streaming

YouTube lands on Fire TV and Amazon Prime Video arrives on Chromecast, Android TV

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, Android TV, Apps, chromecast, Cube, Gadgets, Google, Media, Multimedia, prime, prime video, smart tv, streaming, streaming video, TC, technology, telecommunications, YouTube | No Comments

It’s nice when people can come together and work through their differences to make it easier to watch stuff. That’s exactly what happened today, when the long-standing detente between Google and Amazon over streaming video services came to an end, with YouTube arriving on Fire TV and Prime Video making its way to Chromecast and Android TV.

Amazon’s second-generation Fire TV Stick, their Fire TV Stick 4K, the Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick Basic Edition and Fire TV Edition smart TVs made by partner OEMs will all get support for the official YouTube app globally starting today, and Amazon intends to extend support to even more of its hardware in the future. YouTube TV and YouTube Kids will also come to Amazon Fire TV devices later this year.

On the Google side, both its own Chromecast devices, as well as partner TVs and hardware that support Chromecast built-in, or that run Android TV, will gain support broadly for Prime Video. Plus, any Chromecast Ultra owners will also get access to Prime Video’s 4,000-title library normally reserved for Prime members, at no additional cost, as part of the new tie-up between the two companies.

Prime has been available on some Android TV devices to date, but it’s expanding to a much broader selection of those smart TVs and streaming boxes from today.

This has been a long time coming — several years in fact, with the most recent spat between the two coming as a result of Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show. Then, in May, the companies announced they’d reached an agreement to put the feud behind them in the interest of consumers, which is what resulted in this cross-platform launch today.

Let the streams flow!

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Destiny 2 goes free to play and gains cross-saving on all platforms

Posted by | Bungie, destiny 2, game streaming, games as a service, Gaming, Google, google stadia, Microsoft, playstation, playstation 3, PS4, Sony, Steam, streaming, Valve, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Bungie aims to fortify the popular but flagging Destiny 2 with an expanded free-to-play plan and universal cross-platform saving, the company announced today. It’s an interesting and player-friendly evolution of the “games as a service” model, and other companies should take note.

The base game, which is to say the original campaign and the first year of updates, will be available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Google Stadia. You can play as much as you want, and your progress will be synced to your account, so you can do some easy patrols on console and then switch to your PC’s mouse and keyboard for the more difficult raids.

The PS4 cross-save ability is a surprise, since Sony has resisted this sort of thing in the past and rumors had it before the announcement that they would be left out of the bargain. It’s heartening to see this level of cooperation, if that’s what it is, in the new gaming economy.

Confirmed! https://t.co/WKWtPZ7mtD

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) June 6, 2019

As part of Bungie’s separation from Activision, which published Destiny 2 to begin with, the game is now switching over to Steam on the PC. That’s probably a good thing for most, and you won’t lose any progress. It’s also being renamed “Destiny: New Light,” because why not?

Importantly, no platform will have any content advantage over another — no Xbox-specific guns or PC-specific levels. At a time when consoles are fighting one another on the basis of exclusives, this is a breath of fresh air.

The news was announced in a stream this morning, though players got a sneak peak when a publication I shall not name posted it slightly early. But we also learned more ahead of Bungie’s announcement when Google’s Stadia event showed the game coming to the streaming service in free form.

The developers at Bungie reveal Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.

A new chapter for Destiny 2 and the studio begins this September.

🌑 Watch the full ViDoc: https://t.co/A1dBgdxgMQ pic.twitter.com/nHbAW9CuYA

— Bungie (@Bungie) June 6, 2019

Destiny 2 came out two years ago and has had a number of expansions — and has also been free for limited times or platforms a handful of times. The base game was really a bit threadbare and honestly may not convince new players that it’s worth it to pay. But the price is right and if you like the basic gameplay the expansions, which improved considerably on the game and added a lot of contents, can be bought year by year.

The move is obviously meant to help Destiny 2 compete with other games-as-services, such as the constantly improving Warframe and youth-devouring Fortnite. And it’s a good test bed for the new cross-platform economy that gamers are beginning to demand. You’ll be able to test it out for yourself on September 17, when the switchover is set to take effect — more details should be available well ahead of the relaunch.

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Rivals in gaming, Microsoft and Sony team up on cloud services

Posted by | Gadgets, game streaming, Gaming, Google, google stadia, Microsoft, playstation, Sony, streaming, streaming games, xbox | No Comments

For the last two decades, Sony and Microsoft’s gaming divisions have been locked in all-out war against one another: on price, on hardware, on franchises, on exclusives… you name it. But it seems they’ve set their enmity aside temporarily that they might better prevent that filthy casual, Google, from joining the fray.

The official team-up, documented in a memorandum of understanding, was announced today, though details are few. But this is clear enough:

The two companies will explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services. In addition, the two companies will explore the use of current Microsoft Azure datacenter-based solutions for Sony’s game and content-streaming services.

Of course there is no doubt that Sony could have gone with a number of other cloud services for its gaming-on-demand services. It already runs one, PlayStation Now, but the market is expected to expand over the next few years much like cord cutters have driven traditional TV and movie watchers to Netflix and other streaming services. Expansion would surely prove expensive and complicated.

The most salient challenger is likely Google and its new Stadia game streaming service, which of course has a huge advantage in its global presence, brand recognition and unique entry points: search and YouTube. The possibility of searching for a game and being able to play it literally five seconds later is an amazing one, and really only something Google can pull off right now.

That makes Google a threat. And Microsoft and Sony have enough threats already, what with the two of them making every exclusive and chip partnership count, the resurgence of Nintendo with the immensely popular Switch and the complex new PC-and-mobile-focused gaming market making consoles look outdated. Apple Arcade exists, too, but I don’t know that anyone is worried about it, exactly.

Perhaps there was a call made on the special direct line each has to the other, where they just said “truce… until we reduce Google Stadia to rubble and salt the earth. Also Nvidia maybe.”

We don’t actually have to imagine, though. As Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida noted in the announcement: “For many years, Microsoft has been a key business partner for us, though of course the two companies have also been competing in some areas. I believe that our joint development of future cloud solutions will contribute greatly to the advancement of interactive content.”

Sony doesn’t lack technical chops, or the software necessary to pull off a streaming service — but it may simply make more sense to deploy via Microsoft’s Azure than bring its own distribution systems up to par. No doubt Microsoft is happy to welcome a customer as large as Sony to its stable, and any awkwardness from the two competing elsewhere is secondary to that. Google is a more existential competitor in many ways, so it makes sense that Microsoft would favor partnering with a partial rival against it.

Sony has long been in this boat itself. Its image sensors and camera technology can be found in phones and DSLRs that compete with its own products — but the revenue and feedback it has built up as a result have let it maintain its dominance.

Speaking of which, the two companies also plan to collaborate on imaging, combining Sony’s sensor tech with Microsoft’s AI work. This is bound to find its way to applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles, though competition is fierce there, and neither company has a real branded presence. Perhaps they aim to change that… together.

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Spotify’s leanback instant listening app Stations hits iOS

Posted by | Apps, Australia, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Music, radio, Spotify, streaming, streaming music | No Comments

Spotify has launched its instant listening app Stations on iOS, but only in Australia for the time being. The release comes nearly a year and a half after the Stations app first arrived on the market, initially for Android users in Australia. Dubbed an “experiment,” the app allows users to jump right into streaming instead of having to curate their own playlists or stations, or save favorite music to their library.

Unlike Spotify’s flagship application, the Stations app presents users with a minimalist interface where available playlists are displayed with an oversized font. You can scroll up and down between the playlists to select one, instead of typing in a search box or searching through voice commands.

When launching Stations, music begins playing automatically — a feature that had some calling it a “Pandora copycat” at the time of launch, given that instant music playback is something that Spotify’s rival Pandora already supports.

Stations was largely designed for those who want a more radio-like experience that involves less manual input. Free users will hear ads, be able to thumbs up and down songs, but can’t skip tracks. Premium users who download Stations get unlimited skips and ad-free listening.

The Stations app today features a range of playlists by genre, decade, activity and more, but also becomes personalized to the end-user over time. You can also opt to create your own stations by selecting from favorite artists in an experience that’s reminiscent of the customization offered today by YouTube Music — right down to the rounded artist profile photos you tap on.

As you listen to music on Stations, you can thumbs up and down songs in order to have it create custom stations personalized to you — including a Discover Weekly playlist, Release Radar and a Favorites playlist.

Not much had been heard about Stations since its January 2018 debut. And its limited release — it never hit the U.S., for example — could have indicated it was an experiment that didn’t quite pan out.

But it now seems that’s not the case, given the new expansion to iOS.

By offering the app to more users, Spotify has the chance to learn and collect data from a larger and more representative group of people. Whether or not it takes any ideas from Stations to its main app remains to be seen.

The company declined to comment on its plans, when asked.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson said. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time,” they added.

Stations is live now on iOS in Australia. More information on the app is on the (newly updated) Help site here.

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Microsoft’s Mixer now lets streamers reward fans for participation, not just subscriptions

Posted by | game streaming, games, Gaming, Microsoft, mixer, Social, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

On game-streaming platforms today, there’s really only one way to earn status within a creator’s community: you have to become a subscriber. Microsoft’s game-streaming service Mixer is today aiming to offer a third path to status through loyalty and participation. In doing so, it hopes to better differentiate itself from larger rivals like Twitch and YouTube.

Channel Progression, as this new feature is called, is a system that rewards community members and a streamer’s fans for more than just their financial contributions. It also takes into account other activity within the channel and on Mixer as a whole.

Members can level up by participating in the stream’s chat, by their repeat visits, by using Skills (aka other forms of expression like stickers, effects and GIFs that are used in chats) and more. That means that viewers will be able to earn rewards and raise their rank by just participating — watching, chatting, following, subscribing and, later, through other actions, as well.

As streamers participate, they’ll rank up, gaining them bragging rights and other perks that will vary by their rank level. They also can check on their rank at any time by clicking on the “Your Rank” button at the bottom-left corner of the chat box.

The feature is rolling out on Wednesday May 1, 2019 to all streamers on Mixer — not just Mixer Partner, as it’s designed to not only be a way for streamers to grow their own communities, but for Mixer itself to grow.

In the future, however, Mixer Partners will be able to also reward monetization actions, like subscribing and gift subscriptions, and for spending Embers (virtual currency).

The changes come at a time when there’s been a rise in complaints over how hard it is to get noticed on the leading game-streaming site, Twitch. Some smaller streamers told The Verge last summer they spent years broadcasting to no one, and found it difficult to grow their community, despite the effort Twitch has made in this area. More recently, that’s included the launch of a four-person Squad Stream, to help creators get discovered.

Despite this, Twitch’s long tail continues to grow — according to a recent report from StreamElements, the top 1,000 Twitch channels were responsible for 57% of Twitch’s viewership hours in Q1 2019, and the long tail (those beyond the top 10,000 channels) was responsible for 20%. In total, Twitch hit 2.7 billion hours of content watched in Q1, the report claimed.

Mixer, by comparison, is much smaller. Its numbers may have quadrupled since Q1 2019, but that’s only going from 22 million hours watched to 89 million. It still has much, much further to go to catch up with YouTube Live, not to mention Twitch.

Mixer’s Channel Progression feature was originally announced in November as part of Mixer’s “Season 2” release. It launches tomorrow to all on Mixer.com on the desktop and will roll out to all other platforms in the weeks ahead.

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Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

Posted by | augmented reality, blockchain, content, Distributed Ledger, Entertainment, events, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, live tv, live tv streaming, Media, music streaming, Northzone, Personnel, PJ Parson, slush, Startups, streaming, Talent, TC, television, tv, tv streaming, Venture Capital, Video, video streaming, Virtual reality | No Comments

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

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Twitch launches a four-person ‘Squad Stream’ feature to help creators get discovered

Posted by | broadcasting, Creators, Gamers, Gaming, Media, streaming, Twitch, Video, video player | No Comments

Twitch today announced the launch of a new feature called “Squad Stream,” which offers a way for up to four creators to go live and stream together within one window. The feature will allow creators to grow their communities by teaming up with others, as it gives streamers increased exposure by playing to a wider range of fans.

Helping viewers find new people to follow is an area of ongoing interest for the company which has, in the past, faced accusations from smaller streamers who complain they just broadcast to empty channels and have trouble growing a fan base.

To address this, Twitch today offers a feature called Raids, which allows creators to work together to grow their respective communities by driving traffic to each other’s channels. Squad Streams is an expansion on that as it’s actually allowing streamers to broadcast together. That is, instead of redirecting traffic, they’re sharing it.

To participate in Squad Streams, creators can join up with one another from their dashboard by way of a new Squad Stream widget. They can then start their own squad by inviting others to join in, or they can accept an invite to join another squad. By default, any channels the streamers follow, have friended or are on the same team can send out Squad Stream invites. But this can be changed in the settings.

During streams, viewers get to watch all creators in one window, which gives them different views on the action, Twitch explains.

During streaming, fans can chat or cheer whoever is in the primary slot — an option they get to choose by clicking on any of the channels’ video player to make in the larger screen. Ads will play only in the primary slot, and viewership also only gets counted when a channel is in the primary slot, Twitch also notes.

Unfortunately, the feature is launching first to Partners — the top-level streamers who are less in need of growing their community than smaller streamers. Twitch says this rollout strategy is due to the need for video quality options (transcodes) on the Squad Streams — an option Partners have on their streams by default. (Affiliates only receive them as they’re available, with priority access.)

The video quality options allows the Squad Stream feature to display the video in the non-primary slots in a lower-quality mode, like 480p. Most streamers, however, stream in 720p or above, which is why the options are needed for Squad Stream to work, says Twitch.

The company says its plan is to roll out Squad Stream to Affiliates and all other streamers in time, as it expands its transcodes capacity.

Squad Stream’s launch is being kicked off by a schedule of four-person streams over the weeks ahead. (A full schedule is here.) Users can also look for the Squad Stream tag on the main Twitch page to find these streams.

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In a challenge to Twitch and YouTube, Facebook adds ‘Gaming’ to its main navigation

Posted by | Facebook, Fb.gg, games, Gaming, Hub, Mobile, Social, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

Facebook’s gaming efforts and challenge to Twitch are taking another big leap today, as the social network begins the initial rollout of a dedicated Facebook Gaming tab in the main navigation of Facebook’s app. The goal with the new addition is to help people more easily find games, streamers and gaming groups they follow, as well as discover new content, based on their interests.

After clicking the new Gaming tab, there will be a feed of content that points to instant games you can play with friends; videos to watch from top streamers, esports organizations and game publishers; and updates from your various gaming groups, the company says.

The new Facebook Gaming tab builds on the gaming video destination the site launched last year as Fb.gg. That hub had offered a collection of all the video games streaming on Facebook, and a way for gamers and fans to interact. As a top-level navigation item, Facebook’s new Gaming tab will now further extend the gaming hub’s reach.

While Twitch and YouTube are today dominating the gaming space, Facebook’s advantage — beyond its scale — is its promise of a reduced cut of transactions. On Fb.gg, gamers were able to attract new fans with the aid of Facebook’s personalized recommendations based on users’ activity, and then monetize those viewers through a virtual tipping mechanism.

Facebook’s cut of those tips ranges from 5 to 30 percent, with the cut getting smaller when users buy larger packs of the virtual currency. Meanwhile, Facebook’s fan subscriptions payments for streamers also see it taking a cut of up to 30 percent, the same as YouTube but smaller than Twitch’s roughly 50 percent.

That could potentially attract streamers who want to maximize their earnings and believe they can port their audience over to a new destination. Of course, some streamers may not trust Facebook to maintain those same percentages over time, nor believe it will ever offer the sorts of features and innovations that a more focused gaming destination like Twitch can.

Facebook also last year experimented with making its gaming hub mobile with the launch of Fb.gg as a standalone mobile app.

The app, like the web-based gaming hub, offered a way for gamers and fans to discover content, join communities and even play instant games like Everwing, Words with Friends, Basketball FRVR and others.

However, the strategy of keeping Facebook’s Gaming efforts more separated from Facebook’s main site may not have paid off — the Fb.gg Android app, for example, only has some 100,000+ installs according to Google Play.

Instead, much like YouTube recently decided, Facebook will now leverage the power of its platform to boost interest in its gaming content.

YouTube in September said it was giving its Gaming hub a new home right on the YouTube homepage, and would shut down its standalone Gaming app. (The latter doesn’t seem to have occurred, however). As YouTube noted, gaming was a popular category, but the majority of viewers weren’t looking for a separate app or experience — they were just visiting YouTube directly.

Similarly, Facebook today says that more than 700 million people play games, watch gaming videos or engage in gaming groups on Facebook. That’s a far larger number than those who downloaded the Fb.gg app, and surely a much larger number than those who have been visiting the Fb.gg destination directly.

That said, Facebook is continuing its tests on mobile with a standalone (rebranded) Facebook Gaming app on Android, which will have more features that the Gaming tab.

Facebook says it will roll out the Gaming tab to a subset of the more than 700 million Facebook game fans, and will expand it over time to more gaming enthusiasts across the network. If you don’t see the new tab in your main navigation bar, you can still find it by going to the Bookmarks menu on Facebook.

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T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

Posted by | cord cutting, Media, Mobile, skinny bundle, streaming, streaming service, streaming TV, T-Mobile, television | No Comments

T-Mobile doesn’t want to compete with other carriers or teleco’s by developing its own “skinny bundle” of streaming TV channels, the company said today on its earnings call with investors, noting the market was already oversaturated on that front. Instead, the mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

According to T-Mobile President Mike Sievert, today’s customers have a number of choices for streaming TV thanks to the massive expansion of OTT (over-the-top) services that are now available.

“It’s subscription-palooza out there. Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market,” he said. “They’re learning about that. They don’t have distribution networks like us; they don’t have access to the phone like we have.”

Instead, the exec explained that T-Mobile wants to help customers access paid subscriptions that already exist, by simplifying aspects of that process such as search, discovery and billing.

“We don’t have plans to develop an nth undifferentiated skinny bundle,” Sievert continued. “There are plenty of those. We think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription — and smaller pieces five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time,” he said, adding that T-Mobile would begin this work in 2019.

The cord cutting-focused news site The Streamable was first to report T-Mobile’s news.

T-Mobile’s announcement comes at a time when the carrier’s mobile TV plans have been more of a focus, as everyone is trying to figure out what the carrier is up to.

Recently, a Cheddar report said T-Mobile would be launching a free mobile TV service in the weeks ahead. But that turned out to be just a “snackable content app” for T-Mobile’s Metro brand, MetroPCS, and only on two phones to start.

T-Mobile’s decision to go with an Amazon Channels-like offering, where consumers build their own “skinny bundles” by mixing and matching paid subscriptions, is not an uncommon choice. This is the same direction that many in the industry are heading, as of late.

This week, for example, Viacom said it would add paid subscriptions to its newly acquired free TV service, Pluto TV. Roku recently rolled out paid subscriptions to its free TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. And Dish’s Sling TV last year launched à la carte paid subscriptions to premium networks, without requiring the core package subscription.

However, the mobile operators aren’t necessarily going that route. AT&T, for instance, has been leveraging its Time Warner acquisition to launch multiple streaming services. Meanwhile, Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) saw its some of its streaming TV ambitions dashed with go90’s failure last year.

As the over-the-top streaming TV market is still a sliver of the larger pay TV space, it still remains to be seen which strategies and services will ultimately win over consumers. But companies are placing their bets now, experimenting, and sometimes failing then starting again.

Separately, T-Mobile today discussed its Layer3 home TV service, which was expected to launch nationwide in late 2018. That service is now planned for the first half of 2019, the company said.

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Netflix launches ‘smart downloads’ feature on iOS to automate offline viewing

Posted by | Apps, cord cutting, Downloads, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Netflix, offline, streaming, streaming service, streaming video, tv, Video | No Comments

Netflix today is launching a new feature on iOS devices that will help make it easier to watch its shows when you’re offline. The “smart downloads” feature, as it’s called, will automatically delete a downloaded episode after you’ve finished watching, then download the next one — but only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The idea is that users will no longer have to go through the tedious work of managing their downloads — deleting those they’ve watched or downloading new titles, for example. Instead, the app can manage the downloads for you, so people can spend more time watching Netflix shows.

Smart downloads make sense for those who plan for intermittent connectivity — like commuters who take underground trains, for instance, or those who travel through dead spots where wireless coverage drops. It also makes sense for those on limited data plans, who are careful about not using streaming video apps unless they’re on Wi-Fi.

Offline features like this are key to attracting and retaining users in emerging markets where connectivity concerns are the norm. That’s likely why Netflix prioritized Android over iOS, for the initial launch of smart downloads.

The feature had first arrived on Android last summer. It’s now offered across platforms, including iOS and in the Windows 10 Netflix app, the company says.

Offline access is only one area where Netflix is focusing on the needs of those in developing markets. The company late last year also began testing a more affordable, mobile-only subscription.

Non-U.S. users accounted for 7.31 million of the 8.8 million new subscribers Netflix added in the last quarter, as the U.S. market has become more saturated.

To use smart downloads on iOS, you can toggle the option in the Netflix app settings. It then turns itself on when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, to ensure your data plan won’t be used and your device storage won’t fill up as you watch offline. The feature will alert you when the episode in question has been downloaded.

“The faster our members can get to the next episode of their favorite stories, the better. Now, fans on the Netflix iOS app can get in on the fun and convenience of Smart Downloads, spending less time managing their downloads and more time watching,” said a Netflix spokesperson in a statement about the launch. “The feature is one more way we’re making it easier for Netflix fans to take the stories they love wherever they go,” they added.

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