Weekly News Roundup (October 21, 2018)

October 21st, 2018

And we’re back, this time on a new server. Sorry for the lack of a WNR last week, it was just too hectic to do one what with the new servers downloading all the GBs of stuff from the old servers. The migration is going better than expected, it’s been a while since I’ve done such a large scale move and things have actually gotten a lot easier over the years, thanks to a lot of automation. It’s still panic and confusion half of the time though, but hopefully most of that is behind us now, and it’s just the matter of making sure everything still works.

Let’s take a look at the news stories this week …

Copyright

GTA Online

Creating cheat tools in GTA Online, and other games, might get you in big legal trouble

Wow, I didn’t know cheating was so dangerous. Or rather, making cheat tools can apparently get your house searched, computers seized and assets frozen. I guess it is a big deal when it involves a $6 billion gaming franchise in the form of GTA V and in particular, GTA Online, and cheats that allow gamers to generate unlimited virtual currency and bypass Rockstar’s virtual economy could mean real damage to Rockstar’s real currency intake.

The lawsuit is being fought via copyright law, which at first seems a bit strange, but all the publishers are doing it this way, these days. Blizzard, for example, argued that cheat tools break the game’s EULA and the regular copying of code and files by the game is therefore considered illegal copying. Or something convoluted like that.

Still, not too many people will be upset by this because nobody likes cheaters and those that profit from cheating tools, but it still does seem a bit excessive to go after cheat makers so hard like this. I’m sure a strongly worded letter would have had the same effect, but this feels like a show of force to scare away other cheat developers. Shame for the 5 Aussies at the end of it though.

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Remember when torrent news website TorrentFreak was blocked as a piracy/hacking resource? It’s now been banned by Steam, of all places, for being potentially malicious. Just how news stories can harm Steam users, I don’t really know, but Steam is no stranger to blocking anything it deems slightly related to piracy, and I guess news sites (like this one, and this one) are fair game now.

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New Netflix Interface

Netflix spending heaps on content, but it’s working to drive subscriber growth

Netflix posted some great Q3 results, following the lackluster revenue report from the previous quarter and doubts in the market about the streaming firm’s long term profitability. This initially caused Netflix stock to surge in price, but it has now fallen back to below where it was due to weakness across the whole NASDAQ.

Leaving aside market wobbles, Netflix looks like it’s in a good position, both in the US and in overseas markets. It’s still spending a sh*tload of money on content, some $3 billion negative free cash flow for the year, which is why off of nearly $4 billion in revenue, net income was at a much lower $403 million (which is actually higher than normal).

But the investment in content is worth it as long as it drives new subscribers to the platform. Of course, Netflix would prefer to spend money creating original content than to license existing content, because it has been the originals that have been driving subscriber growth, and in the long run, originals actually cost less money.

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And so that was the week that was. Now back to server stuff.

Weekly News Roundup (October 7, 2018)

October 7th, 2018

The great server migration of 2018 has started. Due to circumstances beyond my control, we need to move all of our sites to new servers, all at once, and so things are a bit hectic around here. I guess a server upgrade was long overdue, and so the move is coming at a good time, but as anyone who has been involved in migrating data from one system to another, you’ll know of its frustrations (and many, many potential pitfalls). So if you find parts of the site not working or acting a bit weird, don’t stress, we’re working on it!

It was a light news week again, although that would be because I was too busy to really notice what was going on. Either way, let’s get through this quickly so I can get back to more server shenanigans.

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What I did notice was how much Netflix (or video streaming in general) I was watching in the background during the many boring hours of a typical server migration. And it isn’t just me. Netflix use may not account for as much as 15% of global downstream traffic, and up to 40% during peak times on certain networks. I know that video, especially 4K video, is a bandwidth hog, but for one single platform to use so much bandwidth, it’s still quite an amazing thing.

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian, one of the original series that could debut on Disney’s upcoming streaming platform

In a perfect world, and by perfect I mean if everybody had access to affordable ultra high speed (100+Mbps) internet connections, then this use would actually be a lot more since Netflix’s 4K streams are still very much compromises in terms of quality. This is why Ultra HD Blu-ray still has a place despite the move away from physical media, because it is still the most reliable way to deliver the sometimes 100GB worth of digital data into people’s homes.

Competition is always a good thing, but while Netflix has some, it’s clear that they’re nowhere near being able to be a threat to them just yet. Amazon Prime came closest in terms of global downstream bandwidth use, but Netflix was still more than 4 times bigger (Hulu was even smaller). But Netflix’s biggest threat may yet to materialise in the form of Disney Streaming. With Disney absorbing Fox, the combined might of these two studios could allow them to create a streaming product that has a huge backlog of titles, along with a huge list of original productions that can fully exploit Disney and Fox’s owned franchises. From the very limited information we have about its streaming product, we already know that a Marvel series based on ‘Loki’ is in the works, along with another one for the ‘Scarlet Witch’. There’s a new Muppets series too, another one based on Monsters, Inc., and two Star Wars series including $100 million live action series ‘The Mandalorian’. And don’t forget that Disney, via Fox, will now own a huge chunk of Hulu too, and there will be some kind of “synergy” (I hate myself) between it and Disney’s so far unnamed streaming product.

Exciting times for streaming, that’s for sure.

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That’s it for the week, short I know. Probably won’t get much better next week, but one thing is for sure – I’ll have watched more Netflix (and Stan)!

Weekly News Roundup (September 30, 2018)

September 30th, 2018

Hello again! Hope you’ve been having a nice week. Me? I’ve been catching up on Battlestar Galactica again, the new re-imagined series (also known as the RDM version, named after its creator and Star Trek alumni Ronald D. Moore – the relevance of this little factoid will be revealed later on). I often have stuff on in the background while doing some of the more tedious work for the site, and TV series with completed seasons that I’ve watched before are great in that they’re long and familiar, which means it won’t distract me from working (too much). If you’ve not seen the RDM BSG series, you really ought to give it a go, especially if you’re a fan of good sci-fi. It’s one of those milestone shows that forever changed sci-fi, and now every second sci-fi show tries to emulate its “grittiness” and serial format (including one particular season of Star Trek: Enterprise, if I can remember), as opposed to Star Trek’s spotless, episodic nature. It’s also one sexy, if still quite tame by HBO standard, show.

Anyway, enough babble, on to the news!

Copyright

Vinyl record player

Old songs will finally start falling into public domain

Before we get to the Star Trek stuff, there’s a bit of copyright good news (relatively speaking) coming out of Washington DC, at a time when good news out of that place is a rarer commodity than modesty from President Trump. For once, Congress, rights-holder groups and digital rights activists have all come together in support of a new copyright bill that could finally set a limit on the copyright term of old music. Really old music.

Having sailed through the US Senate, the Music Modernization Bill will finally start putting music published from 1923 into public domain, starting this year. Songs made before 1946 will all have a set 95 year term, while songs published between 1947 and 1956 would get a 110 year term. Songs published between 1957 and 1972 would all expire by 2067, meaning that will be the year Bill Withers’s ‘Lean On Me’ will fall into public domain. It’s a compromise for digital rights groups like Public Knowledge, which supported the bill, but it finally puts and end limit on copyright terms for songs that were increasingly looking that they were never going to fall into public domain.

Now all we need is something similar for movie and TV content. Can’t wait for a public domain Mickey Mouse to exist, and also can’t wait to see how freaked out Disney will be by it.

Speaking of a media giant being freaked out, CBS has decided to use the nuclear option (or an antimatter explosion equivalent) to take out a promising fan project that will finally allow all of us Trekkies and Trekkers to live out a fantasy – to walk the decks of the USS Enterprise-D. CBS has ordered the fan project Stage 9, which has meticulously recreated the illustrious ship using the Unreal Engine, complete with working controls (yes, even saucer seps!), sound effects and crew members, to shut down or face a legal version of a photon torpedo attack.

Stage 9 USS Enterprise-D Engineering

CBS shuts down the antimatter containment field on the Stage 9 project

This is despite CBS Vice President for Product Development John Van Citters recently reassuring contributors to fan projects that “they’re not going to hear from us. They’re not going to get a phone call, they’re not going to get an email. They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day one way or another and make them feel bad, like they’ve done something wrong”. Except that exactly what the Stage 9 team got, and efforts to contact Mr Van Citters did not produce any results (as in, no response at all).

I’m sure the people behind Stage 9 would have made any changes that CBS would have requested, and even if CBS wanted them to pay for a license, I’m sure fans of the project would have loved to help. Unfortunately, CBS decided to not to play ball (or Parrises squares) with Stage 9, and us fans were left with no options, not even a paying one.

That last sentence wasn’t entirely correct. There is an option, one that’s obviously not legal now that CBS has stepped in. Downloads of the latest build of Stage 9 has been floating around Reddit and the usual torrent places, and lots of people are downloading. Not sure how long this will go on before the CBS take action on these links. A very sad state of affairs, if you ask me. Sadder than when Captain Picard opened the box containing “his” Ressikan Flute. Sadder than the end of “Lower Decks”.

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And on that nerdy note, we come to the end of this WNR. Back to more fraking excellent BSG. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 23, 2018)

September 23rd, 2018

Welcome to another issue of the WNR. Many of you read this roundup via our newsletter, and if you do, you might have noticed that it was our 600th issue last week. There’s a pretty strong link between the newsletter and this WNR, as both became regular features at around the same time, some 11 years ago. To put that into perspective, when the WNR first started, the iPhone was only a couple of months old. That’s the original iPhone, the one without any numbers (or now, Roman numerals/letters) after it. 2007 was also the year that Netflix started their streaming business.

So suffice to say, a lot of things have changed since then. But as you’ll find out in this WNR, some things stay the same.

Copyright

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker

Some Denuvo games are being cracked on the day of release

So 11 years later, DRM is still around and still a pain in the you know what. It used to be the controversial SecuROM that was causing all sorts of problems like constant reactivations, rootkits, these days it’s Denuvo with its potential performance problems. But publishers, just like back then, don’t care too much about the problems DRM like Denuvo and SecuROM bring, not if it protects their games. At least in Denuvo’s defence, it does actually work, for a while. That “for a while” is getting shorter and shorter though, and a new batch of games with the latest Denuvo version has just been cracked.

It’s kind of sad that publishers continue to use DRM even though there’s plenty of evidence that it’s actually making for a poorer user experience for their products, like how framerates for ‘Mass Effect Andromeda’ went up by 12%, in one test, after an official patch removed Denuvo protection from the game recently. There’s is also the negative PR for when a game is announced to use Denuvo, and that may even translate to lost sales.

But you take a look at ‘The Witcher 3’ from the one major publisher who is staunchly anti-DRM, and you look at its sales, and you wonder, is DRM really needed? Despite gamers knowing that the game, being DRM free, would be instantly piratable, 1.5 million people still chose to pre-order the game. And even after release (and after the pirated version was floating freely online), 6 million more copies were sold in the first six weeks. And the game continued to sell well two years after release, with sales in 2017 outnumbering that from 2016 – and all the while, the game was DRM-free and pirated everywhere. This made the ‘Witcher’ series more popular, sales wise, than the likes of ‘Fallout’, ‘Borderlands’, and the entire ‘Batman’ franchise.

The ‘DRM-free’ equals ‘piracy’ equals ‘lost sales’ equation doesn’t seem to compute.

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New Netflix Interface

Unique local content, interface improvements, key to being competitive for SVOD providers

The SVOD marketplace is getting very competitive. Even though Netflix has a huge share of the market, other players like Amazon, and here in Australia, Stan, are all vying for a slice of the, admittedly still growing, pie. This means that it’s more important than ever for SVOD platforms to be able to stand out from the crowd, to offer something unique. And plain old original content isn’t enough, increasingly, SVOD platforms are now offering localised original content.

Take Australia for example, the local SVOD outfit Stan has already released several original Australian series and even a movie, while Netflix has one in the works as well. And from Netflix, here in Australia, we can watch series from China, Brazil, Spain, France and many other countries.

And apart from unique content, there’s also the need to constantly improve the user experience. The apps for most streaming platforms are already pretty slick, but there are always room for improvement (even if it simply means removing certain features that are no longer useful, such as user reviews and star ratings).

Improvements to playback quality, in terms of 4K UHD, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and soon, HDR10+ are also an important way to keep things fresh.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. I have no idea what issue this one is, since I haven’t been using issue numbers with the WNR. Probably somewhere just north of 500, is my guess. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 16, 2018)

September 16th, 2018

Going by my site statistics, chances are that where you are, it’s probably nice and warm. It’s not so nice and warm here where I’m typing though. Early spring teased us with a couple of days of warm weather, but the bone chilling cold is now back for an encore. So. Bloody. Cold.

We do have a bit of news this week, not a lot, but enough. So let’s get started.

Copyright

The Pirate Bay Down

The Pirate Bay is down for a lot of users

There’s been increasing legal pressure on sites like The Pirate Bay, but while many sites have fallen, The Pirate Bay remains. I was going to say “remains strong”, but that’s probably not true. The Pirate Bay is currently in the middle of yet another extended downtime, and while access has returned for some, it remains problematic for others. Others including myself, as while writing the story and testing to see if I could access the site, I had to first deal with our court mandated piracy filter (easily bypassed with my VPN of choice), before getting the dreaded “Error 502 – Bad Gateway”, otherwise known as the can’t connect to the site, page.

There are reports that the site is working fine for others though, so it feels like there’s a bad pathway somewhere, or a few bad servers among good ones.

It’s not the only torrent site that has been experiencing technical problems of late. Demonoid, another site from the golden age of piracy, is still accessible for the most part (and not blocked here in Australia … yet), but certain parts of the site are not working. These include the all important torrent details page, although you can still download torrents from the search results/index pages.

Worryingly, there’s no real information on why these problems are occurring. It’s unlikely that these problems are the result of some specific legal action,

So not a great time for pirates looking for the latest downloads, but they already know that there are powerful forces working against pirate site these days, and if TPB and Demonoid’s problems are only technical ones and not legal ones, then that’s probably the “best” kind of downtime they can hope for.

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Amazon Prime Instant Videos

Amazon Prime not as popular as Netflix, but OTT as a whole doing extremely well

You don’t need to have being paying too much attention to realise that the future of video lies in OTT services. OTT stands for Over The Top, and it’s just another way of saying video delivery via the Internet (as opposed to cable/satellite and other traditional broadcast), and so things like iTunes and Netflix are all counted.

The latest research suggests that OTT is going to be the dominant video delivery method not just in the US but also in Western Europe. There are some interesting predictions in the last report by research firm Digital TV Research, like how dominant Netflix is (over twice as popular as Amazon Prime Video), and how dominant SVOD will be in 2023 (54% of all OTT revenue).

Showing that there’s still probably room to grow for the like of Netflix and Amazon Prime, currently 30% of all revenue comes from the UK alone. While Digital TV Research believes that this will still be true in 2023, with Netflix and others keen on adding more non English original content, the other markets might have more potential for growth than what Digital TV Research gives them credit for.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Hoping for more next week, as always. Until then, have a great one!


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