The UpStream

Another Finalized Merger Could be in Regulatory Trouble

posted Saturday Jul 28, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Another Finalized Merger Could be in Regulatory Trouble

It was only 2 weeks ago that the AT&T/Time Warner merger was placed in jeopardy when the Department of Justice appealed a court's decision that allowed the merger to be finalized a month ago. As of the appeal, AT&T had already worked Time Warner (now called WarnerMedia) into their corporate infrastructure, placing a new head over the brand and planning for some big changes at HBO.

This week, another Time Warner brand, this time Time Warner Cable, has a merger in jeopardy. Time Warner Cable was purchased in 2016 by Charter Communications, solidifying Charter's #2 position in the industry by a fairly wide margin. The combined company, including Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Brighthouse Networks, current operates under the Spectrum brand. As with any major merger of this type, there were restrictions and requirements placed on Charter in order to receive regulatory approval.

The State of New York had some fairly strict rules in place in order to approve the purchase in NY. This week, the New York State Public Service Commision (PSC) voted to revoke approval, citing a variety of noncompliance issues. Because of the revocation of approval, it means that Charter is being ordered to sell off all assets they purchased as part of the Time Warner Cable deal in New York. In addition,

Charter is ordered to file within 60 days a plan with the Commission to ensure an orderly transition to a successor provider(s). During the transition process, Charter must continue to comply with all local franchises it holds in New York State and all obligations under the Public Service Law and the Commission regulations. Charter must ensure no interruption in service is experienced by customers, and, in the event that Charter does not do so, the Commission will take further steps, including seeking injunctive relief in Supreme Court in order to protect New York consumers.

Obviously, this would not affect any other Charter's other acquisitions, including Time Warner Cable assets in other states, assuming other states do not file similar actions against the company. Pulling apart the company 2 years after the merger was completed could certainly cause problems for both brands. Trying to find a buyer in 60 days will be difficult, and will almost certainly end in Charter losing money on the deal.

Obviously, Charter believes that the order is inaccurate. The company has said that they plan to fight the order to sell the Time Warner Cable assets.

EA to Release Origin Access Premier Next Week

posted Saturday Jul 28, 2018 by Scott Ertz

EA to Release Origin Access Premier Next Week

At E3 2018, one of the most surprising announcements was from Electronics Arts in the form of a new tier for Origin Access. The service is a subscription which gives access to The Vault, which is a large collection of back catalog games, as well as discounts on all purchases made in the Origin Store. It also offers demos of games 5 days prior to launch, so that you can get a feel for the game to decide whether to purchase it or not.

While Origin Access has been highly successful for EA, they have decided to turn the current offering into a tier called Basic, while adding Premier with two major changes. First, rather than getting 10 hours of demo 5 days before launch, Premier will offer the full game in that timeframe. That means that subscribers will get access to EA games nearly a week before other gamers.

Second, and far more importantly, The Vault will be widened, adding what EA calls "frontline" titles. This follows in Microsoft's footsteps, who recently added frontline games to their Game Pass service. Starting with Sea of Thieves, all Microsoft Studio games will be available same-day on Game Pass. Origin Access Premier steps this up a bit. According to Electronic Arts CFO Blake Jorgensen,

We do know from our EA Access experience and our Origin Access experience for non-frontline titles that we find people play twice as many games for twice as long and spend twice as much money as they did outside, or before they joined the subscription. That's what led us to believe that frontline titles would be also very advantageous to the subscription, as well as help drive new users into the system.

This new tier of Origin Access Premiere will launch on July 30, 2018, according to the company's most recent investor call. The service will run $15 per month or $100 per year. This is compared to $5 per month or $30 per year for the newly rebranded Basic tier. The first 4 confirmed frontline titles that will be included in the Premier tier will be Madden NFL 19 in August 2018, FIFA 19 in September 2018, Battlefield 5 in October 2018, and Anthem in February 2019.

If you are a current Origin Access subscriber, you need do nothing: your subscription will continue on uninterrupted as a Basic subscription. If you want to move up to Premier, you'll need to upgrade within the application.

Google Play to Ban Cryptomining Apps from the App Store

posted Saturday Jul 28, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Play to Ban Cryptomining Apps from the App Store

Following in the footsteps of Apple and Chrome, Google Play has officially banned cryptocurrency mining apps from the store. This includes, but is not limited to, dedicated mining apps, apps and games that monetize through mining, and apps that mine without permission. This does not include apps that allow you to remotely manage mining operations, either on your own computer or on a cloud platform. It also does not prohibit apps that manage your cryptocurrencies themselves, like via wallets, etc.

Cryptomining has been known to cause physical problems to devices, especially when it is included in an app without the user's knowledge and consent. In those cases, devices can get incredibly hot, which can cause damage to the case and the screen. They also tend to draw a lot of power, which can eventually cause damage to the battery, including causing it to swell. A swollen battery puts unexpected pressure behind the electronics and can crack circuit boards, screens, and cases.

Unfortunately, this also has the effect of Google deciding what you can and cannot do with your device. Purposeful crypto mining on Android devices is not unusual, as many devices, especially devices like a Samsung flagship device, have incredibly powerful processors which can actually be semi-successful at mining., especially if you already have the device lying around. Creating a small farm of Android devices can produce decent results for an amateur miner. While no new apps will be allowed in the store, current mining apps will be removed at some point in the near future.

However, with this decision, Google has decided that, if you want to repurpose old technology, you are going to have to go through the trouble of sideloading miners, which could be riskier than allowing them in the store in the first place. Software in the Play Store gets scanned for malware, though with differing results, when it is in the store as well as once it is on your device. This helps prevent malware from affecting your device. In sideloading, there is no way to be sure it is safe. So, if you decide to use an Android device to mine crypto, be careful with sideloading software.

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.

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