The UpStream

YouTube Considering Launching Paid Subscription to Skip Ads

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube Considering Launching Paid Subscription to Skip Ads

Google might be trying to do whatever it can to keep YouTube in its top spot as a video sharing platform, along with making it profitable. The word right now is that Google is tossing around creating a subscription model to YouTube that would let content watchers pay to skip the ads that show up during a video.

This would be a huge change for YouTube, as the company essentially revolves around advertising, in every possible way, in order to make their money. CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki spoke at a ReCode-sponsored event, saying that,

YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there's going to be a point where people don't want to see the ads.

She's probably right. On videos that are less than two minutes long, I still occasionally get stuck with a one minute ad. I can't be the only one in that boat. The head of YouTube also went on to say that the goal is to be "thinking about how to give users options." A subscription service to skip ads would certainly be an option.

This isn't the first time a paid version of YouTube has been talked about, however. When Hulu first became a big deal, the rumor was that YouTube was panicking and might implement a similar subscription service, sans ads and with exclusive content. That could still be the play here. Still, there's no word on price, availability or even if it will actually be a thing. All we know right now is the execs at the popular video site are thinking about it. Thinking is better than not thinking, right?

All things considered, this is still a big step for Google, a company which almost all of its consumer-facing products are free and are driven by advertising. Yes, you must pay for Google Apps for Business and content creators on YouTube can charge their subscribers a small fee to get special access to more videos, but that's a select market in each of those regards. Offering up a monthly subscription for all YouTube customers would certainly shake things up and change the type of person who may visit YouTube. But with sites like Twitch and Vimeo making a drastic impact as of late, this might be the move to make. It should be noted that Vimeo has been letting content creators rent or sell videos on the site for the past 18 months, and has already announced it is launching an ad-free subscription service sometime early next year.

Xbox One Gets a Price Cut for the Holidays

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox One Gets a Price Cut for the Holidays

Holiday sale alert! As predicted by our show staff earlier last month, a price drop is heading to Microsoft's Xbox One beginning today. Why wait in lines and sheer stupidity insanity on Black Friday when you could instead be already gaming on an Xbox One a full three weeks before the herd? If you don't have an answer for that other than "it's an experience" then I suggest you take a look at the reduced prices on Xbox One consoles and bundles.

In the US, the Xbox One will be $349, $50 off, and that price applies to your choice of the console, including special edition bundles. This includes Assassin's Creed Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Sunset Overdrive. If you needed a reason for Sunset Overdrive, I believe you now have one. Yusuf Mehdi, VP for Microsoft, shared my sentiment of not waiting for Black Friday.

Fans don't have to wait for Black Friday this year to enjoy great savings on Xbox One. We're offering our best price yet, with unprecedented choices and value, so more people can play on Xbox One this holiday. We're gearing up for one of our biggest holidays ever and we are thrilled to offer fans up to $150 in savings on Xbox One and some of the biggest blockbuster games of the season.

For those wanting the Kinect with your console, and trust me when I say you want the Kinect with your console, the $50 off still applies, making the Assassin's Creed Unity bundle with Kinect $449. For the Call of Duty bundle, the custom console comes complete with a 1TB hard drive and is available tomorrow, sans Kinect, for $449, but the price is justified through the bigger hard drive and fully custom Xbox One and controller.

The promo runs through January 3rd but why wait to play your favorite games? Head over to the Microsoft Store and pick up your console now! Or, you know, tomorrow if you want the Call of Duty bundle. It definitely feels like Microsoft has picked up a lot of steam heading into the holidays.

Starz Might Launch Stand-Alone Streaming Service

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Starz Might Launch Stand-Alone Streaming Service

The transition from cable to Internet for television is strong and quick. On the heals of HBO and CBS, premium channel Starz is pondering offering a cable-free streaming option. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said on an earnings call,

While you will hear more from us on this over time, I can tell you now that we have the content right (and) the technology platform and infrastructure in place to ensure that the Starz businesses are positioned to capitalize on these new opportunities, both here in the U.S. and abroad.

One of the major hurdles for these companies in creating standalone streaming services is having the rights to offer their content to non-cable subscribers. For example, NBC does not own the streaming rights to Saturday Night Live, and they lost the show to Yahoo!. In Albrecht's comments he mentions that they have the rights to pull this off.

He also says that they have the ability to release this, with content, outside of the US. That will make international viewers happy, as securing these rights is usually difficult for multiple countries. Either Starz has been preparing for this in their contracts for years, or they have really focused down recently and renegotiated their licensing deals over the past few months to allow this to happen. Either way, this is even more reason for Hungarians to be excited about their win.

So, with all of the standalone streaming services launching there are two important questions to ask: is there enough content available for you to dump your cable subscription and which services will you be using to supplement that content? Let us know in the comments.

Hungarian Prime Minister Abandons Internet Tax

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

We've seen Internet taxes proposed across the world before, but they infrequently get implemented and the ones that do infrequently last. This is the case in Hungary, whose proposed Internet tax has officially been abandoned. The Primi Minister, Victor Orbán, made the announcement following protests in the tens of thousands of participants were held across the country.

The abandonment, however, comes with a caveat: he said that there will be no Internet tax in this form, not that the concept of some sort of Internet tax was being abandoned. This means that the Hungarian people will not see a $0.62 per gigabyte of used bandwidth, but could still see some sort of tax applied in the future.

The concept of a bandwidth-based tax on wired connections is especially offensive. Here in the office, on an average week, we consume several hundred gigabytes of bandwidth just in Hulu and Netflix usage. It is not unusual to run 6 or more hours of video streaming per day; assuming full HD (~8GB per hour), that is 336 GB per week, or $208.32 in additional taxes under the abandoned plan. That is just for the usage via streaming services, not our Internet usage as a whole.

As the usage of Internet is increasingly video-based, and the quality available from these services increases, that number would only go up. Because of this, it is a great move for the government to abandon the plan in this form. A new plan could be formed in January 2015, as the government is planning a national consultation on the topic.

Either way, it is good to see the government listened to its people. The protesters celebrated their victory Friday night, following their success story with another street gathering.

Alienware Alpha Replaces SteamOS, On Sale Now

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Alienware Alpha Replaces SteamOS, On Sale Now

Because Valve underestimated the complexities of developing a specialized operating system, SteamOS has been delayed until, let's say 2015. However, if their other software projects are any indication, seeing the platform launch before 2017 would be pretty amazing. Unfortunately, unlike their normal inability to estimate the scope of a software project, this one has hardware partners losing money every day the platform is delayed.

At E3 2014, Steam Machine partner Dell announced that their Alienware Alpha console would release without SteamOS this Holiday if the platform was not ready for primetime. As expected, the platform is not ready and Alienware has officially given up waiting for its release, putting the living room PC up for pre-order, with a shipping date this month.

Rather than SteamOS, the Alpha will ship with Windows 8.1 and Steam Big Picture pre-installed. This decision will come as a blow to Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who famously said Steam games wouldn't run on Windows 8. Another part of the Steam Machine platform that is missing is the controller, which Dell has decided to replace with an Xbox 360 controller for the Alpha. Based on what we have seen of the odd design of the Steam controller, this is probably a huge upgrade for owners.

One of the big benefits of the operating system switch is the incredible increase in game availability. In using SteamOS, had it been ready, the console would have had access to approximately 11 percent of the Steam game catalog. By dumping SteamOS and going Windows instead, the Alpha will have access to 100 percent of the Steam game catalog. Yes, you read that right: by not using Valve's own OS you will gain more access to Valve's game catalog.

Also, with Windows 8.1, you gain access to the entire Microsoft library of games, both desktop and modern. This includes content from Valve competitor EA Origin, as well as anything available in the Windows Store, whose collection of games and media content is far greater than that available for Linux (the basis for SteamOS). No matter how you slice it, this transition from Linux to Windows appears to be an upgrade.

Microsoft Band, and Why Hardware Sales Don't Matter

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Band, and Why Hardware Sales Don't Matter

Thursday night, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band, and new health-related wearable from Redmond. The device has a very Modern design, a very Modern interface and a collection of health sensors: some fairly common, like heart rate, and others fairly unique, like UV sensor. The accompanying application platform, Microsoft Health, has compatibility with the Big 3 mobile platforms: Windows Phone, iOS and Android. The device was available Friday morning at Microsoft Store locations and online.

Almost immediately, the device was sold out online and physical Microsoft Stores had lines outside to pay for the new device. While some will say that Microsoft is keeping a limit on the supply to keep demand up, the success rate of that tactic has been less than stellar for any manufacturer in the past. The number one goal of a company with a product is to get that product into the hands of consumers, and no amount of "Out of Stock" headlines will help with that goal - it will only drive your customers to find a similar alternative. So, why is Microsoft out of the Microsoft Band already?

The reality is, this device, like the Surface, is not intended to be a stand-alone successful product. Instead, it is a marketable prototype designed to show off a different way of thinking to their partners. In the case of the Surface, it was about challenging their manufacturers, who license Windows from them, to create unique hardware concepts. Because of this, we have a thriving market of unique Windows hardware, from the Surface and ASUS Transformer Book to the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga line, you can get a computer that matches your needs. More importantly, though, is the increase in options based on a Microsoft-licensed platform.

The Microsoft Band is the same thing, just with a focus on encouraging its hardware partners to build Microsoft Health-based products instead of Windows. In the announcement post, Corporate Vice President Todd Holmdahl said,

Microsoft Health is designed to benefit our partners in many ways. For new entrants and startups we have a complete offering that includes our app, and APIs as well as cloud storage for their data. Existing services can upload their data to Microsoft Health and take advantage of our advanced algorithms and the powerful machine learning from our Intelligence Engine to give their customers insights. New devices can license our 10 wrist-worn sensor modules to gather robust data including active heart rate, sleep and GPS.

So, for Microsoft, the idea was not to build a product to compete with the lines of Fitbit, but instead to show what Fitbit could do with the power of Microsoft Health at its back. This includes both the licensing of the sensor array and the use of Microsoft Health, which includes all of the incredible Azure-based machine learning technology that has made Cortana, Bing and the Xbox One so powerful. When your goal is to license the technology, also attempting to crush the competition would go a long way towards negating your primary goal.

This still doesn't exactly explain the supply shortage that Microsoft is currently experiencing, or does it? Actually, it does. As with the original Surface launch, Microsoft massively under estimated the demand for what they consider a marketable prototype. Most likely, the company expected a number of developers and Microsoft die-hards to purchase the device, along with some of their "competitors," but did not expect the lines in the stores from people who were not already Microsoft-focused consumers. Again, as with the Surface, I suspect we will see production increase and future generations of the technology produce more initial quantities.

The nice thing about having a semi-successful hardware product, with the intention of selling other hardware companies a software product is, if the Microsoft Health platform is completely ignored by the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone, Microsoft can simply start to market the Band and sell it as they have done the Surface Pro 3: successfully. Backup plans are always a good thing.

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