Youtube

YouTube Red is Having an Identity Crisis (digiday.com) 41

During an onstage conversation at Recode's Code Media this week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called YouTube Red a music streaming service -- first time any executive from the company has referred to YouTube Red as foremost a music service. From a report: This differs from comments that other YouTube executives have made in the past, including YouTube's head of global content Susanne Daniels, who last year described YouTube Red as a premium subscription streaming service that offers Hollywood-quality shows and movies.

Launched in October 2015, YouTube Red has always been positioned by YouTube as three services in one: It offers ad-free access to all of YouTube; it's a music streaming service that also gives access to Google Play Music; and it's consistently releasing original movies and TV shows, starring Hollywood talent and homegrown stars that users already subscribe to. Two years later, this has created somewhat of an identity crisis for the streaming service. As Wojcicki said in her interview, she sees YouTube Red as a music service. And she does not expect to spend billions of dollars on content to effectively compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others.

Youtube

YouTube TV Is Adding More Channels, But It's Also Getting More Expensive (theverge.com) 79

YouTube's internet TV streaming service is expanding its programming with the addition of several Turner networks including TBS, TNT, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, truTV, and Turner Classic Movies. YouTube TV is also bringing NBA TV and MLB Network to the base lineup. NBA All Access and MLB.TV will be offered as optional paid add-ons "in the coming months." The downside? The price of the service is going up. The Verge reports: Starting March 13th, YouTube TV's monthly subscription cost will rise from $35 to $40. All customers who join the service prior to the 13th will be able to keep the lower $35 monthly rate going forward. And if you've been waiting for YouTube to add Viacom channels, that still hasn't happened yet. Hopefully these jumps in subscription cost won't happen very often. Otherwise these internet TV businesses might suddenly start feeling more like cable (and not in a good way). The Verge also mentions that YouTube TV is adding a bunch of new markets including: Lexington, Dayton, Honolulu, El Paso, Burlington, Plattsburgh, Richmond, Petersburg, Mobile, Syracuse, Champaign, Springfield, Columbia, Charleston, Harlingen, Wichita, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton.
Piracy

Man Handed Conditional Prison Sentence for Spreading Information About Popcorn Time Service (torrentfreak.com) 120

A man from Denmark has been handed a six-month conditional prison sentence for spreading information about Popcorn Time, an authorized on-demand movies and TV shows streaming service, news outlet TorrentFreak reports. From the report: In what is being described as a first for Europe, the man was convicted after telling people how to download, install and use the movie streaming service. He was also ordered to forfeit $83,300 in ad revenue and complete 120 hours community service.
AI

AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear (qz.com) 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.

Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

Sci-Fi

Slashdot Asks: What Are Some Sci-Fi Books, Movies, and TV Shows You're Looking Forward To? 364

Even as Hollywood studios report fewer footfalls in theaters, the last few years have arguably been impressive if you're a sci-fi admirer. Last year, we finally got to watch the Blade Runner 2049, and the The Last Jedi and Logan also found plenty of backers. In 2016, Arrival was a home run for many. Star Trek: Discovery, and Stranger Things TV shows continue to receive positive feedback from critics, and the The X-Files is also quickly winning its loyal fans back.

"Artemis" by Andy Weir and "New York 2140" by Kim Stanley have found their ways among best selling books. "Borne" by Jeff VanderMeer, and "Walkaway" by BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow have also been widely loved by the readers.

On that note, what are some movies, TV shows, and books on sci-fi that you are waiting to explore in the next two to three years?
Movies

'How We Made Starship Troopers' (theguardian.com) 589

The Guardian quotes Paul Verhoeven, the director of Starship Troopers: Robert Heinlein's original 1959 science-fiction novel was militaristic, if not fascistic. So I decided to make a movie about fascists who aren't aware of their fascism... I was looking for the prototype of blond, white and arrogant, and Casper Van Dien was so close to the images I remembered from Leni Riefenstahl's films. I borrowed from Triumph of the Will in the parody propaganda reel that opens the film, too. I was using Riefenstahl to point out, or so I thought, that these heroes and heroines were straight out of Nazi propaganda...

With a title like Starship Troopers, people were expecting a new Star Wars. They got that, but not really: it stuck in your throat. It said: "Here are your heroes and your heroines, but by the way -- they're fascists."

The actors weren't even clear on what the giant arachnids would look like, since their "Bug" battles were filmed entirely with green screens, remembers one of the movie's stars, Denise Richards. Instead Verhoeven "would be there jumping up and down with a broom in the air so we would have a sense of how big they were."

Verhoeven told one interviewer that he never actually read Robert Heinlein's original book. "I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring. It is really quite a bad book."
Movies

Netflix Executives Say 'Bright' Success Proves Film Critics Are 'Disconnected From Mass Appeal' (indiewire.com) 330

Last month, movie critics slammed David Ayer and Will Smith's Netflix tentpole "Bright" movie. At present, it has less than 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But Netflix executives aren't worried. From a report on IndieWire: The abysmal reviews couldn't stop "Bright" from becoming a humongous hit on Netflix and earning a sequel. [...] According to both Netlfix bosses, "Bright's" success is proof that film critics don't matter as much when they're trying to tap into a global audience. "Critics are an important part of the artistic process, but [they are] pretty disconnected from the commercial prospects of a film," chief content officer Sarandos said. "[Film critics] speak to specific audiences who care about quality, or how objectively good or bad a movie is -- not the masses who are critical for determining whether a film makes money." CEO Hastings, chimed in to add "The critics are pretty disconnected from the mass appeal." Do ratings on movie websites matter? It's not a new topic of discussion. Last year, legendary director, producer and screenwriter Martin Scorsese said he believes real movie goers don't care about Rotten Tomatoes. But some people, including especially in the same room as Scorsese, disagree. Brett Ratner, the Rush Hour director/producer who threw the financial weight of his RatPac Entertainment behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice blamed Rotten Tomatoes for convincing people to not watch his movie. Along the same lines, DC fans were angry over Rotten Tomatoes's Justice League ratings .
China

China Is Quickly Switching From Pirating To Streaming (cnn.com) 79

hackingbear shares a report from CNN: Not so long ago, China was an oasis for pirated music and videos. CDs and DVDs were easily copied and sold for cheap at roadside markets. If you had a computer and an internet connection, top selling albums and Hollywood movies were widely available for free online. That's changing fast as new technologies such as the convenient WeChat payment and a long-running crackdown on pirated content mean members of the country's growing, smartphone-wielding middle class are increasingly willing to pay to stream videos and music online. "When you have to spend two-to-three hours digging up pirated content, users are willing to pay a [small] amount of money to get non-pirated content," said Karen Chan, an analyst with research firm Jefferies. Across major Chinese video platforms, the monthly fee is about 20 yuan ($3); streaming music is even cheaper, ranging from 8 to 15 yuan ($1-$2) per month. Compare that with a basic monthly Netflix subscription in the U.S. at $8, or a Spotify one at $10. The rapid spread of digital payment platforms like Tencent's WeChat Pay and Alibaba-affiliated Alipay has also played a role, according to Xue Yu, an analyst with research firm IDC. The platforms created a market of young Chinese consumers comfortable with buying goods and services for a few yuan online, Xue said.
Television

Netflix Is Now Worth More Than $100 Billion (techcrunch.com) 49

Netflix has crossed the $100 billion mark for its market cap as it once again surprised industry observers with better-than-expected growth in its subscribers. TechCrunch reports: The company said it added more than 8 million new subscribers total after already setting pretty robust targets for the fourth quarter this year, giving it a healthy push as it crossed the $100 billion mark after the report came out this afternoon. While the company's core financials actually came in roughly in line with what Wall Street was looking for (which is still important), Netflix's subscriber numbers are usually the best indicator for the core health of the company. That recurring revenue stream -- and its growth -- is critical as it continues to very aggressively spend on new content. The company said its free cash flow will be between negative $3 billion and negative $4 billion, compared to negative $2 billion this year. And that aggressive spending only seems to get more aggressive every time we hear from the company. Netflix is now saying that it expects to spend between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on content in 2018 -- which is around in line with what it said in October when it said it would spend between $7 billion and $8 billion. It's the same range, but tuning up that bottom end is still an important indicator. Some notable numbers include $3.29 billion in revenue, 1.98 million Q4 U.S. subscriber additions, and 6.36 million Q4 International subscriber additions.
Piracy

iTunes Snafu Made 'Thor: Ragnarok' Available Almost a Month Early (engadget.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: When you check out the 'Thor: Ragnarok' page on iTunes, it says pre-orders of digital copies are expected to arrive on February 20th. But as TorrentFreak reports, some people got their hands on the Marvel film about a month early due to some sort of snafu with iTunes and Movies Anywhere. According to TorrentFreak, a Reddit user said in a now-deleted post that their legal purchase of the film on Vudu landed them an iTunes copy of it the next day. "I pre-ordered Thor Ragnarok on Vudu yesterday and it links it to my iTunes also. But curiously it showed up in my iTunes library this morning (pre-orders shouldn't). And now I can watch the full movie in HD," they wrote. "I obviously downloaded it right away. I know its supposed to come out February 20th." Others then responded that going that same purchase route made the movie available to them in iTunes as well.
Piracy

Studios Sue Dragon Box in Latest Crackdown on Streaming Devices (variety.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Netflix and Amazon joined with the major studios on Wednesday in a lawsuit against Dragon Box, as the studios continue their crackdown on streaming devices. The suit accuses Dragon Box of facilitating piracy by making it easy for customers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. Some of the films available are still in theaters, including Disney's "Coco," the suit alleges. Dragon Box has advertised the product as a means to avoid paying for authorized subscription services, the complaint alleges, quoting marketing material that encourages users to "Get rid of your premium channels ... [and] Stop paying for Netflix and Hulu." The same studios filed a similar complaint in October against TickBox, another device that enables users to watch streaming content. Both TickBox and Dragon Box make use of Kodi add-ons, a third-party software application.
Businesses

Uber Used Another Secret Software To Evade Police, Report Says (bloomberg.com) 226

schwit1 shares a Bloomberg report: In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies's office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event. Like managers at Uber's hundreds of offices abroad, they'd been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they'd obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don't expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn't most companies. The ride-hailing startup's reputation for flouting local labor laws and taxi rules has made it a favorite target for law enforcement agencies around the world. That's where this remote system, called Ripley, comes in. From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven't been previously reported. The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices. This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol. Employees aware of its existence eventually took to calling it Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver's flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies. The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. 'Nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.'

Media

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?
Businesses

Ford is Giving Its Factory Workers Robot Exo-suits To Ease To Burden of Building Cars (qz.com) 49

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz: Ford's cars are getting closer to driving themselves, but they still need humans to build them. And because people aren't quite as durable as robots, it's trying to make those jobs easier by developing a suit with Ekso Bionics that takes the stress out of working long hours on a car assembly floor. Ekes, founded in 2005 in California, builds exoskeletons, essentially robotic assistive systems that people strap into to make walking, lifting, and standing easier. It's worked with the US military to build suits for soldiers. The system Ekso developed with Ford, called the EksoVest, doesn't use any motors to make working on factory lines less stressful, and it's nothing like what you see in movies, as it simply uses hydraulics to redistribute weight so that workers can comfortably raise their arms above their heads for extended periods of time. The suit can be worn by anyone from 5 ft to 6 ft 4 inches tall, and can provide lift assistance up to 15 pounds per arm. Some assembly-line workers at the average Ford plant lift their arms 4,600 times a day -- or about 1 million times a year, the company said.
Businesses

People Are Using PornHub To Stream 'Hamilton' and 'Zootopia' (qz.com) 92

An anonymous reader shares a report: There's more on PornHub than pornography. People are using the streaming-video site -- a sort of YouTube for pornography where users can upload and watch adult videos -- to stream pirated copies of high-profile titles like the Broadway musical Hamilton and Disney's animated movie Zootopia. Where YouTube has been fighting for years to keep pornography off its site, PornHub now finds itself in the position of having to purge its platform of videos that are decidedly safe for work. The full, 75-minute first act of the historical, Tony Award-winning play, Hamilton -- with its original cast, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda -- is on PornHub, one Twitter user discovered. As the most sought after ticket in town, the play just set a new high-water mark (paywall) for Broadway after taking in $3.8 million at the box office for the week ending Dec. 24.
Movies

Movie Ticket Sales Hit A 22-Year Low in 2017 (msn.com) 162

An anonymous reader quotes the Los Angeles Times: Hollywood is celebrating the end of 2017 with astronomical sales from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which is on track to soon exceed $1 billion in global ticket sales and eventually become the biggest movie of the year. But that won't be enough to write a happy storyline for the industry. Although movie ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada are expected to dip just below last year's record of $11.38 billion, the number of tickets sold is projected to drop 4% to 1.26 billion -- the lowest level since 1995, according to preliminary estimates from studio executives.

The falloff in ticket sales can mostly be explained by a handful of movies that flopped, especially during the dreary summer season that posted the worst results in more than two decades. Even such massive hits as "Wonder Woman," "Thor: Ragnarok" and "It" couldn't make up for a lackluster summer lineup populated by rickety franchises ("Alien: Covenant") and poorly reviewed retreads ("The Mummy"). However, the long-term decline in attendance reflects systemic challenges facing the industry. Audiences are spending less time going to the movies and are consuming more entertainment on small screens and through streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon that are spending billions on original video content. At the same time, while higher ticket prices have helped to offset attendance declines, they have made consumers pickier about what movies they're willing to go see. And those increasingly discerning consumers turn to social media and Rotten Tomatoes to decide what's worth their time and money.

Books

In a Declining Comics Market, DC Beats Marvel (hollywoodreporter.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes the Hollywood Reporter: Looking at the most-ordered comic books in the North American comic market, DC Entertainment had a particularly strong year, with seven of the top 10 issues of the year being published by the home of Superman, Batman and the Justice League... just three years ago, not one DC title made it to the list, with nine titles coming from Marvel alone. (By comparison, Marvel takes just three places this year, with one of those due to its inclusion in a subscription mystery box service)... Perhaps surprisingly, the big winner of 2017 looking at the top 10 list is DC's crossover between its DC Universe and Watchmen properties. The first issue of the Doomsday Clock series charted third â" and could end up higher on the final list for the year, depending on re-order numbers in December â" but all four issues of the prologue storyline "The Button," from summer issues of Batman and The Flash, also made it into the top 10.

it's worth noting that, across the board, order numbers for comics in the North American market fell 10 percent compared with last year. The market is shrinking, unless something turns it around soon... One last thing to note about the year's top 10, and also the comic market as it currently exists in general: It's probably time to stop pretending that mass media projects significantly impact comic book orders. In a year with Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters, there isn't a Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor or Spider-Man title in the top 10. Indeed, Marvel has just canceled the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series.

Mavel had the most-ordered comic book of the year -- Marvel Legacy No. 1 -- though the article notes that all of its numbers are inevitably skewed by "ordering incentives put in place by publishers that require that a certain number of copies are ordered by stores in order to achieve a specific discount."
Star Wars Prequels

'Star Wars' Franchise Crosses $4 Billion, Eclipsing Disney's Lucasfilm Price (hollywoodreporter.com) 187

Combined, Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have surpassed $4.06 billion in ticket sales at the worldwide box office. That's more than what Disney paid to buy George Lucas' Star Wars franchise. From the Hollywood Reporter: While an interesting benchmark, it doesn't, of course, account for the hundreds of millions spent to produce and market the trio of films, or the fact that Disney splits box-office grosses with theater owners. Conversely, Disney has minted additional money from lucrative ancillary revenue streams, merchandising sales and theme park attractions. Opening in North America on Dec. 15, The Last Jedi zoomed past the $900 million mark on Thursday, finishing the day with $934.2 million globally, including $464.6 million domestically and $469.6 internationally (it doesn't land in China until Jan. 5). The sequel to The Force Awakens was directed by Rian Johnson, and has dominated the Christmas corridor. The Last Jedi will jump the $1 billion mark over New Year's weekend on its way to becoming the top-grossing 2017 release, eclipsing the $1.264 billion earned by fellow Disney title Beauty and the Beast. In December 2015, filmmaker J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens shattered numerous records on its way to grossing $2.068 billion globally, including an all-time best $936.7 million in North America, not accounting for inflation.
Privacy

That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You're Watching on TV (nytimes.com) 98

Rick Zeman writes: The New York Times (may be paywalled) has an article describing how some apps track TV and movie viewing even when the loaded app isn't currently active. These seemingly innocuous games, geared towards both adults and children work by "using a smartphone's microphone. For instance, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely...." While these apps, mostly available on Google play, with some available on the Apple Store, do offer an opt opt, it's not clear when consumers see "permission for microphone access for ads," it may not be clear to a user that, "Oh, this means it's going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I'm watching 'Monday Night Football."'
One advertising executive summarizes thusly: "It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy."

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