Hard News by Russell Brown

76

TiVo and some tunes

I'm more impressed with TVNZ's TiVo investment than I expected to be. If it works out, the broadcaster's $8.9 million for a one-third share of the regional TiVo licence-holder, Hybrid Television (Australia's Channel Seven holds the remainder) will look like a bargain. For now, it affords substance to the digital buzzwords.

By December this year, we will have the incarnation of TiVo that has been present in Australia since July last year -- that is, no subscription fee, just a one-off purchase ($A599 across the ditch) of a TiVo digital video recorder.

Our boxes will be twin-tuner Freeview HD decoders; a fact that ought to have the Freeview people turning handsprings. They had little chance of securing a DVR anything like as friendly as the MySky: now they have one that's not only better than a MySky in some respects, but cheaper than the third-party DVR they've been trying to sell. The market looks a bit more even than it did last week.

One thing the TiVo has over the MySky is that its off-air recordings are portable: you can easily take them off the box and put them on your PC, if you wish. But there's more …

The TiVo also facilitates the delivery of on-demand programming via home broadband. The content will consist of movies and catch-up TV programming. About 80% of the movies will be made available on a pay-per-view basis, and 20% will be ad-supported. The split works the other way around for TV: about 80% of which will be ad-supported.

Although you can fast-forward through the stuff you've recorded off-air, just like a MySky or any other DVR, you will not be able to fast-forward through the ads in the on-demand-via-broadband programmes, but there will be far fewer of them. All the on-demand content will be DRM-protected, and you'll typically be able to keep a movie on your hard drive for a month -- but you'll have to finish watching it within 48 hours once you press play.

The third leg of the (ahem) "triple play" is service delivery. Domino's Pizza (why is it always pizza?) has signed up to be available for order via the TiVo in Australia. Blockbuster is also a partner, and will presumably provide the pay-per-view movies.

But one of the most interesting parts of the proposition is the content delivery network. The what, you say? The biggest and best-known CDV is Akamai, which delivers the bits from big brands such as Apple and CNN to caches installed at ISPs all over the word -- not via the public internet, but on a separate network using special protocols. The idea is that you transparently get your stuff from the server nearest to you.

TiVo's CDN will be smaller, but will work on the same principle. TiVo will be looking to cut deals with all local consumer ISPs so that its content will come to you zero-rated, and won't deplete your data cap. It will be interesting to see how Sky's apparently exclusive deals with all the telcos impact on that.

It will also be interesting to see what Mediaworks says next. Brent Impey has been hinting that he might not want to supply data for the electronic programme guide to a box run by TVNZ. According to Rick Ellis at yesterday's briefing, Mediaworks won't have much choice -- it's a Freeview partner and therefore committed to providing data to all Freeview-approved devices.

"I'm sure that once Brent understands the strategy behind it, he won't have any issues," added TVNZ's head of marketing, Jason Paris.

As in Australia, there will be TiVo peripherals at retail: a wireless network adapter, a home networking kit and a dedicated Western Digital 1TB hard drive.

Some other bits: the functionality offered in Australia via Yahoo 7, which lets TiVo owners program their boxes remotely, over the internet, will be available here.

The box also does interactive advertising (a relative rarity for free-to-air TV) but only TVNZ will have access to that at first.

The New Zealand sales target is 120,000 installed by 2011.

The EPG data isn't delivered over the air, but via broadband.

The on-demand movies will be standard definition, rather than HD.

All the on-demand programming will be in H.264 MPEG4.

The TiVo handles programming clashes -- say, recording two successive shows, better than the MySky.

There are no buttons to jump either forward or back, just fast-forward and reverse.

TVNZ has also committed to providing advertising time for TiVo. Which, in the current environment, won't be much of an ask. There will be quite a bit of spare advertising inventory for the next year at least.

In the meantime, Dominic Bowden is taking expressions of interest at MyTivo.

Other TV news this week -- TVNZ 6 and 7 go on the Sky platform from July 1. This is good news for people who want to see those channels but don't have Freeview -- and even better news for those of us who have programmes on those channels. (The news is nicely timed too -- Media7 hits its 50th show and one year anniversary next week. The teams going clubbing tonight, See y'all at The Turnaround, kids.)

The next question people invariably ask after hearing that news is "so does that mean Prime will be on Freeview?" In itself, it doesn't. But Drinnan says the Minister of Broadcasting is leaning on Sky to make it so. That will be interesting.

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Local band the Roulettes have had their own song, 'You Want It', taken off their MySpace page. The cause? An erroneous copyright claim by Warner Music. The song was licensed for Outrageous Fortune, and appears on the show's soundtrack album, which was released by Warners. Warners thinks it holds the copyright. It doesn't.

[Update: Jonathan Hughes from Mana Music, which put out the soundtrack album, via Warner distribution, says it's a mystery why the track was picked up in the first place (because Warners doesn't actually think it owns the track), but MySpace is sorting it out. He also wanted to point out that Warners picked up the (ultimately very successful) soundtrack albums when no one else was interested.]

Something I like about the Business Roundtable's Roger Kerr is his willingness to argue his beliefs -- I've had extended debates with him both on the radio and via email. And Roger is certainly game as anything in taking on Gareth Renowden's lacerating review of his submission to Parliament's climate change inquiry. Unfortunately, he's completely out of his depth and can't produce the "official government documents" he cited to MPs. Pat of the problem seems to be that he's got his climate change denial information from the usual suspects. Anyway, pwned, methinks.

Most depressing news of the week: the government's decision to restart live sheep exports to keep a Saudi company happy. We don't need to do this, and we shouldn't. David Carter is now backtracking and the Herald is tut-tutting. Bah.

Can I just say I didn't have a problem with the police's decision to bring charges against liquor store owner Virender Singh? They had eyewitness evidence of Singh repeatedly smashing a hockey stick down onto a motionless and bloodied teenager. It was clearly a chaotic and dreadful situation in which Singh had to defend himself, but I think it's not inappropriate for a court to determine whether that alleged action went beyond self-defence. By the same token, I have no problem with the JPs who heard the case declining to send it to trial because the evidence was unclear and contradictory. I do wish we didn't have to go through the by-now familiar cause-celebre set-piece in the media.

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Weekend starts now …

Stinky Jim dropped me a line to say the revamped Round Trip Mars label website is now open for viewing. It has much news and many videos.

And
on his blog, the Stinkster has a limited-time free download of James Duncan's dreamy 'Close Your Eyes', and a buy link to the Mirror Minor EP from which it is taken, should the sample track take your fancy. In an adjacent post, there's also a download of Onra's 'Dreams',

Also, several of my old friends have taken to scanning fading photographs filled with people who look like us, only much thinner. For most of them, you probably had to be there -- but that's not the case for Jonathan Ganley's wonderful photoblog, Point That Thing. He has fine pictures of Straitjacket Fits, John Cale, Bird Nest Roys, Sonic Youth and the Clash, playing in Auckland back in the day.

And finally, here's the infamous Leighton Smith dance track. Smith had a rant to his listeners about loud music coming from the cool-kids HQ Cassette Nine in Vulcan Lane, and interfering with his sleep at a city hotel. DJ James Ohh grabbed the audio and whipped up a track. Priceless.

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