illustration of the number five, representing the five subscription business topics for this column, Five-on-Friday

Five on Friday: Discord, Discounts and Deceptive Free Trials

Featuring Microsoft, YouTube, Cinedigm and Tribune Publishing

In this week’s edition of Five on Friday, Microsoft is considering an acquisition of Discord, YouTube tries to grow its subscriber base with discounted TV offers, and Cinedigm grows streaming viewers by 208% since March of 2020. Also, we’ll provide an update on the rival bids for Tribune Publishing and their implications, and we’ll share five ways to avoid deceptive free trials and make them user-friendly instead with tips from the Federal Trade Commission.

YouTube Tries Deeply Discounted TV Offers to Woo (or Soothe) Subscribers

If you have wanted to try YouTube TV, this might be a good opportunity. After dramatically increasing prices last summer from $49.99 to $64.99 a month – a 30% price hike – and losing the Bally Sports channel, YouTube TV is recruiting new subscribers with deep discounts. TV Answerman said current subscribers are particularly upset about losing Bally Sports which was home to MLB games.

According to TV Answerman, the offers vary depending on when and where you click. In some places, web visitors may get an offer of $44.99 for the first month. In others, YouTube offers a monthly price of $54.99 for the first three months of the streaming service. The regular price is $64.99 a month. TV Answerman shows this ad offer.

Image courtesy of TV Answerman

When we visited YouTube TV, we got the regular price offer the first time…

Image courtesy of YouTube TV

…and a discounted offer the second time.

Image courtesy of YouTube TV.

YouTube TV is also offering a free two-week trial, free live channels and DVR service during the trial. This is unique because Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+ have all discontinued free trials in the last year.

What sets YouTube TV apart from other streaming services is that it offers 85+ channels of entertainment, news and live sports and DVR service. Some other services like Hulu + Live (also $64.99 a month) and Sling TV (starting at $35 a month) offer comparable content, but Hulu + Live, for example, offers very similar content plus all the content you’d expect from a streaming service include TV, movies, on-demand content and original programming. We’re curious to know how YouTube TV compares in terms of number of subscribers and churn.

Will Microsoft Buy Discord?

Discord appears to be for sale, and Microsoft is among the interested parties, reports VentureBeat. The price tag for the communications and chat platform popular with gamers could be $10 billion or more.

In December, Discord announced it had raised $100 million, bringing its total raised to date to $479.3 million with investors that included Index Ventures, Greylock, IVP and Spark Capital. At that time, the company was valued at $7 billion, and the platform had more than 140 million monthly active users, double the number of users the previous year, says TechCrunch.

“We are humbled and honored by the growth we’ve seen among so many incredible and diverse communities that have made Discord their place to hang out,” said Jason Citron, co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “As we look to 2021, we are excited about what we have in store and plan to use this funding to help make Discord even better – both for our free service and our Nitro subscribers.”

Nitro is Discord’s subscription product, which provides an enhanced user experience. For $9.99 a month or $99.99 per year, subscribers can upgrade their emojis, upload larger files, and stand out among their favorite Discords.

So why would Microsoft be interested? According to ZDNet, Microsoft has been in the market for a community of users. The tech giant had previously considered TikTok or Pinterest as possible acquisitions, but neither came to fruition. Acquiring a platform with a huge audience of users and subscribers could be very valuable to Microsoft, especially since Xbox users can connect their accounts to Discord already.

ZDNet speculates, if Microsoft acquires Discord, would probably allow the platform to operate independently, similar to how it has allowed LinkedIn and GitHub to do their own thing. This would be Microsoft’s second largest acquisition after LinkedIn, which the company purchased in 2016 for $26.2 billion.

Image courtesy of Discord

Cinedigm Reports Triple-Digital Viewer and Subscriber Growth over 2020

Global streaming service Cinedigm reported record growth among viewers and subscribers in its latest financial report. Total streaming viewers of the company’s ad-supported video on demand service grew to 23.8 million in March 2021, a 208% increase over March 2020. Total streaming video on demand subscribers exceeded 640,000, representing 574% growth year-over-year.

Other impressive statistics include the following:

  • Viewers streamed approximately 423 million minutes in March 2021, a company record and a 305% increase year-over-year.
  • Advertising requests increased 431% over March 2020.
  • The service now offers 16 streaming channels, compared to 5 in March 2020. Channels include The Lone Star channel, The Film Detective, the Bob Ross Channel, Dove Channel and Gametoon, among others.

“A year ago, we announced an aggressive strategy to rapidly expand our footprint of FAST linear streaming and AVOD channels, and to also rapidly expand our SVOD channel subscriber growth through M&A, distribution expansion, and partnerships,” said Erick Opeka, Chief Strategy Officer and President of Digital Networks for Cinedigm.

“Today, we are pleased to show that, in a turbulent world for entertainment, the relentless focus of our incredible team is paying off in record growth in subscribers, free viewers, engagement, and ultimately, revenue. Our success is not going unnoticed, with new major brands and media companies approaching us regularly to assist them in developing streaming strategies that most effectively monetize their properties and attract new audiences, we continue to move upmarket with larger worldwide brand and channel opportunities.”

“We remain steadfast in our growth plans through our M&A rollup strategy where we have added 4 new OTT channels, more than 15,000 films and TV episodes and a leading streaming technology company with a strong base in the fast-growing South Asian market in just the last 5 months,” Opeka added.

Streaming wars heat up in 2020.

Update on Bid for Tribune Publishing

Last week, a pair of billionaires – Stewart Bainum Jr. and Hansjörg Wyss – topped Alden Global Capital’s bid to buy Tribune Publishing. Operating under the name Newslight, Bainum and Wyss offered Tribune $680 million, $50 million more than Alden’s bid. Fox News is turning the bidding war into a political issue, stating that Wyss is a liberal known for his environmental activism, reports Media Post. Wyss’s primary interest in the deal is to take control of the Chicago Tribune, while Bainum is interested in saving the Baltimore Sun from a fate under Alden’s control.

The former home of the Chicago Tribune, the flagship property of Tribune Publishing
Image: Bigstock Photo

In a column by Richard J. Tofel on Substack, Tofel laments the control hedge funds have in the journalism world these days. According to his calculations, more than half of our country’s newspapers – in terms of circulation – are owned by hedge funds like Alden. A purchase by a nonprofit organization could save the Tribune’s holdings from becoming unrecognizable shells of journalism.

He offers potential new owners some advice though – stop printing the papers and go all in on digital. Tofel says there is more leverage in digital publishing than print, and the money saved on materials and operational costs can be invested in creating, or recreating, a digital product that people will want to pay for. Read more of Tofel’s thoughts in his column on Substack.

Though the Tribune board has approved Alden’s offer, they are in discussions with the Newslight team and could choose the higher offer for the betterment of local journalism. Many in the journalism and publishing communities, including us, are eagerly awaiting the outcome. What happens next will be telling.

Five Ways to Make Your Cancellation Policies User Friendly

I recently subscribed to a popular pet subscription box for my new dog, but there wasn’t a free trial or “risk free guarantee.” My last dog loved the service though, so I assumed my new dog would love it too. Not so much. He didn’t like the toys or the treats, and I was stuck with a six-month subscription that would be wasted on my I’m-happy-with-the-cat-toys canine. I tried to cancel on the website, but was told I couldn’t cancel because I had committed to six months. I reminded them there was no free trial, and indicated I didn’t feel it was fair that I should be stuck if my dog didn’t like the products. They offered to replace anything he didn’t like. He didn’t like any of it. None.

After several emails, the company graciously allowed me out of the six-month commitment. This left me with a positive experience and grateful that they were willing to work with me. Not all cancellation policies are easy or smooth though. For companies that offer a free trial, best practices – and in some cases regulations – indicate that terms and conditions should be clearly spelled out. Here are five more tips for ensuring that your customer’s cancellation experience is a positive one, which might actually bring them back.

The Federal Trade Commission offers some tips on how to make it easy for customers to cancel their subscriptions, particularly at the end of a free trial. Here are five tips to ensure your cancellation policy is easy peasy and that your subscribers won’t badmouth you when they leave:

  1. If you are offering a free trial, make sure the terms and conditions are stated clearly, especially when they must cancel by to avoid being charged. This is true of auto-renewals as well. Give subscribers advanced warning.
  2. Make cancelling your subscriptions online easy.
  3. Provide multiple ways to cancel available (e.g., phone, online, etc.)
  4. Ask why they are canceling and if there is anything you can do to make their experience better. For example, maybe you could pause the subscription temporarily, or change the length of the subscription. Maybe you don’t love Magazine A, but you’d love to get Magazine B instead.
  5. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What type of cancellation experience would make you, as a subscriber, feel like you were heard?

Up Next

Don’t miss the latest subscription news. Sign up for updates now!

Search this site

Upcoming events

Keep ahead of your competition

Register now for our weekly subscription news round-up

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.