The UpStream

Uber, In Search of Drivers, Partners with AARP

posted Saturday Aug 1, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Uber, In Search of Drivers, Partners with AARP

Uber may be a company who doesn't know exactly who they are, but they do seem to know what they need: drivers. As the company continues to try and expand the number of markets in which they operate, the only way they can support this is with enough drivers for the demand for rides. The problem they have encountered, however, is a general disinterest in their target demographic for people to use their own vehicles to drive others around.

This week, the company announced that, rather than trying to adjust their marketing toward their target, they have adjusted who their target is. As part of this reconsideration, Uber announced a new relationship with Live Reimagined, a division of AARP. For those who don't know, AARP is an organization that reaches out to the older population. They tend to offer discount on services, events and special incentives to their members.

In this case, the partnership with Uber will provide 2 things: a marketing channel for Uber to reach out to a new crop of potential drivers and a financial incentive to their members to give it a try. If a driver signs up through the AARP partnership and complete 10 trips, they will receive a $35 bonus. This bonus is intended to offset their first tank of gas, which should be about equivalent to the amount used on these 10 trips. Theoretically, then, this should create a zero cost opportunity to try out the service.

David Plouffe, Chief Advisor for Uber, said of the partnership,

Uber and AARP's Life Reimagined working together is a natural fit. Uber is used by many people over 40 to supplement their income, and it's a great way to make money, meet people and serve the community. We are thrilled to work with Life Reimagined to spread the word about this opportunity to their members throughout the US.

It will be interesting to see if the company does anything to try and offset the perceived dangers of driving for the company. Across the world there have been issues with riders, as well as riots by riders and taxi drivers, and it has certainly created a scenario in which drivers' personal and property safety could be in danger. As Uber attempt to woo older drivers with promises of supplemental income, protecting those drivers should become an essential priority.

China Lifts 15 Year Ban on Video Game Consoles

posted Sunday Jul 26, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

China Lifts 15 Year Ban on Video Game Consoles

China has had a ban on video game consoles for 15 years. The government claimed that it could cause "potential harm to the physical and mental development of the young" and have enforced this ban since 2000. This week, the console drought ended as China lifted the ban of video game console sales in the country.

China will effectively relax its guidelines and will allow video game makers to now manufacture and sell their gaming devices anywhere in the country. Before this lift, you were still able to buy video game consoles in China, but only in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan; the ban only applied to mainland China. In 2014, the Chinese government made a slight amendment to the ban, and allowed a "free trade zone" to exist in Shanghai so that the big three could form relationships with Chinese manufacturing plants. That move led to Microsoft and Sony working with Chinese partners to make their consoles available for sale in the country.

The decision this week to lift all restrictions certainly opens up a lot more opportunity for not only Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but for other console manufacturers to make an impact in a space that's now open for anyone to jump in. Any company, domestic or foreign, will be able to both sell and build their devices in the country of over 1 billion people.

One thing that will not change, though, is the approval process for video games. Drug use, violence, obscenity and "anything that can harm public ethics or China's culture" are still banned in the country. That means games like Halo and GTAV are still not allowed to be sold. Publishers do have the option to sell a censored or altered game, but almost all have chosen to simply not sell the title.

Rob McElhenney Announced as Minecraft Movie's Director

posted Sunday Jul 26, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Rob McElhenney Announced as Minecraft Movie's Director

Ever since Microsoft's acquisition of Mojang, the creators of MineCraft, the once indie game studio has seen more success than it ever had before. Earlier this month the company revealed details behind Minecraft: Story Mode. But that's not the only news involving Minecraft things this month as it would seem. The highly-anticipated Minecraft movie is also in the works, and the team producing it has found their director this week.

There isn't much to the news, but we now know that Mojang has brought on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's creator and lead actor, Rob McElhenney, to take on the role of director for the upcoming movie. He will now be tasked with taking the ridiculously popular game and crafting it into a film. This is indeed no small task.

Mojang made the announcement by releasing a photo of the Always Sunny star brandishing a sword while in attendance at MineCon earlier this month. Now, while I haven't seen the series, critics have been high on McElhenney and his ability. For me, I'm just happy that the movie is finally getting going and am looking forward to seeing how this game adapts to the big screen and what direction it'll take.

YouTube's Co-Founder Fully Stands Behind Paid Subscription for Service

posted Sunday Jul 26, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube's Co-Founder Fully Stands Behind Paid Subscription for Service

Last November, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki spoke candidly on the potential of paid subscriptions coming to the platform. Then just a few months ago, we saw that idea come to pass in a cryptic letter from YouTube. Now, YouTube's cofounder Chad Hurley has come out in full support of an ad-free, subscription-based model.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Hurley said that YouTube will continue to amass a powerful set of tools, resources and creators for the platform, even if that might involve charging its customers. He added that there are "different forms" of video-on-demand, hinting that some content could be charged for while others could remain free. He did say that he thought it was an option when asked if viewers could necessarily be charged for specific content.

This should come as no surprise, as YouTube has been locking up content creators with lucrative and exclusive contracts over the past year in order to keep them on the platform. However with a rumored price of $10 per month for the ad-free service, it would be more fitting if the company simply charged the monthly fee for the ability to not see ads before, during and after the videos.

Google's recent quarterly statement showed just how much the company relies on YouTube for revenue. YouTube's advertiser spending saw a jump of over 60 percent from last year, and with that much money riding on the success of the video service, it's time for YouTube to reinvent itself and generate more revenue or it may end up being usurped by an up-and-comer.

Either way, the success of a potential ad-free option relies solely on how many users would pay for that service. With Google's own browser having such an easy way to block ads, creators are already struggling to get their ads seen with their videos. What would entice a viewer to toss out the ad-block and pay $10 per month instead? I know that the web is free because of advertisers, but not everyone does, nor do they care. How do we make them care? Is it by charging for premium content?

BlackBerry's Turnaround Plan Revolves Around Security Software

posted Sunday Jul 26, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

BlackBerry's Turnaround Plan Revolves Around Security Software

After a series of layoffs and quarterly losses, BlackBerry hopes its darkest days are behind it. Key executives have left the company and Jabil Circuit stopped making BlackBerry devices. So what happens now? BlackBerry has started to get the wheels moving behind its turnaround plan in an effort to bring the company back from its dismal past two years.

So what's the plan? Security. BlackBerry laid out the roadmap of the next few years and the majority of it has to do with security software and other products that protect dozens of different devices. Blackberry's CEO John Chen said that the company can protect medical records, movie scripts and other sensitive data through its offerings.

I'm pretty satisfied with the progress on the turnaround so far. I laid out the $500 million software revenue target and I'm still comfortable with that commitment for this fiscal year, it looks good.

The fact that Chen has put out a goal of $500 million in software revenue is a bold move coming from a company who has been stuck in releasing unpopular handset devices over the past five years. This surely ties in with the turnaround plan, however that's now going to take longer than initially anticipated. At first, Chen said BlackBerry would be levelled out in 6 months, however last week he said that may look more like 12 to 18 months.

Still, Chen is confident in the ability of BlackBerry to make a full recovery, despite analysts' concerns.

We're patiently building the product pipeline and the sales channel. There is still a lot of work to do, I'd love for everything to move faster, but I caution people to be a bit patient because we can't rebound in a very short period of time, no company can. We are doing all the right things for the long term and the company is definitely out of financial trouble.

While the BlackBerry CEO has solved the rapid decline of the company's profits and revenue, the stock price is still gloating around where it was over a year ago, only solidifying investors' worry over the brand. The bright side is that the last year also showed BlackBerry acquiring a handful of software companies, which brought us full circle to the security software offerings we saw this week. Is it enough to save the company? Again, BlackBerry's biggest trouble will be adoption rate and competing against tough adversaries. The switch to software might work, but the challenges remain the same.

AT&T and DirecTV Receive Approval to Complete Merger

posted Saturday Jul 25, 2015 by Scott Ertz

AT&T and DirecTV Receive Approval to Complete Merger

See ya, Comcast - there's a new paid television king in town and its name is AT&T. This week, AT&T and DirecTV's $48.5 billion merger was approved by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice. This massive combination will result in the largest television service in the country, as well as an absolute powerhouse in content distribution in general.

As part of the purchase, AT&T will gain access to DirecTV's content contracts, most notably DirecTV's expensive exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket, the driving force behind the service's sales numbers. AT&T will also gain access to the company's satellite network and a major expansion of the AT&T television brand, which is currently only available in a few states. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said of the merger,

We're now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition.

This comes at a time when the wireless industry has become more interested in content, and content companies have become more interested in wireless. Verizon recently purchased AOL, giving them ownership of brands like Engadget and Huffington Post, while DISH Network has been in talks to purchase T-Mobile USA, which would result in the same concept.

As part of this deal's approval, AT&T agreed to Net Neutrality rules stricter than current regulations layout. As far as the FCC is concerned, this is a big win for their expanding power-grab, as AT&T has been one of the loudest opponents to even the existing regulations. This does not mean they won't continue to fight against the legality of the FCC issuing these regulations, or requiring this agreement for the merger, but for now it does give the FCC a little more ground to stand on.

In addition, AT&T agreed to expand its fiber service, something Verizon has ended not once but twice. The company had proposed the fiber agreement themselves, with the 12.5 million customer count being just slightly larger than their existing build-out plans currently called for. They will also work with low income families to provide more affordable services.

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