Technology

April 29, 2011

Piracy: Turning Threats into Profit

At CinemaCon few weeks ago Chris Dodd, former US Senator and current head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), called movie theft "perhaps the single biggest threat we face as an industry." The film industry--from studio execs to ticket takers--employs millions, and their jobs are in fact dependent on people going into theaters and paying, sometimes exorbitantly, to see movies.

I love movies, and I don't want to see anyone lose a job, but I have a problem with Dodd's assertion that "movie theft" is the biggest threat to the movie industry. Perhaps the fact that people are choosing to illegally acquire and watch feature films in the comfort of their own homes is partially responsible for the decline in movie attendance, but even if it is, Dodd is missing the point. It's not movie theft that's the problem--it's the opportunities moviegoers have to watch content when, how, and where they want to. People have grown accustomed to getting all kinds of content on-demand, and they're probably not going to change their behavior on moral grounds. Instead of seeing piracy as a threat, we have to learn how to use what we know about file sharing to drive business innovation.

Continue reading "Piracy: Turning Threats into Profit " »

February 22, 2011

Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt

[This post originally appeared at canarytrap.net]

Earlier this month, amongst all the frustration, euphoria, and confused wonder surrounding the events in Egypt, Malcolm Gladwell and others got mired in another discussion regarding the relative efficacy of social media in creating political change.

I don't want to rehash the back and forth (some thoughtful opinions here, here, and here), except to say that I empathize with Gladwell's frustration, I really do, but I think that his push-back isn't particularly illuminating or necessary. It's true that some of the over-emphasis on the role of social media runs the risk of overshadowing more considered analysis of the historical context and implications of what happened in Egypt. And I have to admit that seeing some of the twitter and foursquare jokes made me bristle with annoyance briefly (not because they were making light of the situation, but because they made light of the privilege we had, as media and communications professionals in the US, in being able to be cute about it all). Maybe its a function of my youthful optimism, but I think Gladwell does a disservice in validating these strawmen as something worth arguing against.

For me, claims that social media brought forth the revolution in Egypt exist so deep within a territory of techno-narcissism that isn't really even worth refuting. And it's not unexpected -- these technologies are still relatively new. We're still trying to sort out what they can do. If we look at early film and TV criticism, so much focused on the "how" over the "why" in the same way that Gladwell laments, and it didn't prevent the "why" (and the "what") from dominating the discourse as the novelty wore off.

But more importantly, I think his arguments about social media not being relevant to revolutions makes the same awkward assumption as the claims that facebook changed Egypt: that what's compelling about what happened online has everything (or anything) to do with Egypt per se. Maybe because I think of them as dramatically important in totally different arenas, I don't see the emphasis on one or the other in competition with one another for column pixels. Because something significant did happen on and to social media, but to think it was what twitter and Facebook did (or didn't do) for Egypt is to have things backwards. Twitter didn't happen to Egypt; Egypt happened to twitter and is may be transforming how we think about the role of social media in our lives and communities.

Continue reading "Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt" »

September 22, 2010

C3 Thinking, Transmedia Worldbuilding and The Deep World of Avatar


Many media studies scholars and creative professionals depend on the C3 blog (as well as Prof. Jenkins' blog, the CMS Program website and the blogs of our fellow CMS research projects) for the ideas which they can then apply to the intellectual, creative or market problem they are trying to get to the "next level". As I think everyone who has been on the team of this research project would agree, Prof. Jenkins' "framing and naming" of otherwise complex concepts into remarkably accessible written language and his always inspiring and engaging speaking style are at the core of his pedagogical style and intellectual modeling of how we do what we do here at C3 and CMS.


It is this C3 early warning system and pattern recognition of emergent cultural patterns, logics and phenomenology (in our case surrounding the circulation and distribution of old and new media) on which the success of the C3 research project is built.


Of course, because we frame it or name it, that does not mean we own it. In his opening remarks at last year's FOE4, Prof. Jenkins was quick to make this very point, specifically regarding the discourse on Transmedia:


"Transmedia seems to be a word that means lots of different things to lots of different people...so we may refer to "cross-platform entertainment" or... "Deep Media" which is Frank Rose's term. As far as I am concerned, I don't care what you call it. What we're involved in is a shift in the way entertainment operates in our culture, but a shift that's been long term and I'll explain that it has a deeper history and I think the focus on newness maybe misleads us. But I am interested in the phenomenon and each of these words talks about different aspects of the phenomenon in different ways. They get at it in different ways. Maybe we should have a discussion about what those differences are. But I am not invested in a vocabulary war about what we christen this thing. I think it's much more interesting that we talk about it and try to figure out what is going on."


We know there is a remarkably passionate and loyal C3 blog community who is very appreciative of the way "C3 Thinking" inspires them, assists them and moves forward their media industries scholarship and creative projects to a whole new level. Call it what you want - brainstorming, ideation, praxis, pre-production, concept phase, theory and practice, research, outlining, strategic design, storyboarding, index card/post-it note hell, development or pre-visualization - "C3 Thinking" intervenes on and contributes to all of these early-stage project design processes (books, films, games, television programming, etc).


This blog entry is an effort to embrace Prof. Jenkins' most recent framing and naming endeavor - now known as the Seven Core Principles of Transmedia Storytelling. I thought it would be helpful to our readership to organize occasional blog entries in a very specific fashion around each of these core principles (Spreadability vs. Drillability; Continuity vs. Multiplicity; Immersion vs. Extractability; Worldbuilding; Seriality; Subjectivity; and Performance). I will also try to strike a balance in presenting the information for those who are internalizing core concepts surrounding transmedia for the first time and seasoned transmedia veterans.


I begin here with Worldbuilding (back story, story development, production design or concept development - again, call it what you will): it is easy when writing a script, designing a film or conceiving of a game to flinch on a true commitment to the design of and deployment of a deeply textured world filled with detail that does not directly service the core narrative or primary narrative objectives. Time and budget are usually the biggest elements working against building a deep world.


The reality is great worldbuilding must precede the storytelling. An early commitment to detail will communicate information beyond the purely functional elements required for the primary narrative - allowing entries points for transmediated narrative extensions of the primary media text and for the other core principles of transmedia to take further root.


With this primacy of a commitment to worldbuilding in mind, the following worldbuilding discussion is in the form of a video case study. First, two Charlie Rose interviews with James Cameron: Dec. 17, 2009 and Feb 10, 2010 where he discusses in detail the challenges of worldbuilding and a CBS 60 Minutes video segment (embedded below) about James Cameron and the production of Avatar - which depicts what was done with the unlimited creative, time, fiscal and human resources to build the deep, textured, detailed world of the primary cinematic text that is the 3D Film Avatar.


After this video piece, find two streaming videos of a conversation between Prof. Jenkins and Tron creator Steve Lisberger from back in February 2010. We include these 2 videos (of a total of 21) in this case study because the first video sets up a discussion of worldbuilding. The next video follows up with a discussion of the basic functions of transmedia extensions, what they might add to the upcoming Disney release Tron Legacy and ends with why Avatar is less successful at deploying transmedia than, say, District 9.


The hope here is that this overall discussion of the mode of production of Hollywood motion pictures at the level of the 'big tent pole' production will inform narrative best practices and economies of scale for other transmedia project in various other creative industries.


Most importantly, there are some interesting missed opportunities contextualized in this discussion which should be seized upon by transmedia theorists and producers both for further theoretical exploration and creative deployment.


For further brainstorming, see:

Prof. Jenkins' FOE4 Keynote entitled "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling", along with Henry's essay explaining each principle.



All 21 Videos, produced by Mike Bonifer, of Prof. Jenkins conversation with Tron creator Steve Lisberger:


Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger


More Talk of TRONSmedia




March 19, 2010

Why We Should Care About Retrans Part II: Battles for the TV Audience

This is the second installment in a series on TV retransmission fees. The introduction ran yesterday. In brief Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a per-subscriber retransmission fee from New York area cable provider, Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, night before the Oscars. If you want to learn more about retrans in general, check out this great article from Broadcasting & Cable.

WABC and Cablevision had already been engaged in a nasty fight to win the hearts and minds of Cablevision subscribers before WABC went black at midnight on March 7. ABC and Cablevision each ran a series of ads blasting the other. Check out the two ads below. Both are propaganda its best and most manipulative, but they each present a very different picture of why audiences should care about TV and the retrans battle.

Here's Cablevision's commercial:


Here's WABC's commercial:


So which is more effective?

Continue reading "Why We Should Care About Retrans Part II: Battles for the TV Audience" »

March 17, 2010

Why We Should Care about Retrans: Introduction

In case you missed it, the Oscars were on March 7. The show was pretty good, but there weren't many surprises (except Ben Stiller dressed as one of the Navi from Avatar .) As a TV geek, the Oscar races were almost upstaged by a way more interesting battle going on between WABC--the local ABC station in New York--and cable provider, Cablevision. WABC and Cablevision were stuck in negotiations about retransmission fees, and when they couldn't reach an agreement, WABC pulled its station from Cablevision's lineup. The result: you may have missed The Oscars--or at least the first few minutes of the telecast--if you were among Cablevision's 3 million subscribers in the greater New York City metropolitan area.

So, what are retransmission fees? The 1992 Cable Act allows local broadcasters to negotiate carriage contracts with cable operators every three years. Broadcasters can either demand that the cable operator "must carry" their station or they can negotiate for a per-subscriber fee from the cable operators--this fee is knows as a retransmission fee. If broadcasters demand a retrans fee and cable operators don't agree to it, broadcasters can pull their station from the cable operator's lineup. That's what happened in the case of WABC. Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a retrans fee from Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A really messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, the night before the Oscars. Right before it went black, WABC aired a message reading, "Cablevision has betrayed you again."

abc.jpg

Continue reading "Why We Should Care about Retrans: Introduction" »

February 16, 2010

Points of Converging Interest

Although I tend to avoid doing posts that consist of only links, there has been so much good writing recently that I'd like to spend today on pointing out some of those publications!

Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games, by Craig Silverman (PBS MediaShift)

The PBS MediaShift blog takes a look at the integration of online audience engagement with the Olympic brand through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Why Pete Warden Should Not Release Profile Data on 215 Million Facebook Users, by Michael Zimmer

Michael Zimmer, executive committee member of the Association of Internet Researchers, gives his opinion on the ethical implications of Pete Warden's 215-million-user data set of public Facebook profiles.

The YouTube (R)evolution Turns 5, by Rachel Sadon (PCWorld)

PCWorld examines how YouTube has shaped our interaction with online video over the past five years.

The NBCOlympics.com User Experience: Not Likely to Win the Gold, by Liz Shannon Miller (NewTeeVee)

NewTeeVee provides a first-hand perspective from an attempt to watch the Winter Olympics online.

Multitaskers: More Viewers Watched Super Bowl, Surfed Net, by Wayne Friedman (MediaPost)

MediaPost analyes a set of interesting statistics from The Nielsen Company about how many people interacted with social networking sites during the Super Bowl.

Obligatory Google Buzz post, by Jean Burgess (co-author of YouTube: Online Video & Participatory Culture)

Jean Burgess produces her own review of the criticism on Google Buzz's privacy issues evolving on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list.

And, finally, enjoy (or be surprised at) this video:


What is a Browser?

A representative from Google asks 50 strangers in Times Square if they understand what a browser is and does? Given that most of the online hype around Internet development addresses early adopters, here's a look at how the general public perceives the Internet. The results: Less than 8% of those interviewed knew what a browser was.

February 10, 2010

Say iWant a Revolution: Two Ways for Apple to Crack the Small Screen

Last week I posted about why Apple hasn't been able to revolutionize the television business. Alex then chimed in with a post about Apple's iPad representing a shift toward entertainment in the consumer electronics sector. Apple's plan seems to be a contradiction in terms: they're an increasingly entertainment-focused company that hasn't made an impact on the most popular entertainment of all--TV. In this post, I'll explore two tactics Apple could use to aggressively enter the television market. Steve Jobs himself has said that Apple TV is just a "hobby," so maybe he's looking for suggestions.

Alexandre_Van_de_Sande.jpg

Continue reading "Say iWant a Revolution: Two Ways for Apple to Crack the Small Screen " »

January 5, 2010

Industry Innovation, User Loyalty, and a Phone to Rule Them All: Google and the Nexus One

googlephone.jpg

For the past two years, rumors have been swirling around the Internet regarding a potential attempt by Google to compete in the cell phone industry. Today, the monolithic company has entered the ring with its new product, the Nexus One smartphone superphone. You can read more about the new phone by visiting Gizmodo's succinct coverage page.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon today watching a live feed of Google's official presentation of the Nexus One. The phone is certainly faster, prettier, and boasts a number of new features, but I hesitate to agree with its manufacturers that the Nexus One -- "the Google phone" -- would be the smartphone to blow away the competition. The Google representatives at the event continued to emphasize the vibrant ecosystem that exists between Google, its phone application producers, and its app-store customers, but it's really nothing new considering Google's first venture into the phone sector with the company's application of its Android operating system to the HTC Dream (commonly known as the G1).

Many of the circulated rumors a few years ago focused on the implementation of the Google Voice service into a Google-produced cell phone, which would allow for free calls (therefore eliminating the necessity of paying for a yearly phone service). Back in March, the New York Times covered the threat of the Voice service in its article, Google's Free Phone Manager Could Threaten a Variety of Services , where Phil Wolff (editor of Skype Journal) states:

I would consider Google to have the potential to change the rules of the game because of their ability to bring all kinds of people into their new tools from their existing tools.

The potential for Google to change the rules of an entire industry is what most people expected from the Nexus One. However, Google made little surprises this afternoon, and this absence of novelty seems to have spurred a much different set of questions, away from new features and pricing schemes, in the question-and-answer session after the presentation.

In the Q&A session, a major concern of the audience centered on the difference between Google as a company and Google as a service. Mario Queiroz stated during the presentation that anyone who visits Google.com is a Google customer. However, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues in his CMS lecture, "The Googlization of Everything" (you can listen to the podcast here) that we are actually Google's users and hence product, instead of the company's customers. We produce information for Google's services and algorithms, while at the same time we interact with Google mainly in a non-monetary relationship (in that we do not spend money on most of Google's services and even in some instances are instead paid).

The concern of the audience, then, seemed to point out that with the Nexus One, Google is now attempting to act as a retailer. Google makes an effort to argue that they are not the manufacturer of the Google Phone hardware and instead are only the distributor of it. But this relationship between producer, consumer, and distributor is beginning to shape the web ecosystem in a new way.

The Nexus One's motto, if you visit the Google.com/phone webpage, is "Web meets phone." But I would argue that Google's strategy is instead pushing their phone to meet the Web. If we consider the motto, Google has already put the Web -- especially the Google-mediated Web -- into the G1 and its brethren. So what do I mean by drawing an antithesis with "Phone meets Web"? In the past, Google has made its services and Android system available through cell phone providers' phones. However, with the Nexus One, Google is attempting to push a phone under the guise of the Google brand to encapsulate its existent services. The previous Android-utilizing phones were associated with Google, but were not emphasized as Google-sponsored phones. However, now that Google is marketing the Nexus One as its own product, it is creating a new relationship with the customers who buy the phone. In its most basic form, Google is the producer and its customers are the consumer. But as I mentioned previously, Google is trying to avoid being associated at the phone's makers, thereby identifying the company as the phone's distributor. The company is distancing itself from the product but maintaining a relationship with the phone, hence drawing in Google loyalists or general users that trust in the Google brand.

This distributor identity has already appeared across the Web in many forms. For example, take Hulu as a case study: Hulu is maintained by a partnership of large television studios, but avoids direct association with those companies (eg., NBC) by sustaining the Hulu name. Therefore, users of Hulu associate the content available on the website with Hulu instead of television networks. Differently, though, Google occupies both spaces: with the Nexus One, it acts as a distributor of the phone, but as a monopolizing company (with the many pre-phone services that people associate with Google) Google still acts as the producer of those services. The problem, therefore, derives from the conflation of Google as both maker and deliverer. This distinction is important, though, because it affects how Google's users/customers/products associate with the company, which subsequently affects user loyalty.

October 19, 2009

Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation

Platforms for culture and community are no longer a "cool, new thing" online. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been around long enough that most users understand the basics of their purposes and functions. But now that these systems have been entrenched in the flow of the Internet, some users have begun to hack away at the conventions of Youtube, for example, to create some pretty innovative uses for the platform.

Last year, Sheila -- now a second-year graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program and a researcher with C3 -- wrote a report for the Consortium on the current state and future potential of online television. One of the interesting perspectives she draws from is that of technological adoption, to which she responds that now is the time for television to adapt and integrate with other technologies. Referring to the research of Noshir Conractor of Northwestern University, Sheila describes three stages of technological adoption -- substitution, enlargement, and reconfiguration -- which describe the evolution of technology to fit social practices: 1) new technology replacing older forms, 2) frequent use of the technology, and 3) a change in the use of the technology to fit social customes, or (vice versa) a change in a cultural practice because of the use of the technology.

YouTube is a great example of this, because in the past couple of years we have witnessed a host of awesome projects that have come out of the third stage, reconfiguration. Most of these projects have attempted to move beyond the ordinary practice of "viewing one video on a single hosted webpage" with wonderfully successful results.

After the jump, I'll briefly describe a set of these YouTube-based innovations, and then comment on Google Wave, the new venture of Google to mix up email and social networking into a highly collaborative space, and how the Wave might be moving a bit too quickly beyond its initial adoption phase.

Continue reading "Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation" »

January 30, 2009

Boxee Unboxed

Boxee, the much-hyped "social media center," opened its alpha download to Linux and Mac users on January 8. A private version of boxee alpha became available last fall and today it has been downloaded by over 100,000 users. Boxee is an open source application that allows users to play media and share recommendations with friends through the boxee interface or through automatic Twitter updates. Boxee plays media from local and network sources, but its real innovation is a slick interface that allows users to stream video from a popular sites including Hulu, Joost, CBS, ABC, CNN, MTV, YouTube, and even Netflix.

Boxee has been in development since early 2007 and it recently secured $4 million in funding to expand. Boxee is based on XBMC, the open source Xbox product that allows users to turn game consoles into home media centers. Boxee CEO Avenr Ronen saw a need to bring digital media to TV screens and thought XBMC was the perfect platform. Ronen explained in a July interview with CNET blogger Don Reisinger: "We believe it's the best damn media center you can get your hands on today." I've been playing around with boxee for the past week and I have to agree with Ronen.

Continue reading "Boxee Unboxed" »

January 27, 2009

The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?

Man, I hate hearing about an awesome conference just after the thing's wrapped up. So it is this week with PaperCamp, which went down in London on January 17th. Here's the description of the event from its own webpage:

What is PaperCamp?
A get-together for a day to talk about, fiddle with, make and explore what's possible with paper based on a blog post (http://magicalnihilism.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/papercamp/) where a lot of people seemed enthusiastic about the idea. PaperCamp is a 'fringe' event to BookCamp, in London's Kings Cross on the 17th January.

What will happen at PaperCamp?
Well, as it's a '___Camp'-type thing, that's largely up to you... we'll have a room, and a grid of timeslots for you to fill with talks, activities, discussions of your making. However, to frame that a little, the original thought behind PaperCamp was 'hacking paper and it's new possibiities'. We do have one thing organised - a 'keynote' if you like from Aaron Straup Cope from a little site called Flickr and more importantly, http://www.aaronland.info/papernet/.

Whether that's looking at material possibilities of paper itself, connecting paper to the internet and vice-versa with things like 2d-barcodes, RFIDs or exotic things like printing with conductive inks... it's about the fact that paper hasn't gone away in the digital age - it's become more useful, more abundant and in some cases gone and got itself bionic superpowers...

As I say - it's up to you what you want to make of it, please bring to the event half-formed thoughts, ideas, projects you've done or anything you would like get others exposed to, or even hacking on. These can take the form of straight-forward talks, or, things you want other people's brains and hands to help with... please bring them... along with Paper, pens, RFIDs, soldering irons, Heidelberg Lithos or any other equipment or materials you will need. We will just provide chairs, tables and a projector...

Even just reading that description, my mind is officially blown – and that's nothing compared to reading Jeremy Keith's liveblogging of the event.

Continue reading "The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?" »

November 11, 2008

distributed collectivity: storytelling on twitter

In recent months, everyone has been abuzz about twitter fiction, from projects to broadcast Moby Dick, 140 characters at a time, to the recent collective re-enactment of the Orson Welles radio program War of the Worlds over Halloween, more and more people are looking at Twitter as a potential storytelling engine. This should come as little surprise. After all, we humans are narrative creatures. Storytelling is central to the construction and articulation of cultures, nations, social imaginaries, publics, counter-publics, relationships writ large and small. So it seems only logical that every new communication portal be tested for its narrative capacity.

Less interesting to me are the efforts to merely fragment narratives in 140-character chunks. As compelling as some of these projects are on an individual level, structurally they present a type of reformatting or, in some cases, adaptation. Though this has consequences on reception and the reading experience, it is not a radical reimagining of narrative structure. Distributed storytelling, on the other hand, draws together a number of different narrative traditions in a way that may, at least, provide a provocative way of thinking about narrative form.

Continue reading "distributed collectivity: storytelling on twitter" »

October 29, 2008

The DRM Divide: DECE and Wal-Mart

The C3 team has been looking closely at how media spread in our current digital landscape, so it's only fitting to examine mechanisms that prohibit media from spreading, namely digital rights management (DRM). Tech blogs have been buzzing in the past month about the announcement of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), an organization of content, hardware, and software providers who have promised to unveil a universal digital rights management system at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Reuters reports that the DECE consortium is comprised of NBC Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, Sony, Paramount Pictures, Microsoft, Philips, Toshiba, Cisco, Best Buy, Comcast and Verisign. Apple and Disney are notably missing, but that's most likely because DECE wants a piece of iTunes' mammoth market share.

This "ecosystem" would allow people to watch video from any DECE producer on any DECE device. For example, consumers will ostensibly be able to transfer NBC Universal TV shows from a Comcast Toshiba DVR to a Microsoft Zune. The proposed model would also allow users to keep purchases in a cloud-based "digital rights locker" and make unlimited disc copies of any media they buy. DECE seems to make sharing and inter-operability easier than with Apple's iTunes, which allows DRM-protected media to be used on only five unique devices.

But the kinds of sharing DECE allows are not exactly productive for creating spreadable media. In the end, DECE still relies on DRM and consequently (probably) still prohibits some valuable opportunities for consumer engagement. Though no announcements have been made, it stands to reason that this DRM will function like any other DRM: it will bar user-generated appropriations of content and it will prohibit sharing protected content in social networks. Of course, DRM can usually be broken, but that kind of piracy is exactly what DECE is trying to prevent.

Continue reading "The DRM Divide: DECE and Wal-Mart" »

October 20, 2008

Rounding Up DIY DAYS Boston

As the C3 research on Spreadable Media moves forward from the somewhat abstract, but nonetheless foundational work of our white paper from this summer, we are entering into conversation with people across both industry and academia to explore how these theories of spreadability function across industries and national boundaries.

And as part of the effort to drill down from the broad-stroke theory of the paper, Ana and I recently presented a streamlined version of the Spreadability work specially-tailored to independent film marketing and distribution at DIY Days Boston. I was unable to stay for the whole conference, but it seemed very much like the independent film community is engaged with many of the same concerns of large media corporations: how to attract audiences, how to provide the value they want, what that value might be, and what value they would see in return.

Continue reading "Rounding Up DIY DAYS Boston" »

September 8, 2008

Moving Into the Cloud.

There has been much made lately of the tech sector's newest favorite buzzword: cloud computing. Like many such newly-minted terms, there is some dispute about its actual definition; I wrote about one such permutation in a previous entry for the C3 Weekly Newsletter when the MacBook Air was about to be unveiled at the Macworld conference in January. In it, I conflated the terms 'cloud computing' with 'ubiquitous computing', but in retrospect I should pull the two terms apart somewhat. They're still linked at a very basic level -- both cloud computing and ubiquitous computing hinge on the idea of decentralization, which I'll get back to in a bit -- but by attempting to distinguish these two terms, we begin to gain a clearer idea of where our digital culture is heading next.

Continue reading "Moving Into the Cloud." »

June 26, 2008

The Dangerous World of a GPS That Does Not Exist

Every now and then something crosses my inbox that makes my jaw drop. Sometimes it's genius, sometimes it's astonishingly crass, and sometimes it's a combination of the two. This morning's report from DVICE.com on the Mio Knight Rider GPS is definitely a category three jaw-dropper.

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. If you're going to have your car talk to you, and you're one of the generation of geeks that grew up in the 80's, you're most likely going to be secretly pretending that your compact or SUV is the Knight Industries Two Thousand anyway. On the other, this ranks right up there with a lightsaber remote control in burying the needle on the dorkometer. If nothing else, installing this sucker will provide a perfect litmus test for every future blind date that might set foot in your ride. Ever.

All easy jokes aside, the Knight Rider GPS actually does provoke some interesting thoughts. First, it's interesting that Mio licensed the original, 1980s voice of KITT, William Daniels, instead of the new KITT from NBC's upcoming Knight Rider remake. This might have something to do with the new voice being out of Mio's price range (I'd expect Val Kilmer doesn't come cheap), but since the device is scheduled to go on sale in "the August timeframe" and the new show is scheduled to launch on September 24th, I'd imagine there will be at least some would-be buyers scratching their heads and wondering why this KITT doesn't sound like the KITT on their TVs every Wednesday night. If the show takes off (as the pilot movie's 13 million viewers would seem to suggest), this could prove to be a real gotcha.

Second, is the voice from a 20-year-old cult TV show enough to justify a purchase when so many other interesting competitors are flooding the market? The Knight Rider GPS will supposedly retail for $270, which is $70 more than the 3G Apple iPhone with true GPS under its hood. Alpha geeks that sneer at Apple fanboys might be more interested in ponying up the extra forty bucks for the $299 Dash Express, which bills itself as the "first two-way, Internet-connected GPS navigation system". If the market for the Knight Rider GPS is an inherently geeky one, the iPhone and the Dash Express seem to be two pretty big shakers in that market already.

Finally, does this open the door for a whole raft of novelty GPS devices? How long will it be before we see a GPS with a UI lifted right from the Enterprise and the voice of Jonathan Frakes, that only responds if it's addressed as "Number One"? Or one with a brass-and-woodgrain casing that boots up with a whistle and responds to "Starbuck"?

A more interesting idea is the GPS as a platform for personalization across different drivers – we already have Mr. T, Dennis Hopper and Burt Reynolds giving us directions, and Nintendo's Wii Fit can have different trainers assigned to personal profiles, so why not GPS devices that recognize who's driving and customize their voices to each driver's preferences – or change their voices based on the time of day or location? During normal driving hours you might want to be guided by the soothing baritone of Patrick Stewart, but perhaps late at night when you might doze off behind the wheel the device could switch to the grating screech of Gilbert Gottfried. (Or, worse, it could direct all of its sound output to the rear speakers and imitate your mother-in-law. Hey, it could happen.)

Of course, as any hot-rodder, art car builder or bumper sticker aficionado could tell you, our vehicles have always been platforms for customization. Even giving them distinctive voices isn't anything new – all it takes is a couple of playing cards in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Our vehicles are, for many of us, extensions of our personalities – and if your personality has been secretly dying to deploy out the back of a semi truck on some lost American highway for the last twenty years, then hey, more power to you.

Just please, please don't try the turbo boost.

April 16, 2008

Our World Digitized: Henry Jenkins, Yochai Benkler, and Cass Sunstein

As we've mentioned a few times on the blog lately, the Program in Comparative Media Studies featured the latest version of the MIT Communications Forum last week, an event particularly of potential interest to Consortium readers.

C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins moderated a conversation between University of Chicago law and political science professor Cass Sunstein and Yochai Benkler of Harvard University's Berkman Center, in an event called "Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly."

Sustein is the author of Republic.com 2.0 and Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, while Benkler wrote The Wealth of Networks.

According to the abstract:

Much discussion of our impending digital future is insular and without nuance.  Skeptics talk mainly among themselves, while utopians and optimists also keep company mainly within their own tribal cultures.  Today's forum challenges this unhelpful division, staging a conversation between two of our country's most thoughtful and influential writers on the promise and the perils of the Internet Age.

The audiocast of the event is already available here, and video will be available soon.

Continue reading "Our World Digitized: Henry Jenkins, Yochai Benkler, and Cass Sunstein" »

March 21, 2008

SCMS: Ted Hovet on Framing Motion

Our approach here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies in general, and in the Consortium in particular, is that, often, the best way to understand the present moment and where the media industries are headed is to look at where they have been. That is one of the foundational principles, for instance, of our bi-annual Media in Transition conference, and it explains why the Consortium is built on the type of work, for instance, that C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio has done on early conceptions of new media forms in the past, such as the telephone, phonograph, cinema, television, etc. Questions currently arising about mobile media, online video, virtual worlds, and the Internet more broadly can often be better understood by looking at how similar questions were tackled and what mistakes were made in previous eras of media transition.

That approach is a staple of CMS curricula, and it explains in part our association with scholars like Dr. Ted Hovet of Western Kentucky University. I've been fortunate enough to know and work under and with Ted for six years or so now. We've had the pleasure of presenting workshops at conferences together in the past (the 2006 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in particular, where--along with my wife Amanda Ford and WKU's Dale Rigby--we discussed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum and academic research), and I was glad to be able to hear him present his latest work at this year's SCMS. His presentation on Friday morning was entitled "Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Methods of Display."

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February 28, 2008

Stopping the Signal: Another Look at China's "Great Firewall"

With the Beijing 2008 Olympics fast approaching and the recent announcement by the International Olympics Committee to allow athletes to post personal blogs during the games, so long as they follow fairly limiting content guidelines, talk is buzzing again around China's so-called "Great Firewall," now with the addition of the "Golden Shield" -- an elaborate filtering system that prevents undesirable internet content from being viewed.

According to a great article by James Fallows at The Atlantic, plans are in place to open up a range of IP addresses that the government expects to cater to foreign visitors for the length of the games.

The move comes as no surprise to anyone who's been inside a high-end Chinese hotel where the extravagant lobbies give way to mediocre rooms where the curtains don't hang right: China has been notoriously good at putting on a show for western visitors (and potential investors).

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February 21, 2008

Blu-Ray Declared HD Winner, Ending Format War

I wanted to start a string of blog updates this afternoon/evening by making note of the end of the format war that has divided HD television owners for some time now. However, now that the DVD format war is over, despite what might be lost in innovation and pricing for the consumer, one would think a consolidated technology will help push innovation forward on the content side and likewise ease consumer reluctance in adopting the new technology.

For those who haven't followed the events, news surfaced earlier this week (see here) that Toshiba has conceded the market battle with Sony between its HD DVD format and Sony's Blu-Ray.

As with others I know, since I hadn't taken a personal stake in the battle up to this point and never purchased and HD player, this is a victory because it means consumers now know which technology to invest in, but I still feel there's some bad branding involved when the format which won carries the name "Blu-Ray" instead of the more intuitive "HD DVD." Perhaps they could just buy Toshiba's much simpler brand name in the process?

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February 18, 2008

UK ISPs and Piracy Monitoring

The latest in continuing controversy about the role of Internet service providers in monitoring or having any responsibility or culpability in the actions of its customers comes from the United Kingdom, where Mark Ward from the BBC reports on governmental pressure directed toward ISPs to reject net access to those who use their Internet service for pirating copyrighted content.

Ward writes about a new consultation document that has been circulated in the UK this week, advising the government that ISPs should be brought into "the fight against piracy." However, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has come out in staunch opposition to the suggestion, pointing out that "the 2002 E-Commerce Regulations defined net firms as 'mere conduits' and not responsible for the contents of the traffic flowing across their networks.

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February 4, 2008

Measuring Consumer Awareness about the Digital Deadline

When it comes to measuring phenomena, there are a variety of things one can look at, but at the heart of any question is whether your goal is to measure how much of something exists or the quality of that phenomena where it does exist. These are two fundamentally different research questions, yet it often feels that the goals of both get confused.

We've spent considerable time over the past year talking about audience measurement--online, for advertisers, for the television industry, for technological adoption, and so on. Several of those pieces are available here, and you can watch to a whole panel on the topic from our Futures of Entertainment 2 conference back in November.

But a recent e-mail I've received brought all these discussions back up, about impressions and expressions, about engagement, and about audience measurement. As I've written about before, the myriad approaches--and agendas--often create a virtual Tower of Babel.

This time, the research revolves around measuring knowledge of the upcoming digital deadline.

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January 29, 2008

Looking Back to 1996

Recently, an e-mail came my way bringing my attention to this interesting piece from back in 2006, as a user decides to look back 10 years and see what the Web was like back in 1996. The author of the piece, Eric Karjala, writes occasional articles and blogs regularly at 3,300 Diggs. But it's interesting to see it still getting forwarded, more than a year after its spread and all those Diggs, and it's a reminder that, to whatever degree you buy into the idea of a Long Tail, an extended archive does leave content dormant for a renaissance someday. (That's what I keep thinking about some of those random blog pieces I wrote that I just know someone is going to find valuable in the future--ham radio, anyone?

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January 23, 2008

WWE in HD

I've followed the story for a long time, but as of this Monday night, World Wrestling Entertainment has converted its programming over to HD.

WWE RAW on the USA Network, ECW on Sci Fi, and Friday Night Smackdown on The CW will all now be aired with high-definition feeds, as well as WWE pay-per-view events, starting with Sunday's Royal Rumble. The CW had been looking to upgrade Smackdown for a while, in its effort to transition all its programming to HD. Meanwhile, both USA and Sci Fi are using the transition amidst their creation of dedicated HD channels.

WWE provides an FAQ section on HD, as well as a story on their site detailing some of the last minute struggles for the production team to get prepared for the first HD broadcast of WWE television.

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Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Digital Deadline for TV

Recently, in my regular daily e-mail update from TelevisionWeek, I saw the latest update from Ira Teinowitz on the House of Representatives' most recent reaction to preparations for the digital deadline for American televisions.

Teinowitz, who has covered this situation regularly for that publication for quite a while now, writes that House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell remains displeased with the ways in which everyone involved with preparing for the Feb. 17, 2009, transition from analog to digital signals for television broadcasting has been educating the public and preparing for the transition.

Now, a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13, with the idea of looking at how well the preparation has been and needs to be, one year from the actual date of the conversion.

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December 14, 2007

More Smart Folks: Optaros and LocaModa

In my previous post, I wrote about the smart people I met at Communispace out in Watertown. There are a lot of other great companies and bright minds I've been crossing paths with here in the Boston area of late. We were honored, for instance, to have Jim Nail from out at Cymfony join us on our recent panel on Metrics and Measurement at FoE2.

Another guy in attendance who I've been honored to get to know is John Eckman from Optaros. We had a chance to meet John a few weeks before our conference, when he came in for a visit. Eckman had written about Henry Jenkins' appearance at the Forrester Consumer Forum back in October, and he ended up coming in to meet myself and Joshua Green, C3's Research Manager. The conversation ended going on even past the point I had to leave for another appointment.

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December 13, 2007

Privacy and Control Issues: Cell Phone Jamming

I've been following the debate around cell phone jamming since I read Matt Richtel's Nov. 5 New York Times piece on the debate over cell phone jamming and this recent Slate piece about the controversy.

A cell phone jammer is an instrument used to prevent cell phones from receiving or transmitting signals to base stations. Basically, when this device is switched on, cell phones nearby become useless. Jammers are commonly used in places where a phone call would be disruptive because silence is expected (Think schools, libraries, or your next board meeting.).

The devices signal the frustration of some people with the technologies they are constantly surrounded by. People feel the need to be in charge in a technologically controlled world. Let's call this a social defense strategy. Instead of asking others to turn off the electronic device, they take action, employing the jamming device as weaponry. These devices and other "social defense technologies" signal that people are going to take more radical measures to gain control in public spaces.

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November 1, 2007

My Afternoon with the Robot

If anyone believes we live in a world that is all about social connections, and understanding people in relation to one another rather than as distinct wholes, it would be folks around CMS and the Consortium. Concepts we discuss often such as the value of Web 2.0 and social networks, as well as fan communities and "collective intelligence," are all about the power of meeting people.

But, recently, I had a chance to not just meet up with an interesting who, but a what as well. Yesterday afternoon, while spending some time in downtown Boston, I ended up in what turned into a longer conversation with a man and his robot.

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October 20, 2007

iPods Behind a Crime Wave? Someone Is Missing the Point

In the past, the C3 bloggers have bean quite outspoken about their opinions on media effects, as you can see here and here, but, as far as I can tell, this is a new one for us; for once, media effects are not about the content or in its usage, but about the device itself.

A recent study by the Urban Institute states that the reason behind the recent spike in violent crime is none other than the iPod. "The gadgets are not just entertaining and convenient; their high value, visibility, and versatility make them "criminogenic"--or "crime-creating," in the vocabulary of criminologists.

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October 12, 2007

3D Daytime TV, Brought to You by Walgreens

As high-definitiion becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the new frontier of experimentation continues to be 3D TV. Whle sports organizations and networks have been the predominant experimenters with 3D technology and television content, the latest tinkerer looking to add a dimension to his show is one that American daytime audiences might know well: the shy TV producer at the sidelines, Michael Gelman.

Gelman is the not-so-behind-the-scenes executive producer of Live with Regis and Kelly, the daytime talk show featuring longtime TV personality Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, a daytime TV star in multiple genres. The 3D experiment will be featured as a stunt for Halloween. As longtime viewers of Live will know, Halloween has long been a featured episode on the show, stretching back to the days that it was Kathy Lee Gifford instead of Kelly Ripa.

This is more than just an experiment with 3D technology, though: it is also an experiment in sponsorship, as the special 3D Halloween episode will be brought to viewers by Walgreens pharmacy. As soon as the episode was planned, Disney-ABC went forward to find a sponsor willing to take part in playing 3D to the home viewing audience.

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September 19, 2007

Take the DS Out to the Ballgame

A future look at an innovative marketing approach for fans is being tested this year at Seattle's Safeco Field.

The Nintendo DS is going to change the way we attend sporting events and participate as a fan.

The deal was struck as part of Nintendo of America's majority ownership of the Seattle Mariners, but it shows the ways in which technologies can be used for a variety of purposes, in this case using a Nintendo device not just for video games, but as an audience participant of live sporting games as well.

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September 8, 2007

IBM Internet Survey Finds Respondents Spend a Lot of Time Online

Language can be an interesting thing. And an important one when you are talking about issues like consumer adoption. You know that we're interested in these issues at C3, and that I am a proponent for looking and preparing for the future. But I also believe a healthy dose of realism is good as well, and the hyperbole and overhype has saturated our discussion of technological point to the degree that even the most culturally savvy border on mild forms of technological determinism when they aren't careful.

Related to all of this, I was reading an IBM press release recently that touted the decline of television as the primary media device in the home, boasting that "the global findings overwhelmingly suggest personal Internet time rivals TV time."

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August 23, 2007

WWE Going to HD on The CW?

More news has surfaced regarding the move of professional wrestling to high-definition, something that has interested me and that I've written about here a few times in the past few months.

World Wrestling Entertainment has been among the top rated shows on the three channels that its three brands air: USA Network, the Sci Fi Channel, and The CW Network. The company has been toying with a transfer to high-definition for some time, but this culminated with the decision by the CW Network to move to broadcasting in all HD.

At first, it looked as if wrestling would be left out of the picture. As Richard Lawler writes, the CW announced that all its other shows would be going HD at the launch of the new TV season, aside from its Friday evening wrestling programming.

However, word is circulating now that WWE will make the transition to high-definition in January.

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August 6, 2007

FCC Preparing to Educate Public on Digital Deadline

The FCC is moving forward on finding ways to educate the public about the coming digital deadline, the Feb. 17, 2009, date when over-the-air analog broadcasts will be replaced by digital. For a number of Americans who only have analog television sets and no cable or satellite subscription, this will be a pivotal date without a digital-to-analog converter box or a new digital television, since they will no longer be able to watch TV.

Of course, this only comes after a wide variety of folks have criticized the government and the industry for not doing enough to inform Americans about such a big change being well under two years away. In response, the FCC has finally laid out a number of ideas, including public service announcements, notices that come with new television sets, and inserts in cable bills. However, although a digital deadline has been discussed for some time, a great number of Americans don't seem to know about the digital deadline.

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August 5, 2007

Skype/Metacafe Deal Expands Video Sharing Site's Reach

VIdeo sharing site Metacafe has made the news in the past week by striking a deal with Skype to provide its videos to Skype users, integrated in the newest Skype launch. Among the features are options to allow users to include a video in a chat or as part of their profile. There is also a deal in place for Dailymotion.

What does this mean? It's the latest in a continuing number of cross-platform distribution deals, as more and more it is online channels finding an increasing number of avenues to promote their content. Metacafe, in its effort to be more than just a one-stop destination for Web videos, is trying to extend the Metacafe reach outward, and that includes syndicating into programs like Skype that are becoming more and more mainstream for broadband Internet users.

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July 25, 2007

It's Not About the Technology; It's How You Use It

I've written a series of posts this morning on issues like the slow rate of technological change, realities of the digital divide, and the industry's inability to work together in finding new metrics efficiently.

Here's another concept underlying all of this and that bears repeating; it's not about the technology, stupid. As these posts throughout the morning indicate, we here at C3 do not consider ourselves technological determinists, even when we look at a lot of neat gadgets. Quite the opposite, we are interested in the social and cultural meaning attached to these new technologies. We are much less interested in what's possible than in how people choose to use technologies, the preconditions in their lives that make particular groups adapt to a technology, etc.

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Realities of the Digital Divide

I mentioned earlier today that the rate of technological change is often misunderstood. There are a group of people who want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to remain the same, to be sure, but there are likewise plenty of folks who want to believe that every change is revolutionary, will become widespread very quickly, and will completely overtake the outdated technologies and modes of the past and transform the world into a fundamentally democratic utopia.

However, the world can't be explained by such technological determinism, whether it be utopian or dystopian. And that includes remaining aware that, for all the discussions we have about the way the Internet is a primary driver in fundamentally changing the ways in which consumers interact with producers, fans interact with media properties and brands, readers interact with authors, and people simply interact with one another, we cannot pretend that there still does not exist a great digital divide among socioeconomic classes in individual countries and, even more sharply contrasted, between various peoples around the world.

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Misconceptions of the Rate of Technological Change

Ostensibly, some observers might say this blog is "about" new technologies, changes in the media industries, new ways for users and fans to interact with one another and "the powers that be" and brand managers of the world. I've even said that myself many times. But the work C3 does often always focuses on just the opposite message, the misconception that change is going to come about really rapidly.

It can't be repeated often enough: change takes time. When we look at where we are now compared to where we are 10 years ago, it seems a major difference. The number of people who have reliable Internet connections in the past decade has mushroomed. Yet, I hear others talking about how we might all be wirelessly connected in five years, and I think about the technological bubbles many people live in. The length of time it takes for technology to move from early adopters to the public at large, the difficulty of infrastructure reliability on a national basis, the digital divide that is too often ignored, and a variety of other factors can't be forgotten.

I talked about these issues with television industry researcher Bruce Leichtman in my interview with him here on the blog last month.

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July 20, 2007

Why Do People Go To Search Engines Instead of the Official Site?

I saw a short news note from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek yesterday, noting that NBC has said that a third of its Web site traffic comes from search engines.

This doesn't sound like news to me, but it indicates something fundamental that I think media companies have been missing for a while. As the technology for the Web has spread, media properties have competed with one another by who could create the most aesthetically pleasing site that technology allows for.

We have some of the best Flash animations, the slickest graphics, the coolest interactive features one could imagine for a site, yet many people are finding content through a search engine instead of coming to the main page of the site and clicking through. I hypothesize it might have something to do with that ugly "U" word: utility.

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July 17, 2007

The Digital Deadline, Inefficient Preparation, and a New Digital Divide?

Not that long ago, I ran into Prof. Nolan Bowie, who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University down the road. I took a class with him on public policy issues surrounding new media last year, and I was intrigued to know that he would be writing a series of commentaries for The Boston Globe since, if nothing else, Nolan is always provocative.

What caught my eye when looking back over the articles I missed was his piece from last month on Bridging the TV Gap.

Those of you who follow the C3 blog fairly regularly may know that I've been quite concerned with the upcoming digital deadline, although also aware that the deadline could very well be moved again before all is said and done. The plan for analog television signals to be a think of the past by February 2009 is quite understandable when one understands the potential benefits for freeing the spectrum for more efficient uses, but the way in which the public has been informed, and plans have been made for such a digital deadline, has been...well...something less than efficient.

Nolan writes about the great benefits of the digital conversion but also about the dangers for low-income families, the need to follow this up with an emphasis on better and universally available high-speed broadband Internet connection, and concerns about what will happen with ownership rules with the proliferation of channels allowed by a completely digital media environment, as well as the substantial concern about the disposal of analog televisions. He warns, "Many poor and low income working poor families may not be able to afford new digital TV sets or suitable substitutes, thus creating a new kind of digital divide in addition to the expanding gaps associated with Internet access."

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July 12, 2007

New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape

I wanted to mention a few news stories that passed my eye over the past few days that I thought would be of particular interest to C3 researchers and readers, especially taking into account links between online initiatives and traditional television and print properties.

The news includes a new deal between TV Guide and Maven Networks for powering broadband video content for TV Guide's Web site, a cosmetic change for the brand of Court TV to the new truTV, Joost's deal with VH1 to show a sneak peek of the premiere of I Hate My 30s online first, and Bravo's deal struck to do its advertising deals minute-by-minute with Starcom USA.

TV Guide and Maven Networks. TV Guide's choice to hire the technology provider to power its broadband video on its Web site indicates an increased effort to make TV Guide a brand based on more than the print product it is most closely identified with, especially as paper guides have become all but obsolete. Find more at The Boston Business Journal.

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July 9, 2007

Digital Cinema and HD DVDs Expected to Experience Significant Growth by 2011

A new study from PricewaterhouseCoopers examines high-definition DVDs and digital cinema, finding that digital and HD filmed content will reach $103.3 billion, up from $81.2 billion in 2006. The study, entitled "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2007-2011," emphasizes Asia Pacific as the fastest growing market and finds that download-to-own services will remain a niche market but one that will grow tremendously over the next few years.

One of the most interesting predictions is that digital cinema will "reinvigorate the box office to the tune of $11.7 billion by 2011," according to Reuters' Gina Keating in her article on the report.

There are still a lot of controversies, particularly in the length of time given to release for DVD, which digital cinema encourages. However, theater owners are adamantly opposed to such a move because, while it will benefit the production companies, it may very well be detrimental to the box office, especially due to the fact that one can own a movie on DVD for about the cost of a couple viewing it once at a theater, not counting the costs for snacks and beverages.

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July 2, 2007

What Do People Do with Their Technology?

C3 Alum Geoffrey Long recently alerted me to an interesting study from Jan Chipchase (see his profile here). Jan works as a researcher for the design branch of Nokia, and he both designs new products and tests them.

In the meantime, he publishes a lot of intriguing studies and materials on his personal Web site, enttiled Future Perfect. He writes, "The material that you see on this site is what I do in my spare time--the stuff that inspires or challenges me, helps me understand how the future might turn out."

What caught Geoff's idea was his piece "Where's the Phone?" drawing on research he had done with Cui Yanging and Fumiko Ichikawa, based on a variety of street surveys for Nokia between 2003 and 2006, focusing on "where people carry their mobile phones and why."

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May 20, 2007

Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture

Several of the researchers in C3 have just finished or are in the process of finishing their Master's thesis projects, which means many of us now have the prospect of graduation staring us in the face. Here at C3, we have had the great opportunity to not only work academically as researchers while graduate students but also to interact with the media industry and work with folks at our corporate partners on a variety of initiatives, meaning that a majority of the people coming out of C3 are interested in maintaining a relationship to both academia and the media industry moving forward.

But, as job hunts loom on the horizons and as colleagues start to land jobs elsewhere, we all have to consider what it means, in both the industry and academia, to come away with expertise in issues such as understanding fan communities, transmedia storytelling, new advertising models, and the variety of other focuses that C3 research has taken.

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May 19, 2007

Wrestling Fans Can't Benefit from HD?: Cultural Biases and WWE to HD

Considering my continued interesting in pro wrestling and its fan community, and the class I just wrapped up teaching on American pro wrestling here at MIT that WWE had some official involvement with (class blog here), I was interested in Stephanie Robbins' piece in TelevisionWeek back on Thursday regarding WWE's plans to start taping all its weekly shows in high-definition sometime next year.

Robbins writes that investors were told that the company had delayed the switch because of a variety of technical issues but that, now that CW has become increasingly serious about high-definition programming and USA is switching to the format by the end of the year, the WWE has decided to make sure its product stays up-to-date.

What caught my attention, though, was the comments from Bruce Leichtman of Leichtman Research, one of those people who seem to creep into many TVWeek stories on HD. Leichtman was attributed as saying that the programming might not immediately benefit WWE fans and that, while many initial offerings appeal to an upscale audience, the WWE "has more of a downscale appeal." This was not a direct quote to Leicthman, but I'm assuming it isn't too far off the mark.

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May 18, 2007

Web 2.0 and the Maintenance of Identity

To draw on one more interesting perspective in relation to online fandom, and especially to the previous post about Surya Yalamanchili's post on fan types based from his own observations from The Apprentice, I was intrigued by some recent thoughts from C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken, who writes about the maintenance of online identity.

He writes particularly about transparency in online identity, as well as the ironic cloudiness of a person that results. He writes about the proliferation of public information that people are making willingly available in the current age that, "The issue here should not be restricted to the intellectual's traditional lamentation that old categories are at risk. The issue is to ask what might happen to identity and human nature in the new regime."

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May 13, 2007

MSNBC Hopes to Attract People to Its Site with News-Based Casual Gaming

MSNBC has launched a brilliant branded casual game on its site, one that is quite simple, fun to play, and ties directly in with their product. Is it gimmicky? Of course it is. But it also works. The game is called "NewsBreaker," and it is part of a new three-pronged approach on the network's behalf to turn its site and its brand into a place people go to in order to learn about the latest news.

The new tag line for the company is A Fuller Spectrum of News, and the attention-getter has been this game. It's the BrickBreaker model that has been the staple of a wide range of casual games over the years. And, just as BrickBreaker captivated the minds of many industry executives over the past few years, MSNBC hopes to do the same with attracting folks to their news site.

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May 11, 2007

Cox and ABC Strike Deal to Bring More Content to VOD, No Fast-Forwarding

According to one of the latest deals struck in the entertainment industry, there is going to be substantial new testing of video-on-demand content for ABC, but that experimentation will disable some of the features that viewers love most.

I was reading through Beth Duggan's recent TelevisionWeek article about the deal between what Variety calls "the Alphabet" and Cox Communications, in which ABC will be testing a variety of content through VOD.

However, in return, Cox will be "disabling the VOD fast-forward option for on demand content and syndicating ABC's broadband player to Cox.net."

The plan seems to be to marry advanced advertising techniques with the VOD platform, which may go a long way in explaining why the fast-forward option would not be enabled through VOD, although this could be problematic for viewers who had previously been given many chances to fast forward through content they were not interested in.

This would be the first time that a network-specific broadband video player would be syndicated for use by a cable operator. According to Duggan's story, the deal will provide "Cox.net users in Orange County with the ability to watch ad-supported, full episodes of ABC's prime-time series online the day after they air on the network."

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May 6, 2007

Keeping Transmedia Services Bound in the Gates of Exclusivity

Gated content is one thing. But I've been giving some extra thought to what amounts to gated services recently, based on my revisiting a deal struck in March 2006 in which TiVo would be partnering with Verizon so that TiVo subscribers would be able to schedule their programming through their cell phone with the service provider starting last summer.

David Zatz provides the press release on his site, which touts that TiVo Mobile will be "a new downloadable application that lets TiVo service subscribers schedule recordings on their TiVo device directly from their Get It Now equipped Verizon Wireless handset."

Zatz voiced many people's complaints when he said, "This probably isn't a service I'd utilize (especially since I'm with Sprint)." I see what Verizon got out of the deal, but it seems that exclusivity limits a significant number of people from being able to use this feature, and since mobile scheduling of content could be quite a benefit for some users, it may serve to anger viewers locked into a contract with another service provider who then can't take advantage of this service.

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April 28, 2007

The Future and Promise of VOD: Looking at two TelevisionWeek Special Reports

I wanted to point toward a couple of interesting pieces that appeared on TelevisionWeek this past week by reporter Daisy Whitney, a two-part "special report" looking at video-on-demand.

The first of these articles, entitled "VOD: Getting Bigger, But Not Better Yet," Whitney explains that, while VOD is growing substantially as a market, that many cable and broadcast networks have not been putting significant energy into video-on-demand at this point and are instead concentrating on other platforms like Web and mobile. Whitney finds issues including the lack of "virality," to coin a word for the purposes of making it work in this sentence, as compared to Web video, which is embedded in a technology that has social connection built in at every turn.

Another major issue is the power of service providers in VOD, including such giants as Comcast, whereas digital video can be distributed through the Web sites of companies, such as with CBS innertube.

Bruce Leichtman, president of the Leicthtman Research Group, was quoted as saying, "Comcast alone had 1.9 billion on-demand sessions in 2006, but Apple's 51.3 million [TV shows] and movies sold [on iPods] in 2006 get much more hype and attention."

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April 20, 2007

Toshiba HD DVD Users Rallying in Support Behind the Format They've Invested In

Here at the C3 blog, I write a lot about media fandom and brand fandom, but not as often do I write about fans of media technologies themselves. Of course, some major media companies have developed their products as lifestyle brands as well, such as Apple, but I'm referring here to the fascinating campaign that has been getting some attention of late by HD DVD fans to support that format vis-a-vis Sony's Blu-ray format for high-definition DVD releases.

For those who have not heard about these campaigns, see a Web page like HD NOW Online, a site that features a petition for greater support of Toshiba's HD DVD format with a petition that has thousands of signatures on it. These fans of the HD DVD format are asking that more studios support the HD DVD format with more releases, touting it as "the best and most consumer-friendly next-generation video format" which is available "at one-half, to one-third, of the price of the 'other brand.'"

The HD DVD format dropped below the Blu-ray DVDs in the first quarter of the year but has since risen again, thanks in part to an organized support system for the release of HD DVD products. (See this commentary for more on HD vs. Blu-ray DVD sales from the slant of HD DVD activists.)

TelevisionWeek's James Hibberd provides a fascinating account o what he calls a staged "group buy" of new HD DVD titles in the past week, as proponents of the format wanted to give it a boost in sales for those who keep close track of the numbers. He writes, "The group claims to have purchased nearly 1,000 HD DVD titles from Amazon.com and, temporarily at least, catapulted HD DVD sales past the rival Sony Blu-ray format."

Continue reading "Toshiba HD DVD Users Rallying in Support Behind the Format They've Invested In" »

April 15, 2007

HD Television Sets in 28 Percent of Homes, Primarily in Living Room

According to the newest information made available by the Consumer Electronics Association, the number of households in the United States which have at least one television set that is high definition is 28 percent, which would equal 35 million HD sets in the country.

Among those 35 million sets, more than half have at least 40-inch screens, and 86 percent of the HD owners were listed as "highly satisfied" with their set.

The study was taken from 2,090 adults back in December.

In addition to these numbers, James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek listed that "consumers paid an average of $1,347 for an HD set."

What interested me even more, however, was the data that he released in regard to user behaviors surrounding TV viewing. For instance, his study reveals that wall-mounting is not very popular for HD sets, even though they heavily publicized. The figures he cites is that 33 percent of those surveyed keep their TVs in entertainment centers and 37 percent in TV stands.

In this study, cable had a slight edge over satellite, 40 percent versus 34 percent, while HD users cited analog cable for 18 percent of their service, antenna for 10 percent and Internet and fiber-optic at 4 percent apiece, actually quite high. Of course, that early adopters with HD sets would also be using Internet or fiber optic might not be that surprising.

Continue reading "HD Television Sets in 28 Percent of Homes, Primarily in Living Room" »

April 14, 2007

DirecTV Using VOD, HD to Establish Itself as Premiere TV Provider

Both VOD and HD may be getting a big boost from the upcoming plan for DirecTV to launch a major video-on-demand service, including a significant amount of high-def content.

The service, which will go live in July, will be the first VOD service offered by a satellite service provider, will feature about 2,000 titles at its launch and will offer both film and television content. The variety of specific channels which already provide video-on-demand are set to create their own channel within the DirecTV VOD space.

According to the report from TelevisionWeek's James Hibberd, the satellite provider has committed to providing "as much as possible" in high-definition.

If that commitment is accurate, the VOD service might help further drive interest in purchasing HD televisions and service. However, the company warns that the available content for HD on demand will likely be small on launch.

Continue reading "DirecTV Using VOD, HD to Establish Itself as Premiere TV Provider" »

April 13, 2007

Comcast Purchasing Fandango as Part of a Plan to Launch Online Video Destination

An interesting foray across media platforms was announced this week by Comcast, which has acquired popular movie destination site Fandango. Fandango, which provides previews, lists of showtimes and online ticket purchasing, will become part of a new Comcast offering called Fancast.

The Fancast site is set to launch this summer, and it will incorporate not only the aspects of Fandango that have made it one of the most popular online sites for American movies but also include much more multimedia access, including clips. Further, Fancast will expand well beyond what Fandango currently offers.

According to Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek, the site will allow consumers to "view clips, search and manage entertainment options across channels and devices, including television, computers and wireless."

Continue reading "Comcast Purchasing Fandango as Part of a Plan to Launch Online Video Destination" »

April 8, 2007

Lyro: What's the Worth of an Online Business Card?

It's simple enough. It provides a concise way to trade contact information. And it's searchable. Will Lyro catch on to the world at large?

A week ago or so, Lyro sent out a press release about the service's launch, calling itself "business card 2.0." While LinkedIn provides a high degree of social networking power to its users, as well as a free public site, Lyro keeps its functionality simple--just an online business card that can be accessed through Web searches, with little in the way of frills.

The company's press release, only sent to a select group of bloggers like me (I feel so special.), claims that, "while a large amount of searchable data on people already exists on the internet, this information is not always well organized, easily locatable, user friendly, or under individual control in terms of what's displayed and how." On the other hand, Lyro is best because it remains simple.

The company calls its service "the first open, fully searchable online business card." Their card directory is designed to be simple and easily searchable, but it's still in beta form at this point, so it's hard to know how helpful of a directory it can be.

Continue reading "Lyro: What's the Worth of an Online Business Card?" »

April 1, 2007

A New Era of Publishing: Scarcity and Plenitude, Blurb, and GSD&M's Andy Hunter

Over at Idea City, the blog for our C3 partner down in Austin, Texas, Andy Hunter and other contributors have been doing some interesting work as of late. Hunter is a planning director for GSD&M, the advertising agency which has been a member of C3 since it's beginning in 2005.

What recently caught my eye was a post by Hunter, reporting from SXSW. In particular, Hunter was writing about Blurb, a "BookSmart" software package that works for both Macs and PCs which makes it easy for people to write and design their own books. Look here for publishing options.

The software is intended to appeal to those looking to create professional-style family books, professionals looking to create packages for clients, or those interested in self-publishing and selling their own books, without throwing money away to the vanity presses that feed off the desire to publish by those not in an easy position to do so.

Hunter writes that, rather than being evil, the folks at Blurb have "designed a site that's as easy as Flickr, intuitive, with Adobe-like page layout functions that won't mean spending a months pay on computer software. Write your book, lay it out yourself, print it for a ridiculously reasonable cost, and sell it online Amazon style."

Continue reading "A New Era of Publishing: Scarcity and Plenitude, Blurb, and GSD&M's Andy Hunter" »

March 31, 2007

Pondering the State of Mobile Video

Matt Kapko of RCR Wireless News had a great look at the current state of wireless video that was shared with TelevisionWeek this past week. The story started with a particularly apt anecdote, one reminiscent of the fate of Bill Gates and his Windows display.

Kapko, reporting from Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live meeting, wrote about the Producing Mobile Content session of the conference, in which "a ballroom filled with tech-savvy players in the wireless industry" watched as five panelists from the mobile video industry struggled through audio and visual problems in trying to make their presentations.

The irony of the situation is particularly appropriate for the vexing problems currently facing the industry, in which the number of mobile video services are burgeoning, customer interest is expected to grow rapidly, and content is starting to make the cross-platform shift. However, technological concerns like the ones facing the panelists today remain important, as services could be ruined just by reaching an early tipping point prematurely, before the infrastructure and content is in place to give mobile video consumers what they are looking for.

I believe that early adopters may be moving in that direction, but the state of mobile video is still quite a ways away from the average user, both because of cost and lack of content.

Continue reading "Pondering the State of Mobile Video" »

March 25, 2007

Netflix Users Steadily Competing to Find Better Recommendations for the Rental Service

From time-to-time, I want to initiate the chance to follow up on questions raised in prior posts, particularly looking back at various contests or initiatives that I found to be of interest but have not publicly followed back up on. The first is to return to a major contest launched last year to embrace "the wisdom of the crowd" by Netflix.

Last October, I wrote about Netflix's plan to create the Netflix Prize to award to those who can increase the accuracy of the company's predictions as to what users would like to see.

The company is looking for 10 percent improvement over the accuracy of their own recommendation system.

I wrote, "The amount of intellectual capital that the company may become privy to during this contest demonstrates the power of a collective intelligence, as Henry Jenkins writes about. And, with people saying things like, 'First, I have to generate my test bed and get to work this is so cool. I don't know what it is with me and large, nicely formatted, datasets, but I don't think there's anything that can get me more excited,' they've certainly hit a research nerve with a section of Internet users."

At the time, I questioned, "Could Netflix cause a change in the way companies think about researching complex questions? Or could this be forgotten in a couple of months? We shall see..."

Continue reading "Netflix Users Steadily Competing to Find Better Recommendations for the Rental Service" »

MySpace Battles to Keep Other Businesses Off Its Users' Sites

Over this past week, a situation exploded in the MySpace community, with MySpace's request for user and music performer Tila Tequila to remove a non-MySpace music store offered on the site, because the store from Indie911 competed with News Corp's "MyStore."

As Eliot Van Buskirk with Wired wrote, "Furor among fans and onlookers escalated."

The New York Times covered the story on Tuesday, as journalist Brad Stone wrote, "At stake is the ability of MySpace, which is owned by the News Corporation, to ensure that it alone can commercially capitalize on its 90 million viewers each month."

The two perspectives are spelled out in this article. One comes from the community, who believe that the reason "MySpace" has become a powerful revenue source for Fox Interactive Media stems from the "MY" part of MySpace, the fact that viewers are able to create their own space as part of the community. Multiple sources quoted in Stone's story emphasize that it is this sense of community at stake and questioning whether the corporate ownership from News Corporation now means that it is no longer a community that "belongs" to the viewers.

Continue reading "MySpace Battles to Keep Other Businesses Off Its Users' Sites" »

RS-DVR Struck Down in Federal Court, But the DVR Isn't Going Away

The battle between Cablevision and various content owners has come to a head with a decision from a New York federal judge this past week, ruling that the cable provider has no right to create a system through which viewers could choose to pick particular programs and have it stored by the cable system itself for later viewing, instead of recording it on their own DVR. The system is called RS-DVR, which stands for "remote storage."

The decision was made that such a system in which the cable system would save the content and allow viewers to watch it later was a violation of copyrights, while the DVR was not, because of where the content would be stored.

The suit involved CBS, NBC, Disney, Time Warner, Twentieth Century Fox, and The Cartoon Network, which is a member of Turner Broadcasting, one of the partners in the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Continue reading "RS-DVR Struck Down in Federal Court, But the DVR Isn't Going Away" »

March 9, 2007

Two Small Steps Made in Effort to Transition from Analog to Digital Broadcast Television

Two new pieces of news surfaced over the past few days indicating that a more direct and concerted effort will be made to move definitively toward a conversion from analog television sets to digital television sets. First, I read in James Hibberd's weekly HD report that, as of the beginning of this month, companies are restricted from importing any more analog television sets internationally and that interstate trafficking of analog sets has also been prohibited.

I hadn't been aware that the restriction was now law, which doesn't bode well for the public education campaign and the likelihood that the average American has a clue. Hibberd writes, "Trouble is, there are still about 20 million U.S. households using purely analog sets."

As he writes, "The change is expected to cause some hiccups among poor and elderly viewers who are accustomed to a manner of viewing that has been unchanged for decades."

Then, yesterday, I also read news on TelevisionWeek that the Office of Management & Budget is about ready to give approval on setting standards for the converter boxes and the eligibility citizens would have on discount coupons for buying a converter box for their existing analog television sets.

Continue reading "Two Small Steps Made in Effort to Transition from Analog to Digital Broadcast Television" »

Understanding Journalism Convergence in Historical Perspective, with an Eye Toward Emerging Technologies

The February 2007 edition of The Convergence Newsletter has some great points in its first feature article from Augie Grant, the newsletter's executive editor.

The newsletter, put together by the University of South Carolina and focusing on convergence in the world of journalism, has been a great forum for debate about changes in the journalism world, both technological and cultural. The whole discussion of "convergence," has stretched on for a few years now in the journalism realm, when it was first a buzz word back when I was in J-school, but the debates continue.

Grant's piece is about how new media is "the next generation of convergence." Based on the work of Tim Bajkiewicz, Grant writes about how a historical understanding of how journalism shifted with the introduction of new technologies helps shape the modern debate about convergence as well. Tim's work is looking particularly at journalism education and how that education has shifted with the introduction of new technologies.

Continue reading "Understanding Journalism Convergence in Historical Perspective, with an Eye Toward Emerging Technologies" »

First South Park Episode in HD Available to Xbox Live Members

A few days ago, news broke that the first episode of South Park in high-definition would be made available to members of Xbox Live to download the episode to view on Xbox 360s.

The episode went up on Tuesday and will stay up for two weeks.

Best Buy is also going to offer the episode free as a promotional gimmick with the purchase of an HD DVD drive or an Xbox 360 if purchased from March 20 until April 3. The episode is actually a South Park from a few years ago, titled "Good Times with Weapons" and featuring ninjas.

Kevin Kelly with Joystiq writes, "The style changes from the traditional cutout look into anime style pictured above, and it will look, er ... extra-animated in HD. Couple this with the fact that South Park's new season starts this Wednesday, and new episodes will be on XBLM each following week, the fanboys and fangirls should be fairly happy."

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Next New Networks the Newest Online Video Competitor

Next New Networks, yet another broadband video service hoping to gain strong footing in the growing online market for video networks, has announced that it is going to launch 101 "micro-networks" on its site through a long-term content expansion plan over the next five years.

According to their press release yesterday, this "micro-networks" plan will start with six networks and will add three or so networks each month as part of this slow expansion of content. The video networks will be formed around themed content, with some shows appearing on a daily basis and others weekly. Most episodes will be three to eight minutes in length.

The site will focus on building communities around these various programs, targeting 18-to-34 year olds.

The first round of channels will feature comic books, automobiles, and DIY fashion. The mini-sites initially announced include Fast Lane Daily, providing daily news for the auto enthusiast; Threadbanger, a five-minute show every week about homemade clothing; VOD Cars, focusing on automobile culture; and Channel Frederator.

Continue reading "Next New Networks the Newest Online Video Competitor" »

George Lucas Declares the Future as Television, Forging Ahead with 3D Animated Star Wars Series

The future is television, or so saith George Lucas, anyway.

For those who haven't heard, the venerated caretaker of the Star Wars universe has decided that he is going to dedicate himself to the television platform with his upcoming Star Wars projects planned for television distribution, one live action, the other animated--in three dimensions. Not that he won't still be making pictures for the big screen, since Indiana Jones 4 is going to be on its way, but Lucas is moving his most famous franchise of all away from the blockbuster film and into the television series.

The comments stemmed out of an event at New York City's Museum of Television and Radio, at a festival named in honor of one of the most well-known figures in early TV history, William S. Paley.

I'm assuming that his "future is television" is referring particularly to the Star Wars franchise, since television is not exactly the newest of platforms on the block. However, Star Wars properties on TV is quite new, revolutionary even, and a 3D animated series is even more so.

At the event, Lucas revealed quite a few details about his 3D series, including his plans to finance the creation of 100 episodes of the animated series and to have that creation process well underway before ever finding a distributor.

Continue reading "George Lucas Declares the Future as Television, Forging Ahead with 3D Animated Star Wars Series" »

March 5, 2007

MGM Moves Its Brand, Video Archives into the HD TV Market

News has broken over the past few days that major film brand Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) is planning to launch a high-definition channel on cable and satellite, a first for the company. The plan would be to put the television business together and launch it by the end of 2007.

The channel will operate as a movie network, with no current plans announced for original content. Rather, the plan is to draw people in by offering high-definition movies, as well as its other movies and television shows.

The company is no stranger to running a television network, as its MGM Channel is available in 120 countries, not including the United States. According to this piece from a news release, the company launched an HD version of this channel in Poland, broadcast in Polish, in December.

James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek writes that the studio will be "drawing from its library of 4,100 theatrical titles-about 1,200 of which currently are available in the high-definition format-and hundreds of hours of television content."

Continue reading "MGM Moves Its Brand, Video Archives into the HD TV Market" »

March 3, 2007

BooksPrice RSS Price Watcher Creates a New Variation on Comparison Shopping for Media

Back in January, I was contacted by Lucy Orbach, the co-founder of an online business called BooksPrice.com, regarding a new service they had created and a press release that they had sent out about it. The idea is actually pretty innovative, in that I haven't heard of similar products from others, and it makes sense for the online competitive shopping services that BooksPrice.com offers.

In short, BooksPrice.com is a site that compares the price of a book across various online stores. While plenty of services are competing in this space, BooksPrice seeks to set itself apart by offering the chance to compare the price of not just a particular book but a bundled "cart" of media. In her e-mail to me, Orbach wrote, "BooksPrice.com is a self financed start-up that offers a twist on the standard price comparison services. While other price comparisons used to compare a single price at a time, BooksPrice offered a way to compare the complete content of a card (including books, dvds, cds, and video games)." The site launched in April 2005 and is based in New York City.

Orbach wrote me about the company in January, touting 75,000 monthly users. I'm not sure if that number has fluctuated by now, but I am interested in the product that launched in January--an "RSS Price Watcher."

Of course, it's a logical extension, but the idea of having an RSS feed that follows the price of a package one is interested in buying on multiple sites makes sense when one is trying to catch the best deal on their "wish list" while waiting for the funds to buy. I'm sure many of us have had some TV show on DVD we wanted to buy but just couldn't afford it at the price listed--an RSS update on the price would be a lot easier than repeated trips to Amazon.

Continue reading "BooksPrice RSS Price Watcher Creates a New Variation on Comparison Shopping for Media" »

March 2, 2007

Preparing for the Digital Conversion: Dingell Criticizes Industry and Government Alike

Back in February, I published a six-part series called Access vs. Censorship, looking at two very different types of media policy in the American government and urging our government to prioritize between them.

One of those access issues not mentioned there, in which access is going to butt heads with more efficient technologies, is the switchover from analog to digital television signals.

This issue has become a major discussion point this week, based on comments made by Democratic U.S. Representative John Dingell, who is the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while speaking to the National Association of Broadcasters at their state leadership conference.

Ira Teinowitz had a good summary, based on the account I read over at TelevisionWeek, where I follow a lot of the daily television news.

According to Ira's piece, Dingell felt the industry and government had done little to create standards for converter boxes, guidelines for allocating coupons for converters, and that little has been done to inform the average viewer. Blame from Dingell was directed throughout government bureaucracy, toward the Bush Administration, and toward the industry, meaning everyone but the viewers themselves were to blame, an account I can hardly disagree with.

He did acknowledge that it is a daunting task to inform viewers but that what had been done so far is "regrettably not sufficient to avoid raising Americans' ire."

Continue reading "Preparing for the Digital Conversion: Dingell Criticizes Industry and Government Alike" »

Cramming That Genie Back into the Bottle: Industry Desires to Protect Copyrighted Video Online

"The genie has to be put back in the bottle, or the entire economics of the entertainment industry on a global basis are subject to ruinous counterfeiting."

That quote comes from Medialink Worldwide CEO and President Laurence Moskowitz. Guess what the subject is? Would you believe it if I said copyright?

The quote is part of an interesting piece from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek from Monday, focusing on the major questions surrounding copyright protection for online video sites, certainly a hot-button topic in the industry and regarding online distribution of television and film products.

These include seeking new types of technology to imbed in videos to protect the copyright, as well as ways in which to seek out content that violates copyright, such as the Audible Magic deal with MySpace Whitney refers to, in which Audible Magic would help the social networking site "filter out unauthorized video and audio from its site."

Whitney writes, "Because of these ongoing infringements, copyright owners are starting to demand that sites include built-in tools to protect their asses, while sites themselves are recognizing they must be more proactive material."

One technology Whitney examines is digital fingerprinting, in which video on a site is matched with a registration of official content from rights holders, to find out if it violates a copyright. The article points out that the technology can also be used to identify popular content and help create ways in which to create ad-sharing revenues around user-posted content on sites like YouTube and MySpace.

Continue reading "Cramming That Genie Back into the Bottle: Industry Desires to Protect Copyrighted Video Online" »

March 1, 2007

MobiTV's Users Double to 2 Million in Less than a Year--Signs of a Coming Explosion in Mobile Consumption?

MobiTV has been bragging about success in getting new subscribers this week, based on a press release sent out yesterday. According to their press release, the company has grown its customer numbers to 2 million subscribers internationally, up from 1 million less than a year ago.

The quick turnaround in growth for the company was driven significantly by new content, which is no surprise, as well as $100 million in new investments and a drive into new international markets.

That press release highlights a deal with AT&T "to deliver real live TV to any PC broadband user in the US," a deal with Sprint-Nextel Cable JFV for "cable-to-mobile deployments," a "pan-Latin alliance," etc.

Julie Ask at Jupiter Research writes that "most impressive is the time difference between how little time it took to get the second million."

Continue reading "MobiTV's Users Double to 2 Million in Less than a Year--Signs of a Coming Explosion in Mobile Consumption?" »

February 26, 2007

Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek

Earlier today, I wrote a piece which focused on the work of Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka and girl gamers' interest in Guitar Hero.

The piece appeared as part of a February special issue of Flow, the scholarly journal of television criticism out of UT-Austin, which focused particularly on video games.

Another fascinating study from that same issue of Flow is written by Elliot Panek of neighboring Emerson College, who writes, "Who Are Wii? The Study of Console Fandom."

Panek focuses on the brand communities surrounding gaming platforms, asking some intriguing questions: "Why do these objects mean so much to so many? Is console fandom something like other forms of media fandom? Is it akin to brand fandom, or something more like people's love/hate relationship with televisions?"

Continue reading "Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek" »

February 22, 2007

Momentary Community Arises Around Facebook Group to Raise a Student's Grade in Econ

One of the most interesting ad-hoc communities I've seen develop as of late was this group I was invited to join a couple of weeks ago (look here). You've probably seen this phenomenon before, where people just try to get others to join a group for some supposed benefit, in this case getting a million people to join the group by 10 February 2007 so that his economics professor will raise his grade from a 79.4 average to a B-.

The person who set up the group said the last ditch effort was "a deal with the devil" designed to "keep my dreams of Law school alive." The digg for the link was included on the group site here, and the group got up to several thousand members.

What fascinates me, though, is that there are no administrators left for the group, that the group was supposed to disband on 10 February 2007, but that it still has 59,618 members and continued posts written on the wall every day. There were two posts on the wall today, for a total of 2,497 total so far, and 36 discussion topics within the group, including one with 449 posts called "I can't believe this guy got a C in Econ!!???"

Continue reading "Momentary Community Arises Around Facebook Group to Raise a Student's Grade in Econ" »

February 19, 2007

Showtime Interactive 2.0 Adding DVR Features, More Access to Ancillary Content

Friday, Showtime announced their own foray into interactive television with a new feature for Dish Network homes that will be called Interactive 2.0. The service, which will work with the regular Showtime channel for Dish subscribers, will allow these users to watch ancillary content through their remote control. Most helpful may be a feature that allows viewers to see Showtime programming for the next month and to select programs for recording weeks ahead of time.

The service also includes the ability to select angles when watching boxing matches, more developed details about actors, behind-the-scenes footage, trivia, and other features for fans.

According to the press release, the service will also be available in a limited capacity to non-Showtime subscribers and stretches across all 10 Showtime channels.

The service will include dedicated sections for popular shows such as Dexter, Weeds, and The L Word.

Continue reading "Showtime Interactive 2.0 Adding DVR Features, More Access to Ancillary Content" »

DVR Viewers Watching Commercials After All? Nielsen Study Shows Significant Number of Commercial Viewers, Especially Same-Day

The latest DVR news is likely to have networks rejoicing, if the Nielsen statistics are any indication of how people are using their digital video recorders, especially in same-day viewing of advertisements.

A pair of stories from sources that I follow regularly have highlighted the implications of the Nielsen results. Louise Story from The New York Times highlights the Nielsen study that finds that people who watch television with DVRs watch an average of two-thirds of the advertisements as part of her story on Friday.

One of the reasons, and this is no surprise, is that people with DVRs still watch "about half of their shows at the scheduled start time," meaning that DVR users still watch things while they are on through their digital video recorder. If live viewing is still counted as DVR viewing, then I'm not quite as surprised at the statistics because live viewing is very much still a part of the television experience, even for people like me who have two DVRs in less than 500 square feet of space.

I don't watch much "when it's on," but there's another phenomenon that Story doesn't mention that is still important. Sometimes, in an effort to skip commercials, I wait several minutes before I start watching a program. Of course, if I miscalculate and start too early, I end up catching up to the live airing and watch the last couple of commercial breaks.

Nevertheless, she emphasizes that "even when people watch recorded shows later, many are not fast-forwarding through the ads. On average, Nielsen found, DVR owners watch 40 percent of commercials that they could skip over."

Continue reading "DVR Viewers Watching Commercials After All? Nielsen Study Shows Significant Number of Commercial Viewers, Especially Same-Day" »

LCDs Unquestionably Driving the Push for Widescreen and HD TV Sets

Yesterday, I wrote about the King of the Hill aspect ratio controversy regarding whether the animated show was really aired in high-definition and what it means for the future of an HD animated lineup on Sunday nights on Fox.

However, James Hibberd had another story that caught my eye in last week's high-definition newsletter, covering a study that has proclaimed that LCD sales have officially outsold plasma during the final quarter of last year.

The study, from DisplaySearch, confirms predictions that LCD would completely surpass plasma in the war for high-definition, widescreen television sales.

Continue reading "LCDs Unquestionably Driving the Push for Widescreen and HD TV Sets" »

February 18, 2007

King of the Hill Aspect Ratio Controversy Leaves Fans Asking What HD Really Is

Discussions continue about the transformation of animated shows to high-definition, this time centering around Fox Sunday night mainstays The Simpsons and King of the Hill.

Back in August, I wrote about the percentage of network programming in HD. Fox was in last place among the six networks, primarily because of the primetime animation offerings that were not being converted to high-definition.

And plenty of people since then have questioned the value of having these cartoons in HD, particularly back in December when the makers of South Park crashed their hard drives trying to create a high-definition episode. At the time, I wrote that the FAQ section for South Park Studios stated that "there have been discussions but no decisions yet" about a transition to HD.

So what does this mean for King of the Hill and The Simpsons. King was recently aired in HD on Jan. 28, giving fans hope for further experimentation with a permanent HD product. However, according to James Hibberd reports that "Fox has no immediate plans to upgrade the production of its Sunday night animated comedies due to an aspect ratio dispute with producers."

Continue reading "King of the Hill Aspect Ratio Controversy Leaves Fans Asking What HD Really Is" »

NBA 3D HD Viewing Parties in Las Vegas Tries to Popularize Public 3D Viewings

Television viewing is inherently social. While we've written plenty of times about the power of fan communities (see here and here and here and here) in the online space, the most basic formation of community among fans is the one-on-one or small group discussions that have always occurred around viewing and watching shows, whether these be sports show parties, DVD marathons for a series, or phone conversations or IMs after the latest teen drama or soap opera.

That's what the NBA is hoping to tap into on a grander scale with its newest plan for encouraging the adoption of new technology for three-dimensional high-definition NBA basketball games.

Earlier this month, the National Basketball Association announced that it is holding a series of game parties in Las Vegas to view the games in 3-D HD. The events will be elitist, invitation only, and will involve the screenings of both the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night this weekend, both as a way to help promote new 3-D technology through an NBA partnership with PACE, which James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek calls "a company specializing in 3-D production founded by James Cameron and cinematographer Vincent Pace."

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February 15, 2007

NBC Nightly News the First Network Evening News Show in HD

Last summer, the network news race was toward transmedia content. This year, it appears to be gearing up for a race to high-definition.

And the early sprinter is NBC Nightly News, who will become the first of the evening news shows to launch in HD when the show starts a high-def broadcast next month.

NBC's Today has been broadcast in HD since last September, while Dateline, the other NBC news production, has not made plans for high-definition as of yet.

James Hibberd, the TelevisionWeek senior reporter who provides excellent continuous coverage of the industry's latest high-definition news, writes, "Though local news markets have increasingly embraced HD as a way of keeping viewers coming out of HD prime-time programming, national evening news departments have been slow to embrace the format. In addition to the cost of overhauling a studio, the department has to replace field cameras around the world. For NBC Nightly News, most field reports will continue to use standard-definition cameras until early 2008."

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February 14, 2007

Veoh's Revamped Site, Improved Syndication System Unveiled

In some news from Monday, Veoh's revamped service, which has been in beta testing for the past few weeks, has recently launched, featuring a video player that will allow consumers download and view content from other sites, as well as a new home page with personalized recommendations, listings for featured broadcasters whose content is available through Veoh and a popular categories option, with the downloadable service part of extensions aimed at facilitating longer videos.

The service also allows users to group videos together and embed that series in various places.

The new service will allow download-to-own and rental in addition to streamed videos, all on a larger player. This all ties into Veoh's plans to expand its online syndication business by allowing users to syndicate to iTunes, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Google. The distribution system, designed to set up modes of profitability for user video, is part of Veoh's Pro program.

And Dr. Pepper is one of the site's first major advertisers.

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February 7, 2007

Wal-Mart Downloads and TiVo/Amazon Unbox Connection Making Industry Headlines

The big news today is the full-fledged launch by Wal-Mart into the video movie download market, starting with a beta version of the product that features 3,000 television shows and films in the available library, followed by the Amazon/TiVo announcement that Amzon Unbox will be unveiling on TiVo.

To deal with these in chronological order, first with Wal-Mart.

The service unveiled yesterday. Oh, but you can't use a Mac. And...well...you can't use the Firefox browser. At least that's what has several bloggers upset with the new service on its unveiling, covered for instance by Paula Zargaj-Reynolds at Advertising Is Good For You. She writes, "You'd think with all the 'Wal-Mart sucks' bumper stickers, T-shirts and blog posts out there, Wal-Mart would be trying to improve its image by not greeting its website visitors with the Internet equivalent of 'F-you!'"

Meanwhile, Michael at DVD Dossier provides some real-time coverage of the service as a Firefox user.

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February 3, 2007

UFC Launches Its Mixed Martial Arts into High-Definition Tonight

Some fighting news that's been getting some coverage in the past week is that mixed martial arts organization the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will start making all pay-per-views, starting with tonight's UFC 67, available in high-definition. The HD initiative was first announced on Dec. 30 of last year, with this PPV being the first of the HD fights.

The company has been hyping its HD offerings as something demanded by the fans, which is likely not hyperbole, since sports traditionally make sense in HD. The regular broadcast is available for $39.95, while the high-definition broadcast will carry a $49.95 price tag. The high-definition version will be carried by both DirecTV and DISH Network, as well as iNDemand and Bell ExpressVu.

According to Dana White, the president of the UFC, the company has been shooting its fights in HD format since 2002 but did not have a way to distribute them. The plan was to create a fairly deep library of content in preparation for an HD launch.

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January 31, 2007

News Corporation Investing in ROO, Alongside Plenty of Controversy

While 20th Century Fox may be issuing a subpoena for YouTube, News Corporation will be investing 10 percent of the Internet television network ROO, the company whose service drives the video offerings on the Fox News Web site.

The deal, announced Monday, will be that News Corp. will gain 5 percent of the shares of ROO initially and then get 5 more percent "after it meets certain revenue-based milestones based on its usage of ROO's services," according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek. The deal is valued at approximately $12 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The sale has led to some controversy, based on Michael Arrington's TechCrunch post about how Fox Interactive wasn't involved in the deal. He writes, "From what we are hearing, not only was Fox Interactive not involved in the deal, they didn't even know about it. The rumor is that Fox Interactive execs only heard about the investment when they read the WSJ article this morning. And they weren't happy" (emphasis his).

However, those Rumorbusters write that these reports are "pretty much all wrong."

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January 29, 2007

Low-Cost Tools in Media Production - Hype or Hope?

After acclaimed film editor Walter Murch's proof-of-concept use of Apple's Final Cut Pro for editing Return to Cold Mountain in 2003, a second, more bizarre attempt at using commercial off-the-shelf software for professional media production has come to public attention: guitarist and producer Ry Cooder mastering his latest album using the 'sound enhancer' feature built into iTunes. While both stories have much news value, a factor that should not be neglected after all, these episodes allow for a critical look at the perceived 'democratization' of professional media production and changes in workflow and production rationales.

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January 27, 2007

Comcast Positioning Itself Through VOD in Competitive Media Landscape

Last Sunday's New York Times featured an in-depth account of the ways in which Comcast, and the cable television industry as a whole, have turned their fortunes around, after many people were predicting only months ago that, between telcos and the Internet and satellite, that the days were numbered for the industry. The article, by Geraldine Fabrikant, profiles some of the innovations at Comcast and the company's philosophy and provides some details about how cable companies have positioned themselves during this time of tremendous media flux.

Fabrikant writes, "Today, the entire cable business, and Comcast, the country's largest cable company, are sitting pretty. Amid the scramble that will decide which companies provide consumers with the flood of new media, entertainment and communications services, cable suddenly looks to be the winner. Analysts now say cable operators are better positioned than their rivals. Until quite recently, however, that wasn't a foregone conclusion because Wall Street -- even discounting the myopia that often distorts its vision -- had good cause to be pessimistic."

In an effort to remain increasingly competitive, Comcast has branched out into providing Internet access and digital telephone service in the past few years, trying to entrench the company--and the cable industry--at the heart of American media consumption. And, as a result, the article notes that Comcast's stock "has risen at least 10 percent a quarter for 25 consecutive quarters", leading to a sharp increase since the stocks fell 22 percent in 2005.

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January 24, 2007

Broadband Video Sites Veoh and Brightcove Continue to Expand

Two online video sites I've written about several times here at C3 are Veoh and Brightcove, and both made new announcements this past week regarding an expansion of content, in Veoh's case, and significant new funding for Brightcove.

Veoh has formed a partnership with Us Weekly magazine to create an online celebrity news and entertainment show that will be available on the Us Web site and Veoh's site as well. The initiative will launch in February with the intent of also including user-generated content.

For another look at a broadband celebrity destination, see my November post, "The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner". At the time, I wrote about TMZ, the Three Mile Zone product being launched by Warner Brothers and AOL. At the time, I wrote:

But, while TMZ is not my cup of tea, I think that it touches on the ability of the Web to do something others don't and to prove that synergistic relationships, even as that buzzword has gotten a negative connotation, are the building blocks of convergence and transmedia approaches. The success of this site shows that there is still power in these types of partnerships. The problem is in the thinking that they work irrespective to how they are executed.

It will be interesting to see how this Veoh/Us product compares to the TMZ project.

Meanwhile, Veoh has also partnered with the United Talent Agency to create "an online resource for digital content submissions," according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek.

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Netflix Expanding Beyond Postal Delivery? The Futures of Renting Movies?

Netflix is taking my advice!

Well, okay, there's a strong chance they were already thinking about these issues anyway, and an even stronger chance that the powers that be at this company haven't spent a significant amount of time surfing the Convergence Culture Consortium's blog (although they should, according to Peter Kim. But news broke recently that Netflix is going to be trying to branch the brand name established in their DVD-by-mail movie rental service to providing a space for consumers to watch films and television programs through the Internet.

The announcement, made last week, was that this will be a new product available for free to current Netflix subscribers, automatically provided to them as part of their membership to Netflix. The initial service will include approximately 1,000 properties from a variety of top content providers. The plan for the company si to remain in the rental business, not providing download-to-own or advertising-supported content. This is just a space to test out a new rental forum, in other words.

Back in June, I called Netflix "the world's best idea with the world's worst delivery system," primarily based on my disdain for the United States Postal Service, exacerbated by not having mail forwarded to me for about a month, phantom mail that's never been recovered. (Oh, and this Christmas season, I mailed two things to my parents' house, one priority and one regular mail. They both arrived the same day, about a week later).

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Cable Companies and Their Little Black Boxes

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins writes about what he calls "The Black Box Fallacy," which he describes as the philosophy that, eventually "all media content is going to flow through as ingle black box into our living rooms (or, in the mobile scenario, through black boxes we carry around with us everywhere we go" (14). Jenkins points out, though, in a phenomenon that shows no sign than letting up, that there are "more and more black boxes" (15). He is very correct in saying that we MIT students are carrying "their laptops, their cells, their iPods, their Game Boys, their BlackBerrys, you name it" (I don't have a Game Boy, but the gaming sector is certainly well represented around the campus).

Those words came back to me when I was reading Brad Stone's recent New York Times article about cable companies' efforts to improve their cable boxes, while facing stiff competition from a variety of providers that may usurp the power of cable companies by providing new delivery systems, such as the Apple TV product. Back in September, I wrote about this product and particularly the fears some people had that DRM may affect the technology, as well as discussions about whether the service would eventually replace cable television subscriptions completely. More solid news about Apple TV came out earlier this month.

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January 20, 2007

"The Museum as Outdoor Movie Screen" or, What IS Cinema?

The January 18, 2007, online edition of the New York Times features a review of a new film by Doug Aitken called Sleepwalkers.

The reviewer, Roberta Smith, discusses the film's content to a degree, but keeps shifting her attention back to something ordinarily overlooked in a movie review: its circumstances of exhibition. This is perfectly understandable, since exhibition involves eight projectors showing the film on three different exterior surfaces of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Smith asserts this event as a prominent example of an interesting convergence: "archivedio or "videotecture." She points out that the buildings in Times Square already feature "commercial versions of the form" and wonders if "private homes may soon glow with a self-taught variety."

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January 19, 2007

The Convergence Manifesto II: The Journalism Industry

This is the second part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

Let's take an industry that I have written about extensively in the past few months: journalism. Convergence has become a major point of discussion for news sources and J-schools alike. I have worked for several years as a professional journalist and know these arguments from both ends.

The naysayers--and there are plenty--see the idea of convergence in journalism (particularly telling a story in multiple media forms) as being the uberjournalist, the corporate dream in which one journalist is hired to write a story for print and for broadcast and for the Web and for the radio and take the pictures and on and on. In other words, there is a belief that journalism produces a jack of all trades but a master of none, to borrow a common idiom.

That's not what convergence is. For those who believe that the concept is a corporate-driven capitalist ploy, they are looking at a much too narrow slice of convergence.

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The Convergence Manifesto I: Convergence--The Buzzword

This is the first part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

The word convergence is getting a lot of buzz. In fact, since I am a researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium and the primary operator of its blog, I guess I am capitalizing on that buzz quite a bit myself, so this is no criticism of the convergence buzzword. We took our name from the book by the director of our research group, Henry Jenkins, entitled Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

All of us working within C3 wholeheartedly believe that, with the advent of new media forms and the potential for cross-platform and transmedia storytelling, that we truly are in a drastically altered media environment that both users and content producers are still plumbing and mapping out.

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January 15, 2007

Two New Products to Help Bridge Blu-Ray, HD-DVD War

One other major technology story coming out of last week is multiple plans for DVD players that help find a truce in those caught in the middle of the high-definition format war. Two companies have designed products that will help viewers find refuge in the middle of this industry technology war by being able to play both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats.

Warner Brothers Home Video are releasing a disc called "Total HD," which is actually encoded in both formats, while LG is promoting a dual HDTV player that it unveiled at the CES show last week in Las Vegas. The player, called Super Multi Blue, will retail at $1,199, so it's just as cheap to buy both players separately.

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iPhone, Apple TV, and Social Networks for Switching Contracts

Of course, the big news of the end of the week that I have yet to focus on is the major announcement, or at least the one that's gotten major press, from Apple as to the new iPhone and Apple TV.

For those who haven't heard about the new products, the iPhone is a mobile phone that has video capability, with the screen being both touch-activated and a place to view video content. Meanwhile, Apple TV, is a wireless device that will link televisions to the Internet, which has been talked about since September, when it was called iTV.

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January 14, 2007

Interactivity and Television Viewing Connected, While People Don't Know About 2009 Digital Deadline

Here's a pre-CES news story that I forgot to mention. CBS released the results of a new study which indicate that people who have a digital television and a broadband Internet connection are also the most likely people to watch the biggest of broadcast network television. In other words, connectivity is linked to viewing.

The study also indicates that this same segment that are connected with both technologies are likely to visit the Web sites for networks often and to stream clips or episodes on the Web in addition to their watching on the television. With the new Apple TV product, these two activities may be increasingly becoming blurred.

Perhaps not surprisingly, "These people tend to be upscale, better educated and more engaged with programs," according to the CBS study. However, I think an important caveat to also include is location, since I've written before about scores of Americans who have both the desire and the capital to have this degree of high connectivity but who are not currently being well-served by Internet providers.

Not to stray too far off subject, though. Connectivity is shown to have a link with primetime television viewing? David Poltrack was quoted by Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek as saying, "Consumers who embrace the new media are the heaviest viewers of the top network prime-time programs, and this sector of the audience is growing. By offering them new ways to connect to their favorite shows ... we're able to deepen the bond these fully connected viewers have with our programming."

However, not nearly as surprising to me is that the survey found that less than 30 percent of Americans are aware of the 2009 deadline for broadcasters to switch to a digital signal, but even half of those people who are unaware have already purchased a digital set, and another 30 percent plan to by 2009. According to the survey, 40 percent of those who were told about the upcoming change said they would upgrade to digital by 2009.

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January 10, 2007

Net Neutrality Legislation Proposed Early on the Floor of the New Senate

Among all the big CES news this week, Tuesday also launched another major story: a push forward for net neutrality by the new Congress that just convened.

In the senate, a discussion has started about renewing talks of net neutrality, as a bipartisan effort to once again push for neutrality was introduced. Well, bipartisan in the fact that it was introduced by a Democrat and Republican senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine (Republican) and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota (Democrat). The senators who are co-sponsoring the legislation are all Democrats, including such heavy-hitters as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

The argument centers on whether Internet service providers should have the option to charge higher fees for some sites as compared to others or privilege the connection speeds for certain sites. On the service providers' side, the argument against net neutrality is that some sites pull considerably more bandwidth for the type of data they contain, particularly video sites, while net neutrality would keep them from charging those groups higher fees for faster data speeds.

The debate has been over whether a lack of such neutrality would lead to discrimination in choosing one content provider over another, with proponents of net neutrality bringing up the potential drawbacks for the consumer who would be caught in the crossfire.

From a libertarian perspective, the whole debate produces an interesting dilemma. For service providers, laissez-faire logic says that government should stay out and that these groups should be able to make their own decisions regarding what to charge and what sites to privilege. However, another angle of libertarianism says that, in order to provide a free market for content providers on the Web, there has to be a neutral market in place. In this case, the bottom of the question is how to classify Internet service providers and their rights as compared to the rights of online businesses.

Called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, the bill would prohibit activities that, as Sen. Dorgan said in a statement yesterday that has been quoted various places, would "fundamentally change the way the Internet has operated and threatens to derail the democratic nature of the Internet."

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Showtime's Upcoming Broadband Gaming Service

News broke late last week that Showtime, the network that has developed a reputation for interesting television shows in the past couple of years, are branching out even more, this time into the broadband gaming business. Showtime is a CBS property.

Plans were announced last Thursday for Showtime to launch On broadband Networks with Broadband Libraries, a gaming company. Plans are for the On Broadband Networks product to be branded separately from Showtime itself.

The gaming network is expected to launch later in January, joining C3 partner Turner Broadcasting's online subscription gaming channel GameTap.

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January 9, 2007

DirecTV Leads Announcement of a Variety of New HD Channels

Yesterday, I point out recent reports that high-definition television sales were soaring. Now comes word that a whole other line of networks are ready to launch their high-definition version of the network, offering a variety of new entertainment options for those new set owners.

Everyone who pays attention to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) were likely not surprised that there were plans to unroll a variety of these services in the coming year. The announcement was first made at CES by DirecTV, as an announcement promised that 60 cable networks would be launching HD offerings. The networks include NBC-Universal's USA Network and Sci Fi Network, and CNN and TBS, both owned by C3 partner Turner Broadcasting, as well as Fox's FX and MTV, a member network of C3 partner MTV Networks.

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January 8, 2007

HDTV Sales Soaring as Prices Lower

According to the latest statistics on the sales of high-definition television sets, there was a great surge in purchases for the final quarter of 2006, facilitated in part by the drop in cost for units over the holiday period. While this only meant modest improvements for profits for the companies involved, it's an indication of a significant upswing in interest in HDTV sets.

The Quixel study revealed the upswing in HDTV sales, revealing both that more than twice as many high-definition sets were purchased this Christmas season than the same time last year. Also, LCD sets continue to sell more than plasma, in fact twice as much.

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January 3, 2007

Boston Globe Summary of 2006 and Complex Television

Regular C3 blog reader Lynn Liccardo forwarded me an article from Sunday's Boston Globe that focuses on the trajectory of the fall television season now that we are moving into the second half of the television year. Author Matthew Gilbert gives an admirable quick glance at the television industry and where various networks stand in regard to serial program.

The piece discusses both the failures of many of the complex television shows to connect with audiences this fall, particularly because of the launch of too many of them and hints at the need for new business models that take into account more than just the initial broadcast of the shows, as we've been discussing for some time. Look here, here, and here for previous C3 discussions about this issue, and look here for Jason Mittell's piece about The Nine and "unmotivated complexity," as well as my response.

Gilbert calls the year "an embarrassment of riches" for viewers, writing:

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Video Sharing Sites Filling In Niches Around YouTube Censorship

Yesterday's New York Times featured an interesting piece about the video sharing and streaming sites that are making a name for themselves by lowering the safeguards that YouTube has put up in various ways.

The piece, by Brad Stone, looks at sites like Stickam, LiveLeak, and Dailymotion and explains both the niche that these sites intend to fill as well as the industry and parental concerns about the services these sites provide. Each provide an interesting method of looking at both the legitimate problems of video sharing online but also the way that child safety discussions often obscure some of the valuable aspects of these sites as well. Trying to wade through and distinguish the hyperbole and reactionary thinking from the legitimate safety concerns for users is key in understanding which of these sites provide potential long-term business models for counteracting the popularity of YouTube and MySpace's video features. The three sites share a lack of policing by employees that set them apart from the now corporate YouTube and MySpace.

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December 30, 2006

AT&T/BellSouth Merger and the Controversy about Net Neutrality Provisions

In major news that will send shock waves throughout the media industry, FCC has approved the merger between AT&T and BellSouth. The impact this will have on Internet, mobile, and cable has yet to be seen, but the only thing we cannot doubt is that there will be an impact of some sort.

According to the FCC's press release, the decision requires broadband service to be offered throughout the company's entire region by the end of 2007, increased competition for pay television services, improved wireless products, enhanced national security, better disaster response and preparation, and a variety of other provisions.

Of most interest to the blogosphere has been the provision that "Effective on the Merger Closing Date, and continuing for 30 months thereafter, AT&T/BellSouth will conduct business in a manner that comports with the principles set forth in the Commission's Policy Statement, issued September 23, 2005."

Marguerite Reardon with CNET points out that the company will be well on its way back to dominating telephone operations, now holding as assets more than half the Internet access lines and telephone lines in the country.

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Surplus Audiences: The Deaf Use YouTube to Communicate Through Signing

When new technologies are created, the initial concern is to reach an intended audience and to fill a particular void. What happens in reality, however, is that many unintended audiences often find and incorporate these products, regardless of how popular the service becomes with the target audience.

This phenomenon of surplus audiences, outside the target demographic but whose use of a product or consumption of some type of media is nevertheless a factor in the popularity of the product, has been of interest to me.

For instance, last June, I wrote about the As the World Turns storyline involving gay character Luke Snyder and how it was being written about regularly on message boards in the gay community, driving interest from a segment of people who were not initially fans of the show but who were particularly into this storyline and who started to become interested in the show in general.

"The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well," I wrote.

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December 29, 2006

Craig Jacobsen and the Conflict Between Episodic Storytelling and Broadcasting Nature

Another interesting piece from Flow that I wanted to bring to everyone's attention is an essay by Craig Jacobsen from Mesa Community College. Jacobsen, in an essay entitled "The Simultaneous Dawning and Twilight of Broadcast Network Narrative", builds on his previous piece on "How TV Met Narrative Sophistication."

Throughout the fall, we have been documenting the debate about the future of complex television. I have written in response to Jeremy Dauber's column in the Christian Science Monitor depicting the ways in which culture has shifted with the rise of DVD viewings and how the broadcast system is not as good at supporting many complex narratives in primetime simultaneously. I wrote about the cancellation of Smith and how "the middle ground gets you cancelled," as well, concluding that:

In this case, what is said about Hollywood makes sense for television as well, and one has to wonder, as show after show falls off network lineups this fall, which of them could have gone on to be major successes in the long-term. But, until there is a monetized way to value the shows that take the middle ground, and until there is more economic incentive on the network's part to care about the success of shows long-term, then would-be fans of Smith and many other shows will have to just keep guessing what might have been.

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Ray Cha and the Definition of Television

Independent scholar Ray Cha has been writing an illuminating series of articles for the online scholarly journal Flow. For those not familiar with Flow, it defines itself as "a critical forum on television and media culture published biweekly by the department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin."

In his first article, Cha examines the traditional definition of television and the way the idea is being redefined. He finds that the three dictionary definitions currently in existence for television is each rooted in a particular time and a technological understanding of the medium. The first essay takes the first definition of television, looking at how the VCR/DVR and online streaming of television has changed the initial understanding of television as transmission.

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December 26, 2006

Veoh Revamp Another Example of Companies Preparing for Continued Growth in Online Video Content

News broke last week that Internet video service company Veoh would be ramping up its service with a variety of new features for longer features provided through its video service. The revamped site includes a new home page with personalized recommendations, as well as listings for featured broadcasters whose content is available through Veoh and a popular categories option.

With the new version of the site, content providers can even charge rental fees to those who access the online video, as well as download-to-own. Further, all the content will now be viewed on a substantially larger player.

The site also provides new ways to navigate the content. Users can mark content as favorites or make recommendations, or content can be searched through for a particular person or a particular series.

According to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, Veoh ranks 14th in popularity among video sites.

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December 22, 2006

Viacom Drops Out of Plans for Network-Driven YouTube Competitor

Looks like one of the gangs dropped out of the coalition.

Viacom, the parent company for our partner MTV Networks here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, has announced this week that it will not be a founding member of any collective group that provides online video content, with plans that were being formulated to create a competitor for YouTube in the distribution of official copyrighted content on the Internet.

The decision was made public through a story by Claire Atkinson and Abbey Klaassen Advertising Age on Wednesday, with Viacom sources saying that, while the network may license material to be distributed on such a channel, it will not plan to be one of the founders of an online platform of that sort.

Already, we had mentioned that ABC was not planning to be a part, as Disney is content with releasing content through its own online digital distribution service. Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek writes, "Viacom's early exit from the proposed venture represents yet another blow to the networks' YouTube copycat project."

Whitney points out that, with iFilm and Atom Entertainment, Viacom is already positioned well online, and that's not counting various video distribution systems for some of its networks, including CBS's innertube.

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New Web Program Follows Congdon's Life

Today marks the launch of a new Internet video show from Amanda Congdon, well-known in Internet circles as the former host of Rocketboom. The early star of one of the first massively popular video weblogs, Congdon has worked more recently as a video blogger for ABC News. The show will focus on Congdon's life in L.A. as well as her current occupation.

The new show will be available both on her Web site, as well as Blip.TV. The show will also be available cross-platform through both MySpace's video sharing and for download from iTunes.

According to a press release from Blip, both Paltalk and Dove have signed on as advertisers.

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December 20, 2006

Finnish Television Event Offers Users Chance to Choose Ending During Show by Text Message

While viewers of Days of Our Lives have the chance to name the baby of a prominent character and WWE invites fans to votes on stipulations and participants of matches on its pay-per-view wrestling event Cyber Sunday, Finnish television fictional event Accidental Lovers from the BT Group is offering an interesting new way for users to text message in order to affect the outcome of storylines on the show.

According to a story from David Meyer at CNET, viewers will be able to text during the show, which will allow them to affect how the program ends in real time. "In an evolution of today's interactive TV, SMS messages texted in by the audience will--in real time--cause the characters to either fall in love or break up." Some of the texted comments will also appear on screen during the show.

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Bill Gates Comments on Digital Rights Management; ABI Reports a Lack of Interest in Movie Downloads

Various members of the C3 team sent me some interesting stories in the news over the past week. Two items in particular are interesting in relation to discussions surrounding digital rights management.

First, as reported by BBC News, Bill Gates on Thursday told an invited group of bloggers and Web developers at the Microsoft headquarters that digital rights management is not effective and has been, according to the story, "too complex for consumers." He said that, while Microsoft uses DRM for the Zune and various other outlets owned by the companies, his short-term advice for people wanting to transfer songs was still to "buy a CD and rip it" because the content would then lack all the angering DRM restrictions. However, the comments do not apply to British listeners as they do to Americans because, as the BBC points out, it is illegal to copy CDs in the country, "although the music industry has made clear it will take no action against people copying their legally bought CDs to their computers or music players."

However, many critics--such as Suw Charman with the Open Rights Group quoted in the BBC story--found Gates' knocking DRM to be a "bit rich," considering how heavily Microsoft uses DRM. She pointed specifically to the way "DRM is stuffed into Windows Vista."

Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion documented the Thursday meeting, and it's worth looking at all the interesting comments that are not related to the few remarks about DRM.

But our research manager Joshua Green was perceptive to link these comments from Gates to a story Geoffrey Long brought to my attention--a new study which claims that less than 5 percent of people polled--all of whom watch video on the Internet--have rented or bought a digital movie download. The study, from ABI Research, was a Web-based survey of 1,725 U.S. adults, found that 70 percent of the people polled, however, watch video online in one form or another.

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December 18, 2006

iTunes Sales Dropping? Questions About the Continued Growth of iTunes and the Controversial Meanings of Numbers

A new report from Forrester Research indicates that iTunes sales dropped by 65 percent during the first half of 2006. Forrester researched almost 3,000 iTunes purchases in preparing the data, finding that the post-holiday season indicated a peak and a dropoff from that point forward.

However, the release of the study and the reports in the media following it created a growing amount of controversy.

A story in Thursday's Independent Online in the United Kingdom by Martin Hickman reflects some degree of controversy as to the truth of these figures, as a company spokesperson in the article--who was not named--said that the charge was "simply incorrect." "Apple is leading the digital music revolution with almost 70 million iPods sold and a stunning 1.5 billion songs purchased from the iTunes store," the spokesperson said. This quote was attributed to Tom Neumayr by Scott Martin on Red Herring.

The Independent story also quoted Josh Bernoff, who wrote in the report for Forrester that "iTunes won't save the music business or Apple." The question, of course, is whether online downloads of music were a fad that people are moving away from, whether Apple competitors are starting to make in-roads, or perhaps a third option, where users chose to bolster their music collection at first and, after downloading the music they wanted the most in short order, decided that was enough. I can think of similar phenomena when it comes to releasing the archives of various old shows. Everybody may have certain shows they want in their collection, but they aren't going to keep buying old shows just because they are released but rather are looking for specific purchases to flesh out their collection.

Continue reading "iTunes Sales Dropping? Questions About the Continued Growth of iTunes and the Controversial Meanings of Numbers" »

December 15, 2006

Firefly Universe Lives on through Massively Multiplayer Online Game

Last week, Mark Wallace had an interesting piece in Wired about how the narrative universe of Firefly lives on through an online product, with the launch of a massively multiplayer online role playing game based on the world of the Joss Whedon space show.

Firefly is an oft-cited example of a show that continued to be popular, despite getting cancelled after only one season, and eventually launched a film version called Serenity, based on the plot and characters from the show.

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December 14, 2006

Advertising Space in Second Life: How Brands Are Flooding to Virtual Worlds

A great piece from Laura Petrecca in last Wednesday's USA Today about Second Life and how the success of the virtual economy there is starting to drive significant business interest. We've written before about the Reuters Bureau in Second Life, as well as the Ninja Tune music channel. But this article highlights a variety of interesting ventures businesses have made into the online world.

Petrecca writes:

About 5% of Second Life's total "world" now is occupied by big brand names, she says. The creeping commercialism shouldn't offend anyone, she says. Players can easily move from area to area, "so they don't have to see anything they don't want to see."

Also motivating advertisers: Second Life has attracted a tech-savvy user base with an average age of 32. That's an audience increasingly hard to reach through traditional media such as TV.

Continue reading "Advertising Space in Second Life: How Brands Are Flooding to Virtual Worlds" »

December 13, 2006

Enemies Rally Together to Ward Off New Threat: A Meeting of Three Families

It sounds like something out of The Godfather. Three families who have long competed, shot at each other, and undercut each other's businesses--sometimes even using questionable tactics--all think about banding together when a new threat comes into the town. They may have always despised each other because they wanted complete control, but the last thing any of them want is a new guy on the block, especially one that doesn't play by their rules.

So you set up a meeting and start thinking about doing the impossible--working together to run that new power off. This new ring has the gall to do the things you never imagined you could get away with.

Okay, so News Corp, Viacom, and NBC Universal has never sold drugs to children (although I'm expecting some snide remarks about alcohol ads from the left-wingers out there or else some talk about depicting of drug use on television from some conservatives right now to try and contradict that), but this new plan from these three powerhouses sounds reminiscent of those old-school cross-gang meetings depicted in the films when it comes to their pervasive new threat: YouTube.

Continue reading "Enemies Rally Together to Ward Off New Threat: A Meeting of Three Families" »

Music Choice's Popularity in VOD Opens Up Increasing Number of Distribution Doors

Video-on-Demand channels seem to be one form of distribution that are continuing to draw more and more attention as a viable model. WIth the breaking down of the traditional flow of network programming, in an era where TV guide options for viewers allow them to pay little attention to what network their favorite shows air on other than the watermark in the corner, companies are starting to adapt to the non-linear viewing experience.

Case in point? The growth of Music Choice, the Video-on-Demand network that Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek reports is expanding its reachinto the Time-Warner cable markets, according to an announcement made yesterday.

Continue reading "Music Choice's Popularity in VOD Opens Up Increasing Number of Distribution Doors" »

PSFK Asks for Users to Predict the Trends of 2007 Through YouTube

PSFK, an innovation team that calls themselves a "network of experts from across the globe who share the same energy, enthusiasm and wonder" for following the latest news in "trends, fashion, marketing, business and eco-consciousness" have an interesting new project going where they consult the real experts in the trends of tomorrow: users.

In order to track the trends of 2007, the company has sent out a call for readers to make a clip up to one minute in length about the trends they see coming and post those clips to YouTube. They are asking for any trend you predict in the coming year, tagged "PSFK2007" in YouTube, and they plan to collect and watch all the trend videos posted and put together a compilation for their site.

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December 12, 2006

Internet Television a Reserve for Independent TV Producers?

My inbox has been flooded with people pointing the way to a variety of interesting articles appearing in the New York Times over the past couple of days. I guess that, as they enter their end-of-the-year run, they've been spending quite a bit of time thinking about convergence culture since...well...the newpaper of record is starting to realize that 2006 was the year of Convergence Culture (cheap plug).

On Sunday, I wrote about Jon Pareles's article in that same paper about the rise of user-generated content as a concept in the past year.

However, Lynn Liccardo passed along a short piece from Sunday's paper by David Haskell which writes about the potential rise of independent television using the Web as a distribution model.

Continue reading "Internet Television a Reserve for Independent TV Producers?" »

December 10, 2006

Change Sometimes Takes Time: Richard Siklos on High-Definition, Mobile Media, and Virtual Worlds

For all of our talk about what has happened this year, I was interested in Richard Siklos' piece in today's New York Times about what has NOT happened this year: the "hat trick" many analysts were expecting that has not come to fruition quite as quickly as everyone expected--high-definition programming, mobile media, and the rise of the avatar.

Now, mind you, it's not that these three phenomena have not had substantial impact on the media this year, but rather that the impact has just not been as pervasive as many people have imagined. It reminds me of a post I made back in July about the stark reminder that the media experience of many Americans does not feel like it does on those of us interested in looking at the cutting edge.

Continue reading "Change Sometimes Takes Time: Richard Siklos on High-Definition, Mobile Media, and Virtual Worlds" »

December 5, 2006

Ninja Tune Launches Music Video Channel in Second Life

Here's another interesting bit of news forwarded from my colleague Geoffrey Long via Macworld UK: a British record label is finalizing plans to launch a virtual music video channel through the immensely popular virtual world Second Life. The channel will be called Ninja TV, launched by independent record label Ninja Tune. The channel will feature multiple hours' worth of content from a variety of UK artists, and any Second Life inhabitant can watch the TV station free, as well as purchasing the release through the digital shop for Ninja Tune.

Ninja Tune will launch its virtual music video channel as part of a new TV network from the UK design agency Rivers Run Red, which will be called Virtual Life.TV. According to their story, "The Ninja TV channel will be supported by leading UK digital music research firm Music Ally, which will be hosting an event in London in December to profile how Second Life can benefit the music industry."

Continue reading "Ninja Tune Launches Music Video Channel in Second Life" »

PullBox: The Theory Behind a New Online Distribution System for Comics Content

My colleague here at the Convergence Culture Consortium Geoffrey Long sent me a link yesterday to PullBox Online, a new online service that is providing PDF versions of comic books to be legally downloaded for the magic $.99 price per comic.

Users register with the site which the provides downloads of a variety of titles from smaller publishing houses featuring several different genres of content. The site proclaims that "it is created by people who truly understand the comic book community and embrace the lifestyle, hence our name, referring to the thousands of customers who reserve their comics in a 'pull box' every month." They say that they are ignoring technological debates about online comics and simply want to offer another form of distribution.

"We believe that the proliferation of downloadable comics is healthy for the industry, and will allow collectors of physical comics to catch up on hard to find issues they missed, and enabling them to continue to collect the physical series rather than dropping it" (sic) and also position their downloadable versions as a good alternative for those who plan to buy a graphic novel of a series but want to read it along the way as well, since the cost is substantially lower for the PDF files as compared to buying each month's physical edition.

Devil's Due Publishing leads the way, including Family Guy, along with IDW Publishing, Jim Mahfood, and Tim Seeley's Loaded Bible.

Continue reading "PullBox: The Theory Behind a New Online Distribution System for Comics Content" »

December 3, 2006

Convergence & Privacy, Redux

Clive Thompson at Collision Detection notes that the new Nike shoes that can broadcast your footsteps to your iPod (making it into a pedometer) can also be used to stalk you:

A group of computer scientists at the University of Washington wondered if they could build a simple device to secretly track somebody by the signal emitted from their shoes. So they set up a laptop, and whaddya know: It turns out that each shoe broadcasts a unique identifier, and it took the scientists only a few hours to write computer code that would sniff it out and track it. They wrote a report summarizing the stalkertastic possibilities raised by the shoes, as their press release reports:
A jealous boyfriend could track a woman's movements, or compare them with the movements of a suspected rival. And although a receiver only picks up the signal when a person is within range, a stalker could hide receivers near a home, a gym and a restaurant, for example, to closely monitor his or her target's movements.
Nice! Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. As more and more products are shipped with radio-frequency ID labels, it'll be increasingly easy for people to track where you're going based on the radio-ID being constantly squirted out by, oh, your cup of coffee.

Or, as Thompson goes on to note, your credit card.

LCD Selling Power Continues Growing as Flat Panel TVs Become the Top Seller

According to a study cited by James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek, flat panel television screens are now the most popular televisions in North America. According to a new study by DisplaySearch which was made public last Monday more than 50 percent of televisions now sold in North America are flat panel televisions, with some of the more expensive television sets being the most popular.

Kiyoshi Takenaka with Reuters points out that "it is technologically difficult and often costly for plasma makers to give a full high-definition function to models with a screen size of less than 50 inches, while LCD TV makers are aggressively promoting full HD models in that segment although prices are generally higher" and quotes one analyst as predicting that, "with little price difference, most people would choose LCD TVs because of their higher resolution."

Continue reading "LCD Selling Power Continues Growing as Flat Panel TVs Become the Top Seller" »

December 2, 2006

Your Cell Phone Could Be Spying on You

Via Discourse.net:

A district court judge has ruled that it's legal to turn cell phones them into "roving bugs" whose microphones can be activated remotely even when they're powered down.

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him...

The U.S. Commerce Department's security office warns that "a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone." An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. "They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time," he said. "You can do that without having physical access to the phone."

Combine this with the administration's claim that warrantless wiretapping is legitimate, and suddenly every cell phone in America that doesn't have its battery removed could be acting as a surveillance feed.

Even if you're not concerned about the possibility of the FBI or NSA spying on you, though, this technology has significant implications. It's only a matter of time before someone (either at a cellular service provider or elsewhere) decides to use this technology for corporate espionage, assuming it hasn't happened already.

Read the whole thing.

Wal-Mart Offering Digital Downloads for Movies--If You Buy the DVD First

Wal-Mart is the newest name involved in the digital distribution of films, with the company's new program to stick its toe in the download market with an interesting program--making digital copies of films available to those who buy a copy on DVD.

Here's an interesting way around the complaint that movies don't allow one to see them in any platform you want to with digital rights management blocking copying them from one format to the other. Wal-Mart will not mess with its DRM but rather allow a corresponding download along with the purchase of the film on DVD.

The test film? Summer blockbuster Superman Returns.

Brad Stone with The New York Times suggests that the download service may be a sign that "the decade-old DVD moved two small steps closer yesterday to technology's endangered-species list."

But don't think this is out of the goodness of the retailer's heart. No, according to Amber Maitland in her post on the business initiative with Pocket-lint in the UK, "Customers who buy a copy of the DVD will be able to choose a $1.97 download for portable devices; a $2.97 option for computer-compatible download; and a $3.97 version that works on both."

Continue reading "Wal-Mart Offering Digital Downloads for Movies--If You Buy the DVD First" »

Google Offering Nine Figures to Copyright Owners: The Negotiation of YouTube's Power

The drama surrounding YouTube and its copyright issues continues. BusinessWeek has written this week about plans to calm the waters between rights holders and YouTube, now that Google is "dangling nine-figure sums in front of major programming and network players," which it is calling "licensing fees," according to magazine contributor Jon Fine. He writes, "But some of them characterize the subtext like this: Don't sue us over copyrights. Take this (substantial) payment, and trust us to figure out how we'll all make serious money once we get advertising and revenue sharing worked out."

As Fine points out, the settlement to buy Google some time to figure out what to do with YouTube's copyright issues is quite a predicament for copyright holders:

Continue reading "Google Offering Nine Figures to Copyright Owners: The Negotiation of YouTube's Power" »

South Park in HD?

James Hibberd has an interesting piece in this week's high-definition coverage for TelevisionWeek about South Park conducting high-definition filming tests. And, as he poses, "The big question is: Why?" Hibberd points out that, especially considering that Comedy Central doesn't have a high-definition channel, "It's tough to imagine a show that would benefit less from an HD makeover than a half-hour animated starring cardboard cutouts."

However, he said that he did know that the experiment "did not go smoothly," crashing the hard drives for the studios and requiring the service of a computer recovery service "to recover two months' worth of work."

Continue reading "South Park in HD?" »

November 30, 2006

Lost Planet demo newest casualty in the push for HD

When Nintendo was designing the Wii, they knew that most consumers have standard-definition TVs, but Capcom and other developers for the HD-capable systems are only just getting the message. Games like Capcom's Lost Planet demo, Dead Rising, and EA's Fight Night all have text that's very hard to read on an SD TV, and while Capcom is promising that the finished version of Lost Planet will detect whether a player has an SD or HD TV and adapt the size of its text to it, it seems clear that some developers are only now grasping the fact that they can't just design to HD video standards, but still have to take the majority of consumers (who don't have HD TVs) into account.

November 29, 2006

Upcoming Emmy Business Reporting Awards Made Available Online for First Time

Here's further proof of ways in which the Internet is becoming a repository for airing and storing events of interest that just do not have a broad enough base to even air on the wide variety of cable networks.

On Dec. 7, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Emmy Awards for Business and Financial Reporting will host their fourth annual awards ceremony. While the major entertainment-based awards are of enough public interest that they can fare well on broadcast television, the niche audience interested in watching an awards show for business and financial reporting is small enough that "airing" the event has never been available before. This year, however, the ceremony will be made available online at both TV Worldwide and TV Mainstream.

Continue reading "Upcoming Emmy Business Reporting Awards Made Available Online for First Time" »

BitTorrent Signs Major Deals to Distribute Download-for-Pay Content

BitTorrent is continuing to shift its primary focus amidst the many controversies of copyright that have sprung up on the Web. News broke this week that the file-sharing technology creators have made deals with a variety of content providers to "legitimately" distribute TV shows and films for Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and MTV Networks.

This new BitTorrent service, will include both download-to-rent and download-to-own features, as well as some free content, when it launches in February. Now, BitTorrent is positioning itself as a competitor to iTunes and the whole slew of other providers out there who distribute content, such as Amazon Unbox, AOL Video, and others.

Continue reading "BitTorrent Signs Major Deals to Distribute Download-for-Pay Content" »

Yahoo! TV Relaunch Jazzes Up Graphics--But Some Question Whether It Fully Utilizes the Power of Web 2.0

Yahoo! is attempting to improve and expand the reach of its television content amidst an increasingly heated Internet television distribution market, as the company launched a new design for its TV section of the Yahoo! search engine this week. This marks the first effort to improve the design of Yahoo!'s TV services in five years, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, who cited the reason for the design change as "part of its effort to keep pace with new ways of consuming television online" which "follows efforts by small and large video sites in the last several months to introduce new features in what's becoming the increasingly competitive online video business."

What are these changes? They include an embedded video player for Yahoo! TV that allows viewers to navigate around the page while the video is playing on the page, rather than having to be static in searching for content while the video is playing. The product also includes links to the most popular show on Yahoo! at any particular moment, as well as videos grouped by themes and "a personalized TV grid that follows users as they navigate the site."

Continue reading "Yahoo! TV Relaunch Jazzes Up Graphics--But Some Question Whether It Fully Utilizes the Power of Web 2.0" »

November 26, 2006

A Few Good Men (and Women): The Front Line in the Big Media Battle to Understand Its Digital Future

A great piece from today's New York Times about the big media companies and their need to find someone to be able to tackle all the new digital questions. With such a daunting task before them, new digital VPs are being named every other day it seems, and the turnover is coming because companies are looking for new ideas and directions every day, with the feeling that the ground is constantly shifting underneath them.

That's what Richard Siklos' article is about, the continuing shifts among major players in the industry. He starts with an a propos want ad that describes the job perfectly...a job with heavy requirements and constant turnover but with companies looking in some pretty untraditional places for leadership as they entered unchartered territory.

Continue reading "A Few Good Men (and Women): The Front Line in the Big Media Battle to Understand Its Digital Future" »

Blu-ray Unnecessary for PS3 launch games?

[Update]: Apparently the "padding" data on Resistance is only 420 MB per region, rather than 17.75 GB, making the topic of this post a tempest in a teapot.

Original entry text available below.

Continue reading "Blu-ray Unnecessary for PS3 launch games?" »

November 25, 2006

Copyright & IP in Virtual Worlds

Raph Koster has a good post on the nature of copyright in virtual worlds up. Key points include the fact that virtual objects are entries in a database table (and thus not really protected from 'resale' by IP law) and the fact that the value in the iTunes store and other similar systems is the service they provide to customers (ease of finding music on iTunes, ease of finding draft partners on Magic: the Gathering Online, etc.) rather than the 'property' that they sell.

November 20, 2006

Technology and Television

Yesterday's New York Times had a great article on the social implications of interactive television and the various experiments being tested out across the country, written by Lorne Manly.

The story focuses on Gail Smith, a U.S. computer teacher who has lived in Guam for the past 15 years who returned to a world of digital video recorders and a great shift in the television landscape, the type of differences that has a profound impact on the lives of what some describe as "a nation of videots," others somewhat less cynically.

The point is that Americans love their television, and the technology is an enabler, not an end, for most people. Look back at Joshua Green's presentation from Futures of Entertainment this past weekend about the differences between the iPod and the Zune primarily being that of a relationship of software as opposed to a relationship to a piece of technology that acts as a communication or content-enabling tool.

While some early adopters are the exception, most people enjoy what they can do with technology, how they can interact with art and entertainment and people, not particularly in the television itself.

The story describes Smith's participation as one of 160,000 Time Warner subscribers in what it calls "souped-up interactivity," a series of cable programming options that give increased control over television content to the user. Among the facets of this product described by Manly is a high degree of news selectivity or extra programming from The Weather Channel.

The story goes on to describe the interactive television content through DirecTV for sports viewing, and new initiatives for sports news when viewers want it through ESPN's iZone and Dish Network, among other products.

Continue reading "Technology and Television" »

November 19, 2006

FOE: Not the Real World Anymore

The following wraps up our report of the Futures of Entertainment conference. Geoff Long took the onus of reporting on this final panel, with some help from Ivan Askwith and me. Thanks again to Geoff and Ivan for their work on getting this together. Geoff provided a partial transcript from the event. Also, you can see Rachel Clarke's notes here. Also, see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay. There is also a reaction to this partial transcript at KnowProSE.

The final panel of the day, "Not the Real World Anymore", focused on the phenomenon of virtual worlds. The panelists were John Lester from Second Life's Linden Labs, Ron Meiners from Multiverse Online, and Todd Cunningham from MTV Networks, who was accompanied by producer Eric Gruber, who ran Cunningham's demo of Virtual Laguna Beach.

Continue reading "FOE: Not the Real World Anymore" »

November 18, 2006

FOE: Joshua Green's "Viscerality and Convergence Culture"

Joshua Green
C3 Research Director and MIT Comparative Media Studies post-doc Dr. Joshua Green opened the conference this morning with his presentation of "Viscerality and Convergence Culture." Ignoring the fact that "viscerality" is not a word, and Joshua revealed his blatant disregard for the English status quo, his talk focused on the ways in which people want to internalize and humanize technology, how the average person does not care about these technologies except in ways that they facilitate their desire for expanding and extending human contact.

The talk, inspired by a walk in the rain with his iPod, was fueled by an anecdote Joshua shared with the readers. New to MIT and the country, Joshua spent most of his life in Australia. Now, all that he brought of himself, in many ways, was that iPod. "I'm not a music person before, but now I care about it," he said. "I suck it in now and feel passionate in a way that I didn't before." He points out that, by moving to America for this job, he has left a phase of his life he cannot necessarily return to. "None of my things are there anymore, and that's not a life I can go back to. The place it does exist in now is in my iPod. I no longer have a home in Australia, just a room at my parents' house backed with boxes. And it's not the iPod, but that's the only thing I can pack my social existence into."

He points to a quote about the Zune in which it was called a "software experience." He says, "The sharing that the Zune enables requires you to play by its rules. And, in the conversion environment at the present moment, we don't play by technology's rules. We bash, smash, and hit technology until it plays by our rules." And that's where he sees the distinction between the Zune and the iPod. It's the difference in relationship that's perceived about being about software and one that is about social relations. He points out that his relationship with his iPod and MacBook Pro feels like a relationship because it feels social. "It is a device for sharing culture. The way in which I utilize this device is one to facilitate sharing culture."

On the other hand, he doesn't completely buy into iCult, and he makes the point that these opening remarks are not intended to be a celebration of the brand without reservations. "I enjoy my relationship with this machine more than the other Toshiba box I had before, but iTunes has DRM and now they've cornered the market." He said that it's not the technology but the social interaction that it enables and encourages. He says that these types of social interactions is what companies are starting to get, and he points to Comedy Central's recent assurances at not taking all Comedy Central clips off YouTube as an example.

He points to examples from various Internets as his example of how the technology is used as social relationships. In making fun of the Ted Stevens "tubes" reference to the Internet, Joshua points to the user-generated responses to his idea of tubes. One was very scientific, the type of industrial containers you would see around MIT with those danger hazardous stickers on them. The other model is Fallopian tubes. Hedescribed the top one as being about technology, while the ladder is about organicness and squishiness. He asserts that the increasing acceptance of identity politics and the politics traditionally ascribed to a female domain in consumerism and fandom, etc., makes the Fallopian tubes of the Internet perhaps a better analogy.

In addition to this discussion about tactile relationships and viscerality, Joshua discussed the distinction between impressions and expressions. Impressions, as the old model, is when we send messages out that leave impressions on to users that prompt them to do something. When you understand tactile relationships, though, Joshua said that you encourage audiences to speak in some way. "When the product is transformed from commodity to culture, though, you have to cede control because it's no longer yours," he said, "but it's okay."

However, Joshua's presentation was very visual in nature, very visceral as the very title implies, so the video will be essential when it is made available for viewing over the next few days. Check back here and at The Futures of Entertainment site for more information. Also, see Rachel Clarke's notes on Joshua's presentation at Licence to Kill. Also, Kent Quirk has his take of Joshua's presentation at Global Warming Can Be Fun. Finally, you can see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay.

Also, see a recent post and discussion here on the Zune's release.

November 17, 2006

FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction

Introduction
The following is the C3 team's note from Henry Jenkins' introduction to the C3 Futures of Entertainment conference. For the conference's details, look toward its main page.

To open the conference, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, gave some background information on what is being described as "convergence culture," to borrow the term from his book, that sets the stage for the various panels taking place here at Futures of Entertainment over the next two days. Also, see Steve Garfield's links over on Off on a Tangent.

Continue reading "FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction" »

November 16, 2006

Nielsen Plans to Release VOD Measurement for National Programming

Niesen's commercial ratings may be spinning its wheels, but the company is hoping to have some degree of success with the new VOD measurement service it will be rolling out mid-December. On Dec. 11, the company will begin measuring information from VOD viewing based on the same system it uses to measure national viewing from traditional broadcasting and cable networks.

Cynthia Brumfield with IP Democracy is a little dubious about how accurate VOD measurement will be, especially in these beginning phases. She writes, "The ratings service (which I can imagine will be beset by glitches galore given the vast numbers of on-demand choices) will be limited to on-demand content produced by national broadcast and cable networks." The distinction is made because there is no mechanism in place for Nielsen to measure offerings from individual cable companies or cable systems and is only measuring those nationally organized offerings that are easy to trace.

The comments on Lost Remote emphasize how much work needs to be done in the VOD measurement area, considering projections from Rentrak that more than 2 billion VOD programs will be viewed by the end of 2006.

These plans were presaged by an announcement back in August that Nielsen would begin measuring VOD for Insight Communications as part of its launching of the Nielsen On-Demand Reporting and Analytics service (NORA). At the time, I wrote:

Many still question the measurement abilities of the Nielsen ratings for regular television, but the company has been developing various initaitives to both improve their traditional ratings system and to also provide further measurement of new delivery forms.


In the meantime, with the devleopment of a Nielsen standard for on-demand content coming, it may help encourage advertisers and content providers alike to pour more content into the expanding platform, with not only the movies-on-demand products already established but also products like WWE 24/7, the on-demand wrestling subscription service offered on many major cable networks.

This is one of many new initiatives by Nielsen, driven largely by its June announcement of the shift to an A2/M2 measurement system that would better measure how much content people consume anytime, anywhere.

Will the numbers for VOD curtail the sour taste some people have in their mouths over this commercial ratings debate? I hope it will at least further drive innovation in the VOD market, where viewers are increasingly interested and where new and innovative business models may be developed. We'll see what difference the Nielsen measurements make in this platform in the coming months.

Strategic New Convergence Partnerships Around Us: Revver/Fame TV; MySpace Concert Webcast; MTVN/Nexon Partnership for Neopets

Here are three new deals that are worth taking a look at as to how they fit into a drive toward cross-platform distribution and greater use of video content online, for purposes of user-generated content and Internet-only content.

1.) Revver/Fame TV Deal. The Web site Revver, an advertising-supported site that allows users to share videos with some of the revenue going to content creators, has formed a partnership with Fame TV, a UK broadcast channel that exclusively features user-generated content. The partnership further develops cross-platform interest in user-generated content. Greg Baumann with TelevisionWeek writes, "The partnership represents another step in the integration of user-generated material and traditional television. Fame TV joins Current, a U.S. based cable channel, as an outlet for video created outside the entertainment industry's established structure." Beth Snyder Bulik with Advertising Age points out that "Fame TV runs nine boxes on-screen at one time, each titled and given SMS codes so that viewers can vote for their favorites via cellphone." And Revver is the online site that discovered and promoted the now-famous Mentos/Diet Coke user-generated videos.

2.) MySpace Concert. Here's a first: a concert Webcast on MySpace. The concert will combine performances of various artists with user-generated content. Mark with Digital Media Wire has further information on the concert, a six-hour live webcast that "will utilize MySpace instant messenger to let fans interact with artists during an exclusive live music performance."

3.) MTVN/Nexon Game Partnership. Our partner here at C3, MTV Networks, has formed an alliance with Nexon for promotion of MTVN's Neopets. Check out this press release from the PR Newswire. The company calls this a "broad based strategic partnership" that will enhance the online community for Neopets, on the one hand, and Nexon's massive multiplayer online games have major penetration in Korea, where the company will help MTVN market Neopets, and the company will be adding personalized virtual items for Neopet owners to buy. In return, MTVN will market Nexon's online game titles throughout its online and cable networks, as the company plans to branch several of its games into the American market.

TiVo Branching Further Into Internet Content, Providing New Conduits for User-Generated Video

Major news that broke this week: TiVo's plans to branch into Internet video for the television. In short: the plan is to allow people to use the TiVo DVRs to watch at least some Internet-based video programming for the television set.

While TiVo's service has not branched into user-generated and professional online content, a series of new features are planned to be added to the service that will take effect next year. The technology conflict that had caused a problem is that TiVo uses a recording format generally used for DVDs, which is not compatible with the file type of most online videos.

According to Saul Hansell with The New York Times, TiVo's way around the problem is asking some producers to convert their programs to TiVo's MPEG2 format to make it available for direct download to TiVo's recorders, adding content from a variety of online players, including iVillage, Heavy.com, The New York Times, CBS, and Forbes; as well as "software that will allow users to watch a much wider range of videos that are available on the Web."

In this case, new customers must download the videos to their computers from the Internet and then, using TiVo software that will retail at $24.95, they will connect the TiVo recorder to the computer over a wired or wireless network to watch the videos on TV. The company already offers software to view photos on TiVo boxes through the computer, as well as listen to Internet radio. The feature will be implemented by the end of December and will be offered as a free upgrade for existing users.

The software will work with MPEG4, QuickTime and some types of Windows Media. Hansell writes, "This will allow it to play most video podcasts and some files offered by video sites including Google Video and Revver." However, it will not play videos with copy protection, nor anything produced through Flash, conflicting with YouTube content. The plan, according to an AP story on the TiVo announcement, is for deals to be put in place for copy protected content to be ported over to the TV in the future.

TiVo will also plan to launch as service for people to upload their home movies and send them to others' recorders who they want to see them in particular. This service will cost $4 a month, while receiving the videos will not cost any fee.

The service will not work for DirecTV TiVo boxes.

This comes in addition to the company's official deals with online content providers for the TiVoCast product we wrote about in June, as well as plans to offer a standalone high-definition DVR that records multiple shows simultaneously, a first for the company in servicing high-definition users.

November 13, 2006

Web 3.0 and the Common Sense of the Internet?

I just wanted to point your way to a piece this weekend from John Markoff in the New York Times on Web 3.0.

For those not familiar with what some are claiming will be the next great wave of innovation in Internet tools, the idea is creating a system that uses some degree of intelligent information to address specific concerns and questions of users. The example used in this article is a complicated question about planning a vacation that is not answered simply with pages that have keywords of interest but that legitimately addresses the question asked by the user.

In other words, it would be a Jeeves that didn't seem hard of hearing. I can recall many a day when I visited poor old Jeeves, who was sure that I could ask him anything I wanted, only to wonder how in the world he gave me some of the responses he did, considering the question I had asked.

Well, this would make for a Jeeves that actually listens. Markoff writes, "Their goal is to add a layer of meaning on top of the existing Web that would make it less of a catalog and more of a guide -- and even provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion. That level of artificial intelligence, with machines doing the thinking instead of simply following commands, has eluded researchers for more than half a century."

The idea is that a smarter system of links and aggregation could sift through content in a way that could provide financial planning, educational consulting, trip planning...responses that would provide accurate options in the way a real human agent would. This is what people are quoted as calling "the semantic Web."

The idea of computers directly answering questions is a simple desire that leads to a complicated research plan, and it will likely be some time before such search engines become truly possible and may not ever be fully satisfied. But the direction of providing direct and useable search engines that give users more tools to find exactly what it is that they want show the consumer-driven direction of most Web development and how Web 3.0 hopes to build off the great momentum and usability of Web 2.0.

Is this the answer? Discovering what Web 3.0 will be is driving a lot of speculation. Stephen Baker with BusinessWeek predicts that Web 3.0 will be easier and cheaper, always connected, and will provide greater control over data. Last year, Phil Wainewright said that Web 3.0 will consist of a foundation layer of API services, a middle layer of aggregation services, a top layer of application services, all on behalf of serviced clients, in an eara where we "will see buisness computing converge on teh same fundamental on-demand architecture as consumer applications." Finally, Dan Gillmor last year said that he feels it's already here. "The emerging web is one in which the machines talk as much to each other as humans talk to machines or other humans. As the net is the rough equivalent of a computer operating system, we're learning how to program the web itself."

So, what is Web 3.0? The question is where we want research to be headed on developing a continually improved Web, and this sustained public argument is an important one that anyone and everyone should join in on. We'll never get the right answers unless we're asking the most useful questions...

Friendbombing and the Confusing World of Social Networking

John Schwartz has a great piece from the Nov. 5 New York Times. Schwartz, who works for the Times, realized that his children were using Facebook and other social networking sites for the majority of their communication and, since Facebook in particular is insular, he signed up to be a user in order to view his son's page. His justification? "Now, I wouldn't read my kid's locked diary. But if Sammy is going to put his daily thoughts out there for the world to see, I'm going to check in every once in a while -- and let him know that I'm doing it, too."

John signed up with a corporate account now that Facebook offers services to those with corporate e-mails, but his son soon proved to have an adept response at his father's intrusion after John sent his son a friend invitation. John Schwartz was "friendbombed."

Apparently, Sam contacted all his friends at school and asked them to invite his dad as a friend, to the tune of more than 100 teenagers from the community. While his wife considers it poetic justice and John worries other parents will link him to the recent Mark Foley scandal, he sums up his feels about Facebook like this:

Facebook's use of the word "friend" is a little troubling in a world where true friendship is hard to find and even harder to sustain. The idea of getting friends wholesale seems to be part of that element of the Internet that can render life virtual and a little pallid. In many ways, the Internet strengthens relationships by allowing easy communication over a distance. But without a human touch, it's hard to keep the conversation going beyond niceties. Facebook seems to be saying: "Sure, we might be seeing less of our real friends face to face. But we'll make it up with volume."

I think John's touched on a fundamental distinction in social networking communities in general. It's not completely true that the point of the game is to get as many friends as possible. Although LinkedIn may reward you for doing so and there is value in gaining a certain number of friendships in any social network, there is also a heavy backlash against people who have thousands of friends (unless, of course, it's a celebrity with a MySpace page, although your exclusivity of being friends with these people is lost somewhere past the 5,000 mark).

It reminds me of MySpace's recent weakness in particular, when they became ambivalent about the Top 8 and started offering alternatives. I guess they felt that people were getting too stressed out picking their Top 8 friends. I personally liked that distinction, but now a lot of my friends have switched to a Top 20. I'll have to say, I could understand when I didn't make their Top 8, but when it moves to half their friends being in the "top" list, it hurts a little more not to make the cut.

There's something to be said about exclusivity...

November 11, 2006

Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material

One interesting online development worth noting is a new venture by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Turner Broadcasting. In the past two weeks, Turner has made headlines with its plans for a new broadband channel launched for comedy content, Super Deluxe. The project will be cross-platform, with plans to launch the content from the online broadband channel onto video-on-demand, mobile platforms (phones and portable players) and video game consoles. There are also plans to cross content from Super Deluxe into video sharing sites like MySpace and YouTube, although Turner promises to strictly monitor user-generated content on its site for potential copyright infringements.

Considering that this is one of the most ambitious broadband channel projects yet launched by a traditional cable company, I'm sure all eyes will be on Super Deluxe when it launches in January. It will join CNN Pipeline and GameTap, two other Turner broadband ventures.

Continue reading "Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material" »

Microsoft Zune Gaining Consumer Interest, Setting Up New Deals with Content Providers, Undercutting the iPod's Cultural Cache?

Back at the end of October, I wrote about Steven Levy's new book commemorating the iPod. I'm sure Microsoft is hoping, at this point, that it will be a historical record of those first few years when Apple ruled the MP3 player world, before the Zune came along.

A report released on Nov. 1 from ABI Research touts in its headline that "58% of iPod Owners Planning Another MP3 Player Purchase Will Consider Microsoft's Zune." A survey of 1,725 teenagers and adults in the U.S. found that the Zune at least seems compelling to new users, or else that they are not so committed to Apple that they would rule out purchasing a Zune player. Principal analyst Steve Wilson concluded that "the iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products," and conclude that "Apple will need to make some big announcements in 2007 if it is to maintain its edge in the industry."

In other words, a leadership and innovator role only buys you so much cultural cache if someone releases a better product than you. Is the Zune going to be a better product? ABI writes that its researchers believe "that a crucial factor will be whether or not Microsoft can differentiate the Zune from competing products in some meaningful way," questioning whether Wi-Fi peer-to-peer sharing is useful enough to make viewers feel that much more loyal.

Meanwhile, Staci D. Kramer at paidContent points out the changes in royalty plans for the Zune, in which a new deal has been struck with Universal Music Group to provide a royalty for every Zune unit sold, with half of the fee going to Universal artists. Apparently, the plan is for $1 of every unit sold ($250 per unit price) will go to UMG, so artists will split $.50 per every device sold. Kramer writes that, "the deal, while not a first, marks a variation form the pay-per-download or pay-per-play models." Her story includes several interesting quotes from various newspaper stories.

Yinka Adegoke with Reuters writes that "the groundbreaking deal could redefine the digital music business pioneered by Apple Computer Inc. Rivals including cell phone makers eventually could pay for hardware sales as well as for the music itself, Universal said."

We'll see what happens when the Zune is released Tuesday, but the blogosphere is swarming with buzz waiting for the release. For more information, see the Zune page on Wikipedia.

Thanks for David Edery and Joshua Green for the information they sent along for the preparation of this post.

Oh, and be sure to read through the comments, where a couple of readers have already expressed their serious doubts as to both the validity of this ABI study and especially to the way it has been used to bolster claims of the iPod's demise. I guess rumors of the iPod's death have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain (and John Dixon). I know that the iPod has a stronghold on the Ford household, anyway. (My wife is quite the aficionado.)

AT&T Launching Into Video Services and Mobile Entertainment with Latest Plans

Will AT&T play a major role in the future of mobile content? Going back to some Halloween news, a USA Today story from Leslie Cauley focuses on the new moves by the major telephone company to move into position to challenge cable companies, as telephone and cable providers line up against each other to provide services. This has been a battle that has been a long time coming, and it will likely be a war waged over the next several years, with service and pricing in play on the field.

Cauley's story focuses on how AT&T plays to deploy one of the greatest tools that may be in its arsenal--wireless content. With AT&T eyeing a purchase of BellSouth and thus gaining complete control of Cingular Wireless (which it would change to AT&T), it would have a major cellular company at its disposal, allowing the company to move forward with its major plan to increase entertainment content.

Cauley points out that, while the current plans with other cable operators with Sprint for wireless entertainment services, for instance, have not led to any profit, AT&T would benefit from having a wireles service provider in-house along with U-verse, bolstering recent attempts like the U-verse, AT&T's new video service that could serve as sharp competition to cable and satellite providers. According to the story, plans include integrating wireless and "wired" products, "including high-speed Internet and U-verse TV," creating a package that "blurs the line between wired and wireless." These plans also include greater technology to fuel integrated advertising and an expansion of advertising on cell phones.

U-verse is being tested with AT&T users in San Antonio right now, with plans to offer it in 15 to 20 markets by the end of the year. It offers both Internet and video service that includes up to three digital receivers per home, as well as a DVR and on-demand service. The deal right now includes three months of free television through U-verse. They are also launching a voice over IP service, as UverseUsers wrote about last month. Plans are also being made to make service high-definition by the end of the month, according to MSNBC.

November 10, 2006

A Dream Come True? Wireless Technology for HD Among Future Plans

When I was trying to set up my bedroom and living room televisions when I moved back to Cambridge after a summer in Kentucky, I realized the difficulty of an increasing number of boxes surrounding the TV set.

In the living room, I was lucky enough to have an HD cable box that seconds as a DVR, so all I had to add was a DVD player to make that room complete, and the power strip and all the various cords (S-Video cord for the DVD player and an assortment of cords for the HD player, along with the power cords) fit behind the piece of furniture the TV is set on.

It was another story in the bedroom, where my entertainment center holds the television, cable box, a digital hard drive/DVD recorder, VCR, and another DVD player (I'm paranoid about my hard drive dying on me someday), plus the Playstation II. Point is, I had a pretty difficult time stuffing all the cords behind the entertainment center while still trying to push it against the wall.

And everyone knows what it's like to have a cable cord stretching across the floor that you are afraid you are going to trip over or try to hide with all your might. I have a feeling that there are plenty of readers who have been part of this particular scene when moving into an apartment or house sometime in their life.

That's why I was particularly intrigued by James Hibberd's TelevisionWeek piece about the WirelessHD Consortium, the group of six major electronics companies who are brainstorming with a wireless technology start-up about how to get rid of that "tangled mass of wires that lurk behind most HD displays."

Anytime TV junkies here the word "wireless," they get very excited. If I can someday dump the tub of excess wires I have under my bed in case something goes faulty into a recycle bin of some sort, I will be a happier man.

According to Hibberd, the technology would allow a cable box or DVD player to beam a high-def signal up to 32 feet. This would replace all the necessary HD cord hookups that are currently being used.

The technology would not be ready commercially until 2008 however.

According to Eric Bangeman, the plan is for new high-definition equipment to be compatible with the technology, while existing sets can work through adapters.

The WirelessHD Consortium Web site is available here.

November 8, 2006

New President of CBS Interactive Division Making the News

Does the hiring of a new president of what is now being called CBS interactive mean an even more aggressive charge into digital media for the major network?

News came out Monday that Quincy Smith has been named to lead a newly named interactive division, coming to the company from investment bank Allen & Co. James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek reports that Allen was a major dealmaker there, including transactions for Google, AOL, and Yahoo, and speculates "the hiring of Mr. Smith could signal more aggressive growth for the new media division."

Smith's job will be to oversee CBS innertube, the online platform for redistribution of CBS shows and original Internet-only programming, as well as the various CBS Web sites. His job will also be to oversee the general trajectory of CBS' digital efforts and to forge partnerships for the network in expanding this area.

CBS, of course, is confident that a dealbreaker for major companies is the way to go. Others are more critical. Take these comments from Mathew Ingram, for instance, who writes, "So CBS wants to find and buy the next YouTube before it gegts big. Gee, I wonder why no one else has thought of that? Way to go. And so they've hired a guy who at age 35 is described as a 'veteran' of the industry, and of the takeover game. Why--because he helped advise Viacom to buy Neopets? Wow."

While Ingram questions whether there is a longterm strategy at CBS Interactive, the recent interview with Ingram at paidContent emphasizes that Smith is trying to get his bearings in this new role and proceed strategically. Staci D. Kramer writes that he is "a man full of ideas and details but wary of sounding too glib or all-knowing."

The interview is worth looking at for the man who will help lead the immediate future of one of the major television forces in entering more aggressively in digital distribution and original online content.

November 4, 2006

Number of DVR Viewers Up, Amidst Continued Industry Debate

Lost Remote reported yesterday that the number of people who are watching shows through time-delay on DVRs continues to rise steadily, citing the Oct. 11 Lost episode in which 16 percent of the viewers in the target 18-49 demographic watched the show on delay within seven days after it aired. Considering that I now watch almost every one of my shows on DVR delay and that I personally know of other friends who have taken up this process in the past couple of weeks, I anecdotally agree that the use of DVRs for this purpose is steadily increasing. In fact, I watch almost nothing live these days.

Lost Remote says, "Naturally, broadcasters want to be compensated for time-shifted viewing, but media buyers are refusing to pay. After all, most people watching recorded shows are skipping commercials--some estimates have it as high as 75 percent." They predict that buyers will end up paying but at a much smaller rate.

Their blurb came from David Goetzl's piece on Media Daily news, covering ABC's high number of DVR users for its most popular shows.

Continue reading "Number of DVR Viewers Up, Amidst Continued Industry Debate" »

November 1, 2006

HotSoup/MSNBC: A Powerful Combination or Hype and Bluster?

MSNBC is hoping to garner stronger interest in discussion surrounding political issues, and subsequently stronger ratings for its political coverage, through its new partnership with the MSNBC site as well.

In addition, the two co-founders of HotSoup will appear weekly on Hardball with Chris Matthews and other MSNBC shows. The co-founders are Matthe Dowd who worked with the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign and former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart.

The popularity of HotSoup among politicians and celebrities in a short amount of time shows that it may have been the right product at the right time for politicians and the politically inclined in the public sphere to have a forum in which to communicate directly with concerned citizens dedicated particularly to issues of public policy. But is it more than just a marketing tool, or do these people actually engage with the site or only someone on their staff who is trying to give the appearance of their interest?

These are the types of questions raised in a savvy piece from William Beutler on Oct. 24, before HotSoup's deal was launched. He asks, "What to make of HotSoup, the no-partisan, non-ideological, mostly non-everything political discussion/debate site?" From his perspective, the site isn't amounting to much so far.

But what will the partnership with MSNBC mean for the site, if anything?

I guess we'll find out...

October 29, 2006

The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness

In a research group that consistently publishes on the ways in which new media technologies are impacting the way that users are interacting with content, the ways in which producers are making that content available, and the new financial models that companies are able to/forced to create to accommodate for these new technologies, few innovative products have had more of an impact on our society than the iPod.

The iPod innovated the music industry, distribution of music videos, the television industry, and now movies and casual games.

To commemorate this massive cultural reach, Newsweek journalist Steven Levy has published The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness.

I was impressed with the the book's design to look like a video iPod, as well as the fact that the book is written in shuffle mode, with the chapters being arranged in different order depending on which version you purchase. Gimmicky? Sure. But it's a pretty darn creative gimmick.

I haven't read the book yet, but I was impressed by the review by Clayton Collins with The Christian Science Monitor. Collins writes, "Both Apple and Jobs, Levy persuades, continue to emit brilliance, navigating the rocks of digital rights management, morphing the product, winning over fans from rock stars to college kids to preteen girls," and he further emphasizes that "his treatment of shuffle also highlights Levy's remarkable depth of access. Recounting one of many private encounters with unrelenting visionary Steve Jobs, Apple's chief, the author describes a heady chat about the "randomizing algorithm" of shuffle."

For anyone wanting a sample of some of Levy's insight, check out his blog on the iPod promoting the book here.

October 27, 2006

Number of Sets Growing Within HD Households, Average HD Household Income Rising

Interesting news regarding consumer behavior released this week, as the Leichtman Research Group examined the expansion of high-definition televisions not just across the total number of U.S. homes but rather WITHIN U.S. homes. The group found that getting an initial high-def. television set causes most families to want to buy another set.

The group's annual survey of 1,300 households found that 29 percent of HDTV owners said they are likely to purchase a second set in the next year and that 26 percent already have more than one HD set in their homes, both percentages up significantly from the survey the year before, when 11 percent owning two sets last year and 18 percent wanting to purchase another within the next year. In the percentages are any indication, it looks like the majority of the 18 percent of the country that wanted to buy a second set managed to in the past year (I know that isn't a statistically viable addition of percentages there, but I'm not a math major, so cut me some slack).

According to the survey, one of every six households in America now have an HD set, compared to one in every 14 households two years ago. And James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek points out that the average income of HD set owners has increased even as HDTV set costs have lowered. He included a quote from Leichtman which said that this particular finding is "counter to adoption trends that we usually think of. What I think we're seeing is a second wave of adoption. The first wave is about affordability and interest; the second becomes just about affordability." The average household income for HDTV owners is $89,500, 42 percent above the national average.

Chief Gizmateer with RealTechNews writes, "While nothing seems surprising or out of the ordinary in LRG's assessment of the HDTV space, one thing that surprised me is that only a third of those surveyed knew about Feb. 17, 2009, the federal deadline for TV stations to broadcast only digital signals. While HDTV's long-term sales are upbeating (about 20% of all households get a new TV set each year), that may not be fast enough to beat the federal deadline in 2009."

This continued growth in HD, especially among high-income households, have led to continued tensions among advertisers, content providers, and networks about how quickly to adapt programming for HD viewers.

October 25, 2006

'Swarm-Based' Collaborative Filmmaking

FresHDV had a report recently on the making of 'A Swarm of Angels', allegedly the first truly collaborative instance of indie filmmaking and online distribution using the Creative Commons copyright model, thus encouraging free download and fan 'remixes'.
The film's homepage features plenty of revolutionary rhetoric, from humbly calling this model of filmmaking "Cinema 2.0" to coining the "remixing cinema" slogan for the intended use of their product (which would, first and foremost, require an interesting film in the first place).
According to FresHDV, the film will loosely fit the thriller genre with a splash of Sci-Fi which is probably fitting for a first experiment in collaborative filmmaking. The production team expects to reduce the estimated costs of $3-4 million to roughly $1.75 million which is still an impressive budget for an amateur project. Their goal is to have ~50000 participants for the final film. Slashdot.org displays a healthy dose of scepticism, raising the question of whether the mode of production proposed by "A Swarm of Angels" will develop into a sustainable financial model, too. At least it is already one of the most formalized 'alternatives' to current Hollywood blockbusters and their relatively fixed value chains.
What interests me most about the project is the technological framework used to enable truly "collaborative" filmmaking at every stage. For instance, the script is supposedly created using a WIKI environment and creative & marketing issues are decided by voting which, at least from personal experience, can be useful but does not compensate for all the inherent difficulties of collaborative authoring. With regard to the research focus of my PhD thesis, I would be interested to find out whether the Swarm of Angels team will also be using collaborative media creation tools and which impact these tools might have on the creative outcome. In the case of music production, 'virtual studio' environments are already developed which allow geographically dispersed artists to collaboratively record and arrange music.
All due scepticism aside, it should be interesting to see if the final Swarm of Angels movie will also produce entirely new filmic syntagms and visual effects; after all, current movie or media production in general is already highly 'collaborative' with production units working at different locations and technologies like version management tools 'bridging the gaps'.

October 23, 2006

CBS Ramping Up News Search Features with Answer deal

In the continued race to develop stronger transmedia presence on the Web for news organizations, CBS has decided to ramp up the news value of its site by creating a more powerful search tool for network coverage.

According to announcement that came through earlier today, CBS News has entered into a partnership with the group known as Answers Corp., creators of AnswerTips, to create a search engine that will help users navigate the site. For CBS, they get a much more dynamic search engine than one would expect on a network news site. And, in return, they are providing big news to Answers.com.

Michele Grippi with TelevisionWeek writes, "When the user's Alt key is clicked on any word or phrase, an AnswerTips window opens offering everything on the subject from maps and historical background to definitions." These sites is the first time some of these devices are being used on a Web space, as they are often only available by downloading a program.

Answers also provided a brief press release on the development.

How important is search and navigation tools for a news Web site? From the point of users, these types of tools are essential, especially for Web 2.0. The question is how can these types of tools be best monetized, and how will companies incorporate them into an important part of the business model?

In the meantime, CBS' search to make their news content more easily navigated is a step in the right direction for a richer news-gathering experience.

October 21, 2006

Web 2.0

If you've noticed some technical issues here on the blog, it has to do with trying to navigate Web 2.0. When I originally registered the C3 blog with Technorati, I didn't really trace it on the blog-tracking site on a regular basis. However, when I looked at it a few days ago, I realized that whole months at a time had not been correctly indexed on the blog and that Technorati had therefore not acknowledged the majority of the writing that has been done here at C3.

All of this is related to an intriguing talk we had in one of my Harvard classes last Thursday by Kathleen Gilroy, the CEO of The Otter Group. The company produces e-learning programs and helps solve needs regarding electronic teaching and training methods.

Because I want our archives to be accessible to anyone researching particular issues in the blogosphere, I sought out information on how to get Technorati's "spiders" to index a blog's archive and found that the only way to do so was to temporarily pull down all the recent posts that had been blogged and then put up blogs that hadn't been correctly indexed on the main page. Then, when Technorati is pinged, it pulls down those old posts off the main page and puts them in Technorati's system.

Unfortunately, that meant that recent posts had to be temporarily pulled down and also that the RSS feeds sent out some false pings over the weekend, based on pieces that had been written some time back. The process isn't finished (halted, though, since Technorati is not currently acknowledging my pings, likely because I indexed so many posts on Friday). This may happen again at some point in the future, but I wanted to explain the recent problems.

Gilroy quoted Tim Berners-Lee as saying that Web 2.0 was finally starting to fulfill his vision. She said, "You are seeing a proliferation of content and a proliferation of means to access this content."

She said that she considers Web 2.0 a success because of the dramatic increases in people making content, with 50 million blogs now being estimated. Among the attributes empowering Web 2.0, according to Gilroy, is its low cost, its ease of use, its openness and its accessibility. Gilroy said she considers a Web presence essential now not just for corporations, but for individuals as well.

"I believe everybody needs an online presence, if you are going to be competitive in what you are doing," Gilroy said. She said that, to be competitive, most people today should have a profile on a social networking site, should maintain a blo and should also provide images and podcasts online.

The point of all this is not just to outline the problems we've had here on the site regarding C3 (and which we hope will end soon) but also to underline the importance of the Web 2.0 concept for the blogosphere and as an enabler of what we call "convergence culture." The importance of tools from YouTube to MySpace to Flickr to individual blogs in creating the tools necessary for massive user-generated content, in the real of entertainment and journalism and citizenship and in just person-to-person social relations, is changing the composition of our world in fundamental ways.

But Web 2.0 isn't always easy to manage (as I'm finding out), and it's important to realize the continued technical divide that exists for those who are not as adept at managing these tools or who don't have easy access to some of these tools.

October 20, 2006

Technological Convergence between In-Game Advertising and Military Games

In-game advertising is still a hotly debated topic, also on this blog with recent contributions on the psycho-environmental circumstances of being exposed to in-game ads and on the ideal duration of exposure. Drawing on my PhD thesis, I'm suggesting a complementary closer look at the enabling technologies of in-game advertising.

The US Army is currently one of the most successful brands tapping the potential of interactive media for advertising purposes. Other military formations like the Australian Airforce pursue relatively conventional strategies of game-based advertising, following the principles of viral marketing and offering free, redistributable Adobe Flash games; the British Royal Airforce followed suit, cooperating with a successful online marketing company which produced a 'remake' of the game classic Choplifter around the RAF brand.

A preliminary list of brands featured prominently in popular video games contains mostly lifestyle brands like mobile phones and soft drinks; thus, by entering in-game advertising at this stage, the US Army has the added benefit of positioning itself among mostly desirable household brands, stabilizing its intended 'image' as an integral part of society.

However, my main argument holds that in-game advertising and military simulation games not only share converging interests but also technologies.
Recently, DICE and EA were severely criticized for their modular piece of advertising software implemented into the upcoming Battlefield 2142, which allegedly was consistent with the definition of spyware. Most of the allegations, focusing on the game supposedly analyzing its users' online behavior, were apparently exaggerated although the software does use the player's IP address for providing regionally specific ads only.

Actually, the whole debate blanked out a really important aspect, namely the fact that the (proprietary?) in-game advertising code is also able to track the average duration of a player looking at a specific billboard texture. (link) Most game engines even provide built-in object-oriented functions allowing for each object or even vertex to check autonomously whether the center of its bounding box is currently being rendered in a given camera view.
According to the 'reverse engineering' of a player of the game SWAT4 using a packet dumper, this game even secretly transmits a session and gamer ID to Massive Inc., thus allowing for adequate view measuring even in multiplayer sessions.

Current military software like America's Army uses similar techniques to track player positions, e.g. in coordinated attack missions, which can e.g. be displayed as graphical patterns overlayed on the level map. These patterns can, for instance, automatically be tested for compliance with standard procedures from military textbooks. The same functionality, usually termed 'after-action review' (AAR), was ex-post implemented into the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game Operation Flashpoint which was then relabeled and used for training as Virtual Battlesystem 1 by the US Army. (link)

This type of convergence is enable first and foremost through increasingly compatible game engines used in military and commercial games. Massive Inc., for instance, provides a modular software package for developers to integrate into their engine that automatizes the dynamic updating of textures with the latest promotional material in the appropriate format etc.
Read against the aforementioned 'secret' functionality of its software, the tech documentation on the Massive homepage suggests a 'behind the scenes' look but in fact seems to take attention away from the really sensitive questions.

Inducing from these instances of convergence, it appears plausible to assume a symbiotic relationship between in-game advertising and military software technologies. For instance, taking up the movement tracking approach from the America's Army example, the Massive Inc. tools could be feasibly upgraded not only to preselect the type of product information shown on a billboard but also, for instance, to determine the optimal distribution of in-game billboards, branded vending machines, scattered advertising leaflets etc. according to an analysis of player movement in a given game environment.

October 17, 2006

New Partnership Offering Mobile Content on Sprint

A new partnership is making some buzz in the mobile platform as being a potential driving force for mobisodes. FremantleMedia, the production shop known for producing the long-popular beach drama Baywatch, as well as the reality show American Idol, entered into a deal that has launched partnering with a cell phone video aggregator.

The deal between FremantleMedia and Mobliss will be a mobile channel that is labeled Atomic Wedgie, including both repurposed content from the FremantleLibrary as well as the development of original programming and content from the company.

The service will be available to Sprint customers who will be offered the service for $4.95 per month, i guess.

The key demographic for this mobile content would be 18-to-34 male, and, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, titles for series include Baywatch Babes, Bush Bites, and Famous Farts in History.

The company converged in the past with some degree of success, introducing text-messaging for American Idol voting.

According to the summary by Jack Cook on the Mobility Site blog, "Atomic Wedgie will be available through a monthly subscription on Sprint, one of American's largest mobile broadband networks, and will debut in the U.S. with eight categories of short form comedy targeted at the 18-34 year old demographic."

This comes on the heels of an announcement last month about an expansion of Sprint's expansion of VOD services for mobile customers.

Sex Offenders and MySpace

The pervasive presence of News Corp.'s MySpace in the lives of Americans is growing all the time, and for the 20-somethings and teenagers who drive a lot of the subscription to this free social networking service, MySpace has helped transform the way people communicate with one another.

I've written in the past here about the social concerns surrounding MySpace, particularly when it comes to the safety of children. While social conservatives and censors always bring up concern about the welfare of children who might watch something (as with the recent Senate commission regarding screens), the same types of trends take place on MySpace.

And, although many of these act as masks to pass on greater concerns about unmanaged or unmonitored conversations online, leading to dangerous legislation,
there are also legitimate concerns about the safety of children on MySpace when it comes to online predators.

With that, the recent piece by Kevin Poulsen in Wired about his investigation of a convicted sexual offender toward children who was targeting children online through MySpace and his working with a police force to bust the child molester (for what turned out only to be a misdemeanor) provides a detailed account of some of the dangerous activities that can take place in an online space (or any other space for that matter).

The piece is worth looking at but still reminds me of the words of Henry Jenkins in reminding everyone that nothing physically dangeorus can happen on MySpace but only in the "real world," if these children happen to meet these adults in person.

Finding the right balance between minimal protection for minors and the ability of adults to express themselves free is always a challenge. It seems our goverment all-too-often relies on too many options of blanket censoring, but those of us who are skeptical of such "censoring" activities must also remain aware of the very real dangers that also exist out there instead of painting this picture in black-and-white.

Poulsen's essay and MySpace research are well worth a read.

Thanks to Joshua Green for passing this along.

October 14, 2006

Jeremy Dauber Feels Like He's Living in 2004: The Shift to Watching TV on DVD

The occasional commentaries in the Christian Science Monitor by Jeremy Dauber are an intelligent look at the cultural changes related to a shift in viewing from watching episodes on television to watching them on DVD. Dauber, who has long been viewing his favorite series as they air on television, writes about the growing confusion when people are chatting it up with him about new shows like Veronica Mars or what's happening in the latest episode from the third season of 24 or how good Arrested Development is. These are the people watching on DVD, and Dauber says that he now feels behind because he watches them when they air and can't remember some of the storylines people are referring to now that they are watching on DVD instead.

He says that he gets frustrated because he is "constantly trying to remember fuzzy details of jokes I heard one evening three seasons ago, not to mention the constant anxiety about spoiling a show's future developments for my friends. As a result, I'm in the conversations, but not of them; it's like I've got a bad case of jet lag - except that, ostensibly, they're the ones who are off cycle." Dauber points out that his cycle is still the one that guides the TV executives but that he is increasingly finding the shift going to DVD instead, meaning that the model will have to change.

Continue reading "Jeremy Dauber Feels Like He's Living in 2004: The Shift to Watching TV on DVD" »

October 13, 2006

HGTV Launching Two Limited-Run Web-Only Series

My wife is addicted to HGTV, I think, and the folks at the Home and Garden Television Network are more than happy to oblige with increased content, it seems. Starting this week, HGTV is going to launch its first two Web-only series, as part of its popular Web site HGTV Kitchen Design.

The two new shows are called 8 Fresh Ideas for Kitchen Backsplashes and Getting Started--10 Steps to a New Kitchen. Not surprisingly, the first series will take place over eight installments, the second in 10. The idea is to create content based on popular searches from the existing online audience, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, and to increase traffic through HGTV's kitchen remodeling Web site, which already features a wealth of video content that has been transformed from the television product.

According to Christian Lewis with Multichannel News, the Backsplashes Webisodes will feature "celebrity designer Scott Sicari," with hopes of bringing in Sicari fans as well, it seems. According to Shawn Zehnder Lea, the event comes just in time for "Kitchen and Bath Month" (for some reason my calendar just doesn't have that marked!)

The original press release is available here.

But, it seems that this is a fairly straightforward and effective way to create online content...a clearly numbered list that makes organic use of a short-run online series, focused on a very concentrated topic that is likely to have viewers coming back for more. Most types of entertainment aren't as cut-and-dried as DIY programs like these, but these types of Web-only content can be instructive by their form more than their content.

Games in British Education

A recent line of British research finds that video games may...gasp...be shocking educational tools. Guess the folks here at MIT's Education Arcade really AREN'T wasting their time after all, huh?

The story, written by Liz Lightfoot, that appeared in The London Telegraph back in May, and which was brought to my attention last week by Margaret Weigel here at the New Media Literacies program at MIT, said that the Department of Education's research into video games found them to be a "powerful learning tool." According to the statistics, one school saw a 94 percent success rate in students passing tests in what they consider "key skills" like information technology, English, and math--after implementing a game into the curriculum.

Compare this to the recent study commissioned by the U.S. Senate, in which the infamous senators Lieberman and Clinton proposed that we study the effects all screens are having on the mind of our children, of course supposing that those effects will be of the negative sort...(Guess they haven't read Everything Bad is Good for You...Then again, who am I kidding? To adapt a phrase of Jesse Ventura's, "Senators don't have time to read.")

The teachers and education officials quoted in the story are still taking a pretty cautious approach, not surprisingly. They say that games "can be very addictive, but, used sparingly as part of a lesson, games can be a useful tool." That was from Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College. It's hard to know if you have support when the people who are writing in the favor of including new media forms in education are that qualifying and apologetic. After all, we're talking about video games, not methamphetamine.

According to the story, an Electronic Arts survey found that about 3/5s of students and teachers alike thought that using games in the classroom was a good idea, although 70 percent of teachers were afraid that games would "lead to anti-social behaviour."

I know that education using games is not one of the C3 focuses in particular, but public perception of media forms is very much a C3 concern. And, while I wouldn't consider this a resounding vote of support in terms of accepting video games as an artistic and potentially beneficial media form, it has a better ring to it than the current media effects focus of our Senate.

October 8, 2006

ACC Select Brings Sports to Niche Audiences

This weekend, I was fortunate(?) enough to watch Bring It On Again, the followup to the popular cheerleading movie from earlier in the decade. The premise of the film was that a renegade group of cheerleaders begin supporting the sports that are not as popular on campus and that no one else is giving attention to, similar to some of those Spartan cheerleader skits from Saturday Night Live a few years ago.

And now there's a product doing something similar for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the college sports organization for schools along the Eastern coast. ACC Select, a new product being offered through Turner Broadcasting (one of our partners here in C3, for the sake of full disclosure), gives voice and public airing to several sports that are not covered elsewhere. Fans of men's and women's soccer, for instance, or field hockey, or volleyball, or wrestling, or track and field, or myriad other sports will be available through this venue.

As the idea of "broadcasting" is further eroded by the popularity of supplying niche programming, situations like this become more and more likely. While most schools with successful sports enterprises might only get basketball or football or perhaps baseball picked up by local affiliates or national cable sports channels, these online spaces become popular distribution mechanisms for other sports.

Does this, in itself, make these other sports more popular? No, but it makes being a fan or the parent or friend of a player a lot more convenient by providing fans a regular place to view their favorite sports and their favorite schools.

The catch phrase for the online network is, "Your sport. Your team. Your games that matter most to you." This idea of programming one's own sports network is particularly appealing to fans who like these types of games that are just all too often brushed over by the major networks.

ACC Select is a good example of the Long Tail theory and the ability of new technologies to meet niche needs that were simply not considered before.

October 7, 2006

Jellyfish an Interesting New Media Business Model

There are always interesting new Internet start-up businesses out there, and one of the latest that I've had brought to my attention is Jellyfish, whose tagline is "where stores compete to lower your price." The new online site, still in its beta form for now, gives cash back to users.

The premise is explained in Judy Newman's recent Wisconsin State Journal article about the Madison, Wisc. based business:

Jellyfish.com is an Internet comparison shopping service with a couple of new twists:

Stores whose products are shown on Jellyfish.com only pay a commission on the products that customers purchase.

The customers who buy the products get part of the commission.

Newman's story features a number of analysts discussing the possibilities of such a model, but they point out that the company--still in its beta form--will have its biggest hurdle to overcome in the fact that stores like Amazon simply provide a much greater range of products. Since Jellyfish has to reach a deal with every company directly, the amount of items available online remain fairly limited.

However, owners Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire seem more than confident in Newman's story, with McGuire saying, "We've really put the consumer in control. We're turning the tables on advertising and making it work for you, the end consumer."

The folks over at Blackfriars' Marketing write that "it's a complete rethinking of how advertising revenues should flow in an environment where attention is scarce instead of plentiful".

Doris Hajewkski with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that "Jellyfish's marketing efforts so far have involved word of mouth and publicity in the media. He doesn't plan to use traditional advertising to promote the site. Wiegland also is working on partnership programs with media Web sites."

And Tom Foremski with SiliconValleyWatcher writes that the busienss "addresses some aspects of the 'attention economy' that Steve Gillmor, Doc Searls, and others have been discussing." Foremski concludes that "this is a fascinating business model because it rewards customer loyalty plus the behavioral data collected could result in exposure to fewer, but highly targeted ads; and the customer shares in the sales commissions--that's a double value to users."

It's not yet going to be easy to predict whether Jellyfish will be a success, but it seems that they are asking the right sets of questions.

Thanks to Ellen Foley for passing information along regarding Jellyfish.com.

UHD Further Developing Its Brand

In his usual high-definition coverage that I've written about before, James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek wrote this week about the plan for Universal High-Definition, the UHD channel, to develop a brand of its own instead of just repurposing content from other sources within Universal.

The further cultivation of UHD branded content includes a stronger emphasis on movies and sports, which Hibberd considers "the two biggest drivers of HD viewership." Instead of using content from the Universal archives as its chief focus, the focus will go to more and more films, including the Back to the Future trilogy, among many other films.

The network originated as Bravo HD+ three years ago, then changing its name to UHD to promote various content from not only USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel. However, even as the company has developed a stronger emphasis on movies and sports to cultivate an image independent of other NBC Universal programming, it still will air the most popular television series from Universal networks, continuing "the current multimonth window between premieres and HD encores."

Phillip Swann with TV Predictions writes that "Universal HD, which is now available on satellite and some cable systems such as Comcast, has struggled to find its niche in the high-def world." There is some feeling that the rebranding will make a difference, especially as the novelty of HD starts to wear off as the product becomes expanded to casual television viewers and not just lead users.

The effort to rebrand high-definition channels is becoming more commonplace, as with Mark Cuban's HDNet continued development of original programming.

Fans are continuing to debate the meaning of the content on the HD channel, and some are hoping that WWE programming--with its high-rated shows on both USA and Sci Fi--will eventually land on the UHD channel, although WWE itself indicates it will be some time before that happens.

As for now, however, companies are realizing that it takes more than just having high-definition to create a sustained network.

October 4, 2006

Netflix Embraces the Wisdom of the Crowd

Netflix has announced a major new initiative to draw on the "wisdom of crowds," as James Surowiecki puts it, to help answer some of its marketing questions.

According to its site, "The Netflix Prize seeks to substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to love a movie based on their movie preferences. Improve it enough and you win a prize." The company is giving away $1 million, and has planned a $50,000 Progress Prize each year in addition to a grand prize for the research team that meets the criteria of the competition.

The company says that they will "provide you with a lot of anonymous rating data, and a prediction accuracy bar that is 10% better than what Cinematch can do on the same training data set...If you develop a system that we judge most beats that bar on the qualifying test we provide, you get serious money and bragging rights" but only if you share the method with Netflix and the world and explain why it works.

The company says, "We suspect the 10% improvement is pretty tough, but we also think there is a good chance it can be achieved. It may take months; it might take years...So if you know (or want to learn) something about machine learning and recommendations systems, give it a shot. We could really make it worth your while."

The blogosphere is already alive with commentary. Harry Chen, who thinks aloud, gives a fairly astute demonstration as to what other user attributes must be considered in Netflix's data to truly understand and be able to make better recommendations. Among these astute observations is a key one: "people share Netflix accounts." Chen writes of him and his wife, "It's inappropriate to consider our combined ratings as the ratings of a single person. Just because I like action movies and my wife likes comedies, one can't conclude with full confidence that we as a single Netflix account user like both action movies and comedies."

His suggestion reminds me of the problems Henry Jenkins said he had with Amazon's recommendations after he, his wife, and his son had used the site regularly, and after Henry had used the site to locate several books during various research projects that were outside of his realm of personal interest.

But researchers are cropping up and grouping together across the country to prepare for the event, including John Resig, who writes on his blog, "I don't think I could possibly be any more giddy about something, than how I am concerning The Netflix Prize." The amount of intellectual capital that the company may become privy to during this contest demonstrates the power of a collective intelligence, as Henry Jenkins writes about. And, with people saying things like, "First, I have to generate my test bed and get to work this is so cool. I don't know what it is with me and large, nicely formatted, datasets, but I don't think there's anything that can get me more excited," they've certainly hit a research nerve with a section of Internet users.

The discussion really got going after Monday's New York Times piece by Katie Hafner about the contest. According to the story, "Computer scientists say that after years of steady progress in this field, there has been a slowdown--which is what Netflix executives say prompted them to offer the problem to a wide audience for solution."

And now other industries are calling for a similar approach to these problems. Consider these comments from LibrarianInBlack: "Can you imagine what would happen if III or other ILS vendors conducted a similar contest? Make our relevancy ranking work better, please. Reduce the clunk and clutter in our code, please. Add RSS to our services, please. Make our products more usable and clearer, please."

Could Netflix cause a change in the way companies think about researching complex questions? Or could this be forgotten in a couple of months? We shall see...

Fox On Demand Service on MySpace

The Fox On Demand service is getting a major boost, per yesterday's announcement that Fox shows will start being streamed, supported by advertisements, through MySpace, marking perhaps the most active partnership between Fox's television side and the social networking site since the company purchased MySpace. The MySpace content, in addition to advertising during the content, is sponsored by Toyota and Burger King.

The announcement was that, in addition to streaming shows through the Web sites of local Fox affiliates, several shows will also be streamed on MySpace on a weekly basis. The beta version had seen Fox streaming programming through nine local affiliates, with the number now expanding two 24 affiliates which are participating in streaming.

The plan is to air a variety of the top Fox shows online, especially during this month, when the network's regular programming is being so regularly interrupted with baseball playoffs. By streaming shows through MySpace, Fox hopes to maintain viewer connections with these shows, so that the fan base won't lose interest during their hiatus form television.

The plan is to crawl information about how to view these streams online during baseball games for viewers who might be tuning in to see their favorite show, only to have no options to watch it. The shows that are being offered through this service are Bones, Justice, The Loop, Prison Break, Standoff, Talk Show with Spike Feresten, 'Til Death, and Vanished.

Previous episodes of these shows will be available, with plans to add new programs to the service in both October and November.

In order to view the content, you have to download the Fox Full Throttle video player, which claims to deliver HD quality programming. In the opinion of the folks at Lost Remote, "the move to keep viewers engaged during the confusing programming weeks of the MLB postseason is a smart idea. Now the next step is to produce new shows just for the Web."

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek provides a good analysis from the user's perspective as to how easy it is to find the Fox content on MySpace and what it's like to watch it online, particularly having trouble with making the player fullscreen. She concludes that, "Fox on Demand works surprisingly well, but could use a little polishing."

Fox has been greatly expanding its video presence online, complete with a campaign across multiple sites promoting the launch of several of its shows. Fox has has been moving aggressively into the online distribution space throughout the summer.

PureVideo Launches Beta Meta Video Search Engine

Yet another company is interested in helping increase the reach of search engines specially for Internet video, as PureVideo Networks announced at the beginning of this week that it was going to begin offering video search services.

While Google has been steadily increasing its video search capabilities and other search engines, such as Yahoo and AltaVista, have had search engines for a while now, the rush for more compelling and user-friendly ways to search videos continue.

With the PureVideo search, there is also an option to trace the most popular videos across all types of video sites, with 35 charts depicting sites such as YouTube and MySpace and what videos are being viewed most often.

The company's stated plan is to provide a balance between allowing viewers to search for something specific while also having the option to find out what is most popular on any given day.

Currently, this is just a beta version ,but it features a search at the top of the page with a variety of options, along with "Top 10" lists from YouTube and a variety of other top sites, including the company's own Stupid Videos. Categories of Top 10 lists from sites across the Web include "Music," "Sports," "Comedy," "Viral," "Entertainment," and "News."

The blogosphere is only beginning to respond to the new service as far as comments go. Daisy Whitney writes that she thinks the idea is great. "It has great potential to be a one-stop destination to sort through the Web video clutter." Certainly, it's Web video features provide more usability than the multi-purpose search sites that are most well known but surmises that the idea "has loads of potential but a long way to go," particularly because of the many different players required to watch video files on the Web and various experiences with having to register at sites after clicking the link from the search, or else running into content that has been pulled due to copyright issues.

Whitney's comments highlight the need for universality in watching web video, most highlighted form search engines, when every clip seems to require a different player.

September 30, 2006

What is High-Definition? Lawyers Want to Know.

The latest big buzz in many high-definition conversations is not about the latest programming to switch over to HDTV but about litigation, particularly the class-action lawsuit that has been filed by California attorney Philip Cohen, claiming he has been given poor picture quality by DirecTV that does not actually qualify as HD, making it false advertising.

The judge ruled against the possibility of arbitration in mid-September, launching a new phase of discussion among proponents of high-definition surrounding this two-year-old case. Cohen claims that the bandwidth for DirecTV's channels has become so crowded that it's compromised the quality of the signal.

The case brings to light the lack of clear and concise definitions of what is and what is not high-definition television. Cohen claims that HD is an advertisement for a level of picture quality that is not currently being delivered by the satellite company, but the signal is certainly better than standard definition television. The possibility of a trial gives some the hope of standardization for high-definition, with legal restrictions clearly defining what can and cannot be labeled as such.

Some degree of latitude exists for using phrases to advertise one's product that may have a bit of hyperbole, most cleverly mocked by Will Farrell's character in Elf, who stops by a New York City shop to buy his newfound girlfriend "the world's best cup of coffee," as the sign says, thinking it would be one of the best dates of her life. But is the claim of HD by DirecTV fraudulent?

James Hibberd provides an informative piece on the whole situation as part of his weekly coverage of issues surrounding high-definition television for TelevisionWeek. He includes interviews with experts on high-definition television, legal experts, and statements from a DirecTV representative.

September 28, 2006

David Betancourt's Feeling Old

When Paul Simon sings about what it feels like to get old in his 2000 song "Old," he's thinking about the battle when the young man finds himself not quite so young anymore. When I went to see Simon & Garfunkel in concert a couple of times during their last run, it was quite surreal to see these two men on stage, singing about "how terribly strange to be 70," a song written about observing two old men at a park bench written when they were in their 20s and now sung by two guys who are nearing the age of those old men they observed.

But David Betancourt, a columnist with the Washington Post, writes about his struggle with getting old in his column early this week. And Betancourt is only 26.

Betancourt examines some of the misconceptions of looking at a technologically savvy 20-something market, pointing out that every year of age seems divided these days by the technology that divides them. Considering the amount of technological innovation that comes through from one year to the next, Betancourt points out that the technological divide between himself and his two younger sisters is a growing chasm that he doesn't feel he can navigate.

Betancourt writes about his sister in college who his hooked to a BlackBerry and his younger sister, 12, who communicates most heavily through text messaging. Betancourt writes:

Ashley and Bianca would roll their eyes at me and laugh.

But that's okay because I know that someday soon, Dakota, my 4-year-old sister who has yet to discover technology but soon will, is going to make them feel as old as they're making me feel now.

The column is a clever and anecdotal report from Belancourt but indicative of the complicated demographic divides that exist in 20-somethings and complicates lumping these viewers together. The cultural and technological experience of consumers only a couple of years apart does become a significant divide considering the amount of new products or new services released from one year to the next, such as the casual adoption of the BlackBerry, the development of increasingly sophisticated cell phones, the video iPod, and the list goes on and on.

Thanks to Joshua Green for bringing the article to my attention.

September 27, 2006

NBC Launching Shows into Cablevision VOD

CBS isn't the only company continue to push its product aggressively in video-on-demand. Last week, I wrote about the deal struck between Comcast and CBS to offer a number of the network's top programs into the VOD space for free, with advertising support. Now, NBC has announced a further move into video-on-demand by working with Cablevision.

According to the announcement, which was released earlier today, Cablevision will add popular series like Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and The Office, as well as Friday Night Lights and Las Vegas starting next month, with each episode being available the day after they initially air on NBC and costing 95 cents per download. This is the fourth such VOD deal for NBC, as it has previous arrangements in place with DirecTV, Time Warner, and Comcast.

NBC also recently moved The Office further into the mobile platform with mobisodes distributed through i-Play, has debuted its own ad-supported in-house digital player to stream its shows online, had struck a deal with AOL to air the first episodes of some of its popular shows a week before they debuted on television, and, earlier this summer, previewed shows through Netflix.

As this brief rundown demonstrates, the show has made some major changes in the last few weeks alone.

September 23, 2006

MSN Video's Soapbox

Last week, MSN Video released a beta version of its own entry into being an outlet for user-generated video, a site that will be called Soapbox, made available as part of the video service.

I'll forgive the fact that they blatantly stole their name from Procter & Gamble's online message board where representatives from the show interact with soap opera fans. After all, mainstream media want to relegate soaps to the margins so often that they probably didn't even know.

But the company's hope is that the Soapbox site will provide significant competition from the popular services from YouTube, MySpace, and Google Video, among others. However, while the product will be available on both Windows and Macintosh computers, it is available particularly for Internet Explorer and Firefox. I don't know if that means that there could be significant complications for users with Safari, for instance, or other popular browsers.

The plan is to make any option, such as sharing the video, tracking the video, or embedding the video, available while still watching videos, in order to make Soapbox as user-friendly as possible. And the plan appears to be to allow for both advertising on Soapbox pages, ads that run before a video begins, and promotion of the Soapbox site on the MSN Video main page.

For at least half a year, the Soapbox site will only be available by invitation. There is a waiting list on the Web site that interested users can sign up for, if you want to be a Soapbox early adopter.

The question is whether it will prove significantly more useful than YouTube and MySpace's products. With the social networking uses of MySpace and the widespread popularity of YouTube by entering the space first, MSN Soapbox will have a lot of catching up to do. While it already has a trusted video site, user-generated video is a different beast, and the company better hope that the beta users find the unique features of this site to be impressive enough that they share it with plenty of people. Good word-of-mouth could make Soapbox a contender.

September 22, 2006

Adobe Flash enabling indie game development for WII

Gamespot had an article recently on the multimedia functionality of Nintendo's 'quasi-nextgen' console WII. While there are some interesting aspects, including the creation of customizable player avatars on the so-called MII channel (who is being paid for coming up with those names, anyway?) which can be shared with friends and imported into any game that supports the channel, one of the really remarkable facts IMO was buried in the middle of a paragraph at the end of the text.

Apparently, Nintendo intends to sell a proprietary version of the Opera browser (which is already being used on the DS) that allegedly will support Adobe Flash, the platform for most low-budget indie game design. A prominent indie game portal immediately announced that most webgames being archived there could probably be played with the WII controller soon and that amateur designers should begin to think about game controls "with the Wiimote in mind".
Since the Gamespot piece mentioned "Adobe Flash Animation", I would be cautious since it might be a conscious or technologically induced decision not to implement Flash Actionscript support in the Nintendo-Opera-Browser and focus on animation only to prevent rank growth of indie WII games that might poorly use and thus depreciate the new controller as a unique selling point. If not, however, this might be a clever step by Nintendo to tap the creative potential being exhibited at indie game portals already and define next-gen differently than in terms of polygons-per-second.

September 19, 2006

FOX Providing Shows for Multiple Web Sites

While NBC boldly promotes its new programs through avenues like Netflix and AOL Video and streams shows through its own site, CBS enters in deals with Comcast to air episodes for a month after their initial shows through VOD, and ABC provides many of its top episodes through its site and free iPod downloads, Fox is trying a pervasive multi-platform release campaign of its own to try and garner as many new viewers as they can for programs early in the season.

Just a few weeks ago, Fox tried an initial campaign like this, making the first three episodes of its popular show Prison Break, as well as the first three episodes of Vanished, available across several Web platforms.

Based on the initial success of that campaign, the network has now decided to extend this promotion to an extensive distribution campaign for the first episodes of new series Happy Hour, Justice, and 'Til Death. One episode of Justice will be provided and two episodes of the other two shows.

These will be made available through more than 40 different online platforms, including competitors like Google Video and Yahoo, as well as a variety of other episodes. Each episode will be provided without a fee and without commercials, posted the next morning after the show initially airs on broadcast and made available for the full week until the afternoon before the next episode is set to air, in the case of 'Til Death and Happy Hour.

I don't know what implications this has in the long-term or if this will become a prototype for permanent cross-platform content throughout seasons for Fox, but the impact this could have at the beginning of a season is important. When the new lineups come out and viewers are trying to decide what shows to start watching on a weekly basis, Fox has everything to gain by creating as many avenues as possible to hook viewers early, especially considering how quickly a show can be considered a failure these days.

The question is whether shows like Happy Hour or 'Til Death are strong enough to capture people's attention. Most people praised NBC's various promotions for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip because the show was perceived as being good enough to be worth the promotion, but we had readers on this site questioning whether CBS would have as much success with their initiatives to promote good shows because their new offerings aren't universally considered as strong as Studio 60.

In the meantime, though, if Fox believes whole-heartedly in these shows, they are smart to get as many people hooked as possible in the first few weeks to be able to sustain those viewers throughout the season, considering how important it is to be prioritized on viewers' weekly shows. (This is more the case with shows that have seriality than with episodes that are almost completely self-contained and which viewers can just watch casually from time-to-time).

CBS/Comcast Deal for Ad-Supported VOD Content

Last week, I wrote about my wife's anger at the Comcast VOD platform when she decided to check out an episode of CSI in high-definition for a fee and then was shocked to find regular clusters of 30-second spots, no different than if she watched the episode when it aired. I guess it is just the iTunes model that has caused everyone to expect that, if they are paying a subscription fee or a per-item fee for content on-demand, there shouldn't be any commercials involved.

On the other hand, I'm assuming that Comcast found some profit in the advertisement model with its on-demand because they announced last week, in a co-release with CBS, that they would begin offering CBS programs through VOD with advertising support but without a fee.

According to Thursday's announcement, CBS will make eight of its regular series available through free downloads. These include the three popular CSI shows, those pervasive crime investigation shows that act as a major packaged force when branching into new platforms as they did with iTunes this summer; the popular reality series Survivor and Big Brother; and drama series NCIS, Numb3rs, and Jericho.

The Comcast VOD episodes for CBS did cost $.99 an episode, only in markets served by affiliates owned directly by CBS , to avoid the continued problem that some affiliates have with losing revenue from VOD and other multi-platform sales.

CBS will sell the commercial spots for its VOD programming, which will be initially made available the day after a show airs and will remain online for the next four weeks.

This parallels announcements last week with ABC and NBC to provide many of its shows online for four weeks following initial broadcasts. The idea is that viewers who want to get caught back up or to time shift their viewing of primetime content can use these new platforms instead of just stopping their consumption of the show.

My prediction is that viewers will be fine with the commercials in this case, as long as there is not an additional purchasing fee for the VOD content. Otherwise, it's a win-win situation, giving more profit to content providers and more autonomy over when and how one views for consumers.

September 17, 2006

ABC/iTunes Giving a Million Free Downloads Away

In addition to ABC's announcement this past week that it will be streaming many of its top shows through its Web site for free, supported by advertising, the network also began a new promotion with Apple iTunes to help promote the season debuts of three of its top shows.

The company will be offering one million free downloads to interested iTunes consumers for the chance to download the season finales from last season of popular ABC shows Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, which are--not coincidentally--three of the seven shows chosen for the new service on their Web site as well.

Why is ABC eager to provide viewers the chance to see the season finale of these shows and also to provide them the chance to watch the last four episodes for free online throughout the coming season? Because not only are these three among ABC's most popular offerings, but they are also fairly complex narratives that require the viewer to follow several stories simultaneously. Providing viewers multiple avenues through which they can catch up on these shows helps ensure that viewers will not quit watching mid-season and just wait until the show is released on DVD because they now have several avenues through which they can get caught up and better understand the next episode.

Also, ABC not only airs each of these three shows, but Touchstone--another Disney company--produces all three.

The current download initiative, accessible through a "Million Hit Lowdown" button on the ABC main site, began on Thursday and will last until Oct. 4. Viewers, after clicking the link, are allowed to watch one of the three season finales for free and also are allowed to download recap programs for each of the three shows for free, in addition to one of the finales.

Each of the three shows will make their individual episodes available for download through iTunes throughout the coming season as well.

ABC Streaming Seven Shows Through Its Site

NBC wasn't the only network to announce an ambitious plan for streaming several of its shows for free viewing in the past week, as ABC has promoted an ambitious plan to ramp up its online offerings on its own site.

ABC will be making seven of its shows available by streaming them online through their site for free viewing, supported by advertisements. These episodes will be full length and will feature returning viewer favorites such as Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, as well as The Knights of Prosperity, The Nine, Six Degrees, and Ugly Betty.

Each of the shows will be made available the day after they air on television and will remain online for several weeks, with four episodes being provided at any one time for each of the shows. Some of the hour-long shows will also have half-hour recaps available for viewers who want to catch up but don't have time to watch the full program.

The service was put in place after ABC came to an agreement with its affiliates across the country on a profit structure that also rewards them for their content, allowing local affiliates to feature the ABC online video player on their Web sites and sell local ads for the content. The stations would be able to place local ads into the free content much as they would selling local ads for network programming through broadcasts.

One of the complications for every network is how to balance their relationship with affiliates when it comes to cross-platform content, and each network has been looking toward settling these sorts of issues, as CBS did over the summer.

The network has been moving toward this model for some time and experimented with offering some of its shows through its Web site over the summer. The network's streaming player even won an Interactive Television Emmy Award.

ABC now joins CBS and NBC in providing its own network player on its site, and Fox has plans to create an expansive online player that will compete more broadly with other video providers, by not just using the player to air Fox content.

September 16, 2006

NBC Streaming Ad-Supported Shows Through In-House Digital Player

Earlier this week, NBC released an announcement of an extensive plan to stream entire episodes of its shows on its own Web site for free, made possible through online advertising support for the video content.

The plan is for new fall prime-time shows to be made available through the NBC Universal Video Player, a revamped product that will make its relaunch on Oct. 1.

The new product will be one of many network-specific video products, similar to CBS' innertube, for instance, that opposes third-party models popularized through iTunes, AOL's video player, and myriad others by allowing viewers to access shows directly through the site of the content provider.

New dramas Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Kidnapped, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will each have its first eight episodes streamed online, while new situation comedies Twenty Good Years and 30 Rock will each have its first four episodes aired online.

NBC has been experimenting with several new distribution platforms to encourage interest in their new shows, such as their sneak previews made available through Netflix and the deal with AOL to provide the first episodes of both Studio 60 and Twenty Good Years a week before their broadcast debuts.

However, the digital streams are not the only major announcement from the Peacock Network, which also made plans to debut blogs from various creative powers on the network's shows, including writers, cast members, and producers. Every show on the air will have its own blog, with various powers from the show updating content.

Christopher Lisotta provides a comprehensive list of the blogs that will be available on the NBC site.

NBC's decision reflects the decision made by CBS and several other content providers, in they have their own in-house distribution system for online content, both of which are advertising supported, while they are also making content available through multiple other platforms. The question remains, though, with each network having their own site for content like this, whether it will be of ultimate benefit to customers. On the one hand, customers seem to enjoy a centralized location to find content on. However, streaming content through the site of the show is also of major convenience. That's why NBC's two-pronged approach makes a lot of sense, providing both services to customers simultaneously.

Apple Announces Wireless Service to View Downloaded Content on TV Sets

My last two posts have focused on the biggest content-related announcements from the major Apple news coming out of this week, first with the announcements of movies being available on iTunes and then with the announcement of upgrades on the amount of casual gaming content available for iPod users.

However, the announcement that came out of Tuesday's press conference that appears to have the Internet most abuzz is the public release of the new iTV product, Apple's new wireless product set for release sometime in early 2007 that will allow viewers to transfer television and film content from iTunes onto their television sets.

The product is set to cost $300 bucks. Mathew Honan and Peter Cohen over at Macworld provide an easy-to-read account of how the technology works, with iTV being a digital box for the television set that would stream content from the computer using a wireless network.

And, although some may consider the compliments directed toward Apple and Steve Jobs to border on hyperbole, Arik Hesseldahi from BusinessWeek provides a comprehensive account of what this means for transferring digital content to the television and both why Apple is leading this initiative and why it is a benefit to have a company like Apple leading the way, considering their phenomenal track record in this regard.

Hesseldahi writes, "Apple is certainly not the first to try to build a product that crosses the great consumer electronics divide between the TV and all that digital video and audio content taking up ever-larger sections of PC hard drives. Others have sought to cross it, most have failed. I don't expect the same from Apple." (Again, as with the last story, I promise the comma splices aren't mine, Dr. Schneider.)

Hesseldahi breaks down the reasons he thinks Apple's leadership is crucial, including the importance of ease-of-use, the key core attributes for Apple, and Apple's track record at garnering significant amounts of content for its services.

Perhaps even more illuminating, though, than Hesseldahi's shrewd analysis of the situation is the wide array of topics brought up in the comments section, including complaints about DRM and how they might affect the technology and questions about whether such a service will eventually replace cable television subscriptions, since shows could just be bought on a want-to-see basis offline and then streamed into the TV.

iPods Branch Further into Casual Gaming

Another aspect of the big new announcements made by Apple this week regarding new services for iPods is increased video gaming capabilities for the newest version of iPod players. While the iTunes movie service I wrote about yesterday is getting the majority of the attention, Apple's extension into the gaming platform will include some of the classic "old school" games, from the addictive Tetris to the arcade favorite Pac-Man to Texas Hold 'Em, all games that are often labeled "casual games," in that they are simple games intended for challenging play but not requiring immersion in a story world as most narrative-based games do.

Kris Graft with Next Generation writes that "the move makes a stronger emphasis at Apple on portable gaming, and highlights the widespread interest on the part of digital entertainment companies to jump into the casual gaming market." (If Dr. Schneider from my undergraduate English classes ever reads this, the comma splice is Kris', not mine. I swear.)

Although Tetris is not known as a particularly graphically complicated game, this newest round of tiles--which also includes Zuma--is among the more complicated casual games and indicates renewed interest in bringing a greater number of game titles to the iPod platform.

The games will be available through the iTunes store for a $4.99 fee per game.

While iTunes cultivated its music market slowly and then has aggressively pushed television content in the past year, the new split focus at adding film and more serious video games into the mix indicates a strong belief in the iPod and iTunes brands and technology for crossing these multiple media forms.

The company has indicated plans to continue increasing the game titles offered, especially after it tests the waters with this round of games.

The implications for cross-purposing content seems pretty obvious in this case, as it creates a new audience and a new platform for gaming, especially since these types of games seem perfect for the iPod platform, with their ease in playing on a smaller screen and with limited controller options.

But it has yet to be seen how branching into the gaming world could affect original gaming titles, etc., in that games could be designed that are uniquely configured to being played on an iPod. I'm interested in seeing if a market develops in that direction.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this story along.

September 15, 2006

New iPod Announcement--iPod Movies

Although it's no surprise that the online provider would be moving in that directons, iTunes announced earlier this week that they will now be offering full-length feature films for download through iTunes.

The move is a major driving force for allowing the legal download of films online, as well as for the video iPod, opening film content widely into two new platforms. Coupled with the new "Burn to DVD" service from CinemaNow and continued moves for HD DVD content, and films are reaching masses in new and exciting ways, with new platforms and business plans seeming to be available on a weekly basis.

Apple held a big conference for the media on Tuesday, announcing that films will be available for download at $14.99, but viewers will have an extra incentive to download them during their first week of availability, as new films will only cost $12.99 to download.

In addition to these new releases, films will also be available from the archives, including 75 titles from the Walt Disney Company's various studios. Films from the archives are set to cost $9.99 per download. Compared to the cost of films on DVD, the download prices are cheaper to help make up for the lack of authentic art and some other features of DVDs and are designed to seem comparable with the $1.99 per show and $.99 per song that is currently devised by iTunes.

The estimated download time with a high-speed Internet connections for iTunes films is about half an hour.

Of course, Apple is predicitng a rise in online film downloads similar to the success of television downloads over the past year, along with a corresponding promise of substantial new film content as the new services moves along.

September 14, 2006

CBS Hires Hartman as Wireless Hostess

One aspect of launching a new technology or product is to create a celebrity face that helps establish one's product. That's no surprise, as it's worked for many years in advertising, from radio spots to television ads to product placement with favorite characters and/or actors showing their support or affiinity for a particular brand or drink. I think back to the very earliest television and those episodes of Dragnet where we get to see shots of Sgt. Joe Friday enjoying his cigarettes and his portrayer, Jack Webb, telling viewers during sponsorship breaks how great Chesterfield Cigarettes really are. Or Molly Goldberg leaning out the window during commercial breaks of The Goldbergs to tell us about a great new product that she's found.

These types of very direct sponsorship were to promote products, but companies also use celebrity speakers to promote themselves, especially when launching into a new realm. For instance, I wrote about the importance of Mark Cuban landing a personality like Dan Rather for his HD channel earlier this summer. And now, CBS has landed Ashley Hartman in a role that is being labeled as a "wireless hostess."

According to the news from CBS, Hartman will be both the voice and the face of CBS' wireless products and will act as a direct guide for consumers. She will be used for all mobile content, including both appearing on users' mobile phones for alerts and video segments, as well as on the CBS Web site to aid consumers in purchasing content for their moble devices, including games and ringtones.

As Christopher Lisotta with TelevisionWeek points out, Hartman's claim to fame includes being a semifinalist on American Idol and landing a recurring role on The OC.

It's interesting that CBS chose a celebrity whose fame comes from two of their competitors to be their online hostess, but it will be interesting to see if giving a face to their product helps make viewers connect or feel more at home with mobile content.

For those interesting in the mobile space, do you think this type of host model could help drive more mainstream interest toward mobile content, or is this just a weak marketing idea and a waste of money for CBS?

September 12, 2006

TiVo to Release Hi-Def. Standalone DVR, Records Shows Simultaneously

TiVo made the news a few days ago with its partnership with CBS that resulted in the broadcast of sneak previews or whole episodes of various CBS episodes to TiVo subscribers a week in advance to help create advocates for the new shows before they ever hit broadcast.

Now, TiVo has once again made the news with its plan to offer a high-definition DVR. It's not a surprise that the company would relase a digital video recorder that could capture HD, particularly with all of the shows that are switching to high-def. broadcast and with the falling through of the company's HD box through DirecTV. What is a surprise is that no one knew when the announcement would come.

The product is set to come out by the end of the month at about $800, as part of a campaign to continue innovating the DVR market with various other devices, including time-shifting DVR services offered by cable operators and satellite companies themselves.

Aside from the obvious advantages to be able to record in DVR, the product will also allow users to record two programs while viewing a third, particularly helpful with multiple people in a household or on nights when multiple networks are airing top-grade content.

And, while it is innovating on the product end, TiVo keeps challenging what it views as copycat products intended to push the company out of the market in courts, such as its recent legal struggle with EchoStar's Dish Network.

For viewers, who are interested more in having innovative products than they are who provides them, TiVo will continue to woo people with offers like the new DVR. I know that, in the Ford household, Tuesday nights are already tense, with Nip/Tuck duking it out with ECW on Sci Fi (please, no fire from Sci Fi fans). Right now, without the funds for a second DVR, I'm making due with a VCR...but somehow I always end up with the show that gets recorded on VHS.

September 11, 2006

Sprint Begins PPV VOD Service for Mobile Phones

One major cross-platform development that I didn't mention last week was the announcement by Sprint of the formation of Sprint Movies, a service for its mobile users to purchase feature-length films through a "pay-per-view" on demand service.

The films will be available from Buena Vista, Lions Gate, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Universal Pictures, with a total of more than 45 titles, available at between $3.99 and $5.99 apiece. And, according to the press release, "Customers can view the movie for unlimited times within a set period, which varies between 24 hours and one week depending on the title. In addition, 24-hour titles include the option of purchasing up to two 24-hour viewing extensions at the rate of $.99."

The films must be watched while the user is in range of Sprint's network and is only available on phones that have the capabilities to show the films, and all of the films have been edited to meet TV-14 standards, one decision that is likely to cause an uproar with some film enthusiasts who won't be crazy about the TV-14 version of Scarface (one of the films available on Sprint's PPV system).

The press release also says, "Sprint Movies features many of the same conveniences as a DVD player. A movie can be seen in its entirety all at once, or it can be divided into chapters and watched over time. Customers can play, pause and skip forward or backward to different chapters. They can also resume a movie at the exact point where it was last shut down."

Sprint began the process of offering movies through mSpot Movies in December 2005, but the new Sprint Movies system differs in that it is VOD, while mSpot Movies is a subscription service with a fee of $6.95 a month and content that viewers can watch at any time for no additional fee.

The crossplatform potential of something like this is obvious, since films can now be redistributed via mobile phones through a VOD basis, but I am not yet quite sure how easily the content can be repurposed. In the coming months, we'll see the initial "gee whiz"-ness of the technology wear off and start to see how genuinely interested people are in watching content on their mobile phones, especially of feature length. What I predict will be found is an opportunity to begin teasing out what types of films people are willing to watch on their mobile phones and what types of content does not play well on the (really) small screen.

And, while cross-platform content is interesting, the technology also holds strong potential for transmedia storytelling, something that companies have not yet even scratched the surface of.

Thanks to fellow C3 analyst Geoffrey Long for passing this along.

September 10, 2006

Who Isn't Going to HD? 'Rasslin' in High-Def

The latest announcement of high-definition testing has come from World Wrestling Entertainment this week, as the wrestling company has started tests for high-definition content, according to a story on their site Friday.

Tonight is WWE's first test, recording a Smackdown house show (meaning an untelevised event) at the Mohegan Sun Arena) completely in HD. While the company has toyed with HD technology in the past, their plan is to record this event, which will not be televised, to see what aesthetic changes need to be made in the show before the conversion to high-definition is made.

The article gives a good idea of the various factors a company that does live entertainment events that are taped, as is the case with the WWE, must consider in making the conversion to HD. This includes hiring a makeup artist that will use airbrushing techniques rather than traditional makeup to better be captures in high-definition, changes in lighting, how the WWE's usual pyro will translate into high-definition sound and picture, and the necessary changes in audio when switching to 5.1 surround sound rather than the current system in standard distribution.

The WWE predicts "tens of millions of dollars of upgrades in equipment and a minimum of three years" to completely transfer their system to high-definition.

WWE Vice President of Event Technical Operations was quoted as saying, "We can provide HD content, [but] our broadcast partners have not migrated to a true HD platform as of yet. The first way our fans could see our content in HD [might be] through home video on DVDs."

The quote brings up an interesting point, that ties into the argument over Star Trek in HD. With other CW Network shows being available in HD, WWE's claim is that, if it does HD, it will benefit them more in the home video market because CW affiliates are not yet ready truly ready to handle HD content.

As WWE goes through this conversion process, though, it will be interesting to see what tests they make, as they have already promised to push the envelope and create HD filming techniques that will be emulated by others. Usual wrestling hyperbole, maybe, but WWE likes to be known as innovators, even if they remain a product marginalized by many who consider themselves "more mainstream."

New Technology Allows for Time-Sensitive VOD Ads

My wife and I have generally not purchased television content through our digital cable (except my subscription to WWE 24/7 On-Demand, of course), but Amanda decided last night to watch an episode of CSI for $1.50 while I was working on a project, since it's just the kind of show you can watch one episode of without having to have any context going in or any lingering questions coming back out.

But she was shocked when, a few minutes into the show, she hit the first round of commercials. For her, she felt that the $1.50 she had just paid should be enough to keep her from being subjected to advertisements. However, VOD full ads are becoming the norm, especially with technology introduced last week that allows advertisers to tweak the ads that are run with VOD content.

Paramount Pictures is the first to launch a trial of this ability, placing ads in MTV Networks' VOD programming in the Lawrence, Kansas, market through cable company Sunflower Broadband. The advertisements, to promote the Sept. 22 launch of Jackass Number Two, will be paired with content when the viewer requests the show rather than lined up months in advance, thanks to technology from Atlas on Demand and SeaChange.

What does this mean? It means that the advertisements can change depending on how close the movie is to release date or whether it has come out, and the ads can also be tweaked for content. The technology also allows Paramount to monitor how many people are watching the ads and whether the ads were skipped or fastforwarded.

The move is being declared as a breakthrough to convince advertisers to embrace VOD technology, since ad content is not locked in place for months at a time but rather can be adjusted accordingly at any time. This means that time-sensitive messages can be replaced and that companies that previously were not so keen in running VOD ads now not only have a mechanism to but also a potential measurement system to have instant feedback on how successful their ads are.

On the other hand, as VOD advertising grows, there are going to be people on the consumer end angry about paying a fee to watch a show and then having to endure advertisements as well. The eventual answer may be, if there is enough ad support, to do away with the subscription service, or to provide both, or to find ways to target ads to particular viewers now that ad content does not have to be statically set for months at a time with VOD shows.

September 8, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'Em...

CBS has made the first move of any network at providing content in a special deal just for TiVo service subscribers.

The broadcaster will be partnering with TiVo to make the premiere episode of new situation comedy The Class available to TiVo subscribers a week before it will air in the broadcast lineup. The show will be available next week to TiVo subscribers and will air on Monday, Sept. 18 as part of the launch of CBS's fall primetime lineup.

But, wait..that's not all. TiVo subscribers are also going to get the chance to watch sneak previews of the three new and heavily promoted CBS dramas, Jericho, Shark, and Smith.

And, as part of the partnership, TiVo will offer a one-click option for which subscribers will be able to record the premieres of all four of these series.

Great to see the networks' guns continue to go down against services like TiVo, as broadcasters and cable networks alike are embracing cross-platform distribution incrementally, anyway. Since the networks are beginning to realize they aren't going to be able to do anything to stop services like TiVo, the question is not how can we hold up timeshifting services in court but rather how can we best work with them and adapt to the continued changes in the industry.

This new move from CBS is along the lines of NBC's partnership with NetFlix to promote Kidnapped and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip over the past month.

The idea here is to make good content available ahead of time, so that the network can both embrace new platforms and show their innovativeness while also giving content to viewers ahead of time in hopes that the content is so good that these folks will act as grassroots advocates for the show's debut so that allowing a few people to watch the show early will actually lead to more viewers, not less, when the content is first broadcast.

September 7, 2006

Google News Archive Promising

Google is expanding their reach on a weekly basis these days, and the innovations just keep coming. While they are further developing their video features and even doing a little research about social interactive television models, the network is also providing yet another important facet of searching for its users: news archives.

According to yesterday's New York Times article by John Markoff, the Google News Archive Search will allow users to search newspaper archives for content dating back up to 200 years. The archives will be available not only in general searches but also on a new archives search page.

Journalism industry leaders such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times are providing content, and Google has independently indexed content from each paper for the search. The content is already available online but had not been accessible through search engines, which is changing with the new archives search deal. According to The Times article, newspapers had been pressing Google to make their content avaiable for searches for some time.

Some of the content will be avaiable for free, while others will require a subscription--through the research company managing the archive, not Google--to see the articles in full. Time has its whole archive, dating back to 1923, available for free, supported by advertising, for instance.

There was even discussion in the article of making video content available as well, from the broadcast networks' archives, which are also being explored as transmedia content through network Web sites.

For journalists, students, reserachers, and citizens in general, having the ability to draw upon these resources is an incredible benefit, especially with the ease that Google will allow the content to be navigated. And with some companies providing their content for free, there now exists a great public database that makes researching topics even easier, especially now that trusted journalistic sources are available.

For those teachers and librarians who say that you can't trust the Internet because there's no reliable name involved with their research, for those that distrust the communal editing of Wikipedia, these digital archives provide a space for trusted news content that may provide a powerful new resource for public schools, college students, historians, and anyone just interested in educating themselves on something.

Star Trek Not in HD After All: HD Growing Pains

As a follow-up to the post I wrote last week, James Hibberd has written an update. It appears that, despite the fact that Star Trek episodes from the original 1960s series have ben digitally remastered, fans who watch the shows in syndication will be watching the same Star Trek as always, as the high-definition facelift will not be translating into high-definition distribution through the stations who have purchased the episodes for syndication.

As Hibberd writes, everyone is "pointing fingers in different directions" as to how this content won't be reaching viewers in HD. CBS Paramount blames the station for not having high-definition capabilities, while the stations are blaming Paramount's content relay service for the problems. Further, CBS Paramount says that stations do not have the handling capacity for airing their shows in high-definition and generally just broadcast them becuase they don't have room for storage, but Hibberd points out that, with the revamped HD look of game shows like Jeapordy and Wheel of Fortune set to go live, these arguments are a little dubious.

Hibberd writes, "The confusion puts a spotlight on stumbling blocks for television executives tasked with delivering shows in high definition. As distributors, networks and station groups race to meet consumer demand for HD content, they're discovering unanticipated problems that are complicating the spread of the super-crisp format."

I'm taking a course at MIT now called Media in Transition, and research always finds that some of the most compelling arguments and the most revealing discussions come at a time when technological changes sweep through the industry or, more precisely, when executives are trying to figure out how to best utilize a new technology. And high-definition is bringing out some of these arguments. The new technology may provide better picture quality than ever before, but no industry transition is an easy one, this one included.

So, for the time being, high-definition is going to lead to arguemnts over which DVD format to use, the place of 3-D technology, and issues of syndicated series like these.

September 4, 2006

Wikis Providing Greater Potential for Collective Intelligence

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about wikis and the way that they are driving new Web-based company models, with the sites acting as facilitators for communally authored pages.

The article, by Robert Levine, focuses on popular wiki-based sites that allow users to supply the content, with some minimal guidance from a facilitator. The thought is that these pages could be advertising-supported, with users generating the lion's share of the content. But, as Levine points out, these sites have to start posting the types of numbers needed to get advertisers seriously interested, must prove that their impressions are viable, and must monitor for content that advertisers would approve being associated with, since wikis without guidance can often lead to a few vulgar or "objectionable" additions along the way.

One of my favorite quotes came from Wetpaint's CEO Ben Elowitz, who said about his start-your-own-wiki site, "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and this is about the other 999,000 books in the library."

What does that mean for transmedia? Well, I think it's fairly easy to see how extensive of an interest fan communities have in Wikipedia, in having the chance to communally define the history or mythology of their favorite shows, films, books, magazines, news organizations, etc. We have written and mused plenty in the past about the importance of a collective intelligence at being much more accurate than a set of experts, particularly in the journalism field, as Dan Gillmor has written about in We the Media. And, while Stephen Colbert's objections to Wikipedia are noted, that social agreement cannot replace the truth, this version of the truth is much more accurate than the truth from one set of experts.

For businesses that are interested in capitalizing the power of wikis and avoiding the problems discussed in the Times article, it seems smart to make very concentrated wikis, for instance a site covering a particular genre or even a specific show that has a wiki dedicated to the history and characters of that show, film, publication, etc. This way, the power of the wiki will draw in the fan community while also presented a concentrated enough of a market for advertisers to focus on, thus making it a more viable business model.

And, no doubt a well-developed wiki site going in-depth on the mythology of a particular story world would be much more valuable to the fan community than the more generalized Wikipedia, which does operate as an encyclopedia. We'll see if fan sites and even official sites will be willing to start incorporate wikis more and more as they help facilitate and encourage user-generated content.

Thanks to C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio for passing this article along to me.

August 31, 2006

Original Star Trek in HD

Earlier today, I posted about the drive to release content from the film archives on high-definition DVD. However, most of my recent focus on HD has been on the development of high-definition content for broadcast television. A few days ago, I linked to a chart that outlined how much primetime content the six broadcast networks are offering in high-definition.

But, one should remember that the transition to hi-def. is not only taking place in content for the future, although it will be best exploited in content produced specifically for HD. There is also a drive to remaster content from the archive to make it high-definition friendly.

Enter the new editions of the original Star Trek series. The cult classic, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as the incomparable Capt. Kirk and Spock (Mister, not Doctor, as Steve so astutely pointed out), is going to receive dramatic alteration, with the 40-year-old content being re-released in syndication.

The new epsodes will feature new music and special effects, including the move to high-definition format.

The plan is to make all of the 79 episodes from the original series available in syndication on stations across the country. Initially, the episodes chosen to be remastered are listed as "fan favorites."

For everyone collecting television on DVD, will there soon be a new round of almost everything, digitally remastered? But what good would a digitally remastered Honeymooners or I Love Lucy be, aesthetically speaking? Maybe, with shows that rely fairly heavily on the visual, and especially with special effects, high-definition remastering seems to make sense.

The question is what would make viewers who already own a television series willing to purchase it again and in what shows it would be worth investing that much new capital.

It will be interesting to see if other television series are going to follow Star Trek in this remastering process--and particularly how soon this process begins to become more prevalent.

20th Century Fox to Release Films in Blu-ray

Several recent posts have been dedicated to the drive to move television to high-definition quality. What we haven't focused on that much is the current competition to put new release and classic films out in high-definition format as well.

Currently, there are two competing formats in the high-definition DVD market--the Blu-ray Disc format and the HD format, both of which use high-definition technology. As with the large number of competing models for online digital distribution, there is a current war between these competing models, with one likely to become the industry standard at some point in the future.

This isn't new in television, and especially not for technology in general. In television's earliest days, when the drive was to make the picture color instead of black-and-white, companies presented various forms of colorization. The color format that eventually won out was the one that could work with the same technology used for the black-and-white format, with thought of keeping cost minimized for the user most prevalent.

In this case, high-definition is a completely new technology, and many people are not wanting to jump into either format at this point, in fear that they will amass an impressive video archive, only for it to become as obsolete as the laser disc.

With that background in mind, the biggest news this week in the world of high-definition film distribution is that 20th Century Fox has signed a deal to release several of its upcoming films on Blu-ra, starting in November.

Among the titles planned for the initial release on Nov. 14 are recent films like The Omen: 666 and various films from the archive, including Speed from the mid-1990s and films released in the last couple of years, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Fantastic Four.

The next week features the first time a Blu-ray title will be released the same day as the standard DVD format, as the new animated feature Ice Age: The Meltdown, will be released on both formats simultaneously on Nov. 21.

Planned for the end of the month and the beginning of December are 1990s masterpiece The Usual Suspects and the cultural classic Rocky.

August 30, 2006

Lycos Partners with Blinkx for Video Searching

With video content becoming more prevalent and searched for, particularly with the continued penetration of broadband Internet access, search engines are in the process of trying to best facilitate video searching.

Yahoo has been a primary video search site, along with AltaVista and others. However, Google has been making major in-roads in providing video search services. Now, Lycos is trying to play catchup, utilizing Blinkx technology in the video search capabilities of the site.

According to the company's official announcement, they will be sharing all profit the video search generates with Blinkx as well. With the continued growth in importance of YouTube and other video sharing sites, the importance of providing compelling and easy search results rests increasingly on access to video content as well.

Again, it's important to realize how quickly technology is changing the way people use the Internet. When you had dial-up (and remember there are still plenty of people who can't have easy access to anything else), video downloads were really not a viable option, unless it was something you really want to see.

Now people are watching and sharing video clips, purchasing whole television shows and films online for download, and getting video hits galore (almost surely driven by the innovation and massive abundance of pornography video clips available online). But, even if porn is the innovator, it has led to the prevalence of video podcasts and even Web-only television shows and user-generated content at a continually increasing rate.

The drive to video is redefining what people want to see online, and everyone--from search engines to service providers--are trying to figure out what to do to accomodate it/profit from it. And, as broadband becomes even more prevalent over the next decade, these shifts are going to become even more pronounced.

The announcement by Lycos and Blinkx may be only a small symptom of this great change, but it's indicative of the changes that are empowering multi-platform distribution and a drive for the current convegence culture we are entering into.

Strange Alliance Potentially Affecting Online Video Distribution

Some potentially big news for the digital video platfrom was announced this week, especially for those interested in the increasing number of companies interested in jumping aboard the profitable distribution form after Apple has had considerable success with distributing video through its iTunes service.

As we've written about continually for the past couple of months, the number of companies launching into the digital video space is astounding. From Amazon to AOL Video to 20th Century Fox, as well as MSN Video and YouTube's video capabilities, the market is proving able to sustain several business models at this point, with some rolling out ad-supported content, while others are offering pay-for-download services. Some services--like CBS' innertube and TNT's DramaVision--are providing content for particular networks.

Google has been another major name in the video distribution competition, and the well-known Internet company is poised to have pervasive reach in creating new and innovative ways to distribute and market video content.

But this week's news is that Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt will be the newest member on Apple's Board of Directors, making an interesting link between two of the biggest companies in the online video distribution competition.

Does this really amount to anything substantial, as far as altering the race to downloading? Not at this point, but the link between Apple and Google could make for an interesting atmosphere as competition heats up when all these services are up and running full-force.

August 29, 2006

Roulette Games on Japanese ATMs

I don't know if this is an example of convergence culture per say, but this story that popped on Reuters really caught my eye, and I couldn't help but relay it to the way that media and entertainment creeps into the strangest places, this time games.

According to the story, there is a Japanese bank hoping to attract customers to ATM machines using a gimmick I've never heard of before: allowing a post-transaction chance at roulette.

The automatic teller machines for Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank will allow customers one spin of the roulette wheel after finishing their banking business, with the chance to win 1,000 yen, which is equivalent to $8.50, according to the Reuters story.

I wasn't aware of this, but the story claims that ATMs have not caught on well in Japan because of poor service from most banks, so the game is a hope to attract current customers to use the ATM machine, with the incentive being a slight chance of winning a little extra money for their transaction.

The new initiative, however, isn't the first, as the company launched an on-screen slot machine game on its ATMs a year ago.

I don't know if this particular form of gaming, as limited and arbitrary as it is, will gain a lot of insight, but it is proof that sometimes media pops up in places you would never expect (and gambling is probably one of the most pervasive media forms of all).

August 28, 2006

FOX Sports Developing New 3D Technology?

According to a story that originated in the New York Post recently, the Fox Sports Channel is returning to examining a long-researched television format: three-dimensional TV. While the drive to high-definition continues, as I wrote about on Saturday, this cable network is, according to the story, in the process of developing a 3-D technology that does not require viewers to wear the goofy-looking glasses that I had to wear when my wife and I went to see Spy Kids 3D in the theaters a few years ago. (Yes, we were college kids watching a movie with a bunch of 9-year-olds, and I still contest that the moment in which George Clooney morphed into Sylvester Stallone is one of the scariest moments in cinematic history).

The chairman of the company was quoted as saying that it will happen "in the next 10 years" and that it will "be as big as color."

James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek reports on various other 3-D developments, particularly in the video game industry and with cellular phone screens, that make such technology discussions more possible, and he points out the South Korean government's drive for "3-D Vision 2010," to develop 3-D as a worldwide standard by 2010.

FOX Sports feels that 3-D will be especially valuable to sports broadcasts, and I would agree that the 3-D format could transform the way the game is displayed and understood. But, considering how little we really understand 3-D since we've never seen great examples of it other than things you have to wear the glasses for, it's hard to know what this might mean.

Does this mean that all the research into HD will eventually be for naught, if 3-D presentation eventually becomes the norm? These are the types of questions William Uricchio, one of the directors of our programs here at CMS, likes to mull over. FOX Sports claims that it's not being nearly as aggressive in HD research because its 3-D research will supersede that. We'll find out soon enough, I guess.

August 26, 2006

Percentage of Fall Lineups in HD

For those (rather large class) of lead users who have already invested in high-definition television, TelevisionWeek has provided a useful chart that examines the degree to which each of the six broadcast networks have invested in HD technology for the upcoming fall lineup.

The chart provided is well worth a look, breaking down how many primetime hours will be airing in high-definition and what percentage of hours it is for the network. Percentage-wise, the lead is MyNetworkTV. As we've written before, the network's 12 hours of original programming a week (comprised of two telenovela series that air nightly) will all air in high-definition, making it a clear lead with 100 percent HD programming. And, since the network has no daytime programming, it is clearly in the lead compared to other stations.

Of the remaining networks, CBS and NBC are tied for the most hours of HD programming, with both networks offering 18 of their 22 hours of primetime programming in high definition. ABC, which also offers 22 hours of primetime programming, has 16 hours in high-definition.

In fifth place is the CW Network, which is only now in the process of transferring to high-definition. According to the chart, 8 of its 13 primetime hours will be in high-definition. Finally, FOX will be making 8.5 of its 15 hours of primetime programming available in high definition, a number that was brought down significantly because of the network's primetime animation offerings on Sunday night that will be airing in standard definition.

August 24, 2006

AOL Video Adds Significant New Content to Service

AOL Video is continuing to bolster its distribution efforts, as the company becomes increasingly competitive with other major digital video distributors. With Amazon's video service set to debut before the end of the month, FOX entering the competition, MSN Video offering interesting content, Google Video gaining some steam with its deal with MTV Networks, iTunes' continued powerful reach, and network-specific distribution channels--like CBS' innertube and TNT DramaVision, the market is becoming crowded.

It's like the European imperialist race to establish the "New World," as each distribution company is looking to corner as much of the market as possible. We've written previously about AOL IN2TV's launch of a significant amount of Hispanic content, as well as the new PGP Classic Soaps Channel on AOL Video. Now, a deal has been struck with several major content providers for AOL, including Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and 20th Century FOX.

The deal includes old situaton comedies and dramas that will be distributed free with commercials embedded, as well as programs to be downloaded-for-pay, such as FOX action series Prison Break and 24.

The move makes AOL an increasingly viable competitor, as they are experimenting with simultaneous ad-supported and pay-per-download services. As AOL eases more and more from its service provider role into this content provider role, its video platform could be a vital piece in the company's sustained brand identity over the next decade, and they continue to strike major deals to gain sigificant content for the site's video distribution.

CBS innertube Expanding Content

CBS's innertube service is gaining some steam, after an announcement of several series that will be debuting their first four episodes of the season on the online video streaming platform. According to the new deals, each of these epsides will be available for a week following their broadcast on television, meaning that viewers will have the chance to watch it on innertube if they missed the show during the week before the next episode airs.

The deal is with 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Television, focusing on shows they are airing in the fall lineup on CBS. 20th Century Fox will be making the first four episodes of returning situation comedy How I Met Your Mother, returning drama The Unit and new law drama Shark available through innertube. Warner Brothers will be putting returning situation comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine up for streaming, as well as new comedy The Class and action series Smith.

Survivor and the new series Jericho will be making every episode available throug innertube after initial season, leaving these episodes up throughout the season, so that viewers can catch up on what they missed and still get involved with current episodes airing on CBS mid-season.

Several CBS series are already going to be made available, in this case with every episode throughout the season being available for four weeks after their initial CBS broadcast. All of the crime investigation shows--CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, NCIS, and Numb3rs--have this distribution deal.

The move will be used as a marketing maneuver, and all will be streamed for free as part of a promotion for each show to gain and retain viewers.

I've also written about CBS' digital distribution of the online reality show InTurn, which focuses on actors vying for the chance for a role on daytime soap opera As the World Turns.

These deals are further proof that many networks are working on solidifying their own broadband distribution platforms, as with the TNT DramaVision initiative I wrote about recently.

August 21, 2006

Convergence Culture and Politics

New Republic Senior Editor Ryan Lizza had an interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times about the impact video sharing site YouTube is having on primary elections and this November's general election as well.

One of the most publicized senatorial races in recent memory, especially a primary race, was the recent Connecticut Democrat primary in which political newcomer Ned Lamont defeated established incumbent Joe Lieberman, former vice-presidential candidate and scourge of the American Congress. In the interest of fairness, I should mention that my long-term beef with Joe Lieberman comes from his many censorship activities, in which he and other Democrats concerned with media representation and protecting children have formed alliances with social conservatives to try and enter in agreements that pressure advertisers and networks to drop programs that they have contention with, such as the Parents Television Council.

Lieberman, who already had a significant amount of Internet energy against him, was further hurt by Lamont's active presence on the Web. The new candidate hired a staff member to coordinate and work with bloggers and podcasters to create even more positive energy behind the Lamont campaign, and it aided in making him one of the most known candidates in the country. Of course, his appearance on The Colbert Report didn't hurt, nor did the movements of groups like MoveOn.org.

Then, Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen became involved in one of the most talked-about clips on YouTube, calling a college student of Indian ethnicity a "macaca," which is a racial slur. While many present may have not known what the term means, those on the Internet did, and members of the opposing campaign--of which the student volunteer worked for--taped and distributed his remarks on YouTube. The political footage ended up being the most popular content on the site.

Sen. Lieberman is going to attempt making up his loss running as an independent in November, while Sen. Allen will likely regain his seat despite the comments getting such widespread coverage. However, Lizza makes an important point: "The experience serves as a warning to politicians: Beware, the next stupid thing you say may be on YouTube." Lizza goes on to claim that "YouTube may be changing the political process in more profound ways, for good and perhaps not for the better, according to strategists in both parties."

Lizza says that we should look at campaign coverage as like reality television, positive in the fact that it provides continuous coverage but negative in that it might create an artificial bubble around politics and politicians in which the candidates are always posing for cameras.

In short, we know that convergence culture is fundamentally changing the media industry, but might it also be making substantial alterations to how we will operate as citizens? YouTube may be the most vibrant place to look for some indication of how citizenship and the responsibility of knowledge of current events that citizenship implies. Lizza's piece is definitely worth a look for those who haven't already seen it.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for bringing the article to my attention.

August 19, 2006

EchoStar/TiVo Battle in Court

The battle over DVR services continues, as EchoStar and TiVo remain battling in court over the satelitte company's providing DVRs for its Dish Network customers. TiVo, the company that created the DVR craze, is trying to keep its corner on the market as many service providers are beginning to offer the services themselves.

Most controversial of all is the Cablevision plan to offer DVR services on their own server instead of a physical box to be located in the subscriber's home, raising all sorts of other complicated questions about who owns the right for this digital property and where that digital property should be stored. Back in June, I wrote about the Cablevision issue and how complicated these DVR wars have become.

The judge issued yesterday in the DVR case between TiVo and EchoStar that Dish Network could continue offering DVRs for rent to its clients while the trial continues on, although a lower court has already ruled in favor of TiVo, awarding the company damages and forcing the Dish-sponsored DVR off the market for Dish subscribers. The original district judge's decision would see the DVR service shutdown and $89.6 million in damages to be paid to TiVo.

Almost one-third of Dish Network's users have DVRs.

The question at this point is not whether consumers should have DVR services in their hand but rather who has the right to issue them and where that property can rest. The decisions made in this battle over the next year will help shape the industry for the decades to come.

August 15, 2006

Weeds Season Two Premiere on MSN Video

My wife just got finished watching the first seasons of Weeds, the successful Showtime sitcom starring Mary Louise Parker, and has now been converted as one of the show's many fans. One of the reason the program has gained so much mmentum entering into its second season is the grasp Showtime and the show's producers seem to have on cross-platform distribution.

News broke earlier today that the premiere episode of Weeds' second season will be made available through MSN Video for a full week after its initial airing on Showtime. According toDaisy Whitney with Television Week, the acquisition of the premiere episode of the popular series' new season is one of many bolstering tactics that MSN Video has engaged in over the past couple of months, including obtaining rights for all 53 episodes of the series-run of Arrested Development, the critically acclaimed FOX show that was cancelled last season. And the video distribution platform has also been streaming a full episode of CBS each week this summer.

With all the talk of Amazon launching its digital video distribution system, Google expanding its video services, FOX developing their new distribution system, AOL Video launching their system, all competing with the kingpin of video downloads in iTunes and the various network-specific distribution platforms that are croppoing up (such as TNT DramaVision), the options for distributing shows in the digital streaming and digital download medium is expanding on what is starting to feel like a daily basis.

For content providers, the possibilities are endless, and the network has every reason to make its show available to consumers in as many ways as possible. Of course, companies providing the downloading and streaming services have everything to gain from exclusivity contracts, which are fine in cases where they are readily available to all consumers but become a problem when they become gated under subscription fees, effectively blocking fans from consuming a product in digital form.

This current competition, though, seems to make everyone a winner, if the market is big enough to support this many distributors.

And this isn't the first time I've written about Weeds this summer. The Showtime program also garnered attention for its success on iTunes, followed by strong numbers in DVD sales. Some people had been skeptical about whether the show would do as well on DVD after so many people had downloaded it.

The VCR Still Causing Controversy, Two Decades Later

The continued arguments surrounding the Nielsen ratings raged on into this week, with the new focus being on whether VCR recordings should count in viewer measurements for the new commercial ratings that will be released for the upcoming fall season.

While last week's debate centered on the company's announcement of partnering with Insight Communications to measure Video-on-Demand viewership patterns, the commercial ratings have returned this week, as companies argue over the measurement system that will help further set advertising rates.

Advertising agencies are claiming that programming recorded onto a VHS tape should not count in commercial ratings averages for the coming season since VCR viewing is not measured, only recording. And, since many people never watch programming recorded on a VCR or often record three or four shows they do not intend on watching in order to also record a show they DO want to watch, the numbers do not reflect viewership. And, of those viewers who do watch the material they record, it doesn't take a social scientist to guest the viewer behavior here--those commercials are going to be fast-forwarded through.

The ad agencies have continued concerns about the way the measurement system will work and have even called for the monitoring system used to help compile the commercial ratings data to be accredited from the Media Research Council. For instance, a few weeks ago, I wrote about Magna Global calling for significant changes in the ratings, including working toward a second-by-second ratings system, calling for more detailed measurements of DVR viewers, and asking for changes in the way commercial minutes are measured, since the ratings will count any minute that has commercial content in it as a commercial minute, even if the majority of that minute contains programming instead of a commercial. According to the statistics used by Magna Global, a third of programs recorded on a VCR are never watched, while as many as two-thirds of the viewers who do watch what they recorded fast-forward through the commercials.

These issues surrounding the VCR aren't a new point of contention from advertising agencies, but it has an even more immediate impact on these commercial ratings, which may have a significant future impact on how advertising rates are negotiated and purchased. However, the networks maintain that, since playback cannot be measured, the number of recordings should be measured because including the data is more accurate than excluding it.

While it isn't the second-by-second data, networks could avoid some of the controversy by adopting The Weather Channel's plan for true minute-by-minute ratings, as I wrote about last month, instead of averaging all the commercial minutes together for a particular program. It wouldn't be the second-by-second ratings that some are calling for, but it might help satisfy some of the critics. Then again, network executives are afraid of what they might find, since everyone knows that most people don't watch television for the commercials.

Then, of course, there's the larger problem: if the Nielsen measurement system is inherently flawed, you can continue drawing as many new data streams from that same sample as you want, but they are still not going to be as accurate of a measurement as one would need.

August 14, 2006

FOX Competing for Television/Video Downloads

The FOX Network is delving further into online distribution of its programming, based on a deal announced recently in which FOX will provide another competitor for Apple iTunes, Amazon's video service, AOL Video, and others.

FOX already has 24 and Prison Break available through iTunes but will now be offering its own distribution system as well.

The company will be debuting its FOX Interactive Media distribution platform soon, which will offer FOX television shows and films for download initially on Direct2Drive, a video game site, and then making them avaiable through MySpace.

For those who haven't followed it, MySpace is now owned by News Corporation, FOX's parent company, which explains why characters like The Carver from Nip/Tuck and Earl from My Name is Earl are most likely to be the first to engage in marketing their shows through MySpace (the former being an FX show and the latter being a FOX-produced program).

Shows will be offered within a day after they are initially broadcast on television and will include programming from across FOX networks. The episodes can be viewed on Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

As with individual episodes on iTunes, shows will cost $1.99, while movies will cost $19.99.

What will this mean for the iTunes format and other initial start-ups? Will more networks be likely to follow suit by launching their own download-for-pay sites for their content? WWE has long tried to market some of its products through pay-per-view online services through its own site, among many others. Will this end up being the preferred long-term model, or will companies like Amazon, AOL, and Apple continue to gain ground? Or will there be enough room in the market for all of these platforms to coexist?

There will be major long-term repercussions in the industry that depends on how this plays out.

August 11, 2006

MyNetworkTV First Broadcast Network Entirely in HD

When the new News Corporation network MyNetworkTV launches this fall, the composition of the television landscape will have changed greatly. The network will be picking up many of the affiliates who will lose their network when UPN and The WB merge to form the CW Network but will only be starting with two hours of programming every night, based on two prime-time telenovela series.

But TelevisionWeek points out this week that the other major news for the new network is that it will be the first broadcast network that will provide all of its programming in HDTV form on its Sept. 05 launch.

Of course, considering the network will only have two programs, that's not a major feat, but it does demonstrate potential, as MyNetworkTV will have bragging rights in its initial promotion and will easily be able to add any new programming in HD form. And, as James Hibberd points out, since those two shows are aired nightly instead of weekly, this means a total of 600 hours of HD programming per year that the network has committed to.

Many are surprised by the decision, since telenovelas are generally not the prime candidates for the conversion to HD format. None of their daytime relatives in the soap opera genre have launched high-definition versions, and scores of primetime dramas have not made their programming available in HD as of yet, either.

Further, the standard broadcast will be made available in whta is called letterbox format, meaning that there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.

The network is trying to find its niche while establishing itself, and experimenting with HD content, letterbox style, and telenovelas is plenty of risk that will also give the network a distinctive feel. Of course, if the programming fails, it will be hard to know which experiment caused the failure, since telenovelas and letterbox programming is currently unproven in the broadcast networks.

However, it will make the network's Sept. 05 launch gain more buzz, and the television industry will have its eyes on the fledgling network to see what might develop.

August 9, 2006

Nielsen and VOD Measurement

We've reported a lot this summer about Nielsen's continued expansion of its media research to include new forms of measurement, including the A2/M2 system of measurement and commercial ratings.

Now, the company has announced that it will begin measuring video-on-demand orders through Insight Communications. According to the joint announcement yesterday from both companies, Nielsen will be using the data to launch its Nielsen On-Demand Reporting and Analytics service,called NORA.

When the NORA service gets launched, it will provide more consistent measurements for the on-demand platform, which will make advertising prices for on-demand content more stable.

Of course, many still question the measurement abilities of the Nielsen ratings for regular television, but the company has been developing various initaitives to both improve their traditional ratings system and to also provide further measurement of new delivery forms.

In the meantime, with the devleopment of a Nielsen standard for on-demand content coming, it may help encourage advertisers and content providers alike to pour more content into the expanding platform, with not only the movies-on-demand products already established but also products like WWE 24/7, the on-demand wrestling subscription service offered on many major cable networks.

August 2, 2006

Murder Mystery Interactive Movie Launches

My cousin and his wife, the future Drs. Steven and Kara Ford, have been bragging to me for a while about their extravagant honeymoon they've planned, going on one of these murder mystery cruise ships.

I was juealous, until Siddiq Bello forwarded me news of the new interactive murder mystery movie being launched by the Toronto-based SR Entertainment. I grew up as a big fan of Clue, the board game that now has integrated a DVD, but particularly the 1985 comedy film, so I was particularly excited to read in their press release that the transmedia online film is being called "a unique blend of Clue and a choose-your-own adventure movie." (And, yes, I was one of those kids who read those books, too, although there's only so far your imagination can take you when you are constantly flipping to page 135 and then 262 and then back to 67 to find out your fate.)

The project is called Mystery at Mansfield Manor, and the launch of this film/game reminds me of the more primitive versions of PC games that included video clips in the process of solving a mystery, such as the round of Clue games in which players watched video clips to delve further into solving the age old mystery of who did it in what room and with what weapon.

The new live-action interactive murder mystery movie is playing at the project's Web site. Participants in the interactive movie have to plunk down about $7 U.S. or $8 Canadian to receive a four-day pass to the Web site for unlimimited access to go through the murder mystery.

According to the synopsis provided by the site, the story features a protagonist police detective on the night before he is scheduled to be forced into an early retirement. The detective, Frank Mitchell, has been sent to extravagant Mansfield Manor to investigate the murder of Colin Mansfield, Sr., the wealthy oil man who controlled the families fortunes.

The viewer becomes Det. Mitchell and has a time limit to solve the mystery before the story's deadline of midnight, when he will enter retirement. Rory Scherer, the impressario in charge of the whole project, acted as both producer of the game and screenwriter and is operating as public relations specialist as well, basically a one-man creative show.

According to the site, the game begins with the interrogation of the first suspect, the maid of the murder victim, who starts to reveal her memories of the evening through flashbacks. The majority of the game works through various interrogations, in which the player must decide the veracity of the various characters' statements.

The game has a variety of potential endings through what amounts to 2.5 hours of video time. According to the press release, the game "gets even more involving as some interactive components allow the viewer to become further immersed in the investigation."

In some ways, this is just the type of mini-transmedia project we've been talking about. Not having played the game, I don't know how much farther this takes things than that Clue game I played a few years ago on my PC, but I think the potential is definitely there and that more projects like this will begin scratching the surface.

August 1, 2006

AOL Video Launching Beta Version

News broke yesterday that AOL will be launching a beta version of the new AOL Video platform this week, which is available for free here. According to a press release touting its coming, the new project will offer more than 45 new video-on-demand channels from established brands in traditional media and accessible through search options, and the ability to view both free and pay content, including full-length television shows, film trailers, news and music videos. The free content, of course, will be advertising-supported, since access to the player is free and available to non-AOL customers.

However, the new portal will not simply be one-way communication but also offers users the ability to post their own videos through the UnCut Video site, which provides support to upload video from home video cameras, cell phones or Web cams.

AOL is especially touting its new interactive programming guides which "brings together free and download-to-won video content from across broadcast and cable television and the Web and organizes it into new, branded video-on-demand channels." Additionally, the company brags at having the most powerful video search engine on the Internet, providing search results from a variety of other video sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

Last week, I wrote about IN2TV's new Spanish-language channel, an AOL online content provider that is making 1980s sit-coms available en espanol. But the company is continually expanding its horizons with the video services it offers.

The company is working with a variety of familiar faces from across the cable television spectrum including A&E Television Networks and Procter & Gamble Productions, the oldest soap opera production company in the country which produces As
the World Turns
, the 50-year old soap opera mentioned here frequently due to my research interests in the program. Both MTV Networks and Turner Broadcasting, two of our partners here in the consortium, are also providing programming for the AOL Video initiative.

The power of its deep resources when it comes to content is going to push the product far enough, but does AOL present a unique enough product to compete with YouTube and Google Video in user-generated content and video sharing? And what will its affects be on pay-for-content video providers like Amazon and iTunes?

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for pointing me in this direction.

MySpace and YouTube Expanding Rapidly

User-controlled technology has been the talk of the summer across the Internet and especially here on our blog. The headliners have been YouTube, which has shown us the way to a lot of interesting fan-generated content as evidenced here and here, and MySpace, which I wrote about earlier this week becuase of the Marines now using the site as a major marketing opportunity.

Now, these two cultural behemoths appear to be poised for war. YouTube, with its incredible growth over the past couple of years, is being challenged by a viable challenger for "number one Internet site," MySpace. MySpace has seen its audience burgeoning, tripling the number of individual viewers in week-to-week ratings on the week of July 17.

The battling grounds? Video distribution. While YouTube has been identified as the unquestioned king (or queen, being gender-equal) of video sharing online, despite the efforts of Google Video and others, MySpace has seen its video viewers spike from 2.9 million for the week of July 10 to 10.4 million for the week of July 17, according to Television Week's Daisy Whitney.

Does this mean that it's a battle for ultimate supremacy? No, as the focus of the two sites are different enough that they should be able to co-exist, but these types of numbers demonstrate how user-controlled conversation and creation is expanding through the opportunities provided by new technologies. As MySpace and YouTube become greater social phenomena, the ability of viewers and readers to talk back expands, as does the ability of producers to tell transmedia stories.

And the spike in MySpace's numbers does not indicate flagging numbers for YouTube, which is also continuing to grow. These numbers are demonstrating that people, above all, love the chance to have a voice and a chance to be a part of the creative process, whether that be through creating and sharing videos or their own Web pages and personas.

July 28, 2006

Red Velvet Cake Only Possible with Cheap Ingredients

A few weeks ago, a film completed shooting here in Ohio County, where I'm working for the summer.

I spent a few hours on the set of this indy film--Kentucky Digital Media's Red Velvet Cake--while writing a piece for the Don Wilkins, wrote a piece for the 08 June 2006 edition of the Times-News about these products, reporting about the changes in the movie industry that now make a $300,000 indy feature-length film possible.

Don says that director Aaron Hutchings estimates that the film would have cost $1.5 million a decade ago. However, because of new digital technologies such as HD video cameras and editing equipment at reasonable prices with sophisticated software programs available on lean budgets, producers like Hutchings are able to launch into filmmaking.

Hutchings is originally from Ohio County and has done quite a bit of work for Kentucky Educational Television, a branch of PBS here in the Commonwealth. Hutchings had always wanted to work with feature-length productions and now has the resources because of switching to digital, which eliminates the need for film stock and allows content to be viewed on the spot.

The movie cast an actress who has appeared in such films as The People vs. Larry Flynt and Tommy Lee Jones, Shirley James, to play the lead role in a film about an elderly woman who lives alone and struggles to survive with both the costs of living and the costs of prescription medicine.

Because editing can be done every evening and because the digital format allows for instant checks on quality, the filming time was cut from three or four months to one month. Now, Red Velvet Cake is in post-production, and the town is waiting for DVDs to be available in the area.

While I've long been aware of this technology and how it changes the industry, it was nice to see how this manifests itself in-person. The creativity and the energy on the set and the chance to make a niche film that wouldn't get significant attention any other way makes possible a regional film industry never before possible in the country due to expenses.

Red Velvet Cake may or may not be a success in national or international distribution--that's yet to be seen--but it's already become an important part of Ohio County folklore through its use of landmarks across the county and a significant number of locals in the film. While the market has yet to be fully explored, it makes me wonder if regional film industries may have an even more vibrant future than we realize, if marketed correctly.

July 27, 2006

E! Launching Shows on iTunes

Yet another group of television series are launching on iTunes.

E! Entertainment is going to be making available a variety of new shows on Apple's distribution system, including stand-by hits like Dr. 90210, Girls Next Door, The Simple Life, and The Soup.

At this point, Apple continues to lead the race in getting ahold of this online content. Earlier this week, I wrote about Amazon's plans to challenge iTunes. Amazon may have the cultural cache and the power behind it to pose a viable threat when it comes to challenging the video capabilities of iTunes, but the ultimate decision-maker for fans is where they can get the content from. Content creators will be best served to distribute under both models, but I assume that Amazon's only way to enter the market is to keep up with Apple's breakneck pace in signing deals with various networks to get their current shows and their archives available from iTunes.

Meanwhile, E! becomes yet another company stepping into a new distribution form.

July 26, 2006

Verizon Launches Further Into Local Internet TV Distribution

Verizon Communications will be launching a new fiber-optic television service that will bring four television stations into the Internet platform with local television programming.

According to the deal announced today, the ABC affiliates in Manchester, New Hampshire, and in Boston will be a part of this new service, called FiOS, as well as the NBC affiliate in Baltimore and independent Tampa television station Hearst Argyle.

According to Michele Grippi with Television Week, the deal will be long-term and will include both high-definition rights and digital multicasting, as well as video-on-demand.

As the new Verizon plans go forward, Internet television continues with a strong drive, and this penetration for a fiber-optics television service demonstrates how quickly things are changing for the various forms available to distribute television.

For the station providing content, this will provide more chances to reach more consumers and to prepare for the future, as current models of television viewing and broadcasting are being revised through the development of high-definition television, video-on-demand, DVRs, Internet TV and multiple other methods of distribution.

July 25, 2006

Marvel Jumps Aboard Comic Book Creator

The first version of Planetwide Games' Comic Book Creator was a little limited, considering that there was not involvement from major comic company powerhouses such as Marvel Comics. But the two companies announced a few days ago at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con that Marvel will be a part of an upcoming version of the software.

In David Radd's piece on Game Daily, based on the press release, both representatives with Marvel and with Planetwide emphasized the amount of narrative potential this puts in the hands of users to be able to have another tool to make Marvel heroes and villains their own.

The software allows users to use their own screenshots from video games, movies or other digital visual conten tto create comic books and comic strips. The company's plans are to build a business around user-generated comic books, with fans having a social network to come and share and compete with their own comic books. As a kid who spent a lot of time trying to write comic book stories when I was younger and get my friend to illustrate them, it was just the kind of thing that beat the PrintShop creations I was making with clip art and text back in 1995. I still think "The Chain" could have been one of the greatest comic book characters of all-time. And I still have the 33-page manuscript for the story arc of The Stroke of Death for anyone who's interested.

The company earlier released a specialized version of the software to help promote the movie Nacho Libre, according to a CNET News story from Caroline McCarthy.

The first version of the Marvel Heroes version of the software will include three characters: Elektra, Spider-Man and Wolverine, with booster backs being released at later dates containing the art for more characters. However, McCarthy writes that "The Marvel version and the booster packs won't be compatible with either the original comic software or the Nacho Libre version."

While this may only be a limited beginning, Marvel's opening the doors to fan-storytellers a little bit more really empowers fans to be able to engage with the superheroes and tell stories of their own in a way never before possible. The storyteller and comic book fan in me is excited about future possibilities, when Marvel, for instance, might be willing to look at the stories told in these fan versions of their comics for possibilities for future storylines...or future talent. All-in-all, with copyright issues behind them, it could be a real win/win situation for Marvel, Planetwide, and fans.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this along.

July 24, 2006

Amazon Branching Into Digital Video Content

While Google has stepped up its fight with YouTube to become another viable form of Internet video sharing, Amazon is ready to take on the cultural powerhouse iTunes. Apple will face competition from what has become the online site for everything pop culture related in physical form--Amazon has built its reputation on providing mail delivery of anything currently available and links to resellers to get anything that's not on the market right now.

Now, they are going to enter the fight full-fledged for downloading digital content, particularly focusing on television and movie downloading. While iTunes, by its very name, has its focus on music, Apple has been innovative in pushing content provider after content provider to move their archives or current programs to iTunes, as has been written about here and here and here and here and here.

According to the Advertising Age article which broke the story, Amazon Digital Video is planning on competing with Apple's model when the new site opens in August, providing not just download fees but also subscription options. The structure will otherwise be very similar to iTunes, in that a program will have to be downloaded to users' computers to access teh Amazon Digital Video store.

With news breaking in the past week of CinemaNow's new burn-to-DVD services, the landscape seems to be changing rather quickly for the ability to digitally download television and film content. And, with Amazon's reputation already more than solidified through all their other offerings, one has to think it will be hard for this enterprise not to be profitable for them. Just imagine, for those of us who are impatient, if we are offered a chance to view a movie immediately in a prominently placed spot on the Amazon page for ordering the DVD.

Since delayed gratification is not an American speciality, they will probably catch a lot of tempted viewers this way. And, according to the Advertising Age article, the site will offer viewers the chance to either download them to own permanently or, through the subscription service, to use the content for a short time in a relationship similar to the Netflix rental model.

The article mentions that Amazon's first foray into original digital content has been the show Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher, an interview show that is updated weekly and available for download as sponsored content. The site appears to be interested in expanding its reach not only into distributing extant video content digitally but perhaps, if the download model is accepted, creating further exclusive digital video content.

July 18, 2006

CinemaNow releases Burn to DVD services

The online movie distributor CinemaNow has announced that it will now make films available for download that can be burned and viewed on standard DVD players.

Late today, CinemaNow announced that it will be the first to allow mainstream films to be purchased on the Internet and burned for regular viewing, with prices as low as $8.99.

The service is to begin tomorrow with more than 100 films from the archives of several major companies, such as Buena Vista, MGM, Sony and Universal.

These downloaded and burned DVDs will contain all the features of store-bought DVDs and are set to also have technology incorporated to guard against piracy. A preview of this decision came back in April, when CinemaNow offered this service for adult video content only. At the time, many covering the industry were skeptical that the technology would be accepted by the mainstream movie studios anytime soon, much less a few months later.

Last week, the company announced a major new line of funding, led by EchoStar. If the success of CinemaNow is any indication, major movie studios are willing to stick their feet further and further in the water. While the 100 titles released tomorrow may not constitute a full-blown immersion, the studios are showing more and more willingness to flirt with alternative distribution forms.

July 17, 2006

C3 Director Publishes Work on MySpace

Over the past several weeks, the director of C3, Henry Jenkins, has been putting part of his focus on social networking site MySpace. During that time, he has posted about MySpace on his blog and conducted an in-depth interview for the MIT News Office that appears in full on the Web site of Danah Boyd, who is working with him on this story.

Jenkins has been writing on the Deleting Online Predators Act, proposed legislation in front of Congress that would, among other things, ban MySpace from places like schools and libraries, the very places where it would be best to have professionals available to talk with kids about issues and to oversee MySpace use. It's not like banning the social networking tool from these social spaces would cause teens to quit using MySpace--it just means they'll be using it on their own, which could not be the best situation. And, considering the growing improtance of the Internet in the lives of American teens, these social networking tools cannot just be legislated away.

In an article I wrote last month for The Greenville Leader-News, Jenkins related the anecdote that, when he was a child, his parents warned him about talking to strangers on the telephone, but they didn't take the telephone away from him or forbid him to use it. Considering all of the societal angst surrounding teenage use of MySpace right now, it's the right set of questions to be asking at the right time.

A high school teacher I interviewed discussed the complications of interacting with students online and not wanting the correspondence to be viewed as inappropriate. These types of issues cause some legislators and some parents to just want to eliminate the medium instead of worrying about specific content or interaction. The truth is that MySpace is changing the ways in which people view community--on the one hand, people form virtual communities freed by geographic restraints, based on their own personalities or interests; on the other hand, people who no longer live in an area can stay connected to the people in their hometown or former residence to a degree that's never before been possible.

Jenkins' continuing work on helping people understand and navigate MySpace, while fighting governmental restrictions on the communication forum, is worth following, since this has key implications for social networking online, as well as issues that we've discussed here like transmedia storytelling through character pages, such as with Soup of the Day or The Carver on Nip/Tuck. MySpace and tools like it provide people of all ages with the unparalleled ability to be heard--a key component of the convergence culture we are talking about.

The Weather Channel Offering Minute-By-Minute Ratings

The minute-by-minute data from Nielsen which we've been writing about has already led to a television ad deal, according to Television Week. The Weather Channel was one of the first networks to be interested in the minute-by-minute ratings available from Nielsen. Considering the constant flow of their programming and the nature of their continual weather updates, minute-by-minute ratings will likely be particularly helpful, so it's no surprise that The Weather Channel would be one of the first to sign up.

Their new deal with media-buying agency Starcom guarantees make-good ads for eight Starcom clients who have placed ads with them if their viewership falls under the promised level.

The difference in these ratings is that The Weather Channel will be using true-minute-by-minute advertising, while most other networks plan to average all the commercial time within a particular program and make that data available to advertisers, rather than the particular minute containing their ad.

It says a lot about the faith of networks that most are going to average together all the advertising minutes in a program and then plan to make that average available. And, for media buyers like Magna, there are even questions as to how viable the minute-by-minute ratings will be, as I wrote about last week. Minute-by-minute data includes VCR viewers (who stastically never watch the program a third of the time, and, if they do, fast-forward through commercials 2/3 of the time) and DVR viewers who may watch the commercials up to a week later (a dangerous conception for time-sensitive ads), Magna claims that the numbers are skewed. Further, they claim that numbers will be significantly inflated because minutes are considered as "commercial" minute if they contain commercial time, even if more than half of that minute is programming instead of advertising.

If we accept the farce of Nielsen ratings as being the be-all and end-all of television viewer measurement, minute-by-minute ratings are the closest we've been offered to accountability at this point. But, considering the driving force of product placement deals and Internet ads, the true winners are those who are focusing increasing attention on non-traditional advertising forms.

In the meantime, though, the controversy rages on.

July 13, 2006

Battle Over Nielsen Ratings Rages On

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the new proposal for Nielsen ratings minute-per-minute that would allow advertisers to see the type of ratings that commercial time gets, as opposed to program time. Some of the television networks requested the change through a demand from their advertisers, who wanted another way to have proof that people were still watching their commercials.

At that time, David Poltrack from CBS demonstrated that he was dubious about the motives from advertisers, who were looking for ways to gets rates lowered, and also cautious of anyone espousing that the percentage of viewers who try to avoid commercials haven't changed in the TiVo and DVR age but rather the technology for avoiding commercials has shifted.

But, while the Nielsen ratings were attacked from one side by the networks even as they were asking for them, they've faced major attack this week from the other side: the media buyers who are placing commercials for advertisers.

In Wednesday's Television Week, Jon Lafayette quotes media buying agency Magna Global as calling the proposed Nielsen measurement system unacceptable as a standard for trading advertising time on. Magna calls instead for a second-by-second measurement system that would give advertisers a true indication of the number of people watching advertisements.

VCR viewers are another source of controversy. The current system would count VCR recordings of shows as views, including the commercials, but Magna argues that statistics say that 1/3 of things recorded on a VCR are never watched (especially by people who pop a tape in to record something coming on later and leave the VCR running for hours). Further, of those who do watch the tape, as many as 2/3 of them skip the commercials.

DVR viewings are another controversial topic, as Magna points out that current proposals would count DVR viewings up to a week after the show airs. For time-sensitive advertisements, such as for a weekend sale or a movie's opening weekend, the time that the viewer watches the commercial is essential to know.

Finally, Magna is angry about the way the minute-by-minute measurement system measures commercials. According to their statements in Lafayette's story, the current Nielsen system would count any minute that had commercial time in it as a commercial minute. Magna's VP points out that such a policy would allow minutes that are almost completely taken up by the program to be counted as a commercial minute, which would artificially inflate the number of viewers.

It's no surprise that people on both sides of the advertiser/broadcaster fence would fall into disarray over this issue, though. After all, the broadcasters aren't too thrilled to be going through this process in the first place, since they've been trying to uphold the status of the 30-second spot. And advertisers have plenty of reasons to be skeptical at what they see as protections built in. It shouldn't surprise anyone to hear Nielsen's policies knocked as not being an accurate reflection of real viewer behaviors, especially since it measures on quantity only and does not know how to handle new technologies at this point.

Lafayette points out that this is really round two of a fight that cropped up a few months ago regarding whether to count DVR viewers in the numbers used to determine advertising rates, and this is an argument that isn't going away anytime soon. And, as long as the industry is struggling to hang on to a system that's becoming more and more outmoded as time goes by, it's no surprise that there's going to be so much tension. The question is just how long people are going to stay on a slowly sinking ship before they decide to try something new.

In all fairness, all the evidence we're reporting here indicates that both advertisers and networks are thinking of all sorts of creative new ways to incorporate advertising and to provide funding for content, from sponsorships to product placement to subscription models for online repurposing of content. But there's still just so much time invested in the traditional 30-second spot, and the whole industry trades on Nielsen numbers.

It'll be interesting to see how debate surrounding these commercial ratings measurements continues throughout the summer in anticipation of this fall and how much these numbers change the way advertising is bought and sold.

July 1, 2006

The State of High-Speed Internet and Convergence Culture

Recently, I was having a conversation with fellow C3 analyst Geoffrey Long about a prior post in which I indicated that indecency fines raising would stifle the creative industry and cause great damage to convergence culture. Playing devil's advocate, he pointed out that a heavily policed environment on broadcast could give networks a powerful new force to drive fans to try content from online platforms, with the full or uncensored versions available there and the sanitized version appearing on TV.

It was a point well taken, and I do agree that companies may be able to find ways to use this increase in government influence on television programming to their advantage. However, on the other hand, I fear that advocating or okaying a tightened censorship on broadcast television helps open the door further for intrusion into other spaces as well, including the Internet. Censorship is like a bad house guest or Chris Farley's Herlihy Boy...once you give it an a small place in your life, it begins to take over.

However, relating to this conversation, one of the comments in that prior post about the PTC and the indecency fines questioned what these old media companies had to do with convergence culture. I pointed out that the very idea of convergence deals with the collision of old and new media. If all we were talking about were the Internet, then it would be new media culture and not convergence. Television, magazines, newspapers, films...these platforms are far from dead and hold a central place in people's lives and entertainment consumption.

And, among us who study the media or work in the media industry, it's a common tendency to think that the tools essential to participate in the new media of convergence culture are commonly available to everyone. Sure, when I'm in Boston (where I'm visiting right now), I can pick up Internet signals at almost every corner. But, I'm staying in Kentucky this summer, and I feel like a druggie in need of a fix when I'm searching for a good Internet connection.

C3 adviser Grant McCracken, C3 analyst Ivan Askwith and I were all having a conversation while visiting New York City a few months back that wireless Internet for the nation might be available in five years, and that would really help to enable the convergence culture we talk about. But, there are plenty of places where people who have the disposable income to afford the Internet not only don't have great wireless options available but are even completely dependent on dial-up Internet service. My parents and my in-laws both have and use the Internet but cannot have high-speed at home. I'm forced to sneak outside the city building of the City of Beaver Dam, parked in the alleyway, to pick up a wireless connection, or else go into work after hours at the newspaper office where I'm working this summer.

These places aren't behind the times conceptually. There's income available. But rural areas just have not been a market that's been penetrated with high-speed service at this point. And, until the majority of the nation is wired (or wireless) and ready to go, convergence culture is going to remain primarily dependent on being pushed by old media forms and placing a priority on the types of technology that are universally accessible. Not being a proponent for elitist culture, I think we have to keep this social reality in mind when fantasizing about the current or near-future state of transmedia storytelling and online content.

June 29, 2006

Madison and Vine Advocates a Drive to Digital Video

According to a news article/commentary yesterday from Advertising Age's Madison and Vine Web site, video consumption online has grown 18 percent over the past seven months, with the average consumer now watching slightly less than 100 minutes of video a month.

The Madison and Vine piece looks at the trend of advertising to follow this trail, with major reallocations of traditional television ad funds now going to new or integrated media. While it isn't surprising that this growth in consumption leads to an influx of advertising revenue supporting online sites with video content, the article highlighted or alluded to a few important implications that greatly affect recent discussions we've had here on this blog:

1.) Transmedia content--With digital streaming poised to become increasingly profitable, those companies who integrate online video content as part of their entertainment package are at a particular advantage. If companies have bonus content available for download or streaming online, they can easily package ad sales that include advertising or sponsorship of both the traditional content and digital content that may become increasingly attractive to advertisers, who would benefit from having a strong association with dedicated fans who follow the product across multiple platforms;

2.) Product placement--As the Madison and Vine article points out, those companies who are paying for product placement now have added incentives, since more and more television shows are becoming available for digital download or streaming. While traditional ads or the ads that run on television are not present in a lot of these digital presentations, all product placements are--indicating that placing products on a show is the smarter investment long-term.

3.) Promotional films--Creating branded video content subtly promoting a product, such as the famed BMW Films campaign, is proving itself to be an attractive option for reaching customers turned off by push advertising. Increased video streaming gives advertisers more of an impetus for creating compelling content that viewers want to stream or download and gives creative independent talents a chance to shine...It's smart marketing and less offensive to commercial-sensitive viewers.

It's hard to find much fault with Madison & Vine's final call--for marketers to "take heed" and take advantage of an audience "hungry for programming." For advertisers and for media content producers, digital video not only provides a chance for revenues and a chance to provide consumers what they want but also makes possible an environment that better enables transmedia content and new forms of storytelling.

Thanks to fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long for directing me to this article.

June 28, 2006

Google Research Making Waves with Social Intereactive Television Proposal

By this point, some of you have probably heard about the new technology proposed by Google researchers Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja, in association with Michael Fink of the Center for Neural Computation at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The study, which won the "Best Paper" award at the Euro Interactive Television Conference in Athens, Greece, about a month ago, was announced by Google Research on their blog on June 6 and made available for the public to read.

Siddiq Bello from Turner Broadcasting, one of our partners, made me aware of the study's availability, and I've been reading and thinking about it since he first contacted me about it a couple of weeks ago. In short, the proposed system would create mass personalization, meaning that the traditional mass media would become personalized to a degree never accomplished before.

I'm not talking about having a fireside chat where you make the American people feel like you are coming in your home. This is more than changing one's tone-of-voice. The researchers write that "mass-media channels typically provide limited content to many people; the Web provides vast amounts of information, most of interest to few." They propose to use their technology to make television and radio as personalized as Web content, while still providing the ability to be a somewhat passive consumer.

How to do this? The system would use a computer's microphone to pick up on what programs a person is watching on television and would then provide relevant data online to help enrich the viewer's experience. The report breaks this down into four categories:

Continue reading "Google Research Making Waves with Social Intereactive Television Proposal" »

June 19, 2006

Ham Radio Fan Communities

Every day brings something new at the offices of The Ohio County Times-News (terrible Web site, but they have no interest in my helping them with it), the weekly newspaper in Kentucky that I'm working at part of the time this summer, in an effort to "get back to my journalism roots." And two surprise guests I had today seemed to have particular relevance with my work at C3--a pair of ham radio enthusiasts.

With all our buzz about new technology, we often forget that there are vibrant fan communities surrounding very old technology. Studies have been done to examine fan communities for outmoded or endangered technologies, such as the Fisher-Price PXL-2000 and the Apple Newton. And I'm sure there have been plenty of people, whether journalists or scholars, who have examined the national fascination with ham radios.

These guys, Felix Miles and Henry Morgan, were dedicating their performance in a nationwide ham radio competition this weekend to a ham contemporary who had died after falling while working on his radio antenna. We got into a discussion of the philosophy of the ham radio operators, and Felix told me that old school ham operators primarily like to communicate in Morse code and don't go for the voice communication that most "newbies" go for.

The fact that there are thousands of people around the country dedicated to what most people would consider a technology of the past, as with "Ten Four, Over and Out" on the CB, the telegraph, and--soon to be, if the massive switch to cell phones is any indication--the landline phone, is fascinating.

We discussed the move away from Morse code and Miles' own anger that modern ham radio operators no longer have to prove their competency with Morse code when getting an operator's license from the FCC.

My emphasis here at the C3 blog has been on content instead of the medium, more often than not, but we can't forget the importance of attachments to old technologies and distribution means. People become fascinated with vinyl records and eight tracks, and a beloved member of our department here at CMS often treks out his Beta player to show us clips of old television shows, even when many of these shows are available on DVD.

What is it about these old technologies that fascinate us? These ham radio operators give part of their life over to keeping this technology alive and vibrant, and it's aided the country substantially during natural disasters, etc., with ham radio operators creating a communication chain. But people are willing to give part of their lives--and even their lives--through maintenance of radios and antennas. As much as any brand, these outmoded technologies seem to connect with people's lives in fundamental ways, and even specific brands develop continued brand communities surrounding them, long after they have outlived their major pragmatic usefulness.

June 12, 2006

Digital Push Leads to Greater Transmedia Potential

Various networks have made announcements over the past week indicating that, even if there hasn't necessarily been a complete digital plunge, companies are at least getting their feet wet.

According to some TelevisionWeek stories today and over the weekend, new networks are popping up exclusively on the Internet, while several old dogs are trying some new digital tricks.

For instance, there's the new Code Networks, the online network that's aimed at the social life of the affluent, with a programming list that reads a lot like the sections of an elite magazine, focusing on the nightlife and arts of New York City. Reporter Daisy Whitney writes that the program was started by two ex-MTV executives, aimed at 25-to-49-year olds who make six figures.

Then, there's the new initiative from CBS Digital Media, ShowBuzz, an online product for entertainment news with broadband video and interactive content. The site will be ad-supported and will include content from various other established entertainment entities, such as Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. According to reporter Christopher Lisotta, the advertising will be session-based, "meaning that the only one advertiser will be featured throughout the site for any given user session or visit."

Then, Lifetime Networks has hired a new digital media executive vice-president to handle the development of the company's Web site, wireless initiatives, DVD releases and interactive components of television programming. Dan Suratt, who was hired from NBC Olympics, was responsible for new media development opportunities there, according to reporter Jon Lafayette.

With the exception of Code Networks, the initiatives offer many new opportunities for transmedia, with online reporting that both supplements and adds to content from traditional media forms, such as using content from the Lifetime television networks or from Hollywood Reporter. This may still be baby steps, but they're baby steps in the right direction, as long as these don't just become a place to dump repurposed content but explores the abilities of the digital to supplement and increase storytelling potential.

June 11, 2006

Netflix: The World's Best Idea with the World's Worst Distribution System?

There's a thought-provoking piece about Netflix in Wednesday's The New York Times about DVD distribution company Netflix, written by David Leonhardt.

The piece doesn't really say anything that most of us don't already realize to some degree: that Netflix has the right idea and the worst distribution system. For those of you who have dealt with our illustrious postal system that much, you know that it's not the most reliable way to transfer information in the world--the Internet provides a much better way to send data reliably (that is, unless network neutrality is out the window).

Since I'm always bringing personal anecdotes to the blog, here's another: I moved out of my Boston apartment and forwarded my mail to Kentucky on May 1. Now, it's June 8, and I've only gotten about three pieces of forwarded mail, and the postal system isn't entirely sure where that other mail ended up.

So, while Netflix has the right idea with making every DVD out there available for rental in its system, the distribution system is far from the best. Leonhardt chastises Hollywood, who have an online downloadable option available to them that could rival or eventually overturn Netflix but which is currently blocked due to the outmoded thinking of current deals with television distributors, which would allow DVD distribution but not online downloads of movies that cable and broadcast networks have exclusive rights to.

I was still shocked, though, that of the 60,000 titles available on DVD in NetFlix's inventory, 35,000 to 40,000 of them are rented every day. As Netflix's Chief Executive Reed Hastings said, "Americans' tastes are really broad." But it's still a shame that today's most forward-thinking distributor, that is helping to instill this Long Tail effect in the media industry and to create what Leonhardt calls a "meritocracy" for content, is doing so using one of the most disorganized distribution systems around (the postal service being a great example of how terrible a government-owned business becomes when it is allowed a monopoly on most mail delivery services).

Netflix already realizes that, if digital streaming of movies becomes prevalent, its current DVD-through-mail system could become obsolete, and the company is already considering ways to shift its distribution to stay on top of the market. In the meantime, though, Netflix is the best we've got, considering that Hollywood exclusivity rights only allows about 1,500 of the 60,000 DVD releases available through Netflix to be distributed digitally through the studios' Movielink. Oh, and I can't look at Movielink, anyway, because they don't support Macs.

Yet another reminder of how old thought patterns restrict the ways in which the industry can respond to new technologies and new viewer demands.

June 9, 2006

What IS Television, Anyway?!?

Those party poopers at TiVo are trying to cause more problems for tradition-lovers. First, they had to mess with the idea of live programming, and now they're getting desperate enough to try and further blur the lines between what is Internet programming and what is television.

TiVo announced on Wednesday that they are launching the new TiVoCast. For the 400,000 TiVo boxes that have high-speed Internet, the boxes will allow them to watch Internet video on their television set.

But...wait....if this program can be viewed on the television set...what is television, anyway? Most people have moved past the antenna phase, so it's not broadcast. And services like TiVo and DVRs (and even that dreaded VCR of yesteryear) have already done all they could to obliterate the liveness and the scheduling power of television networks.

TiVo's feeling enough pressure from all the DVR services provided by cable companies and DVRs with hard drives that many people value over the TiVo service.

We had a class at MIT this past semester in which a few of my colleagues and I debated at length what television really is, anyway. If it's not defined by its broadcasting or its liveness or screen size, what makes television different than any other video material? Or does it really matter anymore?

Seeing that the announcement came on Wednesday, I'm sure that, by the time I've posted this, there's already a group of lawyers ready to issue a statement from someone about the latest lawsuit to try and stop TiVo. But, again...it's like trying to hold a tsunami back with toilet paper.

What do you all think?

June 1, 2006

And the DVR Battle Rages On...

As you all have probably heard by now, half of the big studios and networks are suing Cablevision for their DVR service, due to copyright issues. The disagreement here relates to how the service that Cablevision offers is defined. By Cablevision's definition, the company is offering a DVR service, with the only difference being that, instead of allowing customers to record shows onto a digital hard drive or a disc, it is stored on secure customer space within Cablevision.

All the companies who file the suit say that this is not DVR but instead video-on-demand because the "recorded" material remains in the hands of the company instead of recorded directly by the consumer. They claim that such movements will cause damage to all the new and innovative services that they are offering, such as mobisodes, iTunes downloads, web streaming, video on-demand, etc.

To me, though, this just seems like displaying insecurity with their own technology. If they are confident that viewers want web streaming or mobisodes or any of these other products, then Cablevision's technology won't be a major factor. True innovation won't be protected by stifling the innovation of others. Of course, I may not be grasping the whole story here, but it seems like yet another prohibitionist move motivated by scared companies who are worried about giving up too much control.

May 17, 2006

Xbox 360 Firmware Hacked

Joystiq reports that a group of hackers have found a way to insert a firmware patch into the Xbox 360 that bypasses the disc verification (read: DRM) process that would determine whether the disc was a copy or not - so long as the drive is a Toshiba-Samsung TS-H943 DVD drive.

No doubt Microsoft will be able to solve this problem by replacing the Toshiba-Samsung TS-H943 with a different DVD drive, or the HD-DVD drive they're talking about adding as an option, but the point remains that much of the money Microsoft sunk into making sure that the Xbox 360 was unhackable has now gone down the toilet.

In the long term, piracy cannot be prevented by technical means without preventing customers from accessing the content you're trying to sell them. Companies should be looking at more ways of creating customer goodwill instead of pouring their money into the black hole of the DRM industry.

April 15, 2006

The Beatles Offer Songs for Legal Download

The top story in Friday's USA Today Money section focuses on the announcement that not only are the surviving members of The Beatles participating in a remastering of all of The Beatles' CDs but also that those remastered tracks will be made available for legal download once they are finished.

According to the story, the group's music has been held off from the the legal download market because they did not want to push their old tracks out when they were in the process of creating aesthetically superior work that better reflects the music.

The story, by Jefferson Graham, includes statistics from the Beatles/Cirque Du Soleil performances in Las Vegas that claims that the Beatles "are bigger than ever," according to Martin Lewis, a "Beatles expert" who hosts a Beatles show on Sirius radio.

The story discusses the frustration of Beatles fans of having only one recourse to have digital copies of Beatles' music--buy the CDs and then transfer them onto the hard drive and then onto the iPod--which has led to estimates of "hundreds of millions" of illegal downloads of Beatles songs.

Of course, plenty of people will be downloading the music for free even after these are made available, and it could be too little too late, but the promise of quality tracks being released may make enough people, especially Beatles fanatics, to be willing to chip in to buying the remastered CDs or the new tracks.

Is it "too little, too late" for The Beatles? Have they lost too much profit already? Or does the promise of owning the music legally and remastered copies make this a shrewd move? I am wondering if the wait for the remastered copies was worthwhile, considering the profits lost in the meantime. And, will the average person be willing to pay to download Beatles music they already own to have the remastered copy?

Either way, the reprecussions of this release should greatly shape how other music currently held in the archive is viewed...what is the value of remastered copies, when it comes to digital downloads? If The Beatles fare well, it will probably encourage even more growth in remastering old tracks for digital distribution. But, if The Beatles' doesn't do well in the digital realm with remastered songs, can anyone?

Surge in Online Game Spending

The top headline in Wednesday's USA Today looks at the way cable companies are looking toward online and cable game profits--online profits alone are projected to reach $3.5 billion by 2009.

In the story, David Lieberman looks at the buzz in the annual cable operators convention in Atlanta centering on pay-for-play broadband games, noting that if cable doesn't jump on the bandwagon to do everything possible to support online game play for PCs and for digital cable, that telephone companies won't hesitate to fill the need for the service.

Already, multiple cable operators are rushing to provide customers with extensive backlists of titles. In the story, Cox, ReacTV, and Comcast are quoted. While I'm in town here in Atlanta for the PCA conference, I was able to learn more about Turner's initiative. While the newest games are not being made available for such services for fear that it would cut the need for people to purchase the titles for themselves, the services are already proving that a lot of games can be pulled from the archives and provided to players, who are interested in the games for nostalgia, to grasp the history of gaming, and...the biggest reason of course--because they are intriguing games.

But the question is what the buzz is from the other side--the people who are jumping on board these subscription-style services or the on-demand pay-for-play services. Is this a fad, something exciting for technology's sake but whose power will taper off once people get used to the service? Or is this the beginning of the new way to play games? And what does that mean for those who provide the platforms or who benefit most from retail sales of games, as these services begin to introduce other possibilities?

Of course the cable industry is very high on the idea--they have the most to win, providing a product for a niche that is currently not being served. But, for other players, what is there to lose? What is there to fear? And, most of all, what does the consumer want? For those of you who are hardcore gamers, is there something special about "owning" the game versus playing it through a subscription service? And, as these services become more elaborate, will there come a day where interest in owning your own game is minimal?

March 26, 2006

iTunes Gets Smart re: Music Videos

(Via Lost Remote)

Ever since Apple began selling hour-long TV shows on the iTunes store for $1.99, the willingness of customers to buy five-minute music videos for the exact same price dropped off quite a bit. This was understandable, as from the customer's point of view, the prices for music videos were an unconscionable ripoff. (I won't get into the behind-the-scenes realities of pricing structures, except to note that most customers really don't care if a music video cost as much to make as a TV episode.)

While I'd still be a little leery of the perceived value equivalency between a TV show and a "vingle" (a music video bundled with its associated single), the decision to bundle videos with music tracks is definitely a step in the right direction on Apple's part, as are the higher-margin music video bundles they're offering. Sending conflicting messages in media pricing has the potential to undermine the whole business, which is why Apple's move towards sanity in music video prices is a good thing, and the record industry's rent-seeking push to raise song prices to $1.49 (or whatever the market will bear) would almost certainly be bad for business.

March 6, 2006

Control your PC with your Nintendo DS

(Via Gizmodo)

Well, this is interesting: Apparently someone's managed to connect their desktop PC to their Nintendo DS via Wifi, allowing them to remotely control the computer via the touch-screen.

Whether this is a gimmick or a sign of things to come is debateable, but it goes to show that even a dedicated handheld gaming device like the DS is capable of becoming something much more in a few years time. Only time will tell if these advances will eventually result in memory prosthetics and mobile computing along the lines of what science fiction authors like Bruce Sterling, Vernor Vinge, and Charles Stross have been imagining (the link leads to a chapter in Stross's novel Accelerando that's an interesting example of what I'm talking about).

February 20, 2006

New Advertising Technology Allows Ordering Products Directly from TV Commercial

Dave Meltzer, who single-handedly writes the Wrestling Observer newsletter every week, had an interesting blurb in the 13 February 2006 issue. I waited a few days to post about it so that the Observer would have had plenty of time to circulate, but I haven't read about this anywhere else. According to Dave, World Wrestling Entertainment is preparing to "showcase a new digital prototype technology that may prove to strongly increase business, and when copied, strengthen the value of television advertising greatly."

This new technology will be tested in WWE On Demand content such as WWE 24/7 and special events PPVs. According to Meltzer, "it would allow people watching a TV commercial, whether it be for a PPV, DVD, or other house show, to click to an icon on the screen to make an immediate purchase" and will also give them exclusive footage free for using the technology.

This is exactly the kind of model that maximizes advertising impact and makes advertising cease to feel like an intrusive hindrance to the programming but instead a focused and useful tool brought to the viewer. If done correctly, if used sparingly enough, it could be a milestone in the media industry. It's exactly the kind of thing you can do online, but digital cable provides every opportunity to do the same.

Has anyone else heard of similar technology being implemented on digital cable or satellite or in any other media form? For those of you who follow the advertising industry more closely, how long do you think it would take a trend like this to catch on?

As a wrestling fan, I see this having maximum benefit for wrestling-related merchandise and also for new movie releases. If it would be possible to view a movie trailer and immediately be able to click an options to see local showtimes and buy tickets online through Fandango or a similar service, I think it could be an extremely useful tool. The same goes for selling books, movies, and TV shows on DVD.

Of course, there are plenty of advertisers that this technology wouldn't effect, especially those that provide goods more along the lines of commodities, but those are the types of products that can be utilized in product placement, so the combination of this type of technology with an increase in effective product placement could move advertising toward a model much more reflective of the needs and wants of the consumer, again where everyone could potentially win.

February 17, 2006

All Your Trax Are Belong To Us

Via theinquirer.net and the EFF, the RIAA has reversed its position on whether ripping electronic backups from CDs is kosher.

This is what Don Verilli said the Supreme Court last year:

The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod.

And this is their new position:

Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright owners in the MGM v. Grokster case is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use.

As Fred Von Lohmann at the EFF says, the RIAA is essentially saying that "perfectly lawful" means "lawful until we change our mind." First, that's not how the law works. Second, there's no way in the world that you're going to convince people that they don't have the right to format-shift music which they already bought. And third, even if the RIAA manages to strongarm Congress and the courts to upholding their retrograde notion that consumers are leasing their music and have only those rights the RIAA deigns to assign them, all this is going to do is encourage people to engage in piracy and hold the law in contempt. Remember how effective the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition were at stamping out the consumption of liquor? Now imagine how well everyone with an iPod, mp3 player, or library of music on their computer is going to take their listening habits being criminalized.

February 13, 2006

Xbox 360 Memory Hack

From Gizmodo:

Another day, another compromised closed-source project. The XBox 360 filesystem has been cracked wide open and you can now move saved games to and from your 360 using a piece of software called xplorer360, a SATA cable, and/or a hacked USB cable. The program allows you to browse the entire 360 and even lets you drag files from your original XBox over to the 360, which, as we know, used to be impossible.

Given that this sort of thing is pretty much inevitable, why didn't Microsoft allow people to transfer XBox files to the 360 in the first place? It might've earned them some goodwill, instead of giving XBox hackers good PR among their customer base.

February 10, 2006

Uh, Sony vs. Universal Studios Much?

Gizmodo reports that HBO is trying to use a Broadcast flag to make its shows unrecordable by DVRs and conventional VHS tapes. From Ars Technica:

[In] a recent FCC filing [HBO] argues that its video-on-demand programming-and all "Subscription Video On Demand" services-should fall into the category of "Copy Never." In a broadcast-flagged world, that translate into consumers not being able to record on-demand broadcasts by HBO. No TiVo, no VCR, no video capturing on your PC, no nada.

It's too bad the courts have slapped down the broadcast flag before. Sony vs. Universal Studios (colloquially known as the Betamax case) established a precedent that timeshifting content did not infringe on a broadcaster's copyright, even if the technologies used to timeshift could be used for copyright infringing purposes. That's going to be a pretty high hurdle for HBO and strong-DRM advocates to clear, given that it's been settled law for over 21 years.

February 6, 2006

Stocks Down But New Developments Coming for Comcast, Electronic Arts

Peter Grant and Nick Wingfield had a pair of interesting articles in last Friday's Wall Street Journal about some major developments for Comcast and Entertainment Arts. Both companies had a sharp decline in their net profit in the last quarter of 2005. For Comcast, the decline was 69 percent, while EA's was 31 percent.

EA's decline was almost entirely attributed to shifts in the video game industry toward new gaming systems while there was simultaneously a shortage of Xbox 360s made available for the Christmas season due to a slowdown in production that didn't meet viewer demand on behalf of Microsoft. The company predicts that 2006 will continue to see tough trends like this, as the company is investing a lot of its capital into games for the upcoming Playstation 3 platform, so that a lot of money will be spent out on preparing for projects that will not see profit this year.

For Comcast, the decline was due to litigation and tax issues, as well as stock loss on the company's Sprint Nextel holdings.

The most interesting section of the Grant's article, however, is about the ways that Comcast is combatting this loss--becoming more competitive in the realm of telephone service, as cable and telephone providers continue to go nose-to-nose. We've written about this trend in reverse as well, such as this entry back in September about Verizon's entry into the cable market (based in another great article by Peter Grant). Discussing the importance os service providers just isn't as much fun as the interesting content of the actual entertainment creators (ah, but maybe that's my humanistic bias), but this could have a major impact on the communication industry as a whole...At this point, it looks like the major players in both industries are interested in trying to hang on by claiming dominance of both...Does that mean that an even fewer group of people go home with all the winnings, or is this going to create further value for the consumer--Are we headed for even more of an oligopoly or great old-fashioned capitalist competition?

February 1, 2006

More DRM Wackiness

So in the latest dispatch from the DRM frontlines, Cory Doctorow of boingboing criticized StarForce, a company that produces DRM software similar in many ways to the rootkit/malware on Sony's music CDs. There was already an active boycott of games that used their DRM, which appears to be gathering momentum, especially in the wake of StarForce threatening to sue Cory. (The legal merits of the threatened suit seem somewhat flimsy. And that's being charitable.)

Also, the updates on Cory's second post indicate that game companies themselves are liking neither what StarForce's DRM does to their computers, nor the consumer backlash which including it in their software might spark. To wit:

[StarForce's] business seems to depend on people not knowing how much they suck. For example, I was on a private beta list for a new game I won't mention by name due to NDA -- but the game authors agreed to drop StarForce after an outcry from the community. You don't often hear the stories about game developers dropping StarForce in favor of their customer.

With any luck, the proliferation of these incidents will push companies to swear off invasive DRM, just like consumer pressure (and higher sales of .pdf files which lacked DRM) led tabletop RPG companies to adopt unprotected .pdf files as the industry standard.

January 16, 2006

Homebrew Eyetoy Games ith Flash and the Status of the Peripheral

This is not exactly news since Flash8 was published last summer but recently the authoring tool is being increasingly used as a means for creating homebrew Eyetoy-style games and applications via the built-in .camera and .microphone classes and the BitmapData class. This new functionality makes it exceedingly easy to use difference blending (i.e. checking for color differences between two keyframes) to detect motion and implement gesture-control for webbased applications.
Furthermore, the recent 3rd generation drivers for the Sony Eyetoy allow users to plug even the new silver edition Eyetoys into their Windows XP/ 2003 Server PC and create games for it which come as close to commercial Eyetoy games as Indie games ever came to commercial-quality products. I'm playing around with a few demos at the moment and will post a link to the results when I have something.
Making a 'peripheral' device easily programmable by amateurs, however, IMO alters the 'status' of the hardware and its usage. While most PS2 and other console peripherals like Lightguns, the Gametrak or other, more bizarre controllers operated as a 'black box' which is plugged into the console and (hopefully) does what it's supposed to do, the programmable Eyetoy as an interface will probably change the way players interpret it as their interface to the game.
Maybe it will also boost the Eyetoy sales in the US which, as far as I'm informed, are less than satisfying at present; i.e., before the new eyetoy is released...

January 10, 2006

Learnings from the 2006 CES Show Floor

Like over 100,000 of my closest friends, I immersed myself in the sea of consumer technology that is CES. As the tsunami of convergence washed over us on the convention floor, a few trends became apparent:

1) iPod envy. While Apple doesn't do CES, preferring Mac World Expo instead, it seemed every manufacturer was touting iPod this, iPod that. While all the usual applications where represented, such as docking an iPod into a home or automobile audio system, my favorite was the iDJ iPod DJ Mixer from Ion.

If anyone can be responsible for kicking convergence into gear, it's Apple. While mp3 players existed before the iPod, it's the iPod's ubiquity and household name that taught consumers they could hold their record collection in their hand and listen to it anywhere. Once that behavior becomes easily understandable, people apply it to other media as well.

2) The manufacturers are creating convergence devices full throttle, and they're starting to work with content providers and networks to make the convergence dream come true. From GPS devices that also play mp3 files, video game players that have GPS in them, to cell phones that play mp3 files, to 3G cell phones that clan play video, devices that can do more than one thing are the mainstream future, based upon the large number of these devices at CES.

Which leads to...

3) Content Everywhere. The infrastructure is being put in place to deliver content on all these unteathered devices. Eg: MobiTV, allows you to watch TV and listen to "radio" on your cell phone. Slingbox allows you to access your TV anywhere you have a broadband connection; or the new Yahoo Go! service, which was a favorite shown on many devices from TiVo to Nokia cell phones, to AT&T's Home Zone, to a mirror in your bathroom in Yahoo!'s house of the future.

Which fits hand in glove with...

4) Content on demand. Tivo. Sirus' Tivo-like device for satellite radio, the S50. Akimbo this. Napster that. Google's pay for view video download service. At CES, appointment television was dead.

The hardware manufacturers have the convergence religion, will consumers? Will convergence happen in our short attention lifetimes? It will if:

- Digital Rights Management doesn't strangle ease of use, or cross consumer expectations.
- Studios and other content owners/creators can price reasonably and give consumers the control they want.
- Distribution networks like cell phones and cable don't balkanize content by putting up barriers.
- All of the above works well together.


Fun gadgets from the CES tradeshow floor:

- Vex Robotic Design System from Radio Shack. Build your own robots, compete with them. Lego Mindstorms were also there.

- XavixPort, a device that allows you to hook up various sporting equipment so that you can get a workout "playing" a video game along the lines of Dance, Dance, Revolution

- Various VOIP Wifi phones, including Netgear's Skype Phone and Vonage's Wifi Phone from UTStarcom among others. There was also a USB VOIP phone. It's early, but VOIP should be cheaper than POTS in most areas and in Cities with ubiquitous wifi, like Philly and San Francisco in the near future, wifi phones make sense.

- The iRobot Scooba, an autonomous robot that cleans floors.

- The Xebra electric car, proving that if it has to do with electrons, then it's a consumer electronic device.

January 5, 2006

eBooks: Has their time come?

Gizmodo reports from CES that Sony's new reader (which is based off of E-Ink's e-paper technology) is looking very nice:

To give you an idea of just how good this display looks... I walked up to the counter, looked at the text on the screen and asked, "So when will you have working units to play with?" The reply: "This is a working reader." I mistakenly though the text on the screen was some kind of plastic overlay--that's how ink-like it looked. Then the PR rep increased the text size, searched through the table of contents and showed me some Manga comics. It is the first e-reader that seemed like I could sit down and spend hours on without experiencing eye strain.

Other notable features: There's no backlight, and no visible flicker. It's small and lightweight, accepts Memory Sticks and SD flash memory cards, has a USB port, and can be used to view downloaded websites. Sony asserts that the battery can support 7,500 page turns.

If all the above is true, and if Sony releases this at an affordable price point with decent third-party support, the long-promised age of eBooks may be at hand.

Assuming that happens, the publishing industry will have to deal with the same kinds of piracy issues that the music, film, and games industries are facing. There may be a way around this problem, however. Several science fiction authors (notably Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing) have released electronic versions of their novels under the creative commons license. These books (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, and Accelerando being a few examples) have enjoyed much higher hardcopy sales than books by comparable authors with comparable promotion budgets.

Like in the anime industry (and *ahem* the music industry during Peak Napster) audience exposure to free content has served as a promotional vehicle and driven sales of the "premium" hardcopy versions of these books. While hardcopy may be on its way out, the idea of a two-tiered publishing system, where people who really like an author's work can either donate to the author or purchase some kind of premium eBook edition might well be the wave of the future in publishing.

January 1, 2006

New Year, New Stupid DRM Scheme

EMI insert

Via boing boing:

Coldplay's record label, EMI, has inserted a pleasant little note into all of their new CDs which discloses all the ways they've crippled the CD with DRM. The big problem, however, is pointed out by Cory Doctorow:

Of course, these rules are only visible after you've paid for the CD and brought it home, and as the disc's rules say, "Except for manufacturing problems, we do not accept product exchange, return or refund," so if you don't like the rules, that's tough.

What are the other rules? Here are some gems: "This CD can't be burnt onto a CD or hard disc, nor can it be converted to an MP3" and "This CD may not play in DVD players, car stereos, portable players, game players, all PCs and Macintosh PCs." Best of all, the insert explains that this is all "in order for you to enjoy a high quality music experience." Now, that's quality.

As I've noted before, the major problem with DRM is that it's designed to make inaccessible the exact same content which a media company wants to sell people in the first place. I'm certain that some bored code monkey will find a way around EMI's DRM any day now, and even without that happening, anyone with a CD burner, $12, an iTunes account, and a little sense can already make pirate copies of the album. I'm not even going to go into the level of consumer annoyance this has the potential to produce. People hate being forced to buy the same content twice, and given the trend towards people using iPods and other mp3 players to tote around their music collections, that's essentially what this kind of DRM entails for a large section of Coldplay's fanbase.

(And seriously, who is stupid enough to believe the 'this will maintain your high quality music experience' line? Are they going to change back to releasing albums on 8-tracks if they don't put DRM on CDs?)

December 31, 2005

Electroplankton: DS music-creation "game"

Electroplankton
Via Joystiq and DS fanboy comes yet another reason to buy a Nintendo DS-- a music creation toy called Electroplankton. Here's the lowdown:

It's not a game, precisely, though you do play with it (or on it, or through it...). Essentially, it turns your DS into a music creation tool -- but that's not quite right either, since you create rich and colorful visualizations as you play, and that's a huge part of the experience.

A fellow CMS student (Tracy Daniels) showed our class a video of an MIT Media Lab demo that sounds kind of similar to this, in which users could create beats and music by moving discs around a projector-illuminated table. Still, the idea of being able to do something like that on a $130 handheld with a stylus sounds pretty darn cool, even if the feature set will inevitably be somewhat constrained.

Update: Jeremy Parish of 1up.com argues (quite convincingly) that Electroplankton should put the inane debate over whether games are art to bed once and for all.

December 29, 2005

Technology Must Hold Up for New Media to Work

New media opportunities provide plenty of new ways to tell stories and to get fan communities interacting with media properties. However, as with any type of storytelling, the idea of convergence storytelling doesn't work if it isn't implemented well.

Sure, this seems like a no-brainer, but the fall in participation in fantasy football is proof of this. Fantasy sports, in theory, provide a great way to get fan communities actively involved in a media property, watching the actual games while strategizing and competing with their own fantasy teams.

But Kevin J. Delaney and David Kesmodel's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal points out what happens when the technology isn't up to speed with the expectations of fans--it puts a bad taste in the mouths of fans who are starting to opt out of fantasy football, which was once the craze of many sports fan communities.

One has to wonder if fantasy football sponsored by ESPN, when the technology starts to fail, begins to have a negative impact on ESPN or on the NFL or college teams. How far does failure in one medium stretch over into negativity toward brands in general?

December 27, 2005

Holiday Insights from Grant McCracken

For those who aren't already reading C3 Faculty Advisor Grant McCracken's excellent blog, two of his recent posts are of particular interest.

First, he suggests that corporations have a need for outside consultants who can extract brands, ideas, and innovations which have languished for structural or political reasons.

Second, he plots out four models for the effects which the resurgence of enthusiasm for the internet will produce. Personally, my feeling is that the first three of his models are valid, just on different time scales. The more conservative models will come to fruition faster, while the third model (which predicts wide-ranging social change) has more cultural resistance to overcome. The fourth model can't really be evaluated, because it would entail a cultural singularity, beyond which nothing can be predicted accurately. Anyway, it's worth reading the whole thing.

2006: the "Unbundled Awakening"?

Terry Heaton over at Donata Communications argues that 2006 will be the year that online video takes off, both in the form of TV shows downloaded from iTunes and video blogs like Rocketboom (now available through TiVo). Quoth Heaton:

It's a very dangerous time for any broadcaster to be making assumptions based on history.

But the biggest problem for broadcasters is their crumbling core competency and the shrinking value propositions they offer to both viewers and advertisers. The natural ability of the Internet to distribute unbundled media is disrupting broadcasting's basic business, and that will accelerate in 2006. Most broadcast companies have responded to the disruption by forcing their mass marketing value propositions into the situation (it's what they know), but most are finding that such a response-- while creating some revenue opportunities-- doesn't produce the kind of scale necessary to make up for the kinds of losses to their core business that they're facing.

He also notes that:

Unbundled media is clearly what people want, and when that kind of energy bubbles up from the bottom, media companies of all sorts have no choice but to respond. This is currently happening in the worlds of entertainment, education and information and one day will be realized in every institution of our culture.

While Heaton definitely has a point,