Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

EU

EU Opens Competition Probe Into Apple's Bid For Music App Shazam (reuters.com) 17

EU antitrust regulators opened an investigation on Monday into Apple's bid for British music discovery app Shazam, concerned the deal might give the iPhone maker an unfair advantage in poaching users from its rivals. From a report: Apple announced the deal in December to help it better compete with industry leader Spotify. Shazam lets users identify songs by pointing a smartphone at the audio source. The European Commission said it was concerned about Apple's access to data on Shazam's users who use competing music streaming services in Europe.
Music

The Music Industry Had a Fantastic 2017, Driven by Streaming Revenues (fastcompany.com) 79

An anonymous reader shares a report: Global recorded music revenues soared by $1.4 billion in 2017 largely due to the increased adoption of music streaming services among consumers, reports the Music Industry Blog. Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, putting it just a hair below 2008's $17.7 billion in revenues. That means that most of the decline in recorded music revenues over the past 10 years has now been reversed. Streaming was the largest driver of that growth, accounting for 43% of all revenues. In 2017 streaming revenues surged by 39%, topping out at $7.4 billion.
Software

Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law (vice.com) 89

The Netherlands Gaming Authority has published a study it conducted of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random-in game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act. "It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they'd won outside of the game, which means they've got a market value," reports Motherboard. From the report: According to the study, the authorities picked games "based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players." Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it's a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention. Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren't in violation of Dutch law. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game," the press release said. "This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act."

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to "remove the addiction-sensitive elements ('almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)...and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

Businesses

Netflix Could Start Buying Movie Theaters to Help Films Gain a Boost in Oscar Race, Report Says (indiewire.com) 49

Netflix has made a strong effort to land Oscar nominations since debuting its first original feature, "Beasts of No Nation," in 2015. The next step in the streaming giant's plan to secure film awards could be to buy and own movie theaters. IndieWire: A new report from the Los Angeles Times says Netflix is considering buying theaters in Los Angeles and New York in order to gain a boost during Oscar season. People familiar with the situation say the theaters would be used to give greater exposer to the feature and documentary titles Netflix is hoping to push into the awards race. According to the Times, Netflix executives originally considered purchasing the Los Angeles-based Landmark Theaters, which is co-owned by Mark Cuban. The theaters are well known for attracting awards voters by running first-run features, documentaries, and foreign films during Oscar season. Sources close to Netflix confirm the company has no current plans to buy Landmark properties. Landmark has three Los Angeles locations and 53 theaters overall in the U.S. Sources close to Netflix.
Movies

MPAA Silently Shut Down Its Legal Movies Search Engine (techdirt.com) 63

Back in 2015, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) released its own search engine to combat the argument that people pirate films because there are too few legal alternatives. According to TorrentFreak, the search engine, WhereToWatch.com, has since been quietly shut down by the movie industry group, stating that there are plenty of other search options available today. From the report: The MPAA pulled the plug on the service a few months ago. And where the mainstream media covered its launch in detail, the shutdown received zero mentions. So why did the site fold? According to MPAA Vice President of Corporate Communications, Chris Ortman, it was no longer needed as there are many similar search engines out there. "Given the many search options commercially available today, which can be found on the MPAA website, WheretoWatch.com was discontinued at the conclusion of 2017," Ortman informs TF. "There are more than 140 lawful online platforms in the United States for accessing film and television content, and more than 460 around the world," he adds. "That is all absolutely true today, though it was also true three years ago when the site was launched," adds Techdirt. "The simple fact of the matter is that the site did little to serve any real public customer base. Yes, legal alternatives to piracy exist. Everyone knows that, just as they know that there are far too many hoops and restrictions around which to jump that have nothing to do with price. The MPAA and its client organizations have long asserted strict control over their product to the contrary of public demand. That is, and has always been, the problem. On top of all that, the MPAA showed its no better at promoting its site than it was at promoting the legal alternatives to pirating movies."
Movies

Netflix Licensed Content Generates 80% of US Viewing, Study Finds (variety.com) 107

Netflix is spending a pretty penny on original entertainment -- but while that stuff grabs most of the headlines, it's actually licensed titles like TV show reruns that still form the core of the company's streaming business. From a report: That's according to a data analysis from 7Park Data, which found that 80% of Netflix U.S. viewing is from licensed content with 20% from original shows like "House of Cards" or "Stranger Things." The firm also found that 42% of Netflix subscribers watch mostly licensed content (95% or more of their total streaming). Just 18% of Netflix's U.S. streaming customers are "originals dominant," whose viewing comprises 40%-100% of originals, according to 7Park. The data is for the 12-month period that ended September 2017.
Businesses

Netflix CEO: Why Even $8 Billion Investment in Content Isn't Enough (axios.com) 93

Netflix expects to spend about $8 billion on content this year. For Hollywood studios, that's a reasonable figure. But for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it's not enough. From a report: The company is competing against a range of traditional entertainment companies around the globe, and of course, against the need to work, sleep and do other things. Speaking at TED in Vancouver, Hastings noted that $8 billion is about what Disney spends. "That's spread globally," he said. "It's not as much as it sounds." Hastings noted that House of Cards wasn't really the company's first effort at original content. It had tried back in the days when it was still mailing out DVDs. "It didn't work out because we were sub-scale," he said.
Businesses

Comcast Is Bundling Netflix Into Cable Packages (techcrunch.com) 45

The latest option in Comcast's Xfinity cable bundle is Netflix. The two companies announced an expansion of their partnership today, which was first established in 2016 when Comcast added Netflix to its X1 interface. TechCrunch reports: The companies said they will expand that existing relationship by bundling Netflix into the overall subscription in new and existing Xfinity packages. Netflix's subscriber growth -- the primary driver of its value as a public company -- continues to surge, and it appears that this could be another piece in its tool kit to keep that engine humming. Those cable packages already include an increasing breakout of diverse services that allow for streaming outside of the over-the-top experience, like HBO Go and ESPN, and this offers another streaming service on-the-go for users. By tethering to additional over-the-top services, Netflix has a chance to woo subscribers that might otherwise just stick with their existing service providers and bake itself directly into that experience. The bundle, which will be available to new and existing Xfinity customers, will be included in its cable TV, phone and internet plans. More information about XFINITY service available in this XFINITY review.
Classic Games (Games)

Guinness Strips Billy 'King of Kong' Mitchell's World Records (engadget.com) 58

In February, legendary arcade gamer Billy Mitchell was accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he was stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums. Today, Kotaku reports that "Guinness World Records will remove Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong scores, as well as his records for Pac-Man, from their database following Mitchell's disqualification from the Twin Galaxies leaderboards yesterday." From the report: Mitchell is one of the world's most famous arcade game players, at one time holding world records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, and Pac-Man. Yesterday, all of Mitchell's records were removed from the leaderboards at Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game records and high scores. The decision came after a lengthy arbitration process determined that Mitchell used the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) to achieve some record scores that had been said to be performed on arcade machines, a violation of Twin Galaxies' rules. In light of this, Guinness World Records will also remove his records.

"The Guinness World Records titles relating to Mr. Mitchell's highest scores on Donkey Kong have all been disqualified due to Twin Galaxies being our source of verification for these achievements," a representative of Guinness told Kotaku via email. Mitchell did not return request for comment. Guinness continued, "We also recognize records for First perfect score on Pac-Man and Highest score on Pac-Man. Twin Galaxies was the original source of verification for these record titles and in line with their decision to remove all of Mr. Mitchell's records from their system, we have disqualified Mr. Mitchell as the holder of these two records. Guinness World Records will look to update and find the appropriate holder of these records in the next few days."

Piracy

Telegram is Riddled With Tens of Thousands of Piracy Channels; Apple and Google Have Ignored Requests From Creators To Take Action (theoutline.com) 49

joshtops writes: Instant messaging platform Telegram, which is used by more than 200 million users, has had an open secret since its inception: The platform has served as a haven for online pirates. The Outline reports that the platform is riddled with thousands of groups and channels, many with more than 100,000 members, whose sole purpose of existence is to share illegally copied movies, music albums, apps, and other content. The files are stored directly to Telegram's servers, allowing users to download movies, songs, and other content with one click. Channel admins told The Outline that they have not come across any resistance from Telegram despite the company, along with Apple and Google, maintaining a 'zero tolerance' stance on copyright infringement. This permissiveness on Telegram's part has led to the proliferation of a cottage industry of piracy marketplaces on the service.

[...] The Outline also discovered several groups and channels on Telegram in which stolen credentials -- i.e., the username and password for a website -- from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, CBS, EA Sports, Lynda, Sling, WWE Network, Mega, India's Hotstar, and dozens of other services were being offered to tens of thousands of members each day. The Outline sourced nearly three-dozen free credentials from six Telegram channels, all of which worked as advertised.
The report says that content creators have reached out to Apple, requesting the iPhone-maker to intervene, but the company has largely ignored the issue.

In an unrelated development, a Moscow court cleared the way on Friday for the local government to ban Telegram, the messaging app, over its failure to give Russian security services the ability to read users' encrypted messages.
Music

'High Definition Vinyl' Is Coming As Early As Next Year (pitchfork.com) 330

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Pitchfork: In 2016, a European patent filing described a way of manufacturing records that the inventors claimed would have higher audio fidelity, louder volume, and longer playing times than conventional LPs. Now, the Austrian-based startup Rebeat Innovation has received $4.8 million in funding for the initiative, founder and CEO Gunter Loibl told Pitchfork. Thanks to the investment, the first "HD vinyl" albums could hit stores as early as 2019, Loibl said. The HD vinyl process involves converting audio digitally to a 3D topographic map. Lasers are then used to inscribe the map onto the "stamper," the part that stamps the grooves into the vinyl. According to Loibl, these methods allow for records to be made more precisely and with less loss of audio information. The results, he said, are vinyl LPs that can have up to 30 percent more playing time, 30 percent more amplitude, and overall more faithful sound reproduction. The technique would also avoid the chemicals that play a role in traditional vinyl manufacturing. Plus, the new-school HD vinyl LPs would still play on ordinary record players.
Businesses

Netflix Pulls Out of Cannes Following Rule Change (variety.com) 183

Netflix and Cannes are breaking up, at least for now. On Wednesday, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said that the streaming platform won't be sending any films to the prestigious French festival, formally severing the strained relationship between the two power players. The decision was a long time coming, after Cannes established a rule that forbade films without a theatrical distribution plan from its competition. From, a report: In an exclusive interview with Variety, Netflix's chief content officer says that the festival sent a clear message with a new rule that bans any films without theatrical distribution in France from playing in competition. Netflix could screen some of its upcoming movies out of competition, but Sarandos says that doesn't make sense for the streaming service. "We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker," Sarandos says. "There's a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They've set the tone. I don't think it would be good for us to be there."

Netflix made a big splash at the prestigious film festival last year with two movies that showed in competition: Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories." But after the 2017 announcement, French theaters owners and unions protested the inclusion of these films to Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes. Netflix was amenable to having their movies play on big screens in France, but a law in the country requires movies to not appear in home platforms for 36 months after their theatrical release.

Sci-Fi

Apple Is Developing a TV Show Based On Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series (deadline.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Deadline: In a competitive situation, Apple has nabbed a TV series adaptation of Foundation, the seminal Isaac Asimov science fiction novel trilogy. The project, from Skydance Television, has been put in development for straight-to-series consideration. Deadline revealed last June that Skydance had made a deal with the Asimov estate and that David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman were cracking the code on a sprawling series based on the books that informed Star Wars and many other sci-fi films and TV series. Goyer and Friedman will be executive producers and showrunners. Skydance's David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross also will executive produce.

Originally published as a short story series in Astounding Magazine in 1942, Asimov's Foundation is the complex saga of humans scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, all living under the rule of the Galactic Empire. The protagonist is a psycho-historian who has an ability to read the future and foresees the empire's imminent collapse. He sets out to save the knowledge of mankind from being wiped out. Even the Game of Thrones' creative team would marvel at the number of empires that rise and fall in Foundation. Asimov's trilogy has been tried numerous times as a feature film at Fox, Warner Bros (with Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, who greenlit The Lord of the Rings), and then at Sony with Independence Day director Roland Emmerich. Many top sci-fi writers have done scripts and found it daunting to constrict the sprawling saga to a feature film format. Most recently, HBO tried developing a series with Interstellar co-writer and Westworld exec producer Jonathan Nolan, but a script was never ordered.

Businesses

Spotify Is Planning a New Version of Its Free Music Service (bloomberg.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: Spotify Technology is developing a new version of its free music service, the first big product change since the streaming company went public last week, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is tweaking the free service to make it easier to use, especially for customers on mobile phones, said the people. An announcement is expected within a couple weeks. Spotify needs to attract large numbers of new listeners to satisfy investors who value the newly public company based on user growth. The free service generates customers that the company can steer into its paid offerings. The paid version accounts for less than half of Spotify's customer base, but generated about 90 percent of its 4.09 billion euros in 2017 revenue. [...] With the updated service, free mobile listeners will be able to access playlists more quickly and have more control over what songs they hear on top playlists, mimicking Spotify's ad-free subscription product. The basic package is $9.99 a month.

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