The UpStream

Teen Pleads Guity to 23 Charges, Including Harassment and Swatting

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

There is a terrible trend happening in the online gaming world called Swatting. In case you have not heard of this practice, it involves one person finding the home information of another and calling in a fake emergency call. Usually the caller claims to be within the house of the victim (the other person) and is either holding the family hostage or that they have killed everyone in the house. Because of this call, the local SWAT team shows up and kicks down the door, often barging in on a Twitch broadcast.

Obviously this is a terribly dangerous "prank" that should be taken very seriously. Luckily, law enforcement has begun to take this seriously. Earlier this year there was an arrest in Las Vegas in response to a well-publicized incident in July of last year. What it revealed was that these are not isolated incidents. In fact, the 19-year-old who was arrested had been involved in several incidents.

This week, a 17-year-old on trial in Canada pleaded guilty to 23 counts including several counts of swatting. While in most cases these "pranks" revolve around online videogame rivalries, this one turns out to have started even more ridiculously. The teenager met a girl from Florida online and began an online relationship. The problem is that the girl didn't know that this was what he thought was happening and rejected his reality. As a result he called in two threats to her school and one to her home.

These are not his only incidents, however. It turns out that, in more traditional fashion, he did look for further victims using League of Legends and Twitter. He apparently got sloppy with the later incidents, as they were done while part of an 8-hour YouTube Live broadcast in which he pulled this "prank" more than once. It also ended up being what got him arrested when enough viewers of the stream called the police.

Because of this very stupid decision, it is likely that a large portion of his young adult life will be lost to jail time when his sentencing, which takes place on June 29th, is complete. It is important, like in the Vegas case, that an example be made to try and prevent future incidents where someone could really get hurt.

BBC Sued for Unauthorized Grand Theft Auto TV Movie

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BBC Sued for Unauthorized Grand Theft Auto TV Movie

The BBC is planning, and in early production, of a TV movie entitled Game Changer, a dramatic telling of the early days of Grand Theft Auto. The story will be told in similar fashion to the Ashton Kutcher movie about Steve Jobs, complete with skipping the whole "getting authorization" thing. The movie will feature Bill Paxton as "butt-of-the-joke" former attorney Jack Thompson and Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe as Rockstar co-founder Sam Hauser.

That is assuming the movie actually happens. Rockstar Games' parent company, Take Two Interactive, announced Thursday that they had filed a trademark infringement suit against the BBC. If the suit goes through, it is unlikely that the BBC would actually produce the movie, likely opting for the easier road of canceling.

Take Two stressed in a statement that neither they nor Rockstar has had anything to do with the movie, saying,

Our goal is to ensure that our trademarks are not misused in the BBC's pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events related to Rockstar Games. We have attempted multiple times to resolve this matter with the BBC without any meaningful resolution. It is our obligation to protect our intellectual property, and unfortunately in this case litigation was necessary.

While any movie that features Jack Thompson is something that I would like to see, I do understand the desire to protect a brand. As with the previously mentioned Steve Jobs film, it is likely that incorrect information will be introduced into the narrative for either dramatic effect or, in Kutcher's case, to make one character more important than they really were.

The idea of having the story of your life or life's work told without any verification from you is something that makes my stomach hurt a bit, as people tend to believe what they see, no matter how obviously fake it may be. Hopefully the end result will be for the BBC and Rockstar to actually work together to produce a piece that tells the accurate story and shows Jack as the oddball he is.

BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

Apparently finally turning a profit was not enough to save employees at struggling BlackBerry. The company announced they would be laying off an unspecified number of employees. It is expected that the majority of those layoffs will come from the devices business, including jobs in hardware, software and applications for the BlackBerry platform.

In the early days of smartphones, before consumers had really ever heard that term, BlackBerry regularly battled Palm to hold the #2 slot behind Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform, which often held strong in the #1 spot. Today, the smartphone landscape looks very different, with Android taking the top spot, and Microsoft and Apple battling for #2 from area to area. In North America, Apple tends to lead, while in Europe it's Microsoft. BlackBerry, however, barely makes the charts.

BlackBerry said in a statement,

As the company moves into its next stage of the turnaround, our intention is to reallocate resources in ways that will best enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities while driving toward sustainable profitability across all facets of our business...

One of our priorities is making our device business profitable. At the same time, we must grow software and licensing revenues. You will see in the coming months a significant ramping up in our customer-facing activities in sales and marketing.

Their software growth has begun to see a resurgence. For example, BlackBerry Messenger, which was always a favorite for businesses because of its security focus, has arrived on other platforms, bringing the brand name back to popularity. The app is actively maintained, with the Windows Phone app receiving an update this month.

In addition, Ford recently announced that their lower-end Ford Sync models would switch to a QNX-based system after Microsoft stopped developing the highly specialized platform to focus on the more universal Windows 10 platform. QNX is a company which was purchased by BlackBerry and was used to transition to BlackBerry 10, the OS that runs the now defunct PlayBook and all modern BlackBerry handsets.

Can this IBM-style focus on software and services work out better for the company, or will they eventually go the way of Palm and become part of a larger company (hopefully with a happier ending)? It is likely that, no matter the outcome, it will come to pass sooner rather than later.

TiVo Believes They Can Legalize Aereo's Business Model

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

TiVo Believes They Can Legalize Aereo's Business Model

After Aereo's Supreme Court loss and corporate shutdown, the company's trademarks and customer list were purchased by TiVo out of bankruptcy. At the time, it seemed odd that TiVo, an established brand, would be interested in the trademarks of a defunct startup, but TigerDirect bought the trademarks of both Circuit City and CompUSA out of bankruptcy, so who were we to argue?

The company's plans for those assets came to light, at least out of the shadows, during an interview with Tom Rogers, TiVo's CEO last week. He said that the company was working on a product that would give cord cutters the ability to DVR and stream OTA content, going so far as to describe the product as "kind of the Aereo model, done legally and better." There is a problem with that business model, however: The Supreme Court of the United States ruled the practice illegal.

So, how on Earth does TiVo plan to revise the business model to make it legal? It's all guesses at this point, though a spokesperson for the company did say,

Yes, they are currently developing a product and although they are not releasing any details, they plan to hold a significant event in San Jose in late July to discuss it.

So, we won't have to wait too long to get the answers to our questions. The likely answer is that TiVo is planning on paying transmission fees to the affected broadcasters, though there is no real telling how they might come to a consensus about audience size and overall fees. It is also unknown whether the broadcasters will even be willing to discuss this possibility, as several of them have introduced their own branded version of this service, including ABC, CBS and NBC. There is also Sling to compete with, which offers cable options in addition to the networks.

Verizon Purchases AOL, Shocks the World that AOL is Still Around

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Purchases AOL, Shocks the World that AOL is Still Around

Verizon shocked the world this week, announcing that America Online (AOL) was still in business. Even more shocking was the fact that Verizon valued the company at approximately $4.4 billion. This is the amount the company has agreed to pay to acquire the company and all of its assets.

As it turns out, those assets are far more valuable than the company itself, including patents in the online advertising space and content delivery. Verizon is in the process of enhancing its LTE video business, and Verizon plans to use AOL's content delivery platform, as well as their advertising services, to accomplish this goal.

AOL is more than just video and ads, though. You may remember that in 2011, AOL purchased Huffington Post, and appointed Arianna Huffington president and editor-in-chief. This put her in charge of brands such as TechCrunch, Engadget, Joystiq and more. This transition did not do well, and many people the company made promises to were lied to, and Huffington was removed a year later.

Tim Armstrong, AOL chairman and CEO, will continue to serve in those roles, as the acquired AOL will continue to operate as a separate division inside of Verizon. He said of the acquisition,

Verizon is a leader in mobile and OTT connected platforms, and the combination of Verizon and AOL creates a unique and scaled mobile and OTT media platform for creators, consumers and advertisers. The visions of Verizon and AOL are shared; the companies have existing successful partnerships, and we are excited to work with the team at Verizon to create the next generation of media through mobile and video.

Obviously Verizon sees something in the company that the rest of the world does not. Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman and CEO, said,

Verizon's vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multiscreen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience...

AOL has once again become a digital trailblazer, and we are excited at the prospect of charting a new course together in the digitally connected world. At Verizon, we've been strategically investing in emerging technology, including Verizon Digital Media Services and OTT, that taps into the market shift to digital content and advertising. AOL's advertising model aligns with this approach, and the advertising platform provides a key tool for us to develop future revenue streams.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this acquisition. Hopefully it will go better than when AOL purchased Time Warner and drove it to such heights that it was almost purchased by Comcast.

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

2015 has been an interesting year for Nintendo. They have finally begun to recover from last year's profit issues and they have broken from corporate tradition on more than one occasion. The rumored Zelda series would certainly have been a departure for the company, as is their newly formed mobile gaming partnership with studio DeNA.

This week, a new partnership was announced which will be an even bigger departure for the company: theme parks. Working with Universal Parks & Resorts, Nintendo will be bringing their brand of entertainment to Universal parks. Nintendo has long been interested in creating a partnership of this sort, but has never been convinced of the quality that such a partnership could bring. Universal changed their minds, but how?

According to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, it was how Universal handled another property that they do not own, Harry Potter, that convinced him that Universal was the company he could trust with his brand. Of course, Islands of Adventure has had Marvel Island far longer than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, their treatment of the Marvel brand was not nearly as well-considered. In fact, with the impending doom of the Marvel rights reverting to new owner Disney, there is little concern that it could be rebranded without any real loss.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, could not so easily be unbranded. What this means is a far more convincing and immersive environment. This type of immersive environment and respectful treatment of a 3rd party brand brought Nintendo to the table. Iwata described the meetings with Universal, saying,

Even inside Nintendo, the possibility had been discussed several times. But we had not made this a reality because, on each occasion, the time was not ripe yet or we were not able to find an appropriate partner with whom to work. In the case of our first meeting with Universal Parks & Resorts, they provided us with a very detailed proposal right from the beginning. Also, as we met right after they had opened the Harry Potter attractions, we were able to learn precisely how they had been created...

As soon as I returned to Japan, I informed (Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto), and I told him that I wanted to give positive consideration to it. Since then, we have met with them several times in Japan and in the U.S., and not only me and people who carry out our negotiations but also members from each company's creative side, namely, people who will be assigned to make the actual attractions and Nintendo's game producers who have been creating our games for many years.

There is no timeline on the release of these new attractions, but hopefully it will come about sooner than later.

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