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Movies

Can Streaming Companies Replace Hollywood Studios? (vanityfair.com) 90

"Movie-theater attendance is down to a 19-year low, with revenues hovering slightly above $10 billion," reports Vanity Fair, arguing that traditional studios should feel threatened by nimble streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon, which produced the film Manchester By The Sea -- nominated for six Oscars. An anonymous reader writes: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attended the Oscars, prompting host Jimmy Kimmel to joke that if the film won, "you can expect your Oscar to arrive in 2 to 5 business days, possibly stolen by a GrubHub delivery man." But it's a symbol of an inevitable disruption in Hollywood. "Studios now account for less than 10% of their parent companies' profits," writes Vanity Fair, adding "By 2020, according to some forecasts, that share will fall to around 5%... Some 70% of box office comes from abroad, which means that studios must traffic in the sort of blow-'em-up action films and comic-book thrillers that translate easily enough to Mandarin. Or in reboots and sequels that rely on existing intellectual property." Former Paramount CEO Barry Diller famously said "I don't know why anyone would want a movie company today. They don't make movies; they make hats and whistles."

The article makes the case that Hollywood, "in its over-reliance on franchises, has ceded the vast majority of the more stimulating content to premium networks and over-the-top services such as HBO and Showtime, and, increasingly, digital-native platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. These companies also have access to analytics tools that Hollywood could never fathom, and an allergy to its inefficiency."

The article argues that with A.I., CGI, big data and innovation, "Silicon Valley has already won," and that "it's only a matter of time -- perhaps a couple of years -- before movies will be streamed on social-media sites."
Movies

Science Fiction Actor Bill Paxton Dies At Age 61 (ew.com) 102

Bill Paxton died Saturday at the age of 61 after complications from surgery. An anonymous reader remembers Paxton's work with some YouTube clips: Bill Paxton starred in a surprising number of cult science fiction favorites. After playing both the blue-haired punk rocker who confronts The Terminator and the mean older brother in John Hughes' nerd comedy Weird Science, Paxton was cast as private Hudson in Aliens, the soldier who at one point wails "Game over, man!" Sigourney Weaver called his performance "brilliant," while James Cameron said Paxton's character released some of the audience's tension. [For Hudson's climactic final showdown with the aliens] "Bill made up different dialogue on every take, and he was yelling it over a machine gun, so none of it actually recorded."

Paxton also appeared in Predator 2, Apollo 13, Twister, and James Cameron's Titanic. Most recently he provided the voice of the executive Kahn in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and had a recurring role as Hydra agent John Garrett in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Movies

Studios Push for $50 Early Home Movie Rentals (variety.com) 241

As many as five major Hollywood studios have been working with cinema owners to shrink the traditional release window and allow consumers to rent movies on-demand in as little as 17 days after they hit theaters, reports Variety. From the article: Warner Bros. and Universal have been the most aggressive in pursuing an arrangement that would see certain movies receive a premium video-on-demand release within weeks of their theatrical premieres, but now other studios are joining the discussions. Twentieth Century Fox has also begun to talk early releases with theater owners, while Sony is having its own separate talks with exhibitors and is trying to devise its own plan. Paramount, which previously did a pilot program with AMC and a few other exhibitors to release "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" and "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" on digital platforms early, has continued to seek a similar strategy. Though different studios are exploring different scenarios, the plan that has gathered the most steam would involve offering up movies for $50 a rental some 17 days after their theatrical opening. Those rentals would be available for 48 hours. The latest round of discussions began roughly 18 months ago.
The Courts

Judge Blocks California Law Limiting Publication of Actor's Ages (politico.com) 123

mi writes: IMDb has a reason to rejoice. Politico reports: "A federal judge has barred the State of California from enforcing a new law limiting online publication of actors' ages. Acting in a case brought by online movie information website IMDb, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Wednesday that the California law likely violates the First Amendment and appears poorly tailored to proponents' stated goal of preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. The judge expressed deep skepticism that the law, which he said appeared to apply only to IMDb, would have any effect on discrimination. The judge rejected the state's arguments that the law was a regulation of commercial speech, finding that IMDb was acting as a publisher in posting the birthday and age information online." "It's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal anti-discrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end," Chhabria wrote in a three-page order.
Cellphones

Cellphones As a Fifth-Order Elaboration of Maxwell's Theory (ieee.org) 129

schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum that reflects on the "Stages of Electronics" based on James Clerk Maxwell's theory: Now that the world has become addicted to portable electronics, billions of people have come to see the companies providing these gadgets as the most innovative, and the people who head those companies as the most exalted, of all time. "Genius" is a starter category in this discussion. But clever and appealing though today's electronic gadgets may be, to the historian they are nothing but the inevitable fifth-order elaborations of two fundamental ideas: electromagnetic radiation, the theory of which was formulated by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s, and miniaturized fabrication, which followed Richard Feynman's 1959 dictum [PDF] that "there's plenty of room at the bottom." Maxwell was a true genius. The history of science offers few examples of work as brilliant as unifying electricity, magnetism, and light as aspects of a single phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. As Max Planck put it, "in doing so he achieved greatness unequalled."

Vaclav Smil writes via IEEE: "As I pass the zombielike figures on the street, oblivious to anything but their cellphone screens, I wonder how many of them know that the most fundamental advances enabling their addictions came not from Nokia, Apple, Google, Samsung, or LG. These companies' innovations are certainly admirable, but they amount only to adding a few fancy upper floors to a magnificent edifice whose foundations were laid by Maxwell 152 years ago and whose structure depends on decades-old advances that made it possible to build electronics devices ever smaller."

The Almighty Buck

Valve's Gabe Newell Says Only 30 SteamVR Apps Have Made $250,000+ (roadtovr.com) 151

New submitter rentarno writes: According to Valve President, Gabe Newell, only 30 virtual-reality apps on Steam (of some 1,000) have made more than $250,000. But that isn't stopping the company from throwing the bulk of their weight behind virtual reality; Valve recently confirmed that it's working on 3 full VR games. Valve still believes in a huge future for VR, even while things are slow to start. It'll take work to find and make the content that's great for VR, Newell says. "We got Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress running in VR. It was kind of a novelty, purely a development milestone. There was absolutely nothing compelling about them. Nobody's going to buy a VR system so they can watch movies. You have to aspire and be optimistic that the unique characteristics of VR will cause you to discover a bunch of stuff that isn't possible on any of the existing platforms." How do you view the VR industry in early 2017? Do you think it shows promise or will eventually fail like 3D TV?
Piracy

Online Piracy Can Boost Comic Book Sales, Research Finds (torrentfreak.com) 36

A number of studies show that piracy helps movies, TV shows, and music albums find a much wider audience, which in turn, often times, help in boosting their revenue. But what about comic books? A new academic study shows that piracy can have a positive effect on comic book sales, too, albeit under certain conditions. From a report on TorrentFreak: Manga, in particular, has traditionally been very popular on file-sharing networks and sites. These are dozens of large sites dedicated to the comics, which are downloaded in their millions. According to the anti-piracy group CODA, which represents Japanese comic publishers, piracy losses overseas are estimated to be double the size of overseas legal revenue. With this in mind, Professor Tatsuo Tanaka of the Faculty of Economics at Keio University decided to look more closely at how piracy interacts with legal sales. In a natural experiment, he examined how the availability of pirated comic books affected revenue. Interestingly, the results show that decreased availability of pirated comics doesn't always help sales. In fact, for comics that no longer release new volumes, the effect is reversed. "Piracy decreases sales of ongoing comics, but it increases sales of completed comics," Professor Tanaka writes. "To put this another way, displacement effect is dominant for ongoing comics, and advertisement effect is dominant for completed comics," he adds.
Security

Netflix Just Announced a User Focused Security Application (netflix.com) 43

Moving beyond movies and TV shows (and their DVDs), Netflix announced on Tuesday Stethoscope, its "first project following a User Focused Security approach." From a company's blog post: The notion of "User Focused Security" acknowledges that attacks against corporate users (e.g., phishing, malware) are the primary mechanism leading to security incidents and data breaches, and it's one of the core principles driving our approach to corporate information security. [...] Stethoscope is a web application that collects information for a given user's devices and gives them clear and specific recommendations for securing their systems. If we provide employees with focused, actionable information and low-friction tools, we believe they can get their devices into a more secure state without heavy-handed policy enforcement. The company says Stethoscope tracks disk encryption, firewall, automatic updates, up-to-date OS/software, screen lock, jailbroken/rooted status, security software stack configurations of the device.
Piracy

70 Percent of Young Swedish Men Are Video Pirates, Study Says (torrentfreak.com) 207

A new study from Sweden has found that just over half of all young people admit to obtaining movies and TV shows from the Internet without paying, a figure that rockets to 70 percent among young men, reports TorrentFreak, citing a study. From the report: According to figures just released by media industry consultants Mediavision, in January 2017 almost a quarter of all Swedes aged between 15 and 74 admitted either streaming or downloading movies from 'pirate' sites during the past month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tendency to do so is greater among the young. More than half of 15 to 24-year-olds said they'd used a torrent or streaming site during December. When concentrating that down to only young men in the same age group, the figure leaps to 70 percent.
Sci-Fi

Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life (theverge.com) 187

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.
Media

Netflix Geoblocking Loosened Under New EU Law (thestack.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: "The European Parliament is now finalizing legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media -- such as video streaming, games and music -- while visiting other EU countries," reports The Stack. Under the new rules, companies will not be able to arbitrarily block subscribers from accessing the content catalog of their home countries while visiting other parts of the European Union, with country of origin to be established by various possible methods besides IP address, including payment details, public tax information and 'checks on electronic identification'. The issue was brought to a head last year when Netflix began blocking the known IPs of VPN providers, often used by subscribers to access the catalogs of their home countries while travelling.
Crime

Police Arrest Five Men For Selling Kodi Boxes 'Fully Loaded' With Illegal Streaming Apps (bbc.com) 105

Five people have been arrested in early morning raids for selling "fully loaded Kodi boxes," which are set-top boxes modified to stream subscription football matches, television channels and films for free. The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) said it believed the suspects had made roughly $250,000 selling the devices online. BBC reports: Kodi is free software built by volunteers to bring videos, music, games and photographs together in one easy-to-use application. Some shops sell legal set-top boxes and TV sticks, often called Kodi boxes, preloaded with the software. The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content "freely available" on the internet. However, the software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of films and TV series, or free access to subscription television channels. The five arrests were made in Bolton, Bootle, Cheadle, Manchester and Rhyl.
EU

EU Agrees To Cross-Border Access To Streaming Services (variety.com) 55

Putting in place the first piece of its hoped-for unified digital market, the European Union has agreed on new rules allowing subscribers of online services in one E.U. country access to them while traveling in another. From a report: "Today's agreement will bring concrete benefits to Europeans," said vice president in charge of the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a statement. "People who have subscribed to their favorite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in Europe. This is a new important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market." Variety explain: That said, "portability" is the least contentious of DSM regulations being advanced by the European Commission. Reached yesterday, the agreement between the Commission, the E.U.'s executive arm, the European Parliament and the E.U.'s Council of Ministers, representing its 28 member states, will allow consumers to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when traveling within the E.U. The online service providers who will be mandated to make these services available range from video-on-demand platforms (Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Mubi, Chili TV) to online TV services (Viasat's Viaplay, Sky's Now TV, Voyo), music streaming services (Spotify, Deezer, Google Music) and game online marketplaces (Steam, Origin).
Piracy

Movie Industry Wants Irish ISPs To Block Pirate Movie Streaming Portals (torrentfreak.com) 55

The Motion Picture Association is trying to have three popular streaming portals blocked by Irish Internet providers. In a new court case, the movie studios describe movie4k.to, primewire.ag and onwatchseries.to as massive copyright infringement hubs, with each offering thousands of infringing movies. From a TorrentFreak report: RTE reports that the MPA's fresh blocking demands are targeting a total of eight ISPs -- Eir, Sky Ireland, Vodafone Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, Three Ireland, Digiweb, Imagine Telecommunications and Magnet Networks. Based on yesterday's hearing it appears to be only a matter of time before the three sites will be blocked. None of the ISPs have raised principle objections against a court determination in this case. That said, reports suggest that there are still a few finer details that have to be worked out, which could include issues regarding costs and the technical implementation.
Patents

Patent Troll With Good Record in Past Sues Netflix, SoundCloud, Vimeo, Others Over Offline Downloads (arstechnica.com) 94

Netflix added the ability to download movies and TV episodes for offline viewing in November last year. Music streaming service SoundCloud, and video hosting service Vimeo have had this feature for quite some time, too. But they are all being sued now by a patent troll. From an ArsTechnica report: The plaintiff is a company few have heard of: Blackbird Technologies, a company with no products or assets other than patents. Blackbird's business is to buy up patent rights and file lawsuits over them, a business known colloquially as "patent trolling." Last week, Blackbird (who tells potential clients about being "able to litigate at reduced costs and achieve results") filed lawsuits against Netflix, SoundCloud, Vimeo, Starz, Mubi, and Studio 3 Partners, which owns the Epix TV channel. [...] The patent-holding company, which filed the lawsuits in Delaware federal court, has good reason to hope for success. The '362 patent already has a track record of squeezing settlement cash out of big companies.
Communications

IMDb Is Shutting Down Its Long-Running, Popular Message Boards After 16 Years (polygon.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Polygon: After 16 years, IMDb's message boards and the ability to privately message other users is shutting down, with many members of the community openly mourning the loss of the section. IMDb, which stands from the Internet Movie Database, is one of the world's biggest databases for film and television. According to the company, there is information on more than 4.1 million titles and 7.7 million personalities available on the site as of January 2017. The message board, which was introduced in 2001, reportedly remains one of the most used services on the website, but despite that, the company is getting ready to shut it down, citing a desire to foster a positive environment and serve its audience the best way it can. "After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb's message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide," a statement on the site reads. "The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic. Because IMDb's message boards continue to be utilized by a small but passionate community of IMDb users, we announced our decision to disable our message boards on February 3, 2017 but will leave them open for two additional weeks so that users will have ample time to archive any message board content they'd like to keep for personal use. During this two-week transition period, which concludes on February 19, 2017, IMDb message board users can exchange contact information with any other board users they would like to remain in communication with (since once we shut down the IMDb message boards, users will no longer be able to send personal messages to one another)."
Piracy

Film Industry's Latest Search Engine Draws Traffic With 'Pirate' Keywords' (torrentfreak.com) 73

A new search engine launched by the Dutch film industry is targeting 'pirates' specifically, reports TorrentFreak. Every movie or TV-show page lists legal viewing options but also includes pirate keywords and descriptions, presumably to draw search traffic. "Don't Wrestle With Nasty Torrents. Ignore the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story torrent," the site advises. From a report: Like other "legal" search engines, the site returns a number of options where people can watch the movies or TV-shows they search for. However, those who scroll down long enough will notice that each page has a targeted message for pirates as well. The descriptions come in a few variations but all mention prominent keywords such as "torrents" and reference "illegal downloading" and unauthorized streaming.
Television

Roku Owners: Comcast Is About To Sell You Cable TV Without the Cable Box (bloomberg.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Comcast is making its Xfinity TV service available to subscribers with Roku set-top players via a new app, paving the way for customers of the nation's largest cable provider to watch live programming without the cost or hassle of a cable box. Roku is the first set-stop box to offer the Xfinity TV service, Comcast said in a statement Tuesday. During a test period, subscribers will have to hang on to their cable devices. When the app formally rolls out later this year, they'll be able sign up without renting a cable box. While Comcast expects the majority of its customers to opt for the typical setup, traditional pay-TV providers are trying to be more flexible about where and how people can watch TV given the popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and the boxes that offer them. Customers with Roku players will be able to watch live TV, browse on-demand libraries and record shows, just as they can with Comcast's boxes. Those who use the Roku as their primary device instead of Comcast's X1 device will receive a $2.50 monthly credit, the company said.
Sony

Sony Warns It Will Take $1 Billion Writedown, Blames Slowing DVD Sales (reuters.com) 157

Sony has warned investors that it will take roughly $978m writedown on its film business, blaming a goodwill impairment charge that dates back to an acquisition of a Hollywood studio almost three decades ago. From a report on Reuters: The impairment charge came as Sony cut its outlook for profits from DVD, blu-ray discs and other home entertainment operations in line with a broader market decline, the company said in statement on Monday. Sony has been working to revive its movie business. In November, the Japanese conglomerate's chief financial officer, Kenichiro Yoshida, said a turnaround was "progressing, but it takes time for the benefit to be realized."

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