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Pandora Signs Licensing Deal with BMG to Expand Music Catalog

posted Sunday Sep 14, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Pandora Signs Licensing Deal with BMG to Expand Music Catalog

For some time now, there's been this interesting dynamic with the music-streaming company Pandora. Revenue has been steady but active subscribers are decreasing, yet the company responds by limiting free listening time. Then the company's CEO resigns amidst a very strong fourth quarter, leading to more confusion. But now, another positive move for Pandora happened this week as the company signed a huge deal with BMG, the distribution group that owns the rights to everyone's music from Jay-Z to Billy Idol.

Lately, Pandora has been at war with the music labels, much like Spotify, in order to try and reduce the payouts of royalties. It's been a largely unsuccessful endeavor, however this new deal solidifies the first step in the right direction as CFO of Pandora, Mike Herring, said that Pandora "ensured a royalty structure that works better for both of us."

So what's included in this new licensing package? Pandora will now pickup rights to BMG's collection of music from BMI and the American Society of Composers, and both have a pretty extensive catalog of pieces. No terms of the deal have been disclosed but sources close to the matter report both parties are pleased with the outcome.

This ties in to Pandora's mission to keep growing, despite having some pretty rough times with its music curation. With just under 75 million active users, according to Pandora, the company said it wants to reach 100 million in the next year or two. While having a lot of music will certainly help, the program's selection process still needs a lot of refinement. The same songs will constantly show up, or songs that have nothing to do with each other will play on the same station, just because they were composed by the same producer. In order to get that next 25 million, some hard work and effort will have to go into the actual service, otherwise people will stay attracted to alternative platforms.

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Mojang, makers of Minecraft, to be Acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 Billion

posted Sunday Sep 14, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Mojang, makers of <i>Minecraft</i>, to be Acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 Billion

The "serious discussion" rumors that Microsoft would be buying Mojang are apparently true. Microsoft will be planning to announce on Monday that it has acquired the gaming studio behind the insanely popular game, Minecraft, for $2.5 billion.

The acquisition, which will be huge for Microsoft's gaming properties, looks to bring more attention to Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone. The Xbox and PC brands are already locked-in with a huge core following and have supported Mojang, the makers of the PC version, 4J Studios, the devs behind the console edition and Notch, the founder of Minecraft.

Speaking of Notch, having Mojang picked up by Microsoft definitely wasn't something on anyone's radar due to Notch's blunt disdain for Microsoft technology. He has gone on record saying that he wouldn't even consider building a version of Minecraft for the Windows Phone, and that he isn't fond of Microsoft's platform. In late September of 2012, he went on Twitter to say,

Got an email from microsoft, wanting to help "certify" minecraft for win 8. I told them to stop trying to ruin the pc as an open platform.

I guess $2.5 billion would change that tune in two years. At any rate, a lot of people are enraged, mostly PC gamers interestingly enough, about the potential of Microsoft buying up their coveted game and dev studio.

To me, the move makes perfect sense on the business level. Sure, the game is already crazy popular on the PC and the Xbox 360, PS3 and Xbox One versions are doing incredibly well, with the 360 iteration breaking day-one sales records for non-disc games and moving over 8 million units since launch. To compare, Minecraft for the PC has just eclipsed 14 million and the game has been around three years longer.

But it goes beyond the game itself, and I'm a firm believer in Microsoft's proven track record that the company looks at the bigger picture. What gamers fail to see is that Minecraft is a brand, not just a game. Not only do you have a truly talented group of developers inside of Mojang that actually care about putting out a solid product, but they all seem to share the big-picture mentality that the executives do. Minecraft has licensing deals that can almost put Disney to shame. Plush toys, mini-games, clothing, cereal, computer mice, backpacks, LEGOs, and that's just the consumer-facing side of it. Mojang also uses Minecraft for a humanitarian purpose, with the game helping the United Nations with a project called Block by Block, which helps countries with urban development planning. Considering that Microsoft is involved both in helping others through its services and raking in money on licensing fees and patents, I can't see a better home for Mojang than with the Redmond-based tech giant. Plus, Windows Phone sales might skyrocket if a pocket version of Minecraft was made available for the platform.

No word yet on details like if the studio will move and who might be terminated, as Microsoft doesn't comment on things until they are official. We should have that information tomorrow, but what do you think of all this as it stands? Are you happy with the decision? Why or why not? Let it fly in the comments below.

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Apple's Event Marks the End of the iGeneration

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Event Marks the End of the iGeneration

By now, everyone knows about the announcements that came out of the Apple event this week. Two new iPhone sizes, another half-hearted wearable device and another mobile payment platform. While there may not have been anything to get excited about, there was something truly interesting that happened during the event - an admission from Apple that the iGeneration is over.

In 1998, Steve Jobs revealed the iMac, his first product since returning to the company. Despite poor sales in the beginning, the iMac had a profound impact on Apple: it set forth the naming of products for nearly 2 decades. Since the iMac, there has been the iPod, iPhone, iPad and software products such as iBook, iTunes, iLife and iWork. The odd naming convention spurred hundreds of companies and products from outside of Apple donning the lowercase i at the top of their brand. Even the Consumer Electronics Show has had a section of its show floor named the iLounge, despite Apple never participating in the event.

However, the Steve Jobs Apple died with him in 2011. The Tim Cook Apple began its life then, though no Tim Cook products had really been announced. Until now, only Steve Jobs updates had been announced, continuing to behave like the Apple of old. Because of this, we saw more iPod, iPhone and iPad announcements. But the winds are changing, and Tim Cook finally showed off HIS first 2 products, both with a new naming convention.

The product that everyone knew was coming and no one knew the name of, was known pre-announcement as the iWatch, though there were rumors of it being named iTime. Either way, the product seemed to fit nicely into the Steve Jobs Apple - beginning with the i. However, that was not the case. As you know, the product was announced as the Apple Watch, with the word "Apple" being replaced by the black corporate logo, similar to what we have seen on the Apple TV.

This was not the only entirely new (to Apple) product announced - we also saw Apple Pay, a service identical to that of Google and Microsoft's respective wallet services. The difference, however, is in the naming. The service name, Apple Pay, is named exactly the same as Apple Watch, with the Apple logo as part of the name. This gives the company 3 major products in this new naming scheme: Apple TV, Apple Watch and Apple Pay.

Why is this important? Apple is not one to make big changes, despite the public opinion to the contrary. They are a company set in their ways, and any major change to the culture is a shock. This new branding is a major change in culture, and therefore a shock. It is, almost certainly inspired by Tim Cook, who has been looking to make his lasting mark on the company in a good way, which he has had trouble doing to date.

A change in the company culture, especially one that supports Tim Cook in the captain's chair, is one that could finally make Apple a big player again. Since 2011, we have seen Apple's place in the industry slip - the iPod brand is all but dead, Android phones have nearly shut the iPhone out and low-cost Android and Windows tablets have cut into sales of the iPad. Many, including myself, have believed that this was because Tim Cook had not been accepted as the head of the corporate family. Perhaps a collection of products, launched by Cook and marketed under a new branding, could be exactly what Cook needs to truly lead the company.

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Disney Considering ESPN Streaming Service Without Any of the Features Viewers Want

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Disney Considering ESPN Streaming Service Without Any of the Features Viewers Want

The landscape of television and movies has been changing over the past few years in a big way. Less people are watching television live, with big new shows like The Blacklist being the most time-diverted shows on television. In fact, as I write this, I am streaming a television show on Netflix, which is a normal scenario for me. With services like Netflix and Hulu giving people access to shows without a cable subscription, many people have been cutting the cord with their cable companies; saving money with only Internet and subscriptions to these services.

Disney's ESPN brand is in an interesting place in the world of cord-cutters. People badly want to be able to get rid of their cable, but Disney has not made their content, especially their live content, available to the non-cable public. That is why people got excited when ESPN President John Skipper talked with Re/code and discussed streaming capabilities. This is the move that many people have been waiting for.

Unfortunately, Skipper shut down the excitement quickly, saying,

I do want to be clear, we are not looking to disrupt our linear channels and the content that's owned in that. We're going to go acquire new content and new kinds of things to go direct to consumers.

Let me translate: we want a streaming service, but we won't give people the content we already produce. That is unfortunate, but not entirely surprising. While the cord-cutters would like to be able to watch ESPN content without cable, there are some major legal hurdles that currently prevent Disney from making this content available over the Internet.

Let's take the NFL, for example. Any NFL game that ESPN/ABC broadcasts, either in part or entirety, is done under contract with the NFL. However, the NFL has other contracts with other carriers to provide that same content via other methods. For example, you can watch those games on a Verizon Wireless phone via exclusive contract. You could not, then, watch those on a Sprint phone, for example. If ESPN's content were made available via web, that contract would be violated.

Before ESPN could provide any of their existing content via streaming platform, they would need to change their contracts with content providers, and there are a lot of contracts to renegotiate. Some of those, such as the NFL, would not be possible at this point to renegotiate at all. Without those renegotiations, a useful ESPN platform is impossible.

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Yahoo! Court Loss Paved Way for PRISM

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo! Court Loss Paved Way for PRISM

Before Marissa Mayer was made CEO, the name Yahoo had mostly faded from the mainstream. This did not mean that people had stopped using the service; in fact, usage was not down, just not something people talked about. Of course, anywhere people are using a data collecting service, the government takes notice, even when the press does not.

One way the US government took notice of Yahoo in the years before Mayer remade the company's image in the public was in secret, sealed data requests. These requests, and the ones issued to other tech companies, became the basis for a little program named PRISM. PRISM was the program that Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, sacrificed everything to make public.

What is different about the Yahoo requests is the company's response. When the requests came in, Yahoo declined to turn over the data without an issued warrant; they claimed the warrantless data collection to be "unconstitutional and overbroad," bringing the matter to court. Unfortunately for Yahoo, and the American public, the case did not go well. Yahoo General Counsel said,

Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)... ordered us to give the U.S. Government the user data it sought in the matter.

Despite the court loss, Yahoo still refused to turn over the data, under the same claims of unconstitutional behavior. That's when the government threatened fines: $250,000 per day for non-compliance. They also used the sealed results of the private court case and fines to threaten other companies. When complete, the PRISM program was collecting information constantly from the likes of AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype (before and after Microsoft purchase) and YouTube.

All because of Yahoo's loss in court, the US government was able to create the PRISM program, and stock it with data about people all over the world: US citizens and not. It is an interesting notion that Yahoo could have had so much of a secret effect on the globe while having seemingly no public effect.

Marissa would see to it that Yahoo would continue to make a mark in the PRISM case after the Snowden leaks came out. She released a transparency report showing as much information as she was legally permitted to about the nature and targets of the data requests, dating back to 2007. Because of this, other companies on the list also released reports, including Microsoft/Skype.

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Microsoft Announces New Xbox 360 Bundles for Holiday

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Announces New Xbox 360 Bundles for Holiday

One of the more interesting pieces of information that came from the Xbox One reveal was Microsoft's commitment to the Xbox 360 platform. In addition to the continued stream of games that would come to the older console, Microsoft also announced a new version of the hardware, helping to solidify the 360's continued existence.

Today we are over a year removed form the announcement of the Xbox One, and nearly a year removed from the release of the console. In the past, this has been the point when a console manufacturer starts to phase out their previous platforms. Not necessarily quickly, but certainly a limiting focus on said platform. The PlayStation 2 had begun to disappear from stores a year after the PlayStation 3 was released; the original Xbox hardware was all but extinct a year removed from the release of the Xbox 360.

So, what about this generation? Well, Microsoft, in addition to the recent white Xbox One, we get to see some other holiday bundles, and the Xbox 360 is front and center. In fact, there are 3 new Xbox 360 holiday bundles, including a brand new color for the console.

First, we have a standard black Xbox 360 4GB Kinect bundle, which comes with Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports, and Forza Horizon and will retail at Target for $249. Next comes a standard black Xbox 360 500GB console, which will come with Call of Duty: Ghosts and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The console will also retail for $249 at various retailers. Finally comes the surprise bundle; it is identical to the previous bundle, except it comes in "arctic blue."

The color is bright, vibrant and wonderful, if you are into crazy colored electronics. Myself, I have a bright blue HTC 8Xt and bright red HTC 8X and a red case for my Surface. Because of this, if I was without an Xbox 360 today, I would consider picking up this wonderfully odd-colored Xbox 360 bundle. In addition to the color, this console, as well as the other bundles, all come with a free month of Xbox Live Gold, meaning you could get an additional 2 games through the Games with Gold program.

Are you currently without an Xbox 360? Would these deals, or the crazy color of the final bundle, make you consider adding a 360 to your home theater setup? Let us know in the comments.

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