…well, only one will actually be available in June, the other is an anticipated announcement, but it’s a good one!

Microsoft has been sitting on all the pieces to bring a rich video experience to millions of homes through the Xbox 360. At this week’s E3 event, they are expected to make an announcement of Xbox LIVE Diamond level service for streaming video, with Microsoft acting as a sort of Cable TV provider over IP. Recently released statistics show that over 40% of Xbox use is non-gaming use; meaning video viewing, primarily Netflix, Hulu Plus, Zune Marketplace, and ESPN 360.
Microsoft already owns Media-Room technology, which it licenses to AT&T for their U-Verse service. This means that U-Verse is actually IPTV being sold as Cable.
My concern here, especially as an AT&T U-Verse customer, is that Microsoft may not offer this service when it would put it in direct competition with AT&T. Microsoft has historically been very protective of its partner arrangements. However, recent trends at the software giant have them looking a little less friendly to vendors. So if Microsoft throwing its weight around a little means that I, and many others, can get their new video service, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. Fingers are crossed here, as I discontinued the TV portion of my service a couple months ago. If Xbox Diamond has decent offerings, at a reasonable price, I will definitely be signing up.
More reading at Giga Om and WinRumors.

…and actually coming in June of 2011…Microsoft Office 365!
OK, that one may not seem as exciting, and it can be hard to get too excited about Office products.
Let me say I’ve been a GMail user and fan since it was first released – I got my invitation off the TechTV Screensavers when Kevin, Sarah, and the gang posted their invites as they got them.
I love most everything about GMail – the conversation threading, tags and search, tie-in to Google Voice and other services are great.
However, I do have problems with GMail, and they stem from the way it handles name resolution, a problem that could potentially cause me to lose access to my GMail accounts. With so much of my online life tied up on my Google accounts, this is not something I can afford to let happen. I tried contacting Google support about it, but received only canned responses telling me how great this feature is! And there is the greatest problem with Google services – there is no support!
I don’t know if the paid versions get some level of support, but if I’m going to pay for web based email and document handling, I want better.
Don’t get me wrong – Google services are fantastic – for free products. But for me it really can’t stack up against a Hosted Exchange service with Sharepoint, tied in to full Office 2010 on the desktop.
So later this month I will begin transferring all my Google mail over to a hosted Exchange service. At that time this blog will also be moving to a hosted domain. Stay tuned for details.
Office 365 is the solution I have been looking for. Mary-Jo Foley has written up great documentation on Office 365, so visit her at ZDNet.

A Bad, Bad Monday

March 15, 2011

    The Morning Bad News, or “How can we screw up his plans today?”

So it was a Monday, not anyone’s favorite day of the week.  It was also the Monday after the change to Daylight Saving Time, so like everyone else, I was short a precious hour of sleep, and had to drive in to work in the dark.

This is the month I plan to cut the cord and cancel my cable.  With the NFL done for the year, and the foreseeable future, now is the time to shed the $70 monthly bill for cable.

AT&T apparently caught wind of my plans, and decided to take action of their own by instituting data caps.

As usual AT&T execs trot out the tired line about how they have to do this to save their networks from the “data hogs.”  Sounds reasonable, right?  Hogs are greedy and selfish, taking more than their fair share at the expense of everyone around them.  It’s also total BS.  Through and through hogwash.

Let’s be straight:  this is a cash grab plain and simple.  AT&T is adding caps simply because they can.  It’s well documented that broadband costs are at an all-time low and falling.  Today’s “data hog” is tomorrow’s everyday user.

It’s also a naked move to block their most feared competitor: Netflix.

AT&T, and their brethren, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Comcast, etc… all offer video (ie: cable) in addition to broadband internet access.  The cable TV business is extremely profitable for them.  They’ve been doing it for years, and they know how to wring every cent out of it. Their video-on-demand offerings are also a huge source of  revenue for them.

What competes with cable TV?  Internet video, namely Netflix, Amazon VoD, HuluPlus, as well as others.  How does that content get delivered to your home?  Over the same internet connection sold to you by the  people who sell  you their own competing video service: cable television.

Video viewed as “Cable TV” isn’t counted against metered bandwidth, even when it’s delivered over the same connection as IPTV (which is ironically  the case with AT&T U-Verse).  Just like with the movie studios, it’s all about generating false scarcity so they can justify higher and higher prices for a resource that costs them less and less every year.

The big Telcos and ISPs seem to have our politicians in their pockets, but I would dearly love to see them called up in front of Congress to answer for what I see as anti-competitive practices.

GigaOm has some figures on how fast internet video will use up a monthly data allotment – even one as seemingly generous as 250GB.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching my own data use, and hoping to see some Telco Execs in front of a Congressional Inquiry. (Hey, you have your dreams, I have mine.)

    The Afternoon Bad News, or, “How I Love my Poor Dead Zune”

I survived a Zune Death Scare a couple weeks ago, but it left me with the residual knowledge that, while the platform would almost assuredly live on, the Zune brand, and likely the devices were nearing terminus.

I love having a personal media player for listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks.  I love the Zune device interface, and I love the Zune software.   I especially love them after suffering through the bloat and inconsistency of iTunes.  Maybe it was just iTunes on Windows, but I hear the same anguish from friends using the software on Macs, so I’m inclined to think that iTunes is just the total suck.

If your experience is different, and you love iTunes: I’m happy for you, but this is my experience, and I hated it.

I didn’t just pick up a Zune and say, hey, this is not bad.  No. To date I have purchased five Zunes, one Windows Phone 7, and influenced at least one other person to purchase a Zune.  I also pay for a monthly Zune Pass which gives me unlimited access to the entire Zune music library for the cost of a CD, and I get to keep 10 of those songs a month, regardless of whether or not I keep up the subscription.  For my money (and I am spending my money) it’s the best deal on the market.

But the same Microsoft who brought the Zune into our world, has been an extremely negligent parent.  It has failed to provide any but the most sparse support for it’s unloved child.  If it were flesh and blood, Children’s Services would have long ago taken it away to be nurtured by someone more capable of providing the love and support it so desperately needed. Someone who would help it become all that it was capable of being.

But this is not a child of love.  It is the poor unwanted offspring of a giant too self absorbed and too distracted to follow through on what it started.  It is not loved, nor even pitied by the community.  No, it is mocked and held up for ridicule because they know it’s parent will not step in to defend it.  It’s parent barely even acknowledges it.

Now the parent has sired a new offspring.  One which it seems to be trying to nurture, though it’s attempts are awkward, and it is painful to watch; especially for the unloved child and his pitifully small band of friends.  The parents have proudly proclaimed the new son to be heir to the kingdom, and sworn they will not abandon him as they did the Zune.

Be watchful Windows Phone, it is hard for a Zebra to change its stripes, and perhaps harder for a bad parent to become a good one.  Watch the fate of your older sibling, for his way may soon be yours.

In response to, and in agreement with, Netflix spooks Hollywood more than ever by Greg Sandoval.

Once upon a time you watched movies at the movie theater.  You watched television shows at home, on your television, when they were scheduled, or you missed them and waited for the reruns.  After enough time the movies would show up on subscription channels, such as HBO, Showtime or Cinemax.  Eventually they might make their way to broadcast television, depending on whether or not the broadcast networks could make enough money from the advertising.  The viewing of movies was controlled, and therefore “scarce.”

Then came the home VCR.  Sure there had been commercial 3/4″ VCRs for a few years, but they were monstrous things, used primarily by professional broadcasters, hardly a good fit for the average living room.  Even if you did have one, what would you watch on it?

The Sony Betamax, and then the VHS flood that washed Betamax from most American store shelves and living rooms, gave people the ability to record broadcast TV and view it at a time of their choosing, and even fast forward through the commercial breaks.

It’s history now, but the movie studios and broadcasters saw this as a threat to their business model, and took their case to the Supreme Court to have these horrible devices removed from consumers’ hands.  They lost in a precedent-setting case that has been a boon to the average consumer for the last twenty-plus years.

Then the studios discovered that they could sell their movies on tape, and people would pay to own or rent  a copy of the same movie they had payed to watch in the theater a few months ago.  Oh how they now loved video tapes and VCRs!

If they loved the money they made off  tape sales  the studios really loved selling those movies again on the new DVD format!  DVDs cost less to produce, less to ship and store, and consumers loved them due to their higher video and audio quality, and the fact that they held up to multiple viewings much better than VHS tapes.  (Any parent who has sat through hundreds of viewings of a child’s favorite show can appreciate the durability and lack of rewind time of a DVD compared to a VHS tape.)

Unlike those pesky VCRs, DVD players didn’t allow recording of movies and TV shows.  Not at first.  Blockbuster and other video rental stores rode the wave as people saw the value in renting movies, first as tapes, and later as DVDs, as opposed to the cost of buying a movie they might only watch once or twice.  (The movies watched obsessively by children being the obvious exception to this.)

Netflix tapped in to this idea, coupled with the knowledge of how much people hated paying the outrageous late fees that Blockbuster or Hollywood Video racked up if you forgot to make The Midnight Run to get your movie rentals back before the deadline.

Movie viewing was becoming less scarce, but the flow was still greatly under the control of the studios and their distribution channels, and they were making a great profit off this new model.

Now a few short years later, Hollywood Video is all but gone, and Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy.

Just as the home VCR (and later Tivo devices) disrupted the old model of watching content where and when it was delivered to you, so Netflix disrupted the model of buying and re-buying the same movies every time they came out in a new format.  People saw that with the convenience of not having to drive to the local store, and worry about late fees, there wasn’t much point in buying movies or TV when they could just rent it and have it show up in their mailbox, to be watched whenever they felt like it, even if that meant a DVD might sit on the coffee table for a couple months.

At the same time, as Netflix was taking over the video rental market another change was taking place.  High definition TV sets, and surround sound systems started to become available at prices most people could afford and consumer broadband reached speeds capable of streaming high quality video.  (Except for Youtube, which still insists on buffering no matter how high your bandwidth.)

Netflix had anticipated this, and was moving toward a streaming model, though with the newest releases still only available in disc form.

With the ability to easily rent or stream thousands (tens of thousands!) of movies and TV shows, the value of owning a hard copy of those movies became lessened in the eyes of consumers.  An economy in recession increased the perceived value of services like Netflix, Amazon VOD, and later Redbox.

The movie studios certainly loved selling their discs and content licenses to these services, but they hated that they took away from the great cash-cow of DVD sales. (I’m lumping Blu-Ray in with DVD as physical media, to avoid the whole drama of Blu-Ray -vs- HD-DVD.)

While the studios had a couple years of declining box office sales, the last two years have been record setting for the film industry.  They have made more at the box office than ever before.  Naturally, that isn’t enough for them.  They sorely miss the millions they made on DVD sales.  So they’ve decided this must be the fault of Netflix and Redbox (Blockbuster no longer being a contender of note.)

So now the studios have a love-hate relationship with Netflix.  They love the money they make from Netflix redistributing their media, but they hate how little the get from it compared to DVD sales.  And they want those glory days of double-dipping to return!  To this end they force Netflix and Redbox to agree to wait an additional month to distribute movies after the DVDs go on sale.

Just as technology and times changed in the late ’80s and through the 90’s to bring a huge profit to the studios, even at the expense of scarcity, so the tide of technology and consumer mind-set has changed to tighten up the flow of dollars into Hollywood’s bank accounts.  Studio bosses don’t much care for that.  They want their cash flow back, and to do that they look to tighten up the ability to view their product, and increase its value by generating false scarcity.

Only in the twisted, altered reality of Hollywood could it make sense to try and increase the value of a product by clamping down on those who buy and re-sell your product.

Hollywood wants to roll back the clock, put the Genie back in the bottle, or any other metaphor you want to supply.  And they really, really want Netflix to just roll over and play dead.

If they succeed financially damaging Netflix, they will ultimately harm themselves, and rob us of an innovative service all in the name of the corporate bottom line.

Someone should make a movie about that.

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