Technologizer posts about Internet TV

Verizon FiOS Xbox Live TV Deal Is Another Disappointing Half-Measure

By  |  Posted at 3:55 am on Thursday, December 1, 2011

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Giving people more options is generally a good thing, and the announcement on Tuesday that Verizon would offer a couple dozen FiOS cable TV channels through a new Xbox Live app certainly isn’t a bad thing. But it’s also a reminder of all that we still lack when it comes to consuming what we want to consume, and not subsidizing piles of stuff we don’t.

The FiOS deal sounds sweet enough—watch live TV through your Xbox 360!—until you realize it’ll require you already have a Verizon FiOS subscription. In that sense, Verizon’s deal is like all the others from cable providers who offer their services through devices likes computers or laptops. What sounds wonderful in theory—the ability to watch live TV without a cable box—turns out to require the cable box after all, and a regular subscription to boot. Instead of supplanting cable boxes, your computing devices become adjuncts to an aging, increasingly old-school method for consuming digital content, not the independent pipelines for discrete digital content they’re capable of being…and that so many consumers seem to be looking for.

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Google TV Lives!

By  |  Posted at 8:25 am on Friday, October 28, 2011

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A year ago, the first devices based on Google TV–Logitech’s Revue box and some Sony TVs–debuted. Initial irrational exuberance over for the platform melted away quickly: The software was buggy and confusing, and major media companies such as the big networks started blocking Google TV from streaming their content.

And then everybody sort of forgot about Google TV for the most part. Google occasionally said that it was working on an improved version, but the platform made news most recently when Logitech said that the Revue’s sales had been catastrophically bad. I began to worry the Google TV wouldn’t make the cut of arrows that Google wanted to put wood behind.

Now Google is talking about Google TV again. Rather than hyping expectations, the company is taking an intentionally subdued approach–its blog post is titled merely “An Update on Google TV,” which sounds at first like it might be a warning that it’s winding down. But the news is good: Sony TVs will be getting the new version early next week, and the Revue will get it soon thereafter. (There apparently won’t be any new Google TV devices until 2012.)

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Netflix has announced its third-quarter results, and one stat stands out: 800,000 customers left the service its user base shrunk by 800,000 customers overall. Netflix says the defectors were mostly folks disgruntled over its abrupt price hike back in July, not ones rattled by its short-lived plan to split off DVD rentals into a stand-alone service called Qwikster.

At some point, all the unhappy Netflix campers will leave, and I still think that the company is going to a good place with its streaming service. At the moment, though, it needs to repair its reputation. It needs to prove that it cares about its customers and isn’t going to spring any more bizarre surprises on them. It needs to show that it has an adequate degree of self-awareness. It just needs to be normal for a while.

Posted by Harry at 3:54 pm

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Roku Dips Below $50, Adds HBO GO

By  |  Posted at 6:00 am on Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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Roku, which pretty much invented the cheap, easy-to-use Internet TV streaming box, is the sort of scrappy startup which you might have assumed would get steamrolled by mammoth competitors early on. Instead, it’s continued to do well even as Apple and Google have muscled in on its territory–in part because it’s a fine product, in part because it’s aggressively priced, and in part because the lineup of content is good and keeps getting better.

Today, Roku has news on two of those fronts. It’s introducing a new basic model called the Roku LT that brings the price down to $49 for the first time–cheap for a Roku, and absurdly cheap in a market in which some products cost $200 or more. The LT does 720p video, and joins fancier models at $59, $79, and $99. (The top of the line Roku 2 XS does casual gaming, including Angry Birds.)

Are there people who wouldn’t buy a $59 Roku who will buy a $49 one? Roku thinks so, and it does sound like a lot of fun for the money. It’ll be available from Roku and retailers in early November.

Roku is also announcing that it’s adding the HBO GO streaming service to all Roku players at the end of this month. HBO includes moves and full seasons of all HBO shows, and is available only to people who subscribe to HBO via cable or satellite. It joins more than 300 other channels on Roku, including Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Major League Baseball, and much more.



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The Case for Screwing Up Netflix

By  |  Posted at 8:28 am on Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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Marc Randolph, a former Netflix employee–he was a founder and the first CEO–has chimed in on this whole Qwikster mess. He makes a more compelling, coherent case for divvying up the company’s streaming service and disc-rental business than anything that Netflix/Qwikster has said in its own defense:

So even though I haven’t been at Netflix in a long time, I can easily imagine the growing frustration they must have felt these last few years as they made decisions they knew were suboptimal for the streaming business in order to maintain compatibility with the DVD business.  How to work out pricing that covers multiple use cases.  How to come up with messaging that embraces two different ways to receive movies.  How to manage the significant differences in the content available between the two services.  How to simplify the landing page and sign up flow.

Well no longer.  Not having to worry about compatibility between the services makes it infinitely easier to optimize every decision around the real prize, which is clearly streaming.  Pricing.  Messaging.  Content.  Sign-up-flow.  All better now.

Randolph doesn’t defend Netflix’s communications about the price hike, name change, and related matters: He calls them “ham-handed” and “tone-deaf.” But I wonder how well Netflix customers would be taking the news if the company’s communications had been flawless, and if it had come up with a way better name than “Qwikster.”

I don’t come away from Randolph’s piece entirely convinced of the righteousness–ham-handed, tone-deaf messaging aside–of what Netflix is doing. Or maybe I’m so convinced that I don’ think the company’s going far enough. I mean, if renting DVDs by mail is so unpleasant a business to be in, shouldn’t Netflix just sell, spin off, or shutter Qwikster? Sooner or later, it’s going to take one of those actions. Why not do it today, rather than complain about all the downsides of disc rentals and how they’re standing in the way of the streaming business?



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Sell Netflix to Amazon? That Might Be Crazy Enough to Work

By  |  Posted at 5:46 pm on Saturday, September 24, 2011

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This whole Netflix-Qwikster split had a fair number of people wondering if Reed Hastings had lost his mind. Hastings is no dummy, though, so there’s got to be some sort of method to the perceived madness.

Industry analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a note to clients the very same thing; that there’s “a method to their madness,” reports MarketWatch.

Pachter’s theory? Netflix could sell its streaming business to Amazon, a company with deep pockets that’s been aggressively trying to make inroads with its digital content offerings. It’s done well with digital books, it’s still trying to get its footing with digital music, and perhaps now we get to see how big it can go with movies and TV. And what better way to go big with streaming movies and TV than to buy the company best known for streaming?

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Blockbuster’s New Service Isn’t a Qwikster Killer. At Least Not Yet.

By  |  Posted at 11:04 am on Friday, September 23, 2011

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I just attended a press conference hosted by Dish Network and its Blockbuster division, where they announced Blockbuster Movie Pass, a service with discs-by-mail (including Blu-Ray and games at no extra charge), unlimited on-demand streaming to TVs and PCs, and more–for $10 a month. Sounds like a formidable competitor to the service formerly known as Netflix, which is about to be divvied into Netflix and Qwikster. Except it turns out that Dish isn’t announcing anything aimed at consumers who have cable or who want to cut the cord–Movie Pass is for Dish subscribers (and includes twenty channels of live movie programming via satellite as well as its other stuff).

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Qwikster: The People Speak! (Unfavorably!)

By  |  Posted at 12:35 pm on Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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Someday, the name “Qwikster” may be famous, even beloved–or at least tolerated. For now, even pundits who think that Netflix is doing the right thing by splitting its Internet streaming and disc-by-mail services in two seem to be pretty much unanimous in regarding the name the company is giving the disc half of its business as dippy. But what do real people think?

Branding company Strategic Name Development–the outfit that named Wendy’s Baconator, among other products and companies–has already conducted a survey of five hundred consumers, and…they don’t like “Qwikster” either! Or at least they find it confusing. (Only 19 percent say it’s a good name for a service that does its business by mail.)

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Why did Netflix raise (most of) its prices in July? Weirdly, given all the consternation and CEO Reed Hastings’ mea culpa/rebranding announcement this week, it’s never explained its decision in anything like a direct manner. But venture capitalist Bill Gurley has a logical theory: Hollywood is treating Netflix like a cable company:

So here is what I think happened with Netflix’s recent price change (for the record, I have no inside data here, this is just an educated guess). Netflix has for the past several years been negotiating with Hollywood for the digital rights to stream movies and TV series as a single price subscription to users. Their first few deals were simply $X million dollars for one year of rights to stream this particular library of films. As the years passed, the deals became more elaborate, and the studios began to ask for a % of the revenues. This likely started with a “percentage-rake” type discussion, but then evolved into a simple $/user discussion (just like the cable business). Hollywood wanted a price/month/user.

This is the point where Netflix tried to argue that you should only count users that actually connect digitally and actually watch a film. While they originally offered digital streaming bundled with DVD rental, many of the rural customers likely never actually “connect” to the digital product. This argument may have worked for a while, but eventually Hollywood said, “No way. Here is how it is going to work. You will pay us a $/user/month for anyone that has the ‘right’ to connect to our content – regardless of whether they view it or not.” This was the term that changed Netflix pricing.

Posted by Harry at 10:08 am

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Four Times the TiVo

By  |  Posted at 10:49 am on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

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At the CEDIA home electronics show in Indianapolis, TiVo announced a new TiVo: the Premiere Elite. It’s a high-end upgrade to the company’s current DVR with four (!) tuners, 2TB of storage, THX certification, and compatibility with the MoCA standard for networking over coaxial cable. It’s $499.99 plus TiVo’s $19.99 monthly fee, and clearly aimed at the customers of the audio/visual installation pros who attend CEDIA. TiVo says it expects to ship it later this year.

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Get Time Warner Cable’s wideband Internet service, get a check–for a free Slingbox.

Posted by Harry at 10:44 pm

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Best Buy’s New Insignia TVs: TiVo Goes Beyond the DVR

By  |  Posted at 10:08 am on Monday, August 1, 2011

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For more than a decade, TiVo has been one thing: a DVR. And while it’s been a really good one, an awful lot has changed about the way we find and watch TV since the first TiVo box debuted in 1999. And now the company is involved in its first non-DVR project. It’s designed the on-screen interface for two new Internet-connected LCD TVs from Insignia, one of Best Buy’s four “exclusive brands” (along with Dynex, Init, and Rocketfish).

Insignia’s TVs don’t have any DVR features, and doesn’t offer an on-screen programming guide for over-the-air or cable programming. So they’re missing the aspects of the TiVo interface most closely identified with, will, TiVo. But when Best Buy demoed one of the sets for me last week, the interface did look like it has some of TiVo’s approachable DNA. That’s a major plus: TV companies don’t tend to be very good at at coming up with user interfaces when left to their own devices.

The sets come with CinemaNow and Napster–two services owned by Best Buy–as well as Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. They use Chumby widgets to provide access to more than 1500 applets with information on subjects such as weather. And they’re the first TVs with built-in support for Rocketboost, a Best Buy technology for sending audio to speaker systems wirelessly.

They don’t, however, include DLNA compatibility, which would let you stream content off PCs and hard drives on your network: Best Buy says that its goal with these TVs was to keep things simple, and DLNA still isn’t straightforward enough.

The 32″ TV is $499; the 42″ one is $699. Best Buy says they’re available now, and that it plans both to upgrade their software with new features over time and to introduce new connected TVs and other devices based on the software in these TVs.

The Best Buy-TiVo partnership was announced more than two years ago; I was excited at the time, then so much time passed that I’d forgotten about it. Now I’m curious what other Internet-centric products TiVo might be working on. A Roku-style TiVo box could be nifty. And TiVo might be able to do a better job than Google TV has done so far at imposing a decent interface on over-the-air and cable TV. I hope that the company is furiously working on some of this stuff, and just hasn’t announced it yet…

 



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Some Slightly Better News on Google TV

By  |  Posted at 10:39 am on Sunday, July 31, 2011

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Last week, there was much discussion on the Web of one specific tidbit from Logitech’s dismal first-quarter financial results: more of the company’s Revue Google TV boxes were returned to Logitech than got sold.

Logitech has issued a press alert with a few notes:

  • The Revue price reduction to $99–it was originally $249–goes into effect today.
  • “Google TV 2″ is “expected” to come out this Summer. (Google hasn’t said much at all about it so far–the platform was barely mentioned in the keynotes at May’s Google IO conference.)
  • Logitech wants to be sure that people understand that the Revue’s “negative sales” didn’t mean that more consumers were returning the boxes that buying them. Consumer returns, the company says, were comparable to those of other products. “Negative sales” means that more distributors and retailers were returning unsold units than buying additional ones. (In other words, it wasn’t that people have been trying and disliking Google TV–they haven’t been interested enough in the idea to buy it, period.)

I still think that the concept of Google TV has promise. But at this point, its future is entirely dependent on version 2 being more usable and less buggy than the original, with more big-name content that doesn’t get blocked by the big media companies that own it.  And if version 2 turns out to be a disappointment, I suspect that Google TV will end up not being one of the arrows that Google chooses to put wood behind.



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How Google TV Can Be Saved

By  |  Posted at 8:02 am on Friday, July 29, 2011

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Logitech is taking a beating for throwing early support behind Google TV. The company announced that it will cut the price of its Logitech Revue Google TV box to $99, which means each unit will be sold at a loss. And just in case there was any question of whether Google TV was a flop, Logitech offered an embarrassing statistic: The Revue saw more returns than sales last quarter.

This isn’t the end of Google TV. Google plans to revamp the software this summer with an interface based on Android Honeycomb, with access to the Android Market. But to make Google TV a living room powerhouse, Google and its hardware partners need to learn a few lessons from the first generation’s flop.

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Bad Revue: Logitech’s Google TV Box Suffers From “Negative Sales”

By  |  Posted at 2:19 pm on Thursday, July 28, 2011

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How is Logitech’s Revue–the first stand-alone Google TV box–selling? Logitech says sales are “slightly negative.” As in, more Revue boxes are coming back to Logitech than are being bought and used by consumers. I feel the company’s pain, but I’m not surprised by the bad news. I like the idea of Google TV, but when I tried the Revue last October, I found its software horrifically rough around the edges, to the point that it was no fun at all. Logitech has knocked the price down from $249 to $99, but a shaky product is a shaky product no matter what the price is.

As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out, the Revue is an example of a trend I cover in my new TIME.com Technologizer column: products which ship even though they’re clearly not ready to ship. I don’t know the Revue’s backstory–and tend to think that Logitech may have been as surprised by anyone at how iffy the Google TV software is. But reviewers like me and early adopters who bought the Revue found it lacking, and told other people. Is there any way that Google TV’s chances at success wouldn’t have been a lot higher if Google had finished it six months or a year later and invested the extra time in creating something that pundits and real people would have loved?

 



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My friend and former colleague Ed Albro of PCWorld thinks some of the angst over Netflix’s price hikes is a tad overwrought.

Posted by Harry at 11:20 pm

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