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Horror Film to Premiere via BitTorrent, Paramount to Release the DVD

Producers have scheduled a May 19th premiere for the long-awaited horror movie “The Tunnel.” The film – set in abandoned real-life tunnels under Sydney, Australia – will be released by Paramount Pictures on DVD the same day it makes its debut online for free via BitTorrent.

Distracted Media’s plan from the beginning was to premiere the film online (funding was also raised online under “The 135K Project” with the intent of a worldwide online release). Transmission Films and Paramount Home Entertainment Australia, who partner on film acquisitions, announced they will be backing what they describe as “the film that captured the imaginations of Internet users globally.” This may surprise those who have followed Hollywood studios’ concerns regarding BitTorrent over the years, especially in the recent ongoing AFACT v. iiNet case in Australia.

According to Distracted Media’s Enzo Tedeschi (producer and editor of the film): “From day one we’ve maintained that ‘The Tunnel’ is not supporting or condoning piracy, but instead trying to incorporate a legitimate use of peer-to-peer in our distribution strategy internationally.”

The TorrentFreak post has a trailer of the film. Also, you can invest in the film online by purchasing “frames” for $1 each.

Are Consumers Ready to Cut the Cord?

As alternatives to traditional cable TV services continue to be introduced, the discourse grows regarding whether or not consumers are ready to “cut the cord.” Recent data from ESPN and research firm SNL Kagan suggests that any cable subscriber losses are being offset by gains elsewhere. However, as a percentage, fewer households are subscribing to cable than in the previous year. And financial services firm Stifel Nicolaus recently reported that pay TV might not be making a comeback over the longer term. The research report indicates year-over-year subscriber growth was at a mere 0.3 percent during 2010 — “the lowest year-over-year growth on record.”

According to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher King: “Cable operators have been quick to point to housing and the anniversary of the nationwide digital transition in 2009 as reasons for recent subscriber declines; however, our analysis suggests that growth in the pay TV market has underperformed household formation in recent quarters and the impact of the 2009 digital transition should no longer be an issue.”

The pay TV market is over-saturated (at more than 84 percent of households), and while many continue to blame the state of the economy and the saturation on the declining numbers, it is interesting to note that Netflix added 6.4 million subscribers during 2010. As the cost of pay TV subscriptions continue to rise, consumers are beginning to “further re-evaluate the value they place on traditional pay TV services which bodes well for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV among others,” King wrote in the report.

Editor’s Note: For those interested, the GigaOM post “Cord Cutting Threat Ain’t Over Yet” features some very interesting charts including Pay TV Subscriber Growth 3Q09-4Q10, Pay TV Penetration 4Q06-4Q10, and Netflix Subscriber Growth 2010 (as compared to Pay TV).

Can Twitter Save Live TV?

Earlier this year, Mass Relevance commented on the possibility of “Social TV” developing from the interaction of Twitter and television. The post indicates that successful integration could, in fact, rescue live TV.

Addressing the NewTeeVee Live conference on this topic, Twitter Media team’s Robin Sloan discussed how Twitter has recently been used to enhance the live viewing experience, including: running commentary from reps of a given show, viewers tweeting about a program, and live integrated content where viewers tweet about the show and selected content is actually incorporated into the program.  The posts suggests that this last approach is, “tremendously undervalued, and represents no less than a complete revolution for the television industry.”

Mass Relevance reports that tweeting to a show could create some dynamic possibilities for increasing viewer engagement. Examples include swapping out viewer mail segments on talk shows with live tweets, soliciting questions via live tweets on political commentary programs, and incorporating Twitter into the rapid-fire approach of sports analysis shows such as Pardon the Interruption on ESPN.

The report summarizes the win/win potential: “With the audience actively participating — to drive the direction of the show, to interact directly with TV celebrities from the comfort of their living rooms, and ultimately to see their name in lights — media companies will be rewarded with a truly engaged audience, something that is not possible in a DVR-recorded, time-shifted world. Since audience members only get this shot at notoriety by interacting with the show, they are effectively forced to watch it live. This social TV experience is good for the media companies (increased ad sales), good for the advertisers (increased exposure), and — if they’re smart enough or witty enough or artful enough in their Tweets — good for the watching participant (a shot at glory).”

Apple TV Offers Live MLB and NBA Games

Baseball and basketball fans can now turn to the second-generation Apple TV for live and on-demand archived games streaming in HD.  The subscription service will cost $100/year for MLB.tv (spring training and regular season games and access to archived games).  A $120 premium version provides access to both home and away games.  Basketball games are accessible via the NBA League Pass Broadband service. The NBA service offers two options: a $65 version lets users follow up to seven teams throughout the regular season, while a $99 option provides games from all 30 teams.

Both services have blackouts based on the subscription’s registration address.

Access to the new services is enabled by the iOS for Apple TV 4.2 update, and will work similarly to Netflix. Users sign in via an account and password, and then access whatever content the subscription permits. Roku has offered similar MLB.tv access for some time and recently added NHL and UFC options. This could be what sports fans need to ditch traditional cable services.

In a related Wall Street Journal “All Things Digital” article (3/14/11), ESPN reports that only a tiny fraction of sports fans have cut the cable cord, a number that may be moot considering the equal number of fans who added cable and broadband access during the same period.

 

Warner Bros. Looks to Facebook for Movie Rentals

Looking for a new distribution channel in the face of decreasing DVD sales — and new ways to leverage increasing consumer time spent online — Warner Bros. Entertainment announced it will start renting movies via the popular social networking site Facebook. The first offering will be the 2008 Batman hit, “The Dark Knight.” The choice was based largely on the fact that the film has already been “liked” by 3.9 million Facebook users.

The studio created the rental application independently of Facebook, so the films will be hosted and streamed by a third party.

According to comScore, Facebook was the sixth-most popular video site in the U.S. in January. Despite its growing popularity for streaming video, Facebook has not announced any plans to launch its own paid video service.

Some analysts responded to the news that Facebook could become a serious competitor for Netflix and other online video services.

Is Google Video Codec Being Unfairly Targeted?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department is investigating whether MPEG LA is unfairly trying to “smother” a free alternative format for delivering online video backed by Google.

Google’s open source VP8 video codec has been a concern for the MPEG LA organization, which has amassed patents covering popular video formats and collects royalties for its members, including Apple and Microsoft.

Video-streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube — as well as makers of Blu-ray Disc players and other hardware — currently pay patent royalties to MPEG LA. The antitrust probe is investigating whether MPEG LA or any of it members are attempting to knock out Google’s VP8 format by creating legal uncertainty regarding potential patent violations. WSJ suggests the probe “pits Google and open-source software advocates against some technology giants like Apple” — and raises interesting issues about the broadcast of online video in HTML5 and the future of content delivery.

Stream Live Video from Your Camera with the Teradek Cube

Billed as “the world’s first camera-top wireless HD video encoder,” the Cube from Irvine, CA-based Teradek streams up to 1080p over Wi-Fi, Verizon 4G, and wired Ethernet.

The battery-powered H264 encoder sends video directly from a camera to a decoding device such as a laptop or iPad. The Cube is available in HD-SDI and HDMI models running in the $1500-2000 range, and is designed for those in the business of live streaming — or those looking for production solutions such as on-set video monitoring or eliminating the need for camera tethering.

To operate, the Cube slides into the camera’s hot shoe and goes live with a single button via Livestream.com. Gizmodo reports the process is “unhampered by firewalls, blocked ports, and other network roadblocks.”

Early adopters earn a month of Livestream.com premium membership (about a $350 value) with a Cube purchase.

Cisco Offers its Predictions on the Future of Television

The two-day OTTcon (Over-the-Top TV and Video) conference took place the first week of March in San Jose, CA. In his opening keynote entitled “What Will Television Look Like in 20 Years?”, Scott Puopolo (VP Global Service Provider Practice for Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group) offered his company’s predictions on the immersive and collaborative future of TV.

Cisco interviewed 50 television experts with a focus on technology, consumer behavior, and business models to analyze the medium’s direction. Puopolo’s blog on the Cisco site offers an insightful overview of the results, including an interesting video and the implications for Cisco Videoscape. Highlights include:

Sensory Technology: “Sensory technology will enable new creative tools for producers and new experiences for consumers. So we’ll not only see Rachael Ray’s brownies — we’ll smell them, and eventually taste them, too.”

Multipurpose Screens: “Instead of buying TV sets per se, viewers will buy multipurpose screens. A screen in a bedroom could display your favorite painting or change into a teleconference monitor when you’re not watching TV.”

Interactive Collaboration: “Viewers will break the confines of the TV episode and interact with their favorite characters in everyday life. They could, for instance, collaborate with other fans to help key characters solve a crime or mystery.”

Gestural Interfaces: “Consumers will use words, gestures, and devices such as smartphones and iPads to control their TVs. You might raise the volume or choose a different show with a simple flick of your wrist.”

 

Review: The New Rovi TV Program Guide App

Rovi’s electronic program guide app “What’s on TV” receives a negative review in this evaluation from Appolicious, although the problems seem to be in the functionality, not the concept.

By entering a zip code and service provider information, users can access program guide information in addition to news and related information regarding television, movies, and celebrities. The app also enables social interaction with other TV fans via Twitter.

According to Appolicious, the downside of this simple app is evident in its navigation flaws. What’s on TV displays listings in a horizontal three-frame format (based on time, program and channel) — which sounds like a good approach — but the reviewer suggests that the “slide-able” navigation is unfortunately problematic: “If I only had channels 1 through 10, Rovi’s aesthetic design would work nicely. But, of course, I have many, many more channels, and this is where Rovi’s lack of user-friendliness is rooted. The only way to get to a particular channel is by scrolling to it. Although my basic standard-def channels are in the single digits, my extended SD programming starts on channel 101. Want to see what’s on HD? I’ll be scrolling to channel 602 for that. That’s a lot of swiping.”

Hulu Examines its Business Model: Online Cable Operator?

Internet TV pioneer Hulu is reportedly in discussions to transform its business model. Since its 2008 launch, Hulu has been one of the leaders in free online television delivery and web-video ad dollars.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hulu’s three owners (NBC Universal, News Corp. and Disney) are concerned that free Web versions of their TV shows are cutting into their traditional business, and the three are at odds regarding how much of their content should be offered for free.

News Corp.’s Fox Broadcasting and Disney’s ABC are considering pulling some of their free content from Hulu (and selling more content to Hulu competitors), while Hulu management is discussing the idea of retooling Hulu as an online cable operator that would use the Web to provide live TV channels and video-on-demand content to customers. If they opt to move forward with such a plan, some form of Hulu’s free service would likely remain and it is possible Hulu Plus could be folded into the new service.

Flipboard CEO Discusses New App Version

Forbes spoke with Flipboard CEO Mike McCue about the latest version of Apple’s official iPad “App of the Year.” As of December 2010, Flipboard was running on about 1 million iPads — and the 25-person company is developing HTML5 code for the app to eventually run on Android, iPhone and the Web.

The recent Flipboard upgrade includes more dynamic and immersive features such as deeper integration with Facebook and Twitter (and a new focus on other social networks like Google Reader and Flickr), the ability to upload content (for example, you can post Facebook status updates or tweet from Flipboard), and access RSS feeds.

Flipboard has future plans to offer more social integration with the likes of LinkedIn, Posterous, Instapaper, and Vbulletin.

DivX TV Launches on LG Devices

DivX TV, launched late last year, is another entertainment service available for the “connected” home and mobile electronics. The company has expanded its library to offer more than 10,000 “high-quality videos” including a range of Web content. DivX TV is also customizable, with features such as bookmarks and personalized channels.

For now, the service is exclusive to LG’s Blu-ray products (including BD550, BD570 and BD590 Blu-ray players and LHB335, LHB535 and LHB975 home theater systems).

No word yet on whether DivX TV will tie in to the NetCast service found on LG’s connected products.

 

David Hockney Goes Digital for His Pixelated Period

NPR interviewed David Hockney who has been using his iPhone and iPad to create drawings with the help of a painting app called Brushes. The 73-year-old artist recently held an exhibit of his new artwork in the Pierre Berge-Yves St. Laurent Foundation in Paris. Hundreds of digital works were displayed on 40 screens (20 iPhones and 20 iPads) during the “Fresh Flowers” exhibition that ran through January 30.

Hockney initially became intrigued by the process while observing the morning sun enter his bedroom in Yorkshire, England. He would dip his fingers into the virtual paintbox on the phone’s screen, “paint” some flowers digitally in the morning light, and email to friends. “Incredible little thing, really, because it was like a sketchbook and a paintbox all in one,” the artist says. “No cleaning up. No mess.”

When he made the switch from the iPhone to the larger iPad, Hockney was able to expand upon his work and found he could use more fingers to create his art. Now he travels with the iPad as a substitute for the sketchbooks he always had with him. Old habits die hard, though. “He says he sometimes gets so obsessed that when he’s going, he rubs his finger on his clothes to, like, clean his finger — as if he was using real paint.”

Sony Announces Professional OLED Monitors

Sony announced it will soon offer a professional monitor aimed at TV and film production industries that contains the largest commercial organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen yet produced. OLED is a flat-panel technology that rivals liquid-crystal display (LCD), with pixels that contain an organic material that emits its own light when energized, so screens can be made thinner and more efficient. OLED also displays brighter and richer images than LCD panels.

Despite recent tech advances, manufacturers have had a difficult time getting OLED production to the point where it can create reliable larger screens. Smaller screens designed for cell phones and portable devices have not been an issue, but larger screens have remained problematic. Despite earlier prototypes and announced plans from the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG, we have yet to see OLED TVs larger than 11-inches on the consumer market.

Sony is positioning the new Trimaster EL professional OLED monitors for use in editing bays, satellite trucks, and broadcasting control rooms. Expect to see the 25-inch screen ($28,840) by May 1 and a 17-inch model by July 1.

Apple Negotiating Unlimited Music Downloads

Apple is in talks with record companies to provide iTunes users with more flexible access to purchased music on multiple devices. Apple and the record labels are eager to strike a deal that will maintain demand for digital downloading in the midst of popular streaming services such as Pandora.

According to anonymous sources reportedly sitting in on the discussions, a deal would provide iTunes users with a permanent back-up of purchases and allow downloads to iPad, iPod, and iPhone devices from the same iTunes account (moving a step closer to access to Internet-stored content).

In addition to addressing stalled digital download sales, Apple is also weighing options for its MobileMe service for storing images, video, and other media online. Apple’s new $1 billion data center in North Carolina is expected to serve as a hub for iTunes and MobileMe services.