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In the last decade we’ve seen the launch of the iPod, satellite radio, and streaming music services on the Internet. But as great as those innovations have been, they haven’t always made life easy for consumers. iPods brought with them the inflexible iTunes marketplace and DRM lock-in, satellite radio added in another monthly fee with no music ownership option, and Internet radio requires (shockingly) an Internet connection. The result is that most of us cobble together our own listening system – part CD, MP3, and radio, and entirely dependent on where we are, and what service or hardware we have access to.

Thanks to the cloud, that’s all about to change. In theory, we’ll soon all have access to everything, everywhere we go. And in practice, the shift has already started to take place. Here’s a look at where music is headed.

To the Cloud

It’s been an interesting few months for cloud music services. First, Amazon launched its Cloud Drive service, offering users a space to store digital music files and play them back on the web or Android devices. Then came Google Music, a very similar offering, though one still in invitation-only beta at the moment.  And finally, word has circulated in the last week that Apple is set to launch its own music service – with the one critical difference that it’s sewing up licencing deals with the major labels first. With licensing agreements in place, Apple will be able to help users avoid uploading an entire library of music, and instead scan and match any owned titles with copies already available in the cloud. Continue Reading…

As digital licensing negotiations heat up, it’s heartening to see Netflix pull another big win from a new deal with Miramax. Netflix announced the multi-year agreement today, which includes instant streaming of a number of movies in the Miramax library, from Academy Award winners like “Shakespeare in Love,” and “The English Patient,” to cult favorites like “Chasing Amy” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The win for Netflix is important for a number of reasons. First, as Will Richmond points out, it shows how big a role movies still play in the Netflix model, even though TV series have gotten more attention of late. Second, the VOD company noted that the deal with Miramax marks the first time Miramax titles have been made available through a digital subscription service, showing that Netflix carries significant clout as a distribution partner. And third, although terms were not disclosed, the agreement shows Netflix can and is willing to compete financially even now that content owners understand that digital delivery doesn’t mean giving away licensing rights for pennies on the dollar. [UPDATE: paidContent is putting the financial terms at likely more than $100 million.]

Miramax films will be available on Netflix starting in June, with titles added on a rotating basis. Streaming access will be available across TVs (presumably through Rokus, game consoles, and more), tablets, computers, and smartphones.


DISH Network recently held their annual Team Summit for partners and retailers. Scott Greczkowski of Satellite Guys was in attendance… and came back with a treasure trove of info and photos. The most compelling story for us gadget loving consumers was the unveiling of Echostar’s new whole-home DVR solution, which will be composed of at least one XiP813 triple tuning DVR hub and multiple XiP110 extenders that communicate via MoCA. Also notable, and somewhat different from the last couple years, is the de-emphasis of integrated Slingbox/SlingLoaded functionality as seen from the ViP922.

DISH Network XiP 813


The DISH XiP 813 appears much more svelte than prior oversized EchoStar DVR hardware… despite sporting 3 satellite tuners, 1 terabyte of recording storage, and acting as a central hub – much like Arris’ new Moxi Gateway.

DISH Network XiP 110


The DISH XiP110 extender units are even more compact than the 813, tuning live satellite television and providing access to all recorded content from that aforementioned hub. They communicate using the high bandwidth and reliable MoCA connectivity.

For those who need more than 3 tuners, additional XiP 813 units can be added to the mix along with however many XiP 110 extenders are desired. Scott says this DISH/EchoStar initiative appears “a lot more advanced than DIRECTV’s MultiRoom Viewing in all ways.” EchoStar is expected to deliver a completed product to DISH Network this fall, but it’s probably a safe bet that customers won’t actually be able to purchase new XiP hardware until 2012.

(Many thanks to Scott and Satellite Guys for the extensive briefing and pics!)

It turns out Shaw Cable (Canada) won’t be the only provider rolling out a 6 tuner Arris Moxi DVR and extenders… As BendBroadband, a smaller cable operator, also intends the leverage Arris’ hub and spoke DVR model in Oregon. Whereas Shaw is going with “Gateway” and “Portal” units, Bend has christened their implementation as the “Alpha Media Gateway” and corresponding “Media Players.”

The announcement was actually made back in February, but most of us (other than Multichannel) missed it. Deployment was expected late April, but BendBroadband’s web site currently indicates both a mid-May or mid-June launch. My money’s on June and pricing runs $17/month for the Gateway, with each extender running $6/mo and an additional $4/mo household DVR fee. Not too shabby.

But still no word that Moxi will return to retail here in the US with this beefy CableCARD-equipped whole-home DVR solution.

(Thanks, Nate!)

New Cord-Cutting Stats

Mari Silbey —  May 11, 2011

Opinions vary widely on whether cord cutting and cord shaving are legitimate trends. And at a panel during Streaming Media East yesterday, execs from MTV, NBA Digital and Roku threw out new stats on the subject. According to Tom Gorke from MTV Networks, digital video is not a substitute for television. Even in its audience of so-called millennials (those born after 1980), MTV has found that the vast majority – 97 percent – are still consuming huge amounts of TV. Bryan Perez from NBA Digital, however, sees audience behavior that is more generationally divided. For those NBA Digital customers who only subscribe to content over broadband, there’s a split between consumers who paid for linear NBA content and then switched to Internet, and those who never paid for linear NBA programming before signing up for a digital package. The average age for consumers in the former group is 40 years old. The average age for consumers in the latter group is 32.

Meanwhile, Jim Funk from Roku reiterated a point made by Anthony Wood two weeks ago. New Roku customers report cord cutting or cord shaving at a rate of 30 to 40 forty percent. But what Funk emphasized was less that consumers are getting rid of cable, and more that the market is just fragmenting. There is more choice, and that means consumers are finding what they need in a variety of different ways.

In short, new stats do little to clear up the cord-cutting debate. Are more people watching more video online? Yes. Is it replacing TV? Probably not. Will it all shift further in the next 12 to 24 months? Absolutely.

I habitually subscribe to all sorts of audio and video services. While I do enjoy my fair share of quality entertainment, it’s more about ensuring a breadth of content and playback options. Over the last few months a selection of mobile streaming video apps have enabled me to regularly conquer the gym hamster wheels cardio gear. Sure, I could TiVoToGo or Sling it, but I appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of subscription content.

Of the HBOGo, Netflix, and Hulu Plus iOS apps, I’ve had the most positive experience streaming Hulu Plus — which provides the most reliable connection, with the least buffering, drops, or resolution changes. Additionally, though all the interfaces could use some organizational improvements, I prefer Hulu’s approach. However, that didn’t prevent me from almost dropping them… prior to the return of the Daily Show and Colbert Report, which are ideally suited for the small screen and my level of attentiveness at the gym.

I’ll cut HBO some slack as they’re relatively new to the mobile streaming game and quite generous in providing complete seasons of perhaps all their original series. In fact, I hope Showtime is working on a similar solution. But I gave up on this AM’s episode of Eastbound & Down as the frequent and extended blackouts were maddening. At least the price is right (with subscription).

It was free PlayBooks for all at the BlackBerry World Conference keynote presentation today, but that was hardly the biggest surprise of the morning. Taking the stage right after RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. That’s right, the CEO of Microsoft held court at a BlackBerry conference. Why? To announce a new alliance of course. RIM is now working closely with Microsoft to integrate Bing search at the OS level on BlackBerry devices. Eric Zemen, aka @phonescooper, captured the rather odd video (above) showing how the Bing-on-BlackBerry experience will work.

If there’s one clear conclusion to be divined from Ballmer’s appearance today, it’s that the mobile battle lines have been drawn. Microsoft signed an agreement with Nokia just last month to shore up its OS position with Windows 7. Now it’s supporting RIM in the mobile OS world in order to further its mobile search interests. Bizarre? Yes. But also very calculated. Microsoft was late to the mobile game, and now it’s aligning left, right, and center in order to combat Google and Apple in the space.

You can place your bets now on whether Microsoft’s mobile strategies will work. Certainly the company is taking a scatter-shot approach to the market, but that doesn’t mean one of those shots won’t hit.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of some of the greatest tweets covering the RIM conference this morning – from the hilarious to the insightful: Continue Reading…