Advertising

The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds | seattletimes.com

Business / Technology


Our network sites seattletimes.com | Advanced

Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

E-mail Brier| 206.515.5687 | Follow Brier on Twitter| Microsoft Pri0 blog| RSS feeds Subscribe | Blog Home

January 22, 2013 10:43 AM

Guns, games and government

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a month on the wagon, I slipped off and used an assault rifle last week. It didn't feel the same.

The rifle was in a new episode of "Halo 4" that Microsoft was previewing for reporters at its Kirkland game studio. I blasted away at aliens on the screen, then swapped the rifle for more powerful weapons hidden in the game.

"Halo 4" is a fun game with a rich sci-fi story that blurs the line between game, movies and episodic TV shows like "Star Trek."

But action shooting games have lost some of their appeal since the Newtown shooting in December.

President Obama's call last week for research into whether there's a connection between violent games and gun violence is welcome, even if it's motivated by politics. A definitive, objective analysis is overdue to address this unpleasant question hanging over the industry and lingering in the minds of players, parents and game developers.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure I want to play the military shooter "Call of Duty" again, even though it used to be a favorite and remains the best-selling game and a cornerstone of the industry.

Like the mass killer in Norway in 2011, the Newtown shooter was a fan of "Call of Duty." Adam Lanza was a deranged loner who reportedly played the game in a basement room decorated with military posters.


That provided an opening to the gun lobby, which tried to deflect the call for more gun restrictions by blaming video games as well. Then it proposed bundling new gun restrictions with limits on games.

The bundling may sound logical, but it's really political flimflam. Every politician and lobbyist knows that repeated attempts to crack down on violent games have gone nowhere and that the Supreme Court last year settled the issue, ruling that games are protected speech under the First Amendment.

So bundling game and gun restrictions would pretty much guarantee nothing will happen. It also shows that the gun lobby is concerned about protecting just one passage in the Constitution (but not the "well regulated" part of that passage).

Obama sidestepped this roadblock. He punted on games, without ignoring the concerns.

The study he proposed would follow on the heels of a new generation of game hardware promising even more realistic, immersive games. With luck, the heightened attention will push game publishers to be more creative and perhaps develop new franchises that are less centered on combat.

Some games are already evolving into more sophisticated entertainment, even if many still "cater to that innate male desire to have a shoot-em-up," said Richard Rouse III, a Seattle game developer and author of a book on game design.

This is happening in part because players are getting older and have higher expectations. Half of American homes now have a game console, the average player is 30 and two-thirds are over 18, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

"In time, as the audience realizes some experiences are richer and fuller and more grounded in real life and struggles we all face, they'll stop wanting ones that are so abstracted and removed from reality," Rouse said.

Rouse drew a parallel to food, saying that people can only go so far with junk food before they crave something more nourishing.

"Eventually people figure out that empty calories aren't such a good idea," he said.

Rouse, who was hired by Microsoft in June, speaks at industry events on ways to incorporate moral choices into games.

An example he gives is "Far Cry 2," a 2008 game by Ubisoft that puts players between warring factions in Africa. Players have choices about how to approach challenges. They can avoid combat by sneaking around things, and there are different tools to use besides guns.

Combat is still the heart of the game and what draws players in, but there's more depth.

"Just as we can have serious movies about combat situations that deal with it seriously, games can do that as well," he said.

For now, the most successful model is "Call of Duty."

The latest version, subtitled "Black Ops II," made more money after its November launch than any other entertainment product - more than the launch of any movie, book or album. It generated more than $1 billion in its first 15 days on the market, remained the best-seller through December and continues to be the most popular of the multiplayer games hosted on Microsoft's Xbox Live service.

It's a brutal game where you earn respect by quickly killing as many people as possible, preferably with an efficient shot to the head. But maybe it's really an extension of the soldier games that boys have always played.

I'm embarrassed to say that I've been pretending to shoot people for as long as I can remember, from the mean streets of Spokane's South Hill to the jungles of Magnolia and the galactic battlefields of "Halo."

In elementary school, my parents took a stand and decided they wouldn't buy toy guns for me and my brother.

So we played combat with sticks instead. Realizing this put our eyeballs at risk, my parents decided it was safer to provide an armory of toy guns instead.

Now we'd probably simply blast each other on the TV screen.

I'm just glad my kids are girls.


P.S. Here are a few thoughts on things parents can do to help ensure their kids don't become too immersed in ultra-violent games:

1. Add a few of the more humane games to their diet. You can't stop them from eating chips and fries, but maybe you can work in some fruit now and then.

2. Observe and play the games they play the most. It may not be your bag, but try to understand why it's fun for them and what makes the games appealing.

3. Encourage cooperative play with friends -- real ones, who are known offline -- so the games complement rather than substitute for companionship.

4. Maintain access to the hardware and software you provide, and know how to access user accounts. Create your own account on the game service and become their friend, similar to the way you would on Facebook.

5. Play a match online with kids, or recruit a friend or family member to play online with them periodically. It adds real-world perspective to hunt for someone you really know, and not just blast away at strangers.

Who knows, it might even be cathartic.


Comments | Category: Digital media , E3 , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , PlayStation , Video games , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 14, 2013 9:10 AM

CES photos: Boomboxes galore

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- If the Kirkland-based Bluetooth trade group made a dime for every Bluetooth device shown at CES last week, the group could buy itself a skyscraper and a 787.

Everywhere you looked were Bluetooth accessories, especially boomboxes that stream music from phones and PCs.

Here's a sample of the boomboxes I saw on the floor, starting with Sony's RDH-GTK37iP:

IMG_4275.JPG

Here's a phalanx of them, showing their light effects:

IMG_4388.JPG

This setup has "2,000 watts of neighbor-waking power," Sony representative Jeremey Miller said:

IMG_4283.JPG

This is truly the Ferrari of boomboxes:

IMG_4433.JPG

Sharp's $249 GX-M10 has a jack for plugging in your guitar or bass; it has 100 watts, dual subwoofers and is on sale now:

IMG_4300.JPG

A few retro models in the Craig booth:

IMG_4346.JPG

IMG_4349.JPG

Behringer said its 10,000-watt iNuke Boom is the world's largest boombox:

IMG_4514.JPG

Comments | Category: CES , Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 11, 2012 10:27 AM

Microsoft vet Blake Irving named Go Daddy's big daddy

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was only a matter of time before Blake Irving was snapped up by another tech company.

Today Irving was named chief executive of Go Daddy, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based web hosting and domain registrar that leads the market but is known particularly for its tawdry advertising.

Irving (pictured) starts Jan. 7, succeeding interim Chief Executive Scott Wagner. Wagner represented buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which led a $2.25 billion leveraged buyout of Go Daddy in 2011.

Blake Irving 5x7.jpg
"Blake Irving's deep technology experience and his history of developing new cutting-edge products and leading large global teams make him an enormously compelling choice to drive Go Daddy to the next level of its domestic and global growth," founder and Chairman Bob Parsons said in a release.

Irving spent 15 years at Microsoft, rising to vice president of Microsoft's Windows Live platform. He left in 2007 and ended up as chief product officer at Yahoo.

At Yahoo, Irving seemed like a potential successor to then-Chief Executive Carol Bartz but Yahoo instead replaced her with former PayPal executive Scott Thompson in January. He left in May, amid a flap over incorrect information on his resume.

Irving left Yahoo in April and put his energy into being a dad, surfing and restoring his family's historic home in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Irving's familiar with the Southwest. Between Microsoft and Yahoo, he invested in real estate in Santa Fe and he serves on the board of Scottsdale-based GolfLogix.

He also spent time teaching at Pepperdine University, where he earlier received an MBA after graduating from San Diego State.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Tech work , Yahoo! |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 19, 2012 9:55 AM

Review: Nintendo's Wii U delivers double-screen fun

Posted by Brier Dudley

With Sunday's launch of the Wii U, Nintendo is once again disrupting the rec room with an unusual new machine designed to advance the notion of video entertainment.

Exploring its capabilities will keep buyers and game developers engaged for years.

The Wii U's signature feature is its GamePad controller, a wireless tablet with a 6.2-inch touch screen flanked by buttons and joysticks.

wiiumetroid.jpg
Having this second screen can add a fun new dimension to games.

But after trying the console with a stack of launch titles over the past week, I think it will take time for some developers to figure out the right mix of what to display on the TV and the auxiliary screen.

In the meantime, the Wii U is still a nice option for people looking for a high-definition game console that will appeal to a broad range of players. Nintendo gave the system enough horsepower to run most premier games, whether or not they take full advantage of the GamePad.

The Wii U starts at $300 for a white model with 8 gigabyte of storage. A $350 deluxe version has 32 gigabytes of storage and comes with "Nintendo Land," a collection of a dozen starter games.

All versions of the Wii U support 1080p video, which finally gives Nintendo parity with Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. There are 29 packaged Wii U games available at launch, including top-tier action titles such as "Assassin's Creed III" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II."

The Wii U is the first in a new generation of consoles that will arrive over the next year, including new models of the Xbox and PlayStation. All are likely to use multiple screens, and the next wave of games will be designed with this in mind.

On the Wii U, some games keep you focused on the GamePad screen, and others are mostly played on the TV. Most have you glance back and forth, using the tablet to navigate, aim or select weapons, for instance.

This new approach reflects the way people tend to have a phone or tablet at hand while watching TV nowadays. At work, in the car, everywhere you turn there are multiple displays to navigate and monitor the flow of information in our lives.

Including a tablet with the console may help Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft stem the loss of players who are turning toward inexpensive games on mobile devices and social networks.

The addition of touch screens will help consoles continue their evolution from game machines to hubs of entertainment and communication in the living room. A tablet with an on-screen keyboard works better than a game controller or TV remote if you want to send a text message or choose a movie from an online video store.

For Nintendo, this may be a more radical interface than the motion-controllers that debuted with the original Wii in 2006. They were quirky, but generally tracked familiar motions like swinging a bowling ball, a bat or a sword.

I found the Wii U to have a notable learning curve because it doesn't feel as natural to divide your attention between the GamePad display and the TV. This might be because I was trying multiple games with different screen mixes.

As a guy who juggles the remote, a tablet and a phone while watching TV, I thought I was pretty good at multitasking.

wiiuzombie.jpg


But Wii U action games such as "Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge" and "Madden NFL 2013" put my advanced couch-potato skills to the test as I tried to focus on the TV and the GamePad while madly pushing buttons and tapping the display. My technique -- or a software bug -- caused "Madden" to completely freeze the Wii U at one point.

Among the action games I tried, Ubisoft's "ZombieU" and Warner Bros. "Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition" made especially good use of the small screen to display maps and sonar for locating enemies and manage collections of tools and weapons.

Nintendo, with its own games for the Wii U, has done the best job so far of figuring out how to have fun with multiple screens.

On its "New Super Mario Bros. U," the player using the GamePad can help other players get through the game. Tapping the pad can add bridges or bump aside enemies, for instance.

This is a great way to even things out between players with different skill levels, as long as they don't fight over who gets to use the GamePad. For now the system only works with a single GamePad; other players use standard Wii remotes.

wiiu mario.jpg
"Nintendo Land" introduces a variety of GamePad controls. You blow on the microphone to activate an elevator in "Donkey Kong's Crash Course," you flick the screen to shoot throwing stars at targets on the TV in "Takamaru's Ninja Castle," and you simply rotate the tablet to steer a car in "Captain Falcon's Twister Race."

In "Luigi's Ghost Mansion," one player uses the GamePad to guide a ghost through a haunted house. Other players use Wii remotes to navigate through the house displayed on the TV set.

Multiplayer games require a combination of the GamePad and Wii remotes. Remotes have to be paired with the GamePad, which can be a little tricky, and I never could get a remote to work properly on "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest" game in the "Nintendo Land" suite.

wii u balloon.jpg
A big promise of the Wii U is its ability to play some games and watch streaming video on the GamePad, separate from the TV.

Unfortunately, the Wii U's wireless system wasn't strong enough to let me roam with the GamePad beyond the room with the console. It lost signal in the adjacent room, so I couldn't continue a game in the kitchen or bedroom. Maybe that's just as well.

The GamePad has the potential to be a truly great TV remote control, especially for navigating online video services. Apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon.com are preloaded on the system.

But Nintendo wasn't able to finish these features in time for the console's debut, and it will activate them through software updates over the next month. (UPDATE: The Netflix app was activated over the weekend and works very well, with full search of the catalog via the GamePad and smooth 1080p output from the console.)

I wish Nintendo had gone a bit further and enabled the Wii U to also play DVD movie discs, so the device could replace the DVD player. Instead the Wii U uses proprietary discs with a thick, durable-seeming coating.

Another cornerstone of the platform is a new social network called Miiverse, which connects players online. It will be used to set up multiplayer games, share hints and tips on games and chat while watching TV shows and other video content.

Miiverse was not activated in time for my review, but Nintendo said it will be running at launch.

Assuming the video and networking features work as promised, Nintendo has produced an exciting successor to its groundbreaking Wii that should thrill buyers and inspire game developers to explore the GamePad's potential.

UPDATE: Miiverse, the web browser and other connected features went live as promised over the weekend.

It takes a little time to set up Miiverse accounts for users of the system, which are linked to Nintendo accounts, each of which require handles and passwords. Then you can participate in online forums where games are being discussed and send messages or doodles drawn on the GamePad to others.

During activation there's a lengthy advisory message encouraging people to be respectful and not post inappropriate material. We'll have to see whether the Miiverse maintains the positive, family friendly vibe that Nintendo has cultivated with its brand, and how aggressively the company moderates the network.

It's also an opportunity to activate parental controls, which are simple to manage though there aren't many options to tailor controls. You can set access to games based on their ratings, but access to video services and the browser is either on or off.

The Mii U's browser is fast and easy to use and is a handy way to display web pages on the TV. You control the browser on the GamePad and outputs the page on the TV in full screen, without any browser controls visible.

Both the basic and deluxe versions of the Wii U come with an HDMI cable. They can also use the original Wii's sensor bar - that receives remote signals - which is a nice touch and means Wii owners upgrading to the Wii U don't have to peel the old one off their TVs.

Here's a look at a few of the parental control screens:

IMG02098-20121115-2305.jpg

IMG02099-20121115-2306.jpg
Here's the TV remote control capability that's launched with a "TV" button on the pad. Still to come are interactive TV features and the ability to control a DVR; the Wii U will initially work with TiVo boxes but Nintendo's hoping to get other set-top box companies on board:

IMG02114-20121116-0950.jpg

Here are the system specs, as listed by Nintendo:

Price: $299.99 for Basic Set, $349.99 for Deluxe Set.

Size: Approximately 1.8 inches high, 10.6 inches deep and 6.75 inches long.

Weight: Approximately 3.5 pounds.

Wii U GamePad: The GamePad incorporates a 6.2-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio LCD touch screen, as well as traditional button controls and two analog sticks. Inputs include a +Control Pad, L/R sticks, L/R stick buttons, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons, ZL/ZR buttons, Power button, HOME button, -/SELECT button, +/START button, and TV CONTROL button. The GamePad also includes motion control (powered by an accelerometer and gyroscope), a front-facing camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, rumble features, a sensor bar, an included stylus and support for Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality. It is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and weighs approximately 1.1 pounds (500 g).

Other Controllers: The Wii U console supports one Wii U GamePad controller, up to four Wii Remote (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers or Wii U Pro Controllers, and Wii accessories such as the Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board. In the future, the Wii U console will support, depending on the software, two Wii U GamePad controllers.

CPU: IBM Power-based multi-core processor.

GPU: AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU.

Storage: Wii U uses an internal flash memory (8 GB with the Basic Set; 32 GB with the Deluxe Set) for data storage. It also supports external USB storage.

Media: Wii U and Wii optical discs.

Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, Wii Component Video, Wii S-Video Stereo AV and Wii AV.

Audio Output: Uses six-channel PCM linear output via HDMI connector, or analog output via the AV Multi Out connector.

Networking: Wii U can be connected to the Internet via a wireless (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) connection. The console features four USB 2.0 connectors - two in the front and two in the rear - that support Wii LAN Adapters for a wired Internet connection.

Wii Compatibility: Nearly all Wii software and accessories can be used with Wii U.

Energy Efficiency: Wii U utilizes specially designed power-saving features to lower its energy consumption.

Wii U Retail Set Options:

Basic - $299.99
8 GB internal memory for storage
Wii U™ console (white)
Wii U GamePad (white)
Wii U AC adapter
Wii U GamePad AC adapter
High-speed HDMI cable
Sensor bar

Deluxe - $349.99
Nintendo Land game
32 GB internal memory for storage
Wii U console (black)
Wii U GamePad (black)
Wii U AC adapter
Wii U GamePad AC adapter
High-speed HDMI cable
Sensor bar
Wii U GamePad cradle
Wii U GamePad stand
Wii U console stand

Here's a close-up image of the GamePad provided by Nintendo. We'll have to see if it ships the TVii capability shown in the rendering before football season ends:

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft , Nintendo , Review , Tablets , Video games , Wii U , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 7, 2012 2:23 PM

Paul Allen releases app -- for iPad

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is enthusiastic about Windows 8 tablets but a new entertainment app he's releasing this week is coming first to Apple's iPad.

Allen is releasing an app called Fayve, which helps users choose movies and TV shows by sorting through recommendations generated by streaming-video providers and Facebook friends.

The free app is scheduled to be released on iTunes on Thursday. Versions for Windows and Android devices are being developed and should be released soon.

Allen has invested in many entertainment ventures, including Ticketmaster, Dreamworks and independent movies. He also restored the Cinerama theater in Seattle.

A spokesman said Allen isn't trying to make money at the moment with the app. The first priority is "to get it in the hands of movie buffs and TV hounds and get their feedback on it."

"This is connected primarily to Paul's interest in media. He is a huge media consumer and has always enjoyed keeping a large collection of a wide variety of media," spokesman Erik Davidson said via email. "He realized it would be useful to have a tool that could filter through the masses of content and find good content based on a person's existing preferences. He thought this would be useful for himself and decided to build something others could use as well."

paul1.jpg

paul2.jpg

Comments | Category: Apple , Apps , Billionaire techies , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Paul Allen , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 6, 2012 3:43 PM

Bravo's geek week: Seattle "LOLwork" trounces "Silicon Valley"

Posted by Brier Dudley

If there were a vote this week on which place has a better startup scene, Silicon Valley or Seattle, the Emerald City would win by a mile.

At least among voters who watch the new "reality" shows set in the West Coast tech hubs, which are debuting during the Bravo network's geek week.

On Monday, Bravo aired the first episode of "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley," which follows a handful of improbably attractive young startup wannabes.

Several come across as vapid, self-centered and repellent. Overall, what I saw of the show felt like a lame attempt to generate "buzz" and pander to a mid-20s demographic that's appealing to advertisers. It was produced by Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Things should improve Wednesday night with the 11 p.m. debut of "LOLwork," a Bravo series that follows life inside Cheezburger, the Seattle-based online humor network known mostly for putting funny captions on cute cat pictures.

Thumbnail image for NUP_150093_0051.jpg
The LOLworkers (pictured) are quirky, charming and engaging, which is good since they could come to be seen as the new face of Seattle's tech community.

Perhaps the show is more enjoyable and authentic-feeling because they're actually working for a living, at a real and profitable company that reaches 20 million people a month. Or because I watched the previews in Seattle.

"LOLwork" is so polished and funny at times that you wonder if the workers are flexing their humor muscles for the film crew, helping them produce a Seattle tech version of "The Office."

Maybe it's just smart editing. The Bravo crew didn't coach or prep Cheezburger employees much, said Chief Executive Ben Huh (pictured with cat).

"They had a big meeting in the beginning and they're like, 'Be yourself, don't ham it up. You're funny because of who you are and what you do.' "

Cheezburger employs about 90 people on Lower Queen Anne, but the show focuses on a handful of characters who volunteered for the scrutiny.

Thumbnail image for NUP_150376_1418.jpg
Bravo said the "30-minute doc-com" presents the world of Huh "and his eccentric staff as they attempt to make the world laugh five minutes a day by putting nimble yet grammatically incorrect captions on cute photos of domesticated pets and animals. The series begin as the staff at Cheezburger competes to create a new comedic web series for the site."

Huh said the show was "an amazing experience of a lifetime," but it's not exactly the reality he sees at work.

"It's a show -- it's a TV show. It's been edited," he said. "It's not what I see in the company, but it does capture the essence of what we do."

Huh said some of the things filmed that were really funny to him didn't make it onto the show, because the show was edited to tell a story and some things didn't quite fit.

Bravo paid Cheezburger for the opportunity. Huh wouldn't say how much, but said it was negligible.

"We didn't do it for the compensation," he said. "It wasn't actually very much. Basically we have a half an hour infomercial on Bravo."

Wasn't there a risk in letting people see how the sausage is made?

"I think we're much more attractive than sausages," Huh said. "I didn't really have that concern. ... We talked about what does it mean for our brand. What does it mean for our companies? What if we look like idiots?"

Cheezburger concluded that it would have to trust the producers to tell the company's story.

Huh said the company insisted on one rule, requiring Bravo to respect the consumers of Cheezburger's content. The rule was that "you can make fun of us. You can laugh at us. But you cannot make fun of users," he said.

Still, by drawing out humor in the daily grind of producing funny websites, Bravo may have missed what's really happening at Cheezburger.

The company has been steadily repositioning itself and changing its focus. It's transforming from a media company to a platform company, building tools that other companies can use to manage and distribute content.

There's a ceiling for growth for media, which isn't as scalable as a platform, Huh said. A platform can be used around the world, in places that might not get the humor that works so well for Cheezburger in the U.S.

Cheezburger also has had management changes that aren't reflected in the show. One of the business foils on the show, Chief Revenue Officer Todd Sawicki, left the company last month after filming was done.

"From top to bottom," Huh said, "this company's been going through a huge transformation."

Meanwhile, Bravo's team in Silicon Valley is trying to get funding for an app.

Here's a Seattle Times video of Huh offering tips on how to write good captions:


Comments | Category: Cheezburger , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Facebook , Startups , Tech work , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 15, 2012 10:14 AM

Windows 8 to come with free music, but no Zune

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft finally is saying goodbye to the Zune brand for good.

But instead of cuing up a dirge, the company is marking the occasion by throwing a music party.

Starting Tuesday, the company is dropping the Zune brand from its digital music store and streaming service, which now will be referred to as Xbox Music.

Xbox Music also will be the default music player on Windows 8 PCs and tablets when they go on sale Oct. 26, taking the place of Microsoft's trusty Windows Media Player.

Xbox Music_My Music.jpg
To sweeten the deal, Microsoft is providing free access to stream its entire music catalog on Windows 8 tablets and PCs.

"It will be the only tablet operating system that has free streaming of music," said Yusuf Mehdi, head of strategy and marketing in Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment business.

Free access to the catalog, which has about 18 million songs in the U.S. and 30 million globally, will be unlimited for six months, after which Microsoft will taper down access and encourage people to start paying $10 per month for an ad-free version of the service.

To support the free service, brief ads will be played about every 15 minutes.

The ad-free version of the service is comparable to streaming services offered by companies such as Spotify and Rhapsody.

Xbox Music_Enter Artist.jpg
The audio quality of the paid service will be slightly higher -- 256 kilobytes per second vs. 192 Kbps for the free version.

Xbox Music also includes a digital store, for downloading and buying music.

Like the Zune service, the Xbox Music service includes "smart playlists" that can automatically generate playlists around artists or genre.

Windows 8 users with Xbox Live premium subscriptions will be able to use "Smartglass" to play music selected on a tablet through a TV connected to an Xbox.

Microsoft launched Zune in 2006 -- with Bill Gates appearing at a launch concert in Seattle's Westlake Park -- as a belated challenge to Apple's iPod.

Last year, Microsoft discontinued Zune hardware but the brand continued on the Xbox and Windows Phone devices, where the company's music and video store are called the Zune Marketplace.

The Xbox Music brand will begin rolling out with an upgrade to the Xbox console that begins Tuesday.

It will come to Windows 8 when it launches Oct. 26 and to Windows Phone devices with the new version of the platform that arrives Oct. 29.

Zune lives on in spirit, though. The bold interface design of the player and service were a major influence on the design of Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Here's Gates at the Zune launch, in a 2006 photo by Ken Lambert, Times staff photographer:

2003423137.jpg

Here's Microsoft's comparison of Xbox music with other streaming music services:

xbm.jpg

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Rhapsody , Sonos , Windows 8 , Windows Phone , Xbox , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 8, 2012 10:39 AM

Q&A: Nintendo boss on Wii U vs. AppleTV, Google, Xbox 720 ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are edited excerpts of my interview with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. (Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff photographer)

The conversation in his Redmond aerie led to today's column on the upcoming Wii U and its potential as a new TV interface.

Among the topics we covered was competition with Apple, Google, Microsoft and others developing new entertainment hubs.

Q: Could Nintendo TV be the killer app in the Wii U -- even more than its gaming capabilities?

NintendoU_mh179200.JPG
A: The way that I would say it is Nintendo TV is certainly going to be something that every member of the family picks up and engages in at least once a day. If that helps them get more comfortable with the GamePad and in the end adds to more games being played, then that's great. But fundamentally it's part of the overall proposition of games, TV plus social.

Q: Do you think you've designed a superior TV interface for a family?

A: We think we have. In terms of a way to find what you want, to actually watch it on the big screen or on the small screen and then to be socially engaged on it, yeah, we do think we've created a better mousetrap.

Q: Will that broaden the appeal of the Wii U beyond gamers?

A: We believe so.

Q: Will people buy the system just for home entertainment, similar to the way many early buyers of Sony's PlayStation 3 were looking mostly for a great Blu-ray player?

A: You know it could be, but I do think in the end the consumers we're talking to are those consumers who want a game console in their home. So they want the best Nintendo entertainment, they want the best of the third-party entertainment.

So I think it's going to be that larger community of gamers which now is like two-thirds of all households today. But once they get it in the house we think that Nintendo TV is certainly going to be a great value add.

Q: Lots of people are looking to "digify" their TVs with devices that connect them to the Web. Are you looking to fill that niche with a device that makes it easy to get Hulu and Netflix on their TVs?

A: Certainly. But I think more than that. If the consumer just wants to add VOD [video on demand] to their TV, there are a lot of different ways to do that. I think the value we bring is by providing the consumer a better way to find all of that content.

And here's the example: if you have Amazon video services ... for you to find what's on there, what's hot, what's trending, is pretty tough. Now say you've got Amazon plus Netflix plus Hulu Plus and you're trying to figure out what it is you're trying to watch -- that's what Nintendo TV really solves.

Based on the way you watch TV -- which is based on shows, based on the actors, based on the genres, based on what your friends are watching -- we solve that equation by letting you search that way across all of your entertainment. For us, we think that's the big idea.

Q: Google's also trying to build a new TV interface with search and social capabilities ...

A: There are a lot of people who've been trying to do this and I think the challenge has been how do you build the economics, how do you drive the installed base, and how do you drive the relationships.

Our approach was, because it's on the back of the gaming platform, that's what's going to drive the installed base. Because we're clearly a games and entertainment company, Netflix and us have a fantastic relationship. We've got a fantastic relationship with the Amazon video people, a fantastic relationship with Hulu Plus, a growing relationship with the cable companies and dish companies.

Essentially we were the perfect vehicle to drive this type of innovation into the home. Whereas all of the other competitors have maybe an issue from a partnership standpoint that is tough to solve.

Q: You don't have a video store that's competing directly (like Sony and Microsoft ...)?

A: Exactly.

Q: But are you still getting commissions on the video rentals through the Wii U?

A: We're not going to talk about the business relationships that we have, but suffice it to say we've got very mutually beneficial relationships with all of the entities that participate in Nintendo TV.

Wii U black.jpg
Q: Will you make as much money on the platform from services such as video as you will from video?

A: As a first-party publisher, there's a large part of the value chain that we make on the game side ... so I doubt we will make the same profitability on the services side as what we do on the games. But it's still going to be a very healthy business for us.

Q: I talked to companies a few years ago that were working on ways to identify who was using the TV at a particular time so they could target ads to, say, mom, dad or the kids. How are you going to take advantage of that information, which you'll see through your system?

A: Certainly the way the system works, it gives us access to a lot of information, as long as the consumer agrees to share it with us. How we utilize that, we'll find out as we go.

Again, we're not in the ad-serving business. We're not in the micro-targeting business. But certainly I can imagine as we build out the service that's something that Comcast or AT&T or any of the cable companies are really going to be interested in, potentially.

Q: So it could give you leverage, negotiating to work with them?

A: Sure.

Q: Apple TV is also a rival of yours, including the current adapter and the rumored actual TV set. If it comes to pass I'll bet that it's something comparable to the interface you've developed (blending services, adding search, social and messaging, plus a simple and elegant remote).

A: We're all working off of the same public statements but it seems like they, too, want to be your cable box and they want to own that direct relationship with the consumer based on the content.

Again I think that's the sticking point for how they're going to bring their vision to life. Because I don't think any of the established players are willing to give that up.

Q: Over the life of this console the landscape's going to change, more video is going to move to on-demand, cloud services instead of cable.

A: Potentially. One of the beauties of what it is that we're doing is that essentially Nintendo TV is a cloud service, right? It's delivered over the Web. It's interactive. It can change on the fly.

Q: If this really grows, will it change the character of Nintendo? Will it become more of a consumer electronics company vs. a game company?

A: We've always been an entertainment company, going all the way back to the hanafuda cards and our key equities. We're an entertainment company. I think what the Wii U does is further show that our vision is this broader entertainment landscape.

Because in the end the time that consumer spends in any form of entertainment that's not on our device is a missed opportunity for us. It's that type of thinking that led us to create "Brain Age," same type of thinking that led us to create "Wii Fit." It's looking at the broadest landscape possible as to what constitutes entertainment.

Q: Do game companies have to evolve this way because the box and games business is declining?

A: From a Nintendo perspective this makes sense for us because we view ourselves from this broader entertainment landscape. We view every potential consumer as an opportunity. Whether they're 95 years old or 5 years old, we want to create entertainment that's going to speak to that consumer. In our view whether we deliver it in a handheld device or in their home, it's an opportunity to engage with that consumer, make them smile, give them something positive.

You look at the way we've managed the Mario franchise, the Zelda franchise, all our of our key franchise characters, utilizing a variety of different gameplay styles -- it's always been about driving entertainment.

Q: Will future versions of the 3DS handheld be more entertainment focused. Will there be a way to get Nintendo TV onto the 3DS or 4DS?

A: Today you can connect your DS to the Wii in terms downloading demos, downloading bits of entertainment. Second point is one of our key developers has already aid that they're working on a key franchise -- "Smash Brothers" -- that will have some form of connectivity between the 3DS and the Wii U.

Certainly because we manufacture the devices, we can enable some sort of connectivity. But beyond that on your 3DS today you can watch movies, on your 3DS today you can have a variety of deep experiences. We're certainly leveraging the learning we have in the broader space across all of our platforms.

Q: How about things like the timeline -- the interactive chatting about a show in Nintendo TV -- will that come to the future 3DS?

A: It could. But the piece to recognize and the reason we're able to bring that to life is that your signal, from either your cable box or your dish, this system has access to it through the IR codes. ... Who's to say the next iteration, ... the 4DS or whatever it is, might be able to do that, maybe.

But it just highlights the way we think about hardware development is we envision scenarios, we envision what can be done technically, that the current system doesn't do and then we build it into that new device.

For example, if we hadn't built the IR capability into the GamePad, the work we're doing with Nintendo TV couldn't come to pass. That's another key advantage we have, for example, vs. tablets or other handheld device. Not all of them have IR blasting capability. In fact, most of them don't.

Q: Speaking of tablets, how are you going to surface this against all the new tablets this holiday season?

A: We're working very hard to make sure that consumers understand that this is an entire system. It's the console, it's the GamePad itself, it's an entire proposition. It's not just a tablet that you're going to have in your home.

So the first step is really making sure that the consumer understands what is the entire proposition. The second step is making the consumer understand all of these great experiences that they can get that they're not going to be able to get on a tablet, and they're not going to be able to get on a tablet somehow connected to a gaming system like what our friends down the street are trying to do.

The only way we can deliver an experience like "New Super Mario Bros U" or like Nintendo TV is that this is an entire connected system , the way the GamePad talks to the console, the way the console is connected to the TV, the way it speaks to your entertainment provider. Your cable box or your dish provider. That entire ecosystem is what we're providing.

In our view the best way to bring that to life is to talk about the actual experiences, to talk about Nintendo TV and show it is unlike anything you can do today. To talk about the games and show that it's unlike anything that you can do today.

(Below is a screenshot of EA's FIFA Soccer 13 on the Wii U, with control details on the GamePad)

Q: You must have made a decision that linear TV was still going to be first-class on here. Your competitors, say, Google TV, didn't pony up for a guide. You did, deciding that people still watch a lot of linear (broadcast) TV. (Note: Google does not license a standard guide for live TV broadcasts, but a spokesman said there's a "TV & Movies" app available that pulls show data from online sources.)

A: There were just some numbers that were put out that ... in terms of TV viewing households, it's still something like 95 percent of all households. Linear TV is not going to go away, despite what anyone else says. It's certainly going to be driven by sports; it's going to be driven by event type programming. And so for us we absolutely embrace that in the way we're approaching Nintendo TV.

Q: Will you sell this system through Comcast or other TV partners?

A: It's certainly possible.

Q: Why didn't you just buy TiVo and go the whole DVR route?

A: That's not what we do.

Q: I wonder if Nintendo 30 years from now will be seen as more of an entertainment/video company?
Thumbnail image for FIFA13WiiU_Screenshot-Tactics-DRC.jpg

A: I think that we already see ourselves as an entertainment company. I think that certainly as we launch the Wii U, as consumers experience Nintendo TV, I think consumers will also see us as a broader entertainment company.

Q: Consumers may also think you're crazy to launch a system built around a tablet and a social network when there's a dominant tablet company and dominant social network already .... How will your Miiverse social network compete against Facebook?

A: We believe we're going to get traction with Miiverse because it's going to be dedicated to your gaming friends and your gaming community.

Here's the example: Yes, I belong to a few different social networks. But on that social network am I going to be posting how, you know, challenging this particular part of this particular Mario game is and asking for help? Probably not.

But I will post that type of information on Miiverse. And that's the difference. We're trying to cater to a specific opportunity around gaming and gaming conversations that we know our audience is passionate about.

Whether they're the most active consumer or whether they're the brand new game player, they get passionate about a game, they get passionate about questions of how to beat a level, the background for a level, what to play next. And we believe all of those social conversations are going to be best served by something like Miiverse vs. an existing social network.

Q: How about conversations about a football game or TV show that they're watching?

A: For those types of conversation, we're letting the consumer decide what's the best social network to use, whether it's through Miiverse or Twitter or Facebook. All of that's possible through Nintendo TV.

Q: Would you prefer that all those conversations happen through Miiverse?

A: For non-gaming conversations, we are ambivalent as to how the consumer wants to have that conversation. But we're passionate that when it comes to gaming, they're going to want to have that conversation through Miiverse.

Q: Are you going to monetize those conversations and social activity?

A: Right now we see it as a service. We see it as something that's going to be free to the consumer and a built-in part of the value proposition that is Wii U. Do we believe that potentially it's going to be a way for consumers to discover more content -- a way for consumers in the end to buy more software? Hopefully.

But we think making sure it's the best service possible for the consumer in the end is going to be good for us.

Q: Consumers might think the Wii U is expensive. Will the price slow the adoption?

A: That's why we've provided the two different price points and the two different SKUs. We certainly think that the basic model at $300 is a fantastic value. We think the deluxe version at $350 with "Nintendo Land" packed in is an exceptional value. We think whether you're looking to spend $350 or only want to spend $300, we've got something for everyone.

Q: What's your view on consumers' spending this holiday season? have they already spent their money on phones, or are they looking for a big new thing this holiday?

A: We think there's a variety of consumer situations out there. We certainly believe that there are quite a number of consumers looking for the next big hot product and looking to buy Wii U. That's millions of consumers.

We also think that there are going to be a few million consumers who are very late adopters who are going to be looking for a lower priced home console that has fantastic games. The Wii is for that customer.

We think that the Wii will have a strong holiday as well because there certainly are many consumers who are still feeling some financial pressure who only want to spend a certain amount of money but still want to play Mario and Donkey Kong and all of these great franchises.

There are going to be other consumers where they want a handheld and we've got a full range of different handhelds all the way from a DSi for $99 to a 3DS XL for $199. So I think that we have positioned ourselves regardless of the consumer's economic situation to find happiness with Mario.

Q: Will the Wii U and its capabilities last you through the next console generation?

A: We think so. It's based on having great graphics, it's based on having a robust online execution. We believe that this system is going to have a very long life, and it's going to be very well supported by third-party publishers.

Q: Will you refresh it through its life by adding big new partners, such as new video partners?

A: Certainly. It's going to be based on who the players are, and how they fit into the ecosystem that we're building. But as we drive the installed base of Wii U, we think there's going to be a lot of additional partnerships there for us to have.

Q: Can you fend off the Xbox 720 and PS4?

A: Once you talk about what that is, we can probably fend it off.

Q: What about goggles? Microsoft may be adding goggles. How can you make it without goggles?

A: Tell me if 3-D TVs with goggles have worked so far.

Here's Nintendo's demo video of Nintendo TV on the Wii U:

Comments | Category: 3D , Apple , Digital TV , Digital media , E3 , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Video games , Wii U , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 8, 2012 10:10 AM

With Wii U, Nintendo reimagines TV interface

Posted by Brier Dudley

At first, you might think Nintendo is flat-out crazy.

The company is launching a new $300 game console amid the biggest slump in video-game sales in years.

It's also taking on Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com and everyone else selling new Web tablets this holiday season.

The defining feature of Nintendo's new Wii U is its GamePad controller -- a wireless, touch-screen tablet with a 6.2-inch diagonal screen. (shown here in a picture by Mark Harrison, Times staff photographer)

NintendoU_mh179199.JPG
But that's not challenging enough, apparently. As Facebook surpasses 1 billion users, Nintendo also is launching a new social network for the Wii U, which goes on sale Nov. 18.

Remember, though, that people also scratched their heads when Nintendo released the first Wii and its unusual motion-sensing controllers back in 2006.

That earlier Wii never won over the hard-core gamers, but the company still sold 96 million of the consoles and more than 800 million Wii games. The system made video games more accessible and physical, dramatically increasing their appeal and audience. Microsoft and Sony soon added motion-sensing controllers to their game consoles.

After spending time with executives at Nintendo of America's gleaming new headquarters in Redmond and getting a demonstration of the latest Wii U features, I think Nintendo may have done it again.

I haven't spent enough time yet with the console to be sure, but I think the Wii U has the potential to be equally transformative -- partly with games, but mostly with home entertainment funneled through the console.

In addition to playing full-fidelity games, the Wii U is designed to be an easy, fun and engaging portal to live TV and online video. This capability, dubbed Nintendo TV, looks like the Wii U's killer app.

Perhaps most significant, the system also previews what to expect from the next generation of video consoles arriving over the next year.

With the traditional game business under pressure from mobile and online games and new Web services consuming more of our free time, console makers have recast themselves as entertainment companies. Their systems have evolved into gateways to most everything you could want on your TV.

Starting with the Wii U, the next generation of consoles will be designed from the start to fill this broader role in the home, while also powering the most advanced games.

If they're successful, these systems will be a daily part of your life, whether you're playing games or not.

"The way that would say it is Nintendo TV is certainly going to be something that every member of the family picks up and engages in at least once a day," said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America. (below, photo by Mark Harrison, Times staff photographer)

NintendoU_mh179200.JPG
"If that helps them get more comfortable with the GamePad, and in the end adds to more games being played, then that's great," he said. "But fundamentally, it's part of the overall proposition of games, TV, plus social."

Nintendo's Zach Fountain demonstrated the setup for me.

When you first connect the system to your TV, it syncs up with your cable, satellite or antenna setup. It also connects with video streaming and rental services, including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com.

Then the Wii U GamePad becomes the ultimate universal remote control for your TV. Notably, the system includes a full TV guide displaying broadcast shows available to you via cable or antenna, plus an infrared system for changing the channel and controlling the volume on your TV set.

The GamePad's touch-screen can display a keypad, for searching out shows and movies, or sending messages to friends over Nintendo's network or via Twitter or Facebook.

To encourage these conversations, Nintendo will stream highlighted scenes from the show to the GamePad, so users can comment on a particular passage or something that caught their eye.

The pad also can be used to play a game or watch a streaming video while another show is being displayed on the TV screen.

Lots of devices connect TVs to online services, and increasingly TVs connect to them directly. It's been a capability of the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii for years.

But it's still the early days. Only about 10 percent of U.S. homes are streaming video to a TV set, according to research firm NPD.

One reason is that people still mostly watch broadcast TV, despite all the buzz around services such as Netflix.

Another reason is that the options for streaming video to your TV are still incomplete. Cable boxes handle TV but won't connect you to Netflix or Amazon. Streaming video adapters don't work with live TV broadcasts. Web-connected TVs receive both live and streaming video but their software isn't great and they don't have decent games.

Which remote do you reach for in this situation?

Take your pick: Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft, Comcast and a dozen others are all battling over this space in the living room, hoping you'll use their software and devices to find and select your next movie.

And now along comes Nintendo, like a Super Mario quarterback, leaping over the pile of linebackers bashing each other at the goal line.

Fils-Aime explained how Nintendo can make this move.

The company has several advantages. It's good at making simple, accessible interfaces. The appeal of its games will bring the Wii U into millions of homes. The company designs and builds its hardware, so it can include things like the infrared remote control.

Nintendo's business model is also key, because it's not competing with the video companies needed to make Nintendo TV a success. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo is not running a video store that conflicts with services on its platform.

"Essentially we were the perfect vehicle to drive this type of innovation into the home, whereas all of the other competitors have maybe an issue from a partnership standpoint that is tough to solve," Fils-Aime said.

Instead of trying to become the new cable box, Nintendo wants the Wii U to augment whatever TV setup people are using.

Nintendo also is getting a jump on Apple, which is expected to someday offer a more ambitious TV product than its wireless adapter for streaming video.

Altogether, this positions the Wii U to ride whatever evolution in TV services happens over the five- to 10-year life cycle of the console. Over that time TV broadcasts may shift further toward online delivery, increasing the need for truly universal remote controls.

In the meantime, Nintendo is drawing on the cluster of network and cloud-software expertise in the Seattle area. Fils-Aime said it's done more engineering on the Wii U and its services in this region, where the company now has about 1,300 employees.

It will take awhile for people to figure out where Nintendo's heading this time, but I'll bet a lot of them end up crazy for the Wii U.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Nintendo , Tablets , Video games , Wii U |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 28, 2012 2:19 PM

RealNetworks cutting up to 160 jobs in overhaul

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another big layoff is happening at RealNetworks as the struggling digital media company tries to reorganize and regain its foothold.

Up to 160 jobs are being cut, reducing Real's employment by up to 14 percent. Up to 70 of the job cuts will happen at Real's Seattle headquarters.

Founder Rob Glaser, who returned to the chief executive position on July 3, informed employees today that that cuts are part of a new strategy and plan "to stop burning cash and to return the company to profitability."

"Unfortunately, a major part of this streamlining entails reducing our workforce from approximately 1,140 people to about 980 people," he wrote in a memo to employees today.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Rob_G_casual050808.JPG

Glaser (left) said the company is 80 percent of the way to having a plan to revive itself, but there are painful steps to be taken along the way.

"When I came back into Real after having been away from day-to-day operations for 2 1/2 years, I thought there was a pretty high likelihood that there would be a day like today," he told employees. "I knew it would suck for everyone, and indeed it does."

Real is cutting 80 jobs today. About 80 more employees were told their jobs will be cut over the next seven months, unless other positions aren't found for them within the company, although Glaser's memo suggests the plan is to reduce headcount.

If all 160 are cut that would be about 14 percent of the company's employees. That includes 40 immediate layoffs in Seattle and 30 that may happen later. Other layoffs are happening at Real offices around the world.

"The cuts were across the board. All organizations within Real were impacted," spokeswoman Barbara Krause said via email.

The company expects it will see $2 million to $2.5 million in charges related to the restructuring.

Real still is adjusting to the loss of its former stature as a leading digital media company. In recent years it shed assets and made commercial media services -- provided to customers like phone companies -- its major focus.

The ongoing reorganizations led to a series of significant layoffs over the past few years. More recently, the company has gone through a series of chief executives, culminating with Glaser's return in July.

Real's latest downsizing was telegraphed in an Aug. 8 earnings call when the company disclosed a plan to reduce costs by $45 million.

Here's Glaser's full memo, which the company released:

Dear RealNetworks Team,

I'm writing to provide an update on the progress we've made over the past 8 weeks and to provide some context and information regarding the layoffs that are taking place today.

When I came back in as Interim CEO on July 3rd, I said we would focus on 3 things:
Reviewing and assessing all of our businesses and new initiatives,
Coming up with a go-forward Strategy for RealNetworks that would set us up to grow and thrive, and
Putting together a plan to stop burning cash and to return the company to profitability.

I also said we would move fast, have a bias towards action, and would work hard to complete all 3 of these efforts within 2 months.

After a lot of hard work by many people across the company and around the world, today I report to you that we have indeed achieved the 3 objectives we set out to work on beginning 8 weeks ago.

Very soon I will have a lot more to say about our collective assessment of our businesses & new initiatives, and about our go forward strategy. Specifically, we have scheduled a series of company meetings - both in Seattle and at our main offices around the world - for on or around September 6th. After these meetings I believe that each of you in attendance will walk away with a clear understanding of our strategies and excitement regarding where we're going.

Today I will discuss our plans to return the company to profitability -- in a way that will set us up for future growth & success.

As we mentioned on our financial results call on August 8th, our senior team has put together a plan to cut at least $45 Million of annualized costs. This plan has several aspects to it; one of the main ones is to streamline our operations and to do things more efficiently.

Unfortunately, a major part of this streamlining entails reducing our workforce from approximately 1140 people to about 980 people. We are doing this in two phases. The first phase, which begins today, involves laying off approximately 80 people, who are being given notice today.

The second phase, which will take place over the next 3 to 7 months, involves approximately 80 more people, who are being notified today that there is a specific future date when their current assignment will be ending. We hope to redeploy a number of these people when their current assignments end, but as of today don't know how many we will find positions for. These people are working on projects that will merge duplicate systems or otherwise make us more efficient.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the approximately 160 people affected by today's announcement, and also my remorse that we have had to take these steps. You have all made major contributions to RealNetworks. We are grateful for everything you have done for our company and our customers.

I also want to express my appreciation to the approximately 980 people who are not directly impacted by today's actions, and to acknowledge that many of you are indirectly affected, because of the impact on your colleagues and friends.

Permit me to close on a personal note. When I came back into Real after having been away from day-to-day operations for 2 ½ years, I thought there was a pretty high likelihood that there would be a day like today. I knew it would suck for everyone, and indeed it does.

But I promised myself that if we did have to do a significant layoff, I would do everything in my power to make sure that when we did it we also knew where we were going. I wanted to be able to look everyone in the eye and tell them that we have a plan to succeed that I believed in from the bottom of my heart.

I feel like we are almost there. While we still have a few areas to work out, we have made great progress. I can honestly tell you today that we are at least 80% of the way to having such a plan for every major part of our company, and have line-of-sight on the final 20%.

This clarity on strategy, as you would expect, has significantly influenced how and where we are cutting costs, and where we are investing for the future. I look forward to discussing this further when we meet next week.

Rob

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks , Rob Glaser , Seattle , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 25, 2012 9:07 AM

MozCon: Fishkin on future of SEO

Posted by Brier Dudley

Search marketing guru Rand Fishkin's annual MozCon tent revival began this morning at the Westin, where hundreds of marketers using Fishkin's tools are meeting this week.

Fishkin is co-founder and chief executive of SEOMoz, a 79-person company that develops tools and services for online marketers.

Although some may say SEO -- search-engine optimization -- is less important nowadays, Fishkin said the practice has evolved to include marketing across multiple online channels.

SEO itself continues to be important because Google and Bing continually change their formulas, requiring marketers to keep pace and adjust, he said.

"If Google stayed stagnant people would figure this stuff out and they have not."

Fishkin disclosed that he's switched to Bing as his default search engine at home.

"Bing is pretty good," he said, adding that for 80 percent of searches he can't tell the difference with Google. He especially likes integration of social networks.

Still, Microsoft has to improve that remaining 20 percent.

"They still have a long way to go ... until they get to this point of true parity and even surpassing Google in terms of relevancy they're going to have a really tough time," he said.

The proliferation of social networks and the complexity of marketing across these different channels is providing job security for the search marketing industry, Fishkin said.

Fishkin advised marketers to pay attention to the Google+ social network. He said he wouldn't be surprised if next year there will be as much discussion of Google+ optimization as there will be this year about optimization on other networks combined.

A big challenge that remains is sorting out which Web site visits lead to a purchase. The system now attributes the conversion to the last visit, even though a person may have come to a site multiple times from different sources before making that purchase.

At SEOmoz, for instance, purchasers on average visit the site seven to seven and a half times before converting to paid customers. They may read an SEOmoz tweet or see a Facebook post.

Twitter accounts for under 15 percent of the first time visitors to the site. But people almost never arrive directly from Twitter and proceed to making a purchase - the site gets credit for only 18 of 5,000 "last touch conversions" at the site.

Fishkin said SEOmoz is developing its own network infrastructure, to improve its services and cut the huge expense of using Amazon servers to power the business. The spent over $600,000 last month on Amazon Web Services.

SEOmoz can afford the project - it raised $18 million in March.

Fishkin also said he's starting a new blog, Moz.com/Rand, where he'll talk business and other topic, in addition to online marketing.

IMG01923-20120725-0932.jpg

Comments | Category: Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 16, 2012 9:48 AM

Microsoft, NBC finally split, MSNBC.com becomes NBCNews.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was a good marriage, one of the best among their circle.

But 16 years later, with the children grown and on their separate paths, Microsoft and NBC are ready to try new things and perhaps join with different partners.

On Friday, the companies formally dissolved their joint venture in Redmond-based MSNBC.com, ending a grand experiment in online news conceived early in the dot-com era.

Both companies are eager to refresh and broaden their online offerings amid broad shifts in where and how people consume online news. They insist it's an amicable parting.

"I think we've had a great run," said Charlie Tillinghast, MSNBC.com president, who is mulling whether to move to New York along with his news operation.

NBC is buying out Microsoft's half and re-branding the online news site -- the nation's fourth largest -- as NBCNews.com.

NBCnews.jpg
Terms weren't disclosed. When the partnership was announced in 1996, the companies said it was a $600 million venture.

NBC is also moving the news team to its New York headquarters, ending Redmond's stretch as the home of a major national news organization.

It's not all going away, though. The venture's technology and online production team will remain in the Seattle area at a new "NBC News Innovation Center." It will handle technical operations of NBCNews.com and develop new technologies for NBC's news and entertainment groups.

The innovation center will also help NBC build an entirely new online site for the MSNBC cable-TV network, which NBC took over in 2007. Its new, distinct website will debut in 2013.

NBC's Seattle team will also work on local news sites in markets where NBC owns and operates TV stations. The local news operation could be extended nationally, but NBC executives declined to discuss future plans.

No layoffs are planned, but some employees who work with content may need to relocate to keep their jobs.

MSNBC.com has about 300 employees, including about 180 in Redmond. Executives said at least 100 will work at the innovation center. That leaves about 80 jobs in flux as the companies try to figure out how many positions will move to New York.

Steve Capus, president of NBC News, expects most content creation to be done in New York, where NBC already has most of its vast broadcast-news operation.

"It only makes sense to link up these editorial operations and do it in one place," he said.

Capus said it's been "a very successful partnership" but that the online brands need to be clarified and both companies want more flexibility.

"NBC and Microsoft were in a relationship where it was only going to be the two of us, and that precluded Microsoft from doing some stuff with different news organizations, and it precluded us from doing things with other technology and online companies," he said. "We're excited about being able to go out and do business with other partners."

Microsoft may partly fill any local void created by the split. It has already begun revamping and expanding the news product offered through Windows devices and its MSN portal, which draws more than 120 million people a month.

The centerpiece of that effort is a new, independent news operation in Bellevue to debut this fall. In addition to feeding MSN, it will contribute to the "News" app in Windows 8.

"While we think they've been a quality provider for many years, we believe that there's a lot of room for new innovation," said MSN General Manager Bob Visse, "and we also believe that the online consumer really hungers for a news product that provides multiple perspectives and multiple sources. We really weren't able to do that as well as we would have liked to in an arrangement where we had one exclusive partner."

Visse said the changes will "give MSN a new spark and a new life and a new reason for people to come and show up to our home page every day."

A breakup has been expected, especially since the sister cable-network MSNBC steered toward commentary, complicating MSNBC.com's efforts to remain a neutral, unbiased news source. News of the split surfaced several times over the last two months as it was finalized.

"The big gain here is we get brand clarity, brand alignment, and it's easy for consumers to understand which brand does what," Tillinghast said. "That conversation went on for years."

The split might have come sooner if the companies weren't busy with larger deals, including Microsoft's attempts to buy Yahoo in 2008 and General Electric's sale of NBC to Comcast in 2009.

Despite the breakup, it was clearly a good decision for the companies to join forces back in 1996.

Anticipating that the Internet and technology would transform the way news is delivered and consumed, they combined NBC's news expertise with Microsoft's technical abilities.

"We're looking forward to our shared vision of taking news and software and integrating them together," Bill Gates said at the time.

It was among several Web ventures Microsoft started in the mid-1990s, including the Sidewalk entertainment-listings business and shopping sites for travel, cars and real estate.

As MSNBC.com rose to become the leading online news site in the late 1990s, other media companies partnered with tech companies to stay abreast.

Disney hooked up with Bellevue's Starwave to build the online presence of ABC and ESPN, then bought Starwave outright in 1998. Disney's Internet group continues to run websites and develop technology platforms in Seattle, similar to what NBC plans to do with its Innovation Center.

This coupling of old and new media reached a crescendo in 2000 when Microsoft's online rival AOL spent $350 billion in a disastrous merger with Time Warner.

Then came the dot-com crash and bruising antitrust battles that sobered Microsoft's leaders and reined in its experimentation.

MSNBC.com saw layoffs and a reorganization in 2001 and 2002.

The rise of search engines later reduced the influence of mega-portals such as MSN, AOL and Yahoo, and Xbox became the major focus of Microsoft's consumer business.

Yet MSNBC.com remained in Microsoft's portfolio. Remnants of Sidewalk were sold off in 1999 and the car site became a feature on MSN.

The travel business, Expedia, was successfully spun off into an independent company.

Expedia veterans later revived the online real-estate concept as Zillow.com.

Meanwhile, NBC took a larger share of the MSNBC cable network, taking it over fully in 2007. It also tinkered with the formula and moved toward commentary.

Although Microsoft's now out of the picture, the cable network will continue to be called MSNBC.

"Part of the purchase from Microsoft is we are purchasing that name, that trademark," Capus said. "The reason we're doing it is because there's a tremendous amount of brand equity that's been built up over these 16 years."

NBC is acquiring all of the MSNBC.com assets, including the Newsvine and EveryBlock news startups acquired in recent years.

It will continue using Microsoft offices until a new location for the innovation center is chosen.

NBC will also continue its presence on MSN for a while. Under the arrangement, NBCNews.com will provide news content to MSN for two years. That will give NBC time to wean itself from Microsoft's portal traffic.

"The goal is to use the next two years to get people to come to us directly," said Vivian Schiller, NBC News chief digital officer, who will oversee the innovation center.

The joint venture hasn't kept NBC from developing relationships with other tech companies, Schiller said.

"The fact is we talk to everybody all the time," she said. "We do work with Apple and Google; we've not been held back from that. But with this transaction we're free to talk with whomever we like and so is Microsoft."

Changes will come soon to NBCNews.com. The Redmond team has been working on site upgrades that will appear in coming months, including systems for publishing across all platforms and an interface that's optimized for mobile devices, as well as desktops, Tillinghast said.

Although Microsoft no longer is the celebrated tech wunderkind it was back in 1996 when it courted the blue-blood network, NBC executives said that's not why they're splitting.

"They have been, honestly, terrific to work with," Schiller said. "Everybody wants the baby that we birthed together to grow up and thrive. It's been nothing but a good experience."

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Bing , Comcast , Digital media , Microsoft , Windows 8 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 9, 2012 10:45 AM

Microsoft's hardware binge: First tablets, now big displays

Posted by Brier Dudley

Making Surface tablet computers was just the start of Microsoft's plunge into hardware manufacturing.

Today the company disclosed at its Worldwide Partners Conference in Toronto (which is being covered by colleague Janet Tu) that it bought Perceptive Pixel, one of the leading makers of big multitouch displays.

These are like flat-screen TVs, but instead of tuners they have advanced touchscreen systems.

It wouldn't be hard for Microsoft to squeeze an ARM processor into these displays and create a line of giant Windows 8 tablet computers with screens up to 82 inches diagonally.

Perceptive Pixel also makes a 27-incher (below) that could easily be turned into a multitouch Windows 8 desktop to challenge the iMac and prod PC makers into improving their all-in-one offerings.

It's also intriguing to think of how Microsoft could extend its Xbox SmartGlass technology to large touchscreens in the home.

Yet Microsoft's press release suggests the company's going to at least start by marrying its big touchscreen displays to PCs made by its partners, rather than leap right into production of 82-inch Surface tablets.

The company's "large touch displays, when combined with hardware from our OEMs, will become powerful Windows 8-based PCs and open new possibilities for productivity and collaboration," Kurt DelBene, Office president, said in the release.

Perceptive Pixel hasn't pitched its devices as TV sets, but they could be used that way if connected to digital video services, such as the video apps that run on Windows 8. In that sense Microsoft just leapfrogged Apple's long-awaited plunge into the TV hardware business.

6196072886_66e0f76bd8_b.jpg
Perceptive Pixel is based in New York but builds its hardware in Wilsonville, Ore., just south of Portland.

Founder Jeff Han - a noted researcher into multitouch interfaces - said via email that the company has about 70 employees, about half of which are based in Wilsonville. That's where the company does all of its hardware research and development and manufacturing.

Han is "very happy to say that that location will remain intact, if not see growth" but he declined to discuss future plans.

Han is relocating to Seattle and most of the rest of the employees will merge into Microsoft's Silicon Valley offices in Mountain View, Calif.

The company -- led by veterans of Silicon Graphics and Nvidia -- manufactures and sells premium displays, software and services. In addition to to the 27-inch and 82-inch models, it also sells a 55-inch display. It began shipping hardware in 2007.

You've probably seen its displays in use. They were the touchscreens that CNN used to wide acclaim in the 2008 presidential election. Now they're used by virtually every major network.

The company won the Smithsonian's National Design Award in 2009.

Other customers include the Department of Defense and oil and pharmaceutical companies. The displays are also used by Nike and The Gates Foundation.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer reportedly has been running Windows 8 on an 82-inch touchscreen in his Redmond office.

6165965307_bc6621c81d_b.jpg

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft , Windows 8 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 14, 2012 1:44 PM

Source: Nope, Microsoft's not buying Hulu

Posted by Brier Dudley

I made a crazy guess about what Microsoft's going to announce at its surprise press event Monday in Los Angeles, but I guess it was a little too crazy.

I speculated that Microsoft might announce a big deal with streaming video provider Hulu.

But a source familiar with the situation just told me that's not happening. Apologies for building any false hopes.

My speculation was based on recent moves that Microsoft's made, ahead of the Windows 8 launch.

I still think it needs to bulk up its video application and service for Windows tablets, phones and the Xbox. Bringing Hulu into the fold would be a quick way to make this happen, beyond the video apps the Xbox group has lined up.

It would also do more for the consumer appeal of Windows tablets than adding the Yammer enterprise collaboration and message network, which is what some other news outlets are predicting will be announced on Monday.

Here's what I was thinking:

Hulu_Video_Player_Page.jpg
Hulu's huge library of TV shows and movies would add value to the Xbox Live paid subscription service, which is increasingly turning into a video delivery platform.

Hulu also has a system for delivering TV shows and movies free, funded by advertising. Many of the Hulu engineers who developed this technology previously worked at Microsoft and the company's chief executive, Jason Kilar, is an Amazon.com veteran who still spends time in Seattle.

Microsoft has been signing up all sorts of video content providers to offer their apps on its platform, including Hulu Plus. The company also has been increasing video rentals and sales through the Zune marketplace, which serves as the official Xbox video store.

But the company's video service needs a boost, especially to compete with the free content that Amazon.com is providing to Kindle Fire users and others who subscribe to its Prime service.

Music and video are two of the key apps that Microsoft will bundle with tablets running the RT version of Windows 8 coming this fall. The company previewed the music app last week at the E3 conference, saying it will be an improved version of the Zune service with 30 million tracks.

The company also made a deal in April with Barnes & Noble to ensure Windows devices have a premium reading app and service.

But there's been no word yet on if and how the company will upgrade the video app and service, which will also support the company's phones, consoles and PC operating system.

Hulu's owners tried to sell the company last year but couldn't line up a buyer and took it off the market late last year. Some speculated it would fetch $500 million to $2 billion.

Hulu's owners include Microsoft's closest partners in the media business. News Corp. has long worked with the Redmond company to get its programming onto the Xbox and Windows Media Center.

NBC is Microsoft's partner in MSNBC.com, which may be in play. Reports last month said NBC is looking to buy out Microsoft's stake in the joint venture.

This sort of deal wouldn't just help Windows and Xbox. Imagine what the addition of Hulu could do for Bing, which already has a selection of TV shows streaming under its "video" section.

Los Angeles seemed like a clue. That's where Hulu is based, and Microsoft's gone there in the past to announce its big multimedia initiatives.

Microsoft's top spokesman, Frank Shaw, wouldn't confirm or deny it, or even discuss the possibility prior to Monday's announcement.

"We're not talking about anything," he said.

A Hulu spokeswoman declined to comment, saying it never comments on other companies' announcements.

I guess I'll sit tight until Monday.

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Microsoft , Windows 8 , Windows Phone , Xbox , Zune , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 29, 2012 2:40 PM

D10: Apple's Cook opens AllThingsD, where's Windows 8?

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- The timing would have been perfect for Microsoft to unveil the next public version of Windows 8 at the All Things Digital D10 conference starting today.

Windows boss Steven Sinofsky unveiled Windows 8 and its signature interface a year ago at the last AllThingsD conference, and he's on the guest list again this year. But he's not included on the lineup of speakers.

Perhaps there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

The conference headliner this year is Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, who is making one of his first quasi-public presentations since he took over after Steve Jobs' death last summer.

Cook will be interviewed by conference hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher starting at 6 p.m. I'll be blogging from here at the event during Cook's presentation and through the rest of the conference, which concludes Thursday afternoon.

Former Microsoft research chief turned patent mogul Nathan Myhrvold is speaking Wednesday and will likely touch on his culinary adventures and encyclopedic cookbook.

Also on the agenda are the heads of LinkedIn, Spotify, Oracle and Zynga, along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. A session on lessons learned from Jobs includes Oracle's Larry Ellison and Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios.

Closing speakers Thursday include Google ad executive Susan Wojcicki and Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Google's Chrome and apps business, which today announced new laptop and desktop versions of PCs running the Chrome operating system.

Also appearing in Thursday's finale is Tony Bates, president of Microsoft's Skype division. Bates is likely to be pressed on Microsoft's plans to further integrate Skype into its consumer and business products.

The appearance by Bates comes a week before the Xbox group's big presentation at the E3 games conference, so perhaps he'll preview news about a new Skype feature for the Xbox 360. Or not.

Maybe Bates will do the Steve Jobs "one more thing" trick and bring Steven Sinofsky on stage to demonstrate Skype's integration with the "release preview" version of Windows 8 that's expected to be launched any day now. Stay tuned. I'll be blogging from the session, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Comments | Category: Apple , Billionaire techies , Chrome OS , D conference , Digital media , Enterprise , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Windows 8 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 14, 2012 9:50 AM

Startups at Microsoft: Inside story of Xbox wins, Zune losses

Posted by Brier Dudley

The truly inside story of starting the Xbox and Zune businesses at Microsoft was shared in a remarkable lecture Friday by Robbie Bach, the retired president of the company's entertainment and devices business.

Thumbnail image for bach_web_01.jpg
Bach shared his unique perspective on why the Xbox was a success and the Zune was not during a presentation on intrapreneurship, or how to operate like a startup and launch new ventures within a large, existing business.

The lecture included advice for companies looking to foster entrepreneurial culture, and for all sorts of entrepreneurs entering competitive new markets. It was a breakfast event held by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network in South Lake Union.

Bach described the corporate retreats where the Xbox business was hatched and how Sony fumbled its lead and gave Microsoft the opportunity to get ahead in the console business.

"When the luck happens, you take advantage of it and run with it," he said.

It also helped that Bach's startup had $5 billion to $7 billion in funding available, he joked.

That wasn't enough to help the Zune, though. Bach admitted that Microsoft quickly realized it was too late to prevail in the portable media player business and in hindsight he would have built a music service rather than devices. Apple executed well and didn't give Microsoft the sort of breaks it had in the console business, he noted.

Bach's now focused on philanthropic organizations, serving on the board of audio gear company Sonos and looking to buy a mid-size family business like the food-service supplies distributor that his father operated in retirement.

Here's a raw video of the event. Apologies for the quality; it was taken with a new smartphone that was supposed to capture high-def video ...:

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Sonos , Startups , Steve Ballmer , Tech work , Xbox , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 30, 2012 9:29 AM

Rich Barton on startup frothiness, pivots and pitches

Posted by Brier Dudley

Inspired by our local space explorers, I donned my high-tech prospecting gear and set out to mine precious nuggets of wisdom from a nearby star.

That would be Rich Barton, the startup wunderkind who founded Expedia as a twenty-something Microsoft manager, spun it into the world's largest travel business and became a serial entrepreneur.

Barton went on to co-found Zillow in 2005 and became a venture partner at Benchmark Capital, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that owned 20 percent of Instagram before it was sold earlier this month to Facebook for $1 billion.

RichBarton0067_Print (2).jpg
From Barton's perch, at least, it looks like another tech boom is under way and money's flowing like the old days, back before 2008.

Barton shared this view -- and tips on how to start and build big companies -- last week with the local chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs. Here's my edited trove from the event.

On today's climate for startups: "It's pretty frothy. It's a great funding environment, great for the entrepreneurs. There is a ton of money chasing good people with big ideas. It's as snap, crackle and poppy as I've seen in more than a decade. There are lots of exits happening, there are lots of companies going public right now, there is a reasonable amount of [merger and acquisition] activity that's going on. If the market holds up, we're about to enter a phase of serious IPO activity.

On demand for new tech stocks: "The public market, buy-side guys -- the guys who run the mutual funds, the technology-oriented mutual funds -- are starving. They've been starving for a decade for product to buy. It's kind of been fashionable, if not convenient, for companies to not go public, and all of a sudden everything's coming public. I think we're going to see a ton of activity."

On making mistakes: "I think the great skill of the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to forget mistakes. Learn the lessons from the mistakes, but forget them and not obsess on them and not let your mistakes undermine the confidence you have around the dreams you have. I think that's a big thing."

On spreadsheets: "I tell you, the spreadsheets never work out the way the entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists think they're going to work out. We all know that. ... Rarely does the company end up being what the original idea was anyway. So you've got to have people on the boat who can figure out how to change the fly, put something new on there and be creative and figure it out."

Pitching stories, not numbers: "I'm a PowerPoint guy, not an Excel guy, put it that way. I think people that come in with lots of projections and Excel spreadsheets at very early stages doesn't necessarily bode well. ... It's very difficult to plan the unplannable, so I look more for passion around a story and idea than I do around a spreadsheet."

Mobile, mobile, mobile: "If an entrepreneur comes to me these days and gives me a demo of a website and doesn't demo something on a smartphone, I almost out of hand am not even interested in it, because that shows an unbelievable lack of understanding of how people are actually interacting with the Internet now."

Traffic before revenue: "All of my businesses -- I look for getting a mass-engaged audience first and worrying about a business model second. Expedia was that way, Zillow was certainly that way. ... Get the masses in first, then figure out how to monetize."

On changing course: "Pretty much everything I've been involved with had some kind of pivot. Zillow had a really big one. We had raised money -- my guess is, we had raised $20 million -- before we even figured out what the product was going to be. ... We actually thought the way for perfect price discovery in real estate was going to be auctions."

On raising money: "The whole venture-capital business is one that operates a lot on personal networks that have been established. For people who are trying to get plans in front of me, the best way ... is to have somebody who I know really well and think is smart tell me to take a look at something."

Capital in Seattle vs. Silicon Valley: "There's plenty of money up here. There's a lot more down in the Valley. ... I find that the Seattle startup ecosystem is a few steps behind but on the same path as the Silicon Valley ecosystem."

On Gates and Ballmer: "Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were my venture capitalists at Expedia. I kind of thought of them that way. When I pitched the idea of Expedia to Bill and Steve, I tried to get them to fund me on the outside. Honestly, I said I want to start my own business and said look, this is a travel business, not a Microsoft software business. They kind of laughed at me and said, 'Who are you going to hire?' But what they did say is look, you may be right, let's get this going internally and if it makes sense to spin it out, we'll think about it."

On spinning off Expedia: "You know, huge credit to those guys: When it came time ... I came to them and said, 'Look, Expedia is on the brink of becoming something huge and interesting and important. If we stay at Microsoft, it will not be. If we spin it out, it might be.' And along with that I asked for $100 million to spend in marketing. Steve Ballmer was my boss at the time [early 1999]. ... He said, you're not getting $1 million from me to market. I said, 'Well, you know what, the public markets will give me $100 million, and they'll give it to me really cheaply, so let's go do that -- let's take the public market's money and turn this thing into something real.' And he said OK and we did it. It was a grand experiment for Microsoft.

"Microsoft has not done anything like that since but it obviously worked out -- it worked out quite well. Expedia was half the size of the largest player in the space when we spun out. Within 18 months, it was twice as big as the No. 2 player."

What's needed to take the startup plunge: "Courage. Think of 'The Wizard of Oz.' We've got the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. My kind of view of great entrepreneurial leaders is courage for the Cowardly Lion, you've got to have brains for the Scarecrow and probably most important is, you've got to have a heart because you cannot attract people or capital without a heart. People respond to passion; people respond to real feelings, real emotion, things that really matter."

His busy schedule: "When you have eight jobs, it turns out nobody knows when you don't show up to work."

Comments | Category: Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Startups , Tech work , VC , Zillow |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 29, 2011 3:10 PM

Rhapsody melds with Napster Thursday, free concert next

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle streaming music pioneer Rhapsody has a few milestones to celebrate this month.

On Thursday it's completing its merger with Napster, and shifting Napster subscribers over to the Rhapsody streaming music service.

Then on Saturday, Rhapsody celebrates its 10-year anniversary. On Dec. 3, 2001, the company, then based in San Francisco, launched its service providing subscribers unlimited access to a huge online music catalog.

Rhapsody moved to Seattle after it was acquired by RealNetworks in 2003, which then spun Rhapsody off as a separate company in April 2010. Rhapsody now has 170 employees, including 120 at its headquarters in Seattle; The rest are in San Francisco and New York.

The company is celebrating its anniversary with a concert at the Seattle Showbox next week -- featuring Built to Spill and other acts -- for employees, industry partners and others. The company's also offering a limited number of free tickets to the public (21 and over) here.

Rhapsody can't party too much, though. A resurgence of interest in online music services has brought new competition from newer players like MOG and Spotify and tech giants like Amazon.com, Google and Apple.

But Rhapsody President Jon Irwin said the company is thriving, having ridden through the advent of the iPod, smartphones and wireless networks capable of quality music streaming.

"Not ony were we first but by virtue of that, we've been around the longest. We're in probably a stronger and healthier state than anytime in our history, and we're still leading the market in terms of introducing change," he said.

Irwin wouldn't provide an update on subscriber numbers, beyond the 800,000 that Rhapsody disclosed this summer, but said, "I'm pleased with where we are." A partnership with MetroPCS that makes Rhapsody available to its Android phone users is adding subscribers, as will the Napster merger, which was first announced in October.

Meanwhile, Spotify announced last week that it reached 2.5 million paying subscribers, up from about 2 million when the European company launched its U.S. service this summer, offering limited free service and upgrades to paid subscriptions.

Irwin didn't comment directly on Spotify's growth but said Rhapsody's business is more sustainable. "We're not going out and relying on huge chunks of venture capital to fund free models," he said.

Looking ahead, Irwin expects the number of music tracks streamed to grow from hundreds of millions to billions and trillions.

But will Rhapsody still be independent, or part of a larger company, 10 years from now?

"Anything's possible," Irwin said. "If we continue to innovate and develop a great product, potentially that changes. What I want to do is continue to operate the business the way we've been operating it."

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks , Rhapsody |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 28, 2011 10:08 AM

Comcast's new moves, beyond the box

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cable giant Comcast is getting offensive, and I'm not just talking about rates.

As Americans surround themselves with video screens that stream movies and TV shows from different websites, Comcast is going after the challengers.

Comcast had to do something. It can no longer rely on the near monopoly provided by government franchises and content-licensing deals to hold on to its cable TV customers.

So the Philadelphia-based company is giving itself a makeover, in the style of Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and other popular digital-video portals.

OnDemand_TV_L_hires_86.jpg
Over the past year, Comcast has rolled out new hardware, Web services and mobile applications that extend its video content well beyond the TV and set-top box.

It looks like the company is trying to stem the tide of "cord cutters" who are turning to broadcast and Web video, but managers behind the new initiatives denied that's the case.

"I would say the reason we're doing a lot of this stuff is because our audience is moving to different devices," Tom Blaxland, senior director of product management, said during a recent media tour highlighting the new services.

Blaxland (below) manages a Comcast team in Philadelphia that's building new Web interfaces and mobile apps.

"We just keep following that thread of where our customers are going, so we can give them tools they appreciate," he said.

Tom Blaxland_DSF9526.JPG
It may be working. Earlier this month, Comcast announced it's losing fewer cable TV subscribers this year -- 443,000 through the nine months ending Sept. 30, compared with 622,000 lost during the same period last year.

Comcast's big growth area remains broadband Internet service. Content and video services add value to the broadband business, and prevent the company from becoming a simple utility.

Customers benefit because the rise of Web alternatives is pressuring Comcast to provide new and improved services to subscribers, but it hasn't gone so far as to lower rates. Instead it's offering more ways to consume content you're paying for already.

With nearly 4 million users, Comcast's video-streaming apps are hits. But that's still only a small portion of the 20 million digital TV subscribers who could get their content on mobile devices through the free apps.

About 8 million people are using Comcast's video site, XfinityTV.com. That includes 5.5 million subscribers and 2.5 million others who use the site to stream free broadcast content.

One goal of the site is to provide a unified console for TV shows and movies available via Comcast. Listings show what can be recorded to a DVR, streamed over the Internet or played from Comcast's "On Demand" collection.

Blaxland said this content may be available from various other websites, but it can get complicated for avid viewers to bookmark and track dozens of sites to get their shows online.

XfinityTV3.jpg
For a while, Microsoft was heading in this direction with its Windows Media Center video guide, which can blend cable, broadcast and online video sources. But the company now emphasizes the Xbox for video consumption.

Comcast also is developing a new app that will stream live TV shows to Web tablets in subscribers' homes, matching a capability offered by other cable companies. Comcast announced the live TV streaming in January and disclosed last summer that it will use a Motorola device that connects to home routers and handles the streaming. Reports last week said the service will enter testing in a few weeks and initially work only with iPads and Motorola Xoom tablets.

Comcast also is preparing to release a new cable box that plays cable TV, Web video content and some Web apps. Dubbed "Xcalibur," the set-top box is being tested in Georgia, with plans to roll it out across the country starting next year.

Tying these apps and products together is a new interface design dominated by thumbnail "cover shots" of movies and TV shows. It looks more like iTunes or Netflix than the traditional Comcast menu. The interface was added to the XfinityTV.com site in October and is used on the new Xcalibur box.

Elements of the interface will also appear on the new Comcast app coming this month to the Xbox 360, Blaxland said. Comcast subscribers will be able to stream stored -- but not live -- video content to the consoles, after Microsoft rolls out a new software dashboard for the consoles Dec. 6.

Some of these changes reflect what's happening behind the scenes. Comcast is now streaming content over the Internet from a central hub in Denver, which could eventually replace the local "hubs" that Comcast uses to store and distribute video over its traditional cable.

Meanwhile, the company is using both cable and Web systems. That's why subscribers will see some shows available "On Demand" -- from Comcast's regional hubs -- and others available for Web streaming. Different licensing deals affect what's available from the two systems.

You'd think Comcast would be able to abandon regional hubs and just stream everything via the Internet, as Netflix or Hulu does. That would eliminate the need for set-top boxes, and let customers stream live and on-demand content straight to connected TVs, tablets and game consoles.

Blaxland said "you could foresee that being the case" but for now the cable system still works well for distributing high-quality video.

"Eventually the IP (Internet protocol) stuff will catch up so that we can do some pretty cool stuff," he said.

Having one central hub could also lower Comcast's operating costs dramatically.

So does that mean subscriber rates will come down? Not likely.

"There's no way you can speculate on that," spokesman Steve Kipp said, explaining that content costs will keep going up even if distribution costs fall: "Those rates keep going up year after year, especially sports."

Comments | Category: Broadband , Comcast , Digital TV , Digital media , Netflix , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 3, 2011 10:34 AM

Rhapsody buying Napster, Best Buy gets part of Rhapsody

Posted by Brier Dudley

In response to growing competition in the subscription music business, Seattle's Rhapsody is buying Napster from Best Buy.

As part of the deal, Best Buy is getting a minority stake in Rhapsody, which was spun out of RealNetworks last year.

Rhapsody and Napster are the two largest "premium" subscription music companies in the U.S., the companies said. Combined they may stand a better chance against a wave of new and retooled music services being rolled out this year.

Thumbnail image for RhapsodyJon.JPG
"This deal will further extend Rhapsody's lead over our competitors in the growing on-demand music market," Rhapsody President Jon Irwin said in the release.

The sale is expected to close on Nov. 30, after which Napster subscribers will be shifted to Rhapsody. The notorious Napster brand will be dropped.

Napster's selling price and the combined total subscribers weren't disclosed.

The deal cements Rhapsody's position as the largest provider of "all you can eat," paid subscription music services in the U.S. and gives it a toehold in Europe, where Napster has a presence.

It also comes as the company faces new competition from younger challengers such as Spotify, Rdio and MOG.

At the same time, Netflix-era consumers may be warming up to the concept of paying about $10 a month to access huge online music libraries from computers, mobile devices and connected stereos.

Irwin said in an interview that Rhapsody is interested in additional acquisitions "that make sense" and further its growth.

"We're going to go after those aggressively," he said.

Consolidation was inevitable and could lead toward larger deals by Internet giants whose online music services don't have as much traction.

As smartphone and Web tablet use soars and mobile broadband proliferates, Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com and Apple will all vie to store and stream consumers' digital music collections on their networks.

Google, Amazon and Apple each introduced "cloud" services that provide online storage and access to digital music this year, but they don't yet offer all-you-can-eat subscription services. Microsoft has the Zune music service that's linked to Windows Phone and Xbox consoles and, with the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, it's going to put a bigger emphasis on storing, syncing and streaming digital content.

The Napster deal likely gives Rhapsody more than a million customers -- with esablished billing relationships. That will make it a more appealing acquisition target or at least give the company enough heft to compete with the big players.

Asked about the acquisition potential, Irwin said: "Our focus is going to be 100 percent on growing, providing the music experience for our customers and building value in the service we deliver for them."

His comments in the press release emphasized the importance of scale.

"This is a 'go big or go home' business, so our focus is on sustainably growing the company," Irwin said.

Scale also benefits the new social features the company added, including its new partnership with Facebook, he added.

Rhapsody has about 800,000 customers and expects to break even later this year. It lost $7 million on sales of $32.5 million in the quarter ending March 31. It has 150 employees -- including about 120 in Seattle -- and has sales of about $130 million a year.

Streaming music plans are increasingly bundled with cellphones, and Rhapsody's major focus lately has been expanding partnerships with carriers such as Verizon Wireless.

Napster began as a rebellious music sharing site that was shut down by record companies, but the brand lived on after software company Roxio bought the brand name in a 2004 bandkruptcy sale.

Napster then was built into a subscription music service that had about 700,000 paying customers when it was sold to Best Buy in 2008 for $121 million. At the time Best Buy was hoping the deal would help it better compete with Apple's iTunes store for music buyers.

Apple has continue to lead digital music sales but it's been slow to develop a subscription offering. It acquired streaming music provider Lala in 2009 but discontinued the Lala service.

Napster employs about 120 people, most at its offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. There are likely to be significant layoffs, as Rhapsody plans to close the Southern California offices.

"We'll be working with the Napster team to migrate the customer base and, to the extent that there are openings for Napster employees to join the team, we'll be discussing those opportunities with them," Irwin said.

The music libraries offered by Napster and Rhapsody mostly overlap so customers aren't likely to see much change. Napster subscribers will have their favorite tracks and other saved lists shifted over to Rhapsody after the deal closes.

Rhapsody's business, meanwhile, should continue growing through partnerships and acquisitions, Irwin said.

"I like our position -- I like where we're sitting," he said.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Facebook , Microsoft , RealNetworks , Rhapsody , Telecom , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 26, 2011 9:46 AM

Kindle library lending: good deal for everyone?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's great news for Kindle owners that they can finally get library books on their devices.

I always thought this was one of the biggest shortcomings of Amazon.com's device. It also highlighted the fact that Kindles are designed as much for buying books as for reading them.

But, while good for Kindle users, it may not be such a great deal for everyone else using public libraries.

I'll bet that last week's announcement that libraries across the country are working with Amazon to offer e-books for borrowing will come to be seen as a turning point, when libraries accelerated their shift toward digital content bound in content-protection software.

Thumbnail image for kindlelibe1.jpg

The convenience of digital books is compelling, especially to public libraries struggling to manage costs, grow their collections and stay relevant.

At the same time, there are trade-offs that may be overlooked or downplayed as libraries rush to embrace new formats and satisfy the demands of gadget-toting patrons.

For starters, this transformation may erode the democratic nature of libraries.

To meet growing demand from owners of Kindles and other reading gadgets, libraries are shifting more of their budgets from physical books anyone can read to digital copies that require a computer or e-book to consume.

The King County Library System is working on its 2012 budget and expects to dramatically increase its spending on digital copies after digital circulation increased by 150 percent over the past year, according to Director Bill Ptacek.

It now spends about $800,000 of its $14 million material budget on digital and audio books.

"It's a delicate balance," Ptacek said. "We want to have a big enough collection and offering that people who do have the devices will come to the library. On the other hand, we don't want to go so far overboard."

This balancing act is tricky in part because Amazon -- the leading e-book company -- doesn't disclose how many Kindles it has sold. Libraries are constantly asked for Kindle material, but nobody knows the size of this audience.

Ptacek estimates 10 to 20 percent of its 900,000 cardholders have e-reader devices.

Seattle's library system has seen digital circulation double every year since it began working in 2005 with OverDrive, a Cleveland company that runs the digital lending websites of most U.S. libraries.

Last week, OverDrive added Kindle to the list of devices supported by its service.

Libraries don't have to buy special Kindle editions of digital books. They just buy a digital copy from OverDrive, which serves the copy in whatever format the patron chooses at checkout.

Amazon's arrangement also adds a new layer of commercialism into the public service that libraries provide.

Unlike digital books offered in other formats through library websites, Kindle versions require you to complete the checkout process at Amazon's website. The process ends with a pitch from Amazon to buy more books, and the system feeds Amazon's database of customer interests.

It's still early days for digital books. The next step will be applications that let library patrons borrow digital books directly from their e-reader, Web tablet or smartphone. This will appear on a Sony reader coming in October, and could be on the new color tablets that Amazon's expected to unveil Wednesday.

"There is a road map where we're going to be able to do more of the experience within the app," said David Burleigh, OverDrive director marketing.

At the Seattle library, digital consumption reached a "critical mass" in 2010 with the proliferation of e-readers, smartphones and tablets, said Kirk Blankenship, electronic-resources librarian.

Blankenship expects circulation of downloadable books to triple this year from 100,000 to 300,000 checkouts. Overall circulation has been steady at about 11 million.

That doesn't necessarily mean there's been a major shift in reading habits. Budget cuts forced Seattle to dramatically cut library hours, reducing access to printed books and skewing circulation patterns.

Blankenship and Ptacek both see digital copies as additions to the printed collection, rather than as a replacement. But they are having to make decisions about where to spend their limited budgets.

What will the mix looks like two or three years from now? "We'll have a much more robust e-book environment and alongside that we'll have the print collection we'll be doing just as well," Blankenship said. "When you get a little beyond that ... that's much more of a gray area."

In the meantime, I'd argue that libraries should be pushing for ways to share the gains that e-book companies are seeing.

For instance, Amazon pays commissions to websites that refer shoppers to its online store. Why doesn't this "affiliate" program extend to the 11,000 public and school libraries now channeling book lovers to Amazon.com.

The elephant in the room, though, is the tax question.

Amazon is not only the leading e-book company, it's also become the nation's most notorious evader of local sales-tax collections.

While it's fighting to avoid local taxes across the country, tax-funded libraries are going to extraordinary lengths and paying a premium for content to satisfy Amazon customers.

These public institutions are making the Kindle more appealing, and helping to usher in a transformation in which Amazon may be the largest beneficiary.

Maybe it's time to pay the fees.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Kindle , Public policy , e-readers |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 22, 2011 3:07 PM

Nintendo Video launches for 3DS, no store yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo today launched the 3D video service for its 3DS handheld game player, which went on sale in March.

Called "Nintendo Video," it provides free, downloadable short videos and movie trailers that can be viewed in 3-D without special glasses on the 3DS.

It follows the release last week of a Netflix app for the 3DS, and Nintendo Video in Europe and Japan.

Videos are downloaded to the device via Wi-Fi.

Content will include movie trailers, sports and action clips and music videos, including an exclusive from Ok Go coming July 27. Exclusive content will also be provided by CollegeHumor, Jason DeRulo, Foster the People and Blue Man Group.

Microsoft and Sony are making their game consoles into entertainment hubs with access to proprietary online video stores that rent and sell movies and TV shows.

Nintendo may be heading that direction, but it's not there yet with Nintendo Video.

When I asked Nintendo whether the 3DS video service will offer full-length TV shows or movies, a spokeswoman said the company "hasn't announced anything about full-length content."

Asked about the potential for Nintendo Video to become a store for movies or TV shows, the spokeswoman provided this response, which I think means 'not at this point':

Nintendo Video is a free, one-way delivery system. Once it is downloaded, videos sent by Nintendo update automatically, so there is no way for users to interface with the service beyond choosing which videos to play.

It seems likely that Nintendo Video will evolve and add more capabilities, especially after the company introduces the Wii U with 1080p output. The company's president, Satoru Iwata, told me in June that video services will work well with the upcoming console in part because of its ability to stream content to its portable controller screen.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Nintendo , Video games , Wii U , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 14, 2011 10:26 AM

Hands-on: Spotify vs Rhapsody on Sonos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a quick look at Spotify - the new London-based music service that's debuting in the U.S. today - used on a Sonos streaming music system.

I compared Spotify on the device with Rhapsody, the Seattle-based company that spun out of RealNetworks. Both offer unlimited access to huge music catalogs for $10 per month. Spotify also has a free, ad-supported service but it's not yet available here.

Spotify began in Sweden in 2008 and now has 1.6 million paying subscribers in seven countries in Europe. Rhapsody has 800,000 paying customers in the U.S.

Rhapsody claims to have 12 million tracks and Spotify claims to have 15 million. It didn't take long for me to discover that Spotify has some European versions of albums that Rhapsody doesn't. It's kind of neat to have both a U.K. and U.S. release of the same track but it probably doesn't matter in most cases, if the songs are exactly the same.

Spotify has some of the same glaring holes in its catalog as Rhapsody. Neither one has the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, apparently because of licensing issues. So fans of those and other "unlisted" bands still have to mix their own collection with a cloud service.

On the Sonos, at least, Rhapsody has superior menu options providing a music guide, channels with different themes and genres and access to favorite artists, albums and genres:

rhaps.jpg
Spotify's primary menu offers "search" and sets and starred tracks from iTunes, which it maps when you first set up the service. One of its best tricks is the way Spotify pulls your existing music collection into its library, combining offline and online libraries. On my system it found lists from when I was testing iLike and pulled them onto the menu:

IMG01146-20110714-0933.jpg
On a PC desktop, Spotify's player looks very similar to the iTunes jukebox and it seems designed to function as a cloud extension of iTunes:

spotifypc.jpg

Yet Rhapsody still has some advantages. It trounces Spotify when it comes to information about the music you are playing on the Sonos, at least. On the device you can tap to learn about related music and background about the artist that's playing. Spotify's "information" button calls up only offers to show you "all albums" by the artist, at least on the one I tried. Maybe this is because of Spotify's affinity for iTunes - it seems designed by and for people who use it in parallel with iTunes, where you can learn more about a particular artist.

Rhapsody's artist information:

IMG01160-20110714-0940.jpg

IMG01161-20110714-0940.jpg

Spotify's artist information:

IMG01151-20110714-0936.jpg

There are slight differences in search results on the two services. It's funny - when I searched for "Rolling Stones," Spotify called up the local band after I typed "rolling." Rhapsody showed other results until I typed in "rolling sto."

But Rhapsody guessed faster when I search for Portland band The Decemberists. It chose the right band after I typed "decemberi" while Spotify couldn't figure it out until I typed three more letters to spell the whole name.

I couldn't tell a difference in the audio quality but I was intrigued by the Stones U.K. releases on Spotify. Rhapsody listed 57 different Stones albums. Spotify didn't number the albums and I didn't take the time to count them all, but appeared to have more Stones albums because it included things like soundtracks on which a Stones song appeared.

Spotify has U.K. and U.S. versions of some albums:
IMG01166-20110714-0942.jpg

If you want a huge music library at your fingertips, these services are well worth $10 a month. You can browse before subscribing to see if they have your favorite bands or major exceptions, but the catalogs seem roughly the same.

Spotify has some better features on its desktop player and connects to Facebook.

But on a handheld device like the Sonos - where you want the best menu and discovery options - Rhapsody has the edge.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Review , Rhapsody |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 29, 2011 7:00 AM

RealNetworks Unifi cloud service launches, in Germany

Posted by Brier Dudley

RealNetworks is finally launching Unifi, the online media storage and streaming service that it unveiled last December.

But to start it's going to be available only in Germany, through Vodafone Germany. A U.S. launch is planned for sometime in the fall, when it will be sold directly to consumers and through phone companies.

Real began talking about Unifi last year and planned to launch the service in the first quarter, which would have put it ahead of "cloud locker" services recently announced by Apple, Amazon.com and Google.

"Real's direct-to-consumer product was delayed by one quarter in order to ensure a successful launch with Vodafone," Real spokeswoman Barbara Krause said via email.

Unifi creates a "single, unified catalog" of users' digital media and consolidates it online, so it's accessible from PCs and connected devices such as smartphones. It also has Android and iPhone applications for automatically saving photos to Unifi, streaming music from an iTunes library to an Android device and sharing photos with Facebook.

Vodafone Germany is selling tiers of Unifi service and different storage capacities. A plan with 10 gigabytes of storage costs 2.99 Euros per month, a 30 gig plan costs 4.99 Euros and a 70 gig plan costs 9.99 Euros.

It works with Windows, Macs, iOS and Android. BlackBerry service is coming this summer, the release said.

Here are a few screenshots -- in German -- with pictures taken near Real's headquarters by the downtown Seattle waterfront.

The PC homescreen:

1Homescreen.png

Unifi on Android:

1Android_Home.png

Photos on the PC console:

2Photos.png

Mapping of photos stored with Unifi:

6Picture_Map.png

The Unifi media player when minimized on the PC:

10Minimize_Player.png

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 27, 2011 9:48 AM

Rhapsody needs to turn up the volume

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a new game you can play if you're following the recent hype around online music services.

It's like "Where's Waldo?" But instead of looking for a little guy hidden in a complicated picture, you look for a proud company that's vanished from the industry it helped create.

I call this game "Where's Rhapsody?"

Remember Rhapsody? It's a Seattle-based subscription music business that started a decade ago, was acquired by RealNetworks and spun off last year as a stand-alone company.

rhaps.jpg
Rhapsody has 750,000 subscribers paying $10 per month for unlimited access to its online library of about 12 million songs. It streams music to devices, PCs or Web-connected audio gear. It has 150 employees and about $130 million in sales..

I'm a fan. For that $10, I get unlimited access to a vast collection that plays with no ads or limits on how many times I can play a particular song. For $5 more per month, I can download songs to a smartphone (and hear them played through tiny speakers until the battery ran out faster than usual ... ).

It's like Netflix for music, but with a far better selection -- and new releases.

You'd think Rhapsody would be a service against which newcomers are measured.

But in recent months, as new music ventures turned the hype volume up to 11, Rhapsody seems to have pressed a giant "mute" button.

Since May, Apple, Google, Amazon.com and Best Buy unveiled new "cloud" music services without a peep from Rhapsody.

Midsize companies in the business are soaring. Online radio service Pandora went public two weeks ago; its stock didn't fare well, but the money-losing business still ended up with a $2.5 billion market capitalization. British subscription music service Spotify simultaneously raised $100 million, arming it for a U.S. debut and direct challenge to Rhapsody later this summer.

I caught up with Rhapsody President Jon Irwin to find out what's been going on. (I took the picture below last year at Rhapsody's new Seattle office.)

"We're staying the course," he said. "These new entrants are simply validating the space -- they're moving in a direction where we've already been and our products are already going."

RhapsodyJon.JPG
Rhapsody has been working to fully sever itself from RealNetworks, building capabilities such as its own billing system. That was completed a few months ago.

At the same time, Rhapsody has been redesigning its website and building new features. The redesign's been in beta testing and went live last week.

In a nod to Pandora, there's a "Radio" link that's basically a different name for the curated collections of music that had been called Rhapsody "channels."

Social networking features are coming in late July, enabling users to share and "Like" songs, Irwin said. Spotify now has an edge here. Its users can share playlists on Facebook (although they're not really giving friends music -- the friends have to be using Spotify, which is where the playback happens).

Also in the works is a "sync" feature that will scan users' offline music collection and add those songs to their online Rhapsody collection.

Synchronizing online and offline music collections is a big selling point of "cloud lockers" that Apple, Amazon and Google are rolling out. But these are very different offerings than Rhapsody's "all you can eat" service. The cloud lockers are mostly designed to store and stream music that you've bought, or will buy from the cloud companies.

Rhapsody lost $7 million on sales of $32.5 million in the quarter ending March 31. Irwin said it's in "fantastic shape" and accumulating cash that could eventually be used for acquisitions or international expansion.

"We are break even and moving toward profitability the back half of this year," he said.

Irwin believes that all the new entrants will help Rhapsody, because people will get more accustomed to subscription music services in general. I think he's right, that people are getting used to paying $10 a month for services such as Netflix, which provide convenient and legal access to premium content.

But I'll bet people will be confused by the different options, and they're not likely to subscribe to multiple music services. If they decide to start paying a monthly fee for online music, they'll decide among well-financed newcomers bombarding them with promotions, tech giants with household names and, perhaps, Rhapsody.

Irwin is undaunted. Rhapsody has a critical mass while other players in the U.S. are "nowhere near the scale they need to be profitable, and it's a very expensive proposition to close the gap," he said.

Rhapsody also is making deals with wireless companies to offer and bill for its service. Irwin said that's exposing Rhapsody to "not hundreds of thousands, but millions, of customers."

"The best way for me to position Rhapsody for additional value creation is to continue to deliver a great service and innovate on the product side," he said.

That's fine, but it may be time to start watching for Rhapsody to be acquired by a larger company.

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks , Rhapsody |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 20, 2011 9:45 AM

Review: B&N's simplified new Nook

Posted by Brier Dudley

Newer, faster phones and tablets are appearing every month, even every week, it seems.

But if you spend too much time grazing through this multicore, high-def smorgasbord, everything blurs together on your plate. The phones look like tablets, the tablets look like each other, and they all have the same basic set of apps.

Maybe that's why I like the new Nook reader from Barnes & Noble, a squarish puck of an e-reader that went on sale earlier this month for $139.

For starters, it doesn't look like yet another touch-screen Web tablet.

02_NOOKHeroAngle.jpg
It's a single-purpose reading device with a stripped down interface, which is kind of refreshing. It also helps stratify the jumble of tablets available nowadays.

The Nook is among a batch of high-quality, $100 to $130 reading devices with 6-inch screens and Wi-Fi connections. Others include Amazon.com's latest Kindle and the Kobo eReader Touch that's allied with Borders.

From $180 to $380 are readers with larger screens and 3G wireless service. Then from $499 to $900 are color Web tablets like the Apple iPad and Android-based devices. By fall there should be more glimpses of tabletlike Windows 8 PCs that will probably cost $700 to $1,500 when they go on sale.

As these categories and device capabilities become clearer, people won't wonder as much about whether they need a Kindle or an iPad. They may decide they need both -- an e-reader for books on the go, and a color tablet for magazines, the Web and other digital media.

That's what Barnes & Noble is counting on, at least. Its lineup now includes the $139 Nook and a $249 color version that runs Web apps.

"We think people are going to have a Nook Color and a Nook," said Michelle Warvel, creative director at Barnes & Noble.

That influenced the design of the new Nook, which has fewer features than the original, which tried to do everything at once. Released in 2009, it was a hybrid with an e-Ink display above a narrow color touch-screen.

Now, "our goal is to have a portfolio of products," Warvel explained. She said the simpler Nook was designed for the "pure reader."

Amazon probably is going in the same direction. It's expected to release color Web tablets based on Google's Android software later this year. They'll tap its Kindle bookstore and online music and video services, and complement its black and white Kindles, which will continue to have superior battery life and readability.

This must be what it felt like to be car shopping 100 years ago. At first there were all sorts of crazy horseless carriages, but soon it settled into sedans, coupes, trucks and motorcycles.

The new Nook is a cycle in this lineup. It's about the size of an outstretched hand, weighs 7.5 ounces and has a ridged, rubberized back.

You turn pages by tapping a side of the screen, by using a swipe gesture or by pressing hard buttons on either side of its rubbery frame.

The Nook is easy to hold and feels tough enough to toss into a bag or a backseat. I found that it didn't suffer after I carried it in a back pocket and sat upon it repeatedly.

The trade-off for this portability is that the screen is pretty small. It displays only a few paragraphs at a time, which is OK for books but awful if you're trying to get through a newspaper or magazine.

For reading books, it's on par with the latest Kindle, which has the same e-Ink "Pearl" display technology and screen size. Both claim battery life of up to two months on a single charge.

03_FrontView.jpg
A key difference is the Nook's touch-screen. Amazon executives have said in the past that they haven't used touch-screens because they require extra layers of material, which obscures the text a bit. I bet, though, Amazon will eventually add it.

The Nook's text quality was fine, but sometimes letters seemed a bit raggedy, creating a pulp-fiction effect that I kind of liked.

Warvel said B&N extended the number of pages displayed before the screen refreshes itself, a process that creates a flashing effect.

Users of the first Nook were distracted by flashes between pages so the new model, with standard text, flashes every five or six pages.

Having a touch-screen means the Nook doesn't need a physical keypad like the Kindle -- it just displays one on the screen when needed -- and can have a smaller case.

But it takes a little getting used to the Nook's mix of controls. It's also not obvious that you can do things like tap the center of the screen to call up controls for font size.

It's also easy to hold or tap too long and zoom past multiple pages. A few times I also had trouble unlocking the device, which you do by sliding a finger across the bottom of the screen. During a week of testing the device froze once; I had to reboot by holding the power button on the back.

There's no browser, but the Nook has social-networking features so you can share quotes from books with friends on Twitter and Facebook. There's no camera, so it's probably safe for randy politicians. You can also "lend" certain books to friends with Nooks.

The device is compatible with digital books loaned by some libraries, including Seattle's. But it's a multistep process -- you connect the Nook to a PC and transfer books via a USB cable. I tried this with several books and never found them on the Nook.

Another concern with e-readers in general is how they lock you into a particular service. If you've bought digital books for the Kindle, you can't read them on the Nook and vice versa.

Frankly, I still prefer actual books. It's easier to flip back and forth through real pages, which are also more relaxing after working with a screen all day.

But the avid female readers in my house took to the Nook like none of the other tablets I've brought home. And pretty soon I was able to lose myself in a novel on the little gadget -- so I stopped wondering where the library books went.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Kindle , Nook , Review , Tablets , e-readers , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 9, 2011 6:01 PM

E3: New details on Xbox TV, Win8 cloud entertainment, Zune demise

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES _ Microsoft will partner with regional cable companies to bring live TV onto the Xbox, a new feature that it announced Monday at E3.

That means the TV services will be provided through cable and satellite companies, and Xbox owners will need to subscribe to their services to get the live TV onto their game console.

That's according to Mike Delman, vice president of global marketing for Microsoft's interactive entertainment business group.

delman-1.jpg
During an interview in Microsoft's elaborate, two-story booth at the show, Delman also talked about Skype on the Xbox, Kinect's new capabilities and how Xbox Live is going to become an entertainment service for Windows 8 PCs.

Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: Do you feel you've got as much at E3 as the other guys?

Definitely. We don't have an announcement like a new console but the combination of the games for the hardcore, starting to answer the question about the Kinect for the core, and having a lot more Kinect for broader audiences and the live television has played real well.

Q: Some of your announcements were just a tease, like live TV coming this fall to Xbox. Did you hold back details because partnerships aren't done yet?

We have partnerships in certain places. It's kind of ironic we have a lot of international partnerships before we got some of our U.S. partnerships done. The reason we talked about it is doing the platform work - doing voice, doing Bing search, getting the UI to be a modern UI, is really the hard work. Layering in the content isn't as hard, so it's a natural sequence.

Q: The interface seems designed to plug in another tile when you get a new content partner.

Yes, bringing in the live content - a lot of people are just layering in tonnage, they're not putting interactivity and discoverability in it. Getting the interactivity and discoverability built, so the content can sit on top of it - getting the platform work done is the hard part.

Q: Will live TV be universal, or will it be regional TV services provided by whoever your cable provider is?

It will be tied to either a satellite broadcast company or a cable company. So in international markets, you'll just have one provider. In the U.S., it will be bifurcated by region, by market. You'll be a Comcast guy (in Seattle), for example.

Q: So you'll have to be a Comcast subscriber, similar to the way you need a subscription to get the ESPN content on the Xbox now?

Yes.

Q: Will the Bing search be full Web search or just for entertainment?

It will be full search on what you have on Xbox Live. So anything that's available on Xbox Live if you're a gold subscriber it will search all of that, it won't go out and search the Web.

Q: Why not add Web search as well?

Listen, when we've got tens of millions of pieces of content just on our service, being able to search that - music for example, we've got 11 million music titles now - just mastering that in a bunch of different languages is a big priority. People at this point have other ways to get out to the Web.

Q: It seems like you could point the search at Bing's entertainment channel.

It's just not in the plans.

Q: Because you are using Bing, can you also serve ads against the results?

That's not part of the plan but it can be done. A lot of it will probably be serving ads within the content more than within search.

Q: It seems to be mostly about utility, making search easier than pecking out letters on the screen.

People will be doing stuff with their voice in probably a quarter the time it takes to go through the menu with the controller.

IMG_1347.JPG

Q: With hardcore games, Kinect is still doing auxiliary things mostly, rather than controlling the main action. When are we going to see that?

People need time to build a core, triple a title from the ground up with Kinect. People are starting to build core games from the ground up. The core doesn't want the controller to come out of their hand, necessarily. ..In a way I think voice (with a controller in hand) will be as powerful or more powerful to the core than will gestures, and the gestures won't be the sweeping gestures you have in the broader Kinect. I think they'll be more pointed gestures like a head-fake or a head-butt. ... People are being very smart about doing something that will enhance the core experience rather than totally change it.

Q: So will "Halo 4" be a Kinect game?

I'm sure we'll have some Kinect in it but we're not that far along.

Q: We've seen voice and gesture controls but not much use of Kinect's scanning capability.

The scanning actually wasn't fully enabled until the "Fun Lab" stuff unveiled (Monday).

Q: I also wondered if scanning or the finger tracking you've shown here would need new hardware with better sensors.

No, you can actually do that stuff now. Some of the things that will be interesting in the next generation of sensor will maybe a more high-definition RGB camera so the video conferencing is better than it is now. Skype, if it comes to fruition - you can see a lot of possibilities.

Q: I was surprised we didn't hear about Skype in your E3 press conference, but I guess the deal hasn't closed yet ...

I'm probably out of bounds talking about it.

Q: Maybe you'll announce Skype on Xbox at CES in January?

Whenever it clears, there's a lot of possibility with that.

Q: Because there's a new Nintendo console that runs hardcore games coming, will people hold off buying an Xbox or adding Kinect to their console?

I don't know what the reaction's going to be relative to their own platform. All I know is we're in the fifth to sixth year of our platform and platforms have never grown in the fifth or sixth year at what we're seeing. Other platforms is not what we're focused on, we're focused on how do we make Kinect, how do we make Live as compelling as possible. In a way a lot of what's going to happen is the box doesn't become the focus going forward, it's what is the sensor, what is the handheld, what is the phone companion, what is the service companion and what are the experiences.

Q: Speaking of phone, I was surprised we didn't hear about connections between Xbox and Windows Phone here at E3.

Live has been successful on the Windows Phone, Live will be built into the PC; it will be the service where you get your entertainment. We were talking about it - you will not just see consoles and handhelds at this show next year, this show's going to morph into other devices.

Q: Will Xbox offer games on certified phones, similar to what Sony's PlayStation is doing with Android phones?

We think there's a lot of potential on the Windows phones. With the Nokia relationship, we're going to have a lot more distribution of phones and Live will be the primary entertainment service. I think that's going to be a good play for us. If we have that and the PCs to leverage, that will be a big Live base. It's our job to make 'buy a movie in one place and play it everywhere, buy a game in one place and play it everywhere.' Making things portable through the devices will be a big focus of ours.

Q: Will Microsoft's Zune service continue building up its video and music stores, or will you be working more with partners running content stores?

We're very committed to offering music and video and TV shows on our own service through Zune.

Q: I don't think I heard the "Z" word in the keynote. Are you phasing out the Zune brand?

In general I think what you're going to see is us talking about 'music' and 'video.' I think what we're coming to the realization about is putting brands on top of brands on top of brands is not as, you know - if you want to look for music, just knowing it's under a category (music) is a good thing.

Q: Speaking of branding, Xbox brands are all over Qwest Field. Are you going to go the next step and name the whole stadium, taking that over from CenturyLink?

Not that I know of. I'm a little worried we might own the whole city of Seattle if we keep doing sponsorships with everybody.

Q: How will your services and content be part of Windows 8?

There will be a lot of similarities in design and service philosophy. Whether it's us or Apple or anybody else, people want to be able to navigate through multiple devices in a certain ecosystem very seamlessly so we're committed to that.

Q: Will Xbox Live be your cloud media service that works with your Windows PC as well as your phone and Xbox?

Xbox Live will the pervasive media service across devices.

Q: Right now it's a little confusing - you've got Xbox Live, SkyDrive storage and other online places for media.

We have a ton of assets. Unifying the assets will be good for us and good for consumers.

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , E3 , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Video games , Windows 8 , Windows Phone , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 17, 2011 1:41 PM

Video: Cheezburger's Huh on news, democracy, social media

Posted by Brier Dudley

After launching a string of hit humor Web sites, Ben Huh is turning his attention to online news.

The founder of Seattle-based Cheezburger -- a network of websites, including Icanhascheezburger.com and failblog.org -- detailed his plans in a wide-ranging talk to a group of Seattle journalists Tuesday night.

Ben headshot high res.JPG
Long before he became the king of funny cat pictures on the Web, Huh studied journalism at Northwestern University's Medill school. He graduated in 1999 at the peak of the dot-com boom and was recruited into the world of online startups.

Now, having drunk and "thrown up" journalism school Kool-Aid, he wants to apply what he's learned to develop a new way to present and consume news.

His plan is to create an open-source platform that people could use to be "amateur editors," designing and managing their own blend of online news sources and advertising. If there's enough interest he'd like to develop it as a public tool like blogging platform WordPress.org.

The end product sounds like a portal creation tool along the lines of Netvibes.com, a site that lets users customize a personal home page with widgets and news feeds.

Huh floated the project -- and riffed on topics ranging from Fox News to Twitter and democracy -- at a Tuesday meeting of the Online News Association and regional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Afterward he said the news platform is a personal project of his, separate from Cheezburger.

Huh, whose sites draw on material generated by their online audience, believes people are able to develop a "sixth sense" about what's truthful online.

"We are learning to use our emotional brain and our gut to figure out what is and isn't good news," he said.

Huh believes that editors must put more emphasis on topics that appeal to their audience, as opposed to stories that editors deem to be important.

"The role of, I think, the editor tomorrow is going to be more about understanding the tastes of their audience rather than trying to figure out what should and shouldn't be covered based on some arbitrary standard by the media," he said, adding that "a great editor knows how to increase ratings and also keep their integrity."

Social media is one way to figure out audience interests, he said: "Social media gives us a lot of data about what people are looking for."

Sites need more than viral hits that temporarily bring a large number of visitors, he said. They need to consistently provide good content that gets people to return again and again.

Selecting -- or curating -- a mix of news is different than reporting, he said.

"One of the things that I've found out is that people are really, really, really good at curating," he said. "People are really good at filtering and curating, more so than they are at creating content."

Huh continued: "The ability to curate requires that you sit at a computer. The ability to create requires that you get off your computer and go out there. Very, very different things and different people are willing to do that."

Here's a lengthy video that captures most of Huh's presentation Tuesday. He was interviewed by Cory Bergman from MSNBC.com.

Comments | Category: Cheezburger , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Open source , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 12, 2011 10:44 AM

Video: Google Music hands-on

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a brief video clip of Google Music running on a Motorola Xoom Android tablet.

It showed a strong 3G signal, but the Web service buffered and fritzed. The service is still being developed so it's early to pass judgment on Google's effort, but the glitches were still surprising.

Comments | Category: Android , Chrome OS , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Google , Review , Tablets , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 11, 2011 4:30 PM

Google Music: Definitely beta

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google has been accused of overusing the "beta" tag on products it releases early.

But with its new music service -- Music -- the beta tag is mandatory. It's still pretty raw, judging from my experience with it today.

The service was announced this week at Google's developer conference and it's available now only by invitation. It's really an online-offline version of the music player that's offered with devices running Google operating systems such as Android.

You can use the service -- which I'll call gTunes -- to upload music files to Google and access them on PCs and up to eight Android devices with Web access. Not all Android devices will work; it requires at least version 2.2 and a device running OpenGL2.0.

You can also use it to directly load music files to devices with a cable, and the player stores recently played songs on devices, so you can have some music if they're offline.

googmusic5.jpg
I spent a few hours trying the service on a PC running Windows 7, on an Android 3.0 Xoom tablet and on a new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G running Android 2.2.

It took about 10 minutes to sign up and download the "music manager" client application to the PC, where it began uploading my music files to Google. It took about five minutes to scan a 2.7 gigabyte music file with 437 music files and about 45 minutes for them to all be uploaded.

Then I could access the files from a browser pointed at gTunes.

Google provides a batch of free songs to get you started. That's good because I couldn't access my own, uploaded music from the Sidekick, only the free batch of gTunes songs.

There was some buffering to get online songs started on the Sidekick. It took 15 to 20 seconds for music to start playing after I pressed play on a song. This was over T-Mobile's 4G network with a full signal showing. Advancing to an artist's next song was quicker, and took only a few seconds.

On the Xoom, when I connected through the browser, the application fluttered and partly blinked out. After switching to a different category -- from artists to genre, for instance -- it recovered and began to work. (Here's a video clip of the Google Music struggling on the Xoom).

IMG_1310.JPG

This may be an unfair test of the Xoom because gTunes requires Adobe's Flash, the latest version of which suggests using version 3.1 of Google's Android operating system for tablets. Google's going to make 3.1 available to the Xoom, but I was still running 3.0 and couldn't get Flash to fully install.

I also had a funny thing happen on the Xoom. While playing a song with the device's media player, I opened the Web version of the player. The song on the device paused. I chose a song stored online and hit play, but something else came out of the speakers -- the song paused on the device. This may have been operator error, but there still needs to be better coordination -- or clearer controls -- between the offline and online players.

The gTunes page displayed in the browser has tabs for "my library" and a "new and recent" window that displays album art that you click to access songs. You can rate songs with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" and then play just the "up" songs.

There's also an "instant mix" feature that lets you choose a song and click to automatically generate a mix of 25 songs. But I couldn't get this to work; no matter which song I chose, it said I didn't have enough "similar songs" to create an instant mix.

The design is barebones and bland with a mix of simple type styles. It's nicer than Gmail, but a far cry from the polished media apps now available for free from Apple, Microsoft and others.

Having your music available online can be handy, but there are other ways to do this and new "cloud" music services are expected from RealNetworks and Apple. It remains to be seen whether Google gets into a spat with music labels over its service, and whether it begins charging for storage or using its service to deliver ads.

If it becomes a pay service, it will have a hard time competing with streaming services such as Rhapsody that provide unlimited access to millions of songs on PCs, smartphones and some stereo gear. Unless Google uses bundling to build market share.

My guess is that Google isn't out to build a big, online music venture as much as it's trying to be sure there's a decent music option for buyers of its upcoming Chromebook computers. Operating systems are a bigger, more lucrative market than online music.

You can't store a music collection on a Chromebook because the machines have minimal storage capacity. They're designed to run Web applications and handle files stored online. This could make Chrome a non-starter for people who expect their computer to store and access their digital music collection.

Now gTunes is providing a way for people to begin transferring their digital media from computers in their home to Google's datacenters, like the one humming alongside the Columbia River in Oregon.

But before it takes the beta tag off gTunes, it has to work out a few kinks and provide more details about where the service is heading.

Comments | Category: Chrome OS , Digital media , Google |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 15, 2011 1:30 PM

NPD: Netflix owns streaming video, for now

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new report from NPD says Netflix has 61 percent of the streaming video market in the U.S.

That means six of 10 streamed movies are delivered by the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company.

The nearest competitor is Comcast, with 8 percent of the market. Tied in third place with 4 percent of the market apiece are DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Apple.

Still, most home-video revenue still comes from the sale of physical discs.

"Sales of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs still drive most home-video revenue, but VOD and other digital options are now beginning to make inroads with consumers," Russ Crupnick, NPD entertainment industry analyst, said in the release. "Overwhelmingly digital movie buyers do not believe physical discs are out of fashion, but their digital transactions were motivated by the immediate access and ease of acquisition provided by streaming and downloading digital video files."

NPD looked at movies downloaded or streamed between January and February, drawing on 10,618 survey responses.

netflix-vizio.jpg

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 17, 2011 1:36 PM

Disney Internet CTO starting new Seattle venture

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bud Albers, a veteran digital media executive, is leaving Disney Internet Group to start a new company in Seattle.

Albers spent three years as chief technology officer of the Seattle-based group, which runs a vast technology platform used by Disney, ABC and ESPN.

Earlier, Albers was CTO at drugstore.com, Getty Images and MediaNet Digital, where he worked on the launch of music services including Zune, MTV's Urge and Yahoo Music Unlimited.

Now he's "just looking for something new and exciting," he said.

Albers said it's too early for him to discuss the business he's starting but it sounds as if it will involve digital media convergence.

It's also going to be located in Seattle, where the Missouri native is settled with his family.

"If you're going to start something I cant think of a better place do it," he said.

Albers' departure comes as Disney's interactive media group is cutting costs to restore profitability. That's led to layoffs, including the closure last month of a 70-person game studio in Vancouver, B.C.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 10, 2011 1:38 PM

Sonos coming to Android phones

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sonos, the high-end streaming audio system, is releasing a new version of its controller software for Android phones.

It follows iPhone and iPod Touch versions of the software that were released in 2008, giving people an alternative to its $349 remote controls.

Sonos will release the free Android application in late March. It will run on smartphones running Android 2.1 or later with screen sizes of 320 by 480, 480 by 800 or 480 by 854.

A screenshot:

Android_Now_Playing.jpg

Comments | Category: Android , Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 2, 2011 5:41 PM

Hulu partners with Viacom, Daily Show and Colbert return

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hulu just announced a content deal with Viacom that will bring shows like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" back to Hulu's free video-streaming site.

The shows will appear on Hulu.com the morning after they are first broadcast.

Hulu's also going to add a big batch of Viacom shows to its Hulu Plus premium service. The network's "leading shows" like "Jersey Shore," "Teen Mom 2" and "Tosh.0" will come to the site 21 days after they first air.

Hulu Plus is also going to add more than 2,000 episodes from Viacom's library over the next few weeks.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Chief Executive Jason Kilar said the site expects sales of nearly $500 million this year, up from $263 million in 2010 and $108 million in 2009.

Kilar, a former Amazon.com executive, also said subscriptions to the $7.99 per month Hulu Plus service should pass 1 million a month this year.

"It is clear to us that -- because of the Internet and the increased competition/innovation it brings -- the future of TV is going to be very good to users, advertisers and content owners/creators," he wrote.

(For a great look at Hulu's evolution, check out this Wall Street Journal story from last week, detaling the hardball Kilar played with Hulu's owners).

Comments | Category: Digital media , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 31, 2011 9:33 AM

Motricity paying $100 mil plus for Adenyo

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue-based Motricity announced today that it's buying Adenyo, a Canadian mobile ad company with reach in Europe and a blue-chip client list, including Ford, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Paramount Pictures.

Motricity's paying $100 million - at least half in cash - and may pay up to $50 million more over the next year, depending on Adenyo's financial performance.

Toronto-based Adenyo had 2010 sales of around $20 million, according to Motricity's release.

Adenyo provides highly targeted mobile advertising and analytics. Its technology will be rolled into Motricity's mCore Platform, the company said.

"Adenyo's technology, mobile marketing and advertising expertise and their long-standing relationships with powerful enterprise customers will significantly strengthen our position in the mobile data services ecosystem," Motricity Chief Executive Ryan Wuerch said in the release.

Motricity's up about 2.5 percent to $19.84 this morning. More details will be provided by the company during a 2 p.m. conference call.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 16, 2010 9:39 AM

RealNetworks CEO on Unifi, restructuring and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

RealNetworks' business has zigged and zagged so many times in its 15-year history that it's hard to get too worked up about the company's latest restructuring.

But after spending an hour with Bob Kimball, the former company lawyer who took over as chief executive last January, I think I understand where the company's now heading.

It's also getting interesting again, but for different reasons.

The 1,400-employee Seattle company is no longer revolving around a streaming-media player and feuding with Microsoft and Apple.

Real is rebuilding and morphing into a hybrid. It still offers RealPlayer and other media products to consumers, but it's making most of its money providing software and services to mobile-phone companies.

More than half its revenue now comes from about 90 carriers around the world.

This isn't as glamorous as the early days, when Real was one of the biggest names in digital music and video. That's now ancient history.

But I wouldn't write Real off. There's a long tradition of Seattle companies quietly building big businesses that provide technology to phone companies.

Netflix, YouTube and Hulu may be the big consumer brands in streaming video. But Real's now powering the on-demand video services that Verizon and AT&T offer to their mobile customers.

Real is also sending about 1.6 billion text messages per day for wireless companies, routing them through servers in Seattle.

The company also makes money from RealPlayer and plans to make more from a new online-media-handling service called Unifi, which it's launching in early 2011.

Unifi will collect and catalog users' music, photos and videos and store them online, where they can be streamed to phones, computers and other devices.

It will also reflect the new RealNetworks.

It's a consumer service that Real will offer directly. But Real is also offering the service to mobile-phone companies.

Real's big advantage nowadays is being able to offer digital-media products that reach both sides of the market, said Kimball, 46.

"Very few companies have that kind of heavyweight carrier-grade service plus a huge consumer channel," he said. "Finding the right products that can be sold through both channels is a unique advantage that RealNetworks has and we want to take advantage of that."

Here are edited excerpts of my interview:

Q: Where are you in the restructuring process - are you almost done?

A: I really do feel like we have the lion's share behind us and plan to finish the remaining work in the first half of 2011. I want to get to the point where we can simply say we have the right size and shape, operational structure for the business we have and foresee growing over time.

Q: Which products will grow in 2011?

A: If you look at the games business, we have a very nice footprint in casual games. We've got strength really in online, download, mobile and we're starting to grow in social [gaming] ... that's an area where we can get some decent growth in the core business in 2011.

I also think that where we are in the software-as-services business to carriers is a good place to be. Carriers are really driving a lot of usage and a lot of new and different media experiences for consumers.

Q: Are you still going to spin off the games business?

A: We don't want to separate it until we have it ideally positioned for the kind of growth and potential that business has. So, yes, the long-term goal is still to separate but I'm in no rush because it's a good business, it's a quality business, and I'd like to get that business into a sequential-growth profile before really looking at separating.

Q: The carrier business, could that be separated? Could you spin off everything?

A: Well, anything's possible in theory. Our focus is really on trying to get the most leverage for the combined set of assets we have. There is value in having, for example, this combination of a strong carrier channel with over 90 carriers worldwide, plus a strong direct to consumer channel with our games business and RealPlayer business. It enables us to sell products like Unifi ... through both channels.

Q: I didn't realize Unifi would be sold through carriers.

A: We absolutely plan to sell that through carriers. They're very excited about what it can do for them in terms of subscribers, churn, keeping them relevant in the media space.

Q: Do you have regrets about spinning off Rhapsody [music service] in April? It would seem to fit well with Unifi.

A: Personally, yes, it's very sad for me to see them leave. On a business level, no, that was absolutely the right decision for the business to simplify what we're doing and focus on what we do best.

Q: Are carriers looking at Unifi as an alternative to iTunes and Windows Media Player and Zune services?

A: I think they like this idea of having something that's universal and supports multiple, different clients. This is going to work whether you're an iTunes user or Android user.

Q: Do people know Real's doing these carrier services?

A: I happen to know they don't because I've just come from several weeks of traveling around the country and meeting with investors and press, talking about RealNetworks. It's amazing how often it comes as a surprise to people that the RealPlayer's not actually our biggest revenue stream, it's carrier service â€" white label carrier services.

Q: There's a lot of focus on streaming video. Real was going there 15 years ago.

A: It's often been a company literally ahead of its time. One of the things we need to figure out is how to capitalize on being first to markets that are still nascent. I feel like there have been situations where we were first in line but didn't end up with the big business win in the long run. We've got to find a way to change that so when our innovation gets us first to market, we hold that position as the market grows and becomes significant.

Q: So what happened? Why aren't you Hulu today, or Netflix?

A: That's a deep historical look ... where at this point I'm trying to get the company looking forward. It's really time for the business to look over the horizon into the future.

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 3, 2010 2:44 PM

Google buying Widevine in push to improve video DRM

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is buying Widevine, a Seattle vendor of digital-rights management software that's widely used by broadcasters to safely transmit video content online.

The move comes as Google is pledging to do a better job protecting copyrighted material and fending off a renewed lawsuit by Viacom over copyright violations.

By acquiring Widevine, Google will instantly become a dominant player in the market for protecting video content broadcast over the Web. The company is already the largest distributor of online video by far but it currently doesn't have its own streaming-video DRM technology other than a "content ID" fingerprinting system developed for YouTube.

A Google spokesman declined to say whether the company will apply Widevine's DRM technology to the vast amount of video the company hosts and distributes. Having a more robust system to track and protect streaming video could help the company if it decides to renew efforts to create pay video services and other content subscription services.

Widevine may also help Google build new relationships with wary broadcasters resentful of the way Google's platforms have been used to distribute unauthorized copies of their material.

Widevine's DRM technology is used in more than 250 million Web-connected devices, including TVs and Blu-ray players made by Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Its DRM technology is also used in GoogleTV devices, the Android operating system, Apple's iOS platform and Nintendo's Wii.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Mario Queiroz, Google's vice president of product management, said Widevine has "worked to provide a better video delivery experience for businesses of all kinds," from studios to cable systems and hardware manufacturers

"By forging partnerships across the entire ecosystem, Widevine has made on demand services more efficient and secure for media companies, and ultimately more available and convenient for users," he wrote.

A price wasn't disclosed but Widevine has raised more than $65 million from investors including Cisco Systems, Samsung, Charter Ventures, Dai Nippon Printing, Constellation Ventures, Liberty Global, PaceSetter Capital, Phoenix Partners and VantagePoint Venture Partners.

Widevine's 60 employees will relocate from the company's offices in downtown Seattle to Google's Kirkland campus.

The release quote from Widevine Chief Executive Brian Baker, who co-founded the company in 1999:

By working with Google, we are even further committed to the consumer Internet video experience and to the needs of content owners. Widevine will continue to supply the industry with leading video optimization and content protection solutions. We are excited to have access to Google's vast resources as we continue to improve our products, support our customers, and meet the future needs of consumers, content owners, service providers and device manufacturers everywhere.

Another co-founder -- who is now teaching in California -- was former Microsoft and AT&T cryptography researcher Jeremy Horwitz.

Google has been negotiating with Widevine for several months as pressure on the search giant grew from copyright holders.

Google announced Thursday that it's stepping up efforts to remove content that infringes on copyright from its sites and will more promptly remove infringing material.

Then earlier today, Viacom resumed its lawsuit over YouTube hosting pirated material from its networks, including Comedy Central and MTV. Viacom is appealing a June ruling in Google's favor, made by the U.S. District Court in New York.

Meanwhile, Google continues to draw millions to its video services. Its sites drew 146.3 million unique viewers who conducted 2 billion viewing sessions -- averaging 271.6 minutes per viewer -- in October, according to comScore.

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Google |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 17, 2010 9:08 AM

Hulu Plus launches, cuts price -- look out Comcast and Netflix?

Posted by Brier Dudley

After lots of testing, the hit online video site Hulu today launched its Hulu Plus pay service for $7.99 per month.

The price is $2 less than originally planned and undercuts, by a dollar, the entry cost of Netflix, Hulu's biggest competitor in the market for streaming premium video content.

Since 2008, Hulu has streamed current and past TV shows and movies to PCs free, a service that in October drew nearly 30 million viewers who spent an average of 208 minutes on the site, according to comScore.
47381-hi-Roku_TV.jpg
What differentiates Hulu Plus is the availability of full seasons of current TV shows, such as "Glee," "Modern Family" and "The Office," provided by the networks that started Hulu. It's now offering more than 240 seasons of TV shows with 2,400 episodes.

The availability of network shows has made Hulu a useful service for consumers moving away from cable TV services, although the free version of Hulu may lose some of its appeal if the site moves more premium content behind its pay wall.

Hulu is taking its time with the Plus launch, though. For now the premium service will only be available on streaming media devices made by Roku (shown above) and Sony's PlayStation 3 game console. The company said that covers more than 50 million devices in the U.S.

It's aiming to be as ubiquitous on Web-connected TV devices as Netflix. Hulu Plus will be available "in the months to come" on the Xbox 360, TiVo Premiere DVRs and Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players made by Vizio, LG and Panasonic.

Hulu Plus is also coming soon to Western Digital's WD TV Live Hub Media Center and WD TV Live Plus Network Media Player.

Later, it's coming to mobile phones, tablet computers and additional devices.

Here's a list of devices supporting Hulu Plus.

Hulu's management team includes a number of veterans of Amazon.com, Microsoft and other Seattle tech companies. It's based in the Los Angeles area but is opening a Seattle office this year.

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Sony , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 10, 2010 1:57 PM

Hulu update: 260 million shows in October, $240 million in 2010

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hulu is moving beyond an experiment in Web content distribution, into a pretty major media business.

During a speech today at the NewTeeVee conference in San Francisco, Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar gave the first peek at Hulu's revenue.

Hulu's expecting more than $240 million in sales this year, up from $108 million in 2009. This comes as the company rolls out the paid "plus" version of its service, now available through PCs and devices such as the PlayStation 3.

The site served 260 million content streams to 30 million users last month, with a stream being the equivalent as one TV episode consumed. October also saw the site deliver 800 million ads for 352 advertisers, including all of the top 25 advertisers.

Kilar is a former Amazon.com executive who still has a home in Seattle. The company, backed by major TV network and movie studio owners, also employs a number of former Microsoft employees and is opening an engineering office in Seattle.

A key slide from Kilar's presentation:

hulu-stats.jpg

Comments | Category: Digital media , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 19, 2010 5:54 PM

Starbucks launches digital network, with Yahoo

Posted by Brier Dudley

How about a free digital magazine, video or newspaper while you slurp that latte?

They're being given away by Starbucks on an ambitious new digital media network that's launching in the company's stores on Wednesday.

sdnlanding1.jpg

The free Starbucks Digital Network includes premium news, entertainment and health content that's viewable only in the stores on phones, computers and tablet devices. No registration is required, unless customers want to log in to their Starbucks account.

It's a complete refresh of the Starbucks' in-store digital offering, which has evolved in fits and starts over the last decade as the company experimented with partnerships with Apple, kiosks and phone companies.

"There is a pull-through of that here but the rest of it is really new, an exciting new way that we can enhance the customer experience and engage with customers," said Adam Brotman, vice president of Starbucks Digital Ventures.

The network will immediately become a major digital property, facing tens of millions of customers every month. Last month Starbucks saw more than 30 million users logging into store networks, where WiFi has been free since last July and where the "SDN" will be the initial landing page.

More than half of the WiFi logins were done with mobile devices, Brotman said, so the network is designed to display well on screens ranging from phones to iPads to laptops.
Thumbnail image for sdnmobile.jpg
Yahoo built the platform for Starbucks and is powering the service, in part from its Wenatchee datacenter. It's a flexible design that can rotate and add new content and Web applications chosen by Starbucks.

The network is largely free of ads. Starbucks is hoping to make money from the network by sharing revenue on content sold through the network, such as iTunes music and newspaper subscriptions.

Content partners are also expected to provide something special, such as free access to premium content or exclusive previews. That will enhance the customer experience in Starbucks stores and potentially draw more customers, Brotman said.

It's not just an aggregation of Web content, he said.

"This is something where we are specifically hand-picking great partners that we feel our customers will be interested in being exposed to ... getting something from those partners that they can't get anywhere else or would otherwise have to pay for," Brotman said.

News content includes access to premium content from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Magazine publisher Rodale is filling out a "wellness" channel with content from publications such as Men's Health, Women's Health, Runner's World, Bicycling and Prevention.

Apple is prominent in the entertainment channel, which has an iTunes store featuring Starbucks' "pick of the week." The channel also provides free access to books through the Bookish Reading Club service, viewable in a new HTML5 reading application.

A local channel - "my neighborhood" - connects to the Foursquare location service, provides Zagat listings and includes news from Yahoo and AOL's fledgling Patch news service. It also connects to DonorsChoose.org, an organization that lets users fulfill requests made by local school classrooms.

The network is designed with a series of panels that can be rotated and updated with new services in the future. Brotman said he's open to work with application developers wanting to contribute, although the company's being deliberate about how the network expands.

Brotman, a startup and Corbis veteran, was hired two years ago to lead the Digital Ventures group. It now has a dozen people working with different organizations across Starbucks to create and launch new digital projects.

The Starbucks network should give Yahoo a boost. Yahoo is not only running the service, it's powering its search feature and providing content.

Yahoo expects the network "will definitely increase" engagement and duration of time people spend with Yahoo, said Burke Culligan, Yahoo's vice president of product management.

Culligan wouldn't provide traffic estimates but said "it's a really strong extension of our brand for users."

Comments | Category: Digital media , E-commerce , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 28, 2010 10:35 AM

AOL buys TechCrunch, for millions

Posted by Brier Dudley

AOL today confirmed that it's buying TechCrunch, the San Francisco-based tech blog and event producer.

The deal is part of AOL's push to grow its stature as one of the country's major online media outlets. Its portfolio already has several high-traffic tech blogs, including Engadget.com and TUAW, the unofficial Apple weblog.

(Remember when people used to think the most successful blogs pointed toward a future with more independent voices, outside of mainstream media? No, I can't either.)

TechCrunch will remain based in San Francisco, according to AOL's release, which said terms of the deal aren't being disclosed.

Both TechCrunch and AOL have Seattle connections. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington moved to Seattle earlier this year, and AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong is a verteran of Starwave, the former Bellevue digital media company that was eventually acquired by Disney.

Armstrong said in a release that TechCrunch makes AOL's tech news network "a must-buy for advertisers seeking to associate their brands with leading technology content and its audience."

GigaOM broke news of the AOL-TechCrunch deal yesterday.

UPDATE: Stories are surfacing about the sale price. Silicon Alley Insider/Business Insider's second-hand estimates place it around $25 million, lower than CNBC's $40 million whisper number.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 31, 2010 1:19 PM

Digg confirms new CEO from Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Digg founder Kevin Rose confirmed on his blog that the Web media site's new chief executive is Matt Williams, general manager of consumer payments at Amazon.com.

Williams joined Amazon in 1999 when the company acquired his startup, LiveBid.com.

Rose has been interim chief executive since an April shakeup and recently launched a major redesign of the site.

In Rose's blog post, he included a quote from Williams:

"The launch of version 4 was a big moment for Digg and I believe in the potential of this new platform. There is so much innovation yet to come -- being the best in the world at curating news means solving the information overload we all experience every day. The Digg team has already made great strides in this direction and there is much more ahead. I'm excited to join such a talented team and such a vibrant Digg community."

TechCrunch reported this morning that Williams was hired by Digg.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 13, 2010 10:46 AM

Starbucks plans in-store network with news, mags & video

Posted by Brier Dudley

Starbucks latest digital media strategy is going to take advantage of the stores' free Wi-Fi to offer an in-store media network, giving customers access to media they might pay for elsewhere.

Among the offerings on the Starbucks Digital Network -- SDN -- will be access to newspaper content that requires paid access elsewhere. It's working with three national papers -- the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today, Starbucks digital boss, Adam Brotman, told Mashable.com:

Brotman describes SDN as a localized five channel network with curated content from the best sources in the following categories: News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business & Careers and My Neighborhood.

In the News channel, customers will have unfettered access to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times. Brotman explained that access to the latter of the two will be the paid versions not available for free to readers anywhere else.

Brotman told Mashable that SDN will upsell customers and share revenue with content providers if customers make a purchase.

Entertainment content includes kids' video from Nick Jr. Magazine content will aso be provided, as will free song downloads from iTunes.

The local "My Neighborhood" information "will be populated with local information and will even include access to compete Zagat ratings for local eateries. This section will allow users to locate and learn more about the nearest schools using DonorsChoose.org for classroom funding." Yahoo's going to provide business and career information.

It seems like there's an opportunity for Starbucks to partner with local newspapers, which may have a harder time selling copies in the stores after SDN starts providing free news from national sources.

It's easier to work with a few national providers, but Starbucks used to see value in offering local content. Here's how Starbucks felt about the issue back in 2006, in a story talking to VP Dean Torrenga about how the coffee giant warmed up to papers:

"Starbucks knows they need to be locally relevant, and they see a newspaper as an ideal way for them to achieve that. Torrenga said that Starbucks is not a newsstand and so they only offer no more than three newspapers in each of its stores. One of those is always The New York Times, but Torrenga stressed that another one should be the local paper for the community. The other newspaper is usually a regional title."

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 2, 2010 11:07 AM

Delve sold to Limelight, expanding in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

After four years and several overhauls of its business strategy, Seattle startup Delve Networks was sold today to Limelight Networks, an Arizona-based content delivery network.

The price was undisclosed but one report - based on unnamed sources - pegged it at $10 million, a notch above the roughly $7 milion that Delve had raised from investors.

"I'm certainly very happy," said Delve Chief Executive Alex Castro, a veteran of Microsoft and Amazon.com.

Castro's company started as a podcasting venture called Pluggd and, after a name change in 2008, morphed into a video delivery platform for Web publishers.

Delve's grown to 20 employees and 120 customers, up from fewer than 20 customers in early 2009.

Castro said he'd been talking to a number of suitors before the deal was reached with Limelight. "We were having conversations with a lot of folks, we had multiple people interested, multiple people who made offers," he said.

Delve was at a point where it needed to either make a big investment in a bigger sales team or hook up with a company like Limelight, which already has the reach.

"We've been growing rapidly," he said. "To keep up that pace we would have had to build out a much larger sales organization."

Limelight's going to add Delve to the stack of technology it offers customers - including Castro's former employers in the Seattle area.

The deal comes as online video service providers have begun consolidating, but it's also part of Limelight's effort to build up its technology team and presence in Seattle. It already had some technical people and sales reps supporting customers here but Delve is its first full Seattle office, according to Paul Alfieri, marketing vice president.

Alfieri said Limelight bought Delve as much for the people as its products.

"At the end of the day the talent of the engineers and the resumes and the experience are actually what make acquisitions like this work," he said.

The company is expected to continue expanding in Seattle in the coming year but Castro wouldn't specify the plans.

"This is about growth," he said of the deal. "We're not closing the office, we're not moving, we're not getting rid of folks."

Alfieri said more details about the acquisition may be disclosed around the time Limelight reports its earnings on Aug. 5.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 28, 2010 2:30 PM

Sezmi TV service coming to Seattle Aug. 2

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sezmi, an ambitious TV startup led by veterans of Sony and Clearwire, is finally launching its service in Seattle next month.

The company offers an alternative to cable and satellite TV services, using special hardware that receives TV content over-the-air and via broadband Internet connections.

Sezmi tested its service in Seattle in 2008, in part because of the region's challenging topography. It also helped that three of the company's managers were based here at the time.

Here's a story I wrote in 2008 when the company announced its plans.

Service in Seattle will start with a basic $4.99 per month plan offering local broadcast channels in high definition, a library of on-demand movies and cable shows, and access to YouTube and other Web video shows.

Sezmi_Product_Family3_l.jpg
To use the service, you've got to buy the hardware - including a receiver and a DVR with 1 terabyte of capacity shown here - for $150. There are no equipment rental fees.

In other markets, Sezmi offers a premium plan for $19 that includes access to 15 cable channels but not ESPN, Food Network or HGTV. A spokeswoman said the premium service should be available in Seattle at the end of the year or the start of 2011 and the company's working to expand the cable lineup.

Sezmi, based in Belmont, Calif., raised $75 million since it was started in 2006. It launched its service earlier this year in Los Angeles.

Seattle's part of an expansion push that's extending Sezmi from 15 to 36 markets on Aug. 2.


Comments | Category: Clearwire , Comcast , Digital TV , Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 13, 2010 12:00 AM

Tableau Software doubles sales, hiring 100

Posted by Brier Dudley

Data isn't the only thing that Tableau Software is visualizing. It's also seeing crazy growth.

The data visualization company, headquartered in the Fremont neighborhood, today is announcing that its sales grew 106 percent from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010, and it's going on a hiring spree to double its team.

Tableau is privately held but disclosed that it grossed more than $20 million last year and is adding new clients daily to a list that has 5,000 customers, from Apple to Zynga.

It employs 136, up from 100 at the start of the year, and plans to fill 100 new positions in the next 12 to 18 months. That's more than double the pace of hiring that Chief Executive Christian Chabot expected in April, when he launched a free online version of the company's visualization toolbox.

Chabot -- who spun the company out of Stanford University in 2003 -- has said he may take Tableau public in three to five years.

Here's an example of a Tableau Public visualization developed for PC Magazine's analysis of mobile network data performance; use your mouse to call up more details:

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 6, 2010 10:54 AM

Netflix plays ace in $10 content game, watch out Hulu?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe I should have waited before running a column on Hulu Plus and the roughly $10 fee that media companies are charging for buckets of online content.

Content owners are refining Web strategies and tinkering with release windows for their latest material. Hulu Plus - the new subscription service announced last week - is one outcome. Another is studios delaying the release of current movies to Netflix.

Today Netflix offset that a bit by announcing a new arrangement with Relativity Media, the studio behind movies such as "The Fighter" and "Get Him to the Greek."

Instead of waiting for its movies to work through the pay TV pipeline before reaching Netflix, Relativity is giving Netflix earlier access. Its movies will still come out on DVD before they stream on Netflix, but the companies said their deal is a new approach that will get the movies streaming sooner.

From today's Netflix release:

The deal marks a continued shift in the distribution of major motion pictures in the U.S. Under the agreement, an increasing amount of popular contemporary movies previously encumbered by pay TV agreements with premium channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz will become available to be streamed from Netflix months - and not years - after their release on DVD. It will be the first time that studio quality theatrical feature films will be streamed via subscription by Netflix instead of being broadcast by the traditional pay providers, and it opens up a new revenue stream for such movies.

It doesn't sound like the number of recent movies on Netflix will change a whole lot but it shows progress - or positioning for a future where streaming replaces DVDs.

The deal could also influence consumers trying to decide what to do with that extra $10 or so they're paying for Netflix or a premium channel on their increasingly expensive cable plan, especially if they're getting tired of the limited selection available to stream from Netflix.

Adding fresher content could also help Netflix keep some subscribers tempted by Hulu Plus, which promises fresher content from the major studios behind Hulu.

While consumers are sorting out their options, studios are exploring new ways to monetize their content. The Netflix deal signals this change, Relativity President Michael Joe said in the release:

"The growing number of Netflix subscribers streaming first run movies is very exciting and presents another viable option for us to maximize the long-term business behind our properties. We're delighted to partner with them on this incredible new opportunity, which has great promise for our industry - reshaping Pay TV deals going forward."

Here's Monday's piece exploring the subscription fees for Hulu, Netflix and other digital content:

The digital-media business has a new mascot: Alexander Hamilton, the treasury secretary on the $10 bill.

Hamilton sorted out the nation's financial policies during its chaotic early days.

Entertainment companies are doing the same thing now that the digital revolution has happened -- they're finding their footing and figuring out standard ways to make money. Their solution appears to be charging $10 a month for access to the most desirable content.

This crystallized last week when Hulu announced a $10 per month premium service. Hulu Plus offers full collections of current TV shows in high definition, making them available through some phones, game consoles and TVs with Internet connections.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Netflix , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 29, 2010 12:24 PM

More on Hulu Plus -- what about discounts, Xbox, free stuff?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Now that the hit online video site Hulu has finally announced its $10-per-month pay service, there are a few more questions about what's next.

For instance, will Hulu Plus be discounted or free if you get it through a pay service like Xbox Live or the premium PlayStation Network?

When I asked the company, I was told that no discounts are planned at the moment, but Hulu is working with device companies to come up with "innovative marketing plans" that may result in discounts for some users.

Hulu Plus is coming "soon" to the PlayStation and in early 2011 on the Xbox 360.

If Sony can afford the subsidy, it seems natural for it to provide Hulu Plus for free, a discount or a free trial period to subscribers of its new $50 per year PlayStation Network Plus service.

I've asked Sony about this but haven't heard back. When I asked an Xbox spokesperson if discounts would be available on Hulu Plus, she said I should ask Hulu about its plans.

Hulu's also extending beyond the PC screen and consoles. It announced that its premium service will be available initially through Apple iPads, iPhones and iPod touches (third generation); certain Samsung home theater systems, Blu-ray players and TVs and upcoming Sony TV hardware.

But will the free version of Hulu be available on these same devices and hardware?

I was told no, because of various licensing rights for the content.

The free Hulu service -- which has more than 40 million users a month -- will continue to be available and shouldn't see "much change."

But full current seasons and past series of certain TV shows and access on multiple devices will cost $10 per month on Hulu Plus.

Comments | Category: Digital media , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 27, 2010 9:01 PM

MSNBC.com unveils its biggest redesign, new tactics

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you visit MSNBC.com, get ready for a big change Monday.

The news site operated by Microsoft and NBC is rolling out the biggest redesign in its 14-year history.

Among the changes is a new presentation approach that departs from the traditional, print style. Instead of starting story pages with a block of text, site editors may opt to start the page with a video or photos.

There's a new "upscroll" feature that displays an index when users scroll upward, above the masthead. Story pages are divided vertically, displaying blocks of text, video and photos, plus a section for commenting within the story page.

Further down the pages are blocks with related stories and a dashboard that graphically shows the current, most-read topics on the site.

Also debuting on the site is a larger video player that shows transcripts and tools for clipping and sharing snippets.

"We lead with the strongest storytelling element," said Charlie Tillinghast, president and publisher.

Instead of standard layout templates, MSNBC.com has about 30 different ad combinations possible on its pages.

"It's a flexible layout that's done based on the sponsorship," Tillinghast said.

The redesign may lead to fewer page views. Instead of maximizing the number of pages users visit, MSNBC.com is trying to increase time spent on pages by enabling them to read text, watch views, peruse photo galleries and comment in one place, said designer Ashley Wells, the site's vice president of creative development.

"The quality of the ad impressions goes way up, the engagement with the user goes up," Tillinghast said. "If that means fewer page views, we're fine with that."

The emphasis on bigger pictures and video may help MSNBC.com compete against visual news sites such as The Huffington Post.

Tillinghast said the redesign gives the site more of a consumer feel that could increase its audience in the home; it's now used mostly by adults at work.

MSNBC.com built the publishing platform in-house in Redmond and has considered commercializing the system.

It's built with Adobe's Flash technology and not Microsoft's Silverlight "because of the adoption rate," Wells said, and because Flash video ads are standard in the ad industry.

UPDATE: MSNBC.com noted that Wells' comments about Flash are about the site's video player. The underlying system was built with Microsoft's ASP.NET technology.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 25, 2010 11:09 AM

Report: Hulu coming to PlayStation, Xbox

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bloomberg is reporting that Hulu and Sony are working to put the TV and movie service on the PlayStation Network, a deal that could be announced next week.

Hulu has been working toward a shift from free, ad-supported videos to a subscription model. Bloomberg's story said the service would carry a fee for users of PlayStation's free online network.

It didn't mention that Sony's preparing to launch a paid version of the PSN that will cost $50 and include premium offerings, such as games and video content. I'll bet premium PlayStation subscribers will get some kind of deal on Hulu, perhaps even free access, at least to start.

Bloomberg noted that Hulu is also talking to Microsoft about distributing a $9.95 per month service through Xbox Live, as reported earlier by Reuters.

Maybe the competition between the game networks will help keep Hulu's price down, or result in deals for Xbox and PS3 owners after Hulu starts charging.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft , PlayStation , Sony , Xbox , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 24, 2010 3:30 PM

World Cup USA vs. Algeria upped Web traffic, firm says

Posted by Brier Dudley

More evidence that the World Cup frenzy is also a Web phenomenon in the U.S. is coming from Experian Hitwise today.

The research firm said U.S. traffic to soccer and media Web sites was up 22 percent yesterday, after the U.S.-Algeria match yesterday.

Broadcaster sites jumped 6 percent, print media sites were up 3 percent and Yahoo Sports' World Cup site leapt 32 percent, the firm said.

That's for Algeria in an early round. Yahoo ought to give Landon Donovan a bonus.

Here's Experian's list of soccer-related gains yesterday:

- US visits to Soccer websites increased 22% on Wednesday (6/23/10) versus Tuesday (6/22/10). Visits were up 10% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to Broadcast Media websites increased 6% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 8% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to Print Media websites increased 3% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 5% versus the previous Wednesday.
- US visits to News Media websites overall increased 2% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 8% versus the previous Wednesday.
- Yahoo! Sports - World Cup 2010 website received the most visits, 32.36%, among Soccer sites on Wednesday.
- Yahoo! Sports - World Cup 2010 website visits increased 21% on Wednesday versus Tuesday.
- FIFA.com website visits increased 23% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 75% versus the previous Wednesday.
- ESPN Soccernet website visits increased 45% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 94% versus the previous Wednesday.
- ESPN3.com website visits increased 25% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 45% versus the previous Wednesday.
- FoxSports Soccer website visits increased 25% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. Visits were up 45% versus the previous Wednesday.
- Twitter.com visits increased 4% on Wednesday versus Tuesday. (note - does not include traffic from 3rd party applications)
- Facebook.com visits increased 1% on Wednesday versus Tuesday.

Comments | Category: Africa , Digital media , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 23, 2010 2:36 PM

HP buys Seattle streaming music venture Melodeo

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hewlett-Packard confirmed this afternoon that it bought Melodeo, a 7-year-old Seattle media company that streams customers' music collections to various devices.

HP isn't disclosing the purchase price, but Melodeo's investors had put more than $19 million into the company. That includes $7.9 million from Voyager Capital and Ignition Patners in 2007 to fund Melodeo's nuTsie streaming service.

Earlier today TechCrunch said an anonymous source valued the deal at $30 million to $35 million.

Melodeo Vice President Dave Dederer and HP spokeswoman Mylene Mangalindan confirmed the sale this afternoon.

Melodeo was started by founders of Tegic Communications, creator of the T9 predictive-text system for mobile phones. Tegic was sold to AOL in 1999 for $350 million in stock.

Mangalindan's statement said HP is "excited about the potential of this technology to bring the power of cloud-based delivery services to millions of customers."

"Melodeo is one of the only companies which possess the technology to aggregate a consumer's digital media, manage it in the cloud and stream it to the user on any device, along with additional streams of content. HP is always on the lookout for interesting innovative technology, especially as it develops its cloud-based offerings," she said via e-mail.

Here's a good story about nuTsie's debut.

It's an interesting move.

HP has already built a great application for streaming consumers' digital media to mobile devices, called iStream, but it's based on Windows Home Server and connects to Apple iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices.

Maybe it wants a purely HP stack of consumer software, based on the WebOS it received through its acquisition of Palm. I wonder if it considered Rhapsody.

Although HP's deal has been characterized as a showdown with Apple's iTunes, it also seems like more evidence of HP's frayed relationship with Microsoft, which has its own cloud music service in Zune.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 3, 2010 11:12 AM

D8: AOL boss on local push, chasing clicks and Bebo

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- AOL was overly focused on a few metrics -- gross revenue and page views -- according to Tim Armstrong, who left Google to become AOL's chief executive last year.

Now the venerable portal is remaking itself, in part by developing a sort of digital newspaper with local coverage and ad sales in cities across the country.

In an interview with Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference, Armstrong explained how he's rebuilding the Web company and pushing to build local news portals in more than 65 cities. Earlier in his career he was a marketing executive at Starwave in Bellevue.

"I think it's bringing together journalism and technology," he said.

The company is going into towns and "digitizing" them by assembling a collection of local Web sites and assigning a full-time reporter to add local coverage. It's also offering new systems for local advertisers, he said.

"We're more focused on journalism in general, which is how do you figure out what people's needs are," he said.

When he first joined AOL he found it was "managed on gross revenue and page views." Chasing page views affected decisions the company made, such as "photo galleries with 80 photos" and the ill-fated acquisition of social networking site Bebo for $850 million in 2008.

Armstrong said Bebo's now going to be sold or shut down.

Although AOL and Armstrong have history with Google, AO i's reviewing which search engine to use when its search partnership with Google expires later this year.

"I think there's probably more than two potential partners," he said.

Swisher asked if AOL is still relevant and whether Armstrong can revive the brand, which is suffering the same sort of fate as MySpace.

"There is a warm fuzzy feeling about AOL for the vast majority of people who don't work in our industry," Armstrong said.

That brand is worth reviving, which the 4,700-person company has to do by showing people better services and products, he said.

"I believe AOL will be a very successful company in the future," he said.

Comments | Category: D conference , Digital media , Google , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 2, 2010 2:07 PM

D8: AOL should have bought Apple, put Jobs in charge, Case says

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Another interesting bit of tech history that surfaced at the D8 conference: AOL co-founder Steve Case said his company considered buying Apple and putting Steve Jobs in charge, to help sort out its troubled merger with Time Warner.

At the time Apple's market value was only about $1 billion.

It was during an AOL board meeting in 2002, where "one suggestion was we acquire Apple and put Steve in charge," Case said during an interview with co-host Kara Swisher.

"There wasn't a lot of support for the idea," he said, explaining that at the time people had different perceptions of Jobs' company.

"Apple was this Mac operating system company with a 2 percent market share."

Comments | Category: Apple , Billionaire techies , D conference , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 2, 2010 10:43 AM

D8: NPR boss on apps, new platforms; MSN makes a pass

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller shared details of how her organization is extending to new platforms.

The radio network has 34 million listeners who spend an average of six hours a week with NPR, she told Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital conference.

"It's very important for us to be on every platform," Schiller said.

NPR is at the forefront of media companies straddling old and new mediums, but it's a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing its content for free. That's in contrast to media companies that are exploring new ways to charge for digital content after their experiments with free online content failed to offset paid subscription declines.

For NPR, at least, the new digital platforms have been additive.

"Weve seen no evidence there's been any cannibalization going on," she said.

NPR extends content through APIs it developed primarily to support its non-profit member stations. But having the APIs built helped NPR develop its iPad application in only a few weeks. The app has been downloaded more than 300,000 times, she said.

The APIs were also tapped by a Google developer who decided to build an NPR app for the Android mobile platform during his 20 percent project time at the company.

Schiller, a former manager of the New York Times digital operation, said she's enthusiastic about the proliferation of local, non-profit news organizations spawned by the downsizing of the traditional media industry. She's interested in NPR partnering with those organizations.

During the question and answer session, Seattle entrepreneur Dan Shapiro said he's a lifelong fan, but he would prefer to support the national organization over his local affiliate. Schiller said NPR does encourage philanthropic support but generally prefers listeners to support local stations.

Another person asked what role local affiliates play, with new technologies making it easier for people to go directly to NPR.

Schiller said it's important to continue supporting local coverage.

"One of the biggest risk factors in journalism today is coverage at the state and local level," she said. "Bad things happen when people aren't watching. So it is critical to have local reporting coverage."

Another Seattleite also weighed in during questions.

Scott Moore, executive producer of Microsoft's MSN, said he's a fan, but he's more pessimistic about the long-term survival of the new wave of non-profit local news organizations.

Then Moore asked Schiller what she thought about NPR partnering with a for-profit venture.

"Are you trying to make an MSN deal here?" Swisher asked, and Moore just smiled.

Comments | Category: D conference , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 2, 2010 9:20 AM

D8: Movie ticket prices plateaued, DreamWorks boss says

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- The outrageous rise in movie ticket prices is easing, according to DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeff Katzenberg.

During an interview with All Things Digital co-host Walt Mossberg, Katzenberg said prices are leveling off at an average of $7.50 nationally and a $3.50 premium for 3D.

"It's probably hit a level that's going to plateau for awhile," he said.

Katzenberg also defended what Mossberg called "3-D fatigue," saying "we're at the beginning" of a new opportunity, but 3-D is "probably the most powerful new creative tool put in the hands of filmmakers since color."

Meanwhile, DreamWorks is working with Intel on new workstations using supercomputing processors that draw on its Larrabee graphics technology. The computing power will enable animation artists to render in real time, rather than sending individual frames to a datacenter for processing -- a step that takes at least eight hours.

"What it does is it changes the entire process of how we actually create and make our product and it's going to affect many many thousands of industries that rely on high-end computing," he said, adding that "we're going to be a lighthouse for this."

The first movie using these new tools from start to finish will come to theaters in 2012.

Comments | Category: D conference , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 26, 2010 5:24 PM

Amazon plans for color Kindle: Sooner rather than later?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jeff Bezos may have spoken too soon.

He told Amazon.com shareholders on Tuesday that a color Kindle is "still a long way out" and the displays he's seen aren't good enough yet.

But a few blocks away at the Society for Information Display conference, members of his Kindle team may have discovered what looks like a perfectly good color display material.

They liked LG's 9.7-inch electronic paper display material so much, according to an LG engineer, they asked the Korean company if Amazon's Kindle group could be the first customer..

"Amazon had so many people come to our booth," said David Park, team leader of LG Display's advanced color electronic display research group. They "said they want to be the first customer."

Also visiting the booth were people working on the competing Nook reader for Barnes & Noble, Park said.

Park said he's expecting products with the 9.7-inch display to appear on the market starting in October.

LG's material is brighter and weighs less than competing technologies, he said, and it outputs 65,000 colors.

Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said plans haven't changed since the shareholder meeting.

"We don't speculate on future plans, but nothing's changed from what Jeff said," he said.

LG's 9.7-inch color displays were created with textbooks and comic books in mind, Park said. He contends electronic books are better for textbooks than devices like the iPad because they are easier on the eyes for extended reading and they won't be used for playing games.

IMAG0043.jpg

LG also is making a similar sized black and white version that will be used on the Skiff reader coming to market later this year.

A 19-inch version that's designed for electronic newspapers was also being demonstrated, but Park said it won't come to market for a few years.

Here are two images of the 9.7-inch color electronic paper display and a shot of the 19-incher.

IMAG0045.jpg

19-inch electronic paper display.jpg

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Kindle , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 25, 2010 4:00 AM

Rubicon Project buys another Seattle startup, sets up office

Posted by Brier Dudley

Los Angeles-based advertising infrastructure company The Rubicon Project bought another Seattle startup -- Web security services provider SiteScout -- that will form the nucleus of a new Rubicon office in Pioneer Square.

Rubicon, which has $42 million in funding and processes 45 billion online ads a month, made its first acquisition last September when it bought Seattle's Others Online, an "audience optimization" venture.

The company is now planning to combine the three Others Online employees -- who have been working from their homes and commuting to L.A. -- with SiteScout's office, creating a seven-person satellite office.

SiteScout Chief Executive Rob Lipschutz is becoming a Rubicon vice president and will manage the Seattle office, which plans to hire additional engineers over the next two quarters.

SiteScout was formed in 2006 and offers malware monitoring and removal tools to Web publishers.

The deal is being announced today. SiteScout's sale price wasn't disclosed.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 19, 2010 4:42 PM

Delve boss dissects Google's new Web video standard

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle video startup Delve Networks is jumping onto WebM, a new Web video standard announced today by Google, Mozilla and others.

WebM is intended to offer a royalty-free alternative to commercial video standards -- namely the H.264 codec that's widely used for Web video today and favored by Apple.

Microsoft said its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser will support WebM's "VP8" video codec, as will Mozilla's Firefox, Opera and Google's Chrome browser.

The jumble of video standards and jousting between platform companies is confusing to consumers but good for companies like Delve.

After a few different approaches to the video market, Delve has a growing business converting Web publishers' video to multiple standards for different devices. today it jumped on the WebM bandwagon, announcing its support of the standard.

In an interview, Chief Executive Alex Castro, a veteran of Microsoft and Amazon.com, also offered some insights on WebM and what's happening with Web video standards.

Castro is enthusiastic about WebM but expects it will take awhile to get established.

"It's sort of like HTML 5 -- it's not going to change the world in the next six months, but in 18 months it could have a big effect," he said.

Castro said "Adobe stands to be the biggest loser" although Adobe is among the initial companies supporting the WebM project.

With "the combination of this new WebM format along with a lot of people getting behind HTML 5, you start to say, 'Why do I care about Flash and Silverlight?' " he said.

Castro said the complexity of the situation helps Delve, which has also benefited from the format spat between Apple and Adobe. The fight has generated business with publishers needing their video converted to play on the iPad.

"The only way you can play video on the iPad is to support HTML5 and H.264," he explained. "Our customers ... they don't care about the standard politics, they care about 'can my customers watch my content.'"

How will consumers be affected by the video standards battles?

"Unfortunately in the near term there's going to be some confusion for users and some poor experiences," Castro predicted.

"I think unfortunately consumers are caught in the middle as all these major technology vendors are vying for the highest ground," he said. "Right now consumers are getting the shortest end of the stick. If I spend $500 or $700 for an iPad, it kind of sucks a lot of Web sites I go to don't have support for HTML5."

Does Google have enough clout to establish the WebM standard?

"They have YouTube and that's great, but what they don't have is enough browser market share to do it by themselves," he said. "That's why they need Opera and Mozilla, but even if you add those guys up they don't have 50 percent market share. In some ways it would be good for consumers today if Google had the oomph to make this a standard. As soon as someone wins, the sooner consumers aren't caught in the middle."

"I think the sad reality here is this is probably going to play out for another year or two while these guys jockey for position."

Meanwhile, Delve's doing fine, Castro said. He said its sales grew 400 percent last year -- to more than $1 million -- and he's expecting around 290 percent sales growth this year.

Comments | Category: Adobe , Apple , Digital media , Google , Microsoft , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 26, 2010 10:12 AM

Rhapsody adds offline play to iPhone, iPad app

Posted by Brier Dudley

Rhapsody released a new version of its app enabling iPhone and iPad users to store and play music from its online music service, even when the devices are offline.

The app lets subscribers store a Rhapsody playlist on the device. By the end of June, it should let people also download individual albums or tracks, the company said. (A workaround in the meantime is to create a playlist for a particular album and download it to the device.)

From the announcement, by Jon Maples, product lead:

Here's how it works: say you've built the perfect road-trip playlist (mine includes all of Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club, a bunch of Joe Strummer and Clash songs, plus a smattering of "Weird Al" Yankovic). Simply launch your Rhapsody app, open the playlist and click the Download icon. You'll need either a 3G or WiFi connection to do this initially, but once the songs are saved to your device, you can rappel into the deepest crevices of the Grand Canyon and still be able to play them back.

Rhapsody's initial app for the iPhone was downloaded more than 1.5 million times since its debut last fall. It lets subscribers stream music from Rhapsody's 9.5 million-track library to connected devices. Android and BlackBerry versions are coming later this year.

Whether or not subscription music services like Rhapsody catch on, the app's ability to stream digital music to mobile devices showed how far along wireless networks have come. Now the download feature is demonstrating the sophistication of today's digital-rights technology and content-licensing schemes.

The app is free but requires a $10 per month subscription supporting a single mobile device. Up to three devices are supported with a "premier" plan that costs $14.99 per month.

It's optimized for the iPhone screen. It works on the iPad but an iPad-specific version that looks better on the larger screen is still in the works.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Rhapsody , iPad , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 12, 2010 2:46 PM

Netflix on the Wii, available now

Posted by Brier Dudley

Netflix officially made its streaming video service available on the Wii today, after several weeks of soft-launching the service.

It provides instant play of selected movies and TV shows through the Wii when a special Netflix disc is playing in the console. Netflix is providing the discs free to people who subscribe to plans starting at $8.99 a month. Here's a link to the Netflix Wii registration site.

The Wii is late to the Netflix party. Instant-play Netflix streaming has been available for a while on the Xbox 360, PlayStation3 and all sorts of Blu-ray players and Web-connected TVs.

But it's still a nice addition for Wii owners looking for a simple way to get Netflix streaming to their TVs. It's also a big step forward for the Wii, which otherwise lacks the movie playback capabilities of the Xbox and PS3.

I've been testing it at home and prefer the Wii setup over Netflix on my Tivo HD, even though the Wii service is lower resolution. That's because I've got weak DSL service at home and the lower res video streams just fine on the Wii, but pauses to buffer now and then on the high-def Tivo.

For families who already have Netflix and a Wii, the service could become an auxiliary DVR in the family room, providing a big library of on-demand movies and TV shows. The service also includes Netflix DVDs by mail (although note that Netflix recently agreed to delay new releases from a few major studios for up to 28 days).

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Netflix , Nintendo |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 6, 2010 1:13 PM

3-D home theater giveaway at Pike Place, the fish is extra

Posted by Brier Dudley

Panasonic turned a corner of Pike Place Market into a mini Consumer Electronics Show today, setting up demonstrations of its high-def 3-D televisions, Internet connected TVs and cameras.

To lure people into the free showcase, the company is holding a drawing for a free 3-D home theater setup to people who drop by the event. It's a little hard to find; when heading west on Pike, turn left at the pig and look for stairs going up.

Or you could ask for directions from Chris Bell, one of the fish throwers at Pike Place Fish Market, who brought a fresh Alaskan wild king up to the showroom. The fish was nearly as lifelike as the 3-D images -- it was caught Monday, Bell said.

DSCN1686.JPG

Panasonic's event runs today until 6 p.m., Wednesday from 11 to 6 and Thursday from 11 to 4.

It's a little ironic that the event is being held upstairs in the Economy Market building. The highlight is a mini theater where visitors can sit in a home theater and check out 3-D movie clips on a 54-inch plasma 3D HDTV that retails for $2,999, including one pair of 3-D glasses. Additional pairs are $150.

The system being given away is a 50-inch 3-D HDTV with a 3-D Blu-ray player and glasses -- a package worth $3,050.

DSCN1682.JPG

Comments | Category: CES , Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 11, 2010 9:46 AM

Paul Allen's Evri buys SF's Radar Networks

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a big day for Seattle-based Evri. The Paul Allen-funded "semantic Web" media company relaunched today with new visual features, and it acquired San Francisco-based Radar Networks.

Evri was especially interested in Radar's Twine.com, another semantic Web company with more social and sharing features that complement Evri, which automatically compiles streams of Web material related to a broad set of topics. Media companies have added Evri's widget to their sites, where it presents links to related information about a story.

Twine's 10 employees will move into Evri's San Francisco offices. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. A spokesman said Evri, which has about 30 employees, isn't planning to move its headquarters to San Francisco.

Evri Chief Executive Will Hunsinger's comment in the release:

"Evri's and Radar Network's combined talent and complementary technologies bring the industry closer to delivering on the promise of a truly intelligent, timely and intuitive way of finding the news and content that matters most to people. With this acquisition, Evri takes a significant leap forward toward delivering on the consumer promise of semantic search technologies - more meaningful, relevant results filtered from the ever-growing and increasingly cluttered fire hose of content on the web."

Radar Chief Executive Nova Spivack will remain with the company in an advisory role.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Digital media , Paul Allen , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 26, 2010 2:15 PM

Former Windows boss, Coinstar CEO join MOD board

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's MOD Systems -- which makes retail kiosks for downloading movies and music -- today added a few notable local tech veterans to its board.

Will Poole, the former Windows Client boss at Microsoft, and Dan Gerrity, a co-founder and former CEO of Coinstar, will help guide MOD as it rolls out its entertainment delivery system.

"Both Will and Dan have unmatched experience in our target industries, and in organizational development and leadership. Both have built organizations from development stage to global success, and their skills, styles and guidance are welcome additions to our board. We're fortunate to have them join us," MOD Chairman and CEO Anthony Bay said in the release.

Poole is now co-chairman of virtual computing company NComputing, and Gerrity is vice president of business development at Intellectual Ventures.

MOD said board member Kyleen Cane, a Nevada securities lawyer, is stepping down after 18 months.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 12, 2010 1:30 PM

Google pulls Vancouver luge crash video off YouTube, still up elsewhere

Posted by Brier Dudley

The horrific luge crash in Vancouver today won't get much play on YouTube: Google quickly removed uploaded film clips at the request of the International Olympic Committee, activating its copy-protection tools.

Attempts to play YouTube videos of the crash at YouTube.com or embedded on other sites return a message saying "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by International Olympic Committee."

It's not unusual for Google to pull copyrighted material from YouTube but it may be the first major, public copyright protection of the Vancouver Olympics, during which the IOC and broadcasters are taking extra steps to control access to coverage.

luge.JPG

The same clip was still up at video-sharing site Vimeo a few moments ago.

UPDATE: Google spokesman Scott Rubin declined to comment on the specific videos but noted YouTube relies on users and copyright holders to flag videos of concern.

"We approach each video individually, and we do not prescreen content. Instead, we count on our community members to know the Guidelines and to flag videos they think violate them. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that a video does break the rules, we remove it, usually in under an hour," he said via e-mail.

Google also provides tools for owners of copyrighted content "to claim their materials and to resolve any disputes, per DMCA rules."

UPDATE 2: I just heard from a Fox affiliate in Sacramento where the news director said "we felt we had a fair use argument and the public should see the potential dangers on the track." He noted that CNN also decided to distribute the video.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Google , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 11, 2010 12:00 AM

Tableau rolls out free data visualization tools for Web

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of companies start out offering free products on the Web and then move to premium, paid versions.

Seattle's Tableau Software is going the other direction. After building a strong business selling data visualization tools to corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations, Tableau decided to give away a free version for use on the Web.

The software, available today at Tableaupublic.com, is a set of tools for building interactive graphics based on spreadsheet data. Interactivity depends on the features added, but these are the types of graphics that dynamically change as you click to analyze and explore the data.

Graphics built with Tableau Public can be embedded into blogs and Web sites and shared online. Also made available are the underlying sets of data; if users want to restrict use of the graphics or the data they'll have to upgrade to paid versions of Tableau that start at $1,000.

Chief Executive Christian Chabot hopes that Tableau's free tools will help data become a "first class citizen" on the Web, similar to the way tools such as YouTube advanced online video.

"Data on the Web is like video in 1997," he said.

Chabot, 38, co-founded Tableau after its tools were initially developed with Defense Department funding at Stanford University. The Fremont-based company moved to Seattle in 2003 and now employs 105.

Sales grew 55 percent last year to more than $20 million. Chabot expects to hire another 50 people this year and offer shares in the company in three to five years.

"Our plan is to take it public and employ thousands of people in Seattle,'' he said.

In the meantime, Chabot's hoping Tableau's free tools will raise awareness of its products and help people better understand data.

Sharing a free version online was encouraged by Adobe co-founder Chuck Geschke, who joined Tableau's board in 2007, Chabot said.

Chabot is especially enthusiastic about seeing Tableau Public used to analyze data the federal government is increasingly sharing through new transparency initiatives.

"It is for the public at large to use with public information for the public good,'' he said.

Here's a Tableau Public graphic that Chabot built using TechCrunch data to show where VC's funded companies in 2009. You can explore the graphic and change the display by clicking on the various modules:



Here's another example, in which the Pan American Health Organization presented detailed information about the Haiti earthquake:

Comments | Category: Adobe , Digital media , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 9, 2010 1:34 PM

RealNetworks spinning off Rhapsody, plus the CEO's e-mail

Posted by Brier Dudley

RealNetworks just announced that it's going to restructure Rhapsody and spin the subscription music service off into a standalone company.

Real is the majority owner of Rhapsody, which is also partly owned by MTV. The venture was formed after Real bought Rhapsody -- formerly known as Listen.com -- in 2003 for about $36 million.

Rhapsody sells monthly subscriptions starting at $13 providing unlimited access to a vast library of digital music.

The subscription approach didn't catch on while Apple dominated the music business with a model selling individual tracks, but some have speculated Apple could enter the subscription business itself and invigorate the approach. Meanwhile, subscription ventures are in fierce competition with ad-supported services offering free music online and competitors such as Best Buy's Napster service that undercut Rhapsody's price.

Subscriptions to Rhapsody have settled to about 700,000 after peaking at more than 800,000 in the first quarter of 2009.

The spinoff is the first major change since a Jan. 13 executive shakeup in which founder Rob Glaser passed chief executive duties to chief counsel Robert Kimball. That was presented as the beginning of an effort to restructure Real to focus on core businesses.

Real's remaining operations include its music business selling digital content, ads and other subscriptions; PC and mobile games; media software including RealPlayer and technology services and products sold to corporations.

"Separating Rhapsody into its own independent company is a significant first step in making RealNetworks a more focused and profitable company," Kimball said in a release. "Rhapsody will be the largest pure play digital music service in the market. We have provided Rhapsody with the right team and financial and intellectual property assets to succeed in the competitive market for digital music."

Rhapsody will be based in Seattle and have about 150 employees, including current Rhapsody staff and some members of Real's music group, which will move to the new company. The total includes a San Francisco office that has fewer than 50 employees.

Employees were notified during a music group meeting about two hours ago and by an e-mail from Kimball.

It's a complicated deal -- Kimball told employees today, "It was brain surgery trying to disentangle a decade-old music business from the rest of Real" -- but basically Real and MTV's parent company Viacom are unwinding a partnership that split their ownership of Rhapsody 51 to 49 percent.

When it's done, sometime in the first quarter, both companies will own an equal number of shares in Rhapsody. Real is contributing $18 million and the Rhapsody brand, and MTV is contributing $33 million worth of advertising support (and canceling a $111 million advertising commitment to Rhapsody).

How the deal will affect Real's earnings will be discussed further in a conference call with investors on Thursday, spokesman Ryan Luckin said.

Asked if Rhapsody is being positioned to go public or be acquired, Luckin said the plan is to set the venture up to operate as a standalone business.

"It's got the IP [intellectual property] and the cash to go forward and try to be successful in the digital music space," he said.

At the end of 2008, the Rhapsody America venture with MTV had lost $17.8 million and had remaining equity of $384.3 million, according to Real's November's earnings report.

Being removed from the RealNetworks umbrella will give Rhapsody more flexibility to partner with other companies, Luckin noted.

Subscribers to Rhapsody won't see a change, he said.

Here's the e-mail Kimball sent to employees:

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks , Rob Glaser |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 8, 2010 11:45 AM

Vancouver Olympics online video: The cableization of the Web?

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's column looks at the online broadcast of the Vancouver Olympics and how it may preview cable TV business practices coming to the Web. This version also includes some images from my testing.)

You'd think the Vancouver Olympics would be a great time to shift from viewing the games on TV to viewing them online.

NBC is delaying broadcasts of major events until prime time, and Canadian TV coverage is largely unavailable here this year.

Networks instead are delivering live event coverage online, plus on-demand replays, in high-definition video using a special Web player built by Microsoft.

This comes as all sorts of new gadgets are making it easier to display Web video on a TV.

Some 52 million people watched 600 million minutes of the Beijing Olympics online in 2008, and Vancouver's Web video will be even better, streaming in 720p high-def with better controls to pause, fast-forward and rewind.

It sounds terrific, and some may find it's the best way to watch the Games.

But don't expect an online utopia, free from the shackles that networks, cable companies and the Olympics organizers put on event coverage.

Although the technology for streaming video is getting better, it's also enabling content owners to apply more restrictions and controls to online video.

In some ways, online broadcasts of the Vancouver Olympics preview what's coming from media companies, as they explore ways to charge for online content that used to be free.

This will be apparent when you try to watch a Vancouver event live online at NBCOlympics.com, the Games' official, exclusive broadcaster in the U.S.

For the first time, viewers will have to prove that they subscribe to premium-cable service to access "live and full-event replay video."

During previous Olympic Games, you only had to provide a Zip code to identify yourself as a cable customer.

This time, you've got to register for access through your cable or satellite company, which checks to see that you have a cable package that includes MSNBC and CNBC.

login.JPG

People without cable or those who subscribe only to limited basic cable can watch video highlights, commentary and feature stories at the site, but not live events or full replays. The delivery system has progressed from a ski jump to a bobsled course.

msnbc required.JPG

It's basically the cable model extending to the Web, where improved authentication systems enable broadcasters to limit the really good stuff to paying subscribers. If this is what NBC does now, I can't wait to see what it's like after Comcast finishes acquiring the network.

Maybe I'm being crotchety.

The vast majority of people still prefer to watch the Games on TV, and most online viewers watch only the highlights that are available to everyone, according to Perkins Miller, digital-media senior vice president at NBC Sports and Olympics.

NBC's research after the Beijing Olympics found that 93 to 95 percent of people would rather watch the Games on a TV than a PC.

"Given a choice that's what they want ... they've got the big screen, they've got the couch, they've got the fridge," Miller said.

Miller believes the online broadcast is complementary - something people do when they can't get to the TV - as opposed to competing with regular TV broadcasts.

But he's not stuck waiting until prime time to see events happening earlier in the day in Vancouver. For those who can't wait, or who want to see more than NBC chooses to broadcast, online video becomes must-see TV.

The exclusive Olympics broadcaster in Canada, CTV, appears to be a bit less strict about checking whether you have premium cable. But its live video and full-event replays are restricted to people whose computers have Canadian Internet protocol addresses.

If you're willing to fudge during the sign-in process and spoof your IP address, you may be able to connect through a proxy server in Canada, but you'll have to find one that's fast enough to handle the video.

The easiest part may be connecting your TV to the Web. Most new PCs have powerful enough graphics and outputs for connecting directly to a TV, and you can buy a tiny home-theater PC for under $400 nowadays.

One option is the new "WiDi" wireless display technology that Intel, Netgear and Best Buy announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

In preparation for the Olympics, I've been trying an $899 bundle from Best Buy that includes a Toshiba laptop with built-in WiDi and a hand-sized Netgear "Push2TV," which fits behind the TV.

The wireless system is a breeze and a nice feature to have on a new PC. After connecting the receiver with an HDMI cable, it connects by pushing a button on the laptop. Whatever is on the laptop screen then appears on the TV, with audio.

Watching videos streamed from NBCOlympics.com worked pretty well over my slow DSL broadband. There wasn't buffering but there were some jagged edges during fast action.

But the Olympics' "full-screen" playback isn't quite as promised.

I was hoping for a true full-screen display, as you would get from YouTube and Hulu.com. Olympics videos are shown inside a PC-like media player frame, with a banner ad permanently appearing on the upper right corner of the screen.

Here's a screen shot of what appeared on my TV when using the WiDi setup:

frame.JPG

NBC is trying to strike a balance between entertaining users and making sure companies paying for the coverage get exposure, Miller said. He's hoping the quality of video is so good the "frame won't be a distraction."

You'll get a similar frame if you find a way into CTV's Olympics video stream.

I'm stubborn about not paying for premium cable so maybe I'll just keep the WiDi pointed at Hulu.com until it starts charging, and hope for the best from the London Games in 2012.

Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Games & entertainment , Intel , Netflix , Web , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 18, 2010 12:00 AM

Q&A: Rob Glaser on leaving Real, politics and why Apple leads

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column is a Q&A with RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser on his departure as chief executive, plans for the future and outlook for the digital media industry.

Here's a longer version with more Q&A than what fit into the paper:

Rob Glaser's resignation last week from RealNetworks seemed abrupt, but it was actually in the works for several years.

Glaser said he had the first "serious conversation" with Real board members about stepping down more than two years ago, not long after his first kids were born.

But the discussion was interrupted before it went too far.

"When the great recession hit, I just put my head down and I'm like 'I can't even think about this for 2008, most of 2009. I've just got to focus on helping the company through this rough period of time,'." Glaser said Friday in a wide-ranging interview about his past, future and final days running the pioneering Seattle digital media company he founded in 1994.

Glaser, who turned 48 Saturday, stepped down as chief executive Wednesday afternoon, then flew to Washington, D.C., for a White House meeting with a group of executives providing advice on federal technology spending plans. It was the longtime Democrat's second visit in the last month; President Obama also invited him and his wife to a Christmas party in December.

On Friday, Glaser was back in Seattle, reflecting on where he and the digital media industry are headed next. He already helped Real develop a new strategy that will be revealed in a few weeks by Bob Kimball, its general counsel and now acting chief executive.

Glaser has been under pressure from investors who watched Real's leadership position and value erode over the past decade. But he characterized the decision to find a new chief executive as his, and one made amicably.

"I feel very, very happy with the decision," he said. "It's something I wanted to do for a long time. I'm very proud of the company and thrilled I get to stay associated with the company in my capacity as chairman, a signicantly shareholder."

Here's an edited transcript of the interview:

Q: It seemed abrupt when you stepped down and immediately left town.

A: Literally, I sent the message to employees and did the final tweeting of it sitting on the plane going to D.C. It was one of those photo-finish kind of deals.

Q: You said you'll get more involved in civic projects. Like what?

A: There are two or three projects associated with the [Glaser Progress] Foundation that I'm very excited about. There's some AIDS relief work we're involved with in Rwanda, a team on the ground in Kigali that does amazing work. I'm hoping to get there this summer. That's an example. Rather than going to Rwanda every five years maybe I can go every one or two years now.
After our kids were born in 2006 I pulled back. I have not engaged in much of that because my life was 110 percent full being a husband and a dad and my day job.
Before 2006 we would give two, three or four political fundraisers a year; since then we've probably given one a year. To some extent it's about getting back to the level of civic engagement I had before we had kids.

Q: Will you run for office?

A: I think that's pretty unlikely. As much respect as I have for [politicians]) and as mch respect I have for the importance of what they do, I'm not sure that role on an executive level or a legislative level is the best fit for me personally.
I think you've got to say 'never say never' when you're 48 years old, and you've had the incredibly lucky life that I've had, but I would say it's definitely in the unlikely category.

Q: What's next for Real?

A: We kicked off a strategy process in the middle of last year, the most thorough and rigorous review in the company's history. We did great work. Bob and the team will talk more about it soon, when the time is right. It's not my place to initiate the discussion about it.

Q: Is there animosity between you and the board?

A: These are people I've known for a long time . The right way to think about this is, once you decide to do something like this, the interesting debate is, "Do you do it slow or do you do it fast"?

Q: Looking back, what are you most proud of, and what would you do differently?

A: I can give you the proudest one: I'm incredibly proud of the team here and the innovation that we've created. I can think of three or four things we've done that had never done before, going back to creating streaming audio 1995, making streaming video practical in 1997, what we did with sort of birthing the casual games industry in the early 2000s, weathering the dot-com crash in some pretty intense competition that might have involved questionable practices from an antitrust standpoint.
But rather than curling up in a ball we weathered that and came out stronger on the other side, pivoted the company in some interesting ways around first consumer services and then carrier applications and services solution like ringback tones and music on demand and video on demand and the like.
There's some stuff in the pipeline that will rival those innovations in my view if we do a good job with it, rolling it out in the market, so I feel like I'm passing the baton at a time where not only did we weather the downturn . The pipeline for where we go next is in great shape.

Q: What's going to happen to the digital media business five years out?

A: Speaking from a conceptual level, when I got involved in this I thought digital media is going to be a 25-year thing, which is to say there's going to be a long period of time before the innovation flattens out. We're 15 years in -- we launched RealAudio in April 1995. The industry as a whole has taken tremendous strides and there's a lot of work to do.
Think of it from a consumer standpoint. You want to be able to watch any piece of video you have a right to watch anywhere at any time. There are pieces of the solution, but the thing you really want is that seamless "it just works." It's not 10 minute videos on YouTube or buying things on your iPhone that you may already own.
There's enough of the pieces in place where you can envision how it all comes together, but it will be three to five years before that seamless thing that Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner dubbed "TV Everywhere." Rhapsody is the best of that in the music world, but today those are not mainstream, seamless experinces that work for tens, 100s of millions of people. Big picture, for audio-video, that's the biggest set of things that I think are coming.

Q: It seems like pieces are falling into place like 3G and 4G networks and cloud services.

A: I would say the barriers at this point are as much business models and alignment of rights as they are technology. I knew it 16 years ago, but I would say I understand it more vividly now. The technology is a necessary foundation element but it's not sufficient.
You have these industries that set up windowing of content, methods of distribution, different rules for rental vs. purchase that make sense in a physical context. But in a digital world you need to harmonize and integrate all those rules and business models and it's a hard thing to do that.
Really, in my view, it's the intersection of the technology and the business model/economics. That's where the complexity lies and frankly where the opportunity lies if you can fit those pieces together in a way that works for everybody.

Q: Why is Apple now the dominant digital media company and not Real?

A: Fundamentally we've been in area where it didn't all work seamlessly. The best way to make it work seamlessly was to go vertical. You make the hardware, you make the software, you connect it to your services. That's a totally different business than the historical business that most companies were in that were in the software-services business.
On one hand, you can count all the companies that have fit all those pieces together. It's a huge undertanking. I'd say BlackBerry pulled it togoether in their space of messaging. Apple's done it twice, first witht the iPod and now with the iPhone/iPod Touch, and you could say Amazon's on the road to doing it with the Kindle.
Think of the IT industry. IBM was vertical. The minicomputer industry was vertical, then the PC came along and it was horizontal. Those of us that grew up in that area made the supposition that the horizontal model was going to the dominant model in this business.
It's very complicated to go from being horizontal -- like Google is or like Microsoft and Real -- to go vertical. There are many successful companies but you have to say that in the digital media space the biggest successes have been these vertical successes. That's something that's incredibly hard for a startup to do.
If I knew in 1995 what I know now, would I have approached the vertical-horizontal thing differently? Maybe, but the wreckage of companies that tried to go vertical - Go/Eo, WebTV, I can go down the list, there are dozens of companies -- it's super, super hard to do that vertical thing. I'm very proud of the success and scale we got to taking the horizontal approach we did.
If you take the long view - the next five or 10 years view -- I think there's going to be a renaissance of that horizontal model as the standards come together to link together all these things.
This next decade, I think it's a very interesting strategic question, which model is going to be dominant.

Q: Has Seattle's opportunity passed?

A: No, I would say the opposite. The Seattle high-tech community is alive and well for sure. Hopefully, we played a role helping seed the ecosystem.

Q: Will you get involved with other companies, as well as civic affairs?

A: I don't know what the mix is going to be yet. I turn 48 tomorrow [Saturday], not 84. I feel like I have time in my life to pursue a mix of things depending in what captures my passion."

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Microsoft , RealNetworks , Rob Glaser , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 2, 2009 3:44 PM

Real VP's amazing saga of getting his band's royalties

Posted by Brier Dudley

Warner Bros. messed with the wrong guy when it sent muddled royalty statements to Tim Quirk, singer for Too Much Joy, a pop band that had some traction in the 1980s and early 1990s and still sells a few downloads.

Warner wasn't saying how much the band was making from digital music service.

But Quirk knew that it wasn't that hard to figure out -- he's now a vice president at RealNetworks, where he helped build the database Rhapsody uses to track how much it pays for whatever music is played by the service.

Even so, it took years and a chance meeting with a Warner executive to get the label to disclose how much Too Much Joy was earning from downloads and subsription services.

Quirk was getting that sort of information from other outlets via IODA, an independent distribution service, but just not Warner.

It was about principle not profit when he finally received a tally last week, Warner reported 20 cents' worth of download royalties and $62.27 of subscription royalties. It doesn't look like the band will ever make enough to recoup Warner's publishing expenses, which stand at $395,214.71.

Quirk -- who used to be a music journalist -- laid it all out in a blog post Tuesday that's a great primer on how money is divvied up by music services and trickles down to bands.

An excerpt:

Here's the thing: I work at Rhapsody. I know what we pay Warner Bros. for every stream and download, and I can look up exactly how many plays and downloads we've paid them for each TMJ tune that Warner controls. Moreover, Warner Bros. knows this, as my gig at Rhapsody is the only reason I was able to get them to add my digital royalties to my statement in the first place.

Another piece:

I knew that each online service was reporting every download, and every play, for every track, to thousands of labels (more labels, I'm guessing, than Warner has artists to report to). And I also knew that IODA was able to tell me exactly how much money my band earned the previous month from Amazon ($11.05), Verizon (74 cents), Nokia (11 cents), MySpace (4 sad cents) and many more. I didn't understand why Warner wasn't reporting similar information back to my band -- and if they weren't doing it for Too Much Joy, I assumed they weren't doing it for other artists.

The wrap-up:

The sad thing is I don't even think Warner is deliberately trying to screw TMJ and the hundreds of other also-rans and almost-weres they've signed over the years. The reality is more boring, but also more depressing. Like I said, they don't actually owe us any money. But that's what's so weird about this, to me: they have the ability to tell the truth, and doing so won't cost them anything.

They just can't be bothered. They don't care, because they don't have to.

Now I've just got to give Too Much Joy a listen.

Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 16, 2009 10:52 AM

Majority of consumers would pay for online news, study says

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wish I'd had this study in hand for today's column on the decline of free content and other Web freebies coming in 2010:

More than half of consumers are willing to pay for news online, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group that's likely to be referred to a lot as media and Web companies finalize their 2010 plans.

The firm surveyed 5,000 people in nine countries to find out what they would pay for online news, among other things. It said the average amount ranges from a low of $3 a month in the U.S. and Australia to a high of $7 in Italy.

"The good news is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, consumers are willing to pay for meaningful content. The bad news is that they are not willing to pay much. But cumulatively, these payments could help offset one to three years of anticipated declines in advertising revenue," John Rose, a senior partner in the firm, said in the release.

Rose told The New York Times that willingness to pay is lower in the U.S. compared to other countries because it has so much free online content available.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Google , Microsoft , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 9, 2009 9:00 PM

Moxi cuts DVR price to $499, look out, TiVo and Media Center

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe Digeo's Moxi DVR has a chance after all.

The Kirkland company on Tuesday is cutting the price of its high-end digital video recorder from $799 to $499 and adding a new model with three tuners.

A price cut was desperately needed for Moxi more competitive with TiVo and Windows Media Center PCs, but it only happened after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen sold assets of the struggling company to industry giant Arris in September.

The dual-tuner model's cost is now less than most Media Center PCs and comparable to the cost of a $300 high-def TiVo when the TiVo's monthly fees are factored in (Moxi and Media Centers don't have a service fee).

The three-tuner model will cost $799, including one "Moxi Mate" device that streams content from the DVR to additional TVs in the home. Mates are now $299 instead of $499, and a software upgrade is enabling them to stream live video as well as recorded content.

Additionally, the company announced a new bundle with a three-tuner Moxi DVR and two Mates for $999.

Moxi systems are intended for cable subscribers with digital service. They use CableCard tuner devices, which are provided by cable companies in lieu of set-top boxes.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Moxi , Paul Allen |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 20, 2009 6:00 AM

Redmond's PlayNetwork buying Channel M retail network

Posted by Brier Dudley

Redmond's PlayNetwork is becoming Muzak 2.0 with the acquisition of Los Angeles-based Channel M, another big player in the business providing dynamic audio-visual to retail stores.

The combination will extend PlayNetwork's reach to more than 185 brands, including 25 global brands, with 65,000 locations in 60 countries.

"Today marks a significant day in PlayNetwork's history as we take another major step towards achieving our corporate vision of delivering the total brand experience," PlayNetwork's chief executive, Lon Troxel, said in the release. "PlayNetwork and Channel M share this common goal and together we help make this vision a reality by combining our complementary music, messaging and video media services with Channel M's rich video content production and advertising services."

Channel M's networks are used to display ads to millions of customers in retail locations including Nordstrom, Marc Ecko and Steve Madden.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but the release noted that Channel M brings "additional investor interests from Vintage Fund Management, Ascend Venture Group and Intel Capital," suggesting it's not a sale as much as a roll-up of complementary businesses. It's supposed to close Oct. 30.

A spokesman said the deal "is an asset acquisition in exchange for stock. It's a strategic acquisition to help with PlayNetwork's growth model."

The release said the combined company will maintain its offices in Redmond; Sherman Oaks, Calif.; New York and Chicago. Channel M has 31 employees and PlayNetwork has 120.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 23, 2009 12:06 PM

More details on Digeo sale: Moxi price cut?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The sale of Digeo to cable hardware provider Arris looks like a mixed bag for everyone except perhaps cable customers.

Paul Allen is taking a big loss selling the company for $20 million, after investing more than $110 million in Digeo since he started it in 1999.

Arris investors saw their stock fall 8.5 percent to $12.53 today on the news. Apparently they're not as enthused as Arris management about the Suwanee, Ga., company adding Digeo's set-top box technology to its portfolio of broadband modems and technology widely used in cable company networks.

There are also the approximately 10 employees -- including Chief Executive Greg Gudorf, a former Sony TV executive -- who are losing their jobs (we broke the layoff news here).

About 245 other people lost jobs as Digeo shrank from a high of about 320 employees in 2002 -- when Allen acquired Silicon Valley startup Moxi and merged it with Digeo -- to its current 75 positions.

Winners may turn out to be cable customers, who are now more likely to get Digeo's excellent Moxi software on their set-top boxes. The software includes a slick program guide and interface for Moxi-brand set-top boxes that function as both digital video recorders and gateways for digital content coming into a home via broadband.

Moxi is designed for cable subscribers, who connect the boxes via cable cards. It's a nice alternative to high-def cable boxes, especially since there's no rental fee.

The downside to Moxi has been the price -- $799 for the box, plus $399 for smaller units to wirelessly connect additional TVs. There's also a $999 bundle that includes one box and one extender, and the stuff is sold only via Moxi.com and Amazon.com. Below are the box and a screenshot of the Moxi interface from January.

moxibox.jpg

Moxi_Menu_channels.jpg
But Arris has more leverage with component manufacturers, because of its scale, so should be able to quickly bring down the retail price of Moxi gear.

"I think they'll be able to bring the price down,'' said Gudorf, who is staying with the company until after the sale closes in October.

Gudorf wouldn't talk about the haircut Allen took on Digeo, but he did clarify the timeline of the Kirkland company's recent transformations and sale.

The big shifts began in late 2007 when Digeo began restructuring, leading to a move in January 2008 to cut its hardware and chip development efforts and focus on building (higher margin) software for industry-standard hardware.

That shift cut employment in half, to about 90 people, who were able to finally release a new version of the Moxi box for cable companies in late 2008 and a retail version in January 2009. Last month, the company released the extender device, and additional features are expected to be released later this year, Gudorf said.

Meanwhile Digeo's board -- which includes Gudorf, Allen and Allen's sister, Jody Patton -- met last spring and decided it was time to sell or find a strategic partner to get the software into more homes, Gudorf said.

This also came amid Allen's growing troubles with Charter, the bankrupt cable company in which he invested $8 billion as the centerpiece of his vision for a "wired world" of broadband services, a vision that also included Digeo.

The board's decision eventually led to the deal with Arris announced Tuesday afternoon.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Paul Allen |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 10, 2009 1:50 PM

Microsoft's "Ultimate" Media Center setup revealed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Check out the networked media setup in this house in Odessa, Texas.

There are six Windows Media Center-based servers, one Windows Home Server, five dedicated theater-style rooms, 12 media racks, 98 speakers and 30 zones of distributed audio.

The installation, by Dustin Anderson at Vision Audio in Lubbock, won the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest that Microsoft announced at the CEDIA conference in Atlanta this week.

Anderson will have his work cut out upgrading the place to Windows 7 next month. Maybe he'll be able to consolidate the servers using shared libraries.

servers.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 9, 2009 2:54 PM

Microsoft launches second Blu-ray attack

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe the ill-fated HD DVD format was just a placeholder until Microsoft got its Silverlight digital video platform up to snuff.

The company today announced a pilot launch of downloadable movies via Silverlight, starting with British retail giant Tesco this fall.

Microsoft said it will be waaay better than Blu-ray, promise. From the release:

"The new service, built on Microsoft Silverlight technology, will deliver a similar level of quality as consumers have come to expect from DVD and Blu-ray, but with advanced Web-based interactivity and a viewing experience that goes beyond other digital playback products in the marketplace."

This tracks with Microsoft's expectations of downloads eventually overtaking movie discs, which it's been talking up since the HD DVD format it favored was quashed by Sony-backed Blu-ray in 2008.

Microsoft already offers high-def video downloads to the Xbox, and its video service is getting upgraded this fall.

The Silverlight service won't require a special box. When people buy "certain home videos" from Tesco, they'll be able to download digital copies to Windows PCs or Macs in a "'virtual DVD' experience, the release said.

"The digital copy versions will include a similar level of video quality, interactivity and bonus content available on the physical products. In addition, the digital copy versions will provide consumers with extra network-connected features such as auto-updated trailers, exclusive bonus content, movie viewing parties with online chat, related music offerings such as MP3s and ring tones, and networked games."

Microsoft's "virtual DVD" may also compete with the "iTunes Extras" that Apple announced today. Apple's offering bonus features with "select movies" purchased from iTunes.

Not to mention Sony, which today announced a new networked Blu-ray player that bridges the gap, combining a high-def disc player and the ability to stream on-demand movies and TV shows from the Web. The $250 BDP-N640 going on sale next month also streams from YouTube, the Slacker music service and soon Netflix.

"Whether its full HD 1080p or streaming video and audio from the Internet, entertainment comes in so many flavors that consumers want choice," Chris Fawcett, vice president of Sony Electronics' home audio and video business, said in the release.

Apparently they're getting it.

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 27, 2009 7:00 PM

New Sonos controller released, lovely if you can afford it

Posted by Brier Dudley

The timing seems a little crazy, but Sonos believes there will be strong demand for a new controller that refreshes its pricey but elegant wireless digital music system.

Tonight the company's releasing the CR200, a $349 touchscreen remote control that's the new heart of its system for streaming music to multiple rooms in a house.

sonos_CR200_angle_thumb_US.jpg

The new remote will be offered alone or in bundles, such as the standard $1,000 package that includes two receiver units and the remote.

Sonos is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., but drew heavily from Seattle, including veterans of RealNetworks and a group of former Microsoft Sharepoint developers leading its software program.

On the design side, the company has taken inspiration from Apple. Its previous controller featured a scroll wheel, helping the company position its system as a sort of iPod for the home with controls familiar to digital music enthusiasts.

The CR200 takes its cue from the iPhone and iPod Touch, with a 3.5-inch color capacitative touch screen.

Sonos used the same underlying software for the CR200 and the free iPhone/Touch controller application it released last October.

But the CR200 has more heft than the Apple gadgets. It's wrapped in an anodized aluminum case; includes hard buttons for volume and mute; and ships with a charging dock. The latter is a sort of price cut - the previous dock was a $40 option.

The controller is compatible with previous Sonos systems. It's going to replace the current CR100, which is still available but being phased out by the company.

I'll write more about the new controller after I've spent some time with it.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Sonos |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 9, 2009 2:33 PM

Seattle 2.0 launches video channel, in time to get "Naked"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online tech site Seattle 2.0 today added a new video channel that's going to include original content such as interviews and event coverage and shared clips gathered from the Web.

"Seattle 2.0 TV" is more than just a bunch of embedded Flash clips, according to Seattle 2.0 founder Marcelo Calbucci.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups , Tech work , VC , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 13, 2009 12:00 AM

iLike gives bands automatic iPhone App creator

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle-based Web music service iLike today announced a suite of new tools for musicians to publish updates on social media services, including Twitter and MySpace (its arch rival in the social media "artist services" space).

But the showstopper may be the suite's "self service" iPhone App creator, a technology that seems as if it has broader potential. The automated system provides a wizard that lets musicians choose which content they'd like to put in an iPhone App, which iLike then creates and submits to Apple on their behalf.

Most of the musician services are free, but iLike's charging a fee for App creation and for new premium Web analytics.

"This is probably the most significant technology announcement we've made since we first launched,'' Chief Executive Ali Partovi said of the suite.

The startup employs about 24 people and became cash-flow positive last October. Rumors have swirled about iLike being acquired but Partovi wouldn't say if anything's currently in the works.

Maybe buyers will be intrigued by the new console, which further platformizes the iLike "artist dashboard," now being used by about 300,000 musicians.

With today's update, the console can be used to synchronize musicians' iLike pages with Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, MySpace concert listings, Facebook page "Music" tabs, Web sites and Ticketmaster pages.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups , Twitter , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 30, 2009 4:06 PM

Hulu gets Disney shows, and investment

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest way broadband TV is getting to be an attractive alternative to cable: Hulu is adding content from its newest investor, Disney, including current and archived ABC and Disney Channel shows.

Disney already offers a bunch of this stuff online, but having it alongside other networks' material at Hulu makes the online video site feel even more like a free, cloud-based cable box.

Here's some of the Disney content, from a blog post by Hulu Chief Executive (and Amazon.com vet) Jason Kilar:

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 29, 2009 2:33 PM

LEAKED: HP's new budget Windows Home Server - $390

Posted by Brier Dudley

The rumors of a new budget version of Hewlett-Packard's MediaSmart home server were correct.

Photos, specs and a price surfaced today, in advance of a Thursday press briefing, spilling the beans on what looks to be a very cool home media storage solution.

A screenshot:

hpserver.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 13, 2009 6:00 AM

HP upgrades home server, adds video streaming to iPhones

Posted by Brier Dudley

With serious competitors for its MediaSmart home server finally coming to the U.S., Hewlett-Packard today is announcing a big software update of the Windows Home Server-based system.

Highlight include new software for automatically converting videos to a mobile format so they can be loaded onto the iPhone, iPod, PlayStation Portable and other mobile devices.

HP also developed an iPhone app called "iStream" that enables users to stream video from their home server directly to an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The system will store two versions of video content, one optimized for mobile devices and the original high resolution version for streaming around a home network.

HP has dominated the U.S. market for prebuilt Home Servers with only scattered competition, but Asus and others are rolling out their own systems, including some based on the power-efficient Atom processor. The products also face growing competition from increasingly sophisticated network attached storage devices that still aren't nearly as powerful but cost much less per gigabyte.

The latest generation of HP MediaSmart servers were announced in January. The software update announced today also includes improvements to its "media collector" feature, the way it interacts with Apple's "Time Machine" backup system and the ability to create public and private folders in its photo viewer application.

Servers built on Microsoft's Windows Home Server software centralize home file storage, provide Web access to files and backup and restore PCs on a home network. HP's start at $599 but street prices for the base model range from $499 to $550.

An HP spokeswoman declined to comment on whether a lower-end, 640-gigabyte version is coming soon, as suggested by recent reports on gadget blogs. The company also said the upgrade is only for the latest, Celeron-based MediaSmart servers.

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 6, 2009 12:22 PM

To help papers, AP takes on Google News, pledges Web crackdown

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's too late for some newspapers, but the Associated Press today announced a few steps to help the struggling media companies.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 26, 2009 1:12 PM

SeattlePI.com starting from behind, or behinds?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Media oracle Alan Mutter posted a thoughtful analysis of the Seattle P-I's chances as an online-only publication.

Mutter is dissecting what is, for now, Seattle's highest profile Web startup.

At best, the site may bring in $7 million a year, he wrote in a post headlined "SeattlePI.Com, starting up from behind."

"Because initial sales will be nowhere near that theoretical number, the Hearst Corp. almost certainly will face multimillion-dollar losses in the early days of an experiment being monitored by publishers eager to learn if life after print will be worth living."

Hate to be catty, but the P-I site's been starting with behinds for some time now -- lots of them.

It consistently devotes the best real estate on its home page -- top of page near the center, the equivalent of its A1 banner headline -- to galleries of sexy fashion show and cheerleader photos, including an outrageous 72-pager on the second day of this grand experiment in online journalism. (The Sounders' opening merited 20 pages).

If the P-I survives online, will other newspapers and online media sites emulate this traffic-boosting trick?

btm.JPG

Comments | Category: Digital media , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 25, 2009 11:45 PM

GridNetworks being sold, staying in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's GridNetworks is being sold, a knowledgeable source told me today, confirming rumors that surfaced earlier in the week.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital TV , Digital media , Startups , VC |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 17, 2009 3:27 PM

McCaw video startup 1Cast signs WSJ and Bloomberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

Continuing pace of announcing upgrades about once a month, Kirkland mobile video startup 1Cast today said it's lined up more business content providers.

Joining the video news distribution service are the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. They're joining Reuters, AP, CNBC and others.

Last month the Craig McCaw-backed venture announced a version for the Android platform, in addition to the iPhone version that debuted in December.

Perhaps next month they'll announce a Windows Mobile version.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Digital TV , Digital media , Startups , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 4, 2009 3:12 PM

comScore: YouTube crosses 100 million viewer mark

Posted by Brier Dudley

Who knows if it will ever be profitable for Google, but YouTube's numbers are amazing.

This afternoon, comScore reported that the video service crossed the 100 million viewer mark in January.

The research firm estimated that 76.8 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience watched Web videos in January. The average viewer watched about six hours of online video during the month, up 15 percent from December.

Averages seem a little dicey here, though, because they're probably skewed by a smaller set of avid viewers.

In total, U.S. residents watched 14.8 billion online videos during the month, up 4 percent from December. YouTube accounted for 91 percent of the monthly gain, comScore said.

The release said 100 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on YouTube during the month, or 62.6 apiece. MySpace drew 54.1 million viewers who watched 473 million clips, or 8.7 videos apiece.

Could there be a connection with the surge in unemployment?

Comments | Category: Digital media , Google , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 3, 2009 11:02 AM

Newspapers on the Kindle 2: Jeff Bezos loves it

Posted by Brier Dudley

In Monday's Kindle 2 review, I said the device isn't so great for reading newspapers.

Here's another perspective, from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

This is from a video I took of him at the Feb. 9 Kindle 2 launch event, showing how to read a paper on the device.

"This is a really dramatic improvement in newspaper navigation,'' he said at one point.

Love to have him drop by this paper on Thursday evening, when we'll have a Kindle 2 available for anyone come by and try in our auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Kindle , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 9, 2009 11:31 PM

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on Kindle 2.0, its cost, touch, business and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK - Here's a fuller, edited version of today's interview with Jeff Bezos during the Kindle 2.0 lauch event.

We talked in an ornate old parlor at the Morgan Library, built by industrialist J.P. Morgan and an appropriate setting for this century's e-commerce mogul.

Q: What's it going to take for this to really take off - lower price?

A: It is taking off. [laughs]. No, I mean it very sincerely. We have twice been sold out during the holiday season, which is a darn good plan, and it was not our plan. In both cases, we had made way more devices than we thought we would need a need we still sold out.

Q: Maybe I should rephrase that. When will it become a mainstream device?

A: Well, if you're a reader, it's a purpose-built reading device. So is it for everybody? Maybe not. Will it ever be for everybody? Maybe not.

But if you like to read - newspapers, books, magazines - this is a great device to have. If you're that person, I would say it is mainstream already for the right audience.

Q: I didn't want to bring up the iPod comparison, but I noticed the brushed metal back and curved edges. Do you guys have a little iPod envy?

A: Are you talking about the industrial design? Our view on this is - have you held it yet? It's beautiful. I can take no credit for it since I had nothing to do with it [laughs] but I can be a proud father [laughs again]. But the engineering team did a remarkable job on this device.

As you can see it's very, very thin - for a 3G wireless device. This is a difficult technical achievement. Our customers are the beneficiaries.

Q: Did you think about using touchscreen at all?

A: Touchscreen technology, it's not yet there for electronic ink. You can do it, but it significantly degrades the contrast and the visibility of the screen. The current touchscreen technologies are a layer that go on top. It's a thin, transparent layer that goes on top. Of course, it's not completely transparent. And with the reflective display like this, the light bounces through that transparent layer twice - once to get in and once to get out, back into your eye, and so you get significantly light degradation. Plus, it puts a reflective layer on top.

One of the reasons this screen is so pleasurable to look at, and doesn't create eye strain, is becauase the ink is almost right on the surface of the screen. It doesn't have any depth to it.

So there are touchscreen technologies that are starting to become available that go under the display and that might be something that someday could work. But right now it's still in the laboratory, it's still a bit of a science project. But someday, a number of years from now, you could imagine that.

Right now, you don't want a touchscreen on your reading device [if] the primary purpose of the device is reading.

Q: E-Ink plans to have some color displays out by the end of the year.

A: I've seen those in the laboratory and probably for volume production, they're still years away. But it's exciting technology.

Q: Will color be in Kindle 3.0 then?

A: I think it's actually multiple years away.

Q: Will you take the software you have on a Kindle and put it onto something like a netbook?

A: That's what Whispersync is about. We want to make Kindle a bookstore - the largest e-bookstore in the world, with 230,000 titles and growing. We want to make those titles also available on a bunch of different devices and then synchronize them with Kindle.

If you're in line at the grocery store and you want to read a few pages on your phone, you can go right where you left off, and then when you get back home, maybe you pick up your Kindle and keep reading there.

The best analogy I can give you would be a digital camera on your cellphone. I love having a digital camera on my cellphone because I always have my cellphone with me. but occasionally I want a real camera. If I'm going to take pictures of my kids or whatever, I want a real camera. If I want to read for two hours, I want my Kindle. If I'm going to read for a few minutes, then a bunch of options open up.

Q: It seems like there's a big opportunity for you if you don't require people to buy a Kindle to use the software and services.

A: The two things are separate. The Kindle e-book library will be available if you do want a device that's purpose-built for reading. You want to be able to synchronize it, that's what Whispersync is about. It's not a requirement.

Q: With the volume so big on netbooks and the devices having long battery life, I wonder if you'll develop some sort of Kindle reading application for them?

A: The way you should think about it is we're excited about making that library available on just about every device.

Q: So there will be a whole range of things that can use the Kindle software, and I'm guessing the Kindle will be the premium experience?

A: I think what you're going to find is that anybody who reads is going to want a Kindle because it's so much better for reading, but it's not either/or: Either people are going to read on their cellphones, or they're going to read on Kindle, and I don't think that's right. Just like I don't have to decide, am I going to have a real camera or am I going to have a cellphone camera?

The fact is I want both. In fact I have three cameras - I have a cellphone camera, I have a compact camera that's lightweight, if I go for a hike or something, And then I have an SLR camera that I mostly keep at home to take pictures of the kids because I want the highest quality I can get.

Q: Will you get to the point where you can read Kindle editions on other e-Books? People might be getting confused by the different devices and formats that are emerging. This might slow mainstream adoption of e-books. Will there be interoperability between them all?

A: We certainly haven't seen that.

Q: How can you overcome that confusion?

A: I wouldn't want to speculate on that.

Q: The device is nice but to me what's really interesting are the business innovations.

A: 3G wireless, bundling (wireless service fees) into the cost, making the books cost less.

I agree with you. A lot of this is about business innovation and a lot of it is about technology innovation. It's really bringing those two things together. You know when we started - now more than four years ago - only at that time could we see that the technologies were shortly going to be in place to make this possible: the combination of the electronic paper technology and fast 3G wireless being distributed, being in enough cities so it's basically everywhere today.

It's the combination of those technologies and the busienss model innovation that's making this.

I should add a third thing - which is the 230,000 titles. The best electronic reading device is useless without the books you want to read.

Q: What are you doing now to get more adoption with publishers?

A: It's been accelerating over the past 14 months. The past three months we added more than 40,000 titles to the selection so not only are we going to keep growing [it], we're going to keep accelerating the rate at which we're growing the selection. The vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available within 60 seconds. That's a big, long, multi=year vision to get every book ever printed, but it is possible and we will eventually do it. We'll just have to be relentless [laughs].

Q: What are you doing to make publishers speed up?

A: Publishers are excited about this - like us, they watched e=book sales go nowhere for 10 years. We kept trying to sell e-books and nobody bought them. You needed an electron microscope to find the sales.

Fourteen months ago, with the launch of Kindle 1, that changed. So I think publishers are as excited as we are about the future of e-books.

Q: Is there pressure on Amazon from publishers to price the Kindle at, say, $199 to increase the platform's reach?

A: We can't offer this for $199. If you look at the cost of this device - it has a sophisticated EVDO radio, it has the latest electronic display - if we could make this device cheaper we would. But we can't. There's a lot of technology pushed into this little tiny package. It is what it is.

When you buy a 3G phone, by the way, you're signing up for a two-year contract with a $60-a-month bill. They're subsidizing the cost of the hardware with the $60 a month or whatever it is you're paying.

[The Kindle] is sold with no annual contract and no monthly bill. You buy this device and whatever you buy -a newspaper subscription, you pay for that. You buy a book, you pay for that.

We're not asking people to sign up for a two-year contract.

Q: Will we see Kindle hardware subsidized through subscription deals, like, say, a book of the month club or a newspaper subscription?

A: Anything's possible. I think there is reason for optimism about newspapers on Kindle because if you look at the printing cost of newspapers, these are dramatically large expenses. There is an argument to be made that over time - and it will take some time - that printing infrastructure doesn't make as much sense as everybody having a device like this.

Q: How about the developer story - are you going to open this up more to outside software developers to write applications and load things on there?

A: I don't want to speculate on the future on that. You'll just have to stay tuned.

Q: So we might hear more about that?

A: It's possible. I don't want to foreshadow anything so you'll just have to stay tuned.

Q: Would the same go for the Kindle's browser?

A: The browser is very basic. It doesn't do Flash, for example. It's nice to have but it's not the primary reason, it's not the purpose of the device. The device is for reading. It does have a Web browser - people like the Web browser - but it's very basic functionality.

Q: How about a little more transparency with the sale numbers - are we going to start hearing how many units have been sold?

A: We're going to continue with our practice of not sharing those numbers.

Q: Wouldn't more disclosure help you sell the Kindle platform to publishers?

A: Publishers get to, at this piont, they get to see - we're sending them checks. The most important thing if you're a publisher is, are the books selling? You don't really care if the device is selling, and the books are selling.

Kindle books already are selling. If you take the 230,000 titles where we have Kindle editions - Kindle unit sales are already more than 10 percent of all our sales. For that to happen in 14 months is very surprising. It took us 14 years to build up our physical book business. Now when a title becomes available in Kindle format, it's immediately worth 10 percent of our unit sales on Kindle. That's pretty surprising.

Q: When we think about Amazon's phases of growth - first the bookstore, then the platformization of the store, then the multi-platform business with new services - where should we put the Kindle? Should we think of hardware as a new stack here, or is it an extension of the store?

A: It's a new skill. We've been working on it for four years. When you look at the engineering that is incorporated in this incredibly thin package, the team has acquired that ability.

Q: But it's more an extension of the Amazon store as opposed to an entirely new business, right?

A: The device is one thing; that's the new skill we had to learn. But the device is only a part of Kindle the service. So Kindle the service includes the largest e-bookstore in the world. Kindle as a service includes all the servers used to wirelessly deliver this content. We had all the skills that we needed to do those things. We had a lot of the pieces in place based on our 14 years of history but the one thing we needed to add to our skillset was the engineering for the hardware device itself. I'm just incredibly proud of that team.


Q: Did you have to build something like this to maintain Amazon's position as a bookseller?

A: To get this whole ecosystem to work, we had to build an integrated, seamless reading experience. Keep in mind we had tried the unintegrated, unseamless approach because we've been electronic books for years and it didn't work, nobody cared. So it's the seamlessness, of putting the whole thing together and making it really easy and clean for people, that's making it work.


Q: Did you think you had to have the hardware or somebody else would - and take from your book business?

A: We love being pioneers. We are always focused on looking down new alleys. Most of the alleys we look down turn out to be blind alleys, but every once in a while we go down one that turns into a big broad avenue. You can pursue the competitor strategy of close following - you don't have to spend all this money on those blind alleys. When you see somebody do something successful, you jump on it and copy it as quickly as possible. There's nothing wrong - that's a valid business strategy. It happens to not be ours.

We've been very customer focused for our history and we like inventing new things. The kind of people we've attracted over the years like to invent new things so for us this all about the future and all about optimism.

Q: It seems like your company's on a roll, especially after this last quarter.

A: Well, thank you.

Q: Is Amazon going to be the "it" company of 2009?

A: I've been asked by several people, what did you do special in Q4? The fact of the matter is we did nothing special in Q4. We did the same things that we've been doing for 14 years, which is working on lowering prices, increasing selection, speeding delivery. The accumulation of those things perhaps you saw in Q4.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 9, 2009 2:46 PM

Hands-on with Amazon's Kindle 2.0: Nice, but I miss the big flaps

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK -- I may be the only technology journalist who thinks so, but I miss the big airplane-flap style buttons on Kindle 1.0.

They're gone, replaced by sleek buttons that blend right into the smoother, sexier and more modern-looking Kindle 2.0.

Kindle 1.0 was quirky and took a little getting used to, but pretty soon it felt natural -- even fun -- to turn pages by slapping, bumping or flicking the huge flap controls.

I haven't had enough time with the Kindle 2.0 to really analyze the device, but the relatively small buttons stood out after a few brief minutes playing with the device at Amazon.com's launch event today. They're still relatively big buttons, but now they're approaching the size of shift key rather than a space bar.

Following a presentation by Jeff Bezos, a handful of Kindles were put out on tables in the lobby of the Morgan Library for journalists, publishers and others in the crowd to ogle and fondle. Here's a snapshot I took of the scene, with a Kindle 1.0 on the right and a 2.0 on the left:

The device feels more dense and less plastic than Kindle 1.0, thanks in part to its Apple-esque brushed metal back.

Flipping through a few pages, I felt as if I had to aim my fingers more precisely than before. The buttons also felt a little stiffer, but the device was brand-new. Kindle users may feel less like a book geek at the coffee shop or on the bus now that the device looks more like a super-sized iPod.

Perhaps the smaller, tighter buttons are a good thing -- the Kindle 1.0's flaps had a loose feel that made me wonder how they'd hold up to years of hard use. They were also easy to accidentally brush and change pages.

Although Kindle 2.0 has a better screen, I couldn't tell with a quick look, cheek to jowl with a crowd of reporters.

The new mini-joystick/toggle control gives you a lot more navigational control than the funky scroll wheel it replaces, and nobody is going to miss the confusing temperature-gauge-style progress indicator on 1.0, but the toggle will take some getting used to before it feels natural. (A touchscreen wouldn't work, Bezos said, because it would diminish readability too much.)

Again, Kindle 1.0 took a little time before it started to feel booklike. It's undoubtedly an improvement, but we'll have to see whether Amazon was able to make the device more stylish, powerful, simple and usable all at the same time.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 5, 2009 2:26 PM

Bothell game studio expanding, after takeover by Warner Bros.

Posted by Brier Dudley

After Warner Bros. bought Bothell-based Snowblind Studios on the Wednesday, I was expecting to hear about cutbacks and consolidation.

But that's not the case.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 3, 2009 11:21 AM

Mixpo gets $4 million, OnMedia kudos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle video advertising startup Mixpo has another $4 million in funding, presumably enough to help the company make it through the economic trough.

The investment - bringing Mixpo's total funding to $10.5 million - was led by Madrona Venture Group. Other backers include Growthworks Capital and Yaletown Venture Partners.

Mixpo timed the announcement with Chief Executive Anupam Gupta's appearance at the AlwaysOn conference in New York today, where Mixpo won a spot on OnMedia's list of the top 100 private tech companies around the world.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 3, 2009 9:37 AM

RealNetworks announces big write-down, freezes games IPO, cuts staff

Posted by Brier Dudley

RealNetworks is preannouncing big charges it's going take against its Q4 earnings and a few changes:

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media , RealNetworks , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 20, 2008 8:22 PM

Amazon Web Services startup contest winner named: Yieldex

Posted by Brier Dudley

The winner of Amazon.com's second annual startup challenge, highlighting promising companies using its Amazon Web Services:

Yieldex, a service that helps online publishers do "accurate forecasting of overlapping online advertising inventory and optimal campaign allocation." The company's engineering office is in Boulder, Colo., and its sales office is in New York.

The company is trying to help large publishers (sites getting 1 billion to 10 billion impressions per month, such as CNN or the New York Times) get more sales from premium inventory attracting $10 to $30 CPM using its "proprietary yield index."

It's a nice enterprise showcase for the capabilities of Amazon: A single customer may send 20 gigabytes of data nightly for analysis, yet Yieldex uses one part-time system engineer to manage its services running on AWS.

Chief Executive Tom Shields -- who previously co-founded NetGravity, a company sold to DoubeClick in 1999 for more than $500 million -- said the cloud services gave Yieldex flexibility and scale on tap.

"We had no idea when we started this thing what kind of capacity we were going to need,'' he said.

The winner was announced tonight at an event at Bell Harbor after a year of Amazon traveling all over the place, pitching its Web services to developers.

Seven finalists were flown to Seattle to present their companies to a group of venture capitalists and Amazon managers who made the choice.

The prize is $50,000 cash and $50,000 worth of Amazon services.

Other finalists were:

Encoding.com, which "has transformed video encoding from a traditional software model to a software as a service (SaaS) platform," using Amazon elastic computing services. Chief Executive Greg Heil said that while YouTube has figured out encoding, but it continues to be a huge infrastructure challenge for second and third tier video sites.

When serving clients, Encoding activates Amazon server instances to handle their needs.

(Maybe Amazon will buy the company or add its own encoding service to its new content delivery service?)

Knewton, an educational content service with a "self-optimizing 'Darwinian' engine" that evolves as new students join its network and increase its dataset.

MedCommons, which provides "cloud-based Health 2.0 application services for patients and doctors, and enables third parties to customize and extend the MedCommons Platform for their own needs." It's a Boston-area competitor to Microsoft's HealthVault and Google Health that uses Amazon to store personal health record repositories.

Sonian, a "cloud compute e-mail productivity service" that archives and indexes electronic communications, files and unstructured content. After eight months in business it has more than 50 customers -- companies with 300 to 6,000 employees -- and white-label deals with vendors reselling its service.

Pixily, "an interactive document management service that organizes paper and electronic materials online." It's aiming to help consumers reduce paper clutter and better manage information, and provide businesses "an affordable on-demand document management service." The company scans receipts and other records for customers, who can then search them with a Googlesque search window at its Web site. Customers can scan documents themselves or take pictures of materials and e-mail them to Pixily, or send batches of documents to the company in prepaid envelopes.

Zephyr, which offers management tools for enterprise test departments. It aims to lower costs and increase productivity "with real-time visibility into all aspects of their software quality cycle." Founder Samir Shah said customers such as Accenture, Infosys and Cap Gemini are using its Amazon-powered services to provide service to their customers. He's a fan of Amazon's pay-as-you go computing.

"I love being nickel and dimed here -- it's really great," he said.

Last year's winner was a video ad service company called Ooyala, which was started by ex-Google employees. A few months after the Amazon.com award, it raised $8.5 million in its second round of funding.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 16, 2008 10:51 AM

A priceless Twitter treatise

Posted by Brier Dudley

Loved The Weekly Standard piece on politics and Twitter, the texting-for-grownups service making technorati feel young and groovy again.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Telecom , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 14, 2008 10:57 AM

Obama advertising on Xbox 360 (in swing states, on a bunch of games ...)

Posted by Brier Dudley

This is wild: Barack Obama's campaign is using in-game advertising in "Burnout Paradise," a new Xbox 360 racing game from Electronic Arts, according to a report on GigaOm.

"Like most television, radio and print outlets, we accept advertising from credible political candidates," EA spokeswoman Holly Rockwood told the blog.

Will it persuade any more 18- to 24-year-olds to put down their controllers and go vote next month?

I wonder if we'll eventually see online voter registration -- maybe even voting -- through Xbox Live.

Update: Rockwood just gave me a bunch of details on the ads, which were sold by Massive, a game ad agency owned by Microsoft.

She said Massive approached both the Obama and McCain campaigns but McCain's declined.

Obama's campaign bought a highly targeted set of ads running mostly on sports titles in swing states. They began airing Oct. 6 and run through Nov. 3, with varying lengths depending on the state.

The ads are dynamically placed in games when playing on Xbox consoles connected to Xbox Live. They're appearing in games with realistic settings, so they can show up in a billboard in a driving game, for instance.

They're running in 10 states, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin -- for longer periods in the bigger states.

Dynamic in-game ads have only been around for about 18 months, Rockwood said, so "I think it's fair to say it's the first presidential campaign" to use them.

Titles with the ads are:

Burnout Paradise
Madden 09
Nascar 09
NBA Live 08
Need for Speed Carbon
Need for Speed Prostreet
NFL on Tour
NHL 09
Skate

Rockwood noted that the ads "do not reflect the political policies of EA or the opinions of its development teams."

Comments | Category: Digital media , Games & entertainment , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 25, 2008 10:35 AM

"Internet cowboys" go big with survey startup, eye crowdsourcing

Posted by Brier Dudley

An anecdote that didn't make it into today's column on Survey Analytics:

Chief Executive Vivek Bhaskaran said the company drew buyout interest back in 2005, just as it was getting its stride, from Bellevue market research giant GMI. Bhaskaran and co-founder Kevin Battey bought suits for an all-day presentation to GMI's board.

There was some cultural dissonance. The average age of the board seemed to be at least 55 and one of them referred to the visitors as "a couple Internet cowboys," Bhaskaran recalled.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 17, 2007 8:50 PM

Grungy new Web site smells like Seattle spirit

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe I'm sentimental, but I really like FadedFlannel.com, a new Web site and online music store paying homage to Seattle's grunge years.

It's a one-person venture by Rick Lambert, program director at KNDD/The End from 1991 through 1996.

The site has info on more than 50 Northwest artists, including their CD libraries and track listings, and of course a selection of flannel shirts at "Ye Olde Flannel Shoppe."

If it takes off, perhaps Lambert could use the proceeds to resurrect The Crocodile Cafe.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 14, 2007 3:46 PM

A journalism experiment

Posted by Brier Dudley

This blog may start to look a little different in coming months.

I'm participating in an experiment, launched by Jay Rosen at New York University Journalism School, to see how social networking tools and other new technologies can be incorporated into beat reporting.

A primary goal is to explore ways to use these new tools to discuss stories and trends with sources and readers. We'll be using the blog as a platform for the experiment.

Jay announced the participants today, and I'll be providing more details here as we firm up the plans.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from anyone who has suggestions or would like to participate in the experiment.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 14, 2007 1:23 PM

Survey: Millions to dump cable TV for broadband

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder networks are going online with video services like Hulu: Within three years 16 million U.S. homes will be using their broadand service more than they now use their TVs, according to a new In-Stat survey.

It found 30 percent would drop pay-TV services and get TV content online, and 42 percent felt they aren't getting enough international news and information from their current TV services.

"As more high-quality content becomes available online, savvy consumers are considering ways to reduce their monthly bills by getting everything from the Internet,'' analyst Gerry Kaufhold said in a news release.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 6, 2007 10:53 AM

More local Hulu connections

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few more tidbits about Hulu, the NBC-News Corp. video venture I wrote about on Monday:

In addition to using Adobe for its Flash player, Hulu's using a content publishing and delivery system from Seattle's thePlatform, a Comcast subsidiary that also works with NBC.

Hulu's not using Isilon technology. Chief Executive Jason Kilar said it's working with Akamai to store its content.

Internally, CTO Eric Feng -- an ex-Microsoft researcher -- opted for Windows Server 2003 and SQL for the back-end servers handling work such as reporting but there's no Microsoft technology on the Hulu site itself.

Most amazing of all is that Kilar was coherent when I interviewed him last week, a few days after Hulu's beta launch. Not just because of the launch, but because his third child had just arrived a week earlier.

Kilar's family has relocated to Los Angeles but they kept their Seattle house, on Queen Anne, in part so they have a base when coming up to ski and visit friends.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 29, 2007 11:41 AM

Experimenting with Hulu, here's The Simpsons

Posted by Brier Dudley

I haven't spent much time yet with Hulu, the new video venture from NBC and News Corp. that's now taking names from people who want to help test the service, but it's obviously a game changer.

People will gravitate to the best free stuff they can find, and they only have so much time to spend watching video content.

How much time are they going to spend scouring YouTube, trying to find a chuckle among all the junk, when Hulu's offering recent episodes of shows like "The Simpsons," "Heroes" and "The Office" for free, on-demand, legally and in high quality straight from the source? Hulu's got ads, but so does YouTube.

It's also no wonder NBC feels confident enough to start talking trash about iTunes.

Hulu lets you embed its content in your blog, so let's try it out. Here's a clip from the Oct. 14 episode of The Simpsons:

One of the coolest tricks is built-in editing software that lets you embed just a snippet. On the playback progress bar there are two slider bars, and you put one at the start and one at the finish of the clip and you're ready to go, right to the poignant bits:

UPDATE: Beta note - there's a sound synchronization issue with the second clip. Audio isn't tracking with the video now. It worked when I posted it, but a few hours later someone noticed the glitch.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 24, 2007 8:05 PM

Microsoft's Facebook coup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Inventory is the word I kept hearing when Microsoft and Facebook announced their deal today.

Kevin Johnson, president of the Platforms and Services Division, twice mentioned how much inventory the deal was providing for Microsoft's AdCenter business.

"This deal brings more inventory and more value to that ad platform. At the same time it enables both parties to collaborate as Faceook looks to develep new ad type as it relates to the social experience."

By inventory he was referring to space where Microsoft can place ads for clients. It may seem like there's an infinite number of Web pages, but there's actually a limited amount of premium real estate for companies to hang their billboards.

That's why the online ad titans are so aggressively pursuing contracts like the one Microsoft made to be Facebook's exclusive ad platform.

It's also one of the great tricks of search advertising - every time you click search, you're helping Google or whoever create a page with inventory that can be sold to advertisers. But that's high-volume, low-rent stuff.

Facebook is like a prosperous new suburb, a place with lots of opportunities for a developer like Microsoft to build and rent space to companies.

What I have trouble reconciling is the scarcity of inventory and the difficulty Web startups have breaking into the major leagues. I guess users are limited in the amount of personal-time inventory they have, and hot sites like Facebook are allegedly where they spend more of that time.

People are quick to write off Microsoft's ad business because Google seems to have it all. But Facebook helps Microsoft's inventory build critical mass, and it's a great place for Microsoft to develop and show off its new, post-search ad technologies.

The companies didn't share other details, but Microsoft has to have access to Facebook user profiles, at least as much access is needed to target ads.

Facebook and other social networks are like honey pots. They attract users who share their interests and friends' contact information. This creates a detailed list of profiles that can be used to target advertising.

Combine that with all the profiles Microsoft gathers through other ad partners and its own sites, and it's pretty formidable (and spooky).

Maybe Microsoft will finally have a chance to show in the great online ad race. But how long will it take? A decade ago the company invested billions in telecom companies, hoping to win a seat at the table. It's hard to measure when and how those investments paid off, but in comparison the $240 million it put into Facebook is less than pocket change.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 17, 2007 10:39 AM

Better than dogfood: Microsofties get Social.FM

Posted by Brier Dudley

Social.FM and Microsoft announced an interesting deal.

All Microsoft employees worldwide can have free lifetime subscriptions to use the new version of Social.FM for Windows Mobile devices.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Social.FM gives users remote access to their digital music collections and the music libraries of friends and family.

It's also a showcase application for Windows Mobile devices, since it turns them into powerful music players capable of playing your entire music collection on the go.

For everyone else, the service will cost $19.95 a year after an introductory period expires in November 2008. (Maybe by then, Social.FM will have merged with iLike and they'll both be owned by Viacom or Yahoo ...)

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 17, 2007 12:00 AM

iLike's next splash on Facebook, and now Windows

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for the next wave of iLike.

The Seattle music startup is expanding its offerings today with a new sidebar for Windows Media Player, giving the WMP crowd the same free music referral and sharing features of iLike's iTunes sidebar.

Also rolling out today is an expanded iLike presence on Facebook, where iLike is already the poster child application developer.

The company is enabling users to incorporate the iLike sidebar into their Facebook profiles, in addition to the iLike widgets that made it the social network's dominant music service.

That means iLike users can display and share their entire iTunes and Windows Media Player libraries on Facebook, and not just a hand-picked sample of their favorite music. Friends can then copy playlists and listen to samples of the music.

The company is planning to release the upgrades around 9 p.m.

Simultaneously, iLike is ramping up its artist platform, which helps musicians tap into the company's huge database of fans' music preferences.

Co-founder Hadi Partovi said 40 percent of major artists are already using the platform.

"We're getting to the point where it will soon be everybody,'' he said.

Examples he shared: Faith Hill recently used the platform to post a video taken offstage by a cameraphone before her "Good Morning America" performance, and 50 Cent released a new music video exclusively on iLike for a few days.

The startup's breakthrough came when it pounced on the opportunity to develop Facebook applications, after the social network opened itself up as a developer platform in May.

Unlike his former boss, Steve Ballmer, Partovi is bullish on the longevity of Facebook.

But it looks like iLike is putting itself in a position to keep growing even if Facebook tapers off. Now that it's in the limelight, it's being approached by other companies interested in having iLike widgets on their sites.

Its services are also becoming more prominent at Ticketmaster, iLike's major investor, and its brand is more widespread in the music industry.

Partovi said the goal is to have iLike become the equivalent of MTV for the digital music era. Maybe it will end up selling to Viacom.

A closer rival is Microsoft, which has incorporated iLike-ish social networking features into the next version of its Zune music service.

Zune's even using the tagline "I Like My Zune" in its marketing, although it hasn't given iLike any APIs to plug the iLike sidebar onto the Zune software jukebox.

Here are screenshots of the new stuff from iLike. Here is the Windows Media Player sidebar:


Source: iLike

iLike's Windows Media Player sidebar.


Here is a Facebook page including the full library and playlist data pulled from the iLike sidebar:



Source: iLike


iLike sidebar data added to Facebook.


Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 8, 2007 12:14 PM

Amazon's MP3 store, watermarks and fair use

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm not the only one on a fair use jag today.

Jeff Atwood's "Coding Horror" has a great piece today on You Tube: The Big Copyright Lie. It goes much deeper on fair use than I did in today's column on Amazon's new MP3 store.

Channeling Viacom boss Philippe Dauman, Atwood rips YouTube/Google for its hypocrisy:

What I don't understand is why YouTube continues to get away with the big copyright lie they've perpetuated from day one. They pay lip service to copyright, while building their business on an empire of unauthorized, copyrighted content. It's so brazen -- so blatant.

I wonder if music stores are doing the same thing by offering DRM-free music that they know is likely to be used in ways that violate its licensing rules. But it's different, because YouTube is giving stuff away while music stores are charging for content, making contracts and linking buyers to content.

It could get interesting if those links are used for enforcement, and not just to cover the backsides of distributors.

Could a record company figure out it if you were the one who bought the copy of a song that was copied a few times and ended up being distributed to millions of people online?

Some, but not all, of the songs sold at Amazon's MP3 store are traceable by music studios even though they don't have DRM software.

Instead, some have digital watermarks that identify their origin. This is what Pete Baltaxe, Amazon's director of digital music, told me when I asked about watermarking last week:

"Amazon does not apply any watermarking so in some cases the labels have asked, or are interested in providing files that would indicate that Amazon was the retailer."

It seemed like a sensitive subject to Baltaxe, who stressed that Amazon isn't doing this, but record labels are:

To be clear, we don't apply any watermarking ... In some cases labels can deliver us sound files that have a watermark that indicates Amazon is the retailer. Amazon doesn't apply any watermarking.

Still, Amazon's music store is a leap ahead in useability. It's so good, consumers probably won't care about watermarking or terms of service.

It could inspire other music vendors to follow suit. At least that's the advice of Yahoo Music's Ian Rogers, who helped build the company's music store around Microsoft's DRM technology.

Amazon's MP3 store got it right, he said in a presentation ("Convenience wins, hubris loses ...") that he made to other music business-types and then posted on his blog. An excerpt:

But now, eight years later, Amazon's finally done what was clearly the right solution in 1999. Music in the format that people actually want it in, with a Web-based experience that's simple and works with any device. I bought tracks from Amazon (Kevin Drew and No Age), downloaded them, sync'd them to my new iPod Nano, and had them playing in my home audio system (Control 4) in less than five minutes. PRAISE JESUS. It only took 8 years.

8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years? How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, "If we build it they will come"? What did we spend? And what did we gain? We certainly didn't gain mass user adoption or trust, two prerequisites to success on the Internet.

Amen*.


Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 20, 2007 2:58 PM

NBC snags digital content exec from MSN

Posted by Brier Dudley

After 10 years at Microsoft, Cameron Death is moving to Burbank, Calif. to work on "ad-funded online programming" as vice president of digital content at NBC Digital Entertainment.

NBC just announced Death's hiring.

A former newspaper manager being groomed for leadership at Knight Ridder's St. Paul Pioneer Press, Death moved west in 1997 to join Microsoft's now-defunct Sidewalk arts and entertainment listings venture. Two years later he moved to MSN, where he most recently led the U.S. Branded Entertainment and Experiences team.

I wonder if more Microsoft ad execs will take other jobs as the aQuantive merger is ironed out.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 5, 2007 4:19 PM

Finally: The first Vista Sideshow remote

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seven months later than expected, Philips will start selling Vista SideShow-powered remote controls in October for $199.

The company showed the SRM7500 remote at CES in January, saying it would be available in the first quarter. Then it got quiet until today, when Philips announced at the CEDIA home entertainment systems show in Denver that the gadget goes on sale in October.

SideShow is a neat feature in Vista that lets computer and device makers build secondary displays, but so far not many have taken advantage of the technology.

Philips used SideShow to build a remote that lets you browse and select music stored on a Vista Premium or Ultimate system, using a menu similar to an early iPod, without turning on the PC.

From its announcement:

The Philips SRM7500 remote control also supports "basic" Windows SideShow functionality, allowing users to browse and play music, pictures, TV show and programming guides. It also provides convenient access to information including newsfeeds, stock quotes and emails on the remote's LCD display.

The remote can control a Media Center PC and up to five other entertainment devices, such as TVs, DVD players and set-top boxes, "providing complete power over multimedia PC features from the comfort of the couch,'' Philips said.

It also uses RF signals so it doesn't require line-of-sight. In other words, you can control a PC stored elsewhere in the house.

Sounds like a good challenge to Logitech's Harmony remotes, the current king of the coffee table.

But both companies may be trumped by Apple, if someone figures out a great way to turn the new Wi-Fi iPods into super remote controls.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 23, 2007 10:04 AM

Seattle's Pluggd lands $6 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

Podcasting is so 2006. Now it's all about online video and advertising.

That's how I'm reading the announcement today that Seattle's Pluggd scored financing after shifting its business model.

Former Microsoft and Amazon.com manager Alex Castro started Pluggd in January 2006 as a podcast search service. That's still the emphasis of its public-facing Web site, but the business is now describing itself as a video search and ad platform.

It turns out the same technology that Pluggd used to scan the audio of podcasts can be used on digital video. It's also a useful way to insert contextual ad banners at relevant points in the stream of content.

That's the business that landed the series A financing. Intel Capital was the lead investor, with participation from DFJ Frontier, Labrador Ventures and angel investors.

Apparently investors weren't put off by competition from Google's new video ad-insertion system that debuted on YouTube yesterday. Maybe they're hoping that Google or Microsoft will buy Pluggd.

From the release:

"We think Pluggd's solutions for targeting high-value ads into online video are ingenious," said Ian Sobieski from Band of Angels. "This is an incredibly dynamic marketplace and we feel Pluggd is demonstrating strengths that will allow it to emerge as the leader."

Sobieski and DFJ Frontier's Scott Lenet will join Castro and Mark Klebanoff on the board, and Intel Capital's Gustavo Aray "will also participate as a board observer,'' the release said.

Here's how Pluggd describes its technology:

By unlocking the entire video stream, an advertiser no longer has to rely solely on pre-roll and post-roll placement. Rather, they can dynamically place clickable overlay ad banners at any point in the program it is the most contextually relevant.

It sounds like a great business, but I hope Pluggd's stuff never shows up in movies I'm paying to watch.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 21, 2007 9:31 AM

MTV dumps Microsoft for RealNetworks

Posted by Brier Dudley

MTV's partner on a new digital music venture is indeed a Seattle company, but it's not Microsoft.

The Viacom subsidiary today announced a broad partnership with RealNetworks and Verizon Wireless to provide a digital music service spanning PCs, portable music players and mobile phones.

On Monday, I speculated that the Seattle company MTV might work with would be Microsoft and its Zune group, but I was off by about 14 miles.

I wonder if MTV lost patience with Microsoft after their jointly developed music service, Urge, failed to take significant share from iTunes.

Today's release from MTV calls Urge "critically acclaimed" and says it's a cornerstone of the new venture, but it still doesn't look good for Microsoft. First MSN Music fizzled; now Urge is going to be linked to RealNetworks.

Maybe MTV felt that Microsoft snubbed it and the Urge partnership by launching a separate music store for the Zune.

It's inside baseball, but you've got to wonder about Microsoft's shifting digital music strategies. The company has some of the best technology for digital media, but its music initiatives and partnerships seem to come in fits and starts.

UPDATE: There are some spicy comments posted in response to this entry, but for some reason our system was recently displaying zero comments posted. I've asked for more duct tape to be applied to the jalopy powering our blog system. Meanwhile I hope that zero doesn't dampen the conversation ...
UPDATE2: Fast service with the tape, no more zero.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft , RealNetworks |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 20, 2007 1:47 PM

MTV to announce digital music partner, maybe Zune?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A big announcement in the digital music space is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

MTV scheduled a conference call for "two industry-leading partners to discuss a new digital music initiative."

MTV is one of the partners. There's a good chance the other one is in the Seattle area.

MTV already has a partnership with Microsoft. It built its Urge music store on Microsoft technology, and Microsoft bundled Urge with the current version of Windows Media Player. Even so, Urge hasn't made a splash -- or a dent in iTunes.

My guess is that MTV and Zune will announce a relationship. Apple fans may chuckle, but there are many reasons a Zune-MTV partnership would make sense.

Microsoft is gearing up to launch several new Zune players and to broaden its marketing beyond hard-core music fans. The next phase of Zune will sure be marketed through MTV and its sister channels such as Comedy Central.

Partisans may think MTV will take a coolness hit by partnering with Zune. But I don't think average consumers would care one way or the other, and MTV would probably like to get whatever boost it can from the big Zune marketing budget.

Zune, meanwhile, could use the credibility that MTV's brand would give the device. Why not let MTV choose the bundle of promotional tunes that come with a Zune?

Maybe it will even put Comedy Central clips on the device instead of obscure music videos.

At a higher level, Microsoft and MTV's parent company, Viacom, are sympathetic. They have similar views on intellectual property protection and Google, and Microsoft has some of the most sophisticated DRM technology available for buying and subscribing to music services.

Further evidence of the corporate sympathies came today when Paramount and DreamWorks announced that they've chosen HD-DVD as their exclusive format for high-definition DVD sales. Viacom produces and distributes Paramount and DreamWorks videos, and HD-DVD is Microsoft's preferred format and includes the Redmond company's software.

Another possibility is that MTV could be turning its back on Microsoft and making a deal with RealNetworks, but that seems like a longshot.

MTV could even be making a deal with a music startup such as iLike. The Seattle social music network service today announced that it reached 10 million users, but MTV probably wouldn't call that industry-leading.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 2, 2007 3:49 PM

Groovy download iConcertCal 2.0 now available

Posted by Brier Dudley

University of Washington engineering grad students Jeff Cole and Brandon Smith had a surprise hit when they released iConcertCal last Christmas.

The free software plug-in for iTunes notifies you of upcoming shows featuring bands in your music collection. Among the kudos was a 3 1/2 mice rank from Macworld magazine, which listed it as a Mac Gem. Lifehacker also provided an early boost by calling it out as a "download of the day."

Today they announced the release of a new version that adds CD release dates, links to buy albums and two social features -- the ability to share concert calendars with friends and to find other concertgoers in your city.

Seattle's iLike has similar features and rich backers, so I wondered if a merger was in the works.

"We wondered the same thing, but I guess they decided to compete with us instead of buy us,'' said Cole, who lives a few blocks from iLike's Capitol Hill office.

After Cole and Smith started getting notice, iLike was among the big companies that contacted them. Another was Ticketmaster, which invested in $13 million in iLike in December.

Cole said he's not looking to add music-recommendation features that are the foundation of iLike and instead wants to keep the software a lightweight concert and music referral service.

Smith has graduated and Cole still has another quarter to go.

Even if nobody buys the company, they might start to make money in addition to the donations some users have made. They'll get a percentage of sales from Amazon.com when users pre-order upcoming albums through their software.

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Games & entertainment , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 28, 2007 10:58 AM

AMZN vet to run News Corp/NBC YouTube killer

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jason Kilar, who launched Amazon.com's video business, will run the YouTube killer hatched by the old guard media companies.

NBC announced today that Kilar, 36, will be the Los Angeles-based venture's chief executive, reporting to NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker and News Corp. President Peter Chernin.

Chernin's quote in the release:

"Jason's product and consumer expertise in the world of e-commerce is arguably unrivaled in this business and gives him a great insight into what it takes to create a superior user interface. We already have access to world-class content and near ubiquitous distribution, and the next step is marrying it with the features and tools that will help define the ideal user experience for video content on the web. We think Jason is the ideal person to lead that effort."

From 1997 to 2006, Kilar rose to vice president and general manager of Amazon's North American media business that includes sales of books, music, video and DVDs. The release notes that Kilar "originally wrote the business plan for Amazon's entry into the video and DVD businesses."

NBC's release said the video service will debut later this year with "thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips from myriad networks and two major film studios and with an unparalleled reach. With distribution partners AOL, CNET, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo!, the new venture will have access to 98 percent of the monthly U.S. unique users on the Internet."


Jason Kilar.

Source: NBC Universal

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 20, 2007 1:05 PM

UW discloses, then withdraws, iPhone details

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Washington emerging technology group briefly posted details from an Apple developer conference session on writing Web content for the iPhone, but took it down out of concern it would violate Apple non-disclosure rules.

That horse is out of the barn, however. Computerworld caught wind of the posting and published highlights today and a link to the material is still in Google's cache.

I hope the UW didn't remove the blog entry because it had sassy comments like this:

"No flash and No Java of course this means no Microsoft Silverlight"

Since it's already out in the wild, I might as well share the rest of the entry here:

Apple WWDC iPhone Development, Tony Chang, 18 Jun, 2007, published in Uncategorized

The intro slide for this session is called Designing Web Content for the iPhone. Notice it doesn't say developing iPhone client applications for the iPhone. So the first thing the speaker says is that developing for the iPhone is easy as cake, just develop for Safari. A web browser that no one uses and hasn't been in the wringer like IE7 or Firefox in terms of security vulnerabilities. Steve Jobs touts that Safari is the fastest web browser in the world by running a precanned demo of one website.

So what does the iPhone offer for websites. Lets take a look at what Apple has to say:

1. developing websites for the desktop and in most cases it will just work on the iphone
2. browsing the web with iphone is easy thru Safari
3. scroll using two fingers
4. double tap for zoom in on content
5. the page view feature lets you look at multiple websites and documents by scrolling thru them one after another
6. full support for PDF

The speaker goes thru a bunch of popular websites to show that many websites are already good to go for the iPhone so ideally only limited tweaks are required. However I dont know if those sites have already been prepped to work well with iPhone prior to the WWDC.

Pageview is a feature in iPhone to help you view webpages and documents. Since the iPhone does not have windows it uses page view to allow users to see the content.

The speaker then talks about Safari and its capabilities.

-- it supports all latest internet standards
- WHATWG
- HTML5
- 10MB max html size for web page
- Javascript limited to 5 seconds run time
- Javascript allocations limited to 10MB
- 8 documents maximum loaded on the iPhone due to page view limitations
- Quicktime used for audio and video


No flash and No Java of course this means no Microsoft Silverlight

Good design practices for iPhone:
- separate html and css
- use well structured and valid html
- size images appropriately dont rely on browser scaling
- tile small images in backgrounds
- dont use large backgroung images
- avoid complicated framesets, better yet dont use framesets at all
- iPhone supports both EDGE and WiFi. EDGE pipe is smaller then WIFI pipe so think about bandwidth when developing.
- XHTML mobile documents supported
- stylesheet device width:480px
- apply different css for the iPhone. For example displaying a one column page for iphone vs a 3 column page on a desktop.
- there are no scroll bars or resize knobs. the iphone will automatically expand the content
- framesets
- avoid them if you can
- scrollable frames are automatically expanded to fit the content
- frames exploded to the full scale and then fit to the screen

Safari User Agent for iphone:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/1A538a Safari/419.3

Without any addition coding on your website the iPhone automatically offers these features to your website.

- double tap for zoom in
- one finger as a mouse used to
- pan page
- press and hold to display the information bubble
- two fingers as a mouse used to
- pinch content to shrink - zoom out
- pan page
- scroll wheel events
- new telephone links allows you to integrate phone calls directly from your webpage. remember this is only on safari.
- built in google maps client for integrated mapping from your website

Encode content for iPhone: (Sorry guys I know almost nothing about video and audio stuff so I tried my best just to jot down stuff verbatim but it might not make sense to everyone)

H.264 baseline profile level 3.0 up to 640 x 480 fps

bitrate
- with iphone content can arrive over net
- bitrate determines whether playback will stall
- iphone screen size 480 x 320
- encode move size 480 x 360

Exporter encoding
- Move to iphone
- Movie to iphone (Cellular)
- Movie to ipod
- Movie to MPEG-3

Reference movies types
- list of urls for your movie on your website and create a decision tree to pick them
- detect the bitrate and choose capabilities of the device

- iphone with media playback requires byte range support from http server
- supported by most http 1.1 servers
- also known as content-range or partial-range support

May need MIME types for .mp4, m4v, .3gp

Embedding Video into webpages

- embedding quicktime on webpages link to article on apple websites

Links to movies on a web page will take users directly to video full screen playback

- Use new quicktime exporters
- provide low-bitrate versions of content
- use reference movies to auto stream best verson
- setup your media server to support byte-range required
- use poster jpegs
- provide direct links to podcast episodes

Here is some information from David Cox to shed some light on what this means for UW servers.

There is a little more info about the requirements of the iPhone, and it has me thinking about an old issue.

It looks like the iPhone will NOT support streaming media from the streaming media servers (at least at launch). They will require the media to be installed on HTTP accessible servers (such as Homer or Dante). But I don't think Homer or Dante are going to work very well under their current configuration.

The problem is that these systems do not know the mime type for most of the file types that the iPhone will be able to play. I am guessing that the iPhone will have the same issue that Safari has when this happens. Safari does not assume that it knows better than the server when it comes to file types. If the server says that a mimetype is not known, then Safari will not try to figure out what to do with the file extension. Rather, it will try to show the data as a text file, or download the file, depending on what the servers "default type" is (for homer and dante, it shows the links as big text files).

The iPhone (as well as Safari on both Mac and Windows) should be able to handle .mov and .mp3 files on homer and dante, as the mimetypes seem set for those media files. But .mp4 .m4a .m4b will probably result in a long wait followed by a large page of text being given to the client.

When I have mentioned this in the past, the feeling was that the Streaming Media Servers were the place for such files, and that the HTTP servers were NOT the place for such files. I can fully see the tech reasons for this, but I wanted to point out this new data point (a high profile media centric device that will NOT work with our media streaming servers) before we see them in the wild.

As a quick work around, users can create .htaccess files to provide support for these mime types on a site-by-site instance (as people have had to do to support individual download options for 'non-mp3′ podcasts hosted on depts/staff/student accounts for a while now). It is not ideal, but a good work around :).

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Education |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 18, 2007 4:13 PM

Daily deals: Widevine, Isilon

Posted by Brier Dudley

Widevine: Sweeps Canadian IPTV content-protection market, now has contracts with all providers north of Bellingham and east of Ketchikan.

Isilon: Wins European Web analytics contract.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 7, 2007 11:40 AM

Could Google tap Isilon to store digital books?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Interesting question asked by a reader in Minneapolis.

He's wondering if Isilon is involved in Google's book digitization project, which leapt ahead yesterday when a consortium of 12 major universities signed on.

I'd think Google would go it alone but perhaps a third-party storage provider like Isilon would help the company keep the project apace. It could also increase the comfort level for libraries nervous about storing everything with Google.

Isilon's spokesman wouldn't comment, saying he couldn't tell me anything about any such deal until it was formally announced. He wouldn't deny there's a relationship with Google, either, but I don't want to insinuate too much.

"Technically I can't really say anything because if it hasn't been discussed I can't coment on it,'' spokesman Lucas Welch said.

So will he deny Isilon's working with Google?

"At this time Isilon has no comment on Google's book digitization project."

Hmmm.

I've asked for Google's comment and haven't heard back yet.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Enterprise , Google |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 31, 2007 11:24 AM

Viacom boss: We'll build more than buy

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- So Viacom won't be buying Facebook, apparently.

Philippe Dauman, the new chief executive of the media giant who made waves by suing YouTube over copyright violations, said during a D session today that he may buy some smaller companies but isn't interested in blockbuster acquisitions.

"We're focusing on creating things within Viacom ... rather than paying an inflated price for an outside company,'' he said.

"I'd rather spend the extra $700 million developing new experiences," such as the virtual worlds built around Viacom franchises such as SpongeBob.

Regarding the ongoing lawsuit, Dauman said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt called shortly after he took over Viacom nine months ago and they tried to negotiate a deal. Sticking points included how much control Google would have over Viacom content on YouTube, how Google would sell ads around the content and whether Google could contact Viacom's advertisers, he said.

Dauman spoke at the D conference after YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. They had stressed that they're educating consumers about copyright laws on their site, drawing guffaws from moderator Walt Mossberg.

Dauman said he was glad to hear them talking that way.

"Well, I think maybe they're starting to get the idea. I may have helped provide a graduate education in copyright," he said.

The big disclosure by Hurley and Chen was around YouTube's plans to start inserting ads in videos within a few months. Chen said their testing found that consumers were turned off by 30-second ads that play at the start of videos.

"I don't think we'll ever do 30-second pre-rolls," Chen said. "I think it's going to be somewhere between five and 10 seconds, as well as making it as relevant as we can."

Hurley said content creators would have the option of participating in the system, which would share revenue with them along the lines of Google's AdSense system. The site is already testing the approach.

"Within the next few months we're going to roll out more video-centric advertising," Hurley said.

Comments | Category: D conference , Digital media , Google , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 18, 2007 4:57 PM

Microsoft's $6 billion conversation topic

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft didn't say much about the timing of today's deal with aQuantive, but I wonder if it hustled to get it done before two big investor events where its online executives are speaking next week.

Instead of defending its trailing position in recent years, it can point investors forward toward the possibilities of the big merger.

Maybe it'll even drop a few more details about their aQuantive plans.

First up is Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of the online services group. He's presenting to the JP Morgan Technology Conference on Tuesday.

Then Yusuf Mehdi, the senior vice president leading aQuantive integration, will speak Wednesday at the Goldman Sachs Internet Conference.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 16, 2007 9:59 AM

Apple's new iTunes feature sounds familiar

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple must be paying attention to Seattle-based iLike, a "social music discovery" service built largely by ex-Microsoft engineers.

Lots of people are starting to use iLike's sidebar for iTunes. It samples music that you're listening to and suggests similar tracks that you might like, offering both free tracks from garageband.com and songs you can buy from iTunes and other online retailers.

Yesterday iTunes debuted a new feature called "If You Like ..." in its iTunes newsletter. Apple describes it as "a new iTunes feature that highlights a specific song and finds an array of similar tracks."

But instead of using technology to analyze what you're listening to, as iLike does, Apple is pitching a cluster of pre-selected songs. Tuesday's feature suggested several songs that fans of British crooner Amy Winehouse would like.

Hadi Partovi, iLike's co-founder, took the high road when I asked for his take:

"I guess I'd say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and especially flattering from somebody we admire as much as Apple."

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 14, 2007 11:42 AM

More from Yahoo! news boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I interviewed Scott Moore last month, I was planning to write about his big influence on the news business and perspective on the different cultures at Microsoft and Yahoo!

Moore's a key player in the current transformation of the news business. He's experimenting with new formats at Yahoo! and forming partnerships with publishers and wire services to add their content to Yahoo!, offering exposure and traffic from a site that's reaching 20 percent of all Internet news consumers.

Then the Microsoft-Yahoo! merger rumors surfaced, so I shuffled things around in today's column.

Moore was one of the first Microsoft managers I interviewed when I started covering the company, and he was running MSN operations such as Slate and MSNBC.com.

He moved to Yahoo!'s media offices in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago but still comes back to Seattle a lot to visit family here.

He's also one of the rare Internet news executives who is enthusiastic about newspapers. I asked if he thinks papers will be dead in five years. His answer:

"No. There will be more consolidation that happens but most newspapers have a good long life ahead of them. ... Local newspapers may get a lot more competition than they've had over the last 30 or 40 years. Local newspapers in most markets, they've enjoyed a pretty good run without a lot of heavy duty competition. I think that part is changing.

I think the unfortunate thing about the newspaper business today is that maybe the valuations on Wall Street got ahead of themselves and the ownership of newspapers went away from what it had traditionally been -- which in many cases was local families who had a stake in the community and owned the local newspaper because they cared about journalism and about the community and really saw it as a sort of public trust. The industry got away from that. That probably hasn't been a healthy trend. To the extent that that could change, that might be good for newspapers."

With or without Moore, news is a big business around here. Seattle has an unusual concentration of online ventures -- such as Newsvine, NewsCloud and Crosscut -- that are experimenting with different approaches to publishing and competing with old media and Yahoo!

Even though it's not doing things like Slate and Sidewalk anymore, Microsoft is also a huge influence on the news business with MSN, Live.com, MSNBC.com and new content display and ad serving technologies it's developing.

Despite Moore's sympathy toward newspapers, I am nervous about the way his company and others are moving into more direct competition by stepping up efforts to sell local advertising. Moore's group is taking cues from newspapers, adding more local content that it gets for free via RSS. It's also adding event and entertainment listings and prep sports news gathered by a network of freelancers.

I also wonder if newspapers are making smart deals when they trade or give away valuable content in return for the promise of traffic.

What good is a link to the original material, if readers have already digested the gist of the story somewhere else? In newsrooms, we've been hearing for years that readers are busy and want more short tidbits and summaries they can consume on the fly. So why are papers giving that stuff to competitors?

Formal licensing deals with companies like Yahoo! seem more fair than the approach of Web 2.0 sites that simply scrape and summarize other people's news stories, offering only a link in return.

Yahoo! is actually using both approaches, licensing content from wire services and using content that newspapers give away. Said Moore:

"Instead of going out and licensing a bunch of content we just took RSS feeds from as many news providers as we could find and sucked them into yahoo news as headlines. When you click on the headline you go straight to that provider. There's no licensing or money transfer in that case -- we're sending them traffic. It's growing and growing; it's millions of clicks a month coming right off of Yahoo! News.''

Moore has been experimenting with stuff for years. In the 1990s, while at MSN, he negotiated contracts with newspapers to get local content for MSNBC.com, but it never really took off, he said:

"I don't think MSNBC ever did a good job of showcasing it or merchandising it to the audience. That approach was kind a Web 1.0 approach, if you will -- we licensed the content, posted it on our servers, sold the ads, controlled the experience."

Yahoo! is also an interesting contrast with Google. The former still uses editors to manage the quality of its news site, while Google relies on algorithms to select and rank news stories. Moore also has some issues with his competitors' approach (of course):

"For me the challenge with Google News, while I admire it from a technology standpoint, I've had times when I see a headline, about say a story in Kentucky, I click the link and I'm shot off to a completely different place. I'm on some random news site in India. It's not really a cohesive news experience from sources that you know and trust. It has its place but it's not for the mainstream news user.''

Comments | Category: Digital media , Yahoo! |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 10, 2007 10:50 AM

Internet radio bill introduced by Wyden

Posted by Brier Dudley

Northwesterners in Congress are taking the lead in the fight against new royalties on Internet radio broadcasters.

Today, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, along with Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, introduced a Senate bill that's a companion to the "Internet Radio Equality Act" bill introduced April 23 by U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee and Don Manzullo, an Illinois Republican.

A Wyden quote from his news release:

"Our bill is about standing up for folks ranging from a small Webcaster in a basement in Corvallis to an innovative startup in Beaverton to a new band trying to be heard in Portland to a huge music fan in Coos Bay. Keeping Internet radio alive is part of a broader issue that is important to me -- keeping the e-commerce engine running by preventing discrimination against it."

There's background on the issue in my KEXP column.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 9, 2007 4:26 PM

Looking for champagne at aQuantive

Posted by Brier Dudley

I thought there would be bubbly on the floor after the Seattle digital marketing firm blew past Wall Street estimates on Tuesday, but the floors were dry and nobody was dancing in the halls when I visited with Chief Executive Brian McAndrews a few hours after the earnings call.

Some highlights of the conversation:

More acquisitions are possible, even after aQuantive bought five companies over the past 15 months. "In general, yes, we expect that to be part of the plan," he said.

Google's purchase of DoubleClick led to speculation that aQuantive would be purchased next. McAndrews wouldn't comment on this, but noted that aQuantive's Atlas unit is now the last big independent ad-serving tool and that independence is valuable to advertisers.

"If that tool is owned by one of the places you're sending your dollars, it certainly creates a conflict,'' he said.

I asked about the challenge of managing a multi-threaded company like aQuantive, whose mission is hard to describe in a few lines.

"It is complex but the flip side of that is one of the reasons we're doing so well is the industry is so complicated -- complexity is our friend, because our job is making it easier for our clients,'' he said. "If it was a simple thing, they wouldn't need us, they'd just do it themselves."

Microsoft is one potential suitor, Yahoo! could be another. I asked if McAndrews and Yahoo! boss Terry Semel were getting together when Semel's in town this week for Microsoft's ad summit.

"He's at my house,'' McAndrews joked, dismissively. "We're playing tennis later."

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 9, 2007 11:40 AM

Bill Gates on paperless media

Posted by Brier Dudley

At first I was spooked by Bill Gates saying that newspapers are fading quickly as the world goes digital.

Speaking at Microsoft's advertising schmoozefest in Seattle this week, Gates said "the number of people who actually buy, subscribe to the newspaper and read it has started an inexorable decline."

But then I remembered that Bill's been saying the same thing about the workplace -- he's been saying for more than a decade that we're on the verge of the paperless office.

Digital processes have dramatically changed the way we work, just as the Web has changed the way news is distributed and consumed. But we're still using plenty of paper.

A few reasons I think Bill may be overstating this one, too (and that print media will probably be around at least until I retire):

1. Print is still a superior format. It doesn't require electricity to read print media. A hard copy of a newspaper or magazine is always on, it never needs to be recharged and it's more resistant to impact and transport than any digital reading device now or on the horizon.

2. The "green" advantages of digital vs. print are overstated. Sure it takes trees to make paper, but print media is reusable and recyclable. It also takes a lot of wood fiber and soy ink to match the ecological impact of producing and powering mobile computers that need to be replaced every three to five years.

3. Connectivity isn't an issue with print. In the physical world, it's still easier to share and discuss printed media. The only connectivity required is the passing of a document from one person to the next. It's a universal format that requires no investment in hardware and infrastructure to consume.

4. The tactile experience of print hasn't been duplicated digitally. For a long time coming, there will be people willing to pay for printed media. It may become a more limited, premium product, but that doesn't mean it will go away. People still go to the movie theater, even though movies are available online. People also pay for premium products that offer a superior experience -- why doesn't the media industry emphasize the special qualities of their media, instead of being cowed by Tablet PCs and online analytics?

5. The privacy value of print is understated. This is huge.

If you read and clip out an article about dandruff in a newspaper or magazine, nobody will know that you might have a little issue with your scalp. If you do the same thing online, Bill and the Google guys will know immediately and assume you have a dandruff problem. They'll tag you as a dandruff sufferer and tell their friends -- the companies that buy ads on their Web sites, the ones in Seattle this week for Microsoft's ad summit. The next thing you know ads for dandruff shampoo will be appearing on your computer screen.

That's why Bill and the other Internet ad barons are so enthusiastic about digital media. The format enables them to track what people read and view online. They gather and store this information, and use it to target people with pinpointed ads.

I'm a little wary of the overture, but Google apparently recognizes the value of print, at least for the near future. At a conference on the other side of the country, it told newspaper types that print is "underappreciated."

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 8, 2007 10:55 AM

Mercent's new account management system

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle online marketing services company started by ex-Amazonians today rolled out Mercent Performance, which it calls "a fully outsourced solution for optimizing shopping feeds for comparison shopping engines, shopping portals, online marketplaces, and affiliate networks."

Chief Executive Eric Best said he's expecting 50 percent of the company's retail customers will eventually be using its fully managed services. Competitors include Seattle's Marchex and Performics, a subsidiary of DoubleClick/Google.

The company, which employs 25 in Belltown, is raising a series B follow on to its funding from Madrona Venture Group and The Hillman Company.

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 8, 2007 9:56 AM

aQuantive's smoking

Posted by Brier Dudley

I guess the online ad business is doing pretty well, or was last quarter, at least.

Seattle digital marketing firm aQuantive today reported a blowout quarter and an upbeat forecast, pushing the stock up 12 percent to $33.26 (a new 52-week high) at last check.

Profit jumped 87 percent to $14.2 million, or 16 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates by 7 cents. Sales were up 55 percent.

The company also gave Q2 and FY07 forecasts well above street estimates. For the year, the company expects sales of $595 million to $615 million; analysts expected $570.73 million.

If Microsoft or somebody else is going to buy aQuantive, the price just went up.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 8, 2007 9:56 AM

aQuantive's smoking

Posted by Brier Dudley

I guess the online ad business is doing pretty well, or was last quarter, at least.

Seattle digital marketing firm aQuantive today reported a blowout quarter and an upbeat forecast, pushing the stock up 12 percent to $33.26 (a new 52-week high) at last check.

Profit jumped 87 percent to $14.2 million, or 16 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates by 7 cents. Sales were up 55 percent.

The company also gave Q2 and FY07 forecasts well above street estimates. For the year, the company expects sales of $595 million to $615 million; analysts expected $570.73 million.

If Microsoft or somebody else is going to buy aQuantive, the price just went up.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 1, 2007 4:53 PM

Feedback on KEXP

Posted by Brier Dudley

The best response so far to Monday's column on KEXP and the Internet radio royalty situation came from Seattle radio producer Tim Shook.

He pointed to an article he wrote last year about the history of another cool local, independent station with a strong Web presence -- Nathan Hale High's KNHC-FM (89.5).

For more on the station, known as C-89, here are a few earlier pieces we ran.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 30, 2007 9:42 AM

KEXP radio story annotation

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here is some supporting material for today's expanded column on KEXP and radio royalties.

KEXP stats: The station reaches 175,000 people: 115,000 terrestrial listeners plus 60,000 online listeners. About 30 percent of the financial contributions to the station come from outside of Washington. Locally it has about 1,000 volunteers who donate time to the station.

KEXP is run from a Paul Allen-owned building on Dexter Avenue, near the Pink Elephant car wash. It has a fiber-optic connection to the University of Washngton and its transmitter at 18th and Madison on Capitol Hill. Allen is no longer covering the station's deficits, but he's providing the building for $1 per year for five more years or so.

The station's 4,700-watt broadcast has a roughly 18-mile radius.

Working with the UW, KEXP has added HD radio capability. That gives the station the capability to add a second or third broadcast channel. Director Tom Mara said they're still discussing how to use the additional channels.

At the Dexter building, the station has four studios and they all have turntables as well as digital disc players. The station has 10,000 CDs in its collection.

KEXP added a "click to buy" button on its Web site in response to listener requests. The button directs users to an assortment of local music sellers, who give the station a percentage of the sales. The station's proceeds are neglible - the sales added $6,000 to the station's $3.4 million operating budget last year.

I also need to correct something on the technical side -- it was the UW Computing and Communication Department, not the UW Computer Science and Engineering Department, that developed KEXP's Web streaming service and other technologies.

Regarding the royalty situation, here are some sites with more info:

The Copyright Royalty Board is the body that approved the higher royalties, at the request of Sound Exchange, a group representing copyright holders. Sound Exchange was created by the Recording Industry Association of America.

On April 16, the CRB refused to hear an appeal of the higher royalty fees. The next step for broadcasters opposing the new fees is to seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals or from Congress.

Discussions are taking place between interested parties that could produce a settlement. Sound Exchange, for instance, extended an olive branch to Webcasters on April 19.

On April 26, U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee and Don Manzullo announced a royalty limits bill.

Here's a great primer on radio royalties provided by David Oxenford, a lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine's Washington, D.C., office. Oxenford also writes a great blog on the topic. I interviewed him last week to learn more about the situation. Davis Wright is also The Seattle Times Co.'s law firm, but that's not why I called him. I stumbled across his Broadcast Law Blog and wanted to know more about the appeal process.

Another great blog is Kurt Hanson's Radio and Internet Newsletter.

More disclosure: I had no idea The Times would editorialize on the radio royalty situation in today's paper. I've been working on the KEXP story for about a month now; it would have run sooner but vacations and the full pipeline delayed things.

It was worth waiting, I think, because last week we were able to put together a nifty music slideshow featuring Lymbyc Systym, an Arizona band that sounds a little bit like Seattle's The Postal Service minus the vocals.

During my reporting, the most amazing thing to discover was how much sound Lymbyc Systym produces -- it's just two skinny young guys with a drum kit, a laptop, a glockenspiel, a clavinet and an assortment of keyboards. Alan Berner's picture really captures their sonic effect.

KEXP DJ Cheryl Waters invited the band to play after she heard them en route to the bathroom at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, one of the national events that KEXP participates in to raise its profile and broaden its reach.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 24, 2007 12:47 PM

Microsoft's P2P YouTube and Joost killer?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So Silverlight gives Microsoft another tool to bushwhack its way into the living room.

If you hadn't thought of this, Microsoft's Sean Alexander called attention to the platform's video potential in a blog post today.

He pointed out the work of Skinkers, a Microsoft-backed company in London. Skinkers has created a system called LiveStream, which provides multiple streams of live TV via the Web so they can be viewed on a PC desktop.

Skinkers is built on Silverlight, and uses peer-to-peer technology called Pastry that was developed by Microsoft's Cambridge research labs.

Alexander is amplifying kudos the Skinkers project drew from Gartner analyst Alan Weiner, who called the application "Sling without the Box," referring to the Slingbox place-shifting video device. Weiner wrote it up on his blog, after seeing a demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters show last week:

So, the threats to cable and satellite, and for that matter IPTV, begin to line up. Certainly Joost is up there giving the cable and telephone companies something to worry about, but LiveStation (in which Microsoft has an equity stake) could be a bigger game changer as a viable live platform for the TV 2.0 crowd, as well as other content providers looking for new ways to reach the digital consumer.

The Microsoft TV portfolio is getting pretty fat, with LiveStream joining IPTV, set-top box software, WebTV, MSN Video, Media Center and the company's investments in providers like Comcast and AT&T.

Whether LiveStream rises to the top of the heap remains to be seen. But one thing's clear: Microsoft ought to lean on its pals in England for advice on product names. It's hard to beat Pastry and Skinkers.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 24, 2007 8:42 AM

iLike reports 1 million subscribers

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle "social music discovery" network and referral service is picking up steam, apparently. Today iLike announced 1 million users, up from 500,000 that the company reported on Feb. 28.

It's also raising the profile of live concert events by flagging artists that are on tour and sending concert alerts to registered users. That should please Ticketmaster, which bought 25 percent of the startup for $13.3 million in December.

Today's announcement also noted that iLike is processing more than 200 million track plays per month.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 16, 2007 11:37 AM

DoubleClick deal boosts aQuantive, acQuisition likely?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's staggering $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick turned investors attention to the Seattle digital advertising agency, boosting AQNT shares 13 percent to $32.25 earlier today.

A handful of analysts upgraded aQuantive today and several speculated the company will be acquired, now that DoubleClick is off the market.

I wonder if Microsoft is already exploring a crosstown deal. I heard that Steve Ballmer was the featured speaker at aQuantive's annual client shindig, held in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, so they've had plenty of chances to get the conversation going.

On the other hand, buying a DoubleClick competitor would undercut Microsoft's antitrust complaints about the Google deal. If Microsoft is interested in aQuantive, wouldn't it wait a month or so until the feds decide whether to do anything about DoubleClick?

CIBC analyst Paul Keung said aQuantive will benefit whether or not it's acquired, as its Atlas division picks up clients leaving DoubleClick, the AP reported.

Keung advised clients that the deal puts Atlas "into a critical role for MSN, Yahoo! and any player seeking to meaningfully compete against "GoogleClick" as a leading online ad service provider."

Comments | Category: Digital media |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

Advertising

Marketplace

LeBron James plugs Kia K900; Tesla Model X delay likelynew
(Kia) LeBron James teams with Kia Basketball star LeBron James has partnered with Kia to promote the K900, the brand's first rear-drive luxury sedan. ...
Post a comment

Advertising

Advertising

Categories
Calendar

January

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Browse the archives

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

Features

Video

Demo of the Week: TeachStreet.com

Share your thoughts!

Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.