Archives For davis

mkv-microsoft

I need not fear my enemies because the most they can do is attack me. I need not fear my friends because the most they can do is betray me. But I have much to fear from people who are indifferent. – Russian Proverb

Now I know that most people don’t really care about the mechanics behind playing video files and I can’t say that I blame you for caring more about your content than the technology behind it. So while this post will get into some of the more mundane mechanics of the codec industry, I ask that you stick with me because behind the scenes a war is being fought for control of your very television. This particular codec battle has been going on for over 10 years now.

When J.D. Rockefeller set out to monopolize the oil industry, there were several crucial areas where he attacked. He knew that he couldn’t control all of the oil fields because it was literally bubbling out of the ground, but what he could control was the distribution method for getting oil to the end customer.

In building his monopoly he seized assets used to transport oil from raw material to the end consumer. Whether it was owning all of the oil pipelines, so that he could control what oil cost him, owning the railroads so he could dictate how far his competitors could reach or owning the distribution points where consumers bought kerosene to light their homes, he made sure that he had control over every aspect of it. This was good for Standard Oil investors, but wasn’t very good for competitors or consumers.

Online video may not seem like it has a lot to do with the oil industry, but if you look at it’s early development, there are many similarities. So much content is bubbling up that the real challenge isn’t finding video oil, it’s getting it to consumers. Instead of pipes, now we have internet access, instead of railroads there are CDN networks, instead of gas stations, there are operating systems ready to serve us 24 hours a day.

In all of these industries, competition has been limited to a handful of big companies, but the industry that I’m most interested is much smaller than any of these. In the grand scheme of things, codecs (and the filters that go along with them) are the refineries of the video world. They take digital signals and convert them into the flickering magic that appears on our screens. Consumers may not understand the technical details behind it, but they are a crucial chokepoint in your digital video experience.

This battle has been fought on many fronts, but in the end it always comes down to one issue. Those who think consumers should have a choice and those who think they know better. It’s about control over your entertainment experience. Who, What, Where, When, and How you are allowed to consume YOUR media. On one side, well funded corporations with huge financial stakes, on the other, an unorganized patchwork of misfit companies and an army of guerrilla volunteers desperately fighting for a better entertainment experience for all of us.

Continue Reading…

DivXlicious

I recently saw a link to an online survey on DivX’s website, and since I’m not shy in sharing my opinions, these sorts of things are the perfect click bait for me. Most questions covered how and where I watch online video, but after answering a dozen or so, one caught my eye:

5. Would you be interested in a free service that lets you bookmark online videos to queue and play back in media center software or on a device?

I’ve never really been a heavy user of bookmarking services, but being able to bookmark television content would be much more appealing. One of the biggest problems in bridging the computer to TV gap, is the process of finding the content that you want to watch and then getting it to the television set. For downloadable media this is easier to accomplish, but for streaming media you’ll need some kind of a PC or internet connected gadgetry. Once juiced up to the net, trying to navigate the vast sea of digital content with a remote is like trying to paddle upstream while going over Niagra Falls backwards.

So far, Netflix seems to have come up with the best solution, but there’s still room for others to build a better mousetrap. Instead of letting consumers use a remote to browse all of their programing, Netflix makes you bookmark your watch now movies via the old fashioned computer. This hybrid tv/computer approach may lack some elegance, but it does ultimately create a more satisfying experience to the end user. Sometimes having too many choices can create a paralyzing effect when it comes to finding content.

Continue Reading…

If you ask the big content owners, they’ll argue that the only content on YouTube has either been stolen from them or is a lame cat video uploaded by your crazy neighbor. Unfortunately, in my seemingly endless quest to collect and document the best cat videos on YouTube, I keep getting distracted by some pretty amazing independent content producers. Here are ten who’ve recently impressed me.

Wicked Awesome Films Kevin & Bobby create movie trailers of pop culture events. Whether they are remaking the latest films, riffing on popular internet memes or teaching underaged kids how to get alcohol, their quick 2 minute clips will keep you entertained and laughing. They tend to be a little over the top and crude at times, but that’s a big part of their charm. They are usually not safe for work (NSFW), so consider yourself forewarned. But if you enjoy listening to shock jocks on the radio, you’ll love their videos.

Jack the Danger BunnyFilmed in a style that is part documentary, part sitcom, and pure genius, Cait and Dan share moments of their dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the YouTube community. If their relationship in real life is anything like the show, I’m not sure how long the series will be around, but take advantage why you can because their silly antics make for some of the best videos on Youtube.

The Big Time ShowGabe and Dave moved to Hollywood with a dream to make it big. Along the way, they’ve been documenting their progress towards trying to break into the world of show business. They’ve got the looks, are willing to work hard, sell themselves out and have no shortage of motivation. The only problem is that they seem to be lacking talent. Filmed as a reality TV show, their videos take a satirical look at the movie business and features a wacky cast of characters including their sleeze ball agent, a clueless photographer and a student director who isn’t even willing to cast these guys in a student project unless they’re willing to pay him. If you’ve ever wondered how bad b-movies end up making it to the big screen, this mockumentary provides all of the answers. Spinal Tap fans will especially love this series.

Continue Reading…

Over the last few years, Redbox has been able to build an impressive DVD rental network by being innovative and flexible while their competitors were still laughing at the concept of kiosk rentals. Over time they’ve added features to the Redbox website that allow customers to browse and reserve titles online. They’ve linked their kiosks together so that unlike competitors (ahem: Blockbuster), you can actually rent a movie from one location and return it at another. Redbox’s core business may ultimately be, plain old boring physical DVD rentals, but there’s no denying that they’ve been an innovator in their industry. Which is why I am so perplexed by their most recent decision to go hostile against iPhone owners.

Given the company’s reputation for thinking progressively, I was disappointed to learn that they’ve decided to take a technological step backwards by putting pressure on the Inside Redbox blog, to kill their Inside Redbox iPhone application.

Continue Reading…

Night Of The Living DivX

Davis Freeberg —  February 26, 2009

6892943_490ef7667f_mThe last couple of years may have felt like a bad dream to most investors, but for DivX shareholders it’s been nothing short of a nightmare. They don’t hand out Oscars for businesses, but if they did DivX would have won hands down for best horror flick.

When the company first went public, expectations were high. YouTube had just been sold for $1.6 billion, DivX was demonstrating 75% gains in their high margin core licensing business, and their unique business model looked like it offered a very strong moat from competitors like Apple and Microsoft.

At one point DivX’s market cap exceeded $750 million, today it barely closed above $150 million. Over $600 million dollars in capitalization wiped out by one misstep after another. Admitedly, the tough economic environment can be partially blamed for DivX collapse, but the sad truth is that much of the value destruction could have been avoided. Continue Reading…

For those of you still not satisfied with the current crop of movie recommendation services, you’ll soon have another option available to you. Jinni’s new interactive movie rating website is trying to do for movies, what Pandora has done for music. Although the site doesn’t stream any of the films that they recommend, but provides convenient links to places where you can find the films online (Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu, etc.) Apparently, the company has been live for a few months now, but I just discovered them after catching a review of the service on Read Write Web. Last week, I signed up for the private Jinni beta and have been pretty impressed so far.

Jinni includes reviews, photos and even trailers for each film in their database, but their movie filtering software is the real bread and butter. Most of the content you’ll find on their movie description pages is pretty much available on any of the other movie sites, but their “movie genome” information is exclusive. Through a process of human and computer intervention, they’ve categorized every film in their library using information from the movie’s plot, mood, genre, time period, critic reviews, story type, and attitudes. Viewers are then able to filter their search results by using these definitions. Continue Reading…

Over the last few years, it’s been no secret that Netflix has become the dominant force for DVD by mail rentals. There may be plenty of other ways to watch films, but when it comes to renting through the mail, Netflix’s laser like focus has put them in the enviable position of being able to assert a large degree of control over the economics of their market. While there is nothing wrong with a company being so successful that they become the dominant player through skill, there are laws against abusing that power to prevent competition.

A few years ago, Wal-mart created a copycat DVD rental service in order to try and get their own piece of the DVD rental market. Their results were disastrous and despite significant financial and retail advantages, the service never caught on with consumers. Eventually, Wal-Mart realized that it was foolish to spend as much time and money focusing on such a small part of their core business, so they threw in the towel and essentially sold their membership base to Netflix. While we know that the agreement included some cross promotional advertising, the actual terms of the deal weren’t ever publicly revealed.

While some would argue that Netflix’s agreement with Wal-mart was just another example of their business acumen, nearly four years after this transaction took place, Walmart and Netflix both stand accused of engaging in anti-trust behavior over the deal. While Netflix does see its fair share of bogus lawsuits, after reading through the complaint, I think that this case may end up having more teeth to it than most of the frivolous lawsuits that are filed. (Warning: I’m not an attorney and this is merely my opinion.) Continue Reading…

Hot Donkey

Considering how much I’ve written about DVD kiosks, some may be surprised that I recently made my first Redbox DVD rental. I was at the grocery store last week and saw that the kiosk offered the most recent Indiana Jones movie. Indiana Jones has always been a favorite of mine, so on an impulse I rented the DVD. I probably would have rented from Redbox sooner, but between TiVo, Netflix and Internet movies and TV shows, I’ve had no shortage of content and couldn’t justify spending even a measly buck.

The entire rental process was very easy and only reinforced my belief that Redbox will be wildly successful with their business model. In fact, I’ve also noticed that 7-11 has even begun testing Redbox at their stores. I’m not sure if it was the convenience of using a machine instead of dealing with long lines and surly video store clerks or the convenience of being able to make a rental as I was finishing up my grocery shopping, but now that I’ve gotten a taste, I’m sure that I’ll be back.

While it would be hard to improve on the kiosk experience, in thinking about my own entertainment needs, I realized that there is one area of the kiosk market that is still being ignored. When it comes to DVDs, there have been a number of firms who’ve thrown their hat into the kiosk ring, but so far we haven’t seen anyone introduce a kiosk system that dispenses video games.

Continue Reading…