Digital Video Search

News.com writes that ” Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are quietly developing new search tools for digital video, foreshadowing a high-stakes technology arms race in the battle for control of consumers’ living rooms.”

Google’s effort, until now secret, is arguably the most ambitious of the three. According to sources familiar with the plan, the search giant is courting broadcasters and cable networks with a new technology that would do for television what it has already done for the Internet: sort through and reveal needles of video clips from within the haystack archives of major network TV shows.

The effort comes on top of Google’s plans to create a multimedia search engine for Internet-only video that it will likely introduce next year, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans. In recent weeks, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has demonstrated new technology to a handful of major TV broadcasters in an attempt to forge alliances and develop business models for a TV-searchable database on the Web, those sources say.

Video is in the spotlight as the Internet begins to mature into an entertainment platform and becomes a viable companion for television, convergence devices that combine PC and TV features, and the networked home. As nearly 30 million U.S. households get wired with broadband Internet, more people are getting comfortable using multimedia online, giving TV audiences more choices than ever about how and when they consume programming.

That’s poised to open up access to vast new video libraries that will require new search technology to organize and make content relevant to viewers, much like Internet search engines have made sense of billions of disorganized Web pages.

Ramesh Jain adds: “Media search is going to be a dominant theme because all the ingredients for the convergence of Content, Communication, and Computing are now ready.”

TV Future

Business Week has a special report on the future of television. One of the technologies is IP-TV: “Just as the service known as voice over Internet protocol is poised to revolutionize the phone business by offering a low-cost Internet alternative to traditional phone service, IP-TV could bring Internet-style interactivity and flexibility to your TV set.”

Gambling Science

WSJ writes about Harrah’s:

The company made $1 billion in revenue last year — one quarter of its total — from such “cross market” players, up from about $200,000 a decade earlier. Harrah’s can also trace 75.6% of its gambling revenue back to specific customers. Behind Harrah’s strategy is Chief Executive Gary Loveman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained economist and former Harvard Business School professor.

In September, Maribel Pea, a Harrah’s dispatcher aboard the East Chicago casino, sat in a small room furnished with metal desks and boxes of Mardi Gras beads. From this control booth, she electronically monitored every slot machine upstairs. If a gambler uses a “Total Rewards” frequent-gambler card, the slot machine begins to record his every move. If a machine malfunctions or a gambler hits a jackpot, Ms. Pea grabs a walkie-talkie and dispatches an attendant to check it out. The job can keep as many as four dispatchers busy.

Based on the data churned out by this system, Harrah’s redid the layout of the East Chicago casino’s slot machines, using lessons learned from drugstore chains such as Walgreens and CVS. For example, the casino moved popular slots such as Wheel of Fortune to hard-to-reach areas, betting customers would seek them out just as they find the pharmacist in the rear of a store. That created more space in well-trafficked areas for other games.

To generate excitement, Harrah’s placed a “party pit” with blackjack and roulette games in a central location and staffed it with dealers trained to break into song. Around the pit, the casino replaced nickel slots with $5 Double Diamond and Hot Pepper games previously cloistered on an upper deck for high rollers, hoping low rollers would turn from the tables and take a flier on their way out. “This is the candy bars by the cash register,” says David Patent, vice president of casino operations.

The theory worked. The average amount spent on a single bet on these machines soared to $10, compared with $2 in the casino overall, because new gamblers were drawn to high-denomination slots. Overall, the casino’s profit margins rose to 15% in the third quarter, compared with 12% in the busy first quarter when that casino usually expects to earn its highest margins, Mr. Patent says.

That suggests more people are losing more money. To keep them from noticing, Harrah’s has been researching ways to make people feel lucky even as they lose.

Broadband Internet

The New York Times writes about internet access “delivered from above”:

TowerStream is the most active player in an emerging industry that sells a technology known as WiMax, or worldwide interoperability for microwave access. Unlike WiFi, the radio wave technology in airports and cafes that allows users to log on to the Internet from their laptop computers within 150 feet of an antenna, WiMax delivers broadband Internet connections through fixed antennas that send and receive signals across entire cities.

Using the most powerful equipment, a single antenna atop a tall building can provide high-speed data transmission to users as far as 30 miles away, although the optimal range is less than half of that. The radio signals and antennas are unaffected by bad weather and provide an alternative to data cables that are sunk below sidewalks and can accidentally be cut by construction crews.

The price is another advantage of the system. TowerStream charges $500 a month for a 1.54-megabits-a-second connection, about one-third to one-half less than the cost of service on comparable T1 lines that phone companies sell to businesses for data transmission. TowerStream can charge less because it does not have to rent connections from Verizon or another former Bell company that runs local switching stations.

WiFi and WiMax

Dana Blankenhorn explains the differences:

Wi-Max is designed to send big hunks of data over vast distances. It’s a wholesale technology. Wi-Fi is designed to send somewhat-smaller chunks over much smaller distances. It’s a retail technology.

Wi-Fi continues to move ahead. The next version, 802.11n, will run data at over 100 Mbps. There is going to be a crying need for backhaul, not just long-range backhaul but medium-range as well.

If you can’t get your collection of Wi-Fi traffic out to a competitive fiber node you’re going to be at the mercy of the Bells, who sell T-1s through an eye-dropper, with an aim toward putting you out of business and taking it all over for themselves to subsidize their wires.

That’s where Wi-Max comes in. Wi-Max can do that job, and do it quite easily.

TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Happenings (Part 3)

Here are some more snippets which give a glimpse of tomorrows world:

The Seattle Times wrote about Yahoos plans to create original broadband content to be delivered via the Internet: People familiar with the discussions say Yahoo! is pressing entertainment-industry producers and talent agents to start pitching new shows and short films that the Internet giant could license for viewing online. No longer satisfied to simply repackage film trailers and TV clips, some Yahoo! executives believe the surge in broadband connections means the Internet may finally be ready to operate more like a television network, these people said. The business model is unclear, but Yahoo! is considering advertising and subscription fees to cover the cost of the programs, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Russell Beattie wrote about Commuicontent: Communicontent to me, is a byproduct of communication where traditional content is magically created. As a corollary, the forms of communication that can best be expressed as content almost naturally become communicontent. See this weblog? This is communicontent. I used to drive my friends on mailing lists crazy by writing all these long, in-depth emails. Now I just write all the same thoughts in my weblog instead. The only difference is that the viewers aren’t restricted. I’m still just communicating my personal thoughts. It’s communication, but because it’s been captured in a fixed state to be found later, it’s also content.

Nokia’s enterprise solutions manager Mary McDowell was quoted in Barrons: “In 2008 and 2009, the Internet Protocol will be used everywhere, and that will be a key enabler of new services. At the moment, we are still a cellular communications-centric company. In five year’s time, we will be a mobility-centric company.

Fortune wrote in a recent issue (December 6, 2004) about WiMax in Argentina: Millicom Argentina says it is planning to roll out a WiMax-like service late this year that will cover one-fifth of Argentinas population by the end of 2005. The service will give businesses and residents high-speed Internet access for everything from Web browsing to video-conferencing to telephone calls. Note: we are talking Argentina, not America!

The Economist wrote recently that the growth potential is wowing the stockmarket: Expectations are now sky-high for the two companies. Will satellite radio grow at the expense of terrestrial radio in the same way that cable and satellite television have won viewers from the broadcast networks? Sirius and XM Radio have a combined market value of roughly $15 billion. But they together made a loss of $900m or so last year, and are not expected to break even until 2007-09. The five largest pure terrestrial radio firms, by comparison, made profits of around $200m yet have a combined market capitalisation of $8 billion.

Carly Fiorina of HP wrote in The Economists The World In 2005: A funny thing happened on the way to 2005: the digital revolution actually became real. Walk around any city or town and what do you see? You see young people text messaging; commuters jamming to their iPods; friends snapping photos on their camera phones. Look a bit further and you see doctors decisions aided by patient information called up on hand-held devices; teachers using wireless technology as tools; parents printing photos on cordless printers before leaving their childrens football games. Look further still and you see executives going digital and cutting billions of dollars out of supply chains. And if you go to Africa or India, you may even see wireless devices providing opportunity in communities that dont even have electricity. Its a revolution in any sense of the word. But I have another name for it: a warm-up act. We are entering an era where everything is going digital. Its going to be the main event of our lives for decades to come.

There is little doubt that change is coming to us from multiple sides. And we need to look no further than whats happened in India in the past few years.

Tomorrow: New India Glimpses

Continue reading