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SiriusXM Considering Purchase of Pandora [Report]

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

SiriusXM Considering Purchase of Pandora [Report]

Chances are, as smartphones were making their impact in the consumer marketplace, Pandora was the product that introduced you to the idea of music streaming. Their business model in the beginning was popular with music fans: unlimited free music with only occasional commercial breaks. The music worked similar to how a radio stations work, but on a much more personal level. If you dislike a song, you aren't forced to listen to it every hour.

Similarly, Sirius and XM Radio, now a single company, had a unique business model. For a small monthly fee you received a large selection of unique radio stations that were always available no matter where you went (so long as you could see the sky). This was popular with travelers and homebodies alike. You could get a large variety of music without commercials, as well as talk from Oprah, Howard Stern and more.

Over the past few years, both business models have had their troubles. Pandora has tried to reinvent itself several times, with little to no success. Because of that, sources have come forward to say that SiriusXM is currently in talks to acquire Pandora, which would add a more diverse streaming structure to SiriusXM's existing online platform.

Pandora has been in search of a buyer for a little while, and rumors suggest that they are looking to close a deal within the next 3 weeks. If that is the case, SiriusXM's bid could potentially be successful. The real question, of course, is whether or not the merger will be a success. Two companies that have both failed to retain their market leads merging can work, but more often it simply compounds the issues.

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WhatsApp Costs Facebook Additional Fines in Europe

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

WhatsApp Costs Facebook Additional Fines in Europe

When Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014, a number of countries had a lot of questions. One of the hardest groups on the merger was the European Union, who is always weary of large tech mergers. Based on the answers to the questions, the EU approved the merger.

One of the most important questions that was asked was whether Facebook would be able to or interested in matching WhatsApp and Facebook account information to create a super-profile of user activity. Facebook made it clear that they were not interested in matching user info for activity tracking or any other purpose. The internet, however, knew that could never be true.

In 2016, Facebook and WhatsApp changed their privacy policy, allowing the two to share information for the purposes of user matching. This immediately opened an investigation within the EU as to whether or not this constituted misleading information to the commission.

This week, a final ruling was passed down, and it involves a pretty hefty fine for the company. Coming in at €110 million, or $122 million, the commission believes that the fine is "both proportionate and deterrent." Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said,

Today's decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information. And it imposes a proportionate and deterrent fine on Facebook. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts.

Facebook has said that it believes the penalty to be unwarranted, but has decided not to fight the ruling.

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Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

Since before Amazon purchased it, Twitch has been in the crosshairs of a number of companies wanting to take down their monopoly. Google attacked with YouTube Gaming, but after almost 2 years, the product has not gained the traction that YouTube was hoping for.

The closest competitor that has emerged thus far is Beam, a company acquired by Microsoft, and integrated directly into Windows 10, inclusion Prime, Xbox One and Holographic. In the very short time the company has owned the product, it has grown greatly, but still does not pose a real challenge to the Twitch behemoth.

This week, a new challenger has emerged in a mostly unexpected place: Facebook. Rather than following YouTube's lead and building a platform and hoping people come, or following Microsoft's lead and buying an existing platform and hoping people use it, Facebook has made a surprisingly intelligent business decision. The company has paired up with ESL, the world's largest eSports organization, to bring 5,500 hours of tournament matches from Twitch to Facebook Live.

They will begin with monthly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments, with a regular prize pool of $40,000, so they are starting off light, but not small-time. Of the 5,500 hours, only 1,500 of them will be exclusive to Facebook. However, if you're going to watch part of the tournament on Facebook, it would be odd to switch to something else for other matches. That is definitely Facebook's hope for success.

This isn't Facebook's inaugural eSports project, but it is definitely the largest it has signed. If it is successful, Facebook will solidify itself as a contender in the game streaming market. It will not, however, be able to leave everything within the realm of Facebook. Instead, the platform would need to be treated more like Instagram or Messenger - an integrated but separate product.

Do you think that the 25% exclusivity will be enough for Facebook to carve out a place for itself in this massively emerging market? Let us know in the comments.

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Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

Google is pretty excited to talk about Play Protect, their "new" system for detecting inappropriate behavior within Android apps. Google is using the technology in two places: on the Play servers and within the Play Store itself. On server, Protect should detect issues as an app is submitted by the developer and, if it fails, will reject the app from the store. On the device, regular or manual scans will look for issues within apps loaded either through the store or side-loaded, and should remove offending applications or alert you to issues.

Google describes the system saying,

Backed by the strength of Google, Play Protect brings control to your fingertips while giving guidance along the way. Together, we lay out the ideal security blanket for your mobile device. Consider yourself covered.

Google Play Protect continuously works to keep your device, data and apps safe. It actively scans your device and is constantly improving to make sure you have the latest in mobile security. Your device is automatically scanned around the clock, so you can rest easy.

All of these features sound wonderful and could potentially clean up some of the cesspool that is the Play Store, which seems like something Google is interested in doing. The biggest problem with that hope is that Play Protect is not a new system. In fact, it has been running server-side for years under various names. Even with the system in place, Google has been incapable of preventing major issues within their store.

Part of the problem comes from the definition of inappropriate behavior. What Google considers to be inappropriate is clearly not the same as what most consumers believe. For example, I personally consider a flashlight app that requires internet and contact list access to be inappropriate behavior. Play Protect does not, and allows numerous apps of that style to infiltrate the store. If Google really wants to solve the problem of privacy, safety and security in the Play Store, they need to start actually approving apps instead of responding to issues after they happen.

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Need a Last Minute Gift for Mom? Here Are Some Quick Options.

posted Thursday May 11, 2017 by Michele Mendez

If Mother's Day snuck up on you this year, but you still want to find the perfect gift to show Mom that you think she's the best thing since spliced breadboards... don't worry, we've got your back. Here are a few "quick delivery" gift ideas that our PLuGHiTz Live staff members put together.

Fitbit Flex

Wearables have taken the world by storm, and there's no reason to leave Mom out of this craze. Grab her this fun and easy to use Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband. Features include a slim, comfortable and easy to wear design; silent alarm; tracks steps, distance and calories burned; syncs automatically and wirelessly to tablets and smartphones. Buy it for $79.95. And if you want to kick it up a bit and ensure that you are the favorite child, get yourself one too and challenge Mom to daily step contests.

EcoVessel Perk

The perfect item to accompany Mom while she is out and about is this EcoVessel Perk TriMax Insulated Vacuum Stainless Steel Coffee/Tea Travel Bottle with Locking Top - Teal Coffee Mug 16 oz. that keeps hot drinks hot for 8 hours and cold drinks cold for 36 hours. It's BPA free and has a push button lid that allows single handed operation with an integrated lock to keep the lid closed when not in use. Buy it for $26.95

PhoneSoap 2.0

Everyone can use a new Smartphone Charger, and this one will keep your phone clean with its revolutionary bacteria-zapping technology. That's right!! No need to rely solely on the 5 second rule and baby wipes to keep your cell phone clean. PhoneSoap 2.0 will sanitize your phone, killing 99.9% of common household germs, while it charges. Buy it for $49.99

Groove Music

All of the music you love for a single price. Mom can play ad-free music from one of the largest collections of music on the internet for only $9.99 per month. Plus, she can download songs onto her phone, computer or tablet, no matter that platform, and play them without the need for internet access. You can get a free month, and buy it for $9.99/month.

Monster Clarity Earbuds

To listen to those new tunes, Mom is going to need some great headphones. One of our favorites is the Monster Clarity Bluetooth earbuds. Easy to pair, incredibly light and great sound quality, all for a surprisingly low cost. You can buy them for $79.99.

Amazon Prime

Sometimes you don't have to overthink it. Amazon Prime offers free shipping for lots of Amazon products, but it offers a lot more than that. There's movies and television available for streaming on your mother's TV, phone or tablet. She can even get free storage for her photos on Amazon with Prime, and free books through Kindle. You can buy it for $33 for 3 months or $99 for 12 months.

Check out all of these gift ideas and more at Amazon.com

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iHeartMedia Warns It May Not Survive Year

posted Saturday Apr 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz

iHeartMedia Warns It May Not Survive Year

Bob Pittman is a force in the media world. After helping create MTV and eventually become president of the organization, he found himself taking over Clear Channel. In the years since he became the CEO, a lot of changes have happened. The company is the largest terrestrial radio operator in the country, and acquired iHeartRadio to get more directly into the online streaming world.

The company was so happy with its iHeartRadio purchase that it later changed its name from Clear Channel to iHeartMedia, emphasizing the commitment to a new, more modern approach to broadcast. Now, all 850 radio stations are available for listening across the country on a variety of platforms, and programs like the iHeartRadio Music Festival help to promote the overall brand, not just online streaming.

Unfortunately, these changes have not helped the company in the way that Pittman had hoped. The company has $350 million in debt that will come due within the next year, which is leftover from the Clear Channel purchase by Bain Capitol in 2008. That debt alone could sink the company, but that is not all that is hanging over iHeartMedia's head. As advertisers have moved to more targeted platforms, such as Pandora, in an attempt to get the most out of their advertising dollars, they have moved away from traditional broadcast. That means that, in addition to large debt payments, the company's revenue has been sliding, making those payments more difficult.

As a result of all of these problems, Pittman will inform investors and shareholders that there is a possibility that the company may not survive the next 12 months. Yes, you read that right - iHeartMedia and Clear Channel Outdoor advertising may not be able to continue operations for 12 months. The end game could mean the disbursement of radio stations away from a central authority and back to local management. The other possibility, assuming that there is difficulty in acquiring owners for stations, is a massive collapse in broadcast radio.

This situation is different from a retailer that is struggling. You can't just shut down under performing stations because, in most markets, all stations broadcast out of a single location, so that would actually drive up the per-station costs, making it undesirable. No matter what happens, the face of radio as we know it is about to change, and not in a small way. Perhaps there is a way for Pittman and crew to change their operations, or even shake up the business model entirely, so that the company can continue to operate as a whole, but at this point it seems unlikely.

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