Online publishers need an edge

Digital Publishing A key nugget from the Pew Center’s annual State of the News Media report, out today, neatly captures a critical dynamic of the online content economy that makes it so confounding to content owners.

As Pew notes, the online audience for news is enormous and still growing rapidly. The top 25 news sites in the U.S. topped 342 million average monthly unique visitors in 2011, up 17 percent over 2010. At the same time, online advertising continues to grow at a much faster pace than the general ad market. Total online ad spending hit $32 billion last year, up 23 percent, and online ads now account for 20 percent of total ad spending.

Those two trend lines ought to ad up to good news for online publishers. But as Pew also notes, publishers themselves are capturing very little of the added value created around their content by all that additional advertising revenue. Instead, five top technology providers — Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL — captured 68 percent of the online ad revenue in 2011, up from 63 percent in 2010. Read More »

What happens in Vegas

Las Vegas — The first annual International CES opens here this week and is expected to attract somewhere north of 140,000 gadget makers, press, politicos, and buyers and sellers of stripes, to say nothing of your humble correspondent. Normally this time of year, those same folks would be attending the Consumer Electronics Show here. But the organization that puts on the show, the Consumer Electronics Association, has decided to drop the reference to “consumer electronics” in the name of its signature confab. From now on, the “CES” in International CES won’t actually stand for anything. It’s just the group of three letters people have been using as a handy abbreviation for the Consumer Electronics Show since it stopped being the Radio Manufacturers Show sometime in the 1960s.

The “rebranding,” as the marketing folks say, comes as the show is in fact experiencing something of an identity crisis, underscored last month by word that Microsoft would no longer send its CEO to keynote the confab after this year and would significantly scale back its participation in the show. To longtime show-goers, Microsoft’s decision to drop out is no great loss. Neither Steve Ballmer, nor Bill Gates before him, had said anything worth hearing at Microsoft’s traditional night-before keynote in years. And much of what they did talk about often turned out to be vaporware (Spot watch, anyone?). Read More »

Box office vs. Xbox

Consumer Spending Hollywood is not having a very jolly holiday season so far. Last weekend not only was the worst weekend of the year in terms of total box-office grosses, it was the worst since September 2008. Dividing the weekend’s grosses by the average ticket price, in fact, suggests the number of Americans actually going to a movie theater over the weekend was the lowest since right after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

It isn’t just a one-week phenomenon, either. Data from the MPAA show that total theatrical admissions — butts in seats — have fallen fairly steadily since 2002, with a brief spike in 2009 due to the release Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time.

Ticket-price inflation and the introduction of 3D, for which theaters have been able to charge a premium, have largely masked the effect, allowing gross receipts to hold steady or even grow over that period. But the overall erosion of the audience really ought to be a bigger concern for the studios than their public comments would suggest.  Read More »

Oregon senator may get rated X by Hollywood

Legislation Senator Ron Wyden probably isn’t invited to the MPAA Christmas party here in Washington this year. The Oregon Democrat single-handedly held up passage of the PROTECT-IP Act by placing a hold on bill, preventing it from coming to the floor for a vote, and is co-author, with Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, of the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, a bi-cameral bill aimed at preempting both PROTECT-IP and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the MPAA’s two highest legislative priorities.

That alone would be enough to make Wyden unpopular around the Jack Valenti Building on Eye Street. But he’s also no going after one of the MPAA’s favorite anti-piracy enforcement programs: the Department of Homeland Security’s domain-name seizure program, Operation in Our Sites. Read More »

Face(book)ing the music

Cloud Facebook is rumored to be set to unveil major new media-related features at the f8 developer conference on Thursday, including partnerships with seven or eight leading music streaming services and the introduction of a music/movie/TV “ticker” to home pages that will let your friends know what you’re watching or listening to.

According to reports, a key element of the new streaming music integrations will be audio “bridging” between otherwise competing services. The idea is that, if you’re listening to Rdio, and a track goes up on your profile, a friend who uses MOG for music would be able to click on the track and listen to the same song even if they’ve never subscribed to Rdio.

It’s not clear from the reports exactly how that bridging will work, from either a technical or a rights perspective. Will competing streaming services need to have identical rights deals with the labels for a bridge to work? Will Facebook itself host and stream any music? How will conflicting DRMs and authentication systems be reconciled?  Read More »

Waiting for wood on Google TV

Innovation Google said yesterday that it will begin winding down Google Labs, the in-house incubator and beta-testing web site that birthed Google Maps, Google Reader and other popular services. In a blog post announcing the move, SVP of research Bill Coughran linked the decision to a broader strategy unveiled by CEO Larry Page in Google’s Q2 earnings call last week to streamline the company’s operations and bring more focus to fewer product categories.

“Greater focus has also been another big feature for me this quarter–more wood behind fewer arrows,” Page said. “Last month, for example, we announced that we will be closing Google Health and Google PowerMeter. We’ve also done substantial internal work simplifying and streamlining our product lines.” Read More »

3D still a gimmick

3D In the 1950s, 3D cinema was supposed to save moviegoing from the ravages of newfangled television techology. But it turned out to be a classic gimmick: a technological response to what was really a market problem. Consumers weren’t choosing TV over the movies because movies lacked spectacle; they chose it because it filled the need for casual entertainment in the convenience of their living room. If moviegoing was to compete with television it would have to be with more compelling product, not more spectacle. Read More »

The iCloud will not be televised

Digital Living Room The Apple TV cheese stands alone. For all the nifty new functionality built into iOS 5 and Apple’s new multi-device iCloud platform it appears that very little of it will find its way into Apple TV. About the only new reindeer game Apple TV will get to join in for now is Photo Stream, which automatically syncs and downloads your photos to all your registered iOS devices, including the Apple TV set-top. For everything else — including your own home videos — Apple TV is on the outside of the iCloud looking in.

I’m starting to believe Steve Jobs when he describes Apple TV as a hobby, rather than as a strategic business for Apple. Read More »

Media Sans Frontières

Licensing Before content owners get too excited about the possibility of mandatory Internet content filtering coming to Europe, highlighted in a Reuters story Monday based on leaked portions of a pending European Commission report on intellectual property rights, they might want to read through the full document now that it’s available on the EC website.

Any action that could involve stepped up enforcement of copyrights online by Internet service providers referenced in the report would be limited for now to studying “ways to create a framework allowing, in particular, combating infringements of IPR via the internet more effectively.” Any formal proposals to emerge from that studying,  moreover, which won’t even begin until 2012, will “not alter the existing rules on limited liability for certain types of ISP activities,” according to FAQ provided by the commission. Read More »

Do as I say, not as I do

Copyright National governments must operate in several different domains at once, both domestic and international. To expect absolute consistency in its positions across all of those domains is to misapprehend the role and process of government. Yet for all that, the contrast between current efforts in Congress to block U.S. citizens’ access to certain “rogue” web sites, and those of the U.S. State Department to help citizens of China to circumvent efforts by the Chinese government to block its citizens access to certain web sites, is striking. Read More »

Disney in the cloud with DivX

It hasn’t received much attention in the U.S., but in France this week, Disney announced perhaps the most aggressive move yet by a major studio to embrace both cloud-based media lockers and cross-platform interoperability. Two new services, called Disneytek and abctek, will allow Freebox ISP subscribers in France (currently about 4.5 million subs) to purchase Disney and ABC movies and TV shows through their Freebox TV set-top device and store them permanently in the cloud.

In addition to being able to watch the content on their TV via streaming, subscribers also can download the movies and TV shows to a PC or Mac for storage and playback, and can further transfer them to up to five other DivX-certified devices (The DivX devices must first be registered online) via USB drive or SD card. Read More »

Pay-TV in a box

NAB One of the more intriguing companies to surface at the National Association of Broadcasters convention last week was Marion, Iowa-based Syncbak, a startup founded by serial entrepreneur Jack Perry that has been operating in stealth mode for the past two years. The company has come up with a way to put local TV broadcasters in the over-the-top video game by enabling them to deliver content over the Internet while limiting its reach to the station’s broadcast footprint.

Since broadcast rights are typically licensed market-by-market, defined as the geographic reach of an individual station’s over-the-air signal, limiting the Internet signal to the same territory is essential to preserving the existing industry licensing structure. Read More »

Cable apps and the FCC (Updated)

AllVid One potentially interesting wrinkle to the controversy over cable MSOs launching iPad streaming apps that hasn’t received much attention yet: the possibility that the FCC could have a say in the eventual outcome were the agency to go ahead with its proposed AllVid mandate.

So far, Time Warner Cable’s iPad app seems to be drawing most of the ire of the networks. The MSO was forced to drop 11 channels from its app belonging to Viacom, News Corp., Scripps and Discovery Communications after the networks threatened it with litigation. Cablevision’s iPad app, on the other hand, launched after TWC’s, has thus far escaped the cease-and-desist letters, at least as far as has been reported. Read More »

Navigating the new TV landscape

Connected TVs Apple may be getting ready to license its AirPlay streaming software to other CE makers to embed in their HDTVs, according to a report this week by Bloomberg . Though the report did not identify the potential hardware partners, “two people familiar with the program” said AirPlay-enabled devices could be available before the end of the year.

If the report proves true, users of thirds-party AirPlay-enabled TVs would be able to stream video content over their home wireless network from the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch for display on the big screen. Currently, video streaming from Apple portable devices is only possible via an Apple TV set-top box. Under the proposed plan, no separate set-top hardware would be required. Read More »