Weekend Tech Blog: Netflix soars; Barnes & Noble's ebook jockeys with Amazon

The Internet was supposed to be the place where new forms of media would dominate. Then why are movies, TV, and books more popular than ever?

The Internet was supposed to be the place where new forms of media would dominate. Then why are movies, TV, and books more popular than ever?

Movies, TV and books — the "old media" — are still dominating the digital age according to various reports that emerged this week.

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Movies may not be better than ever — there are those who say 1939 was the apotheosis of motion pictures — but the public clearly loves viewing any and all films on the Internet, especially with a Netflix all-you-can-watch monthly subscription.

According to a story published in PaidContent.org, Netflix downloads alone during peak periods (evenings) account for nearly 30 percent of all online traffic. That represents a 44 percent increase over a similar study last year, when BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing service, was the top Internet service. (BitTorrent is largely used for legitimate downloads, and is believed to be relatively free from pirated material.)

It’s worth noting that the Netflix juggernaut represents paid content: money flowing from your pocket to a profit-making enterprise. In the ongoing argument about whether the public will pay for content on the Internet, the public is speaking loudly.

The report, generated by Sandvine, a Canada-based Internet broadband equipment company, also indicates that so-called “real-time entertainment” — sports, movies, TV shows, etc. — viewed on the Internet almost doubled in the last two years (49.2 percent in 2011 vs. 29.5 percent in 2009.)

It’s hard to know whether that figure represents more viewing of movies vs. TV episodes, but it points out with great certainty that our love of the media we know, rather than pure Internet-only entertainment such as games, chatting, web-surfing or simply hanging out, remains the our dominant media oeuvre.

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That other area of digital media, books, also received a shot of digital love this week. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos released a statement saying that less than 4 years after the introduction of the Kindle digital book reader, Amazon.com customers are buying more Kindle books than all print books combined — hardcover and softcover.

According to the press release, the Seattle-based company sells 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books; free digital books are excluded from these figures. Moreover, the increase in Kindle book sales has increased threefold since last year. Amazon claims to have 950,000 digital books for sale, and said it added 175,000 titles in the last 5 months.

In addition, the advertising-supported Kindle Reader, a less expensive Kindle that features ads, is outselling other Kindle models (at $114, vs. the WiFi only version at $139 or the WiFi/3G version at $189).

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The exploding popularity of reading books on digital devices has certainly helped Amazon competitor Barnes and Noble. BusinessWeek, citing a February Goldman Sachs report, estimates that the company has 27 percent of the U.S. digital book market (vs. Amazon's 58 percent and Apple's 9 percent). Barnes & Noble claims 2 million titles in its inventory, but with no breakdown of what percentage are saleable digital books versus free books, magazines, and other items.

The company's introduction of its color-screen Nook ereader has been a bright spot in the company's otherwise troubled financial picture (its stock has been in play for some time). The current reader, introduced last November, sells for $249, uses the Android operating system, and is viewed as a decent, inexpensive alternative to mainstream Android tablets despite being designed as a single-purpose device. A recent software update already makes it tablet-like including support for Android 2.2, a Nook-branded app store (but not the full-content Android app market), Adobe Flash and a built-in email client.

Several sources say that the company will introduce a new Nook at a planned New York event Tuesday (May 24); the general consensus is that it will be an even stronger competitor in the tablet wars. (PC Magazine has a good wrapup of what the unit may or may not have). 

With the rumor mill also predicting that Amazon is on the cusp of introducing two tablets, possibly by this summer, it's not unreasonable that Barnes & Noble wants to jump ahead of the market with an offering of its own.

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For you Comcast/Xfinity customers, the Xfinity TV app for the iPhone is here, as a free download from the Apple iTunes store. Joining versions already available for Android smartphones and the iPad, it allows you to control your cable TV box, set up recordings, watch some programs on your remote device, and more. If you have one of these devices, or a computer in any flavor, the app is worth having; all versions are free. 

Because the apps connect to your cable system through your home WiFi, it’s much more responsive than the standard Comcast remote control. You can search for shows by name, flick through a channel list or filter programming by genres such as movies, sports or high-definition. It allows you to set up recordings on your Comcast or Tivo digital recorder, and allows you to search through on-demand shows to see what’s available.

The “Play Now” feature lets you look through any of your premium channel listings, as well as free cable networks, and lets you watch a variety of shows on your mobile device. Someone in your house can be watching a show on cable; you can watch a different show on your device. It's not true on-demand TV watching, however. Comcast pre-selects the shows you can watch on your device. What is normally considered "on demand," recent movies and other hot shows, must be watched on your TV. "Glee" is out; "Gunsmoke" is in.

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Truth be told, I’m a little intimidated by Google Search. I know there’s much more I can do with it, but finding out what I don’t know about it — and what I should know — is, well, embarrassing. That’s why I found the guide “Use Google To Its Full Potential” to be extremely useful in understanding more about using this vital service. It’s both brief and vital. Check it out.


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