Archive for December, 2005

BLOGGING CREATING HAVOC IN NEWS MEDIA

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

A weblog, or simply a blog, is a website which is regularly updated (often several times a day) and where the information is offered in a chronological sequence. The front page of the blog provides the latest additions. The operator of the blog provides a more or less personal logbook of information (posts) that he will share with the visitors to his weblog.

Blogs are a logical extension of the virtual communities that have surfaced around the world. The idea appeals to the tribal nature of societies. Blogs, however, play a unique role, as, at the same time, they can be ultra-personal. Those blogs that harness both issues will be amongst the most successful.

Mediacracy
While blogs can be, and are, used in connection with a wide range of topics, the most popular ones are politically oriented, on international, national (but especially local and community) issues. Many community-based organisations and politicians operate their own blogs to stay in contact with grassroots sentiment, ideas, suggestions and comments. It allows for active participation from individual citizens in political decision-making processes.

This allows citizens to bypass the media, and this process of media democratisation is also called mediacracy. In a rapidly commercialised news market, where the company share price rules, and which is characterised by the dumbing-down and Americanisation of news and information, blogging is rapidly conquering the world through the millions of people who reject the way the news system presently works. The same applies to the spin-doctoring that is taking place, with a great deal of political and commercial information being massaged into the traditional media.

Blogs offers citizens a way round this.

Traditional media can’t provide for the direct participation of its readers in political (and other) debates. Blogs can provide such a democratic service and it is therefore in the interests of democracy to investigate and maximise the possibilities that blogging can offer to politicians, the media and the wider community.

Proactive politicians, journalists and other opinion architects could become the leaders of the blog revolution. At the same time, scanning blogs will enable proactive leaders to detect new trends, developments, opinions and ideas at an early stage. Many companies already have an active monitoring program to detect comments regarding their companies, brands, products and services.

The fact that young people around the world are massively abandoning the traditional news media is a warning sign that the current media are unable to maintain this important role in democratic societies, and it is therefore important that we investigate what roles blogs can play in the media policies of democratic nations and communities. With newspaper circulations in the western world at an all time low, it is about time for this industry to start looking at innovations.

Affecting traditional news media
Blogs will, in some cases, undermine the traditional news media; but more innovative media will find ways to incorporate blogs into their services – in other words, readers become journalists. Having said this, there are, of course, serious hooks connected to these systems. The media doesn’t want to be held liable for blogs that appear on their Internet site, and implementing censorship defeats the purpose of blogging.

For that reason alone the majority of blogs will therefore remain in the public domain.

Nevertheless, the traditional new media will need to very seriously investigate blogging in order to see how they can support their own operations, and use blogs, themselves, to check if they are reporting the news in the way people want. It allows them to keep an ear to the ground.

The media also need to have a much better understanding of how people use news. This has far-reaching consequences – not just in relation to blogging, but also to other media, for example, the Internet, video-based broadband, mobile, wireless and so on.

News needs, by default, to be multimedia. The current structure of separate text-based, video-based and audio-based news media does not make sense in our converging world. Most news media, however, are asleep at the wheel. At the same time more and more bloggers are already understanding this and are including video and audio applications into their blogs.

Key elements in the converging world are: personalisation, diversification and interactivity and all media will need to take these changes very seriously. Most media are still looking at their business with blinkers on. They are more concerned about the effect newspapers, magazines, TV and radio have on each other, and they are missing the point – that the real threat (and the real opportunities) are coming from a totally different direction.

Most media are looking on blogs as a threat, and are therefore avoiding the phenomenon as far as possible.

Other blog terms
Most blogs also allow for posting notes and comments on previously posted blogs, in sequence. Each blog gets its own list, and so can be cross-referred individually – for instance to other weblogs.

Trackbacks allow others who mention or discuss other weblogs to post a reference back to the original blog. Blogrolls are lists of links to other related blogs. Blog systems allow for elaborate archiving systems.

Happy blogging
Paul

See also:
Global – Convergence of Media & Telecommunications
Global – Broadcasting (Digital, Cable, Satellite TV)

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WI-FI ALIVE AND KICKING

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

The naysayers have already written off Wi-Fi, but the technology is currently going through a serious revival.

Within the space of one month Taipei and other cities in Taiwan, and San Francisco and Philadelphia in the USA have all announced citywide Wi-Fi networks. Similar announcements have been made in some of the European cities.

So why this sudden renewed interest?

I think there are a number of reasons for it. Very importantly, Wi-Fi is now widely available in laptops and other hand-held devices. This has created a critical mass, especially for business applications.

Why cities? Municipalities have large workforces on the road that need access to applications that nowadays require wireless broadband. These include the police force, council workers and utilities personnel. Many of them use mobile technologies and they are now discovering that they can save money and have a better service by switching over from mobile to Wi-Fi.

These councils are becoming the catalyst for other commercial developments. With these anchor tenants on board commercial operators can now justify commercially viable roll-outs, allowing other users in these cities to utilise the network also.

Wi-Fi base stations are now so low-cost that such roll-outs are no longer financially prohibitive. The applications for which they are used don’t require the robustness that would be needed from a last-mile network. In the case of citywide Wi-Fi networks, if the signal is not good enough, drive or walk around the corner and you will most probably get a good reception there.

The hotspots can be easily connected to create a mesh-network. So you only need access into the telco network at one particular point, thus making very efficient use of the technology. Already we are beginning to see Wi-Max technologies being used for the backbone, making it even more independent of incumbent networks.

Depending on how successful Wi-Max will be in becoming integrated into end-user devices there might be a natural progression from Wi-Fi to Wi-Max in another five years or so. But there is also a good reason to expect that these Wi-Fi networks could be with us for much longer. They are cheap and offer that extra level of convenience that more and more people are going to enjoy.

Paul Budde

New Analysis see: Global – Broadband – Wireless – WiMAX Analysis 2005

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US BB COMPETITION INTENSIFIES

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

Intense competition between cable MSOs and RBOCs to be chosen as the broadband pipeline into the home is delivering higher speeds and lower prices to consumers. The result has been an acceleration of broadband takeup. In the year to June 2005, the number of US households subscribing to broadband Internet grew by a record 46%.

In August 2005, SG Gowen research reported that cable modem had become on average 78% more expensive than DSL. It reported that during 2005, DSL prices decreased by 9.2% and cable broadband increased 4.1%. During the first half of 2005, cable broadband took only 47% of new broadband subscribers, compared with 50% in 2004 and 61% in 2003.

Price competition was boosted in July 2005, when SBC almost halved its DSL entry price to $14.95 per month, lower than many of the dial-up offerings on the market. In August 2005, Verizon matched the offer at $14.95.

Most of the MSOs, however, have been sitting tight and keeping their prices in the $40 range, aiming to retain customers by increasing data speeds and offering triple-play bundle discounts. Over the last year, Comcast has boosted speeds in several steps without increasing prices.

Many of the cable operators have begun to offer a low-speed service aimed at capturing or retaining price sensitive customers. MSOs that offer low-speed services include Charter, Cox, Adelphia and Mediacom with typical prices around $25 per month for download speeds in the 128-384Kb/s range.

In the markets where Verizon Communications is launching its FiOS Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH) service, the war has become particularly intense. In May 2005, number three MSO Cox increased speeds in Northern Virginia to 15Mb/s, and did the same in June 2005 in Rhode Island. In July 2005, Adelphia raised its access speeds to 16Mb/s in Leesburg, Va, and Cablevision, began offering a 100Mb/s service to its business customers in Oyster Bay, on Long Island, NY.

Coincidentally or not, in each of the markets where cable companies have increased speeds, Verizon has begun offering its FiOS service, which the company claims can scale to 100Mb/s. Since 2004, Verizon has spent billions of dollars digging up streets to lay FttH network in half of the states where it provides local phone services. So far, the network is hooked up in roughly 250 communities on the East Coast and in Texas.

The base plan for FiOS offers access speeds of 5Mb/s download and 2Mb/s upload for $39.95 per month. For $49.95, consumers get download speeds up to 15Mb/s, and for $199.95 download speeds up to 30Mb/s.

The war between the MSOs and RBOCs, however, has just begun. The stakes are set to become much higher when the RBOCs launch their IPTV video offerings, and enter the video content industry in their own right.

In September 2005, Verizon started taking its first orders for FiOS TV, offering a monthly subscription price around $10 less than standard cable cost and sparking considerable price pressure across the multi-channel video market.

Verizon launched its first FiOS TV service in Keller, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, offering over 180 digital video and music channels for $39.95 per month, compared to average cable TV prices of around $50 per month and satellite TV price of around $42 per month. If one considers that FiOS TV is all-digital, the price differential is greater. The average price for all-digital cable TV is around $65, giving a price difference to FiOS TV of $25.

Verizon is offering three tiers of video service:
Basic $12.95/mo – 15-35 local broadcast, weather and community channels, video-on-demand, in analogue form or with a digital set-top box;
La Conexion $32.95 per month – designed for bi-lingual customers – 140 standard and HD channels with English and Spanish programming, 600 VOD titles;
Standard $39.95/mo – over 330 channels, over 20 high definition channels, 600 VOD titles (1,800 by year end), special interest channels, interactive programming guide;

The entry of Verizon and soon-to-come SBC into the triple play market will undermine the MSOs attitude of product supremacy, which has held them back from entering in to the high-speed Internet market price war against DSL. The cable industry is nervous enough to oppose efforts by Verizon and SBC to streamline the local franchising process. Verizon has set a primary goal of reaching 20% market penetration with FiOS TV, and is trying to accelerate deployments by lobbying for a streamlined state of federal-level video franchising process. Verizon and SBC currently have to negotiate with each municipal government for a video franchise that will add local competition.

Clive Salzer
Senior Researcher USA

See also:
USA – Broadband Market – Broadband over Power Line (BPL)
USA – Broadband Market – Cable modem and DSL
USA – Broadband Market – Fibre to the Home (FttH)
USA – Broadband Market – Wireless Broadband
USA – Convergence – Triple Play
USA – Major Telcos – Statistics & Analysis
USA – Convergence – Digital TV and Interactive TV
USA – Key Statistics, Telecom Market Overview and Analysis – 2005

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THE DEMISE OF NEWS CORP

Monday, December 5th, 2005

Rupert Murdoch – a true giant
Rupert Murdoch will forever be remembered as the media giant of our era – true, an autocratic and ruthless one, but a giant nevertheless. He is a remarkable man, and has probably had more to do with shaping the media world during the last 50 years than anyone else.

However, his empire is beginning to show cracks. The cracks are not only related to the internal changes within the family business, but that dynamic will most certainly hasten the process, especially once Rupert is out of the picture.

Nevertheless, the way he looks today, he could easily reign for another ten years or so.

But, apart from the family situation, important changes are taking place in the converged media, telecoms and IT worlds. And, while Rupert is showing leadership here also, it is highly unlikely that he will have enough time to dominate this new environment.

If anybody could mastermind the changes of convergence and come out on top it would be Rupert Murdoch – but it will be another five to ten years before this transition is complete.

A one-man band
News Corp, on a level that matters (to its investors), is a one-man band, and it is doubtful whether anybody else within the company and the investment community is ready for the tsunami that is approaching. Rupert’s leadership has been, to a large extent, based on fear, and that is not very helpful in supporting and encouraging the lower echelons. I don’t think any of the directors – and certainly not in a combined (team) structure – would be up to the task of replacing the emperor.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the company were to lose the support of the financial market once changes occur in relation to Rupert’s ability to lead his media empire. A lot of very shaky deals have been covered up through Rupert’s autocratic management, but that won’t last forever. This alone could eventually lead to a disintegration of the company, and John Malone is one of the vultures already circling the prey.

From old to new media
We are already starting to catch glimpses of the new, converged world in which companies such as Google, ebay/Skype, Yahoo, Vonage, AOL, MSN and Amazon are jockeying for position. Many of the traditional media and telecoms companies will crumble under the changes, and will be broken up into segments that are easier to merge into the converged industries that lie ahead.

There will be more and more structural separation between content and distribution. The one-size-fits-all broadcasting or newspaper model is on the way out and new distribution formats around the Internet, triple play, IPTV, podcasting, DVRs and blogging are already emerging. It will be difficult to retain the current vertically-integrated media and telco models to include the new distribution media in all of these emerging content and services niche markets. Content and interactivity (=technology) will be integrated and, as such, will become the foundation for the new services to be delivered in the marketplace of converged media and technologies.

No leader for the move to convergence
News Corp is belatedly moving into this new environment with a range of Internet media acquisitions, and they all make sense to me. But I don’t think the old model of media acquisition will allow News Corp to transfer its success in the old media into the new environment.

As I have said, if Rupert had another 25 years up his sleeve he could probably pull this off, but the reality is that this won’t be the case, and I would argue that there is no replacement for Rupert waiting in the wings who would be powerful enough, and who would be supported by the financial market.

Add to this the current family developments and it becomes clear that it will be extremely difficult for News Corp to maintain its present leadership position in the international media market. I believe that the empire will shift towards the content business, which I see as its core strength. It could still remain a formidable player in this market, but in the converged market it would no longer enjoy the supreme position that it occupies under Rupert Murdoch.

News moving into content niches
But I believe that the right time exists for the right developments. The vertically-integrated media and telecoms models has brought us this far, and now the world has changed. People are better educated; want to make their own choices; depend less on mass media, and are moving into the thousands of niche markets that are becoming accessible through new technologies.

Murdoch’s empire operated under the old vertically-integrated media model, but this has reached its due date, and over the next five years or so a new breed of companies will emerge that are better suited to this converged environment.

For News Limited these changes might mean concentrating on their successful (digital) content business and I certainly also see a future for their NDS business.

Paul Budde

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Wireless networks for schools Victoria

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

In 2005 the Victorian Department of Education & Training deployed the largest WLAN in the Asia-Pacific region, for Victorian public schools. This initiative, known as the Wireless Networks for Schools (WiNS) program, has provided more than 1,600 Victorian public schools with high-speed, wireless access to information, including Internet and intranet resources with industry-leading security.

The $6 million WiNS program was implemented using Cisco equipment supplied by IBM Logicalis (renamed Cerulean), in conjunction with a team of approximately 340 field technicians contracted by the Department. The WiNS program supports the Department’s Notebooks for Teachers and Principals Program, which provided 40,000 Victorian teachers with notebook computers and training in technology.

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