Redbox to Raise Prices Next Year

Not long after the calendar rolls over to 2015 you’ll find the prices at your nearest Rebox kiosk have rolled over as well.

Outerwall, the parent company of Redbox, announced this week that it will raise prices at its popular kiosks starting on Jan. 6, 2015. The new prices will be as follows:

  • DVD rentals will rise from $1.20 a night to $1.50
  • Blu-ray rentals will increase from $1.50 a night to $2.00
  • Game rentals will go up by 50% from $2 a night to $3

It seems that the stock market liked this news as Outerwall’s stock ended the session on Monday with an increase of 12.32% to close out the day at $71.39 a share.

This is only the second time in 12 years that the price of DVDs has gone up, and the first time for both Blu-ray and video games since they were introduced into the red kiosks.

The price hike follows the latest report on the company’s revenue for the third quarter. Outerwall posted revenue of $438 million for the three months ending in September, a decrease of 11 percent from the same time period last year. Redbox accounts for around 79 percent of Outerwall’s revenue with the majority of the remainder being made up from the Coinstar kiosks that the company also operates.

Where as many video rental stores blames Redbox for their closures, one has to assume that the kiosks are beginning to feel the pinch from the increasing competition of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. With the growth of original content, from these online services, coupled with deals that see movies arriving in their rosters much faster than in years past, the impetuous to rent films on physical media has to be declining.

You have only a few weeks left to enjoy your rentals at the old prices, so enjoy yourselves.

Business Software

Microsoft Finally Patches 19-Year Old Windows Security Flaw

Microsoft on Wednesday is officially patching a bug that existed in its Windows operating system for 19 years, according to a new report from IBM’s Security Intelligence arm. The security flaw had been present in every single version of Windows since Windows 95 was released, IBM said, noting that the bug was complex and rare.

“The bug can be used by an attacker for drive-by attacks to reliably run code remotely and take over the user’s machine — even sidestepping the Enhanced Protected Mode (EPM) sandbox in IE 11 as well as the highly regarded Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) anti-exploitation tool Microsoft offers for free,” the security team explained in a recent blog post. ”Typically, attackers use remote code execution to install malware, which may have any number of malicious actions, such as keylogging, screen-grabbing and remote access,” the researchers said.

IBM said that this just shows that small bugs can exist for years and years, in this case for more than a decade, before they’re actually detected by anyone, and that the flaw in Windows potentially left an open hole for remote exploitation for the last 18 years, though the “buggy code” that enabled it has existed for 19 years.

IBM said it first discovered the bug in May 2014 and that, had it been found by someone else, it could have “ fetched six figures on the gray market,” among hackers who might have used it to cause serious harm to computer systems. The researchers explain the ins-and-outs of how it works very technically, so hit the source for a deeper understanding.


Taylor Swift Can’t Keep Spotify Down – Service Hits 12.5M Subscribers

Spotify has garnered plenty of headlines recently, particularly following Taylor Swift’s decision to pull her collection of music from the streaming service, but that’s not slowing the company down. The firm said recently it now has more than 12.5 million subscribers, up from 10 million that it recorded in May of this year. Of course, Swift’s decision was made more recently, though at those growth rates it seems unlikely to slow down Spotify’s upward moving momentum.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek noted the milestone in a blog post on Tuesday discussing Swift’s decision to pull her music catalog. “Taylor Swift is absolutely right: music is art, art has real value, and artists deserve to be paid for it,” Ek explained. “We started Spotify because we love music and piracy was killing it. So all the talk swirling around lately about how Spotify is making money on the backs of artists upsets me big time.”

Ek said his service has paid recording artists, labels, publishers and songwriters more than $2 billion while piracy pays them nothing, and that Spotify is actually combating piracy. “We will do anything we can to work with the industry to increase transparency, improve speed of payments, and give artists the opportunity to promote themselves and connect with fans – that’s our responsibility as a leader in this industry; and it’s the right thing to do,” Ek added.

Ek addressed several myths in the industry, including some that suggest Spotify doesn’t pay enough and that it actually hurts sales, but made some compelling arguments to the contrary. He said that a song played about 500,000 times on Spotify would pay the recording artists about $3,000 to $4,000, but the same song played once on a radio station in the United States with 500,000 listeners would pay them nothing. An artist like Taylor Swift, Ek said, would typically earn about $6 million a year from the service.

“Our interests are aligned with yours,” Ek told the recording industry, noting that Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989, is currently the number one most downloaded album on Pirate Pay. “People’s listening habits have changed  – and they’re not going to change back.”


Twitter Unveils “Instant Timeline” for New Users and More

Today is Twitter Analyst Day, a brand new conference where the social network shares its plans for the future, and we’ve already learned a lot about where the site is headed next. The company revealed plans for an “Instant Timeline” meant for first-time visitors, along with a “While You Were Away” feature and new improvements to Twitter’s Direct Messages.

Twitter has a problem with unsubscribed visitors to its site, which it says include about 500 million people who never log in or tweet. In response, the company will introduce Instant Timeline, designed to help you quickly create a personalized feed by checking off a list of general interests. At the same time, the company is looking to help out people who use Twitter regularly but have trouble keeping up with a non-stop stream of tweets. A new “While You Were Away” feature will attempt to show the best posts from your timeline since the last time you checked in.

Finally, the company said it will push out an update to improve its private messaging service. In the near future, Twitter plans to offer a new button that should let you grab any public tweet and send it as a direct message. The DM interface will also show the full tweet, making it easy to transition from public to private discussions.

Twitter hinted at the possibility of new apps, but wouldn’t offer any specifics. The company did note that video makes more sense than music, so don’t expect a Twitter-owned music streaming service anytime soon.

We’ll let you know if the company announces any other big changes it has planned, and we’ll be on the lookout for these new features as they begin to rollout.


Ford Says It Could Build a Tesla Competitor

Tesla may dominate the conversation when it comes to electric cars, but according to Ford CEO Mark Fields, his company could offer an equally impressive vehicle if it wanted to. Of course Ford already sells electric vehicles, but taking on Tesla’s high-end Model Swould be another challenge entirely.

Speaking during an earnings call this week, Fields confirmed the company’s interest in the Model S. ”We drove it. We took it apart. We put it back together and we drove it again,” he said. So clearly Ford thinks it can build a Tesla competitor if it wants to, but will it?

Ford’s earnings are down this quarter. The company posted $1.2 billion in profits compared to $2.6 billion a year earlier, though it still managed to beat expectations. So it might make sense to release a Model S competitor in an attempt to boost sales. For now, the Ford Focus Electric is a significantly cheaper option at less than half the price of a Tesla, but it’s still not selling in high numbers.

Competing with Tesla might be a smart move, but that doesn’t mean Ford will actually do it. For now it seems more likely the company is simply scoping out its competition.


Business Mobile

Apple Pay: Here’s a Huge List of Banks That Will Support It

Apple Pay has been live for a few days now, and despite at least one major speed bump it’s been a pretty smooth roll-out overall. Of course, you can only use Apple’s mobile payments service if your bank supports it. Thankfully, during its iPad and iMac event last week, Apple also said that it has already established deals with more than 500 new banks that will soon support Apple Pay through Visa or MasterCard.

Now we’re getting our first glimpse into which banks will be bringing support online in the weeks and months ahead.

Visa, in particular, has released a very long list of participating banks that will eventually support Apple Pay. You’re probably better off searching this page for your specific bank than reading through the entire list, though the company’s website also breaks things down into smaller alphabetized groups. Unfortunately, we don’t know when each will actually activate Apple Pay support for customers.

Business Software

Google Scoops Up Two Artificial Intelligence Firms

Google’s DeepMind team, founded in 2011 and acquired by Google earlier this year, recently hired members of two artificial intelligence companies that were birthed by Oxford University. The two companies are named Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory. According to the Dark Blue Labs website, the company focuses on “learning deep structured and unstructured representations of data to make intelligent products, including natural language understanding, a reality,” while Vision Factory builds object and text recognition technology.

The Guardian said that some members of the teams will remain at Oxford University as “guest lecturers,” and that part of the deal involved a sizeable donation on Google’s behalf to Oxford’s engineering and comp-sci programs to provide new lectures, workshops and internship programs.

“Google DeepMind has hired all seven founders of these startups with the three professors holding joint appointments at Oxford University where they will continue to spend part of their time,” Google DeepMind co-founder and Vice President of Engineering said. “These exciting partnerships underline how committed Google DeepMind is to supporting the development of UK academia and the growth of strong scientific research labs.”

It’s possible that the natural language technology researched by Dark Blue Labs will make its way into existing Google products, like Google Search, which are already capable of understanding voice commands. Meanwhile, The Guardian said the Vision Factory team will “help Google improve its vision systems.” Google Goggles, a free app, already allows users to identify objects using the camera on a smartphone, but the team’s expertise could also be applied to Google Glass and, as The Guardian notes, to Google’s self-driving cars.


Comcast’s Latest Acquisition Could Mean Smarter Wi-Fi Routers

At the moment Comcast may just be thought of as an Internet and cable company, but in the future the company may offer its own hardware and software to manage an entire house full of smart devices. TechCrunch confirmed on Monday that the Internet-provider recently acquired PowerCloud Systems and with it the technology to control your future smart home.

Business Cars

Walmart Debuts Super Futuristic Electric Truck Protoype

We don’t often cover semi-trailer trucks around here (actually, I don’t think we ever have), but when we see something cool we’ll bring it to you nonetheless. Walmart recently debuted an awesome-looking futuristic truck prototype during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Kentucky. The truck you see in the picture above still runs on diesel, though has the ability to run on electric power when needed. “Although the prototype currently runs on diesel, its turbine is fuel neutral and can run on compressed or liquid natural gas, biofuels or other fuels,” Walmart explained.


Pearson Buys Stake in Nook Media

Pearson publishing has made an investment in NOOK Media, the company co-founded by Barnes & Noble and Microsoft.


It seems that some folks have a lot of faith in the recently formed NOOK Media company. Pearson agreed to an $89.5 million investment in the company for a 5 percent equity stake. That places the valuation of the company at $1.789 billion. Not bad for a company that only completed its $300 million formation in Oct. of this year. Microsoft holds 16.8 percent of the new company.

Pearson’s interest in the company is based on its interest to having “a more seamless and effective experience for students.” What exactly that means is unknown at this time.

To date it actually has been clear what the entire company will do as a whole. So far we have just seen a lot of money moving around, and a company name finally announced, but beyond that there hasn’t been much movement. Hopefully there will be some more details arriving in 2013.

NOOK Media Announces Strategic Investment by Pearson

New York, NY and London (Dec. 28, 2012) – NOOK Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE: BKS), the leading retailer of content, digital media and educational products, today announced that Pearson (NYSE: PSO), the world’s leading learning company, has agreed to make a strategic investment in NOOK Media, LLC. Pearson has agreed to invest $89.5 million in cash in NOOK Media, LLC at a post-money valuation of approximately $1.789 billion in exchange for preferred membership interests representing 5% equity stake. Following the closing of the transaction, Barnes & Noble will now own approximately 78.2% of the NOOK Media subsidiary and Microsoft, which also holds preferred membership interests, will own approximately 16.8%. Subject to certain conditions, Pearson will earn the option to purchase up to an additional five percent ownership in NOOK Media.

Pearson’s strategic investment in NOOK Media will accelerate customer access to digital content by pairing its leading expertise in online learning with NOOK Media’s expertise in online distribution and customer service. This will facilitate improved discovery of available digital content and services, as well as seamless access.

“We formed NOOK Media to be a leader in the exploding market for digital content,” said William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble, Inc. “Pearson is a forward thinking company similarly focused on reading and learning, with powerful assets and a terrific management team. We welcome their partnership in NOOK Media, and look forward to working with them and Microsoft to deliver great digital experiences for our shared customers.”

Will Ethridge, Chief Executive Officer of Pearson North America, said, “Pearson and Barnes & Noble have been valued partners for decades, and in recent years both have invested heavily and imaginatively to provide engaging and effective digital reading and learning experiences. This new agreement extends our partnership and deepens our commitment to provide better, easier experiences for our customers. With this investment we have entered into a commercial agreement with NOOK Media that will allow our two companies to work closely together in order to create a more seamless and effective experience for students. It is another example of our strategy of making our content and services broadly available to students and faculty through a wide range of distribution partners.”