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Insider Report

news and views on broadcast and professional video/audio sectors, worldwide

w/e December 18, 2009 SCRI International, Inc © 1984 - 2009

INDEX

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TECHNOLOGY NEWS

FCC Issues Broadband Plan Framework

The FCC laid out options for creating a national broadband plan, as derived from a report by the agency’s broadband task force. The commission has 63 days before it must deliver its final strategy to Congress.

“Finding ways to better use existing assets, including Universal Service, rights-of-way, spectrum and others, will be essential to the success of the plan. The limited government funding that is available for broadband would be best used when leveraged with private sector investment,” the FCC said in a summary of the report.

Listed under the category of “Spectrum Options,” the FCC noted that “demand for wireless broadband will exceed the supply of spectrum in the not-too-distant future. A large, new spectrum allocation is essential to improving broadband competition.”

The FCC did not say exactly how much spectrum would be needed for the program. It mentioned resolving pending wireless proceedings that involve spectrum use, considering reallocation of the TV spectrum, “preserving spectrum for unlicensed devices,” using airwaves more efficiently, and “applying market forces to all bands while taking into consideration other policy objectives.”

The commission’s outline also touched on improved set-top boxes, the Universal Service Fund, and possibly power lines for broadband provision.

3D '09 box office revenue $1.3 billion in 2009, to date

According to a report in Variety, the Box Office revenue for 3D pics has swelled to $1.3 billion this year, and that's before 20th Century Fox opens James Cameron's 3D fantasy epic "Avatar" around the globe on Friday in the widest 3D release to date. This year's take marks a three-fold increase over 2008's roughly $307 million tally for 3D titles.

The spike supports the argument that the format is living up to its promise and boosting the overall bottom line thanks to the premium price charged for 3D titles. On average, the upcharge is $2-$3, and more in some markets.

Domestic B.O. revenues for 2009 are running at record levels and are set to jump the $10 billion mark for the first time ever in any given year. Through Sunday, revenues were $9.61 billion.

Leading this year's crop of 3D pics at the domestic B.O. is Disney/Pixar's "Up" at $293 million. Overseas, the toon has grossed $390 million for a worldwide total of $683 million.

Internationally, the clear winner is Fox's 3D toon "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which cumed a staggering $687.1 million, one of the best foreign totals of all time. Three-quel grossed $196.6 million domestically for a worldwide total of $883.7 million.

Second-highest grosser domestically was DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's "Monsters vs. Aliens," cuming $198.4 million. Overseas, toon grossed $183.1 million for a total of $381.5 million.

Other $100 million-plus titles domestically include Robert Zemeckis' "Disney's A Christmas Carol," which has grossed $124.4 million so far in its run; Sony's toon "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" ($122.7 million); and Disney's CGI/live-action kidpic "G-Force" ($119.4 million).

Avatar" is another crucial test for modern-day 3D, since it is the first all-audience event pic to use the technology. So far, the biggest 3D titles have been animated.

Avatar" will debut in more than 2,000 3D theaters domestically, and more than 4,000 playdates internationally, according to early estimates. (Ultimately, the international count will be nearer to 5,000 once the film opens in all territories.)

In November, "Christmas Carol" could go out in roughly 1,800 3D theaters domestically.

Theater owners and studios have been at odds over who should bear the cost of converting screens to 3D, but the conversion has been picking up speed.

RealD, far and away the market leader in outfitting theaters with 3D technology, said more than 100 million moviegoers have experienced films in RealD.

The RealD 3D platform counts among its partners 19 of the world's top 20 exhibitors. It has 9,500 screens under contract, and 4,800 screens installed in 48 countries with 300 exhibition partners.

AT&T U-verse TV Expands to Include Five New HD Channels

AT&T announced several additions to the AT&T U-verse(SM) TV channel lineup, including five new High Definition (HD) channels and new international programming channels for Filipino and Cantonese viewers.

With the latest additions, AT&T U-verse has launched more than 60 channels this year, including 30 HD channels. The U-verse HD channel lineup now offers more than 115 HD channels, which continues to exceed the HD channels offered by the major local cable providers in every U-verse TV market.

U-verse TV HD customers now have access to Cartoon Network HD, MSNBC HD and TV One HD, and HD Premium Tier subscribers can now enjoy WFN: World Fishing Network HD. U-verse HD customers will also receive access to TBN HD on Dec. 15. Customers will receive these channels as part of their existing HD service subscription, depending on their programming package.

AT&T U-verse TV claims to be the only 100 percent Internet Protocol-based television (IPTV) service offered by a national service provider.

Internet-capable TVs grow quickly in Europe

The first TV and Blu-ray devices capable of accessing content directly from the Internet emerged in Europe during 2009 and will start to gain ground fast, with over 20% of flat panels televisions shipped in the region next year expected to be capable of connecting to the Internet, according to a new report from UK firm Futuresource Consulting.

“In Europe, four of the major brands have already launched connected TV products that go beyond basic home networking functionality and allow delivery of over-the-top Web services,” said David Watkins, Research Consultant at Futuresource. “This includes basic weather and news pages, social networking, video streaming and catch-up TV. Although initially limited to high-end and mid-range products, we’re going to see web connectivity feature on an increasing number of products next year, becoming standard within two to three years. We expect content to be the next battleground and a key driver for connection and usage, particularly through interaction with social networking sites and access to recently released movies.”

By the end of 2010, the installed base of connected TVs in Europe will surge to 15mn devices, representing nearly 10% of the total number of flat panel TVs in use, according to the report. The next step for manufacturers is predicted to be the addition of more compelling video services, including paid-for movie streaming that will create revenue sharing opportunities with content owners, content aggregators and application developers.

The report also predicts that sophisticated over-the-top services will be launched in Europe early in 2010, including major catch-up TV services and VOD services, which will offer stiffer competition to the premium packages offered by traditional pay-TV operators.

Open IPTV Forum establishes working relationships with DLNA, DVB and ETSI

The Open IPTV Forum e.V. announced that it has signed liaison agreements with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to further drive for an interoperable end-to-end IPTV solution for Managed Network and Open Internet deployments in a global market.

These liaison agreements underline the Forum’s commitment to use existing and emerging technologies and specifications from standardization bodies and other industry associations. DLNA, DVB and ETSI specifications are the base for major parts of the Open IPTV Forum Release 1 specifications and the setup of these working relationships will foster the cooperation with these organizations, ensure proper reuse of specifications and further drive the alignment of the various IPTV specifications which is an important target for mass market IPTV deployments.

Smartphones drive mobile TV

Consumer demand for mobile TV and VOD is being driven by the ability of smartphones to deliver personalised and targeted content that can be accessed immediately. An Olswang 'Digital Convergence' Survey of UK consumers has revealed that ownership of an iPhone encouraged 37 per cent of users to substitute their home TV viewing by watching VOD services on their device.

MobiTV, a provider of live streaming and VOD services to over 8 million subscribers, believes that devices like the iPhone have transformed the experience of watching TV on a mobile handset and support the view that smart phones will continue to drive consumer adoption of mobile TV services.

MobiTV itself has developed a range of live streaming and VOD applications that are compatible with all the major smartphone platforms including the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile.

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INDUSTRY NEWS

Broadcast industry had its worst year on record.

Accoroding to a TV Technology article, the television broadcast industry had its worst year on record. The article lists the follwing key events, by month:

  • January: The 10 Pappas TV stations were sold out of bankruptcy in January. Broadcasters in 22 markets commit to launch mobile DTV during the year.
  • February: Some 400 TV stations ceased analog broadcasting on Feb. 17. The FCC gets 28,000 calls within hours. Mobile media ad revenues are projected at $3.1 billion for 2013. Young Broadcasting files Chapter 11. Hearst-Argyle writes off $940 million.
  • March: The Connecticut School of Broadcasting abruptly shuts down. LIN TV, Fisher, Gray and Barrington write down a collective $1.4 billion on TV licenses. Belo imposes pay cuts. Gannett furloughs employees. Charter files Chapter 11.
  • April: Journal Communications cuts pay. LG demos mobile DTV receivers. Barrington defaults. Equity Media TV stations are sold at auction. Chrysler, the seventh largest advertiser in the country, files for Chapter 11.
  • May: Hearst takes Hearst-Argyle private. ION Media files Chapter 11. David Rehr steps down as chief of NAB. The founder of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting buys it back.
  • June: GM files Chapter 11. Analog TV broadcasting end; 2.5 million homes lose service. Michael Jackson’s death dominates TV news.
  • July: Lawmakers press for spectrum inventory. Sinclair warns of bankruptcy. New Vision Television files Chapter 11. Broadcast revenues average double-digit declines.
  • August: Microsoft unveils “WhiteFi.” LIN TV writes off another $40 million. The main TV transmitter site serving Los Angeles, Mt. Wilson, is engulfed in flames.
  • September: Gray conducts mobile DTV tests. Freedom Communications files Chapter 11. Former Sen. Gordon Smith is tapped to lead the NAB. A tsunami hits American Samoa, where broadcast EAS is credited for saving lives.
  • October: Acrodyne shuts down. Lawmakers move to outlaw loud commercials. Microsoft gets its first white-space licenses. Claudville, Va., launches a white-space broadband network.
  • November: Half of U.S. homes have HDTV screens. California limits the energy they can use. Broadcasters sue music licensor SESAC. Pressure mounts to reallocate broadcast spectrum for broadband.
  • December: Comcast buys NBC Universal. The FCC opens up an inquiry into the best use of broadcast spectrum. Mobile media advertising is projected to generate $3.48 billion in 2010. No stations have launched mobile DTV commercially.

    FCC seeking to close programming access loophole

    Federal regulators are seeking to close a loophole that allows cable TV operators to withhold sporting events and other popular programming that they own from rival providers such as satellite TV.

    The Federal Communications Commission will consider an order to close to the so-called "terrestrial loophole," which allows cable companies to get around access requirements in a 1992 federal cable law by distributing programming over landlines rather than satellite connections.

    Cable TV operators including Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. have relied on the loophole to deny programming to competitors such as DirecTV Inc., Echostar Corp.'s Dish Network and AT&T Inc. U-Verse video service.

    Comcast, for instance, does not provide its satellite competitors with access to the SportsNet Philadelphia channel, which carries games by the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillies and Sixers. Comcast does provide the channel to RCN Corp., which offers competing cable services in some markets, and Verizon Communications Inc., which provides TV and Internet services through FiOS.

    The FCC staff has prepared an order to eliminate the loophole and plans to send it to the agency's five commissioners on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear when the commissioners will vote on the order.

    The order comes as the commission begins its regulatory review of Comcast's proposal to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. Although the two matters are separate, some analysts expect the FCC to close the terrestrial loophole for Comcast as a condition of regulatory approval for that deal.

    Comcast launches Web TV service

    Cable operator Comcast Corp. said it would make its experimental Web TV service available to millions of its subscribers who pay for high-speed Internet access and television, paving the way for people to watch cable shows online.

    The newly christened Fancast Xfinity TV service allows subscribers to watch full-length television shows from 27 networks -- including pay cable offerings HBO, Cinemax and Starz -- on their computers. The cable giant is aggressively rolling out the online service, which it tested with 5,000 customers over the summer. It will be available immediately to most of Comcast's 15.7 million Internet service subscribers who also receive cable TV service.

    Fancast Xfinity TV is part of a cable industry initiative called TV Everywhere that seeks to capitalize on the burgeoning Internet video phenomenon while at the same time protecting its lucrative subscription TV business.

    Analysts hailed the Xfinity TV approach as the first viable business model for offering cable TV shows online because it preserves the dual revenue streams of fees and advertising that underwrite the cost of programming. The service is also a hedge against subscribers cutting the cord to take advantage of the proliferation of free, online content.

    "It's a defensive move," said Bobby Tulsiani, a media analyst with Forrester Research. "The threat was not Comcast subscribers switching to Time Warner or to satellite; the threat was subscribers giving up pay TV subscriptions altogether and moving exclusively to the Internet."

    In addition to the cable programming, Comcast's Web TV offering incorporates broadcast television shows from ABC, NBC and Fox, which are provided through a distribution agreement with the online video service Hulu. Comcast's bid to acquire a controlling stake of NBC Universal would also give it a 30% ownership of Hulu, a venture in which Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and News Corp.'s Fox are also partners. Xfinity also has CBS shows.

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    COMPANY NEWS

    LG, Samsung, Sony launch home net HDBaseT Alliance

    LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Valens Semiconductor announced that they intend to launch a cross-industry alliance to promote and standardise the HDBaseT technology for whole-home distribution of uncompressed HD multimedia content.

    Working together, they will create a global standard for advanced digital media distribution. The Alliance’s standardisation activities will cover the entire value chain of the digital media ecosystem and the various market segments: TV sets, projectors, professional AV equipment, home theater, content providers, IT companies and more.

    "As the demand for high-quality HD content distribution in the entire home is already huge, we are hoping that HDBaseT will play the trigger role in advancing this market, since HDBaseT enables simultaneous multi-room distribution of uncompressed HD Multimedia as well as data, control and power over a single CAT5e cable," said Byung Jin Kim, research fellow, LG Electronics.

    "We firmly believe that in today’s industry a standard must have broad consensus and support from the major players in the industry. For this purpose, we are actively working with such leading companies across the value chain to assure broad support and active participation in the newly formed HDBaseT Alliance," said Dror Jerushalmi, CEO, Valens Semiconductor.

    Harmonic rises as analyst upgrades stock on order growth

    Shares of Harmonic Inc., a provider of broadcast and video delivery systems, rose Monday after a CL King analyst upgraded the stock, citing positive factors including rising orders in India and China.

    In a client note, CL King analyst Lawrence Harris raised his rating to "Accumulate" from "Neutral" and set a $7 price target for the stock, implying he expects the stock to rally 23 percent from Friday's close.

    Harris said Harmonic's orders are growing in India and China, with increased business at Scopus, which is a broadcast company centered around emerging markets that Harmonic bought in March.

    He also thinks Harmonic's encoder product orders are improving due to satellite cable operators offering more HD channels.

    The analyst added that orders are starting to pick up for the company's access business, which had been "depressed" throughout this year. He said the change relates to a rise in video-on-demand and data traffic, which is leading cable operators to divide their fiber optic nodes.

    Shares of the Sunnyvale, Calif., company rose 19 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $5.90 in afternoon trading. Over the past year, the company's shares have traded between $4.46 and $7.85.

    Image Entertainment Defaults on Convertible Note

    Image Entertainment, Inc. , an independent licensee and distributor of entertainment programming in North America, announced that it has defaulted on payment under its 8.875% senior convertible note due August 30, 2011 in the principal amount of $15,700,972.60 (the "Note").

    The Company was unable to make the Installment Payment on December 14, 2009. The failure to make the Installment Payment on December 14, 2009 constituted an event of default under the Note. As a result of the event of default, the Holder is entitled at any time to provide written notice requiring the Company to redeem all or any part of the principal amount of the Note. In addition, the Company must pay the default interest rate of 12% per annum and pay a late charge in an amount equal to interest on the Installment Amount at the rate of 15% per annum.

    The Company does not currently have the funds, or access to the funds, necessary to repay all of its outstanding obligations to the Holder.

    FTC Sues Intel's - Dominance of Worldwide Microprocessor Markets

    The Federal Trade Commission sued Intel Corp., the world’s leading computer chip maker, charging that the company has illegally used its dominant market position for a decade to stifle competition and strengthen its monopoly.

    In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Intel has waged a systematic campaign to shut out rivals’ competing microchips by cutting off their access to the marketplace. In the process, Intel deprived consumers of choice and innovation in the microchips that comprise the computers’ central processing unit, or CPU. These chips are critical components that often are referred to as the “brains” of a computer.

    According to the FTC complaint, Intel’s anticompetitive tactics were designed to put the brakes on superior competitive products that threatened its monopoly in the CPU microchip market. Over the last decade, this strategy has succeeded in maintaining the Intel monopoly at the expense of consumers, who have been denied access to potentially superior, non-Intel CPU chips and lower prices, the complaint states.

    Under the recently implemented rule expediting the Part 3 administrative hearing process, this matter is tentatively scheduled to be heard before an Administrative Law Judge on September 15, 2010, at 10:00 a.m.

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    PRODUCT NEWS

    Autodesk launches Smoke 2010 for Mac OS X

    Autodesk has brought Smoke, its video editing, 3D and finishing effects software, to the Mac. The tool harnesses the 64-bit power of Snow Leopard, according to Autodesk, and will integrate into existing Mac-based workflows using Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer. Autodesk Smoke is billed as a comprehensive creative editorial system, offering visual effects capabilities.

    According to the company, Smoke features a powerful 64-bit architecture and industry-leading tools for conforming, editing, audio, paint, tracking, character generation, graphic design, and visual effects creation in the Action 3D compositing environment, as well as Master Keyer and Colour Warper technologies.

    “The business of post-production is evolving. Post-production and broadcast facilities alike are seeking more affordable, integrated creative tools that can help them stand out from the crowd,” said Stig Gruman, Autodesk vice president o Autodesk digital entertainment.

    “Smoke 2010 on the Mac has been designed to help editors increase creative output, project quality and turnaround times. It brings production-proven finishing capabilities to the extremely talented community of artists already using the Mac in broadcast and post-production.”

    Snell Introduces CVR800 and TBS800 Standards & Format Converters

    Snell announced the launch of the CVR800 and TBS800, two new HD standards and format converters in the Kudos Plus line of cost-effective rack-mountable signal processing systems. The new CVR800 frame-rate and format converter and TBS800 format converter and synchronizer both offer a range of features and functionality, including support for 3Gb/s operations and composite video I/O, designed specifically to streamline HD broadcast workflows.

    "The CVR800 and TBS800 are a direct response to customer input and requests. Not only do they offer Snell's state-of-the-art HD standards and format conversion at an extremely attractive price point and in a small footprint, but both products also provide a rich set of tools that give operators greater control over the final video output," said Paola Hobson, product manager. "These systems have features designed to help broadcasters get specific tasks done more easily and more efficiently. For instance, the products' range of vertical and horizontal enhancement options enables users to get the precise result they seek after conversion, and their provision of a wide range of audio and video inputs and outputs supports workflow flexibility."

    LG sets 3D TV target

    LG Electronics, the world's No. 2 TV brand by revenue, has set an aggressive sales target for 3D televisions, aiming to build a leadership position in an emerging market.

    LG aims to sell 400,000 3D TVs in 2010 and 3.4 million in 2011, the South Korean company said. It plans to unveil a full line-up of 3D TV models with new technology improvement in the second half of next year, targeting retail consumers. LG currently offers one 47-inch 3D TV, which is sold mostly to businesses.

    Sony is expected to leverage its strength in content when it launches its first 3D TVs next year. Sony said it expected 3D TVs to account for up to 50 per cent of its total TV shipments in the financial year to March 2013.

    Paramount clips service

    Paramount Pictures is creating an online video clip service that will allow users to search hundreds of feature films on a frame-by-frame basis.

    Users can log on to ParamountClips.com, search for the exact video wanted and press the checkout button. The price depends on the type of licensing required — Paramount will electronically deliver the selection in the format and resolution desired. Most scenes are available in multiple languages.

    The site is powered by VideoSense, an automated indexing tool developed by the technology company Digitalsmiths. Using video interpretation systems, Digitalsmiths allows films to be quickly searched by specific actor, line of dialogue, location, genre or product, among other criteria.

    Paramount will initially restrict use to business customers — advertising agencies, mobile carriers, foreign broadcasters — that want to license pieces of films for commercial use. The plan is to ultimately open the site to consumers. The service will initially allow users to search 80 films.

    Fast Forward Video Launches Micron HD DVR

    Fast Forward Video (FFV) announced the release of its new Micron HD digital video recorder (DVR), a highly cost-effective yet powerful solution for recording and playout of broadcast-quality digital SD and HD video. The Micron HD offers many of the features of FFV's industry-leading Omega HD DVR, in a single rack unit and at a price point specifically targeted to today's most budget-conscious broadcast-grade operations.

    "The Micron HD is a direct response to many of our customers who requested an inexpensive, entry-level HD DVR that could still measure up to the superb picture quality of the Omega HD," said Harry Glass, vice president of sales for FFV. "The single-channel Micron HD is an ideal solution for broadcasters seeking to migrate to HD operations at a low cost per channel while maintaining SD capabilities."

    It records using the high-quality JPEG2000 compression at speeds up to 100 Mbit/sec, making it an excellent replacement for SD-only DVRs and analog tape decks. The Micron HD offers up to five hours of record time, and its removable, non-proprietary 2.5-inch SATA drive is fully compatible with FFV's Elite HD camera-mounted DVR. Users can record, play, and store multiple SD and HD video files. With a simple machine controller, the user can access a larger set of functions and command multiple units with one key stroke. The suggested retail price is $4,995.

    RESEARCH NEWS

    Global IPTV Subscribers Will Grow From 28 Million In 2009 To 83 Million in 2013

    The November MRG 2009 IPTV Global Forecast - 2009 to 2013 states that, because the 2009 subscriber total exceeded the last forecast by 2 million, the new forecast indicates that global IPTV subscribers will grow from 28 million in 2009 to 83 million in 2013, a compound annual growth rate of 31%. The European region will continue to lead in IPTV deployments in 2013 with 48% share, followed by Asia, North America and Rest of World.

    "Now that the economy seems to be improving, and Service Providers are still reporting solid growth, this Fall edition has adjusted the forecast accordingly," stated Jose Alvear, MRG IPTV Analyst. "This was done in response to the better-than-expected growth exhibited by the major Service Providers around the world in 2009." Total service revenue for 2013 is projected at US$38 billion, also up sharply from the last forecast. The new report includes added information on strategies and new services being added to IPTV offerings. "Consumers are beginning to understand the advantages of IPTV," says Gary Schultz, MRG President. "Simultaneously, IPTV Operators are facing more competition, driving rapid investment in both infrastructure and new services."

    SCRI RESEARCH NEWS

    2009-2010 Broadcast Pro Video Marketplace Reports

    2009-2010 Broadcast Pro Video Marketplace Reports Series is now available. A total of 25 individual product reports as well as a macro industry overview and micro quantitative data analysis reports are available. Contact des_chas@scri.com for more information.

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