UK regulators are scrutinizing a longstanding deal between Apple and Google over the default search engine in the iPhone maker’s mobile Safari browser, reports Reuters.
According to an updated report compiled by the UK government’s Competition and Markets Authority, Google pays Apple a “substantial majority” of the £1.2 billion (roughly $1.5 billion) it pays every year in the UK alone for so-called default positions, in other words when Google pays a company to make its search engine the go-to one in a browser or other platform.
The report says the deal creates a “significant barrier to entry and expansion” for Google competitors. The report also suggests either limiting Apple’s ability to monetize such deals or to give users a choice of search engine upon setup.
Regulators are now concerned this massive UK deal, which last year was 50 percent higher than what Google paid for US placement more than six years ago for a far more populous region, may stifle competition. Google competitors — though few, like Microsoft’s Bing and DuckDuckGo, actually remain — may not be in a position to pay such a large sum for prime placement on the default iPhone browser. Here’s the excerpt from the report, found on page 13, regarding the deal:
In search, Google has negotiated agreements with Apple and with many of the largest mobile phone manufacturers under which it pays a share of search advertising revenues to these partners in return for Google Search occupying the default search positions on the device. The scale of these payments is striking and demonstrates the value that Google places on these default positions. In 2019, Google paid around £1.2 billion in return for default positions in the UK alone, the substantial majority of which was paid to Apple for being the default on the Safari browser. Rival search engines to Google that we spoke to highlighted these default payments as one of the most significant factors inhibiting competition in the search market. Consumers primarily access the internet through mobile devices, which account for over two-thirds of general searches, a share which has grown substantially in recent years and is likely to continue to grow in the future.
Regulators in both the EU and the US are increasingly looking at Big Tech over concerns that the size and power Silicon Valley commands may be anticompetitive, although the EU has been far more aggressive with regards to actually enforcing such rules and levying fines. The EU has handed Google numerous multibillion-dollar fines over the last decade, and regulators are now looking into Apple over its management of the App Store and the fees it charges developers.
Microsoft is introducing a new Windows 10 Start menu design that will de-emphasize its Live Tiles. The software giant first hinted at the refreshed design earlier this year, and it’s arriving for Windows 10 testers today. “We are freshening up the Start menu with a more streamlined design that removes the solid color backplates behind the logos in the apps list and applies a uniform, partially transparent background to the tiles,” explains Microsoft in a blog post.
Essentially, the reduction in the color of the blocky tiled interface on the Start menu will simplify it slightly and make it easier to scan for the apps you use on a daily basis. It’s a subtle change, but it certainly makes the Start menu look a little less chaotic and avoids many tiles sharing a similar blue color.
Alongside an updated Start menu, the latest Windows 10 build includes some big changes to Alt-Tab. “Beginning with today’s build, all tabs open in Microsoft Edge will start appearing in Alt-Tab, not just the active one in each browser window,” explains Microsoft. This seems like a change that might be a little confusing for veteran Windows users, but Microsoft is thankfully allowing you to switch back to the classic Alt-Tab experience.
Microsoft experimented with Alt-Tab changes in Windows 10 builds in the past, back when the company was planning to add tabs to every app. There will likely be a lot of feedback around any Alt-Tab changes here, especially if Microsoft plans to turn this on by default when its next major Windows 10 update ships later this year.
Microsoft is also making some smaller changes with this new Windows 10 build. The default taskbar appearance will also now be more personalized with the Xbox app pinned for Xbox Live users or Your Phone pinned for Android users. This will be limited to new account creation on a PC or first login, so existing taskbar layouts will remain unchanged.
Notifications now include an X in the top right corner to allow you to quickly dismiss them, and Microsoft is also improving its Settings app in Windows 10. Links that would typically push you toward the system part of the legacy Control Panel system page will now direct you to the About page in Settings. This will now house the more advanced controls typically found in that system section of the Control Panel, and Microsoft is promising “there will be more improvements coming that will further bring Settings closer to Control Panel.”
Even a favorite stay-at-home activity like watching TV can get lonely sometimes, especially if you’re used to hanging out with your friends and watching together. Although you can stream and text, FaceTime, or share your screen on Zoom, sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. If you’re looking for a way to make your social-distancing series binge more, well, social, there are browser extensions that let you host watch parties digitally.
Here are several apps you can use to host movie nights with friends online, along with step-by-step instructions on how to start watching.
To use these apps, you will need your own subscription for each service, and everyone watching will have to be signed onto their own account. These extensions work on top of your existing subscription to sync the videos with your friends — they don’t provide non-subscribers with a free viewing.
Netflix Party syncs up your streams with those of your friends and adds a live chat on one side of the screen. The app is only for use with Netflix and is only available for Chrome.
The Netflix Party extension icon next to your address bar should change from gray to red. Click on it.
A window will pop up instructing you to “Create a Netflix Party.” You have the option to either give yourself total control over the playback or leave it open to everyone. Click “Start the party.”
Another window will pop up with a link. Click “Copy URL” and share it with your friends. If you need to, you can find this link again by clicking the Netflix Party extension icon.
Netflix Party will automatically give you an icon. By clicking on the icon, you can change it (there are a few alternatives) as well as your nickname.
To join an existing Netflix Party:
Click on the link.
Click on the Netflix Party icon.
Amazon Prime Video now has a Watch Party app for many (but not all) Prime videos. Up to 100 people can watch at once; all participants must be Prime members. Currently, it is only available on desktop and not supported for Safari and Internet Explorer browsers. In this beta version, only the host can pause, fast forward, or rewind.
To host an Amazon Watch Party:
Go to the detail page of your chosen video and look for the “Watch Party” button next to the “Watchlist” button. If it’s there, you’re golden; click on the button.
In the right-hand column, decide what name you want to use within the chat and enter it. Click on “Create Watch Party.”
The video will be in the center; on the right will be your chat area and settings tab. Under settings, you can copy and share your Watch Party link or end the party.
To join an Amazon Watch Party:
Click on the link your friend sent you.
You’ll be redirected to Prime Video and will be asked to enter a username. Once you’ve done that, click “Join Watch Party.”
Metastream allows you to live chat while watching videos on a range of platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Twitch, and Crunchyroll (Metastream will open Netflix in a separate window). The app is still in beta, so there are some kinks — for example, we experienced some issues using it with Hulu on Chrome; Metastream recommends using Firefox when watching Hulu, which worked better when we tried it.
To host a Metastream watch party:
Download the extension for Firefox or Chrome. The extension will be able to read and change data on websites you visit.
Click the “Invite” button on the left to get a link to share; click “Copy” and send it to your friends. In the same window, you can also make the session public, private, or offline, and change the number of users allowed (you can have an unlimited number of users). Close out of that window.
Your friends will click on that link to join the session. When they join, you’ll see a box on the left with your name and theirs; you’ll have to click the green check mark by their name to let them in. To grant them permission to add videos and change playback, click on the three dots next to their name and then click “Toggle DJ.”
The Metastream screen can be a little busy. You can make things clearer by setting up your chat to play on the right-hand side. Click the three dots on the far right of the bar at the bottom of the home screen. Click the “Chat” button. When the chat window opens, click the rectangle icon in the top right corner of that window.
If you click on the cog icon, you can pick an avatar and change your username.
To watch something, you have a few options. Click the “Add Media” button in the center of the main screen and then you can either:
Paste the URL for the video in the bar either at the top or the bottom of the screen and then click “Add to Session.”
Click one of the video sources in the middle of the screen. That will take you to the home screen for that source. Find the video you want, then click the “Add to Session” button in the top right corner.
Doing either of these things will put that video in a queue, so you can set up a list of things you want to watch.
Scener lets you video chat with your friends while watching Netflix, HBO Now, HBO Go (it does not currently support HBO Max), Disney Plus, or Vimeo; there’s also a text chat function. Previously, you could only use Scener with the primary profile for your Netflix account, but since the app was updated, you can now use it from any of your Netflix profiles.
To use Scener:
Download the Chrome extension. The extension will ask for permission to read and change your data on Netflix and Scener, show notifications, and “communicate with cooperating websites.”
Open the app by clicking on the extension’s icon (to the right of the Chrome address bar). If you can’t see it, click on the puzzle icon and you can access it from there.
This will open up a window, along with a sidebar, which will lead you through setting up a watch party. Click “Create a theater” in the sidebar.
You can choose to create either a private theater with up to 10 people, but everyone must be invited, or you can host a public theater with up to 10 hosts (with audio and video) and unlimited people watching (with access only to the text chat function). Make your selection (let’s say you want to create a private theater) and then click “Create.”
You’ll get a window asking you to make an account. Click the “Create Account” button or if you have an account, click the button which says, “Already have an account? Log in here.”
Enter in a username, email, and password to create your Scener account.
You’ll get a notice explaining how Scener works. Click “Next.”
Select the streaming service you want to use. Then, sign into that service.
Click on the button with a camera icon which says “enable” to turn on your camera.
This will open up a pop-up window. Click “Allow camera and mic.” You may get another window recommending you use headphones. Click “Got it” at the bottom of the newer window, and then “All done” in the first pop-up. (You may get that headphone window again — just click on “Got it.”)
If you hover over your video window, you’ll see small camera and microphone icons. Click on those to toggle your video or audio on and off.
Scener will give you the option to share either a link or a code with your friends. Click the “Copy invite link” button to get the link and send it to friends.
If they don’t already have Scener, the link will send them to a page with a download link. They’ll have to install the extension, create an account, sign into the service, enable audio and video, and then they’ll be added to your theater.
If they already have Scener, just send them the code and they can enter that via the app extension to join your theater.
Select a show or movie and click on the play button to start watching.
Scener has a virtual remote control you can pass to and from your friends. Whoever has it gets to control what everyone is watching; they can also rewind, pause, and play the movie or TV show — in other words, it acts like an actual remote control. To “pass” the remote, hover over your video window until a remote button appears. Click on that and then select who to pass it to in the pop-up window.
TwoSeven also has a video chat feature, but it supports more services. In addition to Netflix, you can use it to watch Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now, YouTube, and Vimeo. If you pay the subscription fee, you can also use the app with Hulu and Disney Plus. The subscription prices range from $5 to $20 a month, but because of COVID-19, TwoSeven is offering all of those paid features for $3 a month.
To host a TwoSeven watch party:
Download the extension for Firefoxor Chrome. The extension will request permission to show notifications and read and change data on websites you visit.
Create an account by clicking on the extension icon and going to the site. You will have to confirm your email.
Click on the TwoSeven icon next to the address bar, then click “Go to twoseven.xyz”
Click “Get Started.” Here you can change your avatar and username by clicking on the icon in the top right corner, to the right of the cog icon. Select “Account” to access your profile settings.
Click “Start Watching.”
You’ll get a pop-up window that lets you create a private room. Check the boxes to allow the other participants to have webcam and mic access or to only allow admins to control playback. If you’ve already added friends on TwoSeven, you can add them to your room here. Make your selection and then click “Just Me.”
Click on the icon in the top right corner which has two people and a plus sign. Click on “Copy Link” and share that link with friends. Once you do, they’ll be added to the watch session.
Click on the camera and microphone icons on the right-hand side of the screen to enable video and audio.
There is also a live chat feature at the bottom of the screen. Click on “Messages” in the lower right-hand corner to open it.
Click on the button for your chosen video source at the top of the screen. For Netflix, this will take you to your account’s home screen and you can click on a movie or show there to start watching. To watch YouTube videos, you’ll have to paste in the URLs.
Once you add someone to the watch session via a link, you can add them as a friend to make it easier to include them in future watch sessions.
To do that:
Click the icon with two people (not the one with the plus sign).
Find their name and click the icon with a person and a plus sign. This will send them a friend request; they will need to accept it.
When you receive a friend request, you can accept it by going to the TwoSeven homepage (if you have an existing watch session open, make sure to open it in a different tab otherwise you’ll leave the session). Any friend requests should appear on the right-hand side under “Pending Requests.” Click on the green check mark to accept.
Hulu’s ad-free plans now allow you to host a virtual watch party for up to eight people using live text chat within the service. While the feature is available with the (ad-free) Live TV plan, you can’t use the Watch Party feature for Live TV content or for content from premium add-ons. You can join from your own profile, which means that multiple people on the same account can use the Watch Party feature together. Users under 18 years of age aren’t allowed to join.
Open up Hulu.com. Make sure you’re using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.
Find a movie or show to watch. Not every video is available to watch using Watch Party. You can check if a title is compatible with the feature by looking for an icon showing three people in it on the Details page, next to “Start Watching.”
Once you’re on the Details page, click on the Watch Party icon.
Click “Start the Party” in the pop-up window.
Click on the link icon to copy the link and send it to others so they can join your watch party (as long as they have an ad-free plan and are 18 years of age or older).
When you’re ready, click “Start Party.” To add people later, you can click on the link icon in the top right corner of the chat bar.
After they follow the link, your guests will log in and will see a message acknowledging they’ve been invited to a watch party. They can click “Join the Party” to watch with you.
If you or your friends are out of sync, a blue button at the top of the chat bar labeled “Click to catch up” can be used to sync up your video.
Update July 1st, 5:04PM ET: This article was originally published on March 25th, 2020; it has been updated to include two new apps and to update several of the entries.
YouTube TV announced yesterday that it’d be raising its prices by 30 percent to $65 per month. FuboTV followed shortly after, announcing increases of its own that put the lowest tier of the service at $60. The first era of internet-streamed TV — the one of cheap, innovative cable alternatives — is over, and what comes next is going to look a whole lot more like the traditional cable services it promised to replace… with prices to match.
Over-the-top internet TV services were supposed to save us from the limited bundles and expensive prices of traditional cable. Big internet companies like Google, PlayStation, and Hulu swooped in to rescue consumers from the archaic TV services of Comcast and AT&T, with better apps and rock-bottom pricing that seemed almost too good to be true.
Turns out, it was.
The latest round of price increases are not without precedent. Prices for every major streaming service have been steadily increasing over the past few years in leaps and bounds as services have added more channels or faced the harsh realities of rising carriage fees for the ones they already offer.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how we got here. Take YouTube TV, for example, which started out in 2017 at $35 per month, offering access to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and roughly 35 cable channels. In 2018, the price went up to $40 per month, as YouTube had to pay to cover the addition of new channels from WarnerMedia like TBS, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network. The price went up again to $50 in 2019 as YouTube TV added Discovery’s lineup of channels, and once again this week to $65 with the addition of ViacomCBS networks.
Or take PlayStation Vue, which offered its lowest-tier plan for $30 per month, tried to raise prices over time to cover costs, but eventually had to shut down entirely last year due to the “expensive content and network deals” of the pay TV industry.
Between traditional cable and internet services, there’s more TV competition than ever. But instead of the internet services working to drive prices down by offering better alternatives to cable at a lower price, prices have steadily gone up over the past few years.
The problem lies in the fact that all of these companies — internet TV and cable alike — aren’t really fighting with each other to keep prices down. They’re fighting with content providers like ViacomCBS, Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, Fox Corporation, and Discovery, which license out the rights to air their channels to cable providers like Verizon and YouTube TV. And they do not like to license their content cheaply.
YouTube TV, Fubo, Hulu, and the rest may want to offer their original low prices, but they’re at the mercy of carriage fees. The competition that matters isn’t what YouTube and Hulu charge — or even what Optimum and Verizon FiOS charge — but what ViacomCBS’s and Disney’s licensed content costs.
When cable providers and carriers do disagree on prices (carriage disputes), providers generally have very little recourse in fighting back, short of refusing to carry those stations at all in a corporate game of chicken where consumers always lose.
So even as the number of TV services has shot up, the number of major channel owners has become more and more consolidated over the years through acquisitions and mergers. As a result, there’s less and less competition where it counts: on the carrier side that sets the prices.
Streaming services were able to avoid this for a time at the start: those enticingly low price tags were from a time when carriage fees were lower, and companies like Google or Sony could afford to run their services at lower rates of return while they built up a customer base. But as time has gone on, the harsh reality has been that it’s nearly impossible to actually offer those prices long term.
Compounding the problem is that carriers also don’t like splitting up their content. If you’re WarnerMedia, you’d prefer that Hulu and Google pay for all your channels, not just the two or three that they want to offer, which means that those companies in turn have to charge consumers with extra costs.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to select the channels you wanted off a checklist and just pay for those specific channels. And while some streaming services have managed to offer a la carte TV — most notably, Sling TV, which divides its basic packages into Sling Blue and Sling Orange groups with different lineups — even those are effectively the same as regular cable bundles.
For the most part, streaming TV services have been unable to negotiate their way out of the bundle system that’s dominated regular cable for years. YouTube TV has added more channels with each price increase over the years, but they’ve been mandatory additions: there’s no way to opt out of the new ViacomCBS channels and pay a lower price. Everyone is paying for channels they don’t want, as carriers leverage in-demand content to bundle the channels people do want.
It’s not the end of the line for streaming services, though, despite the fact that they’ve been forced into the same content and price model as their traditional competitors. Internet streaming still offers plenty of benefits to help compete with regular cable. It’s far easier to start and stop anytime, so you can just subscribe when your favorite shows or sports seasons are happening. They work on a wide range of devices and don’t require any outdated cable boxes to use. And they can be watched from anywhere with an internet connection, as opposed to requiring hardwired cable lines. Internet services also tend to have better user interfaces and are more equipped to deal with modern perks like built-in DVRs or personalized recommendations.
But for all that, it doesn’t change the fact that all of the internet TV services are still forced to rely on the same expensive carrier fee system that regular cable does. The only real change is that now the prices are starting to reflect that.
One day after YouTube TV announced a $15 price hike that had customers crying out “enough already,” Dish’s Sling TV service is promising that it won’t raise prices on existing customers until at least August 2021. The company seems keen on using the frustration toward YouTube to help boost its own subscriptions; this offer is extended to anyone who signs up for Sling by August 1st and maintains service. (That, of course, leaves open the possibility that new customers who come on board after August 1st will start off with higher pricing…)
Right now, Sling’s two channel tiers, Sling Blue and Sling Orange, each cost $30. You can get them individually if only one covers the channels you want, or get both for $45 monthly for maximum programming options.
Sling also takes a shot at YouTube TV’s timing, saying in its blog post that “we believe now is not the time to make our customers choose between staying informed and entertained, and putting dinner on the table.” Ouch. The company says it hopes the yearlong guarantee “will bring a sense of much needed stability in a time that feels uncertain to us all.”
YouTube TV said its sharp price increase is a reflection of a growing slate of channels, including recent additions from ViacomCBS like Comedy Central, BET, and MTV that had been absent from the service until now. The company acknowledged that it expects some subscribers will cancel now that they’ll have to pay more for channels they might have no interest in. Alas, there’s no way for existing customers to keep paying the same price for the previous channel package. Everyone moves to the same plan, and YouTube TV has refrained from offering tiered channel bundles like some other services.
There was one small nugget of good news in YouTube’s announcement: the company said it’s “working to build new flexible models for YouTube TV users,” but it didn’t have any details to share on what that might look like. Channel owners have steadfastly refused to let the idea of a la carte TV channel subscriptions make any real headway. There’s no getting the channels you want without a serving of bland extras tossed into the mix.
And the hits just keep coming. FuboTV is now more expensive, and you’ve got to jump through some customer service hoops if you want to pay the lowest price. And now, AT&T TV has raised the introductory, first-12-months pricing for its various channel packages. As noted by NextTV, the base “entertainment” package is being raised by $10; it’s now $60. The “choice” middle option plan is now $65. The “xtra” and “ultimate” packages are each going up by $10, so they’ll now cost $75 and $80, respectively.
The significantly higher prices that AT&T TV customers will pay after the promo period haven’t changed, however. Also, keep in mind that this service differs from others in that you’re subject to a contract and early termination fees. AT&T TV nets you some of the benefits of the other streaming TV services, but it still carries some cable baggage.
Disney’s ESPN Plus service will undergo a $1 price bump this summer, as my colleague Julia Alexander reported yesterday. So far, the company hasn’t made any immediate adjustments to the pricing of Hulu with Live TV.
Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple is joining forces with big logistics providers as it seeks to bolster its delivery capabilities. The company announced it will be working with UPS, Xpress Enterprises, Penske Trucking, and Berkshire Hathaway-owned grocery and food-service distributor McLane to lay the foundation for a coast-to-coast autonomous trucking network.
TuSimple aims to be making nearly 100 delivery runs a week, doubling its current number of freight hauls, but the ramp-up will take place over the next four years. The company will start by building on its existing partnership with UPS hauling cargo for it between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, adding cities in Texas like El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. This fall, TuSimple says it will open a new shipping terminal in Dallas, allowing the self-driving truck company to service customers in the “Texas triangle.”
Starting in 2022, TuSimple says it will connect the East Coast with the West by offering service between Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida. And by 2023, the company will expand operations nationwide by adding major shipping routes throughout the lower 48 states. If all goes well, TuSimple claims it will eventually expand operations to Europe and China.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” said Cheng Lu, TuSimple’s president, in a statement.
Founded in 2015, TuSimple uses Navistar trucks outfitted with the startup’s own self-driving tech, which sees the world largely through nine cameras. The company also uses LIDAR, as can be seen in this promotional video:
The startup is already backed by Nvidia and Chinese technology company Sina, and it has a headquarters in San Diego and Beijing. UPS also has a minority stake in the company. But expansions take money — lots of money. Last week, TechCrunch reported that TuSimple hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise an additional $250 million from investors. Since its inception, the company has raised $298 million with a valuation of more than $1 billion.
TuSimple is aiming for a fully driverless system, but currently its trucks include a human operator to take over driving when needed.
Autonomous trucking is starting to emerge from the shadow of the much larger robotaxi industry, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast doubt on the efficacy of shared ride-hailing. Alphabet’s Waymo has been testing its self-driving tractor trailers in Georgia and Texas, and it’s also working with UPS. Other companies, from established players like Daimler to newcomers like Ike, Embark, and Plus.ai, are also working toward a fully driverless truck.
Zoom committed to sharing its first transparency report later this year in a blog by CEO Eric Yuan tracking the progress of its 90-day feature freeze to address privacy and security issues. The freeze, which was announced on April 1st, was put in place after Zoom usage went up dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed numerous privacy and security flaws in the videoconferencing software.
“We have made significant progress defining the framework and approach for a transparency report that details information related to requests Zoom receives for data, records, or content,” said Yuan in today’s blog. “We look forward to providing the fiscal Q2 data in our first report later this year.” A Zoom spokesperson declined to comment when asked for more detail about the planned release timeline.
In his blog, Yuan also pointed to a recently created guide detailing how the company responds to government requests for Zoom data, the types of data that Zoom collects, the company’s data retention practices, and more. Zoom has also updated its privacy policies, “mostly to make them easier to understand,” according to Yuan, and it created a separate California Privacy Rights Statement section in those policies.
Zoom has come under scrutiny for how it has handled requests for data in the past. Recently, the company suspended one account in Hong Kong and two in the US for hosting meetings commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre after the Chinese government informed Zoom of the meetings. Zoom later reinstated the accounts and said it was developing technology that would let the company remove or block individual participants based on geography. That technology, had it been available, may have allowed Zoom to block participants from mainland China from attending the meetings instead of shutting down the entire meeting.
The advocacy group Access Now wrote an open letter calling on Zoom to release a transparency report on March 19th, but it criticized the company’s decision announced today to publish a report later this year.
“Though it is commendable that Zoom has taken steps over the last 90 days to update some of its security and privacy practices, the decision to delay the transparency report signals that Zoom does not prioritize reporting,” said Isedua Oribhabor, a US policy analyst for Access Now, in a statement to The Verge. “The pressure that Zoom has faced from the Chinese government to restrict accounts underscores just why a transparency report is essential — without it, users have no insight into the extent of government interference with their accounts and data or the steps Zoom takes to push back.”
It’s been three years since Search Party last aired on TBS, where tragically few people watched it. An immediate cult hit, Search Party won ardent fans across its brief two-season run by being an unexpected mix of thriller and satire. The series was a bait-and-switch: it begins with a mystery about a missing woman, but mostly used that in the service of a withering takedown of white millennial life. Now, the show has returned with a third season on a new platform, HBO Max, where it is one of the few must-watch original series and a terrific weekend binge.
In its new third season, now available to stream in its entirety, Search Party gets meaner than ever while maintaining the relentless pacing of both thrills and comedy. This remains as impressive a high-wire act now as it was in 2016, especially given how season 3 picks up the story immediately after the end of season 2.
(Spoilers for the first two seasons follow.)
Search Party always seemed like an unlikely candidate for a seasons-long run. It begins as a story about obsession — Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) is a young twenty-something New Yorker who, caught in a spell of generational malaise, becomes increasingly interested in the disappearance of Chantal Witherbottom, a college acquaintance she barely knew. Across 10 episodes, Dory and her circle of friends — her nice guy stereotype boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), spoiled-and-struggling actress Portia (Meredith Hagner), and aspiring socialite Elliot (John Early) begin to investigate Chantal’s disappearance in their free time, finding reason to believe she might be in the thrall of a cult.
Twists abound, and the show delighted in revealing both exciting new wrinkles to Chantal’s disappearance and increasingly repulsive facets of Dory and her friends. Narcissism manifests in each of their lives in various ways: Elliot lying about having cancer in order to market his vanity charity (which, when exposed, nets him a book deal about being a liar); Drew’s inability to imagine the life of his girlfriend, his neighbor, or anyone outside of their relation to him; Portia’s single-minded pursuit of career opportunities or hot dates.
The sharpest cut, however, is reserved for Dory. Sensible throughout, she’s the lens through which we see Search Party’s vision of Brooklyn, the one trying to corral her selfish friends into caring about someone else that they don’t really know, pushing them to help her find the next clue and help someone who may be in trouble. Except, she’s wrong. Chantal is not in trouble, Dory has misread every clue, and the first season ends with a man dead because of it. Like a film noir protagonist, she got in over her head, laundering her own selfishness and dissatisfaction with life through performative concern for Chantal’s fate. Someone dies thanks to her obliviousness, and as she and her friends attempt to cover it up throughout the show’s second season, she murders someone else.
Throughout the first two seasons, the twisty plotting, while exceedingly well done (minus a few strange leaps taken in season 2) remained largely beside the point. Dory and her friends were always the villains of the story. They always would be, even if they hadn’t been responsible for literal murder. Their lives are defined by consumption: of brunch, of lavish experiences above their means, of connections and what they might bring.
Despite their cartoonishly broad personalities, they are emblematic of what Refinery29 writer Connie Wang calls “The Grateful Generation”, a breed of aspirational millennial careerism that readily assimilates into an inequitable environment in the hopes of increasing their own clout and rising above the riffraff. In Search Party, living in a city as big and varied as New York is not a chance to enrich yourself with your proximity to a multitude of other people, but an excuse to ignore them, to filter human beings as useful to you or not.
This is the space in which season 3 thrives. While it’s ostensibly about dominoes falling — it takes place immediately after Dory is under arrest for murder — it turns into a post-truth farce. Its story is an extremely 2020 courtroom drama where the perpetrators of awful things do not have to admit to them and are rewarded for their resilience, spun as the victims of those who would hold them accountable. In its revival, Search Party dives into the privilege’s endgame, white and otherwise. No one is immune to its allure, the siren song that says you don’t have to be accountable if you don’t want to be. You can tell whatever story you want about yourself, and as long as you repeat it enough, you can get away with murder.
NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS have struck a new deal that allows a number of TV shows and movies from ViacomCBS’s library to stream on NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, Peacock.
Ray Donovan,The Affair,Undercover Boss,The Game, Everybody Hates Chris,Real Husbands of Hollywood, and more will be available to stream on Peacock when the streaming service fully launches on July 15th.
This part isn’t an exclusive deal. The aforementioned shows, along with other ViacomCBS series that land on Peacock, will also stream on their respective ViacomCBS streaming services, including Showtime and CBS All Access. ViacomCBS, a direct competitor to NBCUniversal, will keep its best IP — like Star Trek shows, CSI, NCIS, and The Good Wife — for its streaming service, CBS All Access.
(Disclosure: Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is also an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.)
Films from Paramount’s library like The Godfather trilogy, Catch Me If You Can, The Talented Mr. Ripley, American Beauty, Patriot Games, Last Holiday, Fatal Attraction, The Firm, and An Officer and a Gentleman will also “stream on Peacock in limited exclusivity windows throughout 2021, 2022, and 2023.” That means although these movies will stream exclusively on Peacock for a select period of time, they can move to other streaming services before and after, like CBS All Access or Netflix.
Licensing deals! In a lot of ways, they’re very boring. In other ways, they’re why “what’s leaving and coming to Netflix” or other streaming service lists are so popular. Keeping up with what streaming service you need to watch a movie or a show is sometimes tedious. Take The Godfather trilogy, for example: ViacomCBS might license the trilogy to Netflix for a few months before giving it to Peacock, and then possibly move it to another service like CBS All Access. NBCUniversal also has licensing deals with Sony and Warner Bros., according to Variety.
There are two different core strategy moves from the major players in the streaming spaces: total exclusivity or licensing. The former is how services like Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and, most notably, Netflix operate. When it comes to their original series and movies, the goal is to put everything in one place and offer it exclusively on that service. They don’t license out. The companies might have licensed content on their platforms to add as many offerings as possible, but Netflix isn’t likely to license out Stranger Things. The nice aspect of this strategy is that people aren’t left wondering where a Netflix show is playing — it’s only on Netflix.
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV Plus don’t have the decades-long library of IP that ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, and Disney do. Since the latter companies have huge libraries, they can license a number of their titles to other streamers for additional revenue while also building up their own exclusive originals offering. Disney licenses ABC shows to Netflix, for example, but uses its most popular brands as an exclusivity play on Disney Plus. Since Disney Plus launched, Disney has also worked to bring as many titles it licensed out (like some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that were streaming on Netflix) back to Disney Plus as exclusive offerings.
Licensing makes sense. Running streaming services is an expensive task that takes years for a company to start making a profit. Part of ViacomCBS’s strategy is to find “no risk” revenue opportunities for the company, according to CEO Bob Bakish, and a big part of that is streaming. That’s why a SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff is happening on Netflix, but all past seasons of Nickelodeon’s popular show will stream on CBS All Access. WarnerMedia also reportedly paid ViacomCBS $500 million to carry every season of South Park on HBO Max. It’s a win-win; ViacomCBS is able to earn additional revenue, and streaming services like Peacock and HBO Max can offer popular shows and movies to subscribers.
All of this impacts how we watch what we watch. As my colleague Chaim Gartenberg wrote last week, “With streaming catalogs continuing to shift and change over the coming months and years … finding who has the rights to the movie you want to watch is only going to get more difficult.”
It’s a good time to buy a pair of true wireless earbuds. Whether your top priority is sound quality, comfort, battery life, voice call quality, or noise cancellation, the current field of products is full of great options. I’ve spent a lot of time testing dozens of wireless earbuds from Apple, Samsung, Jabra, Sony, Anker, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and the best wireless earbuds for you will depend on what you hope to get from them.
There’s no one set of earbuds that is perfect at everything. For general everyday listening, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are the best wireless earbuds. Got an iPhone? Nothing beats the AirPods Pro. If you’re focused on productivity and multitasking during these days of working at home, the Jabra Elite 75t are the best wireless earbuds for those jobs. If you’re after something sportier, that’s where the Powerbeats Pro win out. For people who demand the absolute best sound quality, Sennheiser is the go-to. And if you’re after earbuds that are great for the price, Sony’s WF-XB700s are a favorite.
Remember that getting the most out of earbuds requires a good seal in your ear. Always try the various ear tip sizes that come with whichever buds you purchase — and don’t be afraid to experiment with different sizes in each ear. Ears are funny like that. Many of these earbuds have apps you can install on your phone to further personalize their sound and controls the way you want.
Best wireless earbuds overall
Samsung got so much right with the Galaxy Buds Plus that they’re an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a dependable set of true wireless earbuds at a fair price. With up to 11 hours of continuous battery life, they can outlast every other set of earbuds in this roundup. And whenever it does eventually come time to rejuice them, you can just drop the case onto a wireless charger.
The Galaxy Buds Plus feel light in the ears but stay seated firmly and are comfortable to wear for extended periods. They come in a range of colors — unlike Apple’s AirPods — and the sound quality is noticeably improved over their predecessors. Samsung’s two-way drivers deliver emphatic bass and highlight the mid frequencies in a way that other earbuds often skimp on. Music plays smooth across a variety of genres, from pop to EDM to classical. You can personalize that EQ tuning (and adjust ambient sound preferences) using Samsung’s companion mobile app, which is available on both Android and iPhone.
Samsung also improved the microphone system in the Galaxy Buds Plus; these are much better at handling voice calls than the original Galaxy Buds were. Their sweat resistance doesn’t quite reach par with other earbuds in this price range, and they lack noise cancellation, but those are about the only knocks I can direct at the Galaxy Buds Plus.
Best wireless earbuds for iPhone owners
If you’re in Apple’s ecosystem, there’s no beating the AirPods Pro. From the seamless setup to quickly switching between your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, the experience is fantastic. The AirPods Pro fit more ears than the regular, one-size-fits-most AirPods, and the active noise cancellation helps to drown out your surroundings when you only want to hear your tunes. When it does come time to hear what’s happening around you, Apple’s transparency mode offers the most natural-sounding amplification of ambient noise that I’ve heard yet.
The AirPods Pro are known for balanced, clear audio. They can’t compete with Samsung, Jabra, or others (including Apple’s own Powerbeats Pro) in the bass category, however. With 4.5 hours of battery life with noise canceling on, battery life is decent if not a class-leader — but the case has enough juice to recharge them several times. Voice call quality is second to none, so these (and the standard AirPods) are the go-to pick if you’re often chatting with people through your earbuds.
Apple plans to update the AirPods Pro with new features this fall, including seamless, automatic switching between Apple devices. (Don’t worry: incoming iPhone calls will always take priority even if you’re doing something on your iPad or Mac.) The other new addition is spatial audio, which will use head tracking to deliver a “theater-like” surround sound experience.
Here’s a tip: if none of the included ear tips get you a perfect seal, I recommend a set of memory foam tips like those from Comply or Dekoni.
Best wireless earbuds for multitasking (and lots of bass)
Jabra’s earbuds have an advantage that remains rare among true wireless earbuds: you can use them with two devices simultaneously. Every other product on this list requires you to switch from one paired device to the other, but with the Jabras, you can listen to tunes on your laptop while staying connected to your phone in case a call comes in.
The Elite 75ts offer full-bodied, powerful sound with an extra dose of bass. You can adjust the EQ using Jabra’s app, which also includes numerous other features for tailoring the earbuds to your liking. Their physical controls are easy to use, and the 75ts are comfortable over lengthy periods of time. Jabra backs them with a two-year warranty, a longer period of support than most, in the event you experience any hardware issues. (One of my 75t buds recently stopped taking a charge out of nowhere, so it can happen.)
Best wireless earbuds for fitness
There’s still no beating the Powerbeats Pro if you’re looking for a set of earbuds for your workouts or runs. Their ear hook design keeps them planted on your ears during intense exercise, they can endure your sweatiest workouts, and the nine hours of continuous battery life should get you through just about any marathon. And the sound quality is killer, with plenty of bass and an immersive soundstage that will keep you motivated through every set.
This spring, Apple released a new batch of Powerbeats Pro colors. Though the company didn’t make any significant hardware changes, I haven’t run into some of the annoyances — like one earbud failing to charge or not turning out when removed from the case — that I have with my original pair. Maybe it’s luck, or maybe Apple quietly made some fixes.
Best wireless earbuds for sound quality
If you deem yourself an audiophile and rank pristine sound above everything else, it’s worth taking a look at Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds. The audio is lush, detailed, and sublime. Active noise cancellation helps keep you lost in your favorite albums, even if the Sennheisers fall behind our other top picks in areas like battery life and ease of use.
The bigger downside is that Sennheiser charges a premium price for such premium sound: the True Momentum Wireless earbuds cost $300, which puts them on a higher pricing tier than everything else on this list.
6. Sony XF-XB700
Best wireless earbuds on a budget
Sony’s entry-level earbuds were released without much fanfare a few months ago, but I think they’re a real standout. They’ve already seen sale prices of below $100, and for that, you get a pair of earbuds that can kick out powerful bass and latch into your ears with remarkable stability — no support fins or hooks required. There are no frills here: these earbuds don’t have an ambient sound mode, they won’t pause your music when you take them out, and they lack any kind of mobile app support for EQ adjustments.
But in the time I’ve spent using them, I haven’t really cared about any of that. The WF-XB700 earbuds sound downright terrific for the price, the connection stability is rock solid (with no audio sync issues when watching videos), and their ingenious charging case always makes clear that everything is charging as it should, thanks to a slightly transparent lid. You can’t really ask for better battery life than the nine hours you’ll get from these, and they’re IPX4 water and sweat resistant. The textured finish probably won’t appeal to everyone, but it means you won’t have to put up with scratches or smudges on the earbuds or case.
I can’t call them the best true wireless earbuds you can get, but I think a lot of people would be perfectly content with the WF-XB700s if they wanted to save some money. They’re a real gem and nail that price / performance balance terrifically.