Amazon Music Debuts Voice Feature to Customize Playlists

Amazon Music debuted a voice feature that lets Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music customers on Echo devices and in the Amazon Music iOS and Android apps converse with Alexa to find playlists and music for specific moods. The listener can identify songs by lyrics, among other features, and reject or “like” individual songs. Amazon’s overall aim is to allow each listener to create a more customized listening experience. Amazon is also in trials with a feature that allows Alexa Answers to be shared worldwide. Continue reading Amazon Music Debuts Voice Feature to Customize Playlists

Retailers Adopt Software, Chatbots to Hone Customer Service

To battle Amazon’s ubiquity and customers’ fickle loyalty, some retailers are testing the new Customer 360 software from Salesforce.com and Freshworks to improve their customer service. The software lets retailers build shopper profiles similar to Facebook to better understand what each customer wants and increase the odds that he or she will become more loyal to the retailer in question. Other strategies retailers are employing are the use of improved chatbots and better customer support training. Continue reading Retailers Adopt Software, Chatbots to Hone Customer Service

Instagram Star: What It Takes to Build and Maintain a Career

Instagram stars excel at making their beautiful lives seem effortless, but according to one such professional, Meghan Young, it’s harder than it looks. Social media influencers who go pro receive money from companies whose products they endorse. That such a career even exists is due to billions of users eager to consume aspirational content and advertisers eager to reach a young demographic. Marketing agency Mediakix estimates that companies will spend $1.6 billion this year on Instagram influencers alone. Continue reading Instagram Star: What It Takes to Build and Maintain a Career

AT&T to Roll Out Three Tiers of Streaming Service Next Year

AT&T announced it plans to introduce three tiers of a new streaming video service to launch in beta by the fourth quarter of 2019, although pricing and details have yet to be revealed. The WarnerMedia service, intended to take on Netflix and other streaming competitors, will offer movies and TV shows from Warner Bros., Turner and HBO. In the future, the unnamed service is expected to feature licensed content from additional media companies. The venture is part of AT&T’s larger plans to pursue areas outside of its core businesses following the company’s acquisition of Time Warner. Continue reading AT&T to Roll Out Three Tiers of Streaming Service Next Year

Microsoft Wins U.S. Army Contract to Produce AR Headsets

The U.S. Army has awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft to supply augmented reality system prototypes that it can deploy for training and combat missions. If successful, the contract could lead to Microsoft providing 100,000 headsets, which the Army says will be intended to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.” The U.S. Army and Israel Defense Forces have already used Microsoft’s HoloLens in training, but using it in live combat would be a new step. Continue reading Microsoft Wins U.S. Army Contract to Produce AR Headsets

Amazon Unveils Graviton, Its Own ARM Chips for Data Centers

In a surprise announcement, Amazon revealed that it is making its own chips, dubbed Graviton, for its cloud computing division. Similarly, Google also recently stated its plans to create chips for artificial intelligence algorithms in its data center. Amazon’s chips are likewise targeting its data centers, where the company hopes to better integrate software and hardware, resulting in less expensive services for customers. Typically, companies like Amazon and Google would use AMD or Intel’s off-the-shelf chips. Continue reading Amazon Unveils Graviton, Its Own ARM Chips for Data Centers

YouTube Plans to Offer Free, Ad-Supported Originals in 2019

In a strategy shift, Google-owned YouTube plans to make much of its original video programming available for free starting next year. YouTube Originals will be offered as free, ad-supported content, rather than exclusively available via the $11.99-per-month YouTube Premium subscription service (formerly called YouTube Red). YouTube will continue to greenlight scripted productions, but plans to scale back in order to focus on more mainstream celebrity-driven and creator-based reality offerings. YouTube refers to the new strategy of combining ad-supported and SVOD programming as “Single Slate.” Continue reading YouTube Plans to Offer Free, Ad-Supported Originals in 2019

Amazon On Track to Be a Bigger Player in Online Advertising

Amazon is poised to be an advertising behemoth, even as it dominates in online retail, handling almost half of all online sales in the U.S. The company currently holds the No. 3 spot in online advertising, behind Google and Facebook, with a mere 4 percent of the market. But Amazon is on a hiring binge for its advertising division, and, according to eMarketer, is on track to double its ad revenue this year to $5.83 billion. One source of tension is the fact that Amazon’s own products compete with retailers on its site. Continue reading Amazon On Track to Be a Bigger Player in Online Advertising

New Alexa Speaking Style Created by Neural Text-to-Speech

Amazon is training Alexa to speak like a newscaster, a feature that will roll out in a few weeks. The new speaking style is based on Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) developments. The new voice style doesn’t sound human, but does stress words as a TV or radio announcer would. Before creating this voice, Amazon did a survey that showed that users prefer this newscaster style when listening to articles. The new voice is also an example of “the next generation of speech synthesis,” based on machine learning. Continue reading New Alexa Speaking Style Created by Neural Text-to-Speech

With Free Hollywood Films, YouTube Evolves into TV Network

Last month, YouTube began showing free, ad-supported Hollywood movies including “The Terminator” and “Legally Blonde,” an offering it began to promote in the site’s movie section. Although users have been able to purchase prime-time TV shows and feature films there, this is the first time YouTube has offered a free, ad-supported option. YouTube director of product management Rohit Dhawan would not disclose the terms of the agreement with studios, but noted the movies represent an opportunity for users and advertisers. Continue reading With Free Hollywood Films, YouTube Evolves into TV Network

Apple Signs a Deal With A24 to Produce Indie Feature Films

Apple inked a multi-year partnership with studio A24 to make independent features, the first time that it expanded its ambitions to make content beyond TV programming. Last year, Apple announced it had committed $1 billion to create scripted shows, moving into a field dominated by Amazon and Netflix. Prior to the deal, Apple had only signed deals for two films, the documentary “The Elephant Queen” and family-friendly animated film “Wolfwalkers.” A24 is known for its Oscar-winning feature “Moonlight.” Continue reading Apple Signs a Deal With A24 to Produce Indie Feature Films

Mobile Use, Online Shopping and Video Spur Digital Ad Growth

A report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers shows marketers are spending considerably more on digital advertising due to an increased use of mobile devices, as well as online shopping and greater consumption of video, music and podcasts. Digital advertising ramped up 23 percent to $49.5 billion in the first half of 2018, from $40.3 billion during the same period in 2017. Of that, advertisers spent almost 63 percent ($30.9 billion) on mobile advertising in 2018, compared to 54 percent in 2017. Continue reading Mobile Use, Online Shopping and Video Spur Digital Ad Growth

Amazon Confirms Selection of New York and Virginia for HQ2

Seattle-based Amazon finally announced that it has selected two locations for its next major corporate outposts. Referring to the planned sites as headquarters, the company will eventually bring 25,000 employees to both Long Island City in Queens, New York and the Crystal City area in Arlington, Virginia, outside of Washington DC. Amazon also revealed plans to build a third facility in Nashville, Tennessee — an operations facility that will house 5,000 employees. The new headquarters are expected to cost $5 billion in construction and investments. Continue reading Amazon Confirms Selection of New York and Virginia for HQ2

Amazon, Apple Ink Deal to Directly Sell More Apple Products

Amazon inked a deal with Apple to sell more of the tech giant’s products, including the new iPad Pro, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, Apple Watch Series 4, and its Beats headphone line. Amazon will begin listing those products — from Apple-authorized resellers only — in the next few weeks in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and India. Before this deal, Amazon already directly sold MacBook laptops, Beats headphones and a few other Apple devices. Other products were only available through its third-party resellers. Continue reading Amazon, Apple Ink Deal to Directly Sell More Apple Products

Alibaba Breaks Singles Day Record, But Economy Is Slowing

A recently invented Chinese holiday, Singles Day, posted $1 billion in sales in 85 seconds on November 11, with a gala kickoff event headlined by singer Mariah Carey, model Miranda Kerr and basketball star Allen Iverson. For the holiday, the equivalent to our Black Friday, sales rose 27 percent, nonetheless the slowest annual increase in its 10 year history (last year sales rose 39 percent). Alibaba shares doubled in 2017 but this year are down 16 percent, the result of a slowing economy and U.S. trade tariffs. Continue reading Alibaba Breaks Singles Day Record, But Economy Is Slowing

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