Social Media Startup theAudience Builds Online Fan Bases for Celebrities

  • Oliver Luckett used to work for Walt Disney managing the social media presence of Disney characters. Now he runs theAudience, his own social media company for celebrities, which recently collected $20 million in funding.
  • “For each client, theAudience works to build a network of fans across the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus and to keep those followers engaged by posting a steady stream of catchy pictures, comments and videos,” The New York Times explains, noting that Luckett refuses to identify his clients.
  • “There is intense downward pressure on artist salaries in all corners of entertainment,” notes the article. “Movie attendance over the summer hit a 20-year low. The Web has decimated the music industry. DVRs are roiling television. William Morris Endeavor, a founding investor in theAudience, sees the assertive cultivation of social media networks as one way to shift power back to stars.”
  • theAudience helps agents to negotiate better contracts by providing social data; actors can be paid more if they bring more followers into theaters.
  • Some contracts are already being written to require actors to promote the movie with their social media accounts, the Times reports. Luckett’s company helps stars who are overwhelmed by social media.
  • The company faces competition from numerous other social media startups. Also problematic, consumers like to think celebrities create their own content. Luckett says all content his company produces for celebrities is approved before posted.
  • “The real value of these networks is in programming,” says Napster founder Sean Parker, who also helped in making Facebook the social giant it is today. “If you can aggregate effectively, you can start to imagine social media a little bit more like traditional media.”

TV Over the Internet: Rival Ecosystems Will Soon Disrupt Content Delivery

  • “Why are TV and cable box interfaces so slow and ugly, and why are we still dealing with gigantic ugly cable box remotes festooned with colored buttons?” The Verge asks, suggesting cable and satellite companies have been insulated from competition with monopolies, effectively stifling innovation.
  • “Barred from integrating television service directly into their products, companies across the tech industry have spent enormous resources building rich ecosystems of video content delivered over the Internet instead. The goal is obvious but generally left unstated: to provide content offerings rich and varied enough to replace cable TV,” The Verge writes. “There is a nation of potential cord cutters out there looking for an excuse to stop paying Comcast for 500 channels they don’t really want.”
  • However, these services still have holes and complications with content availability. Notably, none of the over-the-top boxes offer programming immediately after turning on.
  • Despite providers’ pushback, Internet delivery is actually favorable for cable companies.
  • “Internet service is much cheaper to offer than TV, so having customers shift the balance of their bills to data instead of TV is pure profit for the industry,” the article states. For example, Comcast has data caps and tiered pricing, but it costs the company “virtually nothing if you use more data because you’re watching video, so the overage charges are essentially easy money,” explains the post.
  • Various cable providers have expanded into streaming with TV Everywhere but it requires pay TV subscriptions, cutting off certain consumers — and revenue.
  • “And unless these companies figure it out soon, the rival ecosystems being built by Apple and Microsoft and Google and Amazon and everyone else will eventually just eat their lunch,” suggests The Verge. “Eventually, we’re going to get our TV over the Internet.”

Google Mobile Ads Replacing Desktop Ad Revenue: May Hurt Sales

  • Google may be the biggest name in online advertising, but even the search giant faces difficulties in the evolving digital sphere, especially with mobile ad rates.
  • “Our revenue growth rate has generally declined over time, and it could do so in the future as a result of a number of factors,” the company stated in a 10-Q filing with the SEC.
  • Business Insider notes that this warning isn’t new for Google, but now the company is acknowledging that “mobile ad revenue is replacing its desktop ad revenue in a way that may hurt its sales,” the article states.
  • “Mobile search queries and mobile commerce are growing dramatically around the world, and consumers are using multiple devices to access information,” Google said in its disclosure. “Over time these trends have resulted in changes in our product mix, including a significant increase in mobile search queries and a deceleration in the growth of desktop queries.”
  • According to a recent earnings call, Google has an $8 billion annual run-rate from mobile ads, which translates to a 2 percent contraction in desktop business as click prices on mobile are cheaper.
  • “It’s a supply and demand problem: Greater search demand on mobile devices increases the available inventory supply for advertisers, and greater supply always lowers prices — which could hurt Google’s ability to grow revenues on the topline,” the article concludes.

Desti iPad App: Personal Travel Assistant Aims to Be Social and Smart

  • When making travel plans, online search results can be hard to navigate or inappropriate. A new spinoff from SRI International that recently launched in Northern California hopes to leverage artificial intelligence and social suggestions to make mapping out trips easier and smarter.
  • Currently in public beta and only available as an iPad app, travel service Desti “was built using SRI’s artificial intelligence technology, combined with natural language processing, semantic search and a travel-specific knowledge base,” GigaOM reports. “The system uses contextual clues and what it knows about a user to return relevant results, which are displayed on a very visual results page.”
  • Users can type in queries — or with the latest versions of the iPad, vocally dictate — to get results with Desti’s rating and information on amenities as well as resources and helpful tips.
  • “Desti is able to understand context when a user interacts with it,” the article states. “If I’m looking at a destination and ask what else is around, it pulls up results related to my last search. And if the weather is cold, it can change its results to find you something to do indoors.”
  • “Like many new travel services, Desti also taps your social graph,” GigaOM continues. “So it can learn your tastes from Facebook likes and you can share your collections with others. And when you visit a place where another user has been, Desti will let you know and see what comments they’ve left.”
  • The service, which has raised $1.5 million in funding, faces competition from social travel apps like TripAdvisor and Google, “which is loading up on travel services and is working on its own semantic search efforts,” the article reports.
  • Although the service allows users to save a destination and share it with other users, it doesn’t yet work on smartphones so users have to email themselves to sync their research.

Ortus Technology Announces Smallest 4K2K Hi-Def LCD Panel

  • Japanese firm Ortus Technology Co. Ltd. claims it has created “the world’s smallest LCD panel capable of displaying 4K2K video,” Tech-On! reports.
  • The high definition panel has a 9.6-inch, 3,840 x 2,160-pixel LCD screen featuring up to 458 ppi resolution.
  • “The panel is targeted at video equipment, medical equipment and commercial equipment such as monitors for broadcasting,” the post states.
  • The device boasts a 72 percent color range on NTSC standards. Its view angle is 160 degrees for both horizontal and vertical orientation.
  • “Ortus Technology realized the resolution of 458 ppi by using microfabrication, liquid crystal alignment and panel driving technologies based on the HAST (hyper amorphous silicon TFT), which was developed by the company,” the post explains. “As a result, it became possible to display 2D video that is natural and looks 3D.”
  • The panel will be displayed in Munich, Germany this week during Electronica 2012. Samples will also be made available this month.

The PC Cliff: Analyst Details How the iPad Mini Could Impact PC Sales

  • “I believe that the iPad mini and smaller tablets will be even more disruptive to the traditional PC market than the iPad has been to date,” writes analyst Tim Bajarin for Tech.pinions.
  • Eighty percent of the tasks consumers perform with a PC can be done with a tablet; keyboard accessories enable tablets to do more than just content consumption, he notes.
  • Now with the smaller tablets, the ratio has shifted to 90-10. The iPad mini has become Bajarin’s “go-to-device because of its lightweight, small size and literal duplication of everything I have on the iPad as well as the full iPad experience,” he says.
  • Bajarin has been interacting with iPad mini users: “Almost all that we talked to told us that the role of the laptop has diminished for them significantly since they got the iPad, and were now using the iPad mini more frequently than their larger iPads.”
  • “They said that if the PC were only used 10-20 percent of the time, they would most likely just extend the life of their PCs or laptops instead of buying new ones. And if they did buy a new PC or laptop, it would be the cheapest they could find, as they could no longer justify a more expensive and powerful version if it mostly sat at home and used for such a short time for more data or media intensive apps”
  • Some argue that PCs will still be around to fulfill data/media intensive tasks.
  • “But if tablets increase their role as the dominant device for consumers to access the majority of their digital needs, than the impact on PC demand has to be impacted down the road,” Bajarin writes. “In fact, some key industry insiders call this the PC Cliff, suggesting that we could see a time in the not-so-distant future where demand for PCs fall by a steep amount, giving way to tablets that will take over their role as the major growth segment and primary of the PC industry.”
  • “I fear that a PC cliff is not far off and we are urging all PC vendors to seriously consider the ramifications of what these smaller tablets will mean to their future PC and laptop demand,” he concludes.

$14 Billion Plan to Drop Copper in Favor of All-IP Network

  • AT&T is dropping its copper telephone network and copper DSL business in order to streamline its businesses with an all-IP network.
  • “AT&T said it will invest $14 billion in its networks over the next three years,” GigaOM writes, “with those dollars going into wireless, business services and the fiber-to-the-node U-verse product.”
  • “Those three product lines make up 81 percent of AT&T’s revenue and collectively are growing at 6 percent a year. AT&T expects to spend $8 billion for wireless initiatives and $6 billion for wireline initiatives.”
  • The company’s new investment in LTE will cover 99 percent of the U.S. and its wireline U-Verse service will grow to reach 75 percent of customer locations. The 25 percent not covered by wireline are expected to subscribe to LTE broadband, “which comes at a much higher cost and has onerous caps that DSL access and AT&T phone lines do not have,” comments GigaOM.
  • “This news will have huge ramifications for Americans in rural areas as well as those who still rely on their wireline copper-based telephones for burglar alarms, emergencies and fire alarm systems,” the post explains. “Competitive local exchange carriers in many regions also woke up this morning wondering how they will continue to offer their products over AT&T’s copper pipes.”
  • “Instead AT&T will use its fiber network and LTE to deploy broadband to smaller cities and towns. These decisions also mean the end of network upgrades to the copper network, although it’s not clear how exactly Ma Bell will back away from copper from its network, and it will have to do so with regulatory approvals.”

Emerging Trend: Shipping Lockers Now Offered by Numerous Startups

  • BufferBox is a Canadian startup that offers shipping lockers for consumers who aren’t available during the day when their packages arrive. Now with Amazon’s expansion of its Lockers service, BufferBox is looking at new competition and the possibility of acquisition.
  • BufferBox is based on a simple idea. “There will be a locker at a certain retail location, which will become your address and you can ship your packages there,” explains GigaOM. “Once you get your package, you get an email with a PIN number and that is what you need to open the locker and get your package. BufferBox takes a cut of the delivery costs.”
  • The company faces competition from similar startups such as ShopRunner, Kiala, MissNev, and now Amazon’s Locker program. Amazon has already teamed up with Staples, RadioShack, 7-Eleven and Albertsons for its Lockers.
  • “If you are wondering why these retail chains are sleeping with the enemy, the answer is foot traffic,” the post states. “If people are coming to stores to pick up their packages, there is some likelihood that they might pick up other goods. Groceries or Big Gulps, sure, but paper goods and electronics, too.”
  • As Amazon looks to offer locker locations at retailers, it would seem that BufferBox might be edged out.
  • “However, fear of Amazon is enough to get Google or some other giant galvanized into snapping up this startup,” GigaOM suggests. “Google, which is pushing hard to get traction for its Google Checkout service, could use something like BufferBox as a way to get more businesses to use its service. For retailers, the lure of foot traffic is pretty strong.”

Despite Easing FaceTime Restrictions, Provider Still Deals with Net Neutrality

  • AT&T had previously limited Apple’s FaceTime video chat service to Wi-Fi or customers with new — generally more expensive — shared data plans. The carrier recently announced that it would open the service to more iPhone and iPad users, but digital rights groups are saying AT&T is still violating net neutrality regulations.
  • “Net neutrality rules prohibit DSL and cable companies from unfairly blocking services they don’t like and require them to be transparent about how they manage their networks during times of congestion,” Wired explains. “The regulations do allow for certain kinds of mobile network management during periods of congestion, but these cannot unfairly target services that compete with the carriers’ own services.”
  • “AT&T in August said that the main reason why it was not breaching the FCC’s net neutrality rules was because the FaceTime application comes pre-installed on the iPhone and iPad,” the article continues. “The company said it was not blocking the app, but that it reserved the right to enforce ‘some reasonable restrictions’ to manage expected traffic congestion of the data-hogging app.”
  • Now, AT&T allows the iPad 3 and newer models as well as the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 running iOS 6 to use FaceTime over cellular networks.
  • “But despite the change, Public Knowledge said that, until AT&T begins offering the service on all of its cellular plans like Sprint and Verizon do — including for AT&T customers with unlimited data — the company will be violating net neutrality rules,” Wired writes.
  • Public Knowledge and other digital rights groups have threatened to take up the issue with the Federal Communications Commission if AT&T doesn’t open up FaceTime to all plans and all compatible devices.

Microsoft Rumored to Be Working on 7-Inch Xbox Surface Gaming Tablet

  • Multiple anonymous sources are saying that Microsoft is discreetly building a 7-inch Xbox Surface gaming tablet, locking down buildings and factories to keep the project under wraps.
  • “The Xbox Surface will likely include a custom ARM processor and high-bandwidth RAM designed specifically for gaming tasks,” reports The Verge. “We’re told these specifications could be altered to accommodate an unannounced Intel SoC and that the Xbox Surface is being developed independent of specific hardware architecture.”
  • “Microsoft’s Xbox Surface won’t run a full version of Windows, rather this 7-inch tablet will run a custom Windows kernel,” explains the post. “Messaging and other tablet functions may be supported, but the focus is on gaming.”
  • Microsoft has reportedly created a secret hardware production process for the Xbox Surface separate from its traditional manufacturers for its Xbox console.
  • Additionally, the company has limited employee access to buildings in Silicon Valley that are related to the Interactive Entertainment Business.
  • “The lock down is likely related to Microsoft’s increased testing of the tablet, providing a way for other parts of the Xbox team to build games and software for the device,” suggests The Verge. “Providing the project doesn’t get killed in favor of a full 7-inch Windows tablet, in the same way Microsoft axed Courier, expect to see the Xbox Surface debut ahead of Microsoft’s future Xbox console.”

Tablet Review: Comparing the New Microsoft Surface with the Apple iPad

  • After using Microsoft’s Surface tablet for more than a week, Slate writer Farhad Manjoo concludes the tablet is no competitor for Apple’s iPad.
  • “It’s too slow, it’s mercilessly buggy, and the add-on that’s supposed to set it apart from the iPad — its touch-cover keyboard and trackpad — is nice but far from revolutionary,” Manjoo writes.
  • “At $499 for the base model, plus $120 for the almost-required touch cover, the Surface is also not very competitive on price: You can get the newest standard iPad for the same $499, the still pretty good iPad 2 for $399, and the new iPad mini for $329.”
  • The tablet feels heavy, he writes, and it takes extra half-seconds to do anything. Switching the orientation is also very clunky and the tablet responds slowly to inputs.
  • “Perhaps it’s just hobbled with an inadequate processor and too little RAM,” Manjoo suggests. “Maybe we can expect future versions to pack more power and, consequently, to feel less frustrating. After all, Apple’s original tablet was a bit lethargic, too.”
  • “[The first iPad] may not have been perfect, but it was unquestionably the best tablet of its era. The Surface is hitting the shelves in 2012, when, in addition to Apple’s tablets, you can now get Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 or one of Amazon’s super-cheap Kindle Fires,” Manjoo writes, adding that Microsoft has no room for error as Apple did when releasing the first tablet.
  • The Surface “promises that you’ll be able to type faster, to use a pointer, to actually get things done and not feel like there are certain things your device just can’t do,” he concludes. “The iPad may not allow you to do everything, but Apple has made sure that it’s great at what it can do. The Surface, by contrast, will let you do everything you want. The problem is that you’ll have no fun doing it.”

Tianhe-2: Will China Be First to Develop a 100-Petaflop Supercomputer?

  • China is looking to be a top supercomputer competitor with its Tianhe-2, which expects to run at 100 petaflops and be released in 2015.
  • The U.S. launched a 20-petaflop computer, the world’s fastest supercomputer. China’s latest machine looks to increase those speeds by five times.
  • “Tianhe-2 could help keep China competitive with the future supercomputers of other countries, as industry experts estimate machines will start reaching 1,000-petaflop performance by 2018,” notes ITworld.
  • “The Tianhe-2 is not China’s first attempt at building a world-beating supercomputer. It briefly took the top spot on the world’s list of most powerful supercomputers in 2010 with the Tianhe-1A. That computer is now ranked fifth in the world with a theoretical peak speed of 4.7 petaflops, and uses processors from Intel and Nvidia.”
  • Last year, China built the Sunway Bluelight supercomputer with a domestically developer processor. “This was like a trial,” says Chen Dexun, a senior engineer at the supercomputing center where the 1-petaflop Sunway Bluelight machine is housed.”Before, we were always using U.S. chips, and so we wanted to see our abilities in making these processors,” he says.
  • China is not, however, the only country looking to make a 100-petaflop computer by 2015. The European Union, Japan and U.S. have also expressed intentions to work toward that goal.
  • In addition, China has plans to build a 1-exaflop (1,000 petaflop) computer by 2018.

Forrester Forecasts Double-Digit Increases for Online Holiday Spending

  • “E-commerce has been on fire since its inception and it still continues to grow and outpace the overall retail economy,” says Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, who predicts online shopping will amount to $68.4 billion this holiday season, a 15 percent increase over 2011.
  • Although the rate of increase will stay the same (sales rose 15 percent last year as well), the number of online shoppers in the U.S. is expected to grow 3 percent.
  • Additionally, the average shopper will spend an estimated $419 online this holiday, which represents a 12 percent increase over 2011.
  • The report suggests three reasons for the shift to online shopping: 1) customers want to get deals and avoid crowds; 2) while mobile conversion rates remain low, mobile commerce will account for 40+ percent of retailers’ online traffic with improved mobile technology; and 3) consumer confidence in the economy has risen and holiday retail estimates are high.
  • “Still, the trend largely benefits online-only retailers, like Amazon, which means that physical retailers must come up with a plan to keep consumers coming to the stores or their Web sites,” suggests AllThingsD.
  • Brick-and-mortar retailers have made efforts to fight back with price matching and same-day delivery, but Mulpuru expressed doubts that the maneuvers will dent Amazon’s sales.

Third Quarter Reports: Is Anemic Pay TV Growth a Sign of Cord Cutting?

  • The pay TV industry as a whole lost 127,000 subscribers in the third quarter, according to a report from Sanford C. Bernstein. While some providers blame prices, programming disputes and even the housing market for subscriber drop-offs, recent results raise concerns that consumers are opting for online services instead.
  • “Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Dish Network Corp. collectively lost 102,000 video customers in the latest quarter, based on information contained in their quarterly reports on Tuesday,” notes the Wall Street Journal. “That is better than their combined loss of 193,000 a year earlier, but it isn’t a reversal.”
  • “The results followed Time Warner Cable’s report on Monday that it had lost more video subscribers than expected,” the article continues. “Including the numbers from previously reporting publicly held pay TV providers, the industry grew by 25,000 video subscribers, down from 148,000 a year earlier.”
  • Nielsen reports that at least 90 percent of U.S. homes pay for subscription TV from cable, satellite or phone companies. In the past, cable has lost subscribers to satellite and phone companies. Today, cable can offset these losses with broadband growth.
  • Some satellite companies including DirecTV and EchoStar (Dish’s sibling company) are looking to also diversify their offerings by expanding into Latin American markets via partnerships or acquisitions.
  • For the most part, the broader pay TV market has grown in recent years. “But in the past year or so, the market has seen slight shrinkage in several quarters,” explains WSJ. “That has sparked concerns that consumers might be disconnecting their pay TV services in favor of cheaper options, like online video.”

Network Traffic Report: Netflix Easily Leads Amazon, Hulu and HBO

  • The new Global Internet Phenomena Report from Sandvine found that Netflix accounts for 33 percent of peak residential downstream traffic in North America, while other streaming services struggle to amount to two percent.
  • “Amazon’s video service on the other hand,” GigaOM writes, “which is widely seen as its biggest competitor, only causes 1.75 percent of peak residential downstream traffic.”
  • “Other competitors fare even worse in Sandvine’s report: The network management company sees Hulu causing 1.38 percent of residential peak downstream traffic, with HBO Go barely registering with 0.52 percent,” notes the post.
  • Second place goes to YouTube with 14.8 percent of peak residential downstream traffic and 30.97 percent of peak mobile downstream traffic. The site takes up even more peak residential downstream traffic abroad, accounting for 15.9 percent in the Asia-Pacific region and 21.84 percent in Europe.
  • In North America, HTTP, BitTorrent, and iTunes were the next popular in downstream. Facebook followed Amazon at 1.48 percent of peak residential downstream traffic.

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