Weekly News Roundup (August 20, 2017)

August 20th, 2017

A chilly morning here in Melbourne. Winter was here, and should be gone soon, but I’m not waiting around any longer. I shall be making my escape to somewhere a lot warmer later this week.

But before that glorious event, there’s the news to go through for this WNR, and unfortunately, it was a quiet week again. As a result, this will be yet again a short WNR and yet again another one focused on Game of Thrones. I know, I know, I’m tired of covering it too, but (news) beggars but be choosers.

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Jon Snow

I hate to keep on talking about Game of Thrones, but people have to stop leaking episodes first

So another week, another Game of Thrones leak. Winter is supposed to be here, and I’m guessing most of the water (in the North, at least) have all frozen over. So why so many leaks?

At this point, it’s almost a sport now to see who can leak the next episode first. This time, it was HBO themselves, or rather, both HBO Nordic and España. HBO Nordic has history when it comes to leaking GoT episodes, so it’s good to see that no lessons have been learnt from past mistakes.

That’s the problem with digital distribution. In the past, it would have required a daring break-in into a TV station to steal the master tapes, whereas now, it could be as simple as an intern pressing the wrong button to make an episode go live much earlier than it was suppose to. Even a digital break-in, like the HBO hack, is a lot less risky and requires less of an “Ocean’s 11” style operation.

The HBO hackers though continues their digital rampage and public ransom negotiations this week, with the revelation that they appears to have threatened to release more sensitive HBO data. Specifically, they might have the logins of all of HBO’s social media accounts (cue rush to change passwords by said HBO intern), and more worryingly, access to the last two unaired episodes of GoT. The hackers want $6.5 million in Bitcoins, or they’ll release GoT S7 episode 6 and 7 “as soon as possible”.

Will HBO play ball? They’ve said no, but the hackers have released an email in which HBO offered the hackers $250,000 for their “kind” help in pointing out the security flaws in HBO’s systems.

Meanwhile, the hackers have leaked more unaired episodes, including episodes of the eagerly awaited return of Curb your Enthusiasm (so that’s a pretty, pretty, pretty bad development for HBO). But is this worth $6.5 million? Probably not. It’s not as if people are cancelling their HBO accounts just because leaked episodes are now appearing online.

And you can bet law enforcement is already well on its way to tracking the hackers. They’ve always caught up with them, even if it takes a long time, so I don’t know why hackers even bother with high profile hacks like this one. As for the people who leaked episode 4, a copy obtained from Star India, four arrests have already occurred on the subcontinent.

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So my previously mentioned escape will mean there will be no WNR next week. Which might be a good thing, as it might allow this while Game of Thrones leak-a-thon to finish by then (well, considering the season will be finished by next Sunday, I’d say our chances are pretty, pretty, pretty good).

Until next time, have a good one!

Weekly News Roundup (August 13, 2017)

August 13th, 2017

A broken iPhone, a format in decline, the ending of a deal and the continuing of leaks. That’s what we have in store for you in this week’s WNR. Read on to found out just what the hell I’m on about.

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Power leaked via iPhone

Using a broken iPhone to leak an unaired episode of Power – that doesn’t happen usually

There’s got to be a better way to do this. Playing a screener on an iPhone with a broken screen while holding up another phone to record the playback, all the while complaining about your sore arm. This “new” cam method may not catch on, but the man responsible for it may very well be easily caught thanks to his habit of turning the phone to record his face. STARZ, the owners of the leaked ‘Power’ episodes, has promised a swift legal response, but this whole thing is so ridiculous, it might just work in the favor of the accused.

But this incident does proof one point – if there’s a way to play it, there’s a way to rip (and upload) it. STARZ may have invested in the best security infrastructure to protect their content, but all it took in this case was a shared password and a (broken) iPhone, and viola, leaked episodes.

And even when the theft attempt is more ambitious and professional, as in the case of the HBO hack, the result is the same. The HBO hackers, after failing to extract a ransom from HBO, release more content this week. The “highlight” of this latest batch of leaks is the episode outline for the unaired episode 5 of season 7. Written a year ago, so some things will have changed from the final product to air this Sunday, the episode outline will no doubt still contain a few valid spoilers. There are also timelines, roadmaps and promotional strategies for HBO’s flagship show, the release of which will no doubt irritate the suits at HBO HQ.

More leaks will be on the way, unless law enforcement can catch up to the hackers sooner rather than later.

High Definition

Tomorrow Never Dies DVD and Blu-ray

Blu-ray and DVD s are on the way out, Netflix in

The DEG’s regular reporting of the state of the U.S. home entertainment industry is an interesting read. Not so much because of the surprises (there aren’t any), but because of the very clear trend it is showing in each and every report – digital is beating physical, and streaming is beating everything else.

So the latest DEG report, for the first half of 2017, shows subscription streaming revenue continuing to rise at the expense of purchases. Not something studios heads will like. And within purchases, digital is rising while sales of physical media is dropping at a rather alarming rate (Blu-ray faring better than DVD, it has to be said).

Distribution is now more and more in the hands of tech companies like Netflix and Apple, and that’s worrying for studios, as that used to be their job (and their revenue source). So it was no surprise to me that the most powerful of the studios, Disney, wants to take back distribution by launching their own proprietary streaming platform. This also means that Disney movies will cease to be on Netflix in 2019, when Disney’s platform launches (Lucasfilm and Marvel content may follow suit).

Disney content on Netflix

Disney to go it alone as it plans to remove content from Netflix

From a consumer perspective, this is bad news. The dream of an all-inclusive, single streaming platform where everything you’ve ever wanted to watch is just a click away, is dying. Instead, we might have to start getting used to fragmentation, where you have to juggle between half a dozen or more streaming accounts just so you can binge between episodes of Family Ties and Cheers, or run a movie night of the best zombie movies ever (which will never, ever, featuring Brad Pitt’s World War Z).

Or we might have to get used to some kind of super, meta streaming service: Netflix ($9.95) with the add-on options including Disney, HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, et al. Did we just reinvent cable?

(and to be fair, Hulu is already doing something similar with its HBO, Cinemax and SHOWTIME – and now with a live TV option too. So I ask again, did we just reinvent cable?)

Whatever happens, it will most likely mean we’ll have to pay more to get what we currently get.

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So with that, we come to the end of another WNR. I’m off to watch the Disney stuff on Netflix before it all gets taken down. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (August 6, 2017)

August 6th, 2017

A heads up – this is going to be another short one for you, as it’s been a relatively quiet week again. And just because the news stories this week all revolve around Game of Thrones, it does not mean that I’ve spent the last week bingeing on old and new episodes of the hit HBO show and this is the actual reason why I haven’t bothered to write up any news stories. No, this is definitely not the case.

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Game of Thrones - Season 7, Jon Snow

Game of Thrones making all the wrong headlines this week

So while I wasn’t lying on the couch, munching on junk food and getting my GoT fix, this story about GoT happened: HBO got hacked! Terabytes of data were stolen in a brazen cyber-heist, and the point of entry may have been HBO’s Executive Vice President Legal Affairs Viviane Eisenberg’s account at HBO – her personal and banking passwords were also released as part of the hack suggesting she may have been the original target (or that she was careless enough to store all her passwords as plain text on HBO’s servers).

While the hackers may have been disappointed that they could not get their hands on any unaired GoT footage, they did get script and story overviews for the then unreleased episode 4 of the latest season. They did get unaired episodes of Ballers, Barry, Room 104 and Insecure. All of the stolen content were uploaded online to the website winter-leak.com (a reference to the weather phenomenon that is currently occurring in Westeros), which at the time of writing, has been taken down.

The recent trend has been worrying for Hollywood. The old problem used to be unauthorised leaks, usually via a third-party production or distribution company. Now, it’s brute force hacking that studios and supporting companies have to deal with. Netflix, Disney, and now HBO, have all fallen victim recently, as hacking groups vie for notoriety by trying to get their hands on the “best” stolen content.

So when a couple of days later, news broke that episode 4 of GoT season 7, the one whose script was leaked, was the subject of another leak, this time a much more serious one in which the entire episode was uploaded online. Ironically enough, this new leak was entirely unrelated to the HBO hack, and instead, came via the “old problem” I mentioned above – HBO’s Indian pay TV partner Star India appears to be the source of the leak based on the visible watermark found in the leaked video.

The digital revolution has brought about many positive changes. The ease in which content can now be stolen and shared, is not one of them.

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So I think that was it for the week. That wasn’t all of “it”, I’m sure, and I’ll definitely have more for you next week, and it’s definitely not because I am almost finished binge watching all 6 and a bit seasons of GoT. Nope, definitely not because of that, because I definitely didn’t do that last week instead of work.

Weekly News Roundup (July 30, 2017)

July 30th, 2017

I know I’m a little late to the game, but having wanted to do the right thing and wait for a legal way to watch Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale here in Australia, I’m just about to finish the first season. Wow – is all I can say, what a great show! Sure, there may be a little too much hand-holding to elevate the show to the status of The Sopranos or The Wire, but it’s right up there, especially the acting from Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel and Ann Dowd (she’s also great in the movie ‘Compliance’, which is also very disturbing) – but everyone the show does a fantastic job, to be honest). Give it all the awards now!

And yes, despite what might feel like me wasting words on filler, we do have news to go through this week.

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AutoGK Google AdSense Ban

Apparently Google thinks video conversion tool AutoGK is a file sharing tool

The war on piracy takes a strange turn as previous ally, Google, has apparently now joined the dark side. Google’s decision to prevent download site FossHub from putting ads on pages that link to file sharing (including BitTorrent) software sounds like something Hollywood would do, not the tech company we’ve known and loved. Apparently, having anything to do with BitTorrent, in Google’s eyes, is illegal, despite the fact that these software are completely legal and have as much to do with piracy as web browsers (in that while it’s true that BitTorrent clients are used to download pirated content, the same can be said of web browsers, like even Google’s own Chrome browser, which people who visit The Pirate Bay and other pirate sites are most likely using).

But was I surprised at the way Google acted? Ask any webmaster that has been in the business for a few years, and they’ll tell you lots of horror stories about having to put up with the search engine company we all used to love, but is now out to screw us in any way it can. In fact, I’m not even surprised at the exact circumstances that led Google to ban the entire FossHub site from their advertising service just for a few file sharing tools, because I’ve been through exactly the same thing, and even worse.

Google banned ads from being served by my AutoGK software download page a while ago for the exact same reason they gave to FossHub: “unauthorized file sharing”. This is despite the fact that AutoGK is a video conversion tool, and does not have any file sharing features (and it’s also 8 years out of date). I attempted to repeal the decision, but there’s almost always no real person at the end of the review process, and so I just gave up.

A couple of years ago, Google also banned my site from being able to display ads because we had a few YouTube downloader tools. Despite the fact that Google claims different parts of their company (YouTube, Google search, AdSense …) are all separate and they do not collude with one another (and so there’s no anti-trust issues at all), the fact that their advertising branch banned my site because it featured downloads that violated another branch’s policies, seems to suggest otherwise. Also interesting to note that they did not care about video downloaders for other video sharing sites like Dailymotion or Vimeo. Anti-competitive much?

Anyway, here’s hoping the extra media attention will help FossHub reach a real person at Google and resolve this issue. But even if that happens, the thousands of other sites that are in the same situation and won’t get the same media coverage, like this one, are still going to be out of luck. And you know what the suckiest thing about all of this? That there’s actually no real alternative to Google ads, just like there’s no real alternative to YouTube, Google Search, Google Shopping … monopolies are no fun!

Game of Thrones: Season 4

Oh crap, GoT season opener viewed 90 million times illegally

A follow up to last week’s story about Game of Thrones piracy, the final figures are in and the season premier was viewed or downloaded illegally more than 90 million times! And as we touched upon last week, nearly 78 million views were directly associated with streaming portals, as opposed to torrent downloads. Only 500,000 downloads came from torrent sources, according to the data from piracy monitoring firm MUSO.

Australia didn’t have the most downloads/views, but given our small population, 2.2 million views (and assuming 2 view/download per household), it means that something like 12% of households in Australia might have gone down the piracy route for GoT – not surprising considering the epic fail by our only legal broadcaster for the show (see last week’s WNR for more info on that).

High Definition

Paramount has chosen to embrace Dolby Vision, joining the likes of Warner Bros., Lionsgate and Sony. Why is this news? Well, it isn’t really, as Paramount hasn’t even bothered to produce a list of future releases that will feature the souped up HDR tech (Baywatch? Transformers: The Last Knight?). And since hardly anyone even has a DV enabled TV, will anyone actually care?

But news is news, and when there’s not much going on, one can’t be choosy.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is selling well for Nintendo

Speaking of choosy, a lot of people have chosen the Nintendo Switch, with 4.7 million units already sold in the first four months since release. This compares well to the Wii U, which only sold 3.45 million units during the same period, and it didn’t have stock issues to deal with either. It’s still somewhat behind the Wii’s 5.84 million, but who can compete with the Wii?

Switch games are also selling like hot cakes (I looked it up, I think we call them pancakes here in Australia), with ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ being the pick of the bunch with 3.92 million copies sold (and who are the 0.8 million people that are buying the Switch without Zelda? Heretics!)

As to why the Switch is a success while the Wii U wasn’t? I think it’s because the Switch’s design and purpose are a lot clearer than the Wii U’s “portable but not really portable” design.

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That’s all I have for you this week. A little bit longer than my recent efforts – it’s good to have news to write about! See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (July 23, 2017)

July 23rd, 2017

Back again after another small break last week. I actually flew to Sydney to watch my beloved Arsenal play, and it was a great trip. Luckily, not too much happened in terms of news, so we can just continue on this week as if nothing has happened (and nothing did happen, I promise).

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Game of Thrones Pirates

The only real pirate *in* Game of Thrones, but lots of pirates *for* the show in real life

Winter has truly come here in Australia, and it has also come to Westeros. While a little bit later than usual due to the shortened season, the season premier of Game of Thrones has once again caused a piracy frenzy. While lots of people are still illegally downloading to find out what Arya, Jon, Daenerys, Cersei et al. have been up to, not as many people are doing it via torrents, it seems.

Just like with legal viewing options, streaming seems to be taking over. And it’s not hard to see why. Streaming is more convenient, works better on mobile devices, does not require extra time to download, and most importantly, is less likely to cause the viewer legal problems.

So for all the effort rightsholders have put into going after torrenters (and HBO have already started to crack down on them for the season 7 premier), the only net effect it seems is to drive them to find alternative ways to pirate, ways that can’t be monitored. If anything, this has helped to create piracy solutions that are actually much more convenient that before, and possibly more convenient than the legal streaming options. And this is not a good thing.

The piracy surge was also made worse by HBO’s servers meltdown. In Australia, our only legal source for the new episode had its own technical difficulties with many unable to stream the show during prime time viewing hours. Making piracy look like the better option (irregardless of the price), again, not a good thing.

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Okja Poster

Christopher Nolan not a fan of how Netflix chooses to release original productions like Okja

Also not a good thing, according to legendary director Christopher Nolan, is Netflix. Or more specifically, the way Netflix likes to release its original theatrical productions in theaters and also online at the same time. The director behind big blockbusters such as ‘Interstellar’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and the more recent ‘Dunkirk’ thinks it’s a rather pointless exercise to do simultaneous releasing, at a time when all the major studios are trying to find ways to bring forward digital releases.

Instead, Nolan says that Amazon’s approach of having a 90 day exclusive window for releases before it becomes a free-for-all on their own streaming platform is the way to go.

While I do agree with Nolan that the theatrical experience is unique (and you have to say, Nolan’s films deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find), giving movie lovers another option via streaming is ultimately good for the consumer and a great way to fight piracy. But Nolan touches on a great point in that the “straight-to-Netflix” release isn’t too far from a “straight-to-video” release, and it devalues the film in question. It makes me feel like the movie must not be a very good one if it’s already straight to Netflix, even though in many cases, it’s probably a pretty good one if it doesn’t star Adam Sandler (I kid, I kid, but also not really?).

Still, there hasn’t been a Netflix original movie that’s on the scale of something like ‘Dunkirk’, and there may never be, simply because not even Netflix would want to risk releasing such a high budget movie direct to streaming, for fear it may anger the cinema chains as well as the previously mentioned “cheapening” effect.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

PS4 back on top after a few months of Switch fever

The Nintendo Switch’s honeymoon period is well and truly over, with the PS4 getting back on top not just in May, but also for June’s NPD report. It was, according to the NPD, the best June ever for the PS4. Sony will be hoping the momentum will carry them through and past the release of the (potentially too expensive) Xbox One X towards the end of the year. Otherwise, the introduction of a “real” 4K game console could reverse fortunes for Microsoft, who have never really recovered from their “all our games are digital, and you can’t trade them – plus our console is clearly not as powerful as the PS4” SNAFU from before the Xbox One launch.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Much better than the nothing from last week, I hope. See you next week.


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