On display at the Consumer Electronics Show this week will be lots of new bells and whistles for televisions that are connected to the Web. Yet in the race for Web video eyeballs, Netflix says dont underestimate the all important clicker.
The Silicon Valley-based online video firm said Tuesday several consumer electronics companies have agreed to develop remote controls with a dedicated Netflix button for streaming video. This allows user to bypass menus and multiple clicks to get to Netflix streaming shows through game consoles, Blue Ray devices and Internet-enabled TVs.
The red Netflix button will appear on remote controls for Blu-ray disc players from Dynex, Haier, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony, starting this spring. The button will also be on remote controls for the Boxee, Iomega and Roku set-top boxes, Netflix said in a release.
For members who want even more convenience when instantly watching TV shows and movies streaming from Netflix, the answer is about to be right in their hands, said Netflix chief product officer, Neil Hunt.
Netflix, with surging subscriber growth for streaming video, has caught the attention of the media and communications industries. The firm has advocated for Federal Communications Commission Internet access rules that would ensure a service like itself couldnt be slowed or blocked on an Internet service providers network.
Reed Hastings, Netflixs CEO, will speak Friday evening at the CES Leadership in Technology dinner.
Comcast-NBC Universal merger gains traction at FCC
Stay tuned: battle over Internet TV
Internet-connected TVs accounted for one in every five (21%)
television sold in 2010 and sales are expected to more than double
over the next three years, according to DisplaySearch, a
Californria based research firm. Are cable and satellite companies
worried? You bet they are.
The only thing standing in the way of a tidal wave of people
dropping their expensive cable and satellite services right now is
that television content on the web is still mostly limited to
previously aired shows and old movies, most of which no one has
ever heard of.
How long do you think its going to remain that way?
Obviously, the content producers arent going to give their
programming away for free so chances are watching television over
the internet is going to rise somewhat to accommodate them. Netflix
just announced it had made an offer to buy Starz television, which
it already has a deal with to stream all of its content.
If you are using Internet Explorer 7, make sure Phishing Filter is turned off by going to Tools / Phishing Filter / Turn Off Automatic Website Checking.
Its about to get a lot harder to turn off the TV.
A torrent of television-ready gadgets will hit the store shelves this year, including dozens of phones and tablet computers that will allow viewers to watch movies and TV shows from about anywhere.
The proliferation of viewing devices — including a new generation of TV sets that connect to the Internet — could raise the chances that viewers will do what cable and satellite companies fear most: cancel their $70-a-month subscriptions in favor of cheaper Web options.
2010 was the year that people started wondering, questioning if (cable) cord-cutting is real, said Phil Wiser, co-founder and president of Sezmi, a service that allows users to watch TV from local stations and online sources. In 2011, its going to become obvious.
Many of the TVs will be presented at this weeks Consumer Electronics Show, the annual conference in Las Vegas that attracts more than 100,000 people searching for technologys next big thing.
This year the buzz is centered on Internet-ready TVs that would let viewers surf the Web and watch online videos from, say, YouTube or Hulu, on a big screen alongside traditional TV shows and movies. Nearly every TV manufacturer at the electronics show is expected to introduce a Web-capable television. Most TVs require a separate box to access the Internet — the new models have the capability built-in.
Its going to be a fundamentally big transition, said Jason Kilar, chief executive of Hulu, the popular online video service. Youll see unparalleled choice, from the standpoint of the consumer, when you open up the Web through that screen.
This years CES will have lots of other hi-tech goodies.
Manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard Inc. and BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd. are sure to debut tablets to rival Apple Inc.s iPad. The new tablets will feature high-resolution screens that will encourage users to watch videos downloaded from the Internet.
The next generation of smart phones wont be left out of the spotlight. The 4G phones — thats fourth generation — are so fast theyll allow users to watch movies and TV shows via a cellular connection. Its presumed that Verizon Wireless Inc. will omtrpdice its first 4G phone to take advantage of the high-speed network the company is rolling out.
People more and more want to take all the stuff theyre doing on a computer or a TV and start putting it in their pocket, said Scott McGregor, chief executive of Broadcom Corp., which makes microchips for popular consumer devices including the iPhone and iPad as well as TVs and Blu-ray players.
Whether Web-TVs will be this years holy grail of gadgetry is uncertain. At last years CES, the it gadget was 3-D TV, which hasnt really caught on with consumers yet. The year before that, HD DVD got all the buzz but then rival format Blu-ray got most of the sales.
Republicans are planning to use the Internet as a sledgehammer to clobber the secretive way in which Congress has traditionally done business.
Through a set of almost-radical changes that most Americans would probably view as common sense, the incoming GOP majority is set to approve rules saying that legislation must be posted online three days before a vote and that committee amendments will also be publicly posted.
Politicians formal votes in committees will also be disclosed, and audio and video recordings will be permanently posted in a manner that is easily accessible to the public, according to the rules that are scheduled for a vote tomorrow. Witness testimony and amendments must be posted within 24 hours of a hearing.
In two more nods to technology and openness, electronic devices will now be allowed on the House floor (as long as they dont impair decorum), and the opening session of the new Congress will be live-streamed on Facebook at noon ET tomorrow.
These rules, championed by incoming House majority leader Eric Cantor and hinted at through a Twitter post last month by soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner, are part of the Republicans efforts to reshape the legislative process. Other portions say all legislation must include statements specifying the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill, and measures normally may not be considered if they have the net effect of increasing mandatory spending.
Taken together, these reforms will allow more time for quality consideration while increasing the Houses efficiency and guaranteeing the publics right to know, Cantor said in a letter (PDF) to his colleagues.
What Cantor didnt say–and perhaps didnt need to say–is that these pro-transparency reforms are strikingly similar to what President Obama promised as a candidate in 2008. At the time, Obama pledged that he would not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.
Obama broke that promise. Only 45 percent of non-emergency bills have been posted on WhiteHouse.gov, according to Jim Harper, director of information studies at the nonpartisan, free-market Cato Institute in Washington, DC, who has tracked the topic. (See CNETs previous coverage.)
A report by the Pew Research Center shows 41 percent of Americans get their national and international news from the internet.
A feature distinguishing good government from bad is the degree to which decisions hang on arbitrary criteria. By this measure, the Obama administration is falling short.
For example, insurance companies now are prohibited from making unreasonable rate increases. Whats unreasonable? Whatever Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius decides.
Another example: The Federal Communications Commissions new mandate imposing so-called net neutrality.
On a party-line vote shortly before Christmas, the FCC approved new restrictions on Internet service providers prohibiting them from unreasonably discriminating against content providers and applications. Whats unreasonable discrimination? Nobody knows. For that matter, the use of a loaded term like discrimination obscures more than it clarifies. Under the new rules, service providers such as cable and phone companies will be forbidden to charge varying rates for variable bandwidth usage or to let content providers pay a premium for additional bandwidth.
Net neutrality is really just another name for price controls. But as history teaches, goods that are not rationed by price end up being rationed by congestion and shortages. Far from keeping Internet traffic unrestricted, net neutrality threatens to bring the growth of e-commerce to a halt.
To make matters worse, the FCC imposed the restrictions in disregard of a court ruling that it had no power to do so. Once theyre finalized, the rules will be challenged in court again where they should be stricken. In the meantime, Republicans should cut the FCCs funding and put the agency on a short leash. If the chairman, Julius Genachowski, demands to know why, they can tell him hes just being unreasonable.
Microsoft has revealed that downloads of the Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) beta have surpassed 20 million since it became available in September.
He insists this is no fallback position or secondary strategy. But Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem admits he is taking a chance, establishing his own suite of Internet radio channels after talks to continue his show on Sirius XM satellite radio broke down.
Clem said this week there remained an outside chance that Sirius star Howard Stern, a longtime friend, might push the company into crafting a new deal with him. But currently his name and programming are off the channel that has been his home since 2006 back when no traditional radio company would hire a button-pushing personality fired by Clear Channel after earning a $755,000 federal fine.
Five years later, Clem is in a decidedly different space, accusing Sirius of lowballing him in renewal negotiations while finalizing plans to create a new online space for his programs with the service RadioIO.
Starting Monday, fans can head to Clems area on RadioIO.com and hear a live stream of the morning show he hosts for Cox Radio station WHPT-FM (the Bone 102.5), with rebroadcasts at noon and 7 pm Clem also plans music channels programmed by each of his sidekicks, an uncensored, Internet-only midday show, access to archives of his programs stretching back to his Clear Channel days and an iPhone app allowing listening through mobile devices.
The site will be free for all until March 1, when Clem will split the service into free and paid content. With fees ranging from $9.99 to $12.99 monthly, the shock jock hopes to mirror Sterns approach on satellite radio on a new platform, cutting out the middleman by selling his radio content directly to fans (all of which is separate from the explicit videos Clem makes available on BubbaRaw.com for $9.99 a month).
Its a scary time for personality-based radio. talk radio is a dying breed, said Clem, who blamed new ratings-gathering technologies for pushing stations into playing more music and downplaying talk. Im betting on myself in a big way. Im not going to answer to anybody.
Clem also criticized current employer Cox Radio for not spending money to promote his terrestrial show, which still earns high ratings in the Tampa area but has struggled in markets like Miami. In a disclosure that sounded a little like negotiating by media, Clem announced he might walk away from Cox when his deal with it ends next year, if the RadioIO venture works.
When asked how much money he might make online, Clem noted that the free RadioIO streaming drew 42,000 unique visitors Monday. If half of them bought a $9.99 membership, he could generate more than $200,000 in monthly fees through the service, where his agent Thomas Bean, serves as chief executive. Nobody has been able to monetize Internet radio yet, Clem said. But the first one in usually makes the most money, and Im the only self-contained show around. Sirius set me up perfectly for this pay template.
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Opponents counter that the Do Not Track plan would disrupt the burgeoning online advertising industry, putting at risk the estimated $300 billion of US economic activity it helps to foster, as calculated by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
Display ads, video ads and animation ads that rely heavily on Internet tracking could be thrown out of whack in unpredictable ways, critics of the FTC plan say. And that could negatively affect a $25.8 billion-a-year advertising and marketing industry thats expected to swell to $40.5 billion by 2014, according to research firm eMarketer.
The debate over the FTCs plan reflects long-simmering tensions over how privacy and commerce intersect on the Internet. And its raising questions about the necessity for a federal law that would require ad networks to heed consumers Do Not Track requests.
The technology that would enable people to opt out of being spied on while surfing the Internet is easy to build into a Web browser. Users could check a box telling their Web browser to notify every webpage they visit not to track them. The catch: The advertising industry would have to universally honor such requests. Thats unlikely, absent regulation-backed enforcement.
Tracking is not a bad thing, says Steve Sullivan, the IABs vice president for supply chain and revenue solutions. It needs to stay self-regulated within the industry.
A fingerprint of Web use
Anonymous, Internetwide tracking quietly has grown into a gargantuan industry. An estimated 80% of online ad campaigns use some form of behavioral targeting technology, according to a 2009 IAB study.
A cadre of large technology companies leads the way in collecting massive amounts of data about how consumers use their Web browsers and computing devices all without asking Internet users for their permission, according to research conducted by Balachander Krishnamurthy of ATamp;T Labs and computer science professor Craig E. Wills of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
Krishnamurthy and Wills found that Google, Adobe, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Coremetrics and Quantserve act as aggregators, operating families of tracking systems that encompass dozens more smaller, independent ad networks, data analytics firms and tracking services.
Each aggregator and ad network can use myriad techniques to make note of when a person clicks to a particular webpage, instantaneously gathering rich, detailed information from the visitors Web browser and computer operating system.
One way to track users is via a snippet of text, called a tracking cookie, that gets downloaded to the visitors browser and lets the aggregator record all visits to Web pages on which it has a tracking mechanism. Aggregators also can take a fingerprint of the unique combination of plug-ins, fonts and other browser tools and settings a specific visitor tends to use.
Most often, visitors to popular Web pages are tracked by multiple aggregators. This puts the aggregator in a position to be able to track users activities across a wide range of sites that they visit, Krishnamurthy says.
Last spring, Krishnamurthy and Wills examined 127 popular consumer websites and found Internet users were tracked at 84% of the sites. Their most stunning discovery was that sensitive personal information often was leaked from popular social networks including Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn to the top aggregators.
Such a transfer of information occurred when a Web user who already was being tracked by an aggregator happened to visit a social-network page containing the users name, address, gender, age, employers, friends and similar profile data.
One doesnt know what aggregators are doing with this information, Wills says. But if these companies dont need this information and are not using it, they should not be receiving it.
Facebook, which has the largest social network at about 500 million members, acknowledged the exposure found by Krishnamurthy and Wills but says it rarely happened. Facebook has adjusted its profile pages to prevent the flow of such personal information to aggregators, spokesman Simon Axten says.
Google, the largest tracking aggregator, says it provides ways for folks to opt out of tracking. We work to give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy and to protect the data that users entrust to us, company spokesman Brian Richardson says.
Even so, privacy advocates worry about similar data leaks. There currently are too few restraints to prevent aggregators from correlating personal data with information about which Web pages an individual visits most often, says Consumer Watchdogs Simpson.
Doing such analytics could be highly profitable and invasive. For example, such information could help insurance companies decide on whether to offer someone coverage, or allow banks to decide whether to approve someones loan application. It also could affect an employers hiring decisions, or help political partisans identify potential targets for support.
Currently, consumers dont know how information gathered about them when they go online is used and have no opportunity to correct the data if it is wrong, Simpson says.
After more than a decade of letting the online advertising industry regulate itself, the FTC during the past year has become increasingly sensitive to consumer privacy concerns. The agencys Do Not Track plan is part of a broader set of recommendations to give consumers truly meaningful choice over whether to be tracked or not, says Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTCs division of privacy and identity protection.
No matter what the business model, no matter what the interface, you need to give consumers choice before you share their data with third parties, Mithal says.
The agency is accepting written comments until Jan. 31, after which the full commission will vote on whether to formally request a congressional mandate requiring ad networks and website publishers to honor Do Not Track requests. Industry lobbyists already are pushing hard for the FTC to stick with the self-regulatory approach.
Do Not Track could hinder website publishers from customizing their services and carrying out certain kinds of ad campaigns, says Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, a trade group representing large media organizations, including USA TODAY. It also could put an undue burden on website publishers to make sure Do Not Track works at the nuts-and-bolts level, Horan says.
Smaller ad networks and tracking services, in particular, would suffer if Do Not Track is implemented broadly, says Kevin Lee, CEO of online advertising consultancy Didit. Thats because ads aimed at high-end products, which account for a good portion of the smaller ad networks profits, command higher premiums because they can be targeted at specific groups of Web users who are being tracked anonymously across the Internet.
Failure to price this advertising inventory based on anonymous tracking information would probably drop its value in half, Lee says.
Innovation would prosper
Even so, other analysts say disrupting the status quo could be a good thing, potentially breathing new life into the online advertising models of companies willing to innovate.
Many things are possible, technologically speaking, in trying to target ads to users without doing the kind of pervasive tracking that raises concerns, says Edward Felten, a Princeton computer science professor who will become the FTCs chief technologist on Jan. 1.
Big media websites and large social networks, in particular, should be able to better leverage their trusted brands and develop fresh marketing techniques that arent so reliant on Internetwide tracking, says Blake White, director of PricewaterhouseCoopers entertainment, media and communications practice.
The more creative companies will find new ways to legally and ethically make profitable use of information that users openly volunteer, White says.
A high-visibility website publisher, such as sports network ESPN, for instance, could buttress strategies centered around nurturing first-party relationships open dealings between a website publisher and visitor that stand apart from Internetwide tracking by a third-party ad network. ESPNs fantasy football leagues and insider columns, for example, already are trusted by hordes of loyal customers who disclose personal information specifically to ESPN in exchange for access to free services.
Facebook, too, looks to be well-positioned for a new era of information-sharing. In support of generating about $1 billion in annual advertising revenue, the worlds No. 1 social network methodically innovates around strategies that involve getting its members to interact and voluntarily share personal information on the companys Web pages.
We never share our users personal information with advertisers and do not sell it to anyone, company spokesman Andrew Noyes says.
Facebook recently added new and updated features with the intent of encouraging members to say more about themselves.
It redesigned profile pages so members could more clearly show personal data, added an online check-in application for people to share their location and introduced a groups function for specialized conversations.
Members of Facebook-specific groups, for example, receive tailored ads that reflect their interests. Fans of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants group are being pitched ads for World Series merchandise.
The new features are designed to strengthen the bonds between Facebook members and the site, says Charlene Li, an analyst at Altimeter Group who follows Facebook. Theres value for members, Facebook and, most definitely, advertisers.
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