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Samsung wants to bring TV Plus to third-party TVs

Move FAST and make money

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: Samsung's plans to grow its TV Plus service, and 3D photo frames.

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Samsung's plans for TV Plus

To grow the audience of its free TV Plus streaming service, Samsung is considering a move that seemed unthinkable not too long ago: The consumer electronics giant has approached some of its competitors about launching TV Plus on their TV sets, I’ve learned from multiple sources with knowledge of those conversations.

One of the companies that has had discussions about carrying TV Plus in recent months is TCL, according to a source in the know. It’s unclear how far those talks advanced, or whether they are still ongoing. Asked whether the company’s 2023 TVs would carry Samsung’s TV Plus service, a TCL spokesperson declined to comment; a Samsung spokesperson told me the company wouldn’t comment on the activity of competitors, and wasn't immediately available to reply to follow-up questions.

Samsung TV Plus has been a surprise hit for a company that struggled to launch its own services in the past.

  • TV Plus is one of a number of FAST (free, ad-supported streaming) services launched by TV makers in recent years. The service streams linear channels that mimic the look and feel of traditional TV programming, complete with a cable-like EPG.

  • Samsung launched TV Plus in 2015, and has since grown both its catalog and its audience significantly. The company now streams a total of 1800 channels worldwide, and added 500 channels in 2022 alone.

  • U.S. consumers can access more than 220 free channels on Samsung TV Plus, and the company told advertisers last year that it reaches 17.4 million monthly active TVs domestically.

  • Samsung has already expanded the footprint of TV Plus beyond its own TVs, first launching the service on mobile in 2020, and then bringing it to the web the following year.

  • Samsung said in August that it had streamed more than 3 billion hours of ad-supported video to TV Plus viewers in the preceding 12 months.

A key part of Samsung’s TV Plus strategy have been exclusive channels. The company has invested millions of dollars licensing content from major studios and others to program channels like “The Movie Hub,” “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Samsung Wild Life.”

  • Samsung has approached some TV makers to get them to license these individual channels, but those talks don’t seem to have gone anywhere, I was told by a source.

  • That’s why Samsung also broached the idea of bringing TV Plus in its entirety to third-party smart TVs.

  • Samsung could in theory launch TV Plus on some third-party platforms without the buy-in of its direct competitors. However, the success of FAST services is closely tied to the level of promotion they receive on the platform level. A direct integration into a TV’s EPG, or a branded button on a TV remote, can make all the difference.

There’s been an explosion of FAST services in recent years, as everyone from TV makers to media companies to YouTube is looking to cash in on people’s appetite for a curated leanback streaming experience. Not all these efforts are going to survive, and an eventual contraction of the space seems inevitable. Samsung appears to be wanting to get ahead of that curve, and find eyeballs on as many surfaces as possible. The question is: Will other TV makers play ball?

Get ready for 3D photo frames

Scouring FCC filings, I stumbled across an interesting unannounced product this week: The Immers Holo Frame promises “an immersive visual feast” by opening “the door to (the) holographic metaverse.” A lot of buzzwords, sure, but the device itself is intriguing nonetheless.

  • The Holo Frame is a 7.9” display that can be used to view 3D content without glasses. The optimal viewing distance is half a meter (about 20 inches), and the company behind it promises 49 view points, meaning that the viewer doesn’t have to be in the exact same spot every time to see content in 3D.

  • The device runs on Android 11, and the screen doesn’t support touch input. Instead, it is being controlled with a companion iOS or Android app.

  • The app can also be used to capture 3D content or convert captured 2D video into 3D-ish content, but I am a little unclear about all the details.

  • The company that is making this device does have some experience with this kind of technology: Shenzhen Smart Superv Co. has been making 3D displays for commercial applications for some time, and it does appear to own multiple patents for glasses-free 3D.

Glasses-free 3D is not new, but there has been some renewed excitement around devices ranging from laptops equipped with 3D displays to true holographic displays. Whether a Chinese company virtually unknown in the West has any chance to turn something like the Holo Frame into a successful product is doubtful. However, the product does make me wonder how long it will take until a Western company adds similar tech to its smart displays. Echo Show 3D, anyone?

What else

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is stepping down. Hastings is being succeeded by COO and CPO Greg Edwards, who is now leading the company together with co-CEO Ted Sarandos. 

SoundHound has laid off close to half of its staff. The voice AI company is reportedly offering just two weeks of severance to laid-off employees.

Amazon is testing a Prime Lite tier in India. The tier includes an ad-supported tier of Prime Video and costs just $12 a year.

Apple introduces revamped HomePod. The company also added smart home features to its existing HomePod mini speakers.

Amazon starts blocking deep linking on Fire TV.  Third-party program guides, like the one operated by Plex, aren't able to link directly to content in other apps anymore.

Apple is said to have shelved plans for AR glasses. The company is still expected to introduce a VR headset in the coming months.

Sony reveals PSVR2 launch line-up. The company plans to release 30 titles within weeks of the headset's launch.

That's it

TGIF, amirite? If you need a good read for the weekend, I suggest this story from The Marshall Project about The Many Ingenious Ways People in Prison Use (Forbidden) Cell Phones. Most prisons don't allow personal phones for fear of criminal activity (and, until recently, the potential to bring in some extra revenue).

However, most prisoners don't use cell phones to oversee criminal empires, but to study up on appeals, complain about mistreatment, and further their education. One especially notable example: There's apparently a group chat of 300 prisoners from multiple states who teach themselves computer science based on Harvard online courses ... using contraband phones.

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