Theater chains are terrified of MoviePass because of subscribers like me

I see a lot of movies. I moved to the Bay Area from New York nearly five years ago, knowing not a single person living in San Francisco, and I found going to the movies to be a solitary, almost meditative experience. Even as my friend group expanded, I kept up on the cherished cinematic ritual: the exorbitantly priced snacks, the ticket-taking and seat-selection process, the previews, and then the movie itself, with its sense of experiencing something new and unseen. There’s an antiquated sense of sacredness to a movie theater, and a theatrical experience only it can deliver.

Still, that experience isn’t cheap. In San Francisco, seeing two movies a month costs at least $25 — upward of $40 with any type of food. Three movies a month is nearly equivalent to four months of Netflix. MoviePass, the now suspiciously cheap subscription service from Netflix co-founder Mitch Lowe, is pretty much tailor-made for moviegoers like me. And theater chains, particularly AMC, are absolutely not on board.

I signed up in late August, and got my MoviePass card in early September. In the past three months, I’ve paid a little under $30 to see 14 films. The flat monthly fee freed up my budget to splurge on concessions, but even if I buy more food, I’m still coming out on top. The average movie in San Francisco costs about $12, nearly 50 percent higher than the national average. So seeing just one film a month with MoviePass more than covers the cost of the subscription fee.

For me, MoviePass has become a simultaneously dangerous and exhilarating experience. I feel like I have access to a dark secret: perhaps movies aren’t really worth what we’re told they’re worth. What if, instead of paying $12, you could always just pay $2 or $3, bundled into a monthly fee? I cherish the theater experience as an institution. But given the freedom to pay less for it, I can’t help but take the opportunity. It’s like the Napster era, when the sheer ease of music piracy made it tremendously tempting, except that I can enjoy MoviePass with a clean conscience. At least until the company decides it can’t sustain its pricing model, or chains reject the service entirely, or something larger and more systemic changes about the film business.

But MoviePass has fundamentally changed the value I put on movie tickets. This is why it’s so controversial for theater chains. At first blush, it may be difficult to understand why. MoviePass still pays theater chains full price for the tickets it passes on to its own customers. It also restricts users to standard screenings, so no IMAX or 3D, and most theaters don’t support online pre-purchasing, so you have to go in person to buy your ticket. Problem is, AMC and other chains have to worry about MoviePass going belly-up.

From the outside, that seems inevitable since if I see two movies a month in pricey San Francisco, I’m already costing MoviePass money. MoviePass is banking on some subscribers seeing only one movie per month, or none at all. It’s offsetting the higher cost of tickets in expensive urban areas with the lower cost in other parts of the country. It’s taking a loss in order to build a consumer base, and banking on collecting data about those consumers’ habits, and selling it down the road. AMC claims the company is planning to eventually leverage its base against theaters, and try to push movie prices down. But if none of these things happen on the scale the company hopes, MoviePass’ model is unsustainable.

MoviePass iPhone appMoviePass iPhone app

And the company is aware of the necessity of providing consistent data and keeping customers locked in. In November, MoviePass changed its terms of service to limit users’ ability to deactivate and reactivate the service at will, so they can’t limit their use to summers and the year-end holiday season. The company also offered an even more discounted rate if viewers were willing to pay upfront for a year.

The company is going through a boom period: MoviePass saw 150,000 new signups in just two days when it dropped its price back in August. But if it does go under, those subscribers will have to return to paying between $10 to $15 for a single ticket. After three months with the service, I don’t think I could do that. MoviePass changes almost everything about the theater experience, when the cost of entry is virtually zero.

Now I idly entertain the idea of seeing a movie every day after work, or when I have time to kill before meeting friends. I’m more willing to consider movies with subpar Rotten Tomatoes scores but otherwise appealing concepts, like The Foreigner and Murder on the Orient Express. I’m also more likely to consider films in genres I typically avoid. Now, nothing really gets in the way of going to the theater except how much free time I have. But once you’ve gotten something for what feels like free, it’s difficult to go back to paying for it. If MoviePass went away, I’d still reserve money and time to see one or two films a month, but I’d be more choosy than I used to be, and more reluctant about paying full price for tickets. I can imagine other subscribers writing off theaters until something similar to MoviePass pops up again — especially with so many other, cheaper entertainment options available.

The same struggle between the subscription model and the single-item model has played out with other entertainment industries lately. Fewer consumers are eager to buy physical CDs in the era of Spotify, or DVD box sets in the age of Netflix. Over the last five years, both physical music and digital download sales have shrunk, while streaming revenue has grown, overtaking physical media for the first time this year. This past summer also marked the moment when Netflix subscriptions surpassed those of all US cable providers combined. The film business and its players up and down the chain remain some of the few entertainment holdouts resisting the transition to “all you can consume” subscription models.

So MoviePass poses a kind of existential threat to theater owners, because its model devalues access to the theater experience. We pay so much money to sit in a theater, and for the right to drink an overpriced soda or eat a $10 tub of popcorn, because theaters have all decided on a ticket price customers must pay for the premium of that big screen and sound system. Theaters keep trying new things — comfy recliners, next-generation surround sound, laser-powered projectors, “4DX” screenings, and restaurant-quality dining options. But in the end, when theaters make money, or Hollywood manages to recoup its ever-growing film budgets, it’s because ticket prices have steadily risen over time. They’ve hit an all-time high in 2017, even as the number of moviegoers has declined.

Beyond conditioning consumers to expect absurdly low price-per-movie metrics, MoviePass takes pricing control out of theaters’ hands. Fewer people will want to see a $22 movie at a 3D IMAX theater when the standard 2D version costs 10 percent of that. By giving consumers a cheaper option — and as with all buffets, it becomes a progressively better value the more you use it — MoviePass is harming how much studios and exhibitors can control their own destiny. The price of a movie ticket, and the stranglehold on streaming and distribution rights, is at the core of the film industry’s livelihood.

There is a silver lining in MoviePass’ risky gamble. MoviePass may very well be unsustainable, even if it manages to partner with theaters for discounted tickets or food and drink deals, or if the long-term play to monetize its data bears fruit. That latter business model may need some kinks ironed out, because as it stands today, anybody with the card and mobile app login can use it. So friends and family members can share a MoviePass card just as they do with a Netflix or HBO Go login, spoiling the usage data MoviePass is banking on.

Yet at the end of the day, MoviePass is getting me and thousands of others to see more movies, sometimes regardless of what critics are saying. Movies have become such an overwrought affair these days, involving careful scrutiny over film and theater selection, because of how much tickets cost. Films that seem like required theatrical viewing are rare, given that the trip might cost a group of four upward of $75. It’s tempting to just wait for a new picture to hit Netflix, Amazon, or Redbox.

Yet subscription businesses have proved that, when given choice and freedom, people will consume more. The process of weaning consumers off one form of media consumption and directing them to another does take years. And there are always concerns over how artists and creators are being compensated in all-you-can-consume models, and how ambitious new projects are greenlit over safe franchises. Netflix and Spotify have proven the viability of media subscription models, but those models are evolving rapidly as the industry changes.

It’s not clear there is a way to build a movie theater subscription service that makes everyone happy. Even at $20 or $30 a month, it doesn’t seem viable so long as the rest of the economic chain of the film industry holds the line. But instead of criticizing MoviePass’ approach, or trying to prevent the service from taking off, the film industry should treat the service’s popularity as a learning experience.

Just as Netflix and other on-demand services have helped revolutionize the culture around media consumption, so could companies like MoviePass — with the right support structures in place, and perhaps a bit of compromising from consumers like me. Cinemark has already taken tentative steps toward creating its own subscription model. It doesn’t look particularly competitive, but it’s a first step. The film industry just needs to figure out how to meet moviegoers halfway.

Facebook says ‘passively consuming’ the News Feed will make you feel worse about yourself

Using Facebook without contributing, in the form of messages and comments on your friends’ posts, makes you feel bad, the company said today. In a remarkable blog post, citing both internal and academic research, the company said “in general, when people spend a lot of timepassively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.” At the same time, actively communicating with friends “is linked to improvements in well-being,” the company said.

The post was authored by the Facebook’s director of research, David Ginsberg, and Moira Burke, a research scientist at the company. It comes at the end of a year in which more people are questioning the effect of social media on society — and in which a growing number of high-ranking former employees have expressed regrets about the products they built at Facebook. The company has also been roiled by criticism that it failed to protect the platform against misuse by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election.

This week, former head of growth Chamath Palihapitiya caused a stir when he said he felt “tremendous guilt” about his time at Facebook. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he said. (Today he attempted to walk back his comments.)

Here’s the bad news about social media, the company said in its blog post:

In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.

But there’s good news as well, Facebook said:

On the other hand, actively interacting with people— especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness. The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online. Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network. Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.

It is important to note here that correlation and causation are different. It may be possible that happier interact more on Facebook, and people who are depressed interact less while they browse the News Feed.

But in an important way, Facebook has now acknowledged some of critics’ chief concerns about the platform — including that it can make users feel worse about themselves by inviting negative comparisons with the lives their friends are leading to their own.

The authors conclude that the solution is not to use Facebook less, but to use it more — and differently. “In sum, our research and other academic literature suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being,” they wrote.

They also outlined steps the company is taking to make Facebook a happier place, including improving the quality of the News Feed, allowing you to mute bothersome people for 30 days, and make it easier for you to hide posts from your former romantic partners. “We don’t have all the answers, but given the prominent role social media now plays in many people’s lives, we want to help elevate the conversation,” the company said.

Apple orders TV series from Battlestar Galactica creator

Apple has ordered a space drama from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, Deadline reports. Moore will write the currently untitled series, while Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi (Fargo) will serve as executive producers.

Moore’s show is predicated on the idea that the space race of the Cold War never ended, according to Deadline. It’s the third original scripted show to get a series order from Apple. Last month, Apple ordered the Steven Spielberg anthology series Amazing Stories, and a drama about a network morning show starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

Moore’s return to space drama is an exciting prospect for fans. He’s known not only for rebooting Battlestar Galactica, but also for his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He’s since worked on other genre shows, such as Syfy’s Helix, and Starz’s Outlander.

This summer, Apple announced it would invest $1 billion in original scripted content in 2018, hoping to compete with premium networks like HBO and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. In October, Netflix said it planned to spend a massive $8 billion next year to increase its original content output, while this year Hulu said it spent around $2.5 billion. Unlike its competitors, Apple up until now has mostly experimented with unscripted shows, like Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps.

Apple hasn’t announced a release date for any of its scripted series yet.

Microsoft is bundling PUBG with the Xbox One X

Getting battle royale sensation PUBG on the Xbox One was a major coup for Microsoft, and now the company is exploiting that by bundling the game with the Xbox One X over the holidays. According to the company, every purchase of the new 4K console between December 17th and the 31st will include a copy of PUBG(though the promotion is only available in select regions).

PUBG made its Xbox debut this week through the console’s “game preview” program, and while it’s clunkier than its PC counterpart, it still offers the same thrilling action — and, at least from a visual perspective, it appears to run better on the One X compared to the original Xbox One. Microsoft says that more than 1 million players purchased the game in its first 48 hours of availability; the original PC version, meanwhile, recently crossed the 20 million sales threshold.

The game is also set to expand very soon. December 20th will see the launch of PUBG’s much-anticipated second map, a desert-themed battleground called “Miramar.”

These eel-like creatures use their flaccid, squishy skin to survive shark attacks

Hagfish are jawless, eel-like creatures that are known to spray huge quantities of goo when attacked. Now, scientists have found another defense mechanism that protects these slimy monsters: their flaccid, squishy skin.

Researchers attached mako shark teeth to a guillotine to replicate how a real shark would bite down on a hagfish. The hagfish’s loose skin allowed the shark tooth to cut through skin but never through the underlying muscle. That allows hagfish to squish away, escaping shark attacks relatively unharmed, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Royal Society Interface.

Hagfish had their moment of fame earlier this year, when a truck transporting 7,500 pounds of the eel-like creatures tipped over, spreading unimaginable amounts of car-coating mucus all over an Oregon roadway. The slime is made of a sugar-coated protein called mucin and coiled-up spools of thread that are kind of like spider silk. When a hagfish is attacked, it releases the slimy mesh to protect itself. In fact, the goo clogs the gills of the predator, which then releases the hagfish to save its own dear life.

In a video published by researchers in 2011, a hagfish was observed spraying the slime onto a biting shark in New Zealand. The shark looks like it’s chocking on a cloud of snot, which allows the hagfish to swim away unscathed. So after seeing the video, a team of researchers in Canada and the US wanted to know: how exactly can hagfish survive shark attacks? “It was a weird observation that this animal could be bit by a shark and then swim away apparently unharmed except for one puncture mark,” says study co-author Sarah Boggett, a high school teacher and researcher at the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph.

Video: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

First, the researchers put hagfish skin — which has three layers and no scales — in a machine that pokes a pin through it to measure the force needed to puncture it. Compared to 21 other species of fish, like rainbow trout and great sculpin, the hagfish wasn’t found to have a particularly tough skin. But, the secret lay somewhere else: in how flabby the skin is.

Hagfish skin is attached to the animal’s body in only two spots: the middle of its back and its sides, where the slime glands are located. So Boggett injected a solution under the skin of several dead hagfish to check how much space there is between the body and the skin. The answer is mind-boggling: in Pacific hagfish, that extra space can contain about 46 percent of the animal’s own body volume. If you inject enough fluid so that the skin starts stretching and the hagfish starts leaking, you could fit over 100 percent of its body volume in there. That means you could essentially fit two hagfish within the skin of one.

The researchers then attached mako shark teeth to a custom-made guillotine, so that the teeth could be driven into dead hagfish with the same force they would in real life. The loose skin functioned as a flaccid, squishy armor: the fangs could puncture the skin but not the underlying muscles, reducing the damage of a shark bite.

So, mystery solved. Now we know that flabby skin isn’t bad for everyone. It can save lives.

ISPs won’t promise to treat all traffic equally after net neutrality

The FCC voted to put an end to net neutrality, giving internet providers free rein to deliver service at their own discretion. There’s really only one condition here: internet providers will have to disclose their policies regarding “network management practices, performance, and commercial terms.” So if ISPs want to block websites, throttle your connection, or charge certain websites more, they’ll have to admit it.

We’re still too far out to know exactly what disclosures all the big ISPs are going to make — the rules (or lack thereof) don’t actually go into effect for another few months — but many internet providers have been making statements throughout the year about their stance on net neutrality, which ought to give some idea of where they’ll land.

We reached out to 10 big or notable ISPs to see what their stances are on three core tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Not all of them answered, and the answers we did get are complicated.

Many ISPs say they support some or all of these core rules, but there’s a big caveat there: for six of the past seven years, there have been net neutrality rules in place at the FCC. That means all of the companies we checked with have had to abide by the no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization rules. It means that they can say, and be mostly correct in saying, that they’ve long followed those rules. But it is, on some level, because they’ve had to.

What actually matters is which policies ISPs say they’ll keep in the future, and few are making commitments about that. In fact, all of the companies we contacted (with the exception of Google) have supported the FCC’s plan to remove the current net neutrality rules. And one has to ask: if ISPs really plan to voluntarily follow those rules in the future, then why did they want to see them overturned? It’s clear that there must be some restrictions that we’ll ultimately see ISPs start to break.

In particular, none of the ISPs we contacted will make a commitment — or even a comment — on paid fast lanes and prioritization. And this is really where we expect to see problems: ISPs likely won’t go out and block large swaths of the web, but they may start to give subtle advantages to their own content and the content of their partners, slowly shaping who wins and loses online.

With that in mind, here’s what we know about some of the biggest internet providers’ plans for a world without net neutrality

Comcast

Comcast has an extremely brief page on its website dedicated to net neutrality, where the company makes three statements. The only important one is this: “We do not block, slow down, or discriminate against lawful content.” It’s a present-tense statement — not a promise — and has to be true because the current FCC rules require it.

In an email to The Verge, Comcast’s government communications SVP, Sena Fitzmaurice, said that the company’s business practices have “enshrined” these stances around lawful content. I asked if these commitments were guaranteed into the future, but didn’t receive a response.

Notably, Comcast doesn’t say much about paid prioritization either. It actually used to, but Comcast removed a line from its open internet site back in April saying that it doesn’t prioritize internet traffic or create paid fast lanes, suggesting it isn’t willing to make that part of its platform. The company has repeatedly reiterated that it does not offer paid fast lanes and currently has “no plans to do so,” but it hasn’t said that it never will.

Comcast also doesn’t have a public stance on zero-rating, something that’ll be increasingly important as the company puts data caps on its subscribers. Those data caps are high enough right now that it’s doubtful many subscribers will hit them, but that’s likely to change in the future as 4K video eats up more and more bandwidth.

Takeaway: Comcast says it currently doesn’t block, throttle content, or offer paid fast lanes, but hasn’t committed to not doing so in the future.

Disclosure: Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.

AT&T

AT&T actually makes some fairly specific commitments on net neutrality principles. On its network management page, the company says it “does not favor certain websites or internet applications” by blocking or throttling, except for security purposes.

More importantly, AT&T’s SVP of external and legislative affairs, Bob Quinn, wrote in a blog post that these policies are here to stay. “[These commitments] represent a guarantee to our customers that we will provide service in an open and transparent way,” Quinn wrote. “They have been, and will continue to be, enforceable commitments. We will not remove that language and we will continue to update any changes we make to our network management practices.”

So that’s actually pretty good as far as ISP commitments go. But it does leave out two things:

The first is zero-rating. AT&T actually explicitly says elsewhere that it thinks zero-rating is a good thing. The company’s EVP of regulatory and state external affairs, Joan Marsh, calls it “unambiguously beneficial to consumers.” AT&T already runs a zero-rating program, called Sponsored Data, and it’s obviously not going to stop.

The other question is around paid prioritization. Does AT&T’s no throttling commitment mean it won’t create fast and slow lanes? Probably not. While paid fast lanes effectively throttle whoever doesn’t pay, ISPs draw a distinction between the two practices. Which means that, like Comcast, paid prioritization remain a possibility, even if it’s not something AT&T is doing today. We’ve reached out on this point for clarification but haven’t heard back.

Takeaway: AT&T has committed to not blocking or throttling websites in the future. However, its stance around fast lanes is unclear.

Verizon

Like Comcast, Verizon has a website dedicated to explaining its stance on net neutrality principles. Unlike Comcast, it’s quite wordy — though it doesn’t actually say all that much.

Verizon seems to say it’s committed to not blocking legal content, though it does so in a roundabout way, writing that customers “can access and use the legal content, applications, and services of your choice, regardless of their source.” Verizon spokesperson Rich Young says that even after the rules are lifted, “our internet customers will continue to be able to go where they want and do what they want online.”

As for throttling, zero-rating, and paid prioritization, Verizon doesn’t have an answer. Verizon already offers zero-rated services (it runs a program with the obnoxious name “FreeBee Data 360,” which Verizon’s own Go90 service takes advantage of), so that one’s answered. That practice is likely to continue, if not expand to cover other Verizon content.

When it comes to throttling and paid prioritization, Verizon’s net neutrality page actually seems to hint that fast lanes could happen. Verizon says it plans to “innovate and create new services” and that when it does so, it’ll “disclose to you the characteristics, capabilities, and terms of our various service offerings.” We’ve reached out to Verizon for clarification.

Takeaway: Verizon indicates that, at least in the immediate future, it will not block legal content. As for throttling and fast lanes, the company has no stance, and even seems to be excited to use the absence of rules to its advantage.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is extremely vague on its commitments and declined to elaborate on them in emails to The Verge. The company’s existing network management page says that it “does not block lawful traffic based on content or subject,” which, again, is a legal requirement at this point in time. T-Mobile also published a statement yesterday saying, “we always have and will support an open internet,” though it doesn’t define what that means.

That’s really all we have. And T-Mobile is well-known for providing zero-rated services, which can advantage some apps over others. Binge On, for instance, lets customers stream some video services for free, but not others. While it covers a wide range of services, it doesn’t cover everything, meaning that some apps and sites necessarily have an advantage.

Takeaway: T-Mobile makes no commitments to not throttle content or offer paid fast lanes and is unclear on its commitment to not blocking sites and services. It’s already involved in programs that advantage some services over others.

Sprint

Sprint is fairly vague in its stance as well. Its website says that Sprint “does not block sites based on content or subject, unless the internet address hosts unlawful content or is blocked as part of an opted-in customer service.” So that generally seems to be a stance against blocking lawful content, with an exception for, say, parental controls. Though, again, this is legally required right now.

Aside from that, Sprint doesn’t comment on throttling, zero-rating, or paid prioritization. And in an email to The Verge, a Sprint spokesperson seemed to indicate that the company would take advantage of these changes, saying the absence of net neutrality rules “appears to allow Sprint to manage our network and differentiate our products.” That differentiation, presumably, being through services that couldn’t be offered before because they violated net neutrality.

When asked to clarify, a spokesperson said, “It would be a big leap to hypothesize that means limited or zero-rated plans.”

Takeaway: Sprint makes no commitments on net neutrality, but suggests it doesn’t have plans to offer a service that would block sites.

Charter (Spectrum)

Charter, which recently bought Time Warner Cable and became the United States’ second largest cable provider, says it has “no plans” to change its current practices. That’s not a commitment, but it is a sign that some basic policies should continue.

In an email to The Verge, a Charter spokesperson pointed to a recent statement saying that the company has “a longstanding commitment to an open internet.” Charter also says it doesn’t “block, throttle, or interfere with the lawful activities of our customers” or impose data caps or charge customers based on data usage. Those final items aren’t legal requirements, and the lack of data caps does mean that Charter can’t offer zero-rated services.

The company doesn’t say anything about paid prioritization, however. And Charter didn’t respond to a follow-up question on whether these are permanent positions.

Takeaway: Charter doesn’t make any guarantees, but the company indicates that it’s currently committed to not blocking or throttling customers.

Cox

Cox says that the FCC’s vote won’t change its commitments to net neutrality, which include not blocking or throttling customers. “Cox has always been committed to providing an open Internet experience for our customers, and reversing the classification of Internet services will not change our commitment,” a spokesperson said in an email to The Verge.

The company declined to elaborate beyond that comment. So Cox doesn’t have any stance on paid prioritization or zero-rating, which the company can implement because it employs data caps.

Takeaway: Cox says it won’t block or throttle content, even without net neutrality. It won’t make commitments on zero-rating or paid fast lanes.

Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink)

Altice, the parent company of Optimum and Suddenlink (as well as a number of foreign ISPs and internet companies), has next to no details available on its website. But in a comment emailed to The Verge, an Altice USA spokesperson said the company does “not block, throttle, or unfairly discriminate against lawful content and [is] committed to ongoing transparency with our customers on those policies.”

The statement seems to be saying that, while Altice doesn’t currently do these things, it’ll keep customers updated if its blocking and throttling policies change. That said, Altice also says it’s “committed to delivering … a superior broadband experience” and that “an open internet is critical” to providing that. It’s kind of roundabout, but it seems to indicate a general, if not all that specific, plan to stick to these policies.

Altice doesn’t mention anything about zero-rating or paid prioritization, though. And while Optimum doesn’t employ data caps, Suddenlink does, which could allow Altice to consider zero-rated services.

Takeaway: Altice doesn’t currently block or throttle and suggests it will keep those policies, though without an explicit commitment. The company doesn’t comment on prioritizing one service over another.

Google Fi and Google Fiber

You’d think Google’s two ISPs would be among the more progressive, but they’re actually among the quietest of the group. Neither Fi nor Fiber has a particularly detailed explanation on its website, and after multiple requests for comment, we only received one brief statement from a Google Fiber spokesperson, saying “The net neutrality order doesn’t change anything at Google Fiber — we don’t put any limitations on how you access or use the internet aside from the terms of service.” This does not say much.

On their websites, both Fi and Fiber indicate that they don’t block legal content. Fi writes that it is “committed to providing an excellent user experience that supports any lawful product, service, or application.” Fiber says it “does not prevent or impede the use of any other product or service” so long as it doesn’t violate the company’s terms of service. Fiber goes slightly further than Fi, also adding that it “does not favor or inhibit any applications or classes of applications,” aside from some basic network management.

While Google’s two internet providers don’t make clear net neutrality commitments, Google is the only company on this list not opposed to net neutrality (although it didn’t feel all that strongly about Title II). On a website earlier this year, the company wrote that allowing companies to block, throttle, and prioritize content would “threaten the innovation that makes the internet awesome.”

But none of those are commitments. And we were unable to even get a statement clarifying the existing positions at Google Fi.

Takeaway: Google doesn’t make any promises regarding throttling and paid prioritization. However, it is the only company to state that it believes paid prioritization would be harmful.

What’s in your bag, Dani Deahl?

What’s in Your Bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring Verge tech reporter Dani Deahl.

I didn’t realize how much stuff I carry with me until I had to unpack my bag for this piece. I’ve been a traveling DJ for over a decade and so I’ve learned, over time, the varying bits and pieces I need to account for the “what ifs” that can happen while at gigs, nightclubs, or festivals. DJ rule number one — always carry a USB, even if you’re not planning to DJ!

Aside from that, my setup is both functional and sentimental. Looking at everything, I think the way I curate my objects is so they serve a purpose, but also remind me of a memory. Tiny breadcrumbs of my travels and my life can be found throughout. Why have a regular-ass pen when I can have a pen I won with my husband in a Hong Kong arcade? I don’t get to see many of my friends often and there are times I’m away from home for long stretches, so it helps to carry pieces of both.

Ozuko owl backpack

I got this bag at the Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong a few years ago. My husband’s family is from Hong Kong and we travel there yearly to see them. The markets are always a necessary visit, and it helps that he speaks Cantonese and haggles for me. Owl bags became popular in the markets around this time and there were several lookalikes, but this one by Ozuko was my favorite. It’s starting to fall apart — I’ve re-sewn a couple of the interior pockets that have torn — but I’m not ready to let go of it yet. I know I likely won’t be able to replace it since it’s made by a Guangzhou-based wholesaler, so I’m trying to take care of it for as long as I can.

The pins are all pretty special to me. There’s one from Fake Shore Drive’s 10th anniversary event (yay, Chicago!), a Roland 808, one for a local party called Porn & Chicken, and one I got at Japanese toy store Rotofugi. On it, a little creature is sitting with ice cream that’s fallen off the cone and it says “no cry” — I adore it because this has happened to me as an adult. One summer I was having a horrible, no good, very bad day and decided to treat myself when I heard the ice cream truck come down my street. Just as the cone was handed to me from the window, the ice cream fell off with a splat. After a moment I couldn’t help but start to laugh. No cry.

13-INCH APPLE MACBOOK AIR (EARLY 2015)

Like near everyone else who has done a “What’s in your bag,” this is the laptop that was given to me when I started at The Verge. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like using the Air — I had always used varying sizes of MacBook Pros, but now, especially carrying it with me everywhere, I appreciate its slim, lightweight design. I’ve been converted.

Anker chargers and various cables

I carry both the Anker PowerCore II 20000 and a smaller, pocket-sized Anker PowerCore 5000. I travel a lot, so the PowerCore II 20000 stays in my backpack as a backup for long hauls, and then I generally slip the PowerCore 5000 in my jacket pocket if I know I’ll be out all night or at a festival. Earlier this year I went to Marrakech which took almost 24 hours over three flights and these chargers were a lifesaver. The cables are what they are. I like keeping them (and most collections of smaller things) in sunglass pouches — they’re the perfect size.

The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop

I forget who recommended this book to me, but it’s a monster that clocks in at 688 pages. It’s so physically large it takes up the bulk of my backpack space so when I got it, I kept finding excuses to not commit to reading it. I shelved it (I have all my books displayed at home on spine bookcases), but I kept eyeing the title every time I walked by. Recently I thought, “okay, you’re going to do this.” I’m glad I did.

The book follows the story of hip-hop from Harlem in the 1960s all the way through its current domination in mainstream and pop culture. The guy who wrote it, Dan Charnas, spent seven years working for Rick Rubin, and gives a true behind-the-scenes look at just how hard people had to work, not just at their craft as musicians, but at dismantling politics at play outside of the public view. In the chapter I’m on: “But even in 1984, the market for videos by black artists remained dismal, mainly because MTV, with few exceptions, refused to play their videos … The network was founded by men who came out of 1970s radio, when black artists had been jettisoned from FM stations with the rationale that the broadcasters’ white male target audience didn’t like soul and funk music.”

Random on-the-go bits

These sunglasses are the only pair I ever wear. They’re from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles — my family took me there for my birthday last year and they were an impulse buy in the gift shop. I’m really, really good at losing sunglasses so I bought two. The Go Cubes I totally stole from Natt Garun’s desk. They’re chewable coffee cubes and each one has 50 milligrams of caffeine. It’s not exactly fun to eat them — the cubes are bitter and don’t taste the best, but they do give me a slight boost. Now I keep a couple packs with me so I always have access to a pick-me-up no matter where I am.

The little robot was given to me by my husband. It’s the most adorable audio splitter there ever was! The head pops off to reveal an 1/8 jack and the eyes are inputs. We use it to watch movies together on flights, and it came in handy when I was visiting The Verge office, letting me noodle around with chained pieces of audio equipment without disturbing anyone. The V-Moda Zn in-ear headphones I keep as a backup pair. They don’t take up any space, they’re comfortable, and I like the way they sound. I really do prefer over-ear headphones, though.

As far as the remote phone camera trigger … a lot of my travel is done solo and it’s nice to be able to document where I go and not have it consist of a million selfies. This way I can actually set up shots. Great little tool.

Notebook and pens

I always like to carry a physical notebook, and recently bought this one. Buying a white notebook was a bold move for me — I have chunks of hot pink hair and the dye regularly gets transferred to my fingertips, which then gets transferred to whatever else I touch. I couldn’t help it though. I love this notebook’s clean, simple design, and the cover has a velveteen-like feel to it. The pens I got with ticket winnings in a Hong Kong arcade. I love the look on people’s faces when they ask to borrow a pen and I present them with these options. Whatever, they’re cute!

Health, wellness, and beauty supplies

This Domo bag was given to me by a friend who recently went to Thailand. It wound up being the perfect size to carry my makeup essentials. When you’re at all day / night festivals or going to an event straight from a flight, it’s good to have touch-up options. I’ve had to get ready for shows in venue restrooms without stopping at the hotel first. Adding to all my “just in case” scenarios is that little yellow egg. It’s a capsule from a toy vending machine and is the perfect size to carry my medicine essentials in case of headache, cold symptoms, upset stomach, anything! I’m such a rave mom. I’m also asthmatic, as you can see, and obsessively buy chapstick in bundles (chapstick is something else I somehow lose with great regularity).

Another gift from the husband are the kitty brass knuckles. Not only do they look badass, they’re a better and more effective alternative than keys between my fingers if I’m walking alone at night. I keep them in a slim pocket that rests against my back so I can reach back and grab them in a flash.

DJing and event necessities

All my music for DJing is on this Corsair Flash Voyager USB. It’s got a rubber housing and is built for “extreme performance” which is great because I need something that works even if I put it through hell. It’s gone through the wash, the dryer, been dropped, stepped on, had liquor spilled on it, and still works perfectly. I use the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless for DJing, a recent switch from the V-Moda M-100s I was using before. I beat those M-100s to the brink of dying over the course of hundreds of gigs. Though I have to be more careful with the Crossfade Wireless, I like that they have the same frequency response I was used to in the M-100s, and now I also have the freedom outside of DJing to use them for answering calls or listening via Bluetooth.

The rest of the items are more “just in case” odds and ends. Having a small industrial flashlight is great for looking for dropped items in clubs, or trying to find something in my bag. I buy foam earplugs in bulk, not just for myself at shows, but in case a friend needs them while we’re out.

Lastly, it may be a little weird I carry a handful of 1/8 to 14 headphone adapters, but, having spares has saved my butt many times. Also, I’ve seen many an artist realize at the last second they’re missing one and then I get to be a superhero. Once in the artist area at EDC Las Vegas, R3hab was running around asking for one of these adaptors in a panic. I pulled one out of my pocket and he looked at me like I was removing Excalibur. I think he still only knows me as “headphone adaptor girl” but it made me happy I could help him out! These things are cheap, but so valuable in the moment!

Tokens and memories

Okay, so some of these things I just forgot to take out. But, the obsidian and cicada pendant I deliberately keep with me. A friend gave me the pendant after traveling across Asia, and the cicada is meant to represent longevity and protection against backstabbers. The obsidian I found at the base of a volcano in Tequila, Mexico, and it supposedly helps to shield against negativity, resentment toward others, and anger. To be honest, I don’t know how much I believe in all that. But, I figure it can’t hurt, and they’re at the very least good reminders to work on myself in day-to-day life.

The Catcade flyer is from a new-ish cat cafe in Chicago that combines many things I love in life: cats, video games, and helping animals in need (all the cats are available for adoption). They also do cat yoga and blanket fort movie nights with cats, which means I have actually found heaven on Earth and it only requires a $15 donation. What a deal.

The ticket and the photo strip are from a recent night out when I went to the Aragon Theater to see a bunch of friends who were performing. I wound up staying much later than I had planned, and at the end, my friend Mija (one of the people on the bill) suggested going to Smart Bar. She lives in Los Angeles and had never been. Smart Bar is a legendary club that’s world renowned for its positive, inclusive culture and music curation, with no LED screens and no flashy lasers. It’s just a small, all-black box with low ceilings, tucked away in a basement. You go there to dance. So, I said fuck it, I’ll take you. We stayed up until 5AM getting sweaty to Hot Chip and now I have this photo strip that vaguely smells of sulfur to remember the night by.

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So long, AIM, we’ll miss you

AOL shut down AOL Instant Messenger, aka AIM, today after 20 years of existence. AOL announced the news in October, saying the service was no longer needed because people have new ways to communicate, and AIM isn’t part of our messaging diet.

“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed,” wrote Michael Albers, communications products VP at Oath (the Verizon behemoth that consumed AOL).

All good things come to an end. On Dec 15, we’ll bid farewell to AIM. Thank you to all our users! #AIMemorieshttps://t.co/b6cjR2tSuUpic.twitter.com/V09Fl7EPMx

— AIM (@aim) October 6, 2017

The shutdown was coming for awhile, especially after AOL revoked access to AIM from third-party chat clients in March.

Although I’m surprised AIM lasted this long and truly hadn’t thought much about the service since middle school, it still feels like the end of an era. I remember my dad making my first screen name in 5th grade, which I will absolutely not disclose because it’s horribly embarrassing. I also remember my first taste of “bot” conversations with SmarterChild. Those were unproductive, but bots are still around and a key part of Facebook Messenger. And Slack Statuses remind me of Away Messages, which truly were an art form — I wish I could dredge up some of my old ones. While the service is technically gone, we still have features from the past integrated into our current platforms. We won’t forget AIM.

Has your favorite film or TV show been ruined by sexual predators?

As Hollywood weeds out its many sexual predators, a number of films or TV shows have developed a slimy aftertaste. Do you think back fondly on media like Ocean’s 11 or Mad Men? Bad news. Both have men attached who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct. Wading through these which of these predators are attached to specific projects can be exhausting, but a new website called Rotten Apples aims to bear some of that burden.

It provides a database users can search to find out if cast members, screenwriters, executive producers, or directors on specific projects have been attached to sexual misconduct. If a movie or show has a known offender attached — like I Love You, Daddy (Louis C.K.), or Baby Driver (Kevin Spacey), the site will return the film marked “rotten apples” with a link to a news story. If it’s in the clear, it’s marked as “fresh apples.”

The database includes more than just current films. Searching for The Godfather (1972), for example, notes “rotten apple” Marlon Brando, while Shakespeare in Love (1998) returns Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Harvey Weinstein, and Bob Weinstein. The database won’t allow you to search by specific people, however, and It also doesn’t seem to include actors who have been accused of physical assault. Pirates of the Caribbean will return Rush, for example, but there’s no mention of Johnny Depp, whose ex Amber Heard has accused him of physical and verbal abuse.

In an interview with The New York Times, co-creator Annie Johnston told the publication that “every day, there’s more and more allegations that are coming to light, it’s really important that we don’t tune out and normalize this.” Co-creator Tal Wagman said it was meant as an informational tool to make “ethical media consumption decisions” and not as a condemnation of entire projects.

But the question of the degree to which a film or show is tainted by a known predator’s attachment is a complicated one at best. That line is easy to draw for projects that put sexual predators front and center, like House of Cards,anything featuring Casey Affleck or anything from Woody Allen’s troublingly long career as an award-winning filmmaker. But in the case of Harvey Weinstein and his sweeping presence over film during the last few decades, it gets a little more complicated. Should everything he touched be rejected outright, or can consumers vehemently disavow his involvement while still supporting the work of the women he abused in those projects?

Rotten Apples asks all of us to face an uncomfortable reality: where do we personally draw the line of separating art from the artists attached? Our power as consumers is tied directly to our wallets. Choosing where to exert that strength is a moral quandary without a clear answer.

The 15 best video games of 2017

A decade from now, there’s a good chance we’ll look back at 2017 as one of the best years ever for new game releases. Just think about it: some of the medium’s most iconic names — like Zelda, Mario, and Resident Evil — came roaring back to prominence, while new names like Horizon Zero Dawn and Cuphead forced their way into the spotlight.

From blockbuster to indie games, console and PC to mobile, the wealth of experiences on offer has been incredible. And narrowing down our favorites has been a lengthy task. But after a series of votes — and maybe a few arguments — we’ve settled on a list of the 15 best games of the year.

Cuphead

CupheadCuphead

Brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, who formed indie outfit Studio MDHR, captivated the industry when they first showed off Cuphead and its 1930’s cartoon-inspired art style in 2014. After an exhaustive development process lasting a total of seven years, the game came out to critical acclaim this fall, surpassing 1 million copies sold in its first two weeks. A run-and-gun platformer in the vein of classics like Gunstar Heroes, Cuphead earned a reputation not just for its Fleischer and Disney homages, but also its extreme, unforgiving difficulty. If you long for the punishing platforming mastery of Mega Man and Contra, this is the throwback for you. Just don’t expect it to be all fun and games. —Nick Statt

Destiny 2

No shooter has been as polarizing this year as Bungie’s Destiny 2. The sequel to the 2014 online-only title launched in September and has been embroiled in controversy since, with diehard fans constantly voicing their opinions on how to restore the magic of the original. Lost in all the heated debates is the game’s pure fun factor; Destiny remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing and gorgeously designed FPS games out there. In its attempts to make the game less of a slog, Bungie has created a more streamlined and accessible MMO-shooter hybrid. Destiny 2 still nails its specific niche with ease and offers fulfilling collaborative online play you rarely get outside the most demanding of PC games. —Nick Statt

Hidden Folks

Hidden FolksHidden Folks

It’s easy to dismiss Hidden Folks as a Where’s Waldo? for smartphones and tablets. But the puzzle game transcends its clear inspiration with almost impossibly detailed hand-drawn art and animations that make it a joy to keep playing. There’s a level of care that’s on display as you search the game’s sprawling levels, resulting in a relaxing and charming experience that, even hours later, is hard to put down. —Chaim Gartenberg

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero DawnHorizon Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games threw aside the gritty grey and orange of its Killzone series and surprised everyone with Horizon Zero Dawn, whose miles of lush, vibrant open-world terrain offered up some of the most stunning visuals of any game in 2017. The map is packed with quests and collectibles to hunt down, but the best parts of Horizon are the stories you make yourself. Getting tangled up with the varied robot animals that roam across the land on your adventure is just plain fun, and the huge toolbox of toys at your disposal means that there’s a range of ways to approach each situation. Horizon Zero Dawn charms, though, in moment-to-moment experiences: the sunrise over a glittering field of snow, the subtle animation of a rippling river, or the joy of taking on a gigantic robot T-rex the size of a small house. —Chaim Gartenberg

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildLegend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It’s hard to talk about the newest Zelda adventure without being effusive. It’s a game that pushes at the boundaries of what an open-world game can be, offering an unparalleled level of freedom for exploration while completely reinventing genre conventions like the typically cluttered maps or linear quest structure. And it does all of this while retaining the charm and fantasy that has made the series so beloved over the last three decades. Breath of the Wild isn’t just one of the grandest Zelda games ever, or one of 2017’s best releases — it’s also a game that will likely shape the open-world genre for years to come. —Andrew Webster

Monument Valley 2

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

How do you follow up one of the most beloved mobile games of all time? You double the characters, expand gameplay in new and interesting ways, and focus on a subtly told but moving story of a mother and her daughter. Monument Valley 2 does all that while maintaining the series’ distinctive, MC Escher-esque puzzles and impossible architecture. It’s a game that literally forces you to look at the world from a different perspective. —Chaim Gartenberg

Nier: Automata

Nier: AutomataNier: Automata

The sequel to cult classic Nier is a rarity amongst big-budget games: it doesn’t really care what you think of it. Sure, it offers pitch-perfect action and a beautifully realized post-apocalyptic world, but it does so while constantly messing with your expectations. It’s a game where the true story doesn’t begin until after your first playthrough, and where important bits of the narrative are buried in weapon descriptions. It’s strange and at times difficult to grasp. But that’s also what makes it so memorable. —Andrew Webster

Persona 5

Persona 5Persona 5

Persona 5 isn’t the kind of sequel that reinvents the wheel. It maintains the same basic structure as past entries in the series — you’re a high school student in Tokyo, balancing day-to-day life with saving the world — but it polishes the concept into perhaps its ideal form. The story is engrossing, with a cast of characters that you’ll grow exceedingly close to over the game’s daunting 100-hour run time. At the same time, it offers deep role-playing elements, turning battles into high-stakes strategic bouts. Plus, Persona 5 might be the only game that can make doing homework feel cool. —Andrew Webster

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PUBGPUBG

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds arrived in March and it didn’t take long for it to blow up. Better known as PUBG, the game is an evolution of the survival shooter mod scene on PC, combining the strongest elements of games like ARMA, DayZ, and H1Z1 into what might be the most exhilarating competitive multiplayer experience gaming has to offer. It’s just 100 players parachuting into an ever-shrinking battlefield, and the last person (or team) standing wins. The formula has spawned an entire industry of copycats, including the massively successful Fortnite, and it’s turned Twitch streamers into overnight celebrities. In the process, the game has catapulted Korean developer Bluehole and creator Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene to the forefront of the e-sports scene. —Nick Statt

Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7Resident Evil 7

The latest Resident Evil abandoned the series’ recent trigger happy, action-movie tone for a more back-to-basics spin on survival horror. Set in a decrepit mansion in backwoods Louisiana, you maneuver a walking nightmare in the confined, anxiety-inducing rooms and hallways of the house while stalked by a murderous family infected by an alien-like bacteria. Over time, the game expands beyond the house as players unravel a corporate conspiracy interwoven with traditional RE elements. It never lets up. A new first-person perspective combined with maddeningly tense pacing result in an experience scary enough to make you want to put the controller down — or turn the game off entirely. —Nick Statt

Sonic Mania

Sonic ManiaSonic Mania

Sega handed over the keys to the kingdom for Sonic over to a bunch of modders and fans, and the end result was Sonic Mania. It was a breath of fresh air for a series that desperately needed it. Featuring a mix of remixed levels from the original Sonic games alongside brilliant new stages, Sonic Mania looks and plays like your rose-tinted memories of the Genesis games, complete with silky smooth platforming, branching paths, and breakneck speed. It’ll help you remember why we all liked playing Sonic games in the first place. —Chaim Gartenberg

Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2Splatoon 2

2015’s Splatoon was one of Nintendo’s most daring releases, a family-friendly take on multiplayer shooters that eschewed blood and gore for colorful globs of ink. Think of it like Call of Duty crossed with a paintball match, starring teenage squid-human hybrids. Unfortunately, since it was on the ill-fated Wii U, few actually got to experience the game — something that finally changed with the a sequel on the Switch. The follow-up builds on what made the original so great, with new modes and weapons, and the flexibility offered by the tablet-like Switch. —Andrew Webster

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario OdysseySuper Mario OdysseyImage: Super Mario Odyssey

Nintendo’s latest 3D Mario adventure delivers all the tight, time-tested platforming the company does best, combined with a downright maniacal level of creativity and quirkiness. But what makes Odyssey truly special is how massive it is. The game contains 999 collectible “power moons” spread out across more than a dozen worlds, with nearly half of the collection unobtainable until after you beat the main story. Odyssey is as deep and rewarding as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and any Switch owner is doing themselves a disservice by not playing it. —Nick Statt

Universal Paperclips

Universal Paperclips starts out simple. You click a button, you make a paperclip. On the surface, it’s just another clicker game like Cookie Clicker or Spaceplan. But Universal Paperclips — designed to illustrate the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s “decision problem” for developing artificial intelligences — escalates quickly. And it keeps on doing that, adding new ideas, gameplay functions, and eventually, opening up to a breathtaking scale that dwarfs even the biggest games of 2017. And it somehow manages all of this in a web browser. —Chaim Gartenberg

Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 achieves something pretty remarkable — it’s simultaneously the best game in its long-running series, and also the perfect starting point for new players. It transports the series to glitzy 1980s Tokyo, and splits the story into two halves, letting you play as the grim series icon Kiryu, as well as the wild former yakuza Majima. Where the game really shines, though, is with its tone, seamlessly jumping back and forth between tense, dramatic moments, and silly side stories. Yakuza 0 is a game where a quest to prove your innocence can be derailed by a night out for karaoke. —Andrew Webster