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Vudu vs AppleTV - and Moviebeam

Gizmodo and the New York Times weighed in Sunday on the previously stealthy consumer-electronics company Vudu, makers of a nifty-looking box that brings downloadable movies directly to a TV set. The stories emphasized the battle to come between Vudu's device and the AppleTV, but for some reason, neither one mentioned the obvious (and less-than-wildly-successful) precursor, Moviebeam. Like Vudu, Moviebeam's business model involves selling a box that could play movies on demand with little or no delay, with customers paying for each movie they watched. The main difference is that Moviebeam's $150 boxes held a hundred movie files transmitted through the air by a local TV station (refreshed at a rate of 10 per week), while Vudu's box (estimated price: $300) will let users choose from a list of several thousand movies stored online, then download them through their DSL line or cable modem.

Continue reading Vudu vs AppleTV - and Moviebeam »

Advertising news from Fox, TiVo, YouTube & Joost

There are a bunch of interesting technology-meets-advertising stories on the Web this morning. In no particular order:

MediaDailyNews reports that Fox has developed technology to update advertisements in time-shifted TV shows. It's talking to TiVo about testing the technology, which would allow DVRs to insert more up-to-date ads into recorded programs. Few details were offered, but it sounded like new ads (probably from the same advertisers) would be inserted into programs nightly. The point is to ease concerns that advertisers have about time-shifting, which is growing in popularity as DVRs proliferate (now in more than 17% of U.S. homes, according to a recent Nielsen survey). Of course, if viewers are skipping commercials as a matter of course, updating won't be much help.

Red Herring, meanwhile, reports that YouTube is getting plans together to add commercials to its videos. Look for quick spots before the video rolls, then longer ones after -- plus, possibly, interstitials. The obvious question is whether YouTube's efforts to monetize its massive audience will drive that audience to someone who isn't trying so hard to make money.

Finally, OnlineMediaDaily reports that p2p TV service Joost has lined up an all-star cast of advertisers, including some of the biggest agencies (such as Interpublic, Omnicom and Publicis) and brands (including Proctor & Gamble, Coca Cola, Microsoft and Nike). This is the kind of mainstream backing that Joost's p2p forebears (i.e., Kazaa) never attracted. Looks like protecting copyrights -- and giving partners the ability to control their own ad sales -- is good for business, at least as far as Joost is concerned.

Lawmakers attack webcasting royalties

With less than three weeks remaining before new webcasting royalties are due to take effect, two members of Congress introduced a bill today (Download Internet radio bill.pdf) to wipe out the looming increase. The proposal by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Don Manzullo (R-IL) would give a new lease on life to small and non-commercial webcasters, as well as a potentially huge discount to large webcasters. But it would also force performing artists and their record companies to accept smaller amounts per song played than they received under the previous royalty regime, something they're not likely to do without a fight.

Continue reading Lawmakers attack webcasting royalties »

ASCAP loses its double dip

A federal judge in New York ruled today  that ASCAP -- one of the three major groups collecting royalties for songwriters from radio stations, bars and other music-playing venues -- had no right to demand fees from online music stores and services that offer digital downloads. The case, which began several years ago, started with a dispute between three companies offering subscription music services (AOL, Yahoo and RealNetworks) and ASCAP over what the companies viewed as a double-dip. Songwriters get paid performance royalties (which ASCAP collects) when their tunes are played in public. And they are entitled to mechanical royalties (which the Harry Fox Agency collects) when their songs are pressed onto CDs. Although downloaded songs seem more like CDs than radio broadcasts, both Harry Fox and ASCAP argued that they should be paid royalties by AOL, Yahoo and RealNetworks when their subscribers downloaded tracks onto their PCs.

Continue reading ASCAP loses its double dip »

Gracenote's lyrics service

Gracenote_logoYahoo and Gracenote put another nail in the CD coffin today, providing a free source of lyrics to about half a million songs. It's a bit of a novelty -- the site lets you search for lyrics by phrase or song, but doesn't allow you to print the lyrics or move them into a portable player or digital jukebox. Still, it suggests what other digital ventures might do with Gracenote's lyrics database. For instance, an online music store might offer "enhanced" versions of a digital album that add lyrics to each track's metadata. Or MP3 players could add a "karaoke mode," with lyrics scrolling across the screen as songs play with their vocals filtered out. Needless to say, those are more compelling than lyrics printed on a CD insert. They also mirror what's already happening in the market, with or without the help of songwriters.

Continue reading Gracenote's lyrics service »

MPAA sings, "Kumbaya"

MPAA chief Dan Glickman ventured into friendly Beverly Hills waters today to make his first speech about digital rights management policy, offering his views to a DRM conference sponsored by LexisNexis and Variety. He sounded a bit like his frequent rhetorical sparring partner, CEO Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Assn., saying he "wholeheartedly" supported enabling consumers to make copies of the movies they buy. He added that consumers who acquire movies legally should be able to watch them on any device -- another thing that's not possible today, partly because of non-interoperable DRM, but also because the industry has demanded more protection against piracy than the typical home provides.

But Glickman wasn't backing away from DRM -- not at all. Instead, he was simply making a case for better use of the technology.

Continue reading MPAA sings, "Kumbaya" »

Circuit City + Napster

Circuit_city_logo_2 Like the folks at Coolfer, I'm having some trouble understanding why Circuit City (and other consumer-electronics retailers, for that matter) is still trying to sell digital music on its website -- this time, in a partnership with Napster. The company bought MusicNow (ne FullAudio) three years ago, which it used to power a downloadable music store on circuitcity.com. A year and a half later, the retailer sold MusicNow to AOL (which, in turn, dumped MusicNow for Napster in January). According to Billboard, the deal announced today enables circuitcity.com to offer a reskinned version of Napster's 99-cent download store and subscription music service.

Napster_kitty_2 I guess there's a possible synergy here with the sale of MP3 players -- everybody who buys a player not made by Apple or Sony could be prompted to do Napster's free trial or load up on some downloads. But the vast majority of buyers are going for iPods, which don't work with Napster's DRM. Another, more interesting possibility would be pre-loading MP3 players with tracks tied to Napster's subscription service, as RealNetworks has done with SanDisk (and BestBuy). The risk is that unless the pre-loads are personalized, buyers will be turned off -- just as they are with preloaded software on new PCs. And again, Napster won't work on iPods....

Sony's copy-protected DVDs

Sony_pictures_logo Taking a page out of corporate half-sibling Sony BMG's playbook, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is offering customers replacement copies of the DVDs they bought with problematic copy-protection software. The software was designed to buttress the protection provided by CSS, the standard anti-copying technology on DVDs. But just as CSS doesn't stop anyone who really wants to copy a DVD, nor did Sony's ARccOS. There plenty of work-arounds for bootleggers, and pirated copies of DVDs with ARccOS made their way online just as quickly, it seems, as the discs without it. Instead, the only purpose served by the software was to frustrate and alienate legitimate buyers of Sony DVDs by rendering the discs unplayable in some machines. A thin and imperfect layer of copy-protection has been enough to support a multi-billion-dollar DVD business; rather than making conventional DVDs harder to copy, maybe Sony should concentrate on building the market for the next generation of home video products, high-definition DVDs.

Big media's enemy: you

The consulting firm Accenture recently surveyed 110 high-ranking executives from major entertainment, communications and technology companies about growth opportunities and challenges posed by the Internet. Almost 60% of the execs said that user-generated content was one of the top three challenges they faced today. And while they were bullish on the opportunities presented online -- particularly for short-form, advertiser-supported video --  only 38% said professional content owners were the ones best positioned to take advantage of those opportunities over the next five years. More execs placed their bets instead on Internet companies (26%) and amateur content creators (13%).

Continue reading Big media's enemy: you »

No relief for Internet radio

Soundexchange A three-judge panel within the Copyright Office just rejected a request from online broadcasters to reconsider its March 2 decision to hike royalty rates. That increase, which applies retroactively to webcasts from 2006, is particularly threatening to public broadcasters and small commercial Webcasters, which lost the discounts they enjoyed under the previous royalty regime, and customized radio stations, which could be flattened by new minimum payments per channel. According to the Copyright Royalty Board, "none of the moving parties have made a sufficient showing of new evidence or a clear error or manifest injustice that would warrant a rehearing."

Continue reading No relief for Internet radio »



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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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