Archives for December 2003

PC WORLD: Video is key in next year's new gadgets

PC WORLD: Video is key in next year’s new gadgets
The line between the home computer and home entertainment continues to blur, according to Martyn Williams of the IDG News Service in an article for PC WORLD. The story looks at new gizmos launching in Japan next year. Unfortunately, not all will be available here, but looking at them provides a window to the future.

NEC’s latest video recorder, the PX-AX300H, is due on sale in Japan in January and packs an impressive 300GB of hard-drive-based recording space. At the lowest-quality recording setting, which uses an MPEG2 1.2-megabits-per-second stream, that’s enough space for 423 hours of video. Put another way, you can record an hour of television per day for an entire year and still have plenty of space left for those New Year’s holiday movies and specials.

The other advantage of all this space is the ability to record everything at the highest-quality setting, an 8-mbps MPEG2 stream, without having to worry about filling the disk. The device also includes a DVD-RAM/R recording function, and can be plugged into your computer network so you can watch recorded TV shows from a PC with software supplied by NEC.

IO Data’s AVLP1/DVD looks like a conventional DVD player, but if you peer a little closer at the connectors on the rear, you’ll notice something different: an Ethernet socket. This allows the device to be connected to a home network and for users to watch or access content from PCs on the network.

Broadcasters have great difficulty with the concept of the “blurring line” to which Martyn refers, and it’s a major stumbling block in their efforts to survive. A video signal is a video signal, regardless of how it’s delivered or what platform is doing the delivering. Applications that ride existing platforms (as stated so beautifully by FCC Chairman Powell) are where it’s at now, because they don’t come with the costs associated with maintaining the platform; in TV’s case, the transmission of a TV signal. More resources can go to content, which is the real magic bullet of the future.

FCC Chairman cites what broadcasters don't get

FCC Chairman cites what broadcasters don’t get
FCC Chairman Michael Powell told the San Jose Mercury News: “I have no problem if a big and venerable company no longer exists tomorrow, as long as that value is transferred somewhere else in the economy.” Hello? He’s talking about you, broadcasters (among others, to be fair), and he bases this thinking on what he calls the most powerful paradigm shift in communications’ history.

Now to be a phone company, you don’t have to weave tightly the voice service into the infrastructure. You can ride it on top of the infrastructure. So if you’re a Vonage, you own no infrastructure. You own no trucks. You roll to no one’s house. They turn voice into a application and shoot it across one of these platforms. And, suddenly, you’re in your business.

And that’s why if you’re the music industry, you’re scared. And if you’re the television studio, movie industry, you’re scared. And if you’re an incumbent infrastructure carrier, you’d better be scared. Because this application separation is the most important paradigm shift in the history of communications, and will change things forever.

He’s right, of course, but most broadcasters don’t get what he’s saying. As a result, the threat to the entire industry increases with each passing month. Broadcasters will get by in 2004, thanks to the Olympics and the elections, but 2005 will be crunch time, as the disruptive innovations to which Powell refers take their toll on audiences and their accompanying ad revenues. (Source: The Buzzmachine)

USA TODAY: Bloggers rewriting the rules

USA TODAY: Bloggers rewriting the rules
Blogging is one of the top political stories of 2003, and this piece in USA TODAY does a thoughtful job of documenting blogging as a major new force in politics.

Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to make an end run around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.

The freewheeling, gossipy Internet sites they operate can be controversial: Matt Drudge, the wired news and gossip hound who broke the story about Monica Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton, is a blogger. Many bloggers are not professional journalists. Few have editors. Most make no pretense of objectivity.

Yet they’re forcing the mainstream news media to follow the stories they’re pushing, such as the scandal that took down Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. And they’ve created a trend that almost every major presidential candidate is following. Even President Bush’s campaign Web site hosts a blog.

The institutional press often assigns clout to bloggers through the influence we have on each other and other (political) leaders. I don’t argue with this, but it’s a logical, Modernist argument. As such, it’s only partially true. We live in Postmodern America, and the point is that blogging is all about citizen journalism. THAT is the big threat to the status quo, the idea that people actually might be able to govern themselves without an elite class “managing” everything for them. Who knew?

Bloggers described as the "Vanity Press"

Bloggers described as the “Vanity Press”
As most of you know, I follow the print industry, because they’re ahead of the curve when it comes to New Media. However, newspapers are still bastions of tradition in many ways, and especially when it comes to protecting the fatted calf of professionalism. Witness this quote by Donn Friedman, Assistant Managing Editor for Production Technology and New Media Innovations, Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal. It’s from a great little article in the online Editor&Publisher about New Media New Year’s resolutions.

“Do not fall for the panacea of user-generated content. It has a limited place. Now that the world is a vanity press, quality, trustworthiness and credibility will position newspaper content above others making our products valuable enough for paid subscription models to prosper.”
(Cough, cough!) You know, just when I think these guys are beginning to get it, something like this comes along. “Vanity press?”

You’re so vain.
You prob’ly think this blog is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?

Rather than deal with the reality of interactive journalism (Jeff Jarvis’s wonderful news is a conversation), people like this lift themselves out of their chairs high atop their professional pedestals and do what every spoiled child does: call us names! Last week, it was “self-important.” Now we’re the “vanity press.”

And look what he says to juxtapose his institution against the bloggers. “quality, trustworthiness and credibility?” What quality, trustworthiness and credibility? Trust in the institutional press is at an all-time low. THAT’s the reality. And do guys like this think we’re just out here driving our own trains? Where do you think the energy comes from that’s pushing news into interactivity? It’s the people, stupid! It’s the readers who’ve given up on the institutional press. We don’t need to resort to pejorative terms in this debate, because our eyes can see the cultural shifting taking place.

And we’ll gladly take our growth from the bottom up, thank you very much.

Internet commerce exploded this holiday season

Internet commerce exploded this holiday season
Online shoppers spent a whopping $15.8 billion through December 19th, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. That’s a staggering 37% increase over the holiday season of 2002. What did we buy?

Apparel: $3.1 billion, up 40 percent over 2002.

Toys/Video Games (hardware and software): $1.9 billion, up 21 percent.

Video/DVD: $1.4 billion, up 58 percent.

Books: $1.4 billion, up 39 percent.

Music: $790 million, up 20 percent.

(Source: Media Daily News)

Two media events this weekend

Two media events this weekend
It was a holiday weekend, for sure, but this thing called “the media” still managed to grab me a couple of times. First was Ed Bradley’s interview with Michael Jackson (transcript) on CBS’s 60 Minutes. First of all, I thought the interview itself was very well done. Ed Bradley handled Jackson better than anybody I’ve seen. No easy assignment. I loved the NATSOUND of Jackson whining occasionally, but mostly I enjoyed the opportunity to get inside his head just a bit. He came off as sincere to me, and that was something I didn’t expect. I mean, the guy looks like Edward Scissorhands without the scissorhands and then there’s all that weirdness with the young boys! His mental state notwithstanding, I saw a gentle, spiritual guy (Most people think the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. The correct quote is “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Jackson got that right. Another surprise.) who’s had the crap beat out of him. I have my opinion, but the court will decide his guilt or innocence in the legal matters. Jackson, however, did himself a favor by agreeing to this interview.

The second media event is a little more complicated to explain. Alicia and I went to see Cold Mountain at the Opry Mills Theater. The film will likely sweep the Academy Awards and justifiably so. It is a haunting tale of life in the south during the Civil War, and the movie touched me deeply. Being the information junkie that I am, I spent an hour online reading various reviews. I guess I was trying to get in touch with what I was feeling, but what I found really (I mean really) pissed me off. There was the usual disagreement amongst the critics about the film, and I had to occasionally wonder if they actually saw the same movie I did. But one review got my goat, because it so beautifully illustrates the American atrocity of political correctness. Stephanie Zacharek writes for Salon that the movie:

…is ruthless and realistic in its portrayal of the hardships faced by Southerners during the war between the states. The white ones, that is: There are about 12 African-Americans in “Cold Mountain,” and if you don’t blink you might catch them as they scoot by discreetly in a few select scenes, blending into the background in a “Don’t mind me!” blur.

…if nothing else, “Cold Mountain” reminds us of one resounding truth: In their fight for states’ rights, the white folks sure had it hard.
Holy cow, this is unbelievable to me. Stephanie, please! The majority of the people who lived in the south during the Civil War were actually Caucasians. That they didn’t represent your point-of-view doesn’t give you permission to dehumanize them. And to piss all over a film like this because it had the audacity to tell a story about southern whites without glamorizing them is, well, it’s just absurd. Why does everything Civil War have to be about slavery? Do we simply dismiss the lives of rural southerners because they lived in the same vicinity as the plantation owners? Guilt by association? Are you suggesting the decision to skirt the issue invalidates the film?

But why am I ranting? Perhaps it’s because I live in the south as a transplanted Yankee. I don’t know. This writer is certainly entitled to her opinion. That’s why God made critics. I just find the automatic descent into political correctness to be intellectual blindness, and it infuriates me that a writer would use the opportunity of an excellent film to relentlessly vomit such stuff. There. I’m done.