Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Email consultations with your doctor?

Seems like email consultations with your doctor may be coming to your doctor's office sooner than we thought. According to this New York Times article (registration required):

"I'm sitting at work," Mr. Settlemoir said. "I've got e-mail open anyway. It's much easier than calling and getting voice-mail prompts and sitting on hold. It's very valuable to me."

Blue Shield of California pays his doctor $25 for each online exchange, the same as it pays for an office visit. Some insurers pay a bit less for e-mailing, and patients in some health plans are charged a $5 or $10 co-payment that is billed to their credit card and relayed to the doctor.

For doctors, the convenience of online exchanges can be considerable. They say they can offer advice about postsurgical care, diet, changing a medication and other topics that can be handled safely and promptly without an office visit or a frustrating round of telephone tag. And surveys have shown that e-mail, by reducing the number of daily office visits, gives physicians more time to spend with patients who need to be seen face to face.

Google vs Yahoo!

A contrast of two rivals, Google (market cap of $51B) and Yahoo! (market cap of $44B) in this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required), highlights how Google's straetgy may be more profitable since it posted an operating profit of $1.1B vs Yahoo's $700M although net income as a percentage of revenue was higher for Yahoo.

At a November investors' conference, held by Morgan Stanley & Co., Chairman and CEO Mr. Semel noted that Yahoo has various ways of making money: search and display ads, fee-based services and online listings, such as help-wanted ads. "We sleep better at night knowing that we have three sources of revenue," he said. Mr. Semel, the former chairman and co-CEO of Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., declined to be interviewed for this article.

One statistic highlights the divergence between the two rivals: Yahoo users spend an average of 4.8 hours a month on its site, eight times the 35 minutes logged by users on Google, according to consumer research firm comScore Networks Inc.

Google executives say they wouldn't mind if users spent even less time on their site as long as they conducted more searches. Each search generates a new set of tailored ads. At Yahoo, users stick around to send instant messages, check stock prices or watch music videos. A Knicks fan may jump to Yahoo's sports site, where Yahoo sells ads, and then pay to join a Yahoo fantasy-sports league, where it costs as much as $124.95 to run your own league.

Satellite radio prices increase

Great, just after we get used to XM on one of our cars! :) At least we can think about getting XM online at work or home for free now...that is, if we can find a decent looking and not too expensive XM home receiver. According to this WSJ story (subscription required):

In the midst of a heated battle for subscribers, XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. [with 3.2M subscribers] said it would raise prices for its subscription radio service to $12.95 a month, matching the price of rival Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. [with 1.2M subscribers but some high profile deals including one with Howard Stern].

XM, which has charged $9.99 a month since it launched at the end of 2001, said it was raising prices to have more money available for developing future technology, including less expensive satellite radios, and to spend on programming.

To compensate for the higher price, XM said it would offer free to subscribers some services for which it had been charging. Opie & Anthony, a daily talk show that had cost $1.99 a month extra, now will be free. XM Radio Online, which now costs $3.99 a month for listening to the service over the Internet, also will be free, as is Sirius's online offering.

Cartoon characters' gay agenda vs the Right Wing's anti-gay agenda

More on the background to the Right Wing accusing cartoon characters as having a "gay agenda" according to this Advocate story:

When Focus on the Family founder James Dobson raised a ruckus in January about SpongeBob SquarePants’s appearance in what he dubbed a “pro-homosexual video” designed to promote diversity to schoolchildren, it was so widely (and erroneously) assumed that Dobson had said SpongeBob himself was gay that the cartoon hero’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg, felt compelled to explain to the press that the character was, in fact, “asexual.”

...“What kind of message does this send to my children and to all the children that they go to school with?” demands Pike [who with her partner, Gillian Pieper, raises three children in Vermont]. “That we don’t [exist], so you can bully [my kids], so you can call them ‘faggot’? We seem to be the lost segment, the last minority that the government is actually saying it’s OK to discriminate against. That’s remarkable to me.” Wilson, it should be noted, regrets that the couple “through no fault of their own” found themselves “left in the lurch because of this.” He adds, “For that, I’m sorry.”

...Last year Pike, Pieper, and their three children, Emma, David, and James, were filmed for the “Sugartime!” episode of WGBH’s Postcards From Buster, a series designed to showcase the broad spectrum of different families in the United States.

...Pieper, for her part, takes her cue from SpongeBob creator Hillenburg, explaining that while gay people are by definition a sexual minority, “the fact is that families are not sexual, and they shouldn’t be. That’s the thing that bothered me the most about [critics who say] we sexualize children at such a young age. Well, that’s heterosexual adults who are doing that to children in mainstream media. This episode is no more sexualized than the rest of the [series]. I don’t want to see what’s sexual about the Muslim family or the family that’s living in a trailer any more than I would want anybody to see that about my life. If we can separate sexual behavior from the identity of the people who are in gay families, I think we’d be a lot better off.”

The freedom to say no

This Advocate.com story covers the latest on the continuing fight by various prestigious universities to prevent the military from recruiting on campus because of its discrimination policy against gays:

You might think that a battle against military recruiters on college campuses would be based on the right to freedom of association. But in fact it’s become a fight over freedom of speech. Congress and the Pentagon have been fighting hard against a growing number of prestigious law schools that have barred military recruiters because of the armed services’ antigay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They argue that the 1995 Solomon Amendment allows them to withhold federal funding from any school that doesn’t allow on-campus recruiting.

But federal judges are seeing it differently. In a lawsuit brought by Yale Law School, U.S. district judge Janet C. Hall on January 31 ruled that the Solomon Amendment violates the school’s constitutional right to free speech. Hall noted that “faculty members do not wish to aid in disseminating [the Department of Defense’s message] that it is acceptable for an organization to exclude homosexuals, or at a minimum those who admittedly engage in homosexual conduct, from employment.” The ruling echoes one issued in November by the third U.S. circuit court of appeals in a case filed by a consortium of law schools, a ruling the Justice Department has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Exit, Law & Order

Bruce Vilanch writes in the Advocate about the original Law & Order...and why one recent character may have exited the show with quite a line that has him wondering what prompted the writing in of this line and why the character hadn't revealed her sexual orientation earlier.

Cinema historians will be thrilled to know there is finally an exit line to top Orson Welles’s immortal “Rosebud…” at the end of Citizen Kane. A few episodes ago on Law & Order—the original, not the one with the sex crimes—the blond ice-goddess prosecutor played by Elisabeth Rohm was fired (translation: Her character was written out). Since she’d been doing a pretty good job of putting bad guys away for the last few years, she was, naturally, puzzled at this turn of events. Finally, out of the blue, she asked, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?” And…commercial.

[Vilanch wonders] "Was she ashamed? One little line and all these possibilities.... People keep secrets for all sorts of reasons.... Living in shame also seems to be OK with the Cheneys, that fun couple who have more to do with the way our country is run than people care to admit. Whenever mention is made of their lesbian daughter, they rush to hide behind a wall of shame. Polite people don’t mention such things in public—do you hear us, John Kerry? If their daughter’s sexuality didn’t truly bother and shame them, they wouldn’t care how many people called her a lesbian on TV. It would be a statement of fact, like that Joe Lieberman is a Jew or Prince Harry is a jerk—something unassailable and true since birth.

For all the Cheneys’ talk of how proud they are, they’re deeply ashamed. They cry like wounded banshees when Mary’s sexuality comes up in any conversation. What wonderful role models they make for parents everywhere, these paragons of law and order.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The challenges ahead for Amazon

Amazon, one of my favorite online brands, faces some significant challenges ahead as analyzed in this Knowledge Wharton article:

On Nov. 18, Bank of America securities analyst Aram Rubinson did Rashtchy one better. He started coverage of Amazon with a "sell" rating and a price target of $26 at a time when Amazon shares were trading at $39.90. Calling Amazon a "mass market player in a niche market," Rubinson says Amazon is a mere retailer, and not an Internet stock that deserves a loftier valuation. To make matters worse, Amazon's product lineup is too broad, meaning it can't get economies of scale for any one category, states Rubinson, adding that if Amazon were more focused, say on just books and music, it would generate better returns.

According to William Cody, managing director of Wharton's Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative, Amazon's department store approach could backfire, although he suggests that it's too early to determine how the Amazon saga will play out. "One-stop shopping works well in a department store. But online, another department store is just a click away."

...One of the reasons experts like Wind and Fader suggest Amazon may be better off refocusing its efforts instead of expanding is its average order size. According to Rubinson, Amazon has an average order value of $54. Direct and catalog retailers focusing on just a few product categories average $150. The bottom line: Amazon is selling some products even though they aren't profitable. The tradeoff is growth for profits.

'Indecency' and the Far Right

With Desperate  Housewives and the GoDaddy.com costume malfunction spoof ad a runaway success, and the tape-delayed Golden Globes and the Grammy's losing audiences by the busloads, the hypocrisy between those who complain about 'indeceny' and their friends who benefit from it monetarily is revealing, and the impact on those who are targeted such as gay and lesbian kids and families especially horrifying. According to this Frank Rich column in the New York Times (registration required):

As Jake Tapper reported on ABC News, Adelphia [soon to launch XXX programming vs News Corp's Direct TV's double X films] is a big Republican contributor. Its beneficiaries include Rick Santorum, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania who has likened homosexuality to "man on dog" sex, a specialty item that his campaign donor might yet present some day. Sift through the Center for Responsive Politics' campaign contribution site, and you will also find that Fred Upton, the Republican point man in the Congressional indecency crusade, is one of the many in his party (President Bush among them) raking in contributions from Comcast or its executives. Comcast subscribers are awash in porn. In Mr. Upton's own Kalamazoo district, its pay-per-view networks have offered such hard-core fare as "Young, Fresh & Ripe" and "As Young As They Come No. 8" even as the congressman put the finishing touches on the penalty-enhanced Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.

Cheering Mr. Upton on is the Parents Television Council, the e-mail factory that Mediaweek magazine credits with as much as 99.9 percent of all indecency complaints to the F.C.C. in 2004. It is also quite a little fount of salacious entertainment in its own right. On its Web site, the organization's tireless "entertainment analysts" compile a list of every naughty word used on television and invite visitors to "Watch the Worst TV Clip of the Week." An archive of past clips - helpfully labeled individually by sin ("gratuitous teen sex," "necrophilia") - is there for your pleasure, with no requirement for the credit card number or membership fee that porn Internet sites use as a roadblock for children.

That politicians and public scolds like these have succeeded in the temporary laundering of live TV shows, and even "Saving Private Ryan," is a symptom of the political moment. It won't last long. The power of the free market, for better or worse, will prevail, and the market tells us that it is still the American way to lament indecency even while gobbling it up. This is the year that Sports Illustrated for the first time published the number for its subscribers to phone if they wanted to skip the swimsuit issue - and almost no one called. Sandra Dee really is dead, and no fire-and-brimstone speeches by James Dobson are going to bring her back.

But that does not mean that the indecency campaign is benign. Even if it barely slows the entertainment industry juggernaut, it inflicts collateral damage elsewhere - whether casting a chill over broadcast news or crippling public broadcasting by inducing it to censor even the language of American troops in a "Frontline" documentary about Iraq. The Parents Television Council may purport to complain about "The Simpsons," which last Sunday presented an episode both sympathetic to same-sex marriage and skeptical of a Bible-thumping minister. ("If you love the Bible so much," Homer asks him, "why don't you marry it?") But that's a game; this organization knows full well it can't lay a finger on Fox or its well-connected proprietor, Mr. Murdoch. The same anti-indecency forces, however, can and did set the stage for the new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, to go gunning for a far milder evocation of same-sex parents in the children's show "Postcards From Buster" on PBS.

Fresh from sending a cartoon rabbit to the slaughterhouse, Ms. Spellings will figure out ways to discriminate against real-life lesbian moms in other departmental policies that have nothing to do with entertainment. And she's not the only administration official empowered by the decency crusaders to apply censorship to public policy well removed from the TV screen. No sooner were PBS's lesbians sent to the indecency gulag than The Washington Post reported that the Department of Health and Human Services had instructed the presenters of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention this month to remove the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the name of a talk heretofore titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals," thereby rendering it invisible and useless.

Barak Obama in Washington

Senator Barak Obama has been surrounded by hype even before his spectacular speech at the DNC and winning against the pathetic Republican candidate Alan Keyes who the GOP finally found to run against him. His first few, humble days in Washington, DC are profiled in this Washington Post story:

It's hard enough being a new senator: so many rules to learn, rooms to find, staffers to hire. But Obama's arrival packs the added bother of ridiculous expectations -- in addition to the absurdity of signing autographs for the security guard wanding him at the airport, or being asked during a press conference about his "place in history." (This question came the day before Obama was sworn in.) "I don't think I have a place in history yet," Obama replied. "I got elected to the U.S. Senate. I haven't done anything yet." Which of course is a quaint way of looking at things, harking back to more proportionate times and sensibilities. In the context of "Mr. Obama Comes to Washington," the protagonist's peril is as plain as his face on magazine covers.

Examples abound of people of both parties acting too boldly too quickly. Sen. Rick Santorum is one such commonly cited Republican, as is the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone. In his first term, when Santorum suggested that Senate veteran Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) be removed from a committee chairmanship, Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) famously quipped, "Santorum -- is that Latin for [anus]?" Both Santorum and Wellstone would later acknowledge their early battering ram tendencies. They learned to work more seamlessly within the Senate. Over time, they became respected and even liked by many colleagues of both parties (including Santorum by Kerrey).

"White slaves for sale on eBay?"

John Dvorak has an interesting -- and valid -- observation related to the continuing Google paid-search advertising bubble talk that is gaining momentum. In this MarketWatch column (registration required) he calls the rampant advertising on Google -- "junk advertising" -- thanks to the way Google allows customers to buy words that trigger their sponsored ad next to the search results:

Somewhere along the way, a few of the more aggressive advertisers, led by eBay, decided that it was open game and they'd buy any noun being searched. After all, they sold almost everything, didn't they? So now the game begins.

...Looking for lint? Of course eBay has got a large selection. And so does Alleon Pharmacy: "lint From Alleon -- Home, Health and Beauty Aids -- Great prices and fast shipping --www.alleonpharmacy.com." As if lint is a product sold there.

According to eBay's advertising, you can get locate goods and services related to mud, toenails, white slaves, a wife ("wife for sale!") ... you name it.

Google stock downgraded, finally

It was only a matter of time before what we've been saying -- and realizing -- as a Google customer, and what eBay realized a couple of weeks ago and said publicly, that Google's keyword paid-search prices were in a bubble.

According to this article on The Street.com on one of the top analysts, previous one of the most bullish on Google, downgrading the GOOG stock, just as the biggest? lock up comes to an end for Google insiders:

RBC Capital Markets' Jordan Rohan cut his investment rating on the stocks to sector perform, saying channel checks show unexpected weakness in paid-search pricing. Rohan, who had previously rated Google a "top pick" and Yahoo! outperform, lowered his price target on Google to $200 from $250 and cut Yahoo!'s to $34 from $43.

..."We had hoped that momentum in paid search from 4Q04 would carry through to 1Q05 results, but now we believe otherwise," the brokerage wrote. "Beyond first-quarter results, we do not see many catalysts to move the shares significantly higher as we move into the seasonally weakest time period."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dean's back -- political play of the week

The Republicans are supposedly thanking their stars that the new DNC head is Howard Dean who the media -- and they -- claimed to self-destruct because of that so-called scream. If you've actually watched that whole end of his now-famous speech, the craziness was very much exaggerated.

The real problem he had was that his campaign didn't take into account a scenario where he didn't win initially and would have to keep fighting as the underdog while the money started to shift to the frontrunner. Dean was smart in taking his Internet fundraising network and activists, and creating Democracy for America that "brought resources to grassroots Democratic campaigns all over the country." According to this CNN story:

"If we can't elect people running for the city council and country commissioner and school board and state assembly, if we can't elect those people, then we're never gonna elect a president of the United States," Dean said.

Dean put together liberals, who have not been so totally shut out of power since the 1920s, and local Democratic activists, who feel disempowered by the DNC.

A coalition of the disempowered has powered the Dean comeback -- and helped him win the political Play of the Week.

The Dean takeover is a lot like the takeover of the Republican Party by conservative activists in the 1960s. Conservatives felt disempowered after 30 years in the wilderness.

In the short run, the Goldwater takeover looked like a disaster for the GOP. But in the long run, well, look at what happened.

San Francisco mayor takes on NYC mayor!

Go, Newsom! According to this San Francisco Chronicle story, Mayor Newsom was recently forced to comment by reporters on the issue of New York city mayor Bloomberg who is trying to both appease Republicans so that he can survive the Republican primary yet win re-election in mostly liberal New York:

Bloomberg, who has said he personally favors same-sex marriage, announced over the weekend that he would challenge the ruling of a judge in Manhattan earlier this month that gay couples have the right to marry under the state's Constitution. Bloomberg has said he believes New York state law forbids the practice.

..."I think if you believe something, you've got to act on it,'' the San Francisco mayor said. "If you don't believe in it, don't act on it. But don't say you believe something and then do everything to stifle that belief."

...A legal brief submitted to the court by New York City discussed the tradition of marriage going back to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Newsom said denying blacks citizenship and the right to vote were traditions in the United States at one time.

"Well, if you want to talk about tradition being codified in this country, tradition was codified in the (1857) Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to deny blacks citizenship," Newsom said. "That was tradition. It was wrong. ...

"So when Mayor Bloomberg or others say it's tradition -- marriage between a man and a woman -- I harken back to those days where the tradition was challenged because it was the right thing to do, and I wish that the mayor (of New York City) would challenge the tradition of bigotry as it relates to same-sex marriages. I think that would be courageous."

Clean San Francisco?

About time! According to this San Francisco Chronicle story:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared war on dirty streets Thursday, saying he will deputize hundreds of city workers to hunt down litterbugs and to punish them with hefty fines.

...That will be a mighty task, given that city street-cleaning crews removed 23,451 tons of trash from city streets last year -- a 35 percent increase from the year before.

The plan calls for giving more than 400 city workers -- the mayor included -- the power to write up litterbugs after they undergo a two-hour training session in the next couple of weeks. The citations carry fines that range from $80 to $1,000, depending on the amount of trash illegally discarded and whether the litterer is a repeat offender, officials said.

A demagogue in San Jose

With 20 million listeners, he is America's most-listened-to radio host according to this SF Chronicle story on his visit to the Bay Area:

There were two chilling moments for me Tuesday night. Asked about the new Israeli-Palestinian talks, Limbaugh said: "All this talking is just resulting in people dying." Then he developed a thesis that peace never follows negotiation -- it follows victory. "We didn't get peace with Hitler because we sat down and had bratwurst." In fact peace does come through negotiation --

El Salvador and Guatemala are recent examples. But Rush's train of thought had zoomed on, from unsupported assertion to Hitler joke and now to terrorism anecdote ("8-year-olds with Down syndrome strapped to bombs"). And so a hugely complex situation is reduced to a shallow, bogus idea and a few inflammatory sound bites.

But the line that really made me shudder was this: "In the middle of what's happening in Iraq," Limbaugh said, "for most Americans what happened at Abu Ghraib might as well be Romper Room."

The power of the Internet

The power of the Internet is huge. It can be used for good, for support of others who're isolated or far away from physical support groups, as seen in the recent use of blogs after the Tsunami and as seen every day on Blogit, but it can also be used to prey on those who're not doing so well and susceptible to the idea of suicide. According to this SF Chronicle story, an Oregon man was arrested for planning a mass suicide of 32 people including himself on Valentine's Day:

Detectives learned of the plan from a woman in Canada who said she saw the message in a Yahoo chat room that had the words "Suicide Ideology" in the title.

The woman, who was not identified by authorities, told detectives she was going to take part in the suicide but had second thoughts when another chat room participant said she would do it and talked about killing her two children before taking her own life, said Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger.

...The chat room participants planned to log in on Valentine's Day and commit suicide while keeping in touch over the Internet, Evinger said. The chat room is no longer active.

Amazon's launches A9.com search, yellow pages

Amazon.com has launced a new twist to an old service, the Yellow Pages, which is a huge, huge business that my last company was focused on updating via rich media. But it is more than Yellow Pages...it is a new integrated search that lets you search . According to this Internetnews.com story on A9.com:

The new service from the Seattle-based Amazon.com, developed by its wholly owned search subsidiary A9, compiled 20 million photos of businesses in 10 major United States cities over a four month period, and now say they plan on adding more.

Using SUVs loaded with high-tech imaging gear, A9 sent drivers to 10 cities, covering "tens of thousands of miles," to map the streets and capture exterior images of local businesses.

"It took integrated GPS receivers, digital cameras, sophisticated geocoding software and a lot of driving," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, in a statement. "But 20 million curb-side photographs later, A9.com Yellow Pages lets you see where you are going before you get there."

So why is A9.com so special? I tried it and it has potential although I wasn't able to find photos of any businesses I searched in San Francisco, Palo Alto or Boston -- three cities I've been in most recently. Here's what its website has to say:

The web is easy to use, but using it well is not easy. We are inventing new ways to take search one step farther and make it more effective. We provide a unique set of powerful features to find information, organize it, and remember it—all in one place. A9.com is a powerful search engine, using web search and image search results enhanced by Google, Search Inside the Book® results from Amazon.com, reference results from GuruNet, movies results from IMDb, and more.

A9.com remembers your information so you don’t have to. You can keep your own notes about any web page and search them; it is a new way to store and organize your bookmarks; it even recommends new sites and favorite old sites specifically for you to visit. With the A9 Toolbar installed your web browsing history will be saved so you can search through your whole history (and clear items you don’t want kept). A9.com uses your history to recommend new sites, to alert you to new search results, and to let you know the last time you visited a page.

Google's keyword pricing bubble

Heck yes, about time someone said something publicly about the crazy, keyword pricing bubble that seems to be helping Google (and Yahoo!) stock and revenue but is reducing conversion and ROI for most, if not all, of their customers. As I've been saying privately to friends and people in the industry, it is only a matter of time before Google's shine wears off since Google's success depends on its customers' success.

And if customers are starting to lose money on advertising on Google -- as one company I know experienced one heady month last year when its clickthrus went thru the roof but conversion rates dropped like a dead cat -- these customers are going to start to look elsewhere to meet their direct marketing and advertising needs. And the rapid revenue increase at Google is suddenly going to come slowing to a Hwy 101 crawl during rush hour. Hope you're shorting Google stock at the time! According to this Reuters story:

Bill Cobb, the president of North America at eBay Inc., said the company has seen "bubble-like" price increases for the key words that drive Web search advertising popularized by Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

"Pricing is a little wild right now. We have to focus on getting fair value," Cobb said at eBay's analyst meeting in San Jose, California. eBay (Research) is among the biggest buyers of Web search advertising key words.

Prices for key words used in Web search advertising have been on the rise as large and small advertisers move more of their marketing spending to the Internet, eBay executives said.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Amazon.com hopes for loyalty and long-term revenue

Amazon.com is hoping to build customer loyalty with its new free shipping for a fixed annual fee program, plus it will probably generate significant increase in revenue from the loyal customers buying more items and if some customers who sign up for the shipping program forget about using it, they'll still benefit from the annual fee coming in. According to this NYTimes story (registration required):

Amazon also announced Wednesday that it would begin offering its customers the option of paying a flat annual fee of $79 for unlimited free two-day shipping on orders. The deal also would let customers pay just $3.99 for overnight shipping.

In a letter to customers posted on the retailer's Web site, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said he expected the new program to be expensive for Amazon.com in the short-term but hoped it would build greater long-term loyalty.

Szkutak noted that the new service is ``perhaps the most expensive thing we've done'' since the company began offering free shipping on purchases of $25 or more.

TiVo: Beginning of the end?

We recently bought another TiVo box late last year -- after unsuccessfully trying to install one a year or two ago -- and tried to connect it to our HDTV Comcast cable box and a Phillips LCD HDTV...with no success, yet again. Guess where are TiVo is going to go? It's going to eBay-land! The fact is that TiVo has a great brand but because it has been unable to build alliances with the cable box companies, nor has it dealt with the growing HDTV phenomenon, the user experience setting up TiVo has been less than ideal. No wonder the company's future is now questionable with the resignation of its top two execs over the last couple of weeks and no major alliances in place. According to this WSJ story (subscription required):

...cable operators embraced DVRs after their satellite-TV rivals began wooing subscribers, in part, by aggressively promoting DVRs to customers. Indeed, TiVo's one major distribution partnership, struck several years ago, is with DirecTV Group Inc., the top satellite-television company, which included TiVo's technology in its DVR. Now, DirecTV accounts for roughly 60% of TiVo's 2.3 million users [although it will soon be launching its own DVR since News Corp has acquired a stake it it and also owns another DVR company]. Magna Global, a media research firm owned by advertising company Interpublic Group of Cos., estimates there were 5.3 million DVR users in the U.S. as of September.

...The spread of DVR technology was almost inevitable. Sets proliferated as the combination of software and hardware technologies that TiVo pioneered became much easier and less costly to duplicate. For example, prices have been rapidly falling for the key component inside the box, a hard-disk drive that can store hours of recorded programming. Meanwhile, other satellite and cable providers continue to expand their use of non-TiVo DVRs. EchoStar Communications Corp. -- the No. 2 satellite provider -- had almost 1.5 million users of its own DVR as of September 2004, up from 914,000 a year earlier, Magna Global estimates. Although they were later to the game, big cable operators are growing even faster: Time Warner Inc.'s cable unit had more than 709,000 subscribers as of September, up from 251,000 a year earlier, while Comcast had 168,000 subscribers at that time, up from 7,000 a year earlier, estimates Magna Global.

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