WiFi by the Hour

With as much hype as the iPad has attracted, it’s hard to believe that customers haven’t even received them yet.  Most of the people who preordered their iPads and most who will purchase one will choose to get the WiFi version over the more expensive 3G version.  For those who want more reliable internet access without the 3G price, Boingo is standing by, ready to take your WiFi order.

Boingo offers access to over 125,000 WiFi hotspots all over the world (it owns just a handful but has partnerships with the owners for access), all of which will be available for iPad users via a new app.  Boingo is not a new service: currently, subscribers pay each month in exchange to access to this virtual hotspot network.  What is new, however, is that iPhone, iPad, and iPod users will be able to get a free Boingo WiFi Credit app at the iTunes App Store that will allow them to buy an hour of WiFi for $1.99.    The first credit is free.  You can also purchase 10 credits for $20 and get an hour free.  These are good for a year; if unused, they’ll expire, so get to those hotspots.

The per/hour rate is suited for those who need occasional access, such as when they are traveling.  When hotels, resorts, and other locations charge for an Ethernet connection, it can be about $10 to $13.99 a night.  If you want to check in, check your email, and look at a few things quickly, this is a colossal waste of money.  For those who use the internet more heavily, Boingo is offering a monthly subscription for $7.95.  This nets them unlimited data access at Boingo’s hotspots.

Boingo’s CEO, Dave Hagan, said in a prepared statement, “Boingo’s new WiFi credits are an easy, affordable way for millions of users to buy WiFi access through an existing iTunes account.  For Apple device owners who find themselves needing WiFi access only occasionally, it’s a great way to put some credits in the bank, so you can draw them down when you need them most.”

You can see a map of all the Boingo hotspots at boingo.jiwire.com.  If you download the free app, there is also a hotspot map.

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Beyonce Infringing on Her Own Copyright?

Sony thinks so.  The company, which owns the rights to Beyonce’s wildly popular, award-winning music, has pulled Beyonce’s videos from her YouTube channel, citing copyright infringements.

When fans reach Beyonce’s YouTube channel, they’ll get to see an ad for the House of Dereon, a banner congratulating the artist for winning six Grammy awards, and links to her most popular videos, including “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”  Click on that last link, which won MTV’s Best Video of 2009 and a Grammy for song of the year in 2009, and you’ll get a message reading, “This video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”   Sony’s move to pull the video is the first time a record company has blocked one of its own artists.  A move that may seem counterproductive as Beyonce’s channel gets millions of hits, with “Single Ladies” leading the way.

You can still watch the “Single Ladies” video and others with Beyonce: they are perfectly accessible on Sony’s own channel, Vevo.  Sony appears to be trying to contain the viewership to its own channel.  A post on Gawker.com says that the move, “Defies belief.  Until you realize record companies are ridiculously out of touch, scared, and would much rather get back to selling 12-inch vinyl from record stores and snorting expense-account coke with the bands in hotel suites like the old days.’

Apparently, Beyonce’s official channel became Vevo in December; fans are more puzzled about why Sony or YouTube didn’t provide a simple redirect to the official site instead of issuing a warning for each video, which does nothing to guide users to Vevo.

Incidentally, this week, Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s video for “Telephone,” broke a record: it was the first video to have over 1 billion views (even Twilight clips didn’t quite break the billion mark).  To have any confusion surrounding Beyonce’s videos would seem to be coming at a bad time when searches for her songs and videos are at a peak.

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Mismanagement of Funds

The news of a Sony deal for catalog and limited likeness rights of Michael Jackson was certainly welcome to the deceased star’s estate; the record $250 million deal would help defray the $300+ million debt the King of Pop left behind after his June 2009 death.  For most people, the amount of money Jackson earned in his lifetime, even just from royalties, would be unreal, a lottery fantasy come true.  But for uber stars, what’s a few million here and there?  For those of us who make do with measly sub- $100,000 a year salaries, it seems unreal that multimillionaires should have money problems.  Two music industry headliners, though, are finding themselves feeling the economy’s pinch.  Albeit on a whole different level than most of us.

Yesterday, we mentioned how the state of Minnesota was hoping to catch up with Prince.  The Associated Press reported yesterday that the “Purple Rain” singer owes the state over $227,000 in back taxes.  Apparently, the $27,000 was tacked on as a delinquency fee.  Some reports are putting the figure as high as $500,000 for owed property taxes on a dozen or so properties in the Minneapolis area, some of which he’s owned since the 1980s.  Prince reportedly has until next month to file an objection or make arrangements, and according to a Carver County, Minnesota, tax manager, he will have until 2013 to pay the debt.

To kick a downed dog, a Dublin judge just ordered Prince to pay concert promoters $2.95 million because he’d cancelled a 2008 concert at the last minute.  Concert organizers MCD paid Prince $1.5 million upfront and spent almost a million booking Croke Park for the night.  They advertised for the show heavily, and then refunded some 55,000 tickets.  When told of MCD’s anger of the lost money, Prince supposedly told his agent, “Tell the cat to chill.  We will work something out.”  Maybe someone in Minnesota got a similar promise.

Another insanely rich star, Bono of U2, has been named the worst investor in the US.  The Irish musician’s investment team, Elevation Partners, has made what some experts call some of the most disastrous investment decisions in recent memory.  A Wall Street publication says that Bono’s group is “arguably the worst run institutional fund of any size in the United States.” Ouch.  Their biggest blunder appears to be their 25 percent stake in Palm.  Shares of Palm went from over $18 last summer to under $4 yesterday.  Another epic money loss comes from their $300 million investment in Forbes’ online operations.  The company is now worth about one third of that.  Hopefully Bono has someone else handling his multimillion dollar net worth.

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Have a Little Fun with the iPhone

The world can be a depressing place if you let it: EMI is $3 billion in debt and facing default; music piracy is costing the industry revenue and jobs; and just today, it was announced that Prince’s music company, PRN Music Corporation, owes the state of Minnesota more than $227,000 in taxes (maybe that’s not so depressing to Minnesota if they get a big fat check anytime soon).  Taking a news fast is a good idea once in a while: it’s not ignoring the bad or doing our ostrich impressions – it’s more like focusing on the good.  And what’s better than iPhone apps?

iPhone apps can be fun, frivolous, and just good old-fashioned time-wasting entertainment.  Here is a look at some good apps that you may find useful or you may find far from useful, which is sometimes great too.

  • Sketch-a-Search.  This is an innovative new app from Yahoo.  One of the most common uses for smartphones is mobile searches, and people on the go are most often searching for localized directions, restaurants, events, or other locales.  The Yahoo Sketch-a-Search lets you draw an area on a map with your fingertip to designate the search area.  That narrows it down and your search is conducted within those perimeters – a great way to find a restaurant in the part of town you are in.

Right now, you can search for cafes, restaurants, and some hotels for cities in the US.  Yahoo plans to expand to include Canada, UK, and parts of Asia and will include local categories like gyms, gas stations, pet stores, retail shops, and real estate.

  • If you’re enjoying a little March Madness, why not get Coach K’s new app?  The famed Duke basketball coach (aka Mike Krzyzewski) has a new game in which your avatar races around the world and competes against virtual opponents.  Coach K is there to, well, coach you through it and give advice.  All the locales are important to Coach K – players go to China, where he coached the Olympic Men’s Basketball team, as well as Durham, North Carolina, where he currently coaches.  You can get the first level at the App Store or Coach K’s app website.  The remaining levels are available for $2.99 at the App Store.  If you get all 3 levels, you are eligible to win prizes.
  • Now to a different type of playing field: if you’re very concerned with your calorie consumption and burn, you may find the Bedometer useful.  This app analyzes your sexual performance (via iPhone or iPod sensors) and calculates the number of calories you burn.  Invented by a woman who wanted to encourage her lazy boyfriend to exercise, the Bedometer could certainly motivate many to get some activity.  According to inventor Livvy Thompson, a “vigorous 15 minute workout” can burn up to 200 calories.

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EMI Bleeding Money

EMI is one of the biggest music licensing companies in the world and is home to many of the world’s biggest artists, including the Beatles, Beastie Boys, Coldplay, Depeche Mode, Doves, Gorillaz, Iron Maiden, Norah Jones, Massive Attack, Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry, Pink Floyd, Queen, KT Tunstall, and Keith Urban.  But this hasn’t kept them immune from the terrible economy or from the drain in revenue that the music industry is experiencing as CD sales drop and piracy grows.  To avoid defaulting on their debt held by Citigroup, EMI is negotiating sales of its licenses to rivals in the US.

EMI was taken over by Terra Firma Capital Partners, with financial investment from Citigroup.  EMI, which has lost an estimate $1.5 billion in revenue this year, breached its loan covenants, and so has until mid-June to raise cash and show they are capable of adhering to their agreement with Citigroup.

Talks with Warner Music Group, Sony Music (which just spent a record-setting $250 million on limited Michael Jackson rights), Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and other unnamed parties could net the struggling EMI up to $150 million per year of the desired five year deal.  As it stands now, EMI has to raise £120 million by June 14 to avoid defaulting on their debt – and that’s not all.  They owe Citigroup a whopping £3 billion.  Putting it into US dollars isn’t any more uplifting: that’s a $180.43 million payment on a $4.5 billion debt.

Licensing its back catalog is a desperate move for EMI, and even this is fraught with complications.  Citigroup could veto any agreement if it was not in the shareholders’ interest, and the massive deal needs to be completed in only months – an incredibly short time for such a complex entanglement of rights and property, not to mention antitrust issues that may accompany any deal.  Making it worse, it appears that Universal Music has walked away from negotiations.  BMG, though, has expressed initial interest.

This is just icing on the cake, as it were, for EMI.  Earlier this month, a British court found that EMI could no longer sell Pink Floyd’s songs from concept albums as singles online.  Apparently, the agreement between the band and EMI “expressly prohibited” individual songs from being extracted or played in any other configuration than the band originally produced and released them.  EMI had this to say: “We’re huge fans of Pink Floyd, whose great catalog we have been representing for more than 40 years, and continue to represent exclusively and internationally.”  We’ll see.

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We’ve Added 50,000 Ringtones to AudioMicro – Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and More…

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We are pleased to announce the addition of over 50,000 top quality ringtones from the most popular artists of today including the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Jay Z and Rihanna (just to name a few). Expansion has been the word of the year so far in 2010 at AudioMicro, so it is no surprise that we are taking this tremendous step into the ringtone market.

AudioMicro customers can browse through a vast library of the best ringtones available and select for purchase. Upon checkout the user is bounced to a send to phone landing page whereby the user can simply input their phone number and have the ringtone transmitted directly to their phone or handheld with shortcode approval.  AudioMicro users have the flexibility they need to get the exact ringtones they want, when they want.

The new ringtone library provides an additional element of fun to the AudioMicro experience while broadening AudioMicro’s reach into one of the most profitable audio based markets of today.  We are happy to add this new product category to our arsenal as we continue on our quest to become THE online outlet for all things sonic.

A Move for Google.cn

Google has made good on their threat to pull their search engine operations out of China – sort of.  The global search giant has redirected its Google.cn traffic to Google.hk.  The move to Hong Kong has allowed Google to technically remain in China while not having to adhere to its strict censorship requirements, an issue which has plagued Google and has been particularly worrisome to Google’s Soviet Union-born co-founder, Sergey Brin.

Hong Kong has its own currency, language, and legal system.  However, after the UK ceded control of Hong Kong in 1997, it technically became part of China.  Under the agreement, Honk Kong will operate within its own system (with Beijing-appointed government) for 50 years.  So the slide over to Hong Kong allows Google to operate in China without having to limit their search functions.  The new message on Google.hk reads, “Welcome to Google search in China’s new home.”  But because the majority of China’s internet users remain under Chinese law, censorship will continue for the foreseeable future.

Sergey Brin lived in the Soviet Union until he was six.  He told the New York Times, “It has definitely shaped my views, and some of my company’s views.”  The move, he said, wasn’t given a clear endorsement of their move to Hong Kong, but Brin says, “There was a sense that Hong Kong was the right step…There’s a lot of lack of clarity.  Our hope is that the newly begun Hong Kong service will continue to be available in mainland China…The story’s not over yet.”  Brin hopes that, soon, Chinese officials will allow an open internet, and that their current “half internet” system will prove itself unsustainable.

Why does Google continue to operate in China, if only technically?  It is because China has the world’s largest internet market – even though only 25 percent of its citizens use the internet.  Already, though, Chinese officials have been blocking links on Google.hk. Users can now search for politically sensitive topics, like the Dalai Lama or Tiananmen Square.  But the connections to the actual results are denied “much as they are for any foreign website under the purview of China’s censorship machinery, known as the Great Firewall,” according to the LA Times. If users search for one of these “forbidden” terms too often, the site will return an error message.

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Sony Takes a Chance on King of Pop with Huge Deal

At the beginning of the decade, CDs were great, people were buying, and record companies were signing their biggest stars to ridiculously lucrative deals.  As the first decade of the 21st Century closed, CD sales fell by about half as digital media pushed out compact discs.  Studios are no longer as free with the big bucks as they once were.  Sony, however, is banking on a big name; they have signed an astonishing $250 million deal with Michael Jackson’s estate, perhaps the biggest in the industry’s history.

According to a New York Times article, studios are wary of signing big names:  EMI, for instance, signed Mariah Carey to a five album, $80 million dollar deal in 2001.  One album later, EMI paid Ms. Carey $28 million to get out of the contract.  Live Nation signed Madonna and Jay-Z to nine figure contracts over 10 years, and they expect minimal returns.  If the big names flop, there isn’t the revenue from “mid-level” artists that has previously cushioned the industry.  The new deal Sony has struck with Jackson’s estate is a gamble, in part because of slumping sales, but also because of the limitations attached to the contract.

The deal with Jackson’s estate, which is certainly welcome on that side because Jackson left behind a legacy and a $300 million dollar debt, gives Sony the right to release 10 projects by 2017. These are likely to be a combination of DVDs, live theater, albums, and maybe a video game.  Sony also bought rights to Jackson’s previous recordings and limited likeness rights.  They do not get a percentage of the publishing or merchandising, however.  So why is this a good idea for Sony?

Of the top four albums of 2009, only one was from a current (and living) artist: Taylor Swift took the second spot, according to Nielsen.  The number one spot was earned posthumously by Michael Jackson, who sold almost twice the albums Ms. Swift did.  Third was the Beatles (half of whom are deceased), and fourth was Jimi Hendrix, who died forty years ago.  Will Page, an economist with PRS for Music, says that “the value placed on a proven catalog of an artist like Michael Jackson goes up, as it can stand above the increasing amount of noise on the market.”  So, as more and more artists are fighting for recognition, it actually increases the profile of the uber names.


Russ H. Crupnik, senior entertainment analyst from market research firm, NPD Group, says, “I think in this particular case, the deal makes quite a lot of sense, both for Sony and the estate. There are incredibly few artists these days who can continue to create revenue streams the way Michael Jackson can.”

Also boosting Sony’s hopes is the fact that Michael Jackson: This Is It has earned more than $260 million worldwide, seventy-five percent of which came from outside the US.  Record sales since his death have totaled about 31 million albums, half of which were purchased outside the US.  Jackson remains a huge name globally, which is positive for both Sony and his estate.

Sony will have access to some 60 unreleased songs by the King of Pop; they will release an album, likely in November.  Also strong possibilities:  a DVD compilation of music videos and a Cirque du Soleil show.  Such a show was created around the Beatles music and was a tremendous success.  Former Epic Records president Charlie Walk says, “Few brands can be continuously reinvented and re-established and reach broad demographic groups.  Michael Jackson can do just that.”

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iKids: The New Generation of Tech-Savvy Toddlers

Today’s kids are just smarter than we were.  We used to be happy playing with sticks and rocks.  Maybe a cardboard box if we were lucky.  The youngest of us maybe had an old school Nintendo with Mario and Luigi in their younger, rounder days.  But today, kids are routinely using computers, playing games, using cell phones, and they expect nothing less than 3G.  To oblige these tech-savvy kids, the icon of childhood has partnered up with the icon of technology to create three Fisher-Price iPhone apps.  Quieting those screaming kids in the car or keeping them busy in the grocery store?  There’s an app for that!  Turning your toddler into a voracious tech consumer?  There’s an app for that too.

All three of Fisher-Price’s iPhone apps are geared towards children age 2 to 5 and are designed by IDEO, the same developer who brought the iPhone to Sesame Street.  Here’s a quick look:

  • See ‘n Say.  This app is just like the toy you may have had growing up.  There are bright, cute farm animals arranged around a center dial.  Give it a spin and identify animals.  Just so kids don’t have to moo and cluck on their own, this app adds some videos of real animals and fun facts about these barnyard favorites.  See ‘n Say will cost you $1.99 – but it will entertain your child when you need it  most, so it could be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.
  • Little People Farm.  This app is modeled after the Little People Farm playset that is widely available in stores.  The cute red barn houses a bunch of equally cute animals.  Kids can match, hide and seek, clean a pig, and put in a hard day’s work at the barn.  The app songs, games, 25 touch points, and helps children develop strong cognitive and motor skills.  They’ll need those when they’re older to buy their own apps.  This, too, costs $1.99.
  • Chatter Telephone.  The irony here is that kids can play with your iPhone and pretend they are on an old rotary phone – you know, the one with the big dial.  This phone rings, makes sounds, plays songs, and helps kids learn about numbers.  Kids do love to play telephone, so this may be very well worth its $0.99 price tag.

Other Fisher-Price/IDEO apps include Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Monster Maker ($3.99 – but you get to build a monster!), the Playground ($1.99), and the Fix-It Shop ($1.99).  PBS Kids also has a Super Why app with the characters from that popular PBS Kids show, a Kids Photo Factory app, as well as ones with Curious George, Martha the talking dog, and Mr. Rogers.  You can find these games at the App Store.

Lesli Rotenberg, SVP, Children’s Media, says, “These apps empower children to explore the world around them with guidance from their favorite PBS KIDS characters.  They also provide parents and caregivers with a new way to foster learning anywhere, anytime, and help their children reach their full potential.”

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An End to Google.cn?

The fact that China monitors and censors the content of the web pages that reach the citizenry is not new.  A few months ago, we saw how apps centered on the Dalai Lama were not available for download to the Chinese people; this, and other acts of censorship, sparked protest around the world.  It seems likely that continuing censorship will also shut down Google’s China website.

In the past, China has forced US tech companies to comply with their law; in 2005, for instance, Yahoo released emails from a Chinese journalist’s private account to authorities.  Google search results are sanitized; when people search for “”Tiananmen massacre,” results are carefully censored.  Google announced in January that they no longer wanted to operate under China’s “extensive web controls,” according to the Associated Press.  Google’s only comment has been to say they are in talks with Chinese officials; China’s industry minister, though, is insisting that Google obey their laws.  This leaves Google with the option of continuing to censor content or closing down.

Google.cn controls about 35 percent of China’s search market, and a closing would be very damaging to China.  Edward Yu, the president of Beijing research firm Analysys International, says, “If Google leaves, it’s a lose-lose scenario, instead of Google loses and others gain.”  So what could China lose?

While Google’s closing may be positive for China’s major search engine, Baidu, Inc., (with 60 percent of the market), it would likely be a hardship for many other companies who rely on Google to provide searches, maps, and other services.  In addition, China Mobile Ltd., uses Google for mobile searches and maps; their closing could leave some 527 million mobile phone users without these basic options.

It is uncertain whether Google will sell its smarphones in China, though citizens may still use Android phones, and the music industry is also worried.   Google launched a partnership last year with 14 independent labels and 4 global music companies to provide legal, ad-supported music, a move which has helped China battle music piracy.  This service can only be accessed via Google.cn.  Managing director of BDA China Ltd., Duncan Clark, says, “Without that, are we back to, ‘Piracy wins’?”

A closure by Google could also have a negative impact on Chinese businesses, which rely on Gmail, document services, AdWords, and other of Google’s programs.  The companies would still have to advertise on Google.com to reach customers and clients abroad.  The search and internet industry could also suffer because they would not face the competition from Google, which could spur developments and innovations.

Charles Zhang, chairman of Sohu, Inc., a major Chinese portal, says, “Without full and fair market competition, there will be no quality, no excellence, no employment opportunities, no stability and no real rise of China.”

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