August 2, 2007
Google Ponders Spectrum Bid
Google is being coy about whether or not it will bid in the 700 MHz spectrum auction since it didn't get two of the four conditions that it wants from the FCC. The text of the rules won't be out for some time, so there's no point in committing or not. At the same time, however, the statements coming out of Google suggest that they could still be in the market.
Two stories in Ars Technica highlight this. One goes on about the positive chatter praising the Commission's decision. The other reveals the existence of several models of Google phones shopped around to the major wireless carriers (other than AT&T). Google may be getting into the wireless business one way or another, and likely with a price point that would appeal to consumers, assuming they could put up with ads. And you know who will get the lion share of the ad money on a Google phone no matter who the carrier. If Microsoft can work on an ad supported version of the Works Suite, why not an ad supported Google phone.
August 1, 2007
FCC Posts Materials on Wireless Auction
Statements, press releases, and other material related to yesterday's vote on the wireless spectrum auction are now on the main page of the FCC web site.
YouTube To Implement Copyright Filters in Fall
YouTube announced last week that it will offer filtering technology for videos on the site. Copyright holders would provide digital fingerprints that YouTube would use to detect illegal videos during the upload process. Once detected, the upload would halt, thus keeping the world safe from, say, Stephen Colbert. Viacom was thrilled at the new system coming, which should be sometime this fall. That joy, however, did not extend to the suit at hand, which Viacom said they would nonetheless prosecute with full vigor.
No other details are available on how the system works, whether it can distinguish between copyright violations and fair use of copyrighted material and whether there will be a process to sort all of that out short of a lawsuit.
July 31, 2007
FCC Votes For Open Access in Spectrum Auction
The Federal Communications Commission approved auction rules today for the 700MHz spectrum currently occupied by analog broadcasters. The rules included an open access provision but not a wholesale resale provision that Google had asked for as part of a potential bid. The question is whether Google will bid under these circumstances. The idea behind open access is to give consumers the opportunity to connect any device and use any software on those devices. Assuming AT&T and Verizon win the spectrum, they could likely offer that freedom without necessarily supporting the problems that open access would create. More likely they would urge clients to switch to their more restrictive plans.
Google has teamed up with Sprint to offer Google services on the Sprint WiMax network. This may be a budding relationship that could see a partnership on a joint bid by the two companies. Google's relationship with the two major telcos is frosty at best, so don't count Google out on some form of competition.
More on this as the situation develops.
I haven't been able to post as much as I wanted to last week because of recurring power problems due to storms in the Chicago area last week and the week before. I just want to add my voice to wishing Paul Caron a belated happy birthday. Paul is the founder of the LawProfs Network of blogs and the author of the TaxProf Blog. For all of us who slog in front of a computer, Paul is an inspiration to us all. Only the power company can keep the message from getting out.
News From the Digital Music Biz
AT&T has joined up with eMusic to provide direct to handset music downloads. eMusic is the leading source for independent label artists and the number 2 online music store after Apple's iTunes. The service will be available to select handsets from Samsung and Nokia. The iPhone is not part of this service. Tracks will be way more expensive over the air at 5 songs for $7.49, compared to the 30 tracks for $9.99 at the eMusic site. Cost of wireless transmission is blamed for the increase. Consumers will be able to download mp3s of the same music at the site as part of the deal. eMusic is notable for selling tracks without DRM.
iTunes has grown to 3 billion downloads as of today. This news puts Apple at number 3 in music retailing, just behind Best Buy and the ubiquitous Wal-Mart. Amazon slipped to number 4. Apple may be happy over this but the labels probably have mixed feelings. They, of course, would love to see more revenue from the deal through higher prices for songs. Though Universal refused to re-up with iTunes recently, they haven't had the nerve to pull catalog yet. As of now Universal is stuck with Steve Job's 99 cents mandate until they can come up with something better. Well, good luck with that.
And then there's the story about how social network sites are the "new" radio for consumers. Yes, in the old days radio was exempt from paying certain royalties because of the free advertising the labels received for their artists. Everyone went along with that one until the invention of mass-marketed tape recorders. Now the battle is over locking down content that streams over the Internet.
Enter social networking sites. Everyone in the world seems to have a page up on MySpace or Facebook (not me, though, so don't look for one). And mostly everyone who does have a page seems to embed music on those pages as a way for expressing themselves. Bands also have pages for themselves. People who browse for friends and bands also browse the music. 53%, in fact, actively surf social sites to discover new music. 30% of those go to buy or download that music. The problem is that there is no easy way to buy that music at the point of discovery.
This is all from a survey by the law firm Olswang and reported on by the BBC. 46% of those surveyed wish they could buy music through a "Buy-it-now" button. That would be difficult as its hard to tell these days who owns the rights to what, unless it went to a central store where everyone contributed catalog. Any social networking music store would have to compete with iTunes on price and offerings. That hasn't developed in any significant amount with other web music stores. The labels could capitalize on social networking by cutting some sort of deal with the sites, though they probably would chafe over being told what's popular by consumers. Their model has always been to tell consumers what they want. This is uncharted territory for them, literally.
The survey has some numbers for piracy as well. The number of people claiming to download music illegally has risen to 43% in 2007, up from 36% in 2006. Legal downloads grew 16% in 2007. Growth was 40% in 2005 and 2006. There are more results, many of them that will upset the labels efforts in controlling their product.
If that doesn't get to them, then the story of Prince giving away about 3 million copies of his latest release with a Sunday issue of the Daily Mail in the U.K. will. Record shops were angered at this distribution of music as a cheap commodity. Sony BMG, Prince's record company, was not thrilled at the idea, as they are trying to sell the disc everywhere else in the world. Copies are available for download on the Internet and on eBay. Sony isn't going to make much off this one, but Prince likely will through shows and the sale of other promotional items. Music may become (or already is) a commodity, but the unique performance of the artist will never fall in that category. This may be the future for musicians, where recorded music is (disposable) promotional material for the live show.
July 30, 2007
Wikia Picks Up Grub Web Crawler
The Wikia search engine project is back in the news with the acquisition of the Grub web crawler from LookSmart Ltd. Grub started out as open source, went proprietary under LookSmart and will be released again as open source under Wikia. It works on a distributed computing model where the community offers unused processing time to power the software.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikia, is playing down the new search engine entry scheduled to appear in December. He notes that when Wikipedia started that it only had three articles on it. That's changed, of course. The idea is to give the search engine time to develop substance. And one wonders what that substance will be. For example, the top searches on Google right now (via Google Trends) are:
- bill walsh
- danica mckellar
- port clyde maine
- steve walsh
- luis castillo
- bodhi elfman
- american home mortgage
- kevin archer
- dawn fratangelo
- eric wishnie
The first and third are driven by immediate news that Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers passed away, and that Chief Justice Roberts fell in his Maine home and had to be taken to the hospital. Other searches beyond the top 10 include baseball trades (the deadline is near), celebrities, diseases, and events.
One of the strengths of Google and the others is to index vast amounts of ephemeral information that is ever changing. This may or may not be the market for Wikia, just as movie tickets or DVD sale sites may not be part of the equation. The acquisition of a credible web crawler by Wikia may make all of this irrelevant. We'll see if Wikia caters to the masses.