Confusion Reigns Supreme with Online Movie and TV Streaming Services. Consumers are the losers.

Confusion           caution-mass-confusion  220px-Aereo_logo netflix-appletv   streamingmedia

Recent shifts in technology due to the Internet have destroyed the profitability of several industries including the newspaper and music businesses. The next business that will be made over by technology is television. The profitability of owning TV networks is being undermined by digital video recorders, internet-enabled on-demand viewing, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and piracy/theft.  In this post, I’m going to list many if not all of these choices currently available to you and me – and there are WAY TOO MANY. And a lot of amateur content is taking up an increasing portion of a viewers’ time online and on mobile/tablet devices. You Tube has how many new original channels?  I mean unless you’ve got absolutely nothing to do 24hrs a day other than veg in front of a computer and or TV, you can’t ingest even 10% of this content.

Consumption of network and cable content is taking place in ways that allow viewers to circumvent high monthly cable bills, avoid watching commercials, or both. The new Barry Diller backed ‘Aereo’ – https://www.aereo.com/ will indeed disrupt cable and pay-tv as never before. Every single one of these changes represents a move to a revenue model that is less profitable than the one currently enjoyed by the TV networks. It is simply a matter of time before the revenue and profitability of the major networks begins to fall seriously erode.

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Consumers are awash with the plethora choices of streaming movie services, VOD and TV/time shifting programming (between 30 to 40 and counting). There are so many choices that I defy anyone to tell me exactly what they are buying and what each of them offer, specifically how tey are different. Anand Subramanian of startup NimbleTV was even more blunt. “There’s content everywhere. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess for consumers.”

Hollywood-sign-900Hollywood releases maybe 10-12 ‘big’ picture events every year and all of the releases are timed by Holidays (Thanksgiving/Christmas, July 4th, Memorial Day, Halloween, and Labor Day weekends). Independent movies are released around these times and are scattered throughout the year.  Years back when DVD’s were released, those releases in the stores reinforced the theatrical releases with a barrage of marketing. You saw the same big pictures being marketed again in 6-9 months after the theaters. So, when you went to Blockbuster you had a ‘a-ha’ moment. You’d say, oh yeah, I remember that movie, I missed it at the theaters and you would rent it. It was pretty clear what you saw,  what you missed and what you wanted to see again. Then, HBO and Showtime would re-market the same movies in their PAY-TV window approximately 10-12 months after the theaters.  They’d remain there for 24-36 months sometimes even longer.

dx4zdi1spq0olohforey    showtime

When Pay-TV was in its heyday, there was a ‘pay’ content war between HBO and Showtime. Some studios had exclusives with HBO, some with Showtime. To the average consumer, this didn’t mean all too much.  No one wanted to watch a Paramount movie, they wanted to see ‘Fatal Attraction’.  Maybe with the exception of which pay-tv service had Disney movies (if you had kids).  Now, that doesn’t really matter too much as kids watch gobs of shows on basic, Nick Jr., etc.  Over the years, HBO got wise and supplemented its schedule with well produced original programming and still is. Showtime followed with its original programming and both duked it out with Sports, specifically Boxing.

Time shift forward, now it’s a war between Netflix and HBO.

121007064534-amazon-prime-resize-horizontal-gallery    Hulu-Plus  shop-itunes-store-column-browser

Its not HBO and Showtime, but Netflix – http://goo.gl/0N2No . And its not only Netflix, it Amazon Prime, Hulu plus, iTunes and a myriad of other streaming offerings.  I’ve compiled a list below. But the bottom line is how does anyone really understand what they are buying? If you subscribe to Netflix, can I see Disney movies? Will I get mega-hit from Universal like Jurassic Park, Les Miserables, and Despicable Me Part 2? Or do I need to subscribe to several streaming services? And, which ones?

And down the road very soon Barry Diller’s back Aereo TV will expand to 22 cities – https://www.aereo.com/. Why is this disruptive if it only offers ABC, CBS and NBC as the primary driver of the service? (more on this later).

abc_logo nbc-primetime-schedule CBS

Here is the list ( I hope I’ve got most included). I’ll admit I am confused as everyone else and I’m not going to buy or subscribe to more than one service especially when I don’t even know that if I do, I’ve essentially duplicated the movies and content I’ve subscribed to.

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Hallmark Instant Streaming – coming Spring 2013

Amazon Prime Instant Video – The Prime Instant Video library consists of over 30,000 movies and TV episodes, which can be watched via any device the streaming service is available on, including the Kindle Fire, iOS devices, Roku, Xbox 360, PS3, and the Wii U.

iTunes

Netflix

Redbox Instant (Verizon)

Redbox in Stores – Physical DVD rentals

Roku

Boxee

CinemaNow – Best Buy’s service plus

Hulu +  – Hulu now has more than 430 content partners, offering over 60,000 TV episodes, 2,300 TV series, and 50,000 hours of total video

NimbleTV – Just like Aereo (Barry Diller venture)

Motive TV – Like Nimble and Aereo from the U.K. heading to the US

Aereo – Just like Nimble TV

Ultraviolet – Studio driven answer. Welcome to DRM land.

Bigstar.tv

Crackle – SONY/Columbia Pictures

Vudu

RedBox (physical rental)

Kaleidescape

Sony Pictures Gift Store – more SONY choices

Flixster – Gateway to itunes, amazon and vudu

IndieFlix

Popcornflix

Cable Operators VOD library ( Time-Warner 4,000 movies + Comcast, Cox, etc.)

OnDemand via cable

Microsoft’s X-Box – a Gateway to Netflix + others.

Comcast’s Xfinity – Over 10,000 VOD movies (lots of NBC/Universal content)

Starz Play

Encore Play

MoviePlex Play –  Starz Play currently offers approximately 400 film and TV titles, including 300 movies and 100 episodes of Starz original series. Encore Play offers about 900 monthly selections, while MoviePlex provides access to 200 more movies every month.

AvailTVN_LogoAvail-TVN’s View Now – ViewNow’s library of movie content includes titles from both major and independent studios, which can be delivered in MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, as well as a range of adaptive bitrate (ABR) formats, to traditional set-tops as well as internet-connected devices like PCs, smartphones, and tablets. In addition to multiplatform rights, Avail-TVN says ViewNow includes download rights on a large number of titles.

M-GoM-Go – new app that elegantly streamlines all of your media together in one place including movies, music, TV and more. Formed in 2011, M-GO is a dynamic well-funded startup sprung from the cooperation of Technicolor and DreamWorks Animation. The M-GO app will be available for download for free on all major operating systems. M-GO is preloaded on 2012 Samsung and Vizio Smart TV and Blu-ray players as well as Intel Ultrabooks, totaling up to 30 million installed devices.

Watch ESPN is now available on Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD devices. Free to download via the Amazon Appstore, the TV Everywhere app offers access to live sports and channel programming from ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3, as well as ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater when in season. As is the case with other WatchESPN editions as well as other TV Everywhere services, to access the content the viewer needs to first have ESPN in their TV subscription package. In conjunction with announcing the Kindle Fire app release, ESPN also revealed some end-of-the-year numbers on how WatchESPN is faring in terms of distribution and availability. The sports network says that total downloads for the WatchESPN app, which is now available in the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore, more than doubled in 2012. It’s now available in 46 million households nationwide as six of the top 10 cable distributors also provide access to the service.

epix-hd-logo1EPIX plans to launch a streaming app for the PlayStation 3 during the first quarter of 2013, followed by an app for the portable PlayStation Vita console sometime in the spring. The apps will offer more than 3,000 titles, including blockbusters such as The Hunger Games, Thor, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, as well as EPIX’s lineup of original programming, which features music concert, comedy, and sports events. The apps will be available to PlayStation Network members in the US as a free download. Users will need to authenticate their EPIX TV subscription in order to watch the content.

Now about Aereo.  One of the things we all get cable for whether you realize it or not is to receive the 3 main Broadcast Networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. These are on basic cable in 100% of all cable systems nationwide. And basic cable costs at least $ 50-70 a month and 9 times out of 10 its bundled with pay-TV and a phone land line along with internet access bringing your bill to over $ 100 a month.  And generally, one has a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription (or another streaming movie service).  There are 2 kinds of camps here or cable subscribers, one with kids and the others without kids. For the people without kids, Aereo + 1 streaming movie service (unless you are a sports nut and MUST have ESPN) would be sufficient. You’d have local broadcast TV and all the movies you could watch/stream. What else do you really need (unless you must watch ‘Honey Boo-Boo’ and then I can’t help you). For the families with kids, this is slightly age dependent. Its hard when you have toddlers NOT to want to get several of Viacom’s Kids channels or Disney’s kids channels (Nick, Nick Jr., Disney Channel, Disney Jr., etc. )  If you have older kids, teens etc. a movie streaming service with Hulu + might suffice.  For those without kids, Aereo + a movie streaming service will drastically cut your bill. Aereo I believe will charge about $ 9.00 a month, no subscription or early termination fee (take that Cox, Comcast, Time-Warner and Fios). Maybe with Amazon Prime or Netflix and your looking at under $ 20.00 a month. Yes, you will need internet access so add another $40-60.00 a month depending on your need for speed. But its definitely less than the typical bundled services. If you don’t think that Aereo has Pay-TV in its crosshairs, you’re crazy. We shall see how this unfolds as it winds its way through the courts. Yes, Aereo is being sued by the broadcasters and others, but it’s also rolling out its service nationwide this spring. I am signing up to see what its like – but it seems like an idea whose time has arrived

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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.

Apps, Software and Video Games shortly will go the way of the DVD – they will live in a ‘cloud’.

Bandwidth is the key to the cloud. If you’ve got enough access to it, meaning if you’ve got a fast enough connection, then you don’t need any physical media or software to live in your PC, Mac or for that matter very soon your mobile phone and tablets.

We used to have giant ‘desktop’ computers that had to have HUGE hard drives in order for us to install many applications. For example, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, MS Office, CAD software, etc. all are very large installation packages. Couple this with your collection of MP3’s, photo’s, video’s and documents and most of us ran out of room on a PC that had 50-100 gigs of space for a hard drive.

The obvious to the consumer

Today, as a consumer we see convenient repositories for photo’s, music and videos and documents. Skydrive, GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Box, Amazon Cloud Drive. Now consumers are beginning to understand and use these places to store what they used to store on their home computers. Why? Several key reasons – first, once uploaded to a large mainstream cloud drive (and I mean to the likes of Google, MS or Amazon) your collection of ‘whatever’ is safe. How many of us have dropped or lost a laptop, had a hard drive fail, spilled coffee on our desks and then PC, etc. If you didn’t back it up to an external hard drive you lost it all. Worse yet, I’ve had friends who did and THAT and the hard drive failed shortly thereafter. Years of precious photos (and now videos more than ever thanks for our mobile phones) you can never get back or thousands of MP3’s gone (at $.99 each). Second, consumers now are getting familiar with storing their digital belongings off site and in a cloud. We hear about Amazon’s or Google’s cloud storage drive initiatives more and more everyday. They are fast becoming the new norm. And third – they are not expensive. Certainly not when compared to a 1.5 Terabyte hard drive that can fail without warning.

The not so obvious to us all

What’s not so obvious to consumers is what’s happening in the enterprise business realm. Years ago, you wanted to put up a business domain web site or had a business that required large databases, some required separate servers for clients that are uber security conscious, some needed to have their domain living on a separate server from others (especially the financial and health industries). Others needed production servers, staging servers and then after testing finally deployed an application or web service. Sometimes IT had to physically travel to the colo facility to apply a ‘patch’ to a newly deployed application and hoped that the patch worked as it was supposed to or else everything came to a screeching halt. Businesses lost money, time, and face sometimes. You’d pay Sun, Oracle, Cisco, EMC, etc. millions to deploy servers and DB’s for your environment. You’d spend money on hiring the right technical IT staff to deploy and sync and stitch all of this together. This WAS the norm.

Enterprise today is all moving into a cloud based environment – virtualization is the norm now.

Sun servers were all the rage in the 90’s. But they were VERY expensive. Robust, great customer service, but very costly. Today, you can run a linux box for a fraction of the cost. No more hard drives or servers (blades or otherwise). You can fire up an ‘instance’ and server through AWS in a few minutes. No going into a colo facility. Start-up’s can get to market almost instantaneously and for far less of a cost. You pay for what you use. No more buying a million dollar license for ATG, Vignette or Broadvision and installing 15 discs in a cage. You rent it now. Patches get uploaded by the cloud vendor in a virtual environment and tested before they are deployed to you.

With the rise of this ‘virtualization’, more and more apps or processes now get built into the browser. Java script was written just for this purpose and has allowed for far more sophisticated applications to run in a network environment and now on browsers. Other software will be embedded in browsers as time goes on that will mimic the functionality and hardware on your PC. You can bet on it.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Whereas IaaS (infrastructure as a service) providers offer bare compute cycles and SaaS (software as a service) providers offeraccess to such apps as CRM online, PaaS offerings provide turnkey services for developers to get their apps up and running quickly, no infrastructure concerns needed.

Offered as a service, PaaS runs the gamut from development tools to middleware to database software to any “application platform” functionality that developers might require to construct applications. None of these above services come without their problems. But so did everything else before them.

IaaS focuses on managing virtual machines, and the risks are little different than with other cloud types — here, the main risk is rogue or unwarranted commandeering of services. IaaS requires governance and usage monitoring. But with this comes a good degree of convenience and business ROI.

Some of the most popular cloud services running virtually are; Microsoft Windows Azure, Googles App Engine (which offer a nonSQL relational SQL database service), VMware cloud foundry, Force.com ( from salesforce.com), Heroku (also from SF), Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, Engine Ysrd Cloud (for Ruby on Rails enthusiasts), Engine Yard Orchestra (for PHP enthusiasts) and CumuLogic (for Java developers). Consumers never see or hear any of this but use web services that live on these services day in and day out.

What will be obvious to consumers in about 10 years or less

All of this bring me back around to bandwidth and apps. Once we have enough consumers that have access to real fast broadband (100mbps or more down and ideally 200mbps down), then the Apple and Android app store will disappear. Software discs will become obsolete. Video game installation discs – gone. Why, because once you have enough speed, apps can be loaded and accessed wirelessly via the web. The calls to databases, functionality and such can all be received instantly online. Its already happening, slowly. Examples of this in the entertainment space is Ultraviolet, bring your DVD’s to Wal-Mart and upload them to your digital locker – no more disc. Onlive, Livestream, Gaikai all stream video games without the need for a disc, Netflix (you know about them). Consumers are aware of these, but then you’ve also got GoogleDocs and Skydrive for documents and the creation of word and excel docs. We don’t need an install disc anymore.

Last week, it took me 4 days to upload 12,934 MP3’s to my cloud locker at Amazon Music drive. Less time than I ever thought. Available anytime for me to download if need be. That’s nearly $ 13,000 worth of music, stored for as little as $ 20.00 a year.

Mobile apps, software suites, video game discs, movies, music photos and more will still be here but will not physically be in your home forever. It’s inevitable.

Algorithms and Sensors – web 3.0 services abound

Its been a while since my last post – I’ve been consumed at my work ( which I have been really enjoying) . However, I felt compelled today to write a bit about algorithms and sensors, which are creating some GREAT services now and even better in the near future. We are watching web 3.0 ‘blossom’ right now. Here is what I mean.

Ever since I’ve gotten my hands on Apple’s new iPhone 4Gs and Siri, my mind has never been the same. Not that Siri is the end all and be all. It has its drawbacks and in fairness, Apple has always and still does call it a ‘beta’.

But the mere presence and interaction I’ve had with Siri signaled something new to me on the internet was really happening – and in a very subtle but meaningful way.

Siri is learning – yes, she really does learn. “Artificial Intelligence” – no one seems to think that the machines are actually intelligent, but they can certainly do a lot of things that used to be hard for computers. Clearly Siri is an ‘AI’ that is programmed to adapt in certain ways and modify its behavior according to how I or what I would request of Siri. Fascinating really.

The real thing to keep your eye on here is that sensors plus big data algorithms are leading us from today’s world where content considered king to one where content is simply one component of a service. Content is becoming secondary and the service and platform primary. There never used to be 13 different ways to rent’ the same movie before. Content is becoming commoditized.   When Siri was first introduced, its creators called it a “do engine.” that is, rather than retrieving a web page (media) that you consume to make a decision, it just does things for you. “Find me a restaurant near here.” “Make me a reservation.” Media will become part of a database back end rather than a media front end.

Some examples of sensory algorithms that in effect build a network-mediated global mind are (this is really us, just augmented):

–          Mobile cell devices -we are augmented with cellphone cameras (electronic sensors again), the ability of events to become a shared experience is has become vastly increased and more so now with social media connects.

–          Smart Parking Meters – In the city of San Francisco, you’re seeing something similar, where all the parking meters are equipped with sensors, and pricing varies by time of day, and ultimately by demand. In effect an “algorithmic regulation” – they regulate in the same way our body regulates itself, autonomically and unconsciously.

–          Predictive AdWords -Google’s Adwords were always more effective than competitors because Google was better at learning from human input – instead of selling ads to the highest bidder as competitors such as Yahoo did, they used machine learning algorithms to predict which ads were more likely to be clicked on. They might choose an advertiser who only wanted to pay half as much if their ad was 3 times as likely to be clicked. Google was the first to harness the collective intelligence of their users to improve ad results. Just like the social media platforms we use to disseminate events and other digerati it’s important to understand just how much this is man-machine symbiosis.

–          Large connected networks – it could be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or G+, but any one of them connects to most of us somewhere at some point. The massive sharing of data and thoughts, the crowd-sourcing of opinion and the collective conclusions we draw are all kept and logged, improved upon and progressively mature and evolve. Here and on these massive giants, nothing stays the same for very long. The mere platforms themselves have spawned other interconnected platforms like Zynga.

The Internet as a whole is a mirror image of us  – a thriving interconnected network. It improves with knowledge and data and learns 24/7. It’s the community that creates content. Its about how you engage people and who you engage, not the number of followers.  It’s about the collective impact we make together. The Internet is an architecture of participation, interconnected, open source and open protocols. It really is our global brain. Look at the ‘picture’ of the network. It is no coincidence that it looks the way it does.

the internet

Google also thinks about this. Their key business model depends on the success of others – driving traffic to their sites, and producing ad results. Google only does well if their partners do well.

Contrast this with how the dwindling and toxic financial firms, who once positioned themselves as the enabler of the economy, creating liquidity and trading on behalf of clients, began to trade against them, and increasingly created products – from the mortgage backed loans that brought down the global economy to even more reprehensible trading practices that have driven up the cost of food for starving millions and was directly responsible for not only our economic collapse, but the ripple effects that are being felt worldwide. This is capitalism gone wrong. Occupy Wall Street’s fundamentals are not incorrect.

In the end, a company is most successful when it makes all of its stakeholders successful, not just its shareholders – a good example of this is Apple.

Which brings me back to algorithms and sensors. Soon, Apple will release an API for Siri. Many businesses’ that can use it will use it and the revolution will progress in earnest. As Siri learns what I do the most on my mobile device, she will also begin to learn my doctor’s and dentist’s name, the nearest hospital to me and map, my grocery list and cost and what I’ve run out of in my house, the type of movies I watch and music I listen to and where to find the content. In short, Siri will make my life a little more convenient and predictive. It will combine my habits with my surfing activities on the Internet and will suggest based on location where to buy items that interest me conveniently and cost-effectively based on my location.

'Things to Come' 1936

Just think of the services that will come…H.G. Wells would have had a blast.

DPI is coming to a mobile phone near you!

                                 

Consumers will be confronted eventually here in the U.S. with DPI or Deep Packet Inspection. DPI simply put is a new technology that gives mobile carriers a way to tell exactly which applications you run and when on your mobile phone. Are you a  FaceTime user or Skype user? Do you check Facebook on your iPhone using an iPhone app 5 or more times during the day? Check into G+ a lot?  Tweet? Blog remotely to your Tumblr log? Do you text with a friend on the train or bus home? Is that during rush hour or business hours or between 6pm and midnight or in the morning?

                                       

Instead of allowing consumers to consume and buy an ‘unlimited’ data plan on their mobile phones (and by unlimited I mean unlimited for the most part and then ‘throttled’ ), carriers are seeking new ways to charge us for mobile usage. And they will have to figure this out because the number of mobile phones and data usage is increasing exponentially. Having a plan now as to how to avoid network congestion (as opposed to later when it really becomes a issue) makes total sense.  Its all about balancing out a consumers usage with network peak and lull times usage.  If I only was checking and using Facebook on my iPhone, I’d rather purchase a $5.00 a month all-access plan to Facebook than spend $25.00 a month for 2GB of data for everything.  Having a ‘Happy Hour’ on data usage from 7pm-midnight would get me to remember to download my music or movies on my iPad or iPhone during those times. Training the mobile public to use certain applications at certain times makes the use of the network better for all users during a 24hr. period. And carriers would not have to sell ‘unlimited’ data plans to us, which really aren’t unlimited after all.

This is not a new concept and is being tested and used in Europe right now. Orange is testing personalized pricing plans with consumers – working with them to determine which applications and activities they really use and crafting a pricing plan that fits them best.

Orange has a Panther plan for heavy users that costs £25 ($39.40 USD) for 10GB of mobile data and voice a month and a Dolphin plan for £15 a month that offers an hour of unlimited surfing at a time of the users choosing. Under the plan, customers can pick a so-called ‘Happy Hour’ from the following; 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. (the morning commute), 12:00-1:00 p.m. (lunch break), 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. (late afternoon) or 10:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. (late night).

The more transparent the carriers become, the friendlier consumers will become to switching plans and buying services that fit their habits. The days of just a few data choices for us are limited indeed.

Apple’s ‘iCloud’ Just Might Be Netflix’s Achilles Heel.

Apple took a long time to get the Internet. Geeks were still installing FTP clients and web browsers for years after Apple belatedly included TCP/IP and PPP to their OS and, when Apple finally did integrate the Internet into Mac OS, it was in a very tacked on kind of way. A browser, an app for making web pages, eventually a few vertical online stores. I think that’s all about to change tomorrow a the WWDC.

The upcoming ‘iCloud’ announcement will vault Apple into the music cloud business, pitted against Amazon and Google (and a few others, but they are the 900lb. gorillas in the room). Apple has been in the business of selling movies and music for a long time now. Far longer than Google and longer than Amazon, at least digitally (no physical plastic CD). Now they will announce ‘iCloud’.

There have been many guessing at what this will look like and include, and I’ll make a few guesses too and I’m sure not all of them will be correct. But its fun nonetheless to postulate. Netflix is unquestionably the king of movie rentals by far. They have the breadth of product, elegance of delivery online and a reasonable cost/subscription plan. Apple is the king of online movie ‘purchases’. Based upon the fact that Apple has been building out a $1B data center in maiden N.C. , it is more than possible that they have infrastructure to support ‘movie’ lockers. That is, you buy a movie and can now store that film remotely in your cloud ‘locker’. This is the one thing that Netflix (at the moment) can’t replicate very easily.

First, it does not have the infrastructure in place (at the least own the facility) even though they host through Amazon’s EC2.  Yes, they can build it out there, but it would be costly.  Second, to my knowledge ownership is a digital right that must be negotiated and exists separately from a pure rental right with the studios. Something that is NOT easy to get from the Hollywood majors – and I know because I’ve been there before several times before. And third, Netflix core business premise is rentals – it has never been the place we turn to purchase a film thereby making it even harder to shift consumer habits that so far lie with an Amazon or iTunes.

This IMHO, could be considered an Achilles heel for Netflix. Not that they couldn’t get here, but perhaps they will get here AFTER Apple does. And first mover advantage is HUGE online and especially in the entertainment space. An storing your movies is altogether another issue – especially once you begin storing your movies in a cloud. They are NOT easy to move (file size is 750megs -1gb or more compared to a typically small 4-5mb mp3 file) nor would you want to. Right now, people are complaining about how you need to upload your MUSIC files to Google or Amazon’s music cloud offering. Imagine what they’d be saying about uploading movies? Again, this is all a guess of mine. Some other thoughts and guesses about tomorrows announcement by Apple MIGHT be:

 

• Your Mac, Windows, or iOS device can sync with all or part of it in the same way that your iOS devices sync with your computer’s iTunes library today because your music library exists in the cloud now.

• Continuous syncing of iOS devices in real time. The implication is never having to plug your iPhone or iPad in to your computer again. You won’t need a computer to sync anymore.

• One login using your Apple account: On any Mac, sign in as a guest using your Apple account credentials and you’ll be brought to the same desktop you get on your personal machine. Files will be downloaded from the cloud (or your home network) on demand, and you’ll have access to all the apps you’ve purchased via the Mac App Store, downloaded and installed on-demand, and removed securely, along with your data, upon log-out.

• Play music on your mac, then with a tap shift the music to your iPhone when you’re on the go. A sizable portion of the playlist will quickly transfer over so there’s no reliance on continued wi-fi access or 3G streaming. A ‘cloud’ benefit.

Lion and iOS 5 will change the playing field for many. It will be interesting to find out exactly how Apple will do this and when tomorrow at WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference). You can watch it live here on Monday, June 6th at 10am: http://www.macrumorslive.com/.

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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.

A Train Wreck Indeed!

How do you f’up the pay-per-view business? You don’t. No need to – it has been one train wreck since 1984. (Full disclosure: In 1984, I started a nationwide satellite delivered ‘A’ title Movie service called’ The People’s Choice’ alongside of Jeff Reiss’s ‘RequestTelevision’ and Scott Kurnit’s ‘Viewers Choice’). When I was in this business, Bill Mechanic (ex-CEO, Chairman of Fox, Disney, green lit ‘Titanic’) and Barry Diller were at Paramount, Jamie Kellner ( Orion Pictures who went on to run ‘The WB Network’), Hal Richardson ( President at Paramount) was at Disney/Dreamworks, Eric Frankel (President for 26yrs) and Stanley Solson along with Eddie Blier were at Warner Bros. ( close to the Steve Ross reign whom I knew well from High School days), Mike Medavoy at Tri-Star, Ned Nalle at Universal and Andy Kaplan at Sony. Most all of these people now still are around and are running their own ship BECAUSE back then, they had a some foresight and moxie. They DID agree to let the PPV at least try and get off the ground by granting PPV rights to a few nascent, early entrants in the business. At that time, there were only a few addressable homes to see the films.

Since the inception of PPV on the cable landscape, its always been a ‘promise’ business at best. Nothing really ever took off or was unbelievably successful (and I am referring to MOVIES, not the WWF, Boxing or the Adult business). Many a business and consulting firm was built around it, hardware made for it, ordering systems invented and manufactured and in the end, most went out of business. Most cable operators didn’t even understand it or what it was suppose to be, what ‘tier’ to put it on and how to promote it. Most felt it would cannibalize their existing cash cow, PAY TV.

It never cannibalized anything because it never got off the ground. No one could agree on a movie PPV ‘window’ (the timing of when a PPV movie should be allowed to be seen and ordered on PPV). Many a conference, discussion group, speech and convention sessions were had – all futile. Nothing was ever decided. The VCR’s were blamed as the culprit, then it was the movie studios, then it was theater owners, then it was Pay TV and the ‘exclusivity’ wars of the 90’s. Then the Internet crept upon us all and that was the new Darth Vadar. You can’t release a film on PPV too early because it could be copied easily and even easier become distributed by means of the internet all over the planet (meaning no more duplicating and bicycling cassettes as if my friends ever did this in mass to begin with). Now, using the Internet, movies would be all over the place, everywhere. Everyone would have a copy. Well? Do we ALL have copies of Avatar? Tootsie? As Good As It Gets? Dirty Harry? A good industry has got to know its limitations! And this one never did!

Now, theater owners are afraid of the 60 day release window. Pahleeese! Just read a few of the articles below.

http://engt.co/lWRaty

http://bit.ly/kXEgRU

http://lat.ms/kiRwwc

Theater owners and the Hollywood creative community are livid about Premium VOD, which they perceive as paving the road to cannibalizing theatrical attendance which would in turn harm a movie’s overall economics, creating a dangerous downward spiral. In addition, there’s concern that if consumers switch to watching movies on the small screen then the creative license implicit in a big screen emphasis will get squeezed. While their concerns MAY be justified, the good news for them is that Premium VOD will be lucky to achieve even minimal success.

Why? The cost is one – $ 30.00 for a poor film or film that has not done well at the theater or is released directly to DVD (or what was once called DVD) is insane. Sorry, justification by babysitter fees and popcorn costs don’t cut it. These are niche films. Avatar and other BIG films will never see this light of day through this window. But ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ‘ will (and has already, sort of). Example – first film up is Just Go With It” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Ho-hum. Good cast and a flop a the box office for the most part. I’d be pissed if I paid $30.00 for this AND CAN’T EVEN KEEP A COPY IN A DIGITAL LOCKER TO SEE WHEN I WANTED AGAIN? WTF? And frankly that could be one of the keys to making this viable. Give me the ability to KEEP it as if I bought the DVD ( keep it in a ‘cloud’ locker) and I’d might buy a few films – that would help at least justify the cost.

And, as Will Richmond from VideoNuze so aptly points out, “Studios seem to believe that making movies available sooner in the home will attract demand. But the problem is that there are already so many choices for watching movies in the home – pay-TV, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, etc. etc., that it will be very hard to break through the noise, solely with a “sooner” positioning, which is more than offset by a ridiculously high price point. Consumers are savvier than ever; they’ll quickly realize that they can get the same movie for $4-5, a sixth to a seventh the price of Premium VOD, just by waiting a couple more months for it to appear on pay-TV or online VOD.”

So, theater owners who vow to ‘go to war’ are wasting their time and efforts. I guarantee them that the Movie studios and cable operators and satellite delivery services will win the war for them. Somehow, these guys think that consumers are not too smart. When are they going to wake up and smell the coffee? When are they going to realize that all of us don’t rush to ‘steal’ digital copies of films for any number of reasons (i.e., they are 700megs of data AT LEAST, cumbersome to store, less than perfect copies that lack subtitles at times and extra’s.) They are not MP3’s! Music and movies may both have a digital base as a common denominator but ultimately I’ll listen to Hotel California many more times than I can watch Avatar in my lifetime. And the pirates don’t make a bit of difference except barely on the streets of lower Manhattan or Tokyo where poorly made copies sell for $5.00 until those vendors get caught that day. And they on sell about 30 movies at that point – no MASS market like that that would ruin a $250m box office in the theaters or in any ancillary market I know of.

Theater owners should rejoice that soon this whole business will be in Netflix’s (or some other digital distributors) capable hands and not the studios. (Apologies to those friends of mine at the studios now – its not your fault, it’s just the ‘economics’ to blame and perhaps a few at the top thinking we are still in the DVD/VCR age). Make the business consumer friendly – give us a copy of what we buy and allow us to watch it whenever we want for our money that we spent. After all, I can do this with new music released, why not new movies released?

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.