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Category Archives: netflix

With net neutrality dead, will Netflix go cable?

President Barack Obama and FCC head Tom Wheeler in happier times.

President Barack Obama and FCC head Tom Wheeler in happier times.

Everyone keeps waiting for HBO to “pull a Netflix,” where the channel would decouple itself from traditional television service providers and go online only. Given the nonsense that’s going on with net neutrality and regulators in the United States, at this point it’s more likely the reverse will happen. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Netflix give up on online and “pull an HBO,” whereby it becomes just another channel in an overpriced monthly TV package.

On Wednesday, news broke that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to introduce “pay-to-play” rules for internet companies, whereby cable and phone companies will be allowed to charge them extra for better connectivity. This would essentially enshrine the recent controversial Netflix-Comcast deal within actual rules. It was controversial because Comcast degraded Netflix’s quality to the point where the streaming company was forced to pony up. Comcast and other big ISPs have long complained about such services supposedly getting a “free ride” on their networks.

The news set the internet alight, with various voices proclaiming that FCC head Tom Wheeler – a former cable industry lobbyist who was recently appointed to the job by President Barack Obama – had just driven a stake through the heart of net neutrality. It is, of course, that ephemeral principle that all internet traffic should be treated more or less equally so that the guy sitting in his basement with an idea for a startup has the same chance at succeeding as a giant company like Netflix or Google does. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in comcast, net neutrality, netflix

 

Netflix and the fine line between it and piracy

netflix-hemlock-groveTo the surprise of virtually no one, Netflix is raising prices. And soon – within the next few months in some places, according to financial results released by the company on Monday:

Our current view is to do a one or two dollar increase, depending on the country, later this quarter for new members only. Existing members would stay at current pricing (e.g. $7.99 in the U.S.) for a generous time period. These changes will enable us to acquire more content and deliver an even better streaming experience.

That “generous time period” could be two years, if the Irish experience is anything to go by. Netflix raised its subscription price in Ireland by one euro to €7.99 in January, which resulted in “limited impact.”

While few observers believed such low subscription costs could be sustained for long, Netflix does have to tread carefully. The streaming service straddles a fine line between expensive cable TV services at one end and free file-sharing at the other. It’s only been a few short years since the company emerged as Hollywood’s antidote to that perceived scourge. Over that time, it has converted more than 35 million potential file sharers into customers who are at least paying something for some of the shows and movies they watch. While file-sharing used to account for the largest share of Internet traffic, it’s now Netflix that accounts for about a third of all bandwidth usage.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in comcast, netflix, piracy

 

Chromecast’s expansion raises streaming stakes

The new Google Chromecast dongle is pictured on an electronic screen as it is announced during a Google event at Dogpatch Studio in San FranciscoDon’t look now, but Google has beaten Roku’s Streaming Stick into Canada with the international expansion of Chromecast, its own streaming dongle for HDTVs. The device, which has been popular in the United States since its release there last year, became available in Canada for $39 through Amazon.ca and Google Play as of Tuesday evening, as well as 10 additional countries.

Roku announced earlier this month it would be launching its device in both Canada and the United States in April but with Google getting past the post first, the battle to control the living room streaming experience is now most definitely on. The third participant in the fray is, of course, Apple, but more on that in a second.

In assessing the combatants, it’s hard to deny that Chromecast has a lot going for it. Like the Roku Streaming Stick, it’s tiny. The dongle plugs into a TV’s HDMI port and sucks power from its USB port, so it’s basically invisible behind the set. Alternatively, it can be powered via a regular electrical plug, but one of the great things about these sticks is that they can eliminate one cord from the nasty spaghetti mess found behind the typical home entertainment system. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in apple, Google, netflix, roku, youtube

 

There’s no free lunch with online TV content

TheDailyShowOf all the great things the internet has given humanity, I didn’t know that an inalienable right to all television content for free was among them. But that seems to be the crux of a recent op-ed piece by Open Media director Steve Anderson.

In articles on both the Huffington Post and Open Media websites, Anderson relates a tale of how he recently tried to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart online, only to be thwarted by Bell Canada’s requirement that he subscribe to the company’s television service. That’s not how it should be, he says:

I’d much rather use online services than deal with a prescribed menu of channels on TV. Furthermore, I don’t see any reason why I should subscribe to multiple telecom services when at this point everything (voice, video, text) should be available through one open platform: the Internet.

It looks like the word “open” is being conflated with “free,” in that everyone should be able to watch The Daily Show without having to pay for it. You could apparently do that before, so why the clamp down now? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in bittorrent, netflix, piracy, television

 

Netflix-Comcast a different kind of net neutrality

Comcast Reports Quarterly Earnings Rise 16 PercentEver since Netflix and Comcast announced their joint interconnection deal a few weeks ago, there has been no shortage of analysis on what it all means for the future of the internet. Opinions have ranged from the dire – such as an article on The Verge declaring that “the internet is fucked” – to the predictably apologetic, like the op-ed pieces that always come out of the neo-con American Enterprise Institute to support any big corporate deal.

Many commentators have suggested the agreement sounds the death knell for net neutrality, or the broad ideal that internet providers should not unduly discriminate against certain forms of traffic. The problem in this case has been that Comcast has been slowing down Netflix for some time, to the point where the service has been difficult if not impossible to use for some subscribers. The cable company has plenty of reasons to do so: not only does Netflix compete with its own video offerings, it also clogs up a lot of its network (it accounts for an estimated one-third of all internet traffic). That degradation effectively forced the streaming company into signing an interconnection deal directly with Comcast rather than going through third-party providers such as Cogent, which it has typically done in the past.

It’s understandable why the agreement provoked such negative reactions. With actual net neutrality rules in the United States in limbo if not dead, large network owners such as Comcast are effectively free to engage in whatever extortionate activities they want, which is exactly how this situation has been perceived; Netflix had no choice but to give in to its customers being held hostage. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in comcast, net neutrality, netflix

 

Canadian startups impress at Barcelona mobile show

mwcVisitors to the Canada booth at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week might have been a little confused to see Ontario with its own, separate exhibit space nearby. The other nine provinces were mashed into a single space, while the biggest province sat just across the aisle in a relatively spacious spread spanning the equivalent of two typical booths. When there’s an issue of one province separating from the others, it’s usually Quebec that’s involved, so why was Ontario going it solo?

“It’s not,” explained Victor Miranda, an area director for the Ontario Ministry of Research and Development. “We’re right next to them.” Hmm. With its own signage and branding – not to mention some quiet griping from exhibitors – that sure didn’t appear to be the case.

Nevertheless, Ontario’s separate status at the show was perhaps warranted, with 27 companies represented through their own micro-booths within the larger space. The rest of Canada had only 11 companies officially exhibiting. All told, both booths served as a sort of meeting space and headquarters for the 100-or-so Canadian firms attending MWC. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in mobile, netflix, security

 

Humans still in the loop with Netflix suggestions

Soon, robots won't just be in movies - they'll be telling us which ones to watch.

Soon, robots won’t just be in movies – they’ll also be telling us which ones to watch.

On the universal list of dream jobs, being paid to sit around and watch TV and movies all day would almost certainly be near the top of the list. You may have heard a while back that a few lucky people do just that for Netflix. The streaming company employs about 40 individuals around the world to create metadata tags for its content. In effect, they watch TV shows and movies and enter information about them into a spreadsheet – how much violence is there, the gender of the main characters, tone and mood, is there nudity or cursing, and so on.

I had the chance to chat with Mike Hastings, who as the director of enhanced content team runs this program, during my visit to Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos., Calif. last week. I was curious as to why the company still uses humans for this particular task. Image recognition and machine learning has come a long way, with company’s such as Israel’s Anyclip effectively doing the same job, but without people.

“We’ve been doing this for about six years and humans were definitely the way at first,” says Hastings (no relation to chief executive Reed Hastings). “We’re still using humans today because it’s been the most reliable, trustworthy way of getting some of this data.” Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in netflix, robots