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AppleTV does YouTube

Just in case you haven't gotten enough Apple news today, Steve Jobs used the All Things D: conference this afternoon to announce a new feature for the Apple TV: starting in mid-June, it will be able to stream videos from YouTube.

 

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Apple opens DRM-free zone

Itunes_plus As promised earlier this year, Apple unveiled an "iTunes Plus" section of its virtual music store today. How appropriate -- the song files are extra large! Of course, that's not what it's about. The Plus section contains tracks with significantly less compression (for higher fidelity) and no electronic locks (for wider interoperability). Most of the material is from EMI labels -- including a small portion of Paul McCartney's solo oeuvre, a recent addition to EMI's digital offerings -- although there are scattered offerings from some indie labels.

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From payola to royalties?

The RIAA has taken a full ration of abuse for suggesting that local radio stations pay royalties to record labels, too, instead of just to songwriters' performance royalty organizations (e.g., ASCAP). It's probably just an academic debate; I doubt Congress would ever enact something so fiercely opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters (who call it a "performance tax" -- ooooh, a tax -- despite the fact that it would be collected by copyright holders, not government). Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder what the fuss is all about.

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Hurdles to mobile video

Despite the increased bandwidth and improved capabilities of the mobile-phone networks in the U.S., relatively few people use their cell phones to watch video -- according to analyst Mark Donovan of M:Metrics, less than 2 million people watched programmed TV on their mobiles. Donovan offered that stat at the iHollywood Forum's Mobile Entertainment Summit this morning, and several other speakers opined on what's holding up the market. The consensus: advertiser-supported programming is the way to go, but carriers and content providers haven't agreed yet on a way to do it.

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Royalty discount for small webcasters?

SoundExchange, the organization that collects webcasting royalties for labels and performers, just announced that it would extend until 2010 the discounts for small webcasters that expired in 2005. I haven't seen the fine print, but on the surface it looks like good news for the smaller players in the market who can't afford the rates set by a panel of copyright royalty judges. Congress mandated the original discounts in 2002 after small commercial webcasters -- and religious broadcasters, who had a powerful Senate ally in North Carolina's Jesse Helms -- said the initial royalty rates set by the Librarian of Congress would drive them out of business. Under the new proposal, webcasters that met the deal's size limits would pay 10% of the first $250,000 in gross revenue, then 12% of the revenue after that, instead of a fixed fee per song played to each listener. More to come.

More DRM woes for Hollywood

Anydvd_hd_logo The electronic locks on high-definition DVDs have been picked again, prompting a flurry of gleeful posts from the anti-DRM crowd. By my count, this is the fourth program or device to give up its keys to the discs: the first exploits hit two software players, then the Xbox 360's add-on HD DVD drive, and now an as-yet identified player has been cracked. Unlike the previous circumventions, which were developed largely in a collaborative and public way on Doom9 ("The definitive DVD backup resource"), the latest breach was done privately by SlySoft, a company based in Antigua that sells DVD-copying software. So it's anybody's guess at this point as to how SlySoft did it. My favorite bit of speculation comes from Freedom to Tinker's J. Alex Halderman, who suggested that SlySoft found a weakness in an additional player but sat on that knowledge while AACS-LA, the group that licenses much of the encryption software for high-def discs, went through the unpleasant and lengthy process of revoking the compromised versions of CyberLink's PowerDVD and Intervideo's WinDVD. Just as that process was complete, SlySoft trotted out its new exploit, forcing Hollywood to spend several more months tracking and plugging the hole. In the meantime, more high-def titles will be ripped and shared online.

 

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Nabbing (some) camcorders

Spider-Man 3 photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

The movie industry's assault on piracy in theaters has intensified in the past couple of years, and the most quantifiable result is a dramatic increase in the number of people stopped in the act of filming a movie. This morning, the MPAA and NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) announced (download release here) that workers and customers at multiplexes around the world had stopped 31 attempts to record Spider-Man 3 in its opening weeks. Three people have been arrested in connection with the nine incidents in the U.S. (and a fourth is expected to be charged, according to NATO's Patrick Corcoran), and 15 arrests have been made in other countries (10 of them in Malaysia, home of a vibrant counterfeit DVD industry). That's a whopping number of incidents and arrests; I could find reports of only one arrest in connection with camcording Spider-Man 2, although I vaguely recall that there may have been two or three efforts foiled.

 

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Online TV and advertising

Yetube_icon Today's LA Times had a quartet of stories devoted to online TV and advertising issues. In no particular order:

Meg James holds forth on The CW's entertaining approach to commercials, which garnered higher ratings than the shows they supported (umm, not a great sign for the network's programming). The inevitable result: a show that is, itself, a commercial for several products. Hmmm... sounds like the average kids show....

Michelle Quinn writes about the marketing alliance between HP and DreamWorks Animation, which begat the YeTube channel on YouTube. (Click here to see a YeTube video that conveys what it's like to interview someone from Apple.)

Dawn Chmielewski tells of the impending rise of Stevie Ryan (a.k.a. Little Loca) from YouTube star to reality TV host. That is a move up, right? Right?

And Alana Semuels reports on Web advertising agency 24/7 Real Media getting snapped up by the world's second-largest advertising firm, WPP Group.

 

Google and fair use

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling today in Perfect 10 vs. Google and Amazon is a clear victory for search engines and tech companies -- and a clear defeat for copyright holders -- on a couple of fronts. But it also includes some language that could conceivably spell trouble for YouTube, MySpace and other user-generated content sites in their legal battles with the entertainment industry.

 

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Amazon does MP3s

Amazon_logoIt's about time! Amazon.com, which has been selling downloadable movies since September, announced this morning that it plans to sell downloadable music later this year. Though late to the party, Amazon isn't simply following in the footsteps of Apple, Napster, Sony and RealNetworks: it plans to sell songs only in the MP3 format, free from digital rights management restraints. That's moving an important step further than Apple, which plans to offer DRM-free music at a premium price only from EMI and selected independent labels. Going MP3-only is probably the only approach Amazon could take, given that a big part of its business is selling digital music players that don't share a common approach to DRM. If Amazon wants to duplicate the hardware-content synergies that made the iTunes Store the market's Godzilla, it can't afford to have customers confused or frustrated by DRM incompatibilities.

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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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