Friday, September 16, 2011

On Turning 50, and Other News of Interest

    August has been a month of many milestones. I turned 50 early in the month.
The technology world has been stood on its head. Steve Jobs resigns from Apple.
HP first pulled their tablet,from  the market, and then announced they are getting out of the PC business altogether.
The 800 Pound Giant in the room, Netflix has stood its ground with Starz and refused to bow to their demands about tired pricing and  let them take their content elsewhere. I won’t miss it.
    Apple, and Steve Jobs have been called one of the greatest inventors  in the 20th Century. If one dose research one will find all of the products that he made famous are products that have been made by someone else before he refined it and set a new standard. There had been portable computers before,  Apple made them usable.
    More important then the legacy of Steve Jobs, and it is very important, is the future of Apple and the entire tech industry as a whole.  Over the last few months I’ve noticed a change in the focus of many tech company, even companies as venerable as Kodak are changing their focus looking for ways to sagging sales and poor product lines. Right now there are only a very few product lines that are interesting, the top players among them being the tablet, and the king of the hill, is Apple’s IPad.  But there seems to have been a shift to a very large degree away from trying to make a better product to protecting intellectual property . ie, their  patents.  While  some concepts and ideas are pretty cut and dried, and obvious , and the patent for that should be obvious, and the company that first filled the patent for it owns it at least to start with,. However, thee are a great many patents are are far more questionable. To the point of  one questioning is there even a prototype  filed at the patent office, and did anyone even read it? The patent office has said that need access to experts to help them sort through all to the tech patents the receive to help them tell which are legit, and which ones should be rejected. Because they don’t the the personal or expertise to go over all the material.

    That's not even counting all of the patents the various companies have already, and are either trying to protect or sell.  In many cases the  intellectual property may be worth more then the products they make with the information or ideas, sometimes even the company.  What kind of messages  dose that send to consumers who see new reports about companies suing each other over  patent infringement or other subtleties that no lay person or many lawyers can understand. Instead of putting the efforts to helping build the economy by giving consumer better products at lower prices. and creating more jobs and products we want to buy.
All their doing is making lawyers rich, and generally making a mockery of the US patent system. A complete rebuild of the US patent system is in order, along with  the copyright  office and reevaluating the way the publishing industry works. However, I don’t see this thing happening in the foreseeable future.

    What dose it mean when Google buys a hardware company like Motorola,?
They didn’t buy a printer company, or a camera company. They bought a company that makes hardware to run their operating system. Android.  At this point Android is  powering  roughly about 50% of all the smart phones in use depending on what report you read, and what is being covered, US or world. Point is it it fast edging Apple, and is generally killing other smart phone devices. Thus the questions becomes is there a conflict of interest in Google owning the maker of its own software distributor , the Motorola versions of the  Android smart phones. Along with the the other companies who also make phones that run Android.  On the flip side, Apple owns both the hardware and the software for their phones, in fact for all of their products. The difference being they don’t licence their IOS out to other hardware builders to put IOS into and sell to the public. Apple maintains a very tight control of their product cycle and loop from development, to production, distribution to sales both on line and retail. Something no other company has ever had.
Netflix finds itself in a quandary, much of it its own making. Last month they announced a new pricing scheme, separating the Streaming and the Dvd content, into two separate billing options, and increasing streaming fees. and increasing to total if you want both streaming and DVDs. So essentially you have your choice of three prices. Streaming, is 7.99, Dvd only is 7.99 month  Nd more for both Streaming and DVD.
Netflix is expecting to lose around a million subscribers due to this new format.
It’s  expected that after several years of a format that has essentially changed the entire video  delivery system in may ways and set new standard to make what are precised as radical changes, to a tried and true format that upsets the satus qu  will bring on a out  cry, in this case its likely to take the form of a loss of subscribers. Weather it will be as much as they predict  or not m also how long the numbers will stay low are two important questions. Balancing them out are the cost of the content . Netflix has to be in a position to pay a fair price for content, but but not let itself be bullied into doing deals like Starz wanted. I have commented several times under different  articles about the Netflix /Starz issue. One can be found here;


The whole landscape of on line video is going to reshaped yet again as the dust settles over Hulu, and who eventually buys it. The main goal of any content owner and provider should be essentially the same: To provide consumer with easy acces to any content they have the right to through either subscription, like Netflix, or Amazon VOD, or even Hulu, or Boxee, and Roku, including the IPad, and Android tablets. If the consumer knows they can get they’re content when and where they want it with minimal fuss, and low price, they will be less likely to go to  alternative places to get the content they want. Distributors, and content owners will both be paid and everyone will be happy.

    A side note on turning 50 this year. Its now been a about a month since my birthday.  Sometimes, 50 is a concept one has to wrap ones brain around. The idea that you’ve been alive and doing your thing, for half a century. Most days you don’t feel any different then you did at 49. Suddenly your 50 and everything is older, every tool or possessions that you bought or acquired when you where younger seems older. Events that didn’t seem that long ago suddenly seem like  ancient history when you stop and do the math as to how long ago it really was.  Getting to be 50 has been a real adventure for me. As many  of you who personally know me I’ve had heart issues since I was born, and was not expect to live,  I was sent home, they had done all they could do for me. But I survived and eventually a operation was developed in Canada, The Mustard Procedure, which essentially rebuilt the top half of my heart. I was the first one in the United States to have it and Survive.  To this day I’m setting new records. I have since gone on to do all the things everyone else dose, high school get married, and raise  4 kids, and many other things that  the little blue boy they sent home to die was never expected to. do. The Lord has seen fit to keep me around for this half century   .I’m looking forward to many more years of doing what I do best, being a tech pundit and all around geek and movie lover, Lord willing.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting Back to Basics in Business

Over the last few months much has been made of relatively new tech companies, less then, 2-5 years old coming out and announcing that they want to do a IPO, which is a Initial Public Offering. There are several questions that have been risen, such as do they have a solid business plan, and are they actually making money. While I don’t pretend to completely understand all the ins and outs, of big time money management and all of the ramifications of events to both the economy or the business itself.

There are several basic ideas that I do understand, The primary object of any business is to both make money, and give the consumer the most value for their money as possible. If you give the customer value above and beyond what they expect , and follow it it up with support and service, whatever, that might entail everything from basic hand holding, to either going and fixing or replacing the product with no hassle, and a BIG smile on your face. You’ll do far more more good for your business then any amount of advertisement can ever do. Happy customers come back, and Happy customers talk,, a lot. Word of mouth can go a long way to either building your business, or destroying it slowly. Just remember that the next time a customer is driving you crazy over something YOU think is stupid, to them its important, how you handle what they think is important, is important to them. So much for business 101.

Netflix has become the 800 pound guerrilla in the room when content and tv companies get together. No matter what else they talk about, what deals they may want to do, Netflix is in their shadow waiting to take their market share way form them. Content providers need to go back and reevaluate their core objectives.
As I mentioned in the opening segment, the object of any business, be it a small family business that sells fruit out on the side of the road, to a multi-million dollar conglomerate is to give the customer value above and beyond what they expect.
Quite simply the TV/media industry at least on the broadcast and consumer provider side, not the theatre side so much, has dropped the ball a LONG time ago.
Way back in the 1950’s at the beginning of TV, advertisers knew they had a captive audience and played it up to the max. Having corporate sponsors,and having host of talk and game shows actually plugging the product as part of the routine show, is was annoying, but far less annoying then today's commercial breaks which can last from 3-10 minutes long, and often repeat the same ad several times in a roll.

That just covers what broadcast show “live” on a daily basis to the masses.
That includes those who don’t have the technology to bend their TV to their will.
Those of us with DVRs can record,pause and rewind and generally bring the TV to its knees. And advertisers hate this. they can’t count on you seeing their ads every time you want to see your favorite show. and Appointment Viewing is long dead. That is to say if you wanted to watch a certain show you had to be in front of your TV at that exact time, or you missed it until next week. Worse yet, if there were two shows on at the same time, on different channels you had to choose which one you liked better. Advertisers loved that, it helped with getting numbers, they could tell much better what was being watched, and who commercials were being seen. Today, consumers demand to watch what they want when and where they want. The devices and platforms that media is available is constantly expanding. Content owners and providers need to embrace the new directions and come up with models that allow them to get access to the content they want, when they want.
They need allow consumers to watch their content on a variety of platforms.
The basic concept is to spread your content around as much as possible; instead of trying to do a deal to limit ones content to one venue and asking a exuberant sum for a very short year deal, try spreading it out out over several venues with less for money each deal, and make more money in the long run.
Better yet they make their content readily available to whole new audiences which might not have discovered content they didn't know about. Making content easier to access or rent, either via Netflix Amazon, any number of other places to rent or view content, doing such deals to let ` the consumers find the content and play it where they want, or need to, with out having to resort to to other means to get the content they want.
A YouTube search will yield many movies and TV shows put up in short 10-14 minute segments watching a series of 8-10 segments in a row will allow you to essentially watch the whole program. Whether this is legal is another question for another time. However, the bigger point, is the is people want to see the content, and will put it out one way or another. So content providers do yourself a favor and make you stuff easy to rent, buy or otherwise enjoy the content, and moving content from one platform to another should be seamless with a DRM issue and no issues with software formats not being capable. Everything should just work.
The notion of cord cutting that the industry pundits are taking about is probably right to a degree, However, As people get the new TVs that can connect to the web, either directly or through a computer, easiest being hooking a laptop and piping everything from the laptop to the TV, the uses for a fast connection are increased, suddenly you can fire up Netflix, on the laptop and send it to the TV and enjoy the same content from the laptop on the big TV, same for YouTube, any other web content, be it podcast, or videos etc. Suddenly the pipe from the cable provider is’nt as important as it was, However, there’s still a lot of content that only available on broadcast TV. While a large percentage will cut down on the size of the package that keep, both for budget reason, and because content is available on line and they can get it there and pipe it to the platform of choice to watch it. I don’t think its cord cutting, so much as its cord switching, and sharing, one supplementing the other.
Some content providers are making strides to make their content available on mobile platforms with limitations, while its a good start. But there’s a long way to go.
Netflix has pretty much set the standard for streaming video, and a business model that works. They have been able to get themselves placed in a wide variety pf platforms from DVD players, TVs themselves, I even read at one point, there was talk of them actually having a physical button on a remote, on some TVs, weather anything has come of it, is not important. What is important is their dominance and saturation in the video industry . They do have some big hurtles to jump, the biggest is the deals they have to make with content owners. Every time they try to do a deal the price goes up or the owners want to renegotiate a deal halfway though a contract. The point is if content owners would quit being so worried about their content and how its being used, and work to get it into as many venues as possible and not make is prohibitively expensive that small providers to get into. They would in the long run probably make more then they trying to do with the high price deals they’re doing now, only it’s be spread out over more companies, and longer terms, so if there was a loss somewhere it won't be as much as it it was in one big deal the lost.

The long and short of it content owners, and providers need to go back and reevaluate their core business model, and why they are in business. Are they in business to serve the stockholders, or the customer, aka, public? If its the customer, they need to rethink how and what kind of deals they do, to get their content out, with a minimum of constraints both on the provider and especially the end user. If the customer is is happy and willing to pay the reasonable rental fee or subscription fee, and can get what they want when and where and on what platform they want, with no issues, the profit for the stockholders will come.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

As Media Evolves, Will The Consumer be Left Behind?

Can Netflix Make a series of their Own?

Will AT&T Buy T-Mobile?

Did Showtime Shoot its Foot Off?,, Definitely Yes..

Is the IPad2 a Hit Definitely Yes...

Lots of things have been happening in the world this last week, Netflix ; AT&T ; and Showtime,shoots itself in the foot.
One of the top news stories everyone talking about is Netflix picking up the first run option on a show that's not even made yet. Having now had the pleasure of enjoying streaming content from them on my computer and on the Wii, I can see where they would be interested in doing a deal of this type. They know their bread and butter is the catalogue of material going back to the 1920’s on a very few cases and being to let a consumer explore either old shows they watched and loved in younger days, or just find new and interesting stuff to watch and discover treasures they missed before.
So, For Netflix to spend 100Million dollars to get the first run rights to “House a Cards” seems out of character, however... Looking at it from their side, If they do this and if works, and they wind up bring in more subscribers on top of the 20 million or so they have now, and the publicly is good for the show itself, interest in the show and Netflix will increase along with its stock price.
On the content creators side,developing a project for the like of Netflix where one knows theirs a instant 20 million+ viewer audience is a big plus, and the publicity that goes with it is priceless. Netflix only has first run rights, which means it then be resold and of course that means more revenue streams coming in down the road.

Showtime on the other hand shoots itself in the foot. At least to my way of seeing things. Showtime is renegotiating the deal which ends later this spring and starts in the summer. The end result is that they are pulling new content from Netflix, like Dexter, and Califorination . One will only able to stream them if one is a subscriber and and log into their official site. I was under the impression that one of the great things about site and venues like was the eyes it got in front of a show. If you can get more people interested in watching a show, particularly one that on the likes of showtime, the chances are they will subscribe to the network to see the new shows, Taking off the older episodes and forcing those who really want to see the content to go to bit-torrents and the like or say “the heck with it” and don’t bother even trying to watch them if they can’t get them, is defeating the propose of publicly which when it come right down to it Netflix is a great publicly machine for a huge world of content that's been long forgotten about.

AT&T has put in a bid to buy T-Mobile for 39Million dollars. There a a lot of questions that arise from deals like this. Such as, a big one will the FCC and/or FTC let it go through? The advantages to AT&T are they get more network to expand their 4G layer, They have a reputation for very bad coverage in cities where they are not a primary provider., so they need the T_Mobile towers and coverage. What doses T_Mobile need? They need the IPhone, which they can’t get right now, I’m also thinking it would give them some better android phones. AT&T will be able to provide T-Moble with other support services that that probably lack.
Will this be good for consumers. I’m not sure sure. On the face of it it looks like its reducing the numbers a main cell phone carries from 4, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile to 3.
I think that will only tell half of the story. The rest of the story is how they change rates planes and most importantly, customer service. AT&T customer service is notoriously bad, I suspect that T-Mobile’s is all that great either. In any case a complete overhaul of customer service is probably in order.

I would be completely remiss if I didn't talk about the IPad2 which just recently came out.
On March 2rd Steve Jobs surprised the crowd by just showing up on stage. Steve Jobs had stepped down from day to day operations of Apple earlier this year citing health issues. So his being there to present today was a huge surprise to those in attendants.

The bigger questions emerge: Do we need a new version of the IPad, for some the new capabilities will fit right into what they are doing now, and allow them to do more with one device.

Why they announced the IPad this early is easy: Competition.

Apple has the knack for staying ahead of the curve, even when they invented it.. As I said in my last article, there were 18 new tablets announced in CES in early January.

At this point there seems to be a number of contenders for the “Tablet King” Now Title: Motorola Xoom, HP TouchPad, Blackberry Playbook, Samsung Galay, . I am already finding comparisons about which one has best stats. To my way of thinking the stats of any device don’t tell the whole story. The real test is how a device is used by the end consumers. In the IPads case the consumers have overwhelming said that the Ipad is the right device at the right time and it dose what they want/need it to do, will the IPad2 do as well?, its a pretty safe bet..

Apple has done a number of things right, the reduced the price of the 1st generation units, and they kept the pricing the same for the 2nd generation the same as they were for the originals. a very smart move.

The improvements in the IPad2 will force the competition to up their game, and continually evolve their products to make them more more appealing to consumers. No matter nice they look, if they don’t preform, and do what the consumers expect them to do, they will be dumped for the next big thing to come along.

While I have not have the pleasure yet of experiencing any of the tablets. The ideal way to test a unit is to take it for a week and see what it will and won’t do, and how you like it. However not many folks have the option of “Borrowing” a unit for a week to see if they like it. So we must rely on reviews and what we feel when we see at the store..

There are many more things yet to discuss, hopefully I can continue to offer my humble opinion in a more timely matter as the summer progresses..

Ken Lawson

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Better Late, Back to Keyboard, Then Never..

As many of you know , in spite of best intentions and plans, Real Life gets in the way. Projects such as writing and publishing their blog or other personal projects get put on hold. Essentially this is what has happened to me.
This last July, not long after I put out the last article, on the publishing industry, My family and I moved and had to essentially start over again. Needless to to say I have had a lot of other thing going on theses last few months, and not having a fast easy to access connection had made it difficult to work the way that I was used to.

So instead of trying to cover news I should have been commenting on for the last six months, Let me start fresh, so to speak.

Verizon now has the holy grail of Smart phones,,, the Apple IPhone,,,
But is it enough and soon enough? Yes it is a big deal, However, it seems to me if it had happened before Android had gotten a serious foothold in the Verizon market base it would had a much more of impact. many folks who would have loved to get a Verizon IPhone and couldn’t are now solidly in the Android camp and are not interested in jumping to the IPhone, now they have their Android.
I know if and when I get into a position that I can get a Smart Phone I’m going Android. Yes Apple will make inroads into Verizon but it will take time and not as much as they would like.

CES, this January was the grounds for the first round of the tablet wars. Apple true to form, created a monster when they created the IPad, As I’ve said before in other article, tablets have been before, by various manufactures mostly by trying to shoehorn a standard desktop operating system into a platform that was never designed for it. The most common of those being Microsoft and their various Windows versions. which never did completely work right or stable.
Along come Apple, building on the success of the small tablet form factor, and a custom os, The IPhone and the IPod Touch which they had sold millions of and had all of those millions already familiar with the platform, now its scaled up to a 9 inch screen with better functionality .. A immediate hit. Needs to say.

There was a lot of talk before it was actually released to the masses of weather it would work, It did, once consumers got their hands on it and used it they loved it.
Of course everyone started jumping on the tablet bandwagon. CES saw the announcement of no less then 18 tablets from everyone from Blackberry, to Samsung, and many others. How many will make it to consumers shelves and get a fair chance is another matter. Most of the competing tablets are running Android, which makes sense because the next biggest platform on phones next to Apple IOS is Android. Android scales up to a tablet nicely and can be offered with just wifi, or with ¾ G bundles with the major carriers. However, that this point there is abig downside to using 3 or 4G that, being bandwidth caps, not that they’ll cut you off if you use too much, they just charge you for the privilege of going over, by the megabyte. I haven’t had the chance to play with the IPad or Android tablets, So I can’t say which I like better. Both offer comparable features and both will fill a certain need for certain consumers, while others will want the specific features of one or the other, thus driving their choice. On the whole a consumer should be able to use any tablet easily and do basic web surfing and media playing without having to do a learning curve to figure out how to do essential functions, they should be self-explanatory .

The FCC is pushing a plan to get broadband to rural areas, that is nothing new.
They have been fighting with the cable and wireless companies for years trying to get them to invest in rural technologies for years. However, the companies in question see investing in rural broadband as dumping money into a big black hole, where they will be forever getting their money back, if ever. Yes its probably true they may never get all their money back. But the bigger issue is public safety and supporting the communities they are supposed to be serving. Yes they are in business to make money, However, the bigger picture is they are granted these big essentially monopolies to serve their communities. All of their communities, not just the parts the make them money. of the are easy to support . Telecommunication companies have a obligations to provide at least reasonable access to good phone service, and should be able to provide at least DSL speeds if not faster, where they can lay fiber and increase the speeds. It goes with out say the should be no limits on use and and throttling is no acceptable.
With the increased options for streaming material form the net directly, ie You Tube and the like, and NetFlicks, and other streaming services putting caps on monthly downloads would result in a consumer revolt to rival the revolutionary war .

Well, Folks I seems to have run out of steam for now, This is the first article in at least six months, and I hope that I can continue to put more out in a more timely fashion as the summer goes on.
I hope you found my ideas interesting and worthy of reading and commenting on.
Ken Lawson