Archive for January, 2011

Digital induced madness

I’m feeling a bit snarky after this weekend.  Maybe it’s the weather, or the chaos in Egypt.  Or maybe it’s because I am still so bemused, befuddled, bewildered and be-Fooled  at the whole concept of Digital Copy and why on earth studios are just so stubborn about thinking that customers give a damn about it.

I sat down with the kids to melt my brain to Despicable Me, and was subjected to a 3 minute trailer on how great Digital Copy is and how it’s the future of entertainment on the go.

As I watched the sleek and sexy production, I had to go “pffft” (meaning “as if”) when the trailer walked through a few use cases that no one on earth is going to ever do.  They showed a couple at the top of Mulholland Drive in a convertible, overlooking LA, with their laptop on the dash and watching a movie.  “Take it with you where ever you go” was the voice over.   I had to ask, who the hell is going to bring their laptop so they can watch a movie at the top of Mulholland Drive?

And then, it cut to a scene with a mother shopping in the store while her toddler, safely strapped in the cart, watched a movie on her mommy’s cell phone.  “Now moms can entertain their kids any time on any device.”  What?!  What mom is going to give a toddler a cell phone so that they can watch a movie in the store?  Wait a minute – maybe they are on to something!  With Digital Copy, you never even have to make eye contact with your kid since they will be glued to all your devices to watch movies!

OK, I get the point – watch movies wherever you are.  I’m all for it.  But really, what customers really care about watching movies where ever they are?  Aren’t movies best enjoyed at home, with your family or friends, on a screen that doesn’t cause your eyes to hurt, or your neck to ache, or your wrists to cramp?

This is the crux of the issue for all digital entertainment, Digital Copy prominently included, and for the dozens of companies/consortia out there trying to do something about it.  We’ve got to ask ourselves, who really cares?

By the way, Despicable Me was great.  And the best part was watching it with my kids on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Judo chop landed

Great stuff here…This is Motorolla’s jab at Apple’s domination, and IMO, they land a solid Judo chop to Apple’s throat.  2011 is 1984 due to their domination of the world….I’m still an Apple fan, but I admit I wake up sometimes with some of this trapped feeling.

How about you?

From Prince to Pig

Last week, Netflix decided to remove the “Add to DVD Queue” feature from streaming devices and announced it in a blog post by the director of product management.  What this means is that customers will no longer be able to add a DVD to their list of DVDs from any streaming device like an Android phone or iPhone.

What struck me about this announcement is not so much my opinion of the move, but rather by the unbelievable public outcry about utterly stupid it is for Netflix to do this.  After just one week, there are 4,825 comments to his blog – and counting!  I’d say that the product manager named Jamie Odell should start blogging at WordPress so he can be the next Freshly Pressed king of the week.

In all seriousness, this unprecedented response from Netflix’s customer base highlights fascinating implications to our increasingly transparent world.  And nowhere is this transparency more evident than in those companies that exist in a completely online universe.

For example, when is the last time you were annoyed at a restaurant and took the time to fill out the survey that comes with the bill?  Or how about stuffing a comment card into a “We Respect Your Opinion” bin at a retailer?  But when it comes to being annoyed by Netflix, or Amazon, or other online service providers,  the public is perfectly willing to throw tomatoes and really let those opinions fly for the whole world to see.  Some people feel so comfortable with their keyboards that they just get outright mean. I bet Eldenor in real life is actually some 65 year old grandmother of 6, but online she’s Mrs. Sarcastic:

“ties up resources”. What a farce. What about the resources you wasted in programming that feature, and the resources you’re expending in removing it? Clearly Netflix wants to send less discs through the mail, and therefore wants to make it more difficult for the user to add to their queue in furtherance of that. Just say that, rather than trying to contort it and argue that its for the user’s benefit.

What this means to me is that online service providers cannot stumble too many times when they live in the cyber-bubble.  If they do trip and fall, they had better be prepared with an army of bloggers to accept responsibility for the decisions the company makes while showing respect for the impact on its customers.   Otherwise, the once loyal customers of yesterday can suddenly turn bitter and be out to destroy you the next.

So, for all those services out there looking to build an online following, be ready to accept responsibility for every move or stumble you have so that you can return to being a Prince.

Plugged in, vol 2

As a follow-up to my first post – A Dying Web, Or a Dead One?, I recently found a staggering statistic about our world as it becomes more and more dominated by apps.  According to a blurb at the Apple site, iTunes is approaching the 10 BILLION mark for apps downloaded.   It’s not quite the 13 billion predicted a few months back, but that’s still 9 billion apps since April 2009.  And you could win $10,000 for being the 10 billionth downloader.  I think Apple’s being a bit stingy for only giving away $10K, but I’d take that…

In another “that’s kinda ridiculous” category, the Beatles have already downloaded 5 million tracks at iTunes since becoming available in November.  That’s amazing for many different reasons, and thing I find interesting is that we old fogies are opting to buy these tracks rather than rip our Beatles collections.  It’s certainly not the kids who are ponying up the cash to buy the tracks.  This to me says that there is hope for at least the established acts in digital. Or that we old fogies are just lazy.  Or both.

But sadly, I just heard Steve Jobs is taking another medical leave.  That’s a shame and we should wish him well.  Blame him all you want for what he’s done to the entertainment business – but you’ve got to acknowledge the contribution that he and his lieutenants have made to make electronics sexy and mainstream…

Non-Apple tidbits

In other news last week, I found some jaw-dropping statistics and wanted to share a few dizzying factoids.

Didja know that the social gaming market will surpass $1 BILLION this year?!  These are the annoying casual games like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and others on social networking sites.  Revenues from virtual goods, lead-generation offers and advertising are up 27.7%.

In another silly statistic category, Groupon recently reported it has saved over $1 billion for its customers through the discounts it offers.  That’s pretty sweet.  I’m a member, are you?

In a weird follow up to some earlier inspiration from Julian Assange, an article recently quoted him saying that he was in possession of “insurance files” on Rupert Murdoch and New Corporation.  He also said that WikiLeaks has more than 500 diplomatic cables on one broadcasting organization.  Apparently, he is holding these as his own insurance policy in case something happens to him or WikiLeaks.  This is definitely a story to follow.  By the way, has anyone else noticed that this dude looks totally different in every photo?  What does this guy look like?

What did you guys find interesting this past week?

CES, truthiness and Spinal Tap

Spinal Tap's Stonehenge as a metaphor for the spectacle of CES

Now that the CES has trickled out of the press, the displays are down and the support crews are back with their families, let’s revisit one last time.  I have to tell you I was personally a little let down this year.  Since I watched it from the comfort of my home, did you guys see anything interesting?  Or just a bit more of the same from last year?  3D, Internet TV, some new tablet devices, Windows 7 phone, some other mobile stuff, snappy USB devices and even more ridiculous over-the-top fantasy cars.  But since you have all likely read the other thousand CES roundups (here’s a good one), I won’t bore you with more of the same….But I do need to talk about one fantastic article that captured the absurdity of CES and related directly to a thought I had about my favorite topic.

In a great piece The Most Worthless Week in Tech, Farhad Manjoo talks about how silly CES has become in terms of the bluster and hot air that the industry’s titans blow just to take advantage of the press coverage.  In a nice rant on Microsoft, Farhad says

I don’t mean to single out Microsoft, because it is merely the worst offender in the overcrowded, overstuffed, chaotic, and profoundly pointless vaporware parade known as CES… Every major tech company follows the same tired CES script: They put on by-the-book press conferences that begin with lots of demos of stuff we already know about—count on Intel, for instance, to always show you how fast its new chips are (hint: faster than last year’s chips). Next, with all the fanfare of the Second Coming, tech giants offer a few incremental improvements to old products. (Look, Microsoft improved the Surface computer!) Finally, they show off things like the HP Slate—gadgets in very early stages of development that have been rushed to the show and barely work as prototypes, with little chance of actually getting to market anytime soon.

I love the truthiness of that!  To pile on to vaporware and relating to my topic, I find it so funny that Ultraviolet – after 27 months of work – made a slew of announcements that they were “ready” and that the world should look out for a mid-year launch.  Well, not to be a Fool or anything, but if they were so sure of themselves, why were industry execs whisked off to a private hotel room to see the demo?  Wouldn’t you think that they would want to make a splash with a badass booth with dry ice and bikini clad girls?  But I digress.

I’m glad I stayed home.  Next year, I think I’ll really mix things up and figure out how to calculate the carbon footprint of CES.  Imagine the environmental impact of all us nerds on expense accounts in Vegas!  And then maybe I’ll get Greenpeace to do something disorderly.  Now that would be a cool CES.

The meantime, here’s a laugh for you that is symbolic of CES.  Enjoy.

Spin cycle: high

CES is a spin machine

It sure is fun to watch the bluster of CES.  So many announcements, much speculation, intense press coverage – just so much fodder.  My favorite observation so far is from Steve Martin: “At Vegas Consumer Electronics Show: Saw large wooden device that can fling boulders over castle walls. iPad killer.”  And did you hear that Lady Gaga is the Creative Director of Polaroid?!

Weirdness aside, I’ve been faithfully tracking Ultraviolet since I discovered my company is participating.  UV had their big “coming out” party last night and announced….well, nothing new to really blow my hair back.  However, there were some notable tidbits that caught my attention:

UV announced timelines of piloting or launching something by mid-year ’11 and full device availability sometime in ’12.  Not really sure what that means but that’s okay.  Oh and they also talked about Akamai and gave a demonstration of how UV will work on PCs and Apple devices.

Critical thinking needed

Those are all things that UV mostly already announced and can be found sprinkled throughout the close to 150 articles that have hit the net.  Good for the activity because I was not that interested in the UV carrot article.

My real issue today is that I am puzzled by the lack of critical thinking in the press I have read so far.  Just about the only critical mention is the observation that Apple and Disney are not playing with UV.  Duh.

There are a few exceptions like Peter Kafka’s bit on the Ginormous Cloud Media Locker Thingie, but most of the articles are merely rewritten press releases from what the PR machine wants to spin.  I don’t want to be the negative Nelly, but if the industry wants to create a truly revolutionary product that is going to become competitive with the Apple behemoth, then we as consumer-minded observers must ask some questions that will get beneath the bluster of what I hope isn’t just more vaporware.

Clarifying clouds

For example, when is UV going to talk about what it thinks customers want in a revolutionary product?  After following UV for a while, I can’t find much in the way of how UV is going to be presented to consumers.  I understand that there is a major effort within UV to create the consumer story (that’s great), but it’s a bit surprising that the message isn’t abundantly clear after 27 months of work (that’s not great).  Sure, I understand that the logo is going to show up everywhere, but what’s the point if we don’t understand very clearly what a cloud media locker does for us?  For example, who out there understands or cares about the alphabet soup of logos that come on DVD/BD players and stereo receivers?

Must make cents

And another point that so far only the ginormous cloud article picks up on is how things are going to be priced.  Kafka says that Ultraviolet could pan out

if the coalition doesn’t screw it up with byzantine restrictions and pricing tiers–$X amount for a DVD, $X+Y for a DVD with iPhone privileges, etc. (It’ll probably do just that, actually.)

Man do I agree with that.

When pressed on the issue, UV says that it doesn’t know how pricing will turn out and that its goal is to create a innovative platform for industry players to, um, innovate on.  Sounds good, but left to its own devices, the industry will probably come out with some Ph.d-complicated tiered pricing scheme that will motivate customers to just wait.  Innovation is absolutely the right thing, but it kind of gets lost when it’s too confusing!

What am I missing?  Please slap me and help clarify some of this.

CES Eve

JB - the Frenchie with the quote

It’s CES Eve – are you just so excited you can’t stand it? For legions of Fools out there in the world, the most sacred and wonderful time of the year has arrived.  Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah and all that are nice and everything, but the news and stuff that comes out of CES just can’t be beat.

Or can it?  This year I am a bit worried, and a bit haunted by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s most appropriate and oft quoted “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I could go on and on about a ton of things that are changing but staying the same (like 3D and still wearing glasses?), but I want to focus on one of my favorite topics: how we watch movies.  No doubt we are going to see a flurry of press releases of new entrants in the digital video space that promise new experiences and new ways to enjoy movies.

New new new

Did you hear about Intel’s entry into the space?  Intel Insider will offer downloads of films in high def to the PC on the same day as DVD and Blu-Ray for some Warner releases.  I guess their new Sandy Bridge chips will work so awesomely that customers will buy Intel based PCs so that they can watch movies.

And then there’s the much anticipated announcements from Ultraviolet (the consortium) based on the work they have completed to create the future of entertainment.  However, on the eve of CES, the top hit on news was something about the discovery that exposing carrot slices to ultraviolet light actually boosts the antioxidant activity of the colorful veggie.

La Même Chose

But my concern of much of the upcoming noise is that, well, so what.  We all still like to watch movies on DVDs and Blu-Rays.  When I talk to my friends about how they watch movies, they all mostly rent from Netflix and buy an occasional DVD.  I also get a sense that because of all these new offers and confusing array of prices and windows – like day and date VOD, changing rental prices through iTunes, different HD and DVD prices, DVDs becoming available so soon after it’s in the theaters – that we as consumers are just waiting ‘til content is cheap enough and convenient enough to consume.

I get a sense that even with all this new stuff out there, we are all just doing the same things we ever did.  While there is so much change out there, everything kind of is still the same.  But, I’m hopeful that CES won’t disappoint…I think.

Savvy

Sleek, Smart, and About the PR/Media World Today

Gigaom

Technology news, trends and analysis covering mobile, big data, cloud, science, energy and media

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