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Net neutrality square-off

The cable industry and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin have both opposed bills to mandate Net neutrality, yet they hardly sounded like allies at a Senate hearing Tuesday. Of course, Martin and the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. haven't agreed on much during his tenure. But the split over Net neutrality on display yesterday reflects a fundamental difference over what Internet providers are obligated to give their customers. The NCTA argues that Job No. 1 is fighting congestion. Martin, on the other hand, puts a top priority on preserving liberty -- not just for consumers, but also but for commercial users as well. That puts him on a collision course with cable and DSL providers, setting up a battle over what the FCC has the power to do.

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The CW's cw on Gossip Girl

The_cw_logo Let's see -- The CW network is going to drive up ratings for one of its shows by making it harder to catch? Who's idea was that?

Killing the free episodes online may very well demonstrate that Internet TV cannibalizes over-the-air broadcasts. That would be a safe conclusion if "Gossip Girl" ratings climbed significantly in the next few weeks. I doubt that's going to happen, however. I think the Internet TV audience is separate from the group that turns on the set in the living room at night. It's people who don't have access to a TV when the show they want to watch is on the air, or who want to time-shift programming but don't have a DVR. In fact, there's some evidence that making shows available online boosts the a show's broadcast ratings by giving more people the opportunity to discover it or catch up on episodes they missed.

My guess is that the real problem here is that The CW hasn't figured out how to get the kind of advertising revenue per viewer online that it can on the air. Perhaps The CW's online ad-sales force needs to spend some time with its counterparts at Hulu and CBSSports.com. Downloadable versions of "Gossip Girl" episodes will still be available from Apple's iTunes for those inclined to pay for them, but the strongest demand online seems to be for free, advertiser supported content. And if The CW won't meet that demand, someone else certainly will.

Hulu's Kilar plays offense

Hulu_logo I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was refreshing nevertheless to see Hulu CEO Jason Kilar make the case yesterday at the National Assn. of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas for networks and studios to be more aggressive in making content available online. His admonition: when competing for viewers on the Net, it's better to play offense than defense. According to Kilar, Hulu is collecting more per commercial on its most popular show, "Arrested Development," than prime-time TV shows can charge. The higher CPMs reduce the risk that Hulu could hurt the networks' bottom lines by drawing viewers away from the TV set.

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Harry Shearer, well animated

Harry_shearer_photo_2Harry Shearer is a multimedia kind of guy. His talents are on display on film, TV, radio, CDs, the Internet, video games -- you name the medium, he's there. And soon, he'll be working a yet another format: motion capture animation. At the National Assn. of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas today, Shearer gave attendees a sample of the work to come, showing a brief skit that integrated Shearer's voice, expressions and gestures into a pair of computer-generated figures. The official version, due later this year on My Damn Channel, will have Shearer lampooning the presidential candidates, political leaders and media figures who populate the 2008 campaign.

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Comcast loves file sharing, honest!

Pando_logo Was it really just a few months ago that Comcast was surreptitiously interfering with BitTorrent uploads? How quickly things change. Late last month Comcast, the country's leading cable operator, announced that it was collaborating with BitTorrent Inc. on "protocol agnostic" ways to manage the network. In other words, no more techniques that eased congestion by cracking down on file-sharers. Today, it declared that it was developing a "P2P Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" with Pando Networks, a tech company whose optimized file-sharing techniques reduce the amount of bandwidth used. Not surprisingly, the latest announcement was greeted with reserved enthusiasm from Net neutrality advocates, who aren't persuaded that Comcast's thinking has changed along with its tune.

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Microsoft, Silverlight and Widevine

Widevine_logoMicrosoft has an uphill climb with Silverlight, the browser plug-in technology it's developing to compete with Adobe's ubiquitous Flash technology. To boost its chances, it's taking a distinctly un-Microsoftian tack: it's designing the technology to work on software platforms and devices outside the Windows universe. And in that vein, it's working with Widevine to supply a non-Windows DRM for content delivered via Silverlight.

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Finding online video -- the OPG

Modern_feed_logoThe Internet certainly beats conventional TV when it comes to the quantity of video offered. Finding something worth watching is another matter. TiVo and Digeo's Moxi set the gold standard for TV program guides; their EPGs make it easy to sift through thousands of hours of programming to find something appealing. I haven't seen anything that's quite so useful for video online, but elements of an online program guide are emerging around the Net. Most take the form of media players with channels of aggregated content combined with the ability to find and retrieve programs, such as VeohTV, Miro and the recently released Adobe Media Player. There also are standalone indexes, such as OVGuide and new entrant Modern Feed.

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The RIAA loses (or not)

There's been a lot of discussion in the blogs lately about court rulings that could complicate the RIAA's lawsuit campaign against illegal file-sharers. The three limit, to varying degrees, the record companies' ability to argue that p2p users violate copyrights merely by putting songs into folders from which other users could copy. The best post is (not surprisingly) from William Patry's copyrights blog, which summarized and analyzed the decisions out of New Haven, New York and Boston. It's also worth reading this post by EFF's Fred von Lohmann (make sure to follow the links to this earlier, related post), and this one by Eric Bangeman of Ars Technica.

Those entries cover the legal issues far better than I could. However, they don't discuss how little relief the rulings may give to those sued by the RIAA. As the Jammie Thomas trial demonstrated, the RIAA's case doesn't rely on the allegation that a defendant merely put songs in his or her shared folder. Its anti-piracy contractor, MediaSentry, actually downloads songs from the target's shared folder. That enables the RIAA to allege that the songs were reproduced and transmitted without the labels' permission.

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A lyrics site goes legit

Gracenote_logo Gracenote announced a couple years ago that it was entering a new line of business, to go along with CD and music recognition services: it would supply lyrics, fully licensed by the copyright owners, to websites and device makers. It has landed a few notable deals since then, including Yahoo and MTV, but today it's unveiling its most interesting new customer: MetroLyrics, a British Columbia-based site that specializes in song lyrics. The deal is a sign that at least some sites operating in a legal and ethical gray zone online are ready to join forces with copyright holders, if the terms make sense.

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Labels, studios diverge on file-sharing

Playlouder_msp_logo I have a column running today on latimes.com that explores the emerging differences in strategy between RIAA members and MPAA dues-payers over how to respond to Internet users' demand for large quantities of content on the cheap. I wouldn't argue that the labels and studios are fighting over how to respond. Both of them support the idea of using content-identification technology to ID and block unauthorized transfers of copyrighted works. But label executives are expressing increasing support for all-you-can-download plans, the most extreme of which being the file-sharing-friendly stance taken by Warner Music Group's Jim Griffin.

You could, of course, argue that the labels' comments will amount to little more than lip service until they actually license an all-you-can-download offering such as PlayLouder MSP, a broadband service in the UK that allows subscribers to share music to their hearts' content. But at least they're saying interesting things.

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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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