China

Mobile Gaming Cements Its Dominance, Takes Majority of Worldwide Sales (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Newzoo's 2018 Global Games Market Forecast now predicts that mobile games will make up a slim majority (51 percent) of all worldwide gaming revenue this year (including smartphones and tablets, but not dedicated gaming handhelds). That's up from 34 percent in 2015 and just 18 percent in 2012. Console and PC games will split the remainder of the pie relatively evenly in 2018, at 25 percent and 24 percent of worldwide spending, respectively. The growth of the mobile market doesn't show any signs of stopping, either: by 2021, Newzoo estimates that 59 percent of all gaming spending will go to mobile platforms, with console and PC games dividing up the scraps. The report finds that China is responsible for 28 percent of all gaming spending in the world, up from 24 percent in 2015. "Mobile gaming is overrepresented in the world's biggest gaming market, responsible for 61 percent of all Chinese gaming revenue and poised to grow to 70 percent by 2021," reports Ars. Japan's overall spending on mobile games is nearly on par with the United States, despite the country having one-third as many gamers overall.
Nintendo

Nintendo Faces Switch Patent Infringement Investigation In the US (engadget.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Nintendo is under investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the fate of the Switch hangs in the balance. Gamevice, the company behind the Wikipad and a line of snap-on controllers for mobile devices, says the Nintendo Switch violates its patents on attachable handheld gamepads and their related accessories. Alleging violations of the Tariff Act of 1930, Gamevice is requesting a cease and desist order against Nintendo, a move that would halt imports of the Switch into the U.S. The USITC notes that while its investigation has begun, it hasn't ruled on the validity of the complaint. The commission will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Nintendo is in violation of the Tariff Act, with a final decision "at the earliest practicable time." The USITC will announce a target date for the end of the investigation within 45 days.
Cellphones

Facebook's Phone-Free, Wireless 'Oculus Go' VR Headset Is Released Today 34

UnknownSoldier writes: The Oculus Go is finally available for purchase. Amazon is selling the 32GB model for $199, while the 64GB model is selling for $249. As a standalone virtual reality unit, it doesn't require a computer or phone to use. Ironically, you must use a phone for the initial setup. Reviews are out on The Verge and Ars Technica. The TL;DR -- Pros: Inexpensive; Cons: LCD, fixed 72 Hz rate, limited motion tracking. Will 2018 finally will be the year of cheap VR?
AI

Could Algorithms Be Better at Picking the Next Big Blockbuster Than Studio Execs? (wired.com) 74

In a world where artificial intelligence is no longer just a Spielberg-Kubrick collaboration, could algorithms be better at picking the next big blockbuster than studio execs? From a report: "Filmmakers are getting closer to understanding what moviegoers go to theaters to see thanks to neural networks fed off of data from previous box office hits," says Landon Starr, the head of data science at Clearlink, which uses machine learning to help companies understand consumer behavior. "Although this technology isn't spot-on quite yet, AI-powered predictions are likely stronger than the human calculations used in the past." And they're advancing quickly.

Vault, an Israeli startup founded in 2015, is developing a neural-network algorithm based on 30 years of box office data, nearly 400,000 story features found in scripts, and data like film budgets and audience demographics to estimate a movie's opening weekend. The company is only a couple years in, but founder David Stiff recently said that roughly 75 percent of Vault's predictions "come 'pretty close'" to films' actual opening grosses.

Scriptbook takes a similar approach, using its own AI platform to predict a movie's success based on the screenplay only. The Antwerp startup's AI analyzed 62 movies from 2015 and 2016, and claims it was able to successfully predict the box office failure or success of 52 of them, judging 30 movies correctly as profitable and 22 movies correctly as not profitable.

AI

AI Is Being Used To Predict Gambling Behavior (theguardian.com) 54

"The gambling industry is increasingly using artificial intelligence to predict consumer habits and personalize promotions to keep gamblers hooked," reports The Guardian, citing industry insiders. "Current and former gambling industry employees have described how people's betting habits are scrutinized and modeled to manipulate their future behavior." From the report: Publicly, gambling executives boast of increasingly sophisticated advertising keeping people betting, while privately conceding that some are more susceptible to gambling addiction when bombarded with these type of bespoke ads and incentives. Gamblers' every click, page view and transaction is scientifically examined so that ads statistically more likely to work can be pushed through Google, Facebook and other platforms. Users unwittingly consent to the use of their data in ways they aren't aware of due to lengthy terms and conditions, enabling their information to legally be used in this way. Last August, the Guardian revealed the gambling industry uses third-party companies to harvest people's data, helping bookmakers and online casinos target people on low incomes and those who have stopped gambling. Despite condemnation from MPs, experts and campaigners, such practices remain an industry norm.
Television

Comcast Won't Give New Speed Boost To Internet Users Who Don't Buy TV Service (arstechnica.com) 264

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Last week, Comcast announced speed increases for customers in Houston and the Oregon/SW Washington areas. The announcement headlines were "Comcast increases Internet speeds for some video customers." Customers with 60Mbps Internet download speeds are being upped to 150Mbps; 150Mbps subscribers are going to 250Mbps; and 250Mbps subscribers are getting a raise to 400Mbps or 1Gbps. Comcast says speed increases will kick in automatically without raising the customers' monthly bills -- but only if they subscribe to certain bundles that include both Internet and TV service.

"Cord cutters are not invited to the [speed increase] party," the Houston Chronicle wrote. "Only those who bundle Internet with cable television and other services... will see their speeds go up at no extra charge." Presumably, Internet-only customers can get the new speeds by paying more or by bundling their Internet subscriptions with video.

Businesses

Digital and Analog Audio's Curious Coexistence (cnet.com) 345

Steve Guttenberg, writing for CNET: It's a funny thing, the ongoing turntable sales surge shows no signs of slowing down, but nearly all new music is recorded digitally. It seems like a contradiction, turntables and LPs are purely analog in nature, but nearly all new (not remastered LPs) made over the last 30+ years were recorded, mixed, and mastered from digital sources. Older, pre 1980 LPs were made in an all-analog world. Today's LPs are hybrids of a sort, the grooves are still analog, but the music was probably made in the digital domain.

Be that as it may, LPs, regardless of vintage, can sound great. While pre-1980s records may be richer in tone and warmth, there are lots of more recent albums that sound just as good or better. In other words vinyl's sound quality or lack thereof has mostly to do with the quality of the original recording, and the choices made by the recording, mixing, and mastering engineers.

Despite the overwhelming number of digital recordings, there is still a tiny percentage of all-analog recordings being made. To cite one mostly analog studio, the legendary Electrical Audio, which owner Steve Albini told me records and mixes around 70 percent of all of its sessions on tape.

Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi Is Still Working on Its 'Stale, Male, and Pale' Problem, Says James Cameron (indiewire.com) 796

An anonymous reader shares a report: As science fiction finally earns mainstream acceptance in Hollywood, James Cameron believes the genre's awards drought will soon be over. "I predict that sometime in the next five to 10 years you will have a science-fiction film win Best Picture," he told reporters while promoting "AMC Visionaries: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction," which premieres Monday. Films like "Arrival" and "Ex-Machina" have earned nominations, but as the older guard ages out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cameron believes that the membership's "prejudice" against sci-fi -- which he says "definitely exists" -- will fade. "They're definitely a red-headed stepchild when it comes to the acting, producing, directing categories," he said.

"Science fiction is kind of a commercial genre, it's not really an elevated dramatic genre. I would argue that until I'm blue in the face that science fiction is the quintessence of being human in a sense. We are technological beings. We are the only truly conscious species that we know of. We are struggling with ourselves over the issue of our own question for understanding, our own ability to manipulate the fabric of our reality. Our own technology is blowing back on us and changing how we behave amongst ourselves and as a civilization," he added. "I would argue that there's nothing more quintessentially human than dealing with these themes. But Hollywood tends to pull short from that."

But as Hollywood changes its perception of science fiction, Cameron stressed that the genre itself needs to continue to evolve from its origins of being too "stale, male and pale." "It was white guys talking about rockets," Cameron said of early sci-fi. "The female authors didn't come into it until the '50s and '60s and a lot of them had to operate under pseudonyms." But even now, "women are still unrepresented in science fiction as they are in Hollywood in general," he said. "When 14 percent of all film directors in the industry are female, and they represent 50 percent of the population, that's a big delta there that needs to get rectified."

Books

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain (theatlantic.com) 113

For the first time in two decades, a huge number of books, films, and other works will escape U.S. copyright law. From a report: The Great American Novel enters the public domain on January 1, 2019 -- quite literally. Not the concept, but the book by William Carlos Williams. It will be joined by hundreds of thousands of other books, musical scores, and films first published in the United States during 1923. It's the first time since 1998 for a mass shift to the public domain of material protected under copyright. It's also the beginning of a new annual tradition: For several decades from 2019 onward, each New Year's Day will unleash a full year's worth of works published 95 years earlier.

This coming January, Charlie Chaplin's film The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille's The 10 Commandments will slip the shackles of ownership, allowing any individual or company to release them freely, mash them up with other work, or sell them with no restriction. This will be true also for some compositions by Bela Bartok, Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay, Winston Churchill's The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Pigeons, E.E. Cummings's Tulips and Chimneys, Noel Coward's London Calling! musical, Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front, many stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and hosts upon hosts of forgotten works, according to research by the Duke University School of Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

Throughout the 20th century, changes in copyright law led to longer periods of protection for works that had been created decades earlier, which altered a pattern of relatively brief copyright protection that dates back to the founding of the nation. This came from two separate impetuses. First, the United States had long stood alone in defining copyright as a fixed period of time instead of using an author's life plus a certain number of years following it, which most of the world had agreed to in 1886. Second, the ever-increasing value of intellectual property could be exploited with a longer term. But extending American copyright law and bringing it into international harmony meant applying "patches" retroactively to work already created and published. And that led, in turn, to lengthy delays in copyright expiring on works that now date back almost a century.

Television

While More People Switch To Streaming TV, Cable Stocks are Plummetting (investors.com) 120

An anonymous reader quotes Investor's Business Daily: Shares in Charter Communications plunged after the cable TV firm reported first quarter earnings and lost more video subscribers than expected, also sparking a sell-off in Comcast and Altice USA... Charter said it lost 122,000 video subscribers, nearly triple analyst predictions for a fall of 43,000. Comcast on Wednesday said it lost 96,000 video subscribers, exceeding estimates for a drop of 75,000.... With Friday's sell-off, Comcast stock is down 20% in 2018, with Charter falling more than 24%...

Cable TV firms aren't the only losers. AT&T this week said it lost 187,000 pay-TV customers, including satellite TV subscribers and its U-verse landline business. AT&T's DirecTV Now internet streaming service added 312,000 customers. But AT&T garners much lower profit margins from video streaming.

Cable companies are now raising prices on broadband services to compensate, according to the article.

MarketWatch notes that Charter also lost 100,000 customers in the same three-month period in 2017, calling the ongoing trend "a fundamental shift in consumer behavior."
Movies

MoviePass Changes TOS To Prevent You From Seeing the Same Movie More Than Once (engadget.com) 69

MoviePass has changed its terms of service to prevent subscribers from seeing the same movie more than once. First spotted by iMore, the new limitation will apply to all subscribers, new and existing. MoviePass' website says, "We recently updated our Terms of Service to reflect that MoviePass subscribers are only permitted to see a select movie in theaters once with your MoviePass. We hope this will encourage you to see new movies and enjoy something different!" Engadget reports: This isn't the first time the company has done this, however. It limited users to seeing titles just once in its earlier days as well and CEO Mitch Lowe said the rule's reinstatement is to cut down on fraud. "When we took that policy down, we saw some people turning MoviePass into a cottage industry, standing in front of a theater selling their tickets to Star Wars, or whatever," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Lowe also said that new features are in the works including couples plans and options that include 3D and IMAX movies.
Television

Cord Cutting Caused By 74 Percent TV Price Hikes Since 2000, Says Report (dslreports.com) 173

A new study by Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence finds that cord cutting is being caused primarily by a 74% increase in customer cable bills since 2000. From a report: That increase is even adjusted for inflation, and it should be noted that individual earnings have seen a modest decline during that same period, making soaring cable rates untenable for many. This affordability gap is "squeezing penetration rates, particularly among the more economically vulnerable households," the research company added. As their chart illustrates, prices for multichannel packages have steadily risen from just below $60 a month in 2000 to close to $100 in 2016. All while incomes remained largely stagnant. As customers grow increasingly angry at cable TV rate hikes and defect to streaming alternatives, most cable operators are simply raising the price of broadband (often via usage caps and overage fees) to try and make up for lost revenue. And because most parts of America still don't really see healthy broadband competition, they can consistently get away with it.
Businesses

CEO Doesn't Know if MoviePass Will Offer a Movie Per Day Plan Again (engadget.com) 39

The subscription service famous for supplying a movie ticket per day for just $9.95 a month hasn't been offering that wildly popular package since April 13. From a report: The company's too-good-to-be-true offer of one movie per day for $10 subscription model brought it 500,000 subscribers in one month, but MoviePass' finances show that the startup is struggling while still being dogged by its CEO's comments around tracking his customers. Recently, the company downgraded its available new subscriber plans to a three-month, $30 "limited time" offer that includes four movies per month and a three-month trial of iHeartRadio premium. It seems as if this offer now has no limit; CEO Mitch Lowe told The Hollywood Reporter that he was unsure if the movie-per-day plan would even return as an option. "Do you think you will go back to a movie a day?" a THR reporter asked Lowe at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. "I don't know," he responded.
Crime

Belgium Declares Video Game Loot Boxes Gambling and Therefore Illegal (arstechnica.com) 176

The Belgian Gaming Commission has reviewed several big video games and found that randomized loot boxes in at least three of the titles count as "games of chance," and publishers could therefore be subject to fines and prison sentences under the country's gaming legislation. Ars Technica reports: A statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens (machine translation) identifies loot boxes in Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as meeting the criteria for that "game of chance" definition: i.e., "there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II and determined that the recent changes EA made to the game means it "no longer technically forms a game of chance." Beyond that simple definition, the Gaming Commission expressed concern over games that draw in players with an "emotional profit forecast" of randomized goods, where players "buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be." The fact that these games don't disclose the odds of receiving specific in-game items is also worrisome, the Commission said. The three games noted above must remove their loot boxes or be in criminal violation of the country's gaming legislation, Geens writes. That law carries penalties of up to 800,000EU (~$973,680) and five years in prison, which can be doubled if "minors are involved." But Geens says he wants to start a "dialogue" with loot box providers to "see who should take responsibility where."
Television

8K TVs Are Coming, But Don't Buy the Hype (engadget.com) 299

If the 8,294,400 pixels of resolution on an Ultra High Definition television just don't seem to convey enough detail, fear not: The electronics industry has heard your cry. From a report: Even as UHD TVs, often called 4K TVs for their nearly 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, approach half of display shipments in the U.S., set manufacturers have been stepping up their demos of 8K sets that, with their 7680-by-4320 resolution, pack in a full 33,177,600 pixels. And Sharp is now expanding its distribution of one such set, the 70-inch LV-70X500E. Following its October debut in China and subsequent arrivals in Japan and Taiwan, this 8K display will go on sale across Europe at the end of April for about $13,800 at current exchange rates. That, apparently, is supposed to be a reasonable price for a set that supports a video format that offers next to nothing to watch, that can't be streamed on most broadband connections or fit onto Blu-ray discs and which can't even be properly appreciated unless you get a set too big to fit in many living rooms.

[...] The highlights reel playing on a demo unit of Sharp's 8K set required 300 megabits per second of bandwidth to stream, said Adrian Wysocki, group product manager at UMC, the Sharp-owned firm that builds TVs in Poland for the company. He suggested in a conversation Friday that more efficient formats could cut that to 100 Mbps. Only 23.2% of U.S. fixed-broadband connections hit that speed at the end of 2016, according to to the Federal Communications Commission's latest report on internet access services.

Businesses

Spotify Wants More Paid Subscribers, So It Has Launched a New App To Give Away More Music For Free (recode.net) 66

Spotify on Tuesday announced a new redesigned app for free customers, its first major change to the free tier in four years, as it attempts to lure more customers into buying its subscription service. Free listeners will now get on-demand access to 15 playlists; they can play any song they want in those playlists and are no longer stuck in a world of shuffled playback. From a report: The idea: If people get more stuff without paying, they are more likely to end up paying in the long run. The new mobile app gives free users the ability to play more songs on demand, from 15 pre-populated playlists -- some of which are personalized for individual users, like its popular "Discover Weekly" feature. Spotify has always let users listen to on-demand music for free via an ad-supported option -- it's the main thing that set the company apart from other streaming services in the past. But it has limited full, free access to its library of songs to desktop users, and limited what free users could get to on its mobile app. Today's move doesn't remove those limits entirely, but gives users more opportunity to sample. Paid users get full access to Spotify's entire catalog, on-demand, without ads. The new app also offers users the ability to stream songs with lower data usage. The company says users can save up to 75% of mobile data with data saver mode while streaming on 3G.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 212

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) 21

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) 80

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) 90

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."

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