Never say never: why TV networks are suddenly ready to unbundle

Never say never: why TV networks are suddenly ready to unbundle
By Janko Roettgers
Oct 19 2014
<https://gigaom.com/2014/10/19/never-say-never-why-tv-networks-are-suddenly-ready-to-unbundle/>

SUMMARY:
Not so long ago, people argued that HBO wasn’t going to unbundle anytime soon, or ever. So what changed?

I got a lot of flack when I suggested in May that a network like AMC may be in a good position to unbundle from cable, and charge consumers for a Netflix-style service that would be available to anyone, even cord cutters. Many smart people said that it would never happen, and that any such move would drive cable networks out of business.

Fast forward five months, and it looks like the question isn’t so much if, but when: Over the last few days, cable networks and broadcasters have made a massive commitment to new online distribution models. First, HBO said that it will sell an online-only service in 2015. Then CBS followed by actually launching such a service the very next day. Just hours later, a Univisionexecutive committed to talking the channel to cord cutters as well. And earlier this month, the NBA announced that it reached a deal with ESPN to show live games outside of the cable pay gates.

The great unbundling has begun, and even close industry observers were taken by surprise. So why is everyone suddenly getting ready to unbundle? Here are three theories:

It’s all about leverage

One of the theories that you are hearing a lot since the trifecta of unbundling announcements hit this week is that it isn’t actually about the consumer at all, but about the never-ending negotiations tango between networks and TV service operators. RBC Capital Markets and others argued Friday that CBS may just want the $6 price for its online service out there so it can go to TV operators and ask for more money as well.

It’s a compelling argument, and it wouldn’t be the first time that a consumer service or feature was used as bargaining chips in these negotiations. Dish for example built a monster of a DVR, capable of recording any primetime show on any broadcast network without consumers actively scheduling any of these recordings and then automatically skipping over all of the commercials. But when Dish’s renewed its contract with Disney, it agreed to curtail the automatic ad skipping in exchange for online rights to Disney’s content.

However, there is also some fallacy in that argument. That’s because CBS and other networks really only achieve any leverage if their services actually gain some traction. Getting $6 a month from close to no one still doesn’t prove that you should get more than $2 a month per head from an operator with 20 million customers. But if CBS does sign up a lot of users, it will inevitably invite the scorn from operators, which are only willing to pay more if they get exclusive windows for their own TV Everywhere products.

[snip]

Gigabit cellular networks could happen with 24GHz spectrum, FCC says

Gigabit cellular networks could happen with 24GHz spectrum, FCC says
Indoor coverage will be difficult with ultra-high frequencies, however.
By Jon Brodkin
Oct 19 2014
<http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/10/gigabit-cellular-networks-could-happen-with-24ghz-spectrum-fcc-says/>

The Federal Communications Commission is starting to plan for cellular networks that can send users gigantic streams of data, but there are technical challenges to be solved and years of work ahead.

A Notice of Inquiry issued unanimously by the commission on Friday identifies frequencies of 24GHz and above as being able to provide gigabit or even 10Gbps speed. This would be a major change because today’s cellular networks use frequencies from 600MHz to 3GHz, with so-called “beachfront spectrum” under 1GHz being the most desirable because it can be used to deliver data over long distances. AT&T and Verizon Wireless control the most beachfront spectrum.

“It was long assumed that higher spectrum frequencies—like those above 24 GHz—could not support mobile services due to technological and practical limitations,” the FCC said in a press release. “New technologies are challenging that assumption and promise to facilitate next generation mobile service—what some call ‘5G’—with the potential to dramatically increase wireless broadband speeds.”

Rather than replacing today’s lower-spectrum systems, networks with frequencies of 24GHz and above could complement them by providing much higher data rates over short distances—perhaps very short. A new Wi-Fi standard that uses 60GHz can deliver up to 7Gbps but only if the transmitter and receiver are in the same room, for example.

The FCC’s notice talks about frequencies as high as 90GHz. Anything over 30GHz is classified as “millimeter wave frequencies,” which are blocked by walls. Indoor coverage is going to be tough.

“[W]hatever licensing regimes we adopt should take into account the fact that signals from carriers’ outdoor base stations will rarely be able to penetrate into the interiors of buildings, where around 75 percent of cellular data usage occurs today,” the FCC wrote. “Reaching such spaces will almost certainly require the deployment of indoor base stations.”

The FCC is asking experts for input on technical and licensing questions. The FCC wants to examine potential ways “mobile services can avoid interfering with each other” and with existing technologies that share the same frequency bands or operate in adjacent ones. The FCC said it intends to adopt licensing schemes that minimize the potential of interference while giving carriers what they need to boost data speeds.

[snip]

The nasty politicization of Ebola

The nasty politicization of Ebola
By Dana Milbank
Oct 17 2014
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-making-ebola-a-partisan-issue/2014/10/17/53227888-55fd-11e4-892e-602188e70e9c_story.html>

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, administered a dose of truth to political Washington this week.

For this honest service, Collins was pilloried.

In an interview published Sunday night, Collins shared with the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein his belief that, if not for recent federal spending cuts, “we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this” Ebola outbreak. 

This should not be controversial. His conjecture was based on cold budgeting facts. NIH funding between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal 2014 had dropped 10 percent in real dollars — and vaccine research took a proportionate hit. Research on an Ebola vaccine, at $37 million in 2010, was halved to $18 million in 2014. 

Officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases report that budget cuts forced them to shelve 14 Ebola-related grants, roughly a quarter of the total. The NIH was forced to prioritize spending, to react to the most pressing current threats rather than potential ones, and because there was little Ebola activity at the time, shifting money to Ebola from, say, cancer or Alzheimer’s research wasn’t a viable possibility. 

With Ebola vaccines now entering clinical trials, it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that, with those extra research dollars, vaccines would now be on the market — potentially saving thousands of lives in Africa and avoiding panic in the United States. 

Yet conservatives pounced. Commentator Michelle Malkin’s Web site, Twitchy, called Collins a “fool” (this fool previously led the mapping of the human genome) and assembled tweets saying that the Ebola vaccine could have been paid for with money spent on President Obama’s vacations or the White House vegetable garden, among other things.

Republican candidates have begun making a campaign issue of waste at the NIH and its sister agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Have you seen what the NIH spends money on?” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked, mocking Collins’s claim at a rally I attended Wednesday. “One hundred seventeen thousand dollars spent to determine that most monkeys are right-handed and like to throw poop with their right hand, apparently. Two-point-four million of the NIH dollars was spent on origami condoms.”

The senator, who then proposed more budget cuts, ought to update his examples. The right-handed-monkey study? Done between 1992 and 1997. Origami condoms? The new device worn by women could protect millions, particularly in Africa, from AIDS. But perhaps Paul, an ophthalmologist, thinks that’s frivolous.

Collins, an evangelical Christian, was aghast that his remarks “turned into this really nasty political outcome that has resulted in attacks on NIH,” he told me Thursday. “People are saying I’m overstating the circumstances, which I don’t think I am.” 

Collins said he was equally appalled by an ad this week by the liberal Agenda Project Action Fund that juxtaposes Republicans saying the word “cut” with images of Ebola carnage. “Republican Cuts Kill,” it concludes.

Collins sees his beloved NIH — for decades, the beneficiary of broad bipartisan support — falling into the gaping maw of politics that has consumed most everything else. “I’ve tried so hard in the 21 years I’ve been at NIH,” he said, “to keep medical research from becoming a partisan issue.”

[snip]

How Google can unlock a trillion-dollar opportunity while improving search relevance

How Google can unlock a trillion-dollar opportunity while improving search relevance
By Narendra Reddy, Synovel
Oct 18 2014
<https://gigaom.com/2014/10/18/how-google-can-unlock-a-trillion-dollar-opportunity-while-improving-search-relevance/>

SUMMARY:
The next version of Google search could be a cost-per-action engine that would give companies like Amazon some serious competition.

It’s every searcher’s dream to get actual answers to their search queries, instead of search results. Google can give us these “answers” now for a set of keywords called “buying keywords.” Here’s an explanation of how this change will improve the user experience and create a level playing field for product merchants in the search ecosystem. 

Keyword types

The keywords typed into Google can be broadly classified into two categories:

• Browsing keywords (for example, “coffee maker”)
• Buying keywords (for example, “best coffee makers,” “coffee maker reviews,” “Cuisinart DCC-1200,” etc.

A person’s intent cannot be clearly defined when he searches using a browsing keyword. When he types “coffee maker” into Google, we can’t know for certain whether he is in casual browsing mode, researching mode or buying mode.

However, when the person submits a buying keyword to the search, he is at the near end of the purchase funnel. People who search using a buying keyword are more likely to conduct a transaction, and the person’s intent can be clearly defined. When a person types in “best coffee maker” or “coffee maker reviews,” he is more likely to conduct a transaction than somebody searching with a standard browsing keyword.

Currently, when a person searches using a buying keyword on Google, a significant gap exists between what he wants and what the actual search results are.

Problems with current Google search results

Let’s examine the scenario for the buying keyword “best coffee makers.”

[snip]

To Siri, With Love

[Note:  This item comes from friend Janos Gereben.  DLH]

To Siri, With Love
How One Boy With Autism Became B.F.F.’s With Apple’s Siri
By JUDITH NEWMAN
Oct 17 2014
<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html>

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish humor and capacity for talking about whatever Gus’s current obsession is for hour after hour after bleeding hour? Online critics have claimed that Siri’s voice recognition is not as accurate as the assistant in, say, the Android, but for some of us, this is a feature, not a bug. Gus speaks as if he has marbles in his mouth, but if he wants to get the right response from Siri, he must enunciate clearly. (So do I. I had to ask Siri to stop referring to the user as Judith, and instead use the name Gus. “You want me to call you Goddess?” Siri replied. Imagine how tempted I was to answer, “Why, yes.”)

She is also wonderful for someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues: Siri’s responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind — even when Gus is brusque. I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied, “You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”

[snip]

The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter

The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter
By Ajit Pai
Oct 17 2014
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/truthy-project-is-unworthy-of-tax-dollars/2014/10/17/a3274faa-531b-11e4-809b-8cc0a295c773_story.html>

Ajit Pai is a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

If you take to Twitter to express your views on a hot-button issue, does the government have an interest in deciding whether you are spreading “misinformation’’? If you tweet your support for a candidate in the November elections, should taxpayer money be used to monitor your speech and evaluate your “partisanship’’?

My guess is that most Americans would answer those questions with a resounding no. But the federal government seems to disagree. The National Science Foundation , a federal agency whose mission is to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense,” is funding a project to collect and analyze your Twitter data.

The project is being developed by researchers at Indiana University, and its purported aim is to detect what they deem “social pollution” and to study what they call “social epidemics,” including how memes — ideas that spread throughout pop culture — propagate. What types of social pollution are they targeting? “Political smears,” so-called “astroturfing” and other forms of “misinformation.” 

Named “Truthy,” after a term coined by TV host Stephen Colbert, the project claims to use a “sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex network models” to distinguish between memes that arise in an “organic manner” and those that are manipulated into being. 

But there’s much more to the story. Focusing in particular on political speech, Truthy keeps track of which Twitter accounts are using hashtags such as #teaparty and #dems. It estimates users’ “partisanship.” It invites feedback on whether specific Twitter users, such as the Drudge Report, are “truthy” or “spamming.” And it evaluates whether accounts are expressing “positive” or “negative” sentiments toward other users or memes. 

The Truthy team says this research could be used to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.” 

Hmm. A government-funded initiative is going to “assist in the preservation of open debate” by monitoring social media for “subversive propaganda” and combating what it considers to be “the diffusion of false and misleading ideas”? The concept seems to have come straight out of a George Orwell novel. 

The NSF has already poured nearly $1 million into Truthy. To what end? Why is the federal government spending so much money on the study of your Twitter habits? 

Some possible hints as to Truthy’s real motives emerge in a 2012 paper by the project’s leaders, in which they wrote ominously of a “highly-active, densely-interconnected constituency of right-leaning users using [Twitter] to further their political views.” 

Truthy reminds me of another agency-funded study, in which the Federal Communications Commission sought to insert itself into newsrooms across the country. That project purported to examine whether news outlets were meeting what researchers determined were the “critical information needs” of the American people. And it involved sending out government-funded researchers to ask editors and reporters questions about their news philosophy and editorial judgment.

[snip]

The FBI Director’s Evidence Against Encryption is Pathetic

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

THE FBI DIRECTOR’S EVIDENCE AGAINST ENCRYPTION IS PATHETIC
By DAN FROOMKIN AND NATASHA VARGAS-COOPER
Oct 17 2014
<https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/17/draft-two-cases-cited-fbi-dude-dumb-dumb/>

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident. 

Los Angeles

Comey described the cases differently. Here’s one:

In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib.

Comey was evidently referring to Abigail Lara-Morales, a 2-year old Latina from Lynwood, California who died in 2011 at the hands of her parents. What Comey skipped over was that an independent audit of problems at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS)  found that Abigail’s death was avoidable had any of the three government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents done their jobs. The text messages Comey characterizes as an evidentiary clincher in Abigail’s sad death just added to the prosecutors’ already overwhelming case.

[snip]