Weekly News Roundup (12 May 2013)

Happy Mother’s Day! Not sure how I can segue the holiday into a WNR mostly about BitTorrent and streaming, but this and this may help.

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Let’s start …

Copyright

BitTorrent Inc this week chose to launch a strange attack on Netflix’s claims last week that BitTorrent traffic drops whenever Netflix enters a new market.

It was strange to me because it was clear that Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos was referring to piracy related BitTorrent traffic (responding to a question about piracy in an interview with Stuff magazine). That BitTorrent Inc chose to counter these claims seemed at first to me like they were inadvertently accepting the association between BitTorrent, the company, and piracy.

Sarandos said last week that “When we launch in a territory the Bittorrent traffic drops as the Netflix traffic grows”. BitTorrent’s VP of marketing Matt Mason this week criticized Sarandos’s statement for linking BitTorrent with piracy. Mason also disputed the relationship between BitTorrent and Netflix traffic, saying the latter was most likely due to a BitTorrent algorithm that reduces traffic flows during peak usage times, including during peak Netflix usage hours.

The first part of the criticism I can understand, although one would have to take Sarandos comments out of context for that confusion to arise, but the second part is a bit curious to say the least. Mason’s explanation seem to be talking about a BitTorrent traffic drop during peak usage hours, but surely whatever traffic pattern changes exists whether Netflix exists in the area or not, and even then, the algorithm will only manage to push traffic to non peak times. There would not be an overall traffic drop over a period of time, which seems to be what Netflix’s Sarandos is suggesting. To me, Sarandos is saying that less stuff gets transferred via BitTorrent once Netflix moves into a new area, and I fail to see how traffic management can lead to less stuff being downloaded. And since Sarandos was talking mainly about piracy related traffic, why is BitTorrent Inc injecting themselves right into the middle of this particular hornet’s nest?

Mason does agree with Sarandos’s suggestion that the best way to fight piracy is by giving people what they want. And if this were true, then piracy related BitTorrent traffic should drop. For Mason to suggest that it hasn’t would require you to completely disassociate piracy with the BitTorrent technology, and that isn’t reality no matter how you may want to spin it.

BitTorrent Logo

What’s in a name? BitTorrent the company, the protocol, or the acts of piracy?

Perhaps Sarandos’s statement was a bit clumsy, in that he chose to condense the phrase “piracy related BitTorrent traffic” to just “BitTorrent traffic”, and also offered nothing to back up his claimed relationship between Netflix and BitTorrent traffic. But it seemed like an off the cuffs kind of comment, that taken into context, shouldn’t really concern the likes of BitTorrent Inc.

It just seemed to me like BitTorrent Inc was budding into a conversation that wasn’t even about them, by loudly proclaiming that the conversation shouldn’t be about them. Mission un-accomplished?

While I understand the frustration of BitTorrent Inc in regards to the far too liberal use of the term BitTorrent (something I’m guilty of too here), which I talked about in the last issue of the WNR, I fear it may be too late at this stage to disassociate BitTorrent with piracy. It’s become a shorthand, rightly or wrongly.

But instead of taking on Netflix over a somewhat lazy use of words, and seemingly agreeing and disagreeing with Netflix’s anti-piracy credentials at the same time, BitTorrent Inc should just keep on pushing the “legal content via BitTorrent” agenda, and continue to support companies like Netflix in their attempt to fight piracy the right way. It’s too late in the game to be this oversensitive about wording.

Along with Netflix, Spotify has probably done the most to stop piracy. But a flaw in the Spotify web player was exploited last week to full effect when a Chrome browser add-on called Downloadify allowed every song in Spotify’s 20 million strong catalog to be downloaded without DRM.

The add-on was promptly removed by Google, and Spotify soon fixed the flaw, but not before more than 16,000 songs were downloaded.

The flaw, which apparently had cached songs being unencrypted, had been there for at least five or six months. I do wonder what it means when it took so long for the flaw to be exploited, and that the Spotify web player was essentially DRM free all this time with not a worry in the world.

Also note that for the hardcore pirates out there, it’s still possible to record what’s being played by Spotify and “rip” it that way. Only those most serious about pirating would probably attempt it though, because, I mean, why bother?

Gaming

As we get closer to the official May 21 launch event for the Xbox 720, codenamed ‘Durango’, and possibly actually named Xbox Infinity, more concrete information about the console is being leaked week by week. This week, we have the story of an internal Microsoft email sent to all employees working on the console that seem to allay fears that the console would feature a much hated ‘always-on’ DRM system.

The leaked email specifically addresses the issue and says that the console will be “tolerant” of today’s Internet connectivity issues, which means that activities such as “playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single player game” will not be subject to any Internet connection requirements.

Phew.

Microsoft Blu-ray Drive

After years of a rumored Blu-ray drive add-on for the Xbox 360, the next Xbox may finally get Blu-ray movie playback

To be honest, I never believed that ‘always-on’ DRM was on the cards. Sure, other leaked documents and rumors talk of an ‘always on, always-connected’ console, but it always sounded more like the description of a quick stand-by mode that also featured support for things like background updates. The truth of the matter is that console piracy isn’t so serious yet that ‘always-on’ DRM will be required at the expense of making gamers angry, certainly not for a new console whose actual copy protection system may take a while to be broken.

As a bonus, the leaked email also seem to confirm not just the use of Blu-ray discs for the Xbox 720, but the inclusion of Blu-ray movie playback, which would be a great upgrade to the Xbox 360′s media playback credentials. Unfortunately, another rumor suggests that this very inclusion is the reason the Xbox 720 will fail to meet its previously predicted 2013 launch date, instead being delayed until 2014 due to Blu-ray licensing troubles. Apparently, Sony has an exclusivity agreement in place for console based Blu-ray playback at the moment.

This could spell trouble for Microsoft, since timing is everything. Microsoft knows, that despite the Red Rings of Death problems with the early Xbox 360, the Xbox platform wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is now if Microsoft hadn’t released the console a year earlier than its competitors.

The same doesn’t look to be true for the Wii U unfortunately. Despite also releasing a year earlier compared to the PS4 and Xbox Infinity, I fear that when the three consoles are compared, the Wii U will look a lot more dated than just a year. I know graphics shouldn’t be that important, but it’s the easiest way to compare multi-platform titles, and the minor improvement that the Wii U has over existing consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360 means its early release has no positive effect. At its time of release, the Xbox 360 was head and shoulders above the likes of the GameCube and the PS2, and Nintendo needed to do something similar if they really wanted to get back part of the hardcore gaming market.

And the sad part is that poor early sales will destroy any slim chance the Wii U has in going against the PS4 and Xbox Infinity. A low user-base will be enough to convince some developers to skip the Wii U entirely when it comes to developing multi-platform titles, which means a lack of new titles, which means even lower sales. This vicious circle is extremely dangerous, even with Nintendo’s good track record in terms of first-party titles, and the company needs to do everything it can to ensure developers continue to make stuff for the Wii U (even if it means big financial payoffs, a strategy that Sony and Microsoft are no strangers to).

That or dramatically cut prices.

And I think that’s it for the week. See you in seven.

 

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