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Epix launches a $6 per month streaming service offering 4K video and offline access – TechCrunch

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Epix launches a $6 per month streaming service offering 4K video and offline access – TechCrunch

MGM-owned Epix is joining other premium networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz with the launch of its own over-the-top streaming service aimed at cord cutters. The service, called Epix Now, offers access to Epix’s original series and thousands of Hollywood movies and classic films for $5.99 per month, and supports offline viewing and 4K video, the company says.

Initially, Epix Now is available on Apple TV, iOS and Android devices, but Roku and Amazon Fire TV apps are arriving soon.

Epix has been working for some time to reposition its network to better compete in the streaming market.

Following MGM’s $1 billion acquisition of Epix in 2017, the company last year announced plans to enhance the service’s offerings with a variety of original series. MGM said by spring 2019, it aimed to have 50 to 60 hours of original scripted content, and 70 to 80 hours of scripted fare, in addition to its first-run theatrical and library film content, according to Deadline.

As of today’s launch of Epix Now, the network has been making good on those promises.

Its service now includes access to several new original shows, including: “Pennyworth,” the origin story of Batman’s butler, Alfred; “Godfather of Harlem,” starring Forest Whitaker; “Perpetual Grace, LTD.,” featuring Sir Ben Kingsley; the docu-series “PUNK” from Iggy Pop; and “Elvis Goes There,” with Elvis Mitchell.

Returning originals include “Get Shorty,” starring Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano; “Berlin Station,” starring Richard Armitage, Ashley Judd and Richard Jenkins; and “Deep State,” starring Mark Strong and Joe Dempsie.

Epix also features unscripted series and films like the late-night comedy docu-series “Unprotected Sets” from Wanda Sykes; Mark Burnett’s boxing competition “The Contender;” 2018 Sundance audience award-winner “This Is Home: A Refugee Story;” and sports documentary “Serena.”

Meanwhile, the network’s film library includes both new and classic movies, like “A Quiet Place,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Fences,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut, “Me Before You” and franchises like James Bond, Rocky, Mission Impossible and Star Trek.

On connected TV devices, Epix Now users can also stream all four Epix linear live channels, and on mobile, they can download content to watch offline.

This is not the first time that Epix has made its content available for streaming, however.

In addition to offering a way for authenticated pay TV customers to stream its shows and movies online, the company had also offered access through streaming TV services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, as an add-on.

In February, Epix said it would launch a standalone subscription service at some point in the future, but had declined to share a time frame for those plans.

Though new to the standalone streaming market, the company believes there’s plenty of room for growth as more consumers cut the cord with traditional pay TV.

For example, HBO had grown its streaming service to more than 5 million subscribers, as of last year. And CBS’s streaming properties, CBS All Access and Showtime, had grown to a combined more than 5 million subscribers as of that time, as well.

Epix additionally believes its support for 4K Ultra HD streaming will help differentiate it from others.

“2019 is poised to be an incredible year of growth for our network,” said Michael Wright, Epix president, in a statement. “Launching Epix Now and providing consumers nationwide with access to our premium original programming and blockbuster movies is an exciting moment for our company and solidifies our commitment to bring high-level storytelling to as many people as possible. We look forward to welcoming new audiences to our network,” he said.

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Netflix cancels ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher,’ its last Marvel shows – TechCrunch

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Netflix cancels ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher,’ its last Marvel shows – TechCrunch

Netflix is no longer in the Marvel superhero business, with the cancellation of “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher.”

The writing has been on the wall since last fall, when the streaming service canceled its other three Marvel shows — “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage” and “Daredevil.” Plus, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg was already announced to leave “Jessica Jones” after the upcoming third season.

There have been conflicting reports about which company ultimately decided to pull the plug, but this does seem to be part of a broader corporate rift, with Disney ending its overall deal with Netflix and producing Marvel shows for its yet-to-launch streaming service.

Disney has also announced a slate of animated Marvel series on Hulu (where Disney will become the majority owner, post-Fox acquisition), following a similar structure to the Netflix shows — four separate series followed by a big crossover.

Netflix, meanwhile, just released the first season of “The Umbrella Academy,” an offbeat superhero series based on the comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

In a statement, Netflix said:

Marvel’s The Punisher will not return for a third season on Netflix. Showrunner Steve Lightfoot, the terrific crew, and exceptional cast including star Jon Bernthal, delivered an acclaimed and compelling series for fans, and we are proud to showcase their work on Netflix for years to come.

In addition, in reviewing our Marvel programming, we have decided that the upcoming third season will also be the final season for Marvel’s Jessica Jones . We are grateful to showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, star Krysten Ritter and the entire cast and crew, for three incredible seasons of this groundbreaking series, which was recognized by the Peabody Awards among many others. We are grateful to Marvel for five years of our fruitful partnership and thank the passionate fans who have followed these series from the beginning.

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

In addition to competing for smart speaker market share, Google and Amazon are also competing for developer mindshare in the voice app ecosystem. On this front, Amazon has soared ahead — the number of available voice skills for Alexa devices has grown to top 80,000 the company recently announced. According to a new third-party analysis from Voicebot, Google is trailing that by a wide margin with its own voice apps, called Google Assistant Actions, which total 4,253 in the U.S. as of January 2019.

For comparison, 56,750 of Amazon Alexa’s total 80,000 skills are offered in the U.S.

The report notes that the number of Google Assistant Actions have grown 2.5 times over the past year — which is slightly faster growth than seen on Amazon Alexa, whose skill count grew 2.2 times during the same period. But the total is a much smaller number, so growth percentages may not be as relevant here.

In January 2018, there were 1,719 total Google Assistant Actions in the U.S., the report said. In 2017, the number was in the low hundreds in the beginning of the year, and reached 724 by October 2017.

Voicebot also examined which categories of voice apps were popular on Google Assistant platforms.

It found that three of the 18 categories accounted for more than one-third of all Google Assistant Actions: Education & Reference; Games & Fun; and Kids & Family.

The Education category topped the list with more than 15 percent of all Actions, while Games & Fun was 11.07 percent and Kids & Family was 9.29 percent.

Local and Weather were the least popular.

On Alexa, the top categories differ slightly. Though Games & Fun is popular on Google, its Alexa equivalent — Games & Trivia — is the No. 1 most popular category, accounting for 21 percent of all skills. Education was second most popular at around 14 percent.

It’s interesting that these two top drivers for voice apps are reversed on the two platforms.

That could indicate that Alexa is seen to be the more “fun” platform, or one that’s more oriented toward use by families and gaming. Amazon certainly became aware of the trend toward voice gaming, and fanned the flames by making games the first category it paid developers to work on by way of direct payments. That likely encouraged more developers to enter the space, and subsequently helped boost the number of games — and types of gaming experiences — available for Alexa.

Voicebot’s report rightly raises the question as to whether or not the raw skill count even matters, though.

After all, many of the Alexa skills offered today are of low quality, or more experimental attempts from developers testing out the platform. Others are just fairly basic — the voice app equivalent of third-party flashlight apps for iPhone before Apple built that feature into iOS. For example, there now are a handful of skills that turn on the light on Echo speakers so you can have a nightlight by way of the speaker’s blue ring.

But even if these early efforts sometimes fall short, it does matter that Alexa is the platform developers are thinking about, as it’s an indication of platform commitment and an investment on developers’ part. Google, on the other hand, is powering a lot of its Assistant’s capabilities itself, leaning heavily on its Knowledge Base to answer users’ questions, while also leveraging its ability to integrate with Google’s larger suite of apps and services, as well as its other platforms, like Android.

In time, Google Assistant may challenge Alexa further by capitalizing on geographic expansions, but for the time being, Alexa is ahead on smart speakers as well as, it now seems, on content.

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Amazon’s Echo Wall Clock is back on sale after connectivity fix

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The Echo Wall Clock was first announced by Amazon in September and started shipping just before the holidays in December. Just over a month after the clock was first made available to buy, Amazon decided to pull it because of problems with Bluetooth connectivity. That feature is essential to the device’s function, as it needs to connect to another Echo device in order to operate with voice controls. With the fix, users will once again be able to set alarms and timers via Alexa that will be displayed on the 60 LED lights around the edge of the clock’s face.

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