Toshiba Bids Farewell to Thrive Line with Launch of New Excite Tablets

  • Toshiba is taking another stab at the tablet market after backlash from its Thrive tablets that were criticized for poor battery life and chunky design.
  • Its latest three models are much more slim and sleek with textured aluminum backs. The Excite 7.7-, 10- and 13-inch slates will run Ice Cream Sandwich and feature NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 SoC.
  • The 7.7 has an AMOLED display and will launch on June 10, costing $500 for 16GB and $580 for 32GB versions.
  • Launching the same day, the Excite 13 will have 1600×900 resolution, a full-sized SD slot and will sell for $650 and $750 for 32GB and 64GB versions, respectively.
  • The Excite 10 will roll out a little sooner on May 6 for $500, $530, or $650 for 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions. The tablet will also have a full-sized SD slot.
  • “Each tablet is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera on the back, along with a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter for convenient photography, video capture and chat. The tablets also include stereo speakers with exclusive sound enhancements by Toshiba and SRS Labs, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity,” the press release states.

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn Resigns as Company Struggles to Compete

  • Best Buy has been struggling to keep customers coming into its stores with competitors like Amazon that often sell the same electronics for less. The retail chain announced it would have to close 50 stores to return to a profit margin.
  • In the wake of these challenges, CEO Brian Dunn has resigned, handing over the reigns to director and board member G. Mike Mikian while the company searches for his replacement.
  • “There were no disagreements between Mr. Dunn and the company on any matter relating to operations, financial controls, policies or procedures,” Best Buy stated in a press release. “There was mutual agreement that it was time for new leadership to address the challenges that face the company.”
  • Dunn started at Best Buy in 1985 as a store associate. By June 2009, he had worked his way up to CEO, right when the company was facing mounting pressure from Amazon and Walmart.
  • According to VentureBeat, “Dunn did not radically change the company’s strategy to deal with these threats.”

Cable Industry News: Survey Suggests Drastic Cost Increases for Pay TV

  • Pay TV could cost as much as $200 a month by 2020, according to a new survey from NPD Group. Compared to today’s $86/month rate, the rise seems rather drastic, especially when considering the rise of online content services.
  • “As pay TV costs rise and consumers’ spending power stays flat, the traditional affiliate-fee business model for pay TV companies appears to be unsustainable in the long term,” said Keith Nissen, research director for The NPD Group. “Much-needed structural changes to the pay TV industry will not happen quickly or easily; however, the emerging competition between S-VOD and premium-TV suppliers might be the spark that ignites the necessary business-model transformation of the pay TV industry.”
  • The majority of pay TV subscribers have stuck with their services despite the trend to cut cords in favor of streaming services. The main reason for staying with their services is lack of content, especially live sports, as well as the convenience of getting all their content from one source.
  • As prices go up, however, these reasons might not be enough to keep customers. Online options will become even more appealing if consumers don’t have to worry about going over their broadband cap.
  • “So the question for TV consumers is: Do you keep paying $86 today for access to a walled garden of really good content that will likely to continue to rise in cost? Or do you go outside the walled garden and scramble to get your regular shows while fighting the caps and agreements that will eventually make the world outside the walled garden inhospitable for a TV lover? And the bigger question is whether or not the FCC or anyone in Washington is watching this play out and plans to help the consumers by taking action?” GigaOM asks.

Maryland Law to Prevent Employers from Seeking Social Network Passwords

  • A bill banning employers from asking for social media passwords is sitting on the desk of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
  • After passing unanimously through the state Senate and by a 128-10 vote in the House, the bill could go into effect with the governor’s approval.
  • The proposed bill is in response to recent reports of employers requesting that job applicants submit their passwords to Facebook and other social networks.
  • Facebook was quick to denounce the practice and a number of states began drafting bills in opposition.
  • “While Maryland is the first state to pass such legislation, it likely won’t be the only one for long — Illinois and California have both introduced similar pieces of legislation, and senators from New York and Connecticut have both asked the U.S. Attorney General to prohibit this practice,” The Verge reports.

Wireless Competitors Join Forces with Government to Battle Phone Theft

  • The U.S. government is joining the top wireless providers to fight cellphone theft with the creation of a centralized database for stolen phones.
  • Using the database to track stolen phones by their serial numbers, the carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel — will be able to deny access to voice and data networks. This will hopefully make the devices impossible to use after they’ve been reported stolen.
  • Additionally, the initiative will include a program to educate consumers on mobile privacy, “teaching them how to remotely lock their phones, delete personal information, and track their devices’ location,” Mashable reports.
  • The carriers will create their databases within six months, which will then be consolidated into one large database within a year.
  • Similar programs in Australia, France, Germany, and the UK have proven successful in reducing — if not entirely eliminating — phone theft.

Online Media Distribution: Is Free, Short Form the Future of Video?

  • TechCrunch analyzes the future of content suggesting that it will be free (ad-supported), shorter, and promotional.
  • Consumers are demanding free content and they’re also increasingly impatient, watching only the first 30-60 seconds of YouTube videos, which is a strong motivator for producers to cut their content length.
  • New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson suggests in his piece “The Future of Media” that producers consider the following four steps: “Microchunk it — Reduce the content to its simplest form; Free it — Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it; Syndicate it — Let anyone take it and run with it; and Monetize it — Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.”
  • The article says scale comes from distribution and monetization. “Content was an art. Today it’s a science as well. It will always be about Influence and Authority,” explains TechCrunch.

Google+ Logged 61 Million Visits in March: Start of an Upswing?

  • A report from Experian Hitwise found that March was a good month for Google+. The new social network that has been criticized as being a ghost town, experienced 27 percent growth last month and had a total of 61 million visits.
  • The report comes shortly after Google CEO Larry Page claimed that Google+ now has 100 million active users, although he didn’t specify how he defines “active.”
  • This is good news for Google after an earlier report from comScore saw that Facebook usage dwarfed that of Google+, where users spent an average of 3.3 minutes in January compared with Facebook’s average of 7.5 hours.
  • “Google, which took issue with that data, asserted that 50 million users access ‘Google+-enhanced’ products daily and that 100 million do so once per month. However, ‘Google+-enhanced’ includes YouTube, Google Play and the company’s homepage,” Mashable reports.

New Support for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act

  • The proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is drawing negative response from Internet users, already inspiring an online petition against it with soaring numbers. But unlike SOPA, CISPA is receiving support, not opposition, from the large Internet companies.
  • The proposed bill purports to protect online companies from cyber threats by allowing companies and the government to share information. However, Digital Trends points out that the legislation “places absolutely no explicit limits on the type of information that may be shared with the government, or between private companies, as long as it is somehow related to cyber threats.”
  • Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Intel, AT&T, Verizon and other influential companies have already sent letters of support to Congress. “Whereas SOPA and PIPA were bad for many companies that do business on the Internet, and burdened them with the unholy task of policing the Web (or facing repercussions if they didn’t), this bill makes life easier for them; it removes regulations and the risk of getting sued for handing over our information to The Law,” explains the article.
  • If consumers want to overturn the legislation, they need to get the Internet companies on their side. Otherwise, there won’t likely be any blackouts this time around and CISPA will probably be passed, warns Digital Trends writer Andrew Couts.

Samsung and OpenX Look to Expand Mobile Advertising Market

  • Samsung is working with OpenX Technologies Inc. to offer an ad service called Samsung AdHub Market that will enable advertisers to run targeted messages on Samsung phones and tablets.
  • “The move is part of Samsung’s broader push to bring targeted advertising to electronic devices, including Internet-connected television sets,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “It also will pit the company against other mobile-ad services from Apple, Google and Millennial Media Inc., which held an initial public offering of stock last week.”
  • “This is the first time any device manufacturer has entered the ad tech space in this way,” said OpenX chief executive Tim Cadogan. “It is becoming very clear to the principals in the mobile space that advertising is going to be a very important part of the revenue mix.”
  • “According to data provided by eMarketer, spending on mobile advertising in the U.S. is expected to reach $10.8 billion in 2016, up from $2.6 billion this year,” reports WSJ. “Cadogan said he expects that OpenX, which has focused on advertising within desktop computers and is now generating more than $100 million in annual revenue, will move further into the mobile market in the future.”

Windows Phone Marketplace Surges to Catalog of 80,000 Apps

  • The number of Windows apps is growing steadily. At the current rate of development, the 100,000 milestone could be reached by late May.
  • According to All About Windows Phone, the Windows Phone Marketplace now adds 340 published apps each day. There is currently a catalog of 80,000 apps for the Windows platform, up from 50,000 in December.
  • TechCrunch points out that the number of published apps is more than the number of apps available to consumers because Microsoft and developers will remove some applications and because not all apps work in every market. In the U.S., Windows Phone users have access to around 69,123 apps.
  • Even so, the Windows Phone 7 is “an excellent new mobile operating system” and “it would seem that the Windows Phone Marketplace is growing at a steady pace,” TechCrunch writes.

Are YouTube Rentals Coming Soon to Google TV and Other STBs?

  • YouTube is already on set-top boxes and Google TV, bringing free, ad-supported videos to big screen TVs. As of yet, no boxes or even Google TV have offered YouTube movie rentals for viewing on televisions, so the service remains online — with the exception of connecting your PC to your TV.
  • This may soon change, according to recent rumors that suggest Google TV will support the movie rentals.
  • “The reality is that, right now, for all the content YouTube is collecting, it simply is not on a level playing field with Apple and Apple TV, Netflix and Amazon’s Prime,” Mashable writes. “These services are on set-top boxes (Apple has its own) that plug directly into your HDTV. No concerns about whether or not DRM rights will prevent movie playback. The experience for renting a movie on any of them is seamless.”
  • If the rumors are true, it remains to be seen whether other set-top boxes will get access to YouTube movie rentals.
  • “YouTube’s legacy is free, bite-sized content supported mostly by ad overlays, no one will want to pay for content that was originally free on, say, broadcast television on YouTube — unless, of course YouTube offers an ad-free network,” suggests the article. “Then viewers might pay a monthly fee for the privilege.”
  • Despite YouTube’s deals with studios to gain access to more content — such as the Paramount agreement, announced Wednesday — it is still primarily used for watching viral videos and Google could have a hard time getting consumers to view the site as a competitive alternative to other popular VOD services.

New Licensing Agreement: YouTube Will Offer Paramount Movie Rentals

  • YouTube will provide online rentals of nearly 500 Paramount films under a new licensing agreement. Consumers will be able to rent movies via YouTube ($2.99 to $3.99) or through the online media storefront Google Play.
  • Terms of the partnership were not released, but in a few weeks consumers in the U.S. and Canada will be able to rent films like “Hugo” and “The Godfather.”
  • The rental partnership arrives despite long-running litigation. Paramount’s parent company Viacom Inc. is currently trying to overturn a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and parent company Google for copyright infringement of programs including “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “The Daily Show,” and “South Park” that it claims were uploaded to YouTube illegally.
  • “The Paramount deal means that YouTube now has movie rental deals with five of the six major film studios, as well as more than ten independent film studios, giving it access to a catalog of nearly 9,000 films,” reports Reuters.

Bad News for Grooveshark: EMI Terminates Music Licensing Contract

  • Grooveshark is hurting. The music streaming site no longer has legal access to the majority of licensed music after EMI terminated its contract.
  • Of the major music publishers, EMI was the only company that had made licensing agreements with Grooveshark; however, in January, EMI filed a lawsuit against the service, claiming Grooveshark hadn’t paid licensing fees since 2009.
  • “Grooveshark was recently forced to make the difficult decision to part ways with EMI due to EMI’s currently unsustainable streaming rates and EMI’s pending merger with Universal Music Group, which we consider monopolistic and in violation of antitrust laws,” Grooveshark announced in a statement to CNET. “To date, Grooveshark has paid over $2.6 million to EMI, but we have yet to find sustainable streaming rates. In spite of this, Grooveshark’s dedication to artists and rights holders remains the same.”
  • Florida-based Grooveshark says it has more than “30 million monthly users who stream more than 15 billion songs per year,” reports VentureBeat. “In November, it rolled out a new design of its online music player that includes a social layer.”

Research: More Than a Million Pay-TV Users Switched to Web in 2011

  • A research report from Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group Ltd. found around 1.05 million people canceled their pay-TV subscriptions in 2011. Web-based services have led 2.65 million subscribers of cable or satellite TV to cut their services since 2008.
  • However large the numbers seem, they are only a fraction of total subscriptions. The report suggests that by 2012, 3.58 million will have cut the cord, which only represents 3.6 percent of all subscribers.
  • The rate that people are opting out will slow this year as pay-TV services will actually see a boost in adopters, Convergence Consulting predicts.
  • Cable, satellite and services from telephone companies — like Verizon’s FiOS and AT&T’s U-verse — will add a net 185,000 accounts this year, an increase from 112,000 in 2011.

New iPhone and iTV: Will Apple Fever Push Company Value to $1 Trillion?

  • Two analysts are predicting that Apple’s stock will hit the $1,000 mark within a year or two.
  • Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets says the introduction of the next iPhone and the iTV, paired with expansion into China and the TV market, will surge the stock to more than $1,000 bringing the company’s value to $1 trillion. “Apple fever is spreading like a wildfire around the world,” he said.
  • “Shares can reach $1,000 based on our belief that Apple will continue to win in global mobile devices,” Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray wrote in a note.
  • The company has grown over 60 percent since Steve Jobs’ death in October, so these predictions may not be unreasonable. In this year alone, the stock has risen 53 percent.
  • “Apple investors also are benefiting from a $2.65-a-share dividend, starting in July, and a $10 billion stock buyback plan,” reports Bloomberg. “The company announced both initiatives last month.”

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