Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Talpa aims for change (?)

The new Talpa TV station in the Netherlands presented its fall schedule yesterday. It aims for a 10% martet share in an already overcrowded space (9 general stations so far, 3 each from the public broadcasting networks, RTL and SBS). Talpa will start as the new TV venture for John de Mol, co-founder of TV-production company Endemol. His company produced the famous 'Big Brother' format and was sold to Telefonica in 2000. John de Mol cashed EUR 2bn.

The most striking claims probably are:
  • Talpa intends to be an innovator in the Dutch markt. From the viewer's point of view this seems unlikely, looking at the list of personalities that were engaged. Stale, to say the least.
  • The TV landscape will see more change over the next 5 years than during the past 50. An easy one, given that John de Mol almost literally quotes Comcast's Brian Roberts: “My dad got into cable in 1962, and here we (...) can say we think it's going to change more in the next five years than any time in the 40 years that our dads were working in television” (Seattle Times, September 29, 2004).
  • Talpa will not shy away from making complicated deals with advertisers, including investments. Sounds like product placement. A booming market, but let's hope Talpa will exercise some subtlety and safeguard us from 'Truman Show' type programming.

P2P sites and pirated CDs under attack (?)

Potentially good news from the US Supreme Court for the international music and film industries, but not immediately.
P2P file sharing sites will be liable for illegal downloading because there is enough evidence of unlawful intent, as a result of a ruling in the MGM vs. Grokster case. An Appeals Court decision, saying that P2P technologies can be put to legal use and can therefore not be held liable, was overturned. The Appeals Court referred to the famous 1984 Sony vs Universal City Studios case. Good news for content producers (Universal Music, Sony BMG, Warner Music, EMI; ) and legal sites (iTunes, Napster, Real NetWorks; CinemaNow, Movielink) as well. Still, this only means that cases against Grokster and StreamCast (Morpheus) can go ahead, with no guarantees as to the outcome. StreamCast seems confident of being able to show that Morpheus does not encourage copyright infringement.

The ruling comes hot on the heels of an OECD report, that concluded: “It is difficult to establish a basis to prove a causal relationship between the 20% fall in overall revenues experienced by the music industry between 1999 and 2003, but digital piracy may be an important impediment to the success of legitimate online content markets.“

Earlier this week IFPI released its Commercial Piracy Report 2005. Apart form listing those countries that violate copyrights the most (Paraguay: 99% of discs sold are illegal copies!), it also names thoses countries where future actions will be concentrated to take out pirate production and burning equipment. In 2004, 1.2bn CDs (34% of volume sales) were illegal, representing a $4.6bn value. It remains to be seen how succesful these efforts will be.

Open access encroaching on traditional publishing

According to a study, conducted on behalf of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) in the UK, 81% of academic researchers is willing to comply with a mandate to publish their work in an open access repository.

This does not seem to have much of an impact on traditional publishers like Elsevier Science. They already support open archiving, limited however to the researcher's own web site or a repository owned by the researcher's employer.

The questions still are:

  • Will traditional publishers allow for depositing research in third party repositories? Not likely.
  • Will search engines (including Google Scholar) improve to make the matter of where the archiving occurs irrelevant? Seems likely.
  • Will the open archiving movement stimulate open access as a publishing model? Not for a while.

However, BioMed boasts impressive impact factors, as compiled by ISI.

By the way, here's some reading on the difference between Open Access and Open Archiving:

  • Green road: traditional publishing + (limited: not in third-party repositories) open archiving, as practiced by Reed Elsevier.
  • Gold road: open access publishing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

BT: press, market and competitors respond

Look at how several papers and sites respond to Ofcom preparation for a new regulatory approach and ruling (with this statement) on BT's February proposal for better competition, followed by yesterday's support.
  • The Register: BT bows to Ofcom pressure
  • The Register: BT still needs to be policed, says industry
  • The Register: BT escapes threat of immediate break-up
  • BT avoids break-up talks with Ofcom deal
  • BT agrees to spin off Access Services
  • PC Magazine UK: Ofcom buries the hatchet with BT
  • Reuters: BT spearheads FTSE advance, break-up fears recede

I suppose it's all philosophical:

  • In ancient history BT enjoyed having a monopoly.
  • Some 25 years ago this ended as the market was liberalised and Mercury Communications was established by Cable & Wireless.
  • In 1984 BT went public and Oftel (now Ofcom) was created.
  • The BT/Mercury duopoly ended in 1991. Resellers entered the market.
  • As competition remains limited, yesterday's new regulatory approach should usher in a new era.
Of course, the market continually anticipates the next move. One could say, 'foresight is the essence of investing'. Still, the news was followed by a 4% rally up.

However, from an article on Light Reading:

Clive Ansell, BT's Group Strategy Director, (...) says he has received calls from two major European operators and one major North American carrier saying "Have you gone mad?".
"But we had to do something radical, and we believe that this will benefit everyone in the future. By enabling tough regulation now in some parts of the business, it should enable some other areas to be deregulated," such as retail and business service pricing, says Ansell.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Telcos: no more gentlemen's agreements

The America Bells are following the European PTTs: no more gentlemen's agreement of not competing in each other's fixed markets. Instead, full head-on competition.

DSL Prime reports a Needham scoop: SBC is buying Entrisphere's BLM: an IP switch, combined with DSLAM, that supports fiber. Almost a 'central office in a box'. Installing this box in a colocation space that partners AT&T or Covad already rent in a Verizon of BellSouth facility, and head-on competition with these landlords can begin (both in de business and the consumer markets).

The end to gentlemen's agreements worldwide among PTTs/RBOCs must be the worst development for incumbents of recent months. After having built transnational wireless networks that already broke these agreements, we recently noticed the entrance into each other's broadband markets by means of acquisitions (such as Telecom Italia buying Tiscali France or TDC acquiring Song Networks). Supported by local loop unbundling efforts from regulators.

Emerging markets lead broadband growth

Point-Topic reports (registration required) the number of broadband lines worldwide at 164m as of March 31. The US and China are still numbers 1 and 2. Highest growth was reported by Turkey (37%), followed by countries in Eastern Europe, Latin-America and Asia. Among the G7-nations, UK was number 1 growth area (17%) and France number 2 (14%).

Looking at DSL only (excluding cable modem), China is still number 1, US comes in at 2. However, calculating the number of DSL-lines per 100 phone lines paints a very different picture. South Korea heads the ranking at 28.9, Taiwan has 24.4. Neither the US nor China made it to the top 20. Germany is number 19 with a ratio of only 13.9.

Broadband wireless expands

Broadband wireless, such as WiMAX and Flash-OFDM, seem to gain traction. Longer term this could pose a threat to both fixed (DSL, cable) and wireless networks. Flash-OFDM however cannot quite match future HSDPA (a UMTS upgrade).
  • Qwest wants to start a real market trial of WiMAX outside of Denver by the end of this year. It aims for a town that currently is underserved by DSL. In the US, AT&T, Sprint and BellSouth all have similar plans. No further details yet (location, vendor, WiMAX-standard).
  • The island of Mauritius wants to turn itself into a 'cyber-island'. Building on an undersea fiber-optic cable, completed 3 years ago, gear from Navini Networks will be installed nationwide to create a high-speed environment for a better investment climate. Mauritius aims for the 802.16e standard, allowing for full mobility.
  • Digita, a new operator in Finland, plans to build a Flash-OFDM network (non-standard) from gear by Flarion Technologies. Maximum download speeds are 3.2 Mbps, which is much better than current 3G. However, 3G will be upgraded to HSDPA, that offers maximum speeds of 14.4 Mbps.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nielsen, Skyhook and Navicom track vehicles

A number of different tracking technologies are under development, each with its own specs.

Nielsen Outdoor uses the GPS-based NPOD, presented on last Friday's Investor Day, for tracking vehicles. The device is based on patents that allow it to use just one satellite feed, instead of the usual three for triangulation. The information is combined with a map of all billboard locations, with their orientation. Nielsen intends this new product to be the currency for the outdoor advertising market. Roll-out starts in 2006 in South Africa, Australia and Italy.

Navicom GPS runs a trial at the Southern California Fire Department, testing a device that is supposed to allow tracking in 98% of North America. The instrument is also GPS-based (like e.g. Nextel's GPS Platform, for fleet management). Fire engine vehicles have access to restricted areas, which makes this service especially relevant these days.

Skyhook Wireless on the other hand uses its own proprietary database of 1.5 million private and public Wi-Fi hotspots in the US, including their exact locations, for its Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). It offers better resolution than GPS (up to 20 meters). WPS could be used for an array of location-based services, such as tracking & recovery, m-commerce, fleet management and E911-compliance. The FCC mandates E911-compliance by September 2005 for VoIP-providers, meaning that callers must be traceable (Skype will not comply, saying that it regards itself a secondary line service).

Aside, the EU is preparing the 2008 launch of Galileo, both competing and complementing US-originated GPS.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Wireless broadband: diverging strategies

A number of deals underscores the differences of opinion on broadband among high profile companies around the globe. Each has its own reasons, but investors should be aware - not to say: should have their own visions on broadband.

We look at recent developments related to short range (say WiFi) and long range (WiMAX etc.) wireless broadband technologies. And we close with a number of conclusions.

First, let's look at the short range WiFi standard.
Vodafone Germany is among many companies who see WiFi as a complement to 3G. See also Swisscom (not surprisingly, Vodafone owns 25% of Swisscom Mobile).
T-Mobile USA goes even further. It thinks there is not enough demand for 3G services, and therefore builds a huge network of hotspots. Yet it stands alone, for all the competitors in the American marketplace do build out 3G networks.
Still, carriers opting for WiFi have broad support from Intel, which will include 802.11n for 100 Mbps data rates in a new chipset. And possibly 802.11n will quickly be surpassed by new technologies, to go to a 1 Gbps throughput.

Second, we take a look at the world of WiMAX and related technologies (mainly from IPWireless, Flarion Technologies and ArrayComm) for the long range.
Breaking news came on Monday from IPWireless, as it announced T-Mobile CZ is rolling out a nationwide network in the Czech Republic this and next year. The company uses UMTS TDD technology. T-Mobile CZ defends the deal, saying it "ensures alignment of technology performance" (meaning IPWireless' gear is ready for business), "economics" (there is a valid business case) and "demand for value added data services" (not to mention that UMTS TDD can handle mobile voice too, making the ongoing build-out of EDGE, followed by HSDPA somewhat questionable, especially with VoIP hitting the mobile market). Further, T-Mobile CZ aims for complete mobile substitution of ADSL, handily leveraging a very low broadband penetration of only 2% in the Czech Republic.
Even as this makes IPWireless seem a winner in the wireless broadband space, other technologies such as HSDPA and Flash-OFDM (from Flarion) still compete (article on EE Times Asia, registration required). Compared to WiMAX, UMTS TDD has the advantage of being ready for business, whereas the mobile standard 802.16e of WiMAX is at least two years away form commercial deployment. On the other hand, WiMAX will profit from the cooperation between KT Corp and Intel, meant to harmonize the Korean WiBro standard with 802.16e.
On the side: only rarely is the maximum throughput of WiMAX put into perspective (it really makes no sense saying that WiMAX will deliver 50 Mbps, given that users will have to share a cell).

So which are the lessons of the above?
  • There is not one vision as to the usability of WiFi.
  • WiFi may compete with WiMAX, as the range is extended (supposedly to 4 km for 802.11b and 1.5 km for 802.11g), as is the data rate.
  • WiMAX 802.16e is steering toward ratification, but IPWireless and other technologies cannot be ruled out yet.
  • Zooming into Deutsche Telekom and its T-Mobile subsidiary, we see a very different strategy in different countries. This also implies that PTT's compete on each others home turf; probably the most important development of recent months in the telco industry.
  • Mobile substitution is far from over in the voice space. For data services DSL (and cable modem) still competes very well.

KPN and Telstra say no to Microsoft for IPTV

After Swisscom had to delay the roll-out of IPTV ('Bluewin TV') due to technicalities, shivers went through the vendor and telco communities. After all, Microsoft right now is the only company to provide all software parts of an end-to-end IPTV solution. And Microsoft has trials or outright orders for its Microsoft TV software suite from a.o. Verizon, SBC, BellSouth, Telecom Italia and Swisscom.

Now things seem to turn into a negative trend for Microsoft. Today KPN selected Siemens for its IP-TV roll-out, and Australian Telstra decided not to go with Microsoft (any choice will be made sooner rather than later, for a launch date is to be within 12-18 months).

Siemens seems to have made the right decision, buying Myrio and thus extending the breadth of its IPTV software capabilities.

Yahoo! buys Dialpad (not Skype)

Just to set the record straight: Yahoo! buys VoIP-provider Dialpad, not Skype, as was rumored on June 9.

Open source: eBay taps developer creativity

Today eBay joins other firms in the open source space. Developers are asked to create applications (for eBay and PayPal), based on the site's source code or API (application programming interface). The new dedicated web site is called eBay Community Codebase.

Precursors include Skype, that now has numerous additions, and TiVo, whose 'Home Media Developer Challenge' is coming to a close.

For Skype, that only charges for premium services, this could pose a problem, viz. when an external developer proposes a (free) new service that Skype itself might consider introduce at some point as a premium service. No such risks here at eBay, or so it seems.

Monday, June 20, 2005

VNU Investor Day: quick take-aways

The VNU Investor Day in New York, last Friday, was visited by 83 analysts from a wide variety of countries. Here are my quick take-aways for the day.

What we do
Much time was devoted to explaining the business, that is: Marketing Information (MI) and Media Measurement & Information (MMI). It is complicated as it is, so this was a welcome part.
MI made a very loud point of not being afraid of IRI. IRI is focused too much on technology (whereas MI is technology agnostic and has a heavy consumer focus) and cost containment (VNU's top priority is revenue growth and thus market share - and MI impressively has results to back this up). The BRIC countries present even more of an opportunity for revenue growth.
MMI on the other hand is all about technology in a changing market place (audience fragmentation, VoD, digital, time shifting and place shifting, etc.). 'No threat but an opportubity'. Delaying full support for Arbitron's PPM must not be seen as a way of protectiing the investments in the LPM; rather it is a wholy different instrument ('clients tell us: stay focused on TV'), much like the A/P meter (for digital, such as the DVR), each with its own use. Anyway, Arbitron is expecting to report test results for the PPM in the Houston market by the end of the year. Nielsen Outdoor may be a new currency, one for the outdoor marketplace, and is backed by an impressive array of companies and organizations.
The third division, Business Information, was left out of the day altogether, possibly because of the day's focus. Still, apparently it has to be regarded non-core.

The focus of the day was on synergies between MI and MMI. 'One VNU', 'Working Together for Growth and Innovation'. The most important assets, the MegaPanel and the new Data Factory, will be leveraged (they also constitute a high entry barrier for the business). MI has the VNU Advisory Services unit and MMI has Nielsen Ventures (thanks, Ron Schneier) to help making all this happen.

No targets
After having abandoned margin targets for MI last December, no targets are left. MI will not reach 15% any time soon, because of developing costs: the Project Apollo joint-venture with Arbitron; the extension of the consumer panel into a MegaPanel in the US, and extension too in Europe; the transition to a new data factory in Europe. No news here, except that the third of these (data factory) will produce extra (double) costs of less than the originally projected 20m EUR/yr through 2007. Management was reluctant to admit, but there must also be pricing pressure from the weak market conditions in the European retail markets, with hard discounters now counting for 20% of the market.

Acquisition or payback to shareholders
No news here, except that a decision will be reached 'soon' about spending the EUR 1bn war chest. Now what is that: weeks rather than months?
No comment on NetRatings (60%) or Arbitron (several joint-ventures). There will be no further debt reduction.

US listing
'Rather sooner than later'.

Rob van den Bergh was conspicuously absent. 'Family matters'.
Nobody seemed to mind, really. All the 'really important people' were there. But still.

Next reporting: mid July for the 2004 results under IFRS, August 10 for the H1 numbers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Another (predictable) deal

After eBay bought and EW Scripps scooped up Shopzilla, it was anyone's guess to come up with a deal like today's alliance of MSN and

Told u so, told u so (sort of).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

VNU's Nielsen: no monopolist in product placement

TNS Media Intelligence launches a product placement measurement service. It competes with Nielsen's Place*Views, but also with IAG's In-Program Performance and iTVX.

Apparently Nielsen cannot extend its monopoly in the 30 seconds market beyond that. Still, they have EUR 1bn to spend to beef up their market share in who-knows-which market. Product placement last year grew 30.5% to be a $3.5bn market (US only), according to PQ Media

Stratellite: WiMAX in the stratosphere

GlobeTel Communications will buy HotZone, which is already developing a Stratellite for GlobeTel subsidiary Sanswire.

It will put a WiMAX base station in an airship at an altitude of 20 kilometers. The coverage area is 300,000 square kilometers (about the size of Poland - not bad!).

Of course this is an as yet unproven technology, not to mention the business case. Interesting stuff, though, for looking at what WiMAX will be capable of.

Skype: more handsets

Good news from the Computex exhibition in Taipei. Many companies are working on Skype-compatible handsets (although some still connected by a wire to the PC/laptop).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Comparison shopping: who's next?

After eBay acquired for $620m, now EW Scripps buys Shopzilla for $525m.

So who's next?

Google has Froogle, Yahoo! has Kelkoo (in Europe), CNet has mySimon, Ask Jeeves probably doesn't need it (it has Smart Product Search) and AOL has Pinpointshopping.

So that leaves on the buyer side:
MSN, LookSmart
And on the list of candidates:, NexTag, BizRate, SideStep, PriceGrabber, Smarter, Priceflo, ...

Audible: lose one, win one

Shares of, provider of audio books, took a plunge Friday when partner decided to enter the market on its own.
Today the Wall Street Journal (subscription) and report an upcoming deal with XM Satellite Radio:
  • Audible content on a dedicated XM channel (podcasting of sorts)
  • XM programming available on
  • XM to introduce a new radio with expanded storage

Friday, June 03, 2005

TIM's Holy Grails

There is some confusion about what the Holy Grail really is, but over here there are actually three:

Telecoms: multi-domain roaming.
Voice (or data) calls seamlessly handed-over when the user moves from the reach of one cell (e.g. WiFi) to that of another (e.g. cellular). It is what will enable BT's Bluephone. A sure killer app, that will however drive down revenues of cellular providers, as WiFi calls (essentially VoIP, or wVoIP) are free.

Internet: fully personalized search.
Algorithmic search is getting better. See Yahoo! Mindset, that distinguishes between commercial and research queries. However, any search will normally produce thousands if not hundreds of thousands of results. Users usually concentrate on just the first page. A better understanding of context (see my previous post), user preferences (Google Personalized is an attempt) and the text of a querie will deliver more targeted results.

Media: single-source measurement.
Combination of full media exposure (advertising on radio, TV, print, billboards, internet, theater) and purchasing behavior. Project Apollo (combining VNU's ACNielsen and Nielsen Media Research with Arbitron's Personal People Meter technology, and possibly RFID or smart dust on magazine pages) wants to be the first step.

Yahoo!: how intelligent are they really?

Looking at a CNN Money story on Viacom (whose chairman is called Sumner Redstone, mind you), I was struck by the 4 advertiser links provided by Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Overture Services).

(If you follow the above link and see different ad links, simply refresh a few times.)

All the links are paid for by companies named Redstone, which have nothing to do with good ol' Sumner. I clicked on some of them, making them pay Yahoo! a fee (which will be split with CNN parent Time Warner).

So much for the numerous PhD's who built Yahoo! search and its contextual matching algorithms.


I just registered for - The Movie. I am number 105.

See you in a theater near you.

Akimbo is quick to respond

Responding to yesterday's New York Times review, Akimbo promises a faster OS before yearend.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My June diary entries

I'm on the look-out for these things during June:
  • Introduction of new, free site (June)
  • Webby Awards (June 6)
  • Club Internet's plans for investments in France (Deutsche Telekom, June 7)
  • Start trial Toys'R'Us vs. (June 13)
  • rebrands as MIVA (June 13)
  • Movie release 'Batman Begins' (Warner, June 15)
  • Court ruling on MGM vs. Grokster (mid June)
  • BT intros Bluephone (mid June)
  • Ofcom responds to BT's plans to avoid a company break-up
  • VNU Analyst Day (June 17)
  • eBay Live! (June 23-25)
  • Auction of Turk Telecom (deadline for bids June 24)
  • Alliance between Versatel, Belgacom and Talpa in the Benelux (late June)
  • Talpa presenting plans for its new broadcast station in the Netherlands (June 27)
  • France Telecom's new growth strategy (June 29)
  • Movie release 'War of the Worlds' (Paramount/DreamWorks, June 29)
  • AT&T's AGM, approval of acquisition by SBC (June 30)
  • Viacom split-up plan (late June)
  • Supreme Court ruling on NCTA vs. Brand X and FCC vs. Brand X (late June)
  • Announcement of winners of TiVo's Home Media Engine Developer Challenge (late June)

Comparing Orb and Akimbo for VoD

Place-shifted video-on-demand provider Orb Networks (see e.g. my March 10 post) is among those innovations receiving IDG's '2005 World Class Awards'. Among the others are:
  • email programs Gmail and Mozilla Thunderbird
  • IM providers Trillian 3.1, QNext, VeriChat (PDAapps, for mobile) and SightSpeed (video)
  • blogging tool TypePad
  • search engines Google and (Amazon)
  • desktop search from Google and Copernic
  • Apple's Tiger OS, the Firefox browser (Mozilla)
  • the OnlyMyEmail and SafetyBar (Cloudmark) spam filters and anti-spyware Counterspy (Sunbelt Software)
  • VoIP providers Skype and Vonage
  • the Wikipedia, the and web sites, the iTunes Music Store (Apple)

Competitor Akimbo Systems (see my November 8 post) is highlighted by David Pogue in the New York Times. "... a tantalizing idea". However, "the Akimbo library is so puny and overpriced that the enterprise is interesting only as a 'what not to do' case study". No prize for Akimbo, perhaps "High-Tech Turkey of the Year". "If Akimbo can fix the problems (...) maybe there's hope".

Orb seems to be the winner, so far, having chosen a new business model (my March 30 post) and steering for partners (April 26, May 4).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

SBC promos DSL at a low rate (or do they?)

SBC promos the SBC Yahoo! DSL offerings for those who order online and subscribe for a minimum of 12 months. 1.5 Mbps for 15 dollars, 3 Mbps for 25 dollars.

Sounds rather nice - or does it?
  • in Korea and Japan slightly more is paid for a 20-40 Mbps service
  • in France 8 Mbps costs 15 euros
  • other charges apply
  • at the end of the term then-current rates apply (better make a diary entry)

Still, the telcos keep pushing for lower rates, hurting both themselves and the cable companies, who may at some point need to follow suit.

Truphone versus Bluephone

According to this article on The Inquirer SCN will sooner than BT introduce voice calling over Bluetooth. At the same time The Register reports that BT's Bluephone, planned for 'spring 2005', will be announced mid June.

Of course there are differences:
  • BT: handset by Motorola (chip: Broadcom). Late 2005 calling over WiFi must also be enabled.
  • SCN (Software Cellular Network): software solution, developed for the Nokia 6630 (for all Series 60 handsets at a later date). A beta-version is available via email at

What both offer:
  • Seamless handover to cellular networks when Bluetooth is out of range.
  • A converged fixed/wireless solution for voice calling.
  • Convergence of cellular and other wireless technologies.
  • The use of VoIP, i.c. wVoIP.