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Cord Cutting is Devastating Comcast. Will They Be Disrupted or Save Themselves?

A site I follow, Cord Cutters News, had this interesting article today about a Comcast Executive Vice President gave a warning to investors, “…that the company expects to report losses of 100,000 to 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter 2017. That is a massive swing of subscribers because just one year ago in the third quarter of 2016 Comcast added 149,000 video subscribers.

Comcast, and other cable companies, are being disrupted by all the online streaming TV offerings and especially DirecTV NOW. Since our family has an AT&T Unlimited Plan, we “cut the cord” with Comcast (plus we’re selling our home and downsizing anyway) and signed up for the DirecTV NOW basic service with HBO added. The total cost is a measly $15 per month.

We also ditched TiVO and their $20 per month DVR pricing so we’re saving well over $100 per month on TV. Yes, we have Netflix, Hulu and a subscription to AcornTV (we love British television) so our total outlay is higher but still under $50 per month.

How could we NOT cut the cord? Especially since DirecTV NOW will soon have a recording capability and a new user interface (sometime this Fall). Our kids are now adults but are classified as Millennials and they, especially, don’t care at all about having cable TV options. They want streaming, on-demand, and binge-watching options and neither of them care about sports options which cable TV companies basically force us all to pay for monthly.

WHY ISN’T COMCAST / XFINITY DOMINATING STREAMING?

Comcast could argue that they are in this space as they provide an Xfinity Stream app. The issue is that this app’s service pricing is not even close to being competitive to other offerings (e.g., SlingTV; DirecTV NOW) and its pricing is almost identical to an Xfinity cable TV subscription.

Those streaming TV “deals” come with the same old cable TV-like pricing games: You sign up for a “first 12 months” — for what appears to be a somewhat competitive price — only to have it jump by 50% after the “deal’s” first term ends. (e.g., in my home area of zip code 55347, a streaming TV app subscription for 140+ channels is $49.99 for the first 12 months but leaps to as much as $75 per month once the term ends AND you are locked in for that entire term).

On that deals page under the “Add to Cart” button, there is a Pricing & Other Info link. Clicking it reveals this text in the popup:

Offer ends 10/29/17. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. New residential customers only. Limited to Digital Starter service. 1-year minimum term agreement required. Early termination fee applies if all XFINITY services are cancelled during the agreement term. Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, including Broadcast TV Fee (up to $8/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $6.50/mo.) and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the promo. After applicable promo, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Comcast’s monthly service charge for Digital Starter, ranges based on area, from $52.49 to $75.49 (subject to change). Service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. Limited Basic Service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand™ selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. Not all programming available in all areas. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service charge and standard installation up to $500. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2017 Comcast. All rights reserved.

So you can see that it’s basically a cable TV subscription but through an app. You also cannot end your cable TV subscription and immediately subscribe through the app (New residential customers only). Also, there will be all sorts of associated fees and taxes — like the “Regional Sports Fee” whether or not you even care about sports — a fee that you do not have to pay with competing services.

My wife and I got sick-and-tired of having to go to the Comcast/Xfinity ‘store’ near our house every six months or otherwise our cable TV subscription would often jump-up by $60 or more. Numerous times over the last decade we’ve suddenly received a Comcast bill that was more than double our “reasonably priced deal” monthly subscription. We refuse to play Comcast’s game so we said goodbye a couple of months ago.

Comcast absolutely could own this streaming TV space but their streaming app subscription is virtually identical in cost to a cable TV subscription, so being competitive (and stopping their game-playing with pricing) means they would have to decimate their own TV business which they’re not likely to do.

Why would Comcast not cannibalize their own cable TV business?

Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen, wrote a best-selling book called The Innovator’s Dilemma (which The Economist named as one of the six most important books about business ever written). Its premise is that successful, outstanding companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market  (book at Amazon).

The reason Comcast will quite likely lose their leadership (or fail) is because they have so many contracts with TV providers they’d have to unwind, cable TV subscriptions they would lose to cord cutting, and top-line revenue they would have to replace, that it’s probable they will fail.

I, for one, will be happy to say goodbye to the cable TV gaming when it comes to their pricing models (and, hopefully soon, the cable TV company internet-service-provider monopoly, but that’s a topic for another post).

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Colorspike is a Portable & Programmable LED Lightbar for Filmmakers and Still Photographers

There is a recently launched Kickstarter for a portable and programmable LED lightbar called colorspike that is pretty amazing. Whether you’re a filmmaker (or wannabee like me goofing around shooting 4K video with my Nikon D500) or a still photographer, this new gadget is sure to open up huge creative possibilities.

The few professional filmmakers I’ve been able to meet over the years have one saying they all agree on:

The crew doesn’t matter, everything off frame doesn’t matter, all that counts is what’s on screen…it’s the shot that counts.

Though there are a lot of variables in getting to that on-screen shot outcome, there is no question that achieving the perfect shot is heavily dependent upon lighting. Trying to get lighting effects like a flickering campfire, police/fire/ambulance lights, or various kinds of mood lighting is typically achieved with colored gels smeared on lights. Besides being a pain-in-the-butt to use, using gels is slow, tedious, and very creatively limiting.

If it’s the shot that counts, getting that shot might take multiple (and sometimes dozens!) of attempts to get lighting effects set just right to achieve the shot. Colorspike looks like it will definitely give us a virtually unlimited lighting effect and color palette to work with as we shoot video or stills.

If you pledge $299 you can get one and they expect to deliver in March 2018. Check out the colorspike Kickstarter page to learn a lot more and see screenshots of the app too.

Before you go, however, take a few minutes to watch the video below and you’ll likely begin to imagine what you might do with this clever tool:

via BoingBoing

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Cutting the Cord is Hard

Have you considered cutting the cord? If so, get ready for A LOT of resistance and delays when you try to cancel your services!

My wife and I are downsizing from our large family home to a townhome or condo. We haven’t yet purchased a dwelling so we’re uncertain as to which cable provider we may end up with and, since it’s summer, it seemed like a good time to begin cancelling all the services we don’t need and do it now. Plus, it’s actually highly likely we may not renew a cable subscription anyway.

So let’s say you have decided to cut the cord. Cancelling is not a 5 minute per account adventure.

CANCELLATIONS
Not surprisingly, none of these TV provider subscriptions can be cancelled online. One must talk to a human who will do their best to try to talk you out of it and keep you as a customer. Be prepared to invest at least 45 minutes per cancellation and call earlier in the day rather than later.

  • Cancelling Comcast escalated the call from a Philippine-based call center to a U.S.-based “Cancellation Office” where they gave me the third-degree on why I was cancelling. I was forceful that I just wanted to cancel (not put my subscription “on hold”) and they finally cancelled it.
  • Cancelling TiVo was another story. Again it was a call center somewhere and the woman, Joyce, made multiple offers to keep my subscription alive. “We can put it on hold” or “We can offer you X months at a reduced rate” and I was having none of it. “I just want to cancel it” and it turned out Joyce was having “technical difficulties” so could not cancel the account. Fortunately, a few hours later, an email came through with a cancellation notification so that’s done.

Here’s is why it’s so hard to cancel. These legacy TV providers are losing subscribers like crazy and are obviously doing whatever they can to hold on to us:

Five of the largest U.S. pay-TV providers posted subscriber losses during the second quarter as younger viewers increasingly cut the cord and moved to “skinny bundles,” or cheaper packages with select channels, and Internet streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. (via Fortune)

CUTTING THE CORD
If you’re like us, or most people we know, the lion’s share of our TV watching is done through streaming boxes (we have an AppleTV and Roku) as well as subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu (commercial free), AcornTV and DirecTV Now (it’s only $10/month since we have an AT&T Unlimited Plus family plan and then we pay $5/month for HBO too).

Two things we considered strongly and are two things to ponder if you’re considering cutting the cord yourself:

1) There isn’t yet a streaming service that can become a cable replacement, one that includes all the major networks and channels one might want or need. For example, DirecTV Now does not yet have all of the Minneapolis/St. Paul local channels. They also do not have CBS at all. So they’re not an option…yet…but parent AT&T has announced big changes for this Fall.

Whether there is a service that hits the sweet-spot of what people need — at price-points we can stomach — is certainly in flux and there is A LOT of uncertainty about who will be that be-all, end-all provider. You can see a good comparison of the top five providers here.

2) Maybe we don’t need to worry about local channels anyway. I just ordered a Mohu antenna that, for $20, will get all the HD channels we need in the Twin Cities and is better quality than what we’ve watched on cable (over-the-air signals are uncompressed so look much better than compressed cable TV signals). For where we’re going to move to next we don’t yet know which antenna we’ll need, but for now this will work great.

Hope this helps if you, too, are considering cutting the cord.

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Communicate Like a Pro

Regardless of your occupation, having great communicator skills are “table stakes” to be in the work game today. Especially if you host webinars, record screencasts, podcasts or videos, or even chat with a friend over Skype.

National Public Radio (NPR) has this very useful NPR Training website where you can learn the techniques NPR has honed over many, many decades.

As someone who has done all of the above for communicating with others, the subtleties and nuances of properly delivering what you want to get across is something easy to learn…but you do need to learn it. Too often I’ve attended webinars with the host taking the first five minutes to “um” and “hang on a second” as they futz around getting everything ready. Then they talk like they simply do not care about what they’re saying, you as an attendee, or that they’re bored out of their mind.

Come across as the real you. Not the “DJ” you or what you think you should sound or look like. This training will really help you communicate like a professional so check it out.

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One Guy's Experience with the New Apple TV

appletv

The new AppleTV device is about the best experience our family has yet had with any product like it. Is it perfect and actually the “future of television?” Nothing ever is, and this may-or-may-not ‘win’ the future, but in my view it’s about as close as anything has ever come to date.

For the last 15 years or more I’ve owned and dabbled with just about everything: satellite and cable boxes; TiVo; Boxee, Plex, Kodi (formerly XBMC) and other media center offerings; Roku; and finally AppleTVs (we own three of the ‘old’ ones). My frustration with most mainstream offerings delivering close to what I want—but also missing features I need like access to my own ripped movies, home videos, photos and music—that I ended up with multiple home theater devices connected up:

  • Roku – Mainly to access Amazon Prime and AcornTV (my bride and I are addicted to British TV)
  • AppleTV – for iTunes store, connection to our computers & media, as well as Airplay capability
  • Plex media center to deliver everything else that is not in iTunes on my computer and/or NAS (network attached storage).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Headed to the Apple store on Friday, October 30th to buy the new AppleTV since the Best Buy close to my house did NOT have them in stock yet (even though all news accounts said they would be in stock). The Apple Store Southdale shelves were full so I bought it and headed home to hook it up.

Booting it up the first time the device asked me if I wanted to set it up manually or via an iOS device. Selecting the iOS option I was asked to hold my device close and it sucked off the Wifi settings. Impressive.

Immediately I was surprised to see how much more detailed, crisper and saturated the graphics were on it. That carried over to the videos and games too. That alone made the purchase worthwhile, but obviously isn’t enough.

Buying and setting up a new device is always somewhat of a pain-in-the-ass since, even though one usually uses a backup for a new computer, smartphone or tablet to accelerate the setup process, one still has to connect it up and set up all the accounts and the new AppleTV process is not user-friendly.

atv-remote2I had to use the new, very slippery remote (and replacements cost $79.95 so DON’T DROP AND BREAK IT!) to manually scroll an alphabet to laboriously put in my email address and password for ALL of the accounts. No remote app for iOS is yet available—that would have made this a painless process—and I found myself pissed off that I had to do it. A bluetooth keyboard connection or Remote App for iOS would instantly fix that issue.

Next I launched the TV App Store and added all the familiar apps: Netflix; Hulu; some games, and more. Since there isn’t yet a “Categories” feature in the App Store, the only way to see what apps are in the store is to use that damn alphabet to click “a” to see apps starting with an “a”; “b” for “b” apps; and so forth. What a drag.

podcast-appWas stunned to find a glaring omission too: Where the hell is the podcast app? Especially since Apple was the first company to offer podcasts in iTunes; Google is now offering them so there is competition; and podcasts are accelerating in popularity.

Fortunately, once setup the AppleTV experience was phenomenal.

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Publishing Fail: Inhabitat

This is a post about a site I’m not going to anymore and I’m writing this because I tried to connect with them on their contact form. But I was stunned to see that one has to have a username and password to use the form. Really? So they don’t care to hear from anyone else?

Inhabitat is a site I’ve read for several years because I’m interested in their focus: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

That should probably instead say: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to making as much money as we possibly can off of you. We do that by packing in so many ad-trackers, audience identifiers, and advertisements, so only 30% of your screen real estate is actual content while the other 70% is either visual noise or ways for us to make you click on stuff so we make money.

Unfortunately they are making the #1 small publisher mistake which is driving me away: Instead of making the visit to their site a great experience, instead it is crystal clear it’s all about providing them with an opportunity to monetize.

inhabitat-noisy

Would you believe that, if you go to their site, they use 78 advertising-related services and 35 analytics and tracking ones? Holy shit…see for yourself. While many of them might not be active (you have to subscribe to BuiltWith to get deep analysis), the site has so much going on when you visit (and a WordPress mobile plugin I detest: OnSwipe) that it’s more bother than it’s worth. I have a 75mbps download speed on my broadband connection and it takes 30-45 seconds to completely load their homepage!

So publishers, or anyone who creates and delivers anything to customers, FIRST focus on your visitor and their experience and THEN on yourself. If you reverse that you will fail…just like Inhabitat has done.

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Takei Tours YouTube Space LA

George Takei’s YouTube show, Takei’s Take, tours YouTube Space LA (there are also London, Tokyo and New York locations currently). If you haven’t yet heard about this space, and what they’re trying to accomplish, this is a perfect overview in 4 minutes (and always enjoyable due to George’s take on things and his delightfully positive attitude and outlook)!

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New Zealand in 4K

This video, shot in 4k of New Zealand vistas, is visually spectacular (even though my own display is not in 4k resolution). Watch it in full screen mode and enjoy the quality AND see why visiting New Zealand should be on your bucket list:

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Understand What 'Resolution' Means

As an amateur photographer, I often try to explain to people why my small Nikon D5000‘s 12.3 million pixels produces a better photo than their smartphone camera or even what could be produced by this new Lumia 930 with its 20 megapixel camera.

Besides the obvious: the lens is bigger, it is that and the sensor in the camera that determines the resolution of the image. I know figuring out resolution, and why it matters, is a challenge so I encourage you to watch this very well presented short video that explains it better than anything I’ve seen yet:

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Gadget Man - Why the World Needs InternetTV

gadget-manIn 2007 I became aware of a new show called The IT Crowd in the United Kingdom and a bunch of my geek buddies were highly recommending it. I found, ahem, alternative ways to obtain the show since it was not available in the United States at the time. My son and I started watching it and it became a much beloved show, and we had a really nice shared bonding experience over it (since he’s a geek too).  

Fortunately, today the show is available on Netflix in its entirety if you care to watch it. I wish Netflix streaming had been around then since I hated having to use those alternative ways to view the show back then but it was the only way to see it. 

We got quite a kick out of one of its main characters, Moss (played by Richard Ayoade). Looking for a video I’d mentioned to a client on YouTube, I stumbled across a show which I’d never seen before: Gadget Man, starring Ayoade. Turns out he’s just as funny and engaging as he was on The IT Crowd, and the British penchant for smart programming (vs. low-brow reality TV like so much of U.S. cable) makes this a very engaging show to view.  

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