Music Service Spotify Responds to Use of Tracking Cookie

  • Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that digital music service Spotify is using a cache cookie method with ETags that still tracks when a user has ‘Private Browsing Mode’ enabled.
  • According to Digital Music News, the cookie technology “cannot be deleted, still tracks if the user blocks cookies, and even operates in browser stealth mode. In fact, if you try to delete this thing, the cookie dynamically regenerates.”
  • The cookie is powered by analytics platform Kissmetrics, which Digital Music News explains was also used by Hulu and others.
  • Spotify is reacting quickly, trying to head off a “Cookiegate” incident. “We take the privacy of our users incredibly seriously and are concerned by this report,” explained a Spotify spokeswoman. “As a result, we have taken immediate action in suspending our use of Kissmetrics whilst the situation is investigated.”

Amazon Expands its Online Library with NBCUniversal Deal

  • Amazon has announced a deal with NBCUniversal to offer Universal films online, in a move designed to step up competition with services such as Netflix and Hulu.
  • Amazon offers subscribers to its “Prime” program discounts on shipping of products, and free access to an online library of films. The service costs $79 a year.
  • Amazon announced an agreement last week with CBS that expanded its library to more than 8,000 titles. The NBCUniversal deal will grow Amazon’s library to more than 9,000 movies and TV shows (compared to Neflix’s 20,000).
  • Films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Being John Malkovich,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” are part of the deal.

Spotify Sees Early Success with 70,000 Paid U.S. Users

  • Billboard reports that Spotify has already reached 70,000 paid U.S. subscribers, one week after the streaming music service’s invite-only launch.
  • It’s too early to tell what the initial success will mean in the long term since the service’s closest competitors have been on the market for years (Rhapsody and Napster, for example, have more than 10 times Spotify’s number of paid subscribers but took years to get there).
  • Spotify currently has an ad-supported free option, but also offers two paid tiers that start at $4.99.
  • Paid subscriptions provide ad-free service, unlimited play time, and mobile device access.
  • In a recent review, Digital Trends found the service “to be the most well-rounded service out of Pandora, Spotify, and Grooveshark.”
  • In related news, licensing firm BMI announced it has completed deals with Spotify and Turntable.fm to provide some 6.5 million songs to the online music services.

Netflix Pursues DreamWorks Animation, No Facebook Integration

  • Netflix is reportedly negotiating for exclusive streaming rights to DreamWorks Animation films.
  • The deal would replace DreamWorks’ contract with HBO (which runs through 2014).
  • DreamWorks reportedly has permission to end its HBO contract early. If it does, it could provide content to Netflix by early 2013.
  • If the deal goes through, it would mark the first time a major studio has licensed content to subscription VOD at the same time (as opposed to after) its pay TV window.
  • In related news (see LA Times link), Netflix will not be including Facebook integration anytime soon in the U.S. (although it will be integrated in Canada and Latin America). This is based on the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act that requires peoples’ video rental information be kept private. Netflix feels that the law is ambiguous as it relates to Netflix/Facebook, but they’re not taking any chances.

Update: Apple Considering a Bid for Hulu Video Service

  • In the latest installment of the ongoing Hulu saga, Bloomberg reports Apple is “considering making a bid” for the online video service.
  • Apple would join Google, Yahoo, AT&T and others who have expressed interest (Microsoft has reportedly dropped out of the bidding).
  • With $76 billion in cash and securities, an expected $2 billion bid would not be too difficult for Apple. If so, analysts suggest this would give Apple a leading subscription service that would rival, if not surpass, the Netflix service.
  • “Part of the ecosystem of Apple’s future is to include more video,” said Scott Sutherland, Wedbush Securities analyst (who recommends buying the stock). “It’s something they are focused on.”

Update: Microsoft Drops Out of Auction for Hulu Service

  • Microsoft has reportedly dropped out of the bidding for Hulu and would not continue into a second round, according to “a person with knowledge of the matter.” (Although the individual did not rule out the possibility of Microsoft re-entering in a later round.)
  • Google, Yahoo, AT&T and as many as eight other companies remain interested in the online video service.
  • According to Business Insider, Yahoo is willing to spend up to $2 billion if it can get content rights for the next four or five years.
  • It has been reported that Hulu plans to offer five years of access to content from its media company owners (Disney, News Corp. and Comcast’s NBC Universal), including two years of exclusivity.

AFTRA Ratifies Residuals for Streaming Video Games

  • A new contract was recently ratified by members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) that will provide performers who work on video games a onetime payment when games are streamed over the Internet.
  • The so-called “cloud gaming fee” is the first of its kind, and resolves a longstanding dispute over compensation for the remote delivery of video games.
  • The union represents some 70,000 actors, recording artists and broadcasters.
  • AFTRA’s sister union SAG has yet to negotiate a new video game contract.

Blockbuster Targets Frustrated Netflix Subscribers

  • ETCentric recently reported on the backlash to new Netflix subscription rates (see “Nine Video Streaming and Rental Alternatives to Netflix”).
  • Most of the nine rental alternatives referenced in the earlier post are currently offering special introductory offers.
  • According to this related article however, Blockbuster is now offering a free 30-day trial specifically to disgruntled Netflix customers unhappy with the recent price hike.
  • If customers decide to switch, they’ll pay a comparable monthly subscription fee (Blockbuster points out that they offer video games and newer releases than Netflix).
  • Blockbuster’s special Netflix promotion runs until September 15.

Nine Video Streaming and Rental Alternatives to Netflix

  • As previously reported on ETCentric, Netflix announced plans this week to divide its unlimited-DVDs-by-mail and unlimited-streaming options into two separate plans.
  • The resulting 60 percent price increase (from $9.99 to $15.99 per month for both DVD and streaming), effective September 1 for existing customers, has raised some early controversy with Netflix subscribers and the press.
  • For those who may be looking to opt out of Netflix due to the new price structure, Geek.com has posted a helpful overview of viable alternatives including: Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster by Mail, Walmart’s VUDU, YouTube Rentals, CinemaNow, GreenCine, Redbox and Google.
  • Amazon Prime, for example, now offers a streaming video service available for $79 per year (or $6.58 a month), while the growing library of movies and TV programs on Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month) is available on multiple platforms including PCs, game consoles, and set-top boxes.
  • VUDU works with computers, the PS3, Boxee, Blu-ray players and connected TVs. Its customers pay $2 for a two-day rental, while YouTube fans can pay $1.99 to $3.99 for streaming rentals. The company has partnered with Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal, Lionsgate and others to provide content via YouTube accounts on computers, Google TV, Android tablets with Honeycomb, and most Android phones.
  • Check out Geek.com for details on all nine options listed.

Netflix Announces Content Deal with NBCUniversal

  • On the heels of raising eyebrows regarding increased subscription rates, Netflix offered some good news yesterday when it announced it has renewed its licensing agreement with NBCUniversal.
  • The multi-year agreement includes TV shows such as “The Office” and “30 Rock” in addition to cable programs “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane” (future seasons will be available on a one-season delay basis).
  • Streaming access to Universal films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Motorcycle Diaries” has also been added.
  • “The content buying spree has purportedly been pricey, but Netflix maintains that it will pay for the new shows it acquires rights to by gradually moving customers away from its mail service.”

Music Streaming Service Spotify (Finally) Launches in the U.S.

  • Spotify has finally launched its U.S. service — and similar to its widely popular European version, users can listen free to any track, on demand.
  • Users can opt for ad-supported free listening, a $5 Premium ad-free service, or a $10 Unlimited service that allows users to store music offline and use Spotify on mobile devices (the iPhone app is now available). Users can also share their playlists or subscribe to those of other users.
  • Spotify has a reputation for fast, almost instantaneous playback and a catalog containing millions of songs. It will also scan a user’s iTunes library for access to personal tracks in the Spotify app.
  • Although the Wired review suggests “Spotify is just cloud music done right,” it also points out some minor flaws: “Spotify’s recommendation engine, and its radio selections (supposedly Pandora-like auto-playlists) are pitiful. And there is also no sign of an iPad native version, over a year after the tablet’s launch.”

Netflix Launches Unlimited DVD Rental Plan

  • In what appears to be a slight departure in strategy, Netflix announced it is offering an unlimited DVD rental plan for those who want to avoid streaming content.
  • Subscribers can now pay $7.99 per month for unlimited DVD rentals under the new offering.
  • Prior to this plan, Netflix subscribers had a choice of “$4.99 a month for one DVD out at a time (up to two a month) or $9.99 a month for one DVD out at a time with access to Netflix Instant.”
  • This model may surprise some, considering CEO Reed Hastings has been touting streaming delivery of late, highlighting the fact that subscribers were accessing more streaming content than physical media for the first time in his company’s history.
  • It may also be surprising to some since the streaming service recently became the largest source of Internet traffic and the company is planning to produce exclusive online content.

Internet TV More Popular than 3D TV, 3D Jump Expected by 2015

  • Only 2 percent of U.S. homes will have a 3D TV by year’s end, and the market is expected to only improve slightly to 5 percent penetration in 2012.
  • However, SNL Kagan reports that these figures will jump to 21 percent in 2015.
  • Internet-enabled TVs are currently more popular, projected to go from 14 percent penetration this year to 51 percent in 2015.
  • The report also concludes that a lack of 3D content has been a problem thus far, but growing interest in 3D sports and films should help sustain the technology in the future.

Video Gamers May Be the New Stars of Live Streaming

  • Videogaming events today attract hundreds of thousands of simultaneous streaming video viewers.
  • A recent “League of Legends” competition drew more than 200,000 simultaneous viewers, according to game provider own3D.tv (the Austria-based company has more than four million unique viewers per month).
  • 95 percent of the viewers watch in HD.
  • Early numbers suggest this is a global trend (only 15-18 percent are U.S. viewers).
  • Others are getting on board; live streaming provider Justin.tv created TwitchTV to offer e-sports as a live sporting event.

Yahoo Study: More People Watching Online Video During Primetime

  • According to a new study by Yahoo, people are watching more and longer videos during primetime.
  • Back in 2009, online viewing declined as more people watched video on their TVs.
  • More consumers are watching Netflix and Hulu during primetime, but short clips still comprise 74 percent of video viewed.
  • Viewers are more likely (57 percent) to watch video when presented with a related article.