Who do you think celebrates the best?
New York City, United States
Mary Altaffer / AP
Christopher Gregory / Getty Images
Christopher Gregory / Getty Images
Who do you think celebrates the best?
Mary Altaffer / AP
Christopher Gregory / Getty Images
Christopher Gregory / Getty Images
As we near the end of another year, VentureBeat takes a look back at some of the highlights from two companies at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement: Netflix and Amazon.
From awards and big-name content acquisitions to new international markets and strategic partnerships, this is a tale of two global video-streaming giants in 2015.
If we learned anything in 2015, it’s that original content has well and truly come of age.
Both Amazon and Netflix started the year with a bang by securing gongs at the Golden Globes. Amazon walked away with the top TV comedy award for Transparent — the first online series ever to win a Golden Globe. Jeffrey Tambor also scooped up the award for best comedy actor for the show. Not to be outdone, Kevin Spacey emerged triumphant after seven previous nominations, winning the award for top actor in a drama for Netflix’s House of Cards.
Later in the year, Amazon notched five Emmy awards compared to Netflix’s four, which is notable when you consider that Netflix had a third more nominations than Amazon. To celebrate, Amazon cut the price of its annual Prime membership by a third. But only for 24 hours.
In addition, Netflix could have a serious Oscar contender with Beasts of No Nation, though we’ll need to wait until the new year to find out. This wouldn’t be the company’s first Oscar win, however, as it also won an Academy Award for a documentary short subject last year.
Awards aside, the online video titans invested big in their slate of content. Perhaps most notably, Amazon emerged victorious in the race to sign up former Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, who will present a new, as-yet-unnamed show for the car-loving fraternity. The move shows how committed online-video giants are to grabbing the rights to big names. Amazon reportedly paid an eye-popping $250 million for the show. Elsewhere, Netflix confirmed it had raised $1 billion in debt to fund its original-programming ambitions.
Both companies racked up a number of other big-name signings. Amazon signed up Woody Allen to create his first-ever TV series and later committed to producing 12 feature films a year to be shown in movie theaters. Part of this plan, the company said, was to narrow the theatrical release window to as little as four weeks, which it can do when it has full control over the content.
Over at Netflix, the company brought Leonardo DiCaprio on board in a multiyear deal to make a new documentary series, while rumors emerged that it was planning to create a new live-action adaptation of the classic Nintendo game, the Legend of Zelda.
Away from the hullaballoo of big-money content acquisitions, the surest sign yet that unique programming is emerging as the key differentiator came when Netflix revealed it would not renew its agreement with the cable network Epix, meaning subscribers would lose access to high-profile movies such as Hunger Games, World War Z, and Transformers. Why? Netflix explained:
While many of these movies are popular, they are also widely available on cable and other subscription platforms at the same time as they are on Netflix and subject to the same drawn-out licensing periods.
While Netflix is still reliant on third-party content for the most part, it’s distancing itself from many of the titles that can easily be watched elsewhere. It primarily wants content it can dangle in front of people and say, “Hey, lookie what we got here.”
At the start of 2015, Netflix was available in more than 50 markets around the world, while Amazon’s Prime Video was only open in four: the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Austria.
With trading restrictions easing between the U.S. and Cuba, Netflix seized this opportunity by launching in the tiny Caribbean nation, though it was largely a symbolic gesture given that high-speed Internet is something of a rarity in the country. However, Netflix did announce a number of other big market launches this year. It arrived in New Zealand and Australia in March; Japan in September; Italy, Spain, and Portugal in October; and revealed that Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea would be added in early 2016.
Amazon Video, meanwhile, barely boosted its market availability. It did follow Netflix’s lead, however, and launched Amazon Prime Video in Japan.
One question Netflix has faced over the years is: Will it ever offer offline access to its content? Netflix has never skirted the question and has always maintained that downloads aren’t on its roadmap. The issue reared its head again this year, when Amazon announced it was to let Prime subscribers download some TV shows and movies on its mobile apps. Once again, Netflix said it has zero intentions to introduce offline mode.
Some notable partnerships came to light in 2015 to help expand the availability of both video-streaming services. Netflix signed up Marriott hotels to include its app on their in-room televisions, while Amazon inked a deal with JetBlue to let travelers watch videos without paying for Wi-Fi. Not to be outdone, Netflix partnered with Virgin America to include its service on U.S. flights.
Elsewhere, Amazon ironed out a curious little quirk with Android this year. Until fairly recently, Amazon didn’t offer a streaming app to Android users. When it finally did launch one in late 2014, the process of accessing it was a mess. You had to find and download the Amazon Appstore to your Android device, install the Amazon Video Player, and search for videos directly within the main Amazon shopping app, which was linked to the video player.
Things improved this year when Amazon finally launched a standalone video-streaming app for Android. It’s pretty slick, but you can’t download the app easily. You still have to go through the same convoluted process as before. It’s nuts — and certainly too much friction for many non-techie people.
Netflix has stated its intent to be a truly global service — that is, in 200-ish markets — by the end of 2016. To achieve such scale, its own stack of original content will help, but it also needs to remove the friction from global licensing deals. Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sandros has previously discussed the company’s efforts to buy the rights for shows in multiple regions at once, but it’s not an easy process because of the way the networks and studios have set themselves up internationally.
“I don’t know if it is more difficult than expected but it has not been as easy road,” explained Sarandos during a recent investors’ call. “All of the studios and networks have situated themselves to be regional sellers. They have never been global sellers and it makes complete sense that Sony and Disney and Warner Brothers would have regional sales teams. Now we are global buyers and buying global rights to shows and movies, and there is some resistance to it, mostly from the regional sellers, people who are in charge of regional selling, who don’t want their jobs marginalized.”
In short, Netflix wants to expedite the rights-buying process to serve its growing global user base, but regional rights-holders are impeding this.
“If you stand still, you stagnate” is a common philosophy in technology as companies iterate and improve their products to meet the latest standards and preferences. With that in mind, both Netflix and Amazon rolled out a slew of notable updates in 2015.
Back in April, Netflix introduced a new narration feature that describes what’s happening on screen for the visually impaired. This was followed in June by the platform’s first major website update in four years, which saw an all-new design rolled out to make searching easier.
Over at Amazon, the Internet giant revealed back in April that HDR-quality streams would arrive on Prime videos this year. True to its word, two months later it launched HDR for a series (Mozart in the Jungle) in the U.S. For the uninitiated, HDR improves the contrast of a video, making shadows and highlights more distinctive — blacks appear blacker, and whites appear whiter. But if you don’t have a HDR TV, well, it will be lost on you.
Perhaps the most exciting Amazon Video launch of the year, from a feature-update perspective, was when it brought its “X-Ray for Movies and TV” service to the big screen for the first time.
In a nutshell, X-Ray for Movies and TV taps IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) data to deliver contextual information about what’s currently happening on-screen. Want to know who that familiar face was who made a brief cameo and what other movies you’ve seen them in? This is what X-Ray is all about.
X-Ray first arrived for Kindle Fire in 2012, but it’s now available on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick too, meaning you now have this very cool little tool in your living room.
Netflix also put a focus on the big-screen experience this year. In January, the company launched the Netflix Recommended TV program, which serves up an independent evaluation of the best smart TVs for streaming Netflix. Three months later, Netflix revealed a triumvirate of televisions it reckons are great for Netflix.
Though Amazon and Netflix are competitors, the two companies — alongside Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Mozilla — joined forces to create the Alliance for Open Media. The open source project aims to deliver a next-generation video codec by 2017.
In October, Netflix revealed it was upping its lower-tier subscription from $9 a month to $10 a month in the Americas, but only for new users. Existing users will continue on their current price plan until October 2016.
While Amazon’s reputation as an employer took a severe bashing in 2015, Netflix won major plaudits for its new maternity and paternity leave policies, which essentially promised new parents unlimited paid leave for the full first year after a child’s birth.
Elsewhere, in an interesting move, Amazon banned sales of Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast streaming devices. While they directly compete with Amazon’s own Fire TV stick and box, Amazon claims its main gripe is that Apple and Google devices don’t play friendly with Amazon Video. An eye for an eye, and all that.
Though there are pros and cons to both Netflix and Amazon Video, an exciting rumor started circling in late November that Amazon was lining up a major upgrade to its video offering. In short, Amazon was planning to offer third-party on-demand video services as part of Prime. Details were recently confirmed, and dozens of video-on-demand (VoD) partners have been brought on board, including Showtime and Starz. It’s a smart move by Amazon: By centralizing a number of VoD subscriptions through a single Amazon account, this makes it easier for consumers to monitor and manage their various subscriptions. Amazon is also integrating the various services, meaning users can search for content or create a single watchlist across all their subscriptions.
People often talk in terms of “winners” and “losers” when comparing products and companies. But it has become increasingly clear, in the video-streaming realm at least, that it’s not a case of one or the other. There’s every reason to suggest that consumers will be willing to pay for both Netflix and Amazon Prime — not to mention other services such as HBO Now, which launched in the U.S. this year.
What viewers want is real differentiators. And with a growing slate of original programming, both Amazon and Netflix are setting themselves up well to service the cord-cutting generation.
2015 was a year not unlike many others when it comes to race in America.
In a lot of ways, it felt as though the worlds of white and black America couldn’t be further apart. Racial injustices, insults and aggressions from white people were as routine as the many times black folks banded together to speak out against them.
In the video above, the HuffPost Black Voices team is completely transparent about the things we want to set straight when it comes to race. While we certainly can’t list everything, we are honest about a few of the things we think, feel and want white America to know for 2016 — and every year following.
Watch and absorb, folks.
Also on HuffPost:
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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – SeaWorld sued California authorities on Tuesday, seeking to overturn a decision that allows the San Diego theme park to expand its orca habitat only if it stops breeding killer whales in captivity.
The lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, argues that the California Coastal Commission overstepped its authority when it imposed the breeding restriction because it does not have jurisdiction over the marine mammals, which are regulated under federal law.
The commission, which oversees development along California’s coast, only had jurisdiction to approve or reject construction projects at the park and would effectively end SeaWorld’s popular killer whale shows, the complaint said.
“The condition forces SeaWorld to either agree to the eventual demise of its lawful and federally regulated orca exhibition, or withdraw the permit application and forego the effort to enhance the orcas’ habitat,” SeaWorld Entertainment Inc attorneys said.
During a contentious seven-hour hearing in October, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to give SeaWorld permission to double the size of its orca pools so long as the park ends its captive breeding program and does not transfer any of its marine mammals to other facilities.
Critics who attended the hearing questioned SeaWorld’s treatment of animals in captivity and demanded the park’s population of 11 orcas be released into the wild.
“The Coastal Commission process became unhinged,” the complaint states. “Animal rights activists appeared at the Coastal Commission hearing and vilified SeaWorld in their ‘testimony,'” the lawsuit contends.
Officials at the commission did not immediately return calls for comment about the lawsuit.
Eight of SeaWorld’s 11 orcas are the result of captive breeding, the lawsuit said.
“SeaWorld has not collected an orca from the wild in more than 35 years and has committed to not doing so in the future,” attorneys said.
The complaint asks the Superior Court judge to either order the the restrictions be removed or order a new hearing of the development proposal, called “Blue World,” without the restrictions on breeding and transfer, and for the cost of SeaWorld’s attorney fees.
(Editing by Victoria Cavaliere, Robert Birsel)
Hermione Granger is pushing 40!
The ride’s over for Sidecar, a pioneering ride-sharing service that simply couldn’t compete with Uber and Lyft’s mindshare—nor their massive venture capital-infused warchests, as co-founders Sunil Paul and Jahan Khanna made clear in their farewell post on Medium.
“We are the innovation leader in ridesharing despite a significant capital disadvantage, continually rolling out new products that set the bar for others to follow,” they wrote.
No more. Sidecar will stop all deliveries and rides at 2 p.m. on December 31. The closure doesn’t exactly come as a surprise; the company had already shifted focus towards Postmates-style delivery/courier services in 2015, after its attempt to differentiate from the competition by allowing customers to pick their drivers failed to give said competition any pause. And things were only getting worse; while Lyft’s raised over $1 billion and Uber’s near-constant funding rounds have totaled up to more than $10 billion, Sidecar raised a mere $35 million in its lifetime.
As much as you might want to hold one-on-one meetings with each employee at your company, at a certain point, those meetings become unrealistic. That’s why we asked 13 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:
“What system do you use to check in with employees as your company gets too large for one-on-one meetings every week?”
Here’s what YEC community members had to say:
“I love Trello. It clearly illustrates progression, facilitates communication and collaboration and it’s beautifully simply designed. Calls or an occasional one-on-one still don’t hurt, but to drive efficiency and results I recommend Trello.” ~ Carlo Cisco, SELECT
“Each week we have an email roundtable where each team member checks in with the roadblocks they’ll be facing one week out and one month out. This helps our growing team understand how their work supports the work of others without tying everyone up in a scheduled meeting that drains time and resources.” ~ Nick Reese, BroadbandNow
“I learn more about how a location functions and how the staff is feeling by dropping in with no agenda. For me, that’s getting haircuts at different locations. In the chair, I get the real scoop and the staff sees management involved in the most basic way possible. Then, before I leave, I try to fix the leaky toilet or do something else “dirty” that no one wants to do. Nothing is above anyone.” ~ Michael Portman, Birds Barbershop
“I don’t have time to constantly meet with the team at LexION Capital, so I have them constantly updating their projects and progress in a digital task management system. It not only keeps the team organized, but whenever I get a free moment it allows me to instantly see how their projects have progressed. I can also leave comments and see the work itself right from my computer, or on the go.” ~ Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital
“Nothing replaces face-to-face, but by cultivating an environment of openness, employees are encouraged to come to their manager or to contact me if they have something they need to talk about. I can’t always help, but the chances are that what seems like a big problem for an employee can be solved relatively easily with input from me or other members of the team.” ~ Vik Patel, Future Hosting
“We have gone from five employees to 20 this year and had to move away from one-on-one meetings every week. The different departments (we have four) meet with their teams and each team lead then meets with the executive team. We also use Jira and Salesforce to report on productivity and what everyone is doing.” ~ Aron Susman, TheSquareFoot
“DropTask is a great system for organizing projects and task management as well as collaboration between teams. It uses a novel approach by ditching lists for a more colorful interface to organize each project. You can tag specific people to a project and see its progress, issues, etc. in real time. And the best partis that it can integrate with other services like Dropbox, Gmail and more.” ~ Kumar Arora, Aroridex, Ltd.
“There are a number of tools that can help you communicate with your team, but there’s no replacement for one-on-one in-person time. To solve this, we have a management structure. Each employee has a direct manager who they meet with for a weekly one-on-one. As we grow, we’ll have more managers. This way every employee gets the support they deserve as we scale.” ~ Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc
“This allows everyone to give feedback. We also have open-door policies so that, if employees need to connect, they can. Finally, we have set the company up in tiers, so that our management team can definitely connect with each individual, and then connect with us.” ~ Erik Huberman, Hawke Media
“We’ll always have one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports, but this year Grovo added 15Five as a tool to enhance two-way communication on tactical issues. It’s one of many systems we’ve put in place to optimize feedback loops, from a bi-weekly all-hands meeting to a whiteboard where we crowdsource suggestions for improving our office and culture. ” ~ Jeff Fernandez, Grovo Learning, Inc.
“We use agile planning at Ceros. We plan at an executive level, and my team works with other teams to build out an execution plan to meet those goals. Everyone has full transparency into what each department is shooting for. We field a company-wide survey at the end of every executive sprint as well as host a town hall meeting with the entire team every eight weeks.” ~ Simon Berg, Ceros
“We use a company wiki to document all of our ideas, processes and product specs. It’s great because it keeps everyone up to date on what needs to be done, you can tag team members on projects that they are needed on, and you can get email notifications of changes made in the wiki. That, paired with a wrap-up of our weekly team meetings, makes sure that everyone is on the same page.” ~ Brian David Crane, Caller Smart Inc.
“My team uses Asana as our main form of organization and collaboration. With Asana, we are able to share projects, assign tasks, follow progress and comment on each other’s work all on one site. While I still like to have one-on-one meetings with my employees, Asana helps us communicate on daily projects so we have more time to focus on more specialized assignments.” ~ Leila Lewis, Be Inspired PR
Roulette Table Photo via Shutterstock
This article, “13 Employee Management Systems for Your Growing Business” was first published on Small Business Trends