Saturday, September 1, 2007

Technology Weekend Update

NBC cancels iTunes Contract

Battlestar Galactica and The Office fans may not be able to download their favorite shows come December, as Friday NBC canceled its contract renewal with iTunes.

NBC wants variable and bundled pricing -- to be able to charge more for one show than another, e.g.: $4.99 for a hit show, and $0.99 for Studio 60, and to require you to buy two related shows, say a hit bundled with a flop staring the same TV star. Apple says variable pricing will just confuse people. NBC says Apple only cares about selling iPods.

What's really going on is more complicated. First, NBC (and the other networks) are trying to get control of their own distribution back from Apple. With most online music sales flowing through Apple, the networks don't want to see online film & television distribution patterns get locked in to Apple as well. Right now there isn't enough distribution to make any real difference in anyone's bottom line, but over the next three years all that will change, which is why everyone's negotiating now.

Second, variable pricing would let the music companies, networks, movie studios, all the folks in the big power positions (producers for short), keep punishing and controlling acts they don't like. People respond to pricing signals in very clear ways. High prices = good. Low prices = bargin = not so good. If act A is priced at $4.99 per song/tv episode, the signal is, this is a hit. Buy it. Right next to it, act B is priced at $0.99 per song/tv episode because they refuse to negotiate a new deal on crappy conditions or roll over and spread them for the big label or any one of 100 other reasons to get them on the shit list of the producers.

Variable pricing lets the producers control who has the hits and who doesn't, because buyers equate price with quality. Apple has steadfastly refused to budge on variable pricing, thus giving power to all acts to be heard equally. Sure, the big companies still have advertising and other ways to position their acts. But Apple's dominant position in the market means their one-price-fits-all structure is truly radical. It says: We don't care who you are or what your reputation is. Everyone has the same chance to be heard and seen and purchased. If you're good, you'll tend to rise to the top.

NBC, the other networks, and especially the record companies want to keep control of their acts. This is the opening salvo. Look for Apple to win this round as NBC is in last place of the major networks and needs to keep their shows visible. Negotiations continue in a friendly manner. Yesterdays contract cancellation was triggered by a time provision in the current contract, not because anyone is mad. If you're a Battlestar fan as I am (the best show on television!) you'll likely still be able to download episodes when the show starts up again in January.

Google News Hosting AP Content

Google announced its popular news aggregation service, Google News, will start hosting AP Wire Service and three other major news service feeds directly, instead of referring readers to other newspapers.

Over the last two years, Goggle has worked out licensing deals with AP, Agence France-Presse, The Press Association in the United Kingdom and The Canadian Press in response to claims that Google News was infringing on copyright.

Consistent with its normal search practices, Google stated it would not give its own hosted
content any special preference in news results. Major newspapers said while this might cut into their online revenue and they'd watch for that, most Google-related traffic came to them for stories written by their staff.

According to Google, hosting the AP and other major wire services also allows Google to make Google News more efficient, only showing the primary wire service feed for a given story, rather than requiring readers to wade through multiple versions of the same feed posted by different papers.

Um... I like most of this.

The part I don't like is Google News not showing the various newspaper versions of the wire feeds. I like being able to see what matters in what parts of the world. It's one of the ways I surf the textuality of the world. I can make a quick assessment of what weight editors across the world give a story just by doing a keyword search on Google News and seeing how many entries pop up. Doesn't matter if it's the same story. What matters is that 150-200 or 1,000 different editors came to the decision to run the story. If only 10 did, that says something else. If Google takes that away, they're taking away a valuable tool.

Furthermore, often you'll find a local paper has added something to the feed. I'll blast through 20 versions of the same feed but then perhaps Baton Rouge or Scotland has added local color that lends different perspective. The Houston Chronicle is fairly good for this. Need to wait and see how Google implements of course, but these are my concerns up front. Diversity in news is important.

Ah... Just read the actual announcement from Google. *smiles* While they are doing duplicate removal of stories, the duplicates are available with a single click. Good Google. Have a cookie.

RED Digital Cinema Ships First 25 Cameras

Academy Award Winner Stephen Soderbergh has been filming Guerrilla and The Argentine with a beta camera for six weeks. Academy Award Winner Peter Jackson shot a 13 minute short film Crossing the Line (download the 1K trailer: 293 MB, 30 seconds, quicktime - right click, save as) a few months ago. Academy Award winner Jim Cameron has five on order. Red Digital Cinema is shipping cameras!

The RED Camera is the hottest most revolutionary camera for making movies in our lifetime. And I've had camera 346 on order for a year and a half, due to be delivered this November. Ten times less money than a camera that does a quarter as much from Sony, RED puts true 35 mm film quality in the hands of independent film makers. Instead of spending 50K on going to film school, now you can build a full film production and editing suite of your very own. The secret to being a writer? Write. The secret to being a film maker? Make movies. Want to know more? Or even more?

RED is to film what high end digital cameras were to shooting photographs with film. Sure, there may always be a market for film cameras, but now it's a whole new world.