Week in Review, April 12, 2009

The news took on something of an international flavor this holiday week. In addition to the usual goings-on in the U.S. and Japan, we learned that Bollywood has become so insurgent that Warner Bros. fears copyright infringement from it, Europe is experiencing a surge of creative Web startups, online gaming is huge in China and the Middle East may become the next fertile ground for the Twilight phenomenon. It all goes to show that geekery of all sorts is a truly global phenomenon in this wired age, and we all should be thinking globally when we get our big ideas.

Closer to home, the surge of streaming video – Crunchyroll, in particular, was all  over  the place – might be killing off traditional video outlets. It turns out that Blockbuster is in serious trouble. Given that Blockbuster is pretty much the last of the old-school rental stores, since they drove countless mom and pops out of business, this means the end of an era in video. Probably not coincidentally, Boxee announced new development options, CBS announced big numbers for its streaming of March Madness, speculation arose that YouTube might show full length movies and  Netflix expanded its streaming lineup. 

On the tech front, the Sun Microsystems-IBM deal crashed with a thud big enough to have an effect on the stock market. What's next for Sun is unclear – I don't think anyone in the industry wants the venerable company, which was once synonymous with high-tech itself, to go under. Time Warner announced it may spin off  another old warhorse, AOL, leaving doubts about its future as well. (The key to AOL's survival is going to be shedding its old image as The Internet for Dummies and reinventing itself as a content provider for the new era).

in a sequel to an old soap opera, it was reported that Yahoo and Microsoft may be in talks about a search and advertising partnership, bringing to an end the saga of the failed takeover bid. Microsoft could use the extra leverage against Google, as they're currently battling them for a Twitter advertising deal.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting new development on the netbook scene – speculation arose that Nokia  may be the next company to enter the small-and-cheap arena. This, coupled with the previous news that netbooks running Android may be in our future, brings netbooks and smart phones into closer and closer synergy – there may not be much different between the two in the future (except you usually don't talk into a netbook!)

On the video game front, Sony came out swinging at the DSi, saying Nintendo's new handheld doesn't offer much new and lacks the third party support of the PSP. Given how far behind its own handheld runs in sales in this country, they'd better be prepared to put their money where their mouth is when the next revision of the PSP comes along. EA's Will Wright left the company for an electronic think tank. The Midway saga got uglier as the Mortal Kombat team announced they weren't paid bonuses and news emerged that the company might be out of cash by June .

And, in much lighter news, the industry decided that if two monster franchises could sell a bazillion games alone, putting them together would send sales into the stratosphere. Voila, Lego Rock Band.  

In publishing, even in the face of the E-book wars, it appeared there was still some interest in bound books and brick-and-mortar stores. Author Solutions bought brick-and-mortar retailer Trafford and romance novels were flying off the shelves - a good thing in light of the fact that romances are an excellent training ground for aspiring authors looking to get into all fields.

Finally, if you are thinking of developing the ultimate geeky media property, take note that it's already out there. Anime News Network carried a story this week about a manga based on a Linux variant . Manga plus Linux? I can't see how anything could possibly be geekier than that.       

Links of the Day, April 6, 2009


Nineteen European Web startups to watch: In conjunction with the Next Web Conference in Amsterdam, a competition was held to determine the companies on the other side of the pond that will be making noise in the future. Some of the winners include Silentale, a service that allows people to browse all their digital conversations in one place; Klomptek, a remote desktop solution for mobile phones; and Yunoo, a personal finance tool with social features. Proof that creativity and forward thinking aren't just limited to Silicon Valley and Japan, and also things to watch for the future – some of these may be setting up U.S. branches if they get big enough.

Full-length movies may be coming to YouTube: The company is in negotiations to include films from Sony Pictures. It would be the service's first premium content. We reported last week that YouTube was going through financial bumps – it's dominating streaming video in every area except revenue. Furthermore, they don't have the streaming video pond to themselves anymore – Hulu is making a real charge at them (although they're not without their own problems) and services like Netflix (which just added South Park and Nickelodeon shows to its streaming lineup) are offering desktop streaming through the Xbox 360. This allows them to generate revenue and yet also remain available for people who want to upload their video clips from Grandma's birthday party.

TheStreeet reports that Nokia may be the next to throw its hat in the netbook ring. What's most interesting about this is it's not a computer company, but a phone manufactuer. Netbooks and smartphones seem to be drawing closer and closer in concept – first the announcement that netbooks running Android may be in our future, now this. It's not entirely implausible that the cell phone makers may eventually become the major players in the netbook game – after all, nobody expected a computer manufacturer to make a big splash in phones.

Sun Microsystems won't be acquired by IBM after all: The company is now attempting to explain the collapse of the deal to shareholders and customers. Hopefully, another suitor will come along for this historic name in the computer business, because it would be a shame to see it fade into the sunset – not only because a lot of jobs are at stake, but because of its storied heritage. And in another saga of a heritage company facing hard times, Time-Warner may spin off AOL, which will either mean a new dawn for the company or its final doom. It all depends on how well they're able to cut their ties to their Internet-for-dummies past and reinvent themselves.


Former deputy treasury secretary Roger Altman said this is not a normal cyclic recovery and that we face a "slow, painful climb" to geting back on our collective feet. There's several factors that go into it, so the article is worth reading carefully. Needless to say, Americans spending over their income is one big cog in that wheel – a reminder to all of us that we need to watch our spending a little more carefully when the economy does get back into normal working order.  

Video Games

Analyst Lazard Capital says that Amazon's entry into the used game market is unlikely to affect GameStop, whch is the king in that arena of retailing. However, the challenge will come when other brick-and-mortar retailers, such as so-called "big box" stores, get into the used games industry. In today's economy, it makes sense that used games are more important than ever, and it's quite logical to assume that a number of retailers are going to want a piece of the pie. Personally, I can't see anyone knocking anyone off their throne. GameStop has built its reputation not on price (their used games are often only a few dollars cheaper than the new ones), but on deep customer service – its staff is very knowledgeable about what they sell and also extremely honest (I once had a GameStop staffer tell me that a less expensive game would actually be more enjoyable for me than a higher-priced one). That's the kind of thing that builds customer loyalty, and unless HereComesEveryoneMart is going to offer that, they will be no threat.

The Midway saga again: The Mortal Kombat team claims that they were not paid bonuses  for their work on the bankrupt company's flagship game. Small wonder that reports are flying the team plans to set up their own game company. It's inevitable that Midway is going to go down, so at least if these people strike out on their own, they can grab the Mortal Kombat brand and carry on with it.

Sony is taking potshots at the DSi, saying Nintendo's new portable underserves its audience and lacks third-party suport compared to Sony's own PSP. This kind of trash talking would be one thing if Sony had the goods to back it up, but considering that PSP still lags dismally behind DSs of all kinds, at least in this country, it just comes across as sour grapes. Sony's behavior over the past couple of weeks has been a lesson in "what not to do to build good press" - first the head-scratching PS2 price cut, now this trash-talking.

Namco Bandai is practicing good multimedia synergy with its popular Tales Of series, announcing both a new game  featuring characters from 13 previous installments and a new anime. Both are Japan-only at the moment, but don't expect that to last. Tales Of has been quietly building into a multimedia monster with much less noise than the Final Fantasy franchise did, and they're a lesson in steadily building a brand. (And in another interesting synergy, two hot video game franchises will come together later this year in the form of Lego Rock Band).

Job Market

Disney slashes 1,900 theme park jobs - Given the effect the economy is having on tourism, this was probably inevitable, but it's still sad to hear, especially considering how many Disney fans consider being an employee of one of the parks a dream job. 

Streaming Video: Coming Soon, to a Mainstream Near You

Last weekend, during a broadcast of American institution The Simpsons, a commercial appeared for Hulu, the streaming video service. It featured Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane doing the voices of several of his creations, including Stewie and Peter Griffin.

What was unusual about the spot is that you had network TV promoting what, in the future, may be its biggest competitor – streaming video services.

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