Businesses

Netflix Could Start Buying Movie Theaters to Help Films Gain a Boost in Oscar Race, Report Says (indiewire.com) 47

Netflix has made a strong effort to land Oscar nominations since debuting its first original feature, "Beasts of No Nation," in 2015. The next step in the streaming giant's plan to secure film awards could be to buy and own movie theaters. IndieWire: A new report from the Los Angeles Times says Netflix is considering buying theaters in Los Angeles and New York in order to gain a boost during Oscar season. People familiar with the situation say the theaters would be used to give greater exposer to the feature and documentary titles Netflix is hoping to push into the awards race. According to the Times, Netflix executives originally considered purchasing the Los Angeles-based Landmark Theaters, which is co-owned by Mark Cuban. The theaters are well known for attracting awards voters by running first-run features, documentaries, and foreign films during Oscar season. Sources close to Netflix confirm the company has no current plans to buy Landmark properties. Landmark has three Los Angeles locations and 53 theaters overall in the U.S. Sources close to Netflix.
Movies

MPAA Silently Shut Down Its Legal Movies Search Engine (techdirt.com) 62

Back in 2015, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) released its own search engine to combat the argument that people pirate films because there are too few legal alternatives. According to TorrentFreak, the search engine, WhereToWatch.com, has since been quietly shut down by the movie industry group, stating that there are plenty of other search options available today. From the report: The MPAA pulled the plug on the service a few months ago. And where the mainstream media covered its launch in detail, the shutdown received zero mentions. So why did the site fold? According to MPAA Vice President of Corporate Communications, Chris Ortman, it was no longer needed as there are many similar search engines out there. "Given the many search options commercially available today, which can be found on the MPAA website, WheretoWatch.com was discontinued at the conclusion of 2017," Ortman informs TF. "There are more than 140 lawful online platforms in the United States for accessing film and television content, and more than 460 around the world," he adds. "That is all absolutely true today, though it was also true three years ago when the site was launched," adds Techdirt. "The simple fact of the matter is that the site did little to serve any real public customer base. Yes, legal alternatives to piracy exist. Everyone knows that, just as they know that there are far too many hoops and restrictions around which to jump that have nothing to do with price. The MPAA and its client organizations have long asserted strict control over their product to the contrary of public demand. That is, and has always been, the problem. On top of all that, the MPAA showed its no better at promoting its site than it was at promoting the legal alternatives to pirating movies."
Movies

Netflix Licensed Content Generates 80% of US Viewing, Study Finds (variety.com) 107

Netflix is spending a pretty penny on original entertainment -- but while that stuff grabs most of the headlines, it's actually licensed titles like TV show reruns that still form the core of the company's streaming business. From a report: That's according to a data analysis from 7Park Data, which found that 80% of Netflix U.S. viewing is from licensed content with 20% from original shows like "House of Cards" or "Stranger Things." The firm also found that 42% of Netflix subscribers watch mostly licensed content (95% or more of their total streaming). Just 18% of Netflix's U.S. streaming customers are "originals dominant," whose viewing comprises 40%-100% of originals, according to 7Park. The data is for the 12-month period that ended September 2017.
Businesses

Netflix CEO: Why Even $8 Billion Investment in Content Isn't Enough (axios.com) 93

Netflix expects to spend about $8 billion on content this year. For Hollywood studios, that's a reasonable figure. But for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it's not enough. From a report: The company is competing against a range of traditional entertainment companies around the globe, and of course, against the need to work, sleep and do other things. Speaking at TED in Vancouver, Hastings noted that $8 billion is about what Disney spends. "That's spread globally," he said. "It's not as much as it sounds." Hastings noted that House of Cards wasn't really the company's first effort at original content. It had tried back in the days when it was still mailing out DVDs. "It didn't work out because we were sub-scale," he said.
Businesses

Comcast Is Bundling Netflix Into Cable Packages (techcrunch.com) 45

The latest option in Comcast's Xfinity cable bundle is Netflix. The two companies announced an expansion of their partnership today, which was first established in 2016 when Comcast added Netflix to its X1 interface. TechCrunch reports: The companies said they will expand that existing relationship by bundling Netflix into the overall subscription in new and existing Xfinity packages. Netflix's subscriber growth -- the primary driver of its value as a public company -- continues to surge, and it appears that this could be another piece in its tool kit to keep that engine humming. Those cable packages already include an increasing breakout of diverse services that allow for streaming outside of the over-the-top experience, like HBO Go and ESPN, and this offers another streaming service on-the-go for users. By tethering to additional over-the-top services, Netflix has a chance to woo subscribers that might otherwise just stick with their existing service providers and bake itself directly into that experience. The bundle, which will be available to new and existing Xfinity customers, will be included in its cable TV, phone and internet plans. More information about XFINITY service available in this XFINITY review.
Classic Games (Games)

Guinness Strips Billy 'King of Kong' Mitchell's World Records (engadget.com) 58

In February, legendary arcade gamer Billy Mitchell was accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he was stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums. Today, Kotaku reports that "Guinness World Records will remove Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong scores, as well as his records for Pac-Man, from their database following Mitchell's disqualification from the Twin Galaxies leaderboards yesterday." From the report: Mitchell is one of the world's most famous arcade game players, at one time holding world records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, and Pac-Man. Yesterday, all of Mitchell's records were removed from the leaderboards at Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game records and high scores. The decision came after a lengthy arbitration process determined that Mitchell used the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) to achieve some record scores that had been said to be performed on arcade machines, a violation of Twin Galaxies' rules. In light of this, Guinness World Records will also remove his records.

"The Guinness World Records titles relating to Mr. Mitchell's highest scores on Donkey Kong have all been disqualified due to Twin Galaxies being our source of verification for these achievements," a representative of Guinness told Kotaku via email. Mitchell did not return request for comment. Guinness continued, "We also recognize records for First perfect score on Pac-Man and Highest score on Pac-Man. Twin Galaxies was the original source of verification for these record titles and in line with their decision to remove all of Mr. Mitchell's records from their system, we have disqualified Mr. Mitchell as the holder of these two records. Guinness World Records will look to update and find the appropriate holder of these records in the next few days."

Piracy

Telegram is Riddled With Tens of Thousands of Piracy Channels; Apple and Google Have Ignored Requests From Creators To Take Action (theoutline.com) 49

joshtops writes: Instant messaging platform Telegram, which is used by more than 200 million users, has had an open secret since its inception: The platform has served as a haven for online pirates. The Outline reports that the platform is riddled with thousands of groups and channels, many with more than 100,000 members, whose sole purpose of existence is to share illegally copied movies, music albums, apps, and other content. The files are stored directly to Telegram's servers, allowing users to download movies, songs, and other content with one click. Channel admins told The Outline that they have not come across any resistance from Telegram despite the company, along with Apple and Google, maintaining a 'zero tolerance' stance on copyright infringement. This permissiveness on Telegram's part has led to the proliferation of a cottage industry of piracy marketplaces on the service.

[...] The Outline also discovered several groups and channels on Telegram in which stolen credentials -- i.e., the username and password for a website -- from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, CBS, EA Sports, Lynda, Sling, WWE Network, Mega, India's Hotstar, and dozens of other services were being offered to tens of thousands of members each day. The Outline sourced nearly three-dozen free credentials from six Telegram channels, all of which worked as advertised.
The report says that content creators have reached out to Apple, requesting the iPhone-maker to intervene, but the company has largely ignored the issue.

In an unrelated development, a Moscow court cleared the way on Friday for the local government to ban Telegram, the messaging app, over its failure to give Russian security services the ability to read users' encrypted messages.
Music

'High Definition Vinyl' Is Coming As Early As Next Year (pitchfork.com) 329

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Pitchfork: In 2016, a European patent filing described a way of manufacturing records that the inventors claimed would have higher audio fidelity, louder volume, and longer playing times than conventional LPs. Now, the Austrian-based startup Rebeat Innovation has received $4.8 million in funding for the initiative, founder and CEO Gunter Loibl told Pitchfork. Thanks to the investment, the first "HD vinyl" albums could hit stores as early as 2019, Loibl said. The HD vinyl process involves converting audio digitally to a 3D topographic map. Lasers are then used to inscribe the map onto the "stamper," the part that stamps the grooves into the vinyl. According to Loibl, these methods allow for records to be made more precisely and with less loss of audio information. The results, he said, are vinyl LPs that can have up to 30 percent more playing time, 30 percent more amplitude, and overall more faithful sound reproduction. The technique would also avoid the chemicals that play a role in traditional vinyl manufacturing. Plus, the new-school HD vinyl LPs would still play on ordinary record players.
Businesses

Netflix Pulls Out of Cannes Following Rule Change (variety.com) 183

Netflix and Cannes are breaking up, at least for now. On Wednesday, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said that the streaming platform won't be sending any films to the prestigious French festival, formally severing the strained relationship between the two power players. The decision was a long time coming, after Cannes established a rule that forbade films without a theatrical distribution plan from its competition. From, a report: In an exclusive interview with Variety, Netflix's chief content officer says that the festival sent a clear message with a new rule that bans any films without theatrical distribution in France from playing in competition. Netflix could screen some of its upcoming movies out of competition, but Sarandos says that doesn't make sense for the streaming service. "We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker," Sarandos says. "There's a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They've set the tone. I don't think it would be good for us to be there."

Netflix made a big splash at the prestigious film festival last year with two movies that showed in competition: Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories." But after the 2017 announcement, French theaters owners and unions protested the inclusion of these films to Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes. Netflix was amenable to having their movies play on big screens in France, but a law in the country requires movies to not appear in home platforms for 36 months after their theatrical release.

Sci-Fi

Apple Is Developing a TV Show Based On Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series (deadline.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Deadline: In a competitive situation, Apple has nabbed a TV series adaptation of Foundation, the seminal Isaac Asimov science fiction novel trilogy. The project, from Skydance Television, has been put in development for straight-to-series consideration. Deadline revealed last June that Skydance had made a deal with the Asimov estate and that David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman were cracking the code on a sprawling series based on the books that informed Star Wars and many other sci-fi films and TV series. Goyer and Friedman will be executive producers and showrunners. Skydance's David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross also will executive produce.

Originally published as a short story series in Astounding Magazine in 1942, Asimov's Foundation is the complex saga of humans scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, all living under the rule of the Galactic Empire. The protagonist is a psycho-historian who has an ability to read the future and foresees the empire's imminent collapse. He sets out to save the knowledge of mankind from being wiped out. Even the Game of Thrones' creative team would marvel at the number of empires that rise and fall in Foundation. Asimov's trilogy has been tried numerous times as a feature film at Fox, Warner Bros (with Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, who greenlit The Lord of the Rings), and then at Sony with Independence Day director Roland Emmerich. Many top sci-fi writers have done scripts and found it daunting to constrict the sprawling saga to a feature film format. Most recently, HBO tried developing a series with Interstellar co-writer and Westworld exec producer Jonathan Nolan, but a script was never ordered.

Businesses

Spotify Is Planning a New Version of Its Free Music Service (bloomberg.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: Spotify Technology is developing a new version of its free music service, the first big product change since the streaming company went public last week, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is tweaking the free service to make it easier to use, especially for customers on mobile phones, said the people. An announcement is expected within a couple weeks. Spotify needs to attract large numbers of new listeners to satisfy investors who value the newly public company based on user growth. The free service generates customers that the company can steer into its paid offerings. The paid version accounts for less than half of Spotify's customer base, but generated about 90 percent of its 4.09 billion euros in 2017 revenue. [...] With the updated service, free mobile listeners will be able to access playlists more quickly and have more control over what songs they hear on top playlists, mimicking Spotify's ad-free subscription product. The basic package is $9.99 a month.
Privacy

Steam Spy Announces It's Shutting Down, Blames Valve's New Privacy Settings 97

Steam Spy, the world's most comprehensive game ownership and play estimator available to the public, announced that it "won't be able to operate anymore" thanks to recent changes to Valve's privacy policy. "Valve just made a change to their privacy settings, making games owned by Steam users hidden by default," the site's operators announced on its official Twitter account. "Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default." The creator of the website, Sergey Galyonkin, suggested that the site will only remain as an "archive" from here on out. Ars Technica reports: Indeed, Steam's new private-by-default setting is the kind of proactive, data-protective move that sites like Facebook have faced repeated scrutiny about over the past decade. However, as of press time, we could not confirm exactly how these updated settings will work, thanks to the service's "edit privacy settings" page currently appearing blank. (This can be found in the Steam interface by selecting the word "profile" under the menu that appears when mousing over your username.)

Valve pointed out that Steam will also receive a long, long, long-awaited "invisible" function for Steam's online-status toggle, which will allow players to actively communicate with Steam friends while hiding from the general public, and that it will also specifically let players hide both game ownership and gameplay time counts from friends. The company explained that Tuesday's changes came "directly from user feedback," which Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin questioned via his site's Twitter feed: "They said it was by users feedback which makes me as a person born in the Soviet Union very suspicious :)" After Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney applauded Valve's privacy-minded policy change, Galyonkin responded with his own opinion on why so much data was open on Steam in the first place: "This was always a compromise between being able to play with other people and privacy," he wrote in response. "It seems they moved towards privacy now."
AI

Elon Musk Is Paying For Free Streaming of a New Documentary about AI Dangers (syfy.com) 185

An anonymous reader quotes Syfy.com: There's a new documentary warning about the perils of artificial intelligence out there, and Elon Musk wants you to see it. So much so that he's making it available to stream for free this weekend. The documentary -- Do You Trust This Computer? -- explores the rise of machine intelligence and its possible consequences... Check out the trailer, and then proceed to be creeped way the hell out.... "It's a subject that I feel we should be paying close attention to," said Musk in a news release. "I think it's important that a lot people see this movie, so I'm paying for it to be seen to the world for free this weekend."
Musk attended the premier of the film with the creator of HBO's Westworld, and tweeted Saturday that the video had 5 million views in just 36 hours.

Musk himself is interviewed in the film, warning of the dire possibility of "an immortal dictator from which we can never escape."
Anime

Animation Legend Isao Takahata, Co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Dies at 82 (nbcnews.com) 27

Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animator Studio Ghibli, which stuck to a hand-drawn "manga" look in the face of digital filmmaking, has died. He was 82. From a report: Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan's Disney. He directed "Grave of the Fireflies," a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio's films, including Miyazaki's 1984 "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," which tells the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess. Takahata died Thursday of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, the studio said in a statement Friday.

He was fully aware of how the floating sumie-brush sketches of faint pastel in his works stood as a stylistic challenge to Hollywood's computer-graphics cartoons. In a 2015 interview with The Associated Press, Takahata talked about how Edo-era woodblock-print artists like Hokusai had the understanding of Western-style perspective and the use of light, but they purposely chose to depict reality with lines, and in a flat way, with minimal shading.
"Pom Poko", a movie released in 1994, is often considered the best work of Takahata. The New York Times described it as, "a comic allegory about battling packs of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) joining forces to fight human real estate developers. It's earthy and rollicking in a way that his co-founder's films aren't." In an interview with Wired in 2015, when Takahata was asked what he felt about people regarding him as the heart of Studio Ghibli. "Now you've both finished your final films, what are your feelings on Ghibli's legacy and reputation?, the interviewer asked. Takahata said, "I'm not sure I can respond in any meaningful way. What Hayao Miyazaki has built up is the greatest contribution. The existence of that thick trunk has allowed leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom to become the fruitful tree that is Studio Ghibli."

Further reading: Isao Takahata's stark world of reality (The Japan Times).
Movies

Stan Lee's Stolen Blood Was Used To Sign Marvel Comic Books (tmz.com) 134

ISoldat53 writes: Someone stole a sample of Stan Lee's blood and stamped comic books with it to increase their value. TMZ reports: "We've learned several 'Black Panther' comic books are currently available at the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. store on the Las Vegas Strip. Each edition comes with a certificate of authentication that details the item as a 'Hand-Stamped Signature of STAN LEE using Stan Lee's Solvent DNA Ink.' Stan's friend and partner Keya Morgan discovered the 95-year-old's blood was allegedly stolen back in October after a former business associate presented Lee's nurse with fake docs that authorized that a sample be drawn. Our sources say the nurse pulled enough blood from Stan for him to feel lightheaded and dizzy. We're told the 'Black Panther' comic with Stan's Hancock in blue is selling for $250. The one in gold is twice that at $500. Stan's legal team is currently weighing its options to go after the former business associate who allegedly lifted Lee's blood." Evan Michailidis, a legal rep for the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. tells TMZ, "We're a retail store which purchased product from Hands of Respect LLC and DLK Brand Consulting LLC that appeared certified and obtained with authorization. The books were removed from our shelves immediately."
Movies

The 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" 206

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the original release of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," a seminal film in motion picture history and one that has awed millions over the years. Kubrick's title has often been credited with paving the way for science-fiction films that took a realistic approach to depicting the future. Even as "2001" has grown to become one of the most iconic movies of all time, the reception it received when it originally premiered wasn't good. An excerpt: The film's previews were an unmitigated disaster. Its story line encompassed an exceptional temporal sweep, starting with the initial contact between pre-human ape-men and an omnipotent alien civilization and then vaulting forward to later encounters between Homo sapiens and the elusive aliens, represented throughout by the film's iconic metallic-black monolith. Although featuring visual effects of unprecedented realism and power, Kubrick's panoramic journey into space and time made few concessions to viewer understanding. The film was essentially a nonverbal experience. Its first words came only a good half-hour in.

Audience walkouts numbered well over 200 at the New York premiere on April 3, 1968, and the next day's reviews were almost uniformly negative. Writing in the Village Voice, Andrew Sarris called the movie "a thoroughly uninteresting failure and the most damning demonstration yet of Stanley Kubrick's inability to tell a story coherently and with a consistent point of view." And yet that afternoon, a long line -- comprised predominantly of younger people -- extended down Broadway, awaiting the first matinee.
The Cannes Film Festival will celebrate the 50th anniversary of "2001: A Space Odyssey" with the world premiere of an unrestored 70mm print, introduced by Christopher Nolan. The event is set for May 12 as part of the Cannes Classics program. The screening will also be attended by members of Kubrick's family, including his daughter Katharina Kubrick and his longtime producing partner and brother-in-law Jan Harlan.

Further reading: Why 2001: A Space Odyssey's mystery endures, 50 years on (CNET); 50 years of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- how Kubrick's sci-fi 'changed the very form of cinema' (The Guardian); The story of a voice: HAL in '2001' wasn't always so eerily calm (The New York Times); and The most intriguing theories about "2001: A Space Odyssey" (io9); and Behind the scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the strangest blockbuster in Hollywood history (Vanity Fair).
Software

Valve Removes Steam Machines From Its Home Page (extremetech.com) 164

Steam Machines were supposed to take PC gaming mainstream by simplifying setup and moving the games in your living room, but they never took off. Today, ExtremeTech reports that Valve has removed Steam Machine listings from the Steam front page due to poor sales. From the report: You can still access what remains of the Steam Machine landing site via a direct link -- not that you'll see much when you get there. It lists only five devices, one of which is no longer available on the manufacturer's site. Several of the remaining systems are arguably not even Steam Machines as Valve envisioned -- they run Windows 10 instead of SteamOS. The final nail in the coffin for Steam Machines may have come from Valve itself. In late 2015, it released the Steam Link. It's a small box that you plug into a TV, allowing you to stream a game from your PC in real time. The original price was just $50, and Valve is basically giving them away right now. Valve is still developing SteamOS, but I don't expect that to go on much longer.
It's funny.  Laugh.

April Fool's Day Roundup 95

It might be a holiday for most of us today, but for tech companies, April Fool's is the day when they work overtime to send weird press releases. So far we have seen Google Maps help users find Waldo, and Google Australia rethink its brand name (to Googz). T-Mobile has revivedthe Sidekick as the world's first smart shoe phone. Google has also added a feature to its file manager app Files Go that detects bad jokes from your phone. Snapchat has finally found a way to make fun of Facebook. Languages learning app Duolingo has launched a range of craft beers. Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus has launched a cryptocurrency. Some more here. What's your favorite prank so far today?
Businesses

Amazon's Music Storage Service Will Remove MP3 Files on April 30 (theverge.com) 64

Amazon announced last year that it intends to shut down its dedicated cloud music locker. Now, the company has elaborated on its thinking. From a report: In an email to Amazon Music users, the company says uploaded songs will be removed from a user's library on April 30th, 2018. You can however keep any music in the cloud by proactively going to your Music Settings and clicking the "Keep my songs" button. Back in December, Amazon stopped letting users upload new tracks to Music Storage, which holds up to 250 songs for free. The company said at the time that by January 2019, users wouldn't be able to download or stream tracks they've uploaded to Music Storage, so it sounds like you'll still have many months between April and next January to get your music downloaded and onto a different storage platform or hard drive.
Software

VR Researchers Manipulate Human Visual System To Create An Infinite Corridor In a Fixed Space (roadtovr.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Road to VR: This video showcases a new redirected walking implementation project that creates an "unlimited" virtual corridor in a space just 5 x 7 meters in size. Redirected walking (RDW) is a technique which aims to maximize the physical space of a virtual reality play space by tricking your senses. Or, "strongly modifying spatial perception" so that your mind believes, for example, that you're body is traveling in a straight line where in reality, it's traversing a carefully calculated curved course to keep that play space small. At SIGGRAPH last week, a project developed in part by Unity Product Evangelist and Education Lead Yohei Yanase at the University of Tokyo was present, featuring a new "Visuo-Haptic" VR experience which claims to create the illusion via an infinite virtual corridor within an actual physical play space of just 5 x 7 meters in size.

"It works by strongly modifying spatial perception, all while avoiding the typical "reorientation" manipulation methods that most often cause VR motion sickness," states a press release, "And it's designed to let multiple people experience it simultaneously, without risk of bumping into each other. Modern techniques like this could represent the next phase in VR navigation, merging virtual with physical environments to extend the comfort of VR sessions and extensibility of virtual environments."

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