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from the L.A. Times

Category: Hulu

Frequency, Showyou bring order to online-video chaos

Frequency
Deloitte's annual survey of the media landscape, released early last month, reported that 9% of the people interviewed had canceled their pay TV subscriptions in favor of watching shows online, and another 11% were considering it. Those are big, scary numbers for cable and satellite TV operators, as well as for TV producers who haven't found a way yet to make online viewing as lucrative as the combination of advertising dollars and monthly subscriber fees they collect from the likes of Comcast and DirecTV.

But there's another phenomenon that should be more alarming to industry incumbents: the emergence of services that capably transform the chaotic jumble of online video into compelling channels of entertainment. Two good examples are Los Angeles-based Frequency, which makes apps for mobile devices, computers and connected TVs, and Showyou, an iPad and iPhone app from San Francisco-based Remixation.

Unlike Clicker, neither company pays attention to the broadcast or cable TV episodes that are online, nor do they offer an index to movies on demand (at least not yet). Instead, they aggregate clips and links from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, among other sources, then organize them into feeds by genre and popularity. They also use social-media tools to create personalized feeds curated by one's Facebook friends, Twitter connections and other users of each app.

They have different strategies -- Frequency is trying to put its app on every device a person might use to watch video, while Showyou is focused primarily on iPads and iPhones -- and their apps have different looks -- Frequency presents multiple channels in separate scrollable columns, Showyou a single array that can be scrolled in two directions. But they have a similar effect, which is to present online video in the familiar, channel-based, lean-back context of television. It's interactive, sure, but without all the effort (or the keyboard).

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Marvell unveils the brains inside next generation of Google TV

Marvell, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor designer, announced Thursday that the next generation of Google TV will be built around one of its chipsets

Marvell, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor designer, announced Thursday that the next generation of Google TV will be built around one of its chipsets. The specifications of its reference design show, predictably, a considerable advance in power and chip integration over the first generation of Google TV: For example, Marvell's Armada processor is a dual-core chip, as opposed to the single-core Intel Atom processor found in Logitech's first-generation Google TV product. That's welcome, but the main problems with Google TV thus far have been business-model and software shortcomings. In other words, even if a Marvell-powered Google TV is more powerful and less expensive, it won't necessarily be more appealing.

According to Marvell co-founder Weili Dai, the semiconductor platform her company designed can handle high-definition 3-D movies and video games in addition to smart-TV applications. One complaint about the initial Google TV products, which debuted in October 2010, was that the roster of apps was thin. But Dai argued in an interview Wednesday that the open platform provided by Google TV will attract the same kind of attention from developers that the Android operating system has for smartphones.

"Many people are writing apps on that platform," Dai said. "Every day, every hour [they are] building that capability. ... What you saw for Android and smartphones in general is happening now with the smart TVs and the Google TVs of the world."

A bigger hurdle for Google has been the decision of many important suppliers of television programming online -- including Hulu, the four major broadcast networks and several popular cable channels -- to block Google TV from displaying the online versions of their shows. That reflects the networks' fear that Google TV could encourage people to swap their cable TV subscriptions for free TV online, undermining an important source of revenue for the industry.

The programming and software issues have been so significant that one of the two original Google TV vendors, Logitech, abandoned the product last month. That was a few months after the company revealed it had more returns on the unit than sales in the second quarter of 2011, prompting it to slash the list price from $250 to $99.

Dai said Marvell has cut the cost of the box's chips to the point where companies can "build very affordable devices." She also said she believes that consumers' experience with the connectivity, utility and flexibility of smartphones makes them hungry for a similar capability on the big screens in their home. But she conceded that it's up to Google and the TV industry to come up with a business model that persuades more content providers to embrace the Google TV platform.

"When Android was born, there was the learning curve. The Google TV side is the same thing," Dai said. Google has opened up the TV business model, but now "they need to work within the ecosystem," she added. "I'm hopeful they will resolve that."

Google TV products based on the new Marvell chips are expected later this year. Dai declined to identify any of the manufacturers, but at least some of them are likely to show off prototypes at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: Marvell's reference design for its Foresight Platform, which powers the next generation of Google TV. Credit: Marvell

Google, Facebook, YouTube are most visited websites in 2011

plus.google.com

Google, Facebook and YouTube racked up the most unique visitors among U.S. websites in 2011, according to new data from the research group Nielsen.

Not necessarily the most surprising news is it? What may be a bit more interesting is that, despite its rapid growth, Google+ was on average visited by fewer users than Myspace this year, according to Nielsen. Google+ was released in beta in July and opened to the public in September.

The Nielsen data also doesn't cover the entire year, only January to October.

According to Nielsen, the top 10 U.S. social networks and blogs, by page views, in 2011 were:

1. Facebook -- 137.6 million average page views per month

2. Blogger -- 45.5 million average page views per month

3. Twitter.com -- 23.6 million average page views per month

4. WordPress.com -- 20.4 million average page views per month

5. Myspace.com -- 17.9 million average page views per month

6. LinkedIn -- 17 million average page views per month

7. Tumblr -- 10.9 million average page views per month

8. Google+ -- 8.2 million average page views per month

9. Yahoo! Pulse -- 8 million average page views per month

10. Six Apart/TypePad -- 7 million average page views per month

Nielsen also reported that the 10 most visited overall U.S. Web brands in 2011 were:

1. Google -- 153.4 million average page views per month

2. Facebook -- 137.6 million average page views per month

3. Yahoo! -- 130.1 million average page views per month

4. MSN/WindowsLive/Bing -- 115.9 million average page views per month

5. YouTube -- 106.7 million average page views per month

6. Microsoft -- 83.8 million average page views per month

7. AOL Media Network -- 74.6 million average page views per month

8. Wikipedia -- 62 million average page views per month

9. Apple -- 61.6 million average page views per month

10. Ask Search Network -- 60.5 million average page views per month

 And finally, the top 10 U.S. Web brands for video, according to Nielsen's data:

1. YouTube -- 111.1 million average page views per month

2. Vevo -- 34.6 million average page views per month

3. Facebook -- 29.8 million average page views per month

4. Yahoo! -- 25.3 million average page views per month

5. MSN/WindowsLive/Bing -- 16.6 million average page views per month

6. AOL Media Network -- 13.3 million average page views per month

7. Hulu -- 13.1 million average page views per month

8. The CollegeHumor Network -- 12.5 million average page views per month

9. CNN Digital Network -- 8.3 million average page views per month

10. Netflix -- 7.4 million average page views per month

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of plus.google.com. Credit: Google

Viewers now streaming nearly 5 hours of online video per month

The early days of short, fuzzy, one-off online videos are vanishing into the not-too-distant past. 

YouTube's original 2005-era tiny square video player, which did its level best to bring us thousands of short, low-resolution clips of cats skateboarding and babies talking, or vice versa, is now but a hazy memory. That wild and lawless period of online video has been paved over and lit up by ever larger online movie players, capable of plasma-TV-caliber resolution -- and with all limits on movie length removed.

(See the above clip of a cat skateboarding in high definition.)

Forget those 30-second clips of old. The average online video viewer is now watching 4 hours 38 minutes of video every month, according to the latest numbers from Nielsen, doubling the amount of online video people watched in 2008.

The proliferation of services like Netflix, Apple TV and Hulu Plus are letting more people watch entire movies and long TV episodes over the Internet, either from their PCs, TVs or tablets -- and YouTube itself is betting big on premium programming.

The one wrinkle:  Nielsen found that the total number of online viewers in the U.S. -- about 150 million as of August -- was growing at half the speed of the amount of video being watched.  Meaning people who are watching online video are watching a lot more than they used to -- but there are still plenty of people who aren't watching it at all: about half of the U.S. population.

Still, thinking back to the 2005 YouTube, the idea that half the nation would be watching hours of high- definition online video every month would've been sillier than a cat playing poker.

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New Netflix app ready for Kindle Fire and Nook, but not iPad

Amazon to produce 5 million Kindle Fire tablets this year, report says

-- David Sarno

New Netflix app ready for Kindle Fire and Nook, but not iPad

Netflix announced a revamped tablet app now available for the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook, but not for the iPad

The great tech horse race of 2011 pits the iPad, that thoroughbred of tablet computers, against a pair of new lightweight fillies, the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook

But this year, the race may not be decided by horsepower alone. Indeed, in the run-up to the frenzied holiday buying season, the Android manufacturers are focusing less on their devices' technical prowess, and more on the kinds of things that people can do with them.

Last week, Amazon announced that the Kindle Fire will feature a "Lending Library" that will let paying users borrow a limited selection of books. Then Amazon pushed Hulu Plus, saying the for-pay TV and movie rental service would also be available on its Kindle Fire, along with music apps Pandora and Rhapsody.

And now, not to be left behind, Netflix is joining the party, announcing a revamped tablet app now available for the Fire and the Nook.

But not for the iPad. That version will arrive "in the coming weeks," the company said.

"It's nothing more than a timing issue," wrote Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey in an email, explaining that the Android release was timed to coincide with the Kindle Fire and Nook releases this week, and that there was no favoritism involved. "Netflix is agnostic on platforms -– no preferences or priorities," he wrote.

Still, that means iPad owners will have to be content with the older version of the Netflix app. Swasey did not reply to a question about whether the new version of the iPad app would be available by holiday buying time.

The new app, which Android users can download now, fits twice as many movies on the screen as the earlier version, and lets users easily swipe through many categories of films and TV shows, as well as begin streaming videos directly from within the app.

Check this space for continuing handicapping of the tablet derby.

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-- David Sarno

Twitter.com/dsarno

Image: The new Netflix app for Android.  Credit: Netflix

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet to allow Hulu Plus TV streaming

Kindle fireAmazon.com Inc. will allow users to use Hulu Plus on its upcoming Kindle Fire device, adding a major source of TV and movie content to its tablet arsenal. 

The 7" tablet, which will begin shipping next week, costs $199 and will feature a special, limited version of Google's Android operating system that Amazon customized.

That means Amazon will selectively choose which apps it will allow the device -- and which it will not. That gatekeeper approach is similar to the way Apple runs its App store -- only approving apps that follow its many guidelines, and allowing it to take a percentage of all Apps its sells on the iPad.

For now, Hulu Plus joins a parade of popular content apps that will be available when the Kindle Fire comes out next week, including Netflix, Rhapsody, Pandora and Twitter

Hulu Plus requires an $8 monthly subscription for customers to access its full library of movies and current TV shows from ABC, NBC, FOX, Comedy Central and others.  Customers must still watch advertisements during the shows, however.

[Corrected November 12, 9:26 p.m.:  An earlier version of this post referred to Hulu's service as Hulu+ -- the company spells the product name Hulu Plus, without the plus symbol.]

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-- David Sarno

Image: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Amazon.com / Bloomberg

Roku 2 comes in 3 flavors, plays Angry Birds with Wii-like remote

Roku2_hand

Roku has sold more than 1 million of its TV set-top boxes, with the main attraction being Netflix streaming. But with the new Roku 2 device, the Saratoga, Calif., company is betting on another hugely popular item for its killer app -- Angry Birds.

The Rovio-built game has been sold more than 200 million times across different smartphones and tablets, and Roku is hoping it'll cause more consumers to pick up a Roku 2, which was released on Tuesday in three different models and price points, ranging from $59.99 to $99.99.

So, how does one play Angry Birds on a little black box (that looks a lot like the Apple TV) that fits in the palm of a hand? With a bluetooth motion-sensing remote (that works a lot like the Nintendo Wii remote).

Roku2_remote_rf_motion2 The top-of-the-line version of the Roku 2, known as the Roku 2 XS, sells for $100 and includes the motion control remote and a copy of Angry Birds already downloaded and ready to play, as well as USB and ethernet ports not available on the cheaper models.

The $79.99 Roku 2 XD's bragging right is the ability to play 1080p full-high-definition video, which its more expensive sibling can do too.

And then there is the $59.99 Roku 2 HD, which is limited to playing back 720p resolution video.

All three of the boxes use an Internet connection to tap into Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand, Pandora Internet radio, Vimeo and nearly 300 other "channels," the company said on its website.

But the big news here is still casual gaming, said Anthony Wood, Roku's CEO, in a blog post.

"Angry Birds is just the beginning," Wood said. "Between now and Christmas you'll see the games selection on Roku grow dramatically. My goal is to grow Roku into a major low-cost family oriented gaming platform, with games in the $5 range rather than $30 range.

"Just like Netflix is shaking up the video world, and Pandora is shaking up radio, Angry Birds and their friends are shaking up the gaming establishment. We're trying to help as best we can."

Rumors have been circulating for months that the next version of the Apple TV could add games too. It'll also be interesting to see how the Boxee Box responds to casual gaming on the Roku.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Images: (Top) The Roku 2 and (bottom) the Roku 2's motion-sensing remote. Credit: Roku

Google in preliminary talks to buy online video site Hulu

Hulu on WebOS 3.0

Google Inc. is in preliminary talks to buy online video pioneer Hulu, people familiar with the situation said.

Hulu has begun meeting with potential buyers including Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. to drum up interest in a sale, said these people, who requested anonymity because the discussions are confidential.

The presentations to the potential suitors are a first step as Hulu's owners weigh whether to sell the site after having received an overture from Yahoo.

Hulu's financial advisors, Morgan Stanley and Guggenheim Partners, set up the meetings with media, technology and communications companies.

The technology heavyweights are seeking to capitalize on the widespread popularity of online video and position themselves to reach the growing number of viewers who watch television shows, movies and short videos on computers, mobile devices and Internet-connected television sets.

Hulu's rights to the current season's TV shows have drawn interest from Google and Yahoo, in part because these popular programs have attracted more than 600 advertisers -- including such major brands as McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson and Toyota. Indeed, the site expects to bring in $500 million in subscription and ad revenue this year.

Google, which has had a testy relationship with Hollywood, is making a major push to add professionally produced content to its mix of user-created videos on YouTube. It has hired industry veterans to help the Internet search giant make inroads and strike deals.

Yahoo is crafting its own strategy of bringing more premium content to its popular portal. Microsoft has had success offering access to movie subscription service Netflix Inc., dominant sports cable channel ESPN and the Hulu Plus paid offering to users of its Xbox game consoles.

Read more of our post on Company Town.

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What's next for Hulu

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-- Jessica Guynn and Dawn C. Chmielewski

Image: Hulu's website, Hulu.com, on an HP TouchPad. Credit: Hulu/Hewlett-Packard

Hulu is up for sale

HuluPlusApponiPad

Hulu is putting itself up for sale after all, The Times has learned.

Yahoo recently approached Hulu about the prospect of a purchase deal, but as Times reporters Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz noted earlier, there was some question as to whether the Internet TV- and movie-streaming service wanted to be bought.

Now there's an answer, as Chmielewski, Fritz and their colleague Meg James reported on our sister blog Company Town, Hulu is putting itself up for sale and has gone as far as to retain investment banks to get a deal done.

From Company Town:

The popular online television site, which has been the cause of much consternation in Hollywood, has retained investment banks Guggenheim Partners and Morgan Stanley to facilitate a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. Prospective bidders have received notice that the sales process would begin in about two weeks.

The news comes a day after it was revealed that Hulu had received an unsolicited acquisition offer and that Web portal Yahoo has expressed interest in potentially acquiring it. Yahoo has not yet made a formal bid, said a person with knowledge of the situation.

By signing up the investment banks, however, Hulu is making clear that it is not just on the receiving end of interest. Rather, its owners -- News Corp., Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal parent Comcast Corp. and Providence Equity  -- are seeking to exit the company three years after it launched.

One matter still unclear would be just how much Hulu would be willing to be sold for. The company, which is on the path to running as an independent entity despite being a joint venture between the major media firms named above, is an attempt by TV makers to tap into the value of their content on the Web -- and a bit of a Netflix challenger.

For more on this development in Hulu's business, and what's known of interested bidders so far, read the full Company Town report.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screenshot of Hulu's iPad app. Credit: Hulu /Apple

Yahoo looks into buying Hulu, but is Hulu for sale?

Hulu on iPad

Yahoo recently approached Hulu about possibly buying the online TV and movie service, according to reports.

The potential takeover talks were unsolicited by Hulu and it isn't clear whether the streaming video service is looking to be bought, The Times' Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz said in a report on our sister blog, Company Town.

From Chmielewski and Fritz:

The company, whose owners include media giants News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp., has been struggling to find a balance between the desires of consumers to watch shows free online and its owners' interest in protecting the value of their programming. Late last year, it launched a paid subscription service to complement its free offerings.

Although there has been interest in the company, it remains unclear whether its owners have any desire to sell. Hulu has not taken any traditional steps associated with a sale such as retaining an investment bank to field offers. However, it is currently undergoing a restructuring that would give Chief Executive Jason Kilar and his executive team greater autonomy while imposing new rules on the availability of television content.

Word of the talks spread on Tuesday afternoon and was confirmed to Company Town by people close to the companies.

To read more about the talks between the two tech companies, head over to Chmielewski and Fritz's report, "Yahoo approaches Hulu about possible acquisition."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Hulu Plus app for the Apple iPad. Credit: Hulu / Apple

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