Scott Ertz - Staff

Scott Ertz

Scott Ertz

Former Segment Host

Current Host

Current UpStream Contributor

Current Product Reviewer

Current Episode Author

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Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.

Recent UpStream Articles

WB and DC leadership says canceling completed films was "courageous"

posted Sunday Dec 3, 2023 by Scott Ertz

Over the past year, studios and publishers have been canceling projects that are far along in their production. One of the most high-profile cancelations, however, was Batgirl because the movie was at the end of its filming and editing phase, with only VFX left. While there were suggestions that the movie was canceled for tax reasons, like many others this year, new details suggest that the film was never going to work and needed to be shelved.

Writing off film projects

The most direct benefit to the company of canceling a project before it goes out to the world is the cost savings. The cost of production is only part of the costs for something like a theatrical release film. Often, the marketing budget for a movie is larger than the production budget. So, by canceling a film before marketing begins, the cost of marketing can be cut to near zero.

Another big reason to cancel a project before release is tax purposes. The cost of production can be written off as a business loss. This means that the company can nearly entirely recoup the cost of production without having to rely on the public to finance the project through streaming fees or ticket sales.

Of course, these savings can only be properly realized if the film is going to be a commercial failure, or is expected to be. If the film is headed for a production loss, it can become less of a loss if the company drops the film and never spends the money to market it. If a $90 million production investment is going to fail to return, then there is no reason to spend an additional $50 million to market it and lose even more money.

Canceling Batgirl

The cancelation of Batgirl by Warner Bros. Discovery and DC looked like it was a cynical attempt to save some money on future production. however, new information is showing that the movie may have never been a success. According to Peter Safran, co-head of DC Studios,

I saw the movie. There were a lot of incredibly talented people in front of and behind the camera on that film. But that film was not releasable. It happens sometimes. That film was not releasable.

I actually think that Zaslav and the team made a very bold and courageous decision to cancel it, because it would've hurt DC, it would've hurt those people involved. I think they really stood up to support DC, the characters, the story, the quality and all that.

So, Safran thought that the film was so bad that it was going to harm the careers of everyone involved and that David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, made the right decision.

Canceling Coyote vs. Acme

In the same way, Warner Bros. Discovery has also shelved Coyote vs. Acme, a film adaptation of the famous Warner Bros. cartoons. This film was also finished when it was canceled, creating more rumors about tax-based write-offs. However, Zaslav responded to these claims saying,

The accounting piece is really a misnomer. If we produce a show, a $100 million movieā€¦ We've spent the $100 million dollars and if we don't release it. It's gone. We don't have any real benefit from it.

The question is, should we take certain of these movies and open them in the theater and spend another $30 or $40 million to promote them? And Warner Bros' team and HBO made a number of decisions. They were hard. But when I look at the health of our company today, we needed to make those decisions. And it took real courage.

And while that's not entirely true, it's not entirely false. Sure, the company isn't going to get a check back for their investment, but the write-off will return much of it through taxes that will not be paid at the end of the year. But, the conversation about whether to spend more money on a loser is a solid one. Why pay to promote something that's going to cost more money than it will ever recoup just because it's done?

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Amid child privacy concerns, Meta sues FTC to allow abuse to continue

posted Sunday Dec 3, 2023 by Scott Ertz

It is no secret that children use Meta properties, despite Terms of Service rules and Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rules against it. The company has long stated that it responds quickly to reports of underaged users, but new data shows that is not true. And, to add insult to injury, the company has sued the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to allow them to monetize those underaged users.

What is COPPA?

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a U.S. federal law designed to protect the privacy of children under 13 who use online services. Enacted by the 105th United States Congress and effective since April 21, 20002, COPPA gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. The law requires operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13, or knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13, to follow certain regulations.

These regulations include notifying parents of their information practices, obtaining verifiable parental consent for the collection, use, or disclosure of children's personal information, and allowing parents to prevent further maintenance, use, or future collection of their child's personal information. Operators are also required to provide parents access to their child's personal information, not require a child to provide more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in an activity, and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of the personal information. The Act also includes a "safe harbor" provision allowing industry groups and others to request Commission approval of self-regulatory guidelines to govern participating websites' compliance with the Rule.

Meta's lax compliance

The result of COPPA was that online services have generally prohibited children from using their services or in some cases have built child-focused versions of their offerings. Meta took the former route, generally prohibiting children from using Facebook, Instagram, Threads, etc. But, Meta has never been great at compliance with their own policies or the rules of COPPA.

Revealed in a recently unredacted complaint,

Within the company, Meta's actual knowledge that millions of Instagram users are under the age of 13 is an open secret that is routinely documented, rigorously analyzed and confirmed, and zealously protected from disclosure to the public.

Between 2019 and mid-2023, the company received 1.1 million reports of underaged users, but the company only responded to a small fraction of those reports. Records show that of the 402k reports in 2021, the company only disabled around 164k of the offending accounts. The complaint went on to say,

Despite its public-facing claims that users under the age of 13 are not allowed on Instagram, including in congressional testimony provided by Meta executive Davis in September 2021, Meta's private internal documents reveal that Meta has coveted and pursued the under-13 Instagram user demographic for years.

Meta wants to monetize kids' data

On one hand, Meta will be defending themselves in a lawsuit brought by several states over child privacy violations. On the other, the company has filed its own suit against the FTC. This suit asks the FTC to allow Meta to monetize the data collected from the kids that it has and has not prohibited from accessing its systems, among other kids.

The complaint stems from a proposed change to the 2020 privacy settlement. The change would prevent Meta and Facebook from monetizing data from all minor users, not just those covered by COPPA. That means that any user between 13 through 17 would be allowed to use the platform but would not be able to generate revenue for the company.

The lawsuit alleges that the FTC has overreached its authority, both from a structural perspective and a Constitutional one. This will be a complicated argument for Meta to make in court. They are essentially arguing that the FTC is both prosecutor and judge, violating the company's Constitutional rights. However, they do have a point - being able to charge and pass judgement puts a lot of power into the hands of unelected bureaucrats in the Federal government.

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Netflix Games lands major franchise: Grand Theft Auto trilogy

posted Sunday Dec 3, 2023 by Scott Ertz

Since Netflix first launched Netflix Games, the company has relied heavily on small games and in-house IP. This has included games with the backing of the Stranger Things and Love is Blind brands. Now, Netflix is leveling up its game offerings by bringing in one of the biggest gaming franchises in history: Grand Theft Auto.

What is Netflix Games?

Netflix Games is a feature offered by Netflix that allows subscribers to download and play a selection of mobile games at no additional cost. The games are available on Android and iOS devices, and they are free of advertisements and in-app purchases. The service includes more than 50 exclusive mobile games, ranging from action-packed shooters to peaceful world explorations. To access these games, users need to have a Netflix streaming subscription and a compatible mobile device.

The games offered by Netflix Games are diverse and cater to a wide range of interests. Some of the available games include Dust & Neon, a futuristic shooter game; Hextech Mayhem: A League of Legends Story, a fast-paced rhythm runner; and Into the Dead 2: Unleashed, an action shooter set in a zombie apocalypse. The games are integrated into the Netflix app, but they can also be downloaded separately from the App Store or Play Store. To play the games, users need to log in with their Netflix account.

Grand Theft Auto trilogy

The introduction of the Grand Theft Auto trilogy to Netflix Games marks the first major third-party partnership for the platform. Sure, Sonic Prime Dash and TRANSFORMERS Forged to Fight are both available on the platform, but it's not quite the same. These games might have a big franchise attached, but neither are high-profile games in their own rights.

Grand Theft Auto is a major game franchise, and the three titles in the trilogy are all high-profile. The included games are 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, 2002's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and 2004's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. These games represent one of the heights of the franchise, and their inclusion in the lineup shows that Netflix is even more focused than ever on making this offering a success.

In addition to the success of these games, the next iteration of the franchise is on the horizon, with a trailer coming out this coming week. So, Netflix is hitting this franchise at the perfect time, with people likely to want to jump back in time and revisit the fictional Vice City, which is rumored to be the setting for Grand Theft Auto VI, the next game in the franchise.

Netflix Games on TV

One of the upcoming features of Netflix Games is the ability to play on a TV. The company launched a mobile controller without any public way to use it. Though, the company did confirm that it was testing a TV-based gaming experience with a mobile controller app. Unfortunately, no launch date or full plans were announced at the time.

This partnership could indicate that the offering is closer to launch and they are using Grand Theft Auto as its launch title. We won't have long to conjecture, though, as Grand Theft Auto arrives on Netflix Games this month.

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Apple Card's future in question as Goldman Sachs relationship ends

posted Sunday Dec 3, 2023 by Scott Ertz

Since Apple's 2000s renaissance, the company has seemingly tried to get into every industry it can. In addition to computers, the company's initial intention, Apple had gotten into music, cars, and even financial services. Some of the endeavors, such as music, have been huge successes. The iPod and iTunes introduced a new group of consumers to a long-existing product category of portable digital music. But others, like financial services, have been a disaster for the company and its partners. The Apple Card and its issues have caused a breakup between Apple and Goldman Sachs and left the future of the service in question.

What is the Apple Card?

The Apple Card is a credit card created by Apple and issued by Goldman Sachs. It's designed primarily to be used with Apple Pay on an Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac. Because the card is operated by Apple, it is fully integrated into the Apple ecosystem. All of your transactions, balances, and payments are done through the Wallet app. You also get an estimate of the total interest for a purchase as you are making it, based on your plans to pay it off over time.

You also get a percentage of your purchase back as cash in the form of Daily Cash. Unlike other cards, this is proper cash, as opposed to points, which means it never expires or loses value, except to inflation. That cash can be deposited directly into your Apple Cash account on your phone for immediate use. In addition, the card has no fees, including hidden or future fees. These benefits have led millions of Americans to sign up for the Apple Card.

What is the Apple Savings account?

Similar to the Apple Card, Apple Savings is a financial offering underwritten by Goldman Sachs. This account works similarly to a traditional savings account you can get from banks or credit unions, but without the overhead of a physical bank. Instead, it is all done through your computer or phone, similar to other mobile banking options. The difference here is that Apple has integrated it directly into its ecosystem, making it easier for Apple users to access.

The Goldman Sachs connection

Apple is not a financial institution. As a result, they are not underwriting or funding the Apple Card experiment. Instead, they partnered with Goldman Sachs, a traditionally investment-focused bank. This partnership with Apple was part of a foray into the consumer market, and one that the company hoped would be an easy and successful one because of the value of Apple's brand in the marketplace.

Unfortunately for Goldman, the Apple Card and Apple Savings have not been a huge success for them. In fact, the consumer division of the company, led by the Apple Card, has lost billions of dollars in just a few short years. Goldman has reportedly been looking for a way out of the partnership, and this week made those intentions clear to Apple. As a result, Apple has reportedly proposed a split, which is likely to come to pass in the next year or so.

What it means for consumers

This split would mean that Goldman Sachs would no longer be involved in Apple's financial goals, which would be a welcomed change for Goldman. However, the future of these offerings gets thrown into question for consumers. How will this breakup affect existing cardholders or savings account users?

The future of Apple Card

Apple will spend the next year looking for a new underwriter for the Apple Card. Some banks turned Apple down before the launch of the card with Goldman, and a failure of the product would not likely cause them to change their minds. So, don't expect Citibank to become the new partner. There is a possibility that another card issuer, such as American Express, could become the new partner for the cards.

On the user side, likely nothing will change. You likely will receive a new physical card with a new number, but other than that, process and procedure is unlikely to be affected. Your payments will still be made through your phone, but the end result will be a payment to another bank. This is because Apple manages the card and its rules and operations, while the bank merely handles the financial aspect of the business.

The future of Apple Savings

Apple Savings has a more nebulous future. If Apple partners with American Express as its Apple Card underwriter, then Apple Savings will not be part of that relationship. So, it is possible that Apple Savings will need a different partner. This could mean a disconnect between the operations of Card and Savings, or it could mean no change at all. Only time will tell how this will proceed.

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Business website: How to up your game

posted Tuesday Nov 14, 2023 by Scott Ertz

The way your business website works will determine how a customer interacts with your business; whether they make a purchase or decide to leave. It's where a customer decides whether they want what you've got or would prefer to move on. As the face of your business, your website has to say it all and say it well.

Business websites need to be attractive, engaging, full of useful information, and user-friendly. Perhaps your website has been letting you down lately or maybe it's time for a revamp. Take a look at how to make sure your website is in tip-top shape.

White Space

White space is important when it comes to website design. It allows you to form a structure in your content that makes your website easy to navigate. When a customer visits a certain page on your website, what they're looking for should be clear and visible.

However, some website owners opt for the minimalistic look which creates a lot of white space. Although it may look clean, too much white space can come across as boring and fail to engage your visitors long enough to entice them to stay and look around.

Don't Start from Scratch

Many business owners choose a brand-new domain for their websites. Of course, there's nothing wrong with building something from scratch but it will take time to build up a loyal following. There is a way around this that allows you the best of both worlds.

Use a site like Domain Hunter Gatherer to search for old domains that are relevant to your industry. You may be lucky enough to find a domain that already has followers from your target market. This way, your website will be visited by people who could be interested in your products before you've even advertised.

Page Speed

How quickly your website pages load is of vital importance. Most people are strapped for time these days and they want to get things done quickly. The average internet user won't wait more than thirty seconds for a page to load before thinking about moving on.

If you visit your website and the pages are slow to load, it's time to do something about it. You don't want this simple to fix issue to hold you back from gaining new customers. You can analyze your website's speed with Google's PageSpeed Insights.

Hyperlinks

Using hyperlinks is a great way to help your visitors navigate your website. It can take them to another page with information they're looking for in the click of a button. This saves your visitors from needing to search your website high and low for what they're looking for.

You can use hyperlinks in any of your website content and it's especially useful if you have a website blog. If someone ends up on your blog to read your content, it can gently guide them towards your products and services.

Call To Action

It's surprising how many business websites are missing a call to action. A call to action encourages visitors to take the next step. Whether it's contacting the business for more information or putting a product in the basket.

The call to action should be visible throughout the whole website and easy to access. Consider creating a button that stands out from the rest of the content and is big enough to see straight away.

Bullet points

The content on your website should be easy to digest. Small bite size chunks of information are enough for a visitor to quickly take in and understand. If you want to make your content easy for your audience, bullet points are ideal.

It's a great way to keep your information short and to the point for any type of reader. For instance, when talking about new business ideas, keep each idea to a bullet point of its own.

Visuals

Visuals are a must for any website but when you want to sell goods to new and existing customers, visuals are more important than ever. We live in a visual world where people would rather watch a video tutorial than read a manual. When it comes to marketing your products, your website should include video material.

It can help to get advice from digital marketing experts when loading videos onto your website. If not done properly, video content can make your website run slower.

Branding

Your brand should be apparent on your website. Everything from color, tones, and voice should be consistent throughout each page. Your brand is what represents your business on everything, from your website to packaging, and social media.

When customers visit your site, there should be familiarity about it. Your customers should immediately recognize that what is being sold is trustworthy and the company is reliable.

Mobile-Friendly

If you want to expand your reach, it's essential that your website is mobile-friendly. So many shoppers are now using their mobile devices on the way to work, during their lunch breaks, and even at home. If your website isn't accessible to mobile users, you'll be missing out on a huge slice of the pie.

Users should be able to browse your website effectively using any device of their choosing. Your website should also still be visible and accessible when a user changes the orientation on a device.

No Broken Links

Have you ever landed on a page you've been searching for only to be greeted by an error message? It's frustrating and time-wasting, and you can be sure visitors won't be browsing through the rest of your website when it happens. You should check your website for broken links regularly.

You can do this by using a broken link checker online and correcting the links appropriately. Checking links at regular intervals will ensure that your customers aren't receiving error messages when they want to buy your products.

Conclusion

Keeping your website updated is one of the best ways to ensure you have a constant flow of online sales. If you've enjoyed this article, take a look at the rest.

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