Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hawking: Humans must colonize other planets

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Humans must colonize planets in other solar systems traveling there using "Star Trek"-style propulsion or face extinction, renowned British cosmologist Stephen Hawking said on Thursday.

Referring to complex theories and the speed of light, Hawking, the wheel-chair bound Cambridge University physicist, told BBC radio that theoretical advances could revolutionize the velocity of space travel and make such colonies possible.

"Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out," said Professor Hawking, who was crippled by a muscle disease at the age of 21 and who speaks through a computerized voice synthesizer.

"But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe," said Hawking, who was due to receive the world's oldest award for scientific achievement, the Copley medal, from Britain's Royal Society on Thursday.

Previous winners include Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

In order to survive, humanity would have to venture off to other hospitable planets orbiting another star, but conventional chemical fuel rockets that took man to the moon on the Apollo mission would take 50,000 years to travel there, he said.

Hawking, a 64-year-old father of three who rarely gives interviews and who wrote the best-selling "A Brief History of Time", suggested propulsion like that used by the fictional starship Enterprise "to boldly go where no man has gone before" could help solve the problem.

"Science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination," said.

"Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light."

However, by using "matter/antimatter annihilation", velocities just below the speed of light could be reached, making it possible to reach the next star in about six years.

"It wouldn't seem so long for those on board," he said.

The scientist revealed he also wanted to try out space travel himself, albeit by more conventional means.

"I am not afraid of death but I'm in no hurry to die. My next goal is to go into space," said Hawking.

And referring to the British entrepreneur and Virgin tycoon who has set up a travel agency to take private individuals on space flights from 2008, Hawking said: "Maybe Richard Branson will help me."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The New York Times
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November 30, 2006
Architecture Review | 'Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit'

Seeing the Seediness, and Celebrating It

DETROIT — Ever since the great suburban exodus of the postwar years, American cities have experienced varying degrees of panic about their identities. One result is that more and more cities have taken on many of the qualities of suburbs to survive. Meanwhile, the once-smooth surface of suburbia has cracked open, revealing a dark underbelly that once seemed to be the exclusive realm of the city.

The new Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is a radical rejoinder to this seismic shift. Housed in an abandoned car dealership on a barren strip of Woodward Avenue, it fits loosely into a decades-long effort to restore energy to an area that was abandoned during the white flight of the 1970s.

But the design springs from a profound rethinking of what constitutes urban revitalization. Designed by Andrew Zago, its intentionally raw aesthetic is conceived as an act of guerrilla architecture, one that accepts decay as fact rather than attempt to create a false vision of urban density. By embracing reality, it could succeed where large-scale development has so far failed.

Mr. Zago is uniquely positioned to grasp this context. Born in Detroit in 1958, he has vivid memories of the 1967 race riots that led the exodus of the white middle class. He remembers hearing white neighbors talk of fleeing to the suburbs as black families moved in. After departing with his family to a northern suburb, he saw the city decline to the point where it became a poster child of decay.

Only later, as a practicing architect in the 1990s, did he begin to see these decrepit neighborhoods as a legitimate landscape for architectural experimentation. “I didn’t want to romanticize it,” he said during a recent tour of Detroit, “but the city had a depth of character, a real substance and integrity. And while you want to do away with the problems, you don’t want to lose that quality.”

The museum, known as Mocad, presented his first opportunity to explore the tensions and ambiguities — between urban and suburban, resilience and decay — on a meaningful scale. The museum stands midway between the gargantuan Beaux-Arts structure that houses the venerated Detroit Institute of Art — a haunting symbol of the city’s faded civic aspirations — and a recently completed sports and entertainment district on the edge of the downtown business district.

Anchored by Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, the entertainment district’s gaudy signs, generic bars and trickle of pedestrians will be recognizable to anyone who has witnessed the transformation of America’s once-vibrant inner cities into generic shopping malls. It is an ersatz vision of the bustling metropolis, sanitized for visiting suburbanites.

By comparison, Mr. Zago draws inspiration from the squatters’ houses, performance spaces, local bars and grass-roots art projects that have sprouted amid the disturbing stillness of the neighborhoods: a kind of forgotten underworld tucked into ruined houses and storefronts surrounded by lots that have been abandoned for so long that they have become overgrown fields.

The architect had no interest in smoothing over the scars, which are worn as badges of pride. The gallery floor in what was once the car showroom retains its red octagonal tile; the other floors are raw concrete. Interior walls — collages of peeling paint, exposed brick and concrete block — have been left untouched so that you can see the traces of where they have been cut open and patched over during years of crude alterations. (Mr. Zago jokingly calls it his Frankenstein building.)

To save money, he placed the museum’s mechanical systems, typically hidden atop the roof, in a corner of a gallery, wrapped in a chain link fence. Warmth is provided by a series of heat lamps suspended from the ceiling, as they might be in a public parking garage. Art works — a video by Kara Walker, a towering sculpture cobbled from the broken fragments of an old acoustical tile ceiling by Nari Ward — are scattered throughout the galleries with refreshing informality.

The intentionally crude approach echoes museum projects like Frank Gehry’s Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles (1982) and Michael Maltzan’s MoMA QNS, which served as a temporary home for the Museum of Modern Art from 2002 to 2004. Like those projects, resolutely informal, Mocad creates a casual and intimate relationship between art and viewer, shrugging off the weighty air of authority and privilege that is typical of so many museums. It takes us back to a time when making art and architecture could be a act of dissent.

Mr. Zago reinforces that ethos by allowing the art to spill out joyfully onto the sidewalks. Big glass garage doors are set into the Garfield Street facade, which can be rolled up during the summer. For the opening of the museum, the graffiti artist Barry McGee spray-painted the brick facade with bold swirling letters. The graffiti echoes the colorfully painted convenience stores with Lotto signs that have sprouted up around Detroit in former brick bank buildings. (The city’s planning department tends to regard the signs as a form of architectural vandalism.)

But Mocad also sets out to create a genuine community of art. Its three main galleries are arranged around a big room in which an informal bookstore and cafe were conceived as places to exchange ideas rather than a Starbucks for tourists. Its casual disorder affirms what the critic Dave Hickey once described as the social order that sustains any art community — “the way people talk about loving things, which things, and why.”

Museum officials hope to raise $5.5 million for a more elaborate renovation by Mr. Zago that could be completed by 2010. Not surprisingly, his design for this second phase will be more formal than this, but not by much. All of the interior walls will be removed, yielding a big, open, flexible space with a series of small, boxlike galleries embedded along the main facade. A grid of enormous skylights shaped like canted parallelograms will puncture the roof. By projecting some of the skylights down into the space and others up above the roof, Mr. Zago lends character to the interior without creating a maze of walls.

A series of canted windows will project from the Woodward Avenue facade, evoking the building’s previous life as a car dealership. A cafe will push out into the parking lot, which will become a sculpture garden.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Zago’s strategy will be the seed for similar developments. But Mocad is a powerful reminder that the neat distinction between the sterile suburbs and their urban counterpart is now dead. Mr. Zago finds meaning in the forgotten landscape between the two: a terrain that makes room for renegades and outcasts, as the urban metropolis once did.

Royal editor admits phone tapping
Clive Goodman
Goodman was suspended by the News of the World after his arrest
The royal editor of the News of the World has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages.

Clive Goodman, 48, from London, was arrested after claims by the Prince of Wales's household of security breaches.

Glenn Mulcaire, 35, admitted the same charge and five counts of intercepting messages on the mobile phones of the likes of publicist Max Clifford.

Sentencing will take place after details of the case are outlined at an Old Bailey hearing in January.

News of the World editor Andy Coulson, said he apologised "unreservedly" on behalf of the newspaper to Prince William and Prince Harry, Paddy Harverson, Helen Asprey and Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton "for the distress caused by this invasion into their privacy".

'Wrong' actions

In a statement, he said: "As the editor of the newspaper, I take ultimate responsibility for the conduct of my reporters.

"Clive Goodman's actions were entirely wrong and I have put in place measures to ensure that they will not be repeated by any member of my staff."

The other targets of Mulcaire's actions were said to include the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and model Elle Macpherson.

Two other victims were in the sporting world - the chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor, and England footballer Sol Campbell's agent Sky Andrew.

Court apology

The case came to light in November 2005 following the publication of a story in the News of the World about Prince William's knee injury.

William began to fear aides' mobile phone voicemail messages were being intercepted.

He wishes through me to take the first opportunity to apologise publicly to those affected by his actions.
John Kelsey-Fry
Clive Goodman's barrister

His suspicions were raised further when an article by Mr Goodman claimed that the prince had been lent some broadcasting equipment by ITV's political editor, Tom Bradby.

Mr Bradby said that when he and William met later, "we both looked at each other and said 'Now, how on earth did that get out?'.

"... the answer we came up with is that it must be something like breaking into mobile answering machine messages."

Complaints by three staff at Clarence House sparked the police inquiry which was widened to examine whether other public figures had had calls intercepted.

Some people, like me, are resilient enough to take this sort of behaviour more or less in their stride, but other people are not, and nobody should have to
Simon Hughes MP

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes said that tapping or intercepting messages should only be done with the authority of the law - and in exceptional cases such as terrorism.

"Intercepting personal voicemail messages is a completely unacceptable breach of privacy - whether the victim is a royal prince, a politician, or someone completely out of the public eye.

"People who leave messages and those intended to receive them are all entitled to have private conversations.

"We live in an age where invasions of privacy are becoming more frequent. This does not make the practice any more acceptable."

He added: "I have long held the view that courts should be allowed to deprive those responsible for this sort of behaviour of their liberty because it is a serious offence to interfere with the freedoms of others.

"Some people, like me, are resilient enough to take this sort of behaviour more or less in their stride, but other people are not, and nobody should have to."

Clarence House
Complaints from staff at Clarence House prompted the investigation

Goodman was suspended by the UK's best-selling newspaper after he was charged in August.

He was responsible for a raft of exclusives in his time and at 2002's Real Press Awards was named Royal Editor of the Year.

After the pleas were entered, Goodman's counsel John Kelsey-Fry said the journalist wanted to apologise to the members of the Royal Family concerned.

"He wishes through me to take the first opportunity to apologise publicly to those affected by his actions.

"He accepts they were a gross invasion of privacy and Mr Goodman accepts that this characterisation is correct.

"He therefore apologises unreservedly to the three members of the royal household staff concerned and their principals, Prince William, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales."

Increasingly marketing firms are using popular social networks on the Web as part of their campaigns - creating fake user profiles to sell their products. On one hand this is not a good thing for social networks, because the last thing they want is to be clogged up with marketing campaigns masquerading as users in their systems. But the reality is that marketing campaigns are becoming a popular aspect of social networks now - and in virtual worlds such as Sims - and so they help drive page views and therefore advertising for those social networks.

One interesting marketing campaign crossed my desk recently, which has stats to show how successful it was (see below). Niccolò Magnani from the Italian office of MRM Worldwide told me about a campaign he ran for an Italian beverage company called Campari. Now I should at this point warn you that the following material is not necessarily work safe!

The theme of the Hotel Campari website is of a raunchy hotel. Purely for research purposes of course, I browsed around the site. It is a Flash-driven website with sensual music and a lot of interactivity (mainly involving the opening of doors). The campaign and website features the lovely Salma Hayek too.

Campari Social Networks

To complement the website, MRM developed a social network campaign based on youtube, myspace, flickr and many more.

The MySpace profile features the same soft porn music as the Hotel Campari website - and is fronted by a "28 years old" female from Milano in Italy, called "Red Passion". Her interests include "Photography, movies, traveling..." and she is a fan of the movie Eyes Wide Shut. She is on MySpace for "Dating, Friends" and lists her orientation as "Not Sure". There are also some, ahem, photos of her that adorn the MySpace page. All of this of course is a fake profile, but I guess the casual MySpace user might think it's real should they come across it (especially ever hopeful teenage boys).

As for the Flickr site, it has a lot of photos and once again comes across as a real person's Flickr site (well, a real person who lives the high life in Italy that is!). The YouTube profile features some videos from the campaign, prompting one YouTube user to comment: "masks are cool". You get the picture.

Campari MySpace

Campari Flickr

Campari YouTube


Niccolò told me the results of the social networks campaign have been very good. The Hotel Campari website got 170,000 views. For the social network sites, they got more than 3,000 "friends" and 2,500 comments across the sites. The number of views across the social network sites is currently around 92,000.

All up, 13.5% of the total traffic to Hotel Campari was thanks to the social networking sites. Niccolò also told me they achieved "a lot of buzz around the website" and he pointed me to a page showing relevant links.

On the strategy of the social network campaign, Niccolò said:

"Our strategy was to focus on viral seeding and social networking, no traditional media adv online. I have no idea of the exact number of people going from Social Networks to Website [...] because we worked with a lot of social networks.

More than quantity, what I like to point is the quality of the relationship between users and Campari. Client is very happy about the close relationship between the brand and the users.

What I like is that we created a community of people that we can further talk about red passion."

Some people might argue about the quality of the community - because the profile of "Red Passion" (the 28 year old Italian woman) is fake. How can you have a real social networking community around a fake, marketing-driven user profile?

But there's no arguing that as a marketing vehicle, the fake social network profiles did their bit to drive traffic and interest in the Hotel Campari website. We're going to see a lot more of this type of usage of social networks. From a business angle, it makes sense. But on a personal level it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, because most of the appeal of social networks is that you are networking with real people. So I'm interested in knowing what Read/WriteWeb readers think about this...

The New York Times
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November 29, 2006

To Web Fans, Peter Jackson Is the One True Director

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28 — When it comes to power games, some in Hollywood are beginning to learn a basic lesson of digital politics: the Internet plays rough.

Such is the case with a growing spat between New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson, the A-list director of the “Lord of the Rings” movies and a savvy player when it comes to the power of the Web. Last week Mr. Jackson posted a letter on a fan Web site,, explaining that he had been dumped by New Line from “The Hobbit,” a movie based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, and still in the planning stages.

“This outcome is not what we anticipated or wanted, but neither do we see any positive value in bitterness and rancor,” Mr. Jackson wrote with his producing partner and wife, Fran Walsh. “We now have no choice but to let the idea of a film of The Hobbit go and move forward with other projects.”

But to legions of avid Jackson and Tolkien fans, the news was a bombshell that went whizzing through cyberspace.

“This is a big blow to the LOTR community, I feel like there has been a death in the family,” wrote a Web master called Xoanon, referring to the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy by its initials. “Why couldn’t New Line come to an agreement with P J? Is there really a time option on the film rights for New Line? Who will they get to direct?”

Within hours thousands of other fans weighed in on, and other sites, worrying about the future of the Tolkien enterprise and asking New Line, which has an option to produce the film until 2009, to back down. was among those calling for a boycott of any Hobbit film not made by Mr. Jackson.

“The fan community as a whole is up in arms about the way Peter Jackson has been treated,” said Chris Pirrotta, a founder of site, which has faithfully followed Mr. Jackson for years, even posting his video diary during the making of last year’s “King Kong.” “Fans are very distraught to see someone who’s created something so wonderful being treated so poorly by the studio.”

On the heels of the protest, reporters and entertainment bloggers called the studio to ask about the film’s fate. In what was once an insular club of power brokers and back-stabbers, the voices of outsiders — dancing across the globe at the speed of a modem — have begun to penetrate.

New Line declined to comment on “The Hobbit,” but said in a statement to The Times that the situation was complicated by the lawsuit of Mr. Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, against the studio over revenues from the “Lord of the Rings,” which New Line produced.

“We are in litigation with Wingnut Films, and have been unsuccessful despite a formal mediation, as well as discussions with Wingnut directly to settle the matter; therefore, we cannot comment at this point,” the studio said this week.

But anxiety continued to reverberate in cyberspace. Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Rings series, wrote on his Web site, “I’m very sad as I should have relished revisiting middle Earth with Peter again as team-leader. It’s hard to imagine any other director matching his achievement in Tolkien country.”

And Saul Zaentz, the veteran producer who holds the underlying rights, was quoted on yet another Web site, this one in German, saying Mr. Jackson would indeed direct “The Hobbit,” which still has no script, no budget, no cast and no production date.

In an interview from Italy Mr. Zaentz said he was misquoted, but that Mr. Jackson should be the one to direct “The Hobbit.” “We would like to see it done, of course with Peter Jackson,” he said. “He’s a good film director. He’s the right guy. He knows it too. But it’s a hard thing to do, when you feel you didn’t get the money you were supposed to get.”

The contretemps over “The Hobbit,” those involved say, is really about the lawsuit over revenues from the “Lord of the Rings” series, which has taken in a staggering $2.9 billion in box office receipts alone.

In February 2005 Mr. Jackson sued New Line, saying he was owed money from the trilogy. Mr. Jackson has said he sued over profits from “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” after he was unable to get New Line to submit to an independent audit of its books. The lawsuit, which was unsuccessfully mediated, still has no court date, and so far no audit has taken place. New Line executives have complained that Mr. Jackson has become vastly wealthy from the Tolkien trilogy and is unjustifiably portraying himself as a victim.

In his letter Mr. Jackson said New Line was holding the new movie hostage to his lawsuit, saying that Michael Lynne, the New Line co-president, told Mr. Jackson’s manager, Ken Kamins, “that the way to settle the lawsuit was to get a commitment from us to make the Hobbit, because ‘that’s how these things are done.’ ”

Mr. Jackson added: “Michael Lynne said we would stand to make much more money if we tied the lawsuit and the movie deal together and this may well be true, but it’s still the worst reason in the world to agree to make a film.”

Neither Mr. Jackson nor the studio would comment publicly on the lawsuit.

The final straw in continuing tensions between the two sides came earlier this month, when Mr. Jackson declined to contribute a video salute to New Line for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of its founding, planned for next year, according to two people familiar with the matter. Days later a New Line executive called Mr. Kamins to say that the studio would be seeking another director for “The Hobbit.”

So while New Line accused Mr. Jackson of trying to negotiate the lawsuit through the Internet, Mr. Jackson’s camp accused the studio of brinksmanship in a fit of pique.

It was left to another studio entirely, MGM, which owns the distribution rights to “The Hobbit,” to step in and calm the raging waters — and the Web sites.

“We expect to partner with New Line in financing ‘The Hobbit,’ ” a spokesman for MGM said. “We support Peter Jackson as a filmmaker, and believe that when the dust settles, he’ll be making the movie. We can’t imagine any other result.”

Snoop Dogg arrested after 'Tonight Show' performance

Story Highlights

•Police: Charges include possession of a gun, cocaine and marijuana
•AP: Snoop was in car pulling out of NBC when police stopped him
•Lawyer: Rapper "innocent" and has been freed on bail, AP reports
•Arrest is latest of several run-ins with police this year

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Police arrested rapper Snoop Dogg on weapons and narcotics charges after his performance Tuesday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Burbank police Sgt. Kevin Grandalski said the charges include possession of a gun, cocaine and marijuana. He also is accused of having a false compartment in a vehicle. The weapons charge is a felony.

Tuesday's incident was the latest of several arrests for Snoop Dogg -- whose real name is Calvin Broadus. Police pulled his vehicle over shortly after after he appeared on NBC's "The Tonight Show" and performed songs "That's That S...!" and "I Want to Love."

The 35-year-old musician from Sherman Oaks has sold more than 17 million records and starred in films.

In 1990, Snoop Dogg was convicted on a felony narcotics possession charge for trying to sell cocaine.

Report: Attorney says rapper 'innocent'

Donald Etra, the rapper's attorney, told The Associated Press that Snoop Dogg "was in a car pulling out of the studio" when police stopped him Tuesday.

Etra told the AP he believed his client was booked at jail for investigation of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He made bail of $60,000 and was released shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, about seven hours after the arrest, according to the AP.

"As of this point, he stands innocent of all charges," Etra told the AP. "The goal tonight was to get him out of jail. The goal tomorrow is to deal with the case."

The rapper was expected to be arraigned on January 11, Etra told the AP.

On November 2, Snoop Dogg was charged with one felony count of knowingly possessing a deadly weapon -- a collapsible baton -- while trying to board a plane in Santa Ana, Orange County authorities said. A spokeswoman for the performer denied the charges and said the baton was "a prop" he inadvertently had included in his carry-on luggage.

On October 26, Snoop Dogg was arrested at an airport in Burbank, and booked for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and transportation of a controlled substance. He posted $35,000 bail. His publicist said the performer was scheduled to appear in court in December.

On April 26, Snoop Dogg and several members of his entourage were detained by police at London's Heathrow Airport after a skirmish that left seven police officers with minor injuries.

The incident happened after Snoop Dogg and his crew were told by the airline they would not be permitted to board a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, Scotland Yard said. As police tried to direct the group to baggage reclaim, they became "abusive and pushed officers," according to Scotland Yard.

The seven police officers received minor injuries, including cuts and bruises, and one suffered a fractured hand.

While in England for his 1994 "Doggystyle" tour, he was nearly kicked out of the country after a Tory minister and British tabloids raised objections to his presence while he faced murder charges in the United States. He later was cleared of those charges.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Start-Up Fueled by Star Power

With Hollywood Help, Morgan Freeman's Movie-Download Site Is Set to Battle Apple

Morgan Freeman and his business partner, Lori McCreary, combined their Hollywood connections and tech savvy to build ClickStar.

By Frank Ahrens

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2006; D01

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- You expect to see Morgan Freeman up on the big screen, playing sagacious older men in such films as "The Shawshank Redemption."

So what is Freeman doing, at 69, hanging out with the digital hipsters and starting a movie-download business, set to launch this week?

"It seemed like a good idea," the actor said by telephone.

The distribution of movies over the Internet is a concept that's interesting enough to have grabbed the attention of Apple's Steve Jobs, the big movie studios and more than 250 others who have started some form of video-download business this year.

But whether Freeman's idea is a good one is open to debate. His venture, called ClickStar, will operate much like others that are struggling to make a name for themselves. And it's unclear whether Freeman -- with his connections to Hollywood stars and studio heads who are looking for digital distribution methods -- will be able to overcome the hurdles that have kept consumers from widespread adoption.

Apple, which already had success with music and TV-show downloads at its iTunes Store, added movies in September priced as low as $10. And even though it has sold 500,000 downloads since then, it has only a little more than 100 titles available -- all from Walt Disney Co., where Jobs sits on the board of directors.

Movielink and CinemaNow, which are backed by the major Hollywood studios, offer libraries of thousands of movies but charge prices comparable to a DVD purchase, a move meant to appease retailers such as Wal-Mart, which deliver brisk DVD sales. Neither service releases numbers, but analysts have gauged their impact as minimal.

And then there are the issues of slow download times -- as long as two hours for one movie -- and playback restrictions that have hampered consumers from watching downloaded movies on their TV sets. Apple is expected to introduce early next year a device that moves movies from the computer to the TV.

With Freeman's ClickStar, users will be able to purchase a movie for about $20 and watch it on the computer or, with the help of an add-on device, a TV set. And ClickStar users can start playback while the movie is still downloading.

Studies have found that consumers are turned off by that type of pricing. But could they be swayed if Freeman addressed some of their other concerns, such as download times, ease of use with other home electronics and a buy-in from Hollywood studios?

The Oscar-winning actor owns a small Santa Monica movie studio called Revelations. About four years ago, his longtime business partner and a former computer scientist, Lori McCreary, warned him that the movie industry could soon be facing the same Internet piracy problems that were plaguing the music industry.

"Morgan gets technology well enough to see where it's going," McCreary said.

Freeman demurred: "I'm sort of a go-a longer."

The business was built on the strengths of the two: McCreary's technology background and Freeman's Hollywood connections.

After talking to his many actor, director and studio-head friends, Freeman knew creative types were terrified by Internet film piracy. "[Steven] Spielberg had expressed incredible fear of [Internet downloads] because his movies are stolen all the time," Freeman said.

Freeman and McCreary made a short film to explain ClickStar, emphasizing the piracy protections built in. He then invited Hollywood hotshots to ClickStar's Santa Monica headquarters, a top-floor loft space in a modern building a block from the Pacific Ocean.

"We've had just about everybody down here," Freeman said, ticking off names -- actors such as Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Danny DeVito and Pierce Brosnan, and studio chiefs such as News Corp. President Peter Chernin. Inside the loft, Freeman and McCreary built a living room with a big-screen TV and a couple of furnished bedrooms with computers. The idea was to get the Hollywood types into a comfortable, familiar setting so they could see how the product worked. It worked well enough to woo a couple of studios into joining ClickStar's launch.

Freeman and McCreary also recognize that consumers have to find ClickStar easy to use. Windows Media Center computers that use the Viiv (rhymes with "five") technology by Intel -- which is a principal investor in ClickStar -- will automatically display the service for downloads and playback on PC or TV. Also, DirecTV's new high-definition set-top boxes will come ClickStar-ready. Others will be able to access the service on the Web at and watch the movies on a PC.

ClickStar's chief executive, James Ackerman, said users should initially expect a library of 600 to 1,000 movies from two or three major studios (that he would not name) and some indie studios. The company will also offer a documentary channel hosted by DeVito and a classic-movie channel hosted by Peter Bogdanovich, both of which launch Friday.

The first new feature-length film available for purchase on ClickStar will be "10 Items or Less," a film Freeman produced and stars in, set to be released simultaneously in theaters and on ClickStar on Dec. 15.

But is this enough for consumers to grasp downloads as a way to get movies?

The Diffusion Group, a Texas research outfit that conducted two recent studies on the viability of the movie-download business, found that nearly one-quarter of households with high-speed Internet would be willing to pay $10 to download a movie to watch on a home PC or video iPod. The percentage drops sharply as the price goes up. At $20 per movie -- about the price of a new movie on DVD -- only 12 percent said they'd pay.

The study asked the same users: If you could download a movie from the Internet for $10 but had to pay extra for a set-top box that would let you watch it on your television, would you still do it? If the box costs $200 to $300, 23 percent of all respondents said yes, the study found.

Alarmingly for businesses like ClickStar, however, when the hypothetical price of a movie rises from $10 to $20 to $25 and the set-top unit costs extra, the percentage of consumers willing to pay extra to watch it on TV falls off the table, statistically speaking.

Kevin M. Corbett, vice president of Intel's digital home group, said he thinks ClickStar and iTunes can find a sweet spot for pricing that will create a viable business. He was relieved, not upset, when Apple beat ClickStar to the movie-download business using a variation of ClickStar's model.

"I'd hate to be in conflict with someone as big and influential in media as Apple when we're trying to build a market," he said.

The New York Times
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November 29, 2006

Wal-Mart Plans to Test Online Films

The decade-old DVD moved two small steps closer yesterday to technology’s endangered-species list.

Wal-Mart, the country’s largest seller of movies, announced that next year it will begin testing a video download service on its Web site. Wal-Mart did not reveal its partners, but media executives involved in the deal said that all the major studios are either on board or in active talks with the retailer, and that Hewlett-Packard is providing the technology for the download site.

In another sign that the race to put video content online is accelerating, the Internet firm BitTorrent, once a pariah for enabling vast unauthorized video file-sharing, plans to announce today that it has struck distribution deals with eight media partners, including 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MTV Networks.

Beginning in February, the companies will begin selling TV shows and movies through BitTorrent’s Web site,

It is a strange juxtaposition: BitTorrent, with 35 employees, and the company whose dominance in video sales is so threatened by online file trading, 1.8-million-employee Wal-Mart.

DVDs are not going away any time soon. A vast distribution system is still built around them, and downloading can still be slow and cumbersome. But the latest steps show that studios and retailers have concluded that the future of home-video sales lies online.

That conviction has been reflected this year in a flurry of deals; Apple, Google, Amazon and AOL have all rolled out video stores. Apart from Apple’s iTunes, the online stores have enjoyed limited success so far, but that has not stopped the momentum.

Media companies have even become willing to strike partnerships with firms whose popular technology is primarily used for trading unauthorized content. For example, YouTube, the video sharing site now owned by Google, reached rights agreements with the music labels Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, and some TV networks — despite the relative freedom users had during YouTube’s early days in uploading and watching copyrighted material.

The media companies are not only attracted to the large online audiences of companies like BitTorrent, but also want to enlist their support in eradicating unauthorized content. The media companies in the BitTorrent deal say that the Internet firm has pledged to police its network for illegal trading.

“They are making a big commitment to us to filter the site,” said Jamie McCabe, executive vice president at 20th Century Fox. “When anything is up there that is not legitimate, they’ve pledged to take it down.”

For now, at least, the move by Wal-Mart, which accounts for 37 percent of the country’s video sales, is likely to make the larger splash.

Though its video download store will officially open for business next year, Wal-Mart took a tentative first step yesterday. Customers who buy the physical DVD of Warner Brothers’ “Superman Returns” in a Wal-Mart store will have the option of downloading a digital copy of the film to their portable devices for $1.97, personal computer for $2.97, or both for $3.97.

The dual approach, marrying downloads to the purchase of an actual DVD in the store, reflects the retailer’s commitment to protecting its bottom line. “We feel like it is really important that the DVD business stays healthy and stays quite central to consumers’ lives,” said Kevin Swint, a divisional merchandising manager at Wal-Mart.

Not every movie studio has yet formally signed onto Wal-Mart’s effort. According to two studio executives involved in the negotiations, some studios are grappling over the extra charge of $1.97 to $3.97 for DVD buyers to download the movie. Some studios feel that it would be better to provide the downloads free to DVD buyers, making them clearly a promotion, so that those prices do not become fixed in customers’ minds as the going rate for movies online.

While Wal-Mart’s coming effort might get more scrutiny, BitTorrent’s approach to selling video online represents a more radical departure from current video stores on the Web — and an attempt to fix some of the problems that have plagued online video purchases, like excruciating download times.

BitTorrent’s founder, Bram Cohen, 31, introduced the network in 2001 at the height of the legal battles over Napster, the peer-to-peer pioneer. His service was remarkably efficient; when a user tries to download a media file, the network fetches pieces of that file from the computers of nearby users on the network and reassembles them on the user’s computer.

Fat video files that might take over an hour to download over iTunes can take just minutes over BitTorrent if other, nearby users have the file on their hard drives.

BitTorrent’s software currently sits on 80 million computers, and Internet service providers say that file trading on the service — most of it illegal — now accounts for 40 percent of all online traffic.

The company, which incorporated in 2003 and raised $9 million in venture capital, has recently gotten more serious about policing its network. Last year, it reached a deal with the Motion Picture Association of America to remove infringing content from the search index on its Web site. And in May, Warner Brothers agreed to sell its TV shows and movies through BitTorrent’s network, though the effort was delayed until more partners were enlisted.

Other partners in the deal to be announced today include Lionsgate, the technology cable channel G4 and Starz Media, a programming production and distribution company owned by Liberty Media.

Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent’s president, said that as the firm built a business in authorized distribution, it viewed piracy as a competitive threat. So it plans to build a more attractive alternative that will convert its traditional users while luring those who have not yet waded into the world of digital downloading, he said.

In the new service, BitTorrent’s partners will upload authorized versions of their TV shows and films onto the network. No pricing details have yet been announced. Files will be protected by Microsoft’s content management system, and files will play right inside the user’s Web browser. Users who buy content will have to enter a special encryption key before watching the movie, and they will only be able to view it on two computers — say, a desktop and a laptop they might bring with them on a business trip.

Mike Goodman, an analyst at the Yankee Group, says networks like BitTorrent shift bandwidth costs to users. “You can argue that peer-to-peer will ultimately be the cheapest way to distribute this content,” he said.

Studio executives agree, and think BitTorrent will take its place alongside the giants like Wal-Mart in the emerging digital download world.

“I think everyone is going to do a BitTorrent deal,” said Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment. “You have to be in a position where you make your content available everywhere the consumer is interested in downloading it.”

The New York Times

November 28, 2006

Old-School Sponsorship From a Digital-Era Company

MATCHMAKER, matchmaker, make me a match. So sang the daughters of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” For a TV comedy series that begins tonight — about a young woman’s dating life, appropriately enough — Madison Avenue is playing matchmaker, bringing together an advertiser and a network for an elaborate sponsorship deal.

The matchmaker is MediaHub from Mullen, the media planning and buying division of Mullen, an agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies. MediaHub is hooking up, the dating Web site operated by IAC/InterActiveCorp, with the TBS cable network for a season-long sponsorship of the new sitcom, called “My Boys.”

Under the agreement, estimated at $1 million to $2 million, will be featured in all 13 episodes of “My Boys,” which chronicles the adventures of a twentysomething who covers sports for a Chicago newspaper as she juggles her career and social life. The Web site will be featured prominently in two episodes and play cameo roles in the rest.

Other elements of the deal include identification of “My Boys” as “sponsored by” in a television, print, radio and online promotional campaign that TBS is creating for the series; the posting of a profile of a character from the series on; billboard-style ads for on a special “My Boys” Web site (; and a discussion of “My Boys” and during an episode of another TBS show, “Movie and a Makeover.”

The sponsorship is another example of an advertising technique that is being revived, decades after fading from the media landscape. Known as branded entertainment, it recalls the days when announcers intoned at the start of TV and radio shows that they were being “brought to you by” some name-brand consumer product.

Branded entertainment is returning to television because of its ability to interweave product pitches into the story lines of the shows that consumers want to watch. The goal is to counter viewers’ increasing ability to ignore or avoid more interruptive advertising like traditional commercials.

Among other advertisers that are taking part in the revival of branded entertainment are Coca-Cola, General Motors, Philips Electronics North America, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

In some instances, they are even getting marquee billing in the names of the shows they are sponsoring, a throwback to the era of “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars” and “The United States Steel Hour.” For example, the AMC cable network announced yesterday the creation of an ad package to be called the “Lincoln Friday Night Feature,” sponsored by the Lincoln Mercury division of the Ford Motor Company.

“After two years of successful TV advertising, buying a lot of syndicated shows like ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends,’ this is, for us, stepping it up,” Jim Safka, chief executive at in Dallas, said of the agreement with TBS.

“It’s a fully integrated campaign that feels less like a sponsorship or advertisement and more like a part of the program,” he added.

In threading through the episodes of “My Boys,” Mr. Safka said, “it has to feel seamless and natural,” otherwise it could annoy or even alienate viewers.

Doing more than what the deal calls for “would be heavy-handed,” Mr. Safka said, “and it’s not how our brand fits into someone’s everyday life.”

“It’s taking some risk,” he added, “but we’ve had a good preview of the show and we think it’s going to deliver the goods.”

MediaHub made the deal for during the recent upfront market, where advertisers agree to spend money with networks before the start of the fall season.

John Moore, senior vice president and group media director at MediaHub in Wenham, Mass., said the agreement made sense because wanted to promote a brand identity as a Web site for “long-term relationships, not casual dating, and ‘My Boys’ is about a group of friends going through the trials and tribulations of trying to figure out long-term relationships.”

“The characters are a reflection of the people on,” he added. The creative agency for is Hanft Unlimited in New York.

This is the first time MediaHub has signed a season-long sponsorship for a client, Mr. Moore said, and the deal is not without its challenges.

“The ‘leap into the void,’ ” Mr. Moore said, “is this show has no track record,” unlike TBS shows like “Sex and the City,” which are reruns of series that proved successful on other networks.

“But we think the rewards outweigh the risks,” he added, because “TBS is giving ‘My Boys’ its most coveted time slot, after ‘Sex and the City,’ ” and because of the pedigree of the production team behind “My Boys.”

Among those involved in the production of “My Boys” are Jamie Tarses, the TV executive who is the basis for a character on the NBC series “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and Betsy Thomas, who has worked on series like "My So-Called Life," "Then Came You" and "Run of the House."

TBS was “looking for a launch partner, if you will, for ‘My Boys’ that would be a like-minded brand,” said Linda Yaccarino, executive vice president for advertising sales and marketing at Turner Entertainment in New York, which like TBS is part of the Turner Broadcasting System unit of Time Warner.

Branded entertainment projects “are easier when it’s an organic fit,” Ms. Yaccarino said. “Otherwise you’re just going to turn off the viewer, and then all of your work was for naught.

“As long as we respect the creative process, and that takes the lead, that’ll keep the viewers watching.”

The deal is “the biggest co-branded effort that Turner has ever done,” Ms. Yaccarino said, “and I think you’ll definitely see more of this.”

Early reviews of “My Boys” are mixed to positive. In Touch magazine gave it two stars out of four, while a sibling magazine, Life & Style, gave it two and a half (“Worth a first date at least”). Life magazine called it “fresh” and the critic Matt Roush, in TV Guide, praised it as a “winner.”

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hello, Cellphone? YouTube Calling

Verizon Deal Is Latest to Link Voice, Video Firms

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; D01

Internet video service YouTube is going mobile for the first time, launching a television-like channel featuring its most popular videos on Verizon Wireless cellphones.

Verizon Wireless is hoping to parlay YouTube's reputation as the premiere Web site for posting and sharing homemade videos into success for its own mobile-video service by delivering YouTube clips to subscribers of its premium V Cast service starting next month.

The deal, to be announced today, is one of many initiatives in the past two years that try to make the mobile phone a more appealing entertainment device -- and to gin up excitement around mobile video services, for which carriers typically charge at least $15 a month.

The relatively expensive premium for mobile video service has limited its appeal to a small but growing minority, analysts say. Yet what began as an obscure technical experiment has become a bigger test of whether mainstream consumers want portable video enough to pay extra for it.

Three years ago, when Sprint (now Sprint Nextel) launched the first mobile television service on its phones, it looked more like a color slide show than a miniature facsimile of the tube -- and sales of the service were virtually nonexistent. Since then, carriers have sped up their networks, phonemakers have developed devices with bigger, better screens, and people are starting to watch short clips of news, sports and even TV shows on the go.

Although mobile television has made big strides in technology and quality, it remains an open question whether the service will ever become standard the way custom ring tones and text messaging have, said David Joyce, an analyst with Miller Tabak, an investment firm.

"It's not a replacement for regular television viewing; it's a convenience thing," and it's unclear how many people will care enough to pay for that, he said. As monthly bills for various entertainment and communications services stack up, many consumers might start opting out of additional premium services, he said.

The industry has already chalked up one failure. ESPN Mobile, which was launched in January as a premium service offering sports video clips and a television-like experience, announced in September that it would shut down after too few subscribers were willing to pay for the fancy phone and a monthly premium ranging from $35 to $250.

But that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of carriers and content providers, who announced a flurry of other cellphone-video deals this year.

HBO reformatted entire episodes of shows such as "Sex and the City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for cellphones, while creating made-for-mobile spinoffs of "Entourage" and other shows. Sprint Nextel launched a deal with the National Football League to rebroadcast video highlights of games, as well as a pay-per-view deal to stream full-length movies over the air. Amp'd Mobile, a cellphone service targeting a young, edgy demographic, produces sports and comedy clips, including a political cartoon called "Lil' Bush."

Now, about 2 percent of the country's 220 million cellphone subscribers pay to receive video on their phones, said Roger Entner, an analyst with the research firm Ovum.

Believers in mobile television say much of the market remains untapped.

"There's still a majority of the wireless subscriber base that is still uninformed about mobile TV service; right now, I think the biggest barrier is consumer awareness," said Ray Derenzo, vice president of business development for MobiTV, a subscription service that delivers broadcast television to subscribers of Cingular Wireless and Sprint Nextel.

In the past 18 months, carriers and major media brands have shown keen interest in experimenting with mobile formatting, in part to test the waters to make sure the technology actually works, Derenzo said.

Faster technology is also in the works.

Sprint is experimenting with a speedier transmission technology called WiMax. And Verizon Wireless plans early next year to launch mobile video technology made by Qualcomm that will broadcast video clearer and faster.

Although relatively few phone users view video on their small screens, video is contributing a large part of the $15 billion in annual revenue that carriers are collecting from data services, Entner said. The revenue is why carriers keep casting around for more video services to expand their appeal. "They're trying to fill the channel with more and more -- they need to expand the lineup," he said.

That is the goal for YouTube's mobile service, which will start in early December and create a new video channel for V Cast subscribers. Verizon Wireless launched V Cast in February 2005 with specially produced episodes of soap operas and a one-minute spinoff of the hit TV show "24." While the company does not disclose the number of V Cast subscribers, 20 million Verizon Wireless subscribers now have video-capable phones, a significant number of whom pay $15 a month to access V Cast, said Robin Chan, associate director of marketing for the carrier.

The YouTube deal is exclusive to Verizon Wireless for an unspecified length of time. Wireless phones are already important to YouTube, because many people use them to record and post videos to the site, said Steve Chen, co-founder and chief technology officer of YouTube, which was purchased last month by Google. "We don't want to be restricted to the desktop," Chen added.

Analysts say the pricing of mobile video ultimately will affect its future. Over time, carriers are likely to turn to advertising to subsidize it or will lower prices to about $10 a month to get more people to sign up, Entner said.

"In five years, it will be standard," he predicted.

The New York Times
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November 27, 2006

The Air Is Free, and Sometimes So Are the Phone Calls That Borrow It

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 26 — Gary Schaffer looked out his window here last week to discover a reporter standing on his lawn, pirating his wireless Internet access to test a new mobile phone.

The phone, made by Belkin, is one of several new mobile devices that allow users to make free or low-cost phone calls over the Internet. They are designed to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of wireless access points deployed in cafes, parks, businesses and, most important, homes.

The technology’s advocates say that as long as people are paying for high-speed Wi-Fi access in their homes, they should be able to use it as a conduit for inexpensive calls and an alternative to traditional phone service.

But, in a twist that raises some tricky ethical and legal questions, the phones can also be used on the go, piggybacking on whatever access points happen to be open and available, like that of Mr. Schaffer.

A retired business teacher, Mr. Schaffer seemed affably cautious about the idea of having his bandwidth borrowed.

“If you’re a friend, I’d say, let’s give it a try,” he said. “If you’re a stranger, probably not, unless you had to make an emergency call.”

The call made from Mr. Schaffer’s lawn went through but was quickly disconnected, apparently because of a weak signal. Mr. Schaffer did not seem to feel he owed any apology for the spotty coverage, though he did express concern for the person on the other end of the line.

“I know what it’s like to have a call dropped,” he said.

For all its limitations, the technology is starting to emerge commercially, with companies like Vonage, Skype (owned by eBay) and T-Mobile (a unit of Deutsche Telekom) now selling or supporting mobile devices that use Wi-Fi networks.

In some cases, the voice service is free. A Belkin phone that works with the Skype calling service costs about $180; calls to Skype users on computers are free, as are outgoing calls to domestic phone numbers, at least through the end of the year. Incoming calls from phones cost extra. Vonage charges $90 for a phone and $15 a month for 500 minutes of talk time.

One big hurdle is that the Wi-Fi radio frequency spectrum is unlicensed and not maintained by any one company, so call quality can be unreliable. Moving a few yards can require finding a new network to connect to. In other words, when you place free or low-cost calls — especially on a stranger’s network — you sometimes get what you pay for.

“There are a lot of dropped calls,” said Roger Entner, a telecommunications industry analyst with Ovum Research. But he said the new technology had at least one impressive ability: getting people to appreciate their old-fashioned cellular service.

“Everybody who tries a Wi-Fi phone will get down on their knees and thank the wireless phone people for the good job they’ve done on coverage,” he said.

Wi-Fi is also a power-hungry technology that can cause phone batteries to die quickly — in some cases, within an hour or two of talk time.

“When you turn on the Wi-Fi it does bring the battery life down,” said Mike Hendrick, director of product development for T-Mobile. But he said the technology was improving rapidly.

T-Mobile is letting customers in Seattle participate in a test of phones that can switch between its mobile network and Wi-Fi. The company is betting that this flexibility will come in handy if the customer is out of the network’s reach, offering another way to get online and stay connected.

More generally, the technology could threaten the dominance of traditional telecommunications networks by giving people an alternative pipe for their voice and data transmissions.

But some carriers are not convinced that the technology is ready for the market.

“We can totally understand that people want even more ubiquity from cellphones,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. But Wi-Fi devices “aren’t where they need to be,” he said.

Mr. Hendrick of T-Mobile said the new phones were good enough to provide an alternative.

“If you can’t get access because you’re buried in the basement of a metal-encased building, you can go to an open wireless network,” he said. Or it could be useful “if you’re out in the suburbs, in the basement, and you have Wi-Fi in the house.”

But what if you’re just on somebody’s lawn? How do people feel about a passer-by using their bandwidth to place free phone calls?

For his part, Mr. Schaffer said he would mind only if it had an adverse effect on him — which in theory it could, if the voice data caused congestion on his network. There is no clear indication to a network’s owner that a phone call is taking place, so most will not have the chance to object.

Not everyone is so open to walk-by talkers. “I don’t like it,” Kevin Asbra, another San Franciscan, said. “It’s an abuse of the system. I pay my bills. Why should you call for free?”

New types of mobile phones, like this model from Belkin, can locate and tap in to the growing number of wireless access points to the Internet, just as laptops with Wi-Fi do. Once connected, the user can make phone calls as usual, but signal strength can vary.

His wife, Karen Seratti, begged to differ. A Web site usability tester, she says she regularly looks for open access points so she can check e-mail when she is traveling or away from the office.

“I walk around with my Mac all the time looking for access,” she said. “When you have to send an e-mail, you have to send an e-mail.”

Sometimes she must scavenge from within her own house, as when the family’s Internet connection goes down. She offered a neighborly tip: “Walk into the alley — you can find the network called Fido265.”

Finding an open access point might prove challenging in some places, but not in San Francisco, where the spread of Wi-Fi networks has outpaced even that of yoga studios and organic produce shops.

In a walk through the Inner Sunset district, a phone’s display showed that most wireless networks in range were protected, requiring a password for access.

There were, however, enough unsecured ones that it was possible to get online every half a block or so. Because the Wi-Fi phone looks like a standard cellphone, it is much less conspicuous than a laptop on the street. The proliferation of Wi-Fi laptops and, in turn, hunters of free Internet access has already raised questions about whether borrowers of bandwidth are breaking any laws.

“There’s a big debate going on right now,” said Jennifer S. Granick, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. Ms. Granick said some people believed that using a connection without permission constituted unauthorized access to computers, which is a crime, while others disagree.

Traditional analogies are hard to come by, she said, adding that she does not believe using Wi-Fi is the same as trespassing, since the signals travel beyond property limits. “People say that you can’t go inside somebody’s house; but I say, you can sit outside and listen to the radio,” Ms. Granick said.

She added that the situation was different when the owner of a wireless network chose to require a password. “If it’s secured, it’s marked as off-limits,” she said.

Alex Milowski, an executive at a technology start-up who was out for a walk last week with his infant son, Max, said that it was fine for Wi-Fi phone users to jump onto an open network. Would he teach Max that swiping bandwidth without permission was O.K.?

“By the time he’s worried about it, access will be free,” Mr. Milowski said.