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As push back on the overly broad SOPA rages, outspoken investor and reluctant content pirate Fred Wilson once again emphasizes the challenges facing the content industry… and their potential customers.

Making movies is expensive and risky. I totally get that the studios need to make a lot of money on those movies to make their business model work. But denying customers the films they want, on the devices they want to watch them, when they want to watch them is not a great business model. It leads to piracy, as we have discussed here many times, but more importantly it also leads to the loss of a transaction to a competing form of entertainment.

While Fred primarily focuses his discussion on the studio release window (this time), consumer frustration extends to all sorts of global media. And, unfortunately, I doubt we’ll see an expeditious resolution given a still archaic licensing and distribution quagmire that still emphasizes the sale of physical goods.

I do see signs of forward progress, but it’s clearly gonna be a long slog. Like Fred and many of you, I find myself frequently frustrated.   Continue Reading…

Everyone could use a few procrastination helpers this time of year, and Google’s provided another one in the form of brand new custom Santa video messages. The video app complements Google’s other service launched last week to let users send personalized Santa phone calls. The phone calls alone are hilarious, but the video version of the app adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

Here’s how it breaks down. Click over to Google’s Send a Call From Santa page and answer a few questions about yourself and the recipient of your message. Google will customize a short Santa animation incorporating names, characteristics and plot choices from the questionnaire. It’s not only the audio that’s customized either. Certain visual elements change based on your choices – like the gangsta-style Christmas tree that appeared in my first creation. Watch the preview of your message and then send it on to any email address or G+ account you like. You don’t have to use Google+, or even have a gmail address. Any email will do.

Unfortunately I can’t embed my own personalized message here, but you can see Google’s demo on the official Google blog. It’s right up there with the animated Rudolph special gracing TV sets everywhere this time of year.

Reuters dropped a veritable bombshell yesterday when it reported that Verizon has plans to launch a streaming service in 2012 to compete with Netflix. It wasn’t a bombshell because Verizon’s never talked about this before. After all, we got an inkling of the operator’s plans at CES last January. It was a bombshell because the report follows last week’s announcement of a major spectrum deal between the telco and its cable competitors. The combination of news has many speculating about what Verizon plans to do with its FiOS TV service, and all that fiber it’s got in the ground.

First off, here are some of the facts. Reuters says Verizon is currently in talks with prospective programming partners about a new standalone video service. The service would not be tied to FiOS TV, and it would be made available outside of existing FiOS markets. Sources for Reuters say content for the service would be limited, possibly focused on movie packages and/or children’s programming.

Assuming Reuters’ information is accurate, what we don’t know yet is how a new streaming service would fit into Verizon’s overall video and broadband strategy. Some are suggesting that Verizon is giving up on its wireline infrastructure in order to focus on wireless. After all, why not ride someone else’s pipes for video, and dedicate valuable internal resources on developing the company’s newly acquired spectrum? The problem with that theory is that Verizon’s wireline infrastructure – aka its fiber-to-the-home network – is a huge competitive advantage. Not only has it allowed the telco to sign up 5 million FiOS TV subscribers, it’s also given Verizon a huge leg up on cable with Internet delivery.

Going forward, I believe Verizon will use its proposed on-demand streaming service as a way to gain incremental revenue and fill the gaps where it can’t reach subscribers with its FiOS TV offering. It seems likely that the operator will market the new service with its wireless packages, possibly offering discounts for a different kind of bundle when consumers are willing to sign up for both cell phone coverage and streaming content. I believe the new service will buy Verizon new customers and a new revenue stream, but that it won’t negate the value of the company’s wireline assets. Instead, it will give Verizon time to sort out when it should invest in further fiber deployments, ultimately extending the footprint for its full FiOS TV and Internet service.

When it comes down to it, Verizon’s fiber network is the ace up its sleeve. All that bandwidth means better control over video quality, and it means more capacity for consumers who want to download and upload lots and lots of stuff on the Internet. Wireless networks are great, but they have their limitations. Verizon can focus on 4G rollouts now, but that doesn’t mean it should or will abandon any fiber plans for the future. There are too many advantages that come with Verizon’s network in the ground.

One of the selling points for Amazon’s Kindle Fire is supposed to be its Silk browser with embedded web acceleration capabilities. However, new data suggests Amazon’s claims of a better browsing experience are overstated. Google employee Steve Souders tested the performance of Silk on the Fire and compared it to web browsing on other tablets. Souders can’t be considered an unbiased observer given Google’s own interest in web acceleration technologies, but his findings are still interesting. According to Souders (and reported by ReadWriteWeb), Safari on the iPad 2 loaded pages faster in most cases than Silk on the Kindle tablet did. The Galaxy Tab performed better than the Fire with three out of eleven pages tested.

Part of the issue with Silk is that it requires content to be routed through Amazon’s servers in order for the company to perform its acceleration magic. That’s great for content already hosted on Amazon’s cloud, but (as I understand it) it means an extra step for content originally hosted elsewhere. In addition, as one commenter points out on Souder’s post, websites that already use serious content delivery network services have maxed out acceleration potential at the network level and won’t see improvement on Amazon’s network. Despite public perception, the Amazon cloud can’t compete from a distribution perspective with the networks operated by the major global CDN players.

Souders does make clear that he expects Silk to continue to improve. He says Amazon hasn’t optimized everything yet on its acceleration platform, and certain obvious optimizations, like concatenating scripts, are likely to roll out in the near future. In the meantime, Kindle browsing appears to work better with Silk acceleration turned off than with Silk acceleration turned on. Keep that in mind if you plan to wrap up a Kindle Fire for someone this holiday season.

Earlier today, Echostar launched their Slingplayer for Facebook application enabling Slingbox SOLO (~$150) and Slingbox PRO-HD (~$250) owners to stream their home television content through one of the worlds most popular web destinations. (demo video above) Unlike the stand-alone computer applications or existing web players, this requires no software install… meaning folks might experience more flexibility in how and where they view their feed (work,a friend’s home, Kinkos). Sling’s probably also banking on the social nature of Facebook as we advertise their solution to our friends. Unfortunately, the still mostly ubiquitous Flash browser plugin is required and owners of older Slingbox models need not apply.

Speaking of Flash, I suspect this web app features the same underpinnings as the Google TV SlingPlayer demo-ed at CES and upcoming Boxee implementation. Unfortunately, there’s still no word when that SlingPlayer for Connected Devices will launch… or if it’ll carry with it some sort of monthly access fee. All the more reason to identify what URL Sling’s new Facebook app is calling? Continue Reading…