The UpStream

It Looks Like Everyone Is After Your Streaming Dollars in 2018

posted Friday Jul 20, 2018 by Scott Ertz

In the last year, there has been a lot of movement in the video streaming space, with new players wanting to participate in the industry to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. Last year, Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) bought into Hulu and Disney announced their intentions to launch Marvel and Lucas branded streaming services. In addition, CBS All Access made Star Trek: Discovery a streaming exclusive.

This year has not been much different, with rumors and announcements coming about a couple of new streaming services just this week. Walmart is rumored to be preparing a video streaming service under its Vudu brand. The service, which they purchased in 2010, currently serves as the company's digital distribution platform, where customers can buy or rent television shows and movies. Adding a monthly subscription service to the mix is the next natural move, but it will need a lot of work to be a success.

Of course, if this rumor is true, Walmart is going to have to renegotiate licensing deals to allow for streaming. This will be a bit of a challenge since exclusive rights have become the name of the game. Fox recently moved all of their animated shows to Hulu exclusively, and it looks like NBC is starting to move the same direction with their back catalog of live-action comedies, with 30 Rock already moving to Hulu. Movies have always suffered from exclusive deals, sometimes moving from one platform to another. Walmart will need to deal with this issue to have enough content for anyone to care. The company is also going to need to deal with the IT infrastructure needs, but their new relationship with Microsoft might be enough to handle that.

In addition to Vudu, DC Comics announced during SDCC a new streaming service called DC Universe. This service will be a bit more like CBS All Access than it is Netflix, as it is going to be company-owned content only. The intention is to make everything DC-related available in one place, whether it be a Batman feature film, the CW television shows or even comic books themselves. All of this will be made available for $7.99 per month.

In addition to the traditional syndication model we see in streaming services, we can also expect to see exclusive content. The company has confirmed its first three original live-action series: Titans, a TV-MA series, Doom PAtrol, which will be tied to the Titans series, and Swamp Thing, which will not be related to the other two.

To make the platform even more intriguing, DC wants to include the fans in the content creation process. Unlike other streaming services, DC Universe will include forums and chat room to allow fans to discuss, debate and conjecture on the content available on the platform and in the wider DC Universe. The service is planned for the end of the year, and pre-orders of a full year of service are already available.

Facebook, Instagram Begin Cracking Down on Underage Profiles

posted Friday Jul 20, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Facebook, Instagram Begin Cracking Down on Underage Profiles

In the US, we have a law called Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). Passed in 1998 and expanded in 2012, the law prevents online services from collecting any information from or about children under the age of 13. The law is the primary reason why online services require users to be 13 years old to sign up, mostly to prevent having to run multiple sets of signup rules. Recently, the law has caused legal issues for YouTube and privacy concerns for Google Play.

Even services that publicly prevent underage users, like Facebook and Instagram, tend to look the other way when it comes to enforcement. According to a Channel 4 documentary which aired this week, Inside Facebook: Secrets of a Social Network, Facebook's policy on underage enforcement has been to only look into accounts that are reported by another user for being underage. This information was obtained when a reporter for the special became a reviewer for the company via partner CPL Resources.

Following the report, Facebook responded publicly with a release in their newsroom, disputing a number of claims made in the special. One claim they didn't dispute was the policy of only investigating accounts that are reported for being underage. They did, however, clarify an update to this policy, claiming that they are expanding their guidance to include all reported accounts.

We do not allow people under 13 to have a Facebook account. If someone is is reported to us as being under 13, the reviewer will look at the content on their profile (text and photos) to try to ascertain their age. If they believe the person is under 13, the account will be put on a hold and the person will not be able to use Facebook until they provide proof of their age. Since the program, we have been working to update the guidance for reviewers to put a hold on any account they encounter if they have a strong indication it is underage, even if the report was for something else.

If an account is locked for being suspected to be underage, whether because it was reported as such, or investigated because of another report, the process for unlocking it can be a pain. The user, if they are 13 years old or older, have to provide a government-issued ID to prove their age. Of course, if the user is younger than 15 in most states, they might not have a government-issued ID at all and will likely have to use a birth certificate instead.

Either way, expanding their policy to investigate accounts reported for any infraction was an inevitable adjustment. The company has been under intense scrutiny from governments around the world for privacy violations, so increased compliance with a children's privacy law would have happened with or without Channel 4's program.

Microsoft Not Working on Halo Battle Royale

posted Friday Jul 20, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Not Working on Halo Battle Royale

It is no secret that Battle Royale gameplay is taking over the gaming world right now. While the biggest players are PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Epic's Fortnite, everyone seems to be getting onboard. Look into your favorite app store and search "battle royale" to see a nearly endless choice of off-brand titles. Even Activision is getting involved, adding Blackout mode to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, replacing the traditional single player campaign with the exact opposite of that.

During E3 2018, one game that was announced with almost no information was Halo Infinite. The title was announced with no gameplay and only an in-engine video to base opinions on. With the popularity of the Battle Royale genre, it was suspected that 343 Industries, the current developer behind the franchise, would follow Activision's lead and implement a similar mode into the game. For those excited about the possibility, we've got some bad news.

During a Halo social stream on Microsoft Mixer, a user asked straight up, "Will there be battle royale in Halo Infinite?" Jeff Easterling, a writer on the series, answered just as directly, saying,

I'll tell you right now, the only BR we're interested in is Battle Rifle, the original BR. So calm yourself.

It's possible that this is the only actual piece of information that we have about the new game, and it only comes in the form of what the game is not. Obviously, it is always a possibility that Microsoft or 343 Industries could change their minds and add a Battle Royale mode into the game before launch, but it seems unlikely at this point. It's nice to see that some studios won't jump onto a trend, no matter how many insane piles of cash it might be generating for studios like Epic.

Were you hoping for a Halo-inspired Battle Royale, or is it better for the game to stick to its roots? Let us know your thoughts.

European Union Fines Google Over $5 Billion in Anti-Trust Violation

posted Friday Jul 20, 2018 by Scott Ertz

European Union Fines Google Over $5 Billion in Anti-Trust Violation

Over the past few years, Google's experience in Europe has not been positive. At every turn, the individual countries and the European Commision itself have continuously done things to make their business model nearly impossible. In 2014, the EU wanted to break up the company, while Spain passed a law that caused them to shut down Google News in Spain. The EU also fought to enforce pre-GDPR rules.

The biggest challenge the company has faced has been surrounding Android, the company's mobile operating system. In 2014, Google implmeneted policies restricting when a device manufacturer could and could not include the Google Play Store on their devices. If a manufacturer wants to use the Store, they must also pre-install a dozen other Google apps onto their devices. For example, if you check out a Samsung flagship phone, you will see 2 assistants (Google Assistant and Bixby), two web browsers (Google Chrome and Samsung Internet), two messaging apps and more. This is because Samsung wants to include their own products, but also must include Google's.

In 2016, the EU began an investigation into whether this policy violated EU antitrust laws. This week, the results came in, and Google received a $5 billion fine for taking advantage of their position as the OS developer to force manufacturers to promote their other services. In particular, the Commision believes that Google Search has maintained its top spot largely because of Android rules.

As of right now, the company has 90 days to change its policies to come in line with EU laws. Of course, the question remains, "What will change for Android?" The Play Store policies have been responsible for the slow ending of the old Android fragmentation problem, where every manufacturer had a special variant of Android and you never knew if an app would work on any particular device. By ending this policy, it is possible that we will return to a highly fragmented environment where apps don't work and everything is in question. It's also possible that, so long as Google provides access to Google Play and Google Play Services, Android variants won't be the problem they were previously.

What we do know is that nothing will change any time soon. Google has vowed to appeal both the verdict and the fine, which means that changes won't be coming too quickly. When they do come, it will likely be in the form of not requiring the additional services to be bundled with handsets, but likely only in Europe. So, if you live outside of the EU, chances are you will not see any changes at all.

Changes on the Horizon at HBO, While the DoJ Begins to Challenge the Purchase

posted Saturday Jul 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Changes on the Horizon at HBO, While the DoJ Begins to Challenge the Purchase

It was only a month ago that a federal judge rejected a governmental argument that AT&T's purchase of Time Warner would harm the industry. That rejection signaled the end of the fight for AT&T, who wrote their check and began the process of integrating the company into the AT&T business. The biggest immediate change was the name of the company; to prevent confusion with the former cable company, the company was renamed to WarnerMedia.

In addition to the name change, some staffing changes were made. For example, a new head was appointed, who oversees all of WarnerMedia. John Stankey, who has been an executive with AT&T for several years, was moved to the newest member of the company. According to audio obtained by NYT, some big changes are coming to WarnerMedia property HBO.

The biggest problem, according to Stankey, is that viewers are not spending enough hours per day with the network. In the recording, he says,

I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow's world.

Longer engagement likely means more Netflix-style content. Netflix received more Emmy award nominations this year than HBO for the first time in 17 years because of its increased quality and quantity. This is the direction that Stankey would like HBO to follow. This will require one important thing to become a reality: government approval. Yes, the case was dismissed a month ago, which is how we got to this point, but it might not last.

The Department of Justice has filed an appeal, stating that they had met the burden of proof. AT&T's general counsel, David McAtee, is definitely confident in the company's ability to win the appeal, saying,

The court's decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned. While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the D.O.J. has chosen to do so under these circumstances.

While the government likely doesn't have a chance of winning this case, the point is likely more to show that the Department of Justice is going to be strong against big mergers. This is in stark contrast to quick approval of the Disney-Fox merger, which was completed before the deal was even finalized. In fact, the quick approval was partially responsible for the deal closing in the first place, since Fox didn't feel that the Comcast offer would be approved.

Internet Services Trying to Decide How and When to Censor User Content

posted Saturday Jul 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Internet Services Trying to Decide How and When to Censor User Content

Over the past year, one of the big topics on the internet has been about internet censorship. Some people believe that the internet should be a place for the free and open exchange of ideas. Others believe that it is the responsibility of platforms to censor the content that users publish, based on their own version of reality. A surprising percentage of people believe both of these things at once.

Facebook

Take, for example, Facebook: the platform was intimately involved in trying to prevent the FCC from removing the guidelines known colloquially as "net neutrality." These guidelines restricted companies like Comcast from blocking content on the internet based on the company's interests. For example, if Comcast felt a threat to their corporate culture or corporate interests from HuffPo, which is owned by Verizon, they could block that content.

On the other hand, the company has been very interested in doing the same thing on their own platform. The company has openly suspended pages from conservatives, even closing personal accounts of people who share content that Facebook themselves deems to be "fake news." Overall, however, the company has tried to remain a little farther from the front lines on the topic, often times removing individual posts, but not closing accounts entirely. Their users would prefer that they do more.

This week, the company was thrust into the spotlight over a popular Facebook page, which represents the online publication InfoWars. For those who are unfamiliar, InfoWars is an enigma: their frontman, Alex Jones, is often times a nutjob, while the rest of the site is filled with legitimate journalism. Most people don't remember anything about InfoWars other than gay frogs, however. Facebook has been reluctant to take action against the site, which is annoying users who disagree with the content on the site. Facebook responded, saying,

We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis - but others call fake news. We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

It's good that Facebook has not gone completely 1984 on us, though it does seem to be headed in that direction.

Reddit

Reddit has taken an equally contradictory stance on censoring content on their site. CEO Steve Huffman created a scenario this week in which the only question we can ask is, "What does he actually believe?" Responding to the question, "Why do you admins not just ban hate speech?" Huffman, better known on the platform as spez, said,

spez: Our violent speech policy is effectively that.

whatll: I'd argue that hate speech should be banned with its own rule, separate from the violence policy. But thank you for replying.

spez: Hate speech is difficult to define. There's a reason why it's not really done. Additionally, we are not the thought police. It's not the role of a private company to decide what people can and cannot say.

whatll: But it *is* the role of a private company to decide what people can and cannot say *on {its} own platform*.

spez: I know what you're asking, but it's a nearly impossible precedent to uphold. It's impossible to enforce consistently.

The position that he has taken is that it is a slippery slope. Once you start the process of censoring content, the site becomes more and more responsible for censoring content on the site. That is a reasonable position - he doesn't want to police the ideas of people on the site. That brings us back to the open and free exchange of ideas concept, something that many people believe. However, his actions following the conversation were not quite consistent.

Following the conversation, whatll's account was suspended. So, I guess they don't want to be the thought police, assuming your thoughts agree with the policies of Reddit? While the company has confirmed that the conversation did take place, they only report that the suspension was "for harassment" and nothing more. It's possible that the user was harassing someone somewhere else, though it seems like if someone was going to get upset, it would be over the topic with spez.

It is unlikely that the topic of online censorship will be going anywhere, anytime soon. In fact, it is likely that more companies will be bullied into censoring content the way that YouTube has been. On YouTube, there are tags you cannot use if you want to be monetized. There are certain legal topics you cannot discuss if you want to be monetized. This is not nearly the end, more like the beginning.

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