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.

Superbowl

Super Bowl 44

Everyone had a was in a great mood, ate way too much, and had a great time. I know I’m happy that the New Orleans Saints won the game. The food was very tasty and the homemade Chili con queso that S. constructed was the big hit of the evening to be sure. Now that the party is over we all had to agree on which were the best commercials of the evening and we were able to reach a consensus. Our top three picks for 2010 are:

(caution they all autoplay)

  1. Megan Fox Motorola Third Quarter
  2. Simpson’s Coca-Cola First Quarter
  3. Budweiser Human Body Bridge Second Quarter

The Top Ten according to fanhouse.com:

  1. E-Trade: Jealous Girlfriend
  2. NFL: Lift Off
  3. Anheuser Busch: Clydesdale Friend
  4. VW: Punching Game
  5. Doritos: Dog Gets Revenge
  6. Google: Parisian Love
  7. Coke: Sleep Walking
  8. Doritos: Play Nice
  9. Budweiser: Body Bridge
  10. CareerBuilder.com: Casual Fridays

I also really enjoyed the shear geekiness of the Google ad, called “How to Impress a French Woman.” I think a lot of people at our party did not like it or didn’t get, but that could be because it required paying attention and reading, which is a dangerous combination these days.

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.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Early last week the snow was piling up and so we decided to head for warmer weather weather. Las Vegas seemed like the perfect place. Only a couple of ours away and plenty of fun things to do, but more importantly, warmer. S. and I headed out with L. and L. for a weekend of fun.

Along the way we decided to name our tour. So we came up with, “The Seven Deadly Sins Tour.” Remember those list of sins from the Old Testament? Things God doesn’t like. There have been many versions of the list over the last two millennium. We settled on the Pope Gregory I revision. Dante’s list would have worked well also, but he manages to come up with ways to punish the extravagant, as the wasteful are punished in the fourth circle of hell.

So how did we do?

  • Lust
  • Most people think of this as sexual, but it can be almost anything. Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. I suppose going to the the gym everyday would qualify.

  • Gluttony
  • We managed this one with flying colors. Way too much food.

  • Greed
  • It was Vegas right?

  • Sloth
  • I think we can get a passing grade on this one as well. Perhaps, sleeping in late? Oh wait, the whole trip was an avoidance of of physical or spiritual work.

  • Wrath
  • There was a host that we were unhappy with. Oh, and those annoying guys flapping their smut fliers on the sidewalk on the strip. Definitely not happy with them.

  • Envy
  • I really wanted to eat all of L.’s doughnut holes.

  • Pride
  • Thinking you can predict the future.

All in all not a bad attempt on such a short notice. I guess next weekend we’ll have to go for the Seven virtues contrition and misdeeds plan. Good times.

My old friends.

Friends

Once upon a time there were two little ingenious companies called Ximian and SUSE. Along came a poorly run corporate monolithic giant who gobbled them up.

“Oh look, shiny, I think I’ll eat them.”

After feasting on their dead corpses the evil ogre became confused and realized he did not like how they tasted any longer. So the red malevolent monster spat out the rotting corpse to the ground and then trampled them. Sometimes I miss my old buddies Rupert and Geeko. Their spirit lives on.

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.

National HD Channel Lineup

Recently the HD chart at AVS was updated.

After weeding out limited channel availability the leader board looks like this.
Verizon 163
AT&T 155
Cablevision 132
Dish 112
DirecTV 87

This does not include RSNs. Which DirecTV has a lot of. Here is hoping the new DirecTV satellite, D12 becomes operational soon.















last.fm finally fixes something

last.fm

last.fm charts have been broken for more than a month now. Today they finally started to render again. To bad there is no other game in town. Winamp has its Orgler but that is a Windows only solution that requires Winamp Media Player to work. the last.fm approach is much smarter. Of course they don’t make a media player like Winamp, so they are platform and client agnostic which helps their popularity.

Ever since CBS bought last.fm things like this have been happening. Probably as a result of a desire to show a profit they cut staff who keep things like this running. Hurray for corporate overlords who are clueless.