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Businesses

TV's Golden Age Is Anything But, Say Writers Preparing To Strike (bloomberg.com) 200

The world's largest media companies returned to the negotiating table Monday with Hollywood screenwriters, seeking to avert a strike that could cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars and take popular TV shows off the air indefinitely. From a report on Bloomberg: Hollywood is bracing for the worst-case scenario after the Writers Guild of America warned advertisers and investors of the financial fallout and said members will most likely walk out May 2 if the new round of talks fail. Major TV programmers, such as NBC and CBS' flagship network, are scanning their slates of upcoming shows to determine which ones can air without guild writers. Negotiators on both sides are counting on cooler heads to prevail as they seek to avoid a repeat of the 100-day work stoppage in 2007-08 that cost the entertainment industry more than $2 billion, according to Milken Institute estimates. Yet the entertainment business, specifically TV, has undergone myriad changes that are creating new sticking points since the last strike almost a decade ago, and the writers say they haven't benefited.
Microsoft

Microsoft's Minecraft Set To Launch Its Own Currency (bloomberg.com) 67

Minecraft's popularity shows no signs of slowing down. Microsoft, which acquired the game's maker, Mojang, in 2014, has recently launched the game in China and continues to market it well in the U.S. The next big step for the game is the introduction of a new marketplace and brand new currency -- within the game itself. What this does is it "[opens] up the opportunity for businesses to sell their original content and creations to tens of millions of the game's players for the first time," writes Nate Lanxon via Bloomberg. From the report: Set to go live in the spring, nine businesses will be selling feature packs within Minecraft -- such as new storylines, in-game activities or landscapes to explore -- with prices ranging between about $1 and $10 per creation. Other companies can apply to be allowed into the marketplace over subsequent months. Users wishing to purchase content will need to buy a form of new currency -- Minecraft Coins. A store within the game does already exist but is limited to only items created by the Minecraft development team. The change to allow third-party developers to sell their wares within the same ecosystem opens up an entirely new business model for independent creatives.
Businesses

China's LeEco Calls Off Its $2 Billion Purchase of TV Maker Vizio (axios.com) 25

Last year, China's conglomerate LeEco announced it would be acquiring TV maker Vizio for a sum of $2 billion. The move would have given LeEco, which is increasingly expanding its business beyond Chinese market, an instant foothold in the United States. But today, both companies announced they are cancelling the plan due to "regulatory headwinds." In a statement, the companies said: We continue to believe that there is great synergy between the two companies, and are pleased to announce that LeEco and Vizio have reached an agreement that is a win for both companies ... LeEco and Vizio will continue to explore opportunities to incorporate the Le app and content within the Vizio connected CE platform, and engage in a collaborative partnership to leverage LeEco's ecosystem user interface platform, along with the brand's exclusive content and distribution channels, to bring Vizio products to the China market. The announcement comes amid troubled times for both the companies. On one hand, LeEco is struggling financially. Bloomberg reported earlier this month that the company had delayed payroll for its US employees. Vizio was thrown under the bus in February after FTC fined the company $2.2 million to settle a case involving the TVs' data collection techniques.
Education

Over 90% of College Students Today Regularly Use Netflix, But Only 34% Are Actually Paying For Their Own Account (streamingobserver.com) 55

According to a new survey from LendEDU, more than 90% of today's college students have access to a Netflix account they regularly use, while only 8% who responded to the survey said they don't have a Netflix account. What some may find even more surprising is that of the 90% of students who have access to Netflix, only 34% of them are actually paying for their own Netflix account. Streaming Observer News reports: That actually goes right in line with numbers from Piper Jaffray that showed almost 40% of teens watch Netflix every single day. Their closest competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, each came in at just 3% each for daily use. Of course, that doesn't mean they're all paying for Netflix. 54% of respondents to LendEDU's survey said they use a family member's or friend's account, and 5% more said they used a boyfriend/girlfriend or ex's account. While only 34% of college students are actually paying for their own Netflix account, that's apparently not too big of a concern for Netflix, who has taken a relatively lax attitude towards password sharing in recent years.
Games

Two Studies Suggesting a Link Between Violent Video Games, Real-Life Behavior Have Been Retracted (qz.com) 174

Keith Collins reports via Quartz: In the first three months of 2017, academic journals retracted two papers that suggested a link between violent video games and real-life behavior. The first, entitled "Boom, Headshot!" was published in the Journal of Communication Research in 2012 and, after years of controversy, retracted last January. That study looked at the "effect of video game play and controller type on firing aim and accuracy," and found that playing first-person shooter games can train a player to become a better marksman in real life. Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, found some inconsistencies in the data published in the study. In January 2015, he and a colleague alerted Ohio State University, where the authors of the paper conducted the research. The lead author of the study, psychology professor Brad Bushman, emailed an official at OSU a month later, suggesting the allegations were part of a smear campaign against him and his co-author, according to Retraction Watch. Last January, the Journal of Communication Research retracted the paper. Bushman had agreed to the retraction, and began an attempt to re-do the original study with a larger sample size. A paper published in Gifted Child Quarterly in 2016, authored by Bushman and three others, caught the attention of Joseph Hilgard, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. The paper had studied the "effects of violent media on verbal task performance in gifted and general cohort children," and found that when children watched a violent cartoon for 12 minutes, their verbal skills dropped substantially for a temporary period. What surprised Hilgard most, according to an interview with Retraction Watch, was the sheer size of the effect. Hilgard said that OSU, Bushman, and others he spoke with about the study were helpful and forthcoming, but could not provide information on the study's data collection process. The author who collected the data, it turned out, lived in Turkey and fell out of contact following the recent coup attempt. Last week, Gifted Child Quarterly retracted the paper.
Television

YouTube Launches 'YouTube TV' In Select Markets (phonedog.com) 62

In late February, YouTube unveiled its live TV service called YouTube TV, which offers live TV streaming over the internet for $35 per month with no long-term contract required. The company has officially launched the service today in five select markets: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Philadelphia. YouTube says that more markets are coming soon, however, details on when/where are scarce. PhoneDog reports: A membership to YouTube TV costs $35 per month and includes live streaming of channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and others. Subscribers also get an unlimited cloud DVR for recording shows that'll last up to nine months, and six accounts that each get their own recommendations and cloud DVRs. YouTube is offering a free one-month trial of YouTube TV so that everyone can give it a try. After your first paid month, YouTube will give you a Google Chromecast to thank you for sticking with the service. Source: YouTube Official Blog
Music

Spotify Premium Users Will Get Some Albums Two Weeks Before Free Users (theverge.com) 46

Spotify has signed a long-term licensing agreement with Universal Music Group, allowing new albums from Universal artists to be restricted to its premium service for up to two weeks. The Verge reports: In a statement, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek admitted that Spotify understands that its policy of releasing albums across its entire service couldn't last forever. "We know that not every album by every artist should be released the same way, and we've worked hard with UMG to develop a new, flexible release policy," Ek stated. "Starting today, Universal artists can choose to release new albums on premium only for two weeks, offering subscribers an earlier chance to explore the complete creative work, while the singles are available across Spotify for all our listeners to enjoy." The agreement with UMG should allow for deals with Spotify's other two major label partners, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Group, to be completed in short order -- deals that likely will match the parameters set in the Spotify-UMG deal -- paving the way for Spotify's initial public offering.
Movies

A Case For Why Movie-Theater Experience Is Still Worth the Effort (theverge.com) 370

It's all but confirmed that major Hollywood studios are chalking out plans to make movies available in the home mere weeks after their theatrical debuts. Some director and producers, including Christopher Nolan of Inception, The Dark Knight, The Prestige and Interstellar fame are seemingly opposed to the idea, urging people to watch movies at the theaters for "best experience." The Verge has an article today in which it lists 10 reasons it thinks people should not stop going to the cinema halls. From the article, condensed for space:
1. The big screen. There's something to be said about watching visual storytelling on a three-story screen, particularly when the film really takes advantage of the format.
2. People everywhere. A group of people laughing together simultaneously triggers a feeling that you should laugh, too; during a suspenseful moment, you can feel dozens of strangers suck in their breath together.
3. Focus. Even people who try their hardest to give a movie their undivided attention on a living-room screen have fallen victim to temptations like "Well, I'm just sitting here, I might as well pay the electric bill."
4. Relentlessness. Part of the advantage of that kind of focus is that movies that are tense, scary, or deeply emotional can cast much more of a spell over you when you don't have the option to pause or turn away from the worst, then rewind later to catch it safely out of context.
5. A massive speaker system.
6. Previews.
7. Disruption. A problem with watching movies at home is that it makes the film-watching experience blur into the same experience as surfing cable channels, running a Netflix comedy show in the background while you do dishes, or half-assedly watching an Adventure Time marathon while stoned.
8. Alone time. Going to the movies with friends or your significant other can be a cherished pastime, especially when you're surrounded by an excited audience.
9. 32 ounces of cola in the dark.
10. Bragging rights.

Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Consoles Are Reportedly Warping When Docked (independent.co.uk) 110

When the Nintendo Switch was launched in early March, some users complained about dead or stuck pixels, which Nintendo later dismissed as being "normal." We're now approaching the one-month mark and some users are reporting that the console can warp when it's been docked for an extended period of gaming. The Independent reports: [Reddit] User _NSR has posted a picture of a bent Switch online, alongside a message reading, "The Nintendo Switch is starting to warp while only being in dock mode." _NSR expanded on the issue in further comments, explaining, "It does get very hot, considering how small the system is and it is outputting Breath of the Wild for long periods of time on a big screen, it may be too much for it to handle. I'm wondering if it being docked is the problem though, most of my time has been on the dock, and it has to work harder to output to a larger screen. Luckily it hasn't affected the way that it plays, the lack of disc drive is definitely a good thing here." Fellow Reddit users have offered multiple possible explanations for the warp, with battery issues and thermal expansion being suggested. Another Switch user, Magnaha23, backed up _NSR's claim, commenting, "I actually checked my Switch after seeing this. It's starting to do the exact same thing just not as bad as yours yet. I called Nintendo and got a repair set up in like 10 minutes. "I got a prepaid label for overnight shipping. Once they get it it takes a few days to process and repair. If they can repair the unit, which if the whole thing is warped they probably can't, they will send back. Otherwise, they will transfer my data over to a new unit and send that back. They said 6-8 business days once they get my Switch. We shall see..." Other people on the thread, however, say they haven't noticed any warping despite using it for lengthy gaming sessions while docked.
Movies

Netflix Now Lets You Download Videos Onto Your PC (pcworld.com) 60

Netflix now offers offline streaming via its Windows 10 PC application, meaning you'll have even more options wherever you're stuck without Internet access. From a report: Netflix added the offline viewing options as part of the most recent update to the Netflix app on Windows 10. Because the Windows Store doesn't show you what version of the Netflix app you're using, just make sure you check for updates using the large blue button in the upper-right corner of the Windows Store app to receive the latest version. You won't need the Creators Update to take advantage of the new feature, either. When you open the app, Netflix will show you a large splash screen that advertises the new "download and go" capability. Unfortunately, if you click the Find me something to download button, the Netflix app doesn't currently display a list of downloadable titles; you'll have to hunt them down yourself. Netflix introduced the same capability on iOS and Android late last year. It's a bold move by Netflix to bring this feature to desktop. There is always the risk of someone finding out a way to break the DRM and easily distribute the files.
Movies

Apple Wants To Sell Premium TV Channels in a Bundle (recode.net) 43

Apple isn't done trying to sell you pay TV. From a report on Recode: Here's Apple's latest proposal: It wants to sell consumers a premium TV bundle, which combines HBO, Showtime and Starz. Apple already sells each of those channels individually. But it has approached the three networks about rolling them up into a single package, as conventional pay TV operators sometimes do. The difference: Traditional pay TV operators, like Charter, usually require consumers to subscribe to a basic level of TV channels before it will sell them a premium bundle. Apple could sell the bundle as standalone product, delivered via its iOS devices and its Apple TV settop box. Apple doesn't have a bundle deal in place with any of the premium networks, industry sources say. Apple currently sells HBO for $15 a month, Showtime for $11 a month, and Starz for $9 a month.
Education

'Grammar Vigilante' Secretly Corrects Bristol Street Signs (irishtimes.com) 158

An anonymous reader shares a report: A self-confessed "grammar vigilante" has been secretly correcting bad punctuation on street signs and shop fronts in Bristol for more than a decade. The anonymous crusader carries out his work in the dead of night using the "Apostrophiser" -- a long-handled tool he created to reach the highest signs. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC that correcting rogue apostrophes is his speciality.
Television

Will Streaming Media Lead To A Massive Writer's Strike? (latimes.com) 316

"A decade ago, Hollywood writers brought the entertainment industry to a standstill when they walked off the job for three months in a dispute over pay for movies and TV shows distributed online," writes the Los Angeles Times. But they're reporting that it may happen again, with the Writers Guild of America now seeking a strike authorization vote from its members. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have transformed Hollywood and contributed to an unprecedented number of quality series being produced -- a phenomenon often described as the new Golden Age of TV. But times haven't been golden for many writers for whom more is now less. Shorter seasons are the new norm, with many series consisting of 10 or fewer episodes on cable and streaming -- less than half the length of traditional seasons on network shows. That has put writers in a financial crunch since many have exclusivity clauses that prevent them from working on multiple shows per season...

"It's getting more and more difficult to make a living as a writer," said John Bowman, a TV writer-producer, and former head of the WGA negotiating committee. Studios are equally dug in as more customers cut the cable cord in favor of streaming options. They're also grappling with a dramatic fall-off in once-lucrative DVD sales and a flattening of attendance at the multiplex. They are releasing fewer titles a year, meaning fewer opportunities for screenwriters... Complicating matters is a lack of transparency. Streaming services operate on subscription models and don't release viewer data, making it difficult to devise a formula for residuals (fees for reruns).

Amazon is a member of the studio alliance, while Netflix "is expected to sign on to an eventual contract." (Though streaming also seems to be hurting the popularity of reruns, which is also reducing the residuals writers receive.) But underscoring the impact of online media, Slashdot reader JustAnotherOldGuy asks, "with all the alternative content available, does anyone care...? Would the writer's strike have any serious impact on your life?"
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Issues April Fool's Day Newsletter (eff.org) 21

An anonymous reader writes: There were some surprises in today's edition of the EFF's "EFFector" newsletter. Noting that it's their sqrt(-1)th issue, they report that the EU will protect the privacy of its data by building a 30-foot wall around the United States. "Only U.S. tech companies that comply with EU privacy restrictions and prohibit U.S. government access to their data will be given fiber optic grappling hooks to transport Europeans' data across the Atlantic, over the wall, and back to their U.S.-based servers."

The newsletter also reports that the bipartisan leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Intelligence Committees "apologized during a press conference this morning for failing to provide rigorous supervision of the intelligence community." And the newsletter also reports that Deadpool won an Oscar after PricewaterhouseCoopers mistakenly handed the presenters an envelope with a list of the most-frequently torrent-ed movie of 2016. But perhaps its most unexpected headline is "Comcast to Assimilate with the Borg."

The Borg said the deal would increase its market share, nationwide reach, and overall reputation for evil -- while Comcast claimed that the deal would boost competition.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Steve Wozniak's Biographer Pranked By Woz's Mom? (groovypost.com) 11

An anonymous reader writes: Gina Smith is the co-author of Steve Wozniak's 2006 biography. On the day that Steve Jobs died, she posted a poignant story Woz had shared about their early days in Silicon Valley, remembering how Jobs sold his Volkswagen van while Woz sold his calculator to raise funds to build the first Apple 1 computer kit.

The post includes a picture of 22-year-old Steve Jobs standing next to young Steve Wozniak. But there's also an unexpected figure in the background wearing a black ski hat and glasses. It's "tourist guy," the figure from a 9/11 meme whose stoic face was spliced into the background of everything from the explosion of the Hindenburg to the Kennedy assassination, and even into the original Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The picture is attributed to Margaret Wozniak. So does that mean Steve Wozniak's biographer got pranked by Woz's mom?

Interestingly, in 2011 the tourist guy actually apologized for creating the original fake World Trade Center image. "I assumed my friends would recognise me and call me to see if I was alright, but they didn't, they posted it on to other friends and suddenly it was all over the world... I am ashamed that even now the police still get calls about it."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Ask Slashdot: Seen Any Good April Fool's Pranks Today? 106

An anonymous reader writes: It's that special time of year where sites around the net celebrate April Fool's Day with parodies of their own product offerings. Google Home announces a new companion service for smart yards called Google Gnome. Stack Overflow announces Dance Dance Authentication. The Russian foreign ministry changed their voicemail to include new menu options like "Press 2 to use the services of Russian hackers," and "press 3 to request election interference." And in what's either a really good prank or a horrific piece of bad timing, Phrack.org announces that they've been seized by the FBI.

Has anybody else noticed anything funny today?

The internet has a long history of April Fool's Day pranks, and it looks like 2017 is no exception. So use the comments to share what you're seeing around the web today. Seen any good April Fool's Day pranks today?
Piracy

Amazon Bans Sales of Media Player Boxes That Promote Piracy (torrentfreak.com) 102

Amazon is taking a tough stance against vendors who sell fully-loaded Kodi boxes and other "pirate" media players through its platform. From a report: The store now explicitly bans media players that "promote" or "suggest" the facilitation of piracy. Sellers who violate this policy, of which there are still a few around, risk having their inventory destroyed. [...] While Kodi itself is a neutral platform, millions of people use third-party add-ons to turn it into the ultimate pirate machine. In some cases, the pirate add-ons are put onto the devices by vendors, who sell these "fully-loaded" boxes through their own stores or marketplaces such as Amazon. The ecommerce giant appears to be well aware of the controversy, as it recently published an updated policy clarifying that pirate media players are not permitted on the platform. Merely 'suggesting' that devices can be used for infringing purposes is enough to have them delisted.
Nintendo

Your Save Data Is Not Safe On the Nintendo Switch (arstechnica.com) 161

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In a post-launch update to our initial Nintendo Switch review, we noted that there is no way to externally back up game save data stored on the system. A recent horror story from a fellow writer who lost dozens of hours of game progress thanks to a broken system highlights just how troublesome this missing feature can be. Over at GamesRadar, Anthony John Agnello recounts his experience with Nintendo support after his Switch turned into a useless brick for no discernible reason last week (full disclosure: I know Agnello personally and have served with him on some convention panels). After sending his (under warranty) system to Nintendo for repair, Agnello received a fixed system and the following distressing message from the company two days later: "We have inspected the Nintendo Switch system that was sent to us for repair and found that the issue has made some of the information on this system unreadable. As a result, the save data, settings, and links with any Nintendo Accounts on your system were unable to be preserved." Agnello says he lost 55 hours of progress on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as more progress on a few other downloadable games. While he was able to redownload the games that were deleted, he'd have to start from scratch on each one (if only all that progress was easily, instantly unlockable in some way...)
The Almighty Buck

Streaming Services Generated More Than 50% of All US Music Industry Revenue in 2016 (variety.com) 34

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Streaming music services were for the first time ever responsible for more than 50 percent of all U.S. music industry revenue in 2016, according to new numbers released by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Thursday. Paid and ad-supported streaming together generated 51 percent of music revenue last year, to be precise, bringing in a total of $3.9 billion. In 2015, streaming music was responsible for 34 percent of the music industry's annual revenue. Much of that increase can be attributed to a strong growth of paid subscriptions to services like Spotify and Apple Music. Revenue from paid subscription plans more than doubled in 2016, bringing in $2.5 billion, with an average of 22.6 million U.S. consumers subscribing to streaming services last year. The year before, subscription services had an average of 10.8 million paying subscribers.

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