The Battle Heats Up over Alpha Android

The battle for control of Google’s phone/tablet OS continues to heat up. In this Bloomberg Businessweek article, developers complain about Google’s increasing demands for control over how its supposedly “open source” Android platform is deployed. One protester says he just cut a deal with Microsoft because he feels Windows Phone 7 offers more opportunity to innovate (he is, at this point, in the minority, as well as a former MS employee, but it pays to keep an eye on the outliers).

Bloomberg reports that Google has recently reached out to carriers and manufacturers that want to implement its mobile operating system with a message: “There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android group.”

Perhaps the most telling bit of information in this story is that Android’s share of the smartphone market grew, “from 9 percent in 2009 to an industry-leading 31 percent worldwide.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like Android in terms of gaining share,” explained Bill Gurley, general partner at venture capital firm Benchmark Capital.

Although there are grumblings from various tech companies, and rumors of complaints to the Justice Department, Bloomberg explains that the Android OS is still open — “it’s just getting more heavily policed.”

Increased 3D Content may Push Consumer Adoption

In the wake of disappointing 3D TV sales for 2010 (due in large part to a lack of 3D content), this year may see new traction as television vendors switch their strategy to marketing 3D as one feature of new high-def sets, rather than the single selling point. More 3D content is on the horizon via cable and satellite TV channels, Blu-ray Discs and video games. Eventual adoption may also be impacted as consumers shoot their own video with 3D-enabled camcorders.

Disney’s ESPN 3D sports channel began broadcasting in mid-February — while Sony, Discovery and Imax launched their 3net channel the same month. Comcast and DirecTV already have 3D channels, and more than 100 3D channels worldwide are expected by 2015.

“Clearly, lack of content has been holding the market back,” explained Chris Chinnock, president of research firm Insight Media. “But one or two years into the HDTV transition there wasn’t much programming either … It took about seven years to reach 11 percent (household) penetration with HDTV.”

DisplaySearch predicts 6.6 million 3D TVs will ship in North America in 2011 (16 percent of the more than 40 million sets expected to be sold). The research and consulting firm is targeting 15.2 million 3D TVs to ship in 2012 (up 130 percent).

YouTube: Studio System for New Era of Content?

CNN reports that the debate regarding whether Google is a media company or tech company — a publisher of content or indexer of content — may soon be over, as the company prepares to morph YouTube into an online “studio system” for a new era of content production. CNN suggests Google is already a media company, but the question should more accurately address what kind of media company; perhaps “one that operates by the economics of the Internet, with no legacy ties to the economics of television, movies, or publishing.”

In recent months, Google has been investing heavily in its YouTube division, including: the hiring of content execs from Netflix and Paramount, recent acquisitions to enhance its current quality of offerings, plans to reportedly spend $100 million on developing new celebrity “channels,” and more. Google hopes to expand YouTube’s dominance in the UGC market to include niche programming and mass entertainment.

Of course, what makes the online video resource unique in terms of serving as a content provider, is that it has very little overhead. As compared to other media companies that are more directly involved in actual production, YouTube’s marginal costs are nearly zero. Advertising revenue is earned the same way whether viewers are clicking on a cute video about someone’s cat — or a professional basketball game (Google is in talks with the NBA and NHL to show live games on YouTube).

YouTube also enjoys the potentially infinite number of specialty channels the Internet provides, an approach that is not practical for cable. It may not matter from day-to-day which channels do well and which do not. As long as YouTube makes the platform available, the content can regularly evolve.

Microsoft to Hit Google with Antitrust Complaint

In the ongoing battle between two tech giants, Microsoft claims that Google is stifling competition in Europe where Google controls approximately 95 percent of the online search market. Microsoft also alleges that Google is limiting data from YouTube and other services. The Los Angeles Times reports that Microsoft Corp. plans to file a formal antitrust complaint against Google Inc., as part of the European Commission’s investigation launched last November.

This is the first time Microsoft has filed such a complaint against a rival.

“Google has done much to advance its laudable mission to ‘organize the world’s information,’ but we’re concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative,” wrote Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith online. “We’ve therefore decided to join a large and growing number of companies registering their concerns about the European search market.”

According to Smith, Google is limiting data from YouTube required to properly display search results for Microsoft’s Bing and other search engines. And while iPhones and phones running Google’s Android software have no problems with YouTube, Smith claims Google has blocked phones running Windows software from interacting properly with YouTube.

“These allegations raise important competition concerns, especially in light of Google’s market share,” Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin said, “and we’ll examine them more closely as we prepare for our antitrust hearing.”

Identifying Effective Tools for Analyzing Social Media

Seth Grimes of InformationWeek reports there is a growing demand to analyze social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, but he has yet to see “satisfying criteria” for assessing existing analysis tools. This article outlines what Grimes considers to be six fundamental missing pieces in analysis tools that could prove effective in measuring social media.

Grimes breaks his approach down into six basic categories: Metadata, Resolution, Integration, Alignment, Interface, and Walk the Talk. The following are excerpts from his rationale.

1. Metadata: “Let’s not look at messages in isolation, as so many tools do. SMA tool makers: Help us understand message diffusion and discourse (threaded conversations) with an analytic that incorporates demographics.”

2. Resolution: “Content analysis is the real challenge, getting at the entities (names of people, companies, places, products, etc.), facts, opinions, and signals. For this, you need sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis with the ability to resolve parts of speech and, especially for source materials longer than tweets, to spot co-references including anaphora.”

3. Integration: “To integrate, or link records across sources, you need to capture or discern identity. I think the information is more available than most people would suppose, with significant digital sleuthing involved in discerning it.”

4. Alignment: “I’m looking for analysis tools that measure and predict social’s ability to drive business transactions — money-making outcomes — as well as how business news will play out on social platforms.”

5. Interface: “BI tools will typically let you nest variables in an axis to create a pivot table with several dimensions. You often have a choice of measures — sums, counts, percentages, calculated values — and the ability to navigate up and down dimensional hierarchies (such as year-quarter-month-week-day) with automatic value aggregation. I rarely see these capabilities in SMA tools.”

6. Walk the Talk: “I look for clue-ful SMA suppliers. If a company doesn’t know how to use social media effectively, or if it won’t make an effort, do you really want to trust it with your business? The question isn’t moot; anyone who spends time on social platforms can tell strong from weak social engagement and has seen instances of both.”

Apple may Offer Streaming Video to Devices via AirPlay

Apple is considering adding streaming video to its AirPlay service, which currently allows users to stream audio from an iPhone, iPad or iTunes to a home stereo or other devices. According to Bloomberg, two people familiar with the matter (who asked to remain anonymous) suggested the new feature would enable streaming video from an iPhone or iPad to television sets — and that Apple would license its software to CE manufacturers who could potentially use AirPlay in their devices for streaming movies, television and other video content.

Expanding AirPlay functionality could possibly spark more use of Apple devices and services in the home, despite the company’s limited success selling the $99 Apple TV set-top box thus far. Bloomberg reports that, “For Apple, AirPlay is a way to expand into the living room without having to introduce new products.”

While Apple and others such as Google are looking to explore the possibilities of streaming video and Web-connected televisions, a challenge for streaming content from a mobile device involves bandwidth issues and whether signals can be carried without interruption. Regardless of any technical obstacles, there is clearly a shift in how consumers are accessing TV shows and movies, with an increasing number of people accessing instant streaming services from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. Apple’s Steve Jobs — banking on a complete shift from physical media toward content distribution in digital form — has gone so far as barring Blu-ray players from Mac computers.

Luci Live Enables Live Broadcasting from Mobile Devices

Netherlands-based Technica del Arte, maker of the LUCI series of broadcast software apps, recently announced that its popular Luci Live software is now available for Mac OSX Snow Leopard or higher (MSRP $450).

Luci Live turns mobile devices into portable recording studios, ideal for journalists who want to quickly record and edit video and audio content for HD streaming and live broadcasts. Macworld reports that TV and radio field reporters are using phones and laptops to cover events in locations such as Egypt, Japan, and Libya where traditional broadcasting techniques have recently been impacted by technical limitations.

As long as reporters have an Internet connection, Luci Live (also available in iPhone and Windows versions) is a viable solution.

Click here for more details regarding the $400 iPhone/iPad app.

Experts say 3D Delivery is on the Rise

Home Media Magazine reports that in order to evaluate the potential success of 3D in the home, industry insiders are analyzing current 3D trends in movie theaters.

Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, indicates more than 100 3D films are currently in production. Chinnock adds that more than 160 were released in theaters between 2008 and 2011 — and an estimated 140-plus, at minimum, will be released between 2012 and 2015. (Insight Media oversees the cross-industry 3D@Home Consortium.)

According to Chinnock, approximately 8,000 screens in the U.S. are 3D-enabled, which may bode well for 3D in the home since most of the theatrical releases will likely get a 3D Blu-ray Disc release. Home Media Magazine reports: “Combine those with an expected 10 3D channels launching this year (25 more in 2012), 100-plus sporting events streaming in 2011 (150-plus in 2012) and 100-plus other 3D events broadcast this year (150-plus in 2012), and 3D in the home has a bright near-term future.”

Strategy Analytics forecasts that more than one-third of American homes will purchase a 3D TV in the next three years. The research firm expects 95 million 3D-enabled devices such as gaming units, set-top boxes and PCs will be sold worldwide this year.

If global 3D sales grow 89 percent this year (as predicted by Strategy Analytics), content providers will need to continue releasing fresh content in order to help drive consumer adoption.

Time Warner Draws Controversy with Live-Streaming iPad App

Time Warner Cable recently released a new iPad app that provides subscribers access to live-streaming television content via their iPad (Cablevision is expected to release a similar app shortly). And not surprisingly, the TV networks have expressed concern. Channel owners including Viacom and Scripps see the streaming capability as a contract violation, and reports indicate that cease and desist orders are underway.

To stream programs from Time Warner, customers download the iPad app, log in to their account, and choose from a selection of channels. The current version of the app only works inside the home for customers who receive both TV and Internet from the operator. The problem with this approach is that the networks view iPad streaming as a separate service from cable television, one that may require a different fee.

While Verizon and Comcast are also working on streaming apps for iPads, clearly the business model has yet to be ironed out. And we still don’t know if consumers will be watching TV through an app from their cable company, an individual channel’s app, or through a service such as Netflix.

Related New York Times story: “Dispute Over Time Warner Cable’s Streaming to iPad Bursts into the Open” (3/28/11)

Related Engadget story: “TWCable TV app for iPad now available, but Dish has something to say about being ‘first with live streaming'” (3/15/11)

Mitsubishi Announces its Exit from the LCD TV Market

Mitsubishi has announced that it is exiting the LCD TV market this year to focus on its DLP rear projection business. The company is the only maker of rear projection TVs sold in the US.

HD Guru explains that Mitsubishi made an early transition from big screen CRT models to lamp driven microdisplay sets. As the industry moved to flat panels, Mitsubishi opted to rely on outside vendors for its LCDs.

Mitsubishi currently offers 2010 models from 60-82-inch screen sizes, all with 3D capability. According to HD Guru: “Rear projection provides viewers with the biggest HDTV screens for the lowest prices in the industry, starting at under $850 for the 60-inch model widescreen 1080p HDTV and under $1200 for a 73-inch.” As a means of comparison, a Samsung 65-inch 1080p LED HDTV is presently offered at over $4000.

Mitsubishi 2011 rear projector models will be offered in sizes 73-inches and above.  At January’s CES, the company announced a 92-inch model to ship later this year.

Samsung Plans Retina Display for Future Tablet PCs

Engadget reports that Samsung Semiconductor has revealed plans to drastically increase the pixel density of the company’s tablets. Samsung projects that it will have tablet PC displays with 300 to 400 pixel-per-inch (ppi) resolutions as early as 2015.

Samsung’s current Galaxy Tab has a seven-inch, 1024 x 600 panel (about 170ppi), but the company suggests that similarly sized tablets may go beyond 1080p as pixel density increases (while still maintaining 8-10 hours of battery life). Samsung also said it would consider a glasses-free tablet display, based on consumer adoption of stereoscopic 3D.

The iPad 2 was originally expected to come with a Retina Display like the iPhone 4 screen from LG, but it didn’t happen. Rumors have already begun circulating about a Retina Display for the iPad 3 if the cost remains competitive.

As tablets go well beyond 1080p resolution, what will that mean for content producers?

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.