Alternative Distribution Networks

Discs are the new soapbox [pdf]

In these polarized times, there’s at least one thing upon which liberals and conservatives can agree: The political potential of film. DVDs, in particular, are regarded as a way of sidestepping a risk-averse Hollywood establishment and getting the message out.

[…] But more are climbing aboard the pop culture bandwagon — and technology is greasing the wheels.

“The documentary ‘Michael Moore Hates America’ debuted at our festival and the DVD sold about 20,000 copies on our website alone,” Hubbard said. “That’s not a turn-of-the-head number for a studio executive, but it’s a huge opportunity for producers of low-budget films. Anyone with a camera and a good idea can compete these days because the cost of entry is very low.”

DVDs are cost-effective in terms of marketing as well, notes Govindini Murty, co-founder and co-director of the annual Liberty Film Festival, Hollywood’s first film festival for conservative and libertarian filmmakers. “If theatrical is prohibitively expensive, DVDs are a great way to get out a political message,” Murty said. “You can get free media play in such conservative strongholds as the blogosphere and talk radio.”

CB Christmas Profile

The ironic results of a confluence of creativity, culture and the marketplace: You’re a Good Magnet for Holiday Ads, Charlie Brown [pdf]

In a twist that might make its round-headed hero exclaim, “Good grief,” Charles M. Schulz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — the animated television special about love conquering materialism that airs tonight on ABC — now fuels a $1.2-billion-a-year global publishing, merchandising and marketing machine.

[…] Powered by “Peanuts”-related products that include clothing, cosmetics, dishes, toys and stationery, Schulz has become the second-most-profitable “dead celebrity,” Forbes found, with only the estate of Elvis Presley collecting more.

“It is ironic that something so totally noncommercial has become so commercial,” said Doug Stern, chief executive of United Media, the licensing arm and syndicator of the comic strip that still runs in 2,400 newspapers five years after Schulz’s death.

“Peanuts” accounts for more than 90% of United Media’s licensing revenue, according to regulatory filings. Last year, United Media took in more than $100 million in revenue.

“In a sense, the financial success has been an unintended consequence,” said Stern, who believed Schulz was more focused on drawing his comic strip than on the merchandise it generated. “The artist’s soul shines through.”

Spear Phishin’

Having burned almost a week’s worth of spare time to deal with my own security breach, I recognized myself at several points in this lengthy article. More importantly, however, is the indication of the way that the original design decisions of TCP/IP are coming home to roost, now that fraud is overtaking other forms of innovation online:

Online scammers go spear-phishin’ [NYTimes’ link]

“The problem is not a loss of money or credit, it’s a loss of trust,” said David Perry, director of global education at Trend Micro Inc., an Internet security firm. “If you open up e-mails and 8 out of 10 of them are from people selling prescription drugs or Nigerian banking scams, then you lose trust and e-mails become the criminals.”

[…] All of this provides cold comfort to victims like the mystery writer, Mr. Jackont, who said he was still reeling from his encounter with a Trojan horse in Israel.

“I must tell you that I still have a reflex of uneasiness when I get onto the Internet – I feel a trauma,” he said. “People don’t like it when I say this, but it’s like being raped. It’s like my underwear was spread all over the streets. It was a severe breach of privacy.”

See also Is your PC a drug mule?

Evolution of the Rhapsody Model

RealNetworks giveth, and RealNetworks taketh away: RealNetworks moves Rhapsody to the Web

RealNetworks’ move is part of a broader drive to make music services more accessible on Web pages, rather than through the downloadable software that is typical of most music stores and subscription plans today. Companies are hoping they can reach an audience that has so far stayed away from paying for digital music, by making their products simpler to find and launch from any Web browser.

[…] The new online version of Rhapsody will have most, but not all, of the features of the downloadable older version, which will still be available. Unlike the older version, it will also be compatible with Macintosh and Linux-based computers, however.

Listeners will be able to search the database of 1.4 million songs and make a playlist of up to 25 songs for free. Playing the songs will pop up a small music player in a separate window.

Paying subscribers to the service can listen to unlimited amounts of music through the Web-based version. However, they will not have the same ability to download songs to their hard drives or MP3 players, or manage the other music on their computers.

Intel and the Architecture of Digital Entertainment

Intel Moves to Give Itself a Key Home Entertainment Role [pdf]

With Viiv chips and technologies, Intel hopes to control a digital environment in which video and audio can move seamlessly around the world and around the house. PCs would work with televisions and digital recorders and portable devices so people could move their entertainment wherever they wanted.

That sort of integration requires coordination before devices roll off production lines or websites go online. A downloadable movie, for example, would have to be encoded with the proper software to take advantage of Viiv’s technology. And portable devices would need to be Viiv-compatible to play the movie on the go.

“The most significant thing is that Intel intends to qualify not just access, but also the quality of video so as not to show jittery videos in a small window,” said Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group.

[…] “Is this going to push the PC into the living room? No, because a consumer programmable device, which a Windows PC is, is not stable enough to be a television platform,” said Van Baker of Gartner Inc. The ability to tinker with PCs can result in “not getting access to your TV because a buddy brought over a CD with a game on it and then suddenly your TV doesn’t work.”

What *Is* Advertising These Days?

And who pays for it? Two interesting examples from the NYT today:

  • What’s Offline: Ring Tones to the Rescue

    “Ring tones are the new singles,” said Todd Moscowitz, president of Asylum, a Warner Music Group subsidiary, in the current Rolling Stone.

    An increasing number of recording artists, including rappers and pop stars, are using ring tones to introduce new songs.

    […] “Earning a staggering $5 billion per year,” he writes, “ring tones are the music industry’s rare growth business, and a natural marketing tool for reaching young fans.”

  • What’s Online: Eyeballs Are Back, or Maybe Not

    Tivo and other makers of digital video recorders face a quandary: one selling point of the machines is that they allow users to skip commercials, but that makes programmers and advertisers unhappy

    Tivo proposed a partial solution this week: let viewers search for ads they want to see. In a partnership with the cable giant Comcast and several big ad buyers (Interpublic and Omnicom among them), Tivo says that by next spring, users will be able to set up profiles or enter keywords to watch ads they want to see.

    […] For someone seeking information on a product, “surely watching a TiVo-targeted ad is not the best option.”

    But maybe it is, according to Mr. Chanko’s colleague at Jupiter, David Card. He points out that Americans spend $3 billion to $4 billion every year on infomercials. The conversion rates, or percentage of viewers who actually buy, are “famously high,” Mr. Card writes. “What do you think the Food Network is, anyway? And the Travel Channel. Branded entertainment? Infomercialtainment? Whatever.”

Datapoint: Enabling Technologies

Your Money: Buying Used Just Could Turn Out to Be the Next New Thing

[T]he movement of used products, once sold through a daily newspaper’s classified ads, to the Web allows the buyer to obtain better prices because the choices are more extensive. Think how Alibris.com or Amazon.com have radically changed the buying and selling of used books. While there are some categories you never want to buy used – pillows or toothbrushes – there are enough these days that you won’t feel pathetic doing so.

“Ubiquitous Personalization”

A concept I’ve been working on with a bunch of students to think about the implications of networked machines watching our every move: Don’t Call It Spyware

Back in 2002, Gator was one of the most reviled companies on the Net. Maker of a free app called eWallet, the firm was under fire for distributing what critics called spyware, code that covertly monitors a user’s Web-surfing habits and uploads the data to a remote server. People who downloaded Gator eWallet soon found their screens inundated with pop-up ads ostensibly of interest to them because of Web sites they had visited. Removing eWallet didn’t stop the torrent of pop-ups. Mounting complaints attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Online publishers sued the company for obscuring their Web sites with pop-ups. In a June 2002 legal brief filed with the lawsuit, attorneys for The Washington Post referred to Gator as a “parasite.” ZDNet called it a “scourge.”

Today Gator, now called Claria, is a rising star. The lawsuits have been settled – with negligible impact on the company’s business – and Claria serves ads for names like JPMorgan Chase, Sony, and Yahoo! The Wall Street Journal praises the company for “making strides in revamping itself.” Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Microsoft came close to acquiring Claria. Google acknowledges Claria’s technology in recent patent applications. Best of all, government agencies and watchdog groups have given their blessing to the company’s latest product: software that watches everything users do online and transmits their surfing histories to Claria, which uses the data to determine which ads to show them.

[…] The spyware wars are over – and spyware has won.

So, What’s Changed?

Worth exploring exactly *why* they’re so sanguine: Media revolutionaries team with old guard

[…] With a recent series of small but consistent steps, the TV and film world has put itself squarely on the often-painful digitalization path traveled by the music industry over the last five years.

Yet at the Digital Entertainment and Media Expo conference, held in the shadow of MGM’s tall office tower here this week, it’s utterly clear how much has changed. A similar event five years ago would have been peopled primarily by technologists promising to overturn the hegemony of old-media dinosaurs, with record label executives looking like the hunted, if they were in attendance at all.

Today, old-guard media feels far more in control of this particular technological cycle, even if it is one of chaos and change. […]

[…] There’s plenty of chaos and change to go around. But the digitalization of Hollywood and its TV siblings is underway, and already taking a very different path than its musical predecessors.

UK Review of IP

U.K. reviewing intellectual-property laws

Chancellor Gordon Brown has asked Andrew Gowers, former editor of The Financial Times, to lead an independent review into intellectual-property, or IP, rights in the United Kingdom. The Labour Party manifesto in the last election included a commitment to “modernize copyright and other forms of IP so that they are appropriate for the digital age.”

According to the U.K. Treasury, this review will consider how well businesses are able to negotiate the complexity and expense of the copyright and patent system, including copyright and patent-licensing arrangements, litigation and enforcement. It will also look at whether the current technical and legal IP infringement framework reflects the digital environment and whether provisions for “fair use” by citizens are reasonable.