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YouTube Tries to Lock Up Top Creators, Offers Incentives for Exclusive Content Amidst Heavy Competition

posted Sunday Dec 14, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube Tries to Lock Up Top Creators, Offers Incentives for Exclusive Content Amidst Heavy Competition

YouTube has been having some stiff competition lately. Between up-and-comers like Vessel and Hitbox, Amazon picking up Twitch for just under $1 billion and Vimeo locking in some content deals, YouTube has merely been able to ride out the storm. That's been the case for a while, with many YouTube stars leaving the site for greener pastures, in both viewers and money. Now, the video-streaming site is fighting back with Google's really big wallet.

In a move that should've happened a few months ago, Google is targeting its biggest and most popular content creators, in hopes that with enough cash, the talent will stay on the platform. Specifics of the deals differ from person to person, but in General, YouTube has been asking each channel to post exclusively to YouTube for a period of time before putting the video on other sites. Some top channels have even been offered cash incentives to create additional content for YouTube only.

Oddly enough, YouTube seems to be most concerned with Vessel, a video start-up that hasn't launched yet but is backed by former Hulu CEO Jasaon Kilar. Vessel has been one of the more active companies gunning for the giant's top tier talent. Vessel currently has $75 million in venture capital and should be finalizing its program lineup before the year it out.

One YouTuber who has requested to remain anonymous has said that, "I would like to remain on YouTube. But some of the competing offers are incredibly attractive."

CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojciki, recently spoke at a Recode event and openly admitted to incentives being offered to popular channels but declined to provide details. All of the conversation, however, was surrounded by the idea that YouTube would launch a paid subscription. With Vimeo already offering that and Vessel getting ready to launch, a YouTube spokesperson added to that point by saying that the company has been supporting its content creators from the beginning, and it has ""been increasing that support through a broad range of activities including marketing and content funding."

It's hard to say what will happen at this point, but with as much competition that's been circling the YouTube ship for a while, this was bound to happen sooner or later. If enough offers are thrown around and enough talent leaves, YouTube may lose its top spot as the go-to place for video in the very near future.

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FTC Finalizes Settlement with Google to Refund $19 Million in Unauthorized In-App Charges

posted Sunday Dec 14, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

FTC Finalizes Settlement with Google to Refund $19 Million in Unauthorized In-App Charges

Much like the lawsuit earlier this year with Apple having to refund purchases made by children, Google is now under fire for the same thing. The FTC has finally settled with Google over the identical matter, and Google will be contacting customers starting next week in order to discuss potential refunds of in-app purchases.

The FTC proposal in September has assigned Google to hand out at least $19 million in refunds to customers who, essentially, were allowing their children to make purchases on their devices without securing their credit card information. It should also be noted that many apps did not require a PIN or password prior to making an in-app purchase. Because of this, the FTC has decided that, like Apple, Google will be responsible for the total cost of any purchases made without parental authorization.

As per the settlement, Google does not have a cap on the final amount it will have to pay out, but it will have to be at least $19 million. If somehow Google refunds less than that, the balance will have to be sent to the FTC instead. The ruling also placed a limit on the age of the claim, with in-app purchases having to be made in 2011 or later. Customers will have a one-year windows to request a refund from the time Google sends them information on how to proceed.

It is also interesting to note that there were a total of 16 public comments made on the proposed settlement between the FTC and Google. They are definitely worth reading in order to provide some perspective on the case as a whole. In one of the cases, a parent set up a restricted access account for her child, yet she was still able to make purchases within a game without authorization.

In the end, it looks like Google will escape for about $12 million less than Apple did, at least at the minimum. Does this ruling affect you? Will you be making a claim to Google for some unauthorized charges? Let us know in the comments below.

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More News on Verizon's 3G Network Retirement Plans

posted Sunday Dec 14, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

More News on Verizon's 3G Network Retirement Plans

Last week, a New York native noticed a sudden drop in 3G service on his Verizon phone and, upon further researched, discovered that Verizon was testing out retiring its 3G network. While no official timeline was announced, the tests opened up a bunch of speculation. This week, Verizon has announced it has selected 10 test markets where the company will be retiring the 3G network in favor of LTE.

The tests have already begun in Manhattan and Cleveland. When pressed, VP of network operations Mike Haberman would not give out the exact cities, but did mention that the rollout to LTE will happen on PCS bands once used for Verizon's EV-DO services. Unlike in the not-so-public testing accidentally found by a resident in NYC, the exec admitted that this type of testing will be expanding to other locations as well.

Virtually all our devices now are 4G LTE. We do sell a lot of phones and people tend to upgrade their phones fairly often. If you see Apple's complete lineup, it's all 4G.

Along with these tests we'll see Verizon also testing carrier aggregation, which is the ability to combine the eventual three LTE networks' transmissions. Devices will need to be created to support the technology, but Haberman said we should expect to see those in the next year. AT&T has already implemented carrier aggregation in major cities.

Haberman also said that Verizon will be supporting EV-DO up to December 31st, 2019 at the earliest. That would probably be due to the sheer amount of flip-phones that are seen at family gatherings, as we mentioned last week on the show. That simple observation plays into the fact that lots of people still use 3G, however 80 percent of Verizon's data is running on LTE.

So while this isn't a ground-breaking announcement, it is definitely interesting to follow this story as it develops. Moving forward with wireless technology at such a rapid pace is a bold and aggressive move, but one that could really push the envelope, so long as users are able to upgrade and make the transition easily.

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Google's First Service Shut Down Because of Google Tax

posted Saturday Dec 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Google's First Service Shut Down Because of Google Tax

Between trying to break up the company, and punishing their profits, Google has had a rough time in Europe, but thus far they have managed to maintain all of their services. The consistent European onslaught of Google has officially claimed its first victim, however.

Spain has implemented a new law that requires that anyone who republishes news content, including the quick blurb in a search result, is required to pay for that right. Now, I will tell you that a lot of our readership is driven by news aggregators and search, including Bing and Google. The fact that a short bit of the article is provided in the result only encourages people to come to the site and read the rest. Spanish publications do not agree, and so explains the law.

As a result of the new law, Google will shut down its Google News service in Spain. Google said in a blog post responding to the law and explaining their position,

Sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we'll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it's with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we'll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Spain's law is not the first of its type, though it is the first of its depth. In Germany, publishers are entitled to up to 11 percent of revenue generated from Google News, which as you just read does not generate any revenue. Even if publishers could prove revenue, they are required to collect on it themselves without any interaction from the government. That is not the case for Spain. In the event the law is violated, including the republisher failing to pay the required licensing fees, a penalty of more than $750,000 can be levied from the government.

It will be interesting to see how widely this law is applied and enforced. Facebook provides services similar to that of Google News. For example, on the right side of your feed is a trending section. When clicking a topic, you get a snippet of the article in question. In fact, as you scroll down, you can get a snippet from many articles relating to the topic. This would technically violate the new Spanish law, but my expectation is it will not be prosecuted.

The law was intended specifically to punish Google for not making any money by driving readers to publishers who do make money from said readers. While that makes absolutely no sense, that has not yet been a requirement for passing Google-related laws in Europe. Because of that, I suspect that Facebook will be safe, at least until they become the next target of the European Union.

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FCC Increases Minimum Requirements for Broadband, AT&T and Verizon Protest

posted Saturday Dec 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FCC Increases Minimum Requirements for Broadband, AT&T and Verizon Protest

One of the many government programs that you pay for is the "Connect America Fund." This fund is paid for with some of those added fees on your phone bill. The fund has the intent of bringing subsidized Internet access to disconnected families, particularly in rural areas.

Today, the program guarantees that networks maintained with subsidized funds must offer speeds of at least 4Mbps. While this speed does fall within the FCC's definition of broadband, the commission believes that it does not provide enough speed for modern Internet usage. Accordingly, they are increasing the required speeds,

The FCC will now require companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband to serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds in 2011.

That is quite an increase, theoretically. An increase of 150% in download speeds would be enough to excite any customer, but the destination speed is not exactly impressive. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said,

When 60 percent of the Internet's traffic at prime time is video, and it takes 4 or 5Mbps to deliver video, a 4Mbps connection isn't exactly what's necessary in the 21st century.

That comment is interestingly accurate. In scanning the plans offered by our local cable provider, I see that 15Mbps is the slowest plan they offer. However, our service exists within a densely populated area, which has a lot of potential customers. With customers comes revenue, and with revenue comes viable upgrades. In the rural areas, most of the revenue is coming from the Connect America Fund, which will, obviously, limit the capabilities of said service.

In forcing this upgrade without providing additional funds to make it possible, the FCC could possibly be hurting the residents of these rural areas. AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have all argued that the forced upgrade is a bad idea, and that 4Mbps is a usable speed, even in modern times. Sure, you might not get Netflix at full HD, but considering you're living in a sparsely populated area, the fact that you're not forced to use dial-up anymore should be a win.

If the revenue brought into these companies is not enough to justify the cost of the upgrades, it would be a better business move for the providers to shut down operations rather than upgrade. That would force customers in these rural areas to have to switch back to dial-up, certainly guaranteeing that they would not be able to watch any streaming video, a major point of Wheeler's intents here.

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What to Expect at Microsoft's January Windows 10 Event

posted Friday Dec 12, 2014 by Scott Ertz

What to Expect at Microsoft's January Windows 10 Event

We have all known that an event was impending for the next phase of Windows 10 announcements. Microsoft had said as much recently, knowing that a technical preview build for the operating system should hit in January. This week, Microsoft sent out press invites for that event, which will take place in person and online January 21, 2015.

While that is not a huge surprise, what is a little surprising, or at least exciting, is who will be in attendance. Those people indicate a lot of what we will get to see in action on-stage.

Main System

CEO Satya Nadella, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, Terry Myerson and Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore will all be speaking, meaning, of course, that we will see Windows 10 in its main glory a lot. Between desktop, laptop, tablet and convertible, the main usage of the operating system, the PC, will be a big focus for the company.

Microsoft has said that, while the last showing of Windows 10 was based a lot on the enterprise, this one will be based on consumers. This means we will likely see consumer-based apps shown off, like Xbox Music or Hulu, assuming refreshes are in store (hopefully Hulu has a refresh in store, as their app currently doesn't work well on Windows 10).

We will likely see an expansion on some of the existing features, some of which were shown off at the enterprise event. For example, hopefully Microsoft will explain the idea behind including the multiple desktop idea, which for some is a confusing feature to build in, as opposed to allowing 3rd party platforms to offer it. I am hopeful that Microsoft will show off more of the notification system, including the Windows Phone inspired system tray.

Cortana

We are also likely to see the Windows 10 addition of Cortana, Microsoft's uber-useful digital assistant. Anyone who has used the technical preview will know the search button on the task bar, next to the Start button. It currently launches a very Windows Phone 8-style Bing search box, but anyone who has used windows Phone 8.1 knows what power that button can truly wield, in the form of Cortana. Considering that a recent private build of Windows 10 included a testing version of Cortana, it is likely the goal is to show her off at the event.

Being as Cortana has become one of the most important and well-loved features of the Windows Phone ecosystem, her arrival on the desktop, laptop and tablet platform is an exciting move. Personally, I do not interact with the calendar, alarms, navigation or search on my phone directly anymore, opting instead for the ease of use of Cortana and her natural language processing prowess.

Hardware

We are also likely to see some of the more hardware-centric features in action. The most important of these hardware related features is Windows 10 Continuum. Currently in the technical preview, depending on the hardware you install on, your experiences will be different, with no quick way to switch between them. If you install on a touch-first device, such as a Surface Pro 3, you will notice the interface is similar to that of Windows 8. If you install on a mouse & keyboard device, it will appear more like Windows 7.

Continuum allows the operating system to change itself based on your current hardware configuration. So, if you're using a Lenovo Yoga in laptop mode, it will live in the desktop realm. As soon as you bend it around into tablet mode, which is a touch-first environment, the OS will automatically switch into the more touch friendly Windows 8 style. Ideally this will also be configurable, allowing people to override these default settings to maintain either interface for all occasions.

Gaming

In addition to the aforementioned executives, there will also be a presentation from Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft's Xbox division and Microsoft Studios. One of the important things about Windows 10 is the fact that with it, Microsoft is converging platforms, theoretically leaving only one modern platform to rule them all, including the Xbox One.

With that, it is likely that Spencer will be there to show off some of that convergence. It is likely that an Xbox One running a Windows 10-based dashboard will be displayed, even if the dashboard is running on development hardware (not in the well-known black body). Hopefully Spencer will at least talk about the development capabilities of the platform, outside of the major players. I have wanted the ability to build an Xbox app for PLuGHiTz Live since Hulu and Netflix first appeared on the 360.

In addition to development features, hopefully Cortana will make an appearance on her original platform, the Xbox. Adding the power of Cortana and her natural language processing to the already useful Kinect-powered voice controls, the Xbox One could become the most useful livingroom PC ever.

In addition to the Xbox hardware, Microsoft is believed to discuss the future of gaming on the Windows platform, something that has been in flux for some time. Last year, they shuttered the PC Xbox Live companion, Games for Windows Live, instead focusing on Windows 8 as a platform. This year they reaffirmed their gaming commitment, which was reiterated with the purchase of the Minecraft studio. Unfortunately, for all of the talk, nothing major had been done to prove this commitment, until this week's release of Minecraft for Windows Phone.

If the Xbox One will be running on Windows 10, it is possible that Xbox-related content could be coming to the PC, potentially wrapped in the Xbox brand. Is it probable? Not very. Is it possible? Yes. Would it be awesome? Absolutely.

Windows Phone

Another platform being brought in under the Windows 10 umbrella will be Windows Phone. Until now we have only heard talk, similar to the Xbox One, with no real evidence of what Windows 10 for phones might look like. There are rumored to be some Microsoft team devices currently running early development builds in the wild, spotted at Microsoft events. There are even rumors that some of the new features have even been spotted in an offhanded glance kind of a way.

One in particular is a feature that was part of the McLaren prototype phone, which was scrapped by Microsoft a few months ago. The device was testing a new 3D gesture system, which brought back yet another Zune feature - MixView. On the prototype, hovering over a live tile would bring up smaller tiles with context-related content. It is said that this feature has found its way into Windows 10 for phone, in a less gesture-based way. It is possible, if this feature is close enough to being shown off, we could see it on stage.

Embedded

In the image above from a previous Windows 10 event, Microsoft showed off all of the places where Windows 10 would live. There are 2 places in the image that have been sorely neglected - the 2 embedded platforms. A large screen television with Microsoft branding and the Intel Galileo board sitting in the bottom-left corner. From previous development events, Microsoft has let us know some of their plans for the embedded world, with Windows on Devices, but we have yet to see it actually running on and controlling one of these machines.

While not likely, it is possible that Microsoft could show off a smart television running on Windows on Devices, or some other variant of Windows 10. Again, we could see Cortana make an appearance, built directly into a television. Voice controls are not new to smart televisions, Samsung has had a number of models with this feature, but none of them have had anything as powerful as Cortana powering them. It would also give developers another reason to build apps for Windows 10, which should make some loud people in the tech world happy.

Conclusion

Lots of conjecture and lots of hoping, but not a lot of time to wait. We will know in just over a month exactly what Microsoft will be ready to show off, nearly 6 month before the expected release of Windows 10. What features are you most excited to see in action? What rumors do you hope to be true? Let us know in the comments section.

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