The UpStream

Jay-Z Acquires Controlling Stake in High-Quality Music-Streaming Company

posted Sunday Mar 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Hip-hop and business mogul Jay-Z has been known to put his heavily-wealthy hands into a lot of different types of endeavors. He owns clubs, fitness centers, a sports management team and even a basketball team. But now, Mr. Carter had looked towards a music service company that is poised to rival Spotify.

Jay-Z has placed a $56 million bid in order to buy a controlling stake in Swedish technology company Aspiro. Aspiro might be best recognized in the United States for its two streaming companies, WiMP and Tidal. The offer was made in January underneath Project Panther Bidco, a holding entity that he owns. The offer to acquire was made in January, with shareholders having until this week to approve, and over 90 percent approved of the deal.

The important acquisition for Jay-Z is Tidal, which is a high-fidelity music-streaming service. It's not only made for the audiophile, but is made for anyone who has a nice set of headphones or other top audio equipment. Most recently, Jay-Z has been involved in production work for musical scores and soundtracks, so his interest in a platform that can offer higher-quality audio files is certainly justifiable. Not only does Tidal serve up better quality music, but WiMP also offers up a high-definition subscription package. 20,000 of its 512,000 paying customers have signed up for the premium service.

A spokesperson for Project Panther finalized the deal in a statement.

All conditions for completion of the offer have been fulfilled, and the offer is therefore declared unconditional. Accordingly, Panther will complete the acquisition of the shares tendered in the offer.

Aspiro will also be removed from the Nasdaq Stockholm. Jay-Z added to the announcement by saying, "Panther's strategic ambition revolves around global expansion and upscaling of Aspiro's platform, technology and services." Beyond that, Mr. Carter has not mentioned his plans for Aspiro. WiMP and Tidal moving forward.

In the end, more and more consumers are seeking higher-quality audio files for their higher-quality headphones, and many want to take that music on the go. Those files, however, take up a lot more space, allowing less music to be carried with you. Cue the latest entrance of applications like Tidal, Deezer and Pono.

Snoop Dogg and HBO to Produce Family Drama

posted Saturday Mar 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Snoop Dogg and HBO to Produce Family Drama

When you hear Snoop Dogg's name, there is never any telling what he might be attached to. While being most famous for his mega career in music, he has worked on a series of children's books, recently appeared on the season finale of Empire and even killed it at Comedy Central Roasts. Coming off his appearance on Fox, Snoop and HBO have announced a partnership to bring a new series to the network.

Little is known about the series, but here is what we do know. It will be a family drama based in 1980s Los Angeles and will follow a family "whose seemingly idyllic life is turned upside down by the collision of their community and American politics." Snoop is currently listed as Executive Producer, but it is unlikely that a series executive produced by Snoop could go on the air without a theme song written and produced by the artist.

The series will be penned by The Boondocks writer Rodney Barnes and directed by The Book of Eli director Allen Hughes. The timing of this announcement seems perfect, with HBO Now set to premiere next month, allowing a new group of consumers to access HBO's content. It is also a perfect pairing, considering Snoop's love for the network's Game of Thrones, even writing a song for a show-inspired mixtape.

We do not currently know a premiere date for Snoop's show, but if it has only just been announced, it is likely we won't see it before 2016.

The FTC Accidentally Reveals Distrust of Google

posted Saturday Mar 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

The FTC Accidentally Reveals Distrust of Google

In early 2012, it was pretty clear that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing for a lawsuit against Google for anticompetitive practices through its search engine. There had been over a year of investigation that was leading the organization to believe that Google had misused its search dominance in ways that directly harmed consumers. In November of that year, after 17 months of investigation, a small excerpt of a memo leaked that recommended the lawsuit to the commission.

Two months later, in January of 2013, after 19 months of investigation, the FTC decided not to charge Google with anti-competitive practices, despite the information contained in the leaked memo. The change of heart came about with the commissioners after Google agreed to make some changes to their search content, including no longer stealing content from Yelp and presenting it as their own. Part of the end of the investigation was that the original recommendation was to be kept private.

This week, as part of a Freedom of Information Act request from The Wall Street Journal, the FTC accidentally released the rumored document along with the other information requested. As it turns out, the recommendation was 160 pages of information, all leading to the conclusion that the suit against Google should be filed. It said that Google's practices could cause "real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets."

While the document paints a very clear picture of the FTC's beliefs, it is clear that something very drastic must have happened to cause a complete change of plans. Google has a very different idea of what transpired, however. Kent Walker, Google general counsel, said,

After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results.

So, according to Walker, in a 60 day period the staff of the Federal Trade Commission went from writing a 160-page recommendation for an antitrust suit against Google to being unanimously against that action, and there is absolutely nothing suspect about that move. Referencing Yelp, who was specifically called out for concern in the report, Walker said,

For example, Yelp calls itself the 'de facto local search engine' and has seen revenue growth of over 350% in the last 4 years.

Interestingly, 4 years is almost exactly the amount of time since Google shut down their Yelp theft practice. It certainly makes sense that Yelp's revenue would be up greatly since Google stopped stealing their content wholesale and presenting it as their own.

It is unlikely that we will ever know exactly what transpired in that 60 day period between Google and the FTC, but it is pretty clear from this document that whatever it was, it was major.

Nintendo Forms Partnership for Mobile Games

posted Saturday Mar 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Forms Partnership for Mobile Games

When Nintendo released their Nintendo DS handset in 2004, the smartphone and tablet markets represented a small enough portion of the overall mobile market that participating in it would have been insane for the company. In fact, ignoring that product segment did well for them, selling over 154 million units of the DS family. Today, however, mobile is a different space and smartphone and tablet gaming is challenging the 3DS family in a major way.

Over the past few years, Nintendo has seen profit losses for the first time in its history. A lot of this has to do with the company's handling of portable gaming in an increasingly smartphone-toting world. After over a year of looking into mobile gaming, Nintendo has officially taken the plunge through a partnership with DeNA.

Rather than trying a straight-forward partnership where DeNA would license Nintendo's characters and produce games based on them for mobile, Nintendo and DeNA will share development responsibilities, product ownership and revenue. This is a change of pace for Nintendo, whose previous partnerships have turned out some real garbage. After being burned so bad in the past, the company has understandably kept its intellectual property close. This is the second major change to the company's licensing policy, starting with a Netflix-produced, live-action Zelda series.

DeNA West CEO Shintaro Asako talked about the excitement behind this news with GamesBeat, saying,

Mobile gaming is our core business, and we definitely wanted to be the No. 1 mobile gaming company in the world - we've wanted to be a dominant player. We were originally focused on the feature phone space and then shifted over to smart phones, and now (we have) a lot of initiative in both the domestic and international markets. But we really want to be leading player.

It is important to note that this deal will only result in new titles - we will not see any ports of existing titles to the mobile platform. The mobile gaming service, however, will be tied to a membership service, which will be available on multiple platforms, including modern and future Nintendo hardware. This is similar to how Xbox Live works, providing content and connectivity to Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows Phone and Windows 10 devices.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this partnership pans out for Nintendo, and how good the games that come out of the DeNA studio could be.

NBCUniversal to Launch Comedy Video Platform

posted Sunday Mar 8, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

NBCUniversal to Launch Comedy Video Platform

Aereo's demise, by coincidence or not, has sprung a bunch of standalone video on-demand subscription apps created by major broadcasters or cable companies. HBO Now, SlingTV, Starz and CBS all come to mind, and mixed in with that are the time-tested services like Netflix and Hulu. However, even with NBCUniversal's involvement in many services already, including their own monthly subscription platform, the company is launching yet another online video network.

This one is a little different, as it will be focused on NBCUniversal's comedy, but it will certainly add to the company's portfolio of Internet offerings that they're involved in. The service is still in the beginning phase of development, but it is said that it will contain The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. NBCUniversal's newest employee, Evan Shapiro, who is the executive VP for digital enterprises, will be spearheading the endeavor.

This gives NBCUniversal four different video on-demand services they're directly involved in, with Radius, NBC's fitness-based channel, being the newest and latest project. Could so much parity between offerings cause NBC more trouble? Or will genre-specific programming play better to the consumer? We'll know the fate of this comedy-based channel in just a few short months.

Microsoft Stays Committed to the Xbox 360 with New Preview Program

posted Sunday Mar 8, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Stays Committed to the Xbox 360 with New Preview Program

If you wanted concrete proof that Microsoft was still committed to the Xbox 360, Major Nelson's announcement this week should have been the proof you were looking for. The 360 is here to stay, for at least the next handful of years, and the new Preview Program for the 360 should eliminate any doubt that the console would be phased out.

From Major Nelson's blog,

Starting in early March select invitees will be able to join the Xbox 360 Preview program. This will work much like the Xbox One preview - and selected customers will be able to sign-up directly from their Xbox 360. Look for a special Xbox Live message then head to Settings, then account then under account management if you've been selected, you'll see Xbox 360 Preview Registration. Sign up there and enroll your console. Nothing will happen yet, but we'll let you know when the Preview is ready to begin through a Xbox Live message.

In our upcoming release will be addressing common customer issues including improving the ability to troubleshoot common network issues from the 360 and adding a Network Connectivity test including Download and Upload speed tests.

There will be even more changes coming later this year - so sign up to be a part of the Xbox 360 Preview Program.

I've already received my invite and have accepted the new terms, but it doesn't appear that any updates have been pushed yet. Rumors are that we'll see a Windows 10-style skin in the coming months, along with some enhancements towards the media side of the console. Of course, all of that could change and we could see new game additions. At this point, all we know is that Microsoft is still committed to the Xbox 360 and it's here to stay for a while. It's been my favorite go-to media device in the bedroom and spare room, with the Xbox One taking its throne as my living room device.

Do you still have a 360? What do you use it for more, gaming or media? Let us know in the comments section.

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