Andrew Grumet writes about syndication for the PVR (Personal Video Recorder).

Generally speaking, a sub-Rs 10K (USD 220) PVR could be quite useful in the Indian context. Given the craze for TV serials in India, I can easily imagine a few million households using it. Would be interesting to see how convergence takes shape in India.

Rajasthan Trip

I recently spent four days travelling through Rajasthan – more on this in my Tech Talk next week. It gave me plenty of time to think – chunky time that is hard to get in the office. Sitting in a car and driving (being driven) for hours on end lets the mind wander free. The roads aren’t that good that one can road, so one is left with one’s mind. And yes, no computers and cellphones. It was an interesting experience.

ETech Wiki

Here. An excellent example of collaboration at work. I wish I could have been there, but reading the views of the bloggers and their comments is equally good. Blogs help me time-shift the conference, and this wiki helps provide the wide-angle view. Thanks, everyone! O’Reilly Emerging Technologies conference is arguably one of the best in the year (along with the likes of Supernova and Esther Dyson’s PC Forum).

Apple’s Options

Apple has become one of the most interesting companies in the computing landscape. Shrikant Patil pointed me to HBS Working Knowledge, which has an interview with David Yoffie about Apple. Some excerpts:

There are at least three different ways in which you can imagine Apple going forward.

One is to say they’re going to build their business off of the digital home, the iPod, iTunes, iPhoto, etc., and become more of a service and software digital home application company. The strategy going forward is going to be more like a consumer electronics company, making hardware and software, rather than being a computer company. The Macintosh will be the core businesses that they milk and then they will build these other businesses for the future. The question is, can they sustain the huge premiums they earn with today’s iPod when Dell is coming in with much lower-priced products and other competitors are entering the market? They’re also running into the same challenge of selling a proprietary solution. (Music on the iPod can’t play on non-Apple devices.)

A second strategy for Apple is to really go back to the Mac OS licensing business and try and generate a large enough volume so that the economics of their operating systems business will make sense in the future. For many years I thought that Apple’s OS business was dead because they lost and Microsoft had won. Today it’s a little less clear again. The reason is that so many of Microsoft’s customers are unhappy with Microsoft pricing, and there is a new willingness to entertain new concepts, new ideas, new products, that didn’t exist before.

The third option is that Apple says our real advantage is in application and industrial design. In my view, Apple has three critical advantages over anybody else in the markets they serve. One is they have an incredibly strong brand; two, they have been the best at industrial design, far better than their closest competitor, Sony; and third, they have been very good at delivering applications in the digital home space.

The third strategy is very different from the second, which is to (concede) we lost the operating system war, and instead leverage our brand, our industrial design skills, and our application base. This strategy would suggest that Apple give up on the Mac OS, become a Microsoft customer, and go after the consumer PC in a very big way.

The Payoff from Cheaper Web Tech

[via Corante] E-Commerce News writes:

Call it the perfect tailwind for the Internet. Demand for goods and services delivered over the Web has continued to grow rapidly even as the dot-com bust lowered the cost of Web technology. And it helps that the number of Web visitors keeps rising.

Take bandwidth. The telecom meltdown has spawned a downward spiral in prices for delivering data over high-speed networks. Pourzanjani of Pricegrabber says he pays $300 per megabit of bandwidth today vs. $800 in 1999.

Consider software used to create virtual versions of data centers — facilities where big chunks of data for, say, banking transactions are stored — which once required a roomful of computers. The modern version is created by software that can divvy up space on existing computers.

Comcast’s Bid for Disney

WSJ writes that technology is one of the strong driving forces behind Comcast’s audacious bid for Disney:

Behind Comcast Corp.’s audacious bid for Walt Disney Co. is the powerful force of technology reshaping one company after another in media and communications. It is disrupting basic business models, plunging companies into new markets, creating new competitors and blurring the boundaries between industries.

In response, companies are scrambling to protect themselves in two ways. Some are bulking up. Several telecom companies, for instance, are circling AT&T Wireless, the No. 3 U.S. cellphone player, as the dissolving boundaries between long-distance, local, wireless and the Internet ignite new competition and drive down prices. Music companies, confronting a surge of digital piracy, are in a wave of consolidation.

Others, seeing their old markets come under siege, are pushing into new ones. Eastman Kodak Co. recently began moving away from its traditional film business and into printers and other digital devices that have it competing with a new lineup of electronics rivals.

Comcast is doing both: A merger with Disney would turn it into one of the world’s biggest media companies and give Comcast a new reach into movies and theme parks.

It’s an intense response to the disruption Comcast faces from newly strengthened competition. The nation’s biggest cable company, long used to monopolies in its regions, faces the growing threat of satellite television as an alternative. That threat is particularly acute as Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp. completes its purchase of a controlling stake in DirecTV, the biggest U.S. satellite-TV player.

The central technological change driving all these shifts, under way for years and now accelerating, is the digitization of sounds, words and pictures — allowing companies to transmit and manipulate them in new ways. The latest wave of corporate moves is reviving the question of whether content companies should also own distribution channels, and presenting new challenges to regulators and Congress.

Mitch Rubin, a money manager at Baron Asset Management, said that people have been debating for years which was more important, media content or the means to distribute it. Now, that debate has been rendered moot. “What this deal says is, it would be great if you had both. You can debate which is better, but if you have both it doesn’t matter,” Mr. Rubin said.

Om Malik doesn’t think it’s smart move:

Why is it a dumb idea? Well for starters, Comcast is still digesting the ATT Broadband acquisition, has to spend gazillions on the fast growing demand for broadband and at the same time trying to figure out how to fight off the defectors to the dish land.

Why is the timing bad? Because Disney has just lost its premier earnings growth engine – Pixar. The company is going to lose out to rivals in the highly lucrative animation market. Secondly, its other studios like Miramax are losing some of their fizz. In other words, if Brian Roberts waits for another 12-months, he could have himself a bargain. (Yeah Rupert is lurking around somewhere, but he has his own set of issues!) Roberts move is equally logic defying because the whole content business cannot deal with one thing – the digitization of content. Like Music, Movies and everything else is being reduced to bits-and-bytes. And that is a situation where it is very hard to make money.

TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Beyond 2004

India today stands on the threshold of a golden era. But to make the dreams of a glorious tomorrow come true will require that we all actively participate in building the New India. The key is to get more involvement from the citizens at whatever level they can participate. Technology should provide the platform for interaction. For the first time, technology provides a platform to bridge geography and other barriers. What is needed is the will and vision to do it.

The use of technology during the national elections should be just the start. The same ideas should be extended to governance at multiple levels the state, civic and panchayat bodies should also follow a similar process. This, more than anything, will ensure transparent, honest and result-oriented governance.

To take the benefits of technology beyond the limited urban populace which uses computers, it is necessary to build out Indias digital infrastructure not between two generations, but between two elections. The period between 2004 and 2009 should see Indias computer base grow from 10 to 100 million across schools, colleges, homes, SMEs, rural hubs and government. To make this happen, it will be important to bring down the total cost of ownership (including hardware, software, connectivity and support) of a networked computing device to Rs 200-800 per month per person (or per family). Wired and wireless broadband networks need to blanket the country. Content and applications need to be made available so that individuals and businesses can become productive. Thus, technology should be used to modernise India in the next five years.

The challenges in India are many. We get excited with the potential of India becoming the back-office of the world. All said and done, this entire sector will employ a few million people. There are tens of millions of children in Indian who do not have access to proper education, there are still a few hundred million Indians who are illiterate. There are millions of Indian businesses rooted in the past. This is where technology has the potential to work its miracles. The use of technology in the elections offers the stepping stone to re-make India.

Thus, there is an opportunity for politics to lead business in the adoption of new technologies. While cellphones and computers are likely to be used in plenty, the ability to network them and join the islands of information can create a better-informed electorate. Indias democracy is its strength. The elections can be a beachhead for showcasing what technology can do. They will also give a huge fillip to local entrepreneurs.

In the 2004 elections, it is unlikely that the benefits of the technology will be available to everyone. But it is a start. By the time the next elections come, India would have a much deeper penetration of technology and also have enough learning to extend the use beyond the urban areas into the rural areas also. That would then form the basis of an e-India and a genuinely democratic government, with governance truly being of the people, for the people and by the people.

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