Category Archives: Hulu

I Want My Web TV

MTV was like an underground movement led by rebels & rock stars.

The same thing is happening now with Web TV and streaming video; Though don’t expect to see a TV campaign pushing for it. At least not yet.

More than two years ago I cut cable and moved into the web TV world. What was a bit rocky at first is now a more intuitive TV experience than ever.

Technology can change a lot in two years. And not too long from today, our current Television format will seem archaic. The entire system is wrong.

Think about it: The network buys a show; it’s produced. It airs. Did you catch it? Nope? Well too bad it’s already aired. (And then networks wonder why first-run viewership is down, and then cancel the entire show.)

Web TV gives the shows a chance, gives users a chance to watch the content. Without force-feeding it down their throats. Because it’s on the user’s schedule, not the network’s.

But it’s almost crazy to think Netflix will topple the entire cable landscape. There is a more likely scenario.

Netflix and its future competitors will force cable and premium cable companies to overhaul the formula and its pricing structure.

Which will result in a Hulu-Plus-like TV experience.

I’m starting to believe the future of TV will be a mesh of live content and on-demand offerings. A show may still premier at 7pm EST, but it will be available on-demand after it’s aired.

Where will the content come from? A network? Or Netflix? Yes and yes. Netflix, or something like it, will still exist in 10 years. It’ll be the new HBO.

Comcast-like cable will be delivered via the Internet, featuring both live and on-demand programming. And the rates? Much lower. Greater value in the eye of the customer.

What sets Web, or streaming, TV apart is on-demand content. All access. Including full seasons of shows, from the first episode to the last.

What that means: more viewers for the content and the advertising. An almost unlimited shelf-life. But the ads within the content could be updated at any time.

Will this really happen? Well, Comcast began testing IPTV at MIT last year.

What it means for advertisers: proof. Like Google analytics TV.

A recent article from VentureBeat echoed my statements, also suggesting that a web-tv future would not only be more user friendly but would also make the current Nielson rating system obsolete. Allowing networks to evaluate not only viewership, but comments, likes, and other activity over a period of time.

As I’ve said all along, products, more info and purchases will be only a button-click away.

It’s a monumental time for TV. If cable is scared now, this could very well be the calm before the storm. They’ll be forced to change. Or fall into obscurity. Like a stagnant MySpace, ignorant to the startup that would become Facebook. Cable better adapt its structure and pricing soon, before subscriptions drop.

The MTV movement was iconic.

The commercials urged viewers to call their cable company and say they want their MTV.

Put to a catchy tune, it hit the airwaves. And it worked. We’re in a similar scenario with Web TV and streaming video. And the cable companies will again get calls.

Though this time the callers won’t be begging for MTV.

They’ll be calling to cancel.

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5 tech predictions for 2012

Introducing FIVE TECH PREDICTION FOR 2012.

5Tech12

5. Content producers skipping the middle man

Zimedium called it on May 8, 2011. In a post titled My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable.

“I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.” (See story May 8, 2011)

Louis CK did it seven months later — this December — for his special Live at the Beacon Theatre. Instead of distributing the video through Netflix or HBO, Louis CK put it exclusively on his website. All fans had to do was visit his site, pay the $5 price and download the special. So how’d it turn out? Well, in 12 days, Lois CK’s DRM-free video download made a cool $1 million. And it’s still going

Louis CK’s special is only the beginning. In 2012, more will follow his model. Entertainers, content providers, even premium cable channels.

4. Customized Ads… Tailored to your purchases, browsing habits, check-ins and interests

Ads customized to your interests. Google does it best. Hulu’s already doing it with in-show ads and its Ad Swap feature. You can select what you like instead of watching what Hulu thinks you’ll like. Facebook does it. Facebook displays ads based on what fan pages you like. Foursquare does it too, by offering suggestions based on where you check in. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley discussed the company’s Explore/Recommendation engine at LeWeb 2011 in early December 2011.

“We went through about two years of Foursquare where people thought that they were checking in for mayorships and points and badges. The check-ins weren’t just for the badges,” Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said on stage at LeWeb 2011. Every time you tell us that you like to go to this sushi place, we get better about recommending you another place to go to. Every time you tell us that…you know a lot about this area of Paris or this are of New York, we know that you’re really familiar with that neighborhood. And we can suggest other things that you may not know about. Or we know when you’re in areas that you’re not so familiar about we can start offering things that help you out.”

Ads based on what you “like,” tweet, check-in, watch. Information you provide both voluntarily and data acquired based on your actions. Get ready to not hate the ads that interrupt your programming…at least not quite as much.

In 2012, Customized Advertising will be king. Whether you’re aware of it or not.

3. Video-game consoles becoming complete entertainment hubs

We called it an entire year ago, on Dec. 27, 2010. In a post titled When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV.

“…When will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the [streaming content] game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console.

“Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

“Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.” (See story Dec. 27, 2010)

Xbox 360 introduced its revamped dashboard one year later, in early December of 2011. The new dashboard featured Internet apps including Netflix, Epix, SyFy, ESPN, Daily Motion, NBC News, Zune, YouTube and Live TV integration if you have the accompanying cable subscription.

In 2012, Xbox will roll out more apps and the rest will follow. It’s only the beginning. The future video-game console will be a complete media hub with dozens, possibly hundreds of channels and apps.

2. Entertainment on the Cloud

I hate the term “cloud storage.” Makes me think the cloud is only for backing up files. In 2012, the Cloud will become more than a backup service. Cloud for movies…music…pictures… and our movie libraries.

(I’m looking at my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays right now.) In 2012, our movie collection will extend to the cloud. Blu-rays already come with digital copies. How about a specially formatted “cloud copy”?

1. A BIG Netflix competitor

Through a few missteps in 2011, Netflix has enjoyed practically zero competition (or at least serious competition). Its maintained the largest number of video subscribers anywhere and built up its library of streaming content. Plus exclusive content on the way.

Zimedia predicts in 2012, one new company (or a service from a partnership of companies) will emerge as the biggest competitor Netflix has seen to date.

But it won’t be the death of Netlfix. In fact, few industries survive without competition. It’s good for business. It fosters growth, sometimes re-invention, and an improved user experience.

Getting Started with Internet TV

Swapping pay-TV for Internet streaming services like Netflix is the latest trend for tech savvy consumers looking to cut rising cable costs in a tough economy. But for those new to Internet TV with little or no knowledge of the streaming landscape, things might look a little confusing.

That’s why most haven’t taken the leap. Too many options. And no clear way to get started. What are the best services? Is Netflix the only option? How do I get the content to my TV? How many TVs can I connect it to? Does the video content get old? How often do they add new content?

For all of those questions and more, I’m happy to introduce the first edition of Getting Started. Getting Started with Internet TV.

Getting Started

What you’ll need:

1. A streaming service.

Netflix is the top dog in on-demand movies for $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming (and no DVDs by mail). Netflix is also rapidly increasing the number of television shows on its roster and has even signed a deal to bring House of Cards exclusively to Netflix, beating out other bids from HBO and others.

Hulu Plus is to TV shows what Netflix is to movies. Hulu Plus is also $7.99 per month. Beyond Netflix and Hulu Plus, the competition drops off. Among the next tier of performers is Amazon Instant Video ($79/year) that also includes free two-day shipping on Amazon.com; Ustream (free); Crackle (free), PlayOn ($5 per month); among others. Most subscriptions are month-by-month and can be canceled at any time.

Once you’ve selected which service you’ll use, go to the website and sign up online. Most services offer a trial period of either one week or one month. Once you’ve signed up, just jot down your username and password. We’ll need that later when we connect it to your TV.

2. High-speed Internet.

At least 3 megabits per second (abbreviated 3 Mbps). The faster the better. You can connect your device to your TV through an Ethernet cable or wirelessly through your home network. To set up a home network, you’ll need a wireless router. However streaming quality is better if the connection is hard-wired with the Ethernet cable.

3. A streaming device.

A Roku XDS. Roku recently introduced the Roku 2. Check the specs for each device to compare features and connectivity options to make sure your device will work with your selected service.

Hundreds of available devices are ready to connect your TV to Internet video. Take your pick. Blu-ray players; Video-game systems including Xbox 360; Playstation 3; Nintendo Wii; and streaming boxes like Roku, Boxee, D-Link, WD, Apple TV and hundreds more. Just check the box — or online — to ensure it connects to Netflix, Hulu Plus or other Internet channels.

Everything will be clearly labeled. If it’s not on the box, look online. Just make sure your selected streaming service is available on the device. If we want Netflix, we’re good to go with the Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player pictured below.

Packaging for a Sony Blu-ray player, showing Netflix as a featured partner. If it’s not clearly labeled on the box, check online before purchasing.

Most devices connect to at least Netflix and Hulu Plus. Some devices feature different channels, like Ustream or Crackle by Sony. Few channels are exclusive. Some TV sets also come with channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus or Crackle built-in. As well as Blu-ray players. Purchasing a Blu-ray player that connects to Netflix or Hulu Plus is a great way to bring high-quality Blu-ray content into your home as well as thousands of on-demand offerings.

Hooking it up

A step-by-step guide

1. Connect device to your TV.

HDMI is best but some devices allow RCA connection for older television sets. After the device is hooked up, then it’s as simple as changing the video input like you would for a video-game system or DVD player.

2. Connect to the Internet.

Connect your device using either a wireless network or wired setup using an Ethernet cable. Connecting your device via Ethernet is the quickest way to get set up and also offers the highest quality streaming. Once the cable is connected to both your modem and your Streaming Device you’ll be connected. For a wireless connection, you’ll need to search for the wireless network and sign in.

3. Sign in to your account.

Launch your Streaming Device and select your desired streaming service, i.e. Netflix. Use the username and password you selected when you signed up online.

You’ll need to verify your device with your streaming subscription. You’ll be given a code that you’ll need to enter online to link the device and service. You’ll only need to do this once. It’s used to verify your subscription and link the device to your account.

You’ll be able to use your streaming account on any number of televisions; the subscription is not tied to any single TV. If you’re adding a box to another TV in your house, you’ll use the same login info. You’ll just have to verify each streaming device with your subscription using a new code, supplied when you launch the service for the first time on each TV.

You can also connect multiple accounts to your streaming device, i.e. Netflix and Hulu Plus.

4. Enjoy your content.

The most compelling difference between content on pay-TV and Internet TV is cost-vs-content. With pay-TV, you pay more for additional content; with Internet TV, you get increasingly more content for the same low monthly price. Netflix is signing new deals and bringing new content to its service on a monthly basis. Same goes for Hulu Plus. The rest are playing catch-up. Which is a win for the Internet TV consumer and the competing services. Increased competition will only expand the amount of programming and the quality of content deals.

For more on Internet TV, check out related posts below.

Related posts

Ustream, the free Internet television network

On-demand is the next TiVo

Xbox 360: Microsoft’s entertainment powerhouse

Internet TV gains support from Comcast, testing IPTV

My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable

Roku, a glimpse into the future of TV

Hello, hulu

Netflix. Redefining Television.

On-demand is the next TiVo

TiVo revolutionized the way we watch television, allowing us to record, pause and rewind live TV broadcasts and even skip commercial content. TiVo is second nature to us now; in fact, it’s even become a verb.

To the networks and advertisers, it posed a slight challenge to not only prime-time TV — by allowing users to watch content on their schedule — but also commercials. If users could record a program and watch it whenever they chose, what would happen to prime-time TV and advertising?

But in every way TiVo has changed our lives, and commercials, On-Demand TV is set to overshadow it completely. And one day, become the main source of TV entertainment.

On-Demand refers to content that’s available in a digitally recorded format like videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus or other streaming services; pay cable services like Time Warner On-Demand or Comcast On-Demand; or premium cable like HBO GO and Showtime On-Demand. Right now, the On-Demand offerings from cable companies are a bonus offered with a pay-TV subscription. Others feature On-Demand movies that cost as much as $6 per rental.

What I’m suggesting is that, in the near future, our television content will be built around On-Demand offerings. There will still be live TV, however it will be delivered through the Internet. A delivery method referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol TV. Comcast is already testing IPTV at MIT.

On-Demand puts the entire TV experience — Movies, News, Sports, TV shows — on the user’s schedule, not the networks. For the majority of you still enjoying pay-TV, on the network’s schedule, think about how TiVo has changed our lives. Can you imagine TV without TiVO? Ten years from now On-Demand will have the same effect, only greater.

To me — now more than one year into my cable-cutting lifestyle — On-Demand TV is second-nature. When I want to watch a particular show, I watch the show, whether it’s 7pm, 7:20pm or 2am. The Colbert Report; Saturday Night Live; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; Lie to Me; 30 Rock; Comedy Central; Weeds; MasterChef; Mad Men; The Office; SportsCenter; even NBC News, CBS, ABC, or older shows like Arrested Development, a new obsession of mine even though the show concluded in 2006. On-Demand increases the shelf-life of television, therefore increasing the benefit to advertisers.

With On-Demand, users don’t have to wait for it to be on. It’s always on. And waiting.

I’m so accustomed to On-Demand that when I travel, I bring my Roku with me. The last two weeks I’ve been out of town. I’m staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott, equipped with everything I’d need for my three-week stay: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, flat-screen HDTV including HBO, ESPN and more. Everything, that is, but my On-Demand TV content.

I hooked up my Roku and rarely flipped on pay-TV, even with premium cable like HBO included. Below is a photo of my Roku XD, which I bought at Best Buy for $79.99. Roku is completely subscription free and offers Internet apps including Netflix; Hulu Plus; Amazon Instant Video; Pandora; CNet; Blip.tv; Break.com; Crackle; Facebook Photos; FlickrNASA; Revision3; NBA Game Time; MLB.tv; NHL Game Center; and Roku Newscaster, a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC. For Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video a subscription to each is required. For more on Roku, read my in-depth review here.

Prime Time? What Prime Time? There’s no more Prime Time TV with On-Demand. Prime Time is up to the viewer.

What that also means for both viewers and networks — in addition to advertisers — is that a viewer can join the show at any time and catch up immediately via previous seasons On-Demand.

Viewership, and TV ratings, become more like a magazine, with a longer shelf-life. Not only for the television content but advertising as well. As I mentioned, I’m watching Arrested Development, which first aired in 2003 and ended in 2006. I was able to start with Season 1, episode 1.

With Hulu Plus — a great model for On-Demand TV — advertising is incorporated into each program — usually two ads per commercial break totaling about 60 seconds. They’re unable to be skipped; but actually, I wouldn’t anyway. The break is actually nice. On-Demand has changed the way I view TV and commercials. And will soon change TV all together.

The biggest fear of cable and TV networks today is the broadcast to on-demand delay. Cable companies and networks are attempting to increase the time it takes from broadcast until it becomes available on-demand for Netflix, Hulu or any other IPTV service. Fox announced last week that it was limiting the next-day streaming of content on Fox.com and Hulu.com in an attempt to curb the adoption of On-Demand streaming.

The networks can fight all they want. Their efforts are only delaying the inevitable.


Xbox 360: Microsoft’s entertainment powerhouse

Now six years old, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is a veteran entertainment powerhouse, combining high-def gaming, hands-free control with Kinect, Internet video from Netflix and Hulu Plus and live streaming video from ESPN.

What more can you ask for from an aging console? Well, how about Live TV integration and Skype?

“This is only the beginning,” said head of Xbox Live Mark Whitten at E3 2011.

LIVE TV COMING TO XBOX this FALL:

Microsoft announced on June 6, 2011 that Live TV is coming to Xbox 360 this fall via Xbox Live. Head of Xbox Live Mark Whitten failed to give concrete details on Live TV but in an interview with The Seattle Times, Microsoft’s vice president of global marketing Mike Delman shed a little more light on the service.

“It will be tied to either a satellite broadcast company or a cable company. So in international markets, you’ll just have one provider. In the U.S., it will be bifurcated by region, by market. You’ll be a Comcast guy [in Seattle], for example,” Delman told The Seattle Times.

Other soon-to-appear features were unveiled at E3. In addition to Live TV, Xbox is getting YouTube, Bing and complete voice control through Kinect.

Xbox Kinect was introduced in Q4 2010. Since its inception, Kinect has helped push Xbox 360 sales and offer a new way to game, to control and to experience living-room entertainment.

According to Reuters, Kinect has sold 10 million units since its launch last fall, becoming the fastest-selling consumer electronics device. The motion device allows users to control Kinect-compatible games and applications via gesture and voice commands, completely controller-free.

“You no longer have to navigate through the menus to find content,” Whitten said of Kinect at E3.

According to CNET’s Erica Ogg, when Bing is introduced, users will be able to use its search function to find more content to watch by searching the web, YouTube, Live TV and all the services on Xbox Live including existing services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. The Kinect’s voice control will also allow users to search for content with voice commands.

Microsoft Acquires Skype 

Skype is coming to Xbox 360’s console via Xbox Live after Micrsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype in May. The pairing of Kinect and Skype makes perfect sense, and moves Microsoft’s Xbox to another area of our lives: business and communication.

“Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world.”

Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype must still reportedly receive regulatory antitrust approvals before the deal is finalized.

Xbox Live is the center of it all

Behind every announcement, every acquisition and every new feature is Xbox Live. Microsoft clearly has big plans for its Xbox Live service.

According to WinRumors.com, Xbox Live will be built into Windows 8, Microsoft’s next operating system. The service was recently introduced on Microsoft’s Windows phone.

“Live has been successful on the Windows Phone. Live will be built into the PC,” Microsoft’s vice president of global marketing Mike Delman told The Seattle Times. “It will be the service where you get your entertainment.”

A subscription is required to access Xbox Live and its growing list of services. Namely, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Live and On-demand video content from ESPN and some of the best streaming news content available anywhere with NBC News.

NBC News on Xbox Live

With the NBC News channel on Xbox Live, users have on-demand access to today’s news in a variety of categories, most of which contain 15 clips from the most-recent episodes or topics.

NBC News Content:

  • Top News
  • Most Viewed
  • NBC Nightly News
  • Today Show (25 of the latest clips)
  • Entertainment
  • US News
  • World News
  • Politics
  • Space/Science
  • Meet the Press
  • Dateline NBC (Preview of next TV episode)
  • MSNBC TV
  • Weird News

NBC News on Xbox Live offers on-demand, up-to-date news content, allowing users to pause, fast-forward and rewind commercial-free news content. It’s by far some of the best streaming news around, second only to Roku’s Newscaster.

I’ve told you before that if I had to pick one streaming box it’d be Roku. I still feel that way. But if I had to pick one gaming system, it would be Xbox 360. Apparently I’m not alone.

Xbox 360 sales on the rise

In the console’s sixth year on the market, Xbox 360 sales continue to increase at an unprecedented rate.

xbox 360 sales
Source: DigitalTrends.com

We may one day look back on 2011 as the year that video game systems became more than a simple toy. Microsoft has successfully launched and maintained a true home-entertainment hub. Games. Video. Kinect. Search. Live Streaming Video. And now Skype. 

Xbox 360 has far surpassed the normal shelf-life of video-game systems. And with sales still on the rise, Microsoft seems to have the game figured out: Innovation. With Kinect and streaming video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN and NBC News, Microsoft is not only following the movement; it’s leading it.

Source: CNet, Reuters, Xbox, WinRumors, The Seattle Times, Gamespy.com, All Things Digital, Digital Trends, Mashable, Fast Company

Internet TV gains support from Comcast, testing IPTV

The dividing lines between Netflix and its cable competitors were blurred even further when Comcast, the largest cable operator, announced it will begin testing an IPTV service, a method of delivering content through the Internet.

Comcast announced on May 25 that it will start testing IPTV, an acronym for Internet Protocol Television, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the coming months.

IPTV can be used for Live Video, On-Demand Video (VOD) and delayed programming like a DVR. The technology is already in use today. Netflix, Hulu PlusRoku, live-streaming services like U-Stream and Live Stream, as well as AT&T‘s U-Verse TV, are all using the Internet to deliver video content straight to our television sets.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association held its 60th annual Cable Show last week in Chicago’s McCormick Place. The Cable Show is a three-day event that displays the latest technology and innovations in cable. From delivery methods, to content, to advertising and promotions.

Comcast displayed its Xcalibur guide — which uses the cloud and features a comprehensive search engine and social media components — through an IPTV connection.

Comcast also recently announced a partnership with Internet-video-conferencing service Skype, again utilizing IPTV. More on that in a future post, but here’s a quick video from NCTA, showing Skype on Xfinity TV:

If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: the future of television is through the Internet. And Comcast is proving it won’t sit back and let other Internet services push it aside.

Comcast is fighting back with the introduction of its own IPTV delivery and partnership with Skype in an attempt to fend off rivals like Netflix and maintain its position as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.

“We want to deliver video everywhere people want to watch it,” Comcast’s president of converged products Sam Schwartz  was quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “We have to do a better job getting people to realize what they are paying us for.”

My head is in the clouds

Just when I understood the difference between Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus, everyone’s talking about this new Internet Cloud.

The Cloud

The Cloud has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. But in fact, the Cloud (or cloud computing) is really just a metaphor for the Internet — and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. In a sense, our email operates on a Cloud. If you’ve ever logged into your email from more than one location, or stored email messages in a folder for viewing later, you’ve accomplished the same thing.

There’s also a distinction between Public and a Private Clouds, as well as hybrids, which I have yet to wrap my head around. That’s why we’re sticking to Public Cloud talk in this post.

If anyone’s an expert in this Cloud bu’ness (particularly public vs. private or hybrid clouds), feel free to shoot me an email at ericsadblog@gmail.com and set me straight.

Nevertheless, the press surrounding it has certainly exploded within the last year. As well as the number of companies developing their own cloud services for the public. Namely, Amazon, Google and most recently Apple.

The Cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection. Versus storing documents on a local computer, and thus only accessible from that specific computer.

Users can upload their own music to the Cloud, in addition to documents, photos, videos, etc, in addition to use as a backup service. Or as with Amazon and soon Apple via iTunes, users can purchase music online and save it directly to the Cloud.

The only limitation with the Cloud is that an Internet Connection is required to access it; though files can be saved from the Cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access. But I suppose that’s the same as saying you can only make calls on your cell phone where you have service. That hasn’t exactly stopped adoption of mobile phones.

Cloud Choices – It’s awfully overcast

Clouds come in different shapes and sizes (both real clouds and Internet Clouds). Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start (for example, Amazon offers 5GB free) with premium-priced storage upgrades.

Amazon, Google and Apple are entering a heated battle over Cloud services. All three of which are putting emphasis on music storage with the Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music Beta and Apple’s iCloud, which will reportedly feature streaming music and integration with iTunes.

Apple Inc’s CEO Steve Jobs is expected to introduce and fully explain its iCloud tomorrow, June 6, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. (It’s a cool $1,599 to attend WWDC. If you didn’t buy your tickets, it’s too late; the event’s sold out. I had my credit card ready and everything. Maybe next year.)

Now, onto the Clouds. There are many Cloud services and companies offering Public or Private Clouds for Business. Here are Cloud offerings from three of the biggest players in media in Amazon, Google and Apple:

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon’s cloud drive starts you off with 5GB of storage space for free with additional premium plans from $20 to $1,000 per year, billed annually. Users can store “music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon’s secure servers.” The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it.

If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Though after one year, if not renewed, users will be bumped down to the free 5GB. It’s not an automatic renewal, so that’s nice in my opinion. We’ve all taken advantage of free offers and forgotten about them, only to be charged for something we didn’t really want.

Other pricing/storage options are as follows, from 20GB to 1,000GB of space:

Google Cloud Apps & Google Music Beta

Google has taken a slightly different approach to the Cloud, offering a sleek line of Cloud Apps for different purposes. And Google’s been at this a while. I’m sure most of us are familiar with at a least a few of its Cloud Apps, whether or not we knew that’s what they were called. Google’s Cloud Apps include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Groups, among others.

“Because data in Google Apps is stored in the cloud instead of on employee computers, multiple users can access and contribute to projects simultaneously without worrying about using the same operating system, software, or browser. For example, instead of collaborating on a document by sending back and forth revision after revision as attachments, documents are stored in the cloud with Google Apps. Coworkers can access the web-based document simultaneously in their browsers, and even make changes that other authorized users can see in real-time. Eliminating attachment round-trips by storing data in the cloud saves time and reduces frustrations for teams who need to work together efficiently.” – Google.com / Google Apps for Business

Google Music Beta 

In May, Google introduced Google Music Beta, a Cloud storage service for your music, similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player. Google, however, provides quite an impressive amount of storage in the Beta version, enough for 20,000 songs according to ZDNet. Amazon’s free 5GB allows around 1,000 songs.

Google Music Beta is available in the U.S. by invitation only and free for a limited time, according to the landing page in the Android Market.

Apple iCloud set to be unveiled June 6, 2011 at WWDC in San Francisco

The last of the three to introduce a Cloud music service, Apple may have been waiting for a reason. Reports have it that Apple has deals with Warner Music, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Group to stream songs directly to the iCloud, like Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other streaming services.

It’s rumored that the service will start with a free trial for iTunes customers, followed by a $25 per-year rate. ZDNet‘s Larry Dignan says Apple will also look to sell advertising around the cloud service.

Apple currently offers a Cloud service called MobileMe, a subscription-based collection of  Internet services for Mac OS X, Windows, iPad,iPhone, and iPod Touch.

Apple’s iCloud all but ensures the next round of iPods will be able to connect to Wi-Fi or a 3G network.

Expect more on iCloud tomorrow after Apple’s WWDC.

A Face-Off in the Cloud

If Apple’s iCloud introduces what everyone is reporting — streaming music — this isn’t just a battle between Amazon, Google and Apple but also Nicolas Cage Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other music streaming services. According to San Francisco’s International Business Times, Apple has also been in talks with the film industry, possibly adding movies and video to iCould. Could Apple be looking to face off against Netflix as well?

They’ve already invested in video streaming with Apple TV, though the service only includes a small line of Internet apps and pay-per-view titles, no content deals with film studios. If Apple reaches a deal with the film industry for iCloud, you can bet those titles are coming to Apple TV as well.

Amazon and Apple have a clear advantage in that users can purchase music from either Amazon.com or iTunes and have it saved directly to the respective Cloud. Apple’s support from major record labels could push it to the front of the pack.

How I’ve been using the Cloud

For the past month, I’ve been enjoying my time in the Cloud. I signed up for the 5 free GB of Amazon Cloud back in April. I then bumped that up to 20 GB free with the purchase of the one-day special (then two-day special due to high demand and a server crash) on Lady Gaga’s new album for only 99 cents. (If you’re curious, I bought if for my wife. Well, plus the additional 15 GB of storage space.)

The increase to 20GB lasts for one year. But, once that free trial runs out, I’ll probably be so used to using it that I’ll have to renew. (After all, it’s only $20 per year.) That is, unless I’m swayed by Apple’s iCloud offering.

The Amazon Cloud allows you to store music, documents, pictures or video. I have a number of files saved for backup or if I need a document when I’m on the road. But I’ve mostly been using Amazon’s Cloud for its Cloud Player.

Amazon Cloud Player – When I’m at the gym or in my car, the Cloud Player is great, with access to all of my songs and without taking up space on my phone.

I’ve also been taking advantage of Google Docs.

I reinstalled my operating system on my Dell XPS M1530 a while back, and haven’t gotten around to installing Microsoft Office. But with Google Docs, I haven’t really needed it.

What’s next for the Cloud?

 

In our increasingly mobile lifestyles, the Cloud is just what we need. And at just the right time. We’re all part of this mobile shift. A shift in the way we work, live, play, communicate and collaborate.

Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Netbooks, and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker as well as mobile payments like Google Wallet, and NFC technology. Mobile is taking over the news and our lives.

The Cloud is the next logical step in connecting our mobile devices to all of our files, music and video.

Today, home is wherever we are. Office productivity and entertainment can happen anywhere. I suppose that’s both good and bad. Luckily, if we choose to use it, there’s an off switch.