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Wireless Rhapsody

I have a new column today on the Opinion Manufacturing Division's website about yet another entry in the WiFi-enabled MP3 player derby. This one, the Ibiza Rhapsody by Haier, is my favorite by far, despite a really quirky touchpad. It's also the most solid MP3 player I've ever hefted (and hefted is the operative word here), reflecting its manufacturer's history as a maker of refrigerators and other heavy appliances. Anyway, the device marks another step toward a truly anywhere, anytime environment for on-demand music, which IMHO spells trouble for over-the-air broadcasters.

My Zune questions

Last week, in my oddly popular post about the Wall Street Journal's unsatisfying review of the new Microsoft Zune, I listed several questions that I wish the Journal had asked. I also promised to press Microsoft for a response. As it happens, reader Adam came through with answers well before the sleepy Redmond giant did. Nevertheless, I did ultimately get Microsoft's official line from Terry Farrell, Senior Product Manager for Zune. So after the jump, I give you a cut-and-paste Q&A with Terry's answers and, for those who missed them earlier, Andy's.

Continue reading My Zune questions »

RIAA talks smack at NAB

I love this. Clip 'n' save!

Continue reading RIAA talks smack at NAB »

Yahoo, fingerprinting and Sony BMG

Yahoo_logo I noted in an earlier post that the most important use of content-recognition technology may be in promoting legal, monetized distribution of content, rather than blocking unauthorized distributions. A good example of this comes in an Associated Press report this morning on a deal that Yahoo inked with Sony BMG.

Continue reading Yahoo, fingerprinting and Sony BMG »

Vuze and Comcast

VuzeEarlier this week, the online video service Vuze filed a petition asking the FCC to codify its 2005 policy statement into rules governing how ISPs may treat the data passing through their networks. It was motivated in no small measure by reports that Comcast was surreptitiously interfering with some types of online traffic in the interests of managing its network. In particular, Comcast was interdicting some types of file-sharing, including BitTorrent, which Vuze uses to deliver its content partners' videos.

I'll be writing more about this next week, either for the blog or the paper, but I thought I'd pass on a couple of observations by Vuze CEO Gilles BianRosa. The Comcast episode has often been characterized as having something to do with fighting piracy, because the vast majority of content that passes through file-sharing networks is bootlegged. But what's really at issue here, BianRosa said, is the architecture of the Net, which is ill-suited to the task of transmitting high-resolution video.

Comcast is one of a number of ISPs trying to rein in file-sharing, BianRosa said, and their traffic-management efforts don't discriminate between pirated and legitimate transmissions. Instead, they simply throttle applications that consume a lot of bandwidth (i.e., peer-to-peer networks). The catch is that those applications are also some of the most efficient ways to deliver what Internet users increasingly demand, namely, multimedia experiences. Programs such as BitTorrent are particularly well suited to moving big files around because they can use all the bandwidth available to a downloader, not just what's available at the source. But ISPs design their businesses around the assumption that customers don't use all the bandwidth they're paying for, at least not all the time. They can assign the same capacity to multiple people. That approach starts to break down when customers use BitTorrent to download huge files -- whether it be a licensed high-def program from Vuze or a bootlegged movie -- for hours on end.

"We really understand that problem," BianRosa said. "What we’re trying to say here is, there’s no point fighting where the Internet is going." Now that the public has acquired a taste for rich audio and video content online, it's not turning back. That's why BianRosa wants the FCC to require ISPs to manage their networks transparently, rather than using comparatively blunt tools to interdict traffic secretly. He also wants ISPs, content providers and distributors such as Vuze to work together on the capacity challenges that high-resolution video presents, rather than playing a "cat-and-mouse game" over file-sharing. Vuze and similarly oriented file-sharing firms (e.g., BitTorrent Inc.) could become the entertainment industry's best anti-piracy allies, using file sharing to generate revenue for studios instead of cease-and-desist letters or lawsuits. But they can't play that role if ISPs like Comcast take a binary approach to network management, interfering with BitTorrent traffic indiscriminately to keep their pipelines clear.

Slacker update

Slacker_image_2 Slacker is about to make the transition from customized online radio outlet to a really interesting music service. The company starts taking orders today for its WiFi-enabled portable music player, which is an Internet Age version of a transistor radio. The players are pricey -- they run $200 to $300, depending on the capacity --  but they offer something nobody else does, as far as I can tell. In addition to MP3s from your personal collection, the players can store personalized Internet radio stations that you can listen to offline -- with music being supplied free of charge.

Continue reading Slacker update »


Rcrd_lbl_logo RCRD LBL, the advertiser-supported music venture from Peter Rojas (founder of Engadget) and Downtown Records (the label behind Art Brut, Justice and Eagles of Death Metal, among others), launched today. There's a good Wall Street Journal story here, which includes the following money graf (after the jump):

Continue reading RCRD LBL »

News flash: Zune no iPod

Zune_flash_players Well, duh. Once again, Apple fanboy Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg and colleague Katherine Boehret reviewed an MP3 player by comparing it exclusively to Apple's iPods. That makes sense on one level -- the iPod is the market leader by an overwhelming margin. But it's also a product incapable of supporting subscription music services, so if you happen to want that option, the iPod isn't worth considering. Given that the Zune was designed to work with a subscription service -- Microsoft's -- the iPod can't be used as the sole measuring stick.

Continue reading News flash: Zune no iPod »

What would Gang of Four do?

Comscore_logo ComScore put out a fascinating press release today about sales of Radiohead's In Rainbows, showing that 60% of the people who downloaded the record through the band's name-your-own-price system didn't pay a dime. Those who did pay, though, ponied up $6 on average ($8.05 in the U.S.), which works out to $2.26 per download. While the average per paid download is consistent with other estimates, the percentage of freeloaders is higher, which translates into less money for the band. Still, ComScore estimated that more than 1.2 million people who visited the In Rainbows site last month, and a "significant percentage" of them downloaded the album, which means Radiohead's take will still be considerable. (Thanks to Eliot at Wired's Listening Post for steering readers to the press release.)

Continue reading What would Gang of Four do? »

A strike about the unknown

Blame it on Hulu. Movie and TV producers are bracing for a lengthy strike by the writers' union, triggered in part by an impasse over how writers should be paid when their work is redistributed over the Net. The negotiations are complicated by the writers' resentment over home-video residuals, which fuels their determination to gain a bigger share of the revenue online. The studios, on the other hand, argue that neither they nor anyone else knows how to make money online, so they don't want to be locked into a residual formula that raises the cost of distributing programs online.

A number of start-ups, though, are developing ways to translate the traditional TV business model to the Net. And unlike the aforementioned News Corp.-NBC Universal joint venture, their technology takes full advantage of the file-sharing networks that have become hotbeds for TV piracy. I wrote an Opinion Daily column about three of those companies -- Hiro Media, YuMe and Brand Asset Digital -- and you can find it here. Full disclosure: the first version of the column, which was posted at 12:01 a.m. today, included a mockworthy bit of numbskullery about Mininova, a BitTorrent index site. My error attracted polite e-mails from Niek van der Maas at Mininova and David Price of Envisional, a UK firm that monitors the Net, who pointed out that I'd inflated the Mininova daily-download numbers by three (count 'em, 3) orders of magnitude. D'ohhhh! Thanks to both for the correction, which I incorporated into the current version of the piece.

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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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