Content and services

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39

Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.

The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.

This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:

  • The lack of bandwidth is killing our Main Street businesses.
  • No one can work from home because the bandwidth available is too limited.
  • We are having a hard time attracting families because services like Netflix and Hulu are unusuable, and the kids are revolting.

    Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.

    In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.

  • The Internet is making us anxious

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 10:40

    A new study suggests that being "connected" all the time takes a toll on our psyche. An experiment with hundreds of college students suggests that some cellphone users experience high levels of anxiety and lower academic performance because they cannot put the phone down.

    I see this in some meetings, where younger people are obsessively playing with their phones while most folks over forty are more engaged in the meeting and paying more attention to what is actually happening in the room.

    Death of TV: Part LXII: Video uses half of Internet bandwidth

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/13/2013 - 08:29

    A new report illustrates just how dire the situation is for the cable companies; Netflix and YouTube use half of all the bandwidth on the Internet. Cable TV is brain dead, but the body is still on life support. There is no future in cable, and satellite will be the next to go as more fiber is deployed into areas unserved by cable. This is not a matter of "if" anymore, it's all about the "when." I think it is safe to say that most of the country will have fiber connections by 2025.

    Death of TV: Part LXI: Some interesting data about IPTV

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/30/2013 - 13:32

    This new study shows Internet use has entered most households in the U.S., with 78% online. And 92% of those households have some kind of broadband...typically "little broadband" from DSL or cable providers. The most interesting statistic is that growth in households dropping traditional TV has increased about 13% in the past two years, from 8% of household to 9% of households. If that percentage does not increase (which seems unlikely), in ten years, OTT and other IP-TV services will have about half the market. If the rate of change increases to around 20% or 25% per year, the draws near much more quickly for the cable TV companies.

    Who will win the OTT battle?

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/30/2013 - 07:44

    Apple and Roku are dominating the IP set top box market, with Apple owning 56% of this still small market segment. I'm not convinced that Apple or Roku will ultimately end up with a major portion of this market, as the total number of households that have converted to OTT is still very small. Rapid market growth in the next several years could let a yet unidentified firm capture a big portion of this. As Blackberry has demonstrated so aptly, having a big marketshare early does not automatically lead to market dominance.

    But I've been saying for years that traditional cable TV, and to a lesser extent, satellite TV, is dead, dead, dead. It is an antiquated business model predicated on sixty year old coax technology. And satellite TV uses the same business model over a similarly bandwidth-constrained medium.

    But Apple certainly has an early lead, and Google's Chromecast seems to be off to a slow start, but Google can play the long game. And startups like SimulTV may tear off an interesting piece of the market because they have changed the interaction model completely. If companies like SimulTV can master the content license problems, a lot of people will use their services.

    Death of TV: Part LX: The death of TV and radio

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/26/2013 - 07:23

    We're watching the death of traditional "TV" and traditional "radio" in slow motion. The networks are going to be the big losers. At one time, they provided a useful service as an intermediary between content producers and watchers/listeners, but today, the content owners can cut out the middleman completely. I just heard an ad from a radio commentator who was promoting her iPhone app. It is free, and allows you to listen to her radio show live from your iPhone, but also automatically downloads the podcast version so you can listen to it later....no radio "channel" required.

    The idea that network owners like Comcast can somehow force their customer base to use their network by buying and owning content like NBC is really mis-guided, as there are so many other content options out there.

    Once again, the old adage is true: "The Internet regards censorship (or control) as damage and routes around it." Comcast's control of NBC looks like damage to Internet users, and alternates routes to content will and are forming.

    Death of TV: Part XXXIX:70% of those under 35 are using online video

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:18

    This short article from Fiber to the Home Council pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why communities need Gigabit broadband. In a survey of 2000 households in North America, 70% of those under 35 years of age are using over the top (OTT) video services like Netflix and Hulu, just two of the rapidly proliferating companies providing OTT video.

    Even more interesting is that the survey shows the average broadband household has at least FIVE Internet connected devices...and so you have to design the network to support the possibility that all five devices are having video streamed to them at the same time.

    Finally, half of the group under 35 have never bought any traditional package of cable/satellite TV.

    Repeat and rinse as often as necessary...

    TV is dead.
    TV is dead.
    TV is dead.
    TV is dead....you get the idea.

    Creative Destruction: The end of the cash register

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/08/2013 - 09:22

    The Square Stand converts an iPad into a full-featured cash register and credit card scanner. The cash register business started dying in the eighties, and I've been to the site of the National Cash Register company in Dayton, Ohio. The massive complex that built cash registers for most of the twentieth century is mostly gone. Where huge warehouses and assembly lines stood, the University of Dayton marching band (the Pride of Dayton) now rehearses their half time routines. And the last NCR building is now a classroom complex for the University of Dayton.

    We so often hear about the jobs lost through "automation" and "computers," but the news media usually fails to point out all the new businesses being created. Apple is now a major supplier of "cash registers," along with companies like Square. NCR failed to adapt, and the free market rewarded the companies that did change and adjust to new technology with growth and new jobs. The "record" business, including CDs, is nearly dead, but the "iPod" business has spawned thousands of new businesses and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

    The Kindle review

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/27/2013 - 08:55

    My kids gave me a Kindle a year ago for Father's Day. It was not a gadget I had lusted after, and it was a bit of a surprise. It's the cheapest one, with ads. After using it for a year, you'd have to fight me to take it away from me.

    What I really like is the ability to walk around with twenty or thirty books in my reading queue, without the weight or the bulk. I've always been a voracious reader, and the Kindle lets me stack up what I want to read at less cost and with much greater convenience. My one gripe is not really about the Kindle itself, but that the airlines won't let us use it (or any other small device) during take off and landing. That is the one big advantage retained by paper books.

    I'm skeptical about the whole interference thing. Somebody is pulling our legs on this, as I read these hair-raising reports that the plane's instruments all went haywire but stopped when the person in row 4 turned off their iPhone. Meanwhile, the airlines have replaced many pounds of paper flight documents that the pilots always had to lug around with iPads. Huh? Are our planes really so fragile that the tiny amount of RF energy emitted by a phone or a Kindle can cause a plane to crash? Really? Really?

    Laptops are another matter, and there is a different safety issue with them, as they are heavy enough to become a missile if there was severe turbulence or a sudden stop during take off or landing. But it peeves me that I can't read with my Kindle during a large part of many short flights.

    Google+ fixes and misses

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/21/2013 - 13:06

    Google+ was recently updated with an improved interface, but this article points out that Google+ still has a big problem with the way it handles your identify. Currently, Google ties your Google+ account to a single Google email account, which is not the way most of the other big social network sites do it--they typically let you assign a primary email account, have secondary accounts, and don't force you to sign in or use your email address as your userid.

    As Facebook has slowly ruined what little interface consistency it had, I'd really like to see Google+ become a viable alternative, particularly for business use--Facebook is wretched in that regard. But Google+ still has some growing up to do.

    Death of TV: Part XXXVII: Apple TV still in the game

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 08:44

    Apple has announced a modest upgrade to its underrated Apple TV box. The thing that caught my interest is that Apple TV now supports wireless Bluetooth keyboards. Why is this important? With the proliferation of special purpose boxes like the Apple TV, users are stuck entering things like userids, passwords, and other information using the extremely tedious and clumsy right/left/up/down arrows on the remote control. That gets old quickly. Being able to enter that information with a keyboard is a major change for the better in user experience. Despite that fact that I really like my Logitech Skype cam, I use it less than I would otherwise just to avoid the data entry. And once you attach a keyboard and mouse to something like Apple TV, well, you have a computer, as we once called them. Suddenly you can handle email, correspondence, light bookkeeping, and other "PC" chores on a box that costs $99 instead of $599. And you can watch what we used to call "TV" on the same $99 box.

    Who loses? The cable companies, despite the fact that they have crushed the telephone companies' feeble DSL offerings, are about to collapse. IPTV via inexpensive boxes like Apple TV are about to destroy the cable TV industry.

    The spammers have beaten me

    Submitted by admin on Thu, 01/24/2013 - 10:10

    I have turned off comments on this site. I'm being deluged with spammer requests for userids, and I simply don't have the time to even delete them, much less try to identify the occasional legitimate reader who really wants to post something. Commenting has always been light, so I don't think the quality of the site will suffer much. For those of you that have contributed in the past, my thanks.

    Death of Telephone, Part I: LinkedIn offers free voice calling to members

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 10:55

    LinkedIn has announced free voice calling for its members. The business directory service has been adding new features recently, layering Facebook and Twitter style features on top of its basic resume and business contact services. In partnership with Plingm, a Swedish mobile VoIP provider (think Skype), any LinkedIn member will be able to initiate a voice call with any other LinkedIn member anywhere in the world. To take advantage of the service, you have to download the Plingm app for your smartphone.

    This may or may not turn out to be especially useful, as mobile operators continue to try to discourage using the cellular data network to originate voice calls. If this became popular, who needs a phone number and the $25 to $40 per month cellular voice service? Instead, everyone would just want to drop the hugely profitable voice service and just pay for the cellular data service, which is causing the cellular providers nothing but headaches as they try to keep their networks upgraded to meet the ever-expanding demand.

    Traditional phone service is dead, and the telephone companies are firmly determined to keep applying CPR to the rapidly decaying corpse as long as possible.

    Is everything going to look like Facebook?

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 16:08

    Both LinkedIn and Twitter have been rolling out "enhancements" to their interfaces to make them look, feel, and behave more like Facebook. I'm already suffering from information overload, so giving me even more places to look for and access even more information than I already have seems to me to be more like a bug than a feature. And Facebook fails utterly at coherent interface design, so the mad rush to be "just like Facebook" really is a bug, not a feature.

    Gmail can read your attachments

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/02/2012 - 10:08

    Gmail can now read many kinds of attachments. It is touted as a benefit to users, as a Gmail user can search not just the text of emails, but also the text of attachments stored on Gmail. But it also means Google will be searching those attachments as well and using the information it finds to fine-tune the kinds of ads it delivers to you.

    Apple's reinvention of TV hitting rough spots

    Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/06/2012 - 13:28

    According to a Bloomberg report, Apple is finding it difficult to re-imagine TV. Content providers are scared to death that Apple will be successful in creating a better TV experience. The problem is that the cable companies are deeply involved with the content providers...recall that Comcast, as one example, owns a big chunk of NBC. The cable companies have decided to go down with their own ship; they are going to cling to the sixty year old analog cable model until their last customers swim away the S.S. TitanicCableCo.

    I can't really figure out what Apple has in mind that hasn't already been done. I've already ditched cable TV, and am quite content with cheap Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. Why do I need to buy a box from Apple? It's not that hard to bookmark the Netflix site and click on something in my queue. This is one area where I don't Apple really can bring some fresh new user interface experience a la the iPod or the iPhone and win.

    Death of TV: Part XXXVI: Netflix and HBO to dump "TV"

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 13:54

    The clash of the Titans is on....Netflix and HBO are taking the gloves off in Northern Europe. Both content companies are ditching cable and satellite TV to offer their movies and "TV" shows as IP-TV offerings. No cable or satellite TV subscription required. Meanwhile there are bunches of small start ups that are negotiating "channel" line ups for a pure IP-TV offering; their plan is to offer bundles of niche channels (e.g. The Food Channel, the Golf Channel) at a very low monthly subscription price. Once subscribed, you can pick out any show you want and watch it anytime you want, much like Hulu.

    Apple's iCloud disaster

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 13:37

    I hope other iCloud users are having better experiences than I am. From my perspective, it's a mess that makes its mostly awful predecessor, MobileMe, look pretty good by comparison. Here are the problems I am having:

    I could keep going, but you get the idea. iCloud is a big mess. The only thing I notice it does very well is keep your music in sync across several computers. I can buy a song from iTunes on my iPhone, and a few seconds later it is in my iTunes library on my laptop. Leave it to Apple to make sure the big money maker (i.e. selling music) works okay. Everything, not so much. Somebody really should be fired over this.

    Virtual grocery shopping

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/09/2012 - 07:37

    Shop for groceries at the bus station? That's something you can already do in South Korea, where the traditional grocery store is being nudged out of the way by an interesting new approach to shopping that combines a large "aisle" display and QR codes. A kiosk shows a typical array of products that would be found on one aisle of a grocery store. You hold up your smartphone, scan the QR code of the product you want, and that item gets added to your virtual shopping cart. The groceries are delivered later in the day, after commuters are home from work.

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