Monday, February 23, 2009

This Week in Digital Distribution

Note: I know about the big Facebook scandal from last week, but I'm not going to report about it since it's moot by now. Facebook changed their TOS to own your data for life due to technological issues, but reverted back. End of story :)

Netflix Dethroning Hulu?

Last week had some really juicy stories regarding online distribution that centered around Hulu and Netflix (but we'll throw YouTube in the mix just for fun).

Netflix has a base of over 10 million subscribers, and though only about 10% of their movies are available for streaming, they've admitted that they've seen a significant number of subscribers taking advantage of their streaming services. In fact, they've indicated that they may start rolling out subscriptions that are streaming only as soon as this year. I could even imagine them having tiers of streaming only plans for the amount of content available to stream while keeping the all-you-can-eat model. What's really giving Netflix a lot of power here is that aside from your computer you can get $100 Roku box to stream on your TV or use your Xbox 360, TiVo, or certain Blu-ray players to do the same. Once they get on mobile platforms, they're going to be practically unstoppable. While no one wants to necessarily play movies on their mobile phone, imagine a projector being built into your cell phone or even a large Internet tablet.

Enter Boxee. Nowadays, more and more households are getting DVRs (some being TiVos, of course) because people just don't have the time anymore to be home at pre-scheduled times to watch everything they want to watch, they like to watch multimedia on their own schedule. Boxee makes this a reality without having to get a cable or satellite subscription but rather by pooling together content from sites like YouTube, Netflix, CBS, and others, plus your own computer. It's essentially open source DVR software for your home media PC that doesn't really record TV but instead just takes advantage of what's available on the Internet. Unfortunately, they cannot bring in Hulu content. Why? They haven't really been told why, but they were told that they can't do it.

Of course, this is completely insane. We're entering an era where the idea of television as we know it is being completely transformed, and most of the big guys figured out that piracy was rampant a few years ago because of the lack of legal, online venues of distribution. Bringing in content via Hulu and iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand and such has helped alleviate the problem. While it hasn't overtaken traditional television viewing, we're in an economy where people are favoring getting their media on the Internet over getting cable or satellite, especially with HD channels coming in over antenna if they really want to watch traditional television.

They're starting to change their tune though of encouraging this with the Boxee situation and pulling content from Hulu. Hulu isn't the bad guy here, it's their vendors who are inept. So what's their endgame? It's probably just what you think: cable companies trying to preserve their bread and butter. Time Warner blamed billions of dollars in losses on the Internet, but what they don't get is that their prices are often outrageously unfair compared to just buying the episodes you want for $2 apiece or even renting/buying them on DVD. It's incredible how lazy some companies can be. It's absolutely inexcusable to not innovate in your industry and make your customers suffer for your incompetency. They need to look to the future and get their minds out of the past.

In effect, they're handing the reigns to Netflix. With TV shows on DVD and deals like the one they have with Starz, they're getting a heavy lead on Hulu, and it's not even Hulu's fault. It'll be interesting to see how much these cable companies suffer until they change their minds.

One last quick note: YouTube has been changing up their code a bit to kill off un-approved alternatives to the video download feature I mentioned last week that would enable viewers to download videos without having to buy them, once YouTube starts really rolling out paid downloads. What'll be interesting is if YouTube will work on integrating with TiVo and Roku and others to get themselves on people's TVs past just streaming but rather on the scheduled download model, which podcasts are often downloaded by through RSS readers or iTunes or other such software.

MWC 09 Randomness

I actually don't think I've heard of the Mobile World Congress and only found out about it a few weeks ago when my brother mentioned it to me one day. Apparently, it's somewhat of a big deal, especially now that smartphones are so popular. A few interesting stories came out of it last week.

Let's face it, Windows Mobile 6.5 has always been the weakest link in the Windows family. People who get Windows Mobile phones seem to not stay with them for long and reviewers have never been kind to the OS. Windows Mobile 6.5 is looking to change this trend with a much sleeker, iPhone-like, touch UI. What Gizmodo liked about it especially was that the lock screen had alerts and other useful information on it, but I just felt overall like they were trying to make usability more of a core value of the OS instead of an afterthought.

They also got their hands on the HTC Dream, aka the Android G2. The phone hardware is slimmer and it looks like the body makes more sense, but it is a touchscreen. So while it doesn't inherit the G1's terribly keyboard, it gives you an onscreen touch screen keyboard that you're likely to hate. I think Android is great, but I'm not impressed by this phone. I predict it'll be another flop and the torch for a good Android phone will probably never fall in the hands of HTC.

The last story I've got is for the Palm Pre: aside from copy and paste and tethering (using your phone as a modem for your laptop), it's now confirmed to have Flash. It has joined Adobe's Open Screen Project, which will help deliver Flash for the webOS. Given the wealth of Flash games and other rich content already out there, this would help the Pre take a huge stab at Apple's app store in having a wealth of application right out of the box.

Windows 7 RC Release Set

Neowin has learned from an insider at Microsoft (who I imagine would be in big trouble if they were discovered) that Windows 7 will have their first Release Candidate (RC) ready on April 10, 2009. It's unsure what has been adjusted aside from UAC (see my post last week), but it looks like it'll be a public release and I'm sure will keep buzz alive for the forthcoming OS. If you currently have the beta installed and start getting updates, don't get too excited: they're just test updates that do nothing.

There's only one problem with Microsoft's PR strategy though in hyping up Windows 7: they have to continue to deal with the fallout from Vista. While I like a lot about Vista, some of my stability issues make me miss XP. One woman misses it so much that she's suing Microsoft over a $60 charge to downgrade from Vista to XP on her new computer, which she downgraded to because of numerous issues she had using Vista. I don't see this lawsuit sticking, but it's just adding to Microsoft's woes.

The Yelp Scandal

I was tempted to pass up this story, but it's far too controversial to not quickly touch on. There are rumors that Yelp is threatening small businesses with negative user reviews to coerce them to buy advertising and that they allow businesses to convert negative reviews to positive reviews for $300 a month. Yelp denies these charges, but admits that they'll push positive reviews to the top for a fee. I love Yelp, so I hate to see this, but the fact they even allowing you to promote positive reviews is shady. Amazon puts reviews at the top based on a very interesting algorithm to help out customers make an educated decision. If Yelp continues to get bad press like this, I wonder if their street cred will fade away?

Final Notes

I'm running out of time here (it's past my bedtime), so I'm going to run through some final stories.

Vint Cerf let loose on some of his thoughts on the Internet and believes that downloaded content, rather than streaming media, is the real future of the Internet. As the father of the Internet, his opinions are definitely valued, and what I found most interesting was what he thought about how we'll interpret our current data and applications hundreds of years from now.

In the Pirate's Bay trial in Sweden, half the charges against them were dropped due to a misunderstanding of how torrents work. That still leaves all the charges related to them assisting in illegally making available copyrighted content.

I've talked about this before so I don't want to hammer in on it too much, but Gizmodo has a great article explaining why more megapixels are not always better. If the sensor is too small, you're actually probably shooting yourself in the foot. If you really need more than like 6 MP, then you need an SLR.

ReadWriteWeb has a fun pie chart on who's hiring in technology, with a lot going to the evasive "Other" field, but second place going to IT/Software.

Last, but not least, I'm a big fan of this short article about what programming language you should learn based on the job you're taking on. I've had the good fortune of interfacing with almost all of them over the past 6 months, so I definitely agree.

Alright, I'm going to watch a bit more of the Oscars before heading to bed. The production value in the show was really impressive and entertaining, but I was disappointed that Slumdog Millionaire won out in a couple of categories where I felt it didn't deserve it, even though I loved the film. Still: best award ceremony in years in presentation.

Since it started raining again in Seattle, I'll leave you with a glimpse of the beautiful weather we enjoyed last week.

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