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Channeling Pinnochio, NCTA Cable Lobby Launches “The Infinite Internet” (They Want to Usage Cap)

pinnocThe National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the nation’s largest cable lobbying group, has outdone itself with a brand new fact-challenged video truth-seekers will quickly discover is little more than industry propaganda.

“For nearly 20 years, cable has been building Internet networks that are empowering everyone from innovators and entrepreneurs to kids in the garage,” says the NCTA in its introduction of its new video “The Infinite Internet.” “The Internet propels business, education, entertainment – whatever we want. It’s a platform of possibilities and the fast growing technology in history. Cable is proud of the part we’ve played in advancing America’s future and we’ll continue to make it faster and more accessible.”

Except many NCTA member companies want to introduce usage caps and consumption billing that limit those possibilities on an already absurdly profitable service. The same broadband duopoly of cable and phone companies also holds America’s broadband rankings back, and has demonstrated its real priority is to charge more money for less service.

We’ve reviewed the video and found credibility problems with almost every claim:

Claim: “America’s ISPs have invested trillions of dollars and laid 400,000 miles of fiber optics.”

Our finding: FIB Even industry mouthpieces like the Progressive Policy Institute and NCTA members themselves have a problem with “trillions.” The chief executives of AT&T, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Suddenlink, Time Warner Cable, 15 other companies, and industry groups such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association itself, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the CTIA Wireless Association claimed in the spring of 2014 that the entire telecommunications industry (not cable alone) spent a combined $1.2 trillion on communications infrastructure. A considerable percentage of that investment was to build out cellular networks, first for mobile phone calls and only later for wireless data. The cable industry spent far less than $1 trillion on its own infrastructure and at the time of its most rapid growth, it was intended primarily to deliver cable television, not broadband.

Stop the Cap! also found the NCTA cheating in its claims of increasing investment in broadband. The trade group was citing cumulative spending, not actual year-to-year spending. A careful review shows broadband investments are generally flat or in decline and are nowhere near comparable to the investments the industry made in the late 1990s.

Although it may be true the cable industry has deployed 400,000 miles of fiber optics, the overwhelming majority of cable customers cannot directly access any of it. Virtually all the cable industry’s fiber is deployed between the company’s headquarters and individual communities where it is connected to the same coaxial cable platform that has been around since the 1960s. Most of the rest is laid for commercial purposes, notably providing backhaul connectivity for cell towers. Time Warner Cable alone deployed fiber to its 10,000th cell tower back in 2013. It’s a lucrative business, earning that cable company more than $61 million a quarter.

BroadbandNow found no cable company appearing on the list of top fiber broadband providers. In fact, as of 2012 only 23% of Americans have access to fiber broadband ranking the United States 14th among western countries in fiber optic penetration according to the OECD.

Claim: “High speed connections reach nearly every home with blazing fast speeds that power our lives.”

Our finding: HIGHLY MISLEADING The NCTA fails to define its terms here. What exactly constitutes a “high-speed connection.” The FCC currently defines broadband as providing speeds of 4Mbps or better. Is that “blazing fast?” The FCC is currently considering redefining broadband to mean speeds of at least 25Mbps, well below many cable company entry-level broadband tiers. The NCTA also likes to claim that 99% of households have access to high-speed Internet, but they include wireless technology at any speed in those figures. If you can get one bar from AT&T’s 3G wireless Internet network, you’ve got high-speed broadband in their eyes.

In fact, when it comes to stingy coverage areas, cable is notoriously not available outside of the biggest cities and suburbs, as the government’s own National Broadband Map depicts:

Map showing cable companies offering at least DOCSIS 3.0 cable broadband service.

Map showing cable companies offering at least DOCSIS 3.0 cable broadband service.

Claim: “ISP’s want access for everyone.”

Our finding: TRUE, WITH MISSING FINE PRINT What company would not want to offer its products and services to everyone. The real question is whether they plan on doing that or simply wishing they had. The cable industry has no intention of implementing sweeping changes to the Return On Investment (ROI) formula that determines whether your home gets access to cable or not. Some companies like Time Warner Cable and Frontier Communications are expanding their cable and DSL networks, but only when the government steps in with broadband deployment grant funding.

Assuming service is available, the next hurdle is cost. BBC News reported in 2013 home broadband in the U.S. costs far more than elsewhere. At high speeds, it costs nearly three times as much as in the UK and France, and more than five times as much as in South Korea. Today it costs even more when you count the growing number of providers charging modem rental fees as high as $10 a month and often cap usage or force customers into usage-based billing schemes.

Claim: “With over 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots, the Internet of Things is emerging.”

Cox Cable sells their customers on accessing over 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, with a prominent asterisk.

Cox Cable sells their customers on accessing over 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, with a prominent asterisk. Access is only available for free if you are a current cable broadband customer.

Our finding: MISLEADING The NCTA is referring to collaboration between Bright House Networks, Cox Communications, Optimum, Time Warner Cable and XFINITY that allow each other’s high-speed Internet customers to use to each company’s Wi-Fi hotspots. They key word is “customers.” The hotspots may be technically reachable by the public, but unless you are a current cable broadband subscriber, using them typically requires the purchase of a daily use pass.

Claim: “Cable will continue to invest, building this platform of possibilities, if we preserve the freedom that created the Internet.”

Our finding: EMPTY CLAIMS The NCTA’s commitment that the cable industry will continue to invest is fulfilled if one cable operator spends just $1 on their network infrastructure. Notice the NCTA does not commit its members to stopping the ongoing decline in broadband investment, much less move to increase it. It also has no explanation for the annual rate increases and new fees and surcharges customers are paying, as the gap between broadband pricing abroad and at home grows even larger. 

“Preserve the freedom” is code language for maintaining the deregulation that the industry has used to its advantage to raise prices in a broadband market most Americans will find is either a monopoly or duopoly. Although the NCTA implies it, the cable industry did not create the Internet. It was a government project (gasp!) initially developed through contracts with the Department of Defense and soon broadened to include educational institutions. The first significant commercial ISPs emerged only in the late 1980s. Cable industry broadband finally showed up around a decade after that. The industry’s claims are akin to boasting Lewis and Clark discovered Kansas City… in 1966.

If the cable industry gets some oversight of its broadband service and enforced protection of Net Neutrality, does that mean investment will flee? First, providers are already spending a lower percentage of capital on broadband expansion in the current deregulatory environment. Second, as broadband becomes the cable industry’s top earner, it provides an endless supply of revenue without the headaches of negotiating programming contracts, dealing with cable television network rate increases, and the growing phenomenon of cord-cutting. In other words, without significant new competition, it remains a license to print money.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/NCTA The Infinite Internet 1-20-15.mp4

The NCTA is trying to make hay with its new video, “The Infinite Internet” which purports to share how Big Cable’s vision of the Internet is making new things possible. They don’t mention many of their member companies want to place a usage cap on that innovation, even as they continue to raise prices way out of proportion of the cost of delivering the service. It’s classic cable industry propaganda. (1:08)

4K Ultra HD Television Arrives Via Satellite; DISH Network Adding ‘4K Joey’ Set Top Box

4kjoey

That is DISH’s CEO banging the drum beside a panoply of kangaroos. (Image courtesy: Gizmodo)

The ultra high-definition, bandwidth chewing 4K television standard has arrived and like HDTV before it, the first place most Americans will get to sample the new standard is over satellite television.

DISH Network is planning to introduce HDMI/HDCP 4K television owners to its new 4K Joey this year — a souped-up set-top box that can handle the high demands of 4K video.

DISH is using a Broadcom dual-core chipset and 7448 ARM processor that can handle the next standard in high-definition viewing.

While DISH set-top boxes will be ready for 4K, many cable and DSL broadband networks in the United States will face difficulties handling the online video demands that 4K video will place on their networks. In tests, watching an average movie required a minimum of a maxed out 10Mbps broadband connection. Live programming, particularly sports, required considerably more broadband speed to keep up. Few DSL networks will be able to sustain more than a handful of customers attempting to stream 4K video before neighborhood nodes become overwhelmed. Even the DOCSIS cable broadband standard still relies on shared bandwidth, and a few video aficionados in the neighborhood could pose significant challenges and speed slowdowns for other customers in the area.

Besides satellite, only fiber optic broadband will be ready to handle the practical requirements of streaming 4K video without significant upgrades.

dish logoDISH’s plans to stream video content over the Internet could one day also include 4K programming, but viewers are likely to run smack into usage caps and usage billing that ISPs are using to deter online video from gutting cable television revenue as well as further monetizing already highly profitable broadband.

Downloading just three 4K movies consumed 90GB and took more than a day to download, even with Comcast’s 100Mbps broadband service. In usage-capped markets, fewer than a dozen 4K movies would eat your entire monthly allowance. Each additional movie would subject Comcast customers to overlimit fees averaging around $6 per title.

Although DISH will offer a set-top box to handle 4K viewing, content producers are still waiting to see whether the public embraces the next HD standard before investing heavily in programming delivered using the new standard. DISH would only promise content from “several providers” would be forthcoming by the time the 4K Joey is released during the second quarter.

HD Smorgasbord: Rogers Tells Customers to Stop Worrying and Crank Up the Streaming Video

In a complete about-face for eastern Canada’s largest cable operator, Rogers Communications is inviting customers to take the brakes off their usage and go hog-wild with high bandwidth HD streaming and downloading with an unlimited use plan.

“Whether you use shomi, Netflix, YouTube or all three as your go-to streaming service(s), if you’re a subscriber to an unlimited Rogers Internet package, you don’t have to worry about streaming video in anything other than their highest-quality settings – the image is pristine and the sound is awesome,” the company writes on its online blog.

Rogers had argued for at least five years before Canada’s telecommunications regulator that compulsory usage caps and overlimit fees were necessary to manage congestion on their networks and to make sure that heavy users pay their fair share.

Those days of congestion are evidently over because Rogers takes customers through several tutorials to teach them how to turn up their streaming settings to deliver HD and 4K video streams.

“Rogers comes very close to implying it is Netflix and YouTube that compromise the video experience of customers, despite the fact Netflix created its user-definable video playback settings precisely to help Canadians manage usage allowances from companies like Rogers,” said online video analyst Rene Guerdat. “It’s clear that competition from independent providers offering unlimited use accounts has made Rogers’ usage cap regime impossible and they were forced to market an unlimited option of their own.”

Here is Rogers’ guide for cranking up the video quality of video streams, useful for anyone else who subscribes to these services as well:

shomi

This new video-streaming service for Rogers Internet or TV customers has three video-quality settings (Good, Better, Best). Each uses different amounts of bandwidth and offers different levels of viewing quality. These settings can be individually changed for each user profile, and can be made only from the Web application via the account holder’s profile.

To check / change your stream settings

  1. In a browser, go to shomi.com and log in with your account credentials.
  2. Go to the dropdown menu at the top far-right corner of the Web page.
  3. Select ‘Manage Account and Profiles.’
  4. Select the profile that you want to edit (or create a profile if it is a new profile), and under the ‘Manage Profiles’ menu you’ll see your ‘Max Video Quality’ settings.
  5. Click ‘Edit’ and then select the video-quality setting that you want.

Note: These profile settings update all devices except your Rogers cable box (if you’re using one).

Netflix

Netflix has streaming-video playback settings that use less data (in case you have a small monthly data cap). If you’re on an unlimited Rogers Internet package, though, you can get a better experience by streaming at the highest settings. Here’s how.

To check / change your stream settings

  1. In a browser, go to Netflix.ca and sign in with your Netflix username and password.
  2. If prompted, select the appropriate user profile you want to change.
  3. In the top-right corner, click the downward arrow, then click ‘Your Account.’
  4. In the Your Profile section, click ‘Playback Settings.’
  5. Click the radio button to select the highest-quality streaming setting (‘High’), then click ‘Save.’

This setting will be your new default across all your devices. If you have multiple user profiles under your Netflix account, follow the above process for them, too.

YouTube

YouTube gives you a lot of playback control, and typically does a pretty good job of balancing video quality and connection. However, to ensure you’re seeing the best-quality video possible from YouTube, you can change the settings for the videos you watch. Here’s how.

Play a YouTube video in HD (when available)

  1. While playing a video, move your cursor over the player window. Video-player elements will appear.
  2. Click the gear icon in the lower right of the player.
  3. In the bottom of the pop-over menu that appears, click on the ‘Quality’ option.
  4. Select the highest video-quality setting and click it to apply.

Tip: Not all video content that’s uploaded to YouTube is available in full 1080p HD. If no HD option is offered, just choose the highest-quality setting that’s available.

Default to high-quality YouTube playback

Setting default playback behaviour on YouTube requires an account. If you have a Google account (Gmail, Google+, etc.), you already have everything you need.

  1. Log in to YouTube using your Google or Gmail account ID.
  2. Click on your username and, in the menu that appears, choose the gear icon. If you’re already logged in, click your profile image in the top-right corner to find the gear icon instead.
  3. In the left navigation pane, click ‘Playback.’
  4. Select ‘Always choose the best quality for my connection and player size.’
  5. Click Save in the top right.

Now, YouTube will give you the best-quality video it can, based on the above-mentioned factors. Double-click a video to launch it in full-screen and to get a full-HD version of the video, where available.

Amazon.com Slashes Price of Fire TV: $69 for Cyber Monday is $30 Off Regular Price

Phillip Dampier December 1, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Amazon’s entry into the online video streaming set-top box market is getting a price chop for Cyber Monday, discounted by $30 for today only.

An out the door price of $69 plus applicable tax will get you connectivity between your home broadband connection and your television, and is particularly useful for Amazon Prime customers seeking access to Prime Instant Video. Amazon Fire TV uniquely uses voice search — at least for Amazon.com’s own video content, and supports Netflix, Hulu Plus, and a variety of other online video resources. Built in Wi-Fi also allows for remote control. The box can be managed through the Fire TV Remote App for your mobile device. The app includes voice search, simple navigation, and a keyboard for easy text entry—no more hunting and pecking. The app is supported on many Android phones and tablets, Fire Phone, and Fire HDX & Fire HD tablets with microphones.

Amazon’s video set-top box fiercely competes with Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast.

fire tv compare

This Amazon-provided comparison chart is weighed in favor of Amazon’s device, but does offer useful specs.

Wall Street Investors Suckered By Broadband, Wireless Myths on Usage Pricing, Network Investment

verizon-protestBig Telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T use phony numbers and perpetuate myths about broadband traffic and network investments that have conned investors out of at least $1 trillion in unnecessary investments and consolidation.

Alexander Goldman, former chief analyst for CTI’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants, is warning Wall Street and investors they are at risk of losing millions more because some of the largest telecom companies in the country are engaged in disseminating bad math and conventional wisdom that relies more on repetition of their talking points than actual facts.

Goldman’s editorial, published by Broadband Breakfast, believes the campaign of misinformation is perpetuated by a media that accepts industry claims without examining the underlying facts and a pervasive echo chamber that delivers credibility only by the number of voices saying then same thing.

Goldman takes Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam to task for an editorial published in 2013 in Verizon’s effort to beat back calls on regulators to oversee the broadband industry and correct some of its anti-competitive behavior.

McAdam claimed the U.S. built a global lead in broadband on investments of $1.2 trillion over 17 years to deploy “next generation broadband networks” because networks were deregulated.

Setting aside the fact the United States is not a broadband leader and continues to be outpaced by Europe and Asia, Goldman called McAdam’s impressive-sounding dollar figures meaningless, considering over the span of that 17 years, the United States progressed from dial-up to fiber broadband. Wired networks have been through a generational change that required infrastructure to be replaced and wireless networks have been through at least two significant generations of change over that time — mandatory investments that would have occurred with or without deregulation.

Over the past 17 years, the industry has gotten more of its numbers wrong than right. An explosion of fiber construction in the late 1990s based on predictions of data tsunamis turned out to be catastrophically wrong. University of Minnesota professor Andrew Odlyzko, the worst enemy of the telecom industry talking point, has been debunking claims of broadband traffic jams and the need to implement usage-based pricing and speed throttling for years. In 1998, when Wall Street was listening intently to forecasts produced by self-interested telecom companies like Worldcom that declared broadband traffic was going to double every 100 days, Odlyzko was telling his then-employer AT&T is was all a lot of nonsense. The broadband traffic emperor had no clothes, and statistics from rival telecom companies suggested Worldcom was telling tall tales. But AT&T executives didn’t listen.

fat cat att“We just have to try harder to match those growth rates and catch up with WorldCom,” AT&T executives told Odlyzko and his colleagues, believing the problem was simply ineffective sales, not real broadband demand. When sales couldn’t generate those traffic numbers and Wall Street analysts began asking why, companies like Global Crossing and Qwest resorted to “hollow swaps” and other dubious tricks to fool analysts, prop up the stock price and executive bonuses, and invent sales.

Nobody bothered to ask for an independent analysis of the traffic boom that wasn’t. Wall Street and investors saw dollars waiting to be made, if only providers had the networks to handle the traffic. This began the fiber boom of the late 1990s, “an orgy of construction” as The Economist called it, all to prepare for a tidal wave of Internet traffic that never arrived.

After companies like Global Crossing and Worldcom failed in the biggest bankruptcies the country had ever seen at the time, Odlyzko believes important lessons were never learned. He blames Worldcom executives for inflating the Internet bubble more than anyone.

A bubble of another kind is forming today in America’s wireless industry, fueled by pernicious predictions of a growing spectrum crisis to anyone in DC willing to listen and hurry up spectrum auctions. Both AT&T and Verizon try to stun investors and politicians with enormous dollar numbers they claim are being spent to hurry upgraded wireless networks ready to handle an onslaught of high bandwidth wireless video. Both Verizon’s McAdam and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson intimidate Washington politicians with subtle threats that any enactment of industry reforms by the FCC or Congress will threaten the next $1.2 trillion in network investments, jobs, and America’s vital telecom infrastructure.

Odlyzko has seen this parade before, and he is not impressed. Streaming video on wireless networks is effectively constrained by miserly usage caps, not network capacity, and to Odlyzko, the more interesting story is Americans are abandoning voice calling for instant messages and texting.

8-4WorldcomCartoonThat isn’t a problem for wireless carriers because texting is where the real money is made. Odlyzko notes that wireless carriers profit an average of $1,000 per megabyte for text messages, usually charged per-message or through subscription plan add ons or as part of a bundle. Cellular voice calling is much less profitable, earning about $1 per megabyte of digitized traffic.

Wireless carriers in the United States, particularly Verizon and AT&T, are immensely profitable and the industry as a whole haven’t invested more than 27% of their yearly revenue on network upgrades in over a decade. In fact, in 2011 carriers invested just 14.9% of their revenue, rising slightly to 16.3 percent in 2012 when companies collectively invested $30 billion on network improvements, but earned $185 billion along the way.

While Verizon preached “spectrum crisis” to the FCC and Congress and claimed it was urgently prioritizing network upgrades, company executives won approval of a plan to pay Vodafone, then a part owner of Verizon Wireless, $130 billion to buy them out. That represents the collective investment of every wireless provider in the country in network upgrades from 2005-2012. Verizon Wireless cannot find the money to upgrade their wireless networks to deliver customers a more generous data allowance (or an unlimited plan), but it had no trouble approving $130 billion to buy out its partner so it could keep future profits to itself.

Odlyzko concludes the obvious: “modern telecom is less about high capital investments and far more a game of territorial control, strategic alliances, services, and marketing, than of building a fixed infrastructure.”

That is why there is no money for Verizon FiOS expansion but there was plenty to pay Vodafone, and its executives who walked away with executive bonuses totaling $89.6 million.

As long as American wireless service remains largely in the hands of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, competition isn’t likely to seriously dent prices or profits. At least investors who are buying Verizon’s debt hope so.

Goldman again called attention to Odlyzko’s latest warning that the industry has its numbers (and priorities) wrong, and the last time Odlyzko had the numbers right and the telecommunications industry got its numbers wrong, telecommunications investors lost $1 trillion in the telecommunications dot.com bust.

As the drumbeat continues for further wireless consolidation and spectrum acquisition, investors have been told high network costs necessitate combining operations to improve efficiency and control expenses. Except the biggest costs faced by wireless carriers like Verizon are to implement strategic consolidation opportunities like the Vodafone deal, not maintain and grow their wireless network. AT&T is putting much of its spending in a proposed acquisition of DirecTV this year as well — at a cost of $48.5 billion. That could buy a lot of new cell towers and a much more consumer-friendly data plan.

Voice to text substitution (US)

year voice minutes billions texts billions
2005 1,495 81
2006 1,798 159
2007 2,119 363
2008 2,203 1,005
2009 2,275 1,563
2010 2,241 2,052
2011 2,296 2,304
2012 2,300 2,190

Cell phone network companies (if you can believe their SEC filings) are incredibly profitable, and are spending relatively little on infrastructure:

year revenues in $ billions capex in $ billions capex/revenues
2004 102.1 27.9 27.3%
2005 113.5 25.2 22.2
2006 125.5 24.4 19.4
2007 138.9 21.1 15.2
2008 148.1 20.2 13.6
2009 152.6 20.4 13.3
2010 159.9 24.9 15.6
2011 169.8 25.3 14.9
2012 185.0 30.1 16.3

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Ignores Millions of Americans, Plans Fake Net Neutrality Frankenplan

frankenplanThe majority of 3.7 million comments received by the FCC advocate strong and unambiguous Net Neutrality protections for the Internet, but that seems to have had little impact on FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler, who is laying the groundwork for a hybrid Net Neutrality Frankenplan that would marginally protect deep pocketed content producers while leaving few, if any, protections for consumers.

The Wall Street Journal reported late last week that Wheeler is considering a “hybrid” approach, separating broadband into two distinct services:

  • Retail Broadband, sold to consumers, would continue as a broadly deregulated service, allowing ISPs to set prices and policies with little, if any, oversight. Wheeler’s plan would allow providers to freely implement usage-based pricing, establish paid fast lanes at the request of customers, and permit ISPs to continue exempting preferred content from usage pricing while charging customers extra to access content from “non-preferred partners;”
  • Wholesale Broadband, the connection between your ISP and content producers, would be reclassified under Title II and subject to common carrier regulations, which would allow the FCC to police deals between your provider and services like Netflix.

Wheeler’s proposal would offer significant protection to wealthy content producers like Netflix, Amazon.com, broadcasters and Hollywood studios, but would leave consumers completely exposed to providers’ pricing tricks, usage caps/consumption billing, and paid fast lanes that could leave unpaid content vulnerable to network deterioration, especially during peak usage times.

Comcast_pumpkinLarge telecommunications companies argue that deregulation promotes broadband investment and expansion to create world-class service. But years of statistics and comparisons with other countries suggest deregulation has not inspired sufficient competition to keep prices in check and force regular network upgrades. In fact, competition is much more robust at the wholesale level, while the majority of retail consumers have a choice of just one or two providers that receive almost no oversight. Those providers are now exercising their market power to further monetize broadband usage to boost profits and raise prices.

Wheeler’s proposal would ignore the wishes of more than three million Americans that want comprehensive Net Neutrality protections, as well as those of President Barack Obama, who has called for a ban on paid fast lanes. A senior White House official signaled Thursday the administration has concerns about Wheeler’s proposal, noting “the president has made it abundantly clear that any outcome must protect net neutrality and ban paid prioritization—and has called for all necessary steps to safeguard an open Internet.”

“This Frankenstein proposal is no treat for Internet users, and they shouldn’t be tricked,” consumer group Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “No matter how you dress it up, any rules that don’t clearly restore the agency’s authority and prevent specialized fast lanes and paid prioritization aren’t real Net Neutrality.”

Broadband providers don’t like Wheeler’s plan either. Verizon last week sent comments to the FCC warning any attempt to reclassify broadband under Title II “could not withstand judicial review.” Others, including the industry-backed U.S. Telecom Association, promised swift legal action against Wheeler’s proposal.

Aaron believes the last thing broadband needs is another “hybrid” plan.

“The FCC has already tried twice before to invent new classifications on the fly instead of clear rules grounded in the law,” Aaron said. “And twice their efforts have been rejected. This flimsy fabrication will be no different. And this approach will only serve to squander the political support of millions and millions of Americans who have weighed in at the agency asking for strong rules that will stand up in court.”

YouTube Piles on the Video Ads, Now Ponders Charging Viewers to Get Rid of Them

Phillip Dampier October 28, 2014 Consumer News, Online Video 4 Comments

YouTubeYouTube will earn as much as $6 billion this year from the increasing number of ads that accompany videos on the world’s busiest website. It could earn even more charging consumers a subscription fee to get rid of them.

As online video advertising loads increase, online viewers are growing increasingly intolerant watching 30 second ads just to view a two-minute video. YouTube has at least allowed most of the its ads to be manually skipped by the user after a five second waiting period, but as more and more videos are subjected to the “pre-roll” ad treatment, a growing number of YouTube fans seem prepared to pay a nominal fee never to be bothered with ads again.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki believes there is room for both free, ad-supported videos and a paid subscription, ad-free model and it is contemplating letting YouTube viewers choose between the two.

“We’re early in that process, but if you look at media over time, most of them have both ads and subscription services,” Wojcicki said at the Code/Mobile conference. “YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users, but there’s going to be a point where people don’t want to see the ads.”

hulu-plusYouTube rival Hulu may have already reached that point. It charges $7.99 a month for Hulu+, its enhanced service, but its online programming still carries a very heavy ad load, now approaching what viewers would see watching their favorite shows over broadcast TV. That advertising has cost Hulu+ a significant number of subscribers unwilling to pay a premium price for online videos littered with commercials.

Hulu showed users an average of 82.3 ads a month, compared with YouTube and other Google-owned sites, which showed an average of 32.3 ads per viewer, according to comScore data from December 2013.

A number of advertising agencies are welcoming a reduction in online advertising. With saturation advertising, viewers have a tendency to tune out the ads or go back to pirating video content. A small number of ads tend to hold viewers’ attention better and most won’t bother trying to skip or ignore a single 15 or 30 second ad.

“After Facebook went public, they had in-stream video and it suffocated the users and they pulled back,” Steve Minichini, chief digital officer at ad agency Assembly, told The Post. “If what we’re hearing is correct — that Hulu is pulling back — I would welcome that.”

The Capitol Forum’s Insightful Review of the Comcast-Time Warner Merger Deal: A Tough Sell

be mineWall Street is increasingly pessimistic about Comcast and Time Warner Cable pulling off their merger deal as regulators stop the clock to take a closer look at the transaction.

The Capitol Forum, an in-depth news and analysis service dedicated to informing policymakers, investors, and industry stakeholders on how policy affects market competition, specializes in examining marketplace mergers and their potential impact on American consumers and the general economy. The group has shared a copy of their assessment — “Comcast/Time Warner Cable: A Closer Look at FCC, DOJ Decision Processes; Merits and Politics May Drive Merger Challenge, Especially as Wheeler Unlikely to Embrace Title II Regulation for Net Neutrality” — with Stop the Cap! and we’re sharing a summary of the report with our readers.

The two most important government agencies reviewing the merger proposal are the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The FCC is responsible for overseeing telecommunications in the United States and is also tasked with reviewing telecom industry mergers to verify if they are in the public interest. The Department of Justice becomes involved in big mergers as well, concerned with compliance with antitrust and other laws.

In many instances, the two agencies work separately and independently to review merger proposals, but not so with Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Sources tell Capitol Forum there is a high level of coordination and information sharing between DOJ and the FCC, potentially positioning the two agencies in a stronger legal position if they jointly challenge the merger. Readers may recall AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile was thwarted in 2011 when the FCC followed the DOJ’s lead in jointly challenging the merger on competition and antitrust grounds. With a united front against the deal in Washington, AT&T quickly capitulated.

comcast cartoonDespite a blizzard of Comcast talking points claiming the cable industry is fiercely competitive, Capitol Forum’s report indicates the DOJ staff level believes the cable industry suffers dearly from a lack of competition already, and allowing further marketplace concentration would exacerbate an already difficult problem.

Capitol Forum reports the DOJ’s staff is inclined to “take an aggressive posture with regards to [antitrust] enforcement.”

The DOJ would certainly not be walking the beltway plank to its political doom if it ultimately decides to oppose the merger.

Few on Capitol Hill are likely to fiercely advocate for a cable company generally despised by their constituents. The Capitol Forum report notes that Comcast faces powerful opposition and its political support is overstated. Comcast’s lobbying efforts and ties to President Obama and several high level Democrats have also been widely exposed in the media, which makes it more difficult for D.C.’s powerful to be seen carrying Comcast’s water.

In fact, the report indicates a regulatory challenge against Comcast and Time Warner Cable would face considerably less political opposition than what the FCC faces if it reclassifies broadband as a “telecommunications service,” protecting Net Neutrality and exposing the industry to stronger regulatory oversight.

The report suggests FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, who seems intent on opposing reclassification of broadband under Title II, may appease his critics by taking a stronger stance on the Comcast/Time Warner deal instead.

Wheeler has already expressed concern about the state of competitiveness of American broadband. He considers providers capable of delivering at least 25Mbps part of broadband’s key market, which in many communities means a monopoly for the local cable operator.

Understanding “The Public Interest” and the Implications of a Combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable on Competition

comcastbuy_400_241The FCC will review the transaction pursuant to Sections 214 and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934, in order to ensure that “public interest, convenience, and necessity will be served thereby.”

The merger proposal must also demonstrate it does not violate antitrust laws.

It is here that merger opponents have a wealth of arguments to use against Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Despite Comcast’s insistence the deal would have no competitive implications, the Capitol Forum reports the merger’s potential anticompetitive effects are “widely recognized and evidence from the investigation could provide DOJ and FCC with a solid foundation to challenge the merger.”

Although the two cable companies don’t directly compete with each other (itself a warning sign of an already noncompetitive marketplace), the report finds “a wide array of anti-competitive effects and several antitrust theories” that would implicate the cable company in a Clayton Act violation.

Comcast is betting heavily on its surface argument that by the very fact customers will not see any change in the number of competitors delivering service to their area, the merger should easily clear any antitrust hurdles. That argument makes it more difficult for the DOJ to fall back on the usual market concentration precedents that would prevent such a colossal merger deal. To argue excessive horizontal integration — the enlarging of Comcast’s territory — the DOJ would first have to prove Comcast’s size in comparison with other cable companies is a reason for the courts to shoot down the deal. Or it could bypass Comcast’s favorite argument and move to the issue of vertical integration — one company’s ability to control not just the pipes that deliver content, but also the content itself.

octopusHere the examples of potential abuse are plentiful:

  • Comcast would enjoy increased power to force cable programmers to favor Comcast in cable programming pricing and policies while allowing it to demand restrictions on competitive online video competitors or restrict access to popular cable programming;
  • Comcast could impose data caps and usage-based pricing to deter online viewing while exempting its own content by delivering it over a Wi-Fi enabled gateway, game console or set top box, claiming all are unrelated to Comcast’s broadband Internet service or network;
  • Force consumers to use Comcast set top boxes that would not support competing providers’ online video;
  • Use interconnection agreements as a clever way to bypass the paid prioritization Net Neutrality debate. Netflix and other content producers would be forced to compensate Comcast for reliable access to its broadband customers;
  • Noting AT&T has declared U-verse can not effectively succeed in the cable television business without combining its customer base with DirecTV to qualify for better volume discounts, there is clear evidence that a super-sized Comcast could command discounts new entrants like Google Fiber could never hope to get, putting them at a distinct price disadvantage.

The FCC’s scrutiny of Comcast’s merger deal has already uncovered evidence previously unavailable because of non-disclosure agreements which show Comcast’s heavy hand already at work.

The report notes Michael Mooney, a senior vice president and group general counsel at Level 3, told the Capitol Forum the dispute earlier this year between Netflix and Comcast could have been resolved in about five minutes had Comcast added a port to relieve congestion at an interconnection point. The cost? Just $5,000. Had Comcast been willing to spend the money, millions of Comcast customers would have never experienced problems using Netflix.

Whether Comcast is ultimately deemed too large to permit another consolidating merger or whether it is given conditional approval to absorb Time Warner Cable remains a close call, according to the Capitol Forum, despite the fact consumers have urged regulators for something slightly more concrete – a single sentence, total denial of its application.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Capitol Forum The Consumer Welfare Test.mp4

The Capitol Forum broadly explores how the “consumer welfare standard” has become a part of the antitrust review process over the last 30 years. Sometimes, a strict antitrust test is not sufficient to protect “the public interest” of consumers, and allows the dominant player(s) to harm competition. In the digital economy, corporate mergers that empower companies to restrict innovation can prove far more damaging than classic monopoly abuse. (15:52)

Redbox Instant by Verizon Shutting Down Oct. 7; Customers Worry About Purchased Digital Media

Phillip Dampier October 6, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Verizon 1 Comment
The death certificate will be signed on Oct. 7.

The death certificate will be signed on Oct. 7.

As expected, Redbox Instant by Verizon will stop operations on Tuesday (Oct. 7) after failing to attract enough interest from customers in the Netflix-dominated online video marketplace.

IMPORTANT SERVICE SHUTDOWN NOTICE

Thank you for being a part of Redbox Instant by Verizon. Please be aware that the service will be shut down on Tuesday, October 7, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

Information on applicable refunds will be emailed to current customers and posted here on October 10. In the meantime, you may continue to stream movies and use your Redbox kiosk credits until Tuesday, October 7 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank you for the opportunity to entertain you.

Sincerely,
The Redbox Instant by Verizon Team

Customers that purchased digital copies of movies Redbox Instant offered for sale may not be able to retrieve them from Verizon’s digital storage locker after the service shuts down, but the company says it is “exploring options” for those affected.

“The service is shutting down because it was not as successful as we hoped it would be. We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank you for giving us the opportunity to entertain you,” the company said as part of its shutdown notice.

Paying customers will receive a refund for one month of service and have just 24 hours to redeem any Redbox kiosk rental vouchers included with their subscription.

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant Gasping for Air; Netflix Killers They Are Not

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant have not lived up to the expectations of their respective owners and the two Netflix-like services have quietly been partly decommissioned or have stopped accepting new customers altogether.

Loathe to admit the services are roadkill on the TV Everywhere highway, Comcast claims it is simply downsizing its Streampix service and Verizon issued a terse “no comment” to GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers in response to rumors Redbox Instant would begin shutting down for existing customers on Oct. 1.

But truth be told, neither service made a competitive dent in Netflix, either because they were poorly marketed or found no audience. Comcast denies it is even trying to compete against Netflix. But it did admit in a regulatory filing Streampix found very few takers at its $4.99/month asking price.

“Though Comcast sought to create excitement around Streampix by offering the online version through a unique online site and app, and offered Streampix to a small number of XFINITY broadband-only customers in one region, these attracted minimal interest,” Comcast wrote.

Streampix will be a shadow of its former self, continuing on mostly in name-only.

“Going forward, Streampix will simply be part of the XFINITY TV app and website like other video-on-demand offerings,” said Comcast in the filing. The Google Play and Apple App stores seem to confirm as much when customers looking for the Streampix app instead find: “Streampix has moved to XFINITY TV Go. Comcast customers with Streampix should download XFINITY TV Go to view Streampix content.”

Comcast launched Streampix in February 2012 as a streaming-only offering, but added download capability in late 2013.

When customers balked at paying Comcast another $5 a month for the streaming add-on, Comcast began giving it away to customers who subscribed to multiple premium channels or high value triple play packages as part of ongoing promotions.

Comcast's XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn't draw much interest from customers.

Comcast’s XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn’t draw much interest from customers.

Critics of Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable suspect Comcast’s real intention was to launch the service to markets outside of its service area to compete for premium over-the-top video customers without cannibalizing its cable television revenue. With the merger under scrutiny at the state and federal levels, some suspect Streampix’s public demotion is a maneuver to protect the deal from a potential political liability over Comcast’s growing dominance in the cable and broadband business.

The troubles with Verizon’s Redbox Instant service go well beyond the realm of public policy debates. Since launching in mid-2013, the service has attracted only minor interest from the public. Critics contend a marketing deal with Redbox was wrong from the start. Redbox’s success comes from renting DVDs from kiosks, not competing with Netflix. Verizon hoped a promotional tie-in offering online viewers up to four free DVD rentals a month from Redbox kiosks would bring the two services closer together. Redbox Instant also rented current movie titles on a pay-per-view basis, and hoped it could convince kiosk users disappointed with out of stock DVDs or otherwise poor pickings to go online and stream a pay-per-view video instead.

But customers would have to be psychic looking for something to stream – Redbox does not publish online movie availability on its kiosk-service website. Unsurprisingly, kiosk users have stayed loyal to renting movies through the kiosk and online viewers usually won’t bother renting a DVD from a kiosk, even with a voucher.

Free trials of Redbox Instant service brought an underwhelming number of customers converting to paid subscriptions. That might be attributed to the heavy overlap of titles available from Redbox Instant and competitors Netflix and Amazon.com, making three services redundant for many. Although Redbox’s parent has invested $70 million in the service, it is dwarfed by the massive content acquisition budgets available to its larger competitors.

It would take a larger subscriber base to change that for the better, but Redbox Instant seems intent on sabotaging its success, still refusing to enroll new customers three months after a security breach. It seems Redbox Instant’s website was an excellent resource for credit card thieves to verify if stolen card numbers were still valid. Current customers are still able to use the service, but reportedly cannot update or change their credit card information, meaning they will lose service if their credit card expires or the credit card number changes.

no new users

A notice on Redbox Instant’s website prevents new users from enrolling.

Company executives have told investors they are not happy with Redbox Instant’s subscriber numbers. Not allowing new customers to sign up while gradually losing old ones because of an expired credit card could go a long way to explain this. Redbox’s parent company previously warned it has the right to pull out of the venture if the numbers don’t improve, and they won’t if the website remains locked down.

When Roettgers asked Redbox and Verizon to comment on a reddit rumor that the service was to close down on Oct. 1, the only reply was “no comment.” Roettgers believes that is telling, because no company would want such a false rumor to spread unchallenged. With Oct. 1 less than 24-hours away, we won’t have long to wait to see what happens next.

Roettgers would not be surprised to see Redbox Instant downsize itself with an end to its subscription video plan and move forward exclusively as a paid, video-on-demand service. It already powers Verizon’s On Demand video store. Having a traditional television partner like Verizon FiOS TV could help Redbox survive in an already crowded marketplace of online, on-demand video stores like iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, and others.

In a larger context, the industry’s belief in “if we build it, they will come,” appears to be untrue, especially cable and telephone company efforts developing their TV Everywhere platforms. Content and viewing limitations that confine online viewing largely to the home, a barrage of online video advertising, subscription fees, and the lack of quality content have all hurt efforts to deliver a good user experience that can promote customer loyalty. Nothing now or on the horizon appears to be anything like a Netflix-killer app.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Bibb Says Comcast Has Little Confidence in Streampix 2-21-12.mp4

Two years ago, Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, panned the then-new XFINITY Streampix service for streaming the same television shows and movies customers can already see on Netflix and other services. From Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West,” originally aired Feb. 21, 2012. (4:30)

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