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Online video: crunching some numbers

Nielsen Online offered its first numbers today from VideoCensus, the online counterpart to its famed TV ratings service, and the results buttressed at least one piece of conventional wisdom about streaming video: people might watch a lot of it, but they don't spend much time doing so. The results square with a report today from comScore and Media Contacts, which found that 80 percent of online video watchers in October tuned in an average of less than 3 minutes per day. The stats aren't particularly encouraging for companies hoping to build advertiser-supported video businesses on the Net.

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UK ISPs as piracy police?

The Times of London had a remarkable story Tuesday about a UK government proposal to require ISPs to monitor their users' downloads and cut off service to those who repeatedly access pirated movies and movies. This is the entertainment industry's Holy Grail, or at least this year's version of it -- a set-it-and-forget-it approach to combating online piracy.

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SpiralFrog: a new medium

Spiralfrog_free_music_downloads_logJust how compelling is free music? SpiralFrog, which offers free downloads with the copyright owners' blessings, went from zero customers in September to more than 1 million unique visitors per month in late January. And in a visit here Friday, board chairman Joe Mohen touted a new milestone: SpiralFrog has signed up than 500,000 registered users. (Registration is required to download content from SpiralFrog.com; otherwise, visitors are limited to reading music news from Billboard, listening to song samples and streaming music videos -- the kind of thing that's available on lots of music sites.)

The rapid growth is important, given that SpiralFrog needs to attract millions of eyeballs to survive off of advertising revenue. But what Mohen couldn't yet say is how long SpiralFrog's registered users tend to stick around. The service is only a few months old, after all. SpiralFrog's main advantage over legal outlets such as iTunes and Rhapsody is that it costs nothing, which matches what tens of millions of consumers want to pay for music online. That's what makes SpiralFrog and other emerging ad-supported music-on-demand services -- such as iMeem and Last.fm -- so promising conceptually. But to hit that magic price point, it imposes trade-offs that the masses may not abide.

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Subsciption music: subscribers wanted

Realnetworks_logo RealNetworks just reported that subscribers to its paid music services (Rhapsody and Real's premium Internet radio stations) dropped slighted in the final three months of 2007, from 1.925 million to 1.9 million in the previous quarter. Rival Napster on Wednesday reported a similar drop in the fourth quarter, from about 750,000 to 743,000.

Napster_logo The number of subscribers for both services is still significantly higher than it was a year ago, and Real's revenue from music continued its steady rise -- aided, no doubt, by the price increase that Real imposed in May (from $10 to $13 per month for basic members). Because Real hasn't disclosed how many of its subscribers go for the more expensive Rhapsody products vs. the radio service, it's hard to tell which was more responsible for the decline, if any. Still, with the two leading subscription music services both reporting some degree of slippage, it begs the question whether the demand for this kind of thing has peaked. Real's numbers will certainly grow as it takes over Yahoo's subscriptions, but that's just shifting dollars from one pocket to another. Have subscription services reached the point where it's a zero sum game? Probably not -- no one has promoted a subscription service the way Apple markets iPods and iTunes -- yet the back-to-back reports from Napster and Real suggest that demand is cooling.

*Update* -- Ronda Scott of Real weighed in, saying this was indeed the first time Real has reported a decline in music subscribers. But she also suggested that Rhapsody isn't the one that suffered:

Yes, this is the first quarter that we have reported fewer subscribers quarter on quarter. Of course at the same time revenue is up this quarter, we’ve traded some lower priced subscribers for higher priced subscribers.

*Update 2* -- Ooops. As Ms. Scott pointed out a few minutes later, Real's latest financial release shows a similar dip in music subscribers in the second quarter of 2007, from 1,875,000 to 1,850,000. Mea culpa.

Google saves the music industry?

Google_logo The Wall Street Journal reported today that Google was preparing to add a new feature to its Chinese search site: users would be able download and keep legal versions of the songs they search for, free of charge. If Google wins support from all the major record companies (only Universal Music Group has signed on so far, according to the Journal, and Silicon Valley Insider questioned even UMG's participation), it will have pushed the music industry closer than it's ever been before to a model that depends on advertisers, not consumers, to pay the freight.

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Great research on movie piracy

Oscar_statuette Kudos to Los Angelino Andy Baio for putting together a fabulous review of online movie piracy since 2003. It's mainly raw data today; Baio promised to offer some analysis on his blog, Waxy.org, tomorrow. Focusing on a slice of the film industry -- the titles that earned Academy Award nominations for their producers, actors or crew -- Baio examined how many days elapsed between the movie's release and the availability of various bootlegged versions online. Such movies aren't always in demand online; blockbusters seem to draw more attention from the scene than critical favorites (especially period dramas). So if anything, these titles move online more slowly than the average Hollywood film. Which is not to say that they dawdle en route to the darknet. By Baio's calculation, this year's Oscar nominees were bootlegged online only four days, on average, after they were released to theaters. And DVD-quality bootlegs were available online less a week after the official DVD was released to video stores or mailed to Oscar voters.

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The iTunes Super Bowl

Nfl_logo Television is a woefully underutilized programming resource, and there's no better illustration of that than the Super Bowl. Last night's game on Fox drew the largest audience ever for a Super Bowl, appearing on nearly two-thirds of the TVs that were in use at the time, according to Nielsen. This demand suggests at least four opportunities for reusing the programming online, and yet two of them are being ignored.

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Yahoo, Rhapsody and FoxyTunes

Foxytunes_planet_logo I have a typically overlong column on latimes.com today about Yahoo's decision to exit the subscription-music market, but even at some unholy word count it gives short shrift to another announcement out of Yahoo's music group today: its acquisition of FoxyTunes, a company that makes a really clever browser plug-in tied into a site that aggregates music-related material from several leading Web resources.

The main function of the plug-in is to let you control music playback from your browser, whether the music is being played by software such as iTunes or a website such as Pandora. Among many other things, those controls let you sift through and listen to the tracks stored on your computer without having to leave your browser. The plug-in also provides a link to the content-rich entry on FoxyTunes Planet that corresponds to the song playing at the time. For instance, listening to "Antimatter" by Tricky produces a link to this "Antimatter" page,  with links to photos, videos, lyrics and more (free) music.

The acquisition illustrates Yahoo's evolving approach to music, which emphasizes free content and advertising opportunities. By helping to keep people's attention on their browsers, FoxyTunes increases the time users might spend on Yahoo's online properties. And FoxyTunes Planet gives Yahoo another music portal (in addition to music.yahoo.com), which can offer material from additional Yahoo sites and sell more ads. Yahoo's Ian Rogers calls FoxyTunes "deceptively simple," and that's an apt description. Its many capabilities add up to another way for Yahoo to attract a broad range of people into its network of properties and keep them there longer.

Oh and yes -- FoxyTunes lets you insert a signature into blog posts showing what you happened to be listening to at the time. Here's mine.

Now playing: Lali Puna - Antena Trash
via FoxyTunes   


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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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