Nintendo Wii U Adds DVR, Social and Content Aggregation

  • Two decades ago, Nintendo accounted for 80 percent of the gaming hardware market. It has since fallen to 25 percent, but the company hopes that its new Wii U device will help it stay relevant in the new world of streaming content, mobile devices and social gaming.
  • “As the Kyoto, Japan-based company prepares for the Nov. 18 launch of its Wii U — a flashier, more powerful and social-oriented update of its Wii system that debuted in 2006 — its executives are taking a page from showbiz and positioning the console as a broad entertainment-delivery platform,” the Hollywood Reporter writes. “Think television, web and video game enabler rather than just a home for Mario, Donkey Kong and Pokemon.”
  • The Wii U will feature a handheld controller equipped with TVii, which enables recording of shows, snapshots the viewing habits of family members and friends, access to Facebook and Twitter and an easy-to-use programming guide. “If TV is going to become more about engagement and the ‘second screen’ experience, then Nintendo hopes its controller serves as the platform of choice.”
  • Moreover, Nintendo has content deals with cable companies, satellite distributors, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.
  • When the Wii first debuted, Nintendo sold 5 million consoles in the first year, and enjoyed a few years in the lead before the Xbox and the PlayStation3 caught up. “But the motion-sensor novelty soon ebbed,” the article states. “Casual gamers moved on to low-cost diversions downloadable through more open platforms like Apple’s iOS and the Android universe or social platforms like Facebook. Games on smartphones also have gobbled up Nintendo’s share of the portable gaming market.”
  • Some analysts remain skeptical that the Wii U can turn Nintendo’s decline around, saying the reinvention is too little, too late.  But Nintendo disagrees. “It’s the games that will drive the system into the household,” says Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. “But what consumers also will find is that they are getting a robust social space … then find out they have a super remote and an aggregator.”

Comcast Attacks the Cable Killers

  • Pay TV providers are pushing against new online content companies who threaten the long-established high-dollar cable packages. Meanwhile, consumers want to watch whatever they desire, whenever they want it, and on multiple devices.
  • Comcast, for example, has taken a number of steps to protect its businesses which GigaOM highlights in this article.
  • 1.  Blocking P2P: The FCC compelled Comcast to manage its broadband network in a way that didn’t center on protecting its TV business after the company was found to have actively blocked peer-to-peer files.
  • 2.  Implementing data caps: Comcast instituted a 250 GB per month data cap on its users, saying that it would reconsider the cap as Internet usage rose. The 250 GB limit still remains even though traffic has increased, but customers now have a meter.
  • 3.  The Level 3 peering fight: “In 2010 Level 3 Communications, the middle-mile Internet provider that is also a content delivery network for Netflix, accused Comcast of seeking an additional payment from Level 3 in order for the CDN to deliver content from its network to Comcast subscribers. In effect, Level 3 was saying Comcast was trying to charge it more to deliver its CDN traffic,” GigaOM writes.
  • 4.  Protecting Tivo and its Xfinity traffic over the Xbox from its cap: That 250 GB limit does not include traffic from Comcast’s own services, giving users incentives to opt for Xfinity over other services.
  • 5.  Prioritizing its own traffic over other traffic at the packet level: Similar to how AT&T allotted bandwidth for its U-verse TV offering, Comcast tagged packets for Xfinity traffic.
  • 6.  Secretive plans with Verizon: Awaiting approval by the FCC, the deal would let the two companies share technology and give Verizon cable spectrum.
  • 7.  Possibly making Hulu available for pay-TV subscribers only.

Netflix Proactive Maneuver Avoids Cloud Meltdown

  • When an availability zone in Amazon’s U.S. East data center complex went down, Netflix was able to circumvent cloud outages. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Netflix’s maneuver could serve as a model for other companies dealing with potential outages.
  • Netflix had experience with outages in the past and has run evacuation drills to prepare for such an event. The company noticed issues with Amazon Web Services U.S. East on the Monday before superstorm Sandy. “Amazon was also able to confirm that the degradation was limited to a single Availability Zone,” two employees wrote in a blog. “Once we learned the impact was isolated to one AZ, we began evacuating the affected zone.”
  • “Netflix’s Asgard technology helped in this effort,” GigaOM writes. “Asgard, which Netflix open sourced last summer, is a web interface (once known as Netflix Application Console) that engineers use to deploy code changes and manage resources on Amazon. According to Netflix, the technology lets engineers track multiple AWS components — Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), EC2 instances, etc. — used by their applications and manage them more efficiently than Amazon’s own console allows.”
  • Using Asgard, Netflix was able to evacuate the troubled zone in 20 minutes and restore service to all users.
  • “So far, AWS U.S. East has not exhibited problems associated with the massive superstorm [Sandy],” GigaOM reports. “But given past issues — and the fact that other east coast data centers have crashed – companies that rely on Amazon’s cloud are (or should be) scrambling to find ways to mitigate outages and performance problems.”

Google Testing Same-Day Delivery Service in San Francisco Area

  • Following the lead of Walmart, Amazon, eBay and the U.S. Postal Service, Google is launching its own same-day delivery service, according to two anonymous sources.
  • For some Google employees and their friends in the San Francisco area, the service has gone live. They can “buy a product, using their phones or computers, and have it delivered to their homes in a matter of hours,” reports The New York Times.
  • Same-day delivery has been in the works at Google for more than a year. “Though the service propels Google into commerce, the company does not intend to operate warehouses or a shipping service but to team up with retailers and delivery companies,” the article explains. “Several San Francisco retailers, including national chains, are participating in the program already.”
  • At least one national apparel chain is involved, the sources say. The program is promising for physical retailers facing pressure from e-commerce companies that are taking away brick-and-mortar’s last advantage: same-day ownership.
  • It’s not clear why Google is investing in same-day delivery, but NYT notes that the company has been facing increased online competition. Consumers are more frequently bypassing the search giant altogether and going straight to e-commerce sites such as Amazon for their searches.
  • “Additionally, Google has been trying to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds to better understand and profit from mobile ads,” the article explains.
  • “On computers, Google and advertisers know if a user clicks on an ad and visits or buys on another Web site. But they lose track of customers who look up a business or product on their phone and then put their phone away, walk into the store and buy something. Online ordering and delivery could help solve that problem.”

Facebook, Twitter Usage Spikes During Hurricane Sandy

  • On an average day, the word “sandy” is mentioned 3,000 times on social media. The Wall Street Journal reports that on Monday, the word was mentioned 4.8 million times across various social media sites as people looked to Twitter, Facebook and other networks to get information on the storm.
  • Manhattan resident Naomi Ben-Shahar tracked Hurricane Sandy news on social media after she lost power Monday night. “As the power flickered off in millions of homes around New York and New Jersey, many like Ms. Ben-Shahar had been forced to give up on television and radio and rely almost exclusively on social media, where the storm played out on the tiny screens of mobile devices in a hugely fast-paced alternative narrative of destruction.”
  • Citizen journalists took to Instagram to post pictures of the storm’s progression, from people prepping to the hurricane’s aftermath.
  • “As the frenzy for information grew with the storm, some disinformation creeped into mainstream outlets,” the Journal reported. “A false rumor claiming that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was three feet under water, found its way onto CNN and the Weather Channel.”
  • Also, many online news sites went down as East Coast data centers flooded. Datagram, a center in Lower Manhattan which hosts the Huffington Post, Gawker, BuzzFeed, Mediate and others, went down Monday evening when it was flooded.
  • Ben-Shahar says social media presented its own challenges. “I feel so disconnected. I’m trying to read only reliable tweets,” she wrote in a Facebook message, adding that “It was frustrating to feel so stuck with my 5-year-old and read about normal life continuing elsewhere.”

Indie Music Videos Now Available via Ad-Supported BAMM.tv App

  • After a year of producing concert videos, episodic content and documentaries, BAMM.tv is releasing an iPad app for its content, which was previously only available on the company’s website.
  • BAMM.tv offers over 70 hours of music videos from 175 artists and a “rundown of all the artists and different genres,” reports TechCrunch. Consumers can watch the videos for free, but the iPad app is ad-supported. BAMM.tv may also expand to include in-app purchases of merchandise or exclusive content.
  • “The app is designed to look like a virtual music venue, allowing users to watch videos, learn more about different bands, engage with musicians via social media, check out tour schedules, and even purchase tickets to upcoming shows,” the article explains.
  • “The app allows users to navigate through various playlists curated by the BAMM.tv staff, and there’s a gamification aspect that lets users unlock content like exclusive audio tracks or videos by engaging more with the content. They can also create their own playlists — or playmixes, as the app calls them — of their favorite songs or videos.”
  • BAMM.tv has deals with both advertising companies and global distributors to offer content overseas.
  • “While most video sites today pay upfront for licensing rights to video content, BAMM.tv is trying to establish a new model for partnering with and paying artists,” the post states. “It works like this: BAMM.tv has negotiated global rights to the performances and other content from performers. In exchange, BAMM.tv will share all profits that it makes, dividing those proceeds based upon the number of views that various performers get on the app and on its website.”
  • While the app does have a lot of interesting content, the user experience is convoluted, making interacting with the music and videos difficult, TechCrunch comments.

Threadlife Seeks to Become the Instagram of Video

  • A new iPhone app called Threadlife wants to be the Instagram of video sharing, enabling users to create three-second clips and thread them together in private or public streams to create social video reels.
  • The service was created by Zappos founder and former CEO Nick Swimrun along with Ken Martin, co-founder and CEO of design company BLITZ Agency.  It launches today as invite only.
  • “What sets Threadlife apart from other video apps, its creators say, is that its three-second limit eliminates any need for editing, a major obstacle for the success of video-sharing,” CNET writes. “It’s much easier to apply filters on photos to make them look better than it is to edit a long video clip. The three-second clips are more like photos that can be strung together, Martin said.”
  • Public threads can be shared through Facebook, Twitter or the Threadlife network. There’s no limit on the number of clips or “stitches” that can be threaded together; users can sort clips by date or creator. Clips can also be moved to different threads.
  • The app also allows private threads for personal conversations between friends.
  • “Eventually, the Threadlife team hopes to incorporate tagging and location-specific information, and adding ways to make money off the service, like inserting video ads into threads or charging for extra storage space,” CNET writes. “Martin said there’s also plans to expand to other devices to desktop.”

Walmart to Push Boxee TVs Challenging Apple and Roku

  • In the last 12 months, Apple has sold 5.3 million Apple TV devices while Roku sold 1.4 million set-top boxes. Boxee has lagged behind both its competitors, selling only 120,000 of its devices last year. However, a new deal with Walmart could dramatically boost Boxee’s sales.
  • “Starting tomorrow, the world’s biggest retailer will exclusively sell the new $98 product, called Boxee TV, in more than 3,000 U.S. locations during the holiday season,” Bloomberg reports. “Walmart will set up displays and send out marketing materials for the device, a small black box with a remote control that can access free TV broadcast channels as well as Internet content.”
  • Boxee CEO Avner Ronen says the retail partnership is a “big launch” for the company and its products. “There’s a big difference between having your product being carried by retailers, where it sits on the shelf, and getting real marketing behind it,” he says.
  • Boxee provides access to Internet content like Pandora and Netflix while also capturing over-the-air TV signals.
  • “You turn on the TV, and it’s a familiar ground,” Ronen says. “We don’t believe the future of the TV is going to be a future filled with apps. When you turn on the TV, you don’t want 60 icons. You just want to watch something.”
  • “Included in Boxee TV is a service called No Limits DVR,” Bloomberg explains, “which lets customers record unlimited broadcast TV shows to the cloud and access them from the set-top box or from a computer, smartphone or tablet. It will be available in about eight of the largest U.S. cities to start, Ronen said.”

U.S. Officials Warn That Huawei and ZTE May Pose Security Threats

  • U.S. military and intelligence officials have expressed concerns that certain Chinese tech companies could be used for cyber espionage, claims that have mostly stayed under wraps in an effort to maintain foreign relations. A congressional investigation has concluded that telecommunications firm Huawei Technologies Inc. and ZTE are dangerous to the U.S.
  • “In a report to be released [October 8], the [House intelligence] committee recommends that the U.S. block acquisitions or mergers involving the two companies through the Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S.,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “It also recommends that the U.S. government avoid using equipment from the firms, and that U.S. companies seek alternative vendors for telecommunications equipment.”
  • Both companies have worked to allay U.S. concerns with transparency, responding to information requests. The report rebuts these efforts.
  • “Neither company was willing to provide sufficient evidence to ameliorate the committee’s concerns,” said a draft of the committee’s report. “The risks associated with Huawei’s and ZTE’s provisions of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national security interests.”
  • ZTE is a publicly traded company, with 15.68 percent of the company owned by state enterprises. ZTE denies that it would allow the Chinese government to use its equipment for surveillance, “saying it wouldn’t be in [its] business interests to do so,” notes WSJ.
  • The article also notes that company spokesman William Plummer claims Huawei is “independent of the Chinese government and that security of its systems remains a top priority.”
  • Plummer says the U.S. claim “ignores technical and commercial realities, recklessly threatens American jobs and innovation, does nothing to protect national security.”

Startup Helps Web Users Control and Sell Their Own Data for Charity

  • Enliken, a new startup with a staff of eight and $200,000 in seed funding, encourages consumers to control how they’re tracked online and then sell that data to advertisers.
  • “Enliken enables people to control and use their own data. We capture the value created by its use,” says co-founder Marc Guldimann. “We think that letting individuals offer a competing product in the marketplace for consumer data is the most efficient and least destructive way to move the Internet to a privacy-friendly space.”
  • The proceeds from the data sales goes to a charity of the user’s choice. Enliken takes a ten percent cut of the sales, which comes in around $1 per user per month.
  • Unlike other services, Enliken offers an all-encompassing view of online behavior and doesn’t require any input from users.
  • A personal dashboard allows users to customize what information gets captured and sold to advertisers. “The company’s founders hope that, someday, users will be able to earn a wide range of perks — from airline miles to online news subscriptions — in exchange for their information,” reports The New York Times.
  • Enliken has also unveiled a new feature to entice consumers. Called “Enliken for the People,” the feature shows users which elements of their personal data is harvested by other companies, but they must first install Enliken’s tracking software.
  • Some argue that people will still shy from tracking. “But as humans get educated about something, they move from a place of fear to a place where they want control over it. When you empower people to control something, you make them feel good,” says Guldimann.

Google Hopes its Virtual Brain Technology Will Help Improve Products

  • Over the summer, Google applied its new artificial intelligence software to YouTube videos to recognize cats, faces and other objects just as the human brain does. The search giant is now leveraging this technology to improve its speech recognition to rival Apple’s Siri.
  • “Google’s learning software is based on simulating groups of connected brain cells that communicate and influence one another,” Technology Review explains.
  • “When such a neural network, as it’s called, is exposed to data, the relationships between different neurons can change. That causes the network to develop the ability to react in certain ways to incoming data of a particular kind — and the network is said to have learned something.”
  • This “learning” process allows the software to determine which features of data are relevant to the particular task at hand. In speech recognition, the neural networks allow Google’s Android OS and iOS search app to eliminate errors.
  • Currently, the software is only applied to U.S. English but will eventually be available for other languages.
  • “Other Google products will likely improve over time with help from the new learning software,” the article suggests. “The company’s image search tools, for example, could become better able to understand what’s in a photo without relying on surrounding text. And Google’s self-driving cars and mobile computer built into a pair of glasses could benefit from software better able to make sense of more real-world data.”
  • These neural networks are more flexible in that they can determine the context of data. They also mimic the visual cortex in mammals, which will help the technology to one day come close to human intelligence.

Digital Television Lessons from the New York Television Festival

  • At the New York Festival, representatives from AOL, College Humor, YouTube, Blip, MySpace, MSN and others converged in panels to discuss television in the digital age. GigaOM gives a brief overview of the four-hour event that was live-streamed and archived online.
  • “Research matters” according to folks at CW Digital who have received show pitches from people who have no understanding of the company or its audience.
  • “The great content creators, according to everyone on the Development panel, understand more than just making content — specifically, how to market that content on a social media level,” GigaOM writes.
  • To get more draw online, pick up celebrities with strong Twitter followings over celebrities who don’t; also, web celebs can create extra attention online.
  • Don’t just hire people who are in it for the money – find people who actually understand and care about digital.
  • At the beginning, avoid exclusivity. Then, as the show develops, look for companies offering good deals with an emphasis on strong promotion to get the necessary push in an increasingly crowded market.
  • Check out the YouTube Creator Handbook to get more views.
  • The homegrown web series Lizzie Bennet Diaries from Hank Green and Bernie Su is teaming up with DECA.
  • Facebook’s decision to remove email addresses from user profiles has made it harder for Mark Malkoff to book celebrities for his Celebrity Sleepovers series. Even with the show’s notable guest list, the iJustine episode has been by far the most viewed segment of the series.
  • Blip CEO says “YouTube can be a great way to build your audience, but it’s not the only way to build your audience.”
  • Creators should experiment with various platforms and determine which works best for their content.
  • MySpace Entertainment president defends keeping the brand name because of past artists’ success on the platform.

Disney Exec Discusses Game Success and Focus on Transmedia

  • “Where’s My Water?” started as a $1 iPhone-only game with just 80 levels. It has since expanded to multiple operating systems, added around 500 levels and seen more than 100 million downloads worldwide.
  • The game’s protagonist Swampy has become a merchandise sensation and will star in the upcoming animated series “Swampy’s Underground Adventures.” Bart Decrem, SVP and GM of Disney Mobile Games, talks about the game’s evolution into transmedia.
  • “We put out the simplest version of the game, with just enough levels to gauge players’ response,” he explains. “This allowed us to get to market very quickly, but one of the happy side effects was that it forced us to really focus on nailing the core of ‘Where’s My Water?’ — which led to a better experience for the players.”
  • “We then used community feedback and analytics to get a really deep understanding of what was working for our gamers, where they got stuck, and to keep refining the gameplay.”
  • “This is such an important platform for the company,” Decrem adds. “A whole new generation of Disney guests is growing up with their iPhones, iPads or Android devices as a primary screen — not to mention huge new markets like China and India opening up for the company. We have a huge opportunity to bring existing Disney characters and stories to life on this magical new canvas, but also to create new Disney characters here — characters that hopefully will stand the test of time.”
  • The game has had spinoffs with other Disney characters like Phineas and Ferb.
  • The upcoming “Swampy’s Underground Adventures” series follows Swampy the alligator “in his quest for acceptance, friendship, and adventure outside of the bathtub,” Decrem explains. “We created 12 episodes that are launching weekly on Disney.com and Disney’s Network on YouTube. There are also plans to premiere the shorts on Disney Channel beginning in November.”

Circa Reimagines News Delivery and Consumption in a Mobile World

  • Unlike tablets, which are well suited for news consumption, “the phone is dramatically different,” says Matt Galligan, CEO of mobile news app Circa. “You’re in line waiting for the subway or you’re in line for coffee and it’s kind of ‘gap time.’ Lengthy articles are very time intensive and attention intensive, and they are tough to consume on the phone.”
  • Circa was launched by Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh and co-founder Galligan with a goal to rethink the production of news in today’s fast-paced mobile society.
  • “The main idea is that the traditional article or story format that newspapers and other news outlets have produced for so many years no longer fits with the way we produce or consume information now,” writes GigaOM. “The standard ‘inverted pyramid’-style article was designed for the days when people might only see one report about a news event, printed on dead trees and without links, so it had to include virtually everything.”
  • “Now, however,” the article continues, “the news has become more of a process than an artifact, with multiple reports from different sources, updates, social links and other elements added over time. But news-reading formats remain more or less the same as they have always been.”
  • Circa looks to take advantage of that “gap time” by condensing news stories into small easily-consumed bits.
  • Galligan explains that Circa breaks news down into its “atomic units” rather than offering the entire news article. The units typically consist of facts, background information and other elements such as photos and quotes. The user has the option of what to read at any given time.
  • These “atomic units” allow articles to be updated with incoming information and users can “follow” a topic to be alerted about developments.

Will Educators Need to Adapt to Internet Technologies in the Future?

  • When you Google a song title, often guitar chord information will show up in the results. And say you don’t know a chord for that song, search it on YouTube and you’ll probably be able to find numerous guitar lessons online.
  • Today, the opportunity to learn how to play musical instruments no longer requires expensive private lessons or going to a class. This phenomenon is likely to spread to other areas of study.
  • “The current hype is that ubiquitous Internet connections and tablet devices will emerge as a competitive threat to real-life teachers, kill the textbook business and bring low-price learning to billions around the world,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • “There will be big business opportunities for a select group of star teachers and a handful of companies, too,” the article continues. “The downside: Schools and teachers will have to adapt to lower-cost competition from around the country and the world. And they may have to acknowledge that technology might be better at many tasks done today by a fidgety teacher and a metronome.”
  • Already, some online guitar instructors have been able to make a comfortable living through YouTube videos, like Justin Sandercoe who accumulated 170,000 subscribers. He now travels the world giving in-person lessons to fans or $100 personal sessions online.
  • “The business problem with such media models is that production can be ramped up only so much — it largely relies on one person’s available time,” the article notes. The piece acknowledges other efforts that leverage computing power to “teach.” For example, one system can track how well students follow streaming sheet music.
  • Online systems can be much more distracting for some students, and ultimately, motivation and discipline determine the student’s success. In the future, teaching may become more about motivating than explaining.

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