The UpStream

Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

Since before Amazon purchased it, Twitch has been in the crosshairs of a number of companies wanting to take down their monopoly. Google attacked with YouTube Gaming, but after almost 2 years, the product has not gained the traction that YouTube was hoping for.

The closest competitor that has emerged thus far is Beam, a company acquired by Microsoft, and integrated directly into Windows 10, inclusion Prime, Xbox One and Holographic. In the very short time the company has owned the product, it has grown greatly, but still does not pose a real challenge to the Twitch behemoth.

This week, a new challenger has emerged in a mostly unexpected place: Facebook. Rather than following YouTube's lead and building a platform and hoping people come, or following Microsoft's lead and buying an existing platform and hoping people use it, Facebook has made a surprisingly intelligent business decision. The company has paired up with ESL, the world's largest eSports organization, to bring 5,500 hours of tournament matches from Twitch to Facebook Live.

They will begin with monthly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments, with a regular prize pool of $40,000, so they are starting off light, but not small-time. Of the 5,500 hours, only 1,500 of them will be exclusive to Facebook. However, if you're going to watch part of the tournament on Facebook, it would be odd to switch to something else for other matches. That is definitely Facebook's hope for success.

This isn't Facebook's inaugural eSports project, but it is definitely the largest it has signed. If it is successful, Facebook will solidify itself as a contender in the game streaming market. It will not, however, be able to leave everything within the realm of Facebook. Instead, the platform would need to be treated more like Instagram or Messenger - an integrated but separate product.

Do you think that the 25% exclusivity will be enough for Facebook to carve out a place for itself in this massively emerging market? Let us know in the comments.

Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

Google is pretty excited to talk about Play Protect, their "new" system for detecting inappropriate behavior within Android apps. Google is using the technology in two places: on the Play servers and within the Play Store itself. On server, Protect should detect issues as an app is submitted by the developer and, if it fails, will reject the app from the store. On the device, regular or manual scans will look for issues within apps loaded either through the store or side-loaded, and should remove offending applications or alert you to issues.

Google describes the system saying,

Backed by the strength of Google, Play Protect brings control to your fingertips while giving guidance along the way. Together, we lay out the ideal security blanket for your mobile device. Consider yourself covered.

Google Play Protect continuously works to keep your device, data and apps safe. It actively scans your device and is constantly improving to make sure you have the latest in mobile security. Your device is automatically scanned around the clock, so you can rest easy.

All of these features sound wonderful and could potentially clean up some of the cesspool that is the Play Store, which seems like something Google is interested in doing. The biggest problem with that hope is that Play Protect is not a new system. In fact, it has been running server-side for years under various names. Even with the system in place, Google has been incapable of preventing major issues within their store.

Part of the problem comes from the definition of inappropriate behavior. What Google considers to be inappropriate is clearly not the same as what most consumers believe. For example, I personally consider a flashlight app that requires internet and contact list access to be inappropriate behavior. Play Protect does not, and allows numerous apps of that style to infiltrate the store. If Google really wants to solve the problem of privacy, safety and security in the Play Store, they need to start actually approving apps instead of responding to issues after they happen.

Need a Last Minute Gift for Mom? Here Are Some Quick Options.

posted Thursday May 11, 2017 by Michele Mendez

If Mother's Day snuck up on you this year, but you still want to find the perfect gift to show Mom that you think she's the best thing since spliced breadboards... don't worry, we've got your back. Here are a few "quick delivery" gift ideas that our PLuGHiTz Live staff members put together.

Fitbit Flex

Wearables have taken the world by storm, and there's no reason to leave Mom out of this craze. Grab her this fun and easy to use Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband. Features include a slim, comfortable and easy to wear design; silent alarm; tracks steps, distance and calories burned; syncs automatically and wirelessly to tablets and smartphones. Buy it for $79.95. And if you want to kick it up a bit and ensure that you are the favorite child, get yourself one too and challenge Mom to daily step contests.

EcoVessel Perk

The perfect item to accompany Mom while she is out and about is this EcoVessel Perk TriMax Insulated Vacuum Stainless Steel Coffee/Tea Travel Bottle with Locking Top - Teal Coffee Mug 16 oz. that keeps hot drinks hot for 8 hours and cold drinks cold for 36 hours. It's BPA free and has a push button lid that allows single handed operation with an integrated lock to keep the lid closed when not in use. Buy it for $26.95

PhoneSoap 2.0

Everyone can use a new Smartphone Charger, and this one will keep your phone clean with its revolutionary bacteria-zapping technology. That's right!! No need to rely solely on the 5 second rule and baby wipes to keep your cell phone clean. PhoneSoap 2.0 will sanitize your phone, killing 99.9% of common household germs, while it charges. Buy it for $49.99

Groove Music

All of the music you love for a single price. Mom can play ad-free music from one of the largest collections of music on the internet for only $9.99 per month. Plus, she can download songs onto her phone, computer or tablet, no matter that platform, and play them without the need for internet access. You can get a free month, and buy it for $9.99/month.

Monster Clarity Earbuds

To listen to those new tunes, Mom is going to need some great headphones. One of our favorites is the Monster Clarity Bluetooth earbuds. Easy to pair, incredibly light and great sound quality, all for a surprisingly low cost. You can buy them for $79.99.

Amazon Prime

Sometimes you don't have to overthink it. Amazon Prime offers free shipping for lots of Amazon products, but it offers a lot more than that. There's movies and television available for streaming on your mother's TV, phone or tablet. She can even get free storage for her photos on Amazon with Prime, and free books through Kindle. You can buy it for $33 for 3 months or $99 for 12 months.

Check out all of these gift ideas and more at Amazon.com

iHeartMedia Warns It May Not Survive Year

posted Saturday Apr 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz

iHeartMedia Warns It May Not Survive Year

Bob Pittman is a force in the media world. After helping create MTV and eventually become president of the organization, he found himself taking over Clear Channel. In the years since he became the CEO, a lot of changes have happened. The company is the largest terrestrial radio operator in the country, and acquired iHeartRadio to get more directly into the online streaming world.

The company was so happy with its iHeartRadio purchase that it later changed its name from Clear Channel to iHeartMedia, emphasizing the commitment to a new, more modern approach to broadcast. Now, all 850 radio stations are available for listening across the country on a variety of platforms, and programs like the iHeartRadio Music Festival help to promote the overall brand, not just online streaming.

Unfortunately, these changes have not helped the company in the way that Pittman had hoped. The company has $350 million in debt that will come due within the next year, which is leftover from the Clear Channel purchase by Bain Capitol in 2008. That debt alone could sink the company, but that is not all that is hanging over iHeartMedia's head. As advertisers have moved to more targeted platforms, such as Pandora, in an attempt to get the most out of their advertising dollars, they have moved away from traditional broadcast. That means that, in addition to large debt payments, the company's revenue has been sliding, making those payments more difficult.

As a result of all of these problems, Pittman will inform investors and shareholders that there is a possibility that the company may not survive the next 12 months. Yes, you read that right - iHeartMedia and Clear Channel Outdoor advertising may not be able to continue operations for 12 months. The end game could mean the disbursement of radio stations away from a central authority and back to local management. The other possibility, assuming that there is difficulty in acquiring owners for stations, is a massive collapse in broadcast radio.

This situation is different from a retailer that is struggling. You can't just shut down under performing stations because, in most markets, all stations broadcast out of a single location, so that would actually drive up the per-station costs, making it undesirable. No matter what happens, the face of radio as we know it is about to change, and not in a small way. Perhaps there is a way for Pittman and crew to change their operations, or even shake up the business model entirely, so that the company can continue to operate as a whole, but at this point it seems unlikely.

Facebook Announces Underwhelming Features at F8

posted Saturday Apr 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Announces Underwhelming Features at F8

This week, Facebook hosted it's annual F8 conference where it announces and demonstrates its newest and most important (to the company) features. This year, the company talked a total of nothing about Facebook the social network and, instead, talked about Facebook the company. From the most obvious implementation of the Oculus hardware to at attempt to compete with Slack and Microsoft, Facebook was all over the place, and mostly to underwhelming response.

Facebook Spaces

Facebook Spaces is the most predictable product out of Facebook following its purchase of Oculus: virtual Facebook. From within the virtual world you can use many of the traditional Facebook features, such as Messenger, photos and videos. In fact, while you can interact with 3 other Oculus users concurrently, you can also interact with people over traditional video via Messenger. You can explore 360 videos from the inside and you can, of course, take selfies, which is almost required at this point.

Spaces is not the first virtual social network. Applications like AltspaceVR, Bigscreen, Rec Room and vTime have been around for a little while, but the issue that those platforms have suffered is discoverability. A social network is not nearly as effective when there aren't a lot of people involved, no matter how good the platform might be. Spaces, on the other hand, has the power and scope of Facebook behind it, making it easy to find and already populated even before it launched.

It's interesting to note that, while other devices, such as Samsung Gear VR, are powered by Oculus, only the actual Rift hardware can take advantage of the new application. It is possible that, because Rift is a known piece of hardware from inside the company, it is currently limited while in Beta so that Facebook can test without the difficulty of hardware variation getting in the way.

Facebook Camera

While Spaces is Facebook's focus on virtual reality, Camera is their take on augmented reality. While the company is very excited about the new features, in reality, it is merely a mix of what Nintendo has on its 3DS portable console and what Snapchat has offered for ages. The upgraded capabilities include frames, like you see on Facebook profiles frequently, filters, integrated from Instagram, and virtual objects, a feature that Snapchat also made popular.

Facebook has had some success with stealing Snapchat features in the past. Instagram Stories, a direct copy of Snapchat Stories, has been such a popular feature that April Fools Day featured other products announcing the feature, obviously as a prank, but still. It is possible that Camera might make some inroads in some of these spaces, but it is difficult for a completely uninspired product to gain too much traction.

Messenger

With Messenger 2.0, Facebook has taken the Messenger you know and might love and made it easier to not talk to other people. The new version of the platform is all about making it easy for you to find and talk to bots instead. Whether you are looking for support from a company that doesn't involve a person, or want to order food without the inconvenience of a specialized interface designed specifically to accomplish the goal, Messenger can now do that.

Obviously the tone here is meant to emphasize the oddity of a messaging platform not focusing on messaging. That has been obvious for a while, with Messenger adding games, payments and other odd features, but a presentation about messaging that focused more on variable messenger codes and the ability for me chat bot to hand off to another than how it will benefit the end user shows that the platform is no longer about talking to other members.

Workplace

The space for online collaborative tools has grown this year, with Slack finally adding threaded conversation and Microsoft Teams stealing some of their thunder. Facebook's entry into this space has been less than popular. Workplace has suffered from a number of issues, including a lack of trust in the integrity and safety of the data, but mostly the fact that it is from Facebook. Facebook and office life have never had a great relationship, since Facebook is often a time sink for employees while on the clock. The idea of using a nearly identical version of the platform within the office has raised a lot of flags for companies.

Facebook wants to deal with these issues. To deal with the concerns of data safety, with the help of data providers Disco, Netskope, Smarsh and Skyhigh. These services protect against data loss, making it easier to trust Workspace. To make it feel more like a business product and less like a time waster, Facebook has worked to integrate business essential services, such as Microsoft Office and Salesforce. Adding those features to groups, chat and more, it makes it a more valuable proposition. Workplace still fails to live up to the usefulness of Microsoft Teams or Slack, both of whom already have a hold on the market.

Twitch Wants to Expand Where YouTube is Failing: Monetization

posted Saturday Apr 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Wants to Expand Where YouTube is Failing: Monetization

Currently, if you want to make money on Twitch from Twitch, you have to be part of a very select group of partnered streamers. Those streamers are few and far between, leaving most streamers to figure out their own ways to monetize their time. That is all about to change, however, as Amazon is about to add a new tier to their streaming service, allowing more streamers to generate revenue off of their streams.

In addition to the existing Partner tier, a new Affiliate tier will be coming, giving a subset of revenue options to a new collection of streamers. Not everyone will be eligible, but those who are will be able to receive money from Cheers, game sales and ads, while Affiliates will not get other benefits of Partners, such as priority support, extended storage, quicker payouts, etc.

This addition follows a new trend from Amazon, a renewed focus on advertising and revenue sharing. As Google has struggled with advertising lately, Amazon has stepped in to help those affected. Major advertisiers have pulled out of AdSense, and Amazon extended the commission for websites using Amazon advertising on their websites to encourage sites to switch. If you have seen an influx of Amazon ads online in the past month, that is why.

For a streamer to be considered for Affiliate status, they must meet a few criteria. In a 30 day period, the streamer must have 500 streaming minutes across at least 7 distinct sessions. You will also need at least 50 followers and an average of at least 3 streamers at all times during those 500+ minutes. This requirement is going to ensure that Twitch does not dedicate too much time or resources to streamers who are not driving engagement on the platform, which is what the platform is all about.

If you are interested in becoming a Twitch Affiliate, make sure that your account meets those criteria and look for an email from Twitch in the near future.

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