Weekly News Roundup (March 17, 2019)

March 17th, 2019

Well, this hiatus was a bit longer than I had expected. So sorry about that. Normal service resumes this week and might have done last week had it not been my birthday week (yes, I’m one of those annoying people that celebrate for a whole week).

Still, not a superb week to resume the WNR as there’s not much news around, but let’s see what we can make of it!

Copyright

There is a point of view that the current copyright take-down regime resembles the work of scammers more so than a legal process. There are those law firms that you’ve heard about extracting payment in exchange for withdrawing a legal threat. But even when money isn’t changing hands, the threat of account suspensions and deletions in this increasingly digital age, means that the threat from being hounded by the copyright cops is very real.

Of course, there are the real scammers who use this fear to make a bit of quick cash, like the YouTube scammers I talked about last month. This week, it’s the turn of Instagrammers to be at the end of a similar type of scam. Instead of just asking for money though, the scammers are more interested in the login credentials of Instagram users that are being targeted by the scam, and even their email account credentials in some cases.

Screenshot of Instagram copyright infringement scam
Don’t be fooled by this copyright infringement notice scam

What’s most interesting about this scam is that it leverages existing user’s fears about copyright infringement to get them to hand over very sensitive information. The fake notice says that unless users provide the scammers with their username and password to “verify” their account, it will be suspended and deleted within 24 hours.

Our Instagram accounts, Facebook accounts, Twitter, YouTube and Gmail accounts are really our online identities, and to face suspension and account deletion is, in a way, a kind of online death. To be faced with an account suspension and deletion due to a copyright issue is also quite plausible. These two factors, when combined, is what makes scams like this so effective.

High Definition

While I’m sure there is other stuff happening for all sorts of other topics, there was nothing in particular that caught my attention over the last week.

Game of Thrones - Season 8 Poster
Game of Thrones Season 8 promises to be a big hit – both for HBO and on the piracy sites

There is some more stuff happening on Digital Digest’s sister site Streambly for those interested in the world of video streaming, like the fact that people have already started to binge Game of Thrones in anticipation of the final episodes coming in April. These final episodes will, I’m sure, break a few more piracy records when they air starting April 14.

See you in a week’s time (maybe)!

Weekly News Roundup (February 24, 2019)

February 24th, 2019

Only a couple of days left in the shortest month of the year, which is just as well, as summer here in Australia has become unbearable. With March comes possibly one of the best seasons ever, and it is also my favourite month as it will be my birthday again. Yes, I’m quite vain and I definitely think this song, and the entire month of March, is all about me.

A little ’70s music trivia aside, we have a few news stories to go through, so let’s get started.

High Definition

Well, it may not be the actual end of an era, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it definitely feels like the beginning of the end. Samsung has confirmed that it will stop launching new Blu-ray player models in the US. Initially, it was thought that only 1080p Blu-ray players were affected, but it soon became clear that Samsung plans to stop launching even new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players!

Samsung's UBD-M9500
Samsung’s UBD-M9500 4K Blu-ray player, the last the company plans to release in the US

Those following Samsung won’t be too surprised by the move, as the company hasn’t brought out a new Blu-ray/4K player since 2017. Samsung’s denial of support for Dolby Vision also meant that their players just weren’t what people wanted, considering how popular Dolby Vision is compared to the rival HDR10+ format. The unpopular nature of Samsung’s players, and the fact that the marketplace for Blu-ray players is quite crowded may partly explain Samsung’s decision, but it is still quite a blow for physical media.

That a major CE firm is ending support for such a major disc format, and so soon in the format’s lifespan, does not bode well for the format, or physical media in general.

The decision is also a weird one because Samsung’s TV business is doing quite well, and it’s weird that Samsung would then force its TV owners to seek out a rival brand’s Blu-ray player. With that said, it’s not as if Samsung will stop selling Blu-ray players, but merely not planning on releasing any new models in the future – they will simply continue to sell their last released players, the UBD-M9500 (in fact, the 2016 model, the UBD-K8500, is still for sale too). The fact that there’s not a lot of upgrade potential for Blu-ray and 4K players, probably also contributed to Samsung’s decision.

But buyers not satisfied with a 2017 model will definitely have to look elsewhere.

And part of the reason why Samsung is defocusing from its physical media business is the existence of streaming, and in particular, Netflix. But just because Netflix is dominant, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things that the streaming giant is worried about. Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+, appears to be one of those things.

Netflix and Disney have previously worked together well as the Hollywood studio used the streaming platform to offer its movies and shows to a wider audience. While this generates some revenue for Disney, it also loses them some in terms of physical and digital sell-through for the same content, but with a wider audience now caught up to the happenings of the Marvel Universe, for example, it has led to higher box office receipts for the studio. There are many terms you can use to describe Disney, but stupid is not one of them.

Still photo from The Punisher
Marvel’s The Punisher cancelled by Netflix, who no longer wishes to help Disney now that the studio is launching its own streaming platform

But this past partnership is now proving to be a problem now that Disney, whether they think so or not, is directly threatening the dominance of Netflix with Disney+. Disney+ will now host much of the same content that has drawn subscribers to Netflix, and will create new content based on franchises that Netflix wish they had.

So Netflix’s steely move to cancel all remaining Marvel co-productions, including ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Jessica Jones’, is a quite understandable one. Better to lose a finger now, than a hand, later.

And the ominous statement following the move from Marvel TV’s Jeph Loeb shows the frenemy side of Netflix and Disney’s relationship, as well as a hint on how Disney will take it to Netflix via its Marvel (and other) franchises. Loeb wrote in response to the cancellations: “Our network partner may have decided they no longer want to continue telling the tales of these great characters … but you know Marvel better than that.”

Wow!

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So while we await the Avengers like epic battle between Netflix and Disney+, we have come to the end of another WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 17, 2019)

February 17th, 2019

So how did you spend your Valentine’s Day/Singles Awareness Day/Just Another Thursday then? Whichever way you spent that day, hope the rest of your week was good nonetheless. We do have a bit of news to go through this week, I guess the year has started proper now, so let’s get through ’em!

Copyright

In this week’s “I didn’t see that coming! #sarcastic” story, YouTube’s copyright take-down system is now being abused by blackmailers.

This is how it works. Blackmailers are submitting fraudulent copyright abuse notices, resulting in some smaller channels getting two copyright strikes. Channels that receive 3 copyright strikes in a 3 month period will have their channels disabled, and the blackmailers know this. This is when the extortion attempt occurs, with the blackmailers sending an “offer” to channel owners to pay up (and have the 2 strikes reversed) or face the prospect of a third strike.

Screen capture of a video in which YouTube user  
ObbyRaidz informs his subscribers of the extortion attempt
YouTube user
ObbyRaidz informs his subscribers of the extortion attempt in a video

Channel owners can appeal any of these strikes, but the laborious process could see their channels disabled during the process, which can take weeks.

Two channel owners who were at the end of such a scam reported it to YouTube, but the streaming platform didn’t do anything about it until both aired their problems publicly, on Twitter (and incidentally, the scammers also tried to get one of the channel owner’s Twitter suspended as well for not following instructions to stay quiet) and Reddit. It was only when both attempts at seeking help became a news story, that YouTube finally acted and cleared all the fraudulent strikes, and banned the blackmailer’s accounts too.

The fact that YouTube didn’t take the matter seriously until they were called out for it in the public arena is troubling, but unfortunately, not that uncommon.

It wasn’t a huge loss for the blackmailers, it turns out, as their accounts were only recently created ones attached to a throwaway email account. It’s very likely they will attempt the same trick again, only this time, the unsuspecting victims might not get a viral response to their pleas. It’s also very likely that they’ve already tried found success with their previous efforts!

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Poster for Russian Doll
Russian Doll is an instant Netflix hit, at least when it comes to binge bragging rights

Over at Streambly, the latest “binge chart” saw Netflix’s Russian Doll go straight to the top after its recent release. The strength of Netflix, in particular, the strength of Netflix’s Original shows can be clearly seen in the top 10, with no less than 5 Originals in the top 10, and with some of the others being Netflix streaming exclusives as well.

There were only two shows in the top 10 that were older shows that had already ended their run. In third place was ‘Friends’, which Netflix paid a significant amount of money for, and ‘Gossip Girl’, which is also on Netflix.

Hopefully, the weekly binge report will become a regular feature on Streambly, so keep an eye peeled for more updates here if anything interesting happens.

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That’s all we have for this week. I know it’s not much, but sometimes that’s just how the week goes. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 10, 2019)

February 10th, 2019

Sorry for the (really) long hiatus, but we’re back! Various reasons for the extended break, but suffice to say, the lack of news was one of the main ones.

But we do have news this week, and so we’re back!

Copyright

Without a single new episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ in 2018 (I’ve already forgotten that dragon lady’s name, and have no idea how many people are still left on that assassin girl’s list – yep, it’s been too long a hiatus), it was up to another show to take the “most pirated” crown. And in 2018, that show was ‘The Walking Dead’.

The Walking Dead is a favourite among pirates

The increased attention on ‘The Walking Dead’ now means that pirates are lining up to be the quickest to get new content to the masses, and the season 9 mid-season premier, unfortunately, has been leaked to pirate sites even before its official airing.

There’s no indication that an advanced copy of the episode was leaked to pirates, but it appears that TWD’s network, AMC, may have been the one that opened the door to pirates. AMC’s new on-demand streaming service, AMC Premiere, has made the debut episode available a week before the TV debut. It’s believed that this official stream is where the pirated episode, a WEBRIP, has come from.

The cool thing about all of this is that AMC has not overreacted to the news of the show becoming the most pirated in 2018, nor this most recent development. The truth of the matter is that piracy rates have actually decreased for the show in recent seasons, and that’s linked directly to the declining ratings the show has gotten. If a little bit of pre-release piracy can help give the show a publicity boost, then why not?

High Definition

Disney is looking for a boost of its own when its Disney+ streaming platform launches later in the year. And in a fiscal call, Disney’s CFO has revealed some more information about what will happen when Disney+ launches, and more importantly, what will happen to the studio’s current distribution channels.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy revealed that the studio is set to forgo $150 million in third-party licensing revenue due to the move to Disney+. ‘
Captain Marvel’ might be the first major film from the studio that will debut on Disney+, and it might mean Disney will have to skip releasing the film early via other outlets in order to promote Disney+.

Captain Marvel may be the first big exclusive for Disney+

In the same fiscal call, McCarthy also hinted at a possible foreign expansion of Hulu, which Disney will own 60% of after its acquisition of Fox. While there is some overlap between Hulu and Disney+, Disney is keen to stress their differences, with Hulu hosting more “edgier” content like horror series ‘Into the Dark’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, neither of which would be a good fit for the more family oriented Disney+.

Here in Australia, it’s hard to see how a service like Hulu would fit into the crowded TV landscape. We already have two major subscription on-demand services, Netflix and Stan, that have a lock on a lot of movies and TV shows that are on Hulu (‘The Good Place’ on Netflix, and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on free-to-air channel SBS and Stan). Plus, there’s cable operator Foxtel who has premiere rights on a lot of shows. For Hulu to succeed, they will have to come to some sort of agreement with the free-to-air channels (who have right to Hulu shows like ‘Law & Order: SVU’, ‘Modern Family’), but they all have their own catch-up/SVOD plans too. It might still work, but is there enough unique content to justify yet another subscription?

The situation may be better in other countries where competition is less robust, but it’s always going to be hard.

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So that’s what’s been happening this past week. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 13, 2019)

January 13th, 2019

Welcome back to the first WNR of 2019. Hope you’ve had a nice break. Our own little break here was abruptly interrupted by this little thing called CES 2019, and while we’re not lucky enough to be mingling with the crowds over in Las Vegas, there’s still news to report, and so here we are.

For those that aren’t subscribers to our newsletter (or didn’t get our Happy New Year newsletter), then here’s a belated Happy New Year to everyone. Hope you all have a great 2019!

Now on to the news …

It seems 2019 is the year of 8K, with practically anyone who is anyone bringing out their 8K sets, despite 8K content being so thin on the group, it verges on the invisible.

This is why Chinese TV giant TCL’s link up with streaming app platform Roku might give it a head start, since their co-branded 8K TVs will already have an entire library of apps to draw 8K content from.

And the chances 8K content coming to an app that’s on Roku is quite high and getting higher, because Roku now has 27 million active accounts (up 40% from a year ago), and it’s a platform to take seriously if you want to reach people with new content.

But with 8K offering almost four times as many pixels as 4K, the bandwidth requirements for 8K streaming will be tough to say the least. Even with a modest quality stream, you might be looking at a minimum requirement of 50 Mbps, and that’s not something readily available in people’s homes yet.

This is why discs will be here for a while yet, because it remains the most efficient way to get 8K content into people’s homes.

Samsung's smart TV with custom iTunes app
Samsung TVs to get its own, customized iTunes app

CES also showed off some new display tech in the form of Samsung’s Micro LED modular displays, which being completely bezel-free, means it can be joined up and configured in almost any aspect ratio and size. This is why Samsung was able to show off a 219-inch TV at this year’s CES, up from the 146-inch TV at last year’s CES.

More interesting was Samsung’s link-up with (often foe) Apple, announced at this year’s CES. Samsung is getting AirPlay 2 support, like a lot of other brands, but it’s also getting something nobody else is getting or has gotten in the past – it’s own iTunes app!

Apple are notoriously mean when it comes to sharing their platforms on other devices, and other than the Windows app for iTunes (somewhat more of a necessity, than a choice, for Apple), you’ll be hard pressed to find an official way of accessing the iTunes app on anything other than an iDevices running iOS. And Apple is even making a custom version that will integrate with Samsung’s own apps and functions, including Samsung’s own automated assistant, Bixby. And this is why Samsung’s announcement is a big deal.

In addition to Samsung’s 2019 TVs, Samsung’s 2018 TVs will also be getting both the AirPlay 2 and iTunes additions, via an upcoming firmware update.

Promotional photo of LG's roll up TV
LG’s roll up TV was a hit at CES 2019

But what wowed the crowds the most, perhaps, was LG’s take on the TV of the future – a TV that rolls up from a soundbar!

Taking full advantage of the flexibility of OLED displays (and moving beyond the idea of just a curved screen, or even a foldable one the case of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy mobile), LG has come up with a novel way to hide a TV in plain sight. When fully rolled up, the TV hides in the soundbar/TV cabinet, but still “functions” as a way to control the soundbar for audio/radio playback. The TV can al
HDHuluVOD/Streaming so poke its head out a little bit and act like a kind of overly wide tablet, that can also display pertinent information, such as the weather. Check out the video in the linked news article for why this TV will be a hot item for 2019.

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Moving away from the CES, Hulu has posted some great 2018 results, with subscribers up 47%, and revenue up by almost the same amount.

I don’t know how much the hit show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ contributed to the results, but based on merit alone, I would not be surprised if this was the case. And if you haven’t watched the show yet, I strongly urge you give it a go – it’s by no means an easy watch, but it’s definitely a good one.

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That’s it for this very busy week. A good start to the new year. See you next week!


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