Technologizer posts about Online Video

“Welcome to Hulu Plus, Snooki”

By  |  Posted at 8:58 am on Thursday, February 3, 2011

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Hulu and Viacom are best pals once again, with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report returning to Hulu as free streaming videos, available the day after they air on TV.

Hulu also announced that Viacom will bring a bunch of other shows to Hulu Plus, the site’s $8 per month subscription service, including Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and MTV’s Jersey Shore. (The above headline is a quote from Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar’s blog post.) In total, Hulu will add more than 2,000 episodes of Viacom content including Chappelle’s Show, The Hills and Reno 911.

Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s satirical news programs were among the most popular shows on Hulu before Viacom pulled them from the site in March 2010, apparently over rights disagreements.

But in addition to the news about Viacom, Kilar used his blog post to publish a manifesto of sorts on the future of digital content, touching on rumors that the site may change direction and become more like an online cable operator.

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Roku, YouTube Give Al-Jazeera English New Paths to Your TV

By  |  Posted at 1:20 pm on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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Like my colleague Ed Oswald, I’ve been marveling at Al-Jazeera English’s coverage of the protests in Egypt. Particularly, I appreciate how the channel is treating its journalism like a public service, with a free live stream on the Web and a Creative Commons license for other networks to use its footage.

But unlike Ed, I’m not lamenting cable companies’ stonewalling of the channel because, well, I don’t subscribe to cable. Still, I get the desire to watch Al Jazeera English’s coverage on a television, so I’m glad Roku has stepped in with a solution for its set-top boxes. Roku owners can now tap into Al-Jazeera English’s live feed through the Newscaster app in the Roku Channel Store.

That’s a pretty nice development for web video in general. One of the common complaints with cord-cutting is that you lose access to 24-hour news networks such as CNN or Fox News, who only make their feeds available to pay TV subscribers. Al-Jazeera English provides a good workaround, albeit one that won’t give you national news coverage if you’re in the United States.

In addition to Roku, YouTube is now running a live feed of Al-Jazeera English, potentially allowing the Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii and other connected TVs and set-top boxes to access the channel. I’ll be able to test that out on the two consoles’ web browsers in an hour or so, and will update with the results. (Update: No luck with the YouTube feed on Playstation 3 or Wii, but I did get the feed from Al-Jazeera’s own website running in the PS3′s web browser.)



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Amazon’s Netflix Rival Returns in Elusive Rumor

By  |  Posted at 9:17 am on Monday, January 31, 2011

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Amazon could be pretty close to offering a subscription streaming video service similar to that of Netflix.

We’ve heard this story before, in a couple of rumors from last year, but over the weekend an Engadget reader reportedly spotted the streaming option while perusing Amazon’s on-demand video library. Amazon has also registered the web domain primeinstantvideos.com and several variants.

According to the tipster, Amazon may tie the streaming service to Amazon Prime, the retail program that provides unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year. Subscribers would get access to roughly 5,000 videos in 480p resolution with no commercials, at no extra cost. This would undercut Netflix’s streaming plan by $17 per year.

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Roku’s WealthTV Deal Is a Glimpse of A La Carte

By  |  Posted at 8:40 am on Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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For folks fed up with paying too much for cable, a la carte television — the idea of paying only for the channels you watch — is the impossible dream, but Roku’s taken the first step towards attaining it with WealthTV’s 24-hour linear feed.

For $2.99 per month, Roku users can now watch WealthTV as if it were on cable, with a set schedule of shows streaming around the clock. This is the first U.S. cable channel to offer its content to Roku this way, though it’ll also allow subscribers to watch shows on demand.

To be sure, this would be a bigger deal if WealthTV was a popular channel. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox Cable don’t even offer it in their line-ups. But it’s precisely because of WealthTV’s insignificance that this news has big ramifications for the future of TV.

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Apple TV and Roku: (Almost) a Million Sold

By  |  Posted at 9:09 am on Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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Curious how that whole streaming video set-top box business is working out? Apple and Roku are happy to brag.

On Monday, Roku chief executive Anthony Wood told Business Insider’s Dan Frommer that the company expects to sell its millionth Roku box by the end of this year, two and a half years after the first devices launched. He also said that when Apple TV arrived, Roku sales doubled thanks to heightened awareness of streaming set-top boxes. (Preemptive price cuts couldn’t have hurt.)

On Tuesday, Apple put out a press release crowing about sales of Apple TV. The company expects new Apple TV sales to hit 1 million later this week, and noted that iTunes users are renting and purchasing more than 400,000 TV shows and 150,000 movies per day. For comparison, the original iPhone took 74 days to hit 1 million sales, while Apple TV will take, at most, 86 days to reach the same milestone this week.

Obviously, Apple TV is beating Roku. That was to be expected given Apple’s reputation and retail presence. Still, the 1 million sales mark is a good sign for any gadget, and both boxes are getting there.

I don’t know how many of those set-top boxes are being used to replace subscription TV outright — probably not many — but if Apple TV and Roku get into more homes, the odds of cable-cutting are only going to increase.

For now, content owners and cable companies maintain that cord-cutting is a minor phenomenon, limited mostly to middle-aged, middle-class people who don’t stream a lot of media, not the tech-savvy geeks you might expect. This observation will lose validity if set-top boxes go mainstream.



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So Much for Sezmi’s Cable Killer

By  |  Posted at 10:03 am on Monday, December 20, 2010

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Sezmi’s “Select Plus” package, which included a bunch of popular pay TV stations for a fraction of what cable costs, is going down the tubes.

If you haven’t heard of Sezmi, that’s because the service is rolling out slowly and inconspicuously, starting in Los Angeles and now available in 36 U.S. markets. By cutting deals with local broadcasters and cable networks, Sezmi Select Plus delivered pay TV channels over the air through a special antenna box for $20 per month with a $150 hardware bundle, which includes a DVR.

Now, VideoNuze reports that Select Plus, which included channels like Comedy Central, CNN and Discovery, will be discontinued in the United States.

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No ABC, NBC or CBS Web Video for Google TV

By  |  Posted at 8:14 pm on Thursday, October 21, 2010

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Hulu isn’t the only online video site that’s blocking access from Google TV. ABC, NBC and CBS have restricted their websites too, Reuters reports.

Fox may follow, an anonymous source tells Reuters. Either way, this is devastating news for Google TV. One of the platform’s main draws, I suspect, is the ability to watch any web show on the big screen. There’s still plenty of content on the Internet that isn’t created by a major network, but without the heavy hitters, Google TV has little chance of disrupting cable. It’s certainly less attractive for would-be cord cutters.

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Netflix for Playstation 3 Drops the Disc Next Week

By  |  Posted at 7:44 am on Thursday, October 14, 2010

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Compared to the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3′s Netflix app was a lesser version for one simple reason: To watch streaming video, you had to get up from your comfy couch and put in a disc.

On Monday, October 18, Sony will get the upper hand. Not only will Netflix for Playstation 3 go disc-free, it will also add Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound, subtitles and, for a small number of videos, 1080i streaming. The Xbox 360 doesn’t yet offer these features, and the Wii, which still requires a disc for Netflix streaming, runs only in 480p.

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SpeakerText: Search and Share Your Favorite Video Snippets

By  |  Posted at 12:48 pm on Sunday, October 3, 2010

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David Spark is a veteran tech journalist who’s been covering the TechCrunch Disrupt conference for Yammer. Check out more of Spark’s coverage on Yammer’s blog.

I’ve always felt that the failure of video online has been its lack of visibility. Over the past few years there have been a variety of techniques deployed to search and discover video. But generally, all the content that’s available to search is the title, tags, and description of the video. Some sites have tried to crowdsource the problem with visitors tagging videos. And others have tried to solve this problem through transcription of videos, such as Fora.tv. It’s a good solution for spoken word videos, but it fell short because the solution is isolated to one specific site and service. Everyzing (now Ramp) did an excellent job of transcribing audio and video content but it didn’t make it easy to share.

At TechCrunch Disrupt I saw SpeakerText, a far more useful “anybody can use” tool for video transcription and search that’s well integrated with social media. SpeakerText is a paid plugin that will currently transcribe your YouTube, Blip.tv, WordPress, Ooyala, and Brightcove videos and sync them with the content in the video, making it searchable via the text. Again, it’s only really good for spoken-word videos, but what I found most valuable is the ability to highlight a piece of text and share it via Twitter. When you do, it creates a shortened URL that goes directly to that portion in the video where the highlighted text is spoken. Watch the demo with SpeakerText’s founder, Matt Mireles.

Shameless plug: Enter Yammer’s “Workplace Communications Horror Story!” Sweepstakes for a chance to win a free iPad. Deadline is October 15th, 2010.



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YouTube Upload Limit Bumped to 15 Minutes

By  |  Posted at 4:09 pm on Thursday, July 29, 2010

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User-made YouTube videos have been limited to 10 minutes almost since the beginning, but now YouTube is ready to give people 15 minutes per video instead.

YouTube says its Content ID system makes the extra five minutes possible. With all major movie studios and music labels using Content ID to sniff out copyrighted material, and the technology improved enough, YouTube can afford to relax the upload limit, which was introduced to keep pirated television shows and movies off the site. Content partners, such as CBS, have always been able to upload longer videos, including full-length television shows and feature films.

The contrarian in me wants to lament the boosted upload limit. There’s something to be said for concision, and users might lose some editorial discipline with an extra five minutes to spare. But overall I’m happy to see YouTube raise the limit to 15 minutes. The number of videos that will benefit from the extra time — video game walkthroughs, homespun sitcoms, how-to videos and otherwise fascinating raw footage — probably outweigh the ones that would wear our their welcome.

Now, I’m just wondering two things: When will the upload limit increase again, and why not extend it to 20 minutes right now? Product Manager Joshua Siegel didn’t give the most satisfying answer on YouTube’s blog, saying only that the site will do everything it can to release incremental improvements in the future. Maybe the content partners aren’t totally comfortable with user-made videos that match the length of a commercial-free television show, or perhaps YouTube fears the bandwidth demands a 20-minute limit may bring.

Whatever the case, it’s a good sign that YouTube’s moving beyond the upload limit it put in place four years ago. Any bets on when YouTube will allow two-hour feature films from its users?



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Playstation Plus: Required for Hulu Plus?

By  |  Posted at 8:04 pm on Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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Hulu Plus may cost a bit extra — the price of a Playstation Plus subscription, actually — when the service comes to Playstation 3 in July, according to some language hidden in one of Hulu’s Web pages.

I stumbled upon the evidence when double checking that neither Sony nor Hulu had acknowledged the other’s subscription service. Hulu did announce upcoming support for Playstation 3, but a lack of details made me wonder why Playstation Plus, which launched today, wasn’t mentioned at all; some sort of deal for PS Plus subscribers seems like a no brainer. (If you’re not caught up on either of these services, by the way, see Harry’s post on Hulu Plus or Sony’s rundown of Playstation Plus).

Just to be sure I didn’t miss anything, I did a quick Google search, and found this (see the second result):

The text of the second result comes from the page source of Hulu Plus’ device page, and appears in Google’s search results even though it doesn’t show up on the website itself. “The instructions below will help you install Hulu Plus on your PS3,” the hidden language says. “Note: you must be a subscriber of the Playstation Plus Network.”

The next few lines describe a “Playstation 3 Activation Procedure,” in which you go to the Playstation Store and redeem a download code that lets you install a Hulu Plus application. View my screen grab of the page source if you like.

So it looks like Hulu Plus won’t be available to PS3 owners without a Playstation Plus subscription, which costs $50 per year or $18 per month for three months. That seems like a raw deal, considering that Netflix doesn’t cost anything extra on the Playstation 3 (it does require an Xbox Live Gold subscription on Xbox 360, and Microsoft has already confirmed that the same rule will apply to Hulu Plus when it arrives on Xbox 360 early next year). Still, it’s not clear whether PS Plus subscribers will get a deal on Hulu content, or if it costs the same $10 per month as everyone else.

I’ve pinged Sony and Hulu for clarification and will post an update if I hear anything.

Update: Apparently, the text is not hidden to people who already have a Hulu Plus preview invite, as one Kotaku reader reported after reading about our coverage. If that’s the case, I’m not sure why Hulu or Sony PR haven’t said anything.

Update 2: “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation which is all that is at this point,” Sony told G4 (but not us).



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MLB.tv Rounds the Bases With PS3 Support

By  |  Posted at 4:47 pm on Thursday, April 22, 2010

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Starting today, Playstation 3 owners can watch live Major League Baseball in high-definition with an MLB.tv subscription, an offer to which I’ll probably succumb as the season heats up.

With Sony partnership in hand, MLB has basically pulled a Netflix. The service is on at least one device for every screen: There’s the iPhone for mobile phones, the iPad for tablets, the PS3, Roku and Boxee for your television and of course the computer, where it all got started. Clearly, MLB gets the idea that the more devices you’re on, the more enticing your service becomes.

Other sports are catching on. Earlier this week, Boxee got support for streaming National Hockey League games. The NBA is moving a bit slower, offering playoff highlights on Roku boxes, but it’s a start. I’m not sure what the NFL is doing to get live streaming on lots of platforms. I’m hoping the buzz over today’s MLB/PS3 deal will get the other major sports to wake up and realize this is what people want.

That’s not to say MLB’s plan is flawless. Blackout restrictions apply for all games, so you can’t watch your favorite team if you live in the same market. It’s all about the contracts between local broadcasters and the league, but I don’t know a single baseball fan who thinks this is a good idea. Fortunately, I’m a Yankee fan in Los Angeles.

Also, what’s the deal with charging $15 for the MLB iPhone and iPad apps, and then releasing a new app every year costs even more money? None of the other platforms cost a dime, and I’d think the $120 per year MLB.tv subscription would be enough to throw in the apps gratis.

Gripes aside, baseball’s been the blind spot in my quest to be sufficiently entertained without cable. I’ll probably jump on when the $25 monthly price drops below the annual subscription cost.



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PS3 Gets a Joost Player, With Crippled Content Of Course

By  |  Posted at 1:04 pm on Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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joostlogoI’m getting used to the idea that when an online video portal creates a TV-optimized viewing experience, it won’t let people watch any of the content they actually care about.

Such is the case with Joost’s new video player, designed with the Playstation 3′s Web browser in mind. While it’s good for watching music videos and promotional television clips, Destructoid says Viacom, Warner Bros. and CBS content isn’t available (so, no Ren & Stimpy). CBS imposes similar limitations on YouTube XL, a viewer optimized for television.

The optimized Joost viewer, accessible through labs.joost.com/tv, arranges navigation in a manner similar to YouTube XL. It even turns the PS3 controller into a remote by mapping useful functions to the buttons. Destructoid tried it out and said the video quality looks “just below standard definition” on a 720p monitor. Too bad there’s no television to watch.

Like Hulu, it’s been possible to access Joost through the PS3′s browser since October, when the console updated to include Flash 9. Still, there’s no easy way to go full screen. You can zoom in the browser to fit the video frame, but that compromises video quality. And of course, mapping playback to the PS3 controller is out of the question.

Joost’s full content library, I assume, is still available through the PS3 in non-optimized form, making it just a little more inconvenient to watch. If anyone’s got a PS3 and wants to give the old way a try, I’d be interested to hear the results. But I can’t be responsible for any effects Ren & Stimpy might have on your sanity.



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Japan’s Wii Video is No YouTube or Hulu

By  |  Posted at 2:38 pm on Thursday, April 23, 2009

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There appears to be a world domination plot afoot with Nintendo’s “Wii no Ma” video service, which will launch next week in Japan.

Until now, details on the service were slim, other than an announced partnership between Nintendo and media giant Dentsu to produce original content. The full scoop, revealed on Nintendo’s Japanese Web site and conveniently translated by Andria Sang, talks of a virtual world that blends eerily with the real.

The channel places Mii characters in a living room, where time passes by in equal proportion to the outside world. This is the hub for various other services offered in the channel. Foremost is the video channel, providing paid and ad-supported shows, as previously reported. Partner companies will have their own content, accessed by clicking on a plant in the room, as well as product samples that can be delivered to a pre-entered real world address. Weirder still, celebrities will occasionally visit the virtual home as “concierges” peddling additional programming.

In addition, DSi owners will be able to sync the handheld to the channel and download virtual coupons, which can be redeemed at participating retailers.

This is all pretty wild stuff — sort of like Second Life, but much more restrained — and you have to wonder how much of it, if any, will make it out of Japan. I can see the original content coming west, as it allows Nintendo to bypass the licensing kerfuffles that are making a mess of existing online video sites. And the delivery system is smart, drawing families in with another channel for their Miis.

But samples in the mail? Celebrity avatars invading your virtual home? They could be failures stateside, or Nintendo could strike gold again. I won’t venture a prediction.



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NBC Using Authentication Wall for Olympics

By  |  Posted at 7:51 pm on Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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nbcolympicslogoAt the rate online video is growing, I imagine there will be a lot of people wanting to watch the Olympics online come 2010. If that’s the case, they’d better not abandon their TV subscriptions.

Using an advanced authentication method, NBC Universal will require online viewers to prove that they subscribe to a cable, satellite or telecom subscription TV package. Even then, the customer’s service provider must agree to this deal with NBC Universal beforehand.

The report in Sports Business Journal says the authentication will be limited to live footage, while some archived footage will be available for free.

Though much of NBC’s coverage will appear over the airwaves (free to anyone with an HD tuner and antenna), the paywall is probably meant to placate service providers due to the coverage NBC spreads to its subscription channels, such as MSNBC. Without being privy to the interactions between the network and service providers, I can’t say outright that authentication is a boneheaded move on NBC’s part. It could just be a necessity in the crazy world of content licensing.

But there should be some option for non-subscribers to watch the games online, and it should be robust rather than a second-class medium. Look at what Major League Baseball is doing with its MLB.tv offerings: Picture-in-picture, live highlights, DVR, player tracking. These are luxuries that go far beyond what the TV can do, and in my opinion, they’re worth paying for.

Give me a menu of which games are happening right now, and let me open a few of them in separate frames. Give me reminders of when the next Curling match is set to air and let me watch later if I miss it. I want a clickable ticker packed with highlights from around Vancouver. Please don’t give me the same thing I could get on cable, but harder to watch. As a cable divorcee, I’d throw $20 on this hypothetical service for the duration of the games.

But these are fantasies, to be sure. Maybe NBC Universal will learn after it endures another year of subpar viewing numbers.



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TV Today: It’s Still About Lean Forward vs. Sit Back

By  |  Posted at 8:23 am on Thursday, December 18, 2008

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Imagine yourself watching TV right now. Where would you be? Would you be sitting back in your favorite chair in your living room and holding your remote control in one hand? Or are you sitting down at your local Starbucks, sipping coffee and watching video on your iPod?

Odds are most of your TV watching still occurs in comfort of your living room with your TV set. But increasingly, consumers are watching video anywhere they can: from work on the PC, on the road from a laptop, on iPods and iPhones, and other portable media players.

Even the term watching TV can be misconstrued, since there are so many options today. Does it mean watching a live broadcast TV channel as it is being aired? Does it mean viewing a show on-demand from your DVR? Does it mean buying the latest Daily Show episode from iTunes and watching it on your iPhone during your morning commute? Or maybe you’d rather go to NBC.com and watch the full episodes of Heroes for free (with limited commercials, of course).

I’ve recently been thinking about an old phrase from the early days of Internet video: Lean forward vs. sit back. Essentially, it’s the difference between PCs and TVs. PCs are more interactive while TVs are a passive experience. Lots of companies I spoke to back then were interested in the future of television and interactive TV services and wanted to blur the lines between PCs and TVs.

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