June 27, 2012
Dish Network chairman and satellite pioneer Charlie Ergen built an empire by rankling the broadcast and cable industry. He's at it again with a commercial-skipping technology called AutoHop, which he will defend on Wednesday to House lawmakers in a "Future of Video" hearing. He says the technology is what consumers want. And, he adds, it's good for families. "AutoHop technology takes the DVR to a new level, giving consumers the choice to more easily view their preferred programming when they want, while skipping what they don't want to see," Ergen said in prepared written testimony for the Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing. "This means that allowing your kids to watch TV doesn't have to mean they have no choice but to see commercials for junk food and alcohol," he adds.
Of course the hearing is much broader than the ad-skipping debate and the lawsuit broadcasters have thrust on Dish. Broadcasters have alleged the satellite firm is violating copyrights and contract agreements. And they said Ergen arguments sound far-fetched. "Mr. Ergen's professed pro-parent stance rings hollow given that his Auto-Hop technology only eliminates ads on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC," said Dennis Wharton, vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters. "Given that cable networks carry far more advertising for hard liquor products than do broadcast TV stations, it's hard to view this as anything more than a DISH Network stunt designed to hide the fact that AutoHop violates U.S. copyright laws."
The House hearing is the second congressional hearing on the future of video amid a swirl of questions on how regulators should support competition and protect consumers who are increasingly turning to the Internet for their video news and entertainment. Federal officials have taken a fresh interest in video competition, questioning if decades-old rules on program access and retransmission consent still make sense in a world where consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for video.
The Justice Department is investigating if cable firms including Comcast are unfairly hampering online video competitors such as Netflix and Hulu by imposing Internet data caps on consumers. Justice is also looking at whether cable firms' "most-favored nation' deals with content partners give anticompetitive preference to their own television services and make it hard for Netflix and Hulu to compete. As consumers turn to online competitors, "issues such as discriminatory data usage caps and IP interconnection must be examined with a much more discerning eye," Netflix general counsel David Hyman says in his written testimony.
Dish's Ergen and Netflix's Hyman will be joined in the hearing by executives from Roku and Sky Angel, who will testify that their firms are trying to present online alternatives to cable and broadcast services. The cable industry has argued that it needs to create new billing models to deal with the costs of maintaining its networks and boosting capacity. Many telecom and cable firms have turned to data caps or usage-based pricing models meant to charge the heaviest users more. "As we continue to invest billions annually in fixed cost networks, we must continue to explore fairer and more efficient ways to price service, including potential models that require heavier users to pay more for the additional network resources they use, rather than have lighter users subsidize power users," Michael Powell, chief executive of the trade group the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, says in prepared testimony. Washington Post
The first iteration of Google TV was panned by reviewers and proved to be disastrous for hardware developers Sony and Logitech. Will a new, improved Google TV fare better?
First demonstrations of the finished 2.0 tech will be staged at the Google I/O developer conference opening tomorrow in San Francisco. But jumping the gun, Sony and Vizio have already announced new Google TV set-top boxes (and in Sony's case, also a Blu-ray player) designed to turn existing televisions into Smart TVs. All to browse websites (via Google Chrome), search for streaming movies, locate favorite TV shows and (in Vizio's case) play games, too. "The primary change" (from generation one) "is how the viewer interacts with the Google TV platform," said a Sony spokesman. Remote controls for the new Google TV products signal the circuitry via Bluetooth radio signals rather than infrared light, so you don't have to be pointing the remote at the screen while entering commands. The front side of the remotes (Sony's is slimmer/sexier looking) feature a touch pad for point and click, scroll and drag and even pinch-and-pull operations. The backside has a full QWERTY keyboard to simplify searches for sites and entertainment.
The gazillion dollar question remains which content providers will share their data bases and streaming shows with Google TV. That was the sticky wicket the first time the product came around, when the likes of Hulu and Viacom said "No go, amigos," The new version can handle both Adobe Flash Player and HTML streaming video. Sony is being shy about alligned services while Vizio says its Co-Star Stream Player will run Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, M-Go, YouTube and iHeart Radio.
Co-Star also claims distinction as the "first stream player to offer video games on demand through the OnLive Game service." And boasts inputs for cable or satellite TV signals, so the viewer can enjoy a split-screen experience mashing live/recorded TV and web-based content. Sony's new NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV is ready for pre-orders (and promised July 22 delivery) at $199 at Sony.com, while the NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player with Google TV ($299) will arrive for the holiday season. Vizio's Co-Star will be available for pre-orders in July (and delivery, um, whenever) at vizio.com, priced at $99.99 with introductory free shipping. philly.com
Vizio announced its first Google TV set-top box product called the Co-Star Tuesday, which offers access to the Google Play App Store, live gaming, a slick remote and much more. Vizio first made its intentions to produce a Google TV box at CES 2012, where the company showed off an unnamed prototype device. The device announced today has 802.11n support, one USB port, HDMI in/out ports, and an option to use a wired Ethernet cable. The Co-Star box will come preloaded with Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iHeartRadio, and cloud gaming service OnLive as well as all the other perks that come along with Google TV.
The Co-Star also has a full-featured Bluetooth remote control with all the standard TV buttons (channels, volume, number pad, etc.), a touch sensitive trackpad, quick buttons (Netflix, Amazon, M-Go), full Qwerty keyboard, and gaming buttons. Pretty much anything you'd possibly conceive of doing on your TV is accounted for. But the biggest selling point of the Co-Star is probably its $99 price, which is competitive to both the Apple TV and Roku 2 XS. By comparison, the recently announced Sony next-generation Google TV set-top box is twice that price. So, when can you get your hands on this bad boy? Vizio hasn't said, but pre-orders for the Co-Star open up next month. Washington Post
The days when Americans could avoid state sales taxes by buying online from Amazon.com are growing short. "By the end of 2012, five additional states will force Internet sellers to collect taxes:" Texas and Utah in July, Pennsylvania and California in September, and Georgia in October, says analyst David Strasser of Janney Capital Markets in a report to clients. New York and at least seven other states already have Internet tax collection requirements. New Jersey and five more plan to begin collecting, starting next year. "These changes could ultimately cut a 6%-9% pricing advantage from Internet-only retailers," adds Strasser. "Our discussion with private online retailers has indicated that online sales slow by as much as 10% after a state starts collecting sales tax."
But analyst Shawn Milne, also at Janney, projects only a "slight shift in the mix of online sales to traditional retailers." More important are "convenience and selection," especially the rapidly growing practice of shopping by smartphone; remaining barriers include the online shipping fees that Amazon and others impose on casual shoppers. Amazon is nearly in position to replace the shrinking U.S. Postal Service with its own Amazon next-day or even same-day deliveries. The company had 61 warehouses in 10 states (including 5 in Pennsylvania's Allentown-to-Chambersburg warehouse belt) at the end of 2011, and plans 15 more this year (including its second Delaware site). philly.com
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