The UpStream

Pandora Limits Amount of Free Listening Time on Mobile Devices

posted Sunday Mar 3, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Pandora Limits Amount of Free Listening Time on Mobile Devices

While Spotify might be making progressive moves towards bringing more music to mobile platforms, it seems Pandora is still stuck in some sort of crazy dimension, as we discussed on the show last week. The company announced in a blog post this week that increased royalty costs will force Pandora to limit the amount of time a free user can listen on their smartphones and tablets.

Founder Tim Westergreen said that a 40 hour limit will be placed onto free users' accounts beginning this week. Westergreen went on to say that considering an average user listens to around 20 hours a month on Pandora, this change will only affect four percent of its 65 million customers. However, one could safely assume that the 65 million users are not all active. Plus, when you consider that four percent of 65 million is 2.6 million people, that is quite a lot of people who will actually be affected by the change.

What specifically caused this limitation? Pandora explains.

Pandora's per-track royalty rates have increased more than 25% over the last 3 years, including 9% in 2013 alone and are scheduled to increase an additional 16% over the next two years. After a close look at our overall listening, a 40-hour-per-month mobile listening limit allows us to manage these escalating costs with minimal listener disruption.

And, if you go over that 40 hour limit, you can simply listen for free as much as you want on your desktop or laptop, or pay 99 cents for the rest of the month. Pandora also suggests that you simply subscribe to Pandora One for unlimited listening with no ads.

So there you have it. While Spotify is looking to cut royalty payouts to unheard of percentages, Pandora is sort of taking the easy way out by limiting the amount of time you can listen for free. While I get that a company needs to make money to stay in business, this move just keeps adding to the amount of things Pandora keeps doing to make you raise an eyebrow at the company as a whole.

Mozilla Announces Firefox OS Availability for Smartphones, Will Anyone Care?

posted Sunday Mar 3, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Mozilla Announces Firefox OS Availability for Smartphones, Will Anyone Care?

Would you like to see a Mozilla Firefox phone? Do you still even use Firefox as a browser? Well, whether or not you do or don't, Mozilla unveiled the first commercial version of the Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress. They even announced phones and carriers who will play host to the operating system. Mozilla has positioned this OS to be perfect for basic smartphones and for "developing markets."

One of the interesting things for me, however, is the fact that the entire OS is built and driven by HTML5, and not by seventeen simultaneous instances of Flash, not like that happens on the Firefox browser or anything. At any rate, Mozilla also announced that the first batch of phones will be running on Qualcomm processors and that LG, ZTE and Alcatel will be the first manufacturers to produce the devices, with Huawei following suit later on in the year.

For the carriers who are standing behind the Firefox OS, we have a lot you might not recognize and a couple you will - America Movil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Japan's KDDI, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telenor. These companies will launch the smartphones in Brazil, Columbia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela. Moving forward, Mozilla also said that more manufacturers and carriers are expected to get on board and that the US will see the Firefox OS in 2014.

Obviously, another platform adds a whole new level of crazy to the ever-changing mobile OS market that we're involved in today. It will definitely come down to the developers on whether or not Mozilla is successful with this rollout. If the devs don't want to make the apps customers want, then Firefox OS will simply fade into the background as quickly as it entered. However, the advantage Mozilla has is the fact it's running on HTML5, which means developers don't have to learn a completely new coding language, though that benefit never panned out for Palm. During MWC, Mozilla was showing off Facebook integration as well as Nokia's Here platform, fully working on the Firefox OS.

Having not yet played with the actual user interface or hear about a concrete commitment from popular developers, I'm unsure if Mozilla's Firefox OS will be a flop or a flagship win. Luckily, we have the amazing Avram Piltch from LAPTOP Magazine, who was at MWC in Barcelona and will be able to tell us more about this OS on F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

Zynga Shuts the Doors on Texas, New York Offices

posted Sunday Mar 3, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Zynga Shuts the Doors on Texas, New York Offices

While posting a small profit and having EA drop their copyright suit might be good news for Zynga, it appears to just be a bandage over a bigger problem. This week, Zynga announced it is shutting the doors on its Baltimore office. The company will also be shrinking its footprint in Texas and New York.

For their Baltimore branch, the closure will affect around 30 employees, or 1 percent of the developer studio. Further, this particular office was directly involved in the production of CityVille 2, which we know Zynga's COO David Ko canned after realizing the game was popular but not making them any money. Ko also mentioned in the announcement that Zynga did offer transfer opportunities to the affected employees, but only half of them decided to stay along for the ride.

Zynga will be closing the office in McKinney, Texas, as well as the office in downtown Austin, which will both be shifted to their sites in Dallas and North Austin. In New York, all of Zynga's offices will be shut down and the employees will be sent to the New York City mobile studio.

This is all a part of David Ko's no nonsense attitude when it comes to his attempt at making sure Zynga will stick around for longer than investors might be have predicted. From cutting the fat on non-profitable game titles to layoffs dating back to October, Ko is really putting the clamps down on the company. He did say in the blog post that the company intends to shut down the UK and Japan studios as well, however no date was given. On his plan to keep the company afloat, Ko said, "We still have a lot of work to do, but I'm confident that we're on the right path to deliver on the potential of Zynga."

Ubisoft Expands the Mania's Reach

posted Saturday Mar 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Ubisoft Expands the Mania's Reach

Ever since we saw ShootMania Storm at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the entire team has been excited about the game. We were fortunate to be part of the closed beta last year and have been active in the open beta as well; any chance to play this ridiculously fun game.

We are not the only ones who have been excited about the game. Our friends in the Frag Dolls are excited enough by the game to have come out of retirement for the title. Well, it turns out Ubisoft and Value are also excited about the title, adding it in beta to the steam platform.

That's right - Ubisoft has published the BETA version of the game on Steam. Add to that a 10% discount on the final version if you preorder now and it is a pretty compelling idea. It is pretty unusual for a major publisher like Ubisoft to release a highly anticipated new IP in beta state in such a massive, open, publicized way. I assume their intent is to get the game into as many hands as possible for free before they start charging for it. It seems like a great idea, and seems to be working.

During our interview with the Frag Dolls at the International CES this year, they said that the game has been so popular that people are running their own paid tournaments, even with the title still being pre-production. For people to risk money on a game that could potentially glitch out is dedication.

If you are a fan of FPS titles, definitely check this game out while it is free, either through Steam or not. You certainly won't regret it. Hit the break for the original teaser trailer and our interview with the Frag Dolls.

Hulu Looking for Ownership Transition - Again

posted Saturday Mar 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Hulu Looking for Ownership Transition - Again

For some reason, Hulu has had a lot of trouble with their ownership. Every few months it seems like one or more owners get antsy and want out. Most recently, an early investor got out, leaving our three big guys behind: News Corp. (FOX), Disney (ABC) and Comcast (NBC).

In the past, everyone wanted out. Several bids were made for the company, but the major investors were unable to come to an agreement on terms. Eventually the sale was ended, with no change taking place. The main companies at the heart of the disagreement were News Corp. and Disney; both have very different ideas of how the brand should be run, and how licensing should work. Fox has even gone so far as to wait two weeks before licensing new content to Hulu.

With that information at hand, it is not surprising at all to hear that News Corp. and Disney are in talks to buy each other out. Both companies either want out entirely or want the other one out, willing to purchase the opponent's share. Again, the issue at hand has to do entirely with how to run the business, primarily around the monetization aspect.

Of course, this is all speculation. Adding to the rumor's credibility is the fact that an early investor, and current CEO, Jason Kilar, is set to step down at the end of the month. During an executive power vacuum would be the ideal time to make a big change like this. Kilar sold his shares of the company back in October for $40 million at the same time Providence Equity Partners sold back $200 million worth of stock.

The idea that multiple stockholders would bail together, including the CEO, certainly suggests management struggles. Hopefully, if this happens, it will go for the better. So far, it would appear that the FOX stake in the company would lead to a change in the way the company works. Either way, my guess is NBC won't be hugely excited about going from a 33% equal partnership to minority stake.

Groupon Fires CEO, Receives Public Farewell

posted Saturday Mar 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Groupon Fires CEO, Receives Public Farewell

We have written about the spectacular failure that Groupon has been since before their IPO. Between June and August of 2011, their traffic dropped 50%; not exactly the press you need before you announce your IPO in October. Their attempt to get a good valuation and some investment money didn't quite pan out. Add to that unsuccessful product launches and you end up with a company in trouble.

Their disaster has been so legendary that all recent IPOs have been scored in relation to theirs: Facebook was compared to determine which was worse, and LinkedIn proved an IPO could be successful. But what of the leaders of companies who lose their shirts in the stock market? Often times they are taken out and fired. Groupon has decided to follow in BlackBerry's footsteps, letting Andrew Mason, their CEO, go.

Andrew didn't respond the way most CEOs do when terminated - he released a public statement, and it is a unique one. He knew what was coming and does not blame the company. We have the statement after the break.

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