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Back in September I heard from a source that Starz was not only pulling its content from Netflix, but also planning an app on the HBO Go model. Now we have confirmation from Starz President Chris Albrecht that a mobile app is on the roadmap for 2012. Not only that, but Albrecht said at an investor conference in New York yesterday that Starz is also open to offering a service not tied to a cable TV subscription. This may be a warning shot at operators who are blocking HBO Go on the Roku. If premium content providers like Starz and HBO can’t count on their operator partners to get their content to every paying audience, then they have to look at other distribution options.

On the other side of the coin, I have serious questions about Starz’s ability to go it alone. One option Albrecht reportedly mentioned at yesterday’s conference would be to bundle Starz with a broadband connection rather than with cable TV. But I think Starz would need to offer a pretty sweet deal to make that attractive. Does Starz really have enough desirable content for consumers to pay for the content by itself? The a-la-carte model always sounds good, but it would get expensive awfully quick. And there are only a few channels with enough cache to get consumers pulling out their wallets. ESPN and HBO could maybe pull it off, but Starz? I’m skeptical.

Meanwhile, Albrecht did say that Starz is also in discussions with other distributors like Amazon.com and Blockbuster, even if it’s through with Netflix.

Slacker’s got a channel strategy. Yesterday, the streaming music company announced it’s made good on a deal with AOL to replace CBS Radio as the engine behind AOL Radio. On the face of it, the deal may not sound like much, but according to VP Jonathan Sasse, the new agreement could double the amount of content Slacker serves to its listeners. In addition, AOL is not likely to be a “one-off” deal. Sasse hints that we’ll probably see other, similar agreements in the coming months.

The partnership program is an interesting one because of how Slacker structures its relationships. Slacker technology is the engine behind all of its partners’ apps (the company struck a deal with AARP this summer too), but partners can bring their own targeted content with curated stations produced by their own DJs. In the case of AOL, there’s a mix of Slacker stations and AOL ones. Partners can also bundle the service in different ways. AOL is sticking with the Slacker model of offering one free version and two premium tiers (coming in November), but other partners may package their services differently.

I had a brief moment of panic thinking Slacker might be ending its own, beloved, direct-to-consumer business in favor of partner distribution, but Sasse assures me that’s not the case. The channel program is a complement to Slacker’s direct retail business, not a replacement. (Phew.)  Continue Reading…


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Thinking of unloading a prior generation iPhone, like me, ahead of the new iPhone 5? In the past I’ve turned to ebay and craigslist to recycle gadgets (for cash), but it’s become a hassle and I’ve been burned too many times (on ebay/PayPal). Leading me to an ebay consignment shop… until they folded. More recently, I’ve been selling my gadgets to Gazelle. And, honestly, it couldn’t be any more efficient. It’s been so dang painless to unload gear, as they pick up the tab on shipping, that their effective commission hasn’t bothered me. However, it seems as Gazelle’s popularity has grown, their cut has increased (and bonus codes have vanished).

After being offered only about $162 for my not-even 8 month old Verizon iPhone 4, I wondered (on Twitter) if I might find better deals elsewhere. Of course, I’d make more money back on ebay or with craiglist. But, again, I’m a busy guy and find engaging on those venues tedious. Basically, I’m fine earning less money to save time. I’ve had luck in the past working deals (cash and/or barter) with coworkers, but a Verizon iPhone is much less portable than a SIMified AT&T variant. Fortunately, as it turns out, Amazon offers a program very similar to Gazelle.

Amazon Trade-In has offered me $226 for my iPhone 4, which is about 64 bucks more than Gazelle. And like Gazelle, Amazon picks up the tab on shipping and will compensate me with an Amazon credit. Given my Prime membership and buying habits, that’s as good as cash in our household. In doing a quick comparison of 4 iPhone models, and even including Gazelle’s 5% bonus for payments issued as Amazon credit, Amazon Trade-In iPhone offers are about 25% more lucrative than Gazelle. Score! Unfortunately, neither Gazelle nor Amazon are interested in my gently used but fully functional prior generation Jawbone and TiVo units.

Netgear Takes On Roku With NeoTV

Dave Zatz —  September 14, 2011

Former Roku licensee Netgear is now taking them and Apple TV on as they go solo with their latest digital media streamer. The new NeoTV 200, which we first learned of last month, “turns your TV into a Smart TV” for all of 80 bucks. Like Roku, the requisite Netflix app is present, but Netgear appears to have slightly better hardware specs for the money (when it comes to networking and audio output)… along with a YouTube app and Vudu video ondemand. Further, free Android and iPhone smartphone remote control apps will be made available. Yet like the Roku, there appears to be a de-emphasis on local media playback.While there’s no USB port, Netgear could conceivably provide LAN playback capabilities via DLNA or similar. Interestingly, from the promotional video above, there looks to be a Showtime app headed to these over-the-to platforms… finally! Amazon’s got the NeoTV 200 shipping on October 10th, so it won’t be long now.

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On the way to a Boxee-fied television, it appears View Sonic has come to the same conclusion I have regarding Internet-connected displays. From GigaOm:

‘Smart TV’ has not achieved the consumer acceptance or market expectation… that was forecasted over the last couple years. In addition, consumer spending for Smart TV’s in general has experienced a significant slow down as the economy has slowed.

Just because industry is pumping Smart TV doesn’t mean we’re buying. At least not in the numbers the manufacturers may have hoped for. Granted, View Sonic is a minor player in this space… But we’ve been down this path before as manufacturers attempt to shorten the consumer television refresh cycle. And this mirrors the tepid response we witnessed to 3D TVs in 2010. That’s not to say folks aren’t interested in three dimensional content or Internet apps. But they’re less likely to invest in a high end product (sooner) to get those features. In fact, while I’d say we’re just getting started harnessing web content on the television, millions of Apple TVs and Rokus have been sold – as well as presumably even more Internet-connected Blu-ray players. Further, several cable and satellite providers (or their proxies, like TiVo) are bringing over-the-top video (like YouTube) and social Internet features (such as Twitter & Facebook) to the big screen. So why would I buy a new TV? Especially one that has a tendency to reboot.

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Twitter’s on a tear lately. And, while not all new (Facebook-esque) updates do much for me, their recently integrated native photo hosting (via Photobucket) is a win. As is the brand spanking new photo gallery feature, released to my account just this AM.

Within a user’s profile page, like mine, towards the upper right you’ll now find a filmstrip of recently uploaded photos (assuming you’re logged into Twitter). From there, you’d click on “view all” to be presented with a photo gallery (here’s my grid) of the person’s 100 most recent uploads. Each photo thumbnail can be clicked to launch a larger image and the corresponding tweet. And what makes this killer, for Twitter users, is how it aggregates uploaded photos from multiple hosting services – the aforementioned Twitter, Photobucket, yFrog, Instagram, and my general go to of TwitPic.

The presentation is relatively simplistic. But that’s always been an appeal of Twitter. Having said that, I’d prefer some gallery theme variation/options and I quite appreciate TwitPic’s counter that Twitter hasn’t implemented with their own photo hosting or these new image galleries.

Google has rather quietly launched a catalog app for the iPad. After it’s last ill-fated attempt to digitize catalogs bit the dust two and a half years ago, the new tablet app (coming to Android devices soon) seems to be the right move at the right time. Even if you don’t enjoy shopping – or feel, like Engadget, that catalogs are best suited for starting fires in the fireplace (fair enough) – the new app has relevance. This is what retail and magazines should be like on a tablet. Digital periodicals have had a rough road so far, but there’s still a lot of potential in the medium, and if you add in an easier way to make money, the business should get a boost. The click-to-buy function gets at that powerful instant gratification impulse, and by couching it in an experience that’s fun, interactive, and playful, catalogs and publications should have an easier time drawing consumers in.

From a purely personal and frivolous standpoint, I love the new Google app. You can page through a range of catalogs with a swipe of the finger, zoom in on images, click to purchase, save favorites to a single location from different stores, share stuff with friends, and even create your own collages pairing together items from all over the place. It’s way cooler than the analog alternative, and much easier than opening up multiple windows on your PC to compare products. There are still a limited number of catalogs available in the app, but that will surely change. I expect we’ll see a big jump before the holiday shopping season. In the meantime, I’m happy with what I can get. It’s about time the tablet shopping experience got a makeover.

ESPN started the practice back in 2009 of tying online content access to a pay-TV subscription. And while it’s taken a while to catch on, the trend is starting to gather serious momentum. HBO has extended its campaign of streaming content behind a subscription-based authentication wall, and now Fox is getting in the game by pulling new episodes away from free websites, including its own Fox.com. Peter Kafka of All Things Digital reports that ABC may be next in line.

Here’s the thing. While ESPN and HBO have always been premium channels, Fox and ABC are part of the free broadcast television line-up, and the idea of paying for online access is a bit hard to swallow. If I own a computer instead of a TV (think dorm room), why shouldn’t I still be able to watch prime-time television?

The problem is that the business dynamics today are far different from what they were when cable television first entered the scene. First, online video delivery costs money above and beyond what it takes to broadcast OTA content. Second, cable (and telco and satellite) retransmission fees are a big part of programmers’ revenues, which means they have every incentive to make pay-TV subscription packages more valuable with exclusive content. And third, consumers can get free or cheap entertainment in a lot of different ways today, which means broadcast television really does align more closely with premium content than it did back in the 1980s and 90s.

I don’t like the idea of having to pay (directly or indirectly) for Fox content online any more than anyone else, but from a business standpoint, the programmer’s decision certainly makes sense. At least it does unless and until Fox starts to lose audiences. The question is, do consumers want their Fox content today as much as they wanted their MTV 20 years ago.