Comcasttown: Webkinz for Adults. No lie.

If you’re interested in seeing one of the dumbest business ideas ever, have a look at the new Comcasttown.com web site. I heard an ad for it on the radio, and was thinking “Cool. Now I can stream those Comcast TV shows to my PC.” I am a subscriber, so I figured they had finally worked out some content deals to get me the TV I already pay for onto my PC.

What I got looks suspiciously like the Webkinz kids site. (My kids play on it constantly, so I know it well. And it’s great – for them.) Basically, you’re given a “room”, and you can buy virtual furniture for it with virtual cash, and there’s a Facebook connect thing where you can invite your friends to come over to your virtual room and do god knows what.

The irony is that this is a wrapper over Fancast.com. Why shouldn’t I go to Fancast (or Hulu) to watch TV on my PC. Why should I be bothered with this nonsense? Worse, it appears you only get the top 5 shows on Fancast – unless you hunt for more I guess. I ran out of patience before investigating further.

What are they going to do next – come out with a line of Comcast stuffed toys? “Commies”? I’d buy one if it was a likeness of the idiot who came up with this idea so I could stick pins in it.

Let me watch the Cable TV I pay for on my laptop so I can ditch my SlingBox! That’s what I want.

On the plus side, the ad jingle was really, really catchy. And… no, that’s it.

At Applian, we’re really good at designing cool products and marketing them well. If there’s a marketing angle here I don’t see, I’d love to be enlightened. Especially by anyone from Comcast. So, if you’re from Comcast, come defend yourself in the comments!

The “TV Everywhere” Initiative

As online video grows in popularity, some people are considering disconnecting their Cable or Satellite TV services and consuming everything online. Services like Hulu, although owned by the big networks, are showing the promise of an online-only world of programming.

Others want a la carte Cable. They ask “why should I pay for channels I don’t watch?” KInda, sorta makes sense at first.
Most experts think this pay-as-you-go model is unlikely to happen in the near future. The NY Times had a good explanation of the economics and social benefit of bundling cable service. Mark Cuban also breaks this down nicely.
What will happen is that if you have a Cable or Satellite subscription, you will also be able to consume the same media online. Time Warner is already working towards this.

The Cable and Satellite and the Networks aren’t going to kill a very profitable business. But by enhancing it by making the content you already pay for available online, they will get more viewership and be able to serve more ads.
This seems like the best possible solution that balances the interests of consumers and the media companies.

Kindle, compatible eBooks and DMCA

I just read in Slashdot about how Amazon Uses DMCA To Restrict Ebook Purchases. Basically, someone figured out how to get eBooks from another service onto the Kindle.

As a part of our business, we occasionally have spirited debates about the DMCA, and how it is to be applied properly. Basically, Amazon is trying to use the DMCA to shut out competing eBook formats. The DMCA does not cover interoperability – only copyright infringement – and in my opinion Amazon is clearly in the wrong in this case. No copy protection is being cracked here – a DRMed eBook remains DRMed.

As some of the commenters point out, Amazon’s business model is to make money selling the eBooks, and not the hardware. The Kindle is at best a break-even proposition for Amazon. If people are able to purchase eBooks outside of Amazon, then that destroys their business model to a certain degree.

Another comment articulates the legal position really well:

Leaving aside the issue of users’ rights, as far as I can see Amazon is just plain wrong on the law and lacks legal justification for the takedown notice. What the DMCA prohibits is the distribution of tools for overcoming technical measures for protecting copyrighted materials. The first program generates a MOBI ID from a kindle serial number. The second program rewrites a non-Amazon ebook so that it contains the id that will allow it to work on the Kindle with the given serial number. Neither program modifies or copies the Kindle’s software. Since the ebooks in question are not produced by Amazon, no material whose copyright belongs to Amazon is affected in any way. In other words, this software does not defeat any technical measure of Amazon’s for protecting copyrighted material since Amazon has no copyrighted material at stake here. The DMCA is inapplicable, and the takedown notice invalid. Indeed, it is so clear that this software does nothing to defeat protection of copyrighted material that I would say that the takedown notice was issued in bad faith.

What this software actually does is allow for interoperability, which is explicitly protected by the DMCA.

How to connect your TV to your PC

It seems like there’s a lot of interest in how online video might kill Cable and Satellite services like DirecTV and Comcast, so I started a mini home project to see what it would be like for someone to actually try to send streaming video from a PC to a large screen TV. I know there are a lot of different ways to do this, and I figured it should be pretty easy.

I went to Fry’s – the best super-retailer for everything geek in California, expecting to see some sort of all-in-one setup for this. I can’t be the only person wanting to do this right? Anyway – after about an hour of searching I finally found what looked like it was going to work – a VGA to AV converter (with 3 different outputs) for about $39, and a separate 3.5″ mini-jack to RCA cable for the audio ($17). I would have expected a nice all-in-one setup, but alas – the video and the audio are separate beasts. My laptop has a VGA output and a 3.5″ mini headphone jack, so I was all set. (There were some other USB-based audio enhancer thingys, but these seemed like overkill.)

Now – back home to hook all this up. It seemed to be pretty straightforward, although I couldn’t get my AV receiver to display the video. There’s probably some menu setup I needed to do, but not being very patient, I finally just hooked all three outputs into the front of the VCR (yes – we still have one), and lo and behold – it actually worked!
I was a little concerned about the quality – since I figured attaching the output directly into the AV receiver would be better, but testing with Hulu and iTunes video – the results were totally acceptable. I was immersed into my shows, and not noticing anything horrible with the video or audio quality.

So anyway – this is totally doable. I will probably go back and play with the AV receiver some more, and maybe try to clean up the wires (which my wife hates). Eventually a wireless system would be ideal. But it works! And it’s awesome. The house I’m in right now has no cable, so this is a great way to get more entertainment without spending $70+/month.

Do you have any experience hooking up your TV to your PC? Please share in the comments. I suspect a lot of people are interested in this.

Are we really ready to cut the cable?

According to this article in TV Week, people are indeed discontinuing Comcast, but may be moving to Satellite and IPTV services like Verizon. Online video may be making an impact amongst the digerati, but until there is a nice easy way to pull it up on your TV, online video has a ways to go. This is all in spite of the horrid economy.

Maybe that will change soon with better software – and easily available content? This should be an interesting year.

First Newspapers, now Broadcast TV?

You’ve probably read how many local newspapers are in deep financial doo-doo recently. Some have even closed, like the Rocky Mountain Daily News.

Now, the same thing appears to be happening to Broadcast TV. This article shows the writing on the wall.

The problems with the newspaper and broadcast TV businesses are similar: people prefer on-demand content. Why huddle around your TV at 8 PM Thursday to watch your favorite show, when you can watch tons of great stuff from sites like Hulu whenever you like? Why read the newspaper (which may be 12 hours out-of-date – god forbid!) when you can get the latest breaking news online?

We’re moving to an on-demand world, and any businesses that fail to adapt to that mindset are doomed to fail.

Cable TV – Coming soon to a PC near you!

This is an interesting article relating to Comcast’s plans to move into the video space.

It seems the Cable companies are scared to death about being bypassed by online video delivery, so rather than sit idly by and watch their business evaporate, they will be trying to make a compelling offering, with the hopes that their subscribers will stay.

You don’t suppose a recording option will be a part of their offering, do you???

YouTube cracking down on download sites

Looks like programs like Replay Media Catcher will soon be the only way to download videos from YouTube. TechCrunch’s video download tool has recently been blocked by YouTube, and it’s likely they will start to block other sites.

Here’s the story:

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/02/13/youtube-kills-our-video-download-tool

What do YOU do about this? Use a PC-based download tool like Replay Media Catcher, which works free with YouTube. If you want the technical meat of why this will continue to work read on…

The way TechCrunch (and likely other sites) are being blocked is via the IP address of their servers. The server goes directly to the YouTube site, and pretends to be a web browser, and then figures out the download link. It’s easy for YouTube to write a script to block certain IP addresses.

The “client” approach (like Replay Media Catcher) cannot be foiled in this way, since the IP address for the download request comes from an individual user’s PC, and not a server. YouTube cannot tell the difference between your web browser, or a client running on your PC, since the IP address of the request is the same.

It will be interesting to see if YouTube continues to crack down on other sites.

Changes to Replay Media Catcher

As of January 28, 2009, new installations of Replay Media Catcher will no longer be able to record web sites that use Adobe Secure RTMP Measures.

We have resolved a dispute with Adobe Systems Incorporated, without admitting any wrongdoing or liability, by agreeing not to circumvent any Secure RTMP Measures developed by Adobe.

Our other high-quality web video recording product, Replay Video Capture, will continue to work with ANY site. And we will continue our quest to make the best possible streaming media recording tools for our customers to fully exercise their Fair Use rights to online media.