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Amazon Looks to Build on 1st Season of NFL Streaming

Amazon had a mostly successful debut into live streaming of major sports events with increased audience and an improved viewing experience in its first season showing NFL games.

The question looking ahead is how aggressively will Amazon be in the sports streaming landscape?

“It’s too soon to say,” said Jim DeLorenzo, the head of Amazon Sports. “We’re just in the early stages here. We were definitely pleased with the way things played out. It was great to partner with the NFL on this and we were really happy with how our customers reacted to it. But it’s too soon to say this impacts our strategy going forward.”

Amazon already has smaller deals with the ATP Tour to air last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals and the rights to show some men’s tennis tournaments to customers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as an upcoming deal to show beach volleyball events.

But the NFL is the biggest endeavor Amazon has made so far after paying $50 million for the rights to stream 10 Thursday night games and an additional one on Christmas.

Amazon built on the audience Twitter had in 2016 in the first year of streaming on Thursday nights, with the averaging per minute audience for the 11 games hitting 310,000, a 17 percent increase from Twitter’s numbers. 

On a per capita basis, the biggest audience was in the District of Columbia, followed by Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Utah. Prime members in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and North Carolina watched for the longest amount of time.

Viewers who are already used to watching movies and scripted shows on Amazon’s various platforms stayed longer on the NFL, with the average viewer watching for 63 minutes.

The feed was usually much cleaner than on Twitter or some other streaming services and was delivered even faster than some cable systems as opposed to the usual delay for online streaming.

“This was really our first step into distributing live sporting events at scale on a global basis,” DeLorenzo said. “Of course there was learning. Because we’re so early on in that process of distributing this kind of content to our customers, there are a number of things we can look at along the way.”

Even though television audiences for the NFL dropped for the second straight year as people cut the cord and drop cable or satellite service, the streaming audience on Amazon was still a small fraction compared to the more than 10 million viewers who watched on average the Thursday night games on NBC, CBS or the NFL Network. CBS and NBC pay about $45 million per game for the rights to their Thursday night broadcasts.

The NFL is expected to decide soon its plans for Thursday night games next season, but is expected to once again split the package between a broadcast and streaming partner.

Amazon offered alternate language feeds for the broadcast to cater to some of the fans from more 220 countries who tuned into the games, with feeds in Spanish, Portuguese and “U.K. English” for those less familiar with the American version of football.

“That was a fun component of what we were doing and we were glad to see customers reacted well to that as well,” DeLorenzo said.

Female-led Startups Look to Cryptocurrency for Funding

Female startup founders have a notoriously harder time securing funding than men. But new methods of financing could help close the gender gap. One of those methods lies in the buzzy technologies of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

“Cryptocurrency, being a digital platform, fundamentally erases that sort of bias and does create a sort of leveling of the playing field,” said Lisa Wang, founder and CEO of SheWorx. “Women who are savvy and are able to hop onto the train are able to raise money really quickly for their ideas.”

SheWorx hosted an event last month for its New York City members dubbed “Cryptocurrency 101: Practical Advice on Getting Involved in Bitcoin & Beyond.” About 35 women showed up to learn more.

“For a lot of women, they’re looking at the Bitcoin prices, the Ethereum prices, Litecoin prices and they’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s too late for me to get involved,’” Wang said. “It’s not too late, you didn’t miss the boat.”

Women received just 11 percent of total venture funding in the first half of 2017, according to TechCrunch.

What is blockchain?

Could blockchain pave the way to more financing for women?

Blockchain technologies have garnered a lot of attention lately, thanks in part to the roller-coaster ride of their most famous protocol and cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.

The distributed ledger technology (DLT) that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin enables peer-to-peer or machine-to-machine transactions without the need for intermediary third parties.

This removal of middlemen (and their subsequent fees) is a major draw for both startups and established companies across a variety of industries.

Wang said entrepreneurs should assess their risk profile, determine whether blockchain is a fit for their startup, and research the types of fundraising processes that could best serve them.

Unique coins

Tech startups are now exploring the option of issuing their own unique tokens or coins, based on an established blockchain protocol like Bitcoin or Ethereum. Others are creating entirely new blockchain protocols and alternative coins.

These initial coin offerings (ICOs) allow startups to raise money quickly in a limited amount of time, via crowdfunding. Unlike traditional initial public offerings (IPOs), ICOs do not offer investors an ownership stake in the company. Instead, investors assess the potential usefulness and value of an alternative or “alt” coin, and the long-term profitability of its parent product or service, whether it makes sense as a blockchain application.

Michelle McCormack is the founder and CEO of Casting Coin, an Ethereum-based token that will launch this year and be used as currency on a crowdsourcing platform connecting models and brands.

Using blockchain tech

McCormack spoke at the SheWorx event and explained how her fashion industry experience helped her identify a gap in the model booking business.

“Models are a perfect example of people that have a really hard time connecting with work unless they know somebody … a lot of times, they’re faced with dealing with shady, internet intermediaries who are calling themselves agents,” McCormack said. “When they do get work, they have to give at least 20 percent of their rate to the agent.”

McCormack is a building a blockchain-based platform where industry influencers pay Casting Coins to up-vote or down-vote models, resulting in a new kind of crowdsourcing business model for the traditional model and talent agency.

“Over time, a natural influencer vertical and talent vertical will come up … so that the brand can easily identify them, directly hire them,” McCormack said.

While some may be deterred by the ambiguous qualities of a nascent technology like blockchain, McCormack said women should get involved sooner rather than later.

“There’s no legacy of male domination in blockchain, because there’s no legacy. So why not get involved, build something?” McCormack said.

US Congress Racing Against Time to Fund Government, Save DACA Recipients

The U.S. Congress has five working days left to negotiate a deal funding the government past a Jan. 19 deadline. Democrats are pushing an agreement that includes a legislative fix for the fate of more than 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. VOA’s congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more on the immigration fixes Republicans want in return as time runs out.

Trump: Russia Probes ‘Single Greatest Witch Hunt in American History’

U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks Wednesday on the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, saying they are “the single greatest Witch Hunt in American history.”

In Twitter comments, Trump reiterated his contention that there “was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, saying “everybody,” including opposition Democrats, “knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing.”

He said Republican lawmakers “should finally take control” of the probes, which include several in Congress and a months-long criminal investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the country’s top law enforcement agency. None of the investigations has been completed or reached conclusions.

Trump also assailed California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, calling her “sneaky” because on Tuesday, she released a transcript of an August interview with the head of a firm that produced a dossier containing allegations about Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which received the documents from Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of research group Fusion GPS. Simpson said he gave the dossier about Trump to the FBI because he was “very concerned” about a potential national security matter.

“The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace,” Trump said. He called for a “tough primary” election against her, although she is a Democrat and the Republican Trump holds no sway over Democratic political affairs.

Feinstein unilaterally released a lengthy transcript of Simpson’s testimony without telling the majority Republican bloc on the Judiciary Committee.

‘Illegal conspiracy?’

Simpson’s firm hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, to produce the dossier, and that research was paid for by Democrats, including the campaign of Trump’s election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

A conservative website had earlier sought information about Trump but stopped its investigation of the then-Republican candidate once it became apparent that he would be his party’s nominee. Later, a lawyer for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired Fusion GPS to investigate Trump’s past.

“From my perspective there was a law enforcement issue about whether there was an illegal conspiracy to violate the campaign laws,” Simpson said.

Trump has dismissed the dossier and repeatedly denied that his campaign colluded with Russia. Trump has contended that the investigations are an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset win over Clinton, a former secretary of state.

Simpson said Steele also told him the FBI believed information in the dossier “might be credible” because they had a source inside the Trump organization who “indicated the same thing.”

“It was someone like us who decided to pick up the phone and report something,” Simpson said.

Setting the record straight

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Simpson requested the transcript of his testimony be released to the public and that the American people deserved the chance to see his words and judge for themselves.

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, objected to Feinstein’s release of the testimony. A Grassley spokesman, Taylor Foy, called Feinstein’s actions “confounding” and said she had undermined the committee’s “ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.”

The committee is conducting one of several investigations into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election and possible connections with the Trump campaign.

U.S. intelligence agencies assessed last year that Russia had conducted a campaign targeting the election with the goal of hurting Clinton’s chances of winning while boosting Trump. In addition, Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI chief James Comey when Comey was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed to take over the investigation.

‘Unquestionably real news’

The website BuzzFeed published the entire dossier last year amid criticism that it contained unverified information. Ben Smith, the site’s editor in chief, wrote Tuesday in a New York Times op-ed that he stands behind that decision and that his organization believed it was in the public interest to release information that BuzzFeed and other outlets were citing in stories.

“A year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news. That’s a fact that has been tacitly acknowledged even by those who opposed our decision to publish,” Smith said.

One item in the dossier is a claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials.

Cohen denies he made such a trip, and on Tuesday sued BuzzFeed in a New York state court, saying the website defamed him and harmed him financially. In a separate defamation lawsuit in federal court, Cohen sued Fusion GPS.


Trump to South Korea: US Open to Talks with North at ‘Appropriate Time’

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time”.

In telephone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in Wednesday, Trump “expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time under the right circumstances,” according to a readout of the call issued by the White House.


“The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea,” the statement said.


President Moon’s office first reported the conversation, which came a day after North and South Korea held their first talks in more than two years. The South Korean readout said Trump had agreed that there would be no military action while any talks were in progress.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting after the phone call, Trump said Moon had expressed appreciation for his role in bringing the North back to the negotiating table. “He’s very thankful for what we’ve done,” Trump said. “It’s been reported today that we were the ones…without our attitude that would’ve never happened.”

Trump expressed hope for a positive outcome. “Who knows where it leads? Hopefully it will lead to success for the world. Not just for our country but for the world,” he said.

At a news conference in Seoul earlier Wednesday, Moon credited Trump with helping facilitate the inter-Korean talks by increasing pressure through sanctions on the North Korean leadership.

But the South Korean leader said his approach, which entails reducing tensions through dialogue and engagement, differs from Trump’s emphasis on pressuring the Kim Jong Un government with sanctions and the threat of military force.  


South Korea, Moon said, wants to pursue denuclearization without risking a devastating war with North Korea that would put at risk millions of Koreans on both sides of the border.


“How can we de-escalate these issues and prevent a possible armed conflict, and while doing so bring North Korea to a dialogue?  That is our current dilemma, and that requires a prudent approach,” Moon said.

Inter-Korean talks

Moon described agreements reached during Tuesday’s inter-Korean talks as a positive first step that could create a pause in provocations and give momentum to diplomacy.

After high-level delegations met for 11 hours, the two delegations agreed to restore an emergency communication hotline between their countries, and to hold military talks to resolve disputes and avert accidental conflict at a time when tensions are high over North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The White House also confirmed Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead a high-level U.S. delegation attending the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea.

Credit to Trump

At his news conference, Moon credited Trump with helping facilitate the inter-Korean talks by increasing pressure through sanctions on the North Korean leadership.

But the South Korean leader said his approach, which entails reducing tensions through dialogue and engagement, differs from Trump’s emphasis on pressuring the Kim Jong Un government with sanctions and the threat of military force.

South Korea, Moon said, wants to pursue denuclearization without risking a devastating war with North Korea that would put at risk millions of Koreans on both sides of the border.

“How can we de-escalate these issues and prevent a possible armed conflict, and while doing so bring North Korea to a dialogue? That is our current dilemma, and that requires a prudent approach,” Moon said.

While the South Korean leader said his outreach to the North would not violate U.N. sanctions, critics say his engagement approach could reduce international pressure on the Kim government and weaken the U.S.-South Korean military alliance.

Trump had earlier been critical of the prospect of negotiating with a North Korean leadership that has broken past agreements to end its nuclear program in exchange for economic assistance and security guarantees. But this week, Trump called the inter-Korean talks “a good thing” that had come as a result of his “firm, strong” stance.

Brian Padden in Seoul and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

Republican Congressman Issa Won’t Seek Reelection

U.S. Republican congressman Darrell Issa announced Wednesday he will not run for another term in office this year, providing Democrats another opportunity to capture a seat in this year’s midterm elections.

In a post on Twitter, Issa expressed gratitude for the opportunity to represent the residents of California’s 49th congressional district.

“Serving #CA49 has been the privilege of a lifetime. From the bottom of my heart — thank you — to everyone for your support and the honor of serving you all these years.”

Issa narrowly won reelection in 2016 as the political environment changed rapidly in recent years in his Southern California district, a traditionally Republican stronghold that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won by seven points.

The 17-year veteran’s decision not to run creates a new opening for Democrats to win the 24 seats they need to regain majority status in the House this year.

Republican Ed Royce, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, announced Monday he would not seek reelection. He also represents a Southern California district that Clinton won last year.




Disregarding Geography, Britain Hopes to Join Pacific Trade Deal

Britain is making known its hopes to one day join the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, a free trade agreement currently being negotiated by eleven countries bordering the Pacific and the South China Sea.

The British government hopes trade with fast-growing economies will make up for losses that may occur after it leaves the European Union as scheduled in 2019.

On a recent trip to China, Britain Trade Minister Liam Fox tentatively suggested his country could one day join the TPP.

“We don’t know what the success of the TPP is going to yet look like, because it isn’t yet negotiated. So, it would be a little bit premature for us to be wanting to sign up to something that we’re not sure what the final details will look like. However, we have said that we want to be an open, outward-looking country, and therefore it would be foolish for us to rule out any particular outcomes for the future,” Fox told reporters during the trip last week.

London sits some 7,000 kilometers from any Pacific coastline. So, does geography no longer matter in 21st century trade? Not so, said Jonathan Portes, an economist and professor at Kings College London.

“There has been an argument put forward that particularly as trade in services expands, and as a result of technology, it will matter considerably less in the future, and that seems to make a lot of sense. However, unfortunately, so far at least, the actual data and evidence don’t really support this contention. For whatever reason, geography at the moment seems to matter as much as it ever did,” he said.

By leaving the European Union’s Single Market and Customs Union on its doorstep, Britain will abandon a free trade agreement that accounts for about half of its global trade. In contrast, all eleven countries currently negotiating the TPP combined accounted for less than 8 percent of British goods exported last year.

Portes said it will take decades for other trade deals to make up ground.

“Our companies are in many cases very closely integrated with the European Union, meaning that there will be substantial disruption as a result of the likely implications of Brexit.”

The countries negotiating the TPP include Chile, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

During his tenure, U.S. President Barack Obama was a driving force behind TPP, but his successor, Donald Trump, pulled the United States out of the deal, claiming it would be bad for America. Negotiations between the eleven remaining countries are progressing slowly.

“The TPP, already as a consequence of the U.S. withdrawal, has its own internal problems. And they’re going to have to work out how to get that back on track,” said Portes.

But Britain’s interest in the TPP has been welcomed by some of the parties involved, particularly Australia.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to visit Asia later this year in an attempt to boost ties ahead of Brexit.

Companion Robot Aims to Fight Social Isolation Among Elderly

People around the world are living longer, and their quality of life as they grow old is changing. The World Health Organization finds the number of older adults living alone is dramatically increasing which could lead to loneliness, social isolation and depression. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has details about a solution, a robot companion, available for homes in the not so distant future, featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.