No news roundup this week because there was hardly any news. But that’s normal I guess, what with the holiday season upon us. Wishing all our loyal readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, from me and everyone here at Digital Digest.
Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It’s going to be a short one again, after last week’s epic (erm, not really) edition. There are still a few stories to go through, but a few of them are quite similar in nature, while the others don’t really need much analysis on my part.
So short and sweet it is!
To block or not to block, that is the question. That is also the theme of this week’s copyright news stories, as countries debate the need to block, others have already decided to go ahead, and what has already been blocked becomes unblocked.
In Sweden, home of the Pirate Bay, arguments are still being heard in case that will decide whether the world’s most notorious piracy site will have to be blocked by the country’s ISPs. These ISPs, however, argue that piracy site blocking is in essence censorship. The ISPs also don’t want to be made copyright cops, or face being made an “accomplice” in online copyright crimes. With an earlier district court opinion siding with ISPs, there is a good chance that site blocking will never become a reality in the home of the Pirate Bay.
The same cannot be said here in Australia, where the Pirate Bay and other piracy sites will soon be blocked, at the DNS level, by ISPs. Most of this has already been decided via an update to the copyright act, but under the new court ruling, rights-holders will pay a nominal fee to get each domain blocked after seeking an injunction. ISPs then have 15 days to block the domain in question.
It’s a sad state of affairs that this kind of censorship will soon become a reality, as similar blocks in other countries have not resulted in any difference to the piracy rate. Enterprising pirates will easily find a way around the block too, meaning it will just be a waste of time for all involved.
Speaking of wasting time, for all the time and money that went into investigating and then shutting down KickassTorrents, it appears it’s a lot easier and cheaper to just start a new one from scratch. A new KickassTorrent clone that’s being run by many of the same people that ran the old site has just been launched, and despite some early hiccups (like the site being down due to the traffic spike).
The site is actually completely new, with a blank user and torrent database, and uses no code from the original site. So it’s actually quite an accomplishment that the new site looks and works so much like the original one, and with the original team in place, and many of the original uploaders coming back to the site, it looks like KAT might live once more.
The Xbox One S is getting bitstream support to enable external decoding of Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. I covered this story at the back end of October, but there’s been a small update since. With the update scheduled to go live in “early 2017”, some Xbox One owners can already test out this feature for themselves. Xbox Insider members can now update their Xbox One (both the original and S) to enable bistream support for Blu-ray playback. There are still some known issues, such as videos sometimes playing without sound, or a popping sound being heard between transitions, but these issues will likely all be fixed when the “gold” rollout occurs in a few month’s time.
Looks like that’s it for the week. Short, but maybe not too sweet. But that’s okay, sugar is bad for you anyway. See you next week!
From nothing to almost too much, this week’s Weekly News Roundup has one ingredient sorely missing from last week’s edition – namely news!
So let’s not waste any more time and dive right into it …
Google has produced the numbers to show that, far from being a place where freeloaders gather to get free music (especially ones of pirated origins), YouTube is actually putting a lot of money into the pockets of the music industry. One billion in the last 12 months, to be exact. And this is just ad-revenue from legally uploaded videos and from pirated uploads via Content ID.
You might think the music industry, and some of music’s most well known, and richest stars, might be satisfied with this. But they’re not. They say growth in free music is outpacing growth in revenue from ads and subscriptions, and they’re worried that falling track and album sales will start to hurt in the near future.
They might be right, but it’s not because of piracy or YouTube even. It does feel like the music industry may be in transition again, so soon after the last one from physical CD album sales to digital tracks. The new transition, and it’s something Google is saying as well (and giving the music industry an advanced warning on), is one from sales to subscription/advertising. The last transition has dramatically downgraded the financial fortunes of the music industry, and this new transition may hurt them again. It is a bit of a shame, but this is the free-market, and the market always decides what things are worth.
If music lovers decide that music should be subscription based, or ad-supported but free to listen, and they decide that it’s no longer in their interest to pay the current price for tracks, then that’s bad luck for the music industry. Unless they want government policy to offer special protection to the industry – and I don’t see how it’s fair to give them protection at the expense of other industries – then it’s something that Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI, and stars like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, will have to learn to live with. They will argue that this will end the music industry, and mean less music being produced, but that would only be true if all musicians are getting into the game just for the money.
In fact, with self publishing easier than it’s ever been, and with YouTube promising to put more resources into promoting the stars of tomorrow, the future of music still looks bright, even if it means the likes of Taylor Swift may have to settle for earnings of $30 million per year, instead of $73 million.
Also looking bright are the prospects of Iceland’s Pirate Party governing the Nordic island nation. The president of the country has allowed the Pirate Party, who came third in recent elections, the chance to form government after the two biggest parties failed to build a workable coalition. Now, the chance of Iceland actually being ruled by a coalition headed by the Pirates appears to be slim, since it will need the support of one of the two bigger parties, and if this was a possibility, it would have happened already. Instead, Icelanders may have to go back to the polls and see if a fresh round of elections can produce an outright winner.
But still, it highlights just how popular the Pirates are doing in the country. It is after all the anti-establishment choice for Iceland, and the recent trend away from the establishment has definitely helped them. Anti-establishment doesn’t always have to mean islamaphobia, xenophobia and electing people with un-explainable hair, and the Pirates do have some solid policies, not to mention it’s refugee-welcoming policies (73% of Icelanders say the country should accept more refugees).
Not being afraid to change things around is usually a recipe for success. Sometimes I’m a bit harsh on Hollywood when it comes to all things copyright, but often though, it’s not the studios that are resistant to change, but others in the industry. So when Apple and some of the biggest studios are meeting to discuss a way for people who prefer to watch the newest blockbusters not at the cinemas but in their homes, the resistance comes from cinema chains.
To be fair, they have valid concerns. If movies are also made available to view at home during the theatrical window, then cinemas will definitely lose money. How much depends on how much people value the cinematic experience, but with price gouging when it comes to the concession stand, and often sub-standard presentations that can’t match the clarity and aural experience of a well set up home cinema, the cinematic experience definitely has room to improve.
What could happen though is a deal which sees cinema chains get a cut of profits from this kind of premium, fast-tracked home viewing, in exchange for giving up their exclusive rights to screenings. The last thing the studios want is for cinema chains to launch some kind of protest, which ends up having films like Deadpool 2 getting boycotted at release.
For Apple though, the equation is very simple – a faster release equals more money by helping to serve a currently under-served (or really, un-served) market.
This is probably how Netflix came to the decision to copy Amazon, erm I mean, to come up on their own with the innovative idea of adding downloads to a streaming service. There’s probably not a lot of people that will use the download feature, but there are situations (no Wi-Fi, on a plane, etc…) where downloading is definitely required – so an under-served area becomes served, and everyone is happy.
But that’s not why I wanted to bring up Netflix’s download mode this week. The reason is that now we know a bit more about the technical side of Netflix’s implementation, and so this kind of stuff is right up my alley. A long time supporter for H.264 AVC, Netflix is actually using Google’s VP9 for downloads. At least for selected platforms that natively support VP9, namely Android.
Compared to using the AVC-Main profile, Netflix’s use of VP9-Mobile could actually save up to 36% in terms of bandwidth, for the same perceivable quality. Netflix is also using per-chunk optimization for its encodings, which splits the movie into 1-3 minute segments and then applying a different encoding setting for each chunk, to further minimize file size.
But minimizing file size isn’t Netflix’s only goal, it can also use these enhancements to improve the quality of downloads by keeping the files at the same size, which is that the company is doing with its downloads. And since downloads are currently only supported by a limited number of devices, Netflix are free to experiment with new encoding techniques without running into problems with backwards compatibility. It’s a good idea all around.
Speaking of good ideas, and in particularly if you’re stressing about finding a cool Christmas gift idea, how about this. Nostalgia is a thing this holiday (eg. Nintendo Classic), so why not bring back laserdiscs, without actually bringing it back. These laserdisc sized Blu-ray “Big Sleeve Editions” from Disney is obviously another cynical attempt at double-dipping, but they are also very attractive looking packages for that film fan friend or family member that already appears to have everything. They’re only available in the UK at the moment, but don’t be surprised to see it elsewhere in the future.
In Ultra HD Blu-ray news, it does speak to the current state of PCs (and possibly the paranoid copyright culture) that despite the availability of a $299 Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the form of the excellent value Xbox One S, you still can’t play UHD discs on your PC because of the lack of available hardware and software.
But the situations appears to be getting better, with Intel, Nvidia and AMD all working hard to produce new hardware that enables and accelerates UHD playback, and on the software front, Cyberlink has just announced that PowerDVD has received official UHD Blu-ray certification, meaning UHD playback will be coming in 2017.
To get the best out of UHD, you’ll probably end up needing a new CPU, GPU, optical drive and monitor (so basically an entirely new PC), at considerable cost. That $299 Xbox One S is starting to look mighty tempting.
Once things start rolling on the PC UHD Blu-ray front, I might just write a guide on how you can build the cheapest possible UHD capable system that can get the best out of UHD.
Well, that was a good news week, and I didn’t even have to resort to fake news. Alright, no more blabbering from me. See you next week!
Welcome to another edition of the Weekly News Roundup. A new week has definitely passed, but unfortunately, due to Thanksgiving probably and me being busy with other stuff, there’s not much to talk about (or more precisely, there’s no news to talk about at all).
So instead, I’ll use this blank canvas to ramble incoherently about DVD, Blu-ray and 4K sales, as a preview to my yearly Blu-ray: The State of Play series.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been keeping track of weekly U.S. Blu-ray and DVD sales numbers for quite a few years now, and every year, I write the “State of Play” to summarise how the year went in terms of sales, and looks at trends. Even though we are without probably the best weeks of the year in terms of sales, I thought I would offer a preview of what the year has been like so far for Blu-ray sales.
It’s an important year because a new Blu-ray format, Ultra HD Blu-ray, was introduced, and the popularization of streaming continued unabated. So it’s important to take a look to see if discs are still a thing that people want. More importantly, has 4K had a positive effect on the format (considering that 4K UHD Blu-ray sales are counted as Blu-ray sales in the stats I provide weekly).
Looking at the stats, the short answer is yes, 4K has helped Blu-ray record a turn-around!
2015 was not a good year for discs, and not a good year for Blu-ray. Blu-ray revenue had declined for the second year running, and it certainly appears that “peak Blu-ray” or even “peak disc”, where the peak for Blu-ray/disc sales, had already been reached some time in 2013.
But 2016 is turning out to be quite different, at least for the first 47 weeks so far of the year, and the turning point came in March, when the first Ultra HD Blu-ray discs were released.
Let me go into some more detail for you. Of the 52 weeks in 2015, thirty weeks (that’s close to 58% of the weeks) had a Blu-ray revenue result that was lower than the same week in 2014, compared to 22 weeks (42%) that had recorded a rise in Blu-ray revenue.
For 2016 so far, it has reversed, where 21 weeks (45%) were worse compared to 26 weeks (55%) that were better. Looking at the same time period (the first 47 weeks) in 2015, Blu-ray revenue was 7.6% lower than the same period in 2014, but comparing 2016 to 2015, Blu-ray revenue is now up 2.3%. That’s what I call a turnaround!
Now looking at the first 11 weeks of 2016 that did not include any Ultra HD Blu-ray sales, 6 of these weeks were worse than the same weeks in 2016, only 5 were better. Revenue for this period had fallen 6.1% compared to a year ago.
So in other words, before Ultra HD Blu-ray, revenue was falling at about the same rate as in 2015, but since then, revenue has actually risen. Ultra HD Blu-ray has had a very positive effect on Blu-ray sales.
None of this should be a surprise for those that have been following the WNR. I’ve mentioned many times that studios have been very proactive in releasing titles on UHD Blu-ray, and that the UHD version is selling quite well given how new the format it (it frequently beats the 3D version of the same film). And studios are only keen to push UHD because there are lots of households already with 4K, thanks to a lower than expect price premium to upgrade to the format (relatively speaking, of course).
Now with that said, the final few weeks of 2016 could still change things around, depending on how receptive people are to Ultra HD Blu-ray during this crucial sales period. But given that the Xbox One S is expected to sell very well in the U.S. during the holidays, and the Xbox One S includes an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, it’s quite possible the sales growth will actually intensify during the next few weeks.
We’ll have to wait a few more weeks before I can confirm were Blu-ray revenue will end up, and even if my hypothesis is correct and that 4K is helping sales, it’s hard to tell if this boost is just a temporary one on the transition away from discs.
More news (or some news) next week, I promise. Have a good one!
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