Posts for 'Microsoft'

  • Options For Moving Video From Smartphones/Tablets to TVs Keep Growing

    Have you ever had the experience of watching video on your smartphone or tablet and feel like you'd prefer to watch it on your big TV? If so, there is a growing range of options to help make this happen, including:

    Skifta - an Android app from Qualcomm that lets you play local or cloud-based media on any DLNA-certified device.

    AirPlay - a relatively new feature in Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) running iOS 4.2 or later with one-click ability send media to other connected Apple devices (e.g. Apple TV, AirPlay-ready devices, etc.).

    Rovi Connected Platform - Rovi, the digital entertainment infrastructure provider, just announced yesterday a new Android solution for CE manufacturers to allow their devices to move media around the home to connected devices.

    SnapStick - the intriguing start-up that lets users of any mobile device to "snap" their media over to the TV by gently flicking the device in the TV's direction.

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  • Is Microsoft Planning to Join the Pay-TV Party?

    Reuters is reporting this morning that Microsoft is exploring a range of options to get into the pay-TV business through a new over-the-top service. The article points to a potential "virtual cable provider" model whereby Microsoft would license multiple networks, which would be delivered to Xbox gaming consoles and other devices.  Also under consideration are creating "content silos" to sell specific premium channels.

    If Microsoft were to join the pay-TV business aggressively it would further alter industry dynamics. The number one issue in play right now is whether consumers are forsaking traditionally packaged pay-TV services and instead opting for some mix of free and paid online-delivered alternatives. Yet while Internet options are gaining in popularity (with Netflix's explosive growth to nearly 17 million subscribers at the end of Q3 the primary beneficiary), hard data supporting cord-cutting is still scarce.

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  • With ESPN Partnership, Xbox Reemerges as a Convergence Competitor

    Monday's ESPN-Xbox deal brings the Xbox back into view as a competitor in the Internet connected set-top box battle that has further heated up since the Google TV announcement. Oddly, the Xbox, a device that is already in millions of homes, is often left out of the convergence conversation. To me it seems like a sleeping giant, with many early advantages that should put it squarely on the connected STB map.

    The Xbox, as a gaming device primarily, clears the hurdle many set-top boxes stumble over - getting people to buy an additional box. Gaming has allowed it to build a user base of early adopters who are eager to consume online video. Its controller is an easy to operate wireless gamepad, great for navigating screens and menus quickly. In addition, the gamepad has an attachable keyboard the size of a mobile device for easy searching of vast libraries of content.

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  • Silverlight Team Offers 4 In-Depth Case Studies on 2010 Winter Olympics Online

    A heads-up that the Silverlight team has just posted 4 great case studies detailing different aspects of their international media partners' experiences delivering the 2010 Winter Olympics online. The partners are CTV (Canada), NBC (US), NRK (Norway) and France Televisions (France). All were using Microsoft's Silverlight and IIS Smooth Streaming.

    The case studies dig into 4 topics: online viewing times, effective ad monetization, broadcast reach and quality experience. I've only had an opportunity to skim each of the 4 case studies, but they are packed with in-depth information and details that I have not seen before. For those interested in learning more about how a high-profile live event like this was executed and some of the key performance metrics, this is super valuable info.

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  • Seeing 3D Streaming Video For the First Time at NAB Show

    It's no surprise that 3D is a major focus here at the NAB Show this week. But with all the market attention on how and when consumers might upgrade yet again, to an expensive 3D television set, one thing I've wondered about for a while is when might we see 3D online video streaming to standard monitors. At last, I saw a demo of this in the Microsoft booth yesterday. Microsoft showed a live stream of German broadcaster TVN's control booth (yes, pretty boring stuff but something live was needed), delivered in 3D to both a computer monitor and also to a Panasonic 3D TV.

    The diagram below shows the details. The broadcast was captured by a 3D camera and encoded using Inlet's Spinnaker 7100 HD streaming appliance at 3 mbps in 720p HD. The files were delivered via Level 3's network which used Microsoft's IIS Smooth Streaming delivery to the PC running Silverlight. Then Silverlight does something called "anaglyph rendering" which means delivering 2 offset images in different color layers. Using the 25 cent blue-red paper glasses you've no doubt seen before, the images are fused and I was able to see the TVN control booth in 3D.

    Microsoft positioned this as a proof of concept, but with all the technical pieces already in place, the idea of streaming a live 3D event online seems very close at hand with a potentially quick ramp of activity thereafter. Recall that the 2009 French Open tennis tournament was the first live HD streaming event, and less than a year later there have been a number of HD streaming sports events (e.g. NFL games, Olympics, etc.).

    After viewing the TVN stream on the PC monitor I then watched it on the Panasonic plasma 3D TV, using $150 glasses. Instead of using the anaglyph technique, the TV and glasses use something called "active shutter" whereby the TV signals to the glasses to open and close each lens at double the frame rate in order to create the 3D experience. While this higher-end set up provided an improved 3D experience, with colors in particular looking sharper and truer, if you didn't have this set up in your home (which most people won't for many years), the PC experience still feels like a big step up from HD.

    3D is clearly the next big thing in video delivery, yet with the replacement cycle for expensive 3D TV sets limited, 3D online streaming could represent an important starting point, introducing 3D to a huge number of users for modest expense. And for Silverlight and Microsoft generally, it could be another differentiator vs. Flash as Adobe continues its skirmish with Apple. It will be interesting to see how it is adopted and rolls out.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).

    (Note - Silverlight is a VideoNuze sponsor)
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  • Kaltura Gives HTML5 Another Boost

    HTML5, the next version of HTML, which seeks to make video more open and flexible, got another boost this week as Kaltura, the online video platform company, and its partners unveiled two new initiatives. Kaltura made available its HTML5 Video and Media JavaScript Library and also launched, a site that includes demos and related news.

    Ron Yekutiel, Kaltura's Chairman and CEO explained to me that given the company's emphasis on open source, it was a natural to embrace HTML5. Ron sees HTML5 as allowing developers to treat video just like text and freeing video to run across platforms, devices and browsers without needing any plug-ins. One of HTML5's biggest benefits is that it works on the iPhone, which means developers using it avoid Apple's anti-Flash bias, while also gaining access to other smartphones. Still, Ron says Kaltura is "pro-choice" so if its customers want to use Flash or Silverlight, it will support those as well. Separately, HTML5 got another boost this week as Microsoft made available the first developer preview of IE9 (the next version of its widely-used browser) that offers extensive HTML5 support.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required)
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  • Spotlight is on Video as Mobile World Congress Begins

    As the biggest annual mobile conference - the Mobile World Congress - gets underway today in Barcelona, new initiatives from some of the biggest names in technology underscore the growing importance of smartphones and of mobile video specifically. Among the most important headlines:

    - Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer is unveiling Windows Phone 7 which includes Xbox LIVE games, Zune video and audio, plus enhanced sharing. With Phone 7 Microsoft is continuing to vie for position in a crowded smartphone operating system landscape.

    - Sony Ericsson is launching "Creations" allowing users to create and publish video, audio and images from their mobile phones in collaboration with professional developers.

    - AT&T and 11 other mobile service providers, which together have about 2 billion subscribers, are introducing a new applications store designed to appeal to developers and compete head-on with Apple's App Store.

    - Symbian is taking the wraps off its new Symbian 3 open source release, which includes support for HDMI, so that users can connect their Symbian phones to their TVs and watch 1080p video, in effect creating a Blu-ray player in your pocket.

    - Intel and Nokia are merging their respective Moblin and Maemo software platforms to create MeeGo, a unified Linux platform to run across multiple devices.

    - Adobe is providing an update that by mid-2010, its AIR runtime for building rich applications will be available for Android and that Flash 10.1 will be generally available for various mobile platforms, including Android. In addition, Adobe is announcing that Omniture, which Adobe recently acquired, will add mobile video measurement within its SiteCatalyst product.

    While each announcement, plus countless others, have their own significance in the burgeoning mobile ecosystem, the one that's most relevant to mobile video specifically is the coming availability of Flash 10.1, especially for Android. Mobile video has been hampered to date with the lack of Flash player support on iPhones, so its pending launch on Android phones threatens to scramble the relative appeal of these devices for users eager to watch video from sites like Hulu on their smartphones.

    Late last week I got a glimpse of how significant Flash on smartphones is from Jeff Whatcott, SVP of Marketing at Brightcove, which today is announcing an optimized version of its platform for Flash 10.1, to be released in the middle of 2010. Adobe has made the beta of Flash 10.1 available to content providers, and Jeff has a video showing how it works with Brightcove for its customers like and The Weinstein Company.

    Brightcove has done 3 things - optimized its template for mobile devices (so navigation and interactivity is seamless on the small screen), enabled auto-detect of mobile devices (so the correct Brightcove template is served) and leveraged cloud-based transcoding (so a mobile-ready H.264 encoded video is streamed). The goal is for Brightcove's customers to be able to deliver an optimized mobile and Flash experience identical to their online experiences, with minimal additional work flow. Brightcove provides the appropriate logic for mobile templates to its customers which they embed in their pages. When a user visits from a mobile device and clicks to watch video, the right Brightcove-powered experience is delivered.

    All of the above activity is happening in the shadow of the now-dominant iPhone (and coming release of the iPad) which do not support Flash. As non-iPhone devices - and content providers - progressively incorporate Flash this year, it seems like the smartphone market is poised for another new turn. Flash is the dominant video player and as users look to replicate their online experiences on their smartphones, the void of Flash on iPhones will become even more pronounced. I don't underestimate Steve Jobs or Apple's ability to compete, but this will be one place where it feels like the iPhone will be at a real disadvantage. Apple is keen to prevent Flash from extending its online hegemony to mobile as well, so it will be interesting to see how it chooses to play this.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).

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  • "Media and the Money Trail" Webinar on Feb. 16th

    Next Tues, Feb 16th at 10am PT / 1pm ET, Microsoft Enterprise Search (a VideoNuze sponsor) will be presenting a complimentary webinar, "Media and the Money Trail: Connecting with the New Digital Consumer" with Greg Clayman, MTV's EVP of Digital Distribution and Jennifer Kavanagh, Oxygen's VP of Digital & New Media.

    Greg and Jennifer will be sharing a deep-dive look into how their companies are re-thinking their business models, experimenting with new ways to engage their audiences and assessing new technologies. The webinar promises an excellent opportunity for industry professionals to learn from two companies on the leading edge of the digital revolution.

    Register now - It's FREE!

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  • Scoring My 2009 Predictions

    As 2009 winds down, in the spirit of accountability, it's time to take a look back at my 5 predictions for the year and see how they fared. As when I made them, they're listed below in the order of most likely to least likely to pan out.

    1. The Syndicated Video Economy Accelerates

    My least controversial prediction for 2009 was that video would continue to flow freely among content providers numerous third parties, in what I labeled the "Syndicated Video Economy" back in early 2008. The idea of the SVE is that "destination" sites for online audiences are waning; instead audiences are fragmenting to social networks, mobile devices, micro-blogging sites, etc. As a result, the SVE compels content providers to reach eyeballs wherever they may be, rather than trying to continue driving them to one particular site.

    Video syndication continued to gain ground in '09, with a number of the critical building blocks firming up. Participants across the ecosystem such as FreeWheel, 5Min, RAMP, YouTube, Visible Measures,, Grab Networks, blip.TV, Hulu and others were all active in distributing, monetizing and measuring video across the SVE. I heard from many content executives during the year that syndication was now driving their businesses, and that they only expected that to increase in the future. So do I.

    2. Mobile Video Takes Off, Finally

    When the history of mobile video is written, 2009 will be identified as the year the medium achieved critical mass. I was bullish on mobile video at the end of 2008 primarily due to the iPhone's success and my expectation that other smartphones coming to market would challenge it with ever more innovation. The iPhone has continued its amazing run in '09, on track to sell 20 million+ units. Late in the year the Droid, which Verizon has relentlessly promoted, began making inroads. It also benefitted from Verizon highlighting AT&T's inadequate 3G network. Elsewhere, 4G carrier Clearwire continued its nationwide expansion.

    While still behind online video in its development, mobile video is benefiting from comparable characteristics. Handsets are increasingly video capable, just as were computers. Mobile content is flowing freely, leaving the closed "on-deck" only model behind and emulating the open Internet. Carriers are making significant network investments, just as broadband ISPs did. A range of monetization companies have emerged. And so on. As I noted recently, the mobile video ecosystem is healthy and growing. The mobile video story is still in its earliest stages, we'll see much more action in 2010.

    3. Net Neutrality Remains Dormant

    Given all the problems the Obama administration was inheriting as it prepared to take office a year ago, I predicted that it would not expend energy and political capital trying to restart the net neutrality regulatory process. With broadband ISP misbehavior not factually proven, I also thought Obama's predilection for data in determining government action would prevail. However, I cautioned that politics is a tough business to predict, and so anything can happen.

    And indeed, what turned out is that in September, new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski launched a vigorous net neutrality initiative, despite the fact that there was still little data supporting it. With backwards logic, Genachowski said the FCC would be guided by data it would be collecting, though he was already determined to proceed. In "Why the FCC's Net Neutrality Plan Should Go Nowhere" I argued, among other things, that the FCC is way off the mark, and that in the midst of the gripping recession, to risk the unintended consequences that preemptive regulation carries, was foolhardy. Now, with Comcast set to acquire a controlling interest in NBCU, net neutrality advocates will say there's even more to be worried about. It looks like we can expect action in 2010.

    4. Ad-Supported Premium Video Aggregators Shakeout

    The well-funded category of ad-supported premium video aggregators was due for a shakeout in '09 and sure enough it happened. Players were challenged by little differentiation, hardly any exclusive content and difficulty attracting audiences. The year's biggest casualty was highflying Joost, which made a last ditch attempt to become a white label video platform before being quietly acquired by Adconion. Veoh, another heavily funded player, cut staff and changed its model. TidalTV barely dipped its toe in the aggregation waters before it became an ad network.

    On the positive side, Hulu, YouTube and continued their growth in '09. Hulu benefited from Disney coming on board as both an investor and content partner, while YouTube improved its appeal to premium content partners and brought on Univision and PBS, among others. Aside from these, Fancast and nichier sites like Dailymotion and Babelgum, there isn't much left to the aggregator category. With TV Everywhere services starting to launch, the opportunity for aggregators to get access to cable programming is less likely than ever. And despite their massive traffic, Hulu and YouTube have significant unresolved business model issues.

    5. Microsoft Will Acquire Netflix

    This was my long ball prediction for '09, and unless something happens in the waning days of the year, I'll have to concede I got this one wrong. Netflix has remained independent and is charging along with its own streaming "Watch Instantly" feature, now used by over half its subscribers, according to recent research. Netflix has also broadened its penetration of 3rd party devices, adding PS3, Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players, Insignia Blu-ray players this year, in addition to Roku, XBox and others. Netflix is quickly becoming the most sought-after content partner for "over-the-top" device makers.

    But as I've previously pointed out, Netflix's number 1 challenge with Watch Instantly is growing its content selection. Though it has a deal with Starz, it is largely boxed out of distributing recent hit movies via Watch Instantly by the premium channels HBO, Showtime and Epix. My rationale for the Microsoft acquisition is that Netflix will need far deeper pockets than it has on its own to crack open the Hollywood-premium channel ecosystem to gain access to prime movies. For its part, Microsoft, locked in a pitched battle with Google and Apple on numerous fronts, could gain advantage with a Netflix deal, positioning it to be the leader in the convergence era. Meanwhile, others like Amazon and YouTube continue to circle this space.

    The two big countervailing forces for how premium video gets distributed in the future are TV Everywhere, which seeks to maintain the traditional, closed ecosystem, and the over-the-top consumer device-led approach, which seeks to open it up. It's hard not to see both Netflix and Microsoft playing a major role.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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  • 4 Items Worth Noting for the Oct 12th Week (Bell's TMN, BlackArrow-Comcast, Net neutrality opposition, hockey's wunderkind)

    Following are 4 items worth noting from the week of Oct 12th week:

    1. Bell Canada is first to offer "TV Everywhere" type service - While U.S. operators have been busy with their TV Everywhere trials, Bell Canada, which has 1.8 million linear video subscribers, has jumped into the lead, announcing this week the launch of "TMN Online." The service, available through the Bell TV Online portal, allows subscribers to The Movie Network premium channel to gain online access to about 130 hours of content.

    I spoke briefly with Peter Wilcox, Bell TV's director of product strategy, who explained that ExtendMedia's OpenCASE is being used for content management, in conjunction with Microsoft's Silverlight and PlayReady DRM. Users login with their Bell user name and password and are authenticated against the billing database as valid TMN subs. Only 1 simultaneous log-in is allowed, and Bell is also geo-blocking, so for example, there's no accessing TMN Online from outside Canada. The launch is part of what Bell calls "TV Anywhere" - a broader context for eventual distribution to its mobile subscribers, and further content being added. The deployment is the first milestone in what promises to be a busy 2010 on the TV Everywhere news front.

    2. BlackArrow launches ad insertion for Comcast video-on-demand - BlackArrow, the multiplatform ad technology provider, announced its first customer deployment this week, with Comcast's Jacksonville, FL operation. I talked to company CEO Dean Denhart and President Nick Troiano, who gave me an update on how the company dynamically inserts ads in long-form premium content across TV, broadband and mobile. As I wrote 2 years ago, BlackArrow has bitten off the hardest challenge first: working with cable operators to get its system into their headends/data centers. Dean and Nick believe that if the company can succeed in this goal then it will have created formidable differentiation that can be leveraged for the other two platforms.

    The key risk is that cable operators are famous for grinding down promising technology startups with their endless testing and brutal negotiating tactics (I say this from personal experience with a promising technology startup earlier this decade, Narad Networks). Robust VOD ad insertion is plenty strategic for the industry, but years since cable operators launched free VOD, the fact that it still isn't widely deployed is a telling sign, particularly while ad insertion technology in broadband is now fully mature. Comcast's role as an investor in BlackArrow should help its odds of success. I'm rooting for BlackArrow; their holistic approach to multiplatform advertising is right on. Whether they have the juice to fully succeed remains the big question.

    3. Political battle over net neutrality is heating up - This week brought fresh complaints from Republican Senators who are coalescing to fend off new FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to introduce net neutrality regulations for both broadband ISPs and wireless carriers. B&C reported that 18 Republican senators wrote to Mr. Genachowski concerned that the FCC's process is "outcome driven" and unsupported by data.

    I rarely find my views aligning with Republicans, but net neutrality is an exception. As I wrote last month in "Why the FCC's Net Neutrality Plans Should Go Nowhere," Mr. Genachowski's plan is deeply flawed and completely illogical. The core premise of the new regulations - that they're needed to ensure continued broadband investment and innovation - misses the reality that the market is already functioning well. As one example, investment in broadband-related technology is continuing apace. By my calculations, over $180 million was raised in Q3 '09 by video-related companies whose very viability depends on open broadband and wireless networks. The sector's potential is amplified by the fact that venture capital fundraising itself is at its lowest level since 2003, with new capital raised by the industry in 2009 down 58% from 2008. Despite the VC industry's troubles, it continues to bet big on video. Why do we need new Internet regulations to sustain innovation?

    4. Have you seen the 9 year-old hockey player's trick goal? On a lighter note, you have to love the serendipity of online video sharing. For example, though I don't consider myself a hockey fan, when a friend sent me this video clip of a 9 year-old hockey player pulling off this incredible trick shot, I was reminded just how much fun online video is and promptly passed the clip on to my circle (it's also now all over YouTube). See for yourself, it's just amazing. And nothing fake about it either.

    Enjoy the weekend!

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  • Akamai to Launch "Akamai HD Network" Today

    Akamai is announcing its new "Akamai HD Network" this morning, and planning a 1pm webcast to explain the details. Akamai is positioning the network as the first to deliver HD-quality live and on-demand streaming for broadcast-sized audiences. The Akamai HD Network supports Flash, Silverlight and iPhone.

    Key to the Akamai HD Network is support for adaptive bit rate ("ABR") streaming, which adjusts the quality of the video delivered based on prevailing network conditions, instant response for pause, rewind, startup, etc, an open standards HD video player and user authentication. Adobe has also optimized Flash to be delivered over Akamai's HTTP network, which appears to be a first. This allows Akamai to fully leverage its 50,000 HTTP edge-server network.

    The evolution toward HD-quality delivery has been building steam recently, as content providers increasingly recognize that TV-quality video is becoming the expected norm for online video users. This is particularly true for heavy users who substitute online viewing for TV-viewing, but don't want a degraded experience. As convergence devices, which bridge broadband to the TV in the home take off, the quality bar will rise for all users. This means that all CDNs that want to be players in video delivery will need to be able to deliver HD quality at scale. Move Networks, which I've written about before, is another company playing an important role in enabling high-quality broadband-delivered video to the TV; others will no doubt follow.

    More details coming in the webcast today at 1pm ET.

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  • Titans-Steelers on Last Night Was Impressive

    I was only able to catch a little bit of the Titans-Steelers came last night on, but what I did see was pretty impressive. This was the first of the "Sunday Night Football Extra" games that NBC Sports and the NFL plan to stream live this season. NBC Sports is using Silverlight for the first time, and the live HD broadcast included 5 different camera angles to choose from. Akamai is providing CDN services and Microsoft's Smooth Streaming for delivery.

    NBC has been a pioneer in the delivery of online sports content, and with the 2008 Beijing Olympics setting a new standard. The NFL is not alone in pushing into online delivery though. As I noted recently in "2009 is a Big Year for Sports and Broadband/Mobile Video," there have been a ton of new initiatives this year across baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis, auto racing, etc.

    I'm looking forward to having Perkins Miller, SVP, Digital Media and GM, Universal Sports, NBCU Sports and Olympics on my discussion panel at VideoSchmooze on Mon evening, Oct 13th in NYC. No doubt he'll have lots of great insights and data to share about how the season is progressing.

    The next game on is this Sun night, Bears vs. Packers, 8pm ET.

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  • 4 Items Worth Noting from the Week of August 10th

    Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of August 10th:

    Discovery Channel signs onto Comcast On Demand Online trial - Comcast added yet another cable programmer this week to the roster of those participating in its TV Everywhere trial. Discovery will make available episodes of "Man vs. Wild," "Swords," "Stormchasers" and "Verminators" though with some delayed windows that take a little edge off their appeal. Comcast has made a ton of progress corralling networks for its trial, but 4 of the big 5 cable network owners - Disney, Fox, NBCU and Viacom - remain holdouts. No coincidence that the first 3 are Hulu's owners.

    Swarmcast powers MLB.TV on Roku, introduces "Autobahn Live for CE" - Following on Roku's announcement this week that it is offering MLB.TV, Swarmcast announced it was powering the service through a new offering called "Autobahn Live for CE." Swarmcast's COO Chad Tippin explained to me that integrating with CE devices that drive broadband/TV convergence is a key company goal. Chad is confident that Swarmcast's high-quality, scalable HTTP streaming service will work on these various CE devices, and that as the number of them deployed swells, a new "long tail of live sports" will flourish. Live sports and events (e.g. concerts) could be a significant contributor to device adoption. For example, picture getting a coupon for $50 off the purchase of a Roku when you buy a pay-per-view of a streaming blockbuster concert.

    Babelgum grows to nearly 1.7 million unique visitors in July, 2009 - I heard from Michael Rosen, EVP and Chief Revenue Officer at Babelgum this week, with news that the site has grown to nearly 1.7 million unique visitors in July (comScore), following its U.S. launch in April. I profiled Babelgum back in April and was cautiously optimistic about its approach to curate high-quality, independently-produced video into 5 channels (music, film, comedy, Our Earth and Metropolis). The site is fully ad-supported. Babelgum's growth comes on top of a slew of made-for-broadband video initiatives I detailed recently. The NY Times also had a great story this week on how independent filmmakers are taking distribution into their own hands. Despite the recession, this corner of the broadband market seems to be hanging in there.

    Zune HD coming Sept 15th - Microsoft at last announced this week that the Zune HD digital media player will be in retail on Sept 15th, with pre-orders now being accepted. Zune HD introduces a touch-screen interface, 720p video playback, HD radio and other goodies. It is sure to raise the visibility of high-quality portable video another notch. But I find myself wondering: as the iPhone and other smartphones incorporate video playback (and recording) into one device, how large is the market for standalone high-end media players like Zune? Related, the iPhone's risk of cannibalizing the iPod has become a hot topic recently. Things to ponder: will users want to carry 2 devices? Or might they appreciate the ability to drain their battery watching video without risking the loss of their cell phone? Lots of different things in play.

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  • How I Got Punked by the Megawoosh Waterslide Video

    In last Friday's "4 Items Worth Noting..." post, I made a quick reference to the Megawoosh Waterslide video - what I thought was a genuine user-generated video of a German man barreling down a huge waterslide into a small pool. It turns out that I, along with many others, got punked. It's a fake, created through effects by a German marketing firm and sponsored by Microsoft Office. If you want all the details, NewTeeVee has a great write-up.

    The waterslide incident contrasts with a second incident that happened to me just two weeks earlier. Taken together, I think the two represent a fascinating, yet unexplored side-effect of the broadband video revolution that all of us as human beings are currently experiencing. Let me explain what I mean.

    In July 31st VideoNuze Report podcast, Daisy Whitney was very excited to describe the "JK Wedding March" viral video phenomenon (19 million + views to date) and how YouTube was publicizing on its blog that it was generating exceptional click-throughs and revenue for the video's background song "Forever" by Chris Brown through overlay ads.

    When I quickly watched the video, my internal "authenticity detector" went off loudly as I wondered whether the wedding march was authentic or simply staged to generated buzz and sales for the song. I expressed this skepticism to Daisy on the podcast, and it wasn't until I did further research, and found the young Minnesota wedding couple interviewed on the "Today" show that my suspicions were allayed.

    Meanwhile, when I quickly watched the Megawoosh video I thought, hey, it's an outlandish stunt. I wondered about the engineering involved to pull it off, but my authenticity meter remained relatively quiet.


    Here's what I think the difference is: In the JK Wedding March I saw an obvious commercial opportunity that made me suspicious, while with the Megawoosh slide I did not see such opportunities so I was more willing to accept it as genuine. My authenticity lens has been shaped by having watched many broadband videos over the years where brands were involved in subtle and clever ways that I've become very aware. On the flip side, I've seen so many incredible user-generated stunts, that I've become conditioned to thinking that just maybe, anything is possible to pull off and some people's willingness to risk injury and death in the name of fleeting celebrity is unlimited.

    The larger point here is that broadband video puts all of us in unchartered waters with respect to understanding if what we're watching is real. In the past, we rarely needed to question this. We knew when we were watching special effects or a documentary, reality programming or scripted fiction. And when authenticity representations were breached, it was a big deal (remember the outcry when NBC's "Dateline" admitted staging a test crash of a GM pickup truck?).

    With broadband video however, we often don't even know who the producers are, much less what hidden motivations they may have or what third parties may be involved. Sometimes things are incongruous - for example, why is Microsoft Office even involved in sponsoring this German waterslide stunt?

    Bottom line: all of us are on a new learning curve, requiring that we develop entirely new media literacy skills so we can successfully navigate broadband video's unchartered territory.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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  • Is My Prediction That Microsoft Will Acquire Netflix Going to Come True?

    Amid the chatter over the past few days about Amazon possibly buying Netflix, Kara Swisher at All Things Digital today instead suggested that Microsoft would make a better Netflix acquirer. Her sentiments echoed my Dec '08 prediction that Microsoft would acquire Netflix at some point in '09. It was admittedly a "long ball" call on my part (especially since I had zero inside dope), but one which actually makes even more sense 7 months later.

    Why? Because Comcast and the cable industry's aggressive new TV Everywhere/On Demand Online initiatives make Netflix more valuable than ever for any company looking to offer a subscription-based, broadband-delivered video service. Outside the cable/satellite/telco industries themselves, Netflix - with its 10 million+ current DVD-by-mail subscribers - is the only serious subscription video provider. Its recent stellar performance shows the durability of its model even in the face of the ongoing recession. And it continues to build out its streaming service with various device partners (including notably Xbox 360).

    If Comcast succeeds with On Demand Online (and since the technical trial hasn't even begun yet, that's still a big "if"), and other cable operators quickly follow suit, the broadband video industry is poised for a fundamental shift away from ad-only business models to hybrid models where subscriptions are key. Any current or aspiring premium video provider that does not have an established subscription approach is going to be disadvantaged in its access to high-quality programming and ongoing product development resources. CBS's addition to Comcast's trial shows that even broadcasters are beginning to position themselves in the subscription mix.

    My full rationale for why Netflix is so appealing for Microsoft is laid out in the Dec post, so I won't restate it here. Of course nobody outside the companies involved knows if any of the M&A chatter is for real. But if it is, my bet is still that Microsoft is the acquirer to watch, not Amazon. I suspect we'll see other analysts making a similar case if things heat up.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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  • Unveiling Move Networks's New Strategy

    Move Networks, the well-funded Internet television technology company which has been virtually silent for the last 60 days since acquiring Inuk Networks and bumping former CEO John Edwards to Executive Chairman, is pursuing a major repositioning. Earlier this week I met with Marcus Liassides, Inuk's former CEO and founder who joined Move's management team, who previewed the company's new strategy to be a wholesale provider of IPTV video services delivered over open broadband networks.

    Broadband video industry participants know Move best for its proprietary adaptive bit rate (ABR) technology and player, which power super-high quality live and on-demand video streams for broadcasters like ABC and Fox. Move gained a lot of attention by raising over $67M, including a $46M Series C round in April '08 from blue chip investors.

    Despite all this, Marcus explained that coming into 2009 Move had at least 3 significant problems, symbolic of how fluid the broadband video market remains.

    First, its core business of charging content providers in the range of $.30/GB of video delivered was being pressured by the fact that advertising-only business models couldn't support this pricing. Content providers loved Move's quality; they just couldn't afford it, particularly given the alternative of plunging CDN delivery rates.

    Second, Move's pricing and business model were being challenged by both Microsoft and Adobe entering the market with ABR streaming features of their own (I wrote about this here). But because both were enabled on the server side (IIS and FMS respectively), the cost of ABR moved from content providers to CDNs, who might or might not choose to charge extra for these features. Either way, Move's direct cost looked comparatively more expensive, especially as the recession pounded ad spending.

    Last, but not least, Marcus explained that Move's product development approach was undisciplined, leading to resources being spread too thin in too many directions. That was reflected by the market's ongoing difficulty in categorizing which business Move was really in.

    Meanwhile, U.K.-based Inuk, which had been on its own funding and product development roller-coaster, was delivering its Freewire IPTV service to about 200K university students in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Because Inuk needed to serve these students when they were off campus, it had developed a "virtual set-top box" application that duplicates on the PC the IPTV service that had traditionally been delivered via an expensive IPTV set-top box. Inuk was using Move's ABR technology to power video delivery to the PC. Recognizing potential synergies and trying to address its other issues, Move acquired Inuk in April.

    Move's new positioning as a provider of IPTV video services delivered over open broadband networks essentially replicates what Inuk has been doing, except that going forward services will be offered wholesale, not retail like with Freewire. Move's strategy starts from the proposition that to get cable TV networks online requires that they be paid consistent with the norms, rather than expecting them to free and ad-supported only. It also anticipates that consumers demand not just VOD offerings, but a full linear lineup as well (as an aside, that aligns with Sezmi's thinking too). While Move will continue supporting existing customers like ABC and others, its new wholesale model is a major shift in that it uses the company's core technology to support packaged multichannel video services, instead of a la carte web-based video.

    Marcus explained that Move is targeting 3 verticals: (1) telcos which haven't traditionally offered video services (or have through direct satellite partnerships), (2) broadband ISPs looking to get into the video business, and (3) existing video service providers looking for a lightweight capex approach for extending their service either for remote access (a la "TV Everywhere") or in other rooms in the house (a model which has traditionally required another set-top box and truck roll for installation).

    Marcus demo'd the Freewire service to me using his PC and a large monitor, and it looks great. There's instant channel changing, HD (when available), a great looking guide and auto-DVR of every program, all in the cloud. Freewire also offers targeted advertising, and HTML-based apps like Twitter integration, etc. My caveat is that I have no idea how well the service would scale to millions of homes.

    Move's new positioning puts it in the middle of tectonic video industry shifts. For example, what's the appetite of 3rd parties like telcos and ISPs for new video solutions? Will other, well-suited consumer brands like Google, Netflix, Yahoo enter the multichannel video business, and if so how? What approach will cable operators like Comcast use for emerging, "TV Everywhere" services that would benefit from Move's lightweight capex model (note Comcast said it was using Move in its 5,000 subscriber technical trial yesterday)? How will major cable TV networks expect to get compensated in the broadband era where individuals, not homes, are the new unit of measurement? How will local ISPs, over whose networks remotely-accessed video will run, expect to be compensated? It's way too early to know the answers, but if Move's technology works as intended, and its costs are reasonable, it will likely find itself in the middle of a lot of very strategic industry discussions.

    Another big change is that Marcus said the company's messaging will be focused more around business cases and services than its specific technologies. That seems smart given giants like Microsoft and Adobe are closely circling these waters with lots of their own technology, which could easily swamp Move. If all this wasn't enough, Move is also in the midst of hiring a new CEO and implementing a new management team, all of which will be announced imminently. One thing Move isn't doing for now is raising additional capital, which Marcus said is not needed.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

    (Note: Move Networks is a current sponsor of VideoNuze)

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  • VideoNuze Report Podcast #19 - June 5, 2009

    Below is the 19th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for June 5, 2009.

    Daisy was in New York this week for the "NewFronts," a day-long meeting that Digitas sponsored, mainly for independent online video creators and media buyers/agencies. The goals were to educate the market and fuel advertiser interest. Daisy reports that despite the mixed news coming out of the independent video world this year, it was an upbeat gathering.

    I provide additional detail on Microsoft's announcement this year of new entertainment-oriented features for XBox 360. The gaming console continues to take on more of a convergence positioning, with new instant-on 1080p video, live streams, Zune integration, etc. With an installed base of 30 million users, Microsoft has a prime opportunity to drive convergence and get a video foothold. The new Xbox 360 features coincide with last week's Hulu Desktop announcement and this week's YouTube XL unveiling.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (14 minutes, 47 seconds)

    Click here for previous podcasts

    The VideoNuze Report is available in iTunes...subscribe today!

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  • Xbox 360 Continues Push for Broadband Convergence

    The folks at Microsoft are determined to make Xbox 360 a winner in the free-for-all to bridge broadband-delivered video to the TV. Yesterday at E3, Microsoft announced a number of enhancements for Xbox and Xbox LIVE (the console's gaming and content marketplace), further blurring the lines between gaming and entertainment, and raising the stakes for other single-purpose convergence boxes. The new features include:

    • Instant-on streaming of 1080p HD video with 5.1 channel surround sound using proprietary Microsoft adaptive bit rate streaming technology
    • Smooth fast-forward and rewind, comparable to DVD
    • "Movie Parties" - avatar-based shared/social viewing in virtual theaters
    • Live on-demand BSKyB through Xbox in UK and Ireland
    • Rebranding of Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace as Zune Video Marketplace, which joins the 2 brands in anticipation of the upcoming launch of Zune HD; additional content planned.
    • Expansion to 10 new regions, bringing the total number of countries able to access TV shows and movies through XBox to 18
    • Facebook, Twitter and integrations

    Of course, Xbox 360's key advantage in moving into entertainment is that it has a huge installed base of early-adopter gamers to leverage; in fast Microsoft said last week that it has sold over 30M Xbox 360 consoles to date and that there are over 20M active members in the Xbox LIVE community (not only a subset are Gold members able to access some of the entertainment offerings like Netflix streaming). Little has been disclosed about Netflix Watch Instantly consumption since February when the companies said that 1M LIVE Gold members had consumed 1.5B minutes of video in the first 3 months of availability.

    Microsoft isn't forgetting that Xbox is still primarily a gaming platform; yesterday it rolled out a slew of games for Xbox, including "The Beatles: Rock Band" with Ringo and Paul making personal appearances. Xbox also unveiled its "Project Natal" a controller-less, 3D sensor that detects a gameplayer's movements. All of these will continue to drive console unit sales.

    No doubt there are plenty of other things the Xbox 360 team has planned to make the console a highly attractive "over the top" option for those considering cutting the cord on their current video service provider, though Xbox 360 is not being positioned this way - yet.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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  • HD and Convergence Themes Pick Up Steam at NAB Show

    Two highly related broadband video themes - HD delivery and convergence between broadband and TV - are both picking up steam at this week's NAB show. Among the key announcements are:

    Adobe extending Flash into digital home devices

    Move Networks acquiring Inuk Networks (announced just this morning)

    Akamai detailing HD monetization opportunities in new white paper with IDC

    Microsoft releasing "Smooth Streaming" HD delivery feature in its IIS Media Services

    Limelight supporting Microsoft's IIS and Adobe Flash Media Server 3.5

    Brightcove and Adobe expanding its partnership to enable delivery higher-quality long-form programming, among other things

    CDNetworks commercially deploying first Adobe Flash Media Server 3.5 for first time

    And separate from the show, TiVo and Roku supporting Amazon VOD HD titles

    The entire broadband video ecosystem is getting more and more focused on both HD delivery and convergence. However, the former, which is primarily an infrastructure upgrade, is easier to execute on than the latter, which almost always requires users to buy and install some new device (either single or multi-purpose). Given the lousy economy and natural replacement cycles, this means that for many users, those gorgeous online HD experiences will be viewed on their computers for some time to come.

    I think that's actually OK though. By proliferating online HD delivery, users will increasingly be getting a taste of what would be available to them if their broadband was connected to their TVs. Further, plenty of early adopters will become evangelists, showing off online HD experiences for their friends and families. Making things more tangible will help create the necessary promotional tailwind that convergence devices need to succeed.

    Convergence has been a long time in coming, but the elements are now beginning to fall into place. I believe that the more HD content that's available online, the faster the convergence device market will develop.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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  • Silverlight Gets Nod for March Madness

    Microsoft's Silverlight notched another high-profile win with yesterday's announcement by CBS Sports and the NCAA that's March Madness on Demand (MMOD) will offer a high definition option using powered by Silverlight.

    Over the past few years MMOD has become the signature online video sports event, with successfully converting it in 2006 from a paid, subscription based model to one fully supported by ads. The payoff has been evident: in '08 MMOD had 4.8 million unique visitors (a 164% increase over '07) who watched 5 million hours of live video (an 81% increase over '07). is building on its MMOD success by offering the higher quality option via Silverlight this year. Users who download the plug-in will get 1.5 mbps streams vs. the standard player's 550 kbps. Once again, all 63 games, from the first round through the championship game will be available. For office workers unable to watch on TV, online distribution continues to be a compelling value.

    With MMOD, Microsoft is continuing to push Silverlight into high-profile sports events. Recall that Silverlight's inaugural run, supporting the 2008 Summer Olympics, was executed superbly. It showcased new features like multiple viewing windows and instant rewind/fast-forward. MMOD promises yet another premier opportunity for Silverlight to show its stuff.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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