The UpStream

An Interesting TV Pilot About Dealing With Cancer

posted Saturday May 4, 2013 by Scott Ertz

An Interesting TV Pilot About Dealing With Cancer

It is Internet pilot season and we are seeing a lot of new series trying to get off the ground. A few weeks ago Amazon launched 14 pilots for you to choose from, but this is not the only way to decide what types of series are made. Crowd-funding has become a popular way for series concepts to be tested out - if you have an idea, you can test it out and get funded.

We have seen a lot of concepts get converted into series, from older shows to blogs. While the most notable being Shatner's series, $#*! My Dad Says, there are a lot of great ideas out there. One idea that was brought to my attention this week is a series from a blog called Cancer is My Reality, a series about one man's struggles with cancer: before, during and after treatment.

Nick Leland, the writer of the blog and creator of the series, has been writing since January 10, 2010. The writing has been a combination of an emotional outlet for himself to help cope with the reality of his life, as well as an outreach to help others who are living through the same issue cope with their own reality. He hopes that the series could expand that outreach, helping a new group of people to feel better about their lives as they cope with the reality of cancer. Leland explains his reasons,

I hope that this will reach the heart of millions and inspire/encourage other cancer patients and survivors to share there story. This I believe will help other survivors/patients/family/friends in so many ways, just knowing that they are not alone and not different.

Here's how you can get involved: Leland has setup an IndieGoGo campaign, with contributions being as low as $5. If you have some money to spare, you should definitely help the project out. If you don't, at least share the campaign to help this great project get off the ground.

Warner Bros. Refuses to License Copyrighted Material in Games

posted Saturday May 4, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Warner Bros. Refuses to License Copyrighted Material in Games

We have all heard of Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat - if you haven't it might be time to spend some time online. We see these characters all over the Internet - from Facebook photos to videos. They have become some of the best known memes, and definitely some of the longest running.

Because of this, it is no surprise that Warner Bros. wanted to incorporate them into their newest Scribblenauts title, Scribblenauts Unlimited. We saw their inclusion in the game during Nintendo's WiiU E3 2012 event and also New York City launch event. What we didn't know at the time was that Warner Bros. did not have permission to use these characters.

Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat are creations owned by Christopher Torres and Charles Schmidt. The creators love that the characters are used as memes, for non-profit purposes - comedy on the Internet. For-profit purposes, however, are very different; if you are going to make money off of someone else's creations, you pay for that ability. As it turns out, Warner Bros. and studio 5th Cell did not do this. The creator says,

We reached out to the companies in hopes of working out an amicable resolution of the issue, yet were disrespected and snubbed each time as nothing more than nuisances for asking for fair compensation for our intellectual property. That's not right. I have no issues with Nyan Cat being enjoyed by millions of fans as a meme, and I have never tried to prevent people from making creative uses of it that contribute artistically and are not for profit. But this is a commercial use, and these companies themselves are protectors of their own intellectual property. Many other companies have licensed Nyan Cat properly to use commercially.

The creators have, obviously, been forced into filing suit against Warner Bros. and 5th Cell. If the rights aren't protected now, then the copyrights lose almost all of their value. You cannot set a precedent like that or no one will ever license them properly.

Since Warner Bros. and 5th Cell chose to act as if we had no rights in characters we created, filing a lawsuit was the only way we had to protect our intellectual property rights from being used for others' commercial profit without our consent. Too often normal artists like us don't have the means and resources to protect our rights against big media corporations who use our work for their own profit without permission. We are looking here just to be treated fairly and to be fairly compensated for our creative work.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, the artists will receive what they deserve - compensation for the inclusion of their creations in Scribblenauts Unlimited.

Yahoo Steals SNL Syndication From Network-owned Hulu

posted Saturday Apr 27, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo Steals <i>SNL</i> Syndication From Network-owned Hulu

In a move that is both shocking and par for the course, Yahoo announced that their streaming service will become the exclusive home for the Saturday Night Live archives, starting in September. This is definitely good news for Yahoo, who is in the process of jump starting their stalled video streaming services. It is, however, bad news, as well as weird news, for Hulu, who currently has the exclusive rights to online distribution of SNL content.

The bad - SNL is a huge media property, and single-handedly responsible for streaming successes. The video that made YouTube a household name was the Digital Short Lazy Sunday, and the archive capability on Hulu has been a constant draw to the service. Losing the archive could hurt Hulu's subscriptions long-term, though their focus on original programming might negate some of the effects.

The weird - Hulu is a joint partnership between 3 major broadcast companies: News Corp (FOX Television), Disney (ABC) and Comcast (NBC). As any SNL fan knows, SNL has been an NBC property since it debuted in 1975. So, doing the math, NBC lost online distribution rights to its own show to Yahoo. Now, while this might seem as weird as Fox limiting immediate access to its broadcast shows on Hulu to Dish Network subscribers while owning DirecTV, this move actually makes slightly more sense. Instead of being a Fox/Dish type scenario, it is more like a 20th Century Fox/Star Wars scenario.

Originally, when the Star Wars series was picked up, there was so little faith in the possibilities of the franchise that Lucas was allowed to keep exclusive licensing rights for merchandise. This has led to a major financial success for Lucas and probably the termination of many studio heads. SNL was a similar scenario - so little faith was had in the series that Lorne Michaels' production company, Broadway Video, was given distribution rights to the series. Broadway Video, therefore, made the decision to move from Hulu to Yahoo.

The move is a big deal for Yahoo, because, like YouTube and Hulu before it, SNL can really help move the streaming platform forward. In fact, it will be a big deal for SNL as well, as the archive will now be available outside of the United States. While, the available list of clips, musical performances and episodes is not yet available, my hopes are that we will at least have the same list as Hulu, possibly larger.

Zynga Dethroned as Social Leader by King

posted Saturday Apr 27, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Zynga Dethroned as Social Leader by King

Over the past year or so, Zynga has lost a lot: customer enthusiasm, stock value, uniqueness, employees, profit, their strategic partner and even their minds. This quarter they have lost the biggest thing they still had - their title as social gaming king. The salt in the wound is that they lost the title to a small gaming company called King.

Zynga has almost 3,000 employees, while King has only 400, yet their games have more daily active users than Zynga and, probably turn a significantly higher profit with such little employee overhead. Zynga has had a good run getting to that 3,000 employee mark, joining the Facebook application platform immediately upon launch in May of 2007. They have essentially created an industry around themselves, purchased high-profile companies and even tangled with the big boys in legal action. Many of their games are so big they are household names - Farmville and Mafia Wars being the best examples.

We have seen a lot of companies come and go - including EA-owned studio Playfish, which is currently leaving the market entirely. That shutdown is not entirely Zynga's doing, though. King has had a big hand in their demise, as their growth has clearly cut into everyone's active user count. CEO Riccardo Zacconi said of the transition,

King now has more than 66 million daily players of our games, and in Candy Crush Saga, we have a global hit on Facebook and on mobile. Our players love being able to switch from mobile phone to tablet computer to PC without losing their progress in the game - the cross-platform synchronization that makes that possible is a big reason for our popularity. Our bite-size games are perfect for coffee breaks, bus journeys, or any spare few minutes in your day.

The build-up wasn't quick, but it was calculated. Transitioning from tournament games to social games in 2009 with Candy Crush Saga started a trend, and King knew how to capitalize on it. They recognized long before Zynga or EA that situational games were no longer what was wanted, but instead quick-hit games like PopCap's Bejeweled were becoming popular. Games that you could get in and out of in a few minutes. Zynga's OMGPOP studio recognized this, but it never made it into the primary studio in a timely manner, and with that mistake, King expanded.

Another advantage king had was not being bound to Facebook. Their mobile offerings, like Bubble Witch Saga helped get the name out, and was the final step in outperforming Zynga at its own game. King focused on engaging new players, while Zynga merely relied on a percentage of Facebook's growth to join, which has backfired as Facebook's growth has slowed.

Zynga COO, and possible turnaround savior, David Ko is optimistic about the challenge from King,

The way I look at it is, we have a belief that social gaming is a huge opportunity. Not only from the estimate that it is a $9 billion market but also from what we're seeing in the marketplace. Competition like this just reinforces the opportunity. My biggest thing is, I want to make sure that we're confident that you're going to see more of our franchises in that mix.

Competition drives innovation, but only if a company can be innovative. We will see if Ko is the visionary to steer the ship or an optimistic lunatic that will end the company. Either way, congrats to the new king, King.

Betaworks Acquires Instapaper, Promises Not to Dismantle

posted Saturday Apr 27, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Betaworks Acquires Instapaper, Promises Not to Dismantle

Regular readers will remember Betaworks; they were the company that bought and relaunched Digg, regaining market share quickly. This week, the company purchased successful read later service Instapaper, adding another content aggregator to its already impressive portfolio, which already includes Digg and Bitly.

Any time a company starts purchasing this many related companies, there is always a fear: new products will be closed and cannibalized to enhance current offerings. We have seen it happen with Google many times, including Meebo and this week's Wavii closure, as well as some of Facebook's acquisitions. In a lot of cases, especially with Facebook, the interest is in the employees, who already have domain expertise in whatever area into which the company is trying to expand.

In this case, however, Betaworks has promised that the service will remain active. This is good news for the founder, Marco Arment, who only sold because he knew the platform was getting too big and popular for a single person to develop and he was not the type to lead a full staff of people. In fact, Arment contacted Betaworks about the sale, knowing the companies were a good fit for one another and knowing that Betaworks, if interested, would keep the service alive and enhance it.

The concept of the app is a great one, but a wider distribution of the platform will help its long-term success. Hopefully Betaworks' acquisition of the product will help officially bring it to other platforms, like Windows Phone and Windows 8, both of which currently have an app called "Stacks for Instapaper."

Have you had the opportunity to use Instapaper? Do you like the concept? Would you like to see it on other platforms? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Apple to Fight VirnetX Ruling

posted Saturday Apr 27, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple to Fight VirnetX Ruling

While Cisco was able to beat VirnetX this year, Apple was not so lucky last year, resulting in a $368 million penalty. The company, in its quarterly filings, included a form that states they have not taken a write-off for this money, because they intend to fight the ruling.

Now, I don't think anyone expected them to NOT fight the ruling, because if there is one thing Apple loves, it's court battles. In fact, they are already in another battle with VirnetX regarding the exact same patents they lost with before, but on new devices, such as the iPhone 5 and iPad mini.

The company said in its filing,

The Company is challenging the verdict, believes it has valid defenses and has not recorded a loss accrual at this time.

While they believe they have defense, they did make a semi-breaking change to the infringing software removing the option to maintain VPN (Virtual Private Network) access and instead changed the option from "always" to "when needed" for connections. That sounds like an admission of guilt to me, or at least an admission of NOT fighting the ruling. The setting, in a recent update, has been reverted, however.

The flipping change in policy could either indicate giving in to massive frustration from customers, who apparently hated the change, or a change of direction from the legal department. It is possible that the initial intention of Apple was to not fight the ruling and merely pay the fine and move on with its day, but something has changed their mind. It could be the customer feedback on the setting change, or it could be some new information, or newly acquired patent, that allows them to believe in a win.

The other possibility is that someone just got a bug after Cisco's win and decided to use their strategy in court. No mater the reasoning, I am glad to see Apple fighting the ruling. VPN services are essential on mobile devices and not being able to accurately support them hurts the entire ecosystem. A loss here could mean a loss for everyone; go get the win, Apple.

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