Weekly News Roundup (November 17, 2018)

November 18th, 2018

It’s hay fever season here again in Melbourne, and this one’s bad one. Bad to the point where everything on my face is itchy, and the only time I get a break is when I’m in a series of uncontrollable sneezes. Oh, the never-ending sense of fatigue is just the icing on the cake.

I’ve just loaded myself full of antihistamines about half an hour ago and they seem to be kicking in right about now, which is just in time for me start writing this week’s news roundup.

Copyright

YouTube's Content ID

YouTube’s Content ID has paid out more than $3 billion to rightsholders

Starting with copyright news as per usual, Google has released its latest version of the How Google Fights Piracy report, which details the efforts and results of the company’s anti-piracy efforts.

The report includes several interesting stats, most notably that YouTube’s Content ID has paid out more than $3 billion dollars to rightsholders since its inception. For all of its flaws, including several high profile false positives, you have to admit that Content ID’s way of dealing with anti-piracy has proved to be effective in allowing users to still freely create, as well as rightsholders to be rewarded when users do use copyrighted content (sometimes incidentally/accidentally). Of course, it also helps Google to keep rightsholders at bay and to allow users to keep on creating without fear. The alternative would have meant content removal and account bannings. The number of popular cover songs and other content that rely on copyrighted materials on YouTube is prove that Content ID is working.

The other parts of the report focuses on Google’s anti-piracy efforts elsewhere, including on its search engine. Other than lauding the fact that piracy demotions are working, Google also noted that piracy searches are actually not all that popular on Google. For example, searches for the phrase “wonder woman” was 10,719 times more popular than the phrase “wonder woman watch free”. There’s been a lot of pressure on Google to do more to proactively filter out piracy results in its search engine, but the truth of the matter is that people who know how to download pirated content almost never rely on Google and other search engines to find downloads – most already have a list of sites that they rely on to source the latest content, be it streaming or downloads.

Google (the search engine) has never been the problem when it comes to piracy, despite what the anti-piracy lobby tells you.

High Definition

Netflix shares have been on the slide recently, despite some better than expected subscriber results, and perhaps part of the reason for this is the imminent threat of Disney’s upcoming streaming platform, Disney+. This is why Netflix CEO Reed Hastings went the effort to assure nervous investors that Netflix is ready for the fight against Disney+, citing the fact that they’ve been in competition with Amazon Prime for more than 10 years (has it really been this long?).

Netflix Remote

Netflix ready for fight with Disney+

The recent share price wobbles does not really reflect how subscribers feel about the service though, with most quite pleased at the constant stream (har har) of original content coming to Netflix every month. And according to a survey by analyst firm Piper Jaffray, even a 40% price increase might not put off these happy subscribers, which is what Netflix may have to do if it finds itself in trouble against Disney+ – not so much as to raise revenue, but to raise the required funds to fuel more original productions.

But time is on Netflix’s(and Disney+’s) side, with the latest research showing that live broadcast TV is getting less and less popular. This is also why Disney, who owns live broadcasting network ABC, has been so keen to develop their own streaming, on-demand network, and part of the reason why despite the optimism towards Disney+, Disney’s own share price have been pretty stagnant over the past few years. The transition from traditional broadcast TV networks to on-demand platforms has been on-going for a couple of years now, and everyone is keen to see whether Disney can successfully complete the transition while still maintaining market share and the all important profit results.

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And I must now complete the transition between working and not working, as we’ve come to the end of another WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (November 11, 2018)

November 11th, 2018

Hello again, and welcome back after the brief hiatus. No, it wasn’t to do with the US election, although it was again extremely fascinating to observe US politics. Here in Australia, our election campaign season is very limited, to only a couple of weeks, intentionally done so to prevent the non stop campaigning, fundraising and news cycles that seems to dominate everything in the US. We also only use paper ballots, using the advanced technology known as a pencil to make our mark (literally, and figuratively on our democracy), and none of our votes goes wasted, even if you vote for minor parties (there’s a thing called preferences that allows you to direct votes to eventually the major parties if your minor party candidate fails to be one of the two frontrunners). It all seems to make a lot more sense than what happens in the US, what now with yet another recount in Florida.

Anyway, with the election somewhat out of the news cycle, we have some news to cover here at the WNR.

Copyright

Denuvo

Denuvo says use us for your games or lose millions

The company behind Denuvo is trying to convince more game publishers to sign up to the anti-tampering system by claiming that AAA games not protected by Denuvo could be losing $21 million in revenue due to piracy. The company behind Denuvo, which used to be also called Denuvo but has since been acquired by Irdeto, came to this figure by calculating the number of pirated downloads of an unnamed AAA sports game, that managed to rack up more than 300,000 pirated downloads in the first 2 weeks after release. Irdeto then took this number and multiplied it by the retail cost of the game and came up with the $21 million figure.

While I can’t blame Irdeto for trying to push their product on game publishers, the fact of the matter is that there is no way that unnamed AAA sports game managed to lose $21 million to piracy. For that to happen, every single downloaded pirated copy would have to translate to a paid for copy, and that just does not reflect reality in any way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversion rate, the rate that pirated downloads translate to paid copies if the pirated copy did not exist, would be something low like 2% to 5%, which means at most, this would translate into $1 million in lost sales. And that would also be income, not revenue. I’m not sure how much it costs game companies to license Denuvo, but it may not be a straight forward thing, especially given how gamers hate Denuvo and there’s probably a few percent of paying gamers who avoid games that have it. But of course, there’s really no way to find out either way, so publishers, out of fear, rely on Denuvo and Denuvo can sell them the appearance of security, if not actual security. And everyone sleeps better at night. Except for gamers.

High Definition

We now know a little bit more about Disney’s upcoming streaming platform, which will now be officially known as Disney+ (read: Disney Plus). Another thing we now know – there will be a second Star Wars live action TV series, set as a prequel to Rogue One and starring Rogue One’s dashing hero Andor, again played by Diego Luna.

Disney+ Website

Disney+ will allow Disney to fully capitalize its extensive list of IPs

Disney boss Bob Iger also let known how Disney+ will be differentiated to Hulu (now majority owned by Disney), in that Disney+ will be more family oriented compared to Hulu, which has a younger user base. So shows like FX’s American Horror Story won’t appear on Disney+, but will on Hulu, for example.

And you just know Disney+ will heavily rely on Disney’s biggest IPs, Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, because even in the promo graphics provided by Disney, the logos for Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar were quite prominently shown.

Iger also expanded a little on the idea of releasing movies on home video a little bit earlier. Not on Disney+, in which Iger was adamant that the existing restrictions would stay, but for Blu-ray, DVD and Digital sell-through. Iger was keen to stress this does not mean changing the theatrical window (which would get all the cinema chains all riled up), but there is a gap between the theatrical window and the home video window that Disney wants to exploit. Bringing the home video window forward would also allow the streaming window to open up a bit earlier too, maybe.

So 2019 looks like an exciting year for streaming, lots of changes appear to be coming.

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That’s all we have for this week. See you in seven!

Weekly News Roundup (October 28, 2018)

October 28th, 2018

Hello again. I don’t really talk much about politics in this blog, or at least nothing outside of our usual niche of copyright and piracy, but with all that’s going on in the U.S, and around the world, it just felt wrong to ignore what’s been happening. It’s clear now that there are people who’s sole aim is to divide us, to spread hate or to further their selfish agendas at the expense of everyone else, and they have chosen to attack anyone who stands in their way, people and organisations that attempt to hold them in check. These attack range from political dog whistles, to statements designed to seem mainstream (but have their roots deeply embedded from a place of hate), and actual physical attacks, which unfortunately, are becoming more common. This is not a debate about political correctness, or freedom of speech, but rather incitement, fear-mongering and irresponsible populist pandering. Words have power, especially used by those already in power, and they can be used to to incite hatred, just like they can also be used to inspire greatness – and when you hear these words being spoken on TV, or hastily posted to Twitter, it’s not hard to tell whether they’re being used to incite or to inspire. History will be the judge.

Stay safe.

On to the rest of this (short) news roundup.

Copyright

Star Wars Galaxies

New copyright exemptions could bring back dead MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies

There are rarely positive news when it comes to copyright law, especially in the U.S, and that’s why when there is something positive, it should be highlighted. The U.S. Copyright Office has followed a recent trend of making common sense decisions when it comes to making exemptions to existing copyright law (well, to a degree that’s possible given the political and lobbying pressure in Washington) and they’ve just made more exemptions that are, well, common sense. They have just given consumers back their “right to repair”, even if it means breaking DRM to do so, given filmmakers the right to rip DVDs and Blu-rays for use in their own film projects, and most important of all, granted a copyright exemption for the archiving of abandoned online games.

What this means that it’s now possible for game preservationists to recreate the servers for long abandoned MMOs, bypass any DRM or security measures in the process, assuming they are able to convince rights-holders to give up the source code for the servers. It may already be too late for older games, even non online ones, in which lack of foresight means the permanent loss of digital code, but it’s better late than never. So in fifty year’s time, it might be possible to visit the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, for example, and play World of Warcraft or Star Trek Online long after the official servers have been retired.

To be fair, I still expect a lot, if not most, of the digital content that are being created to today to be lost forever at some point in the future. Even with Digital Digest, I’m sure I’ve already lost a lot of older content that I had backed up on obsolete media formats (damn you, Zip drive). Proprietary formats, copy protection and other barriers means preservation is a hard task at the simplest of times, and that’s not even taking account the sheer amount of data that is being created at all times, even as I type.

But also to be fair, a lot of that content is just sheer nonsense.

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Speaking of nonsense, that’s the end of this rather short WNR. Yeah I know, a roundup should really consists more than just one news story. But what can you do (actually lots, but I was busy!). See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (October 21, 2018)

October 21st, 2018

And we’re back, this time on a new server. Sorry for the lack of a WNR last week, it was just too hectic to do one what with the new servers downloading all the GBs of stuff from the old servers. The migration is going better than expected, it’s been a while since I’ve done such a large scale move and things have actually gotten a lot easier over the years, thanks to a lot of automation. It’s still panic and confusion half of the time though, but hopefully most of that is behind us now, and it’s just the matter of making sure everything still works.

Let’s take a look at the news stories this week …

Copyright

GTA Online

Creating cheat tools in GTA Online, and other games, might get you in big legal trouble

Wow, I didn’t know cheating was so dangerous. Or rather, making cheat tools can apparently get your house searched, computers seized and assets frozen. I guess it is a big deal when it involves a $6 billion gaming franchise in the form of GTA V and in particular, GTA Online, and cheats that allow gamers to generate unlimited virtual currency and bypass Rockstar’s virtual economy could mean real damage to Rockstar’s real currency intake.

The lawsuit is being fought via copyright law, which at first seems a bit strange, but all the publishers are doing it this way, these days. Blizzard, for example, argued that cheat tools break the game’s EULA and the regular copying of code and files by the game is therefore considered illegal copying. Or something convoluted like that.

Still, not too many people will be upset by this because nobody likes cheaters and those that profit from cheating tools, but it still does seem a bit excessive to go after cheat makers so hard like this. I’m sure a strongly worded letter would have had the same effect, but this feels like a show of force to scare away other cheat developers. Shame for the 5 Aussies at the end of it though.

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Remember when torrent news website TorrentFreak was blocked as a piracy/hacking resource? It’s now been banned by Steam, of all places, for being potentially malicious. Just how news stories can harm Steam users, I don’t really know, but Steam is no stranger to blocking anything it deems slightly related to piracy, and I guess news sites (like this one, and this one) are fair game now.

High Definition

New Netflix Interface

Netflix spending heaps on content, but it’s working to drive subscriber growth

Netflix posted some great Q3 results, following the lackluster revenue report from the previous quarter and doubts in the market about the streaming firm’s long term profitability. This initially caused Netflix stock to surge in price, but it has now fallen back to below where it was due to weakness across the whole NASDAQ.

Leaving aside market wobbles, Netflix looks like it’s in a good position, both in the US and in overseas markets. It’s still spending a sh*tload of money on content, some $3 billion negative free cash flow for the year, which is why off of nearly $4 billion in revenue, net income was at a much lower $403 million (which is actually higher than normal).

But the investment in content is worth it as long as it drives new subscribers to the platform. Of course, Netflix would prefer to spend money creating original content than to license existing content, because it has been the originals that have been driving subscriber growth, and in the long run, originals actually cost less money.

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And so that was the week that was. Now back to server stuff.

Weekly News Roundup (October 7, 2018)

October 7th, 2018

The great server migration of 2018 has started. Due to circumstances beyond my control, we need to move all of our sites to new servers, all at once, and so things are a bit hectic around here. I guess a server upgrade was long overdue, and so the move is coming at a good time, but as anyone who has been involved in migrating data from one system to another, you’ll know of its frustrations (and many, many potential pitfalls). So if you find parts of the site not working or acting a bit weird, don’t stress, we’re working on it!

It was a light news week again, although that would be because I was too busy to really notice what was going on. Either way, let’s get through this quickly so I can get back to more server shenanigans.

High Definition

What I did notice was how much Netflix (or video streaming in general) I was watching in the background during the many boring hours of a typical server migration. And it isn’t just me. Netflix use may not account for as much as 15% of global downstream traffic, and up to 40% during peak times on certain networks. I know that video, especially 4K video, is a bandwidth hog, but for one single platform to use so much bandwidth, it’s still quite an amazing thing.

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian, one of the original series that could debut on Disney’s upcoming streaming platform

In a perfect world, and by perfect I mean if everybody had access to affordable ultra high speed (100+Mbps) internet connections, then this use would actually be a lot more since Netflix’s 4K streams are still very much compromises in terms of quality. This is why Ultra HD Blu-ray still has a place despite the move away from physical media, because it is still the most reliable way to deliver the sometimes 100GB worth of digital data into people’s homes.

Competition is always a good thing, but while Netflix has some, it’s clear that they’re nowhere near being able to be a threat to them just yet. Amazon Prime came closest in terms of global downstream bandwidth use, but Netflix was still more than 4 times bigger (Hulu was even smaller). But Netflix’s biggest threat may yet to materialise in the form of Disney Streaming. With Disney absorbing Fox, the combined might of these two studios could allow them to create a streaming product that has a huge backlog of titles, along with a huge list of original productions that can fully exploit Disney and Fox’s owned franchises. From the very limited information we have about its streaming product, we already know that a Marvel series based on ‘Loki’ is in the works, along with another one for the ‘Scarlet Witch’. There’s a new Muppets series too, another one based on Monsters, Inc., and two Star Wars series including $100 million live action series ‘The Mandalorian’. And don’t forget that Disney, via Fox, will now own a huge chunk of Hulu too, and there will be some kind of “synergy” (I hate myself) between it and Disney’s so far unnamed streaming product.

Exciting times for streaming, that’s for sure.

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That’s it for the week, short I know. Probably won’t get much better next week, but one thing is for sure – I’ll have watched more Netflix (and Stan)!


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