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September 26, 2018
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Spotify will now let indie artists upload their own music

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Spotify today is taking another step that may make record labels uncomfortable. Fresh off reports that the streaming service is cutting its own licensing deals with independent artists, the company this morning announced it will now allow indie artists to directly upload their music to its service, too.

The upload feature is today launching into beta on Spotify for Artists, the online dashboard that arrived publicly last year. This dashboard and its accompanying mobile app allow artists to track metrics surrounding their streams and their fan base demographics.

Through the new upload tool, artists will now be able to add their own tracks to the streaming service in just a few clicks.

Explains Spotify, artists will upload the music, preview how things will appear, then edit the music’s metadata, if need be. They’ll also be able to choose when those new tracks “go live” on Spotify. (No more new music Fridays, perhaps.)

Most importantly, Spotify says that artists are paid as usual for their uploaded music – the royalty payments will simply be direct deposited to artists’ bank accounts every month.

Another new report in the dashboard will detail how much the uploaded streams are earning and when they can expect to be paid.

The upload option is free, and Spotify says it won’t deduct any fees or commissions of its own.

The move is likely to concern labels, who have traditionally acted as gatekeepers between artists and fans. But through digital media platforms, artists have been exploring new ways to build their audience.

For example, on SoundCloud – a service Spotify once considered acquiring –  indie musicians, DJs, bands and other performers have been able to attract followings. Similarly, YouTube has often served as a discovery vehicle for unknowns.

Both services will be impacted by this move, as it’s one of the reasons they’re used by artists. Now, they’ll be able to point fan bases directly to their Spotify tracks.

Those who are able to gain fans on their own may be able to route around the need for a label, and subsequently keep more of their earnings in the process.

“Artists receive 50% of net revenues from the songs they upload, and Spotify also accounts to publishers and collection societies for additional royalties related to the music composition,” said Kene Anoliefo, the Senior Product Lead for Spotify’s Creator Marketplace, confirming the payout structure.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report by The NYT, artists working with labels may see much smaller percentages. The report said that Spotify typically pays a record label around 52 percent of the revenue generated by each stream. The label, in turn, then pays the artist a royalty of anywhere from 15% to as high as 50%.

If artists are dealing directly with Spotify, they could be making more money.

Labels suggested that they could retaliate against Spotify for overstepping. The NYT had also said. They may do things like withhold licenses Spotify needs for key international expansions, like India, or not agree to new terms after existing contracts expire.

They could also offer more exclusives and promos to Spotify’s rivals, like Apple Music, which has surged ahead in the U.S. and is now neck-and-neck here with Spotify for paid subscribers. (Some reports, as well as Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, have claimed Apple Music is ahead in North America.)

Spotify has historically downplayed these concerns to investors, saying that it’s building a two-sided marketplace, and that it’s always licensed music from creators both “large and small” and will continue to license music from whomever owns the rights.

A music upload feature also means artists who own their own rights could break out big on Spotify if they catch the attention of playlist editors – something that Spotify now makes it easier for them to do, as well.

In addition, having indies upload music directly means Spotify could better compete against Apple Music by attracting more artists and their fans to its platform.

The upload feature is debuting in beta on an invite-only basis in the U.S., Spotify says.

A small handful of independent artists are already on board, including Noname, Michael Brun, VIAA, and Hot Shade. They provided Spotify with some initial feedback in earlier testing ahead of the beta launch, the company says.

“We started off by working with artists who are both deeply engaged in our platform – so they use Spotify for
Artists often –  and they also release music often,” said Anoliefo, adding that music upload has been one of artists’ most requested features.

“We used the test with them to shape the tool and make an upload process that we think is really easy, transparent and flexible. It’ll enable artists to use the tool to upload music through Spotify for Artists whenever they like. There are no barriers or constraints. And they can upload as often as they’d like. And as many times as they like,” she said.

Over the next few months, Spotify will email other artists to ask them to try out the feature, as well.

Initially, it will open up access to a few hundred more, before rolling it out publicly to the over 200,000 monthly active users of the Spotify for Artists platform.

At launch, music upload will be a web-only feature. The company wouldn’t comment on its plans to bring the feature to mobile.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Plex Cloud will shut down November 30 due to technical challenges

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Plex today announced it’s shutting down its troubled Plex Cloud service, via a forum post that hasn’t found its way over to the company’s official blog – likely a choice the company made in order to downplay the news, or avoid media scrutiny. Plex Cloud, launched in fall 2016, was meant to serve as a way for Plex customers to save their files to online storage services like OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive, instead of having to host their saved files locally on their own machines or network-attached storage devices.

But now that will no longer be an option, as the service will stop functioning on November 30, 2018, Plex says.

Plex Cloud had struggled from the beginning with technical issues.

Almost immediately, its debut launch partner, Amazon, stopped working with Plex Cloud. Users were complaining that Amazon Drive files couldn’t be accessed and wondered if Amazon was imposing upload limits. There were also concerns that Plex Cloud users whose libraries included pirated movies and TV shows could be putting themselves at risk by publishing those files to the cloud.

Unlike Plex’s Cloud Sync, which syncs select local media to the cloud to access when the local server was offline, Plex Cloud is a full-fledged Plex Media Server in the cloud. That meant the media was hosted independently of local storage, and was transcoded for compatibility with Plex player apps, as needed.

This led to some technical challenges Plex hasn’t been able to overcome, though it sometimes declined to explain what exact challenges Plex Cloud was facing.

The company admitted last March the problems it was having were very difficult.

“It’s definitely not a trivial thing to take the best media server on the planet and make it work seamlessly as a scalable cloud service, load-balanced and clustered across multiple geographic regions. It turns out a lot can go wrong,” a blog post then admitted.

In February 2018, Plex announced it would disable new server creation for Plex Cloud users – something it said it had to do while “working to address challenges with performance, quality, and overall user experience inherent with cloud provider integrations.”

At the time, it said it would “evaluate the long-term plan for the service.”

The subtext, of course, was that Plex Cloud may be shut down if Plex couldn’t figure out how to overcome the technical issues.

Today’s that day, unfortunately.

Plex says it tried to address the issues that came up while keeping costs under control, but hasn’t found a solution.

The announcement states:

We’ve made the difficult decision to shut down the Plex Cloud service on November 30th, 2018. As you may know, we haven’t allowed any new Plex Cloud servers since February of this year, and since then we’ve been actively working on ways to address various issues while keeping costs under control. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and unfortunately, after a lot of investigation and thought, we haven’t found a solution capable of delivering a truly first class Plex experience to Plex Cloud users at a reasonable cost. While we are super bummed about the impact this will have on our happy Cloud users, ending support for it will allow us to focus on improving core functionality, adding new features and content, and delivering on our mission to provide a world-class product that we can all rely on and enjoy.

On November 30, 2018, Plex Cloud users will no longer be able to access their cloud server. That means customers who want to continue to stream those files through Plex will need to download them locally on a media server or NAS device on their local network.

Plex, of course, will not delete the files you’ve uploaded to cloud services, like Dropbox or Google Drive. They will remain there as long as you have a subscription to those services.

While the loss of Plex Cloud will be upsetting to Plex users who were happily enjoying the service without issues, the company’s decision to shutter instead of solve the problems is indicative of the new direction Plex has been headed in recent months.

Originally a software application designed for hosting users’ personal media collections, Plex has since launched its own tools for watching live TV through an antenna and recording shows to a DVR in an effort to attract the growing number of cord cutters. It has also launched support of podcasts and rolled out personalized apps in order to bring in more mobile users.

It’s unclear how well Plex’s shifts have been working to attract new users and paying subscribers, as the company doesn’t break out the latter figure. As of May, Plex said it had 15 million registered users.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitch will livestream Pokémon TV series and movies, while viewers ‘catch’ badges

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Twitch has teamed up with The Pokémon Company to allow viewers to binge watch the Pokémon: The Series TV show and related movies on its site, and “catch” Pokémon badges along the way. While the former is one of Twitch’s many retro binge watch fests – it’s previously streamed old shows like Bob Ross, Julia Child, Mister Rogers, SNL, and most recently, Knight Rider – the interactive feature it’s debuting is something new.

According to the company, Twitch will launch its own Pokémon extension to accompany the broadcast. This overlay, called “Twitch Presents: Pokémon Badge Collector,” will encourage viewers to collect Pokémon badges that appear on the screen for points, which places them on a leaderboard.

This is only the second time Twitch has added an interactive element like this to one of its viewing events, and its addition could see users watching for longer periods of time, as a result. The first was a “watch and win” extension during a Doctor Who broadcast, but it was different as it focused on collecting contest entries.

Twitch also notes this will be the longest viewing event it’s ever held.

The binge will see 16 movies and 19 TV seasons with 932 episodes streamed across Twitch’s network, starting on August 27, 2018, and spanning until 2019. This will kick off with the first season, Pokémon: Indigo League at 10 AM PDT on the 27ths for audiences in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Australia. The content will air on TwitchPresents and on its companion channels in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese.

“The Twitch community has a passion for Pokémon based on the warm embrace the series received when we celebrated the brand’s 20th anniversary, as well as the cultural milestone that was set when over a hundred thousand Twitch members played Pokémon together,” said Jane Weedon, Director of Business Development at Twitch, in a statement about the launch.

The viewing event comes at a time when reports claim Twitch is going after a wider audience than just gamers. The company has been wooing creatives like vloggers, cooks, artists, and others to come to its site, instead of only broadcasting on YouTube. And it’s been airing non-esports content through marathon events like this new one with Pokémon. According to Bloomberg, TV show livestreams are one of the two fastest-growing genres on the site, the other being “IRL” (in real life) content.

The Pokémon viewing event, in particular, is aimed at a younger audience who may not have the level of nostalgia for the classic TV shows Twitch previously aired. Instead, Twitch says the livestream is appropriate for fans 13 and up – which means it could attract those whose first real exposure to Pokémon was the mobile game that went viral following its launch in 2016.

The dates and times of the Pokémon series and movies will be on Twitch Presents. The binge fest won’t include newer series, like the Sun & Moon or Sun & Moon Ultra Adventures, however.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Netflix tests video promos in between episodes, much to viewers’ dislike

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Netflix is testing video promos that play in between episodes of shows a viewer is streaming, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The promos are full-screen videos, personalized to the user, featuring content Netflix would have otherwise suggested elsewhere in its user interface – like on a row of recommendations, for example. The promos also displace the preview information for the next episode being binged, like the title, description, and thumbnail that previously appeared on the right side of the screen.

The test was first spotted by Cord Cutters News, following a Reddit thread filled with complaints. A number of Twitter users are angrily tweeting about the change, too. (See below examples.)

We understand the introduction of promos in between the episodes is not a feature Netflix is rolling out to its subscribers at this time.

Instead, it’s one of the hundreds of tests Netflix runs every year, many of which are focused on how to better promote Netflix’s original programming to its customers.

This test is currently live for a small percentage of Netflix’s global audience.

And unlike some prior tests, the promos may feature any content in Netflix’s catalog – not just its original programming.

There is some misinformation about the way the test works out there because of what may be user error on the part of the original Reddit user, or an undocumented bug.

Image credit: Reddit user WhyAllTheTrains via this post

The original Reddit post said these new video promos are “unskippable,” noting there’s a Continue button with a countdown timer on it that looks similar to the one you’d see on a YouTube ad.

But we understand that the test in question does allow users to push that Continue button at any time to move forward to the next episode.

The promos, in other words, are interruptive, but they are not unskippable.

Needless to say, consumer reaction to these promos – which consumers perceive as advertisements – has been fairly critical so far. Netflix is a paid subscription service, not an ad-supported one like Hulu with Limited Commercials. That means customers expect on-demand viewing with no ads. And they think of anything that disrupts their viewing as an advertisement, as a result.

But Netflix is always trying to figure out how to better showcase its content for subscribers, in order to help them discover new shows and keep them engaged.

It has run many experiments like this over the years, not all of which pan out. For example, last year it toyed with pre-roll video previews, and more recently it began a test that promotes its shows on the background of the login screen.

Only when Netflix sees data that proves a test increases user engagement or another metric it cares about will it roll out the feature to all subscribers. That’s been the case with those auto-playing trailers, for instance. While not necessarily beloved, they seem to be doing the job.

The company’s longer-term goal is to make its user interface more video-rich and personalized, so it’s not surprising that it’s finding new ways to insert video into that experience.

Netflix, reached for comment about the new test, offering the following statement:

At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can better understand what helps members more easily find something great to watch. A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the TV experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helped them find something they would enjoy watching even faster. Since then, we have been experimenting even more with video based on personalized recommendations for shows and movies on the service or coming shortly, and continue to learn from our members.

In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster. It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at anytime if they are not interested.

Tweets from testers:

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook’s Kodi box ban is nothing new

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According to recent reports, Facebook has updated its Commerce Policy to specifically ban the sale of Kodi boxes on its site – that is, devices that come with pre-installed Kodi software, which are often used for illegally streaming digital content. However, the ban is not a new one – Facebook confirms its policy on Kodi box sales hasn’t changed since last summer, and its external Policy Page – the one being cited as evidence of the new ban – was updated in December.

It’s true that the changes have flown under the radar until now, though.

The policy change was first reported by Cord Cutters News, and later linked to by TorrentFreak and Techdirt.

The original report claims that Facebook added a new rule on its list of “Digital Media and Electronic Devices” under “Prohibited Content,” which specifically calls out Kodi boxes. It says that Facebook posts “may not promote the sale of devices that facilitate or encourage streaming digital content in an authorized manner or interfering with the functionality of electronic devices.”

The Policy page lists a few examples of what this means, including wiretapping devices, jamming or descrambling devices, jailbroken or loaded devices, and, then “promoting the sale or use of streaming devices with Kodi installed.” (The only permitted items are “add-on equipment for Kodi devices, such as keyboards and remotes.”)

But this ban on Kodi boxes, Facebook says, is not a recently implemented policy.

According to a Facebook spokesperson, it launched a new policy last summer that prohibited the sale of electronic devices that facilitate or are intended for unauthorized streaming or access to digital content – including Kodi boxes. This policy has not changed since last summer, but its external Policy Page – this one being cited by the various reported – was updated in December 2017 to offer additional illustrative examples and more detailed information on all its policies, including the one related to unauthorized streaming devices.

In other words, Facebook has been banning Kodi boxes since it decided to crackdown on unauthorized streaming devices last year. It’s just now being noticed.

The ban affects all posts on Marketplace, Buy and Sell Groups, and Shop Sections on Pages.

Facebook explains it takes a very strong enforcement approach when “Kodi” is mentioned with a product for sale.

As Techdirt pointed out, that’s problematic because the Kodi software itself is actually legal.

However, device makers like Dragon Box or SetTV have been using the open-source Kodi platform and other add-ons to make copyright infringement easier for consumers.

Facebook does seem to understand that Kodi software isn’t illegal, but it knows that when “Kodi” is mentioned in a product (e.g. a device) listing, it’s very often a product designed to circumvent copyright. The company tells us that its intent is not to ban Kodi software altogether, however, and it’s in the process of reviewing its guidelines and these examples to more closely target devices that encourage unauthorized streaming.

That could mean it will, at some point, not outright ban a device that includes Kodi software, but focus more on other terms used in the sale, like “fully loaded” or some sort of description of the illegal access the box provides, perhaps. (Facebook didn’t say what might change.)

As for Kodi, the company says Facebook’s move doesn’t affect them.

“It doesn’t impact us, since we don’t sell devices,” says Keith Herrington, who handles Business Relations at the XBMC Foundation (Kodi).

He said his organization would love to talk to someone at Facebook – since they’ve never been in touch – in order to ensure that devices that are in compliance with Kodi’s trademark policy are not banned. Both Amazon and eBay have worked with Kodi on similar policies, he added.

“We’ve gotten thousands of devices which were in violation of our trademark policy removed from eBay,” Herrington said.

It’s unclear how well-enforced Facebook’s ban really is – I’m in Facebook groups myself where people talk about how to jailbreak “Fire sticks” and include posts from those who sell them pre-jailbroken. (It’s for research purposes. Ahem.)

Industry crackdowns go beyond Facebook

Facebook isn’t the only company that’s attempting to crack down on these devices. Netflix, Amazon and the major studios are suing Dragon Box for facilitating piracy by making it easy for consumers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows.

In January 2018, a U.S. District Court judge handed down a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, a Georgia-based set-top box maker that was sued by the major studios, along with streaming services Netflix and Amazon, for profiting from the sale of “Kodi boxes.”

Google has removed the word “kodi” from the autocomplete feature of Search, along with other piracy-related terms.

And more recently, the FCC asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes. It said these boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo to give them the appearance of legitimacy, but are actually used to  perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud,” the FCC said in letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig.

Why Streaming Piracy is Growing

There’s a reason Kodi devices are so popular, and it’s not just because everyone is being cheap about paying for access to content.

For starters, there’s a lack of consequence for consumers who do illegally stream media – it’s not like back in the day when the RIAA was suing individuals for pirating music. While there has been some activity – Comcast several years ago issued copyright infringement notices to Kodi users, for example – you can today basically get away with illegal streaming. The copyright holders are currently focused on cutting off piracy at the source – box makers and the platforms that enable their sale – not at the individual level.

The rise of cord cutting has also contributed to the issue by creating a highly fragmented streaming ecosystem. Shows that used to be available under a single (if pricey) cable or satellite TV subscription, are now spread out across services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, HBO NOW, and others used by cord cutters.

Customers are clearly willing to pay for some of these services (largely, Netflix and maybe one or two others), but most can’t afford a subscription for each one. And they definitely don’t want to when all they’re after is access to a single show from a network. That’s another reason they then turn to piracy.

Finally, there is the fact that film distributors have forever withheld their movies from streaming services for months, creating a demand for illegal downloads and streams. Though the release window has shrunk some in more recent years, the studios haven’t yet fully bought into the idea of much smaller windows to cater to the audience who will never go to the theater to watch their movie. And when this audience is cut out the market, they also turn to piracy.

Eventually, the record industry adapted to consumers’ desire for streaming, and services like Spotify and Apple Music emerged. Eventually, streaming services may be able to make piracy less attractive, too. Amazon Channels, could become a key player here if it expands to include more add-ons. Today, it’s the only true a la carte TV service available. And that perhaps – not skinny bundles – is what people really want.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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