Tag Archives: Pandora

Pandora and the Evolution of Radio

All media must evolve to stay relevant in our lives. We’re seeing it now on four levels: news, communication, commerce and entertainment.

The way we get our news is changing, from print to web and apps. We communicate and interact daily on Facebook and text messages. We shop online more than ever before. We’re entertained not by video-rental stores but by Netflix and Hulu. The radio dial we used to turn is now a digital dial.

Shifts in consumer behavior force media to evolve. Today that shift is toward personalization.

Pandora, the leading Internet radio service, is the evolution of FM radio. Its customized radio plays songs it knows we’ll like – it learns our tastes – using Pandora’s Music Genome Project.

Image provided by Pandora

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on StateCollege.com in Tech Talk, a biweekly column by Eric Zimmett. Click here to view the original column.

Pandora announced Tuesday at the International CTIA Wireless 2012 conference in New Orleans that it has surpassed 150 million registered users, nearly 52 million of which are active listeners. It is now one of the most-used online services in the United States.

In April, Pandora users clocked 1.06 billion listening hours, an 87 percent increase over the same time last year.

Audience measurement and consumer research company The Media Audit revealed last week that Pandora is the No. 1 listened to station in Los Angeles, beating out KIIS-FM.

The Media Audit found that Internet radio has reached 20 percent saturation; which means there’s still plenty of room to grow. Among 18 to 34 year olds, the saturation – or market presence – hits 36.6 percent.

Ways to Tune In:  some of today’s popular destinations for music

  • Pandora: Personalized Internet radio service that creates stations based on your favorite artists and songs. Pandora offers free and premium Pandora One, which features ad-free listening for about $3 per month.
  • Sirius XM: Subscription satellite radio service starting at $14.49 per month featuring more than 140 channels including 71 commercial-free music channels plus news, talk, sports and more. You’ll need a Sirius or XM radio to use the service, unless you opt for an online-only subscription for about $13 per month. Sirius XM is also available in select vehicle models.
  • Spotify: On-demand music. Enter an artist and play the tracks you want to hear. Spotify also features genre-specific stations and the new Playlist Radio. Free on desktop or laptop computers – but to play on mobile devices or tablets Spotify Premium ($9.99 per month) is required.
  • Slacker: Slacker plays songs based on your favorite artists or tracks, in addition to genre-specific stations. Slacker has a free level and two premium options: Slacker Plus ($3.99 per month) and Slacker Premium ($9.99 per month), with Slacker Premium featuring on-demand music like Spotify.
  • Songza: Songza sets itself apart with its Music Concierge featuring situation-based music, from Waking Up, to Unwinding After a Long Day, or even A Sweaty Dance Party.
  • Others: Grooveshark, Rdio, MOG, Rhapsody

According to the annual Infinite Dial study released last month by Arbitron and Edison Research, weekly Internet radio listening jumped more than 30 percent in the past year. The study includes streaming AM and FM stations.

Pandora listeners hit 22 percent of people 12 years and older who’ve listened in the past month, up from 16 percent last year, according to the same study.

New car tech is catching up, too. Including “Infotainment” systems that connect to Internet radio services like Pandora and satellite radio service Sirius XM. Pandora is available in 48 vehicle models across 18 brands and an array of aftermarket multimedia systems.

Cars with built-in iPod sync and audio jacks enable a driver to either wirelessly sync a device or plug it in, playing the audio through the car’s stereo system.

More than 70 percent of Pandora’s listening hours were from a device other than the computer, the company announced Tuesday. This correlates with the growing number of mobile devices and users accessing the Internet – and Internet radio – away from the computer.

In the past two years, smartphone ownership has tripled. The percentage of people who’ve listened to Internet radio by connecting a mobile device to the car stereo has experienced a 50 percent increase in the past 12 months, reaching 17 percent, according to Arbitron and Edison Research.

More than half of users between 18 and 24 years old have listened to an iPod or mp3 player in the car as their main source of music. One in five is streaming Pandora, according to a separate study by Arbitron and Edison Research.

In-car listening is the biggest area of potential growth for Internet radio services. In the next five years, Internet radio will gain more ground in the car. It’s only a matter of time before the technology hits the streets and moves along the adoption curve.

Turning the dial

Like television and newspapers, radio is evolving by adapting to shifts in the way we live – and listen.

The consumer’s desire for personalized media is driving the shift. We’re responsible for the changes that are occurring. It’s happening because we asked for it. Companies like Pandora and Spotify exist because they noticed it before the others, maybe even before we noticed it.

Consumers told them what they wanted; and they were listening. They responded with services that are transforming the radio landscape.

“Mobile connectivity has allowed us to deliver on our mission of providing people with music they love…” said Pandora President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Kennedy.

“The continued growth of Pandora shows that personalized radio is fundamentally changing the way people listen to music.”


Advertisements

Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. 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. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

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.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.

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.

 

YouTube and Internet Video

In six years, YouTube has become the hub of video content on the web, evolving from cat videos to live streaming news and now YouTube Movies. But from all indications, and the words of new CEO Salar Kamangar, this is only the beginning.

“Today, we’re going to start adding around 3,000 new movie titles for rent available to users in the U.S. that will be accompanied by reviews and behind-the-scenes movie extras,” CEO Salar Kamangar posted on the company’s blog on May 9, 2011.

YouTube Movies

YouTube Movies is today’s Pay-Per-View Channel. Its interface is much more google-esque than YouTube’s homepage and navigation is simple and intuitive.

Users can browse Featured titles at the top, browse by Category, or by Collection. Categories displays movies in a given genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Crime Drama, Family, etc.

YouTube has also created what it calls Collections. It’s essentially a Staff Picks selection like, say, “Vincent’s Picks” in a brick-and-mortar rental store.

YouTube displays the Top Movie Rentals in a vertical list to the right with the title’s current rank and whether it’s moving up or down the charts.

Pricing starts at $2.99 per title, others $3.99 and even some free titles. “Free” is also a browse-by-category selection.

From what I’ve seen, the selection compares more to Amazon Instant Video than anything else. By the numbers, Amazon Instant Video claims to have 5,000 titles including movies and TV shows. As I wrote in my post on Amazon in April, I’ve only been able to see about 3,000 (Maybe the others are lost in the Amazon Cloud?) YouTube announced it has “around 3,000 new movie titles.”

Note: in addition to Amazon’s pay-per-title, Amazon Instant Video offers unlimited streaming (as well as free two-day shipping) of the same titles for $79 per year, billed annually. For more on Amazon’s offerings, click here.

If YouTube intends to compete with Netflix, it will have to do more than pay-per-view. That’ll take more titles, TV Shows and an Unlimited Streaming plan.

If you can’t grow ’em, buy ’em

 

One step in competing with Netflix, it appears, is bringing Netflix talent to YouTube.

YouTube has been making some moves, recently hiring execs from Netflix and P&G.

Last year, Google grabbed Netflix vet Robert Kyncl to serve as VP of Content Partnerships. In April, Google’s YouTube picked up another Netflixer in Christian Kaiser, who served as Netflix engineering VP. According to Peter Kafka of All Things Digital, YouTube also brought in product director Thomas Purnell-Fisher, who will, per Kafka, work on “YouTube TV.” YouTube TV is available on Google TV and on any web browser.

Last week, YouTube nabbed Proctor & Gamble digital marketing director Lucas Watson to run sales for the site. According to Advertising Age, Watson was a key component to Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign.

“With Mr. Watson, the company gets an executive who has spearheaded a big increase in digital spending at the biggest ad spender in the U.S. and globally over the past three years…” wrote Advertising Age’s Jack Neff.

Newsflash: YouTube has the news

YouTube’s Town Hall Channel displays debate topics like Education, Budget, Energy, Economy, Health Care and more. With videos from both sides. After watching each debate topic, users can choose to support one side or the other.

Also available is the Leaderboard, which appears to be popular videos and topics. Users can also submit a question. Every month members of Congress will answer a selection of top-voted questions, according to the channel.

In July of 2007, YouTube and CNN hosted their first presidential debate featuring questions submitted by YouTube users. As noted by Fast Company, in the 2008 election cycle, 7 of the 16 presidential candidates used YouTube to announce their campaigns.

YouTube’s Town Hall Channel moves in on pay TV’s territory. But this is on the viewer’s schedule.

On May 15, CBS announced a new show, but not the pay-TV variety. “What’s Trending” would be CBS’s foray into web TV, with the show streaming live Tuesdays at 1pm. ET on UStream, LiveStream and YouTube.

The show covers current events and pop culture, through the eyes of the Internet. It broadcasts live every Tuesday. The current week’s live show is available for replay one day after the episode airs.

“What’s Trending is a new kind of news show connecting you to the top stories and people heating up the conversation online around the world. Get connected and join the conversation around trending topics from global revolutions to entertainment and viral memes. It’s what you need to know to be in the now.” – CBS Channel on YouTube, What’s Trending

And from PayPal a YouTube was born

 

YouTube was launched in 2005 by three former PayPal employees: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim.

In the year that followed, YouTube skyrocketed from a startup flickr-like service for videos to a video powerhouse that would be acquired by one of the biggest players in the digital world.

Two days after YouTube’s launch, Saturday Night Live aired music spoof video “Lazy Sunday.” The video made its way to YouTube, and in one week attracted nearly 2 million views. NBC later asked YouTube to remove the video.

Its first viral video hit came in April of 2006 with Judson Laipply’s “The Evolution of Dance.”

In October of 2006, YouTube was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in an all-stock transactioin and now acts as a subsidiary of the big G.

Steve Chen and Chad Hurley discussed the acquisition in October of 2006 in a YouTube video.

Chad Hurley stepped down as YouTube’s CEO in November of 2010 and was replaced by Salar Kamangar. Kamangar previously served as vice president of Google’s web applications as well as VP of product management for Google’s advertisement and monetization process.

Today, more than 48 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute, according to the company’s blog. YouTube generates 3 billion views per day. That’s a lot of eyeballs.

In March, YouTube announced it was acquiring Next New Networks, a web-video production company, in an effort to produce original, and higher quality, content.

A statement from Next New Networks CEO and Co-founder Fred Seibert: “Our company will become a core component of YouTube Next, a new team that will focus on super harging content creator development on YouTube, driving deeper expertise in partner audience development, and incubating new ideas that can be shared with the broader community.” –from nextnewnetworks.com.

You say VEVO, Google says money 

If you’ve ever searched for a music video on YouTube, you’ll see Vevo is often the first search result. The Vevo Channel on YouTube is near the top for any music-related search. From John Mellencamp to Nicki Minaj. Vevo has its own standalone site on Vevo.com as well as a YouTube Channel.

According to TechCrunch, Vevo is the third-largest source for video on the web after only two years running — and it’s enjoying tens of millions in advertising revenue. Vevo’s advertising rate is comparable to broadcast TV with a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) north of $20 per Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch,

VEVO is a joint venture among Sony, Universal Music Group and Abu Dhabi Media. Google and Vevo share all advertising and sponsorship revenue. Though Google has no ownership stake in Vevo.

Vevo’s traffic grew 62% in its first year, from 2009 to 2010, in large part to its partnership with YouTube and its ability to get the Vevo videos to the viewers. In May, YouTube also unveiled the YouTube 100, a measurement of “song traffic across official music videos, user-uploaded videos and viral debuts, and uses this data to provide a holistic view of song popularity” according to the company blog.

Are you connected?

 

“You’re finding more and more of the content you love on YouTube, which is now available on 350 million devices,” said CEO Salar Kamangar, speaking to YouTube users in the company blog.

I’m not sure where Kamangar came up with 350 million (maybe he made it up) but the adoption curve becomes a lot more manageable if whatever you’re pitching is available everywhere. Two companies that have taken advantage of connectivity in the last five years are music service Pandora and streaming-video juggernaut Netflix.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening is accomplished on devices other than the PC. Pandora is connected to seemingly everything, from smartphones, tablets and TVs to automobiles and…refrigerators? Yep, the fridge. The high-tech fridge connects to an array of web apps, including Google calendars.

Netflix has also enjoyed subscriber growth due in large part to how easy it is to get Netflix to a TV. Netflix is available on more than 200 devices including PCs, Macs, Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, Internet-video players, Apple TV and Google TV, Apple’s iPad and iPod touch as well as all three current videogame consoles (Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3) and more. It’s recently begun rolling out a fully functioning Netflix app for smartphones including iPhone and Android.

What’s next for YouTube

YouTube is positioning itself to become a full-fledged TV Channel under recently crowned CEO Salar Kamangar. It’s set to challenge not only pay-TV cable and news networks but also live streaming services and other video-on-demand companies like Vudu and Blockbuster.

If it can successfully incorporate a premium unlimited streaming model — pitting itself against Netflix and Hulu Plus — YouTube could become the center of video activity across the board: on the Internet, on mobile devices and in our living rooms.

“By expanding our content partnerships worldwide and stimulating the success of budding filmmakers, artists and entrepreneurs, we’ll ensure that YouTube remains the best place for the world to see and discover rich talent. So stay tuned—there’s much more to come.” -CEO Salar Kamangar, YouTube blog

 

Radio Today…and Tomorrow

I worked in the radio industry from 2008 through 2011. In that time, I had my finger on the pulse of both traditional radio as well as new radio offerings both online and via satellite. Current trends are only the beginning. The radio of the future will blow it all out of the water.

Since my time in radio, I have continued to follow radio trends in both traditional listening on the dial, online radio like Pandora and Slacker as well as satellite radio service SiriusXM. Like all other media, radio is evolving. But there are still needs that these new radio services — even Pandora — aren’t fulfilling.

This week, I thought I’d revisit the radio landscape and project on what radio might look like tomorrow.

Local, terrestrial, radio is still dominant as far as listening is concerned, reaching 93% of Americans age 12+ each week, about 241 million weekly listeners. Online services like Pandora and Slacker are attracting a fair amount of listeners — but lack one thing that make terrestrial radio successful: ubiquitous in-car access.

According to recent data, nearly 70% of radio listening is done in-car, according to research company GFK MRI. That’s a glaring need that Pandora and Slacker aren’t yet fulfilling.

Until Internet radio services like Pandora and Slacker enter the automobile, they will lag far behind terrestrial radio.

Sirius and XM merged in 2008. Soon thereafter the company introduced its new logo.

SiriusXM Radio has also capitalized on the in-car experience, though a subscription to SiriusXM is required. SiriusXM hit 20 million subscribers near the end of 2010. Still a small percentage compared to terrestrial listeners and behind even Pandora and Slacker according to reports.

SiriusXM also offers SiriusXM Internet Radio, for an additional fee to all satellite radio subscribers. At first, the online catalogue included only select channels. When SiriusXM introduced a new channel lineup this month, SiriusXM Internet Radio made available all of the channels of the satellite variety plus a few Internet-exclusive channels. Could a separate, standalone, online-only subscription model help SiriusXM build its user base?

Another element to the success of terrestrial radio and SiriusXM is its live and local content. Something SiriusXM certainly recognizes. All of its music channels feature live hosts. And they’ve shown interest in adding localized content with Weather and Traffic channels. It’s something they seem to be interested in developing further.

In fact, SiriusXM recently added three local ESPN Radio shows. According to Marcus Vanderberg of Media Bistro, SiriusXm will pick up ESPN New York’s Mike Lupica Show and Michael Kay Show along with ESPN Chicago’s Waddle and Silvy. 

“Whether it’s the Bulls’ run through the playoffs, Yankees and Mets baseball, or another local team making headlines, there is a constant sports buzz in these two cities,” Steve Cohen, SiriusXM’s SVP of Sports Programming, was quoted on MediaBistro.com.

“That makes for excellent sports talk, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer these great shows to all of our listeners, allowing them to follow the local story lines all year long,” Cohen said.

UPDATE: Before posting, I learned that SiriusXM has now made available a separate, standalone SiriusXM Internet Radio Subscription for $12.95 per month. A subscription to the satellite radio service is no longer required for SiriusXM Internet Radio. Per SiriusXM, users can listen on PC, Mac or  smartphone “with apps available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and compatible Blackberries and Android devices.” I’m not exactly sure when this standalone subscription was introduced but this was the first I noticed it. This is important for two reasons: 1) a Sirius/XM compatible radio is  no longer required for the service; 2) When 3G (or 4G) enters the automobile, Sirius/XM will be well equipped.

Slacker introduces Slacker Premium Radio

Last week, Slacker introduced Slacker Premium Radio in an effort to break new ground — becoming more than just a Pandora alternative — giving more choice and personalization to the listener.

“The new radio should be able to give people more control of what they have,” Slacker CEO Jim Cady was quoted in Radio Ink.

Slacker Premium Radio offers songs, albums or artists on-demand. Now Slacker is not only competing with Pandora but also services like Rdio, which offer large, on-demand music libraries with a paid subscription. Search for an artist/band and hear all available content on-demand.

In addition to Slacker’s free radio, like Pandora, Slacker offers ad-free streaming of both personalized and genre-specific channels (like terrestrial radio stations).

To likely differentiate itself from Pandora and move in on the ground of terrestrial radio and SiriusXM, Slacker introduced ABC News to its Slacker Plus subscription. ABC News is also available in its Premium plan.

According to Slacker CEO Jim Cady, Slacker now has 26 million listeners and 8.5 million songs in its library. Pandora had reported some 60 million listeners in the latter half of 2010, a figure that Slacker CEO Jim Cady laughed off. It’s not clear how either company is tracking or counting its listeners.

Today’s Options for listeners:

  • Traditional/Terrestrial Radio genre-specific listening, free for both AM/FM stations and online streams. *Ad-supported
  • HD Radio like terrestrial radio, HD radio is subscription free but requires the purchase of an HD radio. HD has yet to take off due to the necessary purchase of an HD Radio (which does not stand for high definition) and the relatively  few stations that have an HD channel. *Ad-supported
  • SiriusXM slowly becoming a force in radio landscape, thanks in part to its inclusion in a number of vehicles. A subscription to SiriusXM is required (starting at $12.95 per month). *Subscription- and ad-supported dual-revenue stream
  • SiriusXM Internet Radio introduced in 2006, SiriusXM Internet Radio now features all of the channels of the satellite variety plus a few Internet-exclusive channels. Now available as a separate subscription ($12.95 per month). Available to current subscribers for an additional $2.99 per month. *Subscription and ad-supported
  • Streaming Radio local radio stations offer online streaming to listeners near and far, also subscription free. *Ad-supported
  • iheartradio a collection of 750+ local radio stations online from more than 150 cities.
  • Pandora personalized radio as well as genre-specific stations, Pandora is the most publicized Internet radio service and is available on many devices. Pandora offers a free plan and an ad-free subscription plan called Pandora One ($3 per month). *Ad-supported, but also ad-free subscription
  • Slacker like Pandora, Slacker offers personalized, subscription-free listening as well as an ad-free level ($3.99 per month) and the new Slacker Premium Radio ($9.99 per month) featuring unlimited on-demand music and ABC News. *Ad-supported as well as an ad-free subscription plan
  • Rdio services like Rdio feature unlimited on-demand listening via mobile, computer and phone. Rdio is ad-free and costs $4.99 per month. *Subscription-supported

Radio tomorrow – the future

Pandora and Slacker will lead the way, forcing automobiles to incorporate Internet Radio capabilities in vehicles via 3G connection. Opening up our vehicles to 3G and Internet Radio will not only benefit services like Pandora, Slacker and possibly SiriusXM Internet Radio but also local traditional radio, as it is becoming the norm for terrestrial stations to offer Internet streaming.

As you can see from the radio options above — from traditional radio to Pandora, Slacker, SiriusXM and on-demand services like Rdio — the options for listeners today are plenty. Tomorrow they’ll be even greater. So we’ll need an in-car solution that can handle all that ear-poppin’ goodness.

In my opinion, car tech is getting ahead of itself a little bit with what some are calling Infotainment Systems, or complete, connected car dashboards displaying as much information and entertainment as some home entertainment setups. Some Infotainment systems are well done, others are just overkill.

The adoption curve is steep enough. But companies are moving forward with Infotainment Systems in vehicles, some with 3G connections. I tend to believe we should keep it simple and cost effective to increase the number of drivers who have access to these units. Not everyone will see a need for these or, even if they do, be able to afford some of them. Here are a few companies that are getting it right by focusing more on the music and less on a computer in your car.

I started a mock-up of the perfect in-car unit — focusing on enhanced music offerings via 3G connection with terrestrial radio, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Pandora, Slacker, Auxillary input and USB  Until I saw what some leading companies are up to. Then I figured I’d put their work on display.

Unlike some complete, Infotainment units, these appear to be more simplistic and accessible to the masses. There’s another reason terrestrial radio is still the most-used audio plaltform: it’s intuitive; and built-in.

Microsoft created a pretty slick unit with Kia. The UVO by Microsoft and Kia, first introduced at the 2010 CES. However, the UVO had no inclusion for Pandora or Slacker. At least in its initial launch.

“Features of UVO include advanced speech recognition; a 4.3-inch full-color display screen; and MyMusic, a jukebox-type function that enables drivers to shuffle between music sources including personal music folders, an MP3 player, or AM/FM and satellite radio.”

___

Also introduced at the 2010 CES was MyFord Touch by Ford. Which includes Internet connectivity and Internet radio, specifically Pandora.

___

Not to be outdone, Toyota has developed a unit that syncs a smartphone with the car dashboard, connecting to the 3G network through the phone. The Toyota Entune.

___

The future for radio is as bright as ever with new services like Pandora and Slacker adding personalization and innovation to an already exciting industry. Watch for our favorite services to offer more choices and content in the coming year; and get ready for Internet Radio in your car via 3G. Because that’s when Pandora and Slacker will truly shine, for it’s where we spend much of our radio time and — from an advertiser’s standpoint — where we are most receptive.

Roku, a glimpse into the future of TV

After a few weeks of oogling the Roku Streaming Player at Best Buy like a teenage boy in the adult magazine aisle I finally made the purchase.

It’s everything I envisioned and then some. Much like that boy, I imagine.

In fact, Roku‘s interface and connectivity is how I envision not only the future of Internet TV  but television as a whole. One box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Facebook, NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live, CNBC and more. Including Local News and Live Streaming video. Live video feeds that you can, get this, pause like a DVR.

Disclaimer: I was not paid by Roku or Best Buy for this feature. However, if someone from Roku or Best Buy would like to send my a check, I’m willing to accept payment and/or bribery for future posts.

For someone interested in trying online video and streaming content to a TV, Roku is the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to break into Internet TV. In fact, it might even be the best thing out there. Put simply, Roku kicks some serious ass.

No PC needed here. Roku is as simple as it gets. Roku connects wirelessly to your home network. And Roku HD starts at just $59.99. I went with the Roku XD for $79.99 which features 1080p HD quality streaming. Roku also offers one of the finer collections 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, NBA, MLB, NHL and, actually, a ton of other applications.

My Roku XD, at $79.99, offering 1080p high-definition streaming of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, CNet, Roku Newscaster, Pandora and a ton more.

Fits in your pocket (though I wouldn’t sit down)

Roku might be small in stature, but it packs a big punch. “There’s a ton of entertainment in this little box” is slapped on the Roku packaging. Roku offers a number of Internet apps that stream content to your TV through the Roku player subscription free.

The device is 5′ x 5′, which is about the size of a compact disc, and only one-inch high.

  

Roku offers three models: Roku HD, Roku XD and Roku XDS. Pricing starts at $59.99 for the Roku HD, $79.99 for XD and $99.99 for XDS. Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.

The Roku HD model offers a max of 720p high-definition. The XDS offers 1080p as well with bonus features like extended-range wireless and a USB port for playing pictures, music or videos. For a full breakdown of each model, head over to Rokuhere.

About Roku

Roku was founded in 2003 by ReplayTV* founder Anthony Wood. ReplayTV is credited with being the first-ever digital video recorder (DVR). Wood is also VP of Internet TV at Netflix, a position he’s held since April 16, 2007, after founding Roku but before Netflix moved from computer to living room.

In 2008, Roku introduced the first player to stream Netflix to a traditional TV. Some reports list Roku as a “spin-off” of Netflix, Inc. Netflix was an early supporter of Roku, with a $6 million investment. Per Bloomberg.com, Netflix has since sold its stake of Roku to Menlo Ventures. I called Netflix, Inc at its offices in Los Gatos, California, to confirm these findings but no one was available for comment. An email to Roku was not returned by post time.

Though Netflix was the beginning for Roku, it only grew from there. Roku features an open platform that allows any content provider to create software for the Roku Player. It’s a strategy that seems to have paid off.

“We’re opening up the platform to anyone who wants to put their video service on this box,” Wood was quoted in 2008 by Wired. “We’re going to release the software developer kit, so anyone can publish any channel, and users can access web content on their TVs.”

*ReplayTV is now a subsidiary of DirecTV, as it was acquired in 2007. Roku is a privately held consumer electronics company headquartered in Saratoga, California. Anthony Wood is listed as ReplayTV, Inc President of Products and Director.

Roku features and ease-of-use

Roku works with nearly any television set. From new to old, which makes it the perfect my-first-streaming box.

I tested mine on a 10-year-old Sanyo set with no HDMI inputs. Roku can also connect to newer sets with HDMI, offering 1080p HD video quality. And because of its easy set-up, I can move it around from TV-to-TV with little trouble, whether it’s from an old set to a new one or vice versa.

I said it’s easy. In fact, the Roku doesn’t even have a power button. Zero buttons on this unit, though it comes with a 12-button remote. It’s not your typical streaming device. It acts more like a wireless router than a media player. A hub for streaming content.

All it takes is a power cable and audio/video hookup, whether it’s the supplied AV cables or an HDMI cable (sold separately). By the way, any HDMI cable will do; don’t be misled by advertised ‘high-quality’ HDMI cables. I’d suggest paying no more than $35 for them.

Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.

How it works

Roku features a Netflix-like interface. You start at the Home screen and have access to all of your Channels. Enter a Channel by clicking it, then you’ll have access to all content within that Channel. 

Inside a Channel: Roku Newscaster

Roku Newscaster is 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.

Clicking a news source within the Newscaster will display up-to-date news content that you can watch instantly on your TV. Let’s take NBC for example. The NBC app within Roku Newscaster gives you access to the following: Hardball with Chris Mathews, The Rachel Maddow Show, Meet the Press, NBC Nightly News, Today, Morning Joe, Mad Money with Jim Cramer, The Suze Orman Show and Your Business.

Most of he content is from the day of the broadcast. On Friday, April 22, content is from that day’s show. Though some series, like Tech Report from CBS, displayed content from the day-of and the past week.

The Roku Newscaster, and all shows within it, is completely subscription free.

This basic structure of the Roku Newscaster is how all Channels work, from News to Music and Podcasts.

The Roku Channel Store

In the Roku Channel Store, you can browse available Channels and add them to your Home Screen. View channels by a number of categories or select All Channels.

Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.


Roku’s content is what sets it apart 

News, Movies, TV, Podcasts, Music, Weather, Sports, Social Networking, Photo-Sharing, it’s all here. Roku really has it all. Including popular subscription services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

 Subscription services

If you’ve got a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, you can connect your subscription to your Roku player, thus connecting it your TV.

Subscription services include: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, MLB TV, NBA, NHL Vault, UFC, Movie Vault, Flickstream TV, Sirius XM and more.

How much longer will it be before premium cable services like Showtime and HBO embrace these devices and offer subscriptions without cable plans, directly to consumers? Would parent companies CBS (Showtime) and Time Warner (HBO), a cable company itself, dare to make cable unnecessary? Or could they develop their own streaming boxes/services? For my post on Media Ownership, click here.

Even without Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, Roku has a lot of great free content.

 Free Content

In addition to the Roku Newscaster, featured above, other free apps include Break.com, TWIT.TV (This week in Tech), Crackle, CNet, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), Revision3, Blip.TV, Pandora, Last.fm, Classical TV, Weather Undergound, NASA, a slew of music apps, Weather, Photo-sharing apps, International News, Religion & Spirituality channels, and even more news content — though Roku’s own Newscaster is all you’ll likely need with access to Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC.

Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.

 Live video streaming

Roku can even stream live video. Case-in-point: Al Jazeera (English) broadcasts live every day. And get this: you can pause the live feed. Sound familiar? You didn’t think Roku founder Anthony Wood, who also happened to create the first DVR in ReplayTV, would forget his roots did you? Other Live streaming video from CNN International as well as Ustream.tv.

 Local News

Roku is the first streaming player on the market to offer Local News. On April 16, Roku announced via Twitter that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000’s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player. Channel3000 is currently the only local channel available, but it’s also the only local channel on any streaming player. Watch for more local stations to add their content to Roku in the coming year.

How Roku stacks up

If you’ve been waiting to jump into the Internet TV world, Roku is a perfect place to start. And a great place to finish.

From all of the Internet TV devices I’ve tested, Roku is my favorite. Its Newscaster is just what I’ve been searching for, up-to-date (and in some cases live) video news from a variety of sources.

For current Netflix or Hulu Plus subscribers, Roku is an easy way to stream content to any TV in your home. I actually prefer Netflix on Roku to anything else I’ve tested including Sony Blu-ray players, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii. Starting at only $59.99, Roku offers enough extra content to make it well worth the purchase. Roku is really a no-brainer.

Devices like Roku are bridging the gap between Internet TV and Cable, giving users access to web content, moves and TV shows with Netflix, Hulu Plus and premium sports content from the NHL, NBA, UFC and MLB and now Local News and Live Streaming. Roku is bringing Internet TV just one step closer to the complete TV experience.

One year into my cable-free life, things are beginning to feel, in some ways, a little familiar. I’ve got hundreds of channels, endless content and not enough time to watch it all.

The only difference is, with Internet TV, there’s always something on.

If you enjoyed this post, check out My Predictions for Internet TV and the Future of Cable.

Source: Roku.com, Engadget, Wired, Bloomberg.com, HackingNetflix, Tech Crunch TV Interview with Anthony Wood. Images: Cnet, HackingNetflix, Roku.com, GigaOM, businesswire.com