Monday, March 26, 2007

Sprint Offers Customers Music Convergence

Sprint Nextel Logo

Until now music listeners that purchase their music on-line have been confined to playing their music on PC and portable music players or their mobile phones, not both...until now. One day before CTIA begins, Sprint announced Monday that it will reduce the price of music purchased through the Sprint Music Store to 99 cents starting in early April; the same as on iTunes or the Real Music Store. Their price reduction from $2.49 along with the ability to play songs on any WMA compatible device or cell phone has the potential of driving a significant number of purchases to Sprint.

The new Sprint Music Manager, provided through a deal with Smith Micro Software Inc. (NASDAQ:SMSI), transfers songs from a PC to phones like Samsung's UpStage through a USB cable. If this announcement sounds familiar, it is because it is.

Sprint's announcement is obviously a competitive move against AT&T/Cinglular (T) with the iPhone and iTunes. The buzz around the iPhone is as high as its price and Sprint is looking for a way to take some of the sting from their buzz. At least they hope that it may slow down the amount subscribers leaving the carrier, but it will be enough to reduce the churn to 2% that Gary Forsee predicts for this year.

Sprint is challenged to put together an ecosystem that is as easy to use and rich in content like iTunes. They have done a mighty job assembling players such as Groove, mSpot, SIRIUS, and Real to provide content, and the addition of the Sprint Music Manager provides the user interface on the PC. Hopefully they will load it full of music, audio, and video content that allows seamless transfer from the computer to the phone. Their ecosystem can offer a viable alternative to iTunes and keep more money in their coffers instead of having to split with Apple like AT&T.

Sprint is thinking in the right direction with Monday's announcement. They just need to simplify their plans. Subscribers and even customer service representatives are confused on the naming and variety of plans offered for data and music. They need to take a page from the Helio play book and make the plans simple to understand.

This move will help them preserve their customer base but it is not enough to attract new subscribers en mass unless they add video, podcasts, and other compelling programming through an easy to use interface whether on the PC or phone.

Disclaimer: This author has in the past and potentially in the future held positions in Sprint (S).

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Save Our Internet Radio: Don’t let the RIAA silence your favorite Internet radio station!

In a one-two punch that the RIAA threw at Internet radio last week, a semi-secret quasi-government agency/court, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) announced that it would more than double the rates for streaming radio over the Internet. This proposed change in royalties would shut down many small streamers that provide a diverse selection of music streams like Pandora. This action prompted an unlikely coalition of broadcasters like Clear Channel Communications and NPR to band with streaming Internet radio providers to oppose the ruling.

I have enjoyed Internet radio for years because it provides the ability to listen to music that I like when I like instead of the preprogrammed pabulum served up on commercial radio. If you enjoy listening to APM programs like Marketplace or services like Pandora, click on over to Save Our Internet Radio and find out what you can do to protest this move by the RIAA.

Monday, March 19, 2007

U.K Begins Switch to Digital TV

Residents of Whitehaven, Cumbria in the U.K. are preparing for the switch to digital TV on October 17th. About 25,000 households were sent letters explaining the details of the switch from analog to digital. The Whitehaven area will be the first town in the U.K. to go all digital. The transition will start on October 17 when BBC Two will cease broadcasting in analog and begin transmitting in digital along with BBC One, BBC Three, BBC News 24, and CBBC. By November 14 the remaining analog channels will be permanently switched off. Residents will go from receiving about 4 channels free over-the-air to 18 free channels over-the-air.

Residents that do not have digital sets can purchase a converter box for about $80, and people that cannot afford one will be given an equivalent credit to purchase one.

This conversion is the first stage of a five year rollout plan managed by Digital UK. At the end of 2012, every TV set in the country must be connected to Freeway (the over-the-air digital TV service), cable, satellite, or IPTV to continue working. Similar schemes are scheduled to take place in the U.S. and other countries.

What is interesting to note is that Ofcom has made no provisions for High Definition TV. There will be no HD channels broadcast over Freeway. So many of the people that go out and purchase new HD TVs will not get to take advantage of high definition programming unless the subscribe to satellite or cable TV. Ofcom will sell the recovered spectrum to companies that my offer paid HD programming.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Banning Internet Radio

The puppets of the RIAA are at it again! Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Graham (R-SC) introduced S.2644, called the PERFORM Act, aimed at preventing satellite radio providers from offering subscribers devices capable of recording content off the air. Not only will this bill eliminate a great feature of satellite radio, but buried in the bill is a provision that would require any provider of streaming content to implement DRM.

Pandora, Shoutcast, Live365, and many radio stations rely on MP3 streaming to legally transmit their broadcasts under the Copyright Act. They obtain a statutory license, administered by SoundExchange, to broadcast their programming with whatever format they like. The current law provides adequate protection against recording by requiring broadcasters to use DRM only if the format includes DRM.

The PERFORM Act would require webcasters to use DRM to restrict the recording of webcasts even if you use the statutory license effectively killing MP3 streaming. Webcasters would have to use more expensive streaming technologies effectively killing Internet radio and the other innovations that have come along with it.

Let your senators know that you are one of 50 million listeners that enjoy Internet radio, and that the current laws are effective in protecting copyright holders. The EFF has a great article on the topic and form letter that you can send to your senators (Link to EFF) . Take a few moments to send them a letter protesting this bill.

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