James Bond Film No Time To Die Delayed Again Over Covid (theguardian.com) 53

You know it's bad when James Bond still can't get out of the house. "No Time to Die," the 25th film in the Bond franchise, was delayed for a third time late Thursday, the surest sign yet that Hollywood does not believe the masses will be ready to return to movie theaters anytime soon. From a report: Daniel Craig's final outing as 007 will now arrive on 8 October, the official Bond Twitter account announced. It had been set to be released in April following multiple pandemic-enforced delays. No Time To Die is the latest major release to be pushed back as Hollywood studios scramble to protect their films from certain box office doom, with cinemas remaining closed in markets around the world. Earlier this month Warner Bros announced it was delaying the release of Sopranos prequel The Many Saints Of Newark. And after MGM released the Bond news, Sony said Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway was moving from April to June, Ghostbusters: Afterlife was pushed from June to November and Cinderella, which stars singer Camila Cabello, will now arrive in July.

Spotify's Big Bet On Podcasts Is Failing, Citi Says (cnbc.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Spotify's multimillion-dollar bet on podcasting may not be working out, Citi analysts wrote in a note to clients Friday. "The cadence of Premium gross additions (through 3Q20) and app download data (through 4Q20) do not show any material benefit from recent podcast investments (that began in 2019)," the analysts wrote. The firm downgraded the stock to sell from neutral.

Spotify kicked off its venture into podcasting in early 2019, after acquiring podcast companies Gimlet Media, Anchor and Parcast. Since then, the company has acquired sports and entertainment news company The Ringer, as well as Megaphone, which will bolster its ad tech business. It also spent what's likely millions gaining the exclusive rights to stream celebrity podcasts, including those from Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian West, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The idea was that by bringing exclusive content to the app, the company could strengthen its advertising business as well as bring in Premium subscribers.
"To date, we have not seen a material positive inflection in app downloads or Premium subscriptions," the Citi analysts wrote.

"If we were to see a material positive inflection in app downloads or Premium subs (from higher gross adds or materially lower churn), we would alter our view," they added. "But, our fear is that if podcasting doesn't provide a way for Spotify to shift away from music label dependence, the Street may reassess the underlying value of the business. And, that would be bad for Spotify's multiple and equity value."

AT&T Kills Off the Failed TV Service Formerly Known As DirecTV Now (arstechnica.com) 54

AT&T is killing off the online-video service formerly known as DirecTV Now and introducing a no-contract option for the newer online service that replaced it. Ars Technica reports: AT&T unveiled DirecTV Now late in 2016, the year after AT&T bought the DirecTV satellite company. Prices originally started at $35 a month for the live-TV online service, and it had signed up 1.86 million subscribers by Q3 2018. But customers quickly fled as AT&T repeatedly raised prices and cut down on the use of promotional deals, leaving the service with just 683,000 subscribers at the end of Q3 2020. In 2019, AT&T changed the name from DirecTV Now to AT&T TV Now, creating confusion among customers and its own employees because the company simultaneously unveiled another online streaming service called AT&T TV.

AT&T TV was pitched as a more robust replacement for satellite TV, and it even mimicked cable and satellite by imposing contracts, hidden fees, and a big second-year price hike. Going forward, AT&T TV Now will no longer be offered to new customers, and AT&T TV will be the flagship for AT&T's live-TV streaming business. "AT&T TV Now has merged with AT&T TV," the service's website says in an update flagged in a news article by TV Answer Man yesterday. For existing users, "AT&T TV Now customers' service and plans remain in effect" without any changes, an AT&T spokesperson told Ars. "We have no other price changes to announce at this time."


With Movie Theaters in Limbo, Netflix Plans Its Biggest Year Yet (bloomberg.com) 61

Netflix will release 70 original movies in 2021, the company said in a statement Tuesday, touting the streaming service's most ambitious slate yet as the theatrical movie business remains stuck in limbo. From a report: Netflix's lineup of movies includes one of its most expensive to date, "Red Notice," an action movie starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, as well as sequels to its hit romantic comedies "The Kissing Booth" and "To All the Boys I've Loved Before." The streaming service has also commissioned more than a dozen dramas, including the directorial debut of Halle Berry and a feature starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Once a naughty word among filmmakers loyal to movie theaters, Netflix is now one of the few reliable studios in town. Netflix is increasing its output as theaters remain closed in much of the world. The pandemic has made it hard for rival studios to release their projects, and many of them have delayed most of their top titles until more theaters are open.

Samsung's Huge MicroLED TVs Let You Watch Four Things at Once (cnet.com) 56

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung's MicroLED televisions like The Wall are always some of the biggest products at CES -- literally. Last year's version was a 292-inch monster composed of individual modules that required custom installation and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 2021 version is a MicroLED TV in fixed sizes of 110, 99 and 88 inches that costs a bit less, but is still ridiculously expensive. Launched in Korea last month, the 110-inch MicroLED costs 170 million won, or around $156,000 according to ZDNet -- the same as a Bentley Bentayga. On Tuesday at its First Look event ahead of CES, the company announced two more sizes, 99 and 88 inches, all three with 4K resolution. Samsung says the TVs will arrive in other markets later this year. For comparison's sake, Samsung's puny 98-inch 8K TV costs $60,000, but it uses standard LCD-based QLED display technology, not MicroLED. [...] The 110-inch MicroLED TV is basically the size of four 55-inch TVs stuck together, and a feature called MultiView lets you connect multiple devices simultaneously and watch up to four things at once. Lucky owners can "enjoy watching news, movies and other apps simultaneously on one screen -- so they can keep up with multiple sports at once, or stream a walkthrough while playing a video game, all in stunning quality and size," according to the release. MultiView is also available on the smaller 99- and 88-inch versions.

Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now Support is Coming To LG's 2021 TVs (cnet.com) 24

Game streaming has been slowly growing in recent years with the launches of Nvidia's GeForce Now, Google's Stadia, Microsoft's xCloud and Amazon's Project Luna. This year, however, it looks to finally be picking up more steam. At CES 2021, LG announced that some of its 2021 TVs will support apps for playing games from Google Stadia and GeForce Now right on the TV. From a report: Those who subscribe to Stadia Pro, Google's subscription offering for Stadia that runs $10 per month that allows gamers to play an assortment of games for free, will be able to stream in 4K HDR, 60 FPS and 5.1 surround sound to their LG TVs. Stadia support is expected to arrive in the second half of the year in a handful of countries including the US, Canada, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway the Netherlands and Belgium. At launch, the app will only work on LG TVs running the company's webOS 6.0 software though the company says it will come to webOS 5.0 TVs "later this year." Support for Nvidia's platform is slightly less vague, with LG only promising that it will be available in the fourth quarter. The company did not mention which countries would be able to access the service.

Final Episode Aired For American Quiz Show Host Alex Trebek (cbsnews.com) 42

"More than two months after Alex Trebek's death, fans of Jeopardy! finally got the chance to say goodbye," reports CBS News: A video tribute to the host closed Friday's episode of the quiz show, the final one that Trebek taped before pancreatic cancer claimed his life on November 8. The 90-second montage, set to Hugh Jackman singing the Peter Allen song "Once Before I Go," is a lighthearted and laughter-filled remembrance showing Trebek's changing look through his 36 years as host, with moustache and without, with black hair and with grey, with suits from several decades.

It celebrated the wackier moments of the usually strait-laced Trebek, showing him verbally sparring with contestants and arm-wrestling with one. "You really make me feel inadequate," he tells a child contestant. "Sorry about that," she sassily answers. Trebek is shown walking on the set pants-less in one clip, dressed as the Statue of Liberty in another, and wearing the costume of a Trojan solider in another....

The show will continue next week with a series of interim hosts, starting with veteran "Jeopardy!" champion Ken Jennings.

The week's final Trebek episodes began Monday with the host urging viewers to give to others who were suffering during the coronavirus pandemic. "We're trying to build a gentler, kinder society, and if we all pitch in just a little bit, we're going to get there," Trebek said...


Roku Buys Quibi Content For Less Than $100 Million (deadline.com) 13

phalse phace writes: After days of advanced talks to sell Quibi's content library to Roku, the companies have finally reached a deal. According to Deadline, Roku will acquire most of Quibi's content for less than $100 million.

"The acquisition covers most of the Quibi library, but some daily news shows are not part of the package," reports Deadline. "A key draw for Roku is the talent, a roster including Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, Liam Hemsworth, Anna Kendrick, Nicole Richie, Chrissy Teigen and Lena Waithe. The lineup includes titles like Most Dangerous Game, Dummy and Murder House Flip. The programming will be available for free starting later this year. Shows will have advertising, as they did on the $5-a-month Quibi service, and they will be housed on the Roku Channel."
Earlier today, Roku says it sold more smart TVs in the U.S. in 2020 than competitors like Samsung, LG and Vizio, becoming the biggest smart TV platform in North America.

Roku Tops 51 Million Accounts, Becoming the Biggest Smart TV Platform in North America (protocol.com) 84

Roku's bet on smart TVs is paying off: Seven years after the company first began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers, it has become a market leader in North America. Roku and its hardware partners sold more smart TVs in the U.S. in 2020 than competitors like Samsung, LG and Vizio, according to data from the NPD Group released by Roku on Friday. From a report: Roku TVs had a 38% market share in the U.S. and a 31% market share in Canada, according to NPD's data. Roku also announced earlier this week that it had ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts, adding around 14 million accounts over the past 12 months. Altogether, consumers streamed 58.7 billion hours of entertainment through their Roku devices in 2020, according to a news release. Both data points demonstrate how much of a force the company has become in North America, giving it even more power in negotiations with media companies looking to run their services on Roku streaming sticks and TVs. However, they also highlight how much Roku's business has been solely focused on the TV space, giving competitors a chance to dominate other smart device categories. After first making a name for itself with its streaming boxes, Roku began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers in 2014, with one of its early licensing partners including China's TCL, then virtually unknown in North America. With affordable TV sets and a UI that emphasized simplicity over fancy new features, TCL and Roku managed to grow their market share year after year; at the end of 2019, every third smart TV sold in the U.S. was running Roku's operating system.

Sony TVs Get Brighter OLED, Cognitive Processing, Google TV Streaming in 2021 (cnet.com) 33

Sony is probably the most storied TV brand still standing and while it's no longer a top 5 seller, it remains a powerhouse among high-end models -- aka TVs that cost a lot of money. Its 2021 lineup of new sets, announced in advance of CES, includes lots of impressive technology and will likely cost a pretty penny too. From a report: The highest-end new Sony has 8K resolution, but the most interesting TV to video quality nerds is the new Master Series A90J OLED TV with higher peak brightness -- marking the first time in years an OLED TV maker has touted brighter panels. Brightness is important for HDR and for making an image pop in bright rooms, and it's the one major area where OLED traditionally lags LCD.

Sony is also the first company to officially announce a new size of OLED: 83 inches, the largest 4K OLED to date. (If you're keeping track, LG has an 88-inch 8K OLED for, cough, $30,000.) And if that's not big enough for ya, the successor series to my favorite Sony (for the money) of 2020 includes a 100-inch model. Less exciting (to me) than bigger, brighter TVs is something Sony calls "cognitive" processing, available on all of its 2021 TVs. [...] More welcome was the news that all of the models detailed below include HDMI 2.1 gaming extras, namely 4K/120fps input and variable refresh rate (the latter available via a firmware update), which were previously reserved for just one 2020 model, the X900H.


More Than Half of Americans Turned To Video Games During Lockdown (theverge.com) 48

According to Nielsen company SuperData's 2020 year in review, 55 percent of people picked up video games during the first phase of lockdowns. The Verge reports: According to SuperData, 66 percent of consumers from 18 to 24 played more console games, while 60 percent played more mobile titles. Unsurprisingly, buyers also tended toward digital purchases. SuperData reports that 27 percent of people -- about 1 in 4 -- played games to stay in touch with each other. [...] As physical spaces disappeared, video games became one of the few places for people to spend time together... SuperData estimates that digital games alone garnered $126.6 billion over the course of the year. The numbers may not spike this year as much as they did in 2020, but SuperData predicts "the long-term habits formed during lockdown are here to stay."

'Minecraft Earth' Will Shut Down On June 30th (engadget.com) 8

A little over a year after bringing Minecraft Earth in the US, Microsoft announced this week it will shut down the game later this year. Engadget reports: Minecraft Earth players have until June 30th, 2021, to play the augmented reality title before Microsoft shuts down its servers and it's no longer available to download from app marketplaces. Developer Mojang Studios blamed the coronavirus pandemic and all the changes to day-to-day life that have come with it for the shutdown. "Minecraft Earth was designed around free movement and collaborative play -- two things that have become near impossible in the current global situation," the studio said. Like Niantic with Pokemon Go, Mojang had tweaked the game to make it easier to play at home. Those changes clearly weren't enough.

But if there's a silver lining in today's news, it's that Mojang plans to send off Minecraft Earth in style. The studio is rolling out one last update for the game it says contains changes "to make your time in Minecraft Earth as fun as possible." Among other tweaks, the update does away with real-money transactions and drastically reduces the time it will take for players to craft and build things within the game. It also offers players a chance to see all the content that Mojang was working on before today's announcement. "We hope these adjustments will allow you to explore, craft, and build more -- while staying safe indoors," the studio said. Once June 30th comes and goes, Microsoft will delete player data on July 1st. If you spent money in Minecraft Earth at any point during the life of the game, you'll get a token that will allow you to download the Bedrock edition of Minecraft to your mobile device. You can find more details on the shutdown on the Minecraft website.


Discovery+ Launches Today (engadget.com) 62

Discovery+, the new streaming channel from Discovery, is officially available in the U.S.. "The list of places where you can download Discovery+ is extensive, with almost every popular platform but the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 included in the company's launch slate," reports Engadget. From the report: Most notably, you can access the app through Amazon Fire TV streaming devices and Fire Edition TVs -- with support for Prime Video Channels coming at a later date. At launch, Discovery also supports Roku devices and 2017 and later Samsung Smart TVs. Typically, Amazon Fire TV and Roku are left out of streaming launches. Of course, you can also access Discovery+ through Apple TV and Android TV if you have those instead.

Discovery+ will set you back $5 per month for the base tier. It's an extra $2 every month if you don't want to see any ads. At launch, you'll find content from channels like HGTV, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLC and of course Discovery. The $5 and $7 price tags put Discovery+ in competition with other specialty services like Peacock and Disney+, which may make it a tough sell for some people.


Quibi Reportedly In Talks To Sell Its Shows To Roku (theverge.com) 12

According to The Wall Street Journal, failed mobile-first streaming service Quibi is in advanced talks to sell the rights to its content library to Roku for an undisclosed price. The Verge reports: If it were to happen, the deal could give the Roku Channel exclusive access to Quibi's slate of programming. None of Quibi's shows ever really took off, but Roku may feel that the content would stand a better chance when available on the best-selling streaming devices in the US.

Quibi announced it was shutting down back in October, just six months after its much-hyped launch. The service was headed by former HP CEO Meg Whitman and former Disney chairman and movie producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who managed to raise almost $2 billion in funding before the app was released. Katzenberg had already tried to get companies including Facebook and NBCUniversal to pick up Quibi programming ahead of its demise, according to The Information.


The Most-Pirated TV Show of 2020 Was 'The Mandalorian' (cnet.com) 99

CNET reveals 2020's most popular show among video pirates: It probably won't come as a surprise that Disney Plus smash hit series The Mandalorian has won the (unfortunate) title of most-pirated TV show of 2020 — using popular torrenting site BitTorrent. According to analysis from TorrentFreak (via IndieWire), Game of Thrones was the most-pirated TV show seven years running. But the HBO series ended in 2019, leaving The Mandalorian to improve its ranking from third to No. 1.
The rest of the list, from IndieWire: Prime Video's irreverent superhero series "The Boys" is at number two, HBO's "Westworld" is number three, Prime Video's "Vikings" is number four, CBS' "Star Trek: Picard" is five, followed by Adult Swim's "Rick and Morty," AMC's "The Walking Dead," HBO's "The Outsider," CW's "The Arrow," and CW's "The Flash."

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Author Debra Doyle, 1952-2020 (locusmag.com) 24

Long-time Slashdot reader serviscope_minor wanted to remind us that 2020 also saw the death of science fiction/fantasy author Debra Doyle at the age of 67 from a sudden cardiac event. "Her works were co-written with her husband, James D. Macdonald," notes her entry on Wikipedia: Her first work written with Macdonald was "Bad Blood" in 1988. Their novel Knight's Wyrd was awarded the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature in 1992 and appeared on the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list in 1993. They published two series, Mageworlds (7 novels) and The Wizard Apprentice (8 novels), and two alternate history novels, Land of Mist and Snow and Lincoln's Sword.

Doyle and Macdonald also published together under other names. They published their first novel, Night of Ghosts and Lightning, in 1989 under the house name Robyn Tallis; two Tom Swift novels under the house name Victor Appleton; Pep Rally, Blood Brothers, and Vampire's Kiss under the house name Nicholas Adams; and two Spider-Man novels as Martin Delrio.

Together Doyle and Macdonald made up part of the core membership of the sff.net website and rec.arts.sff newsgroup. Doyle also taught at the Viable Paradise genre writer's workshop on Martha's Vineyard.

Star Wars Prequels

Has 'The Mandalorian' on Disney+ Redeemed the Star Wars Universe? (salon.com) 242

Today a staff writer at Salon argues "The Mandalorian" has redeemed the Star Wars universe: The Disney+ series "The Mandalorian" has been both a critical triumph and commercial success. In my judgment, it's the most compelling live-action story in the "Star Wars" universe since 1983's "Return of The Jedi".

To that end, the story in "The Mandalorian's" first two seasons about a mysterious bounty hunter and "the child" (who is actually more than 50 years old) he's entrusted with as they navigate their way through a dangerous world — rife with "scum and villainy," where the remnants of the evil Empire still terrorize the galaxy — has accomplished something difficult in science fiction and other genre entertainment. Longtime and serious "Star Wars" aficionados are enthusiastic about "The Mandalorian's" attention to detail and obvious love and respect for George Lucas's "Star Wars" universe. More casual "Star Wars" fans can enjoy the series for its story of family, friendship and adventure, and of course for "baby Yoda," aka Grogu, "the Child," a character described by legendary film director Werner Herzog as "heartbreakingly beautiful...."

Where does "The Mandalorian" go next? Why is it such a compelling TV series and story? Is there such a thing as too much "fan service" in a genre film or TV series? Why has "The Mandalorian" been such a success, compared to the most recent "Star Wars" films? Disney and Lucasfilm have recently announced plans for 11 new TV series and at least three more feature films. At what point does "Star Wars" become overexposed and made into something common, a parody of itself?

In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Bill Slavicsek, one of the writers and developers of the much-beloved "Star Wars" roleplaying game from West End Games. He is also the author of the "Star Wars Sourcebook," "A Guide to the Star Wars Universe," many guides to RPGs and, more recently, "Defining a Galaxy: 30 Years in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...." He was one of the main game designers for the Dungeons and Dragons RPGs and is currently the lead writer for the massively multi-player RPG Elder Scrolls Online. Fair warning: This conversation contains spoilers for Season Two of "The Mandalorian," which is now available on the Disney+ streaming service.

Meanwhile CinemaBlend shares some commentary from another source, writing that "We need more Star Wars discourse like this." No arguing about bloodlines, or one director undoing the plotlines laid down by another. Just all of us, being amused by a cat who delightfully thinks that he or she can catch the lightsaber that a brooding Kylo Ren is tossing away during a pivotal moment in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker... And it even has Mark Hamill's seal of approval...

Kitty cats aside, it's a very good time to be a Star Wars fan. The Mandalorian just wrapped up an incredible season of television on Disney+ and Kathleen Kennedy recently ushered in a wave of new programming that will keep Star Wars on our radars for years to come.


How The Band Phish Played Chess Against Its Fans on New Year's Eve (jambands.com) 14

An anonymous reader writes: So on New Year's Eve, the "jam" rock band Phish re-broadcast their legendary 1995 performance on New Year's Eve -- while playing a game of chess against the audience. (Just as they'd done in 1995 -- although during that tour they'd made two just moves during each show.) In a video promoting this year's event, a chess "historian" remembers "No single band in the '90s was playing better chess against their audience" and shares an alleged conspiracy theory that they were being coached by Garry Kasparov. And yet, "Midway through the second of two nights at Madison Square Garden, the audience takes Phish's queen" -- and the band resigned.

This had left their ongoing audience-versus-band match with a score (one game apiece). So 25 years later, for New Year's Eve, Phish finally staged the great re-match.

"However, just as it was time to begin the game (and as the show kicked off with opener "Punch You In The Eye"), Chess.com, the popular chess site hosting the online game, crashed," reports JamBands.com.

Thinking quickly, the band announced on Twitter that "We're making a quick pivot, 2020 style, to live chess mode. We will be using a moderator from Chess.com who will take feedback on the move within the chat and then complete the audience move."

JamBands.com explains how the long-awaited match finally culminated: In between sets, the broadcast cut to a live zoom call between all four band members, during which they discussed their next moves in the game and chatted. At various points, Gordon and Anastasio picked up guitars, and Gordon had a surreal projection of a chess board floating behind him at times. During the first break, McConnell referenced the technical difficulties. "I'm sorry this didn't work out to plan, but nothing this year did," he said with a laugh.

During the break between the second and third sets, the shenanigans increased, with drummer Jon Fishman following through on an off-hand promise to shave his head. (At first, the other three band members didn't even notice.) Ultimately, the band defeated the audience... Down to just their king, queen and a few pawns, the audience resigned as the band was up a pawn and still had a rook and queen on the board...

Phish raised funds for a charity during the broadcast. "For this final webcast of the year, our beneficiary will be none other than The WaterWheel Foundation itself," the band wrote prior to the stream. "Since 1997, the band and their fans have collaborated on a nationwide charitable endeavor by raising funds and donating the proceeds across the country. This year alone, collectively we have raised and donated nearly $750,000 to 27 different nonprofits during the Dinner And A Movie series. Join us in continuing to support those in need...."

You can watch the entire four-and-a-half-hour webcast on YouTube.

How the Comics Industry Avoided a 2020 Implosion (hollywoodreporter.com) 43

While publishers and stores feared COVID-19 would be an extinction-level threat, the industry has proved more resilient than thought. From a report: In March, when COVID-19 hit the comic industry in earnest, many retailers and publishers feared it would be an apocalyptic event for the business. Stay-at-home orders shuttered stores, and shipments of new product ceased for several months when Diamond Comics Distributors hit pause. Stores have struggled to survive, and some have shuttered permanently. However, months after the comic book industry restarted -- accompanied by a publicity campaign proclaiming that the industry's "comeback will be bigger than [the] setback" -- there are multiple signs that comics has proven to be far stronger than anyone, including those inside the industry, expected in the face of an uncertain year. "The biggest surprise started during May and June, as we were allowed to reopen, comics started shipping again, and customers were slowly starting to come back to the shop. Customers were buying comics. A lot of comics," California retailer Ryan Higgins tells THR. With comic conventions canceled and people not taking vacations, many fans concentrated on making their collections more complete.

"Comic supplies sales skyrocketed right away as people took this time to clean up their collection," says Higgins. "New titles were selling better than we ever expected, graphic novel sales spiked, and back issues jumped dramatically in price and flew out the door just as fast. Sales during the summer and early fall months were just unbelievable." [...] A key metric for the health of the industry is how many comics stores are ordering. Those numbers are moving in the right direction. "March 2020 saw Diamond ship 5.9 million comics; September and October were both over 7 million copies each," writes analyst John Jackson Miller in an email to THR. "Those are both behind the equivalent months in 2019; October 2019, with the X-Men relaunch, was the fourth best month of the decade of the 2010s. But per release, the sales levels are improved, and as the number of releases continues to build back, you can see it fully catching up." As Higgins suggests, it's not just new titles that are seeing a bump; multiple publishers told THR that back orders for already released material still available directly from the publisher scaled up in the latter half of the year, as well.


Forget the Streaming Wars -- Pandemic-Stricken 2020 Lifted Netflix and Others (wsj.com) 6

The past 12 months were billed as the year when a flood of new entrants would force streaming services to wage an all-out war for subscribers. Instead, incumbents and rookies alike feasted on a base of shut-in customers eager for more things to watch. From a report: The largest streaming services finished 2020 with combined U.S. subscriber numbers more than 50% higher than a year ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from market-research firms MoffettNathanson and HarrisX. They enjoyed a captive audience. The coronavirus pandemic triggered lockdowns that sent millions of Americans home, leaving many people with more time to watch movies and shows from the couch. The virus also prompted movie theaters to shut down and sports leagues to go on hiatus for months, further boosting streaming services' appeal. "Instead of a streaming war, there's been streaming coexistence and parallel growth," said Dritan Nesho, HarrisX's chief executive. New services such as Walt Disney's Disney+ grew rapidly without necessarily harming established players such as Netflix and Hulu, he said. "Disney+ did not displace existing services," Mr. Nesho said. "It complemented them."

The ESPN+ Annual Subscription is Going Up by $10 (engadget.com) 56

For the first time since the service arrived in April 2018, the ESPN+ annual plan is getting a price increase. From January 8th, it'll cost new members $59.99 instead of $49.99. Existing annual subscribers will have until at least March 2nd to renew their plan for $50. From a report: The monthly plan went up by $1 to $5.99 in August, so opting for an annual subscription instead of going month-to-month will save you $12 over a year. Of course, you'll save more if you lock in an annual plan before the increase.

Most-Played Song of 2020? For Many It's White Noise (nytimes.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: In an average year, Spotify Wrapped is a sharing-optimized novelty hinging on nostalgia for a time that's barely passed. But in 2020, this data mirror instead presented many users with unexpected empirical evidence of their pandemic coping mechanisms: a strange hit parade of ambient music, background noise and calming sound effects that soothed them through an unusually anxious and sleepless time. While thousands of users posted in disbelief about their stress-inflected results, the situation made sense to Liz Pelly, a cultural critic who has written extensively about how Spotify and its competitors work to shape our listening habits. "It says a lot about the ways that corporate streaming services have ingrained themselves into our lives and facilitated music listening becoming more of a background experience," she said.

[...] The findings of some forthcoming research about pandemic coping mechanisms suggest ambient listening may be part of a larger pattern. Pablo Ripolles, a professor at New York University who studies music and the brain, was part of an international team of researchers that surveyed lockdown habits in Italy, Spain and the United States. Of 43 activities mentioned in a survey the team conducted, like cooking, prayer, exercise and sex, listening to or playing music had one of the biggest increases in engagement during lockdown, as well as the highest number of respondents who said it was the activity that helped them the most.


Spotify's Podcasting Problem: Loophole Allows Remixes and Unreleased Songs To Hide in Plain Sight (variety.com) 24

Spotify has joined the ranks of streaming services like SoundCloud and YouTube as a hub for bootlegs of popular songs. From a report: With obscured titles like "Jocelyn Flores but you're in the bathroom at a party" by eraylandin, a new take on XXXTentacion's popular "Jocelyn Flores," and "Dead To Me -- Kali Uchis (slowed + bass boosted)" by user Unreal sounds, a rework of Uchis' popular track from her 2018 album "Isolation," these underground remixers have chosen to upload their creations as podcast episodes, hoping to circumvent copyright infringement detection by the platform. Using simple keywords and terms like "chopped and screwed," "slowed and reverbed," "remix," and "mashup" in Spotify's search bar, users can track down bootlegged reworks of songs by many top artists which live on Spotify's podcast hub. Late rapper Juice WRLD, who still commands a cult following, has a full 'podcast series' dedicated to revealing his unreleased songs, like user No Si's podcast titled, "Instagram @xricardol.tx." The podcast contains 'episodes' like "Sugarfish (Leaked)," a song Juice WRLD wrote with The Chainsmokers that was never officially released, despite online rumors that the collaboration would become available in December 2019. These podcasts, like "Instagram @xricardol.tx," only contain the audio of specific songs and almost always list the tracks as individual episodes. There is nothing that resembles the typical characteristics of a podcast.

Amazon To Buy Podcast Maker Wondery (wsj.com) 5

Amazon announced Wednesday that it's acquiring podcasting company Wondery, expanding its catalog of original audio content. From a report: As part of the deal, Wondery will join Amazon Music, the e-commerce giant's music streaming business. Amazon Music in September added podcasts to its platform, looking to carve out a share of the increasingly competitive podcasting market, in which Spotify, Apple and others have gained ground. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Wondery, founded in 2016, has produced some of the most popular podcasts in recent years, including true crime series like "Dirty John," "Dr. Death" and "Over My Dead Body." The podcast producer and network says it counts more than 10 million unique listeners each month. WSJ reported earlier this month that Amazon was valuing Wondery at over $300 million in advanced stages of talks before the acquisition.

Disney Will Test the Limits of 'Franchise Fatigue' in 2021 and 2022 (yahoo.com) 129

An anonymous reader shares a report: In November 2019, just a few days after Disney+ launched, Netflix (NFLX) content chief (now co-CEO) Ted Sarandos, speaking at a Paley Center for Media event, said that Disney (DIS) is "bound by" its content universes, a reference mostly to Marvel and Star Wars. He continued: "I do think the risk of being bound in a few universes is that there sometimes may be a melting ice cube of interest over time." That has been the most common knock on Disney for a few years now: that if Disney keeps hitting the Marvel and Star Wars pinatas, fans will get tired of it. But the numbers have proven the theory wrong -- so far. Moviegoers vote with their wallets, and have voted in favor of more Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, more Star Wars stories. Six of the top 10 biggest U.S. box office openings of all time were Marvel movies, four of them "Avengers" movies. "Avengers: Endgame" (2019) is the No. 1 box office release of all time. As for Star Wars, the final three films in the "Skywalker" saga, "The Force Awakens" (2015), "The Last Jedi" (2017), and "The Rise of Skywalker" (2019), each topped $1 billion at the global box office, despite fan criticism of the plot of the final film. Spinoff movie "Rogue One" (2017) also hit the $1 billion mark. But those were all movies, with much-hyped theatrical releases.

On Disney+ over the next two years, Disney will truly test the limits of the fatigue theory with Marvel and Star Wars original shows, and might discover that even the most hardcore fans have a threshold. The sheer mountain of original content Disney unveiled at its 2020 Investor Day this month was almost comical: 52 new shows or movies coming in the next three years across Disney Studios, Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, ESPN, and FX. In the first year of Disney+, only a single live-action original series, "The Mandalorian," was enough to propel the platform to 86.8 million subscribers. In 2021, Disney will hit the gas, with six Marvel shows hitting Disney+: "WandaVision" in January; "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" in March; "Loki" in May; animated series "What If...?" in summer; and a "Ms. Marvel" series and "She-Hulk" series (no specific date given, but Disney said 2021). Can even diehard Marvel fans find the time to watch all of those? And those are just the television shows. In theaters over the next two years, Disney will release "Black Widow," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Eternals," "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," "Thor: Love and Thunder," "Black Panther 2," and "Captain Marvel 2." The Star Wars faucet won't start blasting until 2022 and 2023, when Disney+ will get the Star Wars spinoff shows "Andor," "Ahsoka," "Obi-Wan Kenobi," "Star Wars: Visions," "The Bad Batch," "Rangers of the New Republic," and "Lando."

When critics talk about Disney's franchise fatigue risk, they're mostly talking about Marvel and Star Wars, but if you look elsewhere in the Disney+ lineup there are additional examples of the argument. Disney's live-action releases coming over the next two years include a "Cheaper by the Dozen" remake movie, another "Lion King" live action movie, and live-action remakes of "The Little Mermaid," "Pinocchio," and "Peter Pan," plus a sequel to "Enchanted," a Cruella De Vil live-action origin movie, and "Sister Act 3." Disney is also planning a "Night at the Museum" animated series, a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" animated series, and a "Chip N' Dale" animated movie. The criticism that almost everything Disney is doing is a prequel, sequel, remake, or spin-off is not unwarranted.


Tesla Update Turns Cars into Boomboxes, Adds Three In-Car Videogames and Customizable Honking (electrek.co) 83

Engadget reports: Electrek notes that Tesla has released its promised holiday update, and the centerpiece appears to be a Boombox mode that pumps media outside as long as you have a recent-enough EV with a pedestrian speaker system, like later Model 3 production runs...

Other updates include a smarter Scheduled Departure that preconditions the battery and cabin without plugging in, larger driving visualizations (helpful for Autopilot) and at-a-glance views of the number of open stalls at Superchargers.

Electrek's report highlights some additional features: Earlier this week, we reported that it included 3 new in-car video games, but we now have the full release notes with all the details... "You can also customize the sound that your car makes when you press the horn, drive the car or when your car is moving with Summon. Select an option from the dropdown menu or insert your own USB device and save up to five custom sounds."
Christmas Cheer

How Astronauts on The ISS Got a Visit from Santa (thehill.com) 28

Since 1955 the U.S./Canadian operation that monitors North American airspace with radars and satellite to maintain air sovereignty has also, at Christmas time, been tracking Santa.

And this year their trackers received additional support from the U.S. Space Command, a joint-military command drawing its units from five military service branches (including the U.S. Space Force). That command "launched a new reindeer tracker to pinpoint the exact location of Santa's sleigh at any given time during the night," according to NPR's Morning Edition, with General James Dickinson telling them the equipment's official name: Rudolph Infrared Tracking System. "We made some upgrades this year."

And that was just the beginning, reports The Hill: Santa knows astronauts need presents, too, and made his first known visit to the International Space Station to deliver them this year.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which tracks Santa's Christmas Eve journey every year, depicted in a tweet Santa arriving at the International Space Station on Christmas Eve...

The Federal Aviation Administration cleared Santa for the flight to space on Wednesday, providing him "for the first time ever" with a special commercial space license.

The astronauts aboard the ISS recorded a special Christmas video this year. (And a new article in Business Insider expores how astronauts on the space station have celebrated Christmas over the years.)

And NORAD is even maintaining a special web site at NORADSanta.org which not only let visitors track Santa, but through December 31st will also offer an arcade with Christmas-themed videogames, a selection of music by the U.S. Air Force Academy Band, and even a gift shop where you can buy "Santa and NORAD gear," including NORAD hoodies and tote bags.

Though a pop-up window warns visitors that "Clicking through to this next website does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the United States Department of Defense or NORAD of any product or service."
Christmas Cheer

How San Francisco Got a Very Special Monolith on Christmas Day (kqed.org) 26

Ananda Sharma, founder of the app Gyroscope, describes to a local TV station the monolith he discovered during a Christmas-morning jog under a candy-cane red sunrise.

"I think I smelled it before I saw it..."

He spotted a double rainbow and wanted to peek at that too. At first, he thought the monolith was "a big post," but as he got closer, he smelled the gingerbread scent wafting toward him. The monolith is standing in panels separated by icing...

"It made me smile.

SFGate spoke to another eye-witness: Alexis Gallagher also happened upon the sweet monolith at about 8:25 a.m. Friday morning, confirming it was made of gingerbread, frosting and gumdrops... "I had a closer look and it looks like there's a plywood skeleton underneath, but I try not to dwell on such mundane realities."

Gallagher added that he had to "stop my dog from nibbling on it..."

When reached for an official comment, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department General Manager told the TV news reporter that the gingerbread monolith "Looks like a great spot to get baked."

Then he added more sternly that "we will leave it up until the cookie crumbles."

But their article notes it raises several questions for Bay Area residents: Did Christmas-happy aliens beam it down from above? Did some rogue artificial intelligence escape a nearby Google campus, and, driven mad by our plethora of Christmas music...design an art piece to brighten our days? And just how expensive is it to rent a highrise apartment within its crumbly, ginger-pungent walls...?
SFGate's report ends with Ananda Sharma noting that it began raining in San Francisco at 11:30 a.m., adding, "not sure what happens to gingerbread in the rain but it probably isn't good."

Warner Bros. Believes that Theaters Will Still Exist in 2023 (theverge.com) 43

Warner Bros. ruffled some feathers when it announced it would release all of its new 2021 movies simultaneously on HBO Max, but the company seems to be betting that theaters won't become an apocalyptic wasteland. From a report: Variety reports that the company plans to release Furiosa, the prequel to Max Max: Fury Road, and The Color Purple first in theaters in 2023. Warner's plan to launch next year's films online is a great thing for consumers who would rather stay at home than risk contracting a deadly virus to see, say, Godzilla vs. Kong. But the plan immediately made enemies of some Hollywood veterans. Director Christopher Nolan called HBO Max "the worst streaming service" and accused Warner Bros. of not telling anyone about its plan until just 90 minutes before it was announced.

Square Has Discussed Acquiring Jay-Z's Tidal Service (bloomberg.com) 4

Square, the digital-payment company run by Jack Dorsey, has held talks to acquire the music-streaming service Tidal as part of a push to diversify, according to a person familiar with the situation. From a report: Dorsey has discussed a potential deal with Jay-Z, the rapper and music mogul who acquired Tidal for $56 million in early 2015, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private. The negotiations may not result in a transaction.

Nearly Half a Billion Users Played Among Us In November (theverge.com) 37

Roughly half a billion people played Among Us in November, becoming "by far the most popular game ever in terms of monthly players," according to Nielsen's SuperData. The Verge reports: The success is even more remarkable because InnerSloth -- the company that makes Among Us -- only has four employees. That's roughly 125 million players per person who works on the game. It's proven to be so popular that the studio decided to cancel a sequel that was in the works and just put all its effort into improving the original. It even caught the attention of sitting congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who livestreamed herself playing it to try to encourage people to vote, with an audience on Twitch that peaked at over 400 thousand viewers.

In an email to The Verge, Carter Rogers, Principal Analyst at SuperData, said that the next-most popular game in terms of monthly active users only clocked in at 300 million. Rogers notes that Nielsen arrives at its figures through a mix of "point-of-sale and event data from publishers, developers and payment service providers." Among Us' release on the Nintendo Switch was recent enough that it didn't have an appreciable impact on the game's total numbers in Nielsen's analysis.


DHS Is Looking Into Backdoors In Smart TVs By China's TCL (securityledger.com) 85

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: The acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the agency was assessing the cyber risk of smart TVs sold by the Chinese electronics giant TCL, following reports last month in The Security Ledger and elsewhere that the devices may give the company "back door" access to deployed sets, The Security Ledger reports. Speaking at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said that DHS is "reviewing entities such as the Chinese manufacturer TCL." "This year it was discovered that TCL incorporated backdoors into all of its TV sets exposing users to cyber breaches and data exfiltration. TCL also receives CCP state support to compete in the global electronics market, which has propelled it to the third largest television manufacturer in the world," Wolf said, according to a version of prepared remarks published by DHS. His talk was entitled "Homeland Security and the China Challenge."

As reported last month, independent researchers John Jackson -- an application security engineer for Shutter Stock -- and a researcher using the handle Sick Codes identified and described two serious software security holes affecting TCL brand television sets and would allow an unprivileged remote attacker on the adjacent network to download most system files from the TV set up to and including images, personal data and security tokens for connected applications. The flaw could lead to serious critical information disclosure, the researchers warned. Both flaws affect TCL Android Smart TV series V8-R851T02-LF1 V295 and below and V8-T658T01-LF1 V373 and below, according to the official CVE reports. In an interview with The Security Ledger, the researcher Sick Codes said that a TCL TV set he was monitoring was patched for the CVE-2020-27403 vulnerability without any notice from the company and no visible notification on the device itself. In a statement to The Security Ledger, TCL disputed that account. By TCL's account, the patched vulnerability was linked to a feature called "Magic Connect" and an Android APK by the name of T-Cast, which allows users to "stream user content from a mobile device." T-Cast was never installed on televisions distributed in the USA or Canada, TCL said. For TCL smart TV sets outside of North America that did contain T-Cast, the APK was "updated to resolve this issue," the company said. That application update may explain why the TCL TV set studied by the researchers suddenly stopped exhibiting the vulnerability.

In his address on Monday, Acting Secretary Wolf said the warning about TCL will be part of a broader "business advisory" cautioning against using data services and equipment from firms linked to the People's Republic of China (PRC). This advisory will highlight "numerous examples of the PRC government leveraging PRC institutions like businesses, organizations, and citizens to covertly access and obtain the sensitive data of businesses to advance its economic and national security goals," Wolf said. "DHS flags instances where Chinese companies illicitly collect data on American consumers or steal intellectual property. CCP-aligned firms rake in tremendous profits as a result," he said.

Christmas Cheer

A Stranger Crowdsourced $1,700 For a Mistreated Fast-Food Worker (cnn.com) 50

Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: At a McDonald's restaurant in Georgia, an angry customer in the drive-through lane threw his drink at the pregnant fast-food worker who had served him. "She was crying and covered in ice and soda and syrup..." remembers another driver in the next car parked in the line. "[C]overed in syrup all over her shoes, pants, and shirt."

That driver created an online fundraiser for the fast-food worker, ultimately raising $1,700 within 24 hours which was later presented to the fast-food worker. "She gave me the envelope and I couldn't do nothing but cry," the worker told CNN later, "because I wasn't expecting that."

The driver also publicized a registry for baby supplies (along with the Cash App handle for future donations), but insisted to CNN that it wasn't doing anything special. "I just saw somebody being mistreated and I didn't like what I saw."

PlayStation (Games)

Sony Is Pulling Cyberpunk 2077 From the PlayStation Store and Offering Full Refunds (theverge.com) 168

Sony is pulling Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store and offering full refunds for anyone who bought the game from the digital storefront, the company said on Thursday. The Verge reports: If you want to start a refund, Sony says to visit this site and sign into your PlayStation account to submit a request. The game has already been removed from the PlayStation Store for a few Verge staffers on their PS5s, and the game doesn't come up in a search for "Cyberpunk 2077" on the web version of the store.

Players have found that Cyberpunk 2077, which has only been out for a week, has been riddled with bugs. The game looks good on PS5, but in my few hours with the game, I've run into a few complete crashes to the PS5's home screen and a number of distracting visual glitches. On PS4, the game fares a lot worse -- Eurogamer reported poor performance, low framerate, and texture pop-in.
Further reading: 'Cyberpunk 2077' Players Are Fixing Parts of the Game Before CD Projekt

UK Politicians Call For 'Making the Resale of Goods Purchased Using An Automated Bot an Illegal Activity' (pcgamer.com) 126

Six Scottish National Party (SNP) politicians have put forward a motion for consideration in the UK parliament to prohibit the resale of games consoles and PC components at prices "greatly above" MSRP, and the resale of goods purchased using automated bots to be made illegal in these fair isles. PC Gamer reports: A motion on the "Resale of gaming consoles and computer components purchases by automated bots" has been tabled with UK Parliament, and it aims to outlaw resellers' usage of automated bots and make it difficult to sell in-demand tech at prices far exceeding the manufacturer's recommend retail price. The motion has no set date for debate in the Commons, and is what is known as an 'Early Day Motion.' These don't often receive much love in Parliament, often due to the sheer number of Early Day Motions going at any one time, but they are used to highlight specific issues present in society. That's hardly indicative of sweeping change in the near-future, but it's better than nothing.

Google Will Officially Support Running Chrome OS On Old PCs (engadget.com) 63

This week, Google acquired a company called Neverware that allows users to turn their old PCs and Macs into a Chromebook with its CloudReady software. Now, Google is planning to make CloudReady into an official Chrome OS release. Engadget reports: When that happens, Neverware says its existing users will be able to seamlessly upgrade to the updated software. Moreover, once that transition is complete, Google will support CloudReady in the same way that it currently does Chrome OS. In the immediate future, Neverware says it's business as usual. The Home Edition of CloudReady isn't changing, and the company says it's committed to supporting its existing education and enterprise customers. Moreover, there's no plan to change pricing at the moment, and Google will honor any current multi-year licenses.

Not only does this acquisition make a lot of sense from Google's perspective, but it's hard to see a downside for CloudReady users. The fact the operating system wasn't officially supported by Google was one of the few downsides to the software. It meant you couldn't install Android apps on CloudReady devices, even though it's based on Chromium OS. With this acquisition, support for Android apps becomes much more likely. Direct support from Google will also make the software more appealing to schools and businesses since they can get help directly from the company if they have any technical issues.


EA Set To Pay $1.2 Billion For Codemasters and Its Stable of Racing Games (arstechnica.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The board of directors for British developer Codemasters has reached a purchase agreement with Electronic Arts which would sell the company to the mega-publisher for an estimated $1.2 billion (or just under $8 a share) in early 2021. The deal would put Codemasters' popular racing-game franchises -- including DiRT/DiRT Rally, Grid, F1, and Project CARS (which Codemasters acquired in 2019) -- under the same umbrella as EA's Need for Speed, Burnout, and mobile-focused Real Racing. That's not quite a monopoly in the genre -- thanks in large part to console exclusives like Microsoft's Forza Motorsport and Sony's Gran Turismo -- but it's as close as you're likely to find for any major genre in gaming.

More than that, the acquisition reflects a continuing trend toward consolidation among the game industry's biggest publishers. The acquisition would also likely make Codemaster's current and future titles part of the EA Play subscription service and, by extension, part of Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Aside from its modern racing sims, Codemasters boasts a legacy catalog going back to the days of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, with titles like Micro Machines and the Dizzy platform-adventure series that were especially popular in the UK.
"The combination of Codemasters and Electronic Arts will enable the development and delivery of a market-leading portfolio of creative and exciting racing games and content to more platforms and more players around the world," the companies said in a joint statement.

"Electronic Arts and Codemasters have a shared ambition to lead the video game racing category," Codemasters Chairman Gerhard Florin added. "The Board of Codemasters firmly believes the company would benefit from EA's knowledge, resources and extensive global scale -- both overall and specifically within the racing sector. We feel this union would provide an exciting and prosperous future for Codemasters, allowing our teams to create, launch and service bigger and better games to an extremely passionate audience."
Christmas Cheer

Nathan Myhrvold's Dazzling High-Resolution Photographs of Snowflakes (fastcompany.com) 58

Nathan Myhrvold is a former CTO of Microsoft, co-founder of the equity company Intellectual Ventures, and the founder of "food innovation lab" Modernist Cuisine (which among other things resulted in book of remarkable food photography).

But he's now photographing the intricate designs of snowflakes, reports Fast Company: Over the span of 18 months, Myhrvold built a camera with a microscopic lens and then shot in the freezing locales of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. All to capture individual snowflakes — millimeters across — in sparkling, high-res detail.

Myhrvold captured his snowflake specimens by setting out black foam core when snow was falling. He then used a tiny watercolor brush to grab individual snowflakes and place them on a "cooling stage" under the camera. Cold is key — even the camera itself and the plate he places the snowflake on must be left outside and chilled in order to photograph the snowflake before it melts. But that's not the only element to keep those snowflakes cool: He also uses special, high-speed LED lights that don't generate as much heat. The cold is also important to a snowflake's shape, says Myhrvold, who shot his specimens at temperatures between -15 and -20 degrees F. You might call this the snowflake sweet spot: They form into the "best," most complex designs between these temperatures.

The results are simply dazzling... "Sometimes to see nature's beauty you have to travel to the Grand Canyon or get up late at night to see the stars," Myhrvold says. But with snow, all you have to do is pause and look down at your mitten. "It's a beautiful thing."

Star Wars Prequels

Disney Stock Skyrockets 13% Friday to New All-Time High (cnn.com) 46

CNN reports: If it wasn't abundantly clear that content is king, especially in the Covid-19 era, Disney hammered that point home Thursday when it previewed dozens of new series and movies for its Disney+ streaming service. And investors are loving it. Shares of Disney jumped 13% Friday to a new all-time high. The stock is now up more than 20% this year, an impressive feat given that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on Disney's theme park business and forced its movie studios to delay big releases in theaters.

Investors are clearly betting that the streaming strength will offset any lingering weakness in other areas of the House of Mouse empire: Disney raised its forecast for subscriber growth and is upping prices for Disney+. Wall Street analysts rushed to upgrade Disney following Thursday's event. At least 13 analysts boosted their price targets on the stock Friday morning.
While Disney initially predicted it would have 60-90 million subscribers by 2024, they're now predicting 230-260 million, CNN reported earlier this week. "The sheer scale of content announced on Thursday was a loud reminder to the rest of the streaming world that Disney+ had an amazing year, acting as a lifeboat to a company ravaged by coronavirus, and that Disney is fully committed to the future of streaming."

Besides the two new Star Wars series announced this week, Disney also announced several new series based on Marvel comic book characters:
  • "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and "WandaVision"
  • Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury) in "Secret Invasion"
  • Don Cheadle as War Machine in "Armor Wars"
  • More Marvel-based shows about Hawkeye, Moon Knight, "Ironheart" Riri Williams, She Hulk, and Ms. Marvel
  • A series of shorts titled "I Am Groot" and a "Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special"

Other newly-announced Disney+ shows include:

  • A live action Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks
  • A reboot of "The Mighty Ducks" starring Emilio Estevez


Is Warner Bros' Shift To Streaming New Movies 'A Great Danger'? (npr.org) 93

Christopher Nolan isn't too happy with Warner Bros' decision to send all 17 of its films slated for release in 2021 to HBO Max on the same day they're released. Nolan, whose blockbuster movies for Warner Bros have made billions, called HBO Max "the worst streaming service," adding that this shift in Hollywood is "a sign of great danger for the people who work in the movie industry." NPR reports: Nolan was asked whether the move to streaming is really about the pandemic or something bigger — Netflix had more 2020 Oscar nominations than any other studio. "There is this idea that that's been sort of put forward a lot, that the pandemic is sort of accelerating a trend that was already happening," he said. "But 2019 was the biggest year ever for movies financially. That doesn't suit the narrative that the tech companies or the big corporations kind of want to put out there right now.

"But the reality is there was enormous success in 2019 and 2018 wasn't bad either. If you're asking where moviegoing is going, I think the long-term health of the movie business depends on people's desire to get together and experience a story together. And I don't see any signs that that's going anywhere anytime soon."
Would you agree with Nolan, or do you applaud Warner Bros' embrace of streaming?

Harrison Ford Will Return in a Fifth 'Indiana Jones' Movie (cnn.com) 87

New submitter Arthur, KBE writes: Harrison Ford will be grabbing his whip and ramming on his hat for a fifth "Indiana Jones" movie, Disney has confirmed -- a mere 41 years after the first installment, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," was released. Disney said in a tweet on Friday that the movie would be produced by its production arm Lucasfilm and released in July 2022, and that "Indy himself, Harrison Ford, will be back to continue his iconic character's journey." The entertainment giant also confirmed the news in an investor presentation, saying the movie was currently in "pre-production." There had been mounting speculation that a new movie was in the works. In February, Ford told Ellen DeGeneres in an appearance on her talk show that production on a new Indiana Jones movie would begin this year. "It's going to be fun. I am excited," he said on the show. "They're great fun to make." The last film from the franchise was 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which came almost 20 years after the third movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which was released in 1989.

Slashdot Asks: Favorite Movies and TV Shows You Watched This Year? 128

What are some good movies and TV shows that you watched this year? You do not have to narrow down your selection to titles that came out this year, but feel free to give one a shotout.

Spotify Resets Passwords After a Security Bug Exposed Users' Private Account Information (techcrunch.com) 19

Jerry Rivers shares a report from TechCrunch, adding: "...and it took the music service seven months to notice." From the report: In a data breach notification filed with the California attorney general's office, the music streaming giant said the data exposed "may have included email address, your preferred display name, password, gender, and date of birth only to certain business partners of Spotify." The company did not name the business partners, but added that Spotify "did not make this information publicly accessible." The company says the vulnerability existed as far back as April 9 but wasn't discovered until November 12. It didn't say what the vulnerability was or how user account data became exposed.

"We have conducted an internal investigation and have contacted all of our business partners that may have had access to your account information to ensure that any personal information that may have been inadvertently disclosed to them has been deleted," the letter read.
Star Wars Prequels

Ahsoka Tano Standalone Star Wars Series Coming To Disney Plus (cnet.com) 50

Ahsoka Tano, the popular character from The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, is finally getting her own series starring Rosario Dawson. It's set within the timeline for The Mandalorian and will debut on Disney Plus around Christmas of 2021. CNET reports: Disney revealed the news Thursday during an investor presentation, where the company also announced its plans for upcoming movie releases -- both theatrical and streaming on Disney Plus. Ahsoka made her live-action debut in The Mandalorian episode titled The Jedi. In the episode, Mando (Pedro Pascal) continues his quest to bring Baby Yoda (aka The Child) to former Jedi Ahsoka Tano in the years following Return of the Jedi. [...] Not much has been revealed as of yet about the new Ahsoka Tano live-action series for Disney Plus, but fingers crossed we get to see more characters from both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels pop up in the new adventures. UPDATE: In addition to Star Wars: Ahsoka, Lucasfilm also announced Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic, a new Original Series set within the timeline of The Mandalorian.

"The two series are just several of the new Star Wars shows coming to Disney Plus in the future, along with Star Wars: Andor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: Lando, The Acolyte, the animated Clone Wars spin-off The Bad Batch, and the anime anthology Star Wars: Visions," adds The Verge.

Aliens In Hiding Until Mankind Is Ready, Says Ex-Israeli Space Head (nypost.com) 332

The former head of Israel's space program, Haim Eshed, says space aliens have reached an agreement with the U.S. government to stay mum on the experiments they conduct on Earth -- as well as their secret base on Mars -- until mankind is ready to accept them. The New York Post reports: "The aliens have asked not to announce that they are here [because] humanity is not ready yet," Eshed told Israeli paper Yedioth Aharonoth, according to the Jewish Press. The Jewish Press -- speculating that Eshed, 87, may have gone to insanity and beyond -- goes on to unspool his tangled web, which claims the involvement of President Trump and interplanetary diplomacy.

"Trump was on the verge of revealing [aliens existence], but the aliens in the Galactic Federation are saying, "Wait, let people calm down first,'" Eshed, who helmed Israel's space security program from 1981 to 2010, reportedly said. "They don't want to start mass hysteria. They want to first make us sane and understanding." Until that day, aliens have secured an agreement to keep their moves under wraps, said Eshed, noting that the extraterrestrials come in peace.

"There's an agreement between the U.S. government and the aliens. They signed a contract with us to do experiments here. They, too, are researching and trying to understand the whole fabric of the universe, and they want us as helpers." One of the hubs of the cooperation is a base on Mars -- where, by the way, Eshed claims American astronauts have already set foot. "There's an underground base in the depths of Mars, where their representatives are, and also our American astronauts," Eshed reportedly said.
Eshed added: "If I had come up with what I'm saying today five years ago, I would have been hospitalized. Wherever I've gone with this in academia, they've said, 'The man has lost his mind,'" he reportedly said. "Today they're already talking differently. I have nothing to lose. I've received my degrees and awards, I am respected in universities abroad, where the trend is also changing."

Amazon Fire TV Adds Local News In 12 U.S. Cities, With 90 More Coming In 2021 (deadline.com) 20

At the end of a record-setting year of news consumption, Amazon Fire TV said local TV stations in 12 U.S. cities will be added to Amazon's news app, with another 90 on deck for 2021. From a report: The initial dozen stations are in New York, LA, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Tampa, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. The roster includes CBSN Chicago, ABC7/WABC-TV New York, KIRO7 Seattle, and News 12 New York. In a year marked by Covid-19, a presidential election and racial unrest, overall news consumption has surged 48%, according to Nielsen. Amazon's news app offers free live and on-demand news from ABC News Live, CBS News, Reuters, Cheddar and other providers. The ad-supported app is built into Fire TV streaming media players and smart TVs in the U.S. Local broadcast stations have faced major challenges during the streaming boom, as the pay-TV bundle shrinks and viewership and ad revenues continue to decline. Due to a number of technological and industry-relations issues, most large station groups have not put station signals online in a coordinated fashion, though they stream select content on social media or their own websites.

YouTube and Peacock are Now Streaming James Bond Films For Free (theverge.com) 65

The Verge writes: Maybe you're feeling nostalgic for a classic James Bond film following Sean Connery's death in late October. Or perhaps you're simply feeling a gap given that the next film, No Time to Die, got pushed back to April 2021 or beyond. Either way, you can now binge a sizable selection of the James Bond collection completely for free (with ads) from YouTube, Peacock (with its free subscription), and PlutoTV...

You can also find most of the films on Hulu and Amazon Prime this month, though you'd have to pay for those subscriptions, and Netflix has Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and three Pierce Brosnan flicks including GoldenEye — newly relevant now that the famed Arecibo Observatory, which gets destroyed in the film, has also collapsed in real life.


Third Monolith Reappears, Fourth and Fifth Monoliths Discovered (insider.com) 103

"People taking a stroll on Sunday morning stumbled upon another mysterious monolith," reports Insider.com. "This one was found in a northern province of the Netherlands." The monolith was covered in ice and surrounded by a small pool of water, according to local reports. The hikers told the Dutch paper Algemeen Dagblad that they're not sure how the monolith got there. They said they found no footprints around it that would indicate someone placed it there intentionally.
And that monolith that disappeared in Atascadero, California has not-so-mysteriously re-appeared, as a group of three local artists takes credit for both creating the original and for successfully retrieving it to restore it to its former glory. "After learning of the second monolith, Travis Kenney had a thought," writes the relationship site Your Tango. "There were three monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why not build the third themselves and make the triad complete...?"

"It was meant to be something fun, a change of pace from the kind of conversations 2020 has been plagued with — so much negativity and separation among the people in our country."
All the thanks these men really needed was delivered in the positive energy that quickly took hold of their home town. The presence of this now internationally followed mysterious object brought with it an uplifting local pride, as well as a sense of childlike wonder... The monolith's creators quietly made the hike back up to observe people's reactions throughout the day. When they arrived at the top each time, they found themselves soaking in the glow of the many smiles they encountered on faces of visitors. some of whom drove for hours to see the shining obelisk for themselves...

While you may think of these monoliths as another square on your 2020 bingo card, it's worth noting that the purpose of the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey was to further the advancement of intelligent life. Cynics can say that sounds cheesy, but for the sake of full disclosure, I know McKenzie personally and can affirm without doubt or irony that they wanted nothing more than to offer their fellow humans some joyful light in these dark times.

"There was no esoteric agenda," said McKenzie.

"Our topline," added Jared Riddle, "Let's get outside and laugh."

70 miles away yet-another monolith "was discovered by campers on Saturday in San Luis Obispo County in Los Padres National Forest," reports a California newspaper. "We were super happy that someone/group went to all that work," Matt Carver wrote in a Facebook message to The Tribune. "It really did make our day to find it! I think we had huge smiles on our faces for the rest of the ride home."

The second monolith resembles the monolith in Atascadero, but the structure's top features "CAUTION" written in red and a picture of a UFO beaming in a human.

But wait! Insider.com reports that another mysterious monolith has appeared in Pittsburgh — "intentionally placed outside a candy shop by an owner who was trying to attract attention to his small business." Christopher Beers, owner of Grandpa Joe's Candy Shop, asked a friend to make the 10-foot-tall structure and placed it outside his store as a marketing ploy.

Grandpa Joe's Candy Shop shared the news using a 30-minute video on Facebook. In a Facebook post on Friday, the shop said: "Come see the Monolith before it mysteriously disappears!"

Within one day someone did in fact steal the monolith, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. But Grandpa Joe's owner Beers whipped up another one to replace it. "This one is much heavier and bolted into the ground. That's not a challenge. That's just a statement." Beers said he didn't report the theft to police because they have more important things to deal with... "That's not the story," Beers said of the theft. "The story is I built something fun and made people laugh and we put Pittsburgh on the map. I'm not worried about whoever took it."

Beers said the new monolith will stay up for a couple a days before "it'll mysteriously disappear just like all the others."

Business Insider reports that monolith jokes have now also appeared in tweets from a wide variety of brands, including Walmart, Southwest Airlines, Ocean Spray, McDonald's, Steak-umm, and MoonPie.

And meanwhile, the headline at one Denver news site reports that "Monolith mania comes to Colorado as local businesses report structures 'appearing' outside shops," citing the arrival of a monolith outside McDevitt Taco Supply and on the patio of Morrison Holiday Bar.
Christmas Cheer

The Geeky Advent Calendar Tradition Continues in 2020 9

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: Advent of Code isn't the only geeky tradition that's continuing in 2020. "This is going to be the first full year with Raku being called Raku," notes the site raku-advent.blog. "However, it's going to be the 12th year (after this first article) in a row with a Perl 6 or Raku calendar, previously published in the Perl 6 Advent Calendar blog." The tradition continues, with a new article about the Raku programming language every day until Christmas.

And meanwhile over at perladvent.org, the Perl Advent Calendar is also continuing its own article-a-day tradition (starting with a holiday tale about how Perl's TidyAll library "makes it trivial for the elves to keep their code formatting consistent and clean.")

But they're not the only ones. "Pandemic or not, Christmas time is a time for wonder, joy and sharing," writes Kristofer Giltvedt Selbekk from Oslo-based Bekk Consulting (merging technology with user experience, product innovation and strategy). So this year they're "continuing our great tradition of sharing some of the stuff we know every December" with 11 different advent calendar sites sharing articles (or, on one site, podcast episodes), on topics including JavaScript, Kotlin, React, Elm, functional programming, and cloud computing.

And if you're more interested in outer space, this also marks the 13th year for the official Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. "Every day until Friday, December 25, this page will present one new incredible image of our universe from NASA's Hubble telescope," explains its page at the Atlantic.

There's also a series of daily coding challenges called "24 days of JavaScriptmas" at the tutorial site Scrimba, which has turned the event into a marketing opportunity by promising a $1,000 prize on Christmas Eve to one lucky participant chosen from the ones who publicized their solutions on Twitter.

Legendary Science Fiction Author Ben Bova Has Passed At the Age of 88 (tor.com) 53

Ben Bova "was the author of more than 120 works of science fact and fiction," according to Wikipedia, and was also a six-time winner of the Hugo Award. "He was also president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America."

Tor.com reports Bova has passed "due to complications from COVID-19 and a stroke..." Born in 1932, Bova brought experience to the science fiction genre that few authors could match: he worked as a technical editor for the U.S.'s Project Vanguard, the first effort on the part of the country to launch a satellite into space in 1958. Bova went on to work as a science writer for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, which built the heat shields for the Apollo 11 module, putting man on the Moon and ensuring that science fiction would continue to increasingly define the future.

It was around that time that Bova began writing and publishing science fiction. He published his first novel, The Star Conquerors, in 1959, and followed up with dozens of others in the following years, as well as numerous short stories that appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Analog Science Fact and Fiction, Galaxy Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and others. In 1971, he took over the helm of Analog following the death of its long-running editor, John W. Campbell Jr. — a huge task, given Campbell's influence on the genre to that point... From there, he became the first editor of Omni Magazine until 1982, and consulted on television shows such as The Starlost and Land of the Lost.

While Bova wrote an episode of The Land of the Lost, his best-known works "involved plausible sciences about humanity's expansion into the universe, looking at how we might adapt to live in space..." notes Tor.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction argues that "the straightforwardness of Bova's agenda for humanity may mark him as a figure from an earlier era; but the arguments he laces into sometimes overloaded storylines are arguments it is important, perhaps absolutely vital, to make."

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