20090930

AOL, Time, Warner

AOL keeps shopping at Google to prepare its spin off from Time Warner : Shashi Seth will be Senior VP of Global Advertising Products, serving under President Jeff Levick (formerly Google) and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong (formerly Google). AOL itself shall relocate its headquarters in Mountain View, CA (always Google).

Still mother company Time Warner is expected to get rid of its other "half" : a Capital Group director gave more than a few hints about a Time Inc. spin off, leaving basically Warner on its own.

OK. Warner Brothers (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Inc. - wbie.com ) still have many gems, HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers Games or the newly formed DC Entertainment Inc., a superhero vehicle to counter the Disney-Marvel League. Furthermore, getting rid of paper along with the industry's massive (but everyday more cashless) flow now could land them on a green paper mattress of around half a dozen billion bucks or more (why not from Google, now that lifeless LIFE Magazine archives are on Google Books ?).

TIME may be struggling, the brand remains... timeless. And the Warner group would be brandless : its umbrella has already been torn away in 2004, when Warner Music Group left. That day, Edgar Bronfman, Jr. made a comeback Steve Case will never try - too much involved in mortarizing his native Hawai'i thanks to his clickally owned billions, and in his Case Foundation (basically, a foundation fundraising enabler - fooled me once...).

All major media / entertainment groups need to refocus, but this major is not really keeping a... major. I mean they more into distribution than media, more into production than creation, more into rights and franchises management than brand management. Harry Potter is a beautiful franchise and the final (double) movie will probably break all records but it's not as if they owned it. And Harry will neither resuscitate Warner, nor resuscitate, period.

Don't worry. Warner will stay afloat for awhile*. But I hope they have other ambitions than exposing "Adult Swim" to entertain us.


* particularly if they keep discarding BUs... need a broom with a (Mountain) view ?



20090925

iPhone wakes up Korean mobile internet market

Amazing : Korea, a world leader in mobile innovations in the early 2000s, Korea, still nowadays the land of broadband and home to such IT giants as Samsung and LG, Korea is lagging behind European countries in both IPTV and mobile internet.

As we saw with IPTV (see "
IPTV in Korea, an update"), lobbying and regulation played an important part in this paradox, and the country is finally trying to fix the bug.

For mobile internet, the first opening came last year with the abandon of WIPI (Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability) as the mandatory platform for smartphones, opening the market to Blackberry and other players. Today, we can hardly speak of a shift from an industry-based to a consumer-based regulation, but the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) just cleared the way for iPhone in Korea by stating that Apple, after all, doesn't need an extra license for Location-Based Services as long as there's a MNO with the relevant license in the loop.

KT is expected to launch the iPhone in the weeks to come (October or November), and to subsidize the device down to a retail price of around KRW 240,000 (about USD 200). Apple wants more than the 300,000 units announced by its Korean partner, who will have to release its own KT Apps Store ahead of the iPhone in order to mark its territory. In order to leverage on the operator's strong leadership in fixed and fixed wireless services, KT's apps will be downloadable by Wi-Fi.

Competitors have been bracing themselves for the iPhone, fearing market disruptions : wireless leader SK Telecom opened the first App Store earlier this month. But unfortunately, "T Store" has been bashed by the critic : users can browse as much as they want on their PC (
tstore.co.kr - about 6,500 references), but can only download apps via their 3G phones, and via 3G only (not Wi-Fi). Worse : the price doesn't include connection costs ! Needless to say the service is WIPI-based : SKT is the mobile leader and bets on a wider installed based from the start. I can already see marketers scratch their heads : we want our customers to rediscover their own handsets and find them sexier than the ultimate hype machine... good luck ! Needless to say T Store won't remain WIPI-based : SKT plans to go "global" within two years and to generate a 1 trillion won turnover in 2013. If SKT maintains its 30% cut, we're talking about over half a billion bucks. And since SKT happens to be also a major content provider, that's a rather conservative estimation... provided the store succees, of course.

Korean developers will have fish to fry, as well as the editors' sectoral federations (ie games), in charge of okaying new apps. Furthermore, Microsoft is also roaming the country to snatch some gems (USD 19M planned for game developers over the next 4 years).

Netcos have been barred by cellcos but grow new ambitions, like NHN for its "web" brands. Beyond Naver, NHN wants to push Me2Day, a K-"twitter" acquired last year and already on iPhone.

Now How about endusers ?

Mobile TV is very popular but doesn't require 3G. And wireless internet echoes more Wi-Fi / WiBro than 3G. Even if half of the core target (12 to 59 year-olds) is somehow using services, mobile internet over 3G remains ways too expensive, and most players would like operators to slash connection costs, particularly to welcome revenues from social networking platforms. MNOs already had to undergo significant cuts in calling charges, but their rates remain high and the percentage of turnover made on wireless internet very low (below 20%) compared to advanced European nations (in the mid 30%s).

Usages are bound to soar once MNOs accept to share more with the rest of the ecosystem, to grow a much bigger pie. All together, now.

ADDENDUM 20090927

More precisions regarding the cuts in mobile charges (announced this week-end) :
- wireless internet basic rates : 50% reduction for LGT, 88% for KT. To be defined for SKT, but from next March on, the leader will calculate call charges per second (every 10 second now). note that Long Distance has disappeared in Korea : calls within Seoul and outside will cost the same. VoIP also gains ground, even if rates are not as slashed as in other countries (ie nothing is actually free).
- basic access fees slashed (KT : from KRW 30 to 24,000 - SKT : from 55 to 44,000)
- loyalty discounts (KT 5,000 / mo, SKT up to 22,000, LGT up to 25,000) - NB: all 3 MNOs have also triple play discounts. Logically, #3 LG Telecom (mobile portal brand : Oz) is the most aggressive player.



20090920

Amazon Basics : private label, low profile kick-off

If you visit Amazon.com store this week-end, Kindle remains on the top shelf of the Electronics section. The Top brand, with 171 references, is Amazon, but that's mostly Kindle stuff (the grey machine itself surrounded by more colorful accessories). No mention of AmazonBasics here.

If you want to get products from Amazon's new private label*, you have to type the direct URL
amazon.com/AmazonBasics. And you'll get is really basics : blank media (ie DVD) and accessory cables branded Amazon. No-frills, smartly marketed as "Frustration-Free Packaging" ("a multi-year initiative designed to alleviate "wrap rage", featuring recyclable boxes that are easy to open and free of excess materials"). Even IKEA is more direct : we're just bringing the costs down, who cares if the packaging looks poor ?

Oviously, AmazonBasics is designed to alleviate Wrap rage from Amazon providers : we're not tapping your cash cow see ? We're only competing with your cheapest competitors, making up for the decrease in CD and DVD sales. For starters.

But everybody's got the message : we're there now. If Amazon becomes your "blank media" provider, and your "non blank media" publisher (ie CreateSpace), it can fill a few other blanks in the process.

Smarter products and services may follow.


* "
Amazon.com Introduces AmazonBasics" (Amazon 20090919):

"We saw an opportunity to create a line of consumer electronics basics that combine quality and low prices for an overall focus on value," said Paul Ryder, vice president of Consumer Electronics for Amazon.com. "We drew on our history of developing other private-label brands and combined that with our mission to give customers the ultimate in selection and value. AmazonBasics is the result. We will continue to gather input from customers and evaluate opportunities for new products under the AmazonBasics brand. We aim to offer our customers as wide a selection as possible, and we think AmazonBasics makes a great addition to the brands we already carry."



20090918

Gotcha ! Google learns to read with reCAPTCHA

If you leave a comment on this page, chances are you'll face a CAPTCHA box. This "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" prevents robots from spamming. If you pass the test, you'll face a human being, Yours Truly. And since my platform is Blogger (a Google unit), CAPTCHA provider will eventually be reCATCHA, the company purchased by Google yesterday.

Each time Microsoft or Google snatches a start-up, conspiration theorists try to decypher the CAPTCHA, as in "Completely Automated Private Takeover to tear Competitors and Humans Apart".

This time, Google provides the key on its blog* : they need the technology to capture our own know how in text recognition for its own document scanning processes, most notably for Google Books, which recently claimed a spectacular partnership with one of its former opponents, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Who knows ? The system could also boost other applications in the long run... Writing to speech ? At times I'd love to find a tool to decypher my own scribbles.




* "Teaching computers to read: Google acquires reCAPTCHA" (20090916) :

" Computers find it hard to recognize these words because the ink and paper have degraded over time, but by typing them in as a CAPTCHA, crowds teach computers to read the scanned text"


ADDENDUM 20090919

Since this post received yesterday a visit from Carnegie Mellon Algorithms and Complexity Theory Group, I shall add, for full recognition, that reCAPTCHA happens to be a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Science Department.



20090909

Crouching Snow Leopard, Hidden Booklet

According to GfK, Apple knocked Nokia out of the second spot in France last July : Samsung still led with 27% of the market (in value), but Apple reached 25%, leaving Nokia far behind with 16.9%. In volumes, the Samsung - Nokia - LG trio (36.1% - 21.7% - 12.1%) remains well ahead of Apple (8%).
As we saw earlier (ie "
Nokia's Ovi Store - a follower-leader"), the Cupertino brand's rise as a power player in smartphones met surprisingly little resistance from the Finnish giant.

But Apple is not neglecting its original business. Snow Leopard upgrades come for as cheap as $29, sending the right message to people stuck to Windows or considering Windows 7 : don't think of it as just a one shot operation but a completely different customer experience and value proposition, guys. We're cheaper, upgrading is cheaper with us, and guess what, upgrading can even free some space on your laptop !

It would be cruel to mention Nokia's $850 Booklet 3G Netbook after that but I have to. Maybe it's a good product. It has all the connectivity and security you can dream of, but it's very expensive.

So is this asymetrical war over ?

No : Nokia has the global power to refresh parts other manufacturers cannot reach, and enough brain to consider hiring new marketers. Furthermore, Apple is enjoying the success of one line of devices, very much the way it did back in the eighties. It is not fit to lead in technology, design will pass away, and the Apps editor / retailer dimension is becoming less and less differentiating. Differentiation itself is getting more and more challenging. Besides, Apple will not win the OS war, and this time he will not be defeated by a quasi-monopoly : the industry shall settle for commoditization on a more open basis... preferably not Google's Android but some may go for the quick fix, anything to get outta here.

That said, in the short term and medium term, Apple's position remains definitely more comfortable than rivals who keep planting seeds everywhere, bracing themselves for the next champions from China.



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