Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cord Cutters Rejoice In Competition

For those that have cut the cord to cable TV, a new competitor may be trying to woo you back.  The acquisition of DirecTv by AT&T has opened up a new streaming service of cable channels called DirecTv Now.  And with an introductory price of just $35 a month, subscribers will get access initially to 60+ channels; spend a little more and get more packages of services.  Of course there is the added fee of broadband access and AT&T is offering its customers no data charges to access the service.  That is a huge win for AT&T Wireless and DirecTv Now customers. Data streaming costs could potentially add to customer spending should they choose these streaming services over cable. 

DirecTv is the latest entrant in the streaming business for live channels.  They will be competing with Dish Network's Sling TV and Sony's Playstation Vue.  If live isn't important and on demand is what you care about, then you can always continue subscribing to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others.  But should live streaming become a lucrative business, expect these services to try and build out their business to include access to live channels, too.

Can cable television operators like Comcast and Charter find subscribers coming to them or fleeing for these streaming services?  It depends on what low cost packages they offer to retain their value proposition.  Unfortunately where I live, Comcast has announced plans to raise fees for its various services.  Comcast and others will have to rely on its other businesses to grow.  What affect this cable price increase has on its subscriber base will be seen next year in its quarterly earnings statement.  I fear they may be hurt as streaming services like DirecTv Now take a bigger and bigger bite from their cable business. 

DirecTv Now isn't taking their new business for granted.  Reaching out to younger demo audiences, they have created an exclusive channel around pop music star Taylor Swift.  Expect more content exclusivity to be announced across all competitors to woo customers to subscribe and retain their respective services.  Competition will be good news overall for customers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Should Amazon Add A Sport Tier?

If there was a piece of content that truly helped to drive usage, then it must be live sports.  It has been both a blessing and a curse for those that seek to license it and distribute it.  Sunday Night NFL on NBC has helped the broadcast network build audience share and promote other content offerings.  Major league sports, including the Olympics have driven up bidding wars to attract audiences to their respective networks.  But it has come at a huge cost, too.

Look at ESPN and the success it has had over the years from live sports.  From picking up baseball games and Monday Night Football to major tennis and soccer coverage, ESPN has built a large following and become an important network on any cable providers' line-up.  But the cost to license this content has also driven up their license fees to those same providers which then increase their subscriber fees to the customer.  And finally the customer has pushed back, through cord cutting, and ESPN finds itself losing its subscriber base.  ESPN's parent company, Disney, may now be mulling spinning or selling off the ESPN brand. 

 Enter the next technology platform post cable called streaming which is attracting those cord cutters to subscribe and watch.  Amazon Prime offers movies and TV shows but may now see that to compete in this space it must offer live content too.  And they potentially see the answer in sports content.  According to the Wall Street Journal, "the e-commerce giant has been in talks with heavy hitters like the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League for the rights to carry live games, according to people familiar with the matter. It also has talked with soccer, lacrosse and surfing leagues, the people said." 

Any streaming rights deals negotiated by Amazon might lead to lower license fees for ESPN's cable carriage.  Or Amazon might consider talking to Disney about buying ESPN.  Still given the already high costs of sports content, one worries if any profit can be squeezed out.  With rising costs, both on TV and at the respective sporting event, customers can no longer afford to go to the game keep a cable subscription with a sports package.  Ratings have leveled off, if not dropped, and sports content may have lost some value. 

Is sports the right move for Amazon to grow its streaming business?  Will customers pay more for content that once was free on broadcast TV and less free on cable.  Or will it ultimately shrink the customer base, lessen interest and shift viewer interest to other content.  Interestingly, this year's political coverage did just that, shifting eyeballs away from the game to the debates and other election coverage.  And it ultimately showed that even sports can be beat. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Malone Speculates A Different Future For Disney

Given the high cost of sports content and the decline in subscriber numbers, ESPN may no longer be the darling brand of the Disney organization.  And at a recent conference, John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media speculated "that The Walt Disney Co. could spin off ESPN, merging the rest of its operations with a deep pocketed suitor, perhaps Apple", according to Multichannel.  But is ESPN such an albatross and does a sale make sense.

Truthfully, sports programming costs are high and continue to go higher.  It has forced the channel to continue to raise subscriber fees and advertising rates, and push more ad minutes into every hour.  The result has been consumers no longer watching and a drop in ratings.  Still, could ESPN be fixed instead of sold.  They could drop expensive programming deals like NFL and pursue other programming choices.  They could deliver a streaming model, ala HBO Now, with exclusive content not accessible elsewhere.  Sports has been a driver of consumer interest and the opportunity to recapture eyeballs seems viable.

Regardless of whether Disney sells or spins off ESPN or not, a partner like Apple does seem to make sense.  The two had a very close relationship when Steve Jobs was alive and sold Pixar to Disney.  And content is what Apple needs to drive its Apple TV device.  Hopefully other synergies, including the theme parks would help to drive Apple product sales.  Malone claims to not have an inside scoop to this idea, but he certainly sees the possibility, as do I. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Demise Of Cable TV

The threat of cord cutting is affecting many cable operators and networks.  Nielsen just announced that ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in just a month.  And other networks are feeling similar losses of subscribers and the fees they receive.  Many attribute cord cutting to the high costs of a cable subscription but there may be other influences.

In the early days of cable TV, many homes were lucky to get more than 35 channels delivered to their cable box.  They included your local broadcast channels, and nets like USA, ESPN, MTV, and CNN.  Over time, more channels were created and technology was pushed to add more channels to the home.  Each new channel tried to offer something new to the mix.  Unfortunately over time, as channels proliferated, they stopped looking niche and different and started to morph into general entertainment.  Bravo once represented a high arts and culture channel, MTV was short form music videos, and TV Land was classic TV shows.  Not anymore.

The NY Times wrote of another channel that has made the same switch from its core programming to general entertainment.  SundanceTV, once known as the Sundance Channel, a showcase for independent film and documentaries, will be presenting a daily daytime block of classic TV shows including All In The Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and M*A*S*H.  Shows already found on other broadcast nets as well as other cable nets like Me-TV and Decade.  Shows that once were the staple of the TV Land channel, but no longer as they have delved into new original programming.  This is not to criticize these particular channels since every other channel is doing similar moves to broaden their appeal with general entertainment style programming to appeal to the widest audience and drive ratings and ad dollars.  But it leaves viewers dissatisfied. 

As The NY Times correctly states, "The truth is that a day is about 20 hours too long for many cable channels to sustain a coherent identity."  And so they fill the majority of their day with programming that could be placed on any other channel.  Channel brands get lost as they all start to look alike.  No longer is AMC a movie channel, no longer is A&E high arts and entertainment, no longer is CMT country music.  They have become generic wannabees of each other without focus.  The industry let too many channels to form with similar formats and once they got tired of competing within their niche went forward to compete with every other channel. And to do that they needed to broaden their reach with general entertainment shows. 

Add to that a bigger load of commercials every hour and the TV viewer has become disenchanted with cable television and network brands.  They all look alike and so our search for something to watch has become purely program based and not channel based.  And it has opened the door to subscription services like Netflix and Amazon that let us pick particular shows to watch with no commercial interruption. 

Cable networks have lost their way.   The move by Sundance to add a classic TV programming block is just one example of what they are all doing.  A move from a focused genre to a "broadcast" mindset.  Too big, too many, too vanilla. It is no wonder that viewers keep pushing away from cable TV.  And it may be too late for the industry to fix itself. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Apple Should Buy A Content Company

In a world where a box is just a box and distribution needs original and exclusive content to drive growth, media is big business.  And given the insatiable appetite for content affecting every consumer, content drives usage and multiple revenue streams.  Content can be purchased, it can be rented, it can be advertised; it can be downloaded and streamed and provide rich, measurable date about the user and usage.  And Apple should invest more in the business.

It is true that Apple has been dabbling in content with a trove of downloadable content on its iTunes platform.  And it has been build out a music streaming business.  But there is much more room to grown and acquisition may be the means to building a bigger better business model.  I have suggested a bid for Time Warner for its cable programming and theatrical distribution business and I have suggested other cable networks as a stepping stone into the media production and distribution universe.  Business Insider thinks that Apple should make a play for Netflix.  In the article, Stratechery analyst Ben Thompson says ""If Apple wants its usual ownership of end users it needs to buy its way in, and that means buying Netflix." With original and acquired content, Netflix's streaming model could enhance the Apple Music value, enabling packaging scenarios to drive further adoption of both models.  And it could also add value to the Apple TV business. 

Is Apple even looking at Time Warner, Netflix or other content creators and distributors?  The worry is that Apple is not innovating enough, not driving further adoption, not expanding, and facing increased competition from those eager to push Apple off the top of the mountain.  Maintenance and remodels of current products are not enough to remain a leader; rather, it says that you are treating your business more to maintain value than drive growth.  Beyond any possible plans to create a new technological product, Apple should look at content makers like Netflix to grow its business. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Will AT&T Time Warner Deal Get Approved

The excitement caused by the latest media merger news of AT&T buying Time Warner has been tempered by concern of "too big".  And that the timing of such news is just two weeks before an important national election.  Politically speaking, both Democrats and Republicans are encouraged to speak out against the merger, as it on the surface looks to limit competition. Economically, it may be harder to press such a claim.

First, both AT&T and Time Warner will point to the Comcast NBC union as precedent to approve their deal.  Second, they will speak to the point that neither business directly competes with the other.  In fact, they each offer to the other a stronger vertical position with AT&T providing distribution through DirecTv, U-Verse, and AT&T Wireless, and Time Warner contributing strictly the content side with production, broadcast, and cable television networks, as well as some web sites.  Neither side currently plays in the other sides' world.  Third, this deal should also pass because Time Warner previously spun off their Time Warner Cable business, a direct competitor to AT&T, as a means to make their content business look more attractive.  Since then, Charter Communication picked up Time Warner Cable and that deal also passed regulatory approval.

So what will the FCC and Justice Department have to say about this merger.  Most likely, a lot with some need to set certain requirements to assure other distribution sites get equal availability to Time Warner content.  But it may be very difficult to outright deny such a deal given the above points.  Could this deal get derailed, possibly: especially if another player seeks to offer a higher priced bid.  Could that still be Apple or Google or maybe even Facebook?  Its been rumored that some of these folks have already kicked the tires a bit.  So stay tuned.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

UPDATE: AT&T Buys Time Warner

Time Warner has agreed to terms, according to multiple sources, to be purchased by AT&T.  According to USA Today, AT&T is acquiring "a diverse media portfolio that includes HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, Warner Bros., theme parks, Bleacher Report and a 10% stake in streaming service Hulu, at about $105-110 per share."  Prior to the rumor, TWX was priced around $70 a share.  It rose to $90 on Friday and will see a nice bump on Monday.  Rupert Murdoch and his Fox Network had tried previously to acquire Time Warner with an offer near $85 a share about a year ago.

Once the paper is signed, expected to happen later this weekend, the next step is likely regulatory approval by the FCC.  I would expect that some requirements will be imposed but that, since the Comcast acquisition of NBC was allowed, AT&T should have no major problems getting this deal approved as well.  A great catch for AT&T; I still wonder if Apple even kicked the tires and if so, what prevented them from putting out a competitive offer.  We may never know.

What will be the next media merger?  Will CBS and Viacom recombine, will Scripps or AMC seek a larger partner to add leverage to their deals, and will other telcos seek to bring content into their family?  Verizon went the digital route with AOL and soon Yahoo, but it may be necessary for them to look at more traditional video media producers.  For now the merger of Time Warner and AT&T is just the next leap in media mergers. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Time Warner For Sale?

If content is truly king, then its no wonder a distribution company like AT&T might want to buy Time Warner.  AT&T, who is now also the owner of DirecTv and U-Verse, recognizes the value content, especially exclusive content can bring to the distribution model.  DirecTv's deal with the NFL to exclusively offer all games, especially out of market games, to its subscribers, has been a hit.  Cable subscribers would love the chance to buy that package.  Now its parent, AT&T, may have set its eyes on a bigger content prize in Time Warner, Inc.

Time Warner, owner of the Turner cable networks including CNN, TBS, TNT and others, as well as HBO and the Warner Bros studio, may just be soliciting bids for purchase.  AT&T may be a prospective buyer and obviously believes they are also a good fit, but will they pull the trigger?  And who else may now be interested in obtaining such a prize?  I content that Apple should also look to purchase TW; a deal that would immediately give them more leverage in advancing their Apple TV platform.  Perhaps Trump might want to buy TW after the election and turn CNN into Trump TV.  And you never know what Google might do to drive both their fiber rollout as well as their Chromecast product.

Is Time Warner really for sale?  Some believe the company is actually open to a sale.  And so is the stock market. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Google Smartphone Getting Strong Reviews

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall, timing is everything.  And Google may just capitalize on such timing with the release of its Pixel smartphone.  For Android fans who despise the Apple closed architecture, Google seems to have delivered a worthy alternative.  Of the reviews I have read, all seem to rate the Pixel phone a strong competitor.

Most seem to especially point to the Google Assistant, a Siri AI alternative to answer verbal questions at a touch of a button.  Per Walt Mossberg, former WSJ writer and now re/code co-founder, "the Assistant blew away every competitor I’ve tried. It shredded Siri, which has a five-year lead. It not only did on-phone tasks reliably — like launching an app, or creating reminders or notes, or playing music — but it understood most of the wider-world questions I asked it."  Impressive, although Siri is the least of the reasons today to purchase an Apple iPhone.

For other Android phone manufacturers, the release by Google of its own line of smartphones may cause trouble in the Android universe.  No longer is Google a partner offering an alternative operating system to Apple, it is a competitor as well using the same operating system to drive users to buy a Google smartphone.  And that may be troubling as smartphone wars seem to heat up between Apple and Google. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Netflix Outperforms!

If the worry that Netflix has reached saturation and needed to spend more to stay even, then you guessed wrong.  Netflix just released quarterly results and they beat forecasts as well as Netflix's own guidance.  Both domestic and international subscription growth was up and both earnings and revenues are soaring. 

Is it the original content that they create?  Shows like Stranger Things and Orange Is The New Black continues to garner praise.  Is it the volume of TV shows and movies that they offer each and every month?  Is it the exclusivity that they maintain that draws users?  All these things seem to be contributing to their success.

But the market also measures future potential and how Netflix can continue to grow the base and increase its profitability.  The market certainly likes what it sees today but what is up Netflix's sleeve to further their expansion? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

UPDATE - Samsung Ends Galaxy Note 7 Production

Just yesterday, I shared in my blog that replacement Galaxy Note 7 Phones were exploding.  That has led to a rise in Apple share as folks are expected to switch from Samsung to Apple.  Well just this morning Samsung has announced that they are permanetly discontinuing the Galaxy Note 7.  Will Samsung customers stay loyal and switch to another Samsung phone or does it permanently hurt their smartphone business?

The Wall Street Journal sees Samsung losing a large sum of money from this move, "As the recall has gone from bad to worse for the world’s largest manufacturer of smartphones by shipments and sales, stock analysts have begun tallying up the likely financial hit for Samsung."  This is their Tylenol moment.  It is unfortunate that their fast move to issue recalls did not solve their problem.  But how they continue to respond from this setback will determine the future financial health of this electronic giant. 

For Apple, it is good news for now.  iPhone production should increase to assure supply meets demand and revenues for this quarter could likely "explode".  Sorry for the bad pun.  As to the stock market, shares this morning BEFORE the bell are already up almost $2. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Galaxy Note Still Burning Customers

It seems that the release of the Apple 7 couldn't come at a more fortuitous time.  The latest Apple smartphone might just attract a whole new batch of customers as Samsung continues to have combustion issues with its mobile phone as its replacement phones may also be exploding.  Airlines don't want the phone on flights and customers may be wary of keeping one in their pocket.

Even wireless providers have given up on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  According to re/code, both AT&T and T-Mobile will no longer sell or exchange for another Galaxy phone.  Will customers choose to try another Samsung phone or is it more likely that they will switch to the Apple iPhone?  The stock market seems to believe they will switch and become Apple customers and that is making the stock price go higher.  In the last month, the stock price has risen almost 10%.

Can the Samsung smartphone business survive?  Could this help Google find a market for its new smartphone, the Google Pixel?  Timing is everything and the timing seems right. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Netflix For Sale?

While no official word, the market is speculating that Netflix is for sale and that Disney is interested in acquiring them.  Of course, there is nothing yet to prove that Netflix is ready to be taken over or that Disney is ready to make an offer; still, it raises the question, is it a good fit or better for another company. 

Disney certainly is a content and distribution powerhouse with the capabilities to both produce and distribute great TV and film content.  With ESPN, they also bring a sports component to the mix and with the theme parks, another way to market and appeal to consumers.  But in building their brand, the House of Mouse has a particular identity. 

Netflix, on the other hand, streams content from everyone and creates unique content, some extremely graphic, that is not consistent with the Disney brand.  Netflix is Switzerland, not beholden on any particular cable network or studio, free to deliver content across all genres and all interests to all interested subscribers.  It seems to me that a Disney ownership has the potential to restrict that freedom and change Netflix to an identity that caters more to streaming Disney content.

Should Netflix be up for sale, I would suggest other companies could make a fit.  Apple and Amazon are the first two to come to mind.  Each would bring strong synergy to the mix and each could further grow the Netflix brand.  Others that might want to think about entering the streaming content fray include Microsoft, Intel, AT&T and Verizon.  For the longer term future of Netflix, I see these choices a better fit than Disney.  We will have to watch and see how serious this current rumor is. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Redstone Wants Unity From CBS And Viacom

I have been talking about the future of Viacom for quite some time.  With all the family squabbles, the real problem was that Viacom's assets were no longer as hot and valuable as they could be.  Comedy Central has stumbled, Nickelodeon has lost its appeal, MTV is not edgy, and Paramount is missing its mojo.  As a business, the future no longer seems as bright.  10 years ago, when Redstone separated CBS form Viacom, many expected the cable arm to excel; rather, the opposite occurred and the broadcast arm reigned.  Moonves, CEO of CBS won and Dauman, former CEO of Viacom lost. 

Now it seems that the Redstone family finally sees the need to bring the family jewels back together again.  Bust as I asked last month in my blog, does Moonves have a say in this and will Redstone listen.  Well according to the NY Times, Sumner Redstone wants to bring CBS and Viacom back together.  Will Moonves acquiesce?  Is it even a discussion?  And can a combined empire put the Viacom assets back on a winning track?  Moonves may not agree in the move to combine but might not have a choice. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Apple Music Beats The Rest

According to the recent JD Powers was ranked first in customer satisfaction.  According to CNET, "Apple's streaming service, which hit 17 million subscribers in September, ranked particularly well in performance and reliability, content, and ease of use, J.D. Power said."  In second place was Rhapsody, in third Pandora, followed by Spotify, TuneIn, Amazon Prime and last was Google Music.  Apple Music was particularly noted for having exclusive content as well as its accessibility and ease of use with peripheral devices. 

And while Apple was slow to enter the space, they certainly have grown at a nice pace.  At almost $10 month at 17 million customers, the business is becoming quite a revenue driver.  Getting noted by JD Powers should only help to drive further customer acquisition. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We Have No Privacy

Trying to keep a secret?  All it takes is to tell someone else and you risk that secret becoming public.  Worse still, social media means that everything put out on the world wide web, this blog included, is accessible forever.  And worse, information that we use on the web to assure privacy of our content, is forever being hacked. 

The latest hack comes from Yahoo who shared that "user account information was stolen from the company's network in late 2014" according to Business Insider and "The stolen data include names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays, hashed passwords, and some 'encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.'".  We are told that over 500 million accounts were affected.  And if you use the same password for Yahoo that you use for other accounts, your information is at risk. 

It has come to a point that every site we go on needs a unique id and password.  Hard to do and harder to remember the more sites we use.  Start to add up the number of different accounts you use and we have a major problem on our hands trying to keep track of every site we log into.  We can't trust that our passwords are secure, that our personal data is safe, and our privacy is ensured.  The Yahoo story isn't news because they aren't the first or the last to go through this.  But as long as we are on the grid, our privacy is constantly being invaded. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New Broadband Technology Could Deliver Faster Cheaper Service

AT&T may have developed new wireless technology that works with existing power lines to deliver faster and cheaper broadband service.  According to Business Insider, "AT&T says AirGig is several times cheaper than standard wireless internet because it's cheaper for the company to deploy and deliver. It can also be used over open wireless spectrum."  As power lines criss cross our nation, that could mean that wireless technology could provide a major boost to rural neighborhoods.  It could also lead to a cheaper competitor that could drive down costs.

How quickly such a service can get approved and rolled out remains to be seen.  Google has certainly been working to deliver broadband to communities; using power lines would hasten the build out process.  The article suggests that Facebook and others would also be interesting in building out a competitive wireless infrastructure. 

The use of power lines to deliver broadband has been discussed before.  But as public utilities, power companies have not seemed to actively try to grow their business.  I look forward to see how AT&T and others expand our broadband coverage and our speed of service. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Twitter NFL Stream Flagged For Delay Of Game

I had the Jets-Bills NFL game on CBS on Thursday night.  It is great to be watching football again this Fall.  And even though I had a big screen view of the game, I did decide to check out the Twitter feed of the game as well.  I was first struck by the clarity of the video.  For my time watching it, I saw a terrific picture.  But there was something that really bothered me.  The game feed was delayed from what was on the TV.  And not just a few second delay, it felt like more than 20 seconds.  A significant delay to the live action. 

I was disappointed.  Not that I was reading tweets of action that the stream had yet to show, but that the delay was of a considerable length.  For those doing both tweetsAnd I guess I was not alone.  Many seemed to criticize it.  I see opportunity for improvement.  The truth is, for those that aren't able to watch the game, whether simply away from home or needing to multitask with some other activity, access is everything.  And if it lets you watch, its better than not getting to watch at all. 

My hope is that the delay issue can be improved and that Twitter continues to tout its access and its desire to create the best streaming experience possible.  Truth is sports is a draw and the NFL is a great sport to grow with.  It is why broadcasters have spent fortunes to get the NFL on their networks and why football is now on Thursday Nights, Sunday Nights and Monday Nights.  It is no longer a Sunday afternoon only game. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

DVR Use Declines As Content Thrives

Like setting the VCR clock, most of us are lazy.  It takes time to seek out show to record when it is much easier to just search and watch as we please.  And as more content is available through streaming and on demand, DVR use seems to be declining.  According to yesterday's Mediapost article, "time-shifted viewing (DVR) declines are at the lowest level in three years."  As more and more content is at our fingertips, it makes sense.  Our need for immediacy makes on demand and streaming a more compelling option. 

To be a DVR user, one must be proactive.  You must actively seek out future times for a show of interest and tell the cable box to record and save it, either as one show or the whole series.  Most don't plan their TV viewing like that anymore, especially millennials.  Instead, we go to our app to stream content or our cable box to access the content via on demand with the intent to watch immediately. Now that we find ourselves with content everywhere, we simply need to get it to watch it.

But as a TV viewer who despises most commercials on live TV, the DVR offers one advantage over on demand and some streaming. I can control the trick features, fast forwarding through ads to get back to the content.  On demand tends to restrict those trick features forcing ads to be shown as we wait for our program to resume. As a DVR user, I am in the minority, but I do love the added control. 

One final point on ads.  A newly discover network by me is Buzzr.  It has acquired the old black and white game shows that GSN once aired.  Shows like I've Got A Secret, What's My Line, and To Tell The Truth.  Even better, Buzzr plays the b&w ads that played with these shows.  Ads like Cool Whip and Toni put a smile on my face.  I DVR these shows and don't fast forward through those ads. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

iPhone 7 Succeeds Through Timing

Analysts concern over the iPhone 7 and the lack of new products coming out of Apple never figured that the new phone could bring real growth.  But given the recent battery problems coming from leading competitor Samsung and its Galaxy smartphones, Apple could gain valuable market share.  Consumers may become worried that their Galaxy phone may explode and cause personal injury.  And airlines are banning the phone from flights for fear that they may lead to fires on board the plane.  And so the consumer next step is to switch phones and why not get the latest iteration this Friday.

Already wireless companies are reporting huge preorders for the iPhone 7.  T-Mobile says that sales are reaching record levels.  Sprint has said that sales are higher.  Apple has told us that they will not release weekend numbers.  Still it looks like the rest of the year for iPhone sales could be very strong. Such news may not have been so likely if not for the Samsung Galaxy issues.  Apple's timing couldn't have been better. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Apple And Self Driving Cars Stall

According to the NY Times, Apple is laying off employees from its self driving car business unit.  As to the full implication of the move, the article offers little.  Still, I don't believe that Apple should be adding car manufacturer to its line of business.  Cars are not phones or computers.  There is much more to the manufacturing process. 

But I do hope that Apple continues to invest in technology that can be licensed to every car manufacturer, from Ford to Tesla.  Whether it is Apple Music in the entertainment system or Siri offering voice recognition and assistance to the driver.  Apple can license its iPad screen to be installed in every car and truck and help GM, Chrysler and others improve their dashboard.  Be a partner, not a competitor to the car industry.

To investors, Apple has indeed become a value stock, not a growth company.  It has yet to surprise us with new technology that drives consumers to rush to purchase.  The Apple Watch, or iWatch as I still prefer to call it, is trying to gain that full appeal, but hasn't yet.  Many doubt that the Series 2 version will cause Holiday sales to explode.  And the consideration to be a car manufacturer strayed to far from its core business.  With its huge cash reserves Apple can buy any company it wants.  If it truly wanted to be in that business, it might have been better to just buy Tesla or Ford, not that I believe they should. 

So good luck Apple, it is now time to really impress us with some important news.  How about an October press conference to reveal some secret new consumer product.  That might just make the stock rise dramatically. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Is Apple Moving Toward A Wireless Future?

The new Apple iPhone removes the headphone jack as it sells its new wireless headphones.  And with one less hole in the iPhone design, we are offered a more water resistant, dust resistant future.  But is there more on the way?  Could Apple be leading us down the path to a completely wireless future with not even a lightening jack to plug into?  Is the next iteration of the iPhone one that has no wires whatsoever and offers us complete wireless charging to power our iPhone and headset battery life?

The dropping of the headphone jack is not a new notion for Apple, five years ago they removed the cd/dvd slot from all macs.  The idea of less holes must have been appealing to lead their engineers to look at the same thing for iPhones.  Likely, the next generation of iPads will also eliminate the headphone jack, too.  Removing these features help to make the units smaller and faster to operate.  And extending battery life has always been of high importance to users.

So back to the headline, is Apple telling us to look for their devices to one day be wire free?  It depends on how they plan to construct a workable wireless charging solution that consumers will embrace.  But it seems clear that a complete wireless product is the next step for the iPhone and iPad product lines. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Apple Offers No Surprises

It gets harder and harder to keep a secret.  The more people that know it, the greater the chance it gets shared.  People love to gossip and it seems inside Apple, people love to share all the things that they are up to. So yesterday's announcement was news that had all been released in the rumor mill.  No surprises.

When Steve Jobs was alive, it seemed that Apple was able to surprise us with new technology, new products, and new features.  There was the "one more thing" that offered a big reveal.  But that has been missing since his death.  No surprises, no big reveal, no new product, no amazing new feature.  Apple continues to excel and consumers are buying.  They are a solid company with a huge user base buying cloud services and apps from the App Store.

And we learned that they have 17 million subscribers to the Apple Music streaming service.  Not a bad source of revenue each month.  With expectations that the service will grow, it is by itself a solid business.  Pandora and Spotify think so.  And that is just one small part of the Apple universe.

Still no surprises from the media conference.  No "one more thing" announcement.  Given how hard it is to keep a secret, it is hard to expect that Apple will ever surprise us.  Leaked pictures, insider scoop, will doom that possibility.  Without Jobs, one wonders if we will ever be surprised by Apple again. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Apple Eliminates The Headphone Jack

Confirmed, the new iPhone 7 will remove the headphone jack and require an adapter to connect the headphone to the iPhone via the lightening port.  So now you can't charge and use your headphone at the same time.  Ideally, it is time to upgrade to a bluetooth enabled headphone.  RIP Headphone Jack!

Friday, September 2, 2016


Hoping you read today's NY Times.  If so, you probably received the best Tech Tip, or more accurately e-mail etiquette.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why Wireless Headphones For Apple

Check out this Business Insider story on the possible iPhone 7 and "wireless earpods".  While good reasons to go wireless includes no tangling of wires, BI says that there may also be a marketing angle.  They point to the intro of the iPod with the "white wire" in Apple ads and other ad examples including the lime atop the Corona Light.  Advertising pushed the appeal and made it a must have item.  The same could be true for the iPhone 7.  Sold and marketed with an initial wireless earpod, the new iPhone 7 could become the next must have device.  It does sound appealing.

Can good marketing be the difference?  With the prospect of a new iPhone without a headphone jack, Apple needs to let us see just how different its new earbud will be.  That will include such physical attributes as freedom of movement, no tangling, and better sound quality.  Of course that must be balanced with how frequently we need to recharge the ear bud to make them work.  Just how many chargers do we have to own?  Hopefully the marketing helps consumers fully realize the full value of the next iPhone release. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Apple Event September 7

Next Thursday, just 8 days from today, Apple will once again try to dazzle us with its next set of upgrades.  Just in time to have on the shelves for the Holiday Season, many expect the next iteration of the iPhone, as well as upgrades to its Apple Watch and mac computers.  Upgrades yes, a new product launch no.

Given the rumor mill that always precedes these events, none have included or hinted at a new product release.  No Amazon Echo clone, no Apple car, no Apple TV set.  No buzz means that we can expect to simply here how each product has been tweaked to encourage us to upgrade our own devices.  And don't expect that Apple announces plans to acquire any content companies.  As much as we would love to hear them make a play for Scripps or CBS or Netflix, that is also an unlikely scenario for the event on Thursday. 

Be careful though if you do decide to upgrade your iPhone when it comes out.  You may find that it no longer syncs with your older mac and iTunes program.  That means you can't back up on a computer and must do it online.  And cloud backups will cost you.  The more memory you use on the iPhone or iPad, the more storage it may cost you.  Given the need for more icloud storage, expect too that Apple will announce new service plans to support you and your family's devices.

It has been rumored that the iPhone 7 may no longer have a separate headphone jack.  All connections are made through the lightening adaptor or via bluetooth.  As to those folks that have a Beats Headset, now owned by Apple, you will have to decide whether to buy a new bluetooth headset or stick with your old iPhone.  For Apple, Beats was all about the music subscription service and not the products.

So get revved up for next Thursday.  Always fun to watch the announcement and see how the stock market immediately reacts to it.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Does Moonves Have Say In Merging With Viacom

When Sumner Redstone decided to split his empire into two media companies, CBS and Viacom, the initial thought was likely that broadcast was holding back the cable side of the business.  But fast forward ten years and Les Moonves was able to take his portion, CBS Inc., and watch it grow and prosper while the cable arm called Viacom has not.  Can synergy now save Viacom?

Well, now that Shari Redstone, daughter of Sumner, has gotten control, many believe that her next is to merge the companies together.  Viacom certainly needs the help and perhaps an overhaul of talent making the current strategic decisions.  Paramount has lost its mojo, and the cable nets are no longer relevant.  Need proof, just watch the recent MTV VMA music awards.  Not many tuned in from last year and the numbers had a major decline.  It was a performance show, not an awards show, and the performances overall were meh.  Yes to spectacle, no to real singing.  Most seemed to be karaoke and less live. 

And while merging CBS and Viacom makes sense, it also requires the buy-in of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.  If he is not onboard, then the odds against a positive synergistic combination seems low.  I suspect if Moonves had his say, he would buy just Paramount and sell off the cable nets.  Unfortunately, he may not have a choice and Redstone may force him to it.  As to his power to push back or leave if his back is against the wall.  That may also be an option. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

CBS's Newest Revenue Stream

The rise of streaming, the challenge to increase ad revenue as well as licensing of its network to cable companies all play into the strategic mix as CBS seeks revenue growth.  Certainly content matters and quality shows that generate buzz hope to find audiences that stay loyal to their plots.  And building new distribution outlets to grow as a business remain relevant.

In the case of CBS, they chose not to be a partner in the Hulu streaming business.  The other three broadcasters NBC, ABC, and Fox, and now Time Warner have ownership shares in the Hulu business.  Instead, CBS is trying something new, its own streaming subscription service called CBS All Access.  For a $5.99 monthly fee, subscribers get "more than 7,500 on-demand episodes from the current season and previous seasons of classic shows, as well as the ability to stream local CBS stations live in more than 150 markets across the U.S." according to Multichannel News.  And following the learning curve of other streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, CBS All Access will offer original productions too, "including Star Trek: Discovery, a spin-off of The Good Wife and a new digital edition of Big Brother."

The question this strategy hopes to answer, is it better to build a new service or partner with an existing one.  Is there enough content of interest to subscribers to entice them to join?  Can marketing sell the value of adding another streaming service charge to the entertainment household budget?  CBS is trying to make it easy to access its streaming service with Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, XBox, Amazon Fire TV and more.  Accessibility does not seem to be a problem.

But I wonder if going it alone and not with Hulu, CBS studied whether a brand name associated with the broadcast network or one without a connection made more sense.  Will customers more likely embrace the subscription service because of the CBS name or feel that they should be getting this content already if they are current cable subscribers with on demand.  Would it have better suited the service to create a more unique name like Carousel or Tainment or StreamCity to compete in the streaming media landscape?  Was CBS All Access a better name choice to drive subscription revenue?  We will watch and see. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Will Viacom Do With Paramount

If you haven't guessed after reading my blogs, I am a huge fan of content.  But content does not live in a vacuum and the yin and yang between content and distribution, adding a dash of marketing to the mix, makes the difference between success and failure.  Good content can help distribution and good distribution can help bad content; ideally, great content, easily discoverable and accessed matters.

So today we have Viacom, a media company with an ailing CEO, infighting of the relatives, a changing board, and other leadership issues struggling to fix all the wholes, from falling ratings at their cable networks to poor movie making choices at Paramount.  Its latest box office dud being Ben Hur with very little box office hits to mention.  What should Viacom do with Paramount, where once The Godfather, Indiana Jones, and Titanic all were released?

There has been some speculation that Viacom should sell some if not all its ownership in Paramount.  But I love content and believe it is the driver to growth for Viacom.  I believe selling makes little sense unless the plan is to give up and sell all of Viacom.  Paramount, with the right talent on board, can make great content again.  And great movies are currency to be sold over and over again across different distribution windows. 

But what is in the pipeline of future Paramount releases following the awful Ben Hur film starts to question the internal leadership and the choices they are making.  October is the release of the next Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, a possible hit, but they are also banking on a number of other sequels including Transformer, Friday the 13th, and Terminator.  What happened to originality?  Even their latest release of Star Trek Beyond felt like an overly long TV plot rehash.  If there is change to make at Paramount's film unit, it starts at the top.

As to their TV department, Paramount also produced Grease: Live,  Criminal Mind, NCIS, and others.  And hopefully they will have more upcoming hits to mention.  With so much demand for TV content in the streaming world from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, Paramount should have no problem finding homes for their product, as long as the quality is there.  Like my concern with movies, rehashing old series and classic movies at the expense of originality does not seem like the best route to take. 

So what should Viacom do with Paramount?  I say keep it.  If your plan is to sell Viacom, it is more valuable as part of a bigger deal.  if the plan is to reinvigorate Viacom, Paramount is a perfect complement to their media empire. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Profit In Data - Storing And Streaming

I'm struck by an epiphany as I watch how much data I continue to acquire.  I don't mean bookshelves or albums or DVDs; they get less filled as my books, my music, my photos, my videos, my life are all now bits and bytes of data.  And I see too that the cost to store and stream continues to grow as I accumulate more stuff. 

Already, I have on my computer over 15,000 photos, the more recent ones requiring more memory than the ones taken in 2000.  My iTunes account includes more and more downloaded books, music, and videos and my computer's memory is nearly at capacity.  My Carbonite account helps safeguard these digital assets, at a cost, as I sense that I will need a new computer with more memory in the not too distant future.  And Apple is gracious enough (lol) to sell me more cloud backup space for my iPhone and iPad.  The costs to store will only continue to rise.

And then there are the costs to stream data.  Subscription fees from folks like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, help drive up the monthly costs.  One's love of music means monthly subscription plans from Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music.  We no longer need to own when we can rent and stream as much as we want.  But the costs to access also extend to the companies that sell us data plans to receive these streaming signals.  The more we stream, the more we consume, the more data services we buy.  Of course, the speed to receive these streams can also come with a higher cost; the faster the stream, the more we pay. 

As we move further and further from physical media to digital media, the cost to access data, stream it, and receive it will only increase.  And the profits will only grow.  Data is our new gold and we are mining it at an ever increasing pace.  It is the business to be in. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Viacom's Future

Did Sumner Redstone win back his own company?  Was former CEO Philippe Dauman not following the directions of its top shareholder?  Does the 93 year old billionaire know or even care what is going on?  And does forcing Dauman out give either Sumner or daughter Shari back the control they need?  Too many questions as we watch a company wrestle with under performing cable networks and a movie studio shooting blanks, including its latest release of the reboot of Ben Hur.  Is it possible to right this ship?

Of the many questions being asked, many wonder if this means that Viacom will combine with CBS again into one company.  Many believe that it is CBS and its CEO Les Moonves that want to stay clear of this merger although Redstone may have different plans.  The other more immediate question is whether to sell off pieces, especially Paramount, an idea said to be pushed by Dauman.  And then there is the more nuts and bolts questions surrounding each of their cable networks that require more hands on work to regroup and regrow.  Each channel, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central have lost sight of the adage that what gets you to the top doesn't keep you there.  Tastes, shows, hosts, technology, etc. all continue to change and networks need to constantly adapt to remain valuable to the cable line-up.  There is a lot to fix at these nets.

Certainly the leadership fighting at the top of Viacom may have led to a loss of focus at each business.  With that issue finally handled, the focus can be put back onto each business unit.  First things first, morale must be improved with all employees knowing that no jobs are at risk and that they are safe to suggest, challenge, confirm, and execute on strategic plans.  Innovation, experimentation, thinking out of the box, and staying open to new can possibly help Viacom re-emerge as an important media player.  Or it will all be merged with CBS and become another leader's problem. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cord Cutting Less Of A Worry

A CNBC story tells us that research from SNL Kagan indicates that "a flattening pace of cord-cutting and a projected broadband boost of 8 million subscribers over the next 10 years, media companies are quickly shifting the way their content gets delivered to consumers."  Truth is, the best way to stream is with broadband.  The cost of data from cellular, mainly because of plans that charge by the gigabyte, makes an impact on the household.  Households may not be buying higher packages of cable, but they are still getting the basic cable package and bundling broadband.  With a broadband package, consumers have wireless accessibility for tablets and smartphones.  And they get authenticated access to wireless outside the home.  In the Northeast Xfinity, Optimum, Time Warner Cable and others have been building out their wireless platforms to support their subscribers. 

Consumers have been moving toward streaming as a preferred way to view content.  Streaming both cable and OTT content to watch on all their devices.  NBC has just announced that they have already served over 1 billion streams of Olympic content.  Time Warner Inc. made a big investment in Hulu, a streaming subscription service.  And Disney/ESPN are finally looking at a streaming subscription package for their sports content. 

The success of broadband enables cable companies to drive bundling packages in a way to keep households connected to cable TV as they drive broadband subscription growth.  And per the report, the strategy has kept cord cutting from becoming a bigger issue.

Huffington Leaving Post

On the surface, the news that Arianna Huffington is leaving the company that she founded and runs to start up a new venture doesn't sound that concerning.  Entrepreneurs enjoy the thrill of the start up.  And with an acquisition of The Huffington Post, first by AOL and then again as Verizon bought AOL, the notion of being the big fish in a small pond gets lost as the pond becomes an ocean and you become a smaller fish relative to the size. 

That Huffington is leaving to start a new venture called Thrive, a health and wellness digital site, does raise a couple questions.  One, that Verizon has also just bought Yahoo and Huffington could take the health assets from this acquisition to mold her site as a venture inside of Verizon.  Two, that digital health and wellness sites are already plentiful and no site has yet truly broken through.  I myself have worked for a couple cable health and wellness sites, including Veria and HealthiNation, and attracting a sizable audience, either on TV or on the web, has been extremely difficult.  Given all the niches, health and wellness seems to best occupy the longer tail part of viewing patterns.  And third, that Huffington's new venture might have had a better distribution shot staying inside Verizon than operating independently.

So the smell taste fails me when it comes to her motivation to leave.  The only argument is that she simply wants to be more independent and occupy the leadership chair in a much smaller business entity.  Financial motivation may simply not be an issue for her at this time.  While I wish her luck with her health and wellness venture, her best outcome for it will be its future acquisition with another site. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Will Content Glut Reach A Tipping Point?

The rise of digital distribution has created an insatiable thirst for more content to fill the bucket.  Video content is being produced not just for broadcast or cable, but for streaming services as well.  We are seeing the numbers rise for both short form content, user generated content, and scripted series as well.  And as Investopedia tells us, "John Landgraf said the number of scripted television shows next year could reach 500, from an estimated number between 430 and 450 this year, driven mainly by a rise in shows commissioned by streaming services." Landgraf, CEO of FX Network, places responsibility on the streaming media services like Netflix and Amazon.  But Hulu, of which Fox Networks are an owner, could also be named as well.

The challenges of producing so much content include finding quality programs amid the morass of choice, viewers finding the needle in a haystack of endless content possibilities, and measuring success in today's overly saturated content world.  With so much content choice possible to see and hear, focus becomes close to impossible and harder even to search for and find.  With such a glut of content, it becomes even more important for us to use recommendation, marketing, and advanced search to help users find a match to content they would enjoy viewing.

The drive to create content is only advancing.  In coming years, the numbers will only increase.  Today, in fact, Turner announced an investment in Refinery29, a female skewed destination for fashion and entertainment, and one in which Scripps is also an investor, to support more content that could possibly make its way onto their channels.  Content is the fuel that runs digital media distribution.  Consumer thirst for more helps to drive subscription and cable revenue streams.  And with advertising alongside it in some way, deliver more profit to media companies.  Have we reached a tipping point?  Probably not, although the challenge for creative minds is to make the content produced quality worth watching. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Comcast Says Future Of TV Is X1

Great read in Business Insider called  "How the battle for TV's future could take over your whole house".  Matt Strauss, EVP of Comcast Video Services, sees TV evolving in a new way.  The TV continues to be the centerpiece of the house and that smarter features out of the X1 cable box offers the user more control.  "X1 is a cross between an advanced TV guide and a virtual assistant, and Comcast thinks it will compete with the likes of Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo and Apple's Siri-powered Apple TV."  With a touch of the microphone button on the remote, the X1 box can find channels, shows, answer simple questions, and possibly more.

Strauss believes that the X1 box can be the "hub" for which the home can likely get smarter.  As we tend to have TVs in almost every room, attaching an X1 box to each TV that all communicate up to the cloud and share back info, creates a unified smart home experience.  And while we may not always want the TV screen to be on, the X1 box is always on.  That opens itself up to a larger future.

From my own experience with X1 so far, I see the potential.  The next generation of boxes will need to work on voice command without remote button push, like the Amazon Echo.  One could say, "X1, what is the weather today",  just as we ask Alexa.  It could potentially then answer back rather than put answer on screen.  Than we could say, "X1 turn TV on or off", again without a remote button push.  The future possibilities are endless.  Perhaps a partnership for Comcast and Apple Siri to explore.

As to the Comcast plan, As Business Insider suggests, "So for Comcast, winning the future of TV could mean winning the entire house in the process."  I agree.

Facebook To Stop Ad Blockers From Working

As much as we all seem to hate ads, they are the lifeblood, the revenue, that drives the growth off many media businesses.  But too many, too cluttered, too irrelevant, and they make the experience of watching or reading content less enjoyable.  In the digital world, ads also tend to slow down the streaming process, as they attempt to figure out which ad to present and run on site.  As a result, many users have installed ad blockers to quicken the web load refresh process and let users enjoy only the content. 

Facebook says they have figured out how to "block the blockers" to help them assure that ads are seen and their revenue grows.  But in an attempt to aid the user, Facebook is also offering more control on what ads to see and what ads to hide.  How much more control remains to be seen and whether it is more useful to the viewing experience. 

While some use ad blockers to improve the page load, others use ad blockers to improve personal privacy and protection from possible malware.  Many want to be anonymous in their viewing process and do not want to be tracked.  While my biggest gripe is how ads slow down the page from loading, I also believe that a number of the ads presented are simply not relevant to me.  That Facebook wants to improve that experience is helpful, but more importantly, they need to improve the load refresh of the page. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Walmart Buys To Catch Up To Amazon

Today, Walmart announced that they are indeed buying Amazon competitor  Likely to close by end of year, the rationale to purchase seems obvious, play catch up to Amazon. But to make it work, the strategy will require a visible way to make the physical stores and online presence a bigger, better, more enticing experience than what Amazon already offers.  Not an easy task.

According to the NY Times, "Under the deal, Walmart and Jet will continue to operate as distinct brands."  Walmart believes initially, they will have leverage to price their products lower and yet still profit.  But as Amazon demostrates, it is more than just lower prices.  Convenience, delivery, a wide range of products and services from many vendors, plus the Prime business of cheaper delivery and streaming content truly helps the Amazon brand.

Walmart and, operating independently may not be an ideal fit.  Finding the synergistic elements as well as the marketing approach that clearly shows the benefits to the end user are essential.  That will take a lot of work.  Done well, it could make them a venerable competitor.  It could also draw in other brick and mortar retail operations to build out their own delivery operations as well.  We see it already with supermarket chains offering home delivery services.  And department stores seem willing to ship for free merchandise not already available in store for pickup to the home.  So for Walmart, must do something more to take away Amazon market share. 

Once the acquisition closes, it will be fascinating to see how good a fit the two brands can make.  But the real win will be if it adds value to the operation and delivers results that exists today.  Retail is a tough world, operating on thin margins.  Walmart and Jet must see that this merger is a good move for both. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

I Upgraded My Comcast Cable Box

As much as we would love all our devices to work without extra boxes on top, the added features and benefits that a cable boc can bring might just offset working directly from a smart TV.  Of course, that depends on the frequency in which devices automatically upgrade and improve their features and benefits.

For now, my TV viewing requires a cable box to watch cable programming, a DVD to watch certain videos, and a Google Chromecast to stream Netflix and other videos.  I have yet to add the Apple TV, waiting either for a better price or some wow feature to make me want to buy it.

I did upgrade my Comcast cable DVR box to the new X1.  I like the added memory by storing DVR content in the cloud and I like the ease of recording and search.  And mostly, I like the voice control on the remote to access and switch channels.  Just press the button and say NBC and the box switches the channel.  Say the name of a show and it will find it for recording.  Overall, I am happy with the upgrade.

But there is still work to be done to improve the X1 more. There is still a long latency switching channels and certain features are cumbersome to access.  I wouldn't mind a quicker way to delete a watched show and an undo button if you accidentally erased something (although it may be possible to recover a deleted program).  The TV Guide is not as clean as it could be nor easy to navigate smoothly.  And the remote still has too many buttons that can make finding the right one to hit a chore.  Still, the voice feature is a real winner and one that makes me glad to have upgraded. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Who Wants MTV?

Viacom was part of the birth of cable networks.  It created MTV and its first music video was from the Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star".  Many have worried that digital streaming has done the same to cable.   Radio has survived but has certainly changed if not weakened.  IHeartRadio, a major radio player faces the prospect of bankruptcy.  But back to MTV and the question on everyone's mind, do people still want their MTV? (Sorry Dire Straits).

Can MTV and its owner Viacom keep their eye on the business while facing so much scrutiny around the competency of its founder and controlling owner, Sumner Redstone.  If quarterly financials are an indication, then not likely.  Per the NY Times, "Viacom reported a 29 percent decline in profit in the latest fiscal quarter, putting its management in the hot seat as it continues to wage a brutal fight for control of the entertainment company."  Not just double digit but more than a quarter percent drop in profitability.  The noise coming from ownership control seems to have created quite a distraction to the running of the business.  A shame given the once powerful brands like MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount.

Given that Redstone needs to be ruled competent or incompetent while he currently owns a significant block of shares likely means the inability for an outside company to come in with an acquisition offer.  The courts must first decide whether Redstone, his daughter, or someone else has voting authority to those shares.  Any offer for Viacom would have to take a backseat until that is first decided.  But the media market is changing quickly and the value of MTV et al may no longer be there.  Does anybody want their MTV anymore?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Is Time Warner More Appealing To Apple

Time Warner released its quarterly earnings and the news seems to be well received.  With future earnings expected to rise, the content business is growing.  At the same time, Time Warner announced plans to buy a 10% stake in Hulu, a streaming competitor of Netflix and Amazon.  HBO continues to operate outside the Hulu platform with its subscription service HBO Go.  That service is also growing.  And lastly, there are rumors that Hulu plans to build a streaming platform to offer live feeds of cable nets.  Adding services like CNN, TBS, and TNT to Disney and Fox sounds like the start of a compelling OTT competitor to cable. 

Does this make Time Warner a more interesting asset for Apple?  To own HBO, cable nets and a piece of Hulu could be a real get for Apple.  And it would instantly propel Apple into the video streaming space with major content players.  Add to that the Warner Bros studio and Apple could apply its influence into more immersive theatrical film experiences. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The End Of Physical Money Coming Soon

I have been wondering, will we soon no longer need to have physical currency?  Can the US Mint finally stop printing bills and manufacturing coins?  Can we finally go 100% cashless?  Given the speed of acceptance of digital currency, that future may be a decade or less away.

While many like to carry cash in their pocket or feel safer with dollars stuffed under their mattress, millennials have been embracing instant payment services, like Venmo, to transfer monies from one bank account to another.  At the same time, thanks to online banking, check writing has been reduced as bills are paid online and automatically from customer to provider.  Mortgage checks, credit card and utility bills, and more are paid online.  And people are using Square and Pay Pal and others to pay their share of household bills as well as other transactions. 

And as the NY Times reports, banks are beginning to embrace instant payments too.  "On Monday, Wells Fargo joined JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and US Bank in allowing customers to send money in seconds to one another’s bank accounts using just a phone number or email address." Many may still question the security of such transactions, but the ease of use and immediate access to funds cannot be denied.  Our smartphone will be our wallet and our penny jar will become a nostalgia item.  Unfortunately, the rise of hacking and ease at which our data has been stolen from company databases may still scare a large number of people.  But once solved, the likelihood that physical monies become obsolete, another result of the rise of digital technology, could be happening in 5 years if not in the next decade. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Is The Apple Content Strategy?

What does Apple really want to do with their content business?  Do they want to simply distribute or do they have interest in owning original content?  Is Apple Music a competitive threat to Spotify and Pandora?  And can Apple TV be a better choice than other platforms for OTT subscription services?  So are the many questions that just scratch the surface of what is Apple's content strategy.

It has left many to wonder if Apple will buy Tidal to its Apple Music business.  Is acquiring content like Carpool Karaoke really a property to differentiate Apple Music?  And is there a connection to Apple TV?  There seems to be lacking a material strategy to show what Apple wants to do in the content space.  It just might take a definitive acquisition to show the public its cards. 

I say make a play for Viacom, and let MTV, Comedy Central, and Showtime be your anchors.  Make a play for Time Warner and its stable of Turner Networks and Warner Bros.  With these networks and libraries of content, Apple would quickly build a library of content and be a player in the content space. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Amazon Shows Real Growth

The US Economy may be sputtering, but not Amazon.  Its online retail business, its cloud business, its subscription business all are growing in double digit figures.  And Wall Street seems to be happy with how Amazon spends its money too.  Per the NBC New report, they are building more distribution centers, investing in more online content, and spending where it matters to drive future growth and profitability. 

And while I have seen little about how well its products are selling, Kindles, Echos, etc., the infrastructure is expanding to manage it.  Where Amazon expects to be in 5 or 10 years remains to be seen.  Will its cloud business be the catalyst for future growth or is online retail the centerpiece of its empire?  And what future diversification is in store for the company?  For now, Jeff Bezos, CEO, isn't revealing his hand; but, he surely has some aces under his sleeve. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Is Alexa More Than A Fad

Check out the recent article in the NY Times called Alexa, What Else Can You Do?  Getting More From Amazon Echo.  It offers additional tips and tricks to make your device a more valuable component to your home and the center of your Smart Home.  It's a good idea but I wonder how many homes have embraced Alexa to such an extent.

We have Alexa in the home and its most useful feature seems to be to tell us a joke.  We have yet to connect it to the HVAC or any electrical device.  We don't subscribe to Amazon Prime so don't push our music through it.  And it is relegated to the kitchen with the need to shout to access it from a nearby room.  For us, for the moment, it is merely a fad.  But a fad that is simply ahead of its time before it converts to must have.  How long it might take to achieve necessity requires too many what ifs. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Apple Products Stall As Services Rise

It seems that consumers are keeping their devices longer and that the need to upgrade iPhones or iPads too frequently is not necessary.  That's not to say that people aren't buying Apple products, they are; rather, that innovation hasn't been enough to cause consumers to change out their device. And as a product company, Apple can no longer rely on their present product line to deliver the growth that the market demands.  On the other hand, its service side continues to grow as theses products demand more apps, more cloud storage, more content to satisfy the need of the user.  Its service size, per financial reports grew 19% in the quarter and by itself is a $6 billion dollar business.  That is not a meager amount.

But Apple is more than that. And the Apple Watch has not yet become the must have device that people expect.  It is time for Apple to tell us why we need an iWatch, the Apple TV, or some not yet named product.  Will it be an Apple car?  I would rather see Apple license its technology into every other car manufacturer. Is it a Siri clone of the Amazon Alexa?  Is it a video streaming content subscription business?  Is it smart appliances in the home? 

And how will Apple show that it is once again a growth company.  An acquisition would make sense.  What about Sirius or Netflix or Viacom or CBS?  What about Microsoft?  It seems time for Apple to reveal more of their hand.  They can no longer rely on yearly product upgrades to maintain the fan fanaticism toward Apple.  It is time to get ahead of the curve again. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Verizon Is Becoming A --BLANK-- Company

OK, fill in the blank. With the purchase of AOL last year and now Yahoo, Verizon is becoming a new kind of company.  It started as two baby bells, a spin off from Ma Bell and the merger of New York and New England markets which once was known as NYNEX.  Its name change to Verizon indicated that they were to be more than just a wired telephone company.  Yet they were criticized for a brand name that had no identity attached to it.  That didn't stop them.  They successfully pushed into wireless to become a towering force in mobile communication.  And they added cable with the formation of FIOS which would overbuild a number of cable markets in large DMAs like New York and Philadelphia.

But it is this push into digital content, first with AOL and now with Yahoo, that causes us to understand how Verizon is once again remodeling itself.  Once acquired, AOL and Yahoo businesses will likely merge to find important synergies.  Perhaps working more closely with their new video streaming service, go90, to drive further internet advertising dollars.  Add to that the data and research gleaned from the mobile wireless market and the app and website world and Verizon may have an inside understanding of what its users want and desire.

Verizon is working on its transformation from telecommunication giant to media mogul.  But the acquisition of Yahoo may not be enough to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google.  Facebook is winning because it is the platform that we proactively visit multiple times a day that aggregates content for us to consume.  And Google is the search engine of choice that takes us to places we desire to go and guides us on the better choices to make.

Verizon likely needs to add more to its mix of sites; an acquisition of Bing or even all of Microsoft might be something to consider.  A Yelp or TripAdvisor or other site that helps guide our decision making.  But more is needed for Verizon to further its transformation.  Yahoo alone is not enough.  But it looks like a good start. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Redbox Sold!

On Friday I wrote a blog on Redbox trying a streaming business again.  Today, Redbox parent Outerwall Inc. has announced that it will be bought by private equity firm Apollo Global Management, per the NY Times.  Besides its more well known Redbox kiosks which rent out DVDs, the company also has a coin change business, Coinstar, that takes a fee every time consumers use the machine to convert change to dollars.

Will Apollo support the streaming side of the business or simply use this acquisition to try and spin it off to more capable hands?  We will wait and see. 

The VCR is Dead; Goodbye Old Friend

Technology is full of life changing moments.  With every change, our life is meant to get easier and easier.  But it has also spelled the death for the old technology before it.  There are too many examples to recount, but one that hits home for me is the announcement that the VCR, the videocassette recorder is dead.  Production of new models will cease and their use will become a memory as the digital revolution completely takes over.  Goodbye old friend.

I remember when we first got one in our home.  It was life changing allowing us to record and watch any show we wanted.  It also let us watch theatrical movies when ever we wanted.  And we could pause or stop them for the necessary potty break.  When I moved into my first apartment, the VCR was a gift from the folks.  I was ecstatic.  Now I could go out on a Saturday Night and know that SNL was being recorded for my Sunday viewing pleasure.  For those that knew how to program the VCR clock, TV was finally on your time.  Of course, tapes were limited to 6 hours at the most, but that was never an issue. 

Many people used their VCR to make endless recordings of their favorite series, keeping them in their video library.  I too would record my favorite movies to watch again and again.  Friends would borrow and some would even forget to return.  A number of years later, I was at a friend's apartment.  She had moved to LA and looking at her tape collection, I saw one of my copies.  I had always wondered where that tape had gone.

The VCR outlived its competition, from laser discs to betamax, but it couldn't outlive technological change.  The VCR was still analog and digital technology was emerging.  For many, the VCR made TV viewing easier; for others, they could never figure out how to set the clock.  The launch of the DVR, the digital video recorder, took away that problem and more.  We were no longer limited to the tape length of 6 hours although viewing was limited to the box that we saved our show on.  That iss ue has now been solved through digital streaming. 

The VCR was a breakthrough technology.  Not only could we watch time shifted programming, we had more controls, too.  We could fast forward through commercials and rewind to watch over and over our favorite parts.  It put TV into the hands of the individual.  It was the first device to deliver what you want, when you want it. 

I no longer own a VCR and yet I still have old tapes lying around the house.  For some, I feel the need to transfer off analog tapes and onto another for later viewing.  I would say to transfer onto a CD but that technology is likely the next to see production stop.  No longer do Apple computers include CD players in their laptops or desktops.  Cars no longer need them either.  Our digital memories are to be stored in cloud libraries, not physical ones in our study or family room. 

Millennials will pay little attention to the news announcing the end of VCR production.  They know only DVRs, on-demand, and streaming.  But the VCR was an important part of my youth and the way that TV viewing changed for me.  Goodbye old friend. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Redbox Tries Streaming Again

When Redbox first partnered with Verizon three years ago, their joint venture, titled Redbox Instant, was seen as a possible competitor to Netflix and Hulu.  It was a strategy to expand from the DVD kiosk business toward a streaming one with a partner with a great deal of experience in mobile.  For whatever reason, that venture failed and Redbox Instant died last year. 

Since then, Verizon has been experimenting with their own subscription streaming mobile service. And now Redbox has decided to go it alone too with a new venture dubbed Redbox Digital.  But rather than be a monthly license fee subscription business, it appears that this new venture will attempt a transactional model.  According to Variety, "Redbox hasn’t said anything about pricing or catalog for Redbox Digital, but one can assume that it will largely mirror that of other services that allow users to pay to rent or own individual titles, including iTunes, Vudu and Google Play. That means that streaming rentals will likely be significantly more expensive than the $1.50 Redbox customers currently pay for physical disc rentals."

Why did the Verizon - Redbox Instant partnership fail?  What did each side learn as they independently create other digital streaming businesses?    And can either of these two succeed against the respective incumbents.  The opportunity is there as long as each can learn from their past mistakes. I'd love to help.

U-Verse Loses Subs While DirecTv Adds Them

AT&T may just consider itself a tale of two cities.  On one hand, they have the newly acquired DirecTv, a satellite service that saw a gain of 342,000 subs in the second quarter, while its competition, Dish, lost nearly as many.  And on the other hand you have the telco digital service, U-Verse, what FIOS is to Verizon, dropping those DirecTv gains and more. They lost "391,000 U-verse TV users in the second quarter" per Fierce Cable.  That's almost a 50,000 sub net loss for AT&T!  What happened?

AT&T also reported more broadband losses as they were not able to convert their DSL base to IP.  Did these customers go back to cable or did they ut the cord altogether?  The challenge AT&T faces is how to keep promoting and growing the DirecTv business without taking that business away from its telco side.  Is there synergy there to grow or a zero sum game?  The last quarter financials questions where the business is going. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dish Loses Subs, What About DirecTv?

Today Dish announced that they lost over 280,000 subs in the second quarter.  In 2015 they lost 81k subs in Q2.  Springtime is not good for Dish.  Coupled with a loss in broadband subscribers as well, per Multichannel News, Dish is facing some true challenges. And they will soon find out how their competition is doing.  Is cord cutting at play for them or is something else occurring?

Later this afternoon, AT&T, owner of DirecTv, will be releasing its quarterly financials.  Many expect DirecTv to meet or beat its numbers.  According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T expects both revenue and earnings to grow ahead of expectations.  DirecTv may just benefit from the deeper pockets of its parent.  Once the financials are released, we may be able to discern if DirecTv has captured some business from Dish churn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Future Of Fox News

It should come as no surprise that nothing lasts forever.  But we sometimes do seem surprised when news of change arrives.  Even more so, when that change is a result of the classic Lord Acton phrase, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".  We find it time and time again that those who see themselves above the law may not be inclined to follow those laws.  Such wisdom may now apply to Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News.

The success of Fox News has been acknowledged as the direct result of Ailes.  He brilliantly created a tactic that paid millions of marketing dollars in exchange for basic launches on cable systems, built a conservative point of view and attracted a huge audience to it, and created such demand for the channel that those same cable operators ultimately paid back those marketing dollars and much more in higher and higher license fees.  Add a rising ad marketplace and Fox News under the command of Ailes flourished.  The news niche attracted viewers not happy with the viewpoints of CNN or MSNBC. 

But times are changing and the Murdoch empire, owner of 21st Century Fox, is now in the hands of Rupert Murdoch's two sons.  They may see a different direction for Fox News.  And the recent allegations about Ailes regarding sexual misconduct may simply be the catalyst for his dismissal.  Per the Daily Beast, Ailes is "poised to step down in the wake of a sensational lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, filed barely two weeks ago by fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson."  Whether Ailes is guilty or not may not change the ultimate outcome. 

What does a Fox News, without Ailes in command, looklike?  Do notable anchors and personalities on the channel stay or leave post-Ailes?  Some may even have out clauses in their contracts that make them null and void should Ailes leave the company.  Will the channel retain its conservative viewpoint or seek another.  20 years for Fox News is a long time but as I said upfront, nothing lasts forever.  Look at almost every other cable network and it looks quite different today from 20 years ago.  With the expected end of the Ailes era at Fox News, change is coming. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Netflix "Ungrandfathered" Me

Hey Webster Dictionary, it's time to add a new word - ungrandfathered.  Per Netflix, it is the act of eliminating any price discount associated with being a long time subscriber and substantially raise your monthly fee to match with new subscribers.  And while Netflix may see a revenue bump, they may also face higher than typical churn rates too.  And with significant competition from Amazon, Hulu and others, Netflix can't expect rate increases to help their future. 

Of course, Netflix has more to worry about as my blog yesterday detailed.  When quarterly financials came out, Netflix failed to hit a number of metrics, including important growth numbers.  And while there was some growth, it was well short of expectations.  Churn will only erode those gains.  It is time for Netflix to actively find additional revenue streams to drive business growth.  And they must start soon. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Future Success Of Netflix

Nothing lasts forever.  Even Netflix knows that; they watched their DVD business erode while working to navigate the streaming world.  It was a bumpy ride along the way but the result so far has been quite impressive.  But growth appears to be declining, according to the Wall Street Journal, and international challenges and content costs aren't helping. 

In August, the remainder of the U.S. subscriber base will see its monthly fee rise to $9.99; for my household that is $2 more a month or a 25% increase.  Yet that is not enough to satisfy investors in the business seeking more future growth from the streaming giant against greater competition from Amazon and Hulu.  So what is Netflix to do as its Act 3?

Of the options to consider, Netflix might want to build out a streaming tier of live content, at an incremental cost, as a skinny bundle to drive more cord cutting. They could add more advertising to the mix, either with an ad supported option or with more sponsored content to the stream.  Netflix might consider growing through expansion; perhaps the purchase of a studio like Paramount or some cable networks.  For Netflix, standing still is not an option.  They learned that lesson from their DVD rental business.  Existing growth of its subscriber base will dry up and future revenue growth must come from other business platforms. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Sharks Are Circling Viacom

Given the health issues surrounding Sumner Redstone and the management conflicts hitting Viacom, I am surprised that it has taken this long for the sharks to circle Viacom. But such seems to be the case with news that folks are looking at pieces of the company.  That piece is Paramount Studios, a once proud film making company that has had a hard time finding financial hits.  Spongebob is not as popular as Dory it seems.

According to Bloomberg, "Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co. is in talks to buy 49 percent of Paramount Pictures from the company."  Whether such a deal gets approved remains to be seen but it shows that the company is having problems.  Still, if Redstone has any control left, why wouldn't he try to see his other company, CBS, take back Viacom and help recharge its engines.  With Comedy Central and Nickelodeon still valuable cable networks and a storied history from Paramount, the hope is that there is still value left to unlock.  New management for Viacom may be the answer and CBS could use the assets to stay strong and competitive against NBC and ABC. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comcast Outage Outrage

Are you a Comcast customer?  Then you were likely affected by the outage of service.  It seemed to have started earlier in the day when Comcast business phone customers lost telephone service.  And this wasn't a localized problem; rather multiple markets coast to coast were impacted.  Yet, it was barely reported by media and the possible outrage contained.  One must wonder the economic loss of business that resulted from this outage.  Not for Comcast but for those businesses that rely on the technology to deliver. 

Those outages became personal last night when our cable, internet and phone all went down in the early evening, preventing us from enjoying the MLB All Star Game, and our connectivity to the world.  Our initial call to Comcast required multiple dials to get from automated attendant to a real service rep.  They knew little of the problem in the area and spoke like no one else was having any problems at all.  No matter how pissed off I might have been, it would not quicken the repair to our service.   We were at the mercy of Comcast. 

Our dependency to the internet is especially disconcerting. We are linked to it with every key stroke and despondent when we are cut off.  Luckily, our cell phones are linked to a different provider, enabling us to ultimately get connected and feed our fix.  But, the loss of service was a reminder just how dependent we are. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Video Snacking To Drive Revenue Growth

We are about to get overwhelmed with tons of short form video content as the long tail of video consumption is about to get longer.  In today's NY Times, Tronc, once known as Tribune Publishing, has revealed their plans to increase video content 1000% daily.  And other online publishers are following this trend.  With video content attached to every online article, the hope is that more viewers will stay on the page longer, click the video, watch the ads, and continue to snack on other articles and other video content.  A very sound strategy.

Whether the content is created specifically for the page or linked via syndication or other means, the direction is clear.  More video snacking with content that connects with the viewer should create a better user experience.  And hopefully drive online revenue higher.

Two online companies, Wochit and Wibbitz, seem to have the means to quickly and efficiently link content to articles.  "The two services’ automation features work in similar ways. They analyze, and may summarize, text, be it a script or a traditional news article, and then automatically find photographs and video clips to go with it." Whether users find the additional content useful to them or simply clutter may determine the long term viability of these services.  But done right, the use of video on the page should be good news for these content companies. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Cameras Are Everywhere

In the wake of recent news events, the accessibility and use of cameras has provided a video record of what has often been a he said, she said exchange.  That 1 picture is worth a 1000 words may be true, but it may not be the whole truth either.  Still, that video cameras are everywhere is becoming a more important part of our daily lives.

It seems that every sidewalk has a video camera focused on it, every store has a video camera recording each corner, and in everybody's pocket there is a video camera, our smartphone, ready to record events as they happen.  And we are being record in our good times and in our bad.  Cameras are everywhere.

That it catches criminals and criminal intent is a very good thing, that it provides a potentially independent view of a situation is also good, and that it hopes to enhance security and provide protection is important.  But the reverse is a loss of privacy, individual freedom, and a likely permanent record of our actions, good ones as well as our indiscretions.  Personal privacy is lost for the greater good. 

I've always enjoyed catching video moments of my family's lives.  They are a permanent reminder of the events of our lives.  I'm happy too when citizens with their phones capture everything from silly moments to criminal activity.  The hope is that truth of the moment shines through.

But when it comes to media and the availability of these "videos", I worry that sensationalism outweighs truth, ratings over discretion.  Is it necessary to show everything, no matter how insensitive or gory it might be?  Does it make our society more compassionate or does it start to desensitize us?  There was once a time where media withheld material that wasn't relevant to the situation; today, the need to beat out other news organizations means that faces are no longer blurred, blood is no longer ignored, and pain and violence are showed in all its glory.  In the drive to show everything, we may be becoming more hardened to it.  Our scale of restraint has vanished.  And I worry that we, as a society, are heading down a very dark path.