Smart TV companies and streaming platforms track our viewing habits, spinning them into gold for retailers and politicians who want us to stream, shop, or vote a certain way. The market ballooned in the age of quarantine binge-watching. Now, a surprisingly public, surprisingly nasty spat between two key players, YouTube and Roku, offers a fascinating look at the billion-dollar market built on what we watch.
In early May, streaming provider Roku called YouTube parent Google an “unchecked monopolist,” after contract negotiations between the two broke down. The contract for including the YouTube TV app on Roku devices was expiring. The two companies negotiated terms for renewal, but Roku said Google made multiple anticompetitive demands.
In an email to users, Roku said Google asked it to manipulate consumer search results in favor of YouTube videos, that Google requested access to sensitive user data, and demanded that Roku use more expensive parts in its devices, which would drive up the cost.
Google countered by calling the accusations “baseless and false.” When Roku removed YouTube TV from its devices, Google presented a workaround by making YouTube TV accessible via the main YouTube app. YouTube TV offers live television and sporting events, marketing itself as an appealing alternative to those looking to cut the cord on a traditional cable box.
The feud revealed what’s most valuable about connected TVs: the data they capture and the ad dollars they generate. In 2020, connected TV advertising topped $ 9 billion, according to eMarketer.
Roughly three-quarters of US households have an internet-connected TV, either a smart TV or one connected to a plug-in device like Roku or Amazon Fire. This means millions of people across the US have agreed to some form of online tracking of their viewing behavior. This data is so valuable that the entire smart TV ecosystem revolves around its collection.
Roku has 50 million users and reported record 79 percent revenue growth during the pandemic, largely bolstered by advertising. Meanwhile, twice as many users watch YouTube on TV (either natively “smart” or equipped with a plug-in like Roku or Amazon Fire) than on a computer.
It’s pretty well known that YouTube keeps tabs on what its logged-in users watch, collecting data and using that to push more recommendations and fine-tune ads. That’s not dissimilar from what hardware providers call “post-purchase monetization,” the many ways in which companies make money from what you watch. Roku keeps tabs on what you watch, as do TV makers like Vizio, LG, and Samsung.
As with social media companies, more users means more data, means more ad revenue. Smart TVs and plug-in devices use a technique called ACR (automatic content recognition) to track everything you watch. From there, they infer certain things about you.
Does a user watch Nickelodeon often? They probably have kids. Do they watch the local news in the morning, but nothing in the afternoon? They’re probably an early riser who still travels to work. All this information is useful to advertisers, who want to put their message in front of the right person at just the right time.
Roku’s recent moves indicate that it plans to be more than a streaming provider. In 2019, it acquired DataXu, an analytics company specializing in linking an individual user to all the devices they use for streaming. Since then, Roku has rebranded the company and began highlighting its own ability to fine-tune targeted ads to specific audiences (single men who love hockey, young parents who support environmental causes, etc.) as they go from their TV to their tablet and so on.
President Biden is coming under fire for his attack on oil and gas once again as Canada pleads to keep the cross-border Great Lakes oil pipeline open.
Canada is battling against the state of Michigan to keep the cross-border pipeline open as calls to enhance the joint response to climate change seem to be at odds with the two countries’ oil industries. To create meaningful policy change towards clean energy the US and Canada must work together to support their oil and gas sectors while establishing a clear strategy for the eventual movement away from fossil fuels.
It is important to remember that the US relies heavily on Canada for much of its crude oil imports, consuming around 3.7 million barrels per day, or about 80% of Canada’s crude output. Also on rt.comCanada scrambles to save Keystone XL pipeline expansion before Biden administration scraps it
Line 5 is supposed to close by May 13, according to Michigan’s governor, to eliminate the risk of a major leak. As much as 540,000-bpd oil and natural gas liquids pass through this line, making it essential for oil transportation between the two countries. However, the 70-year-old pipeline presents an extreme environmental risk due to its age.
The pipeline currently provides energy to Michigan, Ontario and Quebec, to an area of around 40 million people, meaning the disruption caused by this closure would be significant.
This is the second major pipeline that has prompted a dispute between the US and Canada since President Biden came to office earlier this year. The first was the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project in January. The pipeline was expected to transport 800,000 bpd of crude between Alberta and refineries in the US.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed disappointment in this decision and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the decision a “gut punch” and an “insult”; threatening legal action to recover the $ 1.5 billion investment by Alberta for the project.
A significant proportion of jobs were lost in relation to the cancellation of Keystone, and the closing of line 5 threatens Canada’s oil and gas industry further.
Officials from both sides have been formally discussing the potential decommissioning of the pipeline for months, mostly in joint conversations over climate change and policy cohesion. Yet Canada seems to have received little response on the matter from the White House to date. Also on rt.comUS imports record volumes of Russian oil despite growing political tensions
If deemed necessary, Ottawa could go so far as to invoke the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty to stop the closure that would hinder the transit of Canadian oil. This would be the first case of this treaty being enacted.
Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan stated, “We have signaled very clearly that this is nonnegotiable,” In addition, “Line 5 is very different from Keystone XL and we fully support it, and we will defend it,” he said. “We made our case with Republicans as well as Democrats.”
Canadian Enbridge Inc. is instead suggesting that the infrastructure be updated to mitigate the potential for an oil spill by building a tunnel under Lake Michigan. The tunnel, Enbridge claims, would make vital oil transportation infrastructure safer, in line with Biden’s energy policy idea of ‘Build Back Better’. Enbridge is also criticising Michigan’s move as it will imply the need for thousands of long-haul vehicles to transport the oil that currently flows through the pipeline. Also on rt.comCanada’s oil heartland wants to make US pay for scrapped Keystone XL pipeline
If the pipeline closure goes ahead it will have a detrimental effect on Canada’s oil and gas industry, which has already taken a hit from the cancellation of Keystone. It will also imply the halting of vital oil and gas imports to the American market. The question is whether Biden will respond to Enbridge’s counter proposal to invest in the existing infrastructure to mitigate the risk of a spill without hindering oil transportation between the two countries.
Veteran pixel artist Henk Nieborg’s old-school throwback, Battle Axe, seeks to replicate the classic top-down hack and slash action of arcade classics such as Gauntlet, Knights of the Round and Golden Axe. With Nieborg himself on graphical duties and legendary composer Manami Matsumae (Mega Man, Final Fight, Shovel Knight) providing the soundtrack, this one certainly more than manages to nail the look and feel of its most obvious inspirations. However, a lack of content and modes, alongside tired gameplay that doesn’t mix things up in any interesting or surprising ways across a fairly brief running time, leaves this feeling like a rather lacklustre effort.
In Battle Axe players choose from one of three warriors, Rooney, Fae or Iolo and – in either solo or two-player local co-op – set out across the land of Mercia in order to rescue innocent locals who’ve been snatched away by the dastardly sorceress Etheldred and her hordes of evil minions. Split over four short levels, the game sees you blast through foes using your chosen fighter’s three unique combat abilities comprised of a weapon attack, ranged projectile and special move.
Rooney makes use of cannon balls for close quarters and ranged damage, for example, and can pull off a powerful charge dash that’s capable of wiping out multiple opponents at once. Fae wields twin blades, flings deadly daggers from distance and can zip in and around arenas at speed, whilst Iolo – our own favourite of the trio – can teleport, fire off powerful blue energy balls and get up close and personal with his…well his beard, for vicious hairy melee attacks.
On paper there certainly seems to be plenty of diversity in the move sets you’ve got at your disposal but, in all honesty, the moment-to-moment action doesn’t really pack in much variety. Regardless of warrior choice we found ourselves relying almost entirely on our ranged attacks in order to mill through the goblins, orcs and skeletons that stood in our way. On both hard mode – which the game defaults to when you first boot up – and easy difficulty setting, we just never found ourselves needing to mix up our tactics all that often, and this is mainly because the enemies don’t provide much in the way of a strategic challenge beyond the occasional mass pile on.
Indeed, for the most part here the threat presented by your foes consists almost entirely of them mindlessly charging in your general direction – with the exception of Mandragores, a few flying bugs and a handful of tower-bound baddies who stand off to use ranged attacks – and as a result the rhythm of Battle Axe’s combat feels seriously one-note. It’s definitely solid enough in the little it chooses to do, weapons feel satisfying and it looks and sounds fantastic, but it’s just not particularly interesting or exciting because it never steps out of its comfort zone. Of course you could argue it’s remaining faithful to the golden oldies that inspired it, but it feels as though this one needed a few more modern flourishes or a bigger injection of creativity in order to give its action a lift. What you’re doing here the minute the game kicks off is exactly what you’ll be doing by the time it ends, and it’s a shame.
There are the expected pick-ups to grab as you mill around levels – everybody loves a nice health-replenishing chicken dinner – but again this aspect feels somewhat undercooked, with just a health potion, a rather useless bomb and a spell scroll that blasts your surrounding area with fire to round out the available items. You can also gather gems and coins to shop at a merchant between stages, and this mechanic feels much more interesting as you decide whether to purchase a permanent health upgrade, extra shielding or maybe even a bomb or healing item to help propel you through the next area.
This weighing up of the pros and cons of picking between health items, upgrades or weapons – especially on hard mode where you need to complete an entire run without auto health refills between rounds – feels like the most interesting aspect of the game but, again, it doesn’t reach its full potential because the whole thing is over before it feels like it’s really gotten started; there just aren’t enough levels here to make you feel as though you’re properly up against it.
Yes, unfortunately, Battle Axe is a short experience, surprisingly short, in fact. For the rather hefty price tag involved here we really were fairly startled when we first came face to face with the final boss battle after around forty minutes of play (on easy mode), and once you’ve been through the four levels on offer here a few times there really isn’t a great deal to warrant many, if any, return trips. Yes, there’s a NG+ mode that switches things up a little, with mirrored level layouts, a few nasty surprises jumping out of chests and far more in the way of baddies making a beeline for the business end of Iolo’s bushy beard, but it’s just not enough to stop the whole thing feeling a little lacklustre and disappointing from a gameplay perspective.
Even switching things up to hard mode, once you’ve played through the handful of levels a few times and got a handle on where and when enemies appear, it doesn’t make for much of a difference in the challenge you’ll actually face beyond the game’s bosses flinging a handful of minions at you in a desperate attempt to up the ante. Speaking of bosses, the end of stage face-offs aren’t much to write home about either, requiring little more than spamming your ranged attack and moving out of the way of repetitive and easy to read projectiles. We had little to no trouble in getting past these encounters until we switched things up to NG+ where the game chooses to simply spawn an annoying number of bog-standard enemies into the mix, in a brute-force and rather slapdash effort to make things more difficult.
On a more positive note, as we’ve already mentioned, Battle Axe’s action does at least look and feel great, with Nieborg’s supreme pixel skills ensuring that every enemy you smack or thwack explodes in a satisfyingly violent manner, whilst characters are imbued with a really nice sense of weight and heft through the exquisitely detailed animations provided by the veteran artist.
It’s just a shame, then, that the gameplay couldn’t provide more in the way of surprises or thrills. Levels here feel quite underwhelming and pedestrian, a handful of simple short corridors and boxed off arenas with no set-piece moments, no mounts to ride around on à la Golden Axe, and no secrets, treasures or hidden paths to stumble upon. There are a handful of simple achievements to unlock for completionists and offline leaderboards to conquer but, besides this and that NG+ mode, you really aren’t looking at a lot of content to blast through.
With regards to this Switch port, we also had a few framerate issues mar our experience, with some considerable wobbles on a few occasions, most noticeably during the game’s one indoor section; that surprised us given the old-school nature of the graphics and gameplay here.
Overall then, Battle Axe is a very good-looking game, for sure, it’s got a fantastic soundtrack and its hack and slash action certainly isn’t the worst we’ve ever encountered, but it’s all just far too one-note. It plays things much too safe and is over way too quickly, making for a game that, especially for that rather premium price tag, is pretty hard to recommend.
Battle Axe is a good-looking homage to the classic hack and slash arcade efforts of yesteryear that’s dragged down by some fairly dull and repetitive action. It looks the part, sounds the part, nails the aesthetic and vibe that it’s going for completely, but then it drops the ball with regards to level design, enemy AI and in providing any sense of strategy or surprise during a short campaign that gives you very little reason to return once its done and dusted. If only it had a few twists and turns and a handful more levels, this one could have been well worth a playthrough but, as things stand, it’s pretty forgettable stuff.
Ashley Cain and wife Safiyya Vorajee are heartbroken over the tragic death of their 8-month-old baby girl Azaylia.
Our hearts go out to Ashley Cain, 30, and his wife Safiyya Vorajee, 34. The couple confirmed the tragic news that their 8-month-old Azaylia Diamond sadly passed away after learning she had “days to live.” The baby was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of Leukemia in October at just two months old, and has been receiving chemotherapy. “Rest In Paradise Princess,” Ashley wrote on Instagram on April 25. “I will always hold you in my heart until I can hold you again in heaven.”
Safiyya also shared a tribute to social media. “You are my Angel my heartbeat my soul,” she wrote. “RIP my precious baby, you will always be with me like a handprint on my heart.” The news comes after The Challenge star confirmed that chemo “is not working” on Azaylia, and that cancerous tumors were found throughout the baby’s body. “They think she’s only got one, two days to live — and it could even be that night,” he wrote on April 9, alongside a photo of his baby playing with a ball despite being attached to medical equipment. “Her disease is that aggressive that nothing they are doing … is working,” he said, explaining they were unable to do a spinal tap surgery “would kill her.”
While Ashley and his wife had intended to take the baby to Singapore for further treatment, they were told the doctors there would also be unable to treat Azalyia given how advanced her cancer is. “So, that means we’re going back home. We’re going back home and we’re gonna try and make our baby as comfortable as possible,” Cain said. “We’re gonna be strong, and we’re gonna go out with honor,” he confirmed.
Days before Azaylia’s death, Safiyya shared that the couple had castings made of the little girl’s feet via Instagram story to forever remember her. Ashley held the baby as the mold’s were applied to her feet in the emotional moment. Safiyya also shared a sweet video of the mother-daughter duo dancing to The Jungle Book‘s “I Wanna Be Like You” as a celebration of her 8 month birthday. “We get up and I give my girl 100%,” Safiyaa wrote in her caption. “We keep her filled with the same energy & love that she’s used to,” and “I only ever want you to see happiness and experience love,” she said.
Ashley also wrote a sweet tribute for Azaylia’s birthday. “Yesterday Azaylia returned home from hospital like the fearless little lioness that she is,” he penned. “I honestly thought @therock was my hero until I spent the last 8 months with you. You taught me how to be strong when I needed strength, you taught me how to smile when I am feeling sad, you taught me how to cherish every single moment – as these moments are all we have. You’ve been tenacious, fearless, courageous, positive, happy and loving through times which I thought would make it impossible!” he wrote. “You’ve given me the best 8 months of my life through the toughest of times. MY HERO 🙌🏾 I LOVE YOU,” he concluded.
“We both realise we are lucky to have found each other again.
“I am genuinely having fun again. I’m more confident than ever and I’ve got a fantastic man who makes me laugh every day.”
Jane also addressed their engagement, admitting in 2011: “This must be the longest courtship and engagement in history.
“We first met when most people in this country weren’t even born!
“Ed’s been so patient. He’s fantastic, adorable and we’re having such a great time together. We are not rushing to get married. I love this one more than I ever loved the others and I don’t want to jinx it.
“In any case, I can’t afford to get divorced again,” she quipped.
One commented: “Absolute nightmare @EamonnHolmes. I’ve problems with all my joints, really painful. Awaiting going back to the hospital again next month. Always worse at night. Sorry to hear your struggling too. I know it won’t fix anything, but sending you loads of love and a great big hug.”
Eamonn said he is usually in pain during the night, as he quizzed the person in question.
He asked: “Like me Night is Worse… why is that?”
They replied: “I have no idea, but it’s truly awful, isn’t it! So annoying, that, the time your meant to be resting and sleeping the pain is at its worse, so you’re unable to. How on earth does that work?”