Next-Gen Music Retrieval: Free Million-Song Dataset Released by Echo Nest

  • The Million Song Dataset has been released for free by The Echo Nest music application company to facilitate research into music recommendation engines. The dataset consists of audio features and metadata (but not the actual music) for a million popular music tracks.
  • Ars Technica reports that the dataset is a “freely-available collection of audio features and metadata for a million contemporary popular music tracks,” being analyzed by Columbia University’s Laboratory for the Recognition and Organization of Speech and Audio.
  • Currently, services like Pandora make use of musicologists to catalog the characteristics of songs. Researchers are looking at methods for computers to analyze songs in order to make recommendations based on your preferences. The dataset could potentially be used to develop a new generation of Music Information Retrieval services.
  • The National Science Foundation is also conducting The Listening Machine Project which is focused on analyzing “the individual sources present in a real-world sound recording,” which could lead to improved perception for robots, new prosthetic devices for hearing impaired and “a wide range of novel applications in content-based multimedia indexing,” explained LMP’s Dan Ellis, associate professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia.

Crowdsourcing: FilmFunds Wants You to Greenlight Film and TV Projects

  • FilmFunds, a new venture launching this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, will use a crowdsourcing approach to help determine whether a film or TV show would draw an audience.
  • FilmFunds’ test group of some 60 million moviegoers will review synopses, trailers, artwork and other marketing materials and vote whether to “Like” a project. The results can help put a project into production and get it completed, distributed and marketed.
  • According to Variety: “Site divides projects into three categories — materials of projects members can help put into production, completed projects member votes can help get finished or distributed, and a marketing portal where studio pics can gain support and members can recruit friends and pre-sell tickets through websites like Fandango.”
  • A FilmFunds mobile app provides more information after a user takes a snapshot of a poster, trailer or film title.
  • The article also references Emotional ID, which “translates real-time facial reactions and emotions during test previews into measurable results.”
  • The FilmFunds site allows users to enter as a Filmmaker (“Get your projects seen and potentially produced”) or a Fan (“Promote projects and interact with filmmakers”).
  • According to the site: “FilmFunds enables you to choose what you want to see and then we get it made. Our connections in the industry finalize deals but your vote is the catalyst. The more you participate the bigger the rewards. A few ‘suits’ used to call all the shots. FilmFunds puts YOU in charge. We’re just here to help!”

Has Amazon Become the Most Disruptive Company in Media?

  • Amazon has become “the most disruptive company in the media and technology industries,” suggests Wired.
  • Amazon’s rumored tablet has the potential to be the perfect machine to sell both digital goods delivered immediately or physical goods delivered in two days.
  • “Why not make an independent movie or television show and release it through Amazon?” asks the article. “Once the video is hosted on Amazon’s servers, it’s available for immediate digital download or streaming through Prime to desktops, tablets or set-top boxes. Both streaming and downloads promise a revenue share for content creators. Customers could buy a Blu-ray or DVD that Amazon burns and ships on demand — no storage, no overhead.”
  • While some of the content may not prove to be top quality, some of it could be the next Funny Or Die or Channel 101 while dramatically impacting distribution: “The breadth and independence of buying choices could easily differentiate Amazon from traditional studios — or even for those studios themselves, from competing services like Netflix.”
  • Amazon may also offer its forked Android-based OS as a platform to hardware partners providing a new platform with its own code, app and media stores, cloud services and revamped UI.
  • “In a year from now,” writes Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, “we could see a range of ‘Amazon tablets’ made by different hardware manufacturers.”

Will the Rise of Electronic Books Destroy Writing as a Profession?

  • During his bleak forecast of the publishing industry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, novelist Ewan Morrison suggested the rise of the e-book will mean the end of writers as a profession, as piracy and a demand for steep discounts take over the book industry as it has with music, newspapers, games, porn, photography, telecommunications and home video.
  • Publishers will no longer be able to provide advances to enable writers to make a decent living and writers will increasingly depend on the “long tail” which cannot support them. Morrison adds that only established writers will prosper.
  • In 10 to 15 years, he believes the largest “publishers” will be Google, Amazon and Apple.
  • “The writer will become an entrepreneur with a short shelf life, in a world without publishers or even shelves,” predicts Morrison.

Yahoo Executive Shake-Up: CEO Carol Bartz Abruptly Ousted

  • A study of Yahoo’s assets and performance conducted in the past two weeks has led independent directors to conclude a management change was needed. As a result, Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s CEO, was fired and will be replaced on an interim basis by the company’s CFO Tim Morse.
  • Yahoo’s interest in bidding for Hulu is expected to continue.
  • The company’s performance has been lackluster and characterized by missteps and high levels of executive turnover under Bartz, resulting in a flat stock price over 2 1/2 years, despite a 60 percent rise in the Nasdaq Composite Index.
  • “The board hasn’t hired an executive-search firm or financial advisers to help in a strategic review, but is expected to do so soon, said someone familiar with the matter,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “The strategic review isn’t expected to include an evaluation of whether Yahoo should be put up for sale, but will focus on so-called ‘organic’ growth, including the possibility of acquisitions or partnerships, the person added.”
  • Bartz wrote a memo to her employees Tuesday afternoon: “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

U.S. Schools Like the Interactivity and Visuals of the iPad

  • Apple claims there are more than 600 U.S. school districts that have at least one classroom where each student is receiving an iPad to use throughout the school day.
  • The popular tablets feature interactive programs in math, note-taking apps, videos and tutorials on everything from history to foreign languages.
  • The tablets are reportedly very popular in special education and for those who learn visually.
  • Textbook publishers are racing to develop curriculum specifically for iPads. Moreover, digital programs are less costly than textbooks and have interactivity and videos as well.
  • “I don’t want to generalize because I don’t want to insult people who are working hard to make those resources,” says Burlington High (Massachusetts) principal Patrick Larkin of textbooks, “but they’re pretty much outdated the minute they’re printed and certainly by the time they’re delivered. The bottom line is that the iPads will give our kids a chance to use much more relevant materials.”

Will Dish Network Challenge Netflix by Streaming Blockbuster Films?

  • Dish is expected to introduce a streaming movie service under its Blockbuster brand next month. The move will introduce a competitor to Netflix and coincide with that company’s recently announced price increase.
  • When Dish acquired Blockbuster’s assets in April for $320 million, it received content rights that it has sought to beef up through discussions with the studios.
  • “This ought to begin changing the way investors think about Dish,” said Ryan Vineyard, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “It goes from being an old-school pay-TV company to launching what could be a really high-growth business.”
  • Dish currently ranks as the second largest U.S. satellite-TV provider behind DirecTV.

Will Dissolution of the Netflix-Starz Relationship Impact Video Biz?

  • Netflix walked away from another deal with Starz after that company insisted on a tiered-pricing model similar to what they would get with a cable channel. Netflix did not want to tamper with the simplicity of its monthly fee model.
  • Netflix had reportedly offered Starz more than $300 million per year to renew their agreement.
  • With the demise of the Starz deal, Netflix customers may feel that they are paying more and getting less. Still, Netflix counters that their Starz content accounts for only 5-6 percent of domestic viewing.
  • Netflix will be challenged by competitors like Hulu, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft XBox Live. Moreover, cable companies are increasingly offering similar access to video through TV Anywhere services.
  • Starz may either sell its content to a Netflix competitor or try and create its own streaming brand like HBO.

Rovi Provides Security and New Features for DivX Streams

  • Rovi has announced DivX Plus Streaming that allows cloud-based movie services, such as Best Buy’s CinemaNow and other sites integrated with the Rovi Entertainment Store, to stream movies securely to DivX-compatible devices.
  • New features include being able to pause on one device and seamlessly resume on another, improved video quality, and support for multiple language tracks and subtitles.
  • “Other content-protection companies, such as Google’s Widevine subsidiary, offer some similar capabilities to service providers, so Rovi is playing catch-up to a degree. And not every Hollywood studio allows its movies to be distributed in the DivX format,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Rovi executives insist, however, that they’ve leapfrogged the competition with some features, including the near-Blu-ray-quality images and the ability to support multiple alternate-language soundtracks and subtitles in the same stream.”
  • Although integration into specific products has yet to be announced, Rovi explained the technology will be available to many existing devices through a firmware update.

The Rumors are True: First Look at the Amazon Kindle Tablet

  • Amazon is reportedly close to production on its long-rumored tablet device. TechCrunch provides a fascinating first-person report on the Android-based Kindle (but sorry, no pictures yet).
  • The device will initially feature a 7-inch color touchscreen with a 10-inch model coming next year. The interface is Amazon’s and the main screen resembles iTunes Cover Flow with a carousel of books, apps, movies. It is built on top of pre 2.2 Android. It will NOT be getting Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • It will be integrated with Amazon’s content store, which is one-click away. Apps will be available though Amazon’s Android App Store (and not Google’s Android Market). Additionally, the book reader is the Kindle app, the music player is Amazon’s Cloud Player and the movie player is Amazon’s Instant Video player. There is no camera.
  • The device is expected to include a free subscription to Amazon Prime, which will provide access to Amazon Instant Video.
  • TechCrunch anticipates an end of November launch at a cost of $250. There are many more details in the article…

Toshiba ZL2 TV: Glasses-Free 3D, 4K2K and Face Tracking

  • Toshiba announced its new flagship 3D TV, the ZL2 series, which offers glasses-free 3D, 4096 x 2160 resolution, upscaling of low-res to high-res 3D, and facial recognition used to customize viewing angles.
  • The TV uses lenticular “lenslets” that can be modified for up to nine different viewing angles.
  • Check out the article for the author’s impression after watching 3D on the ZL2. Introduction: “I got a chance to watch the TV’s 3D mode in action, and it’s pretty great. It’s not magical, however. Instead of the typical dimming of shutter-based 3D TVs, it feels like you can see the black lines dividing the pixels. It’s not that the picture is actually low resolution, however, there’s still plenty of detail on screen, it just happens to ‘show the seams’ more than I’d like. It’s very pleasant to watch, and I didn’t get a 3DS headache or any nausea.”
  • The ZL2 is not for everyone: current pricing of the 55-inch model is equivalent to $11,424 U.S. dollars.

Hulu Takes its Show on the Global Road with Streaming Service in Japan

  • In its first international venture, Hulu is launching its subscription service in Japan where it will offer hundreds of premium feature films and thousands of TV shows for $19.19/month.
  • The service will be accessible via select connected TVs and smartphones (Engadget reports that Panasonic Blu-ray players, Sony Blu-ray players and TVs, Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles and Android tablets are relegated to the “coming soon” list.)
  • Content will be provided from CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Additional local market content will be added including Japanese-produced and other Asian content.
  • Hulu is also announcing an exclusive mobile marketing partnership with NTT Docomo. Details will be forthcoming.
  • A follow-up post from GigaOM yesterday outlines the differences between Hulu’s current U.S. offerings and its plans for the Japanese market, “that could give a hint at what Hulu might look like in the future.” So is there a “no ads, higher fees and more content suppliers” future for Hulu outside of Japan? If so, watch out Netflix!

Music Integration: Will Facebook Become an All-In-One Social Media Hub?

  • Facebook has informed media executives that it will begin allowing online music services such as Spotify and Rdio to publish user activity on Facebook pages and could allow music playback without leaving the site.
  • The announcement is part of Facebook’s efforts to become a social center for media including music, games and movies.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal: “CNBC reported Wednesday that Facebook was working to create a music platform. In response, Facebook said: ‘Many of the most popular music services around the world are integrated with Facebook and we’re constantly talking to our partners about ways to improve these integrations.'”
  • Facebook was reportedly encouraged to pursue the music plan following success with social games such as “FarmVille” by Zynga Inc. The social media site is also integrating movies through deals with the likes of Warner Bros.

Justice Department Files Suit to Block T-Mobile Takeover

  • The Justice Department is blocking the proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile by AT&T, citing the move would result in less competition and higher prices. AT&T said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the suit.
  • The FCC is also reviewing the deal and has “serious concerns” about its impact on competition. The antitrust challenge comes five months after the deal between the second- and fourth-largest cellphone companies in the U.S. was announced.
  • “The lawsuit is the Obama administration’s boldest antitrust challenge to date and the latest evidence of its intention to reinvigorate enforcement after what it says was a lull during the previous administration,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
  • However, the Justice Department left open the possibility of concessions which could lead to a settlement.

Google Chair Remains Committed to Google TV, Hints at New Partners

  • Google remains “absolutely committed” to Google TV, according to executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
  • “Google TV, which allows viewers to mix Web and television content on TV screens via a browser, has received lukewarm reviews and been blocked by the major U.S. networks since its launch in the United States in October,” reports Reuters.
  • However, Schmidt told Edinburgh International Television Festival attendees that Sony and Logitech will remain partners for the next version and added, “I believe there are many more coming.” He also summed up three trends to watch most regarding the future of TV — Mobile, Local and Social.
  • Additionally, Schmidt explained there are “interesting ideas” how Motorola can help Google TV (last week Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility), but he would not provide details until the merger was completed.
  • “We’re intending to run Motorola, which would include the set top box business, as a completely separate business,” he said. “That does not mean that there won’t be communication between the two, and obviously sharing and knowledge sharing.”