TIME Technology & Media

Overstock.com to Take On Amazon With Streaming Service

The service's launch is set for mid-2015

Mega online retailer Overstock.com plans to launch a video on demand and streaming service to rival Amazon, the company’s CEO announced Tuesday.

Overstock plans to launch its VOD service by mid-2015 with 30,000 and begin streaming both original and acquired content, the Hollywood Reporter reports.

The website will use analysis of product searches by its 25 million to 40 million unique visitors a month to determine what movies and TV shows to make available, CEO Patrick Byrne said. The service will be available to customers of Overstock’s loyalty program, which costs $20 a year.

“We will be a competitor to Amazon,” Byrne said. “We think our loyalty program is better than Amazon’s. We give you five to 25 percent back on what you spend. So we pay people back for their digital downloads.”

[THR]

TIME Technology & Media

AOL Stock Rises on Rumors of Verizon Takeover

AOL Verizon Takeover Rumors
The AOL logo is posted on a sign in front of the AOL Inc. offices on February 7, 2011 in Palo Alto, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Inside sources say Verizon sees AOL as a strong partner for online video content

AOL shares climbed by nearly 13% in after-hours trading Monday evening, after news broke of a possible joint venture with Verizon.

Bloomberg News, citing anonymous sources, reported that the telecoms giant had approached AOL to discuss a joint venture or an acquisition deal that would expand its video offerings for mobile devices. The sources said that the deal was in its early, speculative stages and no concrete terms had been proposed to date.

AOL’s advertising platform, which automatically matches buyers to sellers, could reportedly be combined with Verizon’s video content. Both companies declined to publicly comment on the deal.

Read more at Bloomberg News.

TIME Technology & Media

Now You Can Live Stream NBC Shows Online

NBC Logo At Entrance Of GE Building
A nighttime view of the NBC logo at the entrance to the General Electric (GE) Building where the NBC Studios and the Rainbow Room are located, Midtown Manhattan, New York, May 27, 2013. Oliver Morris—Getty Images

The announcement marks a significant step in an industry wide campaign to bring TV to mobile devices

NBC will live stream programs to computers, tablets and other mobile devices, the broadcaster announced on Tuesday, as part of an industry wide push to deliver television content across a wider variety of devices.

The broadcaster eschewed the standalone subscription model favored by HBO and CBS, however, choosing instead to deliver online content to cable and satellite subscribers at no additional cost, the Wall Street Journal reports. Viewers will have to authenticate their pay-TV subscription in order to access the shows.

The initiative marks a significant step forward in the industry’s “TV Everywhere” campaign, which commits to broadcasting television content online, but has been stymied by internecine squabbles over revenue sharing agreements. NBC Universal said in a statement that it was “committed to supporting the TV Everywhere ecosystem.”

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Technology & Media

Sony CEO Approved Kim Jong Un’s Grisly Death in The Interview

Sony Hack
A logo of Japan's Sony Corporation is displayed at its headquarters in Tokyo on May 14, 2014. Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images

Sony had unusual involvement in the controversial film

Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai personally approved the final scene in Seth Rogen’s The Interview in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dies, according to emails leaked as part of the massive security breach at the company.

The Interview, which depicts an assassination attempt against the North Korean leader, angered the rogue state and may have prompted the country to a launch the devastating cyberattack against Sony.

Hirai asked studio executives not to include Kim’s exploding face in versions of the film to be released outside of the United States, though he ultimately gave the go-ahead to the scene with Kim’s death, Bloomberg reports.

The interference of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Tokyo-based parent company on films is extremely rare, and speaks to the sensitive nature of the film.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and would like to go ahead with a variation of version 337,” Hirai wrote in a Sept. 29 e-mail to Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, based on the trove of leaked emails. “It would be much appreciated if you could push them a bit further as you mentioned in your e-mail. Also, please ensure that this does not make it into the international version of the release.”

Pascal said in an email to Rogen that she had never once received a note from headquarters involving the particulars of a film, but acquiesced to Hirai. “I haven’t the foggiest notion how to deal with Japanese politics as it relates to Korea so all I can do is make sure that Sony won’t be put in a bad situation and even that is subjective,” Pascal wrote to Rogen on Sept. 25 while asking for him to tone down the gore.

[Bloomberg]

 

TIME Companies

HBO to Outsource Streaming Technology in Blow to ‘Backstabbing’ CTO

The future of HBO Go is unclear

In a major strategic shift, HBO will license the technology underpinning the standalone streaming service it plans to offer in 2015. The company has killed a project called “Maui” that would build the new streaming service in-house, according to an internal memo (see below).

Rather than build the technology internally, the company has struck a deal to use external technology offering from MLB Advanced, according to sources familiar with the situation. MLB Advanced already provides white-label streaming technology for clients like WWE Network, but HBO will likely be its largest client. It’s unclear what this means for the future of HBO Go, the company’s existing streaming service for cable subscribers.

HBO hopes to launch the new standalone streaming service in line with the Game of Thrones season premiere in April.

Moving HBO’s new streaming service to an external platform is a blow to Otto Berkes, the chief technology officer of HBO. Since becoming HBO’s CTO in 2012, Berkes has brought in a number of his ex-colleagues from Microsoft and set up a large office in Seattle with 55 engineers, laying off a number of longtime employees in New York. The Seattle office, which is rumored to cost HBO as much as $100 million per year, has been the source of internal squabbling at the company. Insiders accused Berkes of building “a Napoleonic empire” within HBO.

From a recent Glassdoor review:

The once great group, now called Digital Products, has been in decline since about 2012. Change had been desperately needed, but change we got is toxic and lacking unity, direction and clarity. Culture is now unfriendly and full of back stabbing done with a smile.

Earlier this year, HBO Go suffered several embarrassing outages during episodes of Game of Thrones and True Detective. According to sources, Berkes had known about a “memory leak” for nine months but decided it was a “non-issue.” That leak eventually led to the HBO Go outages. Internally, some accused Berkes of using the outages as a way to ask for more money to invest in his Seattle engineering team. He got the investment, but HBO executives have not been pleased with what he’s delivered. Berkes delayed product launches and was unable to deliver on upgrades. “If you look at what [HBO Go] is today versus two years ago, he hasn’t really done anything,” one source said.

As chatter about HBO’s standalone streaming service became more serious, HBO chose an external technology provider because, according to one source, “they realized he couldn’t pull it off.”

The MLB Advanced Media deal has fueled speculation that Berkes could be fired or demoted as early as this week. HBO declined to comment on Berkes’s future at the company but a spokesperson provided the following statement to Fortune:

Maui was one of several options on the table to accomplish the undertaking of offering a standalone HBO product for next year. It is not uncommon to use outside resources in this type of project. This in no way impacts our plans and we’re excited to bring an over-the-top HBO product to market next year.

HBO is expected to make a strong statement that it is a media company, not a technology company, one source said. The company does not want to be seen as chasing after Netflix, which has led the TV industry’s push into online streaming. (Notably, Netflix was able to publish entire seasons of House of Cards andOrange is the New Black without any outages.) Netflix has always been a technology company trying to dethrone HBO. With the rise of cord-cutting, investors have pushed HBO to be more like Netflix. Taking HBO’s standalone streaming service away from Berkes’ internal team is a “direct antithetical response to Netflix,” one source said.

HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.

Here is the memo, sent by Mark Thomas, SVP of Technology Program Management, and Drew Angeloff, SVP, Digital Products:

HBO executive management has made a decision to pursue an external solution for the product that was being built by the Maui team. This decision was not made lightly, and was based on an assessment of risk and scope of the product needed to meet HBO¹s short term business needs for April 2015. This was not a judgment of the team¹s work quality or deliverables but rather a bet that an existing streaming service could deliver the needed product faster and at lower risk than Maui.

This means that effective today the Maui project is cancelled.

Canceling a project is unpleasant, especially when the target is in sight and tantalizingly close. Drew and I have often discussed the excellent work done by the team on Maui – The Maui team was hitting deliverables ahead of schedule and at a high level of quality. Maui’s timeframe caused us to make concessions both in scope and culture. We look forward to returning to teams defining scope, and consumer experiences without forced top down scheduling.

The larger technology team now has three core missions.

1. Our top priority: Fully support the work needed to enable the external solution for April. To begin this work we have asked a small forward group to engage and assess with the external partner and get to a detailed statement of work as quickly as possible. Once that SoW is complete we will staff to meet our deliverables.

2. A large portion of Maui’s effort can be repurposed for HBO GO, a top priority for HBO. We will continue to make HBO GO the best global capable streaming service available. This means that we redouble and focus our efforts, first for the April timeframe with our scale and robustness goals for Game of Thrones, and second with our longer term plan to deploy Hurley, and a suite of Hadron clients as quickly as possible. We will also fold as much as possible of the good work done for Maui into HBO GO where we can.

3. We will continue our efforts around interactive and other future looking areas on a case by case basis the same way we do today.

Maui was a way to get us into market faster with a less than perfect solution – the external partner will take that burden allowing us to focus on the forward looking technologies we are creating for HBO GO.

Mark and Drew

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME technology

Industry Gathering Aims to Reshape Future of America’s Drone Business

Flying drone with camera
Getty Images

How Robofest—an informal meeting of aerospace industry veterans, government insiders, and Beltway think tankers—aims to reshape the U.S. commercial drone industry

At Robofest, first things first. First there’s the wine, provided courtesy of one of the Washington, D.C. area’s most influential aerospace consultancies. Once you’ve filled your plastic cup—this affair is more backyard barbecue than society event—there’s the meet and greet, an opportunity to check out the credentials of those around you: an aerospace industry executive, the economic development chief for a western U.S. state, a dean of engineering for a prestigious American university, several D.C. think tankers, lobbyists, lawyers. But the very first person you meet is Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute, consultant to airlines and aviation companies and host and creator of today’s event.

Jenkins is a well-known personality in the aerospace and aviation realms. He’s been in the room for more or less every major airline merger and bankruptcy restructuring over the past few decades. He’s spent his career lecturing to and on the aerospace industry, having taught for several semesters at George Washington University while publishing countless papers and research reports as well as one book on the industry. He’s the guy that goes on Bloomberg TV and CNBC to explain these things to the world. Jenkins knows a whole lot of influential people in the aviation and aerospace worlds. A lot of those people are here at Robofest today. They, like Jenkins, share a keen interest in the next generation of aerospace technology—the various unmanned aerial systems commonly and collectively known as drones.

It’s a pitch-perfect afternoon in late October when Robofest takes place. The setting is Jenkins’ secluded home in the Shenandoah foothills. This year’s event is the second in two years, already known as an off-the-record social date that is evolving into an industry movement that Jenkins hopes will pave the way forward for the burgeoning commercial drone industry. (Fortune obtained special permission to write about the event.) On the agenda: An open discussion on how to best move the industry forward, and—of course—a bit of drone flying. But first, there’s wine and then lunch. No one wants to reshape an entire industry on an empty stomach.

Last year’s Robofest was mostly a recreational and social affair, Jenkins says. This year—with some of the more influential minds within the industry, state and federal government, and academia all gathered on his back patio—Jenkins wants to do more than just talk about what can be done. The drone industry largely sees itself as hamstrung by an overreaching and underfunded Federal Aviation Administration. The industry believes it is increasingly outgunned by foreign competitors operating in more permissive regulatory environments. Jenkins and his assembled cast of industry veterans, lawyers, entrepreneurs, lobbyists, and government insiders want to change that.

“When I think about all the airline mergers and bankruptcies I’ve been through with this industry, I feel like an old man,” Jenkins says, calling his 80 or so guests to order. “When I think about UAS technology, I’m 16 again.” As his guests finish tucking into plates of fried chicken and pasta salad, Jenkins reminds his guests that the point of this gathering is not to sit around throwing rocks at the FAA, an activity that has become an organized sport for advocates of a commercialized drone industry. Today is about hammering out some concrete steps that the industry can take in the near term. It’s about keeping the industry marching forward despite bureaucratic inertia.

Jenkins turns the floor over to his keynote speaker, the former CEO of a major Fortune 500 aerospace and defense company and vocal supporter of the drone industry. His comments set off a spirited discussion about what the industry needs, how it can nudge the FAA in the right direction, and—most importantly—what the industry can do on its own without help from the FAA. (The theme of this year’s Robofest: “Doing it Ourselves.”)

No single voice or interest dominates the discussion. Among those that speak up are academics, former FAA officials, aerospace industry executives, drone entrepreneurs looking to build new companies around UAS technologies and services, local law enforcement, and U.S. intelligence employees. One is a lawyer who specializes in the nascent new practice of drone law. Another represents the newly formed D.C. drone lobby backed by Google and Amazon. There are even realtors interested in using drones for aerial photography, which is currently prohibited by the FAA, and a sailing coach interested in applying drones to maritime sport.

Above all, there is money present. Representatives of a $2.2 billion investment fund aimed specifically at drone infrastructure—such as air traffic control technologies to allow drones to safely operate alongside conventional aircraft in U.S. airspace—weigh in during the discussion. For more than an hour the discussion ping-pongs around Jenkins’ crowded, sun-dappled patio.

There is disagreement but also plenty of consensus. The large drone industry is well represented on Capitol Hill through the defense and aerospace industries, but the small UAS industry—representing aircraft that weigh less than 55 lbs.—needs to better organize and represent itself, the group agrees. Small UAS need size-specific regulations so that a five-pound drone flying at 300 feet is treated differently than a large drone. And most of all, the industry needs to work with the FAA, rather than rail against it—otherwise, little progress will occur.

Jenkins closes the discussion by informing his guests that this will be the last Robofest held at his home. Though it’s only the second such event, it’s already straining the capacity of his generous patio space. Jenkins says he’s working with universities in the D.C. area to formalize and host the next event sometime in early 2016. The plan: bring today’s agenda to a much larger audience. It would be a mistake to wait any longer, he says.

“We’re at an inflection point,” says one self-described serial entrepreneur who launched and sold four technology companies. He’s traveled to Robofest from Michigan to hear what others in the industry have to say and for the chance to swap business cards and make a few new contacts in the industry. Naturally, his latest startup is a drone company, one that would provide drone products and services as well as training and certification for pilots—as soon as standards for such certification are codified by the FAA, that is. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he says. “But the time for this industry is now.”

The sun is getting low now and the breeze has died down—it’s finally time to fly. From car trunks and duffel bags and hard plastic carrying cases, out come the drones—from small quad-rotors to massive eight-armed octo-copters in varying shapes and sizes. The entire gathering looks on as one machine after another rises into the sky. In minutes, everyone is 16 again.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Social Media

Twitter Just Made It Easier to Block Haters

Flagging inappropriate content will take a lot less effort

You can now block Twitter trolls more easily than ever.

The social network has created a set of tools that allow users to flag inappropriate users and content amidst the 500 million Tweets sent each day in fewer steps. Blocking a user has always required filling out a report that details the alleged harassment, but less information is now required in the report.

Twitter released a short video that shows off its mobile-friendly new options.

On the back-end, Twitter has implemented a tool that allows for a more streamlined review of flagged tweets and users.

TIME Technology & Media

A TV Network Should Buy Aereo. Here’s Why.

Supreme Court Hears Case Pinning Startup Internet TV Company Aereo Against Major Broadcast Networks
In this photo illustration, Aereo.com, a web service that provides television shows online, is shown on an iPhone 4S on April 22, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

It would help them compete against Netflix and HBO Go

Aereo, an ambitious startup that aimed to stream live broadcast television to subscribers for a small monthly fee, filed for bankruptcy Friday, months after a devastating loss at the Supreme Court. But it doesn’t have to end this way.

Aereo worked by giving each of its subscribers access to a tiny antenna that picked up broadcast television signals, which were then stored in a cloud server before being beamed over the Internet to users’ laptops or mobile devices, either almost live or well after-the-fact via DVR technology. Subscribers paid about $8 a month for the service, even though broadcasters like NBC and Fox give away their content for free to anyone with an antenna in range of their transmitters, making most of their profits from advertising.

But advertising isn’t the broadcasters’ only revenue stream. Cable companies like Time Warner Cable have for years been legally required to pay broadcasters for the right to retransmit their content to cable subscribers. What sparked the Aereo case is that Aereo didn’t pay those fees, which make up an increasingly large slice of the broadcasters’ revenues. So broadcast networks, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, sued Aereo on copyright grounds. The case ultimately found its way to the Supreme Court, which in June sided against Aereo. Aereo then tried a few legal hail-marys to try saving its business, but as prime Aereo backer Barry Diller admitted over the summer, the game was over once the Court’s gavel was struck.

What I have trouble moving past is that Aereo wasn’t really charging for content, as everything you could watch on the service was free anyway. It was charging for convenience — You could watch Aereo on a laptop or iPhone, and it gave customers access to a cloud-based DVR to store their favorite shows. It also made up for the fact that, here in building-packed New York City at least, the free, over-the-air broadcasts are often difficult to watch with a regular TV aerial. Most of the people I know who used Aereo here did so because they couldn’t get reliable signals from the broadcasters. In this sense, Aereo addressed a technical failure, too. With those factors combined, Aereo was certainly worth eight bucks a month.

The broadcast networks used the courts to pummel Aereo into submission, suing a potential industry disruptor out of existence. But instead of walking away smiling, those broadcasters should realize Aereo only foreshadowed a massive industry shakeup that will change everything about television. As more people cut the cord and switch to on-demand services like Netflix and HBO Go (with the latter soon to be available without a cable subscription), cable television will slowly die out — and take those lucrative retransmission fees with them as it goes. CBS, at least, sees the writing on the door: It’s launching an innovative subscription-based online service, from which it’ll likely make money off ads, too. More broadcasters should realize that cable TV is the past, not the future. And what better, bolder move to make than buying Aereo?

TIME Technology & Media

Amazon Kindle Users Are Getting the Washington Post for Free

US-IT-AMAZON-KINDLE
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, introduces new Kindle Fire HD Family during the AMAZON press conference on September 06, 2012 in Santa Monica, California. Joe Klamar—AFP/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos reshapes the Washington Post with new Kindle app

Owners of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet are getting a 6-month digital subscription to the Washington Post for free, the retailer announced Thursday. The deal marks the first major collaboration between the newspaper and the retailer since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Post last year.

Amazon Fire owners will have access to the Post through the paper’s brand new tablet-only app, which at first will be available only to Fire users. The Washington Post will package news for the Fire tablet in distinct morning and evening editions, along with updates for major breaking stories.

Both the newspaper and the online retailer have plenty to gain from the new arrangement. With its platform on the Kindle, the Post will aim at tapping into a wider audience. And Amazon could bring more customers to the Kindle Fire in order to gain exclusive access to the tablet version of the Post.

“Digital reading opens up so many possibilities for experimentation, and The Washington Post’s new app offers an immersive news-reading experience that we hope our customers find engaging and informative,” said Russ Grandinetti, Senior Vice President of Kindle, in a statement.

Bezos completed his $250 million purchase of the Washington Post in October 2013. He has since helped usher in substantive changes at the paper, dismissing the Post’s longtime publisher Katharine Weymouth and replacing her with former President Ronald Reagan aide Fred Ryan. He’s also hired 100 new journalists and cut retirement benefits for current employees.

Bezos played an outsized role in helping design the Post’s app, the newspaper’s chief technology officer Shailesh Prakash told the New York Times. “We talked to him constantly,” Prakash said about the feedback Bezos gave to developers. “He’s our most active beta tester.”

The Post’s app has been designed with high-resolution photos and graphics, Amazon said, and has an immersive read view as well as a bird’s eye browsing view. Readers can swipe once to move from story to story. The editions will be released at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

Amazon has a base of 22.7 million tablet users, according to Kantar World Panel analyst Carolina Milanesi, though its share of tablet sales dropped to 18% from 25% in the year ending in September. The Post saw its paper sales decline 44% in the six years before Bezos purchased it, and both the paper and Amazon hope to energize their businesses through the collaboration.

Analysts said that for Kindle Fire owners, who use the device much more for reading than do owners of other tablets, the new Post app will improve the tablet’s value. But it’s unclear whether the app will drive new Fire sales. “There’s a heavy skew in the amount of time during the day that Kindle Fire owners use it for reading,” said Milanesi. “So that would suit this kind of bundling. But would it make a huge difference to a readership when the free content offering ends? It’s hard to tell.”

For the Post, access to a new audience is instantaneous. “With 42 million monthly readers and growing, this is another step forward in our effort to serve an even larger national and global audience,” said the Post’s Ryan.

TIME Technology & Media

Spotify CEO ‘Really Frustrated’ With Taylor Swift

"Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala - Candids
Musician Taylor Swift attends the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. Mike Coppola—Getty Images

After Swift pulled her music from the streaming service

Spotify’s CEO on Tuesday aired his frustration with Taylor Swift’s critique of the streaming music service, arguing that his company’s revenue sharing agreements ensure that musicians get paid for their work and serve as a bulwark against online piracy.

“We started Spotify because we love music and piracy was killing it,” wrote CEO Daniel Ek in a post on Spotify’s official blog. Ek said that Spotify had paid a total of $2 billion to music labels and their associated artists since Spotify launched in 2008, a sum he argued wouldn’t exist had fans downloaded the music through pirated websites.

Ek’s defense came in the wake of pop artist Taylor Swift’s widely publicized decision to pull all of her music, save one song, from the streaming service last week. Swift has previously criticized Spotify’s payments to musical artists — which average less than a penny per played song — as inadequate compensation for artists.

“When I hear stories about artists and songwriters who say they’ve seen little or no money from streaming and are naturally angry and frustrated, I’m really frustrated too,” Ek wrote in the post. “We will do anything we can to work with the industry to increase transparency, improve speed of payments, and give artists the opportunity to promote themselves and connect with fans.”

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