EDITOR'S NOTE: HD-DVD VS. BLU-RAY. SHADES OF JETS AND SHARKS....FOR YOU THESP DWEEBS WHO GET THE REFERENCE.PLUS ANOTHER MISC. TECHY ITEM.EDITOR’S NOTE: AND THE TECHNOLOGY OF WHAT WE WATCH (OR RATHER HOW WE WATCH) CONTINUES TO BE A BIG, HONKIN SQUABBLE. A COUPLE OF ARTICLES IN THE FIGHT FOR OUR DVD DOLLARS ------Disc dilemma
Wednesday 17 Aug 2005
As both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps travelling full steam ahead to get their disc format to market, optimism for a single successor to the DVD format is diminishing.
No one wants to back the losing team. And today's consumers are savvy enough to know they don't want to be caught anywhere near the quagmire that is the turf war between competing next-generation optical disc formats Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. One of these formats will replace the current DVD standard for delivery of packaged entertainment, including video and games. EDITOR’S NOTE: LET US CROUCH AWHILE HERE AND WAIT….. (A WEE SHAKESPEARE JOKE. SORRY).
Consumers want to go with the winning standard, but they also want other things from the successor to DVD. The Blu-ray Disc Association is touting a new study it commissioned to gauge consumers' attitudes about the next-generation disc format, and the results shed light on aspects of consumer thinking about the future consumption of entertainment. The Blu-ray Disc Association – which includes the likes of Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, and Sony – released the results of the independent study in early July.
The state of the battleground
A bit of background for those who don't follow these things: Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD (backed by NEC and Toshiba) are both formats for high-capacity optical discs designed to play back video content as well as to store games and data. The competing formats are not compatible with one another, so if you buy one type of disc, you won't be able to play it in the other type of player.
Sidestepping the technical minutiae of the two formats, the most obvious difference from a user standpoint lies in their capacity – Blu-ray Disc supports 25GB on a single-sided disc and 50GB on a double-sided disc, while HD-DVD supports 15GB on a single-sided disc and 30GB on a double-sided disc.
Hollywood movie studios have publicly split on support for the two formats: 20th Century Fox, ESPN, MGM, Miramax, Sony Pictures, Touchstone, and the Walt Disney Company are behind Blu-ray, while HBO and New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers are behind HD-DVD. The fact that none of these studios has an exclusive agreement with the camp they've backed complicated the matter further.
Earlier this year, the two sides were rumoured to be in "peace talks". However, those talks apparently broke down in the spring, and the two camps are proceeding apace towards bringing their respective products to market. Still, optimists hold onto a sliver of hope – warring parties agreed on today's DVD format at the last minute, too.
Everyone – Hollywood studios, hardware makers, and the consumers whose patronage will keep both in business – knows that a format war will only constrain the potential growth of the high-def movie distribution market. But that doesn't mean the resolution will be amicable.
The latest word is that we'll still see products this year – although not necessarily as early as some of the original projections that the HD-DVD camp tossed out last January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Holding up progress for both formats is the finalization of Advanced Access Content System copy protection controls, a spec that was originally expected in March 2005 and has yet to be finalized. EDITOR’S NOTE: IT MIGHT AS WELL BE GOVERNMENT WORK, EH?
So, it’s unlikely we’ll see new formats as soon as the industry promised. Compulsive early-adopters may have to think of something else to put on their Christmas lists.Compatibility is king
The Blu-ray Disc Association study was conducted in May 2005 by Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates, which quizzed 1,202 US consumers aged 18-64 on their views and perceptions about the successor to today's DVD format.
Of the survey sample, nearly 40 per cent (392 respondents) already own an HDTV setup. EDITOR’S NOTE: ON THE ONE HAND, THIS IS A SUPRPRISING AND IMPRESSIVE PERCENTAGE. ON THE OTHER HAND, I THOUGHT I WAS MORE SPECIAL. (IT IS SO HARD TO STAY AHEAD OF THE MADDING CROWD, ISN’T IT? I GUESS I SHOULD JUST NOT CARE ABOUT THAT. BUT I DO, DARN MY WEAK METAL BODY, I DO…..)
Many of the study's findings seem obvious, but they nonetheless back up some common-sense assumptions about how people use and consume media.
Of the top seven qualities that survey respondents said they want in next-generation media and players, four focused on the twin desires of backward- and cross-compatibility: the ability to play today's DVDs on next-generation players and to use next-generation discs in other devices, such as gaming consoles. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND WILL THEY LISTEN TO US, OR JUST SQUABBLE THEMSELVES INTO BETAMAX OBLIVION?!
No one wants to ditch their current DVD collections. In fact, the most desired quality in the mystery player of the future was that it should maintain backward compatibility with existing DVD content: A whopping 70 per cent of respondents back this one. EDITOR’S NOTE: FRANKLY, THAT SEEMS LOW. (PLEASE LISTEN. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE).
Second, not everyone wants to invest in new HDTVs to replace their existing TV setups. Most US homes have two or more TVs, and swanky, widescreen high-def models will not replace them all. EDITOR’S NOTE: BUT THEY SHOULD….OH BABY, THEY SHOULD. (LUST ISN’T ALWAYS ABOUT HUMAN COMPONENTS, EH?) Play it anywhere
The fact that consumers were interested in using the same disc in different ways and devices surprised the Blu-ray Disc folks who commissioned this study.
"The idea of a hybrid disc that works in both an existing DVD player and a Blu-ray Disc player was very strong, and underscores how convergence bubbled up to the top [of consumers' concerns],"
notes Marty Gordon, vice president of Philips Electronics and spokesperson for the Blu-ray Disc Association. "The ability to play a disc [anywhere] was very important
," he says. EDITOR’S NOTE: THAT THIS SURPRISES THEM SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT HOW OUT-OF-TOUCH THEY ARE. SHALL WE HAVE ANOTHER CHORUS OF DUH????!!!!
Incidentally, the Blu-ray Disc spec already has a provision for two variations of a dual-sided disc that combines existing formats with the Blu-ray format, similar to what today's Dual-Disc format does for CD-Audio and DVD-Video. The first combo, for Blu-ray/DVD Hybrid discs, enables a disc with one side that acts as a 25GB BD-ROM (like a DVD-ROM, only of the Blu-ray variety) and the other that acts as a 8.5GB dual-layer DVD-ROM. EDITOR’S NOTE: WHEN I SOBER UP, WILL THIS MAKE SENSE?
The second combo calls for a Blu-ray/CD Hybrid disc, with one side featuring a single-layer 25GB BD-ROM and the other a 700MB CD-ROM, either as data or CD-Audio. EDITOR’S NOTE: THEN AGAIN, THIS MIGHT BE A REASON TO KEEP ON DRINKING. High-stakes game
Given this new level of convergence, it's possible that either Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD will define tangible (meaning not downloaded) home entertainment in the next decade. As to which one will come out on top, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. EDITOR’S NOTE: NEXT DECADE? IS ANY TECHNOLOGY GOING TO LAST THAT LONG? ISN’T THE CHANGE-OVER SPEEDING UP? (OR DOES IT JUST FEEL LIKE IT?)
The Blu-ray Disc Association's Gordon was unable to confirm, deny, or otherwise comment on the reported negotiations between the powerhouse companies in the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps earlier this year. "There was a lot of rumour and speculation
," he says. "You can't always believe what you read.
" EDITOR’S NOTE: PLEASE PICTURE MY EYES ROLLING.
The prospect of unifying the formats, he says, is "very difficult, but we still have hope
." The difficulty, he adds, is that "we're talking about two different physical formats, and two different philosophies. The HD-DVD philosophy has been [concerned with] the industry: cheaper discs, easier replication. From the beginning, the Blu-ray philosophy has been focused on the consumer benefits." EDITOR’S NOTE: I’D VOTE FOR THE BLU-RAY, EXCEPT WE ALL KNOW ABOUT THE APOCRYPHAL BETAMAX.
I found that an interesting, and valid, observation on Gordon's part: After all, HD-DVD's biggest benefits over Blu-ray involve the cost of disc production.
The HD-DVD format has its evolutionary origins in the existing DVD format, which translates to lower costs for media production and disc replication.
Cynics assume those lower costs will probably never be reflected in the prices we see at the shops – they'll just mean a higher profit margin to studios. EDITOR’S NOTE: HOW BIG A COST DIFFERENCE IS THERE? I MEAN, IS THIS SOMETHING THAT CAN BE RECOUPED BY BLU-RAY DOWN THE LINE WITH ECONOMIES OF VOLUME? IF THIS IS THE PRIMARY STALLING POINT (WELL, THIS AND PRIDE), MAYBE THE HD-DVD FOLKS SHOULD JUST LET GO. HMMMM???
By contrast, Blu-ray Disc's higher capacity and roadmap for increased capacity (up to 100GB on a single disc has been achieved in laboratory conditions), indicates that the backers of this format are looking out for the consumer a little more.. After all, if you’re going to buy your umpteenth version of the Star Wars trilogy, I'll want the highest-quality video I can get on the next-generation disc. EDITOR’S NOTE: AS WILL I. AND I BET SOMEWHERE IN THAT RESEARCH STUDY, A FAIRLY LARGE PERCENTAGE SAID THAT UNLESS THE NEW FORMAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT….SIGNIFICANT…..TECH IMPROVEMENT, SOMETHING WE COULD REALLY SEE AND HEAR AND TOUCH (AND MAYBE EVEN TASTE), THERE WOULD BE NO INCENTIVE (LITTLE INCENTIVE, SAVE THOSE GEEKY TECHHEAD GUYS) TO PAY THE MOOLAH TO UPGRADE. THEY REALLY NEED TO THINK ABOUT THAT, EH?
Furthermore, I already have plenty of content to store on those discs – so as far as I'm concerned, the more capacity, the better.
The industry is not blind to the impending nightmare if both formats go to market. As Gordon notes, "No one wants a format war. The thought of one fills everyone – consumers and industry alike – with angst
." EDITOR’S NOTE: GOOD.EDITOR’S NOTE: AND MORE ON THIS FROM DWEEBPAL KRAZY KARLA -----
the hollywood economistThe Next Big ThingSony's Blu-Ray DVD.By Edward Jay EpsteinPosted Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, at 9:19 AM PT
If you want a glimpse of Hollywood's near future, you need only watch a single scene in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia on the split screen at the ground-floor showroom of Sony's New York headquarters. On the 70-inch plasma TV, you see swarms of Arab camel-riders racing across the blazing desert. On the screen's left half, the Arabs are so blurred together that they can hardly be distinguished from the swirling sands. When they cross over to the screen's right half—presto!—they pop into such sharp focus that their facial features are recognizable. It's the same screen and the same Lawrence of Arabia. The difference is that the source for the left half of the screen is a conventional DVD, and the source for the right half is a Blu-Ray DVD, which, although identical in size and shape to the conventional DVD, holds at least five times as many color pixels, or picture elements. EDITOR’S NOTE: WE LOVE PIXELS! (THEY’RE LIKE SPRITES OR FAIRIES, ONLY CUTER).
The left half of the screen is composed from approximately 87,000 color pixels EDITOR’S NOTE: I THINK THE PC PHRASE IS NOW AFRICAN-AMERICAN PIXELS….(GIGGLE). —
the maximum that a conventional DVD can hold—while the right half is composed from more than 490,000 color pixels. The 400,000 or so additional color pixels, by providing more details, nuance, and depth, create a high-definition picture.
The Blu-Ray DVD is able to display these additional pixels because it employs a blue laser EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE BLUE FAIRY, BECAUSE, FRANKLY, I NEVER WANT TO MENTION BAZ LUHRMANN AGAIN. (IF WE ENCOURAGE HIM, HE’LL JUST MAKE MORE MOVIES. AND THEN I’LL BE FORCED TO BE MEAN AGAIN, AND THAT IS SO UNLIKE ME).
—hence its name—that has a smaller beam spot than the standard red laser and can distinguish between more densely packed data on a disc. In fact, the blue ray can read as many as eight wafer-thin layers—the top layer being only one-tenth of a millimeter—which can contain 20 times as much data as even a dual-layer conventional DVD. Such massive storage—up to 200 gigabytes—provides an almost endless capacity for add-ons by home audiences.
For example, with a touch of his remote, a viewer could go from watching an action movie to participating in an interactive game based on the movie, or he could switch to a 3-D version of a particular scene. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS AN AWFUL LOT TO ASK OF PEOPLE SPRAWLED ON THEIR FUTON. NOW I CAN’T JUST LAY THERE LIKE A SLUG AND WATCH THE DARN FLICK. I HAVE TO BE INTERACTIVE. (I’M FEELING QUITE A BIT OF PRESSURE HERE).
Sony and its rivals plan to have Blu-Ray DVDs available in less than a year. So, in the near future, the weekly audience that goes to movie houses will have another option: staying at home and watching a high-definition movie with interactive features that is more or less equal in picture quality to what they would see at the multiplex. EDITOR’S NOTE: A COUPLE OF GLASSES OF WINE, AND WE’RE ALREADY THERE. NO TECH UPGRADES REQUIRED. (AND THE CHEAPER THE WINE, THE BETTER).
If history is any guide, changes in technology that make entertainment more convenient make a difference in the way it is experienced. The advent of mass television, for example, came very close to killing the movie business, cutting the average weekly moviegoing audience from 90 million in 1948 to 20 million in 1966. Once Americans had color TVs, some 70 million people a week stopped going to movie theaters, forcing Hollywood to revive the movie audience with massively expensive television advertising.
Videos and DVDs—and the ability to churn out pirated copies of them—have wiped out most of the movie theaters in large parts of Asia and Eastern Europe.
So, what effect does Sony expect that its new Blu-Ray DVD will have on what remains of the moviegoing audience?
To find out, I proceeded from the ground-floor showroom to the 34th-floor executive suite and put the question to Sir Howard Stringer, the British-born—and first non-Japanese—chairman of Sony.
Sony's fabled success story began more than half a century ago, in 1946, in a bombed-out basement in Tokyo. Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka started the company (originally named Tokyo Tsushin) with the intention of manufacturing necessities, such as rice cookers and space heaters, for the war-ravaged population of Japan, but they quickly found an export market in America for consumer electronics. EDITOR’S NOTE: WE HAVE ‘SUCKER’ STAMPED ON OUR DERRIERES AT BIRTH, DON’T WE? (HOW DO YOU SAY ‘SUCKER’ IN JAPANESE, I WONDER?)
They went on to introduce a string of remarkably inventive entertainment products—including the CD. Along the way, Sony also bought a number of American companies to get content for these products, including CBS Records (now Sony Music), the Columbia TriStar studio (now Sony Pictures Entertainment), and, most recently, MGM.
Even though Sony helped bring about the digital revolution, the company has failed to adapt to it. The standardization required to manufacture consumer digital products undercut the value of Sony's branded products.
For example, the Chinese and other low-labor-cost manufacturers, using the same computer chips, could make the same DVD players and digital TV sets as Sony for a fraction of the cost. The result was a commoditized rat race that became unprofitable for Sony.
When it became clear that Sony had to "revolutionize itself," as Sony's previous chairman Nobuyuki Idei termed it, the revolution involved transforming Sony from a company that had focused on engineering proprietary products, such as the Trinitron color television set, the Betamax VCR, and the Walkman, into one that could capitalize on—and protect from piracy—the streams of digital data that would include games, movies, music, and other intellectual property. When Sir Howard assumed the leadership of Sony this year, part of his mandate was to move the company, as he put it, "from an analog culture to a digital culture
The Blu-Ray DVD is a critical piece of this strategy.
As I learned in Tokyo, its multiple layers not only can store vast amounts of digital data, they can also be used to record data downloaded from the Internet.
For example, after buying the Blu-Ray DVD for Spider-Man 3, a consumer could then add on a game, music video, or a prior sequel from Sony's Web site.
When I asked Sir Howard if there was concern that the Blu-Ray DVD would result in a further eroding of the world moviegoing audience, he answered that it was "a chicken-and-egg problem."
The "chicken" was theatrical movies; the "egg" the DVD (plus television and licensing rights).
Sir Howard, who is also chairman of the American Film Institute, pointed out that it would be difficult to conceive of great movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia, being made without a movie theater audience to establish them; the dilemma is that it's the "egg" not the "chicken" upon which the studios increasingly depend for their money.
So, even while trying to avoid fatally injuring the chicken EDITOR’S NOTE: ONE THING I’M QUITE PROUD OF, BY THE WAY. NO CHICKENS…NO POULTRY OF ANY KIND, ACTUALLY…ARE EVER HARMED IN THE POSTING OF THIS DWEEBLETTER
.—movies—Sir Howard said that studios are under increasing pressure to "optimize" their profits from the proverbial golden egg, the home audience.
Indeed, the Blu-Ray DVD make this balancing act more difficult: With its interactive features, it appeals to the very teenage audiences on whom the multiplexes now so heavily depend.
It's also a vital part of Sony's latest version of its PlayStation, due to be released next year. The prior versions of PlayStation have sold more than 100 million units and have provided the Sony Corporation with up to 40 percent of its profits. PlayStation 3, while it may sound like a child's toy, is in fact an incredibly powerful computer, exceeding in its processing power IBM's famed Deep Blue. The Playstation 3 can play high-definition movies and super-realistic interactive games and surf the Internet, providing a gateway for further digital consumption.EDITOR’S NOTE: SCARY QUESTION….CAN IT DO THIS BY ITSELF, OR DOES A HUMAN HAVE TO BE IN THE ROOM AT THE TIME?
In addition, the Blu-Ray will allow Sony to reissue its movie titles in high definition. In fact, part of the stated justification for acquiring MGM was the profits to be realized from reissuing the 4,100 films in MGM's library in the Blu-Ray format.
At some point, Sony has to overcome a competing high-definition format, HD-DVD, sponsored by its traditional rival, Toshiba. HD-DVD, like the Blu-Ray, uses a blue laser optical reader and renders an equivalent high-definition picture. The principal difference is that Toshiba designed the HD-DVD so that discs can be stamped out by existing DVD manufacturing equipment (which unfortunately is also owned by video pirates). That design makes it less expensive to implement, but the HD-DVD lacks the recordable multilayers or massive storage space for interactive features of the Blu-Ray.
While Sir Howard preferred not to speculate on the outcome of this potential format war, I predict that the Blu-Ray will prevail for three reasons.
First, Sony has a critical mass of movies that it can release on Blu-Ray. Aside from its own titles, Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Lions Gate have agreed to release their titles on Blu-Ray.
Next, almost all of the leading computer manufacturers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple, are committed to using Blu-Ray. So, if a studio wants its high-definition DVDs to be playable on personal computers—or for that matter on PlayStation 3—it will have to issue them in the Blu-Ray format.
Finally, the situations of Sony and Toshiba are not symmetrical. For Sony, the Blu-Ray is an integral part of its overall strategy. For Toshiba, the HD-DVD is just another product they manufacture. If the company reached an accommodating deal on licensing fees, it could also make money by manufacturing the Blu-Ray DVDs.
One way or another, however, the moviegoing public will soon have one more diversion from movie theaters. EDITOR’S NOTE: LIKE WE’RE NOT A.D.D. ENOUGH ALREADY?
Edward Jay Epstein is the author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in HollywoodEDITOR'S NOTE: AND ONE MORE BATTLE-OF-THE-FORMATS ARTICLE JUST IN TODAY -----DVD format war looms as Blu-ray backers plan launch
BERLIN -- Chances looked slim that consumers will be spared a DVD format war, as the backers of one standard said Friday there was no common ground for a unified format and it was on track for a market launch within a year.
"If we want a unified standard, it has to be better than the sum of the parts. We would like to find something that's better in the other standard than ours, but we haven't found it,
" said Frank Simonis, a spokesman for backers of the Blu-ray standard.
Speaking on the sidelines of the IFA consumer electronics trade fair, Simonis said the Blu-ray association was ready to lay down the specifications of the higher-capacity DVD format in the spring of 2006.
The rival HD DVD camp has recently had to push back its launch into the New Year. "We're no longer lagging behind,"
said Simonis, who is also strategic marketing director at the optical storage unit of Philips Electronics.
At stake is the multibillion dollar market for DVD players, PC drivers and optical discs.
Blu-ray promises higher capacity DVD discs (up to 50 gigabytes) that can store high definition films and better interactivity and security.
The HD DVD camp, on the other hand, claims it has a cheaper technology compatible with current DVD and CD players.
Blu-ray is backed by the majority of electronics makers, including Sony, Matsushita, Samsung, Philips, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Hitachi.
The HD-DVD camp consists of Toshiba, NEC Corp. and Sanyo Electric as main hardware vendors.
The battle between the two camps has become intense after a failed attempt this spring by several of the main Japanese electronics companies to bring together the two standards.
The support of the Hollywood studios and television producers, crucial partners who will have to print pre-recorded disks with movies and TV series, has been more evenly spread and many have held their options open.However, 20th Century Fox said at IFA it had chosen Blu-ray after its backers improved security features that will prevent DVD piracy hurting the industry.
"We talked to both formats and asked them: 'What are you going to do about content protection?' We asked them to step up their content protection in a serious way, and the members of Blu-ray association won,
" said Andy Setos, president of engineering at the studio which is owned by News Corp.He also said that production costs of Blu-ray are "competitive" and that the format is interoperable with existing DVD and CD formats.
Hollywood is suffering from rampant piracy, because the initial DVD standard that was put together exactly 10 years ago had been rushed to market and lacked features to prevent unauthorized copying and playback.
"DVD is not good. It isn't secure, the capacity is too low, the bit rate is too low
," Simonis said.
In China in particular, many films are reproduced on DVDs illegally and sold at a dollar apiece on street corners.
"We sell 20,000 DVDs a year in China, and they're priced at just $4.99. Just to prove a point
," Setos said.
Yet, even the piracy underlines the success of DVD.
It has been the fastest-adopted technology in consumer electronics history and has generated billions of euros in royalties for the inventors, a broad base of consumer electronics companies including firms now divided over its successor.
The fight for license income may yet hurt the interests of consumers who face two disk formats which do not play back in all devices, invoking memories of the VHS-Betamax war for the VHS standard, or more recently the rewritable DVD standard. EDITOR'S NOTE: I STILL AM UNCLEAR ON THE REWRITABLE DEALIO. (BY THE TIME I FIGURE IT OUT, I'M HOPING THE QUESTION IS MOOT. MY STRATEGY FOR ALL THIS TECH STUFF WHEN IT GETS TOO ANNOYING...WAIT IT OUT).
On top of that, consumers should expect punishment for tinkering with their Blu-ray players, as many have done with current DVD players, for instance to remove regional coding. The new, Internet-connected and secure players will report any "hack" and the device can be disabled remotely.
"A hacked player is any player that is doing something it's not supposed to do
," Setos said, adding the jury was still out if regional coding would be maintained or scrapped.The controversial regional code prevents DVD discs that have been bought in one continent to play on devices elsewhere. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL AS LONG AS IT COMPLETELY INCONVENIENCES THE CONSUMER, THAN THE SOLUTION SOUNDS LIKE A WINNER, HUH?WELL, FROM ALL I'VE READ SO FAR, IT DOES SOUND LIKE THE BEST TECH IS ABOUT TO COME OUT AHEAD (PERHAPS IN SPITE OF ITSELF). HD-DVD SOUNDS LIKE A FRANKENSTEIN'S BEASTY BEING CLUNG TO BY SOME GREEDY INDUSTRY TYPES. BLU-RAY SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD ENOUGH ADVANCE TO EVENTUALLY BE WORTH THE UPGRADE. (ALTHOUGH, EVEN WITH BLU-RAY, THE INDUSTRY BACKERS ARE NOT QUITE THINKING ABOUT US YET AND ARE FAR MORE SHORT-SIGHTEDLY THINKING ABOUT PROTECTING THEMSELVES, INSTEAD OF THINKING ABOUT HOW TO SELL IT TO US).EDITOR’S NOTE: BUT WAIT. THERE’S STILL MORE TECHY STUFF. (SORRY. THIS ALL FASCINATES ME). BORED? GET YOUR OWN DARN BLOG! (OR SKIM?)More People Turn to the Web to Watch TV
By SAUL HANSELL
For two decades, media company executives and advertisers have been talking about creating fully interactive television that would allow viewers to watch exactly what they want, when they want it. EDITOR’S NOTE: BUT WHO CARES?! “LAW AND ORDER” ALL THE TIME IS ALREADY ON, SO WHO NEEDS ON DEMAND!?
It looks like that future may well be by way of the computer, as big media and Internet companies develop new Web-based video programming and advertising that is truly under the command of the viewer. As Americans grow more comfortable watching programs online, Internet programming is beginning to combine the interactivity and immediacy of the Web with the alluring engagement of television. EDITOR’S NOTE: THE….GIGGLE…’ALLURING ENGAGEMENT OF TELEVISION’? SNICKER……TV AS JESSICA RABBIT.
The Nickelodeon cable network, for example, recently created TurboNick, a free Internet service that offers 24-hour access to popular programs like SpongeBob SquarePants and Jimmy Neutron. It offers some original programs, too, because the young audience of Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom, is increasingly spending time in front of computers.
CBS News, which has no cable network and is also owned by Viacom, uses the Internet to offer video news updates and reports that do not fit in the 30-minute time slot of "CBS Evening News."
And for America Online, offering a wide array of free video programming - from coverage of the recent Live 8 concerts to programs hosted by business gurus like Stephen R. Covey and Tom Peters - is a way to attract an audience to its new Internet portal at AOL.com. AOL, a unit of Time Warner, is also producing with the Warner Music Group an Internet-based reality program called "The Biz." It will seek to find the next music mogul, according to people involved with the program.
For all of them, and many more media and Internet companies, investing in new Internet video programming is a way to cash in on the demands of advertisers who want to put their commercials on computer screens, where new viewers are watching. And on many Web sites, viewers can't skip the video commercials, the way they can when using TiVo and other video recorders. EDITOR’S NOTE: OH GIVE US A FEW SECS; WE’LL FIGURE OUT A WAY TO ZAP THRU THESE COMMERCIALS TOO. (AS JEFF GOLDBLUM SAYS IN “JURASSIC PARK” ----“LIFE FINDS A WAY”).
Of course, there have been bits of rough, jerky video on the Internet for years.
The new video services, however, can count on better software and faster connections to deliver pictures that are nearly as crisp as those delivered by a typical cable signal. This year more than half of the homes with Internet access have high speed, or broadband, service. EDITOR’S NOTE: YES, BUT MUCH SMALLER SCREENS. WHY WOULD I WANT TO WATCH ON MY 15 INCH…ALBEIT LOVELY LCD...., WHEN THERE’S A 46 INCH DLP IN THE OTHER ROOM? (I DO SO LOVE MY TV. SIGH…..I REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE WITH A GOOD-PAYING JOB…..AHHHH……)
"There is critical mass with high-speed Internet connections, so video is a good user experience,
" said Jim Walton, the president of the CNN News Group. "And that means there can be critical mass for advertisers." EDITOR’S NOTE: AND IT IS ALL ABOUT THEM.
With the cost of the network connections needed to broadcast video over the Web falling and advertising rates rising, CNN, also a Time Warner property, just replaced a small, fee-based Internet video service with an expanded offering of free videos intermingled with commercials.
"Television is a very straightforward, passive, linear medium
," said Lloyd Braun, the former chairman of ABC's entertainment group, who now oversees the development of a sprawling campus for Yahoo in Santa Monica, Calif., that will largely be devoted to creating original video programming for the Internet.
"What I find so compelling about the Internet is that it is not passive
," he said. "It is a medium where users are in control, can customize the content, personalize it, share it and tap into their communities in a number of ways
." EDITOR’S NOTE: WE GOT THE POWER, BABY!
Mr. Braun said he was exploring dozens of video ideas, including original Internet programming in nearly every genre that has worked on television: news, sports, game shows, dramas, sitcoms, even talk shows. But these are likely to be made up of short video segments that users can assemble to their liking rather than half-hour or hourly programs. "If you try to do television on a PC you will fail, because television does television very wel
l," he said. EDITOR’S NOTE: YES. SOMETIMES IT REALLY DOES.
In addition to its own programming, Yahoo will feature programming from others in its video search service and on its other pages. For example, Yahoo is expected to announce today that it will add video clips from CNN and ABC News, along with video ads, to its existing Yahoo News site.
A watershed event in the development of Internet video was AOL's live Webcasts of the Live 8 concert series earlier this month. Some five million people tuned into the Webcast on AOL, where they could instantly flip among the concerts in London, Paris, Philadelphia, Toronto, Rome and Berlin.
Three times as many people watched the televised version on MTV, but many of them were dissatisfied with the way the network, a division of Viacom, selected which songs to play and had its announcers talk over the music. (AOL also offered users all sorts of commentary - blogs from backstage, user comments, photos - but these were accessible alongside the Webcast and did not interrupt the music.) EDITOR’S NOTE: IF I COULD WATCH THE OLYMPICS WITH THE OPTION TO TURN OFF THE NETWORK WIT-AND-WISDOM (USING THOSE WORDS COMPLETELY INSINCERELY), I WOULD ALMOST PAY TO DO SO! (I ONCE WAS IN EUROPE AT THE TIME OF AN OLYMPICS, AND WAS STUNNED AT HOW MUCH BETTER IT WAS WITHOUT THE AMERICAN NETWORK INCESSANT CHATTER. THE EUROPEAN TV STATIONS JUST LET YOU WATCH THE EVENT….NO BABBLE. AMAZING CONCEPT, EH?)
While MTV's TV network is being criticized, its new Internet video service, MTV Overdrive, is being praised as perhaps the slickest attempt yet to combine the packaging of television with the interactivity of the Internet. With one click, users can view dozens of shows - music video collections, newscasts, artist interviews and supplements to MTV's signature programs like "The Real World."
And with a second click, users can see the various segments that make up those shows. They also can assemble a program of their choosing, mixing and matching parts of any of those shows, as well as videos and older programs from MTV's archive of thousands.
For Alisha Davis, who joined MTV two months ago to anchor its afternoon Web newscasts, the medium offers opportunities and challenges that traditional television does not. With no fixed time slot to fill, her afternoon Webcast can run anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the news of the day. (That's far more than the three minutes that the MTV network now devotes to its newscasts.) EDITOR’S NOTE: SOUNDS LIKE WE ARE FINALLY…FINALLY…ALMOST READY FOR THE MUCH BALLYHOO’D, AND NOT-YET-REALIZED, TV/INTERNET MARRIAGE. (THE MYTHICAL WORD FOR YEARS....CONVERGENCE). WILL MY NEXT TV SET FINALLY BE TRULY WEDDED TO MY DSL? (AND WILL THEY HAVE KIDS?)
While she still begins each newscast with an upbeat rundown of stories, Ms. Davis also understands that is not necessarily how Internet viewers will watch the show.
"On a linear broadcast, you can refer to something that happened before
," she said. "We can't do that. We'll set up a show for people, but a lot of people will create their own show.
"We always said, 'I want my MTV
,' " said Judy McGrath, the chief executive of MTV Networks. "Today that means a very personal relationship to whatever it is you are interested in, so you can talk about it, you can generate it, and you can critique it."
The flexibility of the evolving medium also applies to advertisers.
Services like MTV Overdrive typically show 15-second or 30-second commercials - which users cannot skip - before viewers start watching and then again every few minutes. Moreover, when a commercial plays on Overdrive (and on many other new video services) a static graphic ad from the same advertiser appears on another part of the screen. This graphic ad remains even while the program plays. If users click on it, it opens the advertiser's Web site."A commercial on broadband is emotional and impactful
," said Matt Wasserlauf, the president of Broadband Enterprises, which sells Internet video ads. He said that Internet video ads already produced 100 times as many clicks as static banners on Web pages.
An Internet commercial typically costs about $15 to $20 for each 1,000 viewers, nearly as much as broadcast networks charge. The price is high because there is more demand from advertisers than there is Internet video programming available.
Broadband Enterprises estimates about $200 million will be spent on Internet video this year, up from $75 million last year. That pales in comparison to the $65 billion or so spent on broadcast and cable television advertising, but it is growing faster. EDITOR’S NOTE: IT IS GROWING BECAUSE HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING’S DAY IS WANING, THAT THE OLD WAYS AREN’T WORKING. ARE THE NEW WAYS BETTER? THEY’RE PROBABLY NOT SOUP YET. BUT THE SAME DUMMIES WHO DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE THE OLD STUFF, ARE LEAPING LIKE LEMMINGS INTO THE NEW STUFF, BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHAT DOESN’T WORK AND NO ONE HAS PROVEN THE NEW THINGS ARE JUST AS FLUKEY. (WISH I DIDN’T HAVE SCRUPLES; THERE SURE IS MONEY TO BE MADE ON CLIENT STUPIDITY).
While much of the development of Internet video is now being driven by advertising, there is a growing crop of pay-per-view and subscription video services.
In the fall, CNN will introduce CNN Pipeline, a new fee-based Web service that will give users a choice of four live video programs, as well as access to its extensive archive of video clips. And CourtTV's new $4.95-a-month service on the Internet lets users see as many as three live trials simultaneously and also lets hard-core fans replay testimony and arguments from dozens of past trials.
Already, half a million people pay to watch live Webcasts of Major League Baseball games at $3.95 per game, or an unlimited package at $14.95 a month. That's double the paying audience last year.
In time, industry specialists say, longer, more elaborate programs created specifically for the Internet will also emerge. But how quickly that happens may depend in part on the development of technology that can play Internet video on television sets, on which people are used to watching longer programming.
"It takes time to teach consumers what they can do with this medium,"
said Kevin Conroy, the chief operating officer of its AOL Media Networks Group. "Now we are in a wonderful position to begin to expand to longer-form content.
New video programs will include a live music performance series and a show where movie stars interview one another. AOL is also scouring Hollywood to buy the rights to old TV shows and movies it can fill with ads and show free on the Internet, said Mr. Conroy, who sees the Internet starting as akin to the ultimate UHF station.
One thing AOL will not offer on Webcasts is the most popular programming from its Time Warner cousins, such as HBO and its shows like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City."
"Everybody says why don't you have 'Sex and the City
,' " Mr. Conroy said, "but 'Sex and the City' is already in first-run syndication on Turner. It will be on the Internet some day, but for now there are thousands of hours of programming that can't get on the air anywhere." EDITOR’S NOTE: ALL “SCARECROW AND MRS. KING” ALL THE TIME! (YES, IT'S CHEESE. BUT IT'S BRUCE BOXLEITNER CHEESE!)