Let’s Thank the People That Do the Most to Stop Big Media – “Big Media”

Yes, while this Christmas 2011 has been over-shadowed by big corporations making power grabs at the expense of the freedom and privacy of American citizens, I do think it’s important to recognize those that have made it possible to fight back…So to the incompetent, stupid, and just plain greedy big media tools that have acted so boldly as to make it grossly obvious what you’re doing, a special thanks. Without groups like Righthaven, the RIAA, UMG, and all those pocket congressmen that don’t know how to use the Internet – we’d be slowly loosing freedom to a massive big media monopoly. Your ignorance, frivolous attacks, and poorly researched statistics won’t be forgotten; you have made Big Media look petty bad and totally out of control in the eyes of the American people.

Here’s my TOP 5!

1) Righthaven: Let’s thank this big media watchdog which started it all in what could have been the single most significant attack on personal freedom in the name of IP ever conducted; only to result in them demonstrating in court that they were incapable of targeting offenders directly without mistakes, lacked the conviction to follow through in a drawn out hearing, that they were trying to use the court to extort money from innocent private citizens pre-trial, and  leading other trolls into similar badly planned business models. Thanks largely to this incompetence, bloggers on ArsTechnica, and similar sites created a backlash against Righthaven and Big media that quickly proved that they were incapable of taking what they dished out. Through their malfeasance future legal initiatives by big media companies were trivialized and the issue of privacy brought to the public eye. What’s more, rather than tackle infringement directly, several watchdog groups and advocates for the porn industry followed Righthaven’s lead while their success was in question with their own mass mailings over copyright infringement and as they also attempted to embarrass citizens into paying massive pre-trial settlements the whole lot were sequencially shot down due to publicity surrounding thiss flagrant misuse of the law. Thanks to their lack of tact and good sense these practices were exposed as simple extortion and became one of the biggest nails in the coffin for using IP tracking in identifying offenders.

2) Universal Music Group: Fortunately being small like Righthaven doesn’t give you an exclusive on stupidity and poorly planned litigation so UMG has done much to hurt it’s own cause as well. Thanks to poor legal planning and an unprovoked attack on Megavideo; UMG managed to get a federal judge actually defend the DMCA, weakening big media’s position further, and saying the “safe harbor” act applied to services to spite users uploading videos  that infringed on their intellectual property. Plus let’s not forget that by issuing takedowns on all manner of YouTube videos, Megavideo ads, and other content they proved that Big Media was incapable of properly using even the small amount of authority they currently had without abusing it and revealed back alley deals with YouTube and other companies which Google had to quickly distance themselves from. Heavily tied into both the MPAA and RIAA, UMG has also been the driving force behind a number of bills; which to spite hostile public opinion, UMG continues to forcibly press through congress. Not only did this stir the American people to begin consideration of anti-copyright\ pro-privacy legislation but also exposed and undermined the credibility of many of the politicians promoting their legislation and has caused less people to go to the movies as America boycotts Hollywood.

3) Rep. Lamar Smith: As a tea party candidate and Republican representative for Texas we have to thank Rep. Lamar Smith for the pandering and lobbying he has done so shamelessly for big media in Hollywood which is so overt and unrelated to his own constituents interests in Texas that it has given us a textbook example of congressional corruption. Unlike more subtle lobbyists, he’s admitted publically he doesn’t understand the technology he’s proposing to regulate and stated he doesn’t care. He proposed SOPA, supported the AT&T\T-mobile merger to spite duopoly concerns, advocated for both Protect IP and the Internet Freedom Act in an effort to prevent Net Neutrality laws, proposed the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011” then riddled it with provisions to enforce media copyright, and called those that supported net neutrality “nerds” and SOPA concerns “irrelavent”. He even tried to ban peer-to-peer networks in 2004. This level of flagrant douchiness regarding the data of private citizens may have labeled him  Hollywood’s favorite Republican, but it also undermined his credibility and resulted in close scrutiny of any bills across the board he chose to advocate on, even those with misleading names promising job creation, protecting revenue, or other such loaded terms of economic prosperity without any real relationship to what the bill is actually doing.

4) The EU: By extending copyright on music to 70 years big media pushed through largely in secret, a bill that stifled creative expression and encouraged flagrant piracy. Discouraging to consumers and artists a-like this largely politicized this thinly veiled attempt by big media to supposedly protect the original artists probably encouraged, rather than discouraged more piracy on the part of the general population even outside Europe providing a rationalization that terms of copyright are across the board oppressive and unfair.

5) The RIAA: Still obsessed with VCR’s and TIVO boxes the  movie industry has only recently gotten organized and started attacking private citizens over the Internet, but for the RIAA it’s old hat. Putting aside that statistics on music sales and the impact of file sharing have consistently run counter to any claims that the RIAA has presented, even those they themselvevs sponsor; we have to thank them for their report card on Google. A laughable complaint, it made the overall initiative of big media to force others to police their content look hopeless, imposing, petty, and unfair. Had it targeted someone less high profile, they might have changed something; but to suggest the largest search provider in the world rewrite their entire search algorithm to hide results, was bold. Now doing something similar on even a smaller search provider would be fruitless.

 

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My Review of Roku 2 XS Streaming Player

Originally submitted at Roku

Adds an enhanced remote for playing games, plus extra connectivity options.

Let’s start with the bottom line, Roku2 is for streamers, not local content. But what it does well, it does REALLY well.

By Jack Heath from Winston-Salem, NC on 10/30/2011
3out of 5

Pros: The box is easy to use, has built in Wi-Fi, and it’s also really easy to set up. It is compact, has a high quality picture if you have the bandwidth to support that, and it’s a great value. The gaming is nice, but not as responsive as the Wii, still worth going from the $75 to the $99 if you want USB or wired support. Crackle is the only premium movie channel that isn’t subscription, it uses a layout similar to Netflix.

Cons: Roku 2 is a hodge-podge of poor navigation and random channels, There is no local sharing, inconsistent performance on some connections, and you will need fast internet service to use it fully. It doesn’t matter if your cable connection is lightning fast downloading either, it needs a constant bitrate up and down, so you’re only as fast as your uploading speed sometimes which seems strange.

Summary: WD box is still the best for people looking to play USB movies or watch local content from PC shares. Roku2 doesn’t do that. For streaming however, Roku2 has the best selection and performance for the price. That said, much of the content will get buried in the plethora of channels each with it’s own layout and rules. Unless Roku implements a global search feature, you will end up using one service and leaving much of the content unviewed as the interface is cumbersome once more than a dozen channels are added.They need and lack at least a TV guide channel or something. But, if you’re willing to pay, you’ll be happy with Hulu Plus or Netflix. Other than that it’s the typical web TV issue, thanks to congress treating non-Windows\non-Intel devices like appliances instead of computers…the providers are being limited by greedy big media. There are a lot of viewing limitations, and most recently (Thanks to Google) there is now no YouTube either.

(legalese)

Netflix Be Yourself! You Can’t Be Hulu, Blockbuster, or Amazon.

In light of record loses and a rate of customer bleeding that hasn’t been seen in the company ever. I’d like to revisit my critique of Netflix from several weeks ago when I blogged about  the Hulu\Hulu Plus vs. Netflix comparison.  A gentle, “I told you so” directed at Reed Hastings.

While I may have failed to see a huge benefit to Netflix, I still paid my $9 a month because Netflix customers like me could always mail order a movie to get around the streaming restrictions other providers couldn’t.  Good movies are still often good watched again, but not so good that I would pay a premium price to see something I saw in the theater, on the content that HBO, Cinemax, and others have already made plenty of revenue from, or pay twice to watch something that I watched on public TV free. But even if I was willing, I wouldn’t go to Netflix to do it.

Netflix vs. other streaming services are like McDonalds vs. Applebee’s.  While both make food, and I’m sure the profit margin on meals for Applebee’s is much higher at $10-$12 a meal than McDonalds makes on a $5 meal deal. McDonalds makes money on volume, not price. It might wish it could be both, give up the drive thru, and only offer high priced dine in meals; but it can’t. It will never be like Applebee’s and it would suffer similarly if it tried in US markets. The customer base they have just doesn’t go to McDonald’s for a romantic date, they don’t expect atmosphere, and generally they don’t even care if the place is clean. They want McDonald’s to be cheap and fast.

Bottom line, movies and TV are a luxury to many so it was never a question of whether $18 a month vs. $9 a month was still a good deal for the content Netflix provided. It was that Netflix offered a certain type of service with certain benefits. Then they took away the one feature that sold their service. Cheap streaming and DVD rental as a backup. To recover, (…if they can recover) Netflix will have to assume consumers will take mail order with limited content online at $9 over streaming or DVD only at the same price (even with an equal or even better selection).

Netflix doesn’t need premium selection any more than McDonald’s needs a diet menu. The old model can still work because in most cases, consumers have already seen the movie in the theater or mail order it, and with the streaming services just wanted something to watch.

‘People-Centric’ Windows Phone 7.5 updates, bring back the KIN

As I stated before, most of Windows Phone’s problems stem from public perception of Microsoft as a company and the phones complete lack of market presence. As a result, Windows Phone 7 itself while quite usable has had a less than stellar introduction so far with critics attacking everything from the availability of applications to its practical place in an enterprise environment. But in fairness, much of this grief is purely anti-Microsoft sentiment, and the phone itself was considerably sounder on release than it was given credit for. While not “a computer in your hand”, Microsoft has gone to great efforts to ensure that criticisms over how the phone operates were quickly patched and addressed; and the apps, while limited in scope due to security limitations, meet all the most common user needs without being excessively expensive.

As a matter of fact, a story from Microsoft News Center last month featured many of the improvements that version 7.5 would offer over Windows Phone 7, sighting the “hundreds of new features and experiences designed to build on the phone’s intuitive, people-first foundation”.  It’s a change in focus from the “life beyond your phone” campaign which may indicate Microsoft is moving further away from casual phone users; and making a harder push for teen, tween, and young adult demographics interested more exclusively in digital social interaction. Surprisingly, the target demographic abandoned by Microsoft just one year ago when they nixed the Kin.

Microsoft took a lot of heat for pulling Kin devices only 48 days after they were released and many said the Kin was a project that “Failed from the Start”.  But its release was largely marred by a marketing nightmare when Consumer Reports commented that the “social” advertising made the phone seem “creepy” and came dangerously close to encouraging sexting between “socially networked kids”.  The Kin itself was technically sound however and the niche that such a device would fill is still probably where Microsoft wants to go. It’s a move that could more easily tie the device into their lucrative XBOX subscription service and play better into current trends for devices as the Windows 8 PC OS also moves towards a more “social” interface and cloud based services on laptops and tablets.

The update includes improvements focusing on social networking, games, and media sharing using interfaces which closely resemble the Kin. Both were described by Microsoft as “social phones” and “People First” devices, the kin were all also similarly focused on teen interaction, social networking, and media sharing. They had similar workflow and a similar UI to the newly implemented applications offered in 7.5. Now that the vitriol towards the Kin’s badly planned advertising has subsided, Windows 7 is changing into a device with similar aims. Businesses are moving away from CAL’s and tiered pricing that nickel and dime away at a bottom line, Windows 8 is becoming more of a thin client platform than an operating system, and Azure will operate entirely in online. Social services and cloud based media sharing will prove a lucrative alternative to Microsoft allowing them to draw revenue steadily from both data mining, the hardware, and paid subscriptions while still working under a very similar billing system to the old  itemized feature model Microsoft prospered under with server platforms and dependent PC system software.

Will NPD Poll Help Woo WinPhone Users from Android\ iOS?

Yesterday NPD Group released a report showing a positive response to the Windows Phone 7 release, stating that it might indicate a good starting point for Microsoft to enter the mobile market in the US.  But the fact is, that there are a lot of reasons why NPD is wrong about these prospects, why for Microsoft foreign markets might be a better bet, and why they may have a very difficult time getting good numbers in smart phone markets in the US any time soon.

For one, most consumers already avoid Microsoft Version 1 releases (Think Windows ME, Vista, and even XP) and on a Microsoft phone they will similarly wait. Nokia in the meantime, has already been struggling and loosing sales for over a year on Symbian devices that were supposed to be discontinued. Microsoft has only now  given them an OS to replace it and if they can’t wait for Microsoft to ramp up support over the next two years, a non-windows “Plan B” smart phone may in the works. No other phone manufacturer has openly adopted a huge number on WinPhone7 devices and that is going to effect their ability to saturate the market.

US phone contracts make consumers a lot less flippant about experimenting with new devices and create critical mass purchases that spawn in waves. Computers can be returned, phones are generally yours the minute they are taken out of the box and so brand loyalty is much higher. While the phones will be available, Microsoft has not generated enough hype to make the November Window that hits on Black Friday in the US. While many may talk up Windows Phone 7 and say it sounds interesting and may even defend it’s emergence into the US market. Most won’t be buying it themselves right away and by next year things are going to radically change.

Microsoft killed the Kin line only weeks after it's release.

This is because by next year Windows 8 will be competing with WP7. The metro interface that will be forced on all but developers and enterprise customers will look and operate exactly like the phone. This seriously creates questions as to the supportability of the Windows Phone 7 devices. Microsoft rarely maintains product lines that compete with their own products.  Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Zune, and KIN (after only a few weeks) all have been retired in anticipation of WP7; and Microsoft has had no issues abandoning users with unsupported mobile devices when the next big revision comes out. So why support Windows Phone 7 when Windows 8 supports ARM, and how will Microsoft change standards as they continue forward?

Especially since there may be no developers beyond those employed at Microsoft. While Android can drum support from about any source, and iOS has established a devout following of hard core independent developers; Microsoft has brought Silver-light’s supportability into question, .NET appears to be going away in lieu of HTML5, and Flash also won’t be supported. A vast number of willing Win PC developers are just now experimenting in phone markets, and they do not use HTML5 themselves. While Microsoft has been enormously helpful in providing API’s to convert. Intel is already working with developers on a “code-it-once” and use it everywhere strategy, Android supports Flash and Silverlight, and iOS offers a much larger customer base. A small development group means slower update cycles that may more closely resemble that of a PC. This in turn translates into longer spans tolerating bugs that will need to be patched.

Unless the phones are substantially cheaper than iPhones and Android devices come Thanksgiving, few want to gamble $400-$600 or a 36 month obligation on a phone that may just be “catching-on” when it’s suddenly abandoned.

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Did HP Defraud Investors?

While companies make marketing decisions that make or break them all the time, if investors were thrown under the bus without being included in such a radical changes, this is more than a simple corporate power play, it’s fraud.  Shareholder Richard Gammel  and other investors  who have pressed suit are upset and wondering what HP executives including CEO Leo Apotheker and CFO Cathie Lesjak are gaining from a series of odd decisions that have devastated HP net worth. Why they threw away a $2 billion investment in Palm and WebOS, took a $4 Million loss on tablets, and scrapped a billion dollar PC manufacturing industry to buy into “Autonomy”;  a data company for $10 billion after everything they said was working for HP suddenly became unsustainable.

HP has said little in its defense but some have  claimed technology is a unique and changing market that requires such drastic strategies.  Personally, I find myself thinking how I would feel if I invested in a car manufacturer like Ford on the expectation that Ford made cars well and always had, showed up to the investors’ meetings and was told how Ford was doing great and that sales were at an all-time high, and even saw they bought into a local company to make electric vehicles then three months later watched as they scrapped manufacturing all together, cut billions in acquisitions as a total loss, and decided to buy out a random company like Bose and start only selling stereos. I’d at least deserve an explanation why I  was about to take a 40% hit to my investments.

The only guarantee HP has now is that many investors will most be selling HP stock off at huge loss. HP has been primarily a PC manufacturer for two, almost three decades. To sell off this portion of the company was rash at best; and if board members and senior executives had foreknowledge and were themselves able to buffer any investments from harm while stockholders lost out, benefit from the massive buy outs that could occur when the stock tanked as investors panicked, or knowingly devalued investors control in the company while they benefitted; then something should definitely be done. I’m surprised someone hasn’t sued them sooner.

 

Steve Ballmer: We Are “Reimaging Microsoft”

Maybe not the best choice of language…I mean how ironic Ballmer stated he is “reimagining Microsoft”, since the rest of us have been “reimagining Microsoft products” for 10 years now trying to cope with the ridiculous number of exploits, updates, and extended install times.

ArsTechnica on Steve Ballmer: We are “Reimaging Microsoft”.

It’s always seemed incomprehensible to me that intalling Windows XP could take 4 hours on a fairly fast data connection, Windows Vista 3 hours, and Windows 7 two or three as well; but restoring a image of the drive takes 10 minutes; waiting and wondering what Microsoft is doing all that time has almost become the norm.

…and while It’s nice to see the sleeping giant start to  wake up a bit. It’s hard not to poke a little fun at them too.