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Photo by Thomas Hawk

One of my very first jobs was working behind a concession counter for a big multiplex cinema. It isn’t the sort of place where one would expect to learn a life skill, but early on I learned an important lesson in business — the art of the up-sell.

You see, movie theaters make very little from the box office receipts, so the concessions counter is the lifeblood of the industry. The setup is pretty much the same at every theater, but most people don’t tend to think about it. Because the actual cost of the popcorn and soda is so low, the theaters reap big profits from selling captive customers overpriced snacks and beverages.

To help “encourage” movie goers to pay the max, theaters will price their small popcorns at ridiculously expensive levels and then have a minor jump in price from small to medium and medium to large. If you were to price the popcorn by ounce, a small would cost four times as much as a large, but because of the high cost at the small level, it makes it easier to convince consumers to pay a little bit extra for a lot more food. My sales pitch would typically go, “Did you know you can get a large for only 50 cents extra?” That was all it took and at least 75% of the customers would go big.

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A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our friends at Last100:

10 years on Blockbuster still lacks a digital strategy
Blockbuster’s management talks a good digital game but it’s nothing more than “marketing fluff”, often confusing the company’s dominance in physical media with that of digital. The company’s underwhelming and late to the game set-top box (above) isn’t even being promoted on Blockbuster’s homepage.

Hulu explains its lack of love for PlayStation 3
It’s not Hulu’s fault per se but the result of keeping content owners happy. A price worth paying, says Hulu, as they help wean the studios off of the release windowing system.

Thoughts on Google Chrome OS

The failure of existing Linux distros to become the defacto OS for Netbooks, despite getting a head start and backing from OEMs, doesn’t bode well for Chrome’s chances unless Google is able to redefine not just the OS but what users expect from their PCs.

Joost admits ad-revenue defeat, trying white label biz model instead
Joost, the Internet TV startup that just won’t seem to die and has announced plans to focus less on its own online video portal and instead tout the company’s newly launched white label service to “media companies, including cable and satellite providers, broadcasters and video aggregators.”

AFI video portal

In keeping with the growing trend of publishing archives online, the American Film Institute (AFI) has launched its own video portal with material collected over the last 42 years. The launch takes place just as the Institute is honoring Michael Douglas today with a Life Achievement Award. Tribute coverage of Michael Douglas is featured along with selections from other award tributes, celebrity interviews (James Earl Jones on Darth Vader, Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally, etc.), AFI short films, and footage from the AFI Fest red carpet.

Not only has much of the AFI collection never been seen before, but the Institute is allowing online visitors to embed clips in their own sites. This is the kind of free sharing that could make film buffs out of even casual site surfers. Quentin Tarantino, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Carrie Fisher, and many, many more show up on the AFI portal. Check it out.

TiVo on Twitter

Dave Zatz —  July 16, 2009

TiVo gets a mixed review when it comes to online community outreach (aka “Social Media” – whatever that means). They pioneered customer engagement on a company-focused forum. Yet, TiVo has stumbled in the blogosphere…. from joining the conversation late (and still currently suffering from trust issues) to their own craptastic blog initiative. Fortunately, they’re leading the way again when it comes to Twitter (and FriendFeed) and I’ve compiled a list of TiVo folks worth following.

TWTRCON, Jerad Hill Photographer

TiVo’s primary Twitter account is helmed by Shanan Carney, “the voice of TiVo,” who owners have probably encountered in various TiVo videos and lurking on the TCF. I’m not sure how many of the others listed below are officially sanctioned spokespeople. And maybe company independence a good thing. Unlike many Twitter monologue spammers marketers, these appear to be real people with real personalities that just so happen to love (?) and work for TiVo.

Keep in mind this isn’t a comprehensive roundup of all TiVo employees who’ve infiltrated Twitter. In fact, I’ve excised multiple individuals that I follow who don’t explicitly mention TiVo within their profiles. However, do what you must in the comments.

Shanan Carney
THE TiVo Diva

Bob Poniatowski
Director, Product Marketing

Stephen Mack
Director, TiVoCast Operations

Margret Schmidt
Vice President, User Experience

Amir Gharaat
Director, Product Management

William Uranga
Talent Acquisition

Kimberly  McKinnis
System Operations Engineer

Andrew Pray
TiVo PR, Ruder Finn

Robbee Minicola
CEO Hybrid TV (TiVo Australia)

A few TiVo-related Twitter personalities to check out:


While the “FakeIndividual” meme is probably beat, CEO Tom Rogers’s absence from Twitter (as far as we know) has motivated Davis Freeberg and I to reserve the FakeTomRogers. Stay tuned. Maybe.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  July 10, 2009

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our other blogs:


YouTube, Upstream Bandwidth, and Channel Bonding
It wasn’t long ago that YouTube’s maximum upload size was 10 MB. Then it jumped to 100 MB, followed by 1 GB last fall, followed now by a new 2 GB ceiling. YouTube’s upload file sizes are increasing to keep pace with the new, cheap HD camcorders on the market.

DTV Transition Adds to Pay-TV Subscriber Numbers
One of my questions leading up to the broadcast digital TV transition was how many OTA TV watchers would make the jump to cable, telco, or satellite service. The answer is right around 653,000.

Kindle 2 Price Drops to $299 & Drops the 2 from Name
If you’ve been holding out for the Kindle 2 for a little lower price you’re in luck. I paid $359 when the Kindle 2 first came out and my biggest negative was the high price. Since then the price has dropped twice and is now down to $299 with free shipping.

SageTV Developing Linux Media Server on Flash Drive
The SageTV Linux Media Server is designed to be used as with a “headless” (without TV/monitor) server. So basically you would take a computer with all of its hardware installed, plug in the USB flash drive into the computer and boot the computer with that flash drive.

Fancast and See Starz
Comcast has added the Starz network to its roster of on-demand content that will be made available on Fancast and The premium movie channel will serve up 300 movies online, though all in standard-def to start.


You probably don’t remember that Humax LCD TV with builtin TiVo… which never launched in 2005. As a clutter-free minimalist (to the best of my ability), I do. And TiVo’s new tie-up with Best Buy indicates they’re going down this path again, entering the Internet Widget TV fray under the Insignia brand:

As part of the deal, the companies also said that Best Buy would finance an effort to bring TiVo’s software and search tools to Best Buy’s own brand of consumer electronics, like its Insignia high-definition TVs.

Of course, there’s no timing info. Given TiVo’s track record of glacially slow development, I’d say we might see a tru2way television in 2011. If ever. In the interim, Best Buy will heavily pump TiVo in their retail locations while the TiVo service will push Best Buy ads and develop a streaming Napster widget.


Popular Internet radio provider, Pandora are impacted by a new deal in which webcasters are covered by an “alternative set of rates and terms” from SoundExchange, the group managing performers’ royalties in the U.S. This should put Pandora, and other online streaming music services, in a much better position for survival going forward.

Users of the free, ad-supported version of Pandora are now limited to 40 hours of audio streaming per month, but if those are exceeded, users can pay $.99 to continue using Pandora through the end of the month.  Subscribers to the paid version of Pandora ($36/yr), of course, won’t have to pay the $.99 fee. If you use Pandora frequently, the ad-free “Pandora One” service isn’t a bad deal, with a desktop app thrown in – this new $.99 fee makes it even more attractive.

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TiVo’s User Experience veep Margret Schmidt, @tivodesign, queried her Twitter followers last night:

Broadband-connected TiVo DVR users: do you use “Search by Title” or “TiVo Search” in “Find Programs” to find shows? Why?

I don’t know if this was an informal usability poll or more in the way of Twitter marketing. In all likelihood, it’s a bit of both. But if my early morning math is correct, ~90% of Twitter respondents prefer the original, less powerful Search by Title. Of those, the majority cited TiVo Search’s speed issue as a factor in their choice. No surprise, really. The new 16×9 optimized UI is beautiful to look at, but too slow to launch and frequently laggy when active. Which is typical of all the tacked on “HME” Java apps, pulling UI elements and data from the cloud. And the primary reason why I prefer the sprightly, little $99 Roku box over TiVo for Amazon VOD and Netflix streaming.

I doubt these performance observations come as a surprise to TiVo, and it’s something I’ve previously discussed with product guys Jim Denney and Bob Pony. I’m hopeful they’re working on a variety of improvements – such as caching graphics locally or even replacing/updating the entire OS (without requiring new hardware). Time will tell.

Click to enlarge:

Bonus Coverage: While at Dash Navigation, I worked for/with Robert Currie, one of the guys behind Strangeberry – the Java platform and company, acquired by TiVo, that played an instrumental role in producing HME.