Weekly News Roundup (1 March 2015)

March 1st, 2015

Again, apologies for not having anything to talk about last week. And apologies for having too much to go through this week. No time to waste, so let’s get started …

Copyright

Net Neutrality

A big win for Net Neutrality, no surprises that ISPs didn’t like the FCC ruling, nor did Republicans

So while last week was super quiet, this week was anything but. The most exciting, and perhaps important news of the week came via a source you don’t usually associate with excitement – the FCC. This week, the FCC voted (3-2 on party lines, 3 Democrats vs 2 Republicans) to reclassify Internet access as an utility under Title II of the Communications Act. What this means is that, after the setback in the courts which seems to have doomed Net Neutrality, the new strategy by Net Neutrality proponents to seek a Title II reclassification appears to have worked. The FCC can now implement their Open Internet rules via regulation that’s designed to protect consumers, much like how the government does so in regards to electricity or water access.

What I found most interesting were the Republican responses, many slamming the ruling as “big government overreach”. But when it comes to protecting the free (more as in money, than freedom) flow of information on the Internet, I will side with big government any day of the week over big corporations and monopolies – corporations like Comcast and Verizon who want to toll up the Internet, relegating those who cannot pay to second class net citizens. The choice is not between regulation and no regulation, the choice is between government regulation designed to protect the consumer, or big business regulation designed to enrich themselves.

The funny thing was that many of these big business anti-regulation politicians took to social media platforms like Twitter to vent their outrage, the very same social media platforms, and indirectly free speech itself, that will be harmed if Net Neutrality is destroyed. The “market knows” mantra doesn’t work when in effect there is no market, just monopolies – in this instance, the only thing the market knows is how to line their pockets with money at the expense of everyone else.

The fact that most big Internet businesses, like Netflix and Microsoft and Twitter and Tumblr, are all hailing the ruling should be giving these so called pro free market politicians some pause for thought. Sometimes by being anti-regulation simply means you’re supporting one business or industry at the expense of another, and when free market politicians active campaign and legislate for this, aren’t they the ones, in government, doing all the regulating and altering the results of what was supposed to be a free market? Add in the fact that the market and its participants are often not rational at all, it all adds up to the idea that you sometimes cannot have a free, healthy market without strong regulation (designed not to stifle it, but to protect it).

Google DMCA Stats

Google removes so many results due to DMCA requests, but how many invalid requests do they receive?

Now I know the story above is less to do with copyright and more to do with the Internet in general (didn’t stop the MPAA from somehow tying the ruling to their anti-piracy crusade), but this next story definitely is a copyright story, and had it gone the wrong way, could have had an even bigger impact than Net Neutrality. The Internet was one bad DMCA takedown request away from having the world’s most popular downloads all being blocked on Google, if Google had been sleeping on the job. Everything from Java, to Skype, to WhatsApp, to Redhat/Apache/MySQL server software, could have been removed from Google’s index if the DMCA request from Total Wipes Music Group for an obscure music album would have been processed without intervention. Luckily, Google’s system is designed to prevent this type of false positives, although right now, there appear to be no punitive action for companies that continue to submit bad requests.

To be fair to Total Wipes Music Group, they accepted total responsibility and vowed to never let it happen again (apparently it was a software error that, instead of grabbing links related to the name of the music album, grabbed links related to the word “download” instead – no wonder then that the most popular downloads in the world were all listed).

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I suppose, being in Australia, I should talk about the new industry code of conduct to deal with the piracy problem here. The proposal calls for a three-strikes system, but one that appears to be full of loopholes and watered down actions. For example, those on business plans are exempt, while you can get away with two infringement notices every year without any sort of punitive action (the three-strikes counter resets every 12 month). And even when you do get that third strike, it’s up to Big Content to get a court order to compel the ISP to hand over customer details – whether Big Content wants to go down the “sue the downloader” route again, after already admitting that it was largely a mistake, I don’t really know.

What I do know is that our no good, universally despised and most likely to be voted out of office government has been putting a lot of pressure on ISPs and content owners to come up with an industry solution, with the threat of government intervention if talks fail. This is the same government that failed to consult ISPs and consumer groups, and instead, only talked to content owners before coming up with the idea that everything must be done to ensure US companies can continue to rip off Australian consumers by charging more for less. Why am I not surprised?

Gaming

In all my excitement last week about the, um, total lack of excitement, I actually forgot to talk about the January NPD results. But they weren’t that exciting though, with the PS4 once again back on top after the Xbox One sales event ($50 off) ended, before bringing the discount back half way through the month.

This week did yield something a bit more interesting, with Nielsen releasing the results of a survey that shows just exactly why people choose the console they choose.

PS4 with controller and PS Eye

“Better graphics” is the most common reason why people choose the PS4 over the Xbox One (and Wii U)

“Better graphics” was the number one reason behind PS4 buyers choosing to buy Sony’s latest console, while Xbox One buyers said that the Xbox brand was what attracted them the most.

And just to show how perception really is 90 per cent of reality, both PS4 and Xbox One owners cited “faster processing power” behind their choices (although I guess both could have been referring to their consoles of choice being faster the Wii U) – both Xbox One and Wii U owners also cited “exclusive game content” as a top reason.

Showing that Kinect isn’t the dead horse that many others believe it to be, the number two reason for Xbox One owners choosing Microsoft’s console was the console’s “innovative features”.

For Wii U owners, the “fun factor”, “better for kids” and better value nature of the console were key drivers, something that makes perfect sense.

Also very interesting was the question of which last-gen consoles the respondents owned. 59% of PS4 owners previously owned an Xbox 360, compared to only 43% of Xbox One owners who had owned a PS3 – the difference here perhaps explains the reversal of fortunes between Microsoft and Sony’s consoles in this generation. 86% of Wii U owners owned the Wii, showing Nintendo still has a group of loyal fans.

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All very interesting stuff. It’s just one of those things I guess, sometimes all the interesting stuff happen all at the same time. Sad stuff too. R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy. I’ll leave you with his very last tweet:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Dif-tor heh smusma, Spock.

Weekly News Roundup (22 February 2015)

February 22nd, 2015

Well that was a quiet week, one of the quietest I can remember. I don’t know if it’s the post Valentine’s blues or what, but there was hardly any news stories to write about, or at least none that were interesting/original enough. It might be just one of those weeks though …

So with barely anything to talk about, this WNR should be a rather quick one, which isn’t altogether a bad thing from time to time.

High Definition

XFINITY

Cable is still extremely popular, but OTT services like Netflix will be a threat in the future

So there was really only one story, and I didn’t really think it was that good of a story to write about either: that more and more people are skipping pay TV bundles the age of Netflix and other “Over The Top” services.

And things are going to get worse for cable companies once HBO’s OTT product is released, sometime this year (HBO, or specifically, Game of Thrones may be the only thing making some people still hold on to their subscriptions).

But with mergers and acquisitions, the line between ISP, pay TV provider and content producer is blurring all the time. Content producers may be enjoying the boom times with SVOD licensing, but it’s coming at the expense of their pay TV business probably, and their ISP division may miss out on the dividends of the switch to digital unless they get more deals like the Comcast/Netflix one. Although one could argue that with Internet services being more and more of an utility, should the utility provider profit from the usage of the utility above and beyond the service charge? Analogy time: should electricity providers profit not only from the electricity bill, but also revenue derived from businesses that use large amount of electricity?

It’s all about trying to still make money in changing times, but as with all changes, some will win (eg. Netflix), and some will lose (pay TV companies), while others probably should, by common sense and reason, miss out (ISPs).

Something interesting to think about. The only thing of interest to think about actually, as that was all I could find for the week. Hopefully the next week will be more interesting. Until then …

Weekly News Roundup (15 February 2015)

February 15th, 2015

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day. Hope you and your loved one had a nice, sweet and romantic day, full or roses and chocolates and other nice things. If you’re single, then don’t be too sad and just think of all the money you’ve saved!

No time to waste, so let’s get started on this slightly shorter than usual WNR.

Copyright

RapidShare logo

RapidShare to cease operations by the end of March, falling popularity due to tough anti-piracy measures may be to blame

RapidShare is no more, or rather, it will be no more very soon. The cyberlocker firm, once the darling of pirates due to how easy it was to upload, and download pirated content from the site, then turned copyright reformer (complete with manifesto) and vowed to walk the straight and narrow. But perhaps too straight, and too narrow, so much so that traffic to the site dropped so rapidly (a-pun-logies) that I guess it no longer made sense for the site to keep running.

Which is a shame, because the site did provide a valuable service. That the service was abused by pirates, and also that monetization for the site comes largely via these pirated downloads, is just unfortunate. Services like Dropbox perhaps just had a better balance between private file sharing (useless for pirating), and public sharing, and so are able to survive, not just financially, but also legally.

The irony of RapidShare’s detour via the moral high ground is that it was added back to the piracy black list last year – so much for trying to do the right thing!

High Definition

DVD vs Blu-ray vs 4K

The PS4 and Xbox One already support 4K, although Netflix believes new versions with enhanced 4K support could come later this year

The first hardware revision for the PS4 and Xbox One may bring more than just a smaller footprint – Netflix believes (and perhaps knows) that the update, which could come before Christmas 2015, could also add 4K video streaming support.

If history is correct, both consoles will receive a hardware upgrade by the end of the year, probably “slim” versions that may also be accompanied by a price cut. It is during this update that Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt thinks enhanced 4K support will be added.

Both current-gen consoles actually already support 4K, but only 24/30 FPS playback, a limitation of the HDMI 1.4 port used by both consoles. But Hunt believes that the next hardware revision for the consoles will add in HDMI 2.0 support, which then enables 50/60 FPS 4K playback, something that Netflix does not yet use, but could by the end of the year. Other features, like HDR (high dynamic range) support, could also be added via an upgraded HDMI port.

One country that won’t be needing 4K Netflix any time soon would be Cuba. You might think this is a strange segue, but it’s actually not that strange. You see, thanks to President Obama’s initiative to reopen diplomatic ties with Cuba, Netflix has taken the opportunity to become one of the first American companies to officially do business with the island nation. Cubans can now sign up to Netflix and access the complete Netflix library, TV shows and movies that are the products of capitalist excess. Of course, the number of Cubans who have Internet access, a connection that’s fast enough, and also have enough money to pay for the monthly subscription (and an international credit or debit card), might not be a big enough market for Netflix to earn anything. Not to get too political here, but I suspect this is exactly what the Obama administration had hoped would happen, to not only allow Americans to (legally) visit the country, but to also allow Cubans a view and a taste of American life.

Gaming

PS4 Remote Play

There is now a way to use PS4 Remote Play on non Sony devices

Those lucky enough to have a Xperia Z2 or Z3 device, and a PS4, should be well aware of the PS4 Remote Play feature, where you can use your phone or tablet to stream and play PS4 games on the go. But it’s a no go for non Sony Android users, as while there doesn’t appear to be any technical reason why Remote Play shouldn’t work on these device, Sony obviously don’t want it to happen. Until now.

Developers led by a coder known only as ‘TheScriptKitty’ had released a port of the official Remote Play app that makes it work on almost all Android devices. All users need to know is how to sideload the APK (basically upload the APK to the device, run the APK, after enabling installs from “unknown sources”), and it works surprisingly well with a good number of devices. You can even hook up a DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controller to your phone, as you could with the compatible Xperia smartphones, but you’ll need a rooted Android phone in order to run the app for this.

So you no longer need a Sony phone to get Remote Play, although with that said, there are some seriously good phones as part of the Z2 and Z3 range, so they’re definitely worth considering even if Remote Play is no longer as exclusive as it once was.

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The NPD stats for January just came out while I was finishing off this WNR, so I’ll leave it for next week. Spoiler alert: the PS4 did really well.

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That’s all we have for this week, hope you enjoyed reading. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (8 February 2015)

February 8th, 2015

With The Pirate Bay being resurrected this week, I wonder what rights holders must be thinking right now. So much effort, money used to take down a site that was only down for less than two months, and piracy probably didn’t even drop during the downtime. The words ‘trying’, ‘stop’, ‘flood’ and ‘sponge’ comes to mind.

Let’s get started with this week’s stories.

Copyright

The Pirate Bay

It’s back! Maybe not the same as before, but just as “piratey”

The Pirate Bay is back. Or is it? The death and resurrection of the world’s most popular piracy website has been shrouded in a cloak of secrecy ever since the site went down in early December. The site is now fully back, and with content prior to the raid all being mostly restored, and so it seems like another victory for the pirates against authorities who have tried time and time again to bring down the notorious site.

Following a mysterious raid, cryptic messages, hidden codes, a countdown timer, you can forgive most users for being a bit wary of the whole situation. Conspiracy theories, therefore, are rife now that TPB has also made some controversial changes following its restoration. Gone are admins and moderators, whom the operators of TPB says are responsible for “severe security issues”. Users can now self-moderate by reporting fake and misleading torrents, which will get dealt with. And with the site being so busy again, the use of an US based cloud hosting solution (one that is under US jurisdiction, and therefore, open to surveillance by the authorities) have led some to worry over the site’s privacy, although TPB says the use of an US service is, at this time, only a temporary measure to deal with the huge traffic flows.

The situation is made worse by the fact that, during the site’s hiatus, mirrors, some legit, many not, sprang up all trying to be the “new” Pirate Bay. With the resurrected site using the original domain names (the .se and .org ones), it seems fairly certain this newly returned site is the real deal. But It looks like it will take some time for TPB to earn back the trust of its users.

High Definition

You can now use your HBO Blu-ray discs to stream HBO content. The “HBO Sampler” feature, which uses the BD Live feature on connected Blu-ray players, will allow owners of selected HBO box sets to sample complete episodes of shows like ‘Girls’ and (at some time in the future) ‘True Detectives’. Because the content is streamed via the Internet, the sample episodes available will also be updated, quarterly, to promote different shows.

I guess it’s a lot better than being forced to watch streaming trailers without any way to skip them, which is what BD Live streaming has been most frequently used for so far.

Gaming

Despite the Xbox One’s strong performance in November and December in the United States (it was the top selling console during these two months, which are traditionally the best selling months of the year), the PS4, or rather the PlayStation brand, outsold the Xbox brand quite comfortably in the fourth quarter, and in 2014 overall.

PS4 with controller and PS Eye

PS4 beats Xbox One in 2014, although the Xbox One did really well during the holiday sales in the US

PlayStation consoles recorded 7.7 million units sold in the fourth quarter, compared to 6.6 million for Xbox consoles – most of these, one would guess, would be PS4 and Xbox Ones. For the whole year, PlayStation’s lead extend to more than 6 million, which goes to show just how well the PS4 is doing everywhere. But even with the last-gen, the PS3 always did better outside of the US than the Xbox 360, so these current-gen global numbers are easy to understand.

The Xbox One got two (well, one and a half) price cuts in 2014 (the half a price cut belongs to removing Kinect 2.0 from the package, and lowering the price accordingly), and it’s only this that has allowed it to win the US holidays. In the long term though, the Xbox One’s strategy, much like that of the Xbox 360, must be one that focuses on being cheaper than the PS4, because right now, the PS4 is perceived to be the better, more powerful machine.

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That’s all we have for this week, see you again next time!

Weekly News Roundup (1 February 2015)

February 1st, 2015

It’s been one hell of a week here in Australia. Two weeks ago, we had almost no streaming video-on-demand services, and now we have two, with Netflix on its way too. Australia may now have the most competitive SVOD markets anywhere in the world, and Netflix’s success here may no longer be guaranteed.

We’ll have more on this later in the WNR, for now, let’s start with the copyright related news stories.

Copyright

iTunes 10

Digital music sales have fundamentally changed how music is sold, from the days of (much more profitable) CD albums

Another nail into the coffin for the notion that piracy reduction leads to increased revenue, based on the far too simplified idea that every pirated copy is a lost sale. Despite a dramatic decrease in the music piracy rate in Norway, revenue for the industry has barely changed, and in real money terms, may have decreased since the heady days of piracy.

Whereas in 2009, 80% said they downloaded pirated music, now, only 4% admit to doing so. And despite the country’s tougher copyright laws, it was refreshing to hear from the country’s anti-piracy lobby that new legal services, and not legislation, has been largely responsible for this change in behaviour. But despite music piracy having been practically defeated, music industry revenue in Norway remains flat.

The explanation is simply. The fall in music revenue has little to do with piracy, and much more to do with the transition from physical media, CDs, to digital. Highly profitable CD album sales gave way to cheaper digital track sales, and revenue has been going downwards ever since (which is common sense, since there is quite a difference in earnings between paying $12 for an album of 12 songs for only one song that you actually want versus paying $1.29 for the same song as a download). The fact that piracy, itself a by-product (or side effect) of the digital transition, rose during the same time period only suggests correlation, not causation.

Now, some of this lost revenue is being clawed back by revenue from streaming. It’s not going to replace what was lost by CD album sales, which seems to be the chief complaint of the music industry these days. They’re just going to have to get used to the new normal, because purchasing habits have dramatically changed and no amount of blaming piracy is going to change it back.

High Definition

For video streaming, things are changing too. Instead of relying on the (often limited and frustrating to use) streaming capabilities of other CE devices (such as Blu-ray players, smart TVs and game consoels) to watch streaming content on their TVs, more and more are using dedicated media streamers such as Apple TVs, Rokus, Chromecasts and Fire TV Sticks. And even more, 40% of households, will be using them by 2017, says NPD.

Amazon Fire TV

Devices like the Amazon Fire TV are taking over from Blu-ray players and game consoles for TV streaming

It goes the other way too. Streaming services need to realise that user experience is sometimes just as important as the content. Taking a look at Australia, where the streaming scene has exploded in the last week with the launch of not one but two new streaming services (and this is before Netflix even arrives, in March). Both new services, Presto and Stan, have decided to go down the Android, iOS and Chromecast route (Stan additionally also supports Apple TV). Devices like the Chromecast now represents the quickest way to get video streaming apps on TVs, even TVs without Internet connectivity, and it’s also easier for developers than having to work with Microsoft or Sony, or who knows how many other smart TV makers, to get apps onto these closed platforms. Netflix, with their experience and expertise, will be able to launch in Australia with greater hardware support, and that will give them a big advantage.

Microsoft does have an advantage here, with Windows 10 apps likely to work across a range of Windows and Xbox devices, making it easier for developers (and increasing the incentive) to make apps for that platform. Sony, on the other hand, will have to hope that the PS3/PS4’s popularity is incentive enough for video app developers to take on the platform (time will tell if Presto and Stan get PS3/PS4 apps). That leaves the smart TV makers, all of whom have their own closed platforms that developers will have to take a lot of time to learn and develop for. What smart TV manufacturers need is a common app OS, and Android TV may be the answer.

Apps and OS’s aside, what has made things easier recently has been the increasing support for HTML5, which allows websites and apps to share common code, and for an easy way to streaming video. YouTube’s decision this week to default to HTML5 for its videos, for Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and Firefox beta users, is the best indication yet that this is the direction all web/app developers will be heading towards. It’s bad news for Flash though, and I think even Adobe realises that its time has come and gone.

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That’s the way. See how every story this week seems to have segued nicely from one to the other? I love it when this happens, even if sometimes I have to take force the issue somewhat. See you next week.


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