Michael Powell, FCC Chair to Go

Michael Powell FCCThe Wall Street Journal is reporting that US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Michael Powell, will be leaving his position today.

The rumours of his departure have been circulating for a long time, but what is unexpected is that he is resigning the day after George Bush’s inauguration.

Powell has had his detractors and his supporters. He’s acted as a liberaliser – opening up the VoIP market, and, in some peoples eyes, a restrictor – last year he authorised fines in excess of $7.7 million for indecent programming.

He will, for us, for ever be remembered for calling a TiVo “God’s machine“.

Overall we think he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of technology advances. We hope his replacement will show a similar enthusiasm.

WSJ – FCC Chairman Powell Plans to Step Down (reg. req.)
Seattle Post-Intelligencer – Officials: FCC Chairman Powell to resign

Paid-for music downloads up 10x in 2004: IFPI Report

The IFPI, has reported very positive sales figures for the 2004 and have even higher hopes for 2005.

The IFPI was previously known as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, but it looks like they’re probably trying to phase the full name out – it’s far from easy to find it explained on their site. They’re the equivalent to the non-US RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), to which it is affiliated.

Building on their IFPI Online Music Report of last year, they have found some pretty positive figures.

Online sites that are able to sell music have quadrupled from 50 in the previous year to 230. The tracks that are available to purchase through these sites have doubled to 1 million, and paid-for downloads are up nearly tenfold to 200 million. For the full run down of stats, it’s best to check the IFPA site.

It’s with the benefit of hindsight that John Kennedy, IFPI Chairman and CEO now says “The biggest challenge for the digital music business has always been to make music easier to buy than to steal.” From our recollection, this was certainly a minority view within the music business previously. Their previous approach had been to try and stop the unpaid-for file sharing, while not being particularly co-operative with companies wanting to sell their music. As we all know, it was the release of Apple iTunes music store that changed their view.

We’re encouraged to hear they’re now grabbing digital distribution with both hands. “The record industry’s priority now is to licence music – to as many services, for as many consumers, on as many formats and devices for use in as many places and countries as it can,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Giving further details of the guidelines for signing up distribution services he said, “The straightforward conditions are that the business must be legitimate, the music must be correctly licensed, and record companies and other rights holders must get properly paid.” All good, except there is still some discussion within the industry on what “get properly paid” entails in digital distribution, with many feeling that electronic distribution should bring lower prices than current rates.

The IFPI say they see the “digital music market taking off in 2005”. If 2004 saw paid-for downloads up more than tenfold to over 200 million, they must be jumping with joy in anticipation of the figures for 2005.

IFPI Digital Music Report 2005

Creative’s Zen Micro – iPod Fight Back Plans Emerge

Zen Micro Creative Labs

The word has been going around that Creative Labs intends 2005 to be the year that they unseat Apple as the major supplier of music players. They reported selling 2 million in the last two months and certainly, with the growth of digital music, the prize for success would be large.

Some of the details of Creative’s marketing plans are now starting to surface by way of UK sales house Emap advertising.

They’re putting a considerable amount of money behind the campaign, with £3m being muted by Brand Republic (reg. req.). Not only will it run over 13 channels, but Emap’s in-house creative team is making a 70-sec video that has three different endings, targeted at the pop, rock, and urban audiences. The channels are owned by three different operators (Emap, Sky, and Chart Show) and representing 60% of the music channels available to UK Sky satellite viewers.

By attaching themselves to TV music channels that their 16- to 34-year-old target audience watch, they’re hoping for ‘cool’ association, as well as being permanently in front of them.

The campaign will focus on the 5/6Gb Zen micro player which, in our view, has the looks to become an object of desire.

Buy the Zen Micro from Amazon (UK, US)

Centrino Chips Get Updated by Intel

Today Intel release information about their new Centrino range of chips, aimed at notebook computers.

The release of the code-named “Sonoma” chip has been delayed for several months as Intel ironed out some problems they had been having with the chips. Intel hopes it will further bolster their current 85% dominance of notebook chips.

Such is the keenness of the laptop manufacturers to bring the machines to market that Sony have already released their FS range and Toshiba the less than catch-ly named Dynabook VX 470LS notebook. It is understood that 80 laptops with the new chippery will be available from today, with that number growing to 150 by the end of the year.

Intel have been very crafty with the Centrino range, which includes microprocessor; wireless; and supporting chips providing sound and graphics, as the Centrino brand cannot be used unless the entire bundle of chips is bought from Intel.

As is always the case with the introduction with a new range of chips, the new models will come in at about the same price of the previous high end chips and the current offering will slide down in price. Expect some bargains.


ntl On Demand Brings VOD to Glasgow

ntl VOD BBC Pick of the weekToday ntl turned on its much-anticipated Video On Demand (VOD) service in Glasgow.

Accessible to all Glaswegian ntl subscribers who have the digital TV service, it features free and paid for content including advertiser-free children’s programmes, a ‘Pick of the Week’ option showing a selection of top shows from the previous seven days, a film service, a music video jukebox service, and adult content.

No new equipment is needed at the subscriber’s house, as the software in their current Set Top Box (STB) is automatically updated.

The content is accessed either by pressing the On Demand button on the remote control or by pressing the Red button while watching one of the promotional channels.

The Pick of the Week channel will be provided by the BBC in a six month initial trial. The editorial decision of what is included will rest with the BBC, and it’s expected that a range of shows will be available, including favourites (not ours) such as Eastenders. Each show will be available for seven days from its transmission and it’ll be free to access.

The viewer will have the option to pay for content too, giving then 24 hours access to the content. The cost of the items will be added to their monthly bill.

The film service is supplied by FilmFlex, a separate company run by On Demand Management in a joint venture with Sony and Disney, with “Hundreds of titles, current and classic” films available from 50p to £2. Out of general interest, On Demand applied for the FilmFlex trade mark back in September 2004.

Over 30 hours of Children’s advertiser-free programming is on offer for 20p-50p. Music videos can also be paid for (range 20p-£1.50) with over 35 hours available.

The high price ticket at £7 and largest number of hours of content (over 50) available goes to the Adult content supplied by Playboy.

Coincidentally, Glasgow was also the city chosen to launch ntl’s digital TV service back in May 2000. We imagine that the number of subscribers is manageably low (we did ask for actual numbers but, “this isn’t broken out”), giving ntl a chance to observe the performance of the system and gather feedback, before spreading it around the UK.

ntl are saying they plan to roll it out regionally over the UK during the next two years and all of their 1.4 million Digital TV customers will be able to receive the service. When we asked about the number of non-digital customers, we were told it was in the single percentage figures, possibly as low as 2-3%. Although asked, they decided to keep the order of the planned rollout cities to themselves.

In a statement Simon Duffy, Chief Executive Officer of ntl, said, “VOD is TV the way it’s meant to be.”

Telewest also launched a VOD service today, Homechoice have offered VOD in London and KIT have also been providing VOD in Kingston-upon-Hull for a number of years. ntl
On Demand management

HD Radio – More Channels or Music Sales to Bring Income?

The US radio industry is looking to make additional income from music downloads, we’re told by Reuters – while listening to the radio, they’ll be able to select the playing track for paid download.

The piece announces the catch-all snappy name of HD Radio, that’s iBiquity Digital’s offering, which digitised the FM and AM bands. European readers will be well aware of equivalent FM services under the banner of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) which has been available for a considerable period of time, and the currently lesser known drm (Digital Radio Mondial, not Digital Rights Management) which offers FM-quality listening on the AM frequencies.

The benefits brought by HD Radio/DAB/drm are digital compression of the audio, enabling more radio stations to be broadcast on the same amount of frequency. As the broadcast is digital, additional information can be distributed with it, such as the name of the artist and track playing.

As with all things compressed for digital distribution, there is a balacing act between number of stations and the audio quality of those stations. Digital doesn’t have to equal quality. The quality of the audio isn’t assured – the amount of the compression directly controls the quality.

US “terrestrial radio”, as it is being called by some to differentiate it from its satellite-delivered competitor, is under pressure from numerous sources; satellite radio (XM AND Sirius); Nokia’s Visual Radio; Internet-based radio stations; digital music player; podcasting, and don’t appear to have acted that quickly to respond.

The current cost of radios to receive HD radio are in the range of $500-$1,000 (~€382-€764, ~£270-£540), but as we’ve seen in the UK with DAB, it’s just a matter of time before these drop to the £49 (~€70, ~$91) levels, as more efficient chip sets become developed and a mass market is formed.

We found the comments by Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of distribution development at the dominant US radio station company, Clear Channel, the most illuminating, “We don’t think the business model associated with downloads is nearly as attractive as adding additional audio channels.”

In Clear Channels view there’s still more money to be made from advertising revenue than from music downloads, not least because they don’t have to share the revenue raised with the record companies – who are not known for their willingness to take small proportion of sales.

Radio Broadcasters Mull Digital Music Stores: Reuters

Intel Reshuffle Around Platforms

Sensing the changes in the micro-electronics industry, with the growth of tech/media convergence, Intel are to reorganise themselves around Platforms.

The new groups of interest are Mobility; Digital Enterprise; Digital Home; and Digital Health.

Mobility will deal with, surprise surprise, portable devices such as notebook PCs, handhelds and communications devices. A major focus will be getting the expanding numbers of mobile devices working better together using, we assume, wireless networking.

Focused on living room entertainment applications and consumer electronics devices, the Digital Home group will focus on developing computing and communications platforms for consumers.

Digital Enterprise Group will cover end-to-end solutions in businesses. With digital delivery of content, this is becoming more and more important to content owners/current broadcasters and an area that IBM is putting a lot of effort into try to capture.

One of the big areas of excitement for the connected home is its use of health sensing. Intel are jumping on this with the Digital Health group.

This is a clear illustration of the growth of the electronics business away from its business focused roots, maturing in to a new phase, one where technology will be everywhere.


Motorola and Oakley Form JV for Wireless Products

Motorola and Oakley to form a new venture to fuse Motorola’s latest Bluetooth technology with Oakley’s glasses. First designs are expect mid-2005.

The details are thin on the ground at the moment but lots of phrases that could mean anything are being bounded around by both sides. Here’s a couple; “enabling seamlessly mobile wireless communications anywhere and everywhere consumers want to be” – Motorola; “expanding the possibilities for our new electronics category” – Oakley.

Perversely the Oakley Safe Harbor Disclaimer is about twice as long as the information provided.

Back in September Oakley released their MP3-player sunglasses, the Oakley Thump, which have been well reviewed, despite their high cost for not much storage.

Motorola have of late (and to some effect) worked hard to try and recapture their position in the mobile phone market, having lost out to other phone companies considerably. They’ve designed products that they hoped would be more appealing to the youth market and have spent extensively on marketing.

This deal with Oakley looks like another step in that direction, as it brings with it ‘cred’.

Cos Lykos, Vice President of Business Development said “Oakley’s engineering team now has an expanded technology arsenal to develop new and innovative electronic products.” So it’s highly possible that some interesting products could come out of it.


The Sun launch Page 3 Soft Porn to Mobile Phones

Sun MobileNews International, the publisher of well known UK tabloid ‘newspaper’, The Sun, has opened the doors on its own mobile content service that it calls Sun Mobile.

It will feature ringtones, java games and … you guessed it … Page 3 wallpapers and screen savers. For our non-UK readers, Page 3 of the Sun is dominated by a photo of a topless (at least) woman.

The service won’t be short of promotion. The Sun website, Sun Online, has around 3m users, with half of its traffic coming from the US and Canada. The printed paper has a circulation of 9 million.

Despite The Sun having a presence on the Vodafone live! and Orange World portals, News International (NI) has set up their own mobile site, developed by Blue Start Mobile. It will be accessible in over 130 countries around the world, thanks to NI’s deal with Bango.

Many mobile content providers are discontented with what they see as unbalanced, operator-biased revenue splits that the mobile phone company are currently offering in the UK. It sounds to us like NI has recognised this, as Simon Ashley the commercial manager dealing with the launch points out, “Sun Mobile gives us direct, interactive relationship with our customers on mobile.”

Sun Mobile (contains nudity)

RocketFM – Unleash Your Computers Audio to FM Radio

Griffin RocketFMWow, Griffin Technologies are busy. Following a flood of announcements from them in the build up to MacWorld including the SmartDeck iPod cassette adaptor, they’ve just announced RocketFM.

Building on their idea of transmitting iPod music to FM radios, RocketFM is a USB FM Transmitter for PC or Macintosh that takes the sound from your computer to an FM radio that you might have knocking around.

The software that comes with it, lets the broadcasting frequency be chosen by the user, to avoid clashed with your favourite stations.

Costing $39.95 it will starting shipping in the US in the first quarter of 2005.

Different countries around the world have different rules on the use of this type of device. Quite a few countries in Northern Europe, including Sweden, Austria, Iceland and the UK, don’t like you broadcasting on FM, no matter how weak the signal.

Ofcom, the UK super regulator, has been very clear about their dislike of such devices, like iTrip. It contravenes the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949 and use of one in the UK could in theory be met with the maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Griffin RocketFM