Archive for category Slingbox

TiVo Awarded Patent For Closed Captions On A DVR

The Hash Tag Patent

TiVo doesn’t know whether or not their injunction against Dish’s DVR will hold up yet, but that hasn’t stopped them from adding to their patent portfolio in the meantime. In a remarkable filing with the USPTO, TiVo appears to have now won an important patent for displaying closed caption information to DVR customers.

In addition to covering this important feature, TiVo’s latest addition to their portfolio, also appears to encompass enhanced TV services, including a “clip and sling” type technology, that could eventually allow TiVo users to automatically remove commercials from time shifted programs.

According to patent 7,661,121, TiVo now owns the right to use existing closed caption and Enhanced Television (ETV) signaling data to create an interactive experience for their customers. ETV data is metadata that content owners have started to embed into their programming. It’s been used by Cablelabs and is part of the fundamental architecture behind big cable’s sinking “Canoe” DVR advertising venture. While I would suspect that the cable companies also have patents related to how ETV data can be used, it will undoubtedly be another series of rapids that the long delayed project will have to maneuver through.

While the abstract for TiVo’s latest patent is a little vague, if you delve into the details, you start to understand why TiVo would try to seize this particular piece of intellectual property. Essentially, the patent allows TiVo to sync closed caption information (and metadata) from broadcast programs recorded on a DVR and then display that data in an interactive format. This data can be as simple as a menu or closed captioned text or can be as advanced as digital video and sound effects.

From the patent,

“A multimedia device may use closed-caption data patterns to recognize and synchronize to multimedia content streams. The types of data patterns available in closed-caption data are numerous. For instance, distinct data patterns may exist within the actual closed-caption text, the closed-caption control data, as well as well as any other event defined by the closed-caption data. By recognizing distinct patterns within the closed-caption data, a DVR may identify events within the multimedia content stream. One way of recognizing patterns within closed-caption data is by computing hash values representing closed-caption text and identifying patterns of hash value sequences. Thus, according to one embodiment, at a multimedia device, such as a DVR or server, the closed-caption data is parsed and hash values are generated corresponding to the closed-caption data. The hash values are then compiled into hash value sequences associated with particular video programs or segments, and further combined with metadata defining command and control information for processing at multimedia devices. These hash sequences and metadata are provided to multimedia devices such as DVRs in the form of hash value sequence data. The multimedia devices use the hash value sequence data for recognizing and synchronizing to closed-caption data. A matching algorithm is used by the multimedia device to sequentially compare generated hash values from the closed caption data with multiple hash sequences that the multimedia device has stored locally. According to one embodiment, the matching algorithm is implemented through a state machine that processes the generated hash values and reports whether or not a match has occurred with a hash sequence identified by the hash value sequence data. ”

While the patent was only awarded on February 9th, TiVo actually implemented part of this technology years ago. Not only do they already offer a number of different ways to view closed caption data, but if you’ve ever watched a commercial on TiVo from one of their corporate partners, you’ve probably noticed a thumbs up icon that lets you easily subscribe to a show or order more product information.

While TiVo’s current implementation of this technology is admittedly pretty limited, the patent hints that there may be more powerful features going forward.

“”A user can mark off sections of a multimedia program or place points of interest relating to content within the multimedia program. For example, a user may want to mark the best plays of a recording of a football game. Once the user marks the plays, he can send the resulting hash sequences to a friend’s DVR.” [Bold added by me]

One of the reasons why Dish was never able to launch their clip and sling technology was because the content owners threw a hissy fit and threatened to sue the bejesus out them, if they made it easy for consumers to share content. While I don’t know the technical details behind what Sling was trying to accomplish, my sense of the project was that they wanted to let users edit other people’s content and then redistribute digital copies of those clips. The genius behind TiVo’s method is that their method wouldn’t allow anyone to “share content” that wasn’t entirely owned by the customer or TiVo.

“DVR users can distribute their own sets of points of interest for programs to other users. Users can further attach metadata to each point of interest that may cause the DVR to display text to the viewer, e.g., “Isn’t this a great action scene?” The user may also attach metadata to a point of interest that tells the DVR to skip x seconds into the program from that point of interest or display x seconds of the program before skipping to the next point of interest. This allows users to create their own condensed versions of a program that they can distribute to their friends, family, classmates, students, interest group, etc.”

While TiVo uses the example of a clipping highlights from a football game in their patent filing, I’m much more interested in how TiVo customers could potentially use this technology to remove commercials from YOUR programs. If both you and I have already recorded a particular show, there is no copyright violation because we’re both recording content that we already own. By allowing their users to create hash tag data, TiVo would technically own that data and would have the right to distributed that hash tag data to other DVRs without having to worry about content owners accusing them of stealing.

This would make it easy for me (or more likely someone else since I time shift everything ;) ) to easily tag all the commercials in a program and TiVo would then know to auto-skip past the content (commercials) when it saw the tags. TiVo could also use this as a way for live subscribers to tag the end of football and basketball games, so that they wouldn’t get cut off if the game went to overtime.

Another interesting embodiment of this patent would be the combination of live information with time shifted programming. Whenever I watch something a few months old, I always see commercials for upcoming TV shows or movies that are way past their expiration date. Instead of advertisers wasting their money on DVR subscribers, they could use sponsored hash tags to replace an old ad with something more current. Alternatively, if you were time shifting the news, TiVo could use your internet connection to create a live scrolling ticker that could update you on any new developments in the story.

Other potential uses that appear to be covered by the patent would include shows that have choose your own adventure type storylines. Upset about Chuck and Sarah not hooking up? the producers could give fans an alternate storyline to explore and allow viewers to vote on how they want to see the story move forward or TiVo could use this patent to create Blind Date type pop-ups around recorded television. While I tend to prefer my TV clutter free, for events like the state of the union, I can see why people would be interested in having fun facts pop up, addressing the issues that are being discussed.

While we haven’t seen any of these implementations take place today, the mere fact that TiVo was thinking about these options when they filed the patent would seem to suggest that they’ve been quietly innovating behind the scenes. This new patent award won’t necessarily help them in their case against Verizon or AT&T, but it could offer the telcos yet another reason to settle their dispute with TiVo, instead of being forced to place limits on the future of TV.

TiVo’s Billions: How TiVo Could Spend Their Legal Jackpot In A Single Day

Money In The BankDuring their ten year history, TiVo’s obituary has been written more times than I’ve sat through an entire commercial, yet no matter how tough the climb has been, TiVo has continued to defy critics and skeptics alike by chugging along (as if by sheer will at times.)

Even though the financial wiz kids over at Engadget, still have TiVo on their “death watch”, I’m beginning to see a much different picture. With 6 quarters of EBITA profitability now under their belt, $200 million in cash (minus the zero in debt on their balance sheet), and partnerships with a significant portion of the DVR market waiting to be implemented and rolled out, it’s no surprise that TiVo has gone from being a small cap child with plenty of dissenters, to an emerging mid cap teenager looking to establish a legacy.

The last ten years may have been characterized by one rumor after another of who TiVo was going to be acquired by next, but the next ten years will be a much different chapter for the little DVR that could.

At the risk of counting my chickens before they hatch, I wanted to kick off the next ten years of innovation by highlighting a few companies that TiVo could use to transition themselves from a niche DVR provider to a diversified corporate conglomerate. Of course there’s no guarantee that TiVo will even get the billion dollars that they are asking for, but it’s still fun to spend imaginary money.

SecuriTiVo – For years TiVo has been dragged into a bare knuckle brawl with cable and satellite companies, just for the right to offer their DVR to their customers. Meanwhile, they are ignoring an important untapped stand alone market that their invention created. The home security business might not be as sexy as HBO, but the DVR has had just as big of an impact on the security industry as it’s had on Hollywood’s outdated business model.

Instead of fooling around with a couple hundred of gigabytes, TiVo should be building multi-terrabyte DVRs that can record several weeks worth of high quality footage. TiVo could also sell a consumer version of the system that connects to the DVR in your living room and allows you to see live security video from your couch.

Not only would a security DVR give TiVo a commercial product to sell, but it would also add important reoccurable monthly revenue from on going security contracts. It would also create an opportunity to add an additional revenue stream from high quality video cameras.

Potential Target = The Brink’s Company (Ticker: BCO) – With a current market cap of $1.36 billion, this top notch security outfit may be a little out of TiVo’s reach, but they could certainly consider a joint venture or pounce on them, if the market starts to get cheap. Either way, a free TiVo with your home security system sounds like a great promotion just waiting to happen.

TiVo Charge Card – In 1939, the US was reeling from an economic depression so Fred Lazarus Jr., the CEO of Federated Dept. stores did two important things for his business. First, he convinced President Roosevelt to change Thanksgiving to the last Thursday of November so that it would extend the Christmas shopping season and then he started offering store credit to anyone who would purchase through him. By giving cash starved consumers access to credit during a tough economic climate, Federated Department stores was seen as a friend and patriot during a dark economic period. The impact from these two decisions helped take the company from a struggling retailer to the Goliath that it is today.

When it comes to couch commerce, TiVo faces a similar opportunity. Currently, when you purchase something through your DVR, TiVo stays out of the transaction. Even if you want to order a pizza with a credit card, you’re not able to, TiVo makes you pay cash :( This is probably a good thing for home shopping addicts, but works against’s TiVo’s goal of revolutionizing the advertising business. If they want couch commerce to actually succeed, they must make it easier for consumers to make an actual purchase.

The beauty of a TiVo charge card is that it could be linked directly to your TiVo account once and then capture every purchase after that. If you wanted to rent a movie from Jaman or buy a pair of flip flops from Amazon, it would be the same process and simply require password authorization.

TiVo could also offer discounts on DVR service for balance transfers or for customers who carry larger balances. Extending credit during tough economic times might seem risky, but TiVo needs a better payment solution sooner than later. By putting themselves in a position to become the paypal of television, TiVo could lower the barriers of entry for advertisers, in exchange for a cut of every transaction.

Potential Target = Bank of the Internet (Ticker: BOFI) With a current market cap of $50 million, TiVo could easily acquire this sleepy little bank from San Diego, CA and immediately serve a national audience. Not only would they have the infrastructure in place to start offering credit card services, but TiVo would be picking up a high quality loan portfolio in the process. BOFI’s conservative approach to lending may have hurt investors during the boom years, but when the credit bust hit, it proved that there was wisdom in their prudence.

SlingTiVo – When Sling first introduced place shifting to the DVR community, TiVo choose not to implement the functionality directly into their software. My guess is that they were concerned that a feature enjoyed by the fringe, could spark a lawsuit with the media giants, who’ve had their business model disrupted by TiVo’s fast fowarding powers.

Holding off on introducing place shifting may have been the right choice when the technology was still young, but internet video has changed a lot since Sling was founded. While the legality of placeshifting still hasn’t been affirmed by the courts, even Sony is selling a placeshifting device to their customers. With placeshifting starting to reach a more mainstream audience, now is the time for TiVo to introduce this capability to their customers.

Potential Target = Echostar (Ticker: SATS) – Without the ability to manufactuer DVRs for Dish customers, Echostar may find that their business isn’t worth all that much. With a market cap of $1.31 billion, TiVo could offer an olive branch to Dish, in exchange for the Echostar/DVR side of the business. Frankly, I’d rather see them bankrupt Dish and buyout the satellite business in a vulture sale, but the poetic justice alone makes this one worth consideration.

TiVoPages – One of the problems with TiVo’s current advertising setup is that they are kind of taking a walled garden approach to selling the ads. There are strict requirements on the content allowed on the service and only certain agencies are really given access to the inventory. This may be necessary to butter the toast of their Stop Watch customers, but it also limits what TiVo can become.

Why not make it so that anyone can upload a video ad to TiVo and inexpensively reach the TiVo audience based on screening criteria similar to Google’s Adsense program? I may be a small business, but if the costs are low and I can target local viewers or people who fit a certain demographic profile, I’d advertise through TiVo in a heartbeat. TiVo should play to their strengths and become a video Craigslist for the time shifted generation.

Potential Target = Razorfish – Two years ago, Microsoft paid $6 billion for the company. Today they are rumored to be looking for $600 – $700 million to spin off the ad agency. Owning an agency might ruffle some feathers with some StopWatch customers, but Razorfish would give TiVo the infrastructure they need to their take their advertising program, beyond major, one time, national partnerships. By better implementing their advertising programs, TiVo could create a platform where local businesses could reach local viewers in their markets.

DigiTiVo – TiVo may be one of a handful of solutions for letting consumers watch digital video on their televisions, but they could go a long way towards improving their current implementation. One of the problems with trying to watch various internet video types on your TiVo is that TiVo needs to transcode the video before it will play on your screen.

Currently, customers can either hack their machines for free access or they can pay $25 for a copy of TiVo Desktop plus. While I don’t expect TiVo to support every flavor of codec out there, it would be nice if they threw their support behind a standard and tried to come up with a more seemless experience for their customers. It may be too late for them to get a piece of Adobe or to crack their way into Quicktime or Silverlight, but there are still smaller codec companies that could help.

Potential Target = DivX – (Ticker: DIVX) with a market cap of $175 million, TiVo could easily afford to buy the digital video company and use their contacts to adopt more of a licensing approach to the DVR business. By taking advantage of the profits from the codec business, TiVo could help to subsidize more robust codec support for their subscribers.

HuluTiVo – One of TiVo’s advantages is that they’ve managed to remain neutral despite competing in some pretty tough battlegrounds. In the past, TiVo has taken on the media giants, but now may be the time for them to lay down their arms and secure a stake in the next generation of television.

Love it or hate it, the Hulu cartel has been able to establish themselves as a major broadcaster in the narrowcast world. To date, other media companies have been reluctant to share Hulu on the television, but with TiVo’s relatively small subscriber base, they could be seen as a safe testing ground for experimentation. By implementing direct response ads into the actual programming, TiVo and the major media companies could finally benefit from working together instead of against each other.

A Hulu ownership position might make it harder for TiVo to sign more deals like UnBox and WatchNow, but I think if they stayed focused on advertising supported programming, they could still attract plenty of premium and subscription based partners.

Potential Target = Hulu – The company has raised $130 million to date at a billion dollar valuation, but with the market being down its hard to know what it would be valued at now. Given the “digital dimes” that Hulu is producing, one could argue that the weak market should offer new investors a discount, but one could also argue that given Hulu’s growth, a billion may be cheap. It’d be hard to convince Hulu’s current owners to sell or even innovate to the television, but I know more than a few TiVo customers who would love to see Hulu show up on their Now Playing lists.

NinTiVo – Even with TiVo’s new found purchasing power, buying out one of the three video game companies simply isn’t going to happen, so TiVo would either need to invest in building out their own billion dollar console or license one from Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft to create a killer DVR/PC/Console compatible platform. With three major companies fighting for a highly competitive industry, a partnership with TiVo would be highly sought after and could at least give them a seat at the negotiation table.

Potential Target = Take Two Interactive (Ticker: TTWO) – Take Two’s bad boy Grand Theft image wouldn’t compliment TiVo’s KidZone initiatives, but it would give them access to an instant powerhouse in the video game industry. With a market cap at $690 million, TiVo could easily acquire the company for a billion and tone down the bad boy image. With an exclusive on several of the hottest games out there, a partnership with a major console manufactuerer and a beefed up TiVo that acts more like a high end gaming PC/DVR combo then a VCR, TiVo could create a big splash with the gaming crowd.

Hotel TiVofornia – One of the biggest reasons why TiVo isn’t more popular with consumers is because it’s hard to know how much you’re missing until you’re actually a customer. Getting someone to buy a DVR in the first place is tough, but getting them to give it up is even tougher. What TiVo needs is an easy and cost effective way to introduce their DVR to the masses.

Whenever I stay at a hotel, the television is awful. If a national hotel chain were to partner with TiVo to let me schedule programing while I’m there, I know that they would become my default choice when I traveled. To date, TiVo has dabbled with these types of programs, but with the extra money they could kick this program into hyperdrive. By building out more support for hotel rooms, TiVo could secretly expose millions of travelers to a commercial for their DVR without travelers ever realizing that it could be the last ad that they’d ever have to tune into.

Potential Target = Boyd’s (Ticker: BYD) – With the Vegas economy still dealing with the after shocks of the credit crisis, Boyd’s market cap has fallen to $760 million. With a little bit of elbow grease and some slick marketing, TiVo could buy the hotel and pick up a casino as a bonus. With a Vegas style monument to the DVR, TiVo could let you gamble from your hotel DVR. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

TiVoTube – Over the last few years, a lot of people have mocked Google for their $1.6 billion acquisition of YouTube, but in retrospect, it’s starting to look like a brilliant acquisition by the search giant. Not only did Google continue to expand their dominance on the web, but they picked up a major future broadcaster in the process.

It’s too late for TiVo to get their slice of YouTube, but it doens’t mean that other video sites wouldn’t be a good fit for them.

Potential Target = Dailymotion.com – With TiVo looking to expand DVR service into Europe and Asia, Dailymotion could very well be the beachhead they need with international audiences. This one would probably have the biggest risk associated with it because of the hosting costs and potential copyright headaches, but with Dailymotion having only raised $43 million so far, TiVo could probably offer $300 million and set aside the other $700 million to figure out the business model.

1-800-TiVo-Fon – I wish that I could take credit for this idea, but I originally found out about TiVo-Fon two years when a research report surfaced online by two teams of University students studying the idea. Unfortunately, I lost track of the link so it will have to remain internet legend for the time being, but the system they described worked similar to the Movie-Fon hotline that you can buy theater tickets with.

To use the service, you would link your DVR to your cell phone number so that you could call 1-800-TiVo-Fon and immediately go into the main menu choices. Currently, TiVo does have a cell phone app, but it costs money to use and doesn’t allow you to schedule things at the last minute. With TiVo-Fon any cell phone could call and a voice recognition system could be set up to take you to the program you want to schedule. This way if you’re at dinner and someone mentions that there is something good on at home, you could order your recording and have it pushed into your box, so that you can watch it when you get home.

Potential Target = Fandango – Fandango is a fellow .com mania survivor who managed to scrape together an impressive business by being early and disruptive. Early on, TiVo and Fandango partnered to offer movie ticket reservations through the DVR and may even represent their first couch commerce transaction. Two years ago Comcast paid close to $200 million for the ticket company, but I think TiVo could buy them for less than $150 million. With the right budget and some slick marketing, TiVo could use Fandango to take on TicketMaster and StubHub.

TiVo Video Conferencing – It’s 2009 already, but where are all of the video phones. Making it easy to attach a camera and Microphone to your TiVo would really change what it means to reach out and touch somebody. By adding VOIP and business support, TiVo could expand their services into the commercial marketplace.

Potential Target = Skype – When you consider that Ebay paid $2.6 billion for Skype in 2005, this one may seem like a longshot, but telecommunications has only gotten more competitive since then and Ebay’s already signaled their intention to exit the business. By picking up the popular program and making a subsequent acquisition for a small relationship management company like Zoho, TiVo could build a multimedia telecommunications solution that would rival Salesforce.com

TiVo Networking – One of the biggest challenges that TiVo faced early on was trying to convince consumers of the benefit to plugging your DVR into the internet. Owning a networking company wouldn’t necessarily make this any easier, but it would help to further wedge TiVo into the center of the digital media experience. If there were enough synergies for it to make sense for Cisco to buy Scientific Atlantic, then it makes just as much sense for TiVo to acquire a networking company.

Potential Target = Netgear (symbol: NTGR) – A few years ago Netgear had a market cap that was almost four times larger then TiVo’s but today they weigh in at $540 million. With a profitable business model and revenue that is nearly three times what TiVo is currently bringing in, a $700 million bid wouldn’t be ridiculous.

TiVo Extender – Over the years, TiVo customers have loved the service so much that many of them have purchased multiple units. TiVo charges an extra fee to add an additional DVR, but doesn’t really make much of a profit because they are forced to subsidize the hardware purchase with smaller multi-room viewing fees.

Instead of trying to get their customers to buy multiple DVRs, TiVo should instead allow the first DVR to act like a server and then have extender devices inexpensively tap into the main DVR signal. This would allow TiVo to sell hardware at a profit and give away multi-room viewing to their customers. With companies like AT&T making a big deal about their muti-room capabilities, TiVo could use an extender strategy to undercut them in pricing.

Potential Target = Roku – Netflix may have put Roku on the map, but the company is headed for greatness on their own. We don’t know a lot about their valuation, but if you consider that they’ve only raised $6 million in VC backing, I think that it’d be easy for TiVo to pick them up for less than $50 million. Not only would the other TiVo video services compliment Roku subscribers, but it would be an easy and cost effective way to solve the multi-room limitations.

Some of these ideas are admittedly a bit far fetched, but you have to admit that they would make interesting mergers. While I don’t expect that we’ll see TiVo go on any big shopping sprees soon, as their cash bulks up and their legal victory pulls through, expect to see more people asking what they plan to do with the money.

What do you think, if FakeTomRogers stepped aside and you were hired you as the new CEO of TiVo, what would you do with a billion dollar jackpot?

The Pros and Cons Of Media Center Vista

Caution Objects In Vista Are Less Entertaining Than They Appear

Over the past few months, I’ve finally started to get a feel for Media Center Vista and while I haven’t tried out every feature in the program, I have played around with it long enough to have some initial thoughts. Before I tried the software, I had low expectations, but after actually using the program, I’ve been really impressed with what the Media Center team has put together.

Media Center Vista allows you to perform some pretty advanced tasks without having to be a computer geek in order to figure out how to use it. I initially had some reservations about the user interface, but it only took about a week, before I found it growing on me. There are still improvements that Microsoft needs to make, but they’ve made a giant leap forward, compared to the original XP version.

Pros

-Media Center Vista is wicked fast at finding new programs. In the XP version, the software was painfully slow at trying to search for shows. As soon as I would start typing in the name of a show, XP would freak out from trying to sort through so much information. In Vista, the program still starts searching immediately, but the indexing has been turbocharged. Instead of having to wait for the menu, the results will appear as fast as you can type. This faster indexing shows up in a number of areas. When you are browsing, you can hit page down and scroll through programs as fast as you can read them. If you want to rearrange the priority of your recordings, you can make changes and move onto other areas of the program without having to wait forever while the system checks for conflicts.

-The interface looks fantastic. Microsoft has done a good job of creating a clean and intuitive DVR experience. The program is easy to navigate and has lots of extra features. On the surface the design appears relatively simple, but you can tell that Microsoft has paid a lot of attention to the little details. Whether it’s being able to double click on the picture in picture window, in order to bring up the full screen or being able to see the DVD art for upcoming movies, there are a lot of subtle features that make for a more enjoyable media experience.

-Vista comes with 30 second skip enabled. TiVo fans know that you can hack your remote to add this feature, but the big studios were able to scare TiVo into disabling it for the masses. In the past, I’ve never really used the 30 second skip feature because it meant giving up the skip to the end button on my remote. After spending some time with it on Media Center, I’ve been really surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. Hitting a button six times is a lot easier than trying to guess when the program is about to start again.

-There is minimal interference between you and your recordings. One of my biggest frustrations with the generic DVR was that it required too many unnecessary steps, before I could interact with my content. It felt like I had to hit ten buttons before I could schedule a movie, delete a recording or even watch a show. With Vista Media Center, it’s an entirely different story. The entire experience is built around the content that you are interacting with. You can’t do everything from all levels of the software, but each step is intuitively linked to the task that you are focused on. If you are watching a TV show, then by right clicking you can delete the program or burn it to DVD. If you are playing music it’s one click to pause, skip, repeat, shuffle . . . .

-You can watch TV while surfing the web. Media Center is really designed for the living room, but I’m primarily using it in a desktop setting. I didn’t think that I’d watch a lot of TV at my desk, but I’ve found it to be the perfect compliment to streaming Netflix and YouTube. This isn’t ideal for shows with intense action and complex story lines, but its perfect for tuning into the news when you see a story break online or for listening to late night talk shows, while you’re multitasking on the web. This feature won’t benefit you, if you plan on using Media Center on your TV, but it’s a good reason to add on a TV tuner, the next time you upgrade your PC.

-You can use the XBox360 as an extender. I’ve read a lot about the Xbox extenders, but I had never actually seen one in action. Connecting my Xbox to Media Center took an extra registration step, but it was well worth the time to get it set up. When I first heard about Microsoft’s extender strategy, I was skeptical that it would stream videos without problems or program lock ups. While I didn’t test the connection using WiFi, my experience using the Xbox was almost identical to having the PC directly connected to the TV. No lag, no stuttering, just instant access to my content on my big screen tv.

-You can watch TV while using the menus. TiVo uses picture in picture technology on their Comcast download, but you won’t find it on their stand alone DVRs. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this until I started using Vista as a DVR. Whether it’s a live show or a recording, Vista will minimize whatever program that’s on, when you want to dig deeper into the menu settings. This isn’t good if you’ve accidentally stumbled onto a football game and are desperately trying to avoid the score, but it is nice for when you’re not exactly sure what you want to watch.

-It will help you find programs that are on right now. Vista Media Center allows you to search for programs in a number of ways, but its their support for upcoming television, that impressed me the most. When it comes to searching for things like TV series, kid shows, etc., it allows you to browse alphabetically or by date. They’ve also built a separate section for movies and for sports where they’ve packed in some extra bonus content. In the TV and movies section, they offer plugins for various movie download services and in the sports section Vista will let you check the box scores or add fantasy players to track.

-You can skip automatically skip commercials. DVRs make it easy to skip commercials, but Vista Media Center takes things one step further by supporting plugins, that can edit out those pesky little ads entirely. It’s not easy to set up and it’s not something that is enabled by default, but it’s still a pretty sweet feature to add.

-You can placeshift your TV. The Slingbox is great if you have a cable DVR or a TiVo, but with Media Center you can download a free plugin that will let you watch your content wherever you can connect to the net. I haven’t actually used the program yet, but it’s still a great feature to have access to.

-You can burn DVDs. Normally, I’m pretty good about watching all of the shows that I record, but when it comes to boxing, I just don’t have time to see every fighter. It’s my favorite sport, but since I record every fight (even the ones on the Spanish channels), there isn’t enough time/hard drive space, to get caught up. Since I’ll never really know which fighters will end up making it big, I’ve decided to use my Media Center to archive all of the fights. By saving them to DVD, I should be able to go back and watch the fights that mattered.

-It supports external storage. Media Center gives you a lot of control over how you want to set up your storage. Since I’m using it as a secondary DVR, I’ve set it up to record a maximum of 100GB on my internal drive. If I need more, I can add an external drive or increase my internal hard drive allocation.

Cons

-You shouldn’t have to reboot your TV. One of the things that I love about my TiVo is that it just works. You don’t have to be a tech geek to figure it out, you plug it into your TV and it records everything. In the entire time that I’ve been a TiVo customer, I can think of very few occasions where TiVo failed to record my programing. When it comes to Media Center, it’s important to remember that it’s a PC first and a DVR second. Over the last few months, I’ve found the program to be mostly reliable, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing either. Whether it’s been dealing with poor DRM design, troubleshooting a bug that refused to let me download the guide data or having my computer crash while recording television, there have been several times where I’ve missed recordings, because of PC related problems. While I can’t blame Microsoft for all of my problems, it’s still frustrating to miss a show because of technical difficulties.

-Internet video support is weak. Media Center includes support for services like Vongo and Showtime on Demand, but it involves registering and downloading a separate program before you can get it working. As a Netflix subscriber, I was looking forward to being able to use Watch Now inside of Media Center, but Microsoft has left it up to the fans to build support for this. Microsoft includes some MSN internet video content, but they make you watch pre-roll ads before knowing whether or not it’s something that you are interested in. The Xbox may unofficially support DivX, but you can’t access it inside of media center. If you prefer to use a media extender instead, it will support your XviD files, but it’s set up to block your DivX content.

-It won’t record radio. XM may have just settled a lawsuit over their radio DVR, but recording radio shouldn’t be any different than television content. Media Center will let you listen to OTA radio, but it doesn’t let you record any of the programs.

-Fast forward is a little too powerful. It may be, that I’m just used to TiVo, but Vista’s fast forward speeds are hard to adjust to. They’ve got slow, almost fast and then it jumps to hyper speed. I can’t tell whether or not they are using a five second skip back, but when I hit play, I’m usually way past the start of the program. If you stick to the 30 second skip it’s not a problem, but it’d be nice if there was some kind of a way to adjust the timing on this.

-You can’t skip to the middle of a program. One of the things that I like about downloaded video is being able to immediately jump to the middle or the end of a program. Since this is a key feature in Window’s media player, I was surprised to see this missing from Media Center. There is also no way to jump 15 minutes ahead. If you happen to fall asleep during the middle of a program, you’re stuck with fast forwarding in order to get back to where you were at.

-You can’t rate your television. As television continues to involve, it’s becoming increasingly personal. Media Center does a good job of recording TV, but it doesn’t do a very good job of getting to know you. You can sort movies by the highest rated, but its using someone else’s criteria. Because you can’t tell Media Center what you do and don’t like, there are no suggested recordings or personalization.

-It doesn’t support auto-recording of wishlists. I’m a big basketball fan, but I’m really only interested in seeing the Laker games. Media Center will let me search for the next time that they are playing, but it won’t automatically record the game. It would be nice to be able to use media center to record programs that are customized to my interests.
Al pointed out in the comments that you can actually uses wishlists, you just need to set it up from the add recording field. Thanks for the help Al. This one definitely should go in the pro category.

-Vista’s DRM doesn’t play nice with HD. I’m still fuming over this one. I knew that recording HDTV on Vista would be a hassle, so I stuck with standard tuners when I customized my computer. After upgrading to an HD monitor, Vista disabled my Netflix Watch Now and put Media Center into lock down. If Apple’s DRM wasn’t just as bad, I would be thinking differently after this experience.

-It takes forever to burn a DVD. I was really jazzed up over being able to archive shows onto DVD, but the sluggishness of the DVD burning capabilities has me rethinking this game plan. It took me 2 and a half hours to burn a one hour program to DVD. It’d be one thing if I was using lousy hardware, but it takes less then 4 minutes for me to burn a 2 hour DivX film. It’s nice to be able to save your TV, but it should never take more time to burn the disc, than it does to watch it.

-Good for early adopters, complicated for everyone else. Vista Media Center offers a lot of unique features, but it takes too much tweaking to set these up. Placeshifting and auto commercial skipping are available, but it’s up the consumer to find and install these programs. Even if you know what you are doing, the setup can still be complicated. Instead of making consumers seek out these programs, Microsoft should be including them as part of the package. It wouldn’t be popular with the media companies, but it’d win the company a lot more fans.

-The recording quality is terrible. It’s probably not fair to compare a cablecard connected TiVo with an analog cable media center set up, but the TiVO SD recordings on my 60″ screen, look way better than the Media Center recordings on my 22″ monitor. This probably has less to do with Media Center and more to do with the tuners that I’m using, but it still takes away from the user experience. Unless you want to spend the big bucks on a cablecard media center, you may end up having to deal with poor resolutions.

-There’s no turning back once you delete – As careful as I am, sometimes my DVR instincts go on auto-pilot and I’ll accidentally delete a show before watching it. With TiVo I can recover that program, but in Media Center it is gone forever. The file isn’t even in the Recycle bin. Media Center will always ask you to confirm before deleting, but this also creates one more button to push when you are done with the shows that you have watched.

So there you have it, the good, the bad and Media Center Vista. There are some rough spots around the edges, but it really is a fantastic program. I’m hoping that we’ll see better support for HDTV and for online video as the program continues to evolve.

Fox Business News Foozles Again: How A New Video Strategy Could Salvage Their Online Reputation

Lolz FoxWhen I first heard that Fox was coming out with a new business channel, Rupert Murdoch had me at “more corporate friendly.” Since CNBC seems to only cover the hype and Bloomberg is painfully boring, I was hopeful that Fox could provide a fresh perspective on business events, while still entertaining me with their bombshell anchors and their sensationalism style of reporting.

Unfortunately, Fox Business News has turned out to be a big joke and continues to lose credibility on Wall St. Since launching the channel, I’ve seen three of their stories to go viral, but instead of giving me a reason why for why I should be tuning in, the stories have been about embarrassing gaffes by the channel.

The first story involved an anchor who incorrectly reported that Apple had purchased an 8% stake in AMD. Even after discovering the mistake, Fox compounded this error by misreporting that it was the “Arabs” who had purchased AMD instead.

A few days later, Fox followed up this viral hit with another blunder, after they rushed to report that HP had missed their earnings estimates, when in fact they had easily beaten them.

The latest story to hit the innerweb, involves a man on the street interview with a planted shill from the National Retail Federation :roll:

I don’t know why Fox is having so many problems getting their news right, but these types of stories are having a serious impact on their credibility. “Fair and balanced” may work for their political reporting, but when traders are betting millions of dollars on breaking information, they expect their news to be accurate.

While it’s easy to blame these PR errors on clumsy anchors, I think that Fox’s PR failings have more to do with their web video strategy. These may only be a few isolated events, but without positive buzz, it leaves people with the impression that Fox gets things wrong, more often then right. I don’t think that Fox can prevent future goof ups from going viral, but by making it easier for the web community to share their reporting, they could begin to repair their tattered reputation.

When it comes to premium content, it’s understandable that the studios would be reluctant to move it to the net, but when it comes to business news, it’s an entirely different animal. You don’t need to watch Heroes live, in order to extract value from the content, but breaking financial news isn’t the sort of thing that people time shift.

Because the information is time sensitive, it protects business channels from the DVR effect, but it also limits the monetary value of their archived content. Even though people won’t pay for a Squawk on the Street DVD box set, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t real marketing value locked up in the business news vaults.

The problem with Fox’s web video strategy, is that they are trying to control what goes viral, by only uploading certain highlights to their website. This might help to beef up the content on their site, but it doesn’t make the best use of their archived footage. I believe that the stock market is the ultimate example of the long tail in action. The large cap companies may get all the press, but there are an unbelievable number of companies out there and each one has an eager audience. By making it easier for the long tail community to easily share their reporting, I believe that Fox can strike a body blow against their CNBC rival.

Over the last year, Sling Media has been working on a clip and sling service, that would allow their customers to snip certain sections of a program and send them to people in their social network. Sling hasn’t released very many details on the software, but it’s already stirred up some controversy among some of the media companies.

Instead of fighting this technology, Fox should be using it as a weapon against CNBC. If Fox were to run a 20 minute delayed feed and let viewers clip and share the news within their social circles, they would soon have an army of volunteers creating a massive and valuable advertising platform for them. It may only be a 60 second clip talking about an obscure company, but that clip would get included in email groups, message boards and blogs, that are devoted to these subjects.

By running the news at a 20 minute delay, it would also encourage people to watch the channel live, so that they could then jump online to share the video. It would also help the home viewers have a better understanding of how breaking news impacts the markets. With most online quote services being 20 minutes delayed, sometimes its hard to tell why a stock is jumping or falling without the live data. If home viewers had a way of syncing the business news with their delayed quotes, it could help them to make better sense of the trading activity in the markets. A 20 minute delay would also give Fox enough time to at least spin/correct any mistakes, before the bloggers jumped all over them.

Giving up this type of control can be scary for big media companies, but Fox has already lost control of their live video. If they have a major screw up, someone out there will take the time to get that footage onto YouTube because scandal sells and people love to gossip, but if they have an interesting interview with an exec, someone needs to be really motivated before they can share that content with their audience.

Instead of fighting this trend, Fox should accept that they can’t suppress live video and instead make it easier for people to share the good reporting that is also going on. Instead of limiting their videos to mainstream content, Fox should be opening up their programming to the entire web, so that they can leverage the marketing power of the content. When you only hear about the negatives, it’s hard to put a lot of value on Fox’s live coverage, but if people started to see content that was relevant to them, it would make them think about how they would have seen it live, if they were only watching Fox business instead.

Circus Circus Clowns Around With Their Hotel TV

Circus Circus Clowns Around With Their TVI don’t take a lot of vacations, but every now and then I like to get out town, in order to do a little bit of gambling :) Every time I go to Vegas, Reno or Tahoe, I try to stay at a different casino, so I never really know what to expect. Some of the hotels that I’ve stayed at have been great and some have been terrible, but Circus Circus is the only one, that has lost my business entirely.

Normally, I’d be bothered by a dirty room or poor customer service, but in this case, it was a big fat sticker, that cautioned their guests about hooking up your outside equipment, to their television sets. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have cared about something like this, but with the explosion in the number of laptop to TV solutions, this has become an important issue for consumers to think about. What good does it do you, to be able to take your PC on the go, if hotels end up freezing you out, by neutering their TV sets?

I know that hotel PPV is a huge business, but I would think that tech savvy consumers would be a juicy demographic, that the casinos would be after. In the past, the hotels haven’t had to compete against outside video sources, but as technology has gotten better, we’ve seen new possibilities emerge. Instead of leaving your TV at home, you can placeshift it with Sling or Orb. With the proliferation of portable DVD players, it’s easy to take movies on the go. Whether it’s the newly announced Sansa TakeTV or the upcoming SlingCatcher, we are seeing an increase in the number of solutions for getting digital video to the television, on an almost daily basis.

I’ve never thought about checking to see if a hotel offers open access for their TVs, but in the future, it will be something that I make sure to ask about. I understand that the casinos would rather have me gambling, then watching TV, but being able to placeshift local sports, makes betting on them all that much more exciting.

In my dream world, casinos would charge $20 more per night and I’d get unlimited broadband, along with a TiVo that can record content during my stay, but I’m not holding my breath on this one. Right now, this is only an issue for early adopters, but as PC to TV technology goes mainstream, it will be something that more people will want to think about.

Some hotels may try to lock people into their proprietary systems, but in the future, I’m going to insist on free wifi and open television, even if it means that I’m staying at motels, instead of clowning around with Circus Circus.

Software You’ll Need When Your PC Hits The Big Start Over Button In The Sky

ComputerRecently, I suffered a computer meltdown and the good news is that I still have my data, but the bad news is that it’s cheaper to replace the PC, then it is to fix it. Since I was already in the market for a laptop, I decided to purchase one, while I took the time to figure out my home PC strategy.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a new computer, so I was a little surprised at how long it took me to recreate my unique PC experience. Getting the right mix of bookmarks and software is key to taking full advantage of the horsepower that your computer has. At first, I thought that setting up my new laptop would be quick and painless, but I misjudged the sheer number of programs that I would need and forgot about the pesky bloatware to deal with.

Even after an aggressive campaign, I am still finding things that I need to uninstall. I did manage to get rid of the McAfee pop up that warned of my computer being comprised because I wasn’t paying them money :roll: but I’m still trying to remove the Vongo free trial offer that shows up in what seems like every menu.

Since I know that I’m not the only one to experience some frustration in setting up a new PC, I decided to keep a list of all the programs that are helpful, when you are doing a fresh install.

Web Browsing

Firefox – I’ve tried the new internet explorer browser, but it still can’t beat this open source underdog. Step #1 – fire up IE, so you can download Firefox, then delete all IE shortcuts, so you never accidentally launch the software again.

IE Firefox Plugin – As much as I try to avoid IE, sometimes there are services that are only supported by Microsoft’s browser. In order to avoid having to fire up IE, I install a firefox plugin, that allows me to use IE, in my preferred browser.

Email

Thunderbird
– I normally use web based email, but still like having Thunderbird, in case I need to archive my emails. I actually prefer Microsoft’s Outlook, but am not willing to spend the money when there is such a great open source product available.

Communication

Skype – I don’t use Skype as much as I should, but think that it’s a great alternative to cable telephone or Vonage. I’m still looking for a good program that can record my Skype calls, but this is still a pretty robust service.

TrillianThomas Hawk turned me onto this one. Why run separate Yahoo!, MSN and AOL instant messaging software, when one program can handle all three? Instead of being forced to choose your friends, you can show up on all three major networks easily.

System Resources

AdAware – This one isn’t fun to play with, but it’s important to have on your system. It can’t stop a full blown virus from invading, but it can help you find programs that are trying to sneak their way on board.

Spy-bot Search & Destroy – Spy-bot is a lot like AdAware, but I like to keep both programs available. One time I came across a download that blocked AdAware from starting, but was no match for Spy-bot. These services can’t replace the paid ones, but they go a long way towards helping to improve the security on your computer.

Google Desktop – I’ve had mixed feelings about Google Desktop from the get go, but still continue to use it. On one hand, it’s really helpful to be able to search my hard drive easily, but on the other hand, I also feel a little weird about Google desktop tracking me. I figure that the functionality is worth it, as long as I make sure that I’ve got a strong password for my login.

Java – I’m not even sure that I can tell you what Java does, but I do know that it is at the heart of some pretty cool applications. I’ve used the technology to play games, watch videos and watch live streaming content online and I don’t think that I’ve even scratched the surface of what it’s capable of.

Greasemonkey – GreaseMonkey allows you to mash up different parts of the web inside of your browser. It’s a very powerful plugin and is worth downloading, even if you’re not sure how you’ll end up using it. My favorite GreaseMonkey script is a plugin that allows you to see which movies in your Netflix queue, will be airing on TiVo soon.

Social Web

Commentful – This software will change the way you interact online. It allows you to leave comments on web entries and then notifies you when someone has added something to the conversation. In the past, I would comment, but would never follow up to see if there is a response, now I use Commentful to help me continue dialogues that would have normally fizzled out.

WordPress – There are lots of blogging packages out there, but I use WordPress. I like it because it has great fan support and offers a lot of functionality, that I can’t find in other blog packages. My favorite part is having the ability to completely change the appearance of the site, with a simple click of a button. With plenty of WordPress widgets, it’s easy to customize templates, to fit any personality.

Del.icio.us – There are many different bookmarking sites, but I primarily use Del.icio.us. By downloading their firefox plugin, all you have to do is right click and you can clip articles. This is a great resource for archiving things that you want to view later.

Google RSS – A good RSS reader can help you keep track of your favorite sites. Without it, I wouldn’t see a tenth of the content that I track. In the past I’ve used Bloglines, but when Google introduced RSS search capabilities, they won me over. This feature alone, allows me to track 1,000 times more content, then what I could handle in a more basic RSS program.

Photography

Picasa – Photoshop is great, but there are still free alternatives, if you don’t want to spend the cash. Picassa not only has a decent photo editing feature, but also allows you to post your photos online.

Zooomr – I visit Zooomr several times a day, in order to check my Zipline. I also use Zooomr to host my photos for this blog and play web games in their forums. There isn’t any software to download, but if you drag and click on the Zooomr link, you can add a bookmark to your toolbar.

Flickr – Flickr is another great photo sharing site. They are one of the largest photo sharing sites, so they have an even better selection of images. There isn’t anything to download, but they do have a bulk uploader, if you plan on hosting a lot of images.

Remote Computing

Orb – You need a TV tuner and media center software for this one, but if you have these components, then Orb is a no brainer to install. It allows you to placeshift your content, anywhere you can get a broadband connection.

UltraVNC – Even though, I upload a lot of things online, there are still times where I need access to my home computer. UltraVNC allows you to log into your system remotely, so that you can access your files, even if you happen to be on the go.

Digital Video

Adobe Flash – YouTube is one of my favorite sites and in order to see their videos, you’ll need the flash codec. Because of the sheer amount of content encoded in flash, this one of the most essential downloads on the list.

DivX – Flash is great because it has broad support, but I prefer DivX because it offers a high quality experience that you can take with you. You can download support for just the codec, but I prefer to download the DivX web player, so that I can watch Stage6 content as well.

Quicktime – I’ve never spent a lot of time using iTunes, but I do come across a lot of Quicktime movies on the net. If you already have iTunes, you won’t need this one, but if not, then this is a helpful plugin.

Real Player – I’ve had so many problems with Real Player, that I almost hate to download it, but there are too many interesting things in Real format, to completely ignore this format.

Music

Pandora – This is one of my favorite places to find new music. Over time, Pandora will start to figure out your interests and will suggest a lot of things that you don’t hear on commercial radio.

Foxy Tunes – This is a great program for finding and sharing music on the web. It not only allows you to search for cool music, but you can also insert FoxyTunes links into emails that you send to friends

Last FM – I prefer Pandora, but use Last FM because it is supported on my TiVo. I’m not sure how to describe a technology whose roots are based in scrobbling, but once you get the hang of it, you can start to find some really cool music.

Word Processing

OpenOffice – This open source software package contains all the features that you would expect to find in a high priced business software package. It works transparently with Microsoft files and is a great alternative for those on a budget.

Google Docs – I don’t think that it can replace Microsoft in the business world, but Google docs is a free alternative for home users. It allows you to create and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

Foxit Reader – Most people use the Adobe reader, but I only turn to it as a last resort. Adobe’s reader is an important program to have too, but it always takes too long to load and asks me if I want to update way too often. Instead I stick to Foxit and no longer have to wonder if my system will crash when I’m closing a .pdf file.

Calendar

Yahoo! Calendar – When choosing a calendar system it’s important to choose carefully, because the more time that goes by, the more you will be locked into that system. At this point, I have most of my important dates scheduled on Yahoo!, but still yearn for a better solution that offers me true data portability.

30 Boxes – If you love Ajax, you’ll be a fan of 30 boxes. The site allows you to open up your calendar to the social web. This is helpful for planning and sharing events. It’s an interesting concept, even if I’m still not ready to turn over my schedule to bill collectors and ex-girlfriends.

Games

TripleA – I highly recommend downloading this one, but don’t blame me if you drop out of society from playing it. TripleA is an Axis & Allies emulator that replicates the original game to perfection. It’s entirely fan built and is a great resource for playing out your own World War II fantasies.

FreeCiv – Sid Meier’s Civilization game had a huge impact on video gaming and this program validates it’s place in the pantheon of PC based programs. The program is a Civilization emulator where you can raise and develop your own society. I always try to be nice, but invariably, I end up attacking my neighbors.

ZSNES – This is a great open source emulator for replicating old arcade games. It won’t come in handy, if you want the modern day gaming experience, but it is useful if you ever wish that you could go back and play games from your childhood. Finding the games can be a little tough, but reuniting with an old friend, can make the journey worth it.

Peer 2 Peer

Limewire – If you don’t want to spring for the pro version, Limewire can be a little spammy, but it’s still a good resource, for those interesting in taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.

Emule – Another powerful P2P client. It doesn’t have access to the largest number of files, but it does offer a clean interface and is a good resource for when you can’t find things on the other P2P networks.

Bit Torrent – It’s one of the most popular programs on Download.com for a reason. This robust p2p system allows you to download and share tiny bits of content from multiple users at once. This helps to speed up the download times and helps to get around some of the uploading restrictions.

Fox Torrent – Fox Torrent isn’t as fast as the original Bit Torrent software, but it’s easy to use and makes downloading a breeze, when you don’t mind waiting for the content. The software integrates nicely into the Firefox browser and adds bit torrent capabilities to an already powerful internet browser.

Entertainment

Stumble Upon – I’m not a huge fan of the toolbar plugins, but I make an exception for this one. You can find some amazing stuff on StumbleUpon. It’s a great time killer, if you are ever bored and still have access to the internet.

Search

Wikipedia Firefox Plugin – I like to use the search bar that is built directly into the Firefox browser. The default supports Google, but there are a lot of other sites that will let you install plugins on your browser. It’s probably a good idea to double check the facts that you find on Wikipedia, but this plugin, makes easy to search the site, without having to go directly to their home page.

Stage6 Search – DivX Labs has built a plugin for Firefox and IE browsers, that allows you to search the Stage6 website, directly from your browser. I’ve found that this plugin comes is especially helpful, when I know that I’m looking for video content.

Del.icio.us – Most of the time, I prefer to use Google, but Del.icio.us can help you find articles that wouldn’t show up in simple keyword searches. I never know quite what to expect, but Del.icio.us search results tend to focus less on style and more on function.

Technorati – I love Technorati, even though the site only seems to work part of the time. I’d like to find another blog search plugin, but this is the only one that I know about.

MusicPortl – This search plugin allows you to enter the name of just about any artist and you can instantly find a wealth of information on your favorite band. MusicPortl aggregates their information so that you can see the latest YouTube clips, blog entries and Wikipedia information. This is a must, if you enjoy researching music.

Spout – If you love movies, you’ll love Spout. The site is a great resource for finding out information about your favorite films and for connecting with other film fans. This firefox plugin makes it remarkably easy to focus exclusively on movies, with your search results.

There are a lot of programs on this list, but I’m sure that I’m still missing some of the most important ones. f you know of any other services that should be included on this list, feel free to contact me or leave a comment and I’ll keep this post updated with other helpful programs that people suggest.

Sling Partners With UPC – Introduces Placeshifting To The Netherlands

Slingbox LogoLast week, Sling Media announced that they were partnering with UPC, in order to introduce the Slingbox into the Netherlands. UPC is a major cable conglomerate in Europe and could end up being an important resource for Sling. They offer triple play services in ten different countries and are a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Global.

For Sling, the deal makes obvious sense. They get an important distribution partner and marketing support from a cable powerhouse. For UPC though, the benefits are less obvious. They haven’t released pricing information yet, so it’s always possible that UPC may end up charging some kind of service fee for the Slingbox, but even if they never make a single dollar Euro from offering the service, I still think that UPC ends up benefiting from the deal.

The name of the game in the cable industry is upselling to digital. With the market for cable TV relatively saturated, cable operators are seeking new revenue streams. In order to continue to grow their businesses, they’ve been forced to think inside, not out. By leveraging their existing customer relationships, MSO’s have seen great success in cross selling new digital services to subscribers. Instead of needing to expand by adding new customers, they’ve been able to expand by maximizing the revenue they bring in from their current customers.

UPC doesn’t list any Dutch stats online, but they do give a breakdown of their current subscribers. According to their website, the company has 9.2 million video customers (or which only 1 million are digital subscribers), 2.4 million broadband subscribers and 1.3 million VOIP customers.

I’m not sure what the average broadband penetration rate is in Europe, but when I see 9.2 million video customers and only 2.4 million broadband subscribers, I see a pretty wide gulf between these services. Almost 75% of UPC’s customers don’t subscribe to their broadband. This not only affects their broadband business, but limits the addressable market for their VOIP services, as well.

In order for UPC to keep moving forward, they need to expand the number of broadband subscribers and this is where Sling comes in. There are a lot of reasons why someone may not want to pay for broadband. If all you do is check your email, maybe you don’t see the value or if you only have a laptop, maybe you can get by fine with free wifi. These are all good reasons not to have broadband, but Sling brings a good reason why someone would want broadband. There are lots of people who don’t care about video blogs or YouTube or even P2P 8O but they do care about being able to legally watch the TV that they already pay for, even if they don’t happen to be at home.

By partnering with Sling, UPC is able to approach their 6.8 million TV customers that don’t use them for internet and can give them a compelling reason for why they might want to take advantage of broadband access. If they can convince enough video only customers to upgrade to internet, then the VOIP revenues will shortly follow.

I don’t know whether or not UPC plans on expanding their test outside of the Netherlands, but already there seems to be interest from some of the other divisions. Representatives from UPC Ireland, told reporters that management was considering the technology and left open the possibility that Irish UPC subscribers, might also be able to participate in the distribution agreement.

My guess is that once UPC is able to get some real world data from the Netherlands, it will be a no brainer to move forward with a more broad deployment. If offering Sling to their subscribers can help to increase broadband adoption rates, it gives both companies a powerful incentive to see this relationship expand. I’m too skeptical to believe that their North American counterparts will embrace placeshifting anytime soon, but for now, it’s nice to at least see Europe being progressive, when it comes to digital entertainment.

This Post Is Trademarked For Your Protection

Breakfast With VaderI’ll never be enough of a legal expert, to be able to tell the exact differences between copyrights, trademarks and patents, but I do know enough about each, to know that each level, involves a different amount of paperwork, as well as different legal protections.

While, I may not be able to fully appreciate all of the subtle differences between the three, what I do know about trademarks and patents, is that in order to get one, you have to make them available to the general public. This makes the US Patent and Trademark site, a gold mine for trying to find information on companies.

A trademark application won’t always tell you what’s going on at a company, but every now and then, there are morsels of information that leak out. You can also learn a lot about a company’s past, by looking at trademarks that they used to hold, but have let lapsed.

Recently, I was doing some research at the USPTO website and while I was there, I decided to put in the names of a few of the companies that I follow. I wasn’t sure what I expected to find, but knew that there would be at least a few interesting trademarks out there. While I didn’t discover any earth shattering revelations, I did find a few highlights, buried in all of the paperwork.

Netflix

Not a lot of surprises, when I ran Netflix’s name through the database. They own the trademark for their domain of course, as well as a trademark on their Friend’s feature. They also used to own a trademark for the terms, Mr. DVD and Cinematch (although these trademarks are currently listed as having been abandoned.)

I know that Netflix has named their movie recommendation system Cinematch, so that makes sense, but from reading the trademark filings, it sounds like Mr. DVD may have also been considered as the name of their recommendation engine, at one point.

DivX

DivX has several trademarks including OpenDivx, Stage6, and most recently DivXConnected. On the trademark website, they also include several of the logos, that they will use for DivX Connected, including the one that they blurred out when they announced the launch of their private beta for the connected program.

Under their dead trademark listings, the USPTO lists the terms, Dr. DivX, Mastermind and Carpe Visum, as abandoned trademarks. Even though these terms are listed as dead, I wasn’t entirely clear on what this meant, because I know that Dr. DivX is still in use. It could be that it’s just a logo that is expired or it may be that like, ProjectMayo, DivX is migrating away from the Dr. DivX trademark.

Movie Gallery

If Movie Gallery can’t figure a way out of their most recent situation, their trademarks may soon belong to their bond holders instead of the stock holders, but I did find it interesting to see that, Movie Gallery recently trademarked the term True Choice. True Choice is supposed to be their new program, that may or may not include MovieBeam, online dvd rentals and/or in-store rentals.

I also found it interesting that they own a trademark on a logo that reads “NC-55 No Children Under 55.”, as well as the term Gameapalooza. I’m not sure how Perry Farrell would feel about them using the lollapalooza name, but at least Movie Gallery has something for the whole family, in their trademark filings.

Some of Movie Gallery’s dead trademarks included VideoGallery+ and TradeZone. I’m pretty sure that VideoGallery+ was a company the Movie Gallery acquired a long time ago and that TradeZone is the name of a service where you can buy and sell pre-owned DVDs.

Sling Media

Sling didn’t have any dead trademarks, but they’ve already managed to rack up a few live ones. Two weeks ago, the trademark Slingstream and SlingPlayer were opened up for opposition and last January, they filed for a trademark application for the phrase Sling Clip, Sling Catcher and Sling Projector. These are all new technologies that they’ve announced.

Sling also owns a trademark on the phrase, “Where do you want to watch your TV?” I’m not sure if they are still using this phase in their advertisements, but pretty soon, they’ll also be able to ask, where do you want to watch your internet?

TiVo

TiVo has a couple of interesting trademarks, including one for the term Mevo (or MiVo), as well as a dead trademark on the ominous sounding, Viewergraphic Profiling System.

Some of my favorite ones were for the term TiVoMatic, the expression “Primetime Anytime” and an abandoned claim on “You’ve Got TiVo.” While TiVo wasn’t fast enough to get the trademark on the iPhone (like Cisco did $$$), they did manage to secure a trademark for the less lucrative term iPreview. While normally something like this would get me all fired up for another Apple + TiVo post, unfortunately this trademark was filed in 1999, so if it did signal that any hanky panky was going on, it’s safe to say that the relationship has cooled since then.

Blockbuster Video

A search for trademarks on Blockbuster brings up 341 search results. A lot of them are past marketing campaigns or are from companies that they acquired. There were a few trademarks though, that hinted at how Blockbuster might end up marketing their digital strategy.

Over the last year, they’ve been award three trademarks for the the phrase “rated D for _______ (download, digital or deliver).” Interestingly enough, I also found a trademark for the term “Circus Fresh”. I had thought that Blockbuster only sold pre-packaged candy, but the trademark suggests that Blockbuster might be selling their own brand of cotton candy in their stores.

Among some of Blockbuster’s abandoned terms were the name Clockbusters, Kidmongous & Blockbuster on Demand. I can see why they gave up Clockbusters, but I think they should have stuck with Kidmongous. It’s a great description for all of the energy that kids seem to have.

iRobot

Most of iRobot’s trademark terms were very familiar to me. There was the Scooba, the PackBot and of course the Roomba, but they also had one trademark that I had never heard of before.

It was for the unusual term LOOJ and was filed last March. I’m not sure how they plan on marketing a name that I’m not sure how to pronounce, but the trademark describes the LOOJ as “remotely controlled cleaning devices”. I’m not exactly sure how to interpret this, but it would be really cool, if I could use a wireless remote to tell my Scooba where it needs to be cleaning. This would make it more like a traditional vacuum than a robot, but there are times where it would be nice to be able to direct iRobot’s cleaning missions.

Apple

A search for Apple trademarks, yields over 1900 different results. Unfortunately, the search includes any company with Apple in their name, so it’s not an accurate count of how many they actual have. Apple has a trademark for just about anything you can think of. They have things like iPod of course, but I had never heard of the Storpod? They have even trademarked the use of the word Keynote at conferences.

Microsoft

Microsoft came back with a little over 1,800 trademark results. I guess when you’ve got as many lawyers as they do, they hand out trademarks like candy. As a digital TV enthusiast, I couldn’t help, but notice that their Microsoft TV trademark came back as abandoned. I doubt that this signals that Microsoft is giving up on the living room though, because they had a number of active “media room” trademarks.

Some of the more creative trademarks that I saw were for a mobile phone service that they are testing right now, called Deepfish. There was also one for some kind of a strange board game named Carbonated Games. I’m not sure how you play, but I suspect that the game may have played a large role in the initial creation of Microsoft’s source code.

Microsoft also recently submitted a trademark for the term Spynet. I’m sure that this is just some kind of anti-spyware technology, but it’s name sounds even more disturbing than TiVo’s Viewergraphic monitoring system.

It’d be a lot easier to monitor these things, if the USPTO offered RSS feeds, but I don’t mind checking back once in a while for an update. While, my post only covered a few of the trademarks on companies, I follow, I would be interested in knowing what else is buried in that massive database. With so many companies and so many catch phrases, I could probably spend all day at the site, and would still be able to find out about programs or marketing campaigns that I had never heard of.

Disclosure – I own stock in TiVo and Netflix

Zatz Not Living Digitally

I’m a little late posting this, but still wanted to get this out there. For those of you who haven’t heard, Dave Zatz has agreed to join Sling Media in their marketing department. The change is a pretty big change of pace compared to his work as a network administor, but I’m sure that if anyone is up for the challenge it will be Dave.

I think that Sling made a really smart hire by picking up Dave. I’ve known Dave for a couple of years now and I can’t think of anyone more qualified for being an evangelist for a tech company. Dave is filling some pretty big shoes in his new role at Sling though. Previously, Jeremy Toeman had been in charge of making sure that the lines of communication between Sling and their customers stayed open, but when he left to start his own consulting practice, Sling was left with a pretty big void to fill. I’m sure that that the Zatzman will do a great job in his new role, but it won’t be easy with the bar having been set so high.

Ironically, Netgear has gone on to hire Jeremy to do some consulting work for them and initially he is going to be helping to develop out the Netgear blog that Dave Zatz guest blogged on at CES this year. I had also applied to be a Netgear guest blogger for CES, but lost out to Dave. I’ll be excited to watch how Jeremy uses his expertise to build out and optimize Netgear’s blog. He writes some really great reviews, one of my favorite articles from CES this year was Jeremy’s review of Netgear’s EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD. This machine looks really hot. Hopefully, it won’t take long before Netgear turns on comments and starts up an RSS feed to make it easier to monitor the site.

Coming Soon To A Living Room Near You . . .

Time for HDTVTime for HDTV Hosted on Zooomr Photo By Thomas Hawk

People have been talking about it for weeks and finally CES has arrived. It’s the blogosphere’s equivalent of a Star Trek convention. Between the booth babes and Sharp’s 108″ HDTV, geeks have plenty to drool over. With so much hot technology being released at once, it’s hard to cover it all, but here are a few of the highlights from the first day of CES.

IPTV support for Xbox 360 – Microsoft’s has spent billions of dollars and years of research trying to break into the living room, but so far has had limited success. With Microsoft Vista offering media center functionality and with the Xbox 360 set to take on a new role as a set top box for IPTV clients, Microsoft is in a strong position to make a play for the digital living room in 2007. As Microsoft’s IPTV plans continue to develop, it will be facinating to see if they use the Xbox 360 as a way to differentiate IPTV from cable. Is it possible that we could one day see Bellsouth renting the Xbox 360 as part of a triple play package? Given how lucrative video game sales actually are, I can see a powerful business model developing here.

Sling Proves They Aren’t One Trick Pony – Sling Media unveiled new hardware called the SlingCatcher. It’s a device that not only allows you to move television from one TV to another, but it also gives you the capability to plug into a laptop or PC and then sling the internet content directly to the TV. This a great move on Sling Media’s part and could be a promising bridge between the PC and the TV. Instead of trying to create their own IPTV service, they’ve instead remained content agnostic. Because consumers are allowed to access any web page or video, Sling has put themselves into a position where they end up offering more internet video content than any other VOD service (whether or not Hollywood agrees ). By focusing on the delivery of video instead of controling the content, it places Sling at an advantage over those who are pursuing closed systems. Not only should this device speed up the convergence of internet and the TV, but it will open up new markets for Sling as they extend their appeal beyond just the busy traveller.

Moxi Shows Off Prototypes Of 2 HDTV DVRs – Digeo may be locked in the battle of their lives with Gemstar TV Guide right now, but that hasn’t stopped them from innovating. At CES, the company unveiled two prototype HDTV DVRs that they expect to have out before the end of 2007. The company is going the stand alone route and will offer the boxes with cable card support. With as terrible as the cable DVRs have turned out to be, there is plenty of room for Digeo to carve out a niche in the stand alone DVR market. Given that TiVo’s series 3 is priced at a cool $800, it will be interesting to watch, if Digeo’s HDTV DVRs add some competition.

Netgear Introduces Super Charged HDTV DVR – Netgear made their splash into the DVR market in a big way by introducing their EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD. What this unit lacks in it’s name, it makes up for with it’s capability. Not only does it offer full HDTV DVR capabiities, but it also allows you to stream music, photos and video on the net directly to your television. It supports nearly every codec including WMV, DivX and iTunes and even allows you to watch YouTube on your TV. It can upscale or downscale video to the optimum resolution for your set. It retails at a slim $349 and debuts in early 2007.