We will ALL be metered to death for bandwidth consumption in an a-la-carte TV channel universe.

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One of the results of the merger between Comcast and TWC will be how Comcast plans to halt the cord cutters and deal with the calls for unbundling the current TV landscape. Pay and cable TV are ripe for disruption. The writing I think is on the wall.

OTT (over-the-top) IP channels exist because they are carried into your home via IP. So is Aereo. And soon, so will most other channels today that we all watch on cable. The days of bundling 180 ‘basic’ channels while offering an option to buy ‘Pay’ TV channels with your ‘basic’ subscription monthly is outdated and no longer reflects the current TV landscape. The move to get the set-top box out of the living room is happening. The result? We will no longer have bundled channels or packages of ‘programming’.

Instead, think about this.

Just like the electric meter gets read every month and we pay for the amount of electricity we use, our TV will also become metered. The bandwidth caps will melt away and in its place will be a connection that Comcast will provide — but strictly for bandwidth. Then, as you decide which channels to watch on TV, whether its HBO or ABC, CBS or The History Channel you will be billed for the amount of time each and every channel is turned on in your home, incrementally.

That’s right. Watch HBO for several hours a night and you’ll be billed for this at some rate. (That ‘rate’ might be higher than if you watched VH1 or Spike TV, or lower if you watch ESPN). Want to see ABC and your local news, well that’s a slightly different rate. All channels will be delivered via IP. You will get notified throughout the month when you approach a set tier or amount that you decide is your ‘cap’. Or you can simply keep watching and pay the bill at months end. The bills won’t be too different but now will reflect the REAL usage in the home.

Since you’ll be getting the Internet already through Comcast’s coaxial cable, why not deliver every channel that exists in the TV universe and YOU decide what to watch. Cord cutters can’t cut the cord under this plan — they need bandwidth too (to see Netflix, Hulu, etc.). A DVR you say you need? No problem, Comcast will supply you one over the Internet (a software DVR).

Why might this happen? It eliminates expensive set-top hardware, allows for subscribers to watch whatever they want (package or bundled channels now melt away). It puts all channels on an even playing field. Sure HBO, Netflix, Showtime, etc. might have a minimum monthly charge, but just like electricity, you’ll watch them when you need to and you’ll be bale to see over time your usage patterns, favorite channels and genres and in turn the TV will become smarter because we’ll make it smarter (and make it a very personal experience) to watch, just as its always been.

Now, let me set my ‘soft’ DVR for ‘The Walking Dead’ tonight on AMC. The only time I watch AMC all month is for this show, so I’ll be billed for about 4hrs. a month for AMC during the ‘Walking Dead’ season. And I’ll be happy to pay that bill!

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Update*

I’m now writing for SiliconAlley.com. You can see my latest article.

http://siliconalley.com/blog/2013/06/www-and-the-holy-grail

 

Silicon_Alley

Look Ma no more cable TV! Aereo + Nimble TV + Apple TV + YouTube = Cable Be Gone

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Finally consumers have choice – at least those that have the technical knowledge to take advantage. Want to get out of cable but still have cable channels plus broadcast TV? Your prescription is as follows:  Apple TV, iPhone or iPad, Aereo for $8.00 month, Nimble TV for as little as $24.95 month. No contracts, you can add a virtual DVR and then simply launch a browser on your phone or tablet, login and throw the signal through the Apple TV onto your TV. The combo of Aereo + Nimble will cost no more than $32.00 a month (unless you want more than channels than the minimum) and you’ve got TV. Cable TV channels and broadcast. But more on this in another pub shortly.

(UPDATE:  Aereo is on a roll, with plans now to bring its streaming TV service to Atlanta. The Atlanta launch is scheduled for June 17, the company announced Tuesday. The capital of Georgia will be the third city to get the Aereo service, following New York and, from Wednesday of this week, Boston.  source:  CNET. 5/15/2013

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There are really some other very cool non-cable broadcast channels coming out. I’d them term them ‘off Broadway’ TV channels. Some call them online channels. But they are as good as some cable channel programming offerings and maybe some are even better.

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YouTube’s rumored subscription-plan offering is now a reality. The video site is rolling out a pilot program that will allow “a small group of partners” to offer paid channels on YouTube, with subscription fees starting at $0.99 per month. Every channel has a 14-day free trial period, with many also offering discounted yearly rates.  Some partners include:

The Jim Henson Company is launching an ad-free channel online with full episodes of Henson’s kids and preschool titles like Sid the Science Kid and Fraggle Rock. The channel will be available for $2.99/month or $24.99/year. The company is also launching a Spanish-language channel, which will be available for $1.99/month or $17.99/year.

Sesame Street will also offer full episodes on its paid channel when it launches.

National Geographic Kids’ channelwill be available for $3.99/month or $29.99/year, offering long and short-form videos aimed at kids ages 6-12. It will include a mix of library and original content.

Acorn TV, a streaming service focusing on British classic TV programming, is also launching with a channel that’s available for $4.99/month.

B-movie film director Roger Corman will launch a paid channel this summer called Corman’s Drive-In. It will offer more than 400 feature films that have been produced or directed by Corman. These include Grand Theft Auto (Ron Howard’s directorial debut), The Cry Baby Killer (Jack Nicholson’s first film), and Fire on the Amazon (Sandra Bullock’s first film). The channel will also serve as a potential distribution outlet for new films in production. We love Roger Corman!

UFC’s channel will feature classic fights and full versions of older UFC pay-per-view events. It’s available for $5.99/month.

Then there’s Entertainment Studios, which has launched eight paid channels on YouTube, spanning a bunch of different verticals, from cars to comedy, pets, recipes, and entertainment news/pop culture. One of the eight channels, which is titled Smart TV offers “best of” programming from the other seven networks for $9.99/month.

HuffPost Live will arrive on AXS TV, a network backed by Mark Cuban, CBS, Ryan Seacrest Media, AEG, and CAA, on May 13. The interactive streaming news network will run for six hours a day, from 10am to 4pm.

Yahoo unveiled partnerships including a brilliant the deal with NBC Entertainment and Broadway Video to become the exclusive US home to all Saturday Night Live archival content, and a similar agreement with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).  This is especially key now that Seth Meyers is taking over for Jay Leno – the repeats should garner some heavy online traffic that advertisers should eat up.

The Cheap Life with Jeff Yeager, an original how-to show on AARP’s YouTube channel, has topped 1 million video views. The show focuses on providing tips on spending smart and enjoying life at a fraction of the usual cost.

And finally there is the Jerry Seinfeld show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The meaning of something, of course, is relative. show features Seinfeld just cruising along with friends such as Seinfeld co-creator Larry DavidSeinfeld co-star Michael RichardsRicky GervaisAlec Baldwin and Colin Quinn. That covers the comedians in cars; presumably, the getting coffee part will come a bit later. The show debuts on Crackle July 19th.

All in all I’d say online programming is growing up. The cable operators will soon take notice – more than likely too late.

The WWW and the Holy Grail

Adolph Ochs in 1896 put his slogan on a newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It still survives. Only just barely.

Sound arrived to movies in the late twenties, the silent-film industry and the Broadway theater industry were both broadsided. They never saw it coming. It was a running joke to them.

Radio was king for years. No one thought it would be overcome – there was a radio in every home throughout America.

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Then television started to gain traction in the late forties. Radio scrambled to adjust to the newer media – TV. Then, TV began to replace the radio in homes. Orders for TV sets were up 400 percent in 1949, many of them sold by the most popular shows of their time, (i.e. Milton Berle). Supply could not keep up with demand. Free television was for decades considered an American right, rabbit ears, ghosts and all.

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Then broadcast TV scrambled to adjust to newer media – cable TV. For a while during the reign of ‘Free TV’, “Pay TV” was a joke.   Americans now pay for 24/7 foreign news networks in their cable and satellite packages, news, weather, sports, movies, etc. That which used to be free on broadcast TV was no longer free.

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Then the hammer dropped for everyone. The Internet dawned, the digital revolution.  The Holy Grail of media. This was a change as great as the invention of electricity and the construction of transcontinental railroad. It was large, transformative and caused massively sweeping changes. No one was prescient enough to gauge even remotely how big this change was upon the whole planet.

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The recording industry became the first to fall in the digital pipeline. They thought by suing Napster in court they could stop their declining bottom line.  Movies and DVD’s became next to fall in.

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And then 2 large social media behemoths came along; Facebook (2004) the more social of the two and Twitter (2006) the most current up-to-the-minute form of news delivered to us not by a news anchor but by a neighbor.  Twitter made CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX ancient delivery mechanisms of news overnight.  We don’t select publications anymore, we select links.

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An ecosystem of “group journalism” in which consumers with a cell phone eyewitness reporting of the news submitted by ‘US’ rather than actual reporters in the field, changed everything. Witness Captain Sully on the Hudson river. The proliferation of the Internet made every publicly available source of information in the world openly available to everyone. This change in and of itself has altered the landscape for everyone forever. The NYT’s and CNN no longer have a lock on exclusive. Exclusive is old news – we are now the prevailing ‘exclusive’.

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Within all of this history of media, the largest companies, the ones we can name by brand have been caught sleeping by transformative change. From newspapers and magazines to Hollywood, aging media executives resistant to technology became overnight ostriches.  It was easier to take a paycheck, stick their heads in the sand then risk being ‘wrong’ about how future technology could transform their own business. Status quo was ‘safe’ harbor.  A herd of dinosaurs.

The decline and the fall of old media. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Casualties were and are in print, TV and soon cable channels. Yes, even cable TV will be falling (cord cutting: Aereo TV and Otoy). Old media will scramble to adjust just as before, but it will not be enough. The fall of old media is unavoidable.

And for us the consumer, the ‘hippie’ stage (freemium) of the Internet is over.  We will pay for more for media then ever before – not in print but whatever form it comes in. The trees will love us once again. However, the cost for this will be higher than it once was.  What is less talked about are the adjustments that consumers have to make. Paying for media that was free or easy to access is now the norm.

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And still only 65% of the country has broadband Internet access. What Google fiber offers is just a beginning and will become the norm. Google fiber speeds will knock cable TV off its legs.  We wont need coaxial cable – just access to the Internet.  And it won’t have to be coming from the white coaxial cable coming into your home – it will be wireless.   TV channels will be become specific apps downloaded on a phone or tablet.  Bundles will be forgotten. The ‘triple play’ of a phone, cable and the internet that we all familiar with for $ 150.-200 a month will soon be broken down.

Perhaps even the app store will disappear too. The potential disruptiveness of Otoy (http://goo.gl/aQZSl ), as a breakthrough streaming service could, in the near future, could end the need for app stores and computer upgrades.

Advertising will never ever again subsidize any old-media news organizations in the style to which they (and their audiences) have been accustomed.

News organizations used to be able to overcharge and under-deliver in their deals with advertisers; the pizza place and the car dealership had nowhere else to go, and no one knew how many people saw, or acted on, a given ad anyway.  Not anymore. Nielsen, one of the old guards struggles to stay relevant – even if they purport to have new measuring technology. There are at least the 10 other companies who are in the process of eating their lunch.

We are in for years of re-adjustment. Transformation from print and paper to digital – cable TV to Internet TV, YouTube, social apps and the like. Consumer adjustment will take time. But less than you think. Our kids are growing up ignoring cable and television, without radio and traditional print media. The norm:  downloading of apps, mobile phones, tablets and no desktop computers. It’s different and disconcerting for the parents. It’s happened before – it just happened without the Internet. How we used to do things in the seventies, eighties, and nineties is no more – change is good.  Breath in – breath out.

The Changing of the Guard

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IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, HP, and other large legacy hardware and software companies have something in common these days. A declining revenue stream. Big time.

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Its not just one or two companies, its most of the big ones. And the results will ultimately effect employees as each quarter passes and they are forced to reckon with Wall Street earnings and reports. The stock market takes no prisoners.

Online newcomers with ‘disruptive’ business models and software are flourishing. Box, Dropbox, Workday, Amazon, Salesforce, Facebook, LinkedIn, all have reported record quarters. Even Apple despite its recently declining stock price is still growing. Just about anything that has to do with mobile phones and tablets has the ‘Midas touch’.  Google Inc. said last Thursday that its revenue grew 31% in the first quarter, while profit rose 16%.

IBM last Thursday reported its revenue dropped.

Software giant Microsoft Corp., once known for rapid sales of PC software, reported that the business that includes its Windows operating system turned in essentially zero growth

Intel Corp., which has struggled to get its chips into mobile devices reported a first-quarter profit drop of 25% on revenue that declined 2.5%.

Oracle Corp., reported a 1% drop in its revenue in its most-recent quarter.

The disparities are the result of technology shifts—the rise of mobile devices and slowing growth in personal computers, conventional software replaced with online versions and cloud outsourcing by corporations. Companies want to rent software and computer systems. The deals are smaller and take less time to implement. Companies want to get out of the construction business—building and rolling out expensive software and hardware systems.

Web-based technology makes it easier for consumers and corporate employees to try new things and makes it harder for older technology suppliers to keep rolling out huge hardware and software deals month in and month out. Hardware, chips and hard drives get faster, smaller and cheaper now every 3-6 months making large purchases by corporations old before the equipment barely gets installed.

Workday Inc which was founded in 2005 and went public in October, reported that revenue for its fourth quarter ended in February rose 89%

Box Inc., founded in 2005 that lets customers store their data online and tap into it from mobile phones and PCs., revenue grew more than 150% in 2012 and it expects another doubling again this year.

“Their biggest challenge is they live in a world of legacy business models,” said Ed Anderson, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner Inc.

Television is no longer TV, its IP!

The old generation networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. The new-generation networks?  Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant video, Netflix and YouTube.

Consider this:  Microsoft recently reported that Xbox 360 owners spend more time online watching video and listening to music than playing games. The company announced 35 new entertainment partners being added to the Xbox 360 in the next year, including the NBA, NHL, Nickelodeon, and Univision. ESPN is expanding its programming on the Xbox to include live feeds of all of its channels. Microsoft is also launching a music service to compete with iTunes.

                

The Wii U, debuting this fourth quarter, will also feature Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video.

And, Outside of games, the PlayStation Network also now delivers access to streaming content from Hulu Plus, Cinema Now, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Game Center Live,  MLB.TV,  ESPN and Crackle TV, while users will soon have access to YouTube from the PlayStation Vita.

You’ve got wonder, how will Nielsen ever be able to count the eyeballs watching? At this point, they can’t. They are the ‘dinosaur’ technology.

When my Mom and Dad had breakfast in the mornings, they would pass the newspaper back and forth. Back then, I looked at the classifieds for things to buy second hand and they even had a classified section in most magazines and papers for the ‘personals’. Wanted to go the movies (you know the movie we saw ‘advertised’ by trailer last night during a network show on CBS, say Ed Sullivan or Mary Tyler Moore), we checked the newspaper.  Real estate listings and needed to buy a used car? Newspapers.

               

Fast forward 15 years. Now we check our mobile phones for movie trailers and times. Dating? Not in the newspapers, on mobile or a laptop or tablet. News? Forget the paper. And for many years, the papers were in denial – they kept printing tons of papers, special sections, extra editions and even tried to launch new newspapers in certain cities to compete with the entrenched and big local guys. They lost millions of dollars and saw their stock price get hammered and many folded. The bigger ones put up paywalls (i.e. NYT’s, WSJ, etc.)

Then the music CD died and the way music was listened to and purchased changed. No one could believe that there wasn’t going to be any more music CD’s nonetheless a Tower Records or Wherehouse to close their doors. But they did. And the CD has all but disappeared.

Movies? Same thing is happening and will happen. It may take longer because of the nature of the medium. Movies are different than music in that the files are way larger and with music you listen to ‘Hotel California’ or your favorite music many times over and over. Movies? How many times can you watch the same movie over and over. However, Blockbuster and stores like them are disappearing. Replaced by iTunes, RedBox, (and RedBox I believe has a limited life span even though they are going gang-busters today), Amazon Instant Prime, YouTube, IMDB (yes you can buy movies and stream them there too) and many others.  Even Wal-Mart is in the mix (Ultraviolet and VUDU).

In my generation and others behind me, its what you owned and had that was important. Today, its how you access it. No ownership. No physical ownership that is. Its just not important. When and how you get it, is.

The final frontier is the television. And it’s a big frontier. And, there is more at stake than a plastic CD in a rectangular box that will disappear. Advertisers and the big 4 networks stand to lose the most. Including producers, writers, actors and the like. Add a DVR into the mix and the new choices that the younger generation has now and you’ve got a real problem CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX.  The upfront TV buying season which some estimate generates $19 billion fuels most everything we see on TV. About $9.5 billion for network and $ 9.9 billion for cable.

Network estimates individually for 2012-2013 season are:

  • CBS: $2.92 billion,
  • ABC: $2.65 b,
  • Fox: $2.15 b,
  • NBC: $1.78 b.

So, when Game consoles, tablet makers, mobile phones and the like are all putting mainstream content up and online for consumption, someone stands to lose. Another way of thinking about this would really be a shift of dollars from Network and Cable to third screens. It won’t disappear but in ten years it’s going to look awfully different than it does today. And the way all of this is counted and rated will actually become easier than how Nielsen has done this for decades ( a diary that you write in? Really?).

A new report from Nielsen, the TV audience ratings and measurement people, shows that the number of people who watched TV at least once per month—a pretty low bar—declined from 90 percent of the population to 83 percent last year.

Proportionately, that means TV lost 8.5 percent of its audience in 2011. As many as 17 percent of people never watch TV, the survey of 28,000 consumers in 56 countries.

That’s a huge loss of interest in a medium that in industrialized nations is regarded as a standard like electricity or hot running water.

The number of people watching video on a computer at least once per month is now higher, at 84 percent, than those watching TV.  The implications are obvious.  Some not so obvious. One is that cable affiliates pay big fees to Networks for carriage. If no one is watching, no one will be paying. And, younger kids don’t care what ‘network’ its on, they care when it will be available to see on Netflix or Hulu Plus. A real shift in economics and habits. And I don’t think the TV industry is paying attention. But they will, they will have to.

Welcome to the new world of multi-screens and time shifting. TV as we once knew it not TV, its IPTV.

The End of An Era – Music Companies, ‘cloud’ services and the ISP’s are laughing all the way to the Bank, courtesy of you and me!

Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Google’s BetaMusic, iTunes upcoming ‘cloud’ offering, current subscription based music ‘cloud’ services and music ‘lockers’ ( eMusic, Spotify, Rhapsody, Thumbplay Music, mSpot, MP3Tunes, and others) are all similar in many ways.

There are slight differences in the cost and the amount of storage for free that you get initially. After that, users will find the old fashioned way we now store and playback music might in fact have been the best and most cost efficient after all.

Today, we all have mp3’s or m4p’s (iTunes) stored somewhere on our computers or in an external hard drive or both. We have our iPod and other devices to playback these files. Load up a playlist and take them with you. Soon, the above mentioned services will offer us the ability to ship all or some of our music collection to what effectively is a hard drive outside our house or computer – essentially letting them live ‘over there’ or wherever that service lives, be it Amazon, Google or Apple. Load up a playlist and playback the music just as we do now.

A few things will change however that will drastically alter not how or what we listen to but what it will cost us to listen to what we now playback for free. And the changes are subtle but substantial. And these changes are all designed to generate money, a lot of it, for 3 separate entities; the music cloud service of your choice, the music companies and your local ISP.

What has been an essentially free activity for all of us (creating and playing back music on our device of choice locally), will now very quickly become an expensive one, remotely. The change has been slowly evolving – with the ISP’s like Comcast, Time-Warner and others that supply us leading the way. They have all decided to ‘cap’ and meter our bandwidth usage under various tiered plans. Just like we get our water and electricity usage metered, so will our ‘internet’ usage.

And that’s old news – I’m not telling you anything you have not already heard before. Soon, we will keenly be aware of how much data we will be using monthly. And now, the new music ‘cloud’ offerings will present us with tiered pricing plans to store our music monthly as well. You might have 10 gigs of music (which is NOT a heck of a lot, personally) today that you want to store on Google’s Beta Music Cloud Drive ( they are just being used as one example). For me, I’ve got a ton more than that and I add to that monthly. So initially, I’ll choose a plan for 10 gigs, but I am 100% sure over time, I will eventually double that.

In addition to those charges I want to turn on my ‘cloud’ player and listen to some tunes being played back at my home, through my PC piped into my speakers in the house. Well that used to be free when I loaded up my player locally on my PC. Now with my house being metered, here’s a rough idea of what I could be faced with.

1GB streamed per month = a little more than half an hour of music per day
3GB streamed per month = about 2 hours of music per day
5GB streamed per month = about 3.1 hours of music per day

For music aficionados, that is not a lot of time spent listening to my music. Now mind you, I don’t have to use a cloud service to listen locally – I can continue doing what I do now. But that also means I’ve got to keep a duplicate set of files. And it does not include any bandwidth for any other activities on the Internet during the month I engage in. If you have a iPhone or other device that plays back music, sure you can stream your collection from that same cloud service, but wait, there’s a data cap on your phone too. But wait, there’s more. The new Chrome notebook offers a plan too when you are NOT connected to WiFi – and it’s not cheap:

• Free 100MB per month (what you get with the first two years of ownership under the current plan): 1 hour and 45 minutes of music playback for an entire month
• $10 for an unlimited day pass: listen all day
• $20 for 1GB of data in a given month: a little over half hour of music per day
• $35 for 3GB of data in a given month: nearly two hours of music per day
• $50 for 5GB of data in a given month: a little over three hours of music per day

All of this cost and metering does not include monthly cloud ‘subscription’ costs. Put it all together and you might be looking at some heavy fees every month that you don’t currently pay storing and playing back your music collection locally or playing back on the road through your iPhone, etc.

Now I am a big cloud advocate – there are some big advantages clearly in storing your collection outside of your house. The biggest single advantage I can think of is a disaster – and they DO happen. Replacing a 60gig collection is not only time consuming and expensive but just go and try to remember what was in your collection of say 40,000 songs – good luck! This alone is reason enough to consider storing your collection remotely. Other disadvantages include getting the songs up there to start and you don’t want to move the collection once you are there. Ever try moving 60gigs quickly – there is no quickly. So choose your service very carefully!

While all of these new music services sound great and offer us new and improved ways to listen to our music, I can’t help wondering if one day a few years back the ISP’s and the music industry got together in one big Hotel room and figured this out as a way to get back all of the lost revenue that the ‘Napster’, ‘Kaaza’ and ‘Limewire’ era sucked out of them. Maybe they will get the last laugh after all. Here’s a better one – how would a Netflix for example, replicate a ‘cloud’ locker storage scenario for movies I might purchase? Could it? Just think of THAT cloud storage plan!! Ouch!

13 Movie Online Services is WAY too many. (PPV Part 2)

Netflix vs. Google TV 2.0 PPV (powered by Honeycomb 3.1) vs. YouTube rentals vs. iTunes vs cable PPV vs VUDU vs. Blockbuster OnDemand vs Facebook OnDemand vs BigStar Movies vs CinemaNow OnDemand vs. Alphaline ( Sears/Roxio) vs. Redbox (due 2011) vs. Flixster via Warner Bros. vs anyone else ?

What happens when the airlines have a fare war? You know, you can fly from NY to L.A. for $xx.xx and then the next thing you know, another airline tops that price by $ 20.00? Or gives you a free bag to carry on board? All of a sudden 5 or more airlines have the same special going on. Who do you fly with? Decisions, decisions… It all begins to seem and look the same to you. You get to the same destination, same approximate times, using the same type of transportation, in the air for just about the same money. Who suffers? Ultimately the carriers do.
Meet the carriers. Not the airlines, but the carriers of movies online. I count thirteen (13) of them – eleven (11) of them are live as we speak. All boasting the same movies for the most part for the same prices. All rentable at the same time for about the same amount of time. And I’m not even counting Redbox as an online rentable service…yet. What’s a consumer to do – who do you choose? And why. Do you ‘subscribe’ to a Netflix monthly or do you pick off a film on a one-off basis from another provider. More importantly, how do all of these guys begin to differentiate themselves from each other? How and where do they market themselves? Netflix is clearly the 900lb gorilla today. I guess iTunes is # 2. But beyond them, I can’t really tell who’s in third place. But more importantly, do I really care? Do I need3 or 5 or 7 similar services? On top of all this, I have Verizon’s FIOS cable service at home with thousands of movies to choose from to watch on any given day/hour.

I have licensed movies before from each of the studios and it was no easy task. Number one, its VERY expensive. Figure an upfront fee to be paid to play, maybe between $500k-$1m. That’s just for starters. Then there are the guarantees against each title licensed. Therefore as a provider of online fare, you’ve got to re-coup that fee with a certain number of minimum rentals or turns of the gate so to speak. With nearly 13 services out there plus cable choices, I’m going to take a guess here a few will not make it. Not only must you guarantee upfront cash, you also must explain how you are going to market the studios films, how you will digitally protect them from piracy ( good luck on that one) and how you will separate yourself from the rest of the online movie ‘noise’. All of this and then compete with the new ‘premium’ $30.00 a pop cable TV onDemand offering ( not that I think that’s going to be too successful – it’s the least of these companies problems).
However, the one issue I have with all these services is this: I am unable to save ANYTHING I purchase or rent for viewing later on a rainy day. If I had a ‘digital’ locker – someplace to hold what I spend my money on to see so I can view it later (more than 24hrs later), that might sway me to use that service ALL THE TIME.

The Great Chaos Monkey!

Apr 25, 2011
Working with the Chaos Monkey

Late last year, the Netflix Tech Blog wrote about five lessons they learned moving to Amazon Web Services. AWS is, of course, the preeminent provider of so-called “cloud computing”, so this can essentially be read as key advice for any website considering a move to the cloud. And it’s great advice, too. Here’s the one bit that struck me as most essential:

We’ve sometimes referred to the Netflix software architecture in AWS as our Rambo Architecture. Each system has to be able to succeed, no matter what, even all on its own. We’re designing each distributed system to expect and tolerate failure from other systems on which it depends.

If our recommendations system is down, we degrade the quality of our responses to our customers, but we still respond. We’ll show popular titles instead of personalized picks. If our search system is intolerably slow, streaming should still work perfectly fine.

One of the first systems our engineers built in AWS is called the Chaos Monkey. The Chaos Monkey’s job is to randomly kill instances and services within our architecture. If we aren’t constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure, then it isn’t likely to work when it matters most – in the event of an unexpected outage.

Which, let’s face it, seems like insane advice at first glance. I’m not sure many companies even understand why this would be a good idea, much less have the guts to attempt it. Raise your hand if where you work, someone deployed a daemon or service that randomly kills servers and processes in your server farm.

Now raise your other hand if that person is still employed by your company.

Who in their right mind would willingly choose to work with a Chaos Monkey?

Angry-monkey-family-guy

Sometimes you don’t get a choice; the Chaos Monkey chooses you. At Stack Exchange, we struggled for months with a bizarre problem. Every few days, one of the servers in the Oregon web farm would simply stop responding to all external network requests. No reason, no rationale, and no recovery except for a slow, excruciating shutdown sequence requiring the server to bluescreen before it would reboot.

We spent months — literally months — chasing this problem down. We walked the list of everything we could think of to solve it, and then some:

swapping network ports
replacing network cables
a different switch
multiple versions of the network driver
tweaking OS and driver level network settings
simplifying our network configuration and removing TProxy for more traditional X-FORWARDED-FOR
switching virtualization providers
changing our TCP/IP host model
getting Kernel hotfixes and applying them
involving high-level vendor support teams
some other stuff that I’ve now forgotten because I blacked out from the pain

At one point in this saga our team almost came to blows because we were so frustrated. (Well, as close to “blows” as a remote team can get over Skype, but you know what I mean.) Can you blame us? Every few days, one of our servers — no telling which one — would randomly wink off the network. The Chaos Monkey strikes again!

Even in our time of greatest frustration, I realized that there was a positive side to all this:

Where we had one server performing an essential function, we switched to two.
If we didn’t have a sensible fallback for something, we created one.
We removed dependencies all over the place, paring down to the absolute minimum we required to run.
We implemented workarounds to stay running at all times, even when services we previously considered essential were suddenly no longer available.

Every week that went by, we made our system a tiny bit more redundant, because we had to. Despite the ongoing pain, it became clear that Chaos Monkey was actually doing us a big favor by forcing us to become extremely resilient. Not tomorrow, not someday, not at some indeterminate “we’ll get to it eventually” point in the future, but right now where it hurts.
Now, none of this is new news; our problem is long since solved, and the Netflix Tech Blog article I’m referring to was posted last year. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but I’ve been a little busy. Maybe the timing is prophetic; AWS had a huge multi-day outage last week, which took several major websites down, along with a constellation of smaller sites.

Notably absent from that list of affected AWS sites? Netflix.

When you work with the Chaos Monkey, you quickly learn that everything happens for a reason. Except for those things which happen completely randomly. And that’s why, even though it sounds crazy, the best way to avoid failure is to fail constantly.

Guest Post by Jeff Atwood

Amazon’s EC2 ‘cloud’ outage is just a minor bump in major right road.

By now you’ve heard about Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) cloud service failure, or perhaps felt it. If you use Foursquare or read Reddit, use or Quora (among other services or websites) you no doubt felt the impact.

On 4.21 at 1:48am PDT. Quora even had a fun ‘down’ message: “We’d point fingers, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without EC2.” And this YouTube video:

Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer of Rackspace, said it best “It was the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It is a major episode with widespread damage”. But airline travel, he noted, “is still safer than traveling in a car” — analogous to cloud computing being safer than data centers run by individual companies.

The fact remains, the cloud model is rapidly gaining popularity as a way for companies to outsource computing chores to avoid the costs and headaches of running their own data centers — simply tap in, over the Web, to computer processing and storage without owning the machines or operating software.

Consumers don’t realize that there are a host of sites that base a majority of their ‘up-time’ on cloud services, including Hotmail and Netflix to name just a few. Netflix was not affected by the recent outage because Netflix has taken full advantage of Amazon Web Services’ redundant cloud architecture (which is NOT inexpensive).

Industry analysts said the troubles would prompt many companies to reconsider relying on remote computers beyond their control. And while discussions surrounding that might happen in the next several weeks, in the long-term cloud computing will continue and thrive and evolve into what most industry experts and others already know it to be – a necessary and valued component of doing any kind of business or having any sort of web presence on the Internet. The truth is, every day many more companies around the globe experience ‘outages’ that take their services and sometimes web site down for hours. Added all together, they add up for far more lost time, money and engineering resources that Amazon’s interruption last week.

This round, the companies that were hit hardest by the Amazon interruption were start-ups who are focused on moving fast in pursuit of growth, and who are less likely to pay for extensive backup and recovery services or secondary redundancy in another data center (or Amazon’s redundant cloud architecture).

One of the things that most people are not aware of is that Amazon has an SLA (service level agreement) which is one of the weakest cloud compute SLA of any competing public cloud compute services, even though its uptime is actually very good. Most providers offer 99.99% or better, with many offering 100%, evaluated monthly, with service credit capping at 100% of that monthly bill. Amazon offers 99.95%, evaluated yearly, capping at 10% of that bill, and requires that at least two availability zones within a region be unavailable. Therefore, companies MUST take this into consideration when choosing a vendor as how it relates to what they do on the internet. Taking a secondary, back-up approach can close some of those holes, but it can get mighty expensive. Amazon’s EC2 pricing overall reflects this type of SLA and the ‘human’ support is not included — because of this aspect it can give a 10% to 20% uplift to the price, and it is geared primarily toward the very technically knowledgeable. Amazon is a cloud IaaS-focused (infrastructure-as-a-service) vendor with a very pure vision of highly automated, inexpensive, commodity infrastructure, bought without any commitment to a contract. Amazon is a thought leader; it is extraordinarily innovative, exceptionally agile and very responsive to the market.

That being said, the recent Verizon acquisition of Terremark should put most Tier 1 vendors on their toes including Amazon. Terremark offers colocation, managed hosting (including utility hosting on its Infinistructure platform), developer-centric public cloud IaaS (vCloud Express) and enterprise-class cloud IaaS (Enterprise Cloud). It is a close VMware partner (VMware is one of its investors), and is generally first to market with VMware-based solutions. It is a certified vCloud Datacenter provider. Some of Terremark’s perceived weak spots can and should now be addressed by the merger between the 2 service offerings, in particular the added personnel to better deliver on customer service and satisfaction (stretched thin’ has been the compliant). Now that it has a substantially bigger war chest from its parent Verizon and Verizon’s exceptional network worldwide (remember Uunet), it can take on and adapt more bleeding edge technologies, which it has done in the past, but has not been able to do so most recently.

Combinations like this will likely increase in this space over time as other vendors realize that 2 can be better than one. The devil is always in the details and the trick here is for company cultures to be merged efficiently with a clear and concise plan laid out for both sets of employees. The last thing you need are internal employees to wonder who is going to be replying to the same RFP (request for proposal) to any particular vendor moving forward. Strong, well thought out details by upper management should avoid these pitfalls for the most part, however, it can be pretty tricky to implement.

Long story short – I’d still bet heavily on the long-term success of this business. It’s a smart, cost efficient and labor efficient business model needed for most start-ups, mid-size and Enterprise clients. The days of sending your IT guys into a cage to update the companies software with numerous discs and software patches hoping that it doesn’t disrupt the companies servers should be long gone.