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Highlighting the Industry's Disinterest, EA Exits E3 2016

posted Sunday Jan 31, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Highlighting the Industry's Disinterest, EA Exits E3 2016

Over the past 5 years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, has been losing steam in the industry. Activision, Nintendo and others have taken turns skipping the event and, instead, make their announcements off-site. Activision rented a church for their press conference one year, while Nintendo has opted for online-only press events and in-store hands-on demos the past few years.

This year, adding to the list of major industry players skipping the conference is Electronic Arts. Rather than filling their massive show floor presence with dozens of demo stations available to attendees, EA has opted to take over nearby Club Nokia and will instead offer their hands-on demos to fans and press alike at an event they are calling EA Play.

In addition to demos, they will also offer competitions and live streaming for those who will not be in the LA area during E3 2016. They will also have exclusive items available, making their event much more like San Diego Comic-Con or PAX than the increasingly uninteresting E3. They will also be hosting a sister event in London on the first day of the event, June 12th.

The good news is that, despite not participating in the show, they will still be hosting a press conference live from EA Play. This means we will still get the spectacle that is EA's new products. We can also expect to see a bigger on-stage presence during Microsoft's and Sony's press conferences.

I believe that this is the beginning of an exodus from the conference, whose management has turned off exhibitors and press, leaving everyone looking for a better alternative. Hopefully in the next few years, we will have an industry event that is run properly and does not alienate everyone involved.

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Microsoft Revenue Driven by Surface and Azure

posted Sunday Jan 31, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Revenue Driven by Surface and Azure

Over the past few years, a lot has been written about Microsoft's financial standing. Some organizations, mostly tech blogs with financial interests in Google or Apple, have said that Microsoft is old tech and is over. Others, though, especially organizations that specialize in business and investing, have said that Microsoft is about to retake the crown as kind of the tech industry.

In the midst of tech blogs announcing that Microsoft's mobile ambitions have failed, Microsoft has announced their Fiscal Year 2016 Quarter 2 (3 months ending December 31, 2015) revenue. Revenue is down slightly, but not in any percentage that matters, especially considering Microsoft didn't release a new phone until the very end of the quarter. Windows OEM revenue is pretty flat, Search Advertising and Xbox Live are growing. Those aren't the places that matter, though.

In this quarter, the Surface brand drove $1.35 billion in revenue, up from $672 million for the previous quarter, and $1.1 billion this quarter last year. That seems to indicate that Microsoft's mobile ambitions are playing out very well, not failing in the way some sites might have you believe. This is "driven by the launch of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book," which was a big change in the way Surface was designed, marketed and sold. It seems that the revised strategy after the merging of Lumia and Surface has been a success.

Another division driving growth for the company is their cloud strategy. Investment site The Motley Fool has said Microsoft rules the cloud, which is a pretty accurate assessment. While companies like IBM may have some specialized APIs for things like image detection and facial recognition, Microsoft's Azure service offers developers and virtual IT managers the biggest selection of options and most robust platform available, and everyone seems to be flocking to it.

With revenue of $6.3 billion for its cloud services, it represents a 5% growth for the division. The growth is led by Azure and Office 365, which now has almost 21 million subscribers, up more than double in the past 12 months. These businesses are the biggest business shift for the company, no longer relying of the success of any Windows platform, but instead spreading the love across all platforms, meaning that even if Windows 10 had been a sales problem, which it has not, the company has a backbone to stay strong.

Microsoft's stock price rose 5% despite its declining revenue.

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Blizzard's Overwatch Closed Beta Relaunch Delayed Several Weeks

posted Monday Jan 25, 2016 by Nicholas DiMeo

Blizzard's <i>Overwatch</i> Closed Beta Relaunch Delayed Several Weeks

A little over a year ago, you may have read about Blizzard's new FPS Overwatch. The game is a little over-the-top, but looks to take on Valve's extremely popular team-based strategy shooter, Team Fortress 2. And if you're me, you've been playing the closed beta since it went live all the way to when the devs closed it in December. We were promised the game would return for another round of closed beta testing "soon," however soon will not be coming soon enough as it looks like the next iteration of game testing will be put off for a little longer.

We were supposed to hear from Blizzard this week about the re-launch of the closed beta for Overwatch, with rumors swirling that it would be sometimes during the last week of January. Sadly, we're now being told via blog post that the reopening won't happen for at least a few more weeks. While that may not be a long time for some, the game's exciting and refreshing experience has gamers everywhere chomping to get back to it.

While progress has been great and the team has been working super hard to get everything implemented on time, we're not quite ready to bring the Closed Beta back online just yet...Rather than try to rush a beta patch out this month (which would mean the new game mode would have to be put off), we're going to take a few extra weeks before bringing the Closed Beta back.

Now, the good news is that the team is taking the extra time to actually implement some user feedback. A new game mode in addition to Point Capture and Payload will be added in the next update. The dev team will also be working on some serious game balance issues, along with improving its core progression system.

Game Director Jeff Kaplan closed the blog post by saying the choice was easy and we should expect the game to be reopened for testing in mid-February.

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Netflix Adds New Emphasis on Original Content for Children and Families

posted Monday Jan 25, 2016 by Nicholas DiMeo

Netflix Adds New Emphasis on Original Content for Children and Families

Last week, Hulu struck a deal with Sony Pictures to add more movies and big-name content to the platform. Not to be outdone, Netflix announced this week that it will be spending a large amount of its $5 billion programming budget for 2016 on children and family content, to further cement itself at the top video-streaming service.

Chief Content Office Ted Sarandos announced that Netflix is "doubling down on kids and families." As it stands, Netflix has just over a dozen original shows that are focused for children. Over the span of the next year, the company will up that number to 35 total programs.

While Netflix currently has hundreds of shows for kids on the network, most of them are acquired through their licensing deals. That was an important first step for the platform, which has a formulaic approach to targeting its key demographics. The next step, which has proven successful for Netflix, is to create new, original content in order to keep its consumers locked into the service.

Sarandos also acknowledge the challenge that the company faces on a global level. While their security team is currently blocking VPN and proxy services, Netflix understands that its customers use those services because a lot of content isn't available outside of the US. He promised this week to focus heavily on global license agreements.

We are running a global network that is not easily comparable in business or cultural terms to anything that has come before. Every year the exclusions of different countries in our licensing agreements will become less and less.

The show titles and storylines haven't been announced yet, but Sarandos said that information would be coming in just a few weeks as the ink dries on the fresh sheets of printed paper.

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Big ISPs Try to Shut Down Open Fiber Network Bill

posted Sunday Jan 24, 2016 by Nicholas DiMeo

Big ISPs Try to Shut Down Open Fiber Network Bill

In West Virginia, citizens have grown tired of private Internet service providers skirting the line of acceptable Internet speeds, reliability and consistency. In some parts of the state, there is simply no Internet solution at all outside of satellite services. In response to the restlessness, people have rallied to push for a publicly funded fiber-based Internet service. They also have legislators pushing for the infrastructure to be built to allow this to happen. Needless to say, the big private companies are completely unhappy with this idea and are looking to shut it down.

Recently, State Senator Chris Walters (R) brought to the table a bill that would have contractors lay down over 2,000 miles of fiber cable through the state. This isn't to start up a new ISP, however. Instead, this fiber network would be accessible by any ISP that wants to tap into the lines and bring service to homes in the state. As you could imagine, this could sprout dozens of small companies to bring potentially high-quality service to the areas in need, and of course the big ISPs are against the bill.

West Virginia Cable TV Association Chief Mark Polen said,

This bill would obligate the state to borrow between $75 million and $100 million, and it wouldn't guarantee that a single rural customer who doesn't have broadband service would get it. The state-financed, state-owned, and state-operated fiber network will be in direct competition with the private investments our members have made in West Virginia.

It should be noted that Polen is in charge of a group that includes Comcast, Time Warner and other popular middle-tier ISPs in the state. Frontier, who is not in the association but is found in many areas of West Virginia, have also opposed the new network. It is reported that lesser-known ISPs like Citynet and Alpha Technologies, however, are fully in favor of bringing better broadband to troubled regions and giving rural residents a reliable and affordable Internet service.

Senator Walters, in a statement, openly argued against the Cable TV Association of West Virginia.

Once we build this network, people are going to use it. If all of a sudden you have a network that affordably gets you where you want to go, you're going to use it if it makes financial sense.

Startup ISPs could surely benefit from a provided fiber system, and could more than likely pass down savings to the consumer. Bigger ISPs have backed an alternative bill that would simply hand out $1 million in tax credits to ISPs wanting to build in rural areas. The problem with that is it's only for $1 million in total, not for every ISP who wants in on the action. The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reviews both bills next week and has already shown interest in the bill introduced by Walters, who is also the chair of the Committee.

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FAA Investigates Cowboys' Drone Use, Team Files Exemption

posted Sunday Jan 24, 2016 by Nicholas DiMeo

FAA Investigates Cowboys' Drone Use, Team Files Exemption

Back in June, the Dallas Cowboys announced that they would be combining sports and tech and introduced the use of drones during their practices and workouts. This was an innovative way to use the technology in a commercial space, and gave the NFL team a literal new perspective on the team's performance. Unfortunately, it didn't help the Cowboys, as the team suffered yet another disastrous losing season. But the bad news didn't stop there; the Cowboys also came under some hot fire with the FAA.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that the team never sought permission from the agency in order to use the drones, and consider that the Cowboys are a for-profit business, the practice was considered illegal. This resulted in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys becoming the target of an investigation by the FAA to find out just how the drones were being used. Turns out, unlike the Patriots, there was no underlying wrongdoing, however the team was still not in the clear.

The Cowboys, following the probing, have since filed a "333" exemption, which the FAA granted. This gives the Cowboys permission to use drones within the facility, and also for filming purposes. This adds the team to the list of more than 3,000 other commercial entities in the US who have filed for the same ability to legally operate a drone.

There are, however, a couple caveats. 31, in fact. The FAA has given the football team almost three dozen provisions they must abide by, including the ones that are outlined in the FAA's drone operation guidelines. Most of these are pretty straight forward, such as the drone must be under 55 pounds and be within the operator's line of sight. Others regarding aerial filming require that an exemption be submitted in writing 3 days prior to any filmed activity. Considering that practices are Tuesday through Friday, that's a lot of paperwork.

The NFL has also filed for the same exemption and it too was granted. There's speculation that 4K cameras will be mounted and experimented with during the week of Super Bowl 50, and possibly even during the big game.

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