This is becoming a major problem

or not …

I really had no idea wood pallet risks were such a hot topic for discussion.

Of course, if you compare number of pallet fires to number of residential fires, the above almost seems like nothing. There were 20 major pallet fires between 2008 and 2010. There were 403,000 residential structure fires, causing an estimated $8.6 billion in damage – in 2008 alone.

This is from http://www.pallettruth.com/. Notice the copyright. Yeah, it’s really just a marketing effort more than anything.

Blockbuster Deathwatch

Blockbuster

Okay it’s finally time to put Blockbuster on a deathwatch. This isn’t just me wishing this would happen. This is Blockbuster saying it to the public. In a recent SEC filing Blockbuster actually said, “Our future viability is dependent on our ability to execute … If we fail to do so … would not be able to continue … and could be forced to file bankruptcy …” Holy Cow!

I’m sure the accountant who got to write those footnotes had a fun day. Anyway, they go on and on about the bleakness of their future. It’s crazy. They are acting like it is inevitable and despite having some sort of plan to save themselves it is not going to work. I for one despise Blockbuster and its either clueless of drug addled employees.

Their stock currently sits at $0.33 down from a an all-time high of $30 in 2002. They lost $435 million in Q4 of 2009. And they are $964 million in debt. Think some bank is going to give them a loan? Think again.

I give Blockbuster until the end of the year or perhaps right after Christmas in a best case scenario. They have noting to offer their shareholders that can possibly save their long since dead business model. The only reason I’ve set foot into a Blockbuster in the last ten years is because we were watching a TV series and did not want to wait until tomorrow to watch the next episode.

Blockbuster is getting crushed by Netflix and Redbox. Redbox is simply Blockbuster done more cheaply. No giant brick and mortar stores to pay for, they don’t have thousands of employees to pay. Redbox is open 24 hours a day. You can check to see it a movie is in stock before hoping into you car. You can even reserve that DVD/BD before you leave your house. Yes, there are late fees, but at $1 per day, who cares? Blockbuster has recently instituted late fees again. At this point they are desperate for cash and they don’t care how they get. I have to wonder if I lived right next door to a Blockbuster would I even use it? There is probably very little chance I would actually use it. Most of the stores around here are so old and run down they attract diseases. The carpet has not been cleaned in 20 years.

Blockbuster added 2000 kiosks last year, and they say they are going to add another 7000 this year in a partnership with NCR. More reactionary moves of a dying whale. If a company becomes nothing more than a reaction to its competitors it has already failed. If you fail to innovate you die. Their price war with Netflix didn’t fare much better either.

So why is Netflix so successful? I think they gained a loyal following because of two reasons initially. There were never any late fees and you never had to deal with the stupid employees. Blockbuster always made you feel like you are being granted some sort of privilege to be renting a movie from them. Then to compound the insult they charged you late fees if you you were even a few seconds late returning a movie. That was never customer service. I really liked when Blockbuster took a page from Disney and they rearranged the layout of their interior stores so the checkout lines took you through the myriad shelves of highly profitable but totally unrelated junk. I think this is standard fare for big box retailers these days. Best buy has perfected this to an art form.

Have you ever asked an employee at Blockbuster for a movie recommendation only have it be a horrible movie? Asking Blockbuster staff, “Is this a good movie?” is always a risky proposition. It’s not like the nerds at Radio Shack The Shack who actually know all sorts of useful information about electronics and cables so you can get the right part. Netflix has one of, if not the most sophisticated recommendation systems called, Cinematch. If you have not used it, you should seriously give it a try. It has surprised me on a number of occasions after watching a movie it recommended. One more reason why Netflix is a winner and Blockbuster is a loser.

Looking at this chart from The FeedFlix Blog you can see where the future is. Blockbuster my have movies via snail mail and blue boxes but this is the one thing they don’t have that has a chance of success.

Yes they have agreements with Samsung and Tivo but honestly it is too little, too late. They not only have to compete with Netflix but that huge monster called Amazon. They both have a huge head start and a doing very well at it. It has now been a year since Blockbuster started its streaming service and there is no turn around in sight. Netflix has agreements with many if not all of the major TV and BD manufacturers, and it works well.

So it has become obvious that Blockbuster’s success is inversely proportional to the amount of bandwidth in a home. As bandwidth increases their profits will continue decrease. It is only a matter of time before they are crushed by their debt and ever decreasing cash flow. Can Blockbuster avoid Chapter 11? Blockbuster says it faces a $390 million debt payment in 2012 and raised the possibility of a restructuring in its filing. “This is a company that has two years to turn itself around,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who gives Blockbuster a neutral rating. The CEO Keyes is “making all the right moves. But he has the lousiest job in the world.” If they owe you money I would think it is time to start collecting.

Chipping Away at Comcast

Comcast

Comcast is starting to spend big money to ensure that its proposed purchase of NBC Universal gets the nod from federal regulators. Expect these numbers to continue to ramp up as Comcast applies even more pressure (read: wining and dining) to the DOJ and the FCC. I can’t seem to find equivalent NBC expenditures anywhere.

Comcast Spent $3.5 Million Lobbying in 4th Quarter

The FCC is taking the lead on the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. This is probably a good thing as GE, Comcast, and NBC Universal have many friends in the DOJ offices but far less friends in the corridors of the FCC. I don;t always love Julius Genachowski but he has done a few things that I’m happy about. He should be pretty tough on Comcast when the decision times comes. He is one of the few at the FCC political level that seems to have a clue about how the modern media and technology world works and what is good for consumers.

FCC calls shots on Comcast-NBC deal

Feds pledge tough review of Comcast-NBC deal

A big setback for Comcast and Cablevision. The court finally sets straight the previous ruling that these cable operators must share their content with competitors. This was seen as a critical decision for Comcast. One of the hopes of Comcast post NBC Universal merger is to lock in all those channels the produce their own content to the Comcast distribution thus forcing consumers to purchase a Comcast subscription in order to watch programming they want. This is called a monopoly. This is why the merger between NBC Universal and Comcast must be stopped.

Court Rules Cable Owned Stations Have to Be Provided to Satellites

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100312/ap_en_tv/us_cable_access_rules

If like most consumers you think this deal stinks and will raise your cable bills you, should tell the FCC. They have asked for your input [PDF]. Remember how well that AOL-Time Warner merger worked out for everybody?

If you’re against Comcast – NBC deal you have about six weeks to let FCC know.

Finally this just one more example of the duplicity of Comcast when it comes to truth in advertising. Imagine what they will do when they have control on a major content producer like NBC Universal.

Comcast: ‘Unlimited Usage’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Unlimited Usage’

No one really has any idea as to whether this merger will be approved so you as the consumer must continue to make yourself heard.

Olympics at Work

Olympics 2010

So I decided to check out the Olympics streaming content from NBC and the whole site struck me as a bit overloaded. The selection of live feeds is pretty sparse but they do have lots of content you can view ex post facto for what that is worth. Odds are good that you will have already read who won by the time you get a chance to watch the replay.

I started to watch a Womens Hockey game after having to prove that I pay for TV and that my TV provider forks over lots of money for Olympics streaming rights. I wonder if there is different content for different TV subscribers? After a few seconds I notice that there is a boss key on the Silverlight player! it is on the lower right corner of the Silverlight client. The NBC Olympics web site is a very Microsoft oriented thing.

The main streaming page.
Olympics

The boss key is on the lower right corner, click for larger image.
Olympics

The Boss page is Windows Vista with Excel 2007 show a blank sheet. Funny stuff.
Olympics

I hope you’re not running Linux. “Oh you switched to Windows!?” “Um … yes, yes I did. I’m only going to give it two weeks to see how it works out. Then I may switch back.”

I remember in the old days computer games had a boss key. I was too young to have a job and need a boss key, although it came in handy hiding games from the homework czar. I haven’t seen a game ship in a long time with a boss key.

I do credit for NBC understanding there will be a large demand for viewing while at the office. In order to maximize viewers they don’t want them to get fired for watching the Olympics. The video quality is good but there have been frequent disconnects and dropouts. I have had to reload the whole page twice to get the player to start streaming content again. The lack of a pop out window option is a bit of a disappointment.

Now, if you think these pay walls are a one time thing, think again. This will be all to common once NBC is owned by Comcast. They will provide premium if not all content to those who subscribe to their cable service. Things are only going to get more expensive once Comcast owns NBC Universal.

Comcast vs. Congress

Comcast

Recently the dynamic duo of NBC President Jeff Zucker and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts went before a Senate subcommittee hearing to discuss their merger. The duo got very little love from the panel. Is the Senate being tough for the cameras or do they actually have concerns.

The toughest critic so far has been Senator Al Franken (D-MN). I am certainly no fan of Stuart Smalley but he made some valid criticisms of NBCU and actually seems to understand what is going on here and what is at stake. Ars Technica has a great write up on their exchange which frankly seemed to be a bit personal. It certainly makes for interesting reading as these matters are usually handled behind closed doors but this disagreement was made public. Here is the video.

As I have said before, what is really going on here is not about traditional TV but TV served over the internet. Companies like Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube are really the ones who are at risk. NBCU and Comcast know that is where the future lies and they are fighting it tooth and nail. These providers like Netflix are particularly threatened by this merger because Comcast is the largest ISP in the US, therefore a large number of its streaming customers rely on Comcast to view the content. Comcast can use that as leverage against Netflix when negotiating NBCU content distribution deals with Netflix. With the proposed network neutrality rules (which is a sham) Comcast will be able to throttle manage Netflix data streams to where users become dissatisfied and look elsewhere for that content. Comcast has already demonstrated a willingness to battle over this territory.

Netflix has commented, ““If left unchecked, the “managed services” category could engulf the Commission’s open Internet policies altogether. As such, the Commission must carefully circumscribe the network operators’ ability to exempt certain services from the openness rules by classifying them as managed services,” Netflix wrote in its filing.”

They can get cut off by Comcast at any time on both the back end from the NBCU side or on the front side by the ISP side of Comcast. You can also think of a managed service as a dedicated channel on the Internet for things like telemedicine or streaming video like Netflix. An ISP like Comcast allots a certain amount of bandwidth and assurance for quality to that channel. Those companies have pushed for exemptions in the FCC’s net neutrality rules, bringing up examples of video for remote medical care that need prioritization. But also imagine how a company would put their own video services in that channel – essentially extending the cable television model to the Internet. We know how well that is working out for consumer household budgets.

Netflix is among a growing number of Internet video companies pairing up with TV makers like LG, Samsung, and Sony who provide “apps” on their devices or set top boxes like Roku, which enable your large living room TV to conenct ot the internet and watch streamign content. This is really the convergence of the Internet and televisions that has been long sought after. Those companies have pushed a slow but remarkable move by consumers to cut their cable and satellite subscriptions. Almost every TV and Blu-ray player announced at CES this year had some sort of VoD app capability.

Congressman Mark Cooper (D-GA) challenged the very idea that the Comcast NBCU merger was not a horizontal integration. NBC has a significant stake in Hulu.com, and Comcast with Fancast.net and its TV Everywhere initiative. Comcast’s efforts will allow it’s cable video customers to access Comcast provided content online.

“Comcast is clearly attempting to control the distribution of the video content it makes available on the Web by restricting sales exclusively to Comcast cable customers,” Cooper charged, in that the content is not available to non-Comcast subscribers.

“By contrast, NBC has exactly the opposite philosophy—or at least it did,” he warned. “Through Hulu, NBC is competing for both Comcast and non-Comcast customers by selling video online that is not tied to cable. NBC also has incentives to make its programming available in as many points of sale as possible. Merger with Comcast will put an end that pro-competitive practice.” He nailed it.

Comcast is continuing to stifle competition and innovation in an attempt to protect it antiquated business model. Comcast isn’t interested in you as their customer.

Stimulus?

Portland Federal Building

In the New York Times article In Portland, Growing Vertical, they detail how the government will spend $133 million on a renovation of the General Services Administration building. They are planning to cultivate “vegetated fins” that will grow more than 200 feet high on the western facade of the main federal building here, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons and nurtures plants that yield energy savings.

How much savings per year?

The G.S.A. says the building will use 60 percent to 65 percent less energy than comparable buildings and estimates a savings of $280,000 annually in energy costs. Solar panels could provide up to 15 percent of the building’s power needs. The use of rainwater and low-flow plumbing fixtures will reduce potable water consumption by 68 percent. And energy for lighting will be halved.

These people are insane, there is no other explanation. Their lust for an eco-green universe has driven their ego to take over. Spending 133 million dollars to save 280,000 per year will take 475 years for that investment to be recouped. Perhaps they could just build a new building from the ground up instead and make that one all “green” instead of turning this existing place into a chia building.

This is by far the biggest waste of the so-called stimulus money so far.

Jeff Zucker’s New Boss

Comcast

Jeff Zucker who is currently the president of NBC Universal will, once the merger with Comcast is complete, have a new boss. His name is Neil Smit, who is currently President and CEO of Charter Communications. What does this mean? Well, Comcast COO Steve Burke is going to have his hands full taking on responsibility for NBC Universal as well as his roles heading Comcast Cable Communications and parent company Comcast Communications. So hiring Neil Smits from that sinking ship Charter Communication makes total sense. Now Charter Executive VP and COO will be interim president/CEO while the company looks for a new boss.

Prior to joining Charter, Smit was the President of Time Warner?s America Online Access Business overseeing Internet access services, including America Online (AOL), CompuServe and Netscape ISPs. Smit also served at AOL as Executive Vice President, Member Services, and Chief Operating Officer of MapQuest.

AOL, Compuserve, Netscape. All failures due to lack of innovation. Oh Mapquest, owned by AOL of course. Now unlike Comcast Charter isn’t doing so hot financially. In 2007, net income a $1.616 billion loss with a total equity loss of $7.892 billion. These days thing are much better, oh wait not so much. Back in February, Charter Communications announced that it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Private equity firm Apollo Management expects to own most of Charter’s shares after the bankruptcy is completed. In November 2009, its bankruptcy plan was approved, which extinguished its stock and cut approximately $8 billion in debt. I guess closing those seven call centers and outsourcing the work to the Philippines didn’t help very much.

I wonder what it did for customer service at Charter? Well interestingly enough PCWorld ranked Charter’s cable Internet service as worst among 14 major Internet service providers. In addition, Charter High-Speed is the second-worst-rated cable ISP on dslreports.com, and Consumer Reports indicated in their February 2008 issue that Charter’s television/Internet/telephone bundle collectively is the worst of all major national carriers. Rock on Charter.

Comcast you sure did pick a winner in Neil Smit. At least he gets to be the one to fire Jeff Zucker.

Comcast going under the microscope

Comcast

Two significant items occurred this week for Comcast. The Justice Department announced it was going to investigate the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. The other is the FCC has begun a trial against Comcast over whether Comcast must adhere to net neutrality guidelines established by the FCC during the Bush Administration.

Both are good news for TV and Internet consumers as Comcast is the largest cable TV provider and the largest ISP in the country. What happens with these two cases will cause others to follow suit. In addition to the Justice department review the FCC will also have to review and approve the proposed merger. Comcast has been involved in a number of high-profile disputes in recent years over where it places channels on its lineups and how much it pays for them. last week, the Tennis Channel filed a complaint with the FCC accusing Comcast of discriminating against its cable TV network by relegating it to a premium sports tier that reaches only a small number of subscribers, even as Comcast owned Golf and Versus channels get much wider distribution. Comcast places its own channels in tiers that have more subscribers in order to sell more ads on those networks. Previously the National Football League had also sued Comcast and complained to the FCC over the cable provider’s decision to move the NFL Network to the premium package following a dispute over fees. Links to the full AP stories below.

Comcast, FCC take net neutrality dispute to court

Justice Department to review Comcast, NBC deal