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Sony Lays Off Hundreds of Employees in Media Division

posted Sunday Mar 23, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Sony Lays Off Hundreds of Employees in Media Division

After Sony's rejection of spinning off the media division in order to possibly save the company, CEO Kaz Hirai then had to cut $250 million from the media budget, which meant a reduction in movie releases for the year. Now, after another grueling loss in profits and revenue, Sony is laying off hundreds of employees in the division.

The terminations are happening at the California TV and film studio just outside of Los Angeles. In total 216 Sony employees will have to find new work and the company's interactive and digital marketing teams appear to have been hit the hardest. Sony started notifying employees of the layoffs this week and should have been done by Friday. This is after the company ended the employment of Chris Cookson, president of Sony Pictures Technologies, and Mitch Singer, the chief digital strategy officer for UltraViolet storage, back in January.

Sony spokesperson Charles Sipkins said in an email statement that, "We (Sony) are continuously evolving the business to make Sony Pictures Entertainment more efficient and competitive."

Now that Sony rejected a plan that could have possibly avoided this mess, are people still confident in the ability of its media division to pull through? More so, is Sony going to be around in five years? Things are looking bleak as it stands, with the consumer electronics division not doing well, however the one saving grace is the strong sales of Sony's latest gaming console, the PlayStation 4.

Can the momentum of the gaming unit keep the entire company afloat? So many questions and only time will give way to the answers. However, we're curious to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Marvel Adds Soundtrack and Commentary to Digital Comics

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Marvel Adds Soundtrack and Commentary to Digital Comics

Announced this afternoon at their SXSW, Marvel has added a few long expected multimedia features to their Marvel Unlimited mobile apps. Beginning with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel has begun adding a collection of additions to their new release comics.

Intended to make the books more immersive, one of the media features will be a smart soundtrack capability, which they refer to as "adaptive audio," playing related Marvel-style music from scene to scene as you read through the digital book. Kristin Vincent, Marvel's vice president of digital products, said the goal was to make the digital version of the comics feel more authentically digital, without becoming foreign to the avid comic readers. She added,

We knew we had something conceptually but we weren't sure how it was going to work with comics. We wanted to figure out how we could tell stories in new ways.

Arune Singh, director of communications for publishing and digital media, believes that this could fundamentally change the way digital comics are produced by the company, stating,

The way we used to paste comics together on the page in production, so far we have been pasting comics on our iPad. Now, we have adaptive audio.

It is definitely a change in the way that Marvel thinks about comics and their production. The adaptive audio is a huge shift in production, and an interesting technological feat. The app, now written in native code as opposed to HTML5, is able to detect when you switch panels and adjust the music PER PANEL with background score similar to the films. It is also able to adapt the music's speed and transitions based on how quickly you individually read the comics: a faster reader will have quicker transitions planned.

In addition to the adaptive audio, there is also the ability for DVD commentary-style videos. While certainly not the most popular part of a DVD, commentary is popular among a particular type of viewer. Many of those viewers are the same ones who are avid comic readers, so this feature makes a lot of sense. This feature has been available before now, but via a QR code, mostly in print comics, meaning that the already digital content was mostly unavailable to already digital subscribers.

If neither of these new features are exciting to you, there is good news. Both are able to be turned off in the app's settings.

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Newsweek Returns to Print, Sets Off Internet Manhunt

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Newsweek Returns to Print, Sets Off Internet Manhunt

This is one of the weirder stories we have ever covered here that isn't in the middle of April or based in New Jersey. Newsweek, after taking a 15 month hiatus from its print edition, returned to printing this week with a bang. In addition to the obvious coverage that accompanied the first major digital reversal, Newsweek decided to print a massive 4,600 word article about Bitcoin. Specifically, they printed that they had identified, found and confirmed the identity of the illusive Bitcoin founder.

Known to the Internet simply as Satoshi Nakamoto, the possibly fake name of the Internet poster who had originally unveiled the Bitcoin concept, Newsweek tracked the name back to 64-year-old southern California resident Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Thursday morning, they printed the article, which included a quote from Dorian, "I'm no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it." That confession was all that was needed to go to print.

A few hours later, news reporters from all over the area had found Dorian's address and were camped out outside, hoping to catch a photo of the man or, even better, get a quote from him. Obviously, everyone was hoping for the type of success Newsweek had found with their article, finding some sort of exclusive piece of information, despite no reporter having any privacy from the others.

At lunchtime is when things started to heat up in the race for a scoop. Dorian, probably getting tired of people in his yard and growing hungry, decided to take advantage of the media circus and comes outside. Of course, he is immediately barraged by reporters and, on video, denies having been involved in the creation of Bitcoin. He doesn't answer any questions from anyone, but does seem to quickly make a decision, probably with no information, about which reporter he will speak to, tells the crowd he would like his free lunch and takes the reporter away.

The reporter, the Associated Press's Joe Bel Bruno takes Dorian to lunch at a sushi restaurant, with a parade of reporters following behind in what LA has become famous for: car chases. After arriving at the restaurant, and the other reporters joining them, the two leave and head off to the Associated Press offices to talk in private.

As morning turns to afternoon, the two spoke privately for two full hours, with everyone else from the #Bitcoinchase waiting outside. While they speak, it is assumed that Dorian continued to deny his involvement in Bitcoin, as shortly after the AP published a story about his denial. Obviously someone created the digital currency, but it seems it is not Dorian.

That evening, in a Jawed Karim-style return to the Internet, the "real" Satoshi Nakamoto broke their 5 years of complete silence to post thier own denial saying simply, "I am not Dorian Nakamoto." With this possibly correct new information, what is the Internet supposed to do?

Friday morning Newsweek responds to the mountain of evidence that their story may have not been entirely, or at all, factual. They claim that "the same high editorial and ethical standards that have guided Newsweek for more than 80 years" were in play during the fact gathering process for this story and that "The facts as reported point toward Mr. Nakamoto's role in the founding of Bitcoin."

Friday afternoon, two important things happened. First, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office claimed that the quote in the original article was correct, and was reported by the Los Angeles Times. This leads us all to believe that, either the question was not understood by Dorian, or the response was misunderstood.

Around the same time, TechCrunch was able to confirm that the email address used to post the denial from the "real" Satoshi Nakamoto is the same one used to post the original Bitcoin spec. This certainly suggests that it is the same person/people that are letting us know that Dorian is unrelated to the process. That sounds like double confirmation to me.

There is no telling how this story will eventually end, but one thing is for certain: the Bitcoin creator is real and Dorian does not fit the bill. Someone will find the person/people responsible one day.

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Rumor: Facebook Spends $60 Million on Solar-Powered Drones

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Rumor: Facebook Spends $60 Million on Solar-Powered Drones

Move over, NSA. It looks like Facebook might have spent $60 million on solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without needing to land. This week, the Internet giant has been rumored to have acquired Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based start-up and the company behind these insane devices.

The good news is that on face value, or at least according to what Facebook says, we won't see them using these drones to spy on you sun tanning in your backyard. Instead, Facebook, vowing to make the Internet more affordable and accessible to 5 billion people worldwide as part of the Internet.org movement, has probably purchased Titan Aerospace in order to make that promise more of a reality.

Sources close to the matter said that Facebook would be building 11,000 of Titan Aerospace's Solara 60 model. This drone runs off of internal battery power and is launched at night. It then uses the solar panels attached to the unit to rise up to 12.5 miles above sea level, about 3 miles higher than commercial and military jets. The Solara 50 has a wingspan the same as a Boeing-787 and can carry a 70 pound payload. The company is also looking to launch the Solara 60 sometime in 2015, which will be able to hold 250 pounds.

All in, these aircraft should be able to dish up Internet access in an 18-mile radius. Hooking up 11,000 of these bad boys in one insanely true-to-life Skynet would surely make Internet an accessible thing to almost everyone.

Of course, all this is a rumor as of right now until we get an official statement from either party involved, but it sure does make sense, considering Facebook's stance on affordable Internet. To further aid the rumor to being true is the recent $16 million purchase of WhatsApp, a company that currently has 1 billion users, of which, Facebook is looking to tap into. Perhaps the two worlds can unite and Facebook's "next billion" initiative can become a reality. Hey, if it puts the power of the Internet in more hands, I'm okay with all of this. Well, as long as I can suntan in peace.

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GameFly Tests DVDs-by-Mail Service

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

GameFly Tests DVDs-by-Mail Service

GameFly, the popular video game rental service, has decided to take on Netflix and will start offering DVDs by mail. Dubbed GF Movies *beta, GameFly members can now rent both games and movies under one service.

GameFly's CEO Dave Hodess said that, "We're viewing this as a test based feedback we've received from subscribers who asked for it." GF Movies *beta is already in place and is currently being rolled out only to 2-Game Plan or above members. Beginning April 4th, GameFly will be shipping movies to users who have added selections to their GameQ. Offering both DVDs and Blu-ray, once an open slot is available, the first game or movie will be sent off, just like games are handled currently.

For those on the 1-Game Plan, GameFly says that those customers are "more than welcome" to upgrade to a 2-Game Plan to try GF Movies *beta. GameFly also said that the company is looking to just test the waters with this rollout, which is why it does not offer a movies-only plan or a huge selection of movies.

We will be monitoring closely the GF Movies *beta program and will consider offering a movies-only plan in the future. (But) yes, we are planning to add more titles as the GF Movies *beta program expands.

The question is, will this work? It does make sense for GameFly to get involved in also offering movies on top of its already-respected games-by-mail service. With both the logistics and warehouses in place, adding in another line of inventory seems to be an easy one. However, how many customers requested this feature for GameFly to start testing it out? I would imagine there would've been a larger amount to justify a change like this, but the program is only in a "beta" mode so we might not see it go nationwide.

Adversely, Netflix tried to get away from DVDs a few years ago, a move that didn't work for the video-streaming and by-mail company. Netflix did cite that higher shipping costs would hopefully see the company doing away with DVDs completely, however GameFly seems content and ready to jump in, excited at the possibility of gaining and retaining more customers.

What do you think? Will this be a flop or success for GameFly? Let us know in the comments below.

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European Union Doesn't Want Any Deceptive Free-to-Play Games

posted Sunday Mar 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

European Union Doesn't Want Any Deceptive Free-to-Play Games

Game developers and app creators could be facing some stricter requirements from the European Union when it comes to their free-to-play games. Google and Apple are both set to meet with the European Commission to discuss free-to-play games and how the consumer uses these games. Specifically, the EU wants to ensure customers are not being deceived by free-to-play titles that are solely more of the "pay-to-win" type.

Over 1 million people are currently working in the app development space over in Europe, with in-game transactions currently generating over $13.8 billion in revenue. Because of the space rapidly growing overseas, the Union now looks to set some standards around how app developers should introduce in-app purchases to their titles. Unlike PC games where publishers are more identifiable and free-to-play franchises conduct themselves more ethically, mobile games can be created by almost anyone, with a lower cost barrier to entry on the content creator side. Because of this, apps of late, both overseas and here in the States, have tended to be more deceptive, especially from unknown publishers. These copy-cat or even legit titles usually take advantage of the lesser-educated player, which is where the cause for concern from the European Union comes from.

Stemming from complaints from parents and kids alike about some apps in the market posing to be free but encouraging players to make purchases with "in-game currency," EU's justice commissioner Viviane Reding issued a statement on the matter.

Europe's app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology. For the sector to deliver on its potential, consumers must have confidence in new products. Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations. (sic)

I don't know how it works over there, but over here, when parents complain, Apple pays them over $100 million because they weren't watching their kids. It feels like the same thing is happening here, except the EU is being a bit pro-active and trying to ensure a lawsuit like that won't occur. The intention is to make the games clearly specify that free-to-play games might actually have a cost attached to them. This includes making sure that fees are prominently displayed and developers working to set up games that require a parent's consent, how ever that works. The EU also wants to see apps not "emphatically convince" children to make in-game purchases, which kind of goes back to parental awareness of children's activity on a device with a credit card attached.

I have mixed feelings about this, as I can see how some free games don't really define their costs upfront. But I am also of the opinion that all parties involved in gaming should be aware enough of the fact that developers make games to make money, and they have to do it one way or another. If the game is free, there's probably an underlying cost somewhere. The question is will children or adults be able to calm the urge to win the game over simply playing it? Usually that's where the cost lies and where developers earn more of their revenue. If people don't have self-control and can't prevent themselves from pressing that "buy" button, should we really police that?

What's your take on all of this? Sound off in the comments below.

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