Thursday, December 14, 2017

Amazon adds support for Spotify for multiroom audio support across multiple Echo in your home

Amazon announced today that it’s adding support for Spotify and SiriusXM to the multiroom audio feature on Echo devices, letting users synchronize music across multiple rooms. Amazon launched the multiroom audio feature earlier this year, supporting Amazon Music Unlimited, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and Pandora. But now, as Amazon promised back in August, Spotify (and SiriusXM, if that was a deal-breaker for you) will work with multiroom playback, too.

For now, Spotify is only available with multiroom audio on the Echo in the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and Ireland, while SiriusXM is only in the US. But if you’re looking to use Echos to build out your own ad-hoc Sonos-style system, the addition of Spotify support should go a long way toward making that a reality.

To set up multiroom audio, head to settings in the Alexa app. Scroll down until you find Audio Groups and select Multi-Room Music. The app will then prompt you to create a group, making it easier to control music playback by saying things like “Alexa play music upstairs” instead of calling out individual speakers. Once you create your groups, setup is complete.

Using multiroom audio is as simple as everything else with the Echo, just say where you want the music to play. Saying “Play Justin Timberlake” followed by the name of your group will activate the music in your desired location, and so far it’s worked flawlessly in my testing.

Now if you’re like me and you enjoy the ease of use that multiroom audio support provides — but would like to utilize it with better speakers, like Sonos for example — well you shouldn’t have to wait much longer. Amazon has also released a new API for developers that will allow companies like Sonos and Samsung to control their whole-home speaker systems with Alexa.

Sonos has been teasing this feature for nearly a year at this point, but now it looks like it won’t be the only company rolling out an integration with Amazon in the near future. Amazon is has released another API to allow third-party Alexa speakers to operate within the multiroom audio playback setup as well. At this rate, soon Alexa will be the main operator of all music in your home, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Multiroom audio playback is available to Echo owners in the US, UK, and Germany on Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show devices.

Disney has bought out 21st Century Fox film and TV studio have merged in a huge $52 billion deal

Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox's film and TV studios in a landmark deal worth over $52 billion. The arrangement covers the movie studio 20th Century Fox, the company’s TV production arm 20th Century Fox Television, Fox-owned cable networks (including FX and National Geographic), and the company’s stakes in international networks like Star TV and Sky (which Fox is planning to acquire full ownership of before the sale is completed).

Disney also will gain a majority control of Hulu in the deal, with Fox’s 30 percent stake giving Disney a controlling interest of 60 percent. Comcast and Time Warner will be reduced to minority stakeholders, with 30 percent and 10 percent stakes, respectively.

As reported earlier, Fox is looking to shed what it views as deadweight in its entertainment divisions in order to focus on the far more profitable news and sports sides of its business. As such, the company is keeping control of the Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports, and the Fox News and Fox Business brands.

As part of the deal, Disney CEO Bob Iger is extending his time as CEO of the Walt Disney Company through 2021, although no word has been announced as to who his successor may be when he does step down in four years. Iger was originally planning to leave in 2019 before the deal went through.

The purchase was originally rumored back in early November, but talks were said to have fallen through. The Wall Street Journal reported that discussions were back on at the beginning of December. Comcast was at one point considered to be a contender for the rights as well.

Along with 21st Century Fox’s various production companies and distribution networks, Disney also is taking ownership of the company’s vast catalog of intellectual property. That means that comic book characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four are now back under the stewardship of Marvel Studios — a status quo that Disney notes in its press release as allowing the company to “create richer, more complex worlds of inter-related characters and stories.” Or, in other words, it opens the door for characters like Wolverine or Deadpool to cross over into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Fox acquisition also means that Disney finally controls the rights to the original Star Wars film (also known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), which Fox has previously owned full distribution rights to in perpetuity, along with the home video distribution rights for Episodes II through IV (which were originally supposed to revert to Disney in 2020).

It also means that Disney — which is looking to open its own streaming service in competition to Netflix — now has an even larger back catalog of shows and TV series that it could feasibly offer exclusively on its service. Other franchises that now belong to the House of Mouse include the Avatar series (which makes Disney’s Pandora theme park a whole lot more sensible), the Aliens movies, Ice Age, the rebooted Planet of the Apes, The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother, Futurama, Firefly, and The X-Files, to name just a few, all of which would be a massive boon for Disney’s upcoming service.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

FCC chairman Ajit Pai work with the FTC to tear the internet down

A draft agreement announced by the FCC and FTC today outlines how the agencies will work together after net neutrality is killed. Under the plan the FCC will review complaints from consumers about ISPs, and determine if they are disclosing bad behavior like blocking or throttling content. The FTC will also investigate these disclosures, to make sure they are disclosures. Then, they will do nothing about the actual bad behavior.

The FCC is expected to vote on Thursday to replace net neutrality with a plan that makes no sense. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to let ISPs regulate themselves and kick his agency’s regulatory authority to the FTC. Pai’s plan is to have regulators at the FTC look closely to make sure bad behavior is buried somewhere in an ISP’s terms of service agreement.

This plan is a joke that doesn’t take the real world seriously. Pai thinks the FCC screwed up when it tried to stop Comcast from blocking BitTorrent in 2008, and he expects there’s a chance that ISPs will cause similar harm to consumers if his ironically-named “Internet Freedom Order” takes effect. (Of course he expects that, because ISPs do bad stuff all the time, and they’re consistently ranked by consumers as among the worst companies in America.) The idea that ISPs are going to regulate themselves would be hilarious, were it just a joke and not the impending policy of the US government that’s being implemented by a former lawyer for Verizon.

Amazon adds music alarms to Alexa to wake you up before you go go

Amazon announced today that Alexa has been updated to include support for music alarms. So instead of just asking Alexa to set an alarm for you, you’ll be able to request specific songs, playlists, artists, or genres to get you out of bed in the morning.

The new feature supports a variety of music services to use as alarm tones, including Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio. You’ll be able to request songs in the same way that you can for regular playback, meaning that requests as specific as “Alexa, wake me up at 7AM to BeyoncĂ©,” or as vague as “Alexa, wake me up to ’80s music at 8AM” will all work.

The new music alarm feature should be available today on Amazon Echos or any Alexa device.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Verizon's grip on watching NFL games on your mobile device will end in January and be available for all carriers

Verizon has long held exclusive rights to mobile streaming of live NFL games, offering the content as a lure to its own subscribers. Today, the telecoms company announced a new deal with the sports league which will see games streamed to mobile devices regardless of carrier.

From the 2018 playoffs in January onwards, customers with any mobile carrier will be able to access NFL games through the official NFL Mobile app, Yahoo Sports app, and go90, Verizon’s on-demand streaming service. (Watching on a PC or anything larger than a phone has already been possible, as those devices weren’t subject to Verizon’s exclusivity.)

A Verizon spokesperson: “All in-market games including national pre-season, regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl will be open to all mobile customers across Verizon and Oath’s platforms next season.” That means you’re still limited to whatever your local Fox or CBS station would be airing on TV; DirecTV still has an exclusive grip on out-of-market games.

Verizon says it will continue to sponsor the NFL, and offer “unique experiences” to subscribers “at key NFL events including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, and the NFL Draft.” However, the company evidently felt that it was no longer worth keeping the bulk of NFL content exclusive to its customers, and will instead use it to boost its other platforms.

“We’re making a commitment to fans for Verizon’s family of media properties to become the mobile destination for live sports,” said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, Chairman in a press statement. “The NFL is a great partner for us and we are excited to take its premier content across a massive mobile scale so viewers can enjoy live football and other original NFL content where and how they want it.”