Archives For davis

Hollywood-DivX-300x117

I’ve been critical of DivX’s efforts to woo Hollywood in the past, but I’ve also got to give them credit for a win when I see one and I think they knocked it out of the park when it comes to Paramount.

Recently, Paramount announced that they were going to be distributing content on USB sticks. At the time, they didn’t say what format it would be in and even on DivX’s conference call there was no mention of this realization of their strategic vision, but Electric Pig reports the Paramount movies will in fact be encoded in DivX.

With only 20,000 memory sticks for sale and at a price of approximately $33 US, Paramount is still clearly in the testing phase. But the fact that they choose DivX demonstrates the clear advantage that DivX has over all of their other digital competitors and have the only real solution for brick and mortar retailers.

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Normally, I tend to think that most regulations are bad. In a free market, businesses should be allowed to operate with a wide degree of latitude. At the same time there is a pragmatic part of me that understands there can be exceptions to this. Everyone should have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t make it right to run cigarette ads on Saturday morning cartoons or to claim that you’re a Doctor when you only bought your degree from an Internet spammer.

For the most part, the television world has been forced to accept reasonable restrictions in exchange for the public bandwidth they use to deliver their content. In the Internet world though, the content rules are more like the old west because consumers are opting into the service by paying for it. As long as you have the quickest draw, your behavior doesn’t matter as much and so far companies like Netflix have been more concerned about digital market share, then doing what’s right.

Maybe it’s because internet audiences are still small compared to television or it could be that it takes time for rules and standards to develop and emerging markets don’t tend to care about these things. Whatever the reason though, there are parts of the television experience that aren’t making the jump to the internet.

Specifically, I’m talking about closed caption data. For years, television studios have been legally required to provide this information, so that people who are hard of hearing can also enjoy the content. While there are some technical issues associated with adding this kind of data to a video file, technology is at a point where you’d think it should easily support this. The Matroska container for example, is able to include optional sub-title information along with video and audio data. Alternatively, because online delivery can microstream to people, files with the embedded sub-titles could made available to viewers who opted into them. This would involve keeping multiple copies of the same movies though and so far the digital movie industry hasn’t wanted to bear this cost.

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blockbuster-p2p
Photo by RocketRaccoon

Just in case you think Blockbuster’s problems are isolated to a declining video store industry, I’d encourage you to take a closer look at their latest 10-Q filing. Despite there being clear growth in the DVD by mail category, Blockbuster is hemorrhaging subscribers. In fact, the percentage of people giving up on BBI’s by mail service is almost as high as the percentage of people giving up on their video stores. According to their 10-Q,

Rental revenues decreased mainly as a result of: a $76.3 million decrease in by-mail revenues driven by a 30% average decline in by-mail subscribers, which was more than offset by related cost reductions described below under “Domestic—Gross profit;

At one point in early 2007, Blockbuster had the pedal on the metal and was boasting of having close to 3 million subscribers. Since then, they’ve been understandably quiet, but I had no idea things were this bad until I read their most recent filing.

After piecing through these various filings, I’ve come up with an estimate of only 1 – 1.25 million current subs.

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Video Moving Online

Anyone who follows digital distribution knows that P2P is a popular method for video downloads, but how popular it is may surprise more than just angry content owners. In June, Futuresource Consulting released the results of an in depth survey called “Living With Digital: Consumer Insights into Entertainment Consumption” which examined legitimate and illegitimate video usage in the UK, France, Germany and the USA and came up with some pretty interesting data.

According to their survey’s, 8% of consumers in these countries have admitted to using p2p to get content. With these countries representing approximately 500 million of the 6+ billion global population, it suggests approximately 40 million people are participating in illegal downloading in these four countries alone. Continue Reading…

tivo-loomis

During their ten year history, TiVo’s obituary has been written more times than I’ve sat through an entire commercial, yet no matter how steep the climb, TiVo has continued to defy critics and skeptics alike by chugging along.

Even though the financial wiz kids over at Engadget, still have TiVo on their “death watch”, I’m beginning to see a much different picture. With 6 quarters of EBITA profitability now under their belt, $200 million in cash (minus the zero in debt on their balance sheet), and partnerships with a significant portion of the DVR market waiting to be implemented and rolled out, it’s no surprise that TiVo has gone from being a small cap child with plenty of dissenters, to an emerging mid cap teenager looking to establish a legacy.

The last ten years may have been characterized by one rumor after another of who TiVo was going to be acquired by next, but the next ten years will be a much different chapter for the little DVR that could. At the risk of counting my chickens before they hatch (I’m a TiVo shareholder), I wanted to kick off the next ten years of innovation by highlighting a few companies that TiVo could use to transition themselves from a niche DVR provider to a diversified corporate conglomerate. Of course there’s no guarantee that TiVo will even get the billion dollars that they are asking for, but it’s fun to spend imaginary money.

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Real
Photo by Thomas Hawk

One of my very first jobs was working behind a concession counter for a big multiplex cinema. It isn’t the sort of place where one would expect to learn a life skill, but early on I learned an important lesson in business — the art of the up-sell.

You see, movie theaters make very little from the box office receipts, so the concessions counter is the lifeblood of the industry. The setup is pretty much the same at every theater, but most people don’t tend to think about it. Because the actual cost of the popcorn and soda is so low, the theaters reap big profits from selling captive customers overpriced snacks and beverages.

To help “encourage” movie goers to pay the max, theaters will price their small popcorns at ridiculously expensive levels and then have a minor jump in price from small to medium and medium to large. If you were to price the popcorn by ounce, a small would cost four times as much as a large, but because of the high cost at the small level, it makes it easier to convince consumers to pay a little bit extra for a lot more food. My sales pitch would typically go, “Did you know you can get a large for only 50 cents extra?” That was all it took and at least 75% of the customers would go big.

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Netflix SiloI love Netflix, but more than once their data policies have forced me to reconsider whether or not I should continue my subscription. You see, I believe that when you rate a movie, the data should belong to you. After all, you were the one that spent the time to input the rating and it’s personal to your tastes. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that once you get past 100 ratings, you can’t even find two rating profiles that are identical.

Netflix on the other hand, seems to feel that they own your ratings data and have guarded it closely. This wouldn’t be so important, if Netflix was the only movie site out there, but because they refuse to implement many web 2.0 features, there are many other movie sites that consumers may prefer.

Because I have memberships with about a dozen of these sites, it has created an awkward and cumbersome situation where I’m forced to to maintain a dozen different sets of ratings, instead of being able to sync them all together. Since even small differences in how you rate a movie can have a big impact on the recommendations that you receive, whoever is able to get a consumer to input the most ratings is given a powerful moat around their subscribers.

For a long time, Netflix kept their silo closed, but about nine months ago, they opened up their API to outside developers. At the time, I saw this as a watershed event because it marked a change in philosophy from one of control to one allowing for innovation, inside or outside of Netflix’s site. If you go their developer site, you’ll see that they still encourage people to use ratings data to create cool apps.

The Netflix API allows developers full access to our catalog of movies and actors, and–when properly authorized–subscriber data, such as queues, ratings, rental history, and reviews.

Regrettably, after opening up this data to outside developers, Netflix has apparently changed their tune and is now trying to take away this feature from their customers. For example, here’s an email I received from Jinni.com,

Hi Davis Freeberg,

Since March, we’ve offered an option to connect your Netflix account with Jinni. Until now, an optional feature has been importing ratings, so Jinni can quickly learn about your taste and recommend only movies you haven’t seen. Unfortunately, Netflix has demanded that we remove the import ratings feature. If you already imported your ratings, they will stay on Jinni.

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