Recently, I was lucky enough to attend Film Finance Forum West, presented by Winston Baker. They did an excellent job at rounding up some of the sharpest minds in the world of film financing, who collectively painted an interesting/optimistic/encouraging/bleak portrait of what it takes to get a movie made in today’s economic climate.
A lot of facts and figures were thrown around, and I felt my head starting to spin often as panelists discussed tax rebates, legal fees, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, gap loans, supergap loans, and more.
I’ll do my best to break it down as simply as possible. Without further ado, here are some of my top takeaways from Film Finance Forum West.
Do your homework and learn as much as possible. If you really want to produce films with a sizable budget, learn everything you possibly can about tax rebates, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, different forms of loans,
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend Film Finance Forum West, presented by Winston Baker. They did an excellent job at rounding up some of the sharpest minds in the world of film financing, who collectively painted an interesting/optimistic/encouraging/bleak portrait of what it takes to get a movie made in today’s economic climate.
I don’t remember exactly when TV shows started to depict computers as part of everyday life. The series My So-Called Life ran from 1994 to 1995, and although it centered around a fifteen-year-old, there were no computers. I saw an episode not long ago, and their absence was startling. Look! Angela Chase talks on a telephone that has a
I find it ironic that TV screens are getting bigger and smaller at the same time. Like a growing number of households, our living room is endowed with a big-screen TV yet I also watch video on my laptop, my iPad and occasionally even on my Android phone.
And when my wife and I do plop ourselves down in front of the TV, some of what we watch comes via our satellite dish (for other people it could be cable or an antenna) but increasingly, we’re viewing content that’s streamed via the Internet.
My young adult kids don’t even have TVs in their apartments. They watch everything on their PCs and sometimes their smartphones.
It seems that, for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have a mixture of form factors and sources for the video we consume, and with all those choices, time spent watching traditional TV is bound to keep shrinking. A 2010 study by market research firm Morspace found that 52 percent of
What’s the greenest town in American? Hollywood, where recycling has literally become an art form.
The joke has more than a ring of truth given the film industry’s dependence on sequels. In 2011, movie goers are likely to have plenty of dj-vu moments when the latest installments of Mission: Impossible, Pirates of the Caribbean, Scream, Spy Kids and The Twilight Saga hit the screen. As if these weren’t enough, Hollywood is also expected to release sequels to Final Destination, X-Men, Winnie-the-Pooh and Shrek this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Next year, it will be the same story as follow-ups to Batman, Monsters Inc., Transformers, G.I. Joe and James Bond are
While it may be true that in the movie business nobody knows anything, although I imagine James Cameron begs to differ, what about other businesses? Steve Jobs seems to know exactly what we want in elegantly styled electronics products, even before we do and even if they aren’t quite perfect. Jeff Bezos knows how to sell us almost everything we want online — and we thought he’d never make it past books. And how about that guy at Groupon who just turned down $6 billion for a company that didn’t exist 3 years ago and has zero barriers to entry in its business plan — he must know something. Of course, you can forget about Jesse Eisenberg/Mark Zuckerberg — he knows, what, about 600 million
Just a few days before stepping down as CEO of NBC Universal after nearly 25 years with the company, Jeff Zucker responded to questions at the NATPE Conference posed by his brother-in-law, Michael Nathanson of Nomura Securities. Although he cautiously avoided comments on controversial topics such as the resignation (?) of MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, Zucker’s valedictory observations are relevant and important.
“Content is what matters,” emphasized Zucker. “Investing in great content wherever it is, is important.” Backing it up, Zucker pointed to USA Network, which will have 12 original series next season, up from three a few years ago. More original content is slated for every NBCU owned network, and while he acknowledged the primetime challenges to NBC-TV, he stressed that “content is not just entertainment, but also live news and sports.” Retransmission consent value generated by network owned and affiliated stations from cable operators is based more on news and sports programming that’s viewed live and that has no back-end online exploitation, he
The closing evening of the 30th annual Sundance Film Festival seemed like an opportune time to ponder the similarities between two sets of oddly kindred spirits.
“It took 10 years, innumerable false starts, five maxed out credit cards, and an unending sea of small bridge loans, and help from friends and family to get here. I just want to thank everybody who supported this project along the way, without them this would never have been possible.” Is this abstracted from a speech given by a filmmaker or a technology entrepreneur? Perhaps it is the story told by Derek Cianfrance, the director of Blue Valentine? or maybe Pandora founder Tim Westergren? I have heard them both tell a story like this, which is more than anything else, a story about passion, commitment, relentless faith and ambition.
It is odd to me that many of the internet entrepreneurs whom I spend time with know so little about this “other” global band of entrepreneurs and who congregate every year for a week in Park
Competition has proven itself to be a failed business concept. Those that follow and copy rather than lead and innovate are all but dead in today’s economy! Contrary to what you have been told, competition is not healthy and in fact breeds failure and mediocrity.
Competition is for followers and imitators not leaders and innovators. Failing businesses, unemployment, factories closing, product demises and salespeople unable to hit their quotas are just a few examples of being competitive. Competing results in razor-thin margins, reduced stock values and leaves in its wake mediocre companies and second tier players who depend on prayer and bailouts for their futures. TWA, Circuit City, Blockbuster, ABC, CBS, NBC, Sears and Pontiac are just a few examples that competition is a failed business concept.
Competition and individuals that spend their days mimicking what others are doing is reactive and suicidal. You have been convinced that competition is healthy, but healthy for whom? Great companies, great managers, greats sales people, and tomorrows leaders set the pace of the race — they don’t seek to compete but dominate!
– Decide to dominate your sector and your market.
– Do what your “competitors” will not do.
– Be so ferocious in your actions that you are seen everywhere.
The concept of competition is a like a cancer in business today with companies and individuals comparing themselves to what others are doing rather than what is possible. Competition has never made a company, country, product or an individual great! Competition is not an American theme but more a communist one.
Greatness is achieved with the decision to be the leader in the space and dominate. Domination is the idea of controlling a space with such ownership that your supposed ‘competition’ cannot keep up and succumbs to follow. Pixar, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Southwest Airlines are examples of companies that dominate their spaces.
The new business mantra is domination, not competition!
Grant Cardone, NY Times Best Selling Author and Sales Training Expert
This Blogger’s Books from
If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market and Beat Your Competition
by Grant Cardone
Sell To Survive
by Grant Cardone
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One of the best known and most popular over-the-top applications became a set top box this holiday season. But the upstart software company isn’t stopping there. This week at CES 2011 they announced a partnership with an HDTV vendor to embed the Boxee software into a TV!
Why is this a big deal? Because even though the $200 Boxee box delivers a great experience, in the end consumers want to cut down on their set top boxes, not add new ones in. And by building it into the TV, it helps these manufacturers differentiate their flatscreens from the competition.
The surprising news at CES, though, was that Boxee was teaming up with Viewsonic, a decidedly third-tier TV vendor. But it’s a start. I fully expect Boxee to be bundled into other TVs over the next year.
Check out our video of the Boxee box for all the details of this groundbreaking announcement.
BOXEE Box inside a Viewsonic TV:
We’ll have much more from CES as the show progresses. For all the updates, bookmark our CES 2011 special report!
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The recent capitulation of Blockbuster video to Netflix has engendered a lot of ink. Most business writers seem to be getting no end of schadenfreude at the sight of the king of the late fees (Blockbuster collected half a billion dollars in late fees in its heyday) getting its comeuppance at the hands of an organization that seems to get the concept of customer service.
So the story we’re hearing is that Netflix’s ascendancy is the triumph of online retailing and technology over traditional retail stores and physical product. And sure, the facts are compelling. Netflix understood the revolution taking place in the global supply chain, particularly in the field of logistics which obviated the need to carry large inventories. While Blockbuster hung its hat on 5,000 stores nationally, Netflix operated 37 shipping centers located throughout the United States reaching nearly 92 percent of subscribers with generally one-day delivery. That’s one million DVDs each day. And, like Zappo’s, Netflix chased the good conduct medal, winning numerous customer satisfaction awards from places like ForeSee and Fast Company.
But the more interesting story, in my mind, is told through a socio-cultural lens. Some have described Netflix as a category killer but this seems wrong. It didn’t make its fortune on bargain prices and stocking commodity products. Netflix actually did the opposite — it gave the consumer more and better. A typical Blockbuster has 8,000 tapes covering 6,500 titles in its stores (a neighborhood video store generally has less than 3,000 titles); Netflix offers a collection of 100,000 titles on DVD. The mistake that business case-study scribes make is in thinking that films or music operate the way laundry detergent does. Netflix didn’t win because it had more titles at cheaper prices but because its catalog reflected the growing reach of the American and worldwide consumer.
The top rental at Netflix when I last checked was Crash, a searing Robert Altman-esque film from 5 years ago about race relations in California. This is a powerful indicator of what’s at play in the Netflix model. Clearly, Crash did not rise to the top of the charts because of advertising or the elephantine point-of-purchase displays one is accustomed to in a video store. Instead, the engine driving viewing tastes at places like Netflix is the Amazon-style customer-review model that has done more to break the stranglehold of advertising over buyer behavior than anything I can think of. Amazon, as we all know, sticks a cookie on your hard drive, so that you’re on the receiving end of all sorts of useful features like recommendations based on past purchases and lists of reviews and guides written by users who purchased the products you’re viewing. Netflix has now amassed more than 1 billion movie ratings from customers, and members select approximately 60 percent of their movies based on movie recommendations tailored to their individual tastes. For example, my recent browse of the description of the Werckmesiter Harmonies, an austerely beautiful black and white film by the Hungarian director, Bela Tarr led me via Netflix’s Cinematch recommendation system to the Devil’s Backbone by the Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro; a look at the terrifically exciting 60s thriller Blow Up led me to Nicholas Roeg’s 70s thriller Don’t Look Now. It’s hard to imagine this skein of sound recommendations happening in a storefront. And that’s what Netflix did — it led us away from the 50 copies of The Hangover or Transformers along an associative path informed by all of our past choices. It wrote a database for serendipity.
Perhaps the company that’s expanded on the customer-review idea in the most stunning way is the internet music service, Pandora. Started as a recommendation technology company, it was re-purposed in Fall 2005 as web radio service and today has more than 60 million registered users. Pandora’s model is the next iteration of Netflix and Amazon. Called the Music Genome Project, it offers listeners a prompt to enter an artist or song and then constructs a playlist based on the song’s distinguishing features. The difference is that Pandora has hired trained music analysts to categorize its entire inventory of music using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics, including melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics (the typical music analyst has a four-year degree in music theory, composition or performance). My recent trip to Pandora on my iPhone which began with the 90s grunge heroes, the Pixies, led me to the French super group Phoenix and the even more obscure Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a buoyant California retro act which caught me by surprise. Again, I can’t imagine being able to deep dive into the indie music scene that way on terrestrial radio. Pandora took off when it began offering apps for smartphones and other mobile devices and turned its first profit in the first quarter of 2009. With half of all radio-listening occurring in the car, Ford, GM and Mercedes have all expressed plans to put Pandora into their dashboards.
In the end Pandora and Netflix are winning because they reflect their customers in a way that old-line firms with their hegemonic ad campaigns and totalizing distribution channels never could. Time Magazine put it rather well: they “are attempting to second-guess a mysterious, perverse and profoundly human form of behavior: the personal response to a work of art.” Pandora and Netflix know that customers today are smarter. And that roving appetite even for the obscure and the interesting is a function of how we’ve changed. By 2050, the world’s urban population will be 6 billion, 300 million inside US cities. 2 billion people will enter the middle class by 2050 mostly in Africa and Asia. We’re better educated and more curious about the world than big business gives us credit. And that’s the lesson of Netflix. When given the choice of something interesting and exciting that sidesteps the mainstream, we will take it.
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From celebrity gaffes to wardrobe malfunctions to irritating toys, 2010 gave us a lot of fodder for “worst mom moments,” but in the end we narrowed it down to these six (in no particular order — who am I to say whether Justin Bieber is the greatest threat to national security?):
The Cage Fight That Is ‘Teen Mom’
1 of 7
New Year’s Resolutions: 10 Easy Ways To Recharge, Restore And Renew In 2011
This Decade’s 10 Most Fearless Ladies Who Redefined Being a 40-Something (PHOTOS)
Did You Attract What You Wanted in 2010?
John Lennon QUOTES: Inspirational Thoughts And Lyrics About Peace, Love And Life
10 Reasons Why You Should Get a Dog Instead of a Facelift (PHOTOS)
10 Tips for Fine Dining with Toddlers (PHOTOS)
What started out as “16 and Pregnant” grew this year from a disheartening yet totally gripping spectacle to the best PSA for birth control ever. Just this year, Farrah’s mom went to jail for hitting her. Amber almost went to jail for hitting her boyfriend. And Maci didn’t hit anyone, although we all kind of secretly wished she would kick her deadbeat baby-daddy to the curb. Oh, and now Amber is pregnant again! These girls make motherhood look like a cage fight, except less classy.
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What’s your worst mom moment from this past year? The mommy blogger wars? The Dunkin’ Donuts breastfeeding fiasco? The death of Corey Haim (and a hundred adolescent fantasies)?
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The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything
by Charlotte Hilton Andersen
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Judge’s Ruling Clears Way For Class Action Litigation
By Al Norman
OAKLAND, CA. It must have seemed like a great plot line at the time.
On May 19, 2005, Wal-Mart and Netflix put out a press release announcing that the companies’ two online retail sites would “promote each other’s core business.” The deal was described as a “joint promotional agreement” which would allow each company to benefit from each other’s “complimentary expertise.”
The agreement was a non-compete deal which divided up the DVD market by drawing a bright line separating DVD rentals from sales, based on the companies’ strengths. Netflix would promote Wal-Mart’s sale of DVD movies, and Wal-Mart would promote Netflix’s DVD rental business. Neither company would intrude onto the other’s territory. According to their joint press release, the two companies agreed “to market one another’s key movie business at their respective websites.”
Wal-Mart agreed to stop its DVD rental service—which it did in June of 2005—and its rental customers would “be offered the option to become Netflix subscribers at their current Wal-Mart rate for one year from the date they sign up.” Wal-Mart also agreed to use its website, walmart.com, to promote and refer customers who wanted to rent DVDs to Netflix. To this day, walmart.com/movies does not rent DVDs.
In return, Netflix, which claims to have more than 16 million members, agreed to promote Wal-Mart’s online movie sales, including a pre-order price guarantee, which Netflix allowed to be accessed from its website, and promoted through mailers sent to Netflix subscribers. The pre-order price guarantee ensured customers the “lowest available price on pre-order movies,” according to the companies’ joint statement.
In response to this “agreement” between two of its rivals, Blockbuster advertised a special offer to Wal-Mart and Netflix DVD subscribers: if a Wal-Mart or a Netflix subscriber switched to Blockbuster’s online DVD rental service, the subscriber got two months of free service, a free DVD of their choice, and a freeze of their subscription rate for a year.
“We’ve experienced tremendous growth in our online movie sales,” said Wal-Mart’s chief marketing officer for the retailer’s website, “and are committed to enhancing our focus in this business at Walmart.com. We’re equally excited to team with Netflix, the pioneer of online movie rentals, which not only distinguishes both of our core online competencies, but offers a complementary solution of value, service, and convenience to customers.”
Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, added: “This agreement bolsters both Netflix’s leadership in DVD movie rentals and Wal-Mart’s strong movie sales business, while providing customers even more choices and convenience. Both companies will continue to expand their respective leads in providing the best in movie entertainment to millions of online customers.”
But for DVD rental subscribers, it was not apparent how this deal translated into “more choices and convenience.” Instead, it looked like a choice made for the convenience and profit of the retailers—not for consumers. The deal ended major competition in DVD sales and rentals. Netflix told its investors that it believed the agreement “would not materially impact the company’s current subscriber growth or financial performance.”
Netflix boasted that teaming up with Walmart.com would bolster the company’s competitive position, because the popularity of Walmart.com and the Web site’s traffic “offer an opportunity for increased awareness and referrals to the Netflix service.”
This week, the Netflix/Wal-Mart DVD deal was back in the headlines—but with a negative spin. A U.S. District Court Judge in Oakland, California ruled that a Netflix subscribers’ lawsuit brought in 2009 challenging the DVD agreement as monopolizing the market could proceed as a class action lawsuit. In an order dated Dec. 23rd, Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled that the plaintiffs were “united by common and overlapping issues of fact and law.”
According to the lawsuit, the alleged conspiracy began when the chief executive of Netflix, met the CEO of Walmart.com for dinner in January 2005 to discuss how to push back competition in the DVD market in the U.S. At that time the Netflix and Wal-Mart website were competitors in online DVD rentals.
The lawsuit charges that Netflix and Wal-Mart colluded to divide the DVD market and reduce competition when they announced their “joint promotional agreement.” The lawsuit claims that this agreement was reached after main rival Blockbuster began challenging Netflix by renting DVDs online. Netflix’s agreement with the Arkansas-based retailer removed Wal-Mart as a rental competitor, and gave Netflix an advantage over Blockbuster by having Wal-Mart directing subscribers to Netflix.
Despite their market agreement with Netflix, Wal-Mart dropped hands with its partner when the lawsuit was filed. The giant retailer—no stranger to class action litigation—decided to settle with the plaintiffs, and reportedly will end up paying out $40 million to erase the claim. A hearing on the Wal-Mart motion will be held in early February. Netflix is not part of that settlement–it was a deal that Wal-Mart cut on its own
The Judge agreed that the Wal-Mart/Netflix alliance kept DVD rental prices higher than they would have been in a fully competitive marketplace. “As a result, millions of Netflix subscribers allegedly paid supracompetitive prices,” the Judge wrote.
At the time of the Wal-Mart/Netflix deal, Blockbuster had approximately 9,100 stores worldwide. That number today has fallen to 7,000 stores. In 5 years, Blockbuster has been forced to shut down 23% of its stores. Blockbuster now tells its shareholders “the Company is no longer just a chain of video stores….Blockbuster now offers convenient access to media entertainment any where and any way consumers want it – whether in stores, by mail, through vending / kiosks or digital download.”
Now that a judge has ruled the plaintiffs can form a class, Netflix may be forced either to appeal the decision, or face years of litigation. A company spokesman told the Associated Press, “The case has no merit and we’re going to continue to defend it.” At least Wal-Mart understands how this movie ends: it has learned to treat class action lawsuits as a loss-leader, settling dozens of them.
Netflix should download Wal-Mart’s script: settle the case, admit no wrong-doing, pay millions to the plaintiffs, and get back to its “core competency.”
Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and the author of the book “The Case Against Wal-Mart.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, most organizations believe they are not working as well as they used to. Their leaders blame the rapid and unpredictable changes that are going on around them. But many of them have failed to grasp one fundamental truth: change is the new constant.
To be successful in the 21st century requires accepting that change is here to stay. Consider the case of Netflix. The company is nearing the end of one of its most successful years – its stock prices have doubled, the subscriber base jumped by 52 percent in the third quarter and its site now accounts for 20 percent of all Internet traffic during the typical American evening. While so many of its competitors (i.e. Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, etc.) are struggling, Netflix has shown a great affinity to reacting and responding to today’s environment – adapting its services to the internet and mobile devices.
Like Netfix, companies across industries are seeing constant change as a tunnel to innovation, success and sustainability. And one of the most critical components for success is now the ability to build a culture that can adapt and thrive in change. As the founder and chairman of Grand Circle Corporation for the last 25 years, I have seen my fair share of change. After all, our organization operates in one of the most volatile and unpredictable industries on the planet: international travel.
We realized early on that change is a persistent condition every successful organization must address. But beyond the travel industry, every business environment is fraught with levels of uncertainty. Leaders must remember to look outside their companies – that way, when a big change does happen, they’re not blindsided or caught off guard.
While there’s no way of anticipating what tomorrow will bring, leaders should strive to stay ahead of the change in their industry by spotting trends in their embryonic stage. How so? Actively seek information, pay special attention to what your customers are saying and stay close to forward-thinking business professors – this won’t necessarily give you 20/20 vision into the future of your company, but you’ll be ahead of the game in many ways.
As other companies feel the sting and see the advantages of mastering change, there are five lessons that have helped Grand Circle thrive and grow – despite the unpredictable environment – that can be applied to any organization:
Flexibility Trumps Efficiency – Focus on fostering flexibility within your organization; it will help ensure that those around you are behind and a part of the change in your company.
Mission and Vision Creates Inspiration – Inspire those around you with a mission and vision that supports growth and change.
Values, Not Structures, Drive Effective Organizations – Values should be at the base of your corporate culture; if there’s too much emphasis on structure, you’re not leaving any room for change.
Investments in People and Learning Create Advantage – Allow your employees to grow and change as your company continues to evolve and take on new areas of competency.
Relentless Measurement of Excellence is Essential – Make sure you’re keeping a pulse on the progress of your organizations; you’ll be able to see what strategies are yielding results.
As the “new normal” emerges – companies must be prepared. Change is right around the corner. Are you ready?
Alan Lewis is owner and chairman of Grand Circle Corporation, the largest U.S. direct market tour operator of international vacations for older Americans and co-author of “Driving With No Brakes.”
At a time when a small number of giant media corporations already control what the American people see, hear, and read, we do not need another conglomerate with more control over the production and distribution of news and other programming. What we need is less concentration of ownership, more diversity, more local ownership, and more viewpoints.
The proposed mega-merger of General Electric’s NBC Universal, one of the largest media companies in the country, with Comcast, the largest cable television provider in America, would be a giant step in the wrong direction. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should block the deal. That is exactly what thousands of people have said in letters to the FCC, sent through my website in the past few days.
The FCC may sign off on the merger and transfer the license to use the public airwaves only, according to the threshold set by law, if it determines that the arrangement serves “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Far from meeting that standard, the takeover of NBC by Comcast would create a monolithic media superpower and cause irreparable damage to the American media landscape and society as a whole. Furthermore, it is likely that the merger of these two media giants would precipitate other media mergers and make a very bad situation ever worse.
Citizens in a democracy need diverse sources of news and information. The sale of NBC to Comcast would lead to less local news, fewer points of view, and less competition for viewers and advertising, not just in Comcast’s network but throughout the country.
There are other reasons to oppose combination of NBC and Comcast. Chief among them is that it would drive up consumer costs. One study by a former chief economist for the FCC found that consumers would pay $2.4 billion more in fees if the merger were completed. As the country struggles to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it is unconscionable to ask millions of consumers to spend more while receiving virtually no tangible benefits. At least in my view, the “public interest, convenience, and necessity” would not be served by a regressive transfer of $2.4 billion from ordinary citizens to one of the largest and wealthiest corporate entities in the United States.
The deal also would have a negative impact on the development of new programs. Comcast already is the nation’s largest distributor of video services. NBC Universal is one of the nation’s largest producers of video content. The merger would create what economists call vertical integration and put other content providers seeking access to Comcast’s customers at a distinct competitive disadvantage.
Comcast, of course, has dismissed these concerns. The cable operator, which has a history of jacking up rates for even the most basic services, would have us believe that consumers somehow will benefit from the merger with lower prices. Yeah, right. Comcast contends that combining the largest video distributor and one of the largest producers of video content into a single media entity would increase diversity of programming. The company also defies logic by arguing that centralizing ownership would by some mysterious process enhance local control. These non-sequiturs are nonsense.
In the past few days, we’ve seen ominous signs of what’s to come if the FCC okays the merger. Even in the midst of two extensive federal review processes, at a time when you would think Comcast would be acting with the utmost caution, the company has continued to throw its weight around to the detriment of its competitors.
Comcast reportedly told a Netflix affiliate that it will not stream Netflix video to Comcast subscribers without substantial new fees. Why would Comcast do such a thing? Why wouldn’t it want to continue offering its customers Netflix? Perhaps because Comcast has its own business streaming video to consumers, a business that directly competes with Netflix.
Then, according to a complaint filed Monday with the FCC, Comcast will not let subscribers buy modems made by Zoom Telephonics until Zoom pays for a battery of expensive tests. Why would Comcast want to deny its subscribers access to Zoom modems? The answer is just as obvious as in the Netflix scenario. Comcast rents modems directly to consumers, thereby competing directly with companies like Zoom. It has every reason to make Zoom modems more expensive or even to drive companies like Zoom out of business.
We shouldn’t be surprised. These are the kinds of things that happen when a company like Comcast wears too many hats. The fact that Comcast continues these practices even while it is under scrutiny by the Department of Justice and the FCC, however, should give us pause. We need to recognize that if Comcast is acting like this now; things will be far, far worse if the merger is approved.
Perhaps the reason that Comcast has continued its anticompetitive practices, apparently without fear that they will jeopardize its merger approval, is that Comcast has a keen sense of how Washington works. Campaign contributions from those who work for Comcast doubled this year. In fact, if you can believe it, Comcast donated to three-quarters of the members of the House of Representatives and half of the members of the Senate. Is it a coincidence that so many members of Congress have supported the merger? You be the judge.
Fortunately, the FCC’s clear mandate is set by statute. Another media merger that would reduce competition and stifle creativity in TV programming, the cable industry, and on the Internet is clearly not in the public interest.
Given the enormity of the issue, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to the proposed merger. As the FCC nears the end of its review process, it is the time for the American people to speak out and send a loud and clear message: Stop the merger.
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Revelations from the WikiLeaks cables continue to surface, and newly-uncovered information seems to provide irrefutable proof of what many American citizens have long suspected: that nobody in the U.S. government gives two royal craps about anyone they claim to represent.
Transcribed by an unnamed diplomatic figure in conversation with an also unidentified “pretty freaking high ranking cabinet member,” if this exchange is proven true, it would carry a startling implication. Namely that the American government has prioritized the needs of its citizens somewhere below its annoyance at the upcoming changes in the Netflix rental agreement.
Diplomat X: Mr. XXXXX, I can’t help but feel a disconnect between those in power in the states and those who are trying their best to scrape by in this economy. The middle class is disappearing; many of them are going into massive credit card debt simply to pay for necessities like food and shelter, and meanwhile many of the richest Americans are hanging onto an “I’ve got mine” mentality that seems to blame the poor for falling on hard times. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders addressed these frustrations recently rather eloquently. Aren’t you bothered by this?
White House official X: I’ll tell you what I’m bothered by. Netflix is offering this lower monthly rate if you choose only to watch the movies they stream to your computer. But, damn it, that leaves a whole lot of other titles that aren’t available that way. If you want the full catalogue, you’ve got to pay more than you were paying before. Sure, you can save some coin if you just watch the streaming titles, but it’s like they’re just preparing you for the day when they put the whole catalogue online and then they’ll jack up the price again!
D.X.: I can see how that would be irritating.
W.H.O.X.: You have no idea what we put up with in America. These damned entertainment outlets get you hooked, and then they change everything up. It’s like trying to find the same thing twice at Trader Joe’s.
D.X.: It seems to me that this ‘I’ve got mine’ mentality could not have been very influential in shaping America’s incredible post-World War II prosperity. Haven’t we lost the true idealism of that period, when there was a certain expectation that moneyed individuals could contribute to the welfare of everyone?
W.H.O.X.: When you talk about the mentality of the average working American, you’ve got to talk about what happens to your mind when you get busy and you forget what movie is next in your Netflix queue. Next thing you know, some stinker like The Bounty Hunter shows up in your mailbox because Gerard Butler’s in it and you made a mistake and clicked on that part where it says ‘if you liked this, you may also like’ while you were adding 300 to your queue. Pain in the ass!
D.X.: Congressman Alan Grayson recently pointed out an irony, which is that some of the wealthiest members of the Republican Party, like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck, are the ones who don’t want the tax cuts because they are richer than any of their supporters could ever hope to be. And yet they claim to represent common Americans in their ideological diatribes. Isn’t it time somebody stood up and said that in a country of over three hundred million people, it’s impossible for everyone to be rich, and that we all need to start helping each other?
W.H.O.X.: You know what would help people? If the watch instantly movies gave you some more menu options! I mean, suppose it’s a Criterion Edition and you want to hear the commentary track? No can do if it’s streaming on your computer! Just another way they bone us with this lower-rate-for-online-only deal. I tell you, it’s a conspiracy. A damn conspiracy.
D.X.: Do you speak for the entire U.S. government?
W.H.O.X.: Buddy, this Netflix fiasco is all me and my buddies in the cabinet have been talking about for weeks.
D.X.: I think we’re done here.
W.H.O.X.: Hey. I decide when we’re done. Are you rich?
D.X.: Not very.
W.H.O.X.: We’re done.
James Napoli is an author and humorist. More of his comedy content for the Web can be seen here.
This Blogger’s Books from
The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm: A Lexicon for Those of Us Who Are Better and Smarter Than the Rest of You
by James Napoli
Big Bad Ass Book of Dreams
by James Napoli, Klaus Vollmar
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The groundbreaking TNT comedy-drama, Men of A Certain Age, returns for a second season on Monday, December 6 at 10AM (9PM central). Starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher, the show really is must-see TV—for men and women.
With humor, pathos, and intelligence, Men of a Certain Age covers some of the serious issues we all face after we “settle down” on the road to becoming grownups. Most notably, however, the show defies the stereotype of vacuous male friendships by portraying three 40-something male chums who really are true friends and intimates even though their lives are vastly different. The guys argue, laugh and support one another as they cope with the unpredictable challenges of middle age.
The show is compelling with characters that are far more realistic and grounded than the gals of Sex & The City. (You might want to read my prior post on 5 Reasons Why Women Love Men of a Certain Age.)
Because the writing for the show is so highly relatable, I was eager to find out some of the back story. So I interviewed Mike Royce, executive producer, whom I met on Twitter. Mike and Ray Romano are not only collaborators; they’re also good friends. Perhaps that’s what gives them an edge on writing about real friendships.
The two joined forces for the first time in 1998, when Mike helped Ray write his New York Times best-selling book, Everything and a Kite. After that Mike joined the writing staff of Everybody Loves Raymond, eventually becoming an executive producer for the last two seasons. In 2003, Mike was nominated for a Emmy Award in 2003 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, for his episode “Counseling.” He and the other Raymond writers and producers won the Emmy for “Best Comedy” in 2003, and 2005.
Post-”Raymond,” Mike became the executive producer and showrunner of HBO’s first ever sitcom, Lucky Louie. And then, in 2007, he and Ray teamed up to begin the long development journey that became Men of a Certain Age.
Here’s my interview with Mike:
When and how did you meet Ray?
I first met Ray when we were both comedians. I believe it was around 1990, and we were doing a week at “Catch a Rising Star” in Princeton, NJ. Back then, he was leaps and bounds ahead of me comedically… and it stayed that way!
What’s it like to be a Friend of Ray?
Ray and I have known each other for twenty years and have worked together pretty closely, off and on, for twelve. As the clich goes, we’re sort of an old married couple at this point. We’re in tune with each other, get annoyed with each other, and have at least 4 million inside jokes.
The first time I ever saw Ray onstage I thought, “That’s the kind of comedian I want to be.” Not so much the subject matter, since at the time I did not come from a dysfunctional Italian family (I still don’t). But the way he delivered his material was so true and natural. He accomplished very early on the skill of seeming like “He’s just up there talking.” He made something very difficult look easy.
Do you think male friendships are as shallow as they are cracked up to be? If so, why? If not, why not?
I guess I would say that male friendships are very individual and sometimes in entertainment, all that’s portrayed is the sex and sports talk. Not to say there isn’t a bunch of that. But without pontificating about what it means to be a male friend, I would say there’s a lot of nuance that sometimes gets lost in pop culture.
Would you consider yourself a work friend, personal friend, a mix? Explain.
The two things are so intertwined! I only got to know Ray because we do the same work, from comedian to writer, over the years. And our television work has tended to be very personal, so we’re always drawing from our lives and our friendship. It’s a Mobius strip; no one knows where it all begins and ends. We’re constantly having experiences either together or separately and reconvening to go, “Wow, that would be a great scene.” Sometimes we have to make sure we are dealing with the real life situation fully and not ignoring it in order to immediately go write about it.
Has your own friendship been a part of the storyline of Men of a Certain Age?
Ray and I have various friendships that get melded into the relationship between Owen, Terry and Joe. I would say the main way our friendship is a part of it is conversationally, although that encompasses many other friends of ours as well. One thing we try very hard to portray accurately on the show is the notion that these guys know each other so well that every subject has been visited 400 times before—that many of their conversations are just a new variation of one of their old conversations. That certainly happens with Ray and myself where we get talking and it’s like “This again, huh?” It’s important to us to maintain that dynamic in the show, that it never feels like the guys are fakely discussing something they would have already discussed a million times.
In your opinion, what is the relationship between social media and friendship? Do you ever text or tweet Ray?
I like social media but Ray is allergic to Facebook and Twitter. But it’s different for him, obviously the fame issue complicates how much of your life you can put out there on the Internet.
I highly recommend you watch Monday’s premiere. If you want to play catch-up, the DVD of the first season recently released and is available at brick and mortar stores, on Amazon, and from Netflix.
More about Mike Royce:
Mike Royce grew up in Syracuse, New York and graduated from film school at Ithaca College. From there he moved to New York City, where a fun experiment in standup comedy turned into a 12-year career. Mike became a fixture on the New York club scene and did spots on a bevy of television shows, including Late Night With Conan O’Brien. For several years, he was also a warmup comedian for such shows as The Dana Carvey Show, The Maury Povich Show, Viva Variety, and Spin City. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
This Blogger’s Books from
Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend
by Irene S. Levine
Schizophrenia For Dummies
by Jerome Levine, Irene S. Levine
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The Huffington Post front page, the AP, and the New York Times are reporting developing details about the big news that broke last night: Comcast will essentially block Netflix unless a new fee is paid to Comcast — so Netflix’s price goes up and people use Comcast’s video service instead.
This outrageous abuse of power by Comcast comes on the very week that President Obama’s FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce whether he’ll fulfill Obama’s promise to protect the open Internet and Net Neutrality — which would prevent this type of corporate abuse.
The FCC needs to hear from the public right now, before the chairman’s big announcement this week. Within hours, over 40,000 people have signed this emergency petition from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:
We’ll deliver these signatures to the FCC this week. Sign here.
What else could Comcast do if the FCC doesn’t protect Net Neutrality?
Internet providers like Comcast can drive their financial competitors (or political opponents) out of business by charging them more, for no good reason — exactly what’s happening right now.
For instance, Comcast could block or degrade iTunes, which competes with Comcast’s own online music store.
Worse, the FCC will soon decide whether to allow Comcast to buy NBC! Not only would this bad actor become Keith Olbermann’s boss, but can you imagine what Comcast will do to block customers from getting video from ABC, CBS, and other media outlets like the Huffington Post? This is way more serious than just movies — the FCC’s decision impacts pretty much everything.
Tell the FCC to stop Comcast’s abuse of power and protect the open Internet. Click here — then pass it on.
Thanks for paying attention to this important issue.
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With its small, one-pound box priced from $60 to $100 depending on features, Roku is the “value leader” in the connected living room, says company spokesperson Brian Jaquet in this interview with Beet.TV
The box is priced below Google TV, Apple TV, the new Boxee Box and Internet-ready TV’s. Jaquet says that in the face of this new competion, Roku is “well positioned.”
The Roku box, which is sold online, connects a wired or wireless Internet connection to the television. Earlier this month, the company annouced a subscription offering for Hulu.
Here’s the review pf Hulu Plus on the Roku by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. Danny calls it “pretty awesome.”
Much more on Roku’s plans in our next segment from our chat with Jaquet.
Using Roku Abroad?
While the device will work with an Internet connection anywhere, many services like Hulu and Netflix are geo-limited to the United States. Netflix recently announced streaming in Canada. But, with more and more independent content coming onto Roku from sources including Vimeo and Blip.tv, the little box could become more attractive globally before too long.
You can find this post on Beet.TV
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The tide has turned. People are switching from paying for a “pipe” (e.g., cable) to paying subscriptions for content available anywhere, like Netflix. And a new source of revenues is paying to participate. What’s next?
On November 4, 2010, we learned that Netflix has a 20% share of prime time web traffic, causing some to speculate that internet usage isn’t complementing traditional television viewership, but replacing it. Specifically, the Wall Street Journal reports that on-demand viewership of already aired primetime television shows are being watched online instead of on television during prime time. This makes sense when you consider the other not-widely-reported trend that young people who got used to watching TV on the internet during college aren’t subscribing to cable when they graduate and move into an apartment. Acknowledging the shift, Fortune names Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings the #1 Businessperson of the year with 20 million subscribers and $150 million in net earnings on November 18, 2010, ranking him above #2 Ford CEO, Alan Mulally, #3 Steve Jobs and #4 Mark Zuckerberg. And on the same day, in the Financial Times, we learn that:
While that reflects a shift of existing market dollars, there is a new source of revenue. On November 8, 2010, we learned that people paying a premium for Massively Multi-Player On-line Games (MMOGs) is a growing trend, revealing that the “no one will pay” believers have made an assumption based on what people say, but not what they will do.
After two years of ignoring digital trends to focus on retail sales declines in the video game market, Financial Times reporter Chris Nuttall reports ( “NPD, the official source for industry figures, has tended to ignore (digital) sales in the past as it has charted declines in hardware and software sales over the past two years.”), attention is being paid to industry leaders, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, digital sales increases: “Last week, Activision reported 15 percent growth in digital sales in the first nine months over 2009, while Electronic Arts, creator of the Medal of Honor game, reported 35 per cent growth over its past two quarters compared to the year before.”
This shift is not a surprise to Bruce Woodcock. He’s been tracking MMOG subscriptions. As of 2008 they were 16 Million, quadrupling from about 4 Million in just 5 years since 2003. According to Bruce, NPD only just started tracking subscriptions in 2008.
The MMOG growth offers the most insight into the future because it suggests people will invest time and money to participate in new technology, not just passively watch a TV show or movie for less by eliminating the redundancy of both a cable and ISP subscription.
You may be tempted to interpret the demand in MMOGs as meaning that all content from news to books to video should be transformed into games. But do think bigger. Consider what digital buyers are getting, that they couldn’t get at retail. Digital buys are subscribing to play with others. When they upgrade they are paying to improve their performance so they can play with the players they aspire to play like. Camaraderie is the “something” people value enough to pay for online.
The video game business has discovered what movie theaters, live sports and concert events have known for a long time. There is a reason beyond “content” and “technology” motivating people pay a huge premium to attend an event at a theater or stadium when they could watch the same event in the comfort of their home with friends and family.
Now that the industry is discovering that demand for community — not a chaotic mass of people broadcasting themselves — is strong enough to generate incremental revenues, the game has changed.
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WINDOWS OR WALLS
When eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar looked at the auction business in 1995, he saw walls everywhere.
Not just the bricks-and-mortar kind that differentiated stodgy, old-line companies from eBay, Amazon, and other dotcom upstarts, but also the bureaucratic barriers the old guard had erected between buyers and sellers. At venerable auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, these walls were meant to reassure prospective buyers that the paintings and antiques on offer had been thoroughly authenticated.
But Omidyar recognized that these walls were also stifling the free flow of communication and commerce — a bottleneck that kept the auction houses in a niche market. Even worse, operating under a fundamental mistrust of their own customers actually encouraged fraud and corruption.
Omidyar has been credited for the insight that the auction business could be streamlined online. But his real innovation was far more profound. He designed his company based on the presumption of trust, tearing down the walls between buyers and sellers and replacing them with windows. On eBay’s website, buyers could see sellers directly and rate them for their honesty. Sellers who delivered on their promise got top ratings; those who didn’t quickly were weeded out. By designing for trust, Omidyar actually built a system that was more democratic, more robust–and ultimately more secure.
It was also more valuable. By 2000, the five-year-old eBay’s market cap was $17 billion — 20 times that of the 256-year-old Sotheby’s.
Omidyar was at the vanguard of a new desire for openness among consumers. In the last decade, the hunger for transparency fueled the explosive growth of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.
The same desire led companies like Zappos.com to post internal emails from their CEO and COO, providing customers a window into their inner sanctum.
And it led companies like Netflix to scrap bureaucratic vacation policies in favor of trust. Today, all of the company’s salaried employees can take off time whenever they want. Nobody tracks vacation days. The company simply assumes employees will keep excess in check themselves.
THE LATTICE VS. THE LADDER
The idea that transparency builds trust has spawned an entirely new form of communication in the workplace. It is a mode that is bottom-up rather than top-down; democratic, rather than authoritarian, and self-policing rather than punitive.
Where once there was a corporate ladder, which defined status, compensation, access to information, and success as a linear climb to the top, today we have a corporate lattice — a model that let’s people to share ideas, innovate, and spread knowledge throughout an organization, regardless of where they fall on the corporate ladder.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Alan Murray suggests we’ve reached the end of traditional management structures. “In recent years,” he writes, “most of the greatest management stories have been not triumphs of the corporation, but triumphs over the corporation… The best corporate managers have become, in a sense, enemies of the corporation.”
The reason for this shift, Murray writes, is that bureaucracies are by their very definition resistant to change. “They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market.”
Under Jack Welch, GE grew to be one of the most profitable and valuable companies in the world by constantly revamping and re-imagining their corporate culture.
Netflix, meanwhile, has grown into a $1.6 billion company in a little over a decade. Both CEO Reed Hastings and talent chief Patty McCord have emphasized an openness to new ideas and a willingness to change. “Great workplace is Stunning Colleagues,” Hastings wrote in a recent presentation. “Not day care, espresso, sushi lunches, nice offices, or big compensation.”
Yet even as businesses begin to recognize the value of transparency, they continue to manage their people much as they did 50 years ago. In a rapidly changing universe, most corporate structures remain unchanged. As a result, feedback and communication between management and employees remains artificial and constricted, rather than open and organic.
The rapid innovation companies need to survive can only come by building a culture of change into their very DNA, in the process transforming their businesses into free flowing social networks.
This is how people want to work. It is how they talk to everyone else in their lives. And yet companies feel more secure when there are walls — between employees and managers, between employees and customers, and between employees and each other.
Walls may be comforting. But, as the old-line auction houses learned, the security walls provide an illusion. Companies that tear down walls and embrace trust will attract the best talent in the new century — and thrive in the marketplace.
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I’ve felt a little culpable that we entrepreneurs often invent businesses just to drive people to buy more things. And, depending on the flavor of “thing,” it may well create more stress on the planet, and on ourselves. With all of our ability to connect to each other and the physical world, this is the precise moment when sharing our things could be convenient, relatively inexpensive, and painless.
Then, I discovered just how many businesses are already based on sharing things. In my book, “The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing,” I describe how these “Mesh” businesses–such as Zipcar, Netflix, Velib bike sharing, Profounder, swap.com, Kickstarter and many others–are using mobile and social networks to make it easy to have access to what we need, without having to own it. In our growing online Mesh community, meshing.it, there are over 2,000 Mesh businesses and organizations, most of them new, but all of them based on sharing things.
Most of the businesses, even though they use the global web, are locally based. For example, there’s a guy I know not far from my home in the Bay Area who started making wine in his garage. When dozens of his neighbors stopped by to help out, he got the idea to create a business where people could make world-class wines without having to buy a vineyard in Napa. His company, Crushpad, provides access to the grapes, machinery, and expertise you need to make a really good Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc. His customers get to roll up their sleeves and help with the grape crush –and these aspiring vintners fly in from all over for the harvest. But you can also make wine from afar by using the internet and UPS; choose your grape varietal, monitor the harvest and fermentation, and even create your label and sell your own brand on the Crushpad website. In this meshy business of making wine, you get as much ‘grape intimacy’ as you can handle, without the overhead and headaches of owning a winery. And, after hours of tasting your own wine, biking home is probably safer than driving.
At the global level, there are a growing number of city-based bike-sharing programs, that take advantage of mobile devices to reserve your bike, keep track of it, and collect data that helps to improve the service. There are also businesses like Netflix that operate over a wide geographical area. Another service with broad reach, Local Dirt, directly connects local farmers to buyers in the U.S.
The recession has sped up the growth of Mesh lifestyles and businesses. It’s provoked us to take a fresh look at our personal and work lives. And, to re-evaluate what we really value. Our ever-present mobile devices provide the immediate and convenient information necessary to make sharing things truly irresistible. By gaining access to the goods and services we need exactly when we want them–by, for example, we can use a mobile phone to reserve a bike, car or a vacation home and shed the costs of buying, maintaining, storing, and insuring more stuff.
Conversely, sharing the things we already own becomes an opportunity for extra income and less waste. In Cambridge, MA, a company called RelayRides allows people to share their cars when they’re not using them, which, on average is about 22 hours a day. Their system takes care of reservations, insurance, and other logistics for making certain that the service works.
The implications of the Mesh for the Earth are, of course, enormous. Every time we share something rather than own it ourselves, we reduce the stress on the planet. That could make the critical difference as the global population continues to grow. After all, our Earth is the ultimate ‘share platform’.
Lisa Gansky is a serial entrepreneur–the co-founder of Ofoto, the first digital photo sharing service, now Kodak Gallery; the co-founder and CEO of GNN, the first commercial website, which was acquired by AOL in 1995; and an investor and board member of more than twenty internet and mobile services companies.
Her new book, “The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing,” is available here.
For as long as anyone can remember, we’ve received more TV in our homes than we could ever want -
and less of what we want.
The Fall of 2010 is when that changes.
Call it whatever you want, A la Carte TV, VOD, TV On Demand -
it is simply Internet Television, and it is going to change what we watch, how we watch, and what we share on the web, almost overnight.
Today, I thought I’d focus on the math. What TV used to cost, and what it will cost in the future.
Today, I am a subscriber to Time Warner Cable in New York. An average bill looks like this:
Cable (basic + digital channels) $90.00
So, what If I decided to cancel my cable programming package?
How could I spend $90 in other services today?
Well, with $90 you could buy 90 shows a month at the .99 Apple price-point. That’s 22 shows a week. Now, even if you want to get Netflix ‘watch instantly’ you can do that for $8.99. Netflix is available on Apple TV as well as Roku. Of course, if you’re on Roku you can add Hulu Plus for $9.99. HuluPlus on Apple TV? There’s no clear answer to that one. Might be too close to Apple’s core product offering – but not clear.
So, even if I buy BOTH Netflix and HuluPlus, I’d have enough budget left over to watch 71 shows on Apple TV.
Option #1: Netflix and VOD
Netflix costs a $9.95 a month and has a very extensive catalog of movies and TV shows. There’s one big drawback, however; you won’t find episodes from the current season, and some past seasons are available only on DVD/Blu-ray.
New TeeVee says that Netflix has a head start when it comes to cross-platform development, a much larger film catalog than Hulu and 14 million pre-existing subscribers. Hard to see folks going for both.
Devices: Roku, Boxee, Apple TV.
Option #2: Hulu Plus and Vod
Hulu Plus costs $9.99 a month, and will let you watch every episode from the current season of popular shows from the major TV networks, including ABC, NBC, and Fox. (no CBS) In addition, you’ll be able to watch entire past seasons of classic shows. Negative – still has Advertisements. Ugh.. Positive, iOS devices can tune into Hulu.
Maclife reports that Hulu’s website offers just north of 1,000 feature films (1,069 to be exact, at this writing). Unfortunately, the paid Hulu Plus service offers only a fraction of even that meager selection. If you’re more of a movie buff than a fan of TV shows, there’s simply no contest – Netflix is the clear winner, especially now that they’ve beefed up their streaming catalog with titles from pay-cable movie channel EPIX.
Devices: Roku. Apple iPad and IPhone (no word on Apple TV).
Option #3: Apple TV.
The upside of Apple TV is that is simple, and plugs into your iTunes micropayment system. They’ve done deals and are trying to set up a .99 per show download price point. But much as Apple broke the old ‘album’ pricing structure of music labels, they’re trying to turn tv buying from series and networks into shows. Don’t expect TV networks to be to excited about this model.
I’ve now got 2 Apple TV’s, the old and the new. My new Apple TV sold me a movie last night, and then told me it would be ready to watch in 800 minutes. Ugh. Not sure I love streaming.
Then, The hardware:
Apple TV vs. Roku, vs. Boxee vs. Smart TV Logitech.
I’m a big Boxee Fan, and while I wish they had been out in May – I think that they still could win the day. The Apple box is crippled (it doesn’t see the web) and Boxee with beefy storage and its great interface could be a home run. Roku is out there too, but for whatever reason, I’ve just never felt the pull of the brand. Not enough buzz, or market penetration, or sexy features. Might be great, I just don’t know.
The Next Big Move – Smart TV:
Even as Apple is trying to build a closed ‘set top’ box ecosystem, there are forces gathering that say the future of TV will be far more open, and interactive. The Smart TV consortium consists of Intel, Google, Sony and Logitech. The are gearing up to connect an android powered operating system to boxes, televisions, and the web in an open solution. Google TV is the center of the offering, and there’s a lot riding on this for content creators, video curators, and television advertising. So, while Apple got out of the gate first, it isn’t clear that Apple has a fire in the belly required to dominate in such a hugely important and potentially profitable area. Google has lots to gain by providing a flexible, open, software based solution. So – expect CES this January to be a battleground for the future of TV and your livingroom flatscreen.
this post originally appeared in The Business Insider.
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Last week, Roku announced the release of its new set-top boxes. Starting at just $59.95 and along with a few new partnerships, Roku has effectively made itself a very serious contender in the set-top box market.
The Roku HD box starts at just $59.95 — a price that is almost half of the latest generation Apple TV. This low price point is significant because it makes the device affordable in a market where traditional (cable, satellite, etc.) content consumption prices are increasing. With Roku, a user also does not pay any additional content access fees. The highest model Roku — the XDS is priced at $99.99 — the same price as the Apple TV.
By and large, this particular update doesn’t introduce any ground breaking features. However, the Roku XDS model has the ability to display content from USB drives. This makes the device an excellentchoice for presentation and demo purposes on the road.
Today, Roku supports more premium content than the Apple TV and for that matter, most set-top boxes. With access to Amazon Video on Demand, Pandora, Netflix and now Hulu Plus, the device can access a significant amount of premium content at very minimal cost ($20 per month for Hulu and Netflix). And, with the XDS’ upcoming ability to play content from an attached drive makes the device even more attractive.
As of this moment, the Apple TV doesn’t offer the ability to install Apps. Roku does. Roku calls their apps “channels.” And, the ability to create apps and market them on a growing platform is win-win for any media organization — small or large. Broadcast networks could potentially create their own channels and introduce new revenue streams.
The new release by Roku is a huge leap forward, not just for the company, but for the set-top box market. Highlyrecommended.
Aanarav Sareen is a content creator and digital media consultant. He blogs daily at Digital Media Business and publishes the monthly Digital Media Newsletter. He’s also the host of the weekly Digital Media Podcast.
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