Netflix

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, HBO, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, the walt disney company | No Comments

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with the Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia, among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly user base plummeted below 60 million in the weeks following the IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket season.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debuted its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed more than 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen toward the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next the IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year, as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and a large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired more than 60 engineers and researchers to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

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Nvidia’s new Shield TV wins the Android TV market with amazing 4K upscaling

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, apple tv, artificial intelligence, AV, computing, Disney, dolby, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, internet television, LG, Netflix, neural network, nvidia, nvidia shield, oled, online stores, Portable Media Players, RAM, Reviews, Shield Portable, shield tv, shields, smart tv, streaming devices, Streaming Media, TC, technology | No Comments

Nvidia has a new family of Android TV-based streaming devices, as tipped early via a couple of leaks from online stores. The new Nvidia Shield TV ($149) and Shield TV Pro ($199) replace the existing Shield TV generation of hardware, which debuted in 2017. Both new Shields offer new Tegra X1+ processors, which outperform the predecessor chip by about 25%, and make possible one of this Shield’s new highlight features: AI-powered 3K up-conversion for HD content.

Both Shield TV and Shield TV Pro also support Dolby Vision HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. The differences between the two devices center mainly around physical design, with the Shield TV adopting a cylindrical tube design, and the Shield TV Pro looking more like its predecessor (basically a small set-top box form factor). The Shield TV Pro also gets more RAM (3GB versus 2GB), more storage (16GB versus 8GB), the ability to transcode 1080p streams when acting as a Plex Media Server, support for the SmartThings Link to turn it into a SmartThings smart home hub and advanced Android gaming support, along with two USB 3.0 ports.

Shield TV review

Nvidia Shield TV 4I’ve been using the Shield TV for around a week now, and this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to get the best possible experience available in an Android TV home theater device. Nvidia has clearly done a lot to survey the market, look at everything that’s come out in the two years since it last updated this hardware and deliver generational improvements that help it stand out from the crowd in meaningful ways.

Android TV now ships on a lot of smart TVs, and there have been many generations of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices introduced since we last saw a new Shield from Nvidia — all of which adds up to needing to really do something special to ask for $149.99 from consumers to invest in a new dedicated streaming media box. Nvidia has always delivered a lot of value for the upfront cost of their streaming hardware, with consistent updates over the life of the devices that add plenty of new features and improvements. But this new hardware packs in some excellent features not possible with software alone, and that are also unique when you look across the options available in this category.

AI upscaling

Chief among the additions Nvidia has made here is the AI upscaling made possible with the new Tegra X1+ chip. You might have heard of “upscaling” before, and you might even think that your TV already handles that well. But what you probably don’t know is that often content from streaming media sources doesn’t actually get upscaled by your TV, which means if you have a 4K display but are often watching YouTube or other services with large quantities of non-4K content, you might not be getting the most out of your hardware.

Nvidia has addressed this with on-device 4K upscaling, which is powered by on-device machine intelligence that has been trained on a deep neural network to turn both 720p and 1080p signals into much sharper, 4K-equivalent images. Having used this on a variety of content, including media streamed from YouTube, non-4K Netflix content and stuff from Plex, I can attest to its ability to produce visibly sharper images that look great, especially on my LG C8-series OLED 4K TV.

The Shield TV’s tech is trained on popular movies and TV shows, and so does a remarkably good job of guessing what the 4K version of the HD image it’s looking at should properly look like. Considering that there’s a ton of content out there that hasn’t been made available in 4K, despite now a lot of TVs supporting that resolution, this is a big advantage for Nvidia, and again one that they uniquely offer among their peers.

Dolby everything

These new Shields also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across more services than anything else out there on the market right now. These HDR and surround sound modes really do offer the best audio-visual experience you can get, provided you have TVs and audio output equipment that supports them. But what you might not know is that even on other streaming hardware that technically support these standards, they might not be supported across all services.

Shield TV supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu and Movies Anywhere, so you should be getting the most out of these technologies, too. I asked about the forthcoming Apple TV+ service, which is rolling out to Roku devices, for instance, but Nvidia didn’t have any news to share just yet — it does seem like it’s a good idea to stay tuned on that front, however.

Like AI Upscaling, Dolby support across everything might not seem like a big competitive advantage, but it’s absolutely a decision-tipping factor for people looking for the best possible A/V experience in a home streaming device.

New and improved remote

Nvidia Shield TV 5Nvidia is shipping the new Shield TVs with a brand new redesigned remote in the box. There’s a dedicated “Netflix” button, which is a nice touch, but the remote overall is just an improvement over both Shield remotes past and other competing remotes, in every way. It’s powered by AAA batteries (included) and it has a new pyramid-shaped body design that makes it easier and more pleasant to hold.

There are also lots of new buttons! Yes, Nvidia actually put buttons on their remote control — what a novel concept! Whereas the remote from the last generation seemed to be adopting a lot of the questionable choices Apple has long been making on their remotes, this one feels like it’s made with humans in mind, with dedicated play/pause, back, forward, volume and other buttons. A wealth of buttons.

This remote also has automatic backlighting, which will serve you well when using it in a darkened room. Because of the bulkier body design, it also stands on its end, and there’s a lost remote finding function, too. Chalk up a win for human-centric design with this remote, as it’s a joy to use.

Simple physical design

The design of the device is not flashy, but it is smart. There’s an Ethernet port, a power connector, an HDMI port and a micro SD card slot, dividing across both ends of the tube. This makes it perfect for placing behind a console or media bench, on the ground or next to your other power cables.

It still provides hardwired connectivity options in case you do things like in-home game streaming or GeForce NOW cloud gaming, and it offers expandable storage via the microSD slot.

Bottom line

Nvidia’s new Shield is a great option for anyone looking for a versatile streaming device, with access to all of Google’s Play Store apps for Android TV, and support for the latest AV standards. Its real bonus advantage is that AI upscaling, however, which is something that Nvidia is uniquely poised to do well, and which goes a long way in making that $149.99 price point, seem like a tremendous value.

SHIELD TV Family

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Canoo takes the covers off of its debut electric vehicle

Posted by | Android, automotive industry, Canoo, chief technology officer, China, driver, east coast, electric vehicle, Los Angeles, michigan, Netflix, operating systems, Rivian, TC, transport, United States, vw, west coast | No Comments

The Los Angeles-based startup Canoo has finally unveiled its first model, the eponymously named canoo.

The Canoo designers have departed pretty radically from the traditional designs that other electric vehicle manufacturers have favored going with something that looks more like a VW Microbus than the sport utility vehicle that Byton is aiming for, or Tesla and Fisker’s sportscars and sedans or Rivian’s electric trucks.

Remarkably, Canoo has completed the design and engineering of its first model in just 19 months and is preparing its vehicles for production through a contract manufacturer. The first cars are slated to appear on the road by 2021, according to the company’s current leader, Ulrich Kranz.

Kranz, who initially came on board as the company’s chief technology officer, took over the day-to-day operations of Canoo after Stefan Krause, Canoo’s co-founder and chief executive, stepped away from the company in August for personal reasons, as The Verge previously reported. 

The two key features that Canoo was designing for were space and value, according to a statement from Kranz, and the first car from the company has plenty of both.

Canoo has beta cars on site at its Los Angeles headquarters where prospective partners and customers can test out the vehicles, which were made by an undisclosed contract manufacturer based in Michigan. “We will crank out a couple of cars which will be used to verify and confirm the simulations we have done so far,” says Kranz.

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Canoo has spent the past year discussing the development of its prototype vehicle with the manufacturer so the company could provide advice on how to design and develop the car.

Canoo will launch its first vehicles in the Los Angeles market and expects to not only provide its “skateboard” platform for its own vehicles, but potentially work with other customers that would put their own cabin on top of the Canoo platform, Kranz says.

The company intends to go to market with an entirely new business model by providing customers with its cars for a monthly subscription fee. That service will likely include perks like automatic vehicle registration, maintenance, insurance management and charging through a single app on a customer’s phone. The idea, the company says, is to bring convenience and afforability of a Netflix movie service to the auto industry.

The first vehicle will have enough room for seven people, with the interior space of a large sport utility vehicle in a car with the footprint of a small compact car, the company says. In the back, seats are positioned in a semicircular formation against the sides and rear of the vehicle, while the front cabin is arranged like a sofa, according to Kranz.

“Cars always have been designed to convey a certain image and emotion; however, we chose to completely rethink car design and focus on what future users will actually need. Thus, we came up with this loft-inspired vehicle,” says Richard Kim, in Charge of Design at Canoo. “When you subscribe, you think differently about a car – now the value is defined by the user benefit. We implemented the Bauhaus philosophy, which is centered around minimalism and functionality, and started with the reduction to the absolute minimal need. Next, we applied that approach to the seamless connectivity with the personal devices customers care most about – their phones.”

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Entertainment systems are dependent on customers’ own devices and the canoo is compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. Rather than having a central display, the company expects that drivers and passengers will want to use their own navigation and apps in the vehicle.

Kranz says it was also made with autonomy in mind, and while the current system is arrayed with seven cameras, five radars and 12 ultra sonic sensors to provide level two autonomy. Kranz is especially proud of a new feature which has a video camera focused on the driver to monitor their actions and avoid unnecessary alerts when they’re operating a vehicle safely.

We watch the face and the meaning of the driver with the camera” Kranz says. “When the camera recognizes that the driver pays attention… like looking to the right side and checking blind spots, we don’t warn them with an alert… Because people sometimes turn off  the warning systems.” 

The heart of the Canoo system though, is its “skateboard” architecture, which houses the batteries and the electric drivetrain in a chassis underneath the vehicle’s cabin. All of the companies vehicles will have the same base and different cabins to create all sorts of vehicles for different applications, the company says.

The first vehicle has a five-star safety rating and includes driver and passenger airbags throughout the canoo. The skateboard platform can also support dual, front, or rear motor configurations the company said.  

Finally, the company says it will have the first truly steer-by-wire vehicle on the market without a hardware connection between the steering wheel and the wheels.

Steering is conducted by electric signals only, with a fully redundant control system that the company says has some long-term benefits for future designs. Steer-by-wire offers both weight savings and gives Canoo flexibility on where to locate the steering wheel to accommodate different designs and . driver positions.

As for range, the company’s first car has a range of 250 miles and can reach an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes. Its battery pack is fastened directly to the skateboard structure and saves more space since there’s no separate structure. The battery also is able to provide torsional rigidity and support for the vehicle since its resting directly on the chassis.

Kranz wouldn’t say how much Canoo will charge for its subscription service, but said that the company can reduce its cost because it can depreciate the vehicle’s value over a seven-to-ten year timeframe. “These savings we will be able to give back to the customer,” he said. And even with the low price, Kranz expects to make a mint with his new company. “We want to be the first EV company that makes a profit with an EV,” he says.

The rental model will help as will the company’s conservative rollout plan. Kranz says that Canoo will start offering its subscription vehicles in one geography and scale slowly from there.

“We will roll out city-by-city,” he says. “Eight to ten cities represent more than 70% of all the electric vehicle population [so] there is no need to provide our EV nationwide.”

The plan for 2021 is to launch in Los Angeles and have another eight cities account for the company’s U.S. market. That means four on the West Coast and four on the East Coast, according to Kranz.

“After the launch in the  U.S. we are considering launching the vehicle in China… There are 18 cities that represent 75% of the EV population in China,” he said.

The controlled expansion plans and modest goals for geographical reach should be a big benefit for the company, according to Kranz.

“It gives us the big advantage that we can  easily control our fleet and we are ramping up in a more conservative way and we are not bragging that we can churn out hundred thousand of cars,” he says. “We know how difficult it is to manufacture a good quality car at a high pace.”

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Google is bringing a data-saving feature to Android TVs

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Flipkart, Gadgets, Google, Netflix, TC, Xiaomi | No Comments

Google said on Tuesday it is bringing a set of new features to Android TVs to improve the experience of users who rely on mobile hotspots to connect their giant devices to the internet. The features, developed by Google’s Next Billion Users team, will be first rolled out to users in India and then in other countries, the company said.

Ahead of its yearly event in New Delhi on Thursday, where the company is expected to make a number of announcements, Google said it has identified and addressed a problem faced by millions of users: Their TVs are not connected to the internet through Wi-Fi or wired/Ethernet line.

Instead, these users rely on hotspots (local network) created through their smartphones or tablets. “But that presents problems,” wrote Joris van Mens, product manager at Google’s Next Billion Users team, in a blog post. “Watching HD TV on a mobile data connection can quickly drain your daily data plan.”

To address this, Google says it is introducing to Android TVs a feature called “data saver” that would reduce the data usage on mobile connections by up to three times, thereby allowing users to consume more content on their TVs. It is also introducing a “data alerts” feature to help users better monitor how much data they have consumed watching TV.

Google data saver

The data saver feature will be optional to users

Another feature, dubbed “hotspot guide,” will allow users to set up their TV with their mobile hotspot. And last, Google is introducing the ability in its Files app to allow users to cast to the TV video files locally stored on their phones without using internet data. The Files app, which Google launched two years ago, allows users to easily free up content on their phones. The company said last month that the Files app had amassed more than 100 million users.

These four features will roll out to Android TV devices starting with those manufactured by Xiaomi, TCL and Marq by Flipkart, Google said. The company expects to roll out the features globally soon.

At an event in Bangalore on Tuesday, Xiaomi unveiled a new lineup of TVs that will support Netflix and Prime Video. The Chinese electronics giant, which is the top smartphone vendor in India, confirmed that its new TV models will support Google’s Data Saver feature.

Later this week, Google is expected to make a number of announcements around its payments app and other services in its yearly Google for India event. Indian newspaper The Economic Times reported this week that one of those announcements could be the launch of Kormo, a job-discovery app that is currently available in select developing markets in India.

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13 ways to screw over your internet provider

Posted by | broadband, cloudflare, Comcast, dns, Gadgets, Google, internet access, isp, modem, net neutrality, Netflix, Opinion, Router, streaming services, TC, telecommunications, Verizon, vpn | No Comments

Internet providers are real bastards: they have captive audiences whom they squeeze for every last penny while they fight against regulation like net neutrality and donate immense amounts of money to keep on lawmakers’ good sides. So why not turn the tables? Here are 13 ways to make sure your ISP has a hard time taking advantage of you (and may even put it on the defensive).

Disclosure: Verizon, an internet provider guilty of all these infractions, owns TechCrunch, and I don’t care.

1. Buy a modem and router instead of renting

The practice of renting a device to users rather than selling it or providing it as part of the service is one of the telecommunications industry’s oldest and worst. People pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars over years for equipment worth $40 or $50. ISPs do this with various items, but the most common item is probably the modem.

This is the gadget that connects to the cable coming out of your wall, and then connects in turn (or may also function as) your wireless and wired router. ISPs often provide this equipment at the time of install, and then charge you $5 to $10 per month forever. What they don’t tell you is you can probably buy the exact same item for somewhere between $30 and $100.

The exact model you need will depend on your service, but it will be listed somewhere, and they should tell you what they’d provide if you ask. Look online, buy a new or lightly used one, and it will have paid for itself before the year is out. Not only that, but you can do stuff like upgrade or change the software on it all you want, because it’s yours. Bonus: The ISP is limited in what it can do to the router (like letting other people connect — yes, it’s a thing).

2. Avoid service calls, or if you can’t, insist they’re free

I had an issue with my Comcast internet a while back that took them several visits from a service tech to resolve. It wasn’t an issue on my end, which was why I was surprised to find they’d charged me $30 or so every time the person came.

If your ISP wants to send someone out, ask whether it’s free, and if it isn’t, tell them to make it free or ask if you can do it yourself (sometimes it’s for really simple stuff like swapping a cable). If they charge you for a visit, call them and ask them to take it off your bill. Say you weren’t informed and you’ll inform the Better Business Bureau about it, or take your business elsewhere, or something. They’ll fold.

When someone does come…

3. Get deals from the installer

If you do end up having someone come out, talk to them to see whether there are any off the record deals they can offer you. I don’t mean anything shady like splitting cables with the neighbor, just offers they know about that aren’t publicized because they’re too good to advertise.

A lot of these service techs are semi-independent contractors paid by the call, and their pay has nothing to do with which service you have or choose. They have no reason to upsell you and every reason to make you happy and get a good review. Sometimes that means giving you the special desperation rates ISPs withhold until you say you’re going to leave.

And as long as you’re asking…

4. Complain, complain, complain

This sounds bad, but it’s just a consequence of how these companies work: The squeaky wheels get the grease. There’s plenty of grease to go around, so get squeaking.

Usually this means calling up and doing one of several things. You can complain that service has been bad — outages and such — and ask that they compensate you for that. You can say that a competing ISP started offering service at your location and it costs $20 less, so can they match that. Or you can say your friend just got a promotional rate and you’d like to take advantage of it… otherwise you’ll leave to that phantom competitor. (After all, we know there’s often little or no real competition.)

What ISPs, and, more importantly, what their customer service representatives care about is keeping you on as a customer. They can always raise rates or upsell you later, but having you as a subscriber is the important thing.

Note that some reps are more game than others. Some will give you the runaround, while others will bend over backwards to help you out. Feel free to call a few times and do a bit of window shopping. (By the way, if you get someone nice, give them a good review if you get the chance, usually right after the call or chat. It helps them out a lot.) Obviously you can’t call every week with new demands, so wait until you think you can actually save some money.

Which reminds me…

5. Choose your service level wisely

ISPs offer a ton of choices, and make it confusing on purpose so you end up picking an expensive one just to be sure you have what you need. The truth is most people can probably do pretty much everything they need on the lowest tier they offer.

A 1080p Netflix stream will work fine on a 25 Mbps connection, which is what I have. I also work entirely online, stream high-def videos at a dozen sites all day, play games, download movies and do lots of other stuff, sometimes all at the same time. I think I pay $45 a month. But rates like mine might not be advertised prominently or at all. I only found out when I literally asked what the cheapest possible option was.

That said, if you have three kids who like to watch videos simultaneously, or you have a 4K streaming setup that you use a lot, you’ll want to bump that up a bit. But you’d be surprised how seldom the speed limit actually comes into play.

To be clear, it’s still important that higher tiers are available, and that internet providers upgrade their infrastructure, because competition and reliability need to go up and prices need to come down. The full promise of broadband should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable fee, and that’s still not the case.

6. Stream everything because broadcast TV is a joke

Cord-cutting is fun. Broadcast TV is annoying, and getting around ads and air times using a DVR is very 2005. Most shows are available on streaming services of some kind or another, and while those services are multiplying, you could probably join all of them for well under what you’re paying for the 150 cable channels you never watch.

Unless you really need to watch certain games or news shows as they’re broadcast, you can get by streaming everything. This has the side effect of starving networks of viewers and accelerating the demise of these 20th-century relics. Good ones will survive as producers and distributors of quality programming, and you can support them individually on their own merits. It’s a weird transitional time for TV, but we need to drop-kick them into the future so they’ll stop charging us for a media structure established 50 years ago.

Something isn’t available on a streaming service? 100 percent chance it’s because of some dumb exclusivity deal or licensing SNAFU. Go pirate it for now, then happily pay for it as soon as it’s made available. This method is simple for you and instructive for media companies. (They always see piracy rates drop when they make things easy to find and purchase.)

This also lets you avoid certain fees ISPs love tacking onto your bill. I had a “broadcast TV fee” on my bill despite not having any kind of broadcast service, and I managed to get it taken off and retroactively paid back.

On that note…

7. Watch your bill like a hawk

Telecoms just love putting things on your bill with no warning. It’s amazing how much a bill can swell from the quoted amount once they’ve added all the little fees, taxes and service charges. What are they, anyway? Why not call and ask?

You might find out, as I did, that your ISP had “mistakenly” been charging you for something — like equipment — that you never had nor asked for. Amazing how these lucrative little fees tend to fall through the cracks!

Small charges often increase and new ones get added as well, so download your bill when you get it and keep it somewhere (or just keep the paper copies). These are really handy to have when you’re on the phone with a rep. “Why wasn’t I informed my bill would increase this month by $50?” “Why is this fee more now than it was in July?” “Why do I pay a broadcast fee if I don’t pay for TV?” These are the types of questions that get you discounts.

Staying on top of these fees also means you’ll be more aware when there are things like mass refunds or class action lawsuits about them. Usually these have to be opted into — your ISP isn’t going to call you, apologize and send a check.

As long as you’re looking closely at your bill…

8. Go to your account and opt out of everything

When you sign up for broadband service, you’re going to get opted into a whole heap of things. They don’t tell you about these, like the ads they can inject, the way they’re selling this or that data or that your router might be used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

You’ll only find this out if you go to your account page at your ISP’s website and look at everything. Beyond the usual settings like your address and choice of whether to receive a paper bill, you’ll probably find a few categories like “privacy” and “communications preferences.”

Click through all of these and look for any options to opt out of stuff. You may find that your ISP has reserved the right to let partners email you, use your data in ways you wouldn’t expect and so on. It only takes a few minutes to get out of all this, and it deprives the ISP of a source of income while also providing a data point that subscribers don’t like these practices.

9. Share your passwords

Your friend’s internet provider gets him streaming services A, B and C, while yours gives you X, Y and Z. Again, this is not about creators struggling to get their content online, but rather all about big media and internet corporations striking deals that make them money and harm consumers.

Share your (unique, not reused!) passwords widely and with a clean conscience. No company objects when you invite your friends over to watch “Fleabag” at your house. This just saves everyone a drive!

10. Encrypt everything and block trackers

One of the internet companies’ many dirty little deals is collecting and selling information on their customers’ watching and browsing habits. Encrypting your internet traffic puts the kibosh on this creepy practice — as well as being good security.

This isn’t really something you can do too much to accomplish, since over the last few years encryption has become the rule rather than the exception, even at sites where you don’t log in or buy anything. If you want to be sure, download a browser plug-in like HTTPS everywhere, which opts you into a secure connection anywhere it’s available. You can tell it’s secure because the URL says “https://” instead of “http://” — and most browsers have other indicators or warnings as well.

You should also use an ad blocker, not necessarily to block ads that keep outlets like TechCrunch alive (please), but to block trackers seeded across the web by companies that use sophisticated techniques to record everything you do. ISPs are among these and/or do business with them, so everything you can do to hinder them is a little mud in their eye.

Incidentally there are lots of ways you can protect your privacy from those who would invade it — we’ve got a pretty thorough guide here.

11. Use a different DNS

Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

On a similar note, most ISPs will usually be set up by default with their own “Domain Name Service,” which is the thing that your browser pings to convert a text web URL (like “techcrunch.com”) to its numerical IP address.

There are lots of these to choose from, and they all work, but if you use your ISP’s, it makes it much easier for them to track your internet activity. They also can block certain websites by refusing to provide the IP for content they don’t like.

TechCrunch doesn’t officially endorse one, but lots of companies offer free, fast DNS that’s easy to switch to. Here’s a good list; there are big ones (Google, Cloudflare), “open” ones (OpenDNS, OpenNIC) and others with some niche features. All you need to do is slot those two numbers into your internet configuration, following the instructions they provide. You can change it back at any time.

Setting up a VPN is another option for very privacy-conscious individuals, but it can be complicated. And speaking of complicated…

12. Run a home server

This is a bit advanced, but it’s definitely something ISPs hate. Setting up your home computer or a dedicated device to host a website, script or service seems like a natural use of an always-on internet connection, but just about everyone in the world would rather you sign up for their service, hosted on their hardware and their connection.

Well, you don’t have to! You can do it on your own. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to run and install a probably Unix-based server, handle registry stuff, install various packages and keep up to date so you don’t get owned by some worm or bot… but you’ll have defied the will of the ISP. That’s the important thing.

13. Talk to your local government

ISPs hate all the things above, but what they hate the most by far is regulation. And you, as a valued citizen of your state and municipality, are in a position to demand it. Senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city councils and everyone else actually love to hear from their constituency, not because they desire conversation but because they can use it to justify policy.

During the net neutrality fight, a constant refrain I heard from government officials was how much they’d heard from voters about the issue and how unanimous it was (in support, naturally). A call or email from you won’t sway national politics, but a few thousand calls or emails from people in your city just might sway a local law or election. These things add up, and they do matter. State net neutrality policies are now the subject of national attention, and local privacy laws like those in Illinois are the bane of many a shady company.

Tell your local government about your experience with ISPs — outages, fees, sneaky practices or even good stuff — and they’ll file it away for when that data is needed, such as renegotiating the contracts national companies sign with those governments in order to operate in their territories.

Internet providers only do what they do because they are permitted to, and even then they often step outside the bounds of what’s acceptable — which is why rules like net neutrality are needed. But first people have to speak out.

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Disney+ comes to Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, will support nearly all major platforms at launch

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple inc, apple tv, Australia, Canada, chromecast, computing, Disney, e-commerce, espn, Google, Hulu, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Media, Netflix, Netherlands, New Zealand, operating system, playstation, TC, United States | No Comments

Disney+ will have an international launch that begins at the same time as its rollout in the U.S., Disney revealed. The company will be launching its digital streaming service on November 12 in Canada and The Netherlands on November 12, and will be available in Australia and New Zealand the following week. The streaming service will also support virtually every device and operating system from day one.

Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku and Xbox One at launch, which is pretty much an exhaustive list of everywhere someone might want to watch it, leaving aside some smaller proprietary smart TV systems. That, combined with the day-and-date global markets, should be a clear indicator that Disney wants its service to be available to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Through Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, customers will be able to subscribe via in-app purchase. Disney+ will also be fully integrated with Apple’s TV app, which is getting an update in iOS 13 in hopes of becoming even more useful as a central hub for all a user’s video content. The one notable exception on the list of supported devices and platforms is Amazon’s Fire TV, which could change closer to launch depending on negotiations.

In terms of pricing, the service will run $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year in Canada, and €6.99 per month (or €69.99 per year) in the Netherlands. In Australia, it’ll be $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year, and in New Zealand, it’ll be $9.99 and $99.99 per year. All prices are in local currency.

That compares pretty well with the $6.99 per month (or $69.99 yearly) asking price in the U.S., and undercuts the Netflix pricing in those markets, too. This is just the Disney+ service on its own, however, not the combined bundle that includes ESPN Plus and Hulu for $12.99 per month, which is probably more comparable to Netflix in terms of breadth of content offering.

 

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Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

Posted by | animation, automotive, ceo, Disney, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, Flash, Gaming, hyperloop, Netflix, Nintendo, TC, Tesla, tesla roadster, video games | No Comments

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

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What lower Netflix pricing tells us about competing in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Apps, Asia, China, Cred, Disney, Facebook, Finance, FreeCharge, funding, Fundings & Exits, Google India, HBO, Hotstar, iPhone, LinkedIn, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Paytm, Reed Hastings, Satyan Gajwani, SnapDeal, Spotify, Tim Cook, Times Internet, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma | No Comments

At a conference in New Delhi early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was confronted with a question that his company has been asked many times over the years. Would he consider lowering the subscription cost in India?

It’s a tactic that most Silicon Valley companies have adapted to in the country over the years. Uber rides aren’t as costly in India as they are elsewhere. Spotify and Apple Music cost less than $2 per month to users in the country. YouTube Premium as well as subscriptions to U.S. news outlets such as WSJ and New York Times are also priced significantly lower compared to the prices they charge in their home turf.

Hastings had also come prepared: He acknowledged that the entertainment viewing industry in India is very different from other parts of the world. To be sure, much of the pay-TV in India is supported by ads and the access fee remains too low ($5). But that was not going to change how Netflix likes to roll, he said.

“We want to be sensitive to great stories and to fund those great stories by investing in local content,” he said. “So yes, our strategy is to build up the local content — and of course we have got the global content — and try to uplevel the industry,” he said, identifying movie-goers who spend about Rs 500 ($7.25) or more on tickets each month as Netflix’s potential customers.

GettyImages 992527026 1

Indian commuters walking below a poster of “Sacred Games”, an original show produced by Netflix (Image: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than a year and a half later, Netflix has had a change of heart. The company today rolled out a lower-priced subscription plan in India, a first for the company. The monthly plan, which restricts usage of the service to mobile devices only, is priced at Rs 199 ($2.8) — a third of the least expensive plan in the U.S.

At a press conference in New Delhi today, Netflix executives said that the lower-priced subscription tier is aimed at expanding the reach of its service in the country. “We want to really broaden the audience for Netflix, want to make it more accessible, and we knew just how mobile-centric India has been,” said Ajay Arora, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix.

The move comes at a time when Netflix has raised its subscription prices in the U.S. by up to 18% and in the UK by up to 20%.

Netflix’s strategy shift in India illustrates a bigger challenge that Silicon Valley companies have been facing in the country for years. If you want to succeed in the country, either make most of your revenue from ads, or heavily subsidize your costs.

But whether finding users in India is a success is also debatable.

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Netflix will roll out a lower-priced subscription plan in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, prime video, Spotify | No Comments

Netflix said on Wednesday that it will roll out a cheaper subscription plan in India, one of the last great growth markets for global companies, as the streaming giant scrambles to find ways to accelerate its slowing growth worldwide.

The company added 2.7 million new subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, it said today, far fewer than the 5 million figure it had forecasted earlier this year.

The company said lowering its subscription plan, which starts at $9 in the U.S., would help it reach more users in India and expand its overall subscriber base. The new plan will be available in India in Q3. According to third-party research firms, Netflix has fewer than 2 million subscribers in India.

Netflix started to test a lower-priced subscription plan in India and some other markets in Asia late last year. The plan restricts the usage of the service to one mobile device and offers only the standard definition viewing (~480p). During the period of testing, which was active as of two months ago, the company charged users as low as $4.

The company did not specify the exact amount it intends to charge users for the cheaper mobile-only plan. During the testing period, Netflix also provided some users the option to get a subscription that would only last for a week. The company also did not say if it intended to bring the cheaper plan to other markets. TechCrunch has reached out to Netflix for more details. (Update: Netflix declined to elaborate at this point.)

“After several months of testing, we’ve decided to roll out a lower-priced mobile-screen plan in India to complement our existing plans. We believe this plan, which will launch in Q3, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business in a market where Pay TV ARPU is low (below $5),” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

The India challenge

Selling an entertainment service in India, the per capita GDP of which is under $2,000, is extremely challenging. The vast majority of companies that have performed exceedingly well in the nation offer their products and services at a very low price.

Just look at Spotify, which entered India earlier this year and for the first time decided to offer full access to its service at no cost to local users. Even its premium option that features playback in higher quality costs Rs 119 ($1.6) per month.

That’s not to say that winning in India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, can’t be rewarding. Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar, which offers 80% of its content catalog at no cost, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. There are about 500 million internet users in India, according to industry reports.

In fact, Hotstar set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event — about 25.3 million users — during the recently concluded ICC cricket world cup. It broke its own previous records. Hotstar’s free offering comes bundled with ads, while its ad-free premium option costs Rs 999 ($14.5) for year-long access.

Amazon, another global rival of Netflix, bundles its Prime Video streaming service in its Prime membership, which includes access to faster delivery of packages and its music service, for Rs 999 a year.

For Netflix, the decision to lower its pricing in India comes at a time when it has hiked the subscription cost in many parts of the world in recent quarters. In the U.S., for instance, Netflix said earlier this year that it would raise its subscription price by up to 18%.

During a visit to India early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the country could eventually emerge as the place that would bring the next 100 million users to his platform. “The Indian entertainment business will be much larger over the next 20 years because of investment in pay services like Netflix and others,” he said.

So far, Netflix has largely tried to lure customers through its original series. (Many popular U.S. shows such as NBC’s “The Office” that are available on Netflix’s U.S. catalog are not offered in its India palate.) The company, which has produced more than a dozen original shows and movies for India, this week unveiled five more that are in the pipeline.

“We are seeing nice, steady increases in engagement in India. Growth in that country is a marathon and we are in it for the long haul,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said during an earnings call today.

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App revenue tops $39 billion in first half of 2019, up 15% from first half of last year

Posted by | analyst, android apps, app revenues, app stores, app-store, Apple, Apps, China, Google Play, instagram, iOS App Store, iOS apps, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile apps, mobile games, Netflix, online marketplaces, sensor tower, smartphones, streaming services, Tencent, tiktok, Tinder | No Comments

App store spending is continuing to grow, although not as quickly as in years past. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the iOS App Store and Google Play combined brought in $39.7 billion in worldwide app revenue in the first half of 2019 — that’s up 15.4% over the $34.4 billion seen during the first half of last year. However, at that time, the $34.4 billion was a 27.8% increase from 2017’s numbers, then a combined $26.9 billion across both stores.

Apple’s App Store continues to massively outpace Google Play on consumer spending, the report also found.

In the first half of 2019, global consumers spent $25.5 billion on the iOS App Store, up 13.2% year-over-year from the $22.6 billion spent in the first half of 2018. Last year, the growth in consumer spending was 26.8%, for comparison’s sake.

Still, Apple’s estimated $25.5 billion in the first half of 2019 is 80% higher than Google Play’s estimated gross revenue of $14.2 billion — the latter a 19.6% increase from the first half of 2018.

The major factor in the slowing growth is iOS in China, which contributed to the slowdown in total growth. However, Sensor Tower expects to see China returning to positive growth over the next 12 months, we’re told.

To a smaller extent, the downturn could be attributed to changes with one of the top-earning apps across both app stores: Netflix.

Last year, Netflix dropped in-app subscription sign-ups for Android users. Then, at the end of December 2018, it did so for iOS users, too. That doesn’t immediately drop its revenue to zero, of course — it will continue to generate revenue from existing subscribers. But the number will decline, especially as Netflix expands globally without an in-app purchase option, and as lapsed subscribers return to renew online with Netflix directly.

In the first half of 2019, Netflix was the second highest earning non-game app with consumer spending of $339 million, Sensor Tower estimates, down from $459 million in the first half of 2018. (We should point out the firm bases its estimates on a 70/30 split between Netflix and Apple’s App Store that drops to 85/15 after the first year. To account for the mix of old and new subscribers, Sensor Tower factors in a 25% cut. But Daring Fireball’s John Gruber claims Netflix had a special relationship with Apple where it had an 85/15 cut from year one.)

In any event, Netflix’s contribution to the app stores’ revenue is on the decline.

In the first half of last year, Netflix had been the No. 1 non-game app for revenue. This year, that spot went to Tinder, which pulled in an estimated $497 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play, combined. That’s up 32% over the first half of 2018.

1h 2019 app revenue worldwide

But Tinder’s dominance could be a trend that doesn’t last.

According to recent data from eMarketer, dating app audiences have been growing slower than expected, causing the analyst firm to revise its user estimates downward. It now expects that 25.1 million U.S. adults will use a dating app monthly this year, down from its previous forecast of 25.4 million. It also expects that only 21% of U.S. single adults will use a dating app at all in 2019, and that will only grow to 23% by 2023.

That means Tinder’s time at the top could be overrun by newcomers in later months, especially as new streaming services get off the ground (assuming they offer in-app subscriptions); if TikTok starts taking monetization seriously; or if any other large apps from China find global audiences outside of China’s third-party app stores.

For example, Tencent Video grossed $278 million globally in the first half of 2019, outside of the third-party Chinese Android app stores. That made it the third-largest non-game app by revenue. And Chinese video platform iQIYI and YouTube were the No. 4 and No. 5 top-grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, iOS app installs actually declined in the first half of the year, following the first quarter that saw a decline in downloads, Q1 2019, attributed to the downturn in China.

The App Store in the first half of 2019 accounted for 14.8 billion of the total 56.7 billion app installs.

Google Play installs in the first half of the year grew 16.4% to 41.9 billion, or about 2.8 times greater than the iOS volume.

1h 2019 app downloads worldwide

The most downloaded apps in the first half of 2019 were the same as before: WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook led the top charts. But TikTok inched ahead of Instagram for the No. 4 spot, and it saw its installs grow around 28% to nearly 344 million worldwide.

In terms of mobile gaming specifically, spending was up 11.3% year-over-year in the first half of 2019, reaching $29.6 billion across the iOS App Store and Google Play. Thanks to the fallout of the game licensing freeze in China, App Store revenue growth for games was at $17.6 billion, or 7.8% year-over-year growth. Google Play game spending grew by 16.8% to $12 billion.

The top-grossing games, in order, were Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Fate/Grand Order, Monster Strike, Candy Crush Saga and PUBG Mobile.

1h 2019 game revenue worldwide

Meanwhile, the most downloaded games were Color Bump 3D, Garena Free Fire and PUBG Mobile.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

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