Total Pageviews

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Netflix Reaches Deal to Show New Disney Films in 2016

Ted Sarandos, Netflixs chief content officer, called the deal with Disney Evan Agostini/Associated Press Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, called the deal with Disney “a bold leap forward for Internet television.”

LOS ANGELES - Walt Disney Studios said on Tuesday that it had completed a deal to show films from its Disney, Pixar and Marvel banners on Netflix, replacing a less lucrative pact with Starz.

The agreement is the first time one of Hollywood's big studios has chosen Web streaming over pay television. Netflix has made similar “output” deals with smaller movie suppliers like DreamWorks Animation and the Weinstein Company . But all of the majors - Disney, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and 20th Century Fox - have stayed with Starz, HBO or Showtime until now.

Library titles like “Dumbo,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Pocahontas” will become available on Netflix immediately, Disney said. Netflix will begin streaming new release Disney films starting in late 2016, when the current accord with Starz expires. The deal announced on Tuesday includes direct-to-DVD movies.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but analysts estimated that the deal could be worth about $300 million annually for Disney. The deal does not include films from DreamWorks Studios, which has a theatrical distribution arrangement with Disney but relies on Showtime as a pay-TV partner. Nevertheless, the deal will include movies from Lucasfilm, which Disney is acquiring.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, called the deal “a bold leap forward for Internet television.” Janice Ma rinelli, president of Disney-ABC Domestic Television, said in a statement, “Netflix continues to meet the demands of its subscribers in today's rapidly evolving digital landscape.”

The so-called pay TV window is one of the entertainment industry's most important business tools. In the past, Starz, HBO and Showtime paid about $20 million a picture for exclusive rights a few months after films arrive on DVD. But Netflix - capitalizing on a consumer shift to streaming content on computers, tablets and Internet-connected televisions - has been aggressively going after the business by offering more lucrative terms.

With the Disney deal, Netflix will be able to offer customers exclusive access to a pipeline of films that are reliably some of the year's biggest box-office successes. Netflix has also made it a priority to strengthen its children's and family offerings.

As for Starz, anything that increases the marketplace clout of Netflix is damaging. Moreover, Starz does not have the original programming strength of HBO or Showtime to fall back on.

Starz will continue to have films from Sony, but the absence of Disney movies will be a hole in its offerings. In a statement on Tuesday, however, Starz said that it had decided to part ways with Disney, not the other way around.

“Our decision not to extend the agreement for Disney output past that time allows us the opportunity to implement our plan to dramatically ramp up our investment in exclusive, premium-quality original series, which will best meet the needs of our distributors and subscribers,” the company said in the statement.

Court Upholds F.C.C. Rule on Use of Data Networks

Court Upholds F.C.C. Rule on Use of Data Networks

WASHINGTON - Cellphone companies must allow customers of competing wireless carriers to use their networks for the Internet and e-mail when outside their home territory, a federal appeals court said here on Tuesday.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that just as the Federal Communications Commission required wireless carriers to allow voice-service roaming by customers of other carriers, it also can require the same, at commercially reasonable rates, for data customers - in essence, those who use smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices.

The judges' 3-to-0 decision is a significant victory for the F.C.C. The agency has lost authority over Internet communications in recent years. And it is a big win for smaller cellphone companies, who now have the leeway to offer customers national calling and data plans, albeit ones that could generate extra charges.

On the losing side is Verizon Wireless, which had challenged the agency's data roaming order in 2011. The company argued that the agency did not have authority to oversee data communications on wireless broadband networks and that it was imposing “common carrier” regulations on companies - essentially, regulating them like public utilities, as it does with home phone service.

Verizon said that it already had data roaming agreements so there was no need to codify the practice. “As we made clear throughout the case,” Ed McFadden, a company spokesman, said on Tuesday, “Verizon Wireless regularly enters into such data roaming agreements on commercially reasonable terms to meet the needs of consumers, and will continue to do so.”

The decision has broad implications for the agency, analysts said. “This does bode well for the F.C.C.'s ability to assert its authority in regulating wireless services,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director for the Media Access Project, a nonprofit law firm that promotes consumer choice. “This is the first time these issues have come up in the context of data, which obviously is our future,” he said.

The F.C.C.'s chairman, Julius Genachowski, went further, saying the court's opinion “confirms the F.C.C.'s authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers.”

In 2010, in Comcast v. the F.C.C., the same appeals court rejected the legal theory that the agency was using to validate its regulation of broadband Internet service. While Tuesday's decision does not reverse that ruling, it does signal that the agency may have found a justification for its broadband rules.

Both Tuesday's and the 2010 decisions were written by one of the appeals court's more liberal members, Judge David S. Tatel.

John Bergmayer, senior staff lawyer at Public Knowledge, which filed a brief supporting the agency, noted that many of the legal arguments Verizon made in the case are also part of another challenge in the same court.

There, Verizon is trying to overturn the agency's Open Internet order, a 2011 regulation that contains elements of net neutrality rules. Those rules require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, rather than favoring some transmissions over another.

The Open Internet case is in its early stages and has not yet been argued before the appeals court. But agency officials say they think the appeals court, in Tuesday's case, rejected at least one of the arguments Verizon makes in the Open Internet case.

Many small wireless companies had supported the agency's data roaming requirement, saying that it would provide more competition, particularly by allowing them to offer national service to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

The large wireless providers argued that the data roaming order gave them less incentive to invest in their networks, because it would benefit rivals that would not shoulder any of the costs of building infrastructure.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 5, 2012, on page B2 of the New York edition with the headline: Court Upholds F.C.C. Rule On Use of Data Networks.

Woman Accused of Robbing Bank and Bragging About It on YouTube

This might seem obvious to some, but here's a little life tip: If you steal a car and then rob a bank at gunpoint, don't brag about it in a video on YouTube.

Hannah Sabata, a 19-year-old from Nebraska, stands accused of doing this very thing.

A YouTube user named Jellee Beanie, who the authorities say is Ms. Sabata, posted a seven-minute video last week bragging about a robbery of a Cornerstone Bank in Waco, Neb., where the county sheriff says Ms. Sabata stole $6,000.

Dale Radcliff, the York County sheriff, said in a phone interview that he had already arrested Ms. Sabata by the time residents started notifying him about the video.

“My doctor called me and told me about the video,” Sheriff Radcliff said. “Then we started getting a lot of other calls about the video from people.”

Sheriff Radcliff said that Ms. Sabata had been identified as a suspect by her ex-husband. She sent him a text message, the sheriff said, bragging that she “had a pile of money after robbing a bank and asking if he wanted to go get a new tattoo with her.”

The authorities said Ms. Sabata posted the video, titled “Chick Bank robber,” from her messy bedroom at her parents' house. She was wearing the same clothes she had worn during the bank robbery, according to the sheriff: a pink and white striped T-shirt and black jeans.

A brief text description of the holdup was attached to the video: “I just stole a car and robbed a bank. Now I'm rich, I can pay off my college financial aid and tomorrow i'm going for a shopping spree.” It added: “Bite me. I love GREENDAY!”

“I've been sheriff for 19 years, and in law enforcement for 42 years, and I've never seen anything like this,” Sheriff Radcliff said.

In the video, Ms. Sabata writes on a pad of paper describing a play-by-play of the robbery, then holds up the pad to her webcam. It's difficult to read because the camera creates a mirror image of the words, as most Web cameras do. For those who can't read backward, the video had subtitles added.

Ms. Sabata paused in the video to smoke something from a pipe - the subtitle says it is a “full bowl of weed.” The Green Day song “Warning” accompanies the video.

At the very end of the video, Ms. Sabata holds up a large pile of cash and smiles. Sheriff Radcliff said the video would most likely be entered at any trial as evidence.

Sheriff Radcliff said that the case would be charged by the York County attorney's office. Candace Bottorf Dick, the York County attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Amazon, Cooking Up Friendly Reviews

Beneath the placid surface of Amazon, authors and reviewers have been in a ferment this fall. After several well-publicized episodes involving writers soliciting or paying for reviews, the retailer seems to be cracking down on log-rolling. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of book reviews have been killed. Amazon has not explained exactly why.

One possible target: authors who have sent gift certificates to reviewers to buy their books. While it's easy to see the potential for abuse here - “Here's a $1 00 gift certificate. Buy a copy of my novel for 99 cents and keep the change” - some writers argue it is no different than sending a physical copy of a book to someone, which is what publishers do in the offline world and therefore is allowed by Amazon. At least, the line between the two is blurry.

Consider the case of Tim Ferriss, the self-help specialist whose extensive promotional activities help power his books onto the best-seller lists. He gave away a thousand advance copies - many more than most authors - before “The 4-Hour Body” was published two years ago. Some went to friends, some to companies where Mr. Ferriss had been a guest speaker, still more to those who helped or volunteered to help with the book. On publication day, all the recipients were sent an e-mail marked urgent asking them to spend 30 seconds writing a review. Many complied. But some readers saw something suspicious.

“Although this generated a fair amount of backlash from skeptics, it was an immense boon for us to have a solid foundation of 200 positive reviews in the first week,” a Ferriss marketing associate wrote in a guest post on the author's blog in March 2011. “Having a solid Amazon rating gives the book an enormous amount of social proof that can last for years, and (although immeasurable from our end) boosts the conversion rate on the sales page substantially.”

Two weeks ago, Mr. Ferriss brought out his third book, “The 4-Hour Chef.” Published this time by Amazon itself, the nearly 700-page tome came equipped with many five-star reviews posted on the date of publication. Only a few of the reviewers said they had gotten advance copies. Once again, some readers saw something suspicio us. “Tons of fake ratings have been posted on the first day that this book came out,” posted a reader who goes by carmex. “Please do not encourage this type of behavior.”

A debate sprang up about whether it was permissible to solicit advance reviews from friends and others you strongly suspected were going to give you a rave. “Would you consider those reviews as being within the spirit and integrity of what a review should be or is that more akin to network marketing?” asked one reader, who put himself in the second group.

Mr. Ferriss said in an e-mail message that he sent out from 200 to 300 advance copies of “The 4-Hour Chef” to “people I identified as being potentially interested in my book and who would probably enjoy the content. Does that stack the deck? Perhaps, but why sen d the book to someone who would hate it? That doesn't help anyone: not the reader, nor the writer. ”

Some critics noted that some of Mr. Ferriss' fans had written no other reviews - usually a tip-off that the reviewer has been paid or was a friend of the author. “No conspiracy required,” Mr. Ferriss said. “How many people routinely leave Amazon reviews? Very few. Even reading as much as I do, I very rarely leave book reviews. But if a writer I loved, one who'd written more than 400 blog posts for free (as I have) - posts I benefited from - asked me to do so as a 30-second favor, would I be inclined? Absolutely. That would make me a new reviewer.”

The most controversial of Mr. Ferriss' reviewers are not reviewers at all. These are fans who straightforwardly admit they haven't read the book, but nevertheless give it four or five stars:

“It baffles me how excited I am to have this book in my hands - Just arrived home and it was sitting on my porch waiting for me,” wrote one “reviewer.” “Just ordered this hope it's as good as the other titles,” said a second. “I'll write a review once I'm finished,” exclaimed a third.

Surprisingly, Amazon says it is completely legitimate to do this. “We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review,” Craig Berman, an Amazon spokeman, said. “Some people write reviews on why they decided not to buy, or write a review as a gift giver rather than the product owner.”

Perhaps, but I see a future where we have virtual enthusiasm for virtual books. Reviews are crucial to online commerce in a way they never were to offline sales. If Amazon can devise a system that is transparent and fair to all involved - author, reviewer and customer - it will be a greater achievement than same-day delivery.

Video of Drone on Iranian Television

Video from Iran's Al Alam satellite news channel, said to show a captured American drone.

As my colleague Thomas Erdbrink reports from Tehran, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps displayed on Tuesday what state television channels described as a captured American drone that had entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf “in the past few days.”

A video report from the Iranian satellite news channel Press TV on the American drone the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claims to have captured.

While the small craft shown on the Iranian satellite channels Press TV and Al Alam resembled an image of a ScanEagle drone on the Web site of Boeing's Insitu Group, which manufactures the vehicle, a spokesman for the United States Navy said “We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.” The spokesman also insisted that the American “operations in the gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space.”

The Iranian channels did not say exactly when the drone had come into their hands, but the state news reports came one year after a similar announcement by the Revolutionary Guar ds. Last December, the Guards displayed an American RQ-170 Sentinel high-altitude reconnaissance drone that had crossed into Iran from Afghanistan, in what United States officials called a mistake caused by a computer malfunction.

Like last year's event, the presentation of the drone to Iran's media was carefully stage-managed by the Revolutionary Guards. In Tuesday's display, the craft was installed in the sort of diorama that would not look out of place in the American Museum of Natural History - but for the fact that the legend behind the vehicle read, “We Shall Trample on the U.S.”

Iran's Fars News Agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, trumpeted the news with an editorial cartoon showing the two drones sharing an Iranian birdcage as their new home.

A screenshot of a cartoon on the Web site of Iran's Fars News Agency. A screenshot of a cartoon on the Web site of Iran's Fars News Agency.

Fars, which has run into problems by lifting material from other Web sites in the past, also illustrated its report with photographs of a ScanEagle drone apparently copied from a Dutch news agency site after a Google Image search.

The drone on display on Tuesday did not appear to have an American military markings, and, as the Dutch agency's report makes clear, not all of the unmanned aerial vehicles in operation belong to the United States. According to the Dutch Defence Press, “Dutch army U.A.V. operators started training for ScanEagle operations at Insitu's facilities in the United States early 2012. Both systems are expected to achieve operational capability by late 2012.”

It was not immediately clear if anyone in Iran plans to produce a toy replica of the new drone for collectors, as one Tehran firm did last year.

The iPad Mini, Perfect for My Desert Island

If you're still on the fence about whether you should buy the iPad Mini, I have a tip for you: you're on the wrong fence.

At first, when I saw almost teeny little iPad I thought it was just another screen, another size, and another marketing ploy by Apple. But, it has quickly become my Desert Island Device.

Desert what device? Let me explain.

When I was younger my friends and I would sometimes sit around and discuss this difficult problem: If you had to take one device â€" yes, only one! â€" with you on a desert island, to live out your days, alone, which gadget would you bring? (We assumed, of course, that there is a power outlet on the island and a speedy and reliable Internet connection.)

For years it was my Nintendo Game Boy, then it became my computer, a Compaq PC. In 2007 my hypothetical Desert Island Device became the iPhone, and for years, it never changed. That is, until about two weeks ago when I started using the iPad Mini.

I was skeptical, to say the least when I saw this little gadget. As we all know, Apple sometimes gets a little excited about its latest wares. Every time the company puts out a new product it recycles the same trite statements about it. “It's the fastest laptop we've ever made,” “It's the best screen we've ever made,”or, more recently, “It's the best iPad we've ever made.”

I often roll my eyes at these statements. Marketing ploys by the kings of marketing. Yet when it comes to the iPad Mini, I have to agree with Apple: It is, by far, the best iPad the company has ever made. Even more, it's the best tablet and reading device anyone has ever made.

Why? Because it is truly portable, while maintaining its speed, and remaining in the iOS app ecosystem. (I used it for two weeks and my concerns about the screen's quality are completely irrelevant.)

The first iPad, although revolutionary and a long list of other wonderful adjectives, was never really a portable device. It weighed 1.5-pounds, not much less than the 11-inch Macbook Air. Because of its heft, it made prolonged reading or game-play feel like doing reps at the gym. The second iPad, though slightly lighter, was still too big. I found myself leaving it at home because it felt more like a coffee table book than a portable device.

Not the iPad Mini. Because of its size, the iPad Mini, like paperback books or magazines that roll-up, can fit in most jacket pockets. As a result, just as I used to with print books, I now find myself throwing the iPad Mini in my pocket when I'm heading for lunch, coffee, or out for the evening.

So, for now, I have a new Desert Island Device: a 7.9-inch tablet. And yes, I'd even leave my smartpho ne at home in place of it.

In Some Places, Facebook Opens Message Service to the Facebookless

Facebook is hoping to grab more users by letting people in some countries sign up for its messaging service with just a phone number - no Facebook account required.

The company said on Tuesday that it would begin allowing owners of Android phones in India, Indonesia, Venezuela, Australia and South Africa to sign up for its Messenger app with their phone number. When Android users in those countries download the app, they will be presented with the option of logging in with a phone number or connecting with a Facebook account. After choosing the phone number option, users just have to enter their first and last name, and the phone sends a text message to Facebook for verification.

Later, the company will introduce the phone-number sign-up option to other countries, including the United States, Facebook said.

Peter Deng, a product director at Facebook who oversees the Messenger app, said in an intervi ew that the company's primary goal was to make it easier for people to sign up for its messaging service and start communicating. The Messenger app will not include ads, but an easier sign-up could eventually entice non-Facebook users to sign up for an account so they can use the messaging service elsewhere, like on Facebook.com or in the company's mobile apps, where ads do appear.

Mr. Deng said messaging was “ripe for innovation” because it had been held back by old technology created by phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

“It's limited to 160 characters, and it's not at all rich in its expression,” he said in an interview. “People want to connect deeply with each other, and they don't want to be constrained by various technical boundaries and decisions made 20 years ago.”

Facebook's Messenger app, available for iPhones, Android smartphones and BlackBerrys, has generally been well received. In Apple's App Store, for instance, it has about 40, 000 five-star user reviews.

Mr. Deng declined to say how many Facebook messages were being sent daily, a sign that the number may not be worth bragging about yet. In the App Store, the Messenger app is currently No. 94 in Apple's list of most downloaded free apps. On the other hand, WhatsApp, a text-messaging app that costs $1, is ranked No. 2 in Apple's list of most downloaded paid apps. WhatsApp says its users send 10 billion messages a day.

For technology businesses, the texting market is a juicy target. Traditional text messaging, the kind where you pay to send messages over the phone network, is in decline in many parts of the world, because many people are switching to Internet-powered messaging services like Facebook, WhatsApp or Apple's iMessage.

Daily Report: Border Searches Face New Challenges in Digital Age

The government has historically had broad power to search travelers and their property at the border, but that prerogative is being challenged as more people travel with extensive personal and business information on devices that would typically require a warrant to examine, reports Susan Stellin in Tuesday's New York Times.

Searches by border agents are rare; about 36,000 people are referred to secondary screening by United States Customs and Border Protection daily, and roughly a dozen of those travelers are subject to a search of their electronic devices. But in several court cases, plaintiffs are seeking to limit the ability of border agents to search, copy and even seize travelers' laptops, cameras and phones without suspicion of illegal activity. A decision in one of those suits, Abidor v. Napolitano, is ex pected soon.

In that case, Pascal Abidor, who is studying for his doctorate in Islamic studies, sued the government after he was handcuffed and detained at the border during an Amtrak trip from Montreal to New York. He was questioned and placed in a cell for several hours. His laptop was searched and kept for 11 days.

Courts have long held that Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches do not apply at the border, based on the government's interest in combating crime and terrorism. But Mr. Pascal's lawsuit and similar cases question whether confiscating a laptop for days or weeks and analyzing its data at another site goes beyond the typical border searches. They also depart from the justification used in other digital searches, possession of child pornography.

In another case, House v. Napolitano, border officials at Chicago O'Hare Airport confiscated a laptop, camera and USB drive belonging to David House, a computer programmer, and kept h is devices for seven weeks. The lawsuit charges that Mr. House was singled out because of his association with the Bradley Manning Support Network. Pfc. Bradley Manning is a former military intelligence analyst accused of leaking thousands of military and diplomatic documents to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.

In March, a federal judge refused to dismiss the suit, saying that although the government did not need reasonable suspicion to search someone's laptop at the border, that power did not strip Mr. House of his First Amendment rights. Legal scholars say this ruling could set the stage for the courts to place some limits on how the government conducts digital searches.

Apple Ad Alumni Get Backing From Google Ventures

Google's venture capital arm is investing in a start-up founded by Apple alumni that is seeking to make mobile users a little less anonymous to advertisers.

Adelphic Mobile, based in Boston, has raised $10 million from Google Ventures and Matrix Partners, a firm that invested in the company during an earlier fund-raising round. The company has raised $12 million to date.

Adelphic was founded in 2010 by Changfeng Wang and Jennifer Lum, both of whom used to work for Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising start-up that was acquired by Apple and became the foundation for iAd, Apple's mobile advertising network.

Mobile advertising has been a disappointment to many people in the technology industry. The explosion of mobile devices initially prompted exhilaration among marketers about the potential for peppering people with ads on the cellphones that are always at hand. Google and Apple both bought start-ups to help bolster their mobile advertising efforts.

But many companies, including Facebook, have found it more difficult to make money from mobile advertising than through traditional Web sites. That is in part because of the limited screen real estate people have on their smartphones and their wariness about having it filled up with advertising.

“It's not growing nearly at the rate it should have been given mobile media consumption rates,” said Ms. Lum, the president of Adelphic.

Adelphic is focused on another problem with mobile advertising: the relative poverty of data that advertisers have about the mobile users they are trying to reach. Through Web browsers on computers, it is easier to deliver targeted ads to users by keeping data on their browsing habits employing tools like browser cookies, the small identification files advertising networks place on computers.

Mobile advertisers do not know as much about users because mobile browsers and apps are not as commonly configured to allow the kinds of identification techniques that work on computers. As a result, advertisers do not know much more about the audiences they are trying to reach other than the type of cellphone they have and the wireless network they are on, Ms. Lum said.

Adelphic seeks to paint a more detailed picture of mobile Web users by using complex software to analyze dozens of “signals” about mobile users' online activities, though Adelphic is not willing to go into too much detail about how the process works (it says it respects the privacy policies of the publishers that show its advertising).

Through its data mining, the company says it can identify the likely age of mobile users, as well as the ir gender and general location. In turn, the company tells advertisers it can deliver ads to the specific audiences they are after.

Rich Miner, general partner at Google Ventures, said in an interview that mobile advertising would become more effective over time and that Adelphic's service was helping to push the market forward.

“With the growth of mobile, we're still very early and, just like in traditional online ads, there's still a tremendous amount of innovation and value to be created,” said Mr. Miner, who also co-founded Android, the mobile start-up that Google acquired and later created the basis for its mobile operating system.