HBO steps outside the cable/satellite box


game of thrones

HBO, including the hit show ‘Game of Thrones,’ will be available next month as a standalone subscription–no cable or satellite service needed.


HBO will soon be available to customers without requiring cable or satellite service.

The network, which is home to the popular TV show Game of Thrones, will reportedly launch ‘HBO Now.’ Customers will be able to subscribe to HBO Now for $15/month, independent of whether they have another pay-TV subscription.

The release of HBO Now will come just in time for the start of the 5th season of the hit series Game of Thrones. Through a cable service provider like Comcast, HBO is offered as an add-on channel for around an extra $10/month.

HBO already has an app, HBO GO, which allows customers to access its content on mobile devices or with compatible media streaming devices. However, HBO GO required cutovers to log in with their cable or satellite subscription information.

The move to make HBO content available without pat-TV service follows an increasing trend among networks and service providers to appeal to customers who want more flexible TV and entertainment options. The movement toward cutting the cable cord—opting out of expensive monthly cable and satellite subscriptions—is growing, and networks and service providers are taking notice.

In addition to HBO, CBS currently offers customers a standalone subscription to access its content for $6/month. Earlier this year DISH Network launched a new Internet TV service, Sling TV. The service gives subscribers access to a handful of popular cable channels with their basic “Best of Live TV” package priced at $20/month.

More options mean that more TV fans will be able to see the shows they want without having to pay for traditional cable packages. Once popular networks like HBO begin offering standalone options, other networks will be more likely to follow suit in order to stay competitive.



Sling TV adds more channels and shows, releases EPIX movies add-on 


The Hunger Games

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is now available on Sling TV with the new ‘Hollywood Extra’ add-on pack

  • Sling TV subscribers will now be able to watch even more shows, movies, and sports
  • Sling has released a new “Hollywood Extra” add-on pack with EPIX movies
  • AMC, IFC and ESPN3 content is also now available 

Sling TV has expanded its selection of available TV, movie and sports content.

The Internet TV provider, which is owned by DISH Network and launched earlier this year, has steadily been adding content choices to its lineup of channels. Sling TV’s basic “Best of Live TV” package, at $20/month, currently includes 16 channels, such as ESPN, ABC Family, Food Network, and, most recently, AMC and IFC (Independent Film Channel).

AMC and IFC content appeared in the Sling TV lineup today, giving subscribers access to popular shows like The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul on AMC, and Portlandia and Maron.

Sling TV has also expanded its sports content. Subscribers can now watch ESPN3 action via the WatchESPN app or via ESPN’s website.

Thousands of movies have also joined Sling TV’s selection, the company announced in a blog post on its website on Wednesday. Sling TV first announced its partnership with EPIX last month. For an additional $5/month subscribers can now purchase the Hollywood Extra add-on pack. The add-on includes movies, documentaries, and comedy and music events from EPIX, EPIX2, EPIX3, EPIX Drive-In and Sundance TV.

The new additions are meant to make the Internet TV service even more attractive to consumers interested in cutting the cable cord.



As TV and movie “piracy” remains in a legal gray area, free streaming websites thrive


Popcorn Time

Video streaming site Popcorn Time’s slick user interface.


When a single, organized entity makes copyright protected movies and TV shows free and freely available online, it’s a pretty clear-cut case of video piracy. But what about when an Internet “community” does it? In that case, things are much more hazy.

The free video streaming site Popcorn Time is catching on like wildfire as it occupies a gray area in what constitutes piracy. Popcorn Time seemingly sprung up out of nowhere in 2014. Today there are multiple sites, with popcorntime.io currently boasting the most traffic, Facebook likes (over 100,000) and best Google search ranking.

Popcorn Time isn’t just another scummy site that lets users download bad-quality copies of sketchy movie files. Everything about it looks and feels like a legitimate video streaming site. Everything including its usage numbers, which are already causing companies like Netflix, with $30 billion to its name, a lot of concern.

In fact, in the Netherlands, Popcorn Time users are on par with Netflix. In the US, Popcorn Time’s popularity is growing rapidly. Last week, Bloomberg reported usage increased by more than three-fold from July 2014 to January 2015.

Popcorn Time’s clean, simple interface, mobile apps, and desktop apps for both Windows and Mac computers help to make it appealing to users. As does its huge selection of content—all of it free.

Those who use Popcorn Time say that practically everything on the Internet is available for free viewing. Surprisingly, lawyers say that Popcorn Time is not, in fact, breaking the law.

What may let the site off the hook legally is the community involvement in splicing together movies and TV shows. The piracy site BitTorrent has provided the basic file-sharing protocol, wherein files are broken down into small parts and spread across a network of users’ computers. When a BitTorrent user wants to watch something, the file is assembled and stored on the user’s hard drive.

Popcorn Time, on the other hand, simply streams the various pieces. It is open-source, doesn’t manage any content, and doesn’t sell anything. It merely provides the method of access, which lawyers for Popcorn Time’s spokesperson, Robert English, have said isn’t illegal.

Parker Higgins from the consumer digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, also says Popcorn Time is no more unlawful than photocopiers or videocassette recorders. Since Popcorn Time can be used to access non-copyrighted content then, the argument goes, the fault lies with the individual who uses it to watch copyrighted video. “If it’s used to infringe copyright, that may itself be a violation, but that doesn’t make the tool illegal,” said Higgins. Popcorn Time’s website does include a warning to users that downloading copyrighted content may be illegal in some countries.

The media center platform Kodi, formerly XBMC, shares some similarities in that users can, and sometimes do, employ the open-source application to access copyrighted material, though this isn’t the company’s expressed intent.

However, the territory is uncertain. To other file-sharing sites, Grokster and Streamcast, tried a similar defense and lost in court when judges ruled their activities actively encouraged piracy.

It’s likely the companies and movie studios losing money to Popcorn Time won’t let it continue operations without a fight. Until the day the service is banned, however, usage will likely continue to grow, particularly among people interested in cutting the cable cord.



Net neutrality rules remain source of debate, political division 


net neutrality


The Federal Communications Commission adopted new “net neutrality” legislation last week, but the issue remains one of controversy and division along political lines.

The net neutrality rules passed in a 3-2 vote, though the issue will continue to be a source of debate. Both Republican FCC commissioners voted against the legislation, while Democrats were in favor.

The division translates to the public sphere. Citizens on the right and left say the new rules either constitute a historic government overreach that will turn the Internet into an over-regulated, even censored, mess—or that the legislation will uphold the Internet as a “core of free expression and democratic principles,” respectively.

The net neutrality regulation is based on rules used to regulate public utilities like telephone service. The idea behind the rules all web traffic should have equal access to content. Broadband service providers, which give households access to the Internet, therefore aren’t permitted to block or slow down customers’ access to content or services. So-called “data hogs” like Netflix, which streams massive amounts of video content over the web, can no longer be forced to pay extra to get their content to customers at a fast speed.

While the central idea sounds like a positive, Republicans fear the government will eventually take advantage of other powers granted in the net neutrality legislation and that additional regulation will ultimately be bad for consumers and for the Internet.

Even those who support net neutrality are likely to be disappointed if they think the new rules will increase their Internet speeds, improve video streaming, or allow for more competition among Internet providers.

In fact, the laws won’t achieve any of these things, according to a special report by CNET. A 5Mbps connection last week is still the same speed this week. Wireless data caps remain in place, and providers can still slow down connections after customers use a set amount of data. The laws could, in fact, weaken competition due to the expense and hassle of navigating regulations. Netflix streams will still freeze and buffer when bandwidth is clogged.

The benefits of net neutrality, therefore, remain uncertain—as do, unfortunately, the negative impacts.



Government will now regulate the Internet



The FCC yesterday passed new “net neutrality” rules that permit government regulation of the Internet as a public utility.


The Federal Communications Commission finally voted yesterday on the much-discussed “net neutrality” rules. The commission voted in favor of the new rules with a 3 to 2 vote along party lines, with Democrats in favor.

Broadband Internet will now be regulated like other public utilities, such as telephone service, under the new legislation. The FCC recently redefined what qualifies as broadband.

Now, the objective of the latest rules is to prevent web content, such as streaming videos and other data-heavy media, from being blocked, or load speeds manipulated, based on a user’s Internet provider. Supporters of net neutrality claim the Internet was increasingly being divided into fast lanes, for large providers like Comcast and Verizon that can afford to pay more, and slow lanes for smaller providers.

The division, supporters said, was not only bad for new business but also bad for customers. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler agreed, saying his organization was employing “all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers” and uphold the Internet’s role as a “core of free expression and democratic principles.” Wheeler went on to say that access to the Internet is too important for society to allow service providers to make the rules.

Republicans, however, say the new rules are a classic case of government overreach. An article by David Asman of FOX News said, “Of all the government interventions by the Obama administration, the plan released Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet is the worst.”

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said the new FCC plan is “a massive shift in favor of government control of the Internet…everything from your wireless service plan, to your wire line connection at home.”

Beyond just affecting service, the new rules also give the FCC the power to decide what content on the Internet is “just and reasonable” and what is classified as a “threat.” It’s unclear exactly how these new powers will play out, but many are concerned that a new era of censorship is being ushered in.

Private companies are divided, depending on where interests lie. Large providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint are strongly opposed and may file suit against the FCC. Other companies like Netflix and Twitter have pushed for net neutrality to pass.

The FCC has previously appeared to play favorites with private companies. The commission allowed DISH Network Corp. to receive millions of dollars in taxpayer funds that were supposed to be reserved to help small companies compete with large corporations like DISH.



FCC vote today on net neutrality won’t settle the issue



The Federal Communications Commission will vote today on new rules for internet service providers as part of the controversial “net neutrality” legislation.

The new rules would impact companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and other mobile and Internet providers, requiring corporations to act in the “public interest” when providing service to customers. That means leveling the playing field and giving smaller companies and start-ups a chance to compete.

The rules would place Internet regulation on par with current rules for phone companies that restrict “unjust or unreasonable” business practices.

Those in favor of the new rules argue that large Internet providers are actively trying to edge out small businesses, to the detriment of consumers. Internet providers, however, are strongly opposed and will likely sue if the plan passes.

Lending much public support to the bill are the companies Twitter and Netflix, which have repeatedly warned of a monopoly.

With a neutral net, however, websites and streaming media like TV shows and videos would all load at the same speed. Consumers, therefore, wouldn’t be more likely to watch a movie or show on one site over another because of a deal in place with the Internet service provider to load data faster.

“Safeguarding the historic open architecture of the Internet and the ability for all users to ‘innovate without permission’ is critical to American economic aspirations and our nation’s global competitiveness,” Twitter stated this week in a company blog post.

Streaming media services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are known as data hogs, taking up a large percentage of bandwidth.

Google has itself remained fairly neutral in the net neutrality debate. While Google has supported legislation that would keep Internet providers from manipulating speeds to suit their businesses, the company has been expanding its own stake as an Internet provider. Its super high-speed broadband network, Google Fiber, is extending its reach in the country. Ultimately, Google may not need to rely on other Internet providers to funnel traffic.

The FCC’s vote today is therefore unlikely to mark the end of the net neutrality debate.


Netflix caters to kids with five new series


inspector gadget

Netflix is expanding its children’s programming, adding five new shows to its offerings in the next year. Shows will include two remakes—of popular kids’ series “Danger Mouse” and “Inspector Gadget”—plus three new titles.

“We’ve seen great characters and rich storytelling work for a global audience time and time again,” said Erik Barmack, Netflix’s VP of global independent content. “That’s why we’re proud to be working with some of the industry’s best producers and animators on these shows, and we can’t wait for kids and families all over the world to get to know these stories.”

“Danger Mouse” is a re-imagined version of the animated show from the ‘80s. The modern series will air in the spring of next year with the leading voice of U.K. comedian and actor Stephen Fry. Danger Mouse and his hamster sidekick Penfold will fight off bad guys using an arsenal of gizmos.

“Inspector Gadget,” a remake of the classic lovable, but blundering, detective, will debut in March in the U.S. Netflix’s other new kids’ series, “Some Assembly Required,” Bottersnikes & Grumbles,” and “Super 4” are all new. “Super 4” will premiere exclusively on Netflix.

Kids’ programming is an important segment for Netflix. The company remains the number one streaming video service but faces competition from the likes of Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

Providing video content specifically for children is also a growing trend and an area of increasing focus for the media/entertainment industry. On Tuesday, YouTube launched the free YouTube Kids app featuring videos aimed at ankle-biters. Earlier this month Vine came out with Vine Kids.

As more parents find streaming media and online videos convenient forms of entertainment, distraction and education for youngsters the trend is likely to grow. Kids who grow up with video-on-demand and streaming media could usher in the era of alternative television in earnest. Instead of cutting the cable cord, the next generation of entertainment consumers is more likely to have never been tethered.



Roku 4 due out soon—what does it have Roku 3 doesn’t? 


Roku device

Roku has long been a major player in the media streaming device competition. With a popular streaming stick and multiple box-style devices, the company certainly has plenty of entries in the increasingly crowded marketplace that caters to consumers who want to cut the cable cord and get more viewing flexibility for less money. Roku 3, the latest generation and most powerful device, will soon lose its position, though, when Roku 4 comes out in the coming months.

Roku 4 is widely rumored to be in development with a release date set for early March. Given the media streaming trends that have been strengthening since Roku 3’s debut, Roku 4 will likely include some predictable upgrades, improvements and fixes.

Ultra high-definition, or 4K resolution, has been gaining ground. UHD/4k means a TV displays a horizontal resolution of around 4,000 pixels. The effect is like watching a TV that’s two 1080p screens tall, and two 1080p screens wide.

Roku 4 will probably be compatible with 4K TV. This will follow in the footsteps of Netflix, which is already offering 4K support for some programs.

Roku may also add wireless antennae to their next device. This would improve signal strength, especially for users who have their wireless router in a different room than their TV.

One fix that could be added to Roku 4 is the presence of a reset button. With Roku 3, a reset can only be achieved by yanking out all the wires if the device freezes.

Other probable upgrades are that Roku 4 will be faster, have more memory, and have a new, even sleeker design. When it finally comes out, provided it doesn’t cost much more than Roku 3 and competitor devices like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, Roku 4 will likely attract a swath of new buyers interested in cutting the cable cord.



YouTube Launches Kid-Friendly Video App


YouTube Kids


  • YouTube has launched YouTube Kids, a child- and family-friendly app
  • The free app features videos from makers of children’s entertainment and popular kids’ shows

YouTube is popular not only with adults and teens — but with toddlers as well. However, letting a young child freely surf the online video site is problematic. Videos posted on the site aren’t always appropriate for young audiences, and finding online content specifically for toddlers takes even more searching.

Now, YouTube has released a new app, YouTube Kids, that includes videos designed to entertain youngsters and give parents peace of mind. The app features videos from Jim Henson Co., DreamWorks Animation, National Geographic Kids, Mother Goose Club, and more. It also includes popular children’s shows like “Sesame Street,” “Fraggle Rock,” “Thomas the Tank Engine,” “Reading Rainbow,” “TuTiTu,” and the popular YouTube channel “Super Simple Songs.”

Check out the new YouTube Kids app:

The app is easy enough for small children to use. Parental controls include a timer, sound settings, search settings, and a place for parents to leave feedback.

In addition, it isn’t just kids’ content that the app will include. Other content—as long as it is family friendly—will also be available, such as DIY arts and crafts and educational videos.

In a blog post by Google’s Pavni Diwanji, VP of Engineering, and Shimrit Ben-Yair, Product Manager (and both mothers of two) stated, “For years, families have come to YouTube, watching countless hours of videos on a variety of topics. And today, we’re launching YouTube Kids, a new family-friendly app that makes it easy for kids to explore a vast selection of videos on any topic.”

YouTube Kids is free and is available for download from iTunes and Google Play. The app works on both Android and iOS (iPhone and iPad) devices. If used with a media streaming device like Chromecast so kids can watch videos on a TV, the app could take the place of some children’s cable programming, a feature that will appeal to people interested in cutting the cable cord.

YouTube may be the first to add many features, but in the kid-safe department the site is playing catch-up. Earlier this month, the online video site Vine, which is owned by Twitter and features short, six-second maximum video clips, launched the Vine Kids app featuring child-friendly content.



Chromecast in 2015 is all grown up


chromecast device


Google’s media streaming device, Chromecast, has come a long way since its debut in July 2013. Last month, Chromecast hit the one billion mark for the number of cast sessions it’s been used for. That’s a lot of casting with a device that hasn’t even reached its second birthday.

The cast sessions figure (with a session defined as hitting the cast button—regardless of how many videos are viewed) was announced after Google’s fourth quarter conference at the end of January.

Though the company still hasn’t released any sales numbers, usage is clearly growing. Chromecast is also available in Canada, the UK, Germany and other countries.

While Chromecast has been popular since its launch, it has also picked up plenty of converts. At first, the number of services Chromecast supported was a little thin compared to other streaming devices, like Roku.

But today, users can get access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube and plenty more. Amazon Instant Video still isn’t’ supported, but that could change. Just this week VLC revealed their media player will soon support Chromecast.

The number of apps that work with Chromecast has also skyrocketed in the last year. There are now hundreds of apps available, including HBO GO, WatchESPN, and Showtime Anytime, EPIX, Comedy Central, and many more.

The number of supported services makes the Chromecast of 2015 more than just a way to get online videos from a phone to a TV. It makes it an extremely versatile tool—from projecting personal photos onto a TV, to working as a audio adapter, to mirroring web pages and even  offering a virtual reality experience (if used on a 3D TV)—and almost indispensable for anyone interested in cutting the cable cord.