The UpStream

Quibi finds big content partner with sketch series Reno 911!

posted Friday Dec 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Quibi finds big content partner with sketch series Reno 911!

In the streaming video world, this week has been one of contract announcements for the rights to popular older shows. The future of The Office, Friends, and more are solidified for a while. However, in the crowded streaming field, having something unique is essential to the success of the platform. Netflix has a ton of original programming, Hulu gets new episodes the day after airing, Disney has a century worth of catalog to offer. However, when Quibi announced that their service would be exclusive to T-Mobile customers, it looked like they were heading the wrong way.

This week, however, the company announced that a long canceled, but highly popular show would be coming back with new content on the platform. That series is Comedy Central sketch comedy series Reno 911! The series is a mix between Saturday Night Live and , but with a twist. It's a mockumentary series setup in short sketches, in the style of Cops. The twist is that there isn't a script - only a loose idea of the direction of the sketch.

The important part of what this means is that Quibi has found the middle ground between the nostalgia factor that has worked for the other services and their promise of short-form content, or "quick bites." By licensing new content from the series, which is known for their short-form sketches, they can appeal to their target demographic of Millenials and GenZ, both of whom are a perfect target for Reno 911! It also gives us a little bit more of an idea of what Quibi is shooting for with their platform. The pitch has, thus far, been vague, to say the least - sounding a lot like the TikTok or Vine of professional storytelling. Sketch comedy, though, seems like a great content type for this medium. We'll learn more about the company's plan at CES 2020 during CEO Meg Whitman's keynote.

Bernie Sanders wants internet access to be government controlled

posted Friday Dec 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Bernie Sanders wants internet access to be government controlled

Senator Bernie Sanders has spent his political career with a complicated relationship with monopolies. On the one hand, he sees monopolies everywhere he looks, even in industries with a lot of competition. On the other hand, his solution to solving these "monopolies" is to build a true monopoly in its place. His current pitch is against the broadband industry, claiming that "monopolies" like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon hold their customers hostage.

The pitch isn't entirely incorrect. There are parts of the country where it is not financially feasible to bring a hardline internet connection, either because it is very remote, the population is small, or a combination of the two. Because of this issue, the government has a program called the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is intended to help companies offset those costs so that everyone can have access to phone and internet service.

Despite the continued success of the USF program, Sanders believes that the government should take control of the internet, treating it like a public utility. In a tweet, Sanders said,

Just as President Roosevelt fundamentally made America more equal by bringing electricity to every community, urban and rural, over 80 years ago, as president, I will do the same with high-speed internet.

Having the government intimately involved in the power industry has guaranteed service to everyone, but it has also created nearly insurmountable challenges. As solar power has grown in popularity, power companies could not work with individuals in a meaningful way.

The difference between the power industry and the data industry is significant and important, though. Internet access can provide a lot of information about its customers - information that the government desperately wants. The NSA built an entire spy network dedicated to collecting this information without permission, or even without legal authority. However, if the government is your ISP, your consent to their data mining is required. If this pitch were to come to reality, which is less than likely, it would certainly create an even bigger need for VPN services.

After a year on the market, Epic Games Store has made a big impact

posted Friday Dec 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

After a year on the market, Epic Games Store has made a big impact

When Epic announced its Epic Games Store, there was a lot of concern about what it might do to the industry. Epic is not exactly known for being a great company, despite having built one of the world's most popular games. The company decided to take a different approach towards its store, focusing on the publishers rather than the customers. They did this by offering only a 12 percent fee, compared with the Microsoft Store's 20 percent, or Steam's 30 percent. This move has attracted a lot of developers, especially smaller developers, for whom that additional 18 percent revenue could be essential.

As the Epic Games Store has grown in popularity, for both publishers and gamers, it has had more of an effect than we expected, especially on its biggest competitor: Steam. Over the years, Valve has seemed to have a level of confidence that can often cause a company to lose its place in the industry. Steve Ballmer's confidence in the market domination of Windows Mobile in 2007 (they were the largest smartphone platform at the time) is the reason the Surface Phone Duo runs Android.

However, Valve saw the challenge and responded. The company has promised a Steam redesign for years and has never delivered on it. However, this year, the company has begun implementing those changes, starting with a big update to the game library. This UI has not aged well, especially as libraries have grown over the past 15 years to an unwieldy size. The updated UI has made it easier to find what you're looking for in your library, including new sorting options, better game details, and even a wider screen (no more bezels).

Based on Valve's development process, without a big push internally, these changes would never have happened, and we all know it. Without the new challenger in the marketplace, that internal push would never have been made, so the existence of the Epic Games Store has had a positive impact across the industry.

AR is where the investment is, with Qualcomm & Niantic going all-in

posted Friday Dec 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

AR is where the investment is, with Qualcomm & Niantic going all-in

It's no secret that, in the world of ultra-portable computing, the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform is the preferred choice. It's partially because the processors are the best in the market (even driving Intel to abandon their product line), and partially because they are incredibly easy to integrate. The chipset offers more than just a processor, as it includes radio technologies as well. This makes designing a device easier, as there is no need to try and integrate various components.

At Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit, the company announced a new generation of its mixed reality system, the Snapdragon XR2 Platform. With this new model, Qualcomm has brought 5G to the augmented reality and mixed reality world. AR/MR has had one of its biggest limitations, and the introduction of 5G on a Snapdragon processor designed for the technology could finally alleviate that limitation. While the company's spec hardware may not be anything visually spectacular, it's designed to show hardware designers what can be created, not to be a consumer-facing device.

However, as part of the announcement for the platform, Qualcomm announced an important partner: Niantic. The company that has made augmented reality a household technology that is approachable for everyone is officially developing their AR headset powered by the new Snapdragon XR2 Platform. This will mark a transition point for the concept of standalone AR hardware, made popular by Microsoft's HoloLens and highly marketed by Magic Leap. Unlike Microsoft and Magic Leap, however, Niantic hardware will almost certainly come with the added benefit of an absolutely killer app (Pokemon GO, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Ingress Prime). Also, unlike Magic Leap, Niantic will be able to position their hardware as a must-have for consumers, enthusiasts, and professionals.

To sweeten the pot, Niantic also announced that its Niantic Real World Platform will be made available to developers, both on their hardware and other platforms, to help bring new shared experiences to the world. As the company that made these shared experiences possible and popular, it is a great idea to make that platform available to other developers because it will make it easier for developers to bring more experiences to their hardware.

Apple hits another snag with original content, cancels film premiere

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Apple hits another snag with original content, cancels film premiere

While the release of Disney+ has seen its share of difficulties, including missing features and system availability, it's been the release of Apple TV+ that has been the real disaster. Disney has almost a century worth of content to fall back onto, but Apple is just getting started with content, and that content has been its downfall thus far.

The company put a lot of money and marketing efforts behind its original series. Unfortunately, critics and consumers alike have met these projects with indifference at best and disdain at worst. The flagship series, The Morning Show, has been the hardest hit. Of the reviews I've seen, the nicest comment called it boring, and it got worse from there.

On the heels of the challenges presented by their lackluster series productions, Apple now has a new issue to overcome. The premiere of one of their first major films, The Banker, has been canceled and the release has been postponed indefinitely. The move does not come because of a lack of confidence in the content itself, but instead because of behind the scenes issues.

The release's pause comes after sisters Cynthia and Sheila Garrett alleged that Bernard Garrett Jr. sexually assaulted them for nearly a decade. The incidents happened in the 1970s, and are semi intertwined into the actual story of the film itself. The movie, set in the 1950s, centers on two land developers, one of which is Bernard Garrett Sr. Adding to the controversy, Garrett is the half-brother of the sisters in question. Apple said in a statement,

Last week some concerns surrounding the film were brought to our attention. We, along with the filmmakers, need some time to look into these matters and determine the best next steps.

While Samuel L. Jackson has been discussed as a potential long-shot nomination for an Oscar, Apple has made it clear that promoting a film produced by an accused rapist is not on their holiday wish list. The future of the film is definitely in question, though the likeliest outcome is stripping Garrett's producer credit.

US government looking for international support against encryption

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

US government looking for international support against encryption

The government has long had a complicated relationship with data security. On the one hand, Congress held hearings with top-level executives of Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, over the handling of user data, spurred on by the Cambridge Analytica issues. On the other, the Justice Department has campaigned against encryption, wanting a "backdoor" into encrypted data. The tech world has continued to fight against the idea of an easily broken encryption system because that undermines the entire concept of encryption.

This week, the government has begun trying to rally an international coalition against secure encryption. A draft resolution, written by members of the FBI, was presented at INTERPOL's child protection meeting in Lyon, France. The draft stated,

The current path towards default end-to-end encryption, with no provision for lawful access, does not allow for the protection of the world's children from sexual exploitation. Technology providers must act and design their services in a way that protects user privacy, on the one hand, while providing user safety, on the other hand. Failure to allow for Lawful Access on their platforms and products, provides a safe haven to offenders utilizing these to sexually exploit children, and inhibits our global law enforcement efforts to protect children.

While attendees of the meeting claimed that the resolution would be published shortly, INTERPOL representatives have stated in no uncertain terms that the draft would not be addressed. Part of the draft that likely raised concern was the massively false statement that "technologists agree" that backdoors are a good thing. The reality is that almost no one in the technology field believes that backdoors are a good idea and, instead, believe that it could be the end of security as we know it.

One of the most ardent and vocal defenders of encryption has been Apple. The company famously fought a court order demanding that they decrypt a device that law enforcement locked down due to carelessness and negligence. The company's argument has been the same as in all encryption arguments: once a hole exists, it will be exploited forever.

There is no way that the Justice Department stops fighting for their terrible idea, but hopefully, the rest of the world will continue to respond with the same indifference towards their outbursts.

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