-D image of sneakers or a jacket and see all of the features easier, suggests Bill Menezes, principal research analyst at Gartner. Another possibility: you could scan your living room to make a 3-D rendering. Then, when you’re out furniture shopping, take a picture and digitally insert the product into the rendering to see if it fits.

“You could see ‘Oh that’s how that purple couch looks in the bedroom, I think I’ll buy it,’ and you avoid buyer’s remorse,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager of research firm IDC’s mobile phones team.

2. Enhanced games

Amazon is rapidly expanding into the gaming arena with its Amazon Game Studio and video game offerings on its new streaming device, Amazon Fire TV.

“A phone could be a way to help them potentially push more on the game front,” says CRT Capital analyst Neil Doshi.

The phone’s purported 3-D interface could be a way to offer a more robust gaming experience.

3. Seamless grocery shopping

Amazon has been testing a Wi-Fi wand called Amazon Dash that simplifies barcode scanning. Such capabilities could be included in the Amazon phone to improve on current barcode scanning apps. Combine that with Amazon’s same-day grocery service Amazon Fresh, currently in testing in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and grocery shopping could be drastically simplified. Rather than dragging a shopping cart through aisles —or even scrolling through a list of products online— a quick wave of the phone in your pantry could have all your groceries at your doorstep within hours.

“It’s an opportunity to continue to tie users into the Amazon ecosystem,” Doshi says.

4. Free streaming video

IDC’s Llamas suggests one of the phone’s selling points could be a free ad-supported version of Amazon’s current instant Video service, which is included in the $99-per-year Prime membership. The hypothetical service could be viewed on the phone, a Kindle or on Amazon’s Fire TV but not elsewhere like Xbox or Roku, he says, which could be a selling point for the phone.

5. Competitive pricing

Menezes at Gartner speculates that the phone could be offered on different price tiers. One tier could be a one-time payment for the phone that offers Amazon’s apps and services but a limited number of other features. A higher price tier could feature a monthly bill and a phone with more bells and whistles.

It’s difficult to be competitive on price in the cutthroat phone market. But as Amazon has shown with its tablets, the company is willing to deliver high-quality hardware at a loss in order to undercut competitors like Apple and put its devices in the hands of people who will use them to buy Amazon’s goods and services.

Roku TV will stream video without set-top box

Roku Inc. is launching a line of TVs that play video from services like Netflix without requiring a set-top box. While similar to smart TVs on the market already, the company’s Internet streaming platform offers some 1,200 apps and more comprehensive niche content choices.

The Saratoga, Calif.-based streaming set-top box pioneer is partnering with two of the biggest Chinese TV makers in the world, TCL Corp. and Hisense International Co. Ltd. on six models. It showcased them on the sidelines of the annual International CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week.

The Roku TV will also provide users a way to access feeds from regular live TV providers and to connect to other devices such as Blu-ray disc players.

Roku launched its first streaming video player in May 2008, when the box only played content from Netflix. Since then, the company has sold nearly 8 million units and claims that its device is more widely used than Apple’s Apple TV set-top box. Apps available on Roku’s devices include everything from Amazon Instant Video to Karaoke Party on Demand.

Anthony Wood, the founder and CEO of Roku, said the TVs will be priced affordably. He expects the sets to be sold in the U.S. at large retailers such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy starting in late 2014.

Wood says he would like the Roku platform to replace those offered by a variety of TV manufacturers. Many TV makers’ platforms lack key apps from content providers like ESPN, Fox and the NBA.

Roku shares in the revenue when its partners sell advertisements, rent movies or sign up new subscribers. Within a few years, such revenue will be larger than the sales of the boxes themselves, Wood says.

“We do believe that streaming players are going to be a big business for a long time,” he says. “But this is definitely the future of Roku.”

Netflix streaming with gay Pride in June

Netflix is streaming Pride in June. The company – an Internet TV service – recently released a Pride Guide of LGBT-themed movies and TV shows available for instant viewing.

What to add to the instant queue?

• Adam & Steve (2005).

• Another Gay Movie.

• Brokeback Mountain (2005).

• Camp (2003).

• Far from Heaven (2002).

• Gayby (2012).

• Keep the Lights On (2012).

• Kissing Jessica Stein (2001).

• North Sea Texas (2011).

• Queer as Folk (1999) (UK).

• The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (2006).

• The L Word.

• Tomboy (2011).

• We Were Here (2011).

• Weekend (2011).

• Were the World Mine (2008).

The crew at Netflix also put together its list of “best gay TV characters,” which includes: 

• Brothers & Sisters – Scotty & Kevin.

• Dawson’s Creek – Jack McPhee.

• Desperate Housewives – Andrew Van de Kamp.

• Glee – Kurt & Blaine.

• Greek – Calvin Owens.

• Noah’s Arc –  Noah Nicholson & Wade Robinson.

• Skins: Season 1 & 2 – Maxxie Oliver.

• Ugly Betty – Marc St. James & Justin Suarez.

• Torchwood – Jack Harkness & Ianto.

• United States of Tara – Marshall Gregson.

On the Web …

www.netflix.com