Category Archives: Tech News

Pandora, Slacker and the radio landscape

Internet radio services like Pandora and Slacker radio are building momentum, following in the footsteps of conventional radio by offering subscription-free radio supported by advertising.

iStock_000016348858SmallBut don’t let all that buzz fool you. Though the Internet radio services are getting the press, conventional radio is alive and well — still the most used audio platform among consumers.

Because there’s one thing that’s holding Pandora, Slacker and streaming radio back: in-car listening. Terrestrial radio will continue to rule the air until 3G or 4G access is the norm in automobiles.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Pandora clocks in at a reported 60 million listeners at the end of 2010. Sirius XM, 20 million. Conventional radio? Each week in 2010, an average of 241.6 million people listened to conventional radio. So that’s 60 million for Pandora, 20 million for Sirius XM. 80 million to 241 million. Let’s even add Slacker’s 10 million, reported at the end of 2009. So that makes it 90 million combines listeners among Sirius XM, Pandora and Slacker to 241 for conventional radio.

Like all media, conventional radio must evolve. And it is, by moving its signal online. Streaming an AM/FM radio signal is becoming a must for traditional radio stations. The future of local radio, I believe, is online. And streaming over-the-air broadcasts is the logical bridge to that point.

Internet Radio(also called web radio, streaming radio, net radio, e-radio)

Pandora is crushing the internet radio competition. A reported 60 million listeners at the end of 2010. Ando Media recently released its Internet Audio ranker for January, which lists the top-20-performing Internet radio stations. Pandora came out on top, with more than 643,000 listener sessions for the month of January. Next in line was CBS Radio with just over 161,000. CBS Radio’s network is nearly 200 stations covering news, sports, talk, rock, pop, oldies, and adult contemporary, many of which are streaming AM/FM stations. Slacker ranked No. 5 out of the top 20, with just under 36,000 average active sessions in January.

Average time spent listening per session for internet radio, however, comes in below its conventional radio counterpart.

Most likely because of the means of distribution: the Internet. Whereas AM/FM radios are nearly ubiquitous, Internet-radio devices are rolling out but still missing a vast majority of the automobile industry, where much of radio listening takes place.

Pandora clocked in at an average time spent listening for each session of .85 hours. CBS Radio at .90 hours. Bonneville Corporate had the highest average time spent listening, coming in at 3.42 hours.

Conventional radio average time spent listening per session is roughly 3 hours during the weekday and 5 hours for each session over the weekend.

As in-car units become more readily available and a factory standard, watch for average time spent listing to increase substantially for Internet radio.

Pandora

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC. Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Pandora offers two ways to listen, as well as a third ad-supported brand radio.

Ways to Tune-in to Pandora

  1. Create your station: select artists you like and Pandora will choose songs it thinks you’ll enjoy based on your interests.
  2. Genre stations, pick your format: very similar to conventional radio, with a different format for each station including rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop, country, etc.
  3. Brand radio. Advertisers compile a mix and a pop-up banner appears on the computer screen, with a heading along the lines of “Listen to Subway Radio,” or whatever the advertiser. Another way advertisers are blurring the lines between ads and content.

Pandora does offer an ad-free option. Pandora One is $3 per month, billed $36 annually, to stream its music commercial-free. Pandora One also offers unlimited skips whereas the free version allows 12 skips per hour. “Skips” allow you to skip the current song and move on to the next.

Slacker

slacker-logo-brand-tall

Slacker CEO Jim Cady will be a keynote speaker at radio’s digital media conference, dubbed Convergence 11, May 18 and 19 in Mountain View, Calif. Slacker is the next hot thing on the music street.

Much like Pandora, Slacker offers two ways to listen: create your station or pick a music genre/format.

One advantage Slacker has over Pandora, and the reason I’ve been listening to it more than Pandora, is its partnership with ABC News. I’m enjoying my 14-day free trial of ABC News in my custom station, with news breaks at the top of each hour.

The company also recently announced a deal with ESPN which will give Slacker users access to ESPN Audio content including Mike and Mike In the Morning, SportsCenter, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, as well as top news stories and sporting events.

Slacker also offers an ad-free subscription option. Slacker Radio Plus is $4.99 per month billed monthly or billed annually at $47.88 ($3.99 per month). Slacker Radio Plus, in addition to commercial- and banner-free listening, offers unlimited song skips, complete lyrics and ABC News breaks at the top of each hour. As well as a cache feature that allows users to, after creating a station, save the playlist for offline use.

Slacker Premium Radio was introduced after Radio Plus and features even more radio goodness including lyrics, on-demand access to songs, caching and playlists. Slacker Premium Radio is $9.99 per month.

SiriusXM Satellite Radio


Since their start in 2001, Sirius and XM Satellite radio have both required in-car or at-home units that must be purchased from SiriusXM or authorized third-party developers. Subscription rates start at $14.95 per month.

Sirius Satellite radio and XM Satellite Radio completed their merger in 2008. The services still operate independently as to receive both Sirius and XM, subscribers must pay more for the “Sirius Everything Plus the Best of XM.” Otherwise you’ll get the Sirius lineup or the XM lineup, with some crossover but still different stations and sports leagues and sports/talk personalities.

After the merger and since the end of 2010, Sirius XM subscribers total 20 million. Sirius XM operates on a dual revenue stream, with monthly subscriptions in addition to advertising on its News, Sports and Talk stations. Its music-only stations are commercial free.

Update: After the merger, SiriusXM has introduced new pricing plans: Internet Radio, Sirius/XM Select, Sirius/XM Premier (Depending upon which radio the user has purchased).

SiriusXM Internet Radio is an Internet-only subscription for $14.49 per month, with more than 130 channels streaming. No unit is required.

SiriusXM Select  is an in-car or at-home subscription featuring 130 channels — requiring a Sirius Radio unit — that comes in at the same price of $14.49.

Sirius Premier, with 140 channels, will set you back $17.99 per month. For both in-car or at-home plans, users have the option to add SiriusXM Internet radio for an additional $3.50 per month.

Advertisements

Hello, hulu

If Netflix is the poster child for streaming video — with a following of 20 million and counting — then Hulu is the forgotten variety.

In only its third year, Hulu is becoming quite the player and is holding ground in its mission to keep Netflix from taking over the (internet video) world.

In fact, its business model might even be more stable: ad-supported streaming of videos and TV shows. It’s a model that’s worked for media companies since, well, the dawn of media. From newspaper and magazine, to radio, to TV and now online.

Hulu’s CEO Jason Kilar projects revenue will double in 2011 to more than $500 million for all things Hulu: Hulu.com and Hulu Plus. Up from $240 million in 2010 and $108 million in 2009. Netflix clocked in at $2.16 billion in revenue in 2010 according to Netflix Q4 2010 financial statements. Up from $1.67 billion in revenue in 2009. And Netflix opts for ad-free content, for now at least. They’ve flip-flopped before.

Hulu is on pace to hit 1 million subscribers in 2011 according to CEO Jason Kilar. A quick calculation will show you how big of a role advertising revenue plays in Hulu’s structure. And how important it will be in its future. In addition, according to Brian Stelter of The New York Times, content providers receive some 50 to 70 percent of advertising revenue. In a similar fashion to pay TV; though from what I understand Hulu offers a higher percentage to its content providers.

As for Netflix, the company has yet to incorporate advertising on any level. Correction: Netflix has advertising on the inside flap of its DVD-by-mail sleeve.

NBC Universal to Comcast

In late January of this year, the nation’s largest cable TV company, Comcast, purchased NBC Universal from GE, which included stake in Hulu.

Hulu is now jointly owned by Comcast ‘s NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and global private equity investment first Providence Equity Partners. In the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast, GE had to relinquish its decision-making power and 32% stake of Hulu.

The NBC Universal-to-Comcast deal gave Comcast 51% control of NBC Universal, now labeled NBCUniversal (no space and no peacock). Previously, GE owned 80 percent. Prior to the sale, GE purchased the remaining 20 percent stake from Vivendi Universal. GE’s stake in NBCUniversal is now 49 percent, though according to USA Today the company plans to completely remove its shares over the next eight years.

The Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission included provisions in the deal that prevent Comcast from blocking NBC programming to other providers. As part of the deal, Comcast agreed to let NBC programming air on its rivals networks including Netflix.

Now that we got that legal jargon out of the way, let’s take a look at the content.

Hello, hulu. An overview of its services

hulu.com

Hulu is free for all, online at hulu.com

Free on hulu.com with advertising in each episode. The Hulu Plus option offers an expanded library and brings it directly to your TV via a high-speed Internet connection.

Hulu, free for all on hulu.com, has more than 200 content providers including NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, Fuel TV, FX, NFL Network, Speed, the Big Ten Network, Syfy, Style, Sundance, E!, G4, Versus, A&E, Oxygen and other online networks.

What you’ll find:

TV programming, some of which the day after it airs on pay TV. Previous seasons/episodes, webisodes and current programming  including ABC News, ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, 30 Rock, American Dad, The Biggest Loser, Big Ten Icons, Big Ten Greatest Games, Bones, Bob’s Burgers, The Celebrity Apprentice, Celebrity Rehab, Chuck, Colbert Report, Community, The Daily Show, Family Guy, Fora.tv, Fox News, Glee, Greek, House, How to Look Good Naked, Imus in the Morning, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Jersey Shore, Kitchen Nightmares, Law & Order, Lie to Me, Lost, Master Chef, NFL Films Presents, Nightline from ABC, NOVA, Parks and Recreation, Project Runway, Rescue Me, Saturday Night Live, Super Nanny, Top Chef, Tosh.0, Wired Science…and a ton more.

Those are just a few that caught my eye. The list was far too big to count. Why not take a look for yourself: Hulu.com browse TV.

Again, current seasons, some of which are available the day after they air on TV.

And this is the free version, which is only available on your computer. But if you want to go through the trouble, you could hook up your PC to your TV using an HDMI cable (OK?). Or if you’ve got an older set, Googlecomputer to tv cable” and you’ll see other options like s-video cables or VGA. HDMI offers the highest quality and is the easiest to use if your computer and TV have the capability.

Some episodes on hulu.com are only available for a short period of time. And the free hulu.com content doesn’t offer as much of the previous-season library of Netflix. But Hulu Plus comes a little closer, offering TV content sometimes from the first episode of season one to the most-recently aired episode in the current season.

hulu plus

Hulu Plus is available for $7.99 per month

Hulu Plus – for $7.99 per month – brings a lot to the table. Though Hulu Plus can stand on its own, it makes a perfect companion to Netflix and its breadth of on-demand content.

The same great content from Hulu.com, but a lot more including previous seasons and episodes as well as movies. Hulu Plus also connects it all to your TV, making it available with the click of a button (Once you’ve got everything set up, which is easy enough. All you’ll need is a Hulu-compatible device like a Blu-ray player, video-game system or other box. And a subscription to Hulu Plus for $7.99 per month. For a guide of compatible devices, click here. It’s a pdf.).

According to Hulu, its Plus offering provides access to more than 16,000 episodes from more than 400 current and classic shows. As well as the recent exclusive content from the Criterion Collection.

The biggest advantage of Hulu Plus over its competition (Netflix included) continues to be current episodes a day after they air. Current Content. A position Netflix had seemingly surrendered to Hulu until last week, when it announced that it’s buying the rights to “House of Cards,” a series starring Kevin Spacey. The show premieres late next year and will be available exclusively on Netflix for at least two seasons. This is big news for Netflix and Internet TV as a whole. It also goes against the company’s public stance only two months ago. Here’s a clip from a message to its shareholders on Jan. 26, 2011.

“Our primary strategy is to offer complete previous seasons of shows rather than offering those shows the day of, or a few days after, broadcast, during the critical ratings and revenue window. This is in the best interest of content owners and is consistent with our desire to offer a very low-cost service for consumers.” -Netflix in a message to shareholders Jan. 26, 2011.

More on Netflix and “House of Cards” in a future post.

Here’s the direct link to Hulu Plus content from Hulu.com/plus: http://www.hulu.com/plus#content

And here’s a fancy walk-through from hulu.com: http://www.hulu.com/watch/160617/hulu-walkthrough-what-is-hulu-plus

hulu mobile

“The world is becoming increasingly mobile. And the brands and companies that move with that shift will prosper. While those that don’t will have to play catch-up.” ericsadblog.com Feb. 13, 2011

Hulu Plus on iPhone

Hulu plus is also available on mobile devices including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. Hulu says “many more devices coming soon.” Android smartphones and are next according to the website.

In only its third year, Hulu is becoming quite the player and is holding ground in its mission to keep Netflix from taking over the (internet video) world.

Though it has a long way to go to catch up to Netflix, for the future of streaming video — and all the cable cutters out there — the competition Hulu offers Big Red will benefit the industry, not hold it back.

Images courtesy of casualgadget.net, intomobile.com, obsessable.com, blastmagazine.com.

Source: USA Today, Netflix.com, Hulu.com, Reuters, New York Times, Boston.com

Life without cable, an Internet TV Guide

 INTERNET TV GUIDE [UPDATED OCT. 21, 2011]

I have been without cable TV service since April of 2010. One of the so-called TV cord cutters.

So for you, I’ll share my view (from the future perhaps). Here I’ve compiled a guide for those of us brave enough to live life without cable. In both written form and a chart for easier comparison.

Note: due to the complexity of these devices and the many different options, levels and subscription plans, some of this information may vary. For example, Xbox 360 requires no monthly subscription. But to access certain features, like its ESPN Internet App, an Xbox Live Gold Membership (roughly $3/mo.) is required. Additionally, Netflix starts at $7.99 for streaming-only, but an additional $7.99 for DVDs by mail, which I included below. I’m also focusing my guide on external devices, per se, and not TV sets that now have some of these offerings built-in, including wireless internet connectivity.

And now, a guide to Internet TV by Eric Zimmett.

[Click the guide to view full-screen.]

This guide is not meant to be a complete list of Internet TV services, but rather an overview of some of the best devices and services on the market. It does not include Internet-connected television sets, only external devices. As more services become available, and as current services change, this guide will be updated.

eab-internet-tv-guide-8-20111

CATEGORIES EXPLAINED: Unit Cost notes the cost of the device upfront, if there is one. Subscription lists the monthly cost to use the service. In some cases, it was an annual subscription. In those cases, I divided by 12 (thanks Math 004!) to put everything on a level playing field. Netflix notes whether or not the service has access to Netflix. A subscription to Netflix is still required. Hulu Plus notes whether or not the service has access to Hulu Plus. A subscription to Hulu Plus is still required. I-Net Videos refers to internet video found throughout the web like cbs.com, espn.com, etc and whether or not the device has free access to those videos. I-Net Apps notes whether or not the device includes its own set of internet apps like Break.com, Facebook, Twitter, USA Today, CNN, etc. Internet apps vary by device. Blu-ray Player notes whether the device plays Blu-ray discs. Rentals shows whether or not the service offers DVDs or Blu-ray discs by mail. Pay-per-view tells whether the service offers movies or TV shows on a per view basis instead versus by-subscription.

And now, the details…and “my take” on each.

Life Without Cable TV, The Landscape:

Streaming Services [content subscription plans]

Netflix* [subscription-based, streaming, plus DVDs and Blu-Ray discs by mail]

Users pay monthly for the Nextlix service, with a number of pricing options, starting at $7.99 for streaming-only, $7.99 for DVDs by mail. Netflix offers the largest catalogue of moves and a growing list of TV shows. No minimum contract length. No early cancelation fees.

My take: If you are going to go with only one subscription service, Netflix is it. The largest library, the best quality streaming plus DVD and Blu-ray by mail. Netflix has it figured out.

Hulu Plus* [subscription-based, streaming]

Users pay monthly for the Hulu Plus service. Cost is $7.99 per month. Hulu Plus offers the largest selection of TV shows and current season of TV shows. No minimum contract length. No early cancelation fees.

My take: If you are a Netflix subscriber, Hulu Plus is the perfect complement, offering you the new content, the current season that you don’t get with Netflix. Not nearly the quantity and streaming quality of Netflix, but Hulu is a great service.

Amazon Instant Video* [requires subscription to Amazon Prime, streaming]

Amazon Instant Video requires a subscription to Amazon Prime, which at first included only free 2-day shipping from Amazon.com. Amazon now lists Amazon Instant Video “free” with Amazon Prime membership. But since this isn’t a guide for the best free-shipping methods, Amazon Instant Video is about $7 per month (the price for Amazon Prime membership).

My take: Amazon Instant Video offers many of the same titles as Netflix (just not nearly as many). So if you’ve got Netflix, there’s no reason at the moment, other than free two-day shipping, to get Amazon Instant Video.

Internet-library streaming [connect with the internet’s library of videos, plus Netflix and Hulu Plus]

Google TV [purchase unit with Google TV built-in from Sony and Logitech, no subscription, streaming player]

One of the pricier options for streaming video, starting around $300. Sony and Logitech each make a box that when connected to your TV will open you up to the library of videos on the internet in addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus. When your set is hooked up to Google TV, the service creates a special page for every TV series, i.e. Men of a Certain Age, which lets you quickly watch any episode whether it’s on the web or cable (if you have a cable subscription). Note: Google TV also comes built-in to certain TV sets, but we’re focusing this report on external devices.

My take: Google TV’s biggest strength is merging Internet TV and Cable TV into a complete video experience. Since I am without cable, Google TV doesn’t really do it for me. But if you’re looking to get the best of both worlds, Google TV is definitely worth a look.

Boxee Box [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Boxee Box by D-Link is a nice player. Like Google TV, it connects your TV to the internet and all the videos that come with it. In addition to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon VOD, etc.

My take: Boxee is a major contender in my mind (and in the running to be my next player). Boxee is clearly trying to set itself apart from the competition. Clever name. Clever box (check it out if you haven’t seen it). And a lot of great content. A couple noteworthy features: Boxee comes with a remote control with a QWERTY keyboard on the back, perfect for searching for a particular show or movie without having to navigate to each character with a remote control. Another advanced feature is Facebook sync (plus Twitter and Boxee Network), which displays what you and your friends are watching, allowing recommendations, etc. A little creepy, yes. But I believe this is an opt-in feature.

PlayOn* [no purchase required, free download, subscription-based, must have one of the following: Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or Google TV]

PlayOn is a cheap alternative to Boxee Box, Orb and Roku, connecting your TV to the internet through an external device like a Blu-ray player or video-game console – which gives you access to internet video from CBS, Comedy Central, TBS, Adult Swim, Spike TV, ESPN, CNN, PBS, Cartoon Network, YouTube, MTV, Pandora, Vevo, Revision3, SyFy, Food Network, TED and more, in addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus. PlayOn is a little more complex in that you have to download an application to your computer, then run the application and sync it with your compatible Wi-Fi device (PS3, Blu-ray, etc).

My take: I just picked up my subscription to PlayOn (free 14-day trial, about $3 per month thereafter) and I love it. Streaming quality depends very much on your connection speed, but for the price, you can’t beat the content it offers. It takes some know-how, as it requires not only a separate device to stream (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, etc) but also a computer and Wi-Fi network. But for the money, it offers great internet content to your TV.

Pure VOD (video-on-demand) [today’s pay-per-view]

Vudu* [video-rental service, pay per video]

Some people refer to all streaming video as VOD (video-on-demand) but I try to differentiate it from subscription-based unlimited streaming. VOD lets you rent or purchase movies (per title). Vudu is available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there.

My take: Today’s Pay-Per-View. I’ve rented movies a few times. The service is easy to use, quality was good, depends again on your connection speed. Prices, however, were average, $3.99 per rental for SD quality, $4.99 for HD on most titles.

Blockbuster On-Demand [video-rental service, pay per video]

Similar to Vudu and Amazon Video On-Demand, available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there. Blockbuster is trying to save itself by moving into the internet streaming biz. There’s just about 10 years too late.

NEW: Blockbuster was acquired by Dish Network in April of 2011. In September, the company introduced Blockbuster Movie Pass. First touted as a Netflix-killer, the official news was less than impressive. This service is now an add-on to a Dish Network subscription for an additional $10 per month. Big disappointment from the Dish/Blockbuster acquisition pairing.

My take: Have not tried Blockbuster On-Demand or Blockbuster Movie Pass. But I don’t think I’m missing anything.

Amazon Video On-Demand* [video-rental service, pay per video]

Similar to Vudu and Blockbuster On-Demand. Amazon VOD is available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there. Amazon’s extended its services to the video realm. In addition to buying DVDs or Blu-ray discs on Amazon.com, you’re now able to stream videos instantly.

My take: Amazon could have something here. If it’s able to compete with Netflix and Hulu Plus with content, Amazon will be a contender.

Media Streaming Devices – the Big Players [each with its own set of internet apps]

Sony* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: I’ve got a Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray Player. Blu-ray quality is excellent. Plus I can wirelessly stream movies, music and podcasts. Including Netflix and Hulu Plus (subscription required for those) as well as a selection of Sony Internet apps like YouTube, Blip.tv, Crackle, Dr. Oz, WIRED, Daily Motion, eHow.com and more, free.

Samsung [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: Samsung is leading the way in the internet apps game, particularly with its Internet@TV. The company is really ahead of the curve (just introduced a Wi-Fi connected refrigerator with Pandora). Watch for more great things from Samsung.

Vizio [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: Vizio players are usually lower in price than other models, like their TV sets, and they offer some quality apps. Vizio internet apps (via) include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster, Amazon VOD, NBA Game Time, Flickr, Pandora, Rhapsody, Vudu, Twitter, Yahoo and eBay.

Apple TV* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Apple TV just redesigned its little black box (smaller, more portable?) but it still packs a big punch. Apple TV will get you Netflix and a few VOD options (pay-per-view) and YouTube, Mobile Me, and Flickr. The device also lets you sling media from an iPad to your TV.

My take: Like all Apple products, this thing is slick. Navigation and quality is smooth and top-notch. Recommended for Apple fans or anyone looking to add Netflix to the home and isn’t swayed by Roku’s large library of Internet video.

Orb TV [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Orb is slightly more sophisticated than a few of the players in this guide, but that also means it’s more complicated. Orb connects you with the Internet’s library of video content, Netflix and Hulu streaming plus Sirius XM Radio but requires a little help from your computer (like PlayOn).

My take: Orb is a little more complicated than other devices, but offers some nice features. Comparable to PlayOn, just more advanced with a better interface and more features.

Roku* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

FOR MY POST ON ROKU, CLICK HERE.

No PC needed here. Roku is as simple as it gets. Like many players in this guide it connects wirelessly to your network. And Roku starts at just $59.99. Roku also offers one of the finer collection of Internet apps including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Roku Newscaster, CNet, Blip.tv, Break.com, Crackle, Facebook Photos, Flickr, Last.fm, NASA, Picasa, Revision3, TuneIn Radio and, actually, a ton of other applications.

Roku is the most advanced player I’ve used, incorporating premium channels like Netflix and Hulu Plus with free content from Break.com, Crackle and Newscaster. Newscaster displays up-to-date video content from the major news networks. FOX News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS and more. One such source, Al Jazeera, even streams live in the mornings. News 3, Channel 3000, is a local news channel in Wisconsin. It is the first local news channel offered through the internet and into your living room.

My take: For anyone even considering ditching the cable box, Roku is a must. Roku is one of the least expensive options for streaming video and video-on-demand, with its first player starting at $59.99. Roku just released the Roku 2 line but I’m partial to the last release.

Video-game systems [with access to Netflix and Hulu Plus. Wii is the only system without access to Hulu Plus]

Playstation 3* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix or Hulu Plus]

Playstation 3 is the ultimate home entertainment system, built-in wireless connectivity, Blu-ray player and gaming.

My take: The PS3 is a great Blu-ray player and one of the best Netflix players on the market. Users can also upload their own videos, music and pictures to the system for easy viewing on a TV.

Xbox 360* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix and Hulu Plus. Xbox Live Gold required for ESPN3]

Xbox 360 does probably the best job of incorporating video-on-demand. Great video-game console able to connect wirelessly to Netflix or Hulu Plus. Xbox also features its own small line of Internet apps including ESPN3 that come with its Xbox Live Gold subscription. ESPN3 on Xbox 360 is exceptional, featuring a ton of sports content updated daily.

In October, Xbox announced a slew of partnerships with “nearly 40 world class TV and entertainment providers coming to Xbox LIVE including:  Bravo, Comcast, HBO GO, Verizon FiOS and Syfy in the U.S.; BBC TV and radio in the U.K.; Telefónica in Spain; Rogers On Demand in Canada; Televisa in Mexico; ZDF in Germany; and MediaSet in Italy, that will begin rolling out to consoles in more than 20 countries this holiday.”

More on this Xbox news soon….

My take:  Xbox Rocks. The new content on the way is only going to make it more a home entertainment system. Though some content will require a pay-TV subscription. Xbox Live Gold Membership is required to gain access to ESPN3 but some apps are free. Kinect also offers another way to control some of these apps including Netflix. Though connect, users can navigate Netflix with hand gestures and voice commands. 

Wii* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix]

Video-game console able to connect to Netflix. Wii is the only video-game system on the market that does not support HD video, making the quality the lowest of the bunch.

My take: Wii is lagging behind a bit in the streaming game, with access to Netflix but still no Hulu Plus. Wii is now the only system with no Hulu Plus support. Netflix browsing on Wii is a little awkward, not quite as streamlined as Playstation 3. Though a recent update made this experience much better.

*I have personally used the services or devices noted in this report (and marked with an asterisk).

Sources: All of the websites for devices/services listed in this guide plus google.com, gizmodo.com

Netflix. Redefining Television.

Netflix is changing the way we think about television: What we watch. When we watch it. And, most importantly, how we watch it.

Its movie-suggestion service makes Netflix more than a streaming-video company; it makes it your streaming-video company, fine-tuned to your tastes.

This post concerns Netflix and how it is re-defining television — based on my experiences with the video-streaming and video-rental service for the last ten months, during which time I’ve been without any cable subscription.

INTRO AND PERSONALIZATION

With more than 20 million subscribers and counting, as of January, 2011, Netflix is becoming quite a player in the video-on-demand world. In fact, according to the company, it’s the world’s leading Internet subscription service. From 2009 to 2010, Netflix increased its subscription base by more than 4.5 million. At that pace, in 2011, Netflix will easily become the nation’s leading  video service offline as well. Comcast is currently the nation’s largest at 22.8 million subscribers.

“With more than 20 million members in the United States and Canada, Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) is the world’s leading Internet subscription service for enjoying movies and TV shows. For $7.99 a month, Netflix members can instantly watch unlimited movies and TV episodes streaming over the Internet to PCs, Macs and TVs. Among the large and expanding base of devices streaming from Netflix are Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PS3 consoles; an array of Blu-ray disc players, Internet-connected TVs, home theater systems, digital video recorders and Internet video players; Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as Apple TV and Google TV. In all, more than 200 devices that stream from Netflix are available in the U.S. and a growing number are available in Canada. For more information, visit www.netflix.com.” Source: Netflix

As far as content is concerned, Netflix is hard to beat. Starz alone supplies about 2,500 pieces, split evenly between movies and TV titles. That’s nearly identical to content offerings from Starz to Comcast and DirecTV, per Hollywood Reporter.

Other major content providers for Netflix include Time Warner, Fox, Epix, Relativity and NBC Universal.

What started as a DVD-by-mail service has transformed into a streaming super-power. Streaming content for Netflix is an estimated 20,000 titles (and counting). And it’s all available to watch instantly on your TV, laptop, PC or mobile device.

Oh, and they’ve got around 100,000 titles on DVD, available by-mail in about two days.

All you’ve got to do is pick a plan, starting at $7.99 per month with streaming. Users can change or cancel their subscription at any time. No early cancelation fees here.

Netflixers can choose from a number of subscription options:
  1. Streaming Only – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $7.99 per month
  2. Streaming Plus One DVD out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $9.99 per month
  3. Streaming Plus Two DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $14.99 per month
  4. Streaming Plus Three DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $19.99 per month
  5. Streaming Plus Four DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $27.99 per month
  6. DVD-only option – One DVD out at-a-time, 2 DVD-per-month maximum by mail – $4.99 per month (plus 2 hours of streaming to a PC)
Blu-ray Option: Netflix subscribers have access to some 1,000 Blu-ray titles for an additional $3 per month, on any plan including DVDs by mail. Netflix offers other plans, up to eight DVDs at-a-time for $55.99 per month.

I’m on plan 3, Unlimited Streaming and two DVDs by mail at-a-time for $14.99 per month. My wife and I each select one DVD at a time and we can watch Netflix Streaming whenever we want on any TV in our house (thanks to Playstation 3, Wii and our Sony Blu-ray player, which are all connected to Netflix) or online. When we’re done with one DVD, we send it back in the mail, with the provided and prepaid red envelope. The next title in our online queue arrives in about two or three days. In plans 2 through 5 above (my numbering system, not from Netflix), users can rent as many DVDs by mail per month as there free time can allow. There is no maximum number of titles per month, as there is in option 6, with a max of two DVDs per month for $4.99/mo.

My DVD queue, showing what 2 DVDs I currently have ‘out’, and then the next in line. From a library of 100,000+. Titles can be shifted up or down and new titles can be added at any time.

Personalization: You’re gonna like this…

Maybe the best part of Netflix, after the content of course, is its Suggestions for You.

Can you imagine your TV or Cable Box saying, “Hey there, noticed you enjoyed ‘House, M.D. yesterday. I think you might like ‘The Mentalist.‘”

Welcome to Movie Suggestions from Netflix. Similar to Pandora’s music selection, Netflix suggests movies you’ll like based on your ratings and ratings from others who have similar tastes in movies, as well as information from your Taste Preferences.

1. Movie Ratings

“Netflix has more than 3 billion movie ratings from members. The average  member rated more than 200 movies. Netflix members rate about four million movies a day.” -Netflix Press Kit

Users can rate movies they’ve seen in and out of Netflix. Users are able to view movies, and then rate them on netflix.com, in the following categories: all genres or in 14 genres individually. They are: Action & Adventure; Animation; Anime; Children & Family; Comedies; Documentaries; Dramas; Foreign; Horror; Independent; Musicals; Sci-Fi & Fantasy; TV Shows; and Thrillers. Users rate movies on a scale of one to five stars.

TV Shows and Movies that I can rate on a scale of one to five (stars). At the time of this screenshot, I had rated 362 titles. Now I’ve scored more than 500 titles.

I’ve rated some 530 movies & TV shows to this point. I’ve also noticed, the more movies I rate, the closer the suggestions are getting to my actual tastes.

Speaking of tastes…

2. Taste Preferences

Netflix has 13 Taste Preferences that users can fill out to let Netflix know what types of movies they like. Basically, 13 preference categories. They are, specifically: moods, genres, qualities, storylines, release date (decades), sub genres, languages, children’s age, sports & fitness, music, story source, cultures and special interest.

Each preference category contains around 40 questions. That’s more than 500 ways to detect your taste in movies and TV. Which leads me to believe Netflix knows me better than my wife.

This screenshot displays Taste Preferences, one of 13 different preference categories. Each category contains around 40 questions. That’s more than 500 ways to detect your taste in movies and TV.

On the Netflix.com dashboard, under the “Suggestions for You” tab, lies “Taste Preferences.” This questionnaire allows users decide how often they watch movies of that particular genre: 1) Never; 2) Sometimes or 3) Often. Above I’ve displayed my rankings for the Genre category.

Netflix uses this information (Movie Ratings and Taste Preferences) to fine-tune its movie and TV suggestions. I’ve notice the more titles I rate, the better it gets at determining what I’ll like.

Its movie-suggestion service makes Netflix more than a streaming-video company; it makes it your streaming-video company, fine-tuned to your tastes.

Sources: Netflix.com, Reuters.com, HollywoodReporter.com, Cape Cod Times, Netflix.com Press Kit http://cdn-0.nflximg.com/us/pdf/Consumer_Press_Kit.pdf

A mobile Facebook

I watched The Social Network yesterday. It was my second time watching the Facebook-inspired biopic. It’s a great flick, however true-to-life it was. The film is bringing even wider publicity to the social networking site — originally called The Facebook as the movie accurately depicts — and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Screenshot of Facebook’s initial layout, The Facebook

It’s a communication vehicle, a networking resource, and so much more. In the movie, after Facebook had taken over at Harvard University, they make reference to the term “facebook me.” I guess it’s today’s version of, um, “look me up in the phone book.” But it’s definitely a sign of universal adoption, similar to Google’s climb to the top. “Google it.” Or Photoshop, which has become synonymous with photo editing. Becoming a verb is the ultimate goal for a company.

Users, all 500 million of them around the world, are spending more and more time on Facebook. At work, at home and on the go via smartphones. Even the term “on facebook” does not refer to http://www.facebook.com anymore with the adoption of Facebook application for smartphones and the new Facebook phone itself.

Mobile is taking over my life. I’m on my Droid all day. And night. I’ll often be surfing the web on my Droid with my laptop right next to me. I use Facebook on my smartphone almost as much as I am on my laptop and my work PC.

I wrote some of this blog post on my Droid. Yep, with my recently installed WordPress app. In fact I’m writing this sentence on it.

I’ve read more news on my Droid (my first smartphone) in the last six months than probably the previous six years with access to newspaper and TV. Smartphone news apps like New York Times, USA Today, CNET News, Engadget, NPR News, CBS News, Yahoo! News, The Huffington Post and many more. Text-based and videos. In some cases, the same news videos that air on TV.

The world is becoming increasingly mobile. And the brands and companies that move with that shift will prosper. While those that don’t will have to play catch-up.

Smartphone users are on the rise, 60 percent higher at the end of 2010 than it was a year ago.  Smartphoners are ready to eclipse the number of feature phone (dumbphone) users. That should occur sometime in 2011.

In the three-month period between September of 2010 and December of 2010, nearly 25% of mobile subscribers accessed a social networking site.

Rockmelt web browser. Powered by Google’s Chromium, Rockmelt is like Google Chrome with full Facebook integration (as well as Twitter). I’m typing in it right now. The browser window looks the same. Tabs, the same. But my Facebook friends are in a side bar to my left. Facebook status updates pop up at the bottom of the screen from time to time, telling me what’s happening in my friend circle.

I can chat with my friends without opening a new tab, or without going to Facebook.com. I just click on a friend’s name in the left panel and the chat bar slides open.

Below is a screenshot I took while composing this post. You can see my friends on the left panel.

Facebook application. The Facebook application on smartphones is a quicker, slimmer version of  facebook.com. It launches faster than opening a browser on your smartphone and is basically a mobile version of the website. You can navigate all of Facebook’s features on the application, like the News Feed, your Profile, your Friends, Messages, Places, the new Groups feature, Events, Photos and Facebook Chat. Facebook chat on your mobile phone is a nice feature, essentially a free texting service. And an untitled photo stream, similar to the news feed but with only photos uploaded by your friends. And then there’s Facebook’s new messaging service.

The Facebook phone. Facebook itself is not building a phone, that we know of. But other manufacturers are building phones that integrate the social networking site into its phone (similar to Rockmelt’s inclusion in its web browser). One Facebook phone manufacturer is INQ (pronounced “ink”). The company has actually introduced two versions of its Facebook phone, the Cloud Touch and the Cloud Q.

“We want to have every user in every market using Facebook– we’re investing in smartphones and at the same time as in mass market phones because we believe with great features and great integrations, every phone can become sociable.” – Henri Moissinac, Facebook’s Head of Mobile Business

HTC (pronounced, um, HTC) is also developing a Facebook phone, set to be introduced this month according to reports. The phone will have a dedicated Facebook Button that will take users directly to Facebook. “It’s one of HTC’s main pushes for this year,” a person familiar with HTC’s strategy told Financial Times.

However the Facebook phones turn out,  one thing is for sure: this is only the beginning.

Facebook is integrating itself into every aspect of our lives. On the web, on our phones and on the go via status updates, photos, tagged friends and events.

Facebook’s “Like” feature, as Zuckerberg likely envisioned, stretches all across the web, making Facebook the center of it all.

And we all know it’s not over. Facebook is not done expanding, evolving and becoming even more entrenched in our personal and business lives. I, for one, welcome the intrusion.

Source: comScore, comScore MobiLens, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology, http://gizmodo.com/

Consumer Electronics Show…CES

Tomorrow’s gadgets, games and mind-blowing media, introduced today at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, CES.

The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, CES, was held Jan. 6 through Jan. 9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Showcasing the next best things in every conceivable category, with some 2,500 media companies on display, CES gives us a look into the future. From the next DROID (the Droid Bionic), to the Porsche 918 RSR, the 767hp hybrid to Samsung’s flexible (and shatter-proof) mobile displays, then the weird…like the “eTime Home Endoscope.” As PC World puts it, “Finally–a way to peer into your loved ones’ mouths and ears, putting their orifices on display in a live computer video feed.”

Two trends to keep an eye on: 1) Music, particularly how we listen to radio at work, in the car and at home; 2) Television. I predict a big change in 2011 in the way we watch TV. We’ve already experienced the start of it with Netflix, Hulu, GoogleTV, Boxee Box, etc and devices like SlingBox, which slings your paid content to other sets and devices outside of your home. But I think this trend will explode in 2011 or early 2012. TV isn’t dead, it’s just evolving, and its audience is becoming fragmented.

Here are a few CES announcements I found noteworthy (and one or two I just found, well, strange)…

1) Toyota Entune infotainment system

Toyota Entune infotainment system hands-on

The Entune infotainment system incorporates navigation, media and entertainment into your dash via smartphone integration. Basically, it syncs applications from your smartphone (be it iPod, Droid or Blackberry) and displays the apps (like Pandora) on the dash. Including Bing search, MovieTickets.com, navigation, and music services like Pandora and iheartradio. Toyota has announced that some of these features are disabled while the vehicle is in motion (forcing you to fumble around on the tiny screen of your Blackberry instead, perhaps).

Entune is due on “select models” sometime this year.

2). Samsung GoogleTV Box and SmartTV platform

Television doesn’t live in box anymore. Well, it still kind of does, but that box is hooked up to the Internet. Connecting our HDTV sets to the world wide web syncs our Televisions to an array of programming and applications. Programming like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu as well as applications (apps) that vary depending on the manufacturer, product and model. Samsung’s apps include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pandora, Blockbuster, ESPN, AP, USAToday, Yahoo!, Skype, and many more, all on your TV.

And good for us, everyone’s getting in on the act. From Apple to Zenith.

3. Motorola Xoom Tablet

Tablets melt the Web, Books and TV into one mobile device that goes where you go. Motorola Xoom is the latest, which utilizes the Android operating system, and includes the the first dual-core processor.

Life without cable TV

I’ve been without cable TV service since April of 2010. No DirecTV, No Dish, No Comcast, No nothing.

But I’m watching more television shows and movies than ever before. With Netflix and Hulu Plus.

With Netflix, $8.99 per month, I’m watching TV shows like The Office, Californication, Lie to Me, 30 Rock, Weeds, American Pickers, Family Guy and others. From the first episode of the season to the last. On my schedule.

I also just picked up a subscription to Hulu Plus, an additional $7.99 per month.

Netflix offers a much larger library and has nearly every title that Hulu Plus carries, but Hulu Plus lets me watch current seasons of shows like Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup, The Office, 30 Rock, House, Family Guy and Lie to Me. Again, these are just the shows I’m watching.

With Netflix and Hulu Plus I’m watching more shows and movies than ever before. It’s more productive TV viewing. Instead of surfing channels, I pick exactly what I want to watch on my schedule.

All of this makes me wonder. What is “TV”? Is it a service? Or is it the product, the show, the movie or even the network?

Is today’s “TV” the distribution vehicle or the product delivered?

I believe TV should be viewed as the product. But right now we’re paying for the distribution vehicle: the provider. Like Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Windstream, etc.

There’s a shift occurring. TV is changing from the provider to the product.

The DirecTV vs. Dish battle has increased in intensity within the last few years. In the next five to 10 years it will become far less important which vehicle we use to get our content.  Because these new services are taking advantage of what consumers already have: HD TVs, Internet-connected sets and high-speed wireless internet.

And new services and boxes are popping up every week. Hulu Plus, Google TV, Boxee Box, Orb TV and more. And the pricing is starting as low as $7.99 per month. That’s a win for consumers.

What we’re witnessing is not the end of TV but its future. And I’m happy to be an early adopter.