Netflix to Introduce HDR Content This Year

With 4K slowly becoming the home standard for televisions and computer monitors, it seems that high dynamic range (HDR) is set to become the latest innovation for video content. HDR takes images of the same content, taken at a range of different exposures, and blends them together to highlight details that are imperceptible in a single shot.

Online video-on-demand service Netflix, which already offers a number of films and shows in 4K resolution – including its original shows House of Cards and Marco Polo, plus Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – plans to release 5% of its content in HDR by the end of this year.

“I think HDR is more visibly different than 4K,” Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer for Netflix, told Digital Trends. “Over the past 15 years, we have had plenty of increments of pixels on the screen, and from what we saw with digital cameras, pixel count eventually stopped being interesting.”

Amazon’s Prime Video has already released its first show in HDR; the Golden Globe award-winning Mozart in the Jungle.

“In the real world, you have 14 bits of brightness difference, so imagine stepping outside to look at a reflection of water or shadow of a tree that’s between 12 and 14-bits of range,” Hunt added. “TV only represents 8 bits, so you lose one or the other; you can’t have the brights and the darks at the same time.”

Netflix intends to offer 20% of its content in HDR by 2019.

Australian Netflix Users Threaten to Cancel Accounts over VPN Crackdown

Following the announcement by Netflix that it will begin cracking down on VPN ‘piracy’ to bypass geoblocked content, a number of Australian users have threatened to cancel their accounts with the video-on-demand platform, citing sub-standard native content, news.com.au reports.

Others argue that the move, in the absence of legitimate options, will only encourage illegal downloading:

https://twitter.com/SpaceCrazy/status/685873122260705280

While Netflix’s original shows – including the likes of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Narcos – is available in all territories, independent of its geographical locks, it marks only a small fraction of the company’s content, much of which is tied to regional licensing agreements.

“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in,” David Fullagar, Vice President of Content Delivery Architecture at Netflix, wrote in his announcement of the VPN crackdown. “We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.”

“We are delivering Netflix to 190 countries around the world. Our diverse slate of Originals and licensed programming should provide a service members find valuable no matter where they’re watching,” a Netflix spokesman told news.com.au. “As we continue to strive towards licencing content on a global scale, along with our slate of originals which launch globally simultaneously, the use of VPNs will become redundant.”

Netflix Begins VPN Crackdown

Netflix has announced that it is beginning its first widescale crackdown on VPN ‘piracy’ to view geoblocked content in other countries. David Fullagar, Vice President of Content Delivery Architecture at Netflix, revealed the move on Thursday evening (14th January) via the Netflix blog.

Fullagar blames existing territorial licensing agreements for the move, but expresses the hope that, one day, Netflix will be able to offer the same content to all users on a global scale. Until that happens, though, it will no longer turn a blind eye to customers that bypass global content locks using VPN services.

“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in,” Fullagar writes. “We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.”

“Some members use proxies or “unblockers” to access titles available outside their territory,” Fullagar adds. “To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies.”

The move comes in the wake of Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix, claiming at CES 2016 last week that it was “not obvious” how to block VPN usage to sidestep geoblocking.

Netflix Debates Geoblocking and VPN Use

Following its global rollout to over 130 countries, Netflix has been discussing the reality of its users bypassing geoblocked content via VPN services, admitting that it’s “not obvious” how to prevent it, The Globe and Mail reports. The technique of using VPNs, proxies, and DNS spoofers to access Netflix content in other countries has become widespread, especially in territories like Canada, citizens of which have access to only limited Netflix TV and movies, for which Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix, blames “sliced and diced” territorial rights deals.

“Our ambition is to do global licensing and global originals, so that over maybe the next five, 10, 20 years, it’ll become more and more similar until it’s not different,” Neil Hunt, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer, during CES 2016 in Las Vegas last week. “We don’t buy only for Canada; we’re looking … for all territories; buying a singular territory is not very interesting anymore.”

Netflix in Canada also has to deal with cable providers such as Bell Media, which ‘protects’ its content to a fault, with CEO Mary Ann Turcke shopping her own daughter for bypassing Netflix’s geoblocking with a VPN, accusing her of “stealing”.

“We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,” Hunt added. “Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it’s not obvious how to make that work well. It’s likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game. [We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it’s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade.”

Netflix, however, hopes that users bypassing its geoblocks will become a thing of the past with global licensing deals. “When we have global rights, there’s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content. If a major title goes out in the U.S. but not in Europe, it’s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it’s released simultaneously,” Hunt said.

How to Exploit Netflix’s Meticulous Cataloguing for a Better Browsing Experience

As good as Netflix’s own algorithm for suggesting new things to watch is, sometimes you just want to explore, which is not an easy task using the video-on-demand service’s default interface. However, there is a sneaky way to exploit Netflix’s meticulous genre (and sub-genre) cataloguing system for a more precise browsing experience. Using this trick, you can search everything from “Children and Family Movies for ages 5 to 7” to “Action & Adventure starring Gene Hackman”.

Every genre, sub-genre, and category is designated a specific ID number that can be found if added to the Netflix URL. The Atlantic’s Alexis C. Madrigal ran a script that scraped all the ID numbers from the Netflix database, finding 76,897 micro-genres, all of which are available to browse in a Google Doc. Others ran with that, and combined the codes into genre URLs, such as this handy list.

“Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable,” Madrigal wrote. “They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented. The genres that I scraped and that we caricature above are just the surface manifestation of this deeper database.”

Some of the listed categories don’t lead to anything, which is understandable considering Netflix rotates its video content – not to mention geographical variation – but most links are useful.

Netflix Avoided Paying UK Corporation Tax Despite 4.5m Subscribers

Video-on-demand streaming service Netflix has witnessed a rapid rise in popularity in the UK since its launch there in 2012, boasting 4.5 million subscribers at last count, each paying a minimum of £5.99 a month, and yet the company did not pay a penny in corporation tax to the UK last year, according to a report in The Sunday Times (paywalled, via The Guardian).

Netflix brought in £200 million in revenue in 2014, but its profits were filed overseas, allowing the company to bypass paying any tax into the UK’s coffers. At the time, Netflix International BV was based in Luxembourg, meaning that the only tax it was legally liable for was 5% income tax to Luxembourg. The company has not broken any law, but is merely using an available loophole in UK tax policy to avoid any levies within the country.

A spokesperson for Netflix maintains that, while it continues its current international expansion plans, that it is making a loss overall. The spokesperson also added that its UK operation only employs 12 people and that it is “fully compliant with all applicable rules.”

The UK is Netflix’s second biggest market, after the US which boasts over £40 million subscribers, and is predicted to inflate its British customer base to 9.5 million by 2020.

4K Content From Netflix and Amazon Floods Torrent Sites

Did you spend all your money on a 4K television in the Black Friday sales, leaving you unable to afford food, clothing, or legal on-demand video streaming services? Well, fear not, because 4K content from Netflix and Amazon has hit torrent sites with a vengeance. Granted, it won’t fill your belly or cover your modesty, but who needs basic human comfort when you can watch Jessica Jones in Ultra HD?

Online video content is, more often than not, protected by High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection (HDCP) version 2.2 or higher, but pirates have discovered a loophole that allows them to bypass the protection and rip 4K video.

The first Ultra HD file – an 18GB copy of Breaking Bad’s first episode – hit three months ago, with more content expected to follow, but encoding problems and quality issues stymied the tide. Those issues seem to have now been resolved, though, with 4K copies of Marvel’s new small-screen offering Jessica Jones and movies such as Looper, Spider-Man, and The Bridge on the River Kwai leaking to torrent sites within the last few days, with many of the initial 100GB+ files being squeezed down to a more manageable 5-15GB.

“Many groups started releasing 4K rips recently and they are working perfectly. I expect that 4K resolution releases will become more popular now,” an anonymous source from a release group responsible for the recent 4K content told TorrentFreak.

Some of the content, though, has been criticised for its quality. For that, the source added, the blame should be aimed at Netflix itself: “For example for Marvel’s Jessica Jones new TV series from Netflix the 4K captures look bad, because the master from Netflix is probably bad [sic].”

Image courtesy of DealsPlus.

Australian Netflix Launch Ushers Fall in Piracy

Making content available prevents piracy. Everyone knows it, including Hollywood (though, it’d rather use the situation as an excuse for suing users and screwing video-on-demand services). It’s so simple it shouldn’t need saying. Yet it does, over and over. The latest proof is the recent launch of video-on-demand service Netflix in Australia.

Since Netflix expanded to Australia in March of this year, there has been a 29% decrease in piracy amongst adults aged 18-64, with the number of adults in the same age bracket using video-on-demand services has risen by 32%, according to a survey conducted by the IP Awareness Foundation. While correlation does not prove causation, further answers given during the study indicated that at least one-third of former pirates put the rise of video-on-demand services forward as the reason for ceasing to download illegal content.

“Piracy has always needed a range of measures to tackle the problem as we all know there is no silver bullet. This fall in piracy rates is definitely largely attributable to the combination of the government’s new legislation, plus the ongoing efforts of the creative industries to continue delivering great content at accessible prices to Australian consumers and the work being done to educate consumers about the impact of copyright theft,” Lori Flekser, Executive Director of IP Awareness, said.

Now, if only we could do something about geo-blocking…

Thank you Kotaku for providing us with this information.

BBC Launching Netflix-Style Streaming Service in the US

The BBC has unveiled plans to launch its own video-on-demand streaming platform in North America, which aims to deliver all of its channels’ programming to what it calls a “niche” US audience.

“We’re launching a new over-the-top video service in America offering BBC fans programmes they wouldn’t otherwise get – showcasing British actors, our programme-makers – and celebrating our culture,” said BBC director general Tony Hall in s speech this week.

At present, the only outlets for limited BBC programming in the US are BBC America, plus Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which together deliver a mixture of popular shows, such as Doctor Who and Luther, and classics, like The Thick of It, The Office, and the original House of Cards. This new service will deliver all contemporary content, without affecting existing licensing deals with other providers.

Lord Hall says the Corporation needs to broaden its revenue streams in order to survive, with the UK TV License fee frozen at £145.50 for the last five years (set to be six in total), resulting in a 16% real terms cut in funding when inflation is taken into consideration.

“We need to raise commercial income to supplement the licence fee so we can invest as much as possible in content for UK audiences,” Lord Hall said. “Without that income, we can’t continue what we already do for the UK in drama or natural history.”

“The subscription service will complement our existing footprint in the USA. Other video streaming services remain an important part of our business plan to ensure we bring the best of British to our audiences,” a BBC spokesperson added.

Thank you BBC for providing us with this information.

Netflix Says Users Can’t Handle Offline Playback

Now that Amazon has introduced offline playback to its video streaming service, all eyes turned to Netflix to see how it would react to its rival’s bold move. Instead of aping Amazon Instant Video, however, Netflix has reaffirmed its previous stance that it will never introduce offline playback, and has explained why.

Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer for Netflix, told Gizmodo:

“Undoubtedly it adds considerable complexity to your life with Amazon Prime – you have to remember that you want to download this thing. It’s not going to be instant, you have to have the right storage on your device, you have to manage it, and I’m just not sure people are actually that compelled to do that, and that it’s worth providing that level of complexity.”

So, Netflix won’t implement offline streaming because it thinks the facility too complex for its users. It has, though, been thinking of alternative measures to deliver video to users that can’t stream online:

“As an example, what if we can put Netflix in a rack box that essentially contains all of Netflix content that you could imagine putting in an airplane server, right along with our existing offerings? That for me is a more interesting thing; can we make Netflix work on a plane, can we make it work on a train, in hotels?”

Hunt concedes that “it’s something that lots of people ask for,” but counters that, “we’ll see if it’s something lots of people will use.” Why not try it and see?

Thank you Gizmodo for providing us with this information.

Amazon Prime Instant Video Now Offers Offline Playback

Amazon is introducing a key feature to its video on demand service that its biggest rival Netflix doesn’t offer: offline playback. Amazon Prime Instant Video – now known as just Amazon Video on mobile platforms – will let users of its Android, iOS, and Fire apps to download video content for viewing while offline, removing the reliance on constant internet connection for streaming video from the equation.

This is bold move by Amazon, especially following Netflix’s public stance that it will never add offline playback. Late last year, Netflix’s Cliff Edwards told TechRadar regarding offline playback, “It’s never going to happen.” In a further statement to The Verge, a Netflix spokesperson added, “We have been asked the same question for several years and have always given the exact same answer.” Netflix has never clarified why it is so aggressively opposed to offline playback – though, presumably, it would affect its licensing agreements – but it has presented Amazon with an opportunity to get one over on the market leader.

Only a small selection of titles will be available for offline playback through Amazon Video, including Amazon Studios productions Transparent and Bosch, plus the TV shows Hannibal, Under the Dome, and 24, and movies such as Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.

Is YouTube Erecting a Paywall?

Reports suggest that, by the end of 2015, YouTube will be putting premium videos behind a paywall. Speculation regarding YouTube subscription services has been buzzing around since March, with talk that the video streaming site was aiming to position itself as a rival to Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, and Hulu.

Since its inception 10 year ago, YouTube has been a free service supported by advertising revenue, but the decade-old site is about to become unrecognisable, if the rumours are true. It seems YouTube want to move away from being an all-encompassing video-on-demand service, instead mutating into something akin to the online equivalent of a cable or satellite provider, offering channel packages for a monthly subscription fee.

The subscription service is said to be launching in conjunction with Music Key, YouTube’s music subscription service. Music Key has been in beta since November, and is set for its full roll-out by the end of this year. The proposed VOD subscription appears to be the video version of Music Key.

Reaction to the news has been mixed, with music industry insiders – already sceptical over Music Key – saying “this feels very much [like] too little too late.”

YouTube has declined to comment on the news.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.

Netflix Set For Another Price Hike

It seems Netflix is to raise its pricing yet again, according to its CEO. Reed Hastings told investors on Wednesday that the popular video-on-demand streaming service has plans in place to slowly hike up its subscription price.

“We want to take it very slow,” said Hastings. “Over the next decade I think we’ll be able to add more content and have more value and then price that appropriately.”

Netflix also has plans to expand into other global regions, with Chief Financial Officer David Wells revealing, “China continues to be its own entity in terms of its challenges and the characteristics of the market. We hope to be able to launch a service there next year.”

“We described it as a modest investment when we launch, and nothing has changed in terms of our use of the word ‘modest’ with reference to investment levels,” Hastings added, regarding China.

The announcement coincides with the release of Netflix’s accounts for the second quarter of 2015, which saw a rise in after-hours trading, pushing share prices up by over 10%. The company made a profit of $838m from its US streaming service alone, plus $307m from its international streaming platforms, and an additional $130m from its DVD rental service. The number of global Netflix subscriptions hit 65 million this quarter, bringing in a net revenue of $7.7 billion.

Thank you The Guardian for providing us with this information.

Whistleblower Reveals Hollywood is Exploiting Video on Demand Services

Advocates of video piracy have long justified its existence though studios failing to make their content conveniently (legally) available. Over recent years, positive steps have been taken to facilitate this aim, thanks to high-profile video-on-demand services, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. While great for consumers, it seems that Hollywood is exploiting these services, holding them to ransom in order to take the majority of the profits, according to a whistleblower that spoke to TorrentFreak.

The anonymous source, who works for an unnamed VoD service, revealed that major studios set terms they know streaming services can’t turn down if they want content they can provide to customers, forcing them to host bad films in order to access the good ones, while leaching up to 70% of revenue shares from streamed movies.

The source said:

For quite some time we’ve been working with “Major Studios” such as Warner Bros, Walt Disney, Universal, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. We would like to refer to it as collaboration, but unfortunately it’s really been a one way street thus far. Money transits and the final destination is the Majors’ pockets.

For a video on demand (VOD) operator to distribute any given catalogue, it must pay “Minimum Guarantees (MG’s)” to the studio. This allows one to exploit the catalogue. Mind you, you don’t get to choose what you pay for. That would be too simple.

Output deals are the norm and in essence they mean you need to take every licensed film as part of a single deal. If you want the latest blockbuster, you must also take the latest winner of the Golden Raspberry awards, and take our word for it, there are some pretty unworthy films in there. These Minimum Guarantees are quoted in millions of dollars per deal, and as a result VOD services like ourselves have to operate on very small profit margins.

On top of MG’s, distributors must also agree to pay revenue shares. Should the sales top the Minimum Guarantee on a given year the rev share kicks in. Revenue shares are usually in the studio’s favor (between 70% and 50% depending on whether we’re speaking of recent releases or old ones).

If a given platform manages to recoup its costs it must also share its future revenue with the Rights Holder, while providing the majority of the value chain involved in a streaming service: Storage, streaming costs, platform development, DRM licenses and geoblocking tools.

Platforms have 90 days to pay for a Minimum Guarantee if they expect to turn a profit on a film. And keep in mind most of the profit just gets funneled back to the studios anyway with the revenue share clause. After that a title simply gets pulled off their catalogues to allow for Pay-TV and linear TV distribution. The title can come back in the catalogue after 12 to 18 months, given of course that it’s properly paid for.

The whistleblower later cites studio policies as evidence that tackling piracy is merely a smokescreen, saying:

Surely this is because piracy is not hurting them as much as they want us to believe. By cutting some slack to their partners they would have concrete tools to cut down piracy. They’re simply too comfortable to consider that as an option.

Remember this next time you download a movie: Hollywood could make it easily and legally accessible, benefiting both themselves and the consumer. They just don’t want to.

Thank you TorrentFreak for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Swisscom.

Netflix’s Speed Test Exposes Australia’s Broken Internet

Netflix has compiled its latest internet speed index of the 29 countries it operates in, and the results look particularly bad for Australia. The country, which gained Netflix’s video-on-demand streaming service back in March this year, is ranked 19th out of 29 countries with an average national speed of 2.82Mbps, behind even fellow Antipodean newcomer New Zealand. Although not rock bottom, it exposes Australia’s lousy internet, and the ISPs that provide it.

From the Netflix blog:

“This month, Australia and New Zealand joined the speed index, ranking 18 and 14, respectively on the list of 29 countries we rank. Performance for Australian ISPs was impacted by consumer demand exceeding the forecasts Netflix provided. We are working closely with these ISPs and expect performance to improve in the coming months.”

The following table shows Australians which ISP you should opt for if you want to run Netflix in HD, or just want a decent internet connection, full stop:

Rank Provider Average speed (Mbps) Services offered
1 TPG 3.36 ADSL, NBN
2 Optus 3.27 ADSL, NBN, Cable
3 iiNet 3.24 ADSL, NBN, Cable
4 Primus 3.03 ADSL, NBN
5 Exetel 2.56 ADSL, NBN
6 Dodo 2.29 ADSL, NBN
7 Telstra 2.23 ADSL, NBN, Cable

Meanwhile, in the Northern hemisphere, Canada leads internet speeds in the Americas, followed closely by the US, while the UK has some of the worst speeds in Europe, trumped by Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, amongst many, many others, ahead of just Ireland, France, and Finland.

Thank you Kotaku for providing us with this information.

YouTube Considering Subscription-Based On-Demand Video

YouTube may be expanding its business model into subscription-based video-on-demand (SVOD), according to Variety.

The entertainment trade magazine cites an anonymous content creation studio that revealed YouTube is “exploring the prospect of launching its own subscription VOD service,” in a similar vein to its YouTube Music Key, the ad-free music platform that gives users access to 30 million songs for $7.99 (£9.99) a month via Google Play Music. The studio says that it was approached last year to develop content for the SVOD platform.

The move could see the YouTube enter into direct competition with SVOD giants Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix, plus Vimeo, Vessel and Hulu, all of which have moved into offering exclusive content and paid ad-free viewing.

Source: The Next Web

Wii U TVii European Launch Cancelled

Nintendo’s plan to launch the Wii U TVii service in Europe has been officially cancelled, with the company citing the “extremely complex nature” of localisation as the sticking point.

TVii launched in Japan and North America in 2012 as a rival to the home entertainment systems of both the PS4 and Xbox One. The TVii Channel allowed users to search for streaming video content and watch live programming from their TV provider on both the TV and the Wii U Gamepad.

The service was originally planned to launch across Europe in 2013, but was constantly pushed back. Nintendo has now released the following statement that confirms that TVii will not make it to the European continent:

At Nintendo of Europe, we continue to challenge ourselves to develop a range of entertaining experiences for all to enjoy. Due to the extremely complex nature of localising multiple television services across a diverse range of countries with varied licensing systems, regrettably we have taken the decision not to launch the Nintendo TVii service within the European region. Although on this occasion we did not anticipate such challenges, we will always strive to develop a range of entertaining experiences for all our users to enjoy.

Nintendo has, however, announced a new video-on-demand service to European customers, called the Anime Channel:

Nintendo of Europe has launched the Nintendo Anime Channel, a new video-on-demand service on Nintendo 3DS which offers users the chance to stream anime series from the likes of Pokémon, Kirby, and Inazuma Eleven. New content will be added regularly and access to this service is granted simply by downloading a free application from Nintendo eShop.

Source: BitGamer

 

TalkTalk Buys Blinkbox and Tesco Broadband for £5m

UK internet service provider TalkTalk has confirmed the purchase of Tesco’s loss-making video streaming service Blinkbox, in a deal that includes 75,000 Tesco broadband customers and 20,000 landline customers, for £5 million. TalkTalk have acquired none of the debt accrued by the struggling video-on-demand business.

Blinkbox co-founder Adrian Letts has been made Managing Director of TalkTalk’s TV service as part of the deal.

Dido Harding, Chief Executive of TalkTalk, said of the move, “Since launch, TalkTalk TV has demonstrated its popularity with value-seeking customers to become the UK’s fastest growing TV service.”

“We are excited about the opportunity that Blinkbox’s platform and technology expertise bring, and which will significantly accelerate the development of our TV platform. The purchase of Tesco’s broadband base is another example of TalkTalk leveraging its national network to grow faster.”

Source: The Guardian