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Television

Cord-Cutting Isn't Nearly as Significant as Cable Providers Make It Out To Be (cnbc.com) 124

From a report on CNBC: Despite legacy media's anxieties about cord-cutting, data suggest that the phenomenon isn't nearly as significant as cable providers make it out to be. In its 11th annual "Digital Democracy Survey," Deloitte found that the percentage of American households that subscribe to paid television services has remained relatively stable since 2012, even as adoption of streaming services has accelerated. In its survey of 2,131 consumers, Deloitte said two-thirds of respondents reported they have kept their TV subscriptions because they're bundled with their internet plan. Kevin Westcott, vice chairman and U.S. media and entertainment leader at Deloitte, told CNBC that bundling seems to be a huge deterrent for cord cutting.
AI

Researchers Build An AI That's Better At Reading Lips Than Humans (bbc.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: Scientists at Oxford say they've invented an artificial intelligence system that can lip-read better than humans. The system, which has been trained on thousands of hours of BBC News programs, has been developed in collaboration with Google's DeepMind AI division. "Watch, Attend and Spell", as the system has been called, can now watch silent speech and get about 50% of the words correct. That may not sound too impressive - but when the researchers supplied the same clips to professional lip-readers, they got only 12% of words right...
The system now recognizes 17,500 words, and one of the researchers says, "As it keeps watching TV, it will learn."
Mars

Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make 'The Martian' (backchannel.com) 178

Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India's underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie "The Martian," starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. "While NASA's Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million," Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India's version of "Hidden Figures" (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO's budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months. Backchannel reports: A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars' gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars' gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, "you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work." This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space. User shas3 notes in a comment on Hacker News' post: "If you are interested in Indian women scientists and engineers, there is a nice compilation (a bit tiresome to read, but worth it, IMO) of biographical essays called 'Lilvati's Daughters.'"
Communications

Netflix Replacing Star Ratings With Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down (variety.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Variety: Get ready to say goodbye to star ratings on Netflix: The company is getting ready to replace stars with Pandora-like thumbs ups and thumbs downs in the coming weeks. Previously-given star rating will still be used to personalize the profiles of Netflix users, but the stars are disappearing from the interface altogether. Netflix VP of Product Todd Yellin told journalists on Thursday during a press briefing at the company's headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., that the company had tested the new thumbs up and down ratings with hundred of thousands of members in 2016. "We are addicted to the methodology of A/B testing," Yellin said. The result was that thumbs got 200% more ratings than the traditional star-rating feature. Netflix is also introducing a new percent-match feature that shows how good of a match any given show or movie is for an individual subscriber. For example, a show that should close to perfectly fit a user's taste may get a 98% match. Shows that have less than a 50% match won't display a match-rating, however.
Movies

Movie Theaters Haven't Innovated Beyond Popcorn, Says Netflix CEO (variety.com) 209

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Asked about his company's relationship with major theater chains, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings didn't pull any punches on Thursday. "How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that's about it," he quipped. "What Netflix wants to do is to unleash film," he said. "It's fundamentally about growing the movie business." [...] On Thursday, Hastings pushed back against the notion that the company aims to bypass theaters. "We are not anti theater," he said. "We just want things to come out at the same time."
AT&T

DirecTV Admits Screwing Up Regional Sports Fees, Starts Issuing Credits (arstechnica.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: AT&T this week acknowledged that DirecTV has been charging the wrong regional sports fees to some customers and is now issuing bill credits to those who paid more because of the mistake. "We have identified a small percentage of customers who are receiving some inaccurate bills for regional sports network fees," an AT&T spokesperson told Ars yesterday. "We are working as quickly as possible to notify those customers and issue credits. We apologize for the error." AT&T bought DirecTV, the nation's largest satellite TV provider with about 21 million customers, in 2015. The mistake affects bills going back to late January. Customers will not have to do anything to get the credit, as it will be issued automatically. The billing problem came to light last week when Consumerist published a report detailing how the regional sports network fees vary by ZIP code in ways that simply didn't make sense. It wouldn't be surprising to see different fees in different metro areas and states, since different local sports networks and teams are broadcast in different areas. But there were numerous cases in which people in adjacent ZIP codes were charged very different amounts to watch the same exact networks and teams. Some customers were charged no sports fee, while others were charged amounts of $2.47, $5.83, or $7.29 a month.
Privacy

Buying a Samsung TV Online Could Jeopardize Your Data (cnet.com) 30

An anonymous reader shares a CNET report: If you buy a product from Samsung's online store, your name, address, order information and other data may be accessible to anyone who cares to look. Matt Metzger, a self-described "application security engineer" who said he has worked in shipping-industry compliance, wrote Wednesday on Medium about an accidental discovery. Metzger said he ordered a TV from the Samsung online store and was sent a URL to track his delivery. When he followed the URL, he discovered that his tracking number was the same one used for someone else's previous delivery and that he could see sensitive information, such as the person's name and items ordered, without any security measures getting in the way. Metzger also discovered that more information was attached in a TIFF file to his own order after the delivery was completed. The file included his full name, address and signature.Samsung told CNET it is aware of the issue and is looking into it.
Movies

Netflix Will Explore Mobile-Specific Cuts of Its Original Series (theverge.com) 80

An anonymous reader shares an article: Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt said in a briefing today with journalists in San Francisco that the company plans to explore streaming mobile-specific cuts of its original movies and TV shows, to satisfy what he said was a growing audience of mobile Netflix watchers. "It's not inconceivable that you could take a master [copy] and make a different cut for mobile," Hunt said. To date, Netflix hasn't been delivering different cuts for different viewing platforms, Hunt said, but "it's something we will explore over the next few years." The idea would be to create a version of the content with scenes or shots that are more easily visible or immersive on a mobile phone, since certain shots can be hard to see or can appear diminished on a relatively small phone screen.
Movies

'The Matrix' Reboot: It's Finally Happened. Hollywood Has Run Out of All the Ideas (qz.com) 542

An anonymous reader shares a Quartz report: In our hearts, we all knew this day would come. Warner Bros. is planning a reboot of The Matrix just 18 years after the iconic sci-fi action film dazzled audiences around the world, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The Matrix films were lauded for their creativity, special effects, and distinct cyberpunk and manga influences. In total, the trilogy grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide. The Matrix will join other famous film properties -- Star Wars, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, and Terminator among them -- receiving a recent franchise reboot or "reimagining." Others include RoboCop, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, and Jurassic Park. Meanwhile, reboots of Indiana Jones, Predator, Jumanji, and every superhero movie that's ever existed, are scheduled to hit theaters soon. And TV, for its part, is a dystopian wasteland of bland prequels to famous action movies. Hollywood relying on tentpole franchises, instead of taking risks on original ideas, is not new or surprising. But many believed that certain properties like The Matrix were off limits -- at least so soon after originally being made. It's clear now, though, that the major film studios can't afford to wait. They have no other ideas. This puts the studios in a precarious situation, because the once tried-and-true strategy of inundating cinemas with popular franchise extensions no longer looks as foolproof as it used to.
Television

82% of Kids in 'Netflix Only' Homes Have No Idea What Commercials Are (exstreamist.com) 300

Two anonymous readers share a report: We decided to survey parents of young children (below 10 years old) to see how many kids in "Netflix only" homes knew what commercials are, compared to those homes who watch regular television. We surveyed 100 parents (50 Netflix-only homes, 50 normal television homes), here were their responses: 82% of kids in Netflix only homes don't know what commercials are. 38% of kids in regular television homes don't know what commercials are.
Space

Jeff Bezos' Spaceflight Company Blue Origin Gets Its First Paying Customer (nytimes.com) 32

Long-time Slashdot reader nickovs writes: Blue Origin was started as a "moon shot" company by Jeff Bezos and recently claimed that it would be offering an "Amazon-like" delivery service to the moon by 2020. In the mean time it seems their customers will be slightly closer to Earth: this week they announced that they now have a paying customer in the form of the satellite TV company Eutelsat. While this isn't a huge technical milestone, it is a major business milestone, turning Blue Origin from a hobby business into one which might eventually make a profit. According to a New York Times article, "The commercial partnership brings Blue Origin closer in line with SpaceX, created by Elon Musk, which has been launching satellites and taking NASA cargo to the International Space Station for several years."
Meanwhile, SpaceX announced last week that two space tourists have already put down "a significant deposit" for a week-long trip around the moon at the end of 2018, adding "Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow."
Verizon

Verizon Wireless Wades Right Back Into the Net Neutrality Debate With Fios Deal (theverge.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Verizon is taking a page out of AT&T's book by zero rating its Fios cable TV service for all Verizon Wireless customers. That means that if you purchase your mobile data plan from Verizon Wireless and your cable TV plan from Fios, you can now use the Fios Mobile app to stream live channels and on-demand shows and not have it count against your monthly data cap. (It should be noted that Verizon Wireless and Fios are separate subsidiaries, but both are owned by Verizon Communications.) This builds on Verizon's previous decision to zero rate its Go90 mobile app for customers of its own wireless service, which net neutrality advocates see as prioritizing its own products to the detriment of those from competitors and upstarts. One notable exception here is for customers with unlimited mobile data plans. Streaming Fios Mobile content will in fact count toward the unlimited plans' 22GB a month cap, after which Verizon will cap speeds. This caveat is not made clear in Verizon's marketing language, and instead is found only in the App Store release notes.
Piracy

Filmmakers Take Dutch State To Court Over Lost Piracy Revenue (torrentfreak.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: A coalition of Dutch film and TV producers is following through on their threat to file a lawsuit against the local Government. The filmmakers hold the authorities responsible for the country's high piracy rates. They claim the government tolerated and even encouraged unauthorized downloading for years and want to see compensation as a result. Last year the Dutch Government denied these allegations, noting that the filmmakers could go after downloaders directly if they want to recoup their losses. However, they are not backing down. On Tuesday a group of film and TV show companies issued a summons announcing their legal action, NRC reports. Through the court they hope to hold the Government liable, and if that's the case, a separate damages procedure will likely follow.
PlayStation (Games)

PlayStation 4.5 Update Brings HDD Support, PS4 Pro 'Boost Mode' (theinquirer.net) 40

Sony has officially pushed out the PlayStation 4.5 System Update, codenamed "Susuke," which brings a new Boost Mode for PS4 Pro owners and lets PS4 owners download and install games directly to USB 3.0 hard drives up to 8TB in size. The INQUIRER reports: PS4 Pro owners are also being treated to a new Boost Mode, will offer improved performance for PS4 games released before the Pro console. "This feature has been designed to provide better performance for select legacy titles that have not been patched to take advantage of the PS4 Pro's faster CPU and its faster and double-sized GPU," Sony said in a blog post. "This can provide a noticeable frame rate boost to some games with variable frame rates, and can provide frame rate stability for games that are programmed to run at 30 Hz or 60 Hz." The PS 4.5 update brings an improved 2D mode to owners of Sony's PlayStation VR headset, which the firm claims will improve the resolution of the system screen displayed on your TV is significantly better when you're out of VR mode. The resolution of Cinematic Mode on PlayStation VR is also getting a boost, with Sony noting "if your PS VR screen size is set to Small or Medium, the frame rate of content viewed in Cinematic Mode goes up from 90Hz to 120Hz with this update." Other new features include added support for voice chat when using Remote Play on Windows, Mac or an Xperia device, an 'Off Console' icon that tells gamers when a friend is logged in but away from their device and updates to the PS Messages and PS Communities apps on iOS and Android.
Television

Amazon Says It's Open To Pushing Content Through Cable Boxes (bloomberg.com) 21

Amazon, the e-commerce giant that's shaking up the entertainment industry, says it's open to pursuing deals to stream content through cable operators' set-top boxes, much like Netflix has done in the U.S. and Europe. From a report on Bloomberg: "Amazon is definitely open to those partnerships and to be fair, we haven't done as much there as Netflix have done," Alex Green, managing director of Amazon Video, said Thursday at the Cable Congress conference in Brussels. So far, Amazon has been more focused on growing its customers and building its own devices, he said. But "we do talk to all sorts of players in the cable industry." Amazon, which won its first Academy Awards last month for movies "Manchester by the Sea," and "The Salesman," is challenging pay-TV providers and video-game developers as the Seattle-based company expands beyond its online retail roots with growing media ambitions. The rise of internet-based subscription services from the likes of Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Alphabet's YouTube, have stoked analyst predictions that consumers will increasingly ditch cable and kill traditional TV.
Businesses

Despite Netflix and Amazon Prime, Most of the World Watches Pirated Content (techinasia.com) 244

An anonymous reader shares a TechInAsia report: More than half of the people surveyed across the world still watch pirated movies and TV shows, a new survey shows. The study, conducted by digital security firm Irdeto, asked more than 25,000 adults across 30 countries about video watching trends. Here's what it found: 52 percent of those surveyed said they watch pirated videos. 48 said they would stop, or watch less illegal content after they were told about the damaging effects of piracy on the media industry. While many recognize that producing or sharing pirated video is illegal (70 percent), far fewer people are aware that streaming or downloading is also against the law (59 percent).
Crime

Federal Criminal Probe Being Opened Into WikiLeaks' Publication of CIA Documents (cnn.com) 236

A federal criminal investigation is being opened into WikiLeaks' publication of documents detailing alleged CIA hacking operations, CNN reports citing several U.S. officials. From the report: The officials said the FBI and CIA are coordinating reviews of the matter. The investigation is looking into how the documents came into WikiLeaks' possession and whether they might have been leaked by an employee or contractor. The CIA is also trying to determine if there are other unpublished documents WikiLeaks may have. The documents published so far are largely genuine, officials said, though they are not yet certain if all of them are and whether some of the documents may have been altered. One of the biggest concerns for the federal government is if WikiLeaks publishes critical computer code on how operations are conducted, other hackers could take that code and cause havoc overseas. Security expert Robert Graham, wrote on Tuesday: The CIA didn't remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There's no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. The CIA didn't defeat Signal/WhatsApp encryption. The CIA has some exploits for Android/iPhone. If they can get on your phone, then, of course they can record audio and screenshots. Technically, this bypasses/defeats encryption -- but such phrases used by Wikileaks are highly misleading, since nothing related to Signal/WhatsApp is happening. [...] This hurts the CIA a lot. Already, one AV researcher has told me that a virus they once suspected came from the Russians or Chinese can now be attributed to the CIA, as it matches the description perfectly to something in the leak. We can develop anti-virus and intrusion-detection signatures based on this information that will defeat much of what we read in these documents. This would put a multi-year delay in the CIA's development efforts. Plus, it'll now go on a witch-hunt looking for the leaker, which will erode morale.
Movies

For the First Time, More US Households Have Netflix Than a DVR (variety.com) 70

For the first time, U.S. households with the Netflix video-streaming service outnumber those that own a digital video recorder (DVR), a dramatic rise from just five years ago, according to new data. From a report: About 54% of U.S. adults said they have Netflix in their household -- while 53% have a DVR, according to Research Group's annual on-demand study. It's the first time that households with Netflix have surpassed the level of those with a DVR in the history of LRG's studies. In 2011, according to the research firm, 44% of TV households had a DVR and 28% had Netflix. Netflix has now eclipsed DVR usage despite the latter having a years-long head start. TiVo's first digital video recorder shipped in 1999, while Netflix debuted its video-streaming service in 2007 and started the shift away from its DVD-by-mail business. As of the end of 2016, Netflix had 49.4 million streaming subscribers in the U.S., up 10.5% year over year.
Piracy

Streaming Pirate Content Isn't Illegal, UK Trading Standards Says (torrentfreak.com) 70

Every day millions of people use PCs, tablets, phones and Kodi-style devices to stream pirated content, but is it illegal? According to Trading Standards, local UK authorities tasked with investigating commercial organizations, if users only stream and don't download, they're likely exempt from copyright law. An anonymous reader shares a TorrentFreak report: "Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws," the spokesperson added. This statement certainly carries some weight. Although in a different region of the UK, Trading Standards is the driving force behind the prosecution of Kodi box seller Brian Thompson who entered a not guilty plea in January. He'll face a trial in a couple of months but it now seems more clear than ever that his customers and millions like them around the country are not breaking the law, a position that's shared by the EU Commission.
Television

Streaming TV Sites Now Have More Subscribers Than Cable TV (axios.com) 47

Nielsen reported this week that millennials "spend about 27% less time watching traditional TV than viewers over the age of 35," possibly threatening the dominance of cable TV. An anonymous reader quotes Axios: Streaming service subscribers (free or paid) increased again (68% in 2016 vs. 63% in 2014) and have caught up with the percentage of paid TV service providers (67%) for the first time ever, according to the Consumer Technology Association's new study, The Changing Landscape for Video and Content. The rise of streaming services represents a shift in consumption habits towards cord-cutting, primarily amongst millennials.
Some other trends are impossible to ignore. 2016 also saw a saw dramatic drops in the use of physical disks -- from 41% in 2015 to just 28% -- as well as another big drop in the use of antennas, from 18% to just 10%.

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