As expected, Google is entering the $140 billion video game business with hopes its cloud-based Stadia service will rival industry benchmarks Xbox (Microsoft), PlayStation (Sony) and Switch (Nintendo) among consumers.
Google announced the new service March 19 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The search behemoth, which plans to roll out the service and cost details later this year, says Stadia would enable users to play games from major developers on most devices via YouTube.
“Our ambition is far beyond a single game,” Phil Harrison, VP and GM at Google, told attendees. “The power of instant access is magical, and it’s already transformed the music and movie industries.”
Harrison, who previously held executive positions at Xbox and PlayStation, said Google tested the service (Project Stream) last fall with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that enabled users to play/stream the triple-A game via Google’s Chrome browser on any applicable device – including smart TV.
“We finally get to share Google’s vision of games,” Harrison said. “Our vision for Stadia is simple. One place for all the games you play.”
In a statement, Yves Guillemot, the co-founder/CEO of Ubisoft, said Google’s global expanse would give “billions” unprecedented opportunities to play video games.
“We are proud to partner with Google on Stadia, building on what we’ve learned with Project Stream via Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” Guillemot said. “This is only the beginning, and we can’t wait to continue collaborating closely with Google on what’s next for Stadia.”
As online gaming grows (and disc-based video games decline), tech/media giants such as Google and Apple are eyeing the $100 billion industry for new cloud-based streaming platforms.
Google is reportedly set to disclose a streaming platform March 19 offering high-end games across all platforms, including Android, iPhone, Mac, Chrome, Windows 10 and TVs at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The search behemoth teased a YouTube video about it.
The company, which would enable users to buy games directly from the TV screen or portable media device, will also unveil a gaming controller (and possibly a console) that could be used with a smart TV.
The move comes as the gaming industry – dominated by Sony (PlayStation), Microsoft (Xbox) and Nintendo – grapple with changing consumer habits and distribution revolving around their longstanding gaming consoles.
Google’s service could enable users to play top games without having to buy an expensive console.
“Cloud gaming will enable publishers to broaden their reach even further by potentially taping into new audiences on any device and any screen,” Thomas Husson, analyst with Forrester Research, told CNBC. “Beyond music or video, gaming represents another opportunity to offer recurring streaming revenue for companies in the gaming ecosystem. For cloud platforms like Amazon, Google or Microsoft, it will also become an opportunity to offer cloud storage and services to game publishers, who spend more and more in their IT infrastructure.”
A YouTube video channel operator from Waterville, Maine, was arrested after driving to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to complain about his channel being shut down.
Kyle Long, 33, was arrested by authorities on Hwy 101 outside Google headquarters for making criminal threats and held in a local jail on $25,000 bail.
Long’s odyssey began after he believed Google had shut down his YouTube channel, which reportedly offered video instructions how to monetize the platform.
Long apparently thought Google had taken down his videos, when in reality it was his wife who dismantled the channel, claiming the videos were nonsense, according to NBC News.
“His wife took it down as soon as he put it up,” Long’s father told NBC, adding that the videos didn’t make any sense to him either.
“It was dumb; it was crazy,” the father said. “He showed it to me and it was most bizarre thing. It wasn’t reality.”
The situation turned serious after Long engaged in an awkward conversation about losing money on YouTube with a state trooper at a gas station bathroom in Iowa. That chat prompted the trooper to contact authorities in Maine.
Local police there also reportedly learned that Long had threatened “physical” violence if his interaction with Google didn’t go well. That prompted a call to Mountain View police.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in the 2020 election, wants to break up the mega tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — citing antitrust issues.
Specifically, Warren would classify the tech companies with annual global revenue above $25 billion as “platform utilities,” thereby forcing them to split up business units within their corporate structures.
The lawmaker would also look to unwind what she called “anti-competitive” mergers such as Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Zappos; Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google purchase of Waze, Nest and DoubleClick.
Indeed, Warren claims nearly 50% of all e-commerce is generated by Amazon, while 70% of Web traffic migrates through sites owned and operated by Google and Facebook.
The senator, in a March 8 post, argued that the federal government’s lawsuit in the 1990s against Microsoft regarding its (then) dominance in Web browsing paved the way for the emergence of companies such as Google and Facebook.
“Aren’t we all glad that now we have the option of using Google instead of being stuck with Bing?” Warren wrote. “The story demonstrates why promoting competition is so important: it allows new, groundbreaking companies to grow and thrive — which pushes everyone in the marketplace to offer better products and services.”
Notably, at an investor confab in London, Jeremy Darroch, group CEO at Comcast-owned European satellite TV operator Sky, questioned the U.K. government’s lack of oversight on big tech.
“My first instinct in these situations is always to look for self-regulation,” Darroch told the Deloitte Enders Media and Telecoms Conference 2019. “But there are times when that approach won’t work. And I am pleased that the government, and indeed politicians of all persuasion have come together to recognize this is one of those times.”
Darroch contends that as big tech’s reach permeates into all aspects of society, their approach to rules and practices will be self-serving and not necessarily to the betterment of the individual.
He said traditional broadcasters and pay-TV operators must adhere to regulation on content, while video delivered through YouTube and Facebook is given a free pass.
“This is in part because we are in an entirely different world to the one tech platforms were born into,” Darroch said. “Where policy makers once saw their role as fanning the flames of growth for these businesses, they now recognize that they need to apply the same framework to this sector as they do every other.”
New Zealand Feb. 18 joined the European Union and Australia in seeking to tax Internet behemoths such as Amazon, Google and Facebook on revenue generated within its border.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement in a post-cabinet press conference.
The proposed 2% to 3% tax would apply to any purchases and services sold by Internet firms regardless of their actual physical presence in the country.
“Some companies can do significant business in New Zealand without being taxed for the income they earn,” Ardern said. “This is not fair, and this is not sustainable.”
Indeed, Google’s subsidiary in New Zealand reportedly paid $393,000 in taxes in 2017 despite generating hundreds of millions in revenue.
The government said the tax could generate upwards of $55 million in additional annual revenue.
“Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” said Ardern.
The move by New Zealand mirrors efforts in the United States by individual states such as South Dakota, which had its e-commerce tax lawsuit against online furniture retailer Wayfair reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court last summer ruled states could charge taxes on companies doing business in the state without an actual physical presence.
A Georgia lawmaker this month proposed legislation seeking to tax digital entertainment services such as Netflix and Spotify 4% in an effort to compensate for declining pay-TV taxes statewide.
Such a user tax currently exists in Hawaii, Washington and Pennsylvania.
YouTube ranked the “most intimate brand” among millennials for the first time, climbing from third last year, according to MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2019 Study, a study of brands based on emotions.
The firm defines brand intimacy as something that leverages and strengthens the emotional bonds between a person and a brand.
“YouTube ranked 10th with millennials just two short years ago and has steadily made its way to the top,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner, MBLM, in a statement. “The brand has demonstrated an ability to entertain a diverse millennial audience through its extensive content. It is also continuing its expansion of services, including the launch of YouTube Music in 2018, as it finds new ways to connect with consumers. Millennials in particular bond strongly with the media and entertainment industry, and YouTube is doing a good job at building a brand that caters to the wants and needs of this audience.”
Apple and Netflix ranked as the second and third most intimate brands for this generation. Comparatively, in MBLM’s 2018 study, Apple placed first followed by Disney and YouTube.
The other brands that rounded out the top 10 were, in order: Disney, Nike, Target, Xbox, PlayStation, Google and Walmart. Millennial men selected Xbox, PlayStation and Spotify as their top three and millennial women selected Target, Amazon and Disney.
The Brand Intimacy 2019 Report, to be released in full Feb. 14, contains the most comprehensive rankings of brands based on emotion, analyzing the responses of 6,200 consumers and 56,000 brand evaluations across 15 industries in the United States, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, according to MBLM.
In 2011 Netflix launched service in 43 Latin America countries, beginning with Brazil. Expansion into Brazil — the fifth-largest media market in the world, after China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia, was fraught with challenges.
Consumers were less familiar with using credit cards to pay for recurring charges such as over-the-top video. In addition to spotty broadband penetration, the lack of localized content (at the time) on Netflix alienated potential subscribers.
“Brazilians enjoy different things, like UFC and stand-up comedies, while hating telenovelas that are made in other Latin American countries,” former chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland told the Brazilian press.
Long-time Netflix bear Michael Pachter, digital media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, went so far as to predict Netflix wouldn’t make it in Latin America.
“This just won’t work in Ecuador or Costa Rica or even Mexico as it has in the U.S.,” Pachter told the Associated Press. “It’s going to depend on how many households have broadband access and what the quality of the content will be like.”
Fast-forward to the present and Netflix is a shining star in Brazil.
Along with Google’s YouTube, Netflix is the first OTT video choice across all devices, according to new data from IHS Markit. About 28% of respondents claim they turn to Netflix first when looking for something to watch, followed by YouTube at 24%. More than 63% of Internet users in Brazil, between the ages of 18 and 64, had access to Netflix, of which 86% claimed to use the service at least once a week.
IHS says that along with growth in OTT video, the installed base of Internet-connected devices grew by 10%, rising to more than 310 million devices in 2018.
More than 40% of survey respondents said they have a personal computer connected to their primary TV screens, while 35% claim to mostly use their smart TV apps to access video content on their primary TVs.
IHS contends that with on-demand video becoming ubiquitous around the world, and Brazil is no exception.
“The country has been experiencing a significant economic slump in recent years and, like other Latin American markets, Brazil’s legitimate pay TV and OTT subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service providers have seen subscriptions fall or suffer reduced growth,” Erik Brannon, associate director of research and analysis, wrote in a note.“Laptops, tablets, streaming sticks and other devices increasingly pose a threat to cable TV and other traditional TV services.”
In terms of perceived quality, Netflix and YouTube were significantly ahead of pay-TV providers in the following categories: ease of use, flexibility (i.e., “ability to watch what I want when I want”), largest catalog of content, quality of content, and value for the money.
Although this finding is a victory for OTT providers, Netflix and other OTT video services must focus on local language content to remain relevant in the long term, according to Brannon.
Despite the vast library of foreign content Netflix has to draw upon, the amount of Brazilian and Portuguese content remains minimal, which is why the company is now partnering with local producers to boost local content in its library.
As the Brazilian economy continues to improve, growth in pay-TV households is expected to resume. At the same time, a surge in growth is expected in the OTT market as well.
IHS found that pay-TV monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) can cost five times or more than the monthly ARPU of Netflix. Subscription sharing also seems to be a profound problem in Brazil, since nearly 63% of survey respondents reported having access to Netflix, while Netflix subscriptions penetrated less than 25% of all broadband households.
“Connected consumers in Brazil are interested in viewing content in non-traditional ways, which will put added pressure on traditional content and distribution systems when the economy recovers,” wrote Brannon.
The UHD Alliance and the Blu-ray Disc Association were at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas to tout the success of the 4K Ultra HD format and new promotional efforts.
The UHD Alliance currently has 43 members — comprised of electronics manufacturers, film and television studios, content distributors, and technology companies — with such companies as Charter Communications and Google joining last year to better understand how to deliver high dynamic range (HDR) content, said UHDA president Mike Fidler.
“Google of course brought out the Pixel 3 and that is a certified Mobile HDR Premium product,” he said.
The group also continues to certify products as Ultra HD Premium, with 46 new products added in 2018 to bring the total to 63 products (TVs, computer monitors, mobile devices and Ultra HD Blu-ray Players) and 10 companies offering certified products. The UHDA has also offered new broadcast recommendations to facilitate broadcast of Ultra HD Premium certified content.
The group continues to educate at such events as IFA, the 4K Summit, MWC, CEDIA and, of course, CES.
“We’re out at trade shows on an ongoing basis,” Fidler said.
Its educational website, ExperienceUHD.com, which launched in 2017, has been upgraded in the past year. It offers “how to” home theater set up information; educational information on HDR, 4K resolution, wider color spectrum, color bit depth and immersive audio; and social media links. Its biggest reach is with Millennials and Generation Z, according to Fidler.
Educational information on interoperability of different products went up on the site in October 2018.
“We are spending considerable resources,” Fidler said, to identify interoperability problems and offer steps on the website to fix them. The UHDA buys product at retail to test.
For instance, the website shows consumers how to set up TVs with screen shots of menus.
“It’s been really popular from a usage standpoint,” Fidler said, adding that every year the menus change “so we continue to do this.”
Sometime in the first quarter, the UHDA plans to put test patterns on the sight to help consumers see if they are getting true HDR.
The UHDA collaborated with Amazon on a section of the online behemoth’s site — which also offers a link to ExperienceUHD.com — to better educate consumers about the format. That product launched in August 2018.
“Other retailers have gotten in touch with us recently [about helping with sites],” Fidler said.
The group also unveiled a dynamic typograph asset at CES (developed in collaboration with the Digital Entertainment Group Europe), available for retailers and partners.
The UHDA is expanding its efforts into Europe, especially Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Fidler said.
In another initiative, the UHDA surveyed the creative community, getting close to 400 responses from cinematographers, colorists, directors, digital imaging specialists, editors, producers, VFX supervisors, writers and others on their preferences for and the importance of the format. The effort was recognized at the fall 4K UHD summit. In the survey, 86.1% answered “Most Important” to the question: “How important is it to you to have a simple way to get your home TV setup similar to monitors in the color grading suite for viewing content that YOU created?”
Actor Tom Cruise’s recent Twitter missive about motion smoothing was inspired by the survey, Fidler said.
Meanwhile, the 4K UHD market continues to grow with all 55-inch and larger panels available in UHD only and 100% of 50-inch and larger TV shipments expected to be in the format by the end of this year, according to IHS Markit data cited by the UHDA.
On the content side, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) noted that Ultra HD Blu-ray, both hardware and software, experiencing approximately 40% and 60% growth, respectively, in 2018, with catalog, local/regional and episodic TV titles increasingly joining new release theatricals on the format.
Standalone Ultra HD Blu-ray player sales for 2018 are expected to surpass 2017 by 44%, and growth of another 30% is anticipated for 2019, according to Futuresource data cited by the BDA. Meanwhile, 15% of all Blu-ray players shipped worldwide in 2018 are expected to be Ultra HD Blu-ray, with 25% projected in 2019 (excluding Xbox One sales), according to data cited by the BDA. The worldwide UHD Blu-ray player installed base is expected to reach 4.5 million by the end of 2018. As of December 2018, there were 29 4K UHD BD player models and 11 4K UHD recorder/player models for a total of 40, according to the BDA.
Global 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray sales continue to grow steadily, with an 83% increase in 2018 vs. 2017, and a further growth of 45% forecast for 2019, according to the BDA. Ultra HD Blu-rays are expected to account for 11% of Blu-rays sold worldwide in 2018, rising to 22% by 2020 and 40% by 2022, according to the BDA.
About 430 4K UHD Blu-ray titles were available in the United States by the end of 2018, the BDA reported, with such notable recent catalog releases as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and such episodic TV releases as “Game of Thrones,” “Planet Earth 2” and “Dr. Who: Twice Upon a Time.”
BDA president Victor Matsuda was especially impressed with Lionsgate’s decision to release Twilight, which skews to a younger audience, on 4K UHD Blu-ray.
“Recognizing the business possibilities in reissuing that type of title was really encouraging,” he said.
With streaming 4K UHD still dependent on the pipeline to the home (Netflix recommends 25Mbps for 4K), the fact that most users’ service is less robust makes the physical disc more compelling, he said. Only 21% in the U.S. manage to meet the Netflix standard, while such European countries as Germany, France and the United Kingdom manage even less of a percentage.
To tout the benefits of 4K UHD Blu-ray, the BDA also unveiled a sizzle reel at CES for members.
Standalone voice assistants — or smart speakers — are one of the fastest-adopted technologies in U.S. history and have a 98 percent satisfaction rate among U.S. consumers, according to a new report from Accenture.
Half of online consumers globally now use digital voice assistants, with emerging markets leading the way in adoption, according to the report, based on a global survey of 22,500 consumers across 21 countries.
“Adoption and satisfaction with smart speaker technology is booming,” said Robin Murdoch, co-author of the report and managing director of Accenture’s global software and platforms industry practice, in a statement. “Convenience and accessible price points are helping drive increased use, but maintaining this loyalty will require companies to stay relevant with consumer needs while creating and constantly renewing trust.”
The report, “Reshape to Relevance,” also found 93% of consumers globally expect their home device purchases, such as smart TVs or computers, to easily integrate with their standalone smart speaker.
The relevance of smart speakers is reflected in consumers’ expectations to use these devices for more-advanced tasks beyond routine activities like voice calling, playing music or eBooks, and accessing news, according to the report. They see value in voice assistants managing home security (61% of respondents), providing connected home automation (59%), paying bills and providing payment alerts (55%) — even making restaurant reservations (53%) and providing access to virtual medical advice (52%), according to the report.
However, trust is a potential impediment to greater adoption of smart speakers, with 41% of consumers citing privacy concerns and 40% citing security concerns with the technology. The report found 46% of consumers believe they don’t have control of their data with voice assistants, and 58% are more likely to re-evaluate their trust in this service by continually checking how their information is being used.
“Consumers expect their smart speakers to handle complex workloads and integrate with other products,” said Greg Roberts, co-author of the report and managing director of Accenture’s North America high tech industry practice, in a statement. “Brands that offer advanced artificial intelligence capabilities will be well positioned for success. But to attract more customers, they will have to be transparent in how they store, use and share data. Establishing an agreed trust standard with consumers is essential.”
To help market the Feb. 9, 2019 theatrical release of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Warner Bros. Pictures and YouTube will include free streaming access to the original Lego Movie on Black Friday (Nov. 23) embedded in an online ad.
The promotion marks the first time YouTube has rolled out a full-length movie within an ad. For 24 hours, anyone checking out the trailer for the upcoming Lego movie can stream a full-length feature showing of the original film.
To launch their own personal screening, users should enter the YouTube search keyword “Brick Friday” and select the promoted video for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part at the top of the search results.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part stars the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Tiffany Haddish, Will Arnett, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day and Alison Brie, among others.