The UpStream

Ballmer Steps Down as Microsoft Board Member

posted Sunday Aug 24, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Ballmer Steps Down as Microsoft Board Member

Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO and now the owner of the NBA's LA Clippers, has officially stepped down as a board member with Microsoft this week, effective immediately. In an open letter to new CEO Satya Nadella, Ballmer mentions that his six month mark of retirement is coming up and he's had a lot of time to reflect on what he's done and what he wants to do moving forward.

Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off. The fall will be hectic between teaching a new class and the start of the NBA season so my departure from the board is effective immediately.

After buying the Clippers for $2 billion, I figured the team would occupy his time, especially considering he paid four times more for a basketball team than anyone else ever has. And as mentioned in the letter, he's also going to be teaching. Ballmer will be teaching an MBA class, STRAMGT588: Leading organizations, for the Stanford School of Business come fall. Then in the spring he will move over to USC's Marshall School of Business.

Ballmer left Nadella some encouraging words, saying that Microsoft will have to be "bold" and "make big bets" in order to remain on top. He also said that he still believes in the company's mobile-first and cloud-first approach. As far as his shares, Ballmer will remain as a shareholder and still wants to give his opinion on new ideas.

Count on me to keep ideas and inputs flowing. The company will move to higher heights. I will be proud, and I will benefit through my share ownership. I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can.

In response, Nadella thanked Ballmer for his contributions and assistance during the CEO transition, wishing him the best of luck in the future.

As you embark on your new journey, I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft, and we wish you incredible success. I also look forward to partnering with you as a shareholder.

What do you make of all of this? Is there an underlying reason that Ballmer would leave everything but his shares of Microsoft? Or is he really going to be too busy to contribute effectively? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Analysts Predict HBO to Make $600 Million for Standalone Video Service

posted Friday Aug 22, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Analysts Predict HBO to Make $600 Million for Standalone Video Service

With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Redbox owning the video-streaming service without needing to rely on customers having an active cable subscription, it would only make sense for companies tied to those cable companies to want a piece of the action. It also isn't surprising that financial groups are starting to talk about the benefit of those endeavors. This is why Barclays Capital issued a report this week saying that if HBO would sell its programming - something we all have thought would happen at some point soon - the company could make an additional $600 million per year.

The report contains the inner-workings of Barclays' analysts showcasing a bunch of different plans that could lead HBO to providing either a direct service to customers or having other companies buy its content, all while keeping cable providers happy. In one of the scenarios, HBO content would be able to be streamed at $11 per month, but the content would only be available for six to twelve months after the shows air on the network's cable offering. In other case, all HBO content would be readily available indefinitely but customers might have to pay higher than the $15 per month they pay to cable companies, about $18 a month.

If HBO chose to go with the less expensive model, Barclays analysts predict that somewhere between 4.5 and 7 million homes would pick up HBO at only $11 a month. Only 300,000 to 800,000 might opt for an $18 per month package. However, Kannan Venkateshwar, the creator of the report, says that if HBO were to offer both packages on a tiered system, HBO could rake in about $600 million each year. As a reference, HBO made about $1.7 billion in 2013.

As we've even said on the show, it makes total sense for HBO to offer its own service outside of HBO GO, which currently requires an active cable subscription and HBO subscription for the service to work. And HBO is becoming less affordable to most consumers, as cable bills are constantly on the rise. A standalone Netflix-style business model could open up huge opportunities for this current trend of cable cutters. However, cable companies would take notice quickly and may put up more of a fight than Barclays might be willing to admit.

What do you think? Would you subscribe to HBO video-streaming if you didn't have to be tied to a cable company? Do you currently have cable to have HBO Go? Let us know your situation in the comments below.

YouTube Updates Set-Top Box Apps, Starting with Xbox One

posted Sunday Aug 17, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube Updates Set-Top Box Apps, Starting with Xbox One

Those checking out the YouTube app on an Xbox One this week would have noticed a slight change in aesthetics within the Google-owned video-streaming service. It's part of a full renovation to the look and feel of the site, coming off the heels of a a bunch of feature additions announced two months ago.

In the past, searching for videos from channels you subscribed to could be a chore, and finding new and interesting videos were not easy. YouTube looks to change all of that with this interface update, which will make the app on a set-top box look more like what you see on your phone, computer or tablet. In the following weeks, YouTube will push the update to all set-top box and Smart TVs across the country.

The new YouTube guide on the left of the app will allow you to subscribe to channels, watch videos and search all within one button press. Signing in to the app will lead you to better recommendations from the What to Watch section and you can even view your playlists now.

Aside from it being easier to just find videos, there's a bunch of other features the new look will bring you. Since content creators are working every day to bring new videos and playlists to their subscribers, the updated YouTube app will allow you to finally see all of those videos and playlists. No longer will the app decide for you on what you can view. The updated channel pages will show you all of the content, front-and-center.

It always confused me why certain apps would only show select information and why the experience had to be different from the website. Part of me thinks this facelift is to ease some of the tension of the all-but-certain Twitch acquisition. The good news is that the app sure does look nice, and it functions, too. Have you checked it out yet on the Xbox One? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Xbox Revives Vision, Sony Shows True Colors at Gamescom [Editorial]

posted Sunday Aug 17, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox Revives Vision, Sony Shows True Colors at Gamescom [Editorial]

This week at Gamescom in Germany, we got to see the future plans from Sony and Microsoft for the holiday season and beyond. Specifically, we saw the rebirth of some original ideas, and a little bit of copying and finger-pointing from one of the two.

First, let's start off with Microsoft. The Xbox presentation in Cologne was refreshing in that it brought back some vigor within the brand and gave gamers hope that this generation of console truly can be innovative. Games were plentiful, there was a proven commitment to independent developers and we got to see the Xbox One finally come out of the shell it was placed in since E3. No major vision changes and instead the message was around the fact that the Xbox One is trying to go back to what made people excited for it. While we didn't see a console without an optical drive or the original idea to share games with your friends, in true Microsoft fashion, the company announced it has purchased exclusive rights to the upcoming Tomb Raider game, locking it on the Xbox One for a "duration" of time. When pressed, Xbox head Phil Spencer would not give a specific length of time because, "there are certain things (he's) just not going to talk about because it's a business deal between us (Xbox) and them." This exclusivity combined with the dozens of top titles coming to the platform has brought energy back to the Microsoft brand, which has been slacking in terms of sales performance when compared to the PlayStation 4.

Speaking of Sony, the entire conference seemed to be presented with a chip on its figurative shoulder. The message that was repeated was "this is for the players" however it felt like those onstage were doing it for Sony instead. While the games presented were fantastic, as expected, the underlying tone did not change since E3. Sony is still not a master at the art of subtlety, and again Sony is yelling that the PlayStation 4 is the best console, instead of just proving it is through the console's offering itself.

The good news is that Sony announced an idea we thought we'd never have in this current generation of consoles: digital game sharing. The idea that originally came out of the Xbox camp has now made its way over to the PlayStation 4. The difference is in the implementation, though. While the Xbox One was going to allow unlimited sharing of your digital titles to up to five of your friends for an unlimited amount of time, Microsoft failed to properly relay its vision and message to its fans and all they heard was "DRM", causing Microsoft to backtrack on the plan altogether. On the other hand, the PlayStation will allow you to share a game with your friend as many times as you want, but only for an hour each session. Yes, you'll still need an active Internet connection to do it even if Sony didn't say it outright.

And then there's the post-presentation interview. Speaking on exclusivity, Jim Ryan from PlayStation Europe said that Sony doesn't just buy up exclusive rights.

So do we feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity? Probably not. You saw last night (at Sony's press conference) that before the media briefing we showed updated videos of games that we had revealed at E3. That's because we wanted to keep the show itself full of new, fresh things. We think that gave us a good, strong, convincing portfolio of exclusive stuff, and we're happy with that.

But Sony buys up games all the time, especially indie games. Immediately after that statement, Ryan went on to say just that.

...the icing on the cake is that we will go out and look at a small number of games and seek to help the developer make those games as successful as they possibly can, and that support can take a whole range of forms. It can take the form of financial support, it can take the form of having Sean Murray from Hello Games on the stage at E3-there are many ways to do it, and we try not to be prescriptive and say 'this is the template you have to follow, this is the path.'

So, Sony is brushing off Xbox's exclusivity as weak when they turn around and do the same thing. Do you think PlayStation is still bitter over losing the exclusive rights to the Metal Gear Solid franchise? All of this is typical of where we are in this current "console war" and none of it should come across as surprising, especially considering the party of which it is coming from. In the meantime, I'll be waiting to play Final Fantasy XIV and Dust 514 on my Xbox One. Oh wait, I can't, because they're PS4 exclusives.

Xbox Entertainment Studios Looking for New Home at Warner Bros.

posted Saturday Aug 16, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Xbox Entertainment Studios Looking for New Home at Warner Bros.

A couple weeks ago, Microsoft announced the largest round of layoffs in the company's history. While most of the loss will come from the Nokia division, several other divisions saw big cuts as well. One division seeing a full cut is the Xbox Entertainment Studios. Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that XES, founded only 2 years ago and about to release its first set of original programming, would be disbanded.

With a collection of top talent onboard, there is still a lot of value in the studio. Because of this, Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Warner Bros. to transition XES from Microsoft's hands into part of Warner Bros. gaming-focused studio Machinima.

The original plan was for former CBS executive Nancy Tellem, Microsoft VP Jordan Levin and a few other high-level studio heads to remain with Microsoft to keep alive existing projects, such as the Halo television series, produced by Steven Spielberg. However, if the studio is not closed and, instead transferred to another owner, it is likely that everyone and everything involved will be transferred as well. This is even more likely when considering the highest value for the studio is the Halo series and Nancy Tellem.

This move could explain the rumored initial series launch on Showtime, rather than the company's own platforms. If this conversation has been in the works since Nadella took over as CEO, it could be Warner Bros. looking to outsource the release of the show, not Microsoft.

Keeping the studio alive, and merging it with established Machinima would enhance both parties. XES has been focusing on scripted, high-produced content. Machinima has always been focused on unscripted walk-throughs and reviews. With no direct overlap in projects, but an almost 100% overlap in target audience, the content to come out of both have the potential to be enhanced by cross pollination. It could also save a lot of jobs.

FCC Still Looking for Public Comments on Net Neutrality

posted Saturday Aug 16, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FCC Still Looking for Public Comments on Net Neutrality

When the FCC opened up public comments on net neutrality, they were flooded with input. As the deadline, July 15, got closer, they received so many comments that their servers crashed, meaning people wanting to give their input were left in the dark.

In an effort to make it up, the FCC extended the deadline by an additional 3 days. Much to the agency's surprise, comments kept coming in right up to the last moment. This week, the agency announced,

To ensure that members of the public have as much time as was initially anticipated to reply to initial comments in these proceedings, the Bureau today is extending the reply comment deadline by three business days. Accordingly, interested parties now have until Monday, September 15, 2014 to file reply comments.

This could indicate one of several things. First, it could be exactly as they say: they are still interested in getting new input because of the overwhelming response. If this is the case, they might actually be interested in the results. That could mean that they might follow what the public wants.

On the other hand, the agency might just be overwhelmed by the fact that there are people who don't agree with their beliefs. If that is the case, the FCC might be waiting for enough comments to support their beliefs before they can make a decision that might not be the popular one. Considering the agency's indecision on the topic, this possibility is likely.

Hopefully both the comments and the decision will match: the Internet should be equally available to anyone who pays for access.

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