Archive for the ‘High Definition (Blu-ray/HD DVD/4K)’ Category

Blu-ray: The State of Play – 2016

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Welcome to another edition of our annual Blu-ray sales analysis, where we look at how Blu-ray has performed over the last year.

The data used in this analysis derives from our weekly updates, based on figures released by Home Media Magazine. Some of the historical figures you’ll see have also been adjusted, due to slight tweaking of the metrics used by HMM to create these sets of data, although the changes have been very subtle and does not change the bigger picture in any way.

Last year, we concluded that “peak Blu-ray” had been reached in 2013, and that the format’s fortunes were on the decline ever since. 2016 is a particular interesting year to examine because of the introduction of a new Blu-ray format – Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Can these new fancy 4K discs reverse Blu-ray’s fortunes? Read on to find out!

Blu-ray Market Share

As has been the case with all of our “Blu-ray: The State of Play” reports in the past, we start with the ever wider Blu-ray Market Share graph. Blu-ray market share represents weekly Blu-ray sales as a percentage of total packaged disc sales. So a Blu-ray market share of 45% means that 45% of all disc packages sold in that week contained a Blu-ray disc (inversely, this also means that 55% of disc packages sold only contained the DVD version of the content). With the way sales figures are reported, any edition that includes a Blu-ray version of the film is counted as a Blu-ray package (even if the package also contains a DVD version of the film). Ultra HD Blu-ray sales are also counted in the Blu-ray column. In the graph below, we also point out some of the more obvious milestone releases. 2016’s major releases, at least those that had a significant impact on Blu-ray market share for the week that they were released, were Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, DeadpoolZootopia, Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeCaptain America: Civil WarStar Trek: BeyondFinding Dory, and Suicide Squad.

 

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016 – Click to see larger version

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016 – Click to see larger version

Note that because Blu-ray market share is proportional to DVD market share, any drop in DVD sales will also result in a higher Blu-ray market share, even if Blu-ray sales are steady. With DVD on a steady decline, Blu-ray market share will continue to rise as long as it’s own sales decline is slower than that of DVD’s.

Below is the same data condensed and with a trend line added. You might notice a huge peak in the graph during the earlier part of 2016 – this can be explained simply by the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released that week. I mentioned in last year’s report that the new Star Wars movie could break market share records, and it indeed did, by a considerable margin as you can see from the graph below.

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016

Blu-ray Revenue

For actual revenue, unfortunately, no records were broken as you can see from the graph below. Apart from the smaller peak for The Force Awakens, the other peak, the one that you see almost every year at the same time, is for the important Black Friday/Cyber Monday week, and the pre-Christmas sales period. 2016’s peaks are somewhat higher than 2015’s, but the record remains with 2013 (and may always be the case). 2013 being the peak Blu-ray year, at least when it comes to revenue, remains a likely fact for the foreseeable future – it’s not so much that disc sales were so much higher, but that discs costs less per unit than they did in 2013 – so more sales could still mean less revenue, overall, which seems to be the case.

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2016

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2016

2015 vs 2016 Comparison

So let’s take a closer look at how 2016 did compared to 2015, starting with Blu-ray market share as shown in the graph below. Unlike in 2015, the big releases came mostly in the first half of the year, as you can see from the series of peaks early on (with ‘The Force Awaken’ being the biggest peak, followed by ‘Deadpool’, ‘Zootopia’, and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’).

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

Revenue wise, the differences between 2015 and 2016 were less visible. The start of the year wasn’t particularly impressive, but things start to pick up around March, and then after the big releases start to come in. Overall, 2016 looks to be a better year than 2015.

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

We can get a clearer picture by looking at the raw numbers. Out of the 53 reporting weeks in 2016, 29 of them was better than the same week in 2015, with 24 being worse. This compares well to 2015, when 31 of them had a weekly revenue worse than the same week in 2014. The quality of releases may be the bigger driving factor, but it’s hard to ignore the effect of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, first introduced in early March. If we look at the time period before the introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray, 6 out of the 11 weeks (55%) were worse than the same weeks in 2015. After, only 19 out of 43 were worse off (44%). If you need further evidence that suggests Ultra HD is having a role in Blu-ray sales, then all you need to do is to follow our weekly sales reports, where you’ll find almost all new major releases now come with Ultra HD editions, some of these editions sell quite well. It’s not only replacing 3D sales, which have severely declined due to lack of consumer interest and the lack of new 3D releases, it also seems to be doing much better than 3D at the same stage of its development (and much better than the original Blu-ray format, during the same period).

But again, just the fact that The Force Awakens was released a couple of weeks after Ultra HD’s launch and continued to chart for most of 2016 could have been enough to help make things better for Blu-ray in 2016. The other major releases, in particular new properties ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zootopia’, may also have contributed to the better results in 2016.

Whether it’s the Force, or the 4K, either or both helped Blu-ray revenue reverse course for the year and post the first year on year increase since 2014. Total Blu-ray revenue for 2015 was $2.07 billion, compared to $2.095 billion in 2016, a growth of 1.22%.

Conclusion

To sum up:

  • Blu-ray market share grew, but it may largely be due to the decline in DVD than any rise in Blu-ray sales
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the title to beat in 2016 (and possibly the best selling Blu-ray ever)
  • Blu-ray revenue reverses declines from previous two years and posts a small gain, possibly due to the better caliber of releases in 2016 as well as the introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray.

These results still seem to confirm that 2013 was the peak for Blu-ray sales, but there seems to be a “Rey” of hope for Blu-ray, maybe thanks to Ultra HD Blu-ray. Although with that said, the first few weeks of 2017 have not been good ones for Blu-ray sales, and so perhaps the caliber of releases, as opposed to the newness of the format or the clarity of the picture, is a bigger factor when it comes to sales.

Weekly News Roundup (January 29, 2017)

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster. In traditional Chinese custom, those born in the year of the rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 – although those born in early January/February might have to double check to see which side of the lunar year they fall under) should always carry with them something red (red undies will do) to ward off bad luck for the year, so make sure you take precautions!

In terms of news, it’s somewhat quiet, but there are two stories on the coming and goings of technology that are unmistakably related. So let’s get started!

High Definition

First the going. Those still getting good use out of their 3D TV will have to extra careful to protect their investment, because pretty soon, it’s going to be really hard to buy a decent 3D set. Sony and LG this week announced that none of their new 2017 range of TVs will include 3D support. This move follows Samsung and Philips, both having ditched 3D in 2016, and raft of other CE companies like Sharp, TCL and Hisense that failed to announce any new TVs featuring 3D support at CES.

Samsung 3D active shutter glasses

3D, at least for the home, going the way of the dodo as last two holdouts announce the end of 3D support for their TVs

Those following our weekly Blu-ray sales analysis will also have seen a familiar pattern, that while studios are still doing 3D releases, the number of people buying them have steadily decreased.

The irony of this, in particular the LG announcement, is the company has finally perfected 3D technology for the home using their passive technology. But the fact remains that not all movies benefit greatly from 3D, that people just aren’t that interested in recreating the 3D experience at home, or at least not enough people to justify the cost of including the tech in the latest TV models. And some people like me can’t even watch 3D for extended periods without wanting to throw up.

That cost is being transferred to other technologies that, according to the NPD and according to our own Blu-ray sales stats, are quickly gaining popularity with consumers. Of course, I’m referring to Ultra HD Blu-ray and all the associated acronyms. For the week ending January 14th 2017, eight of the top 10 selling Blu-ray titles all had Ultra HD Blu-ray editions, but only four had 3D editions. This could be because more movies, if not most movies, benefit in some way from having an 4K transfer, than compared to 3D.

So what to do if you’re a 3D fan? The first thing you should do is to make sure you take good care of your current 3D TV, because it might be hard in the future to secure yourself a good quality 3D TV. Also don’t fret too much about studios not releasing 3D movies – Disney just recently released the 3D edition of The Force Awakens, and it sold enough copies to probably justify other re-releases like this in the future (plus there’s the whole series of new Avatar movies coming).

Pioneer BDR-S11J-BK

Pioneer and Cyberlink giving us PC heads a crack at playing Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on our PCs

Now we go to the other story, the coming. With Ultra HD Blu-ray looking more and more like the natural successor to the Blu-ray format, one thing has been noticeably missing – where’s the PC support? I know PCs aren’t what they used to be, but to be a year into a format without even a glimpse of an Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive, seems quite odd considering how Blu-ray and DVD before it (and this site, for that matter) got started.

But that will soon change. Pioneer will finally bring out a pair of Ultra HD Blu-ray capable optical drives (the BDR-S11J-BK & BDR-S11J-X). Even better, Cyberlink has teamed up with Pioneer to include a special modified (and unavailable to buy at retail) version of PowerDVD that has received Ultra HD Blu-ray certification and will play all the latest discs.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Of course, having a drive and player software is only the beginning of the requirements, thanks to the annoyance of DRM, and the brilliance of HDR. You’ll need a Kaby Lake CPU and a GPU that supports HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. And if you want HDR, you’ll need a monitor that can do it justice as well. Not too many people are buying high spec’d PCs these days, and so I don’t expect Pioneer and Cyberlink to do roaring business from these drives/software, at least not yet. I’m just grateful they haven’t forgotten us old PC heads, many of whom are itching to upgrade their PCs to attain full Ultra HD Blu-ray support status. I know I am!

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That’s all we have for this WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 8, 2017)

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Hope the new year is treating you well so far? The start of the year is usually a bit quiet, and then boom, CES hits and there is this tech news explosion. This doesn’t necessarily translate to news that we cover here on the site, because there’s only so many stories you can do on company X’s new Ultra HD Blu-ray players, or company Y’s new super thin TV (if X != Y, then X in this case is Sony and Y is LG – more on this later).

Before we get to the CES stuff, there’s a bit of copyright news to go through as per usual.

Copyright

You don’t hear much about three-strikes much these days. Some countries have had it for years, and thousands upon thousands of warnings have been sent out, yet the creative industry has been particularly quiet about the positive effects it has had on piracy and more importantly, their bottom line. The reason they are quiet on the positives may be because there are none!

Three Strikes

Three-strikes has not proven to be successful in raising revenue

According to a new study, three-strikes and other types of warning regimes does not seem to have had any positive effect on box office revenue. Earlier studies and reports seems to suggest that piracy rates do drop on the pirating platforms that are monitored as part of these regimes, but it appears this drop in piracy is not translating into increased profits. In fact, when Megaupload was shuttered, the box office take actually dropped in a few key regions.

Either people are still pirating and they’re just not being caught because they’re using VPNs or an alternative, un-monitored downloading source, or maybe piracy simply doesn’t translate to lost profits that, once piracy is removed from the equation, magically re-materialise.

And all the while during the scare campaign about piracy, the movie industry has been doing much better than it has ever been. Funnily enough, even the so called piracy stricken music industry appears to be recovering (even though it’s decline may have had nothing to do with piracy, and its revival has nothing to do with anti-piracy).

Take the UK for example, where the music, movie and video game industries all recorded profit growth over the last year, much of the change, both the good and bad, has more to do with the digital transition than piracy. The fact that the digital transition started at around the same time as the surge in piracy (and think for a moment and you’ll see that both of these things are actually related) may have confused these industries as to the root cause of their woes. Their obsession with destroying piracy may have also cost them valuable time and resources that could have otherwise been used to innovate and adapt to the digital transition. Instead, tech industries frustrated with being blamed for the piracy problem developed their own innovative solutions that gave consumers the legal digital platforms they sorely wanted. This changed the distribution landscape dramatically, and shifted revenue away from the traditional industries and towards the few tech companies that had the vision to fulfill a consumer need. This is why the music industry isn’t profiting as much from say streaming as they should right now, and why they now have much less of say in how their product is distributed.

The movie industry suffered less because the digital transition occurred at a slower pace than with music, possibly due to the fact that movie files are bigger and Internet speeds just weren’t good enough back then. This allowed the industry more time to adapt, and they’ve been able to negotiated better deals with the likes of Netflix and others (as well as to launch their own platforms, such as Hulu). The gaming industry’s digital transition is further delayed, again possibly due to the file size issue, and they are perhaps even better equipped to deal with the transition.

I would like to think lessons have been learnt, but the way the music industry is still going on about Spotify, I fear it hasn’t.

High Definition

Sony UBP-X1000

Sony finally releasing an Ultra HD Blu-ray player

So CES was dominated by 4K stuff once again, and now with Ultra HD Blu-ray being the format of choice for 4K (the digital transition appears to have gone backwards here, and again file size is the main issue), there are related products all over the place. Surprising is the fact that Sony and LG have only now announced their first Ultra HD Blu-ray players, despite Samsung, and even Microsoft, having had a player out for ages.

As always trying to shoot itself in the foot, the consumer electronics industry’s latest gamble is that consumers won’t mind a pseudo  format war in term of HDR. With HDR10 and Dolby Vision already confusing things for consumers, they may have to contend with Hybrid Log Gamma and Technicolor HDR, both of which are being pushed by LG (but are open formats, so anyone is a free to adopt them). I used the term pseudo because it’s unlikely that a full blown format way will develop, mainly because CE manufacturers will simply adopt support for all of these formats (just like LG has already done) and the content distributors can pick whatever format they want to use.

LG UP970

LG also has an Ultra HD Blu-ray player coming

Not great news for early adopters with equipment that can’t be upgraded via firmware though, but isn’t that always the case?

Just more more thing on the CES before I sign off, it’s interesting to see so many new products that now fall into the category of “consumer electronics”. It used to be just TVs and tape/disc players, and now we have cars, hairbrushes and basically anything you can stick Wi-Fi into. The tech industry is expanding into other traditionally non tech industries, just like how it has made inroads into movies and music – these other industries should heed the experiences of the music industry especially, if they don’t want to be left behind.

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Looks like that’s it for the week. Hope you have a good one, and see you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (December 18, 2016)

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

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!

Copyright

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.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay is being blocked in Australia, and being considered for blocking in its native Sweden

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.

Gaming

Xbox One S

The Xbox One original and ‘S’ getting bitstream audio support

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.

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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!

 

Weekly News Roundup (December 11, 2016)

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

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 …

Copyright

YouTube Targeted

YouTube says they’re unfairly being targeted by the music industry despite handing over a billion dollars to them over the last 12 months

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).

High Definition

Movie Cinema Tickets

Cinema chains will not be happy if Apple’s plans become reality

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.

Netflix Downloads

Netflix’s download mode uses a new codec to improve quality without increasing file size

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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Big Sleeve Edition

Laserdisc makes a comeback, sort of

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.

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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!