Archive for August, 2010

Google talking with Hollywood about movie rental service on YouTube

August 30th, 2010

According to a report in the Financial Times (subscription required), Google is talking with Hollywood studios about launching a pay-per-view video service. The global move is said to happen by the end of this year.

Citing people familiar with the talks, the FT says the move would make Google a major player in market of streaming rental movies. Google is reportedly pitching “the international appeal of a streaming on-demand movie service” that is tied to YouTube and the world’s biggest search engine. Google believes a Hollywood-Google partnership could be highly successful.

No word yet on rental costs, but the FT says its sources say movie rentals will cost around $5 each.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months and if true, the move could make Google a powerful rival to Netflix and Apple’s iTunes (especially when one considers the potential when movie rentals are combined with Google TV).

USA Today undergoing major restructuring with 130 layoffs, news tailored to mobile

August 27th, 2010

In a press release issued late Thursday, USA Today announced it would be undertaking a major organizational restructuring effective today.

USA Today publisher Dave Hunke told the AP the publication would lay off 130 people, or about 9 percent of its total workforce of 1,500 employees. The changes represent the biggest organizational shift in USA Today‘s 28-year history, as the Gannett flagship moves away from print and toward mobile.

“This significant restructuring reflects USA Today‘s evolution from a newspaper company to a multi-platform media company,” Hunke said in the news release. “When USA Today first launched in 1982, we led the news and information industry in aligning our content with readers and advertisers. I’m confident these key executive appointments in new and current departments will continue our legacy as a vital, valuable media brand across print, digital and mobile platforms.”

USA Today‘s print edition is still the big bread-winner for the organization, but the changes represent a focus on emerging platforms such as smart phones and tablets. These tech-friendly platforms present a new way to sell subscriptions and advertising.

Furthermore, USA Today‘s advertising revenue has dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2006 (the publication sold 580 ad pages in the most recent quarter ending in June compared to 1,098 during the same period four years ago). USA Today‘s circulation has also dropped from 2.3 million subscribers in 2007 to 1.83 million for the six months ending in March.

To address falling revenue, a decline in subscriptions and opportunities on new platforms, USA Today has announced new appointments in circulation, finance and news and five new departments have been established. As PaidContent explains, USA Today is moving toward content hubs instead of four traditional departments (news, money, life and sports).

The changes were announced internally Thursday and are being implemented today. The management and executive changes include:

  • Rudd Davis will be VP of Business Development, overseeing new business opportunities and partnerships including brand licensing, content syndication, acquisitions and joint ventures. Davis will also assume oversight of USA Today‘s retail, hotel and education-based partnerships. Davis was previously President and Founder of BNQT.
  • Jeff Dionise is now VP of Product Development and Design. Dionise will oversee research and development of USA Today products across all of the brand’s networks. Dionise was previously Director of Design for usatoday.com.
  • Heather Frank will become VP of Vertical Development. Frank will be in charge of creating, implemented and managing new and existing content verticals.  overseeing the department dedicated to the creation and implementation of new as well as existing vertical content areas. Frank was previously General Manager of USA Today‘s “Your Life” health and lifestyle vertical, which launches in September.
  • Steve Kurtz is now VP of Digital Development. Kurtz will focus on developing and maintaining technology and systems to support the publication’s website, mobile, iPhone and iPad platforms. Kurtz will also oversee the development as well as acquisition of digital and emerging platform space. Kurtz was previously Director of Digital Information Technology for usatoday.com.

USA Today will get rid of the separate managing editors who oversee the publication’s News, Sports, Money and Life sections and divide the newsroom into 13 “content rings.”

The content rings will consist of Your Life, Travel, Breaking News,  Investigative, National, Washington/Economy, World, Environment/Science, Aviation, Personal Finance, Autos, Entertainment and Tech. The Sports division will be a separate business headed by Ross Schaufelberger who has been named VP and General Manager of the new USA Today Sports.

USA today also appointed a number of new executives. Check out the press release for full details.

Google launches free landline, cellphone voice calls from Gmail

August 25th, 2010
Head’s up Gmail users, you’re getting a big new feature: Starting today, Gmail users will be able to make phone calls to landlines and cellphones from within Gmail. The service is rolling out to users today and it’s free in Canada and the U.S.

Starting now, some Gmail users will see a new option within their Gmail inboxes that allows them to place phone calls to landlines or cellphones. Up until now, Gmail allowed users to chat by video and voice chat it required both parties to use a computer with a microphone and speakers.

“Given that most of us don’t spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?’” wrote Google Software Engineer Robin Schriebman on the company’s blog. “Starting today, you can call any phone right from Gmail.”

“Calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free for at least the rest of the year and calls to other countries will be billed at our very low rates,” wrote Schriebman. “We worked hard to make these rates really cheap (see comparison table) with calls to the U.K., France, Germany, China, Japan — and many more countries — for as little as $0.02 per minute.”

The feature is still being rolled out, so some Gmail users may not yet see this feature. To place a call from within Gmail, a user simply needs to click on the “Call phone” link at the top of his or her chat list and dial a number or enter a contact’s name.
In Digital Journal tests, sound quality was decent and the feature worked just as well as any similar service such as Skype. A drop-down list also provides a country code, making it dead simple to place calls to other countries.

Users who have a Google Voice phone number also have the added benefit of having their number display as the outbound caller ID. You can also receive phone calls to this number inside Gmail (the company gives instructions on setting this up here).

Google says it has been testing the feature internally and it has proven to be quite useful for situations ranging from making a quick call to a restaurant or if you’re in a place with bad reception.

“We’re rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next few days, so you’ll be ready to get started once ‘Call Phones’ shows up in your chat list,” Google says.

German magazine uses augmented reality in cover

August 19th, 2010

The German magazine called Sueddeutsche Zeitung has created what it calls the “the world’s first mobile augmented reality special magazine edition.”

The technology is called augmented reality and it’s really quite remarkable what is possible when it’s used in conjunction with a newspaper or magazine.

Facebook launches ‘Places’ check-in feature

August 19th, 2010
Facebook has announced a new feature that allows users to “check-in” to a venue and tell their friends where they are. The feature is available via the Facebook iPhone app and from Facebook’s mobile website. It’s currently only available to U.S. users.


Facebook’s new “Places” feature is designed to let friends share their location as well as see who else is at a venue. The service is almost exactly the same as Foursquare, the leading location-based app that made the term “check-in” mainstream.

In a post on Facebook’s official blog last night, Facebook announced the new Places feature that allows people to share their location in real-time from a mobile device.

“Ever gone to a show, only to find out afterward that your friends were there too?” Michael Eyal Sharon, Facebook’s mobile product manager, wrote in the company’s announcement. “With Places, you can discover moments when you and your friends are at the same place at the same time. You have the option to share your location by ‘checking in’ to that place and letting friends know where you are. You can easily see if any of your friends have also chosen to check in nearby.”

To use the feature, Facebook users need to download the most recent version of the iPhone application or visit touch.facebook.com. The Facebook mobile site will only work for users with a smartphone that has a mobile browser that supports HTML 5 and geolocation.

Once using the application or mobile website, users click the “Check In” button to see a list of places nearby. Users click on the appropriate venue and if it’s not available, they can add it. Once checked-in, a Facebook user’s friends will be notified of the user’s whereabouts in their News Feeds.

“Places is only available in the United States right now,” Sharon wrote. “But we expect to make it available to more countries and on additional mobile platforms soon.” When a user is checked-in, he or she can tag friends that are with them and post an update to tell friends what’s going on at that venue.

The app also boasts a “People Here Now” section so a user can see his or her friends that are at the same location. Users who don’t want to be visible to others need to change their privacy settings.

“This section is visible for a limited amount of time and only to people who are checked in there,” Sharon writes. “That way you can meet other people who might share your interests. If you prefer not to appear in this section, you can control whether you show up by unchecking the ‘Include me in People Here Now after I check in’ privacy control.”

If you’re with someone who checks you in to a Place, you will receive a notification on Facebook and on your mobile. Facebook says the first time this happens, you’ll be given the choice to allow your friends to check you in to places. If you opt-in to share check-in data with third-party applications, Facebook will share that information with them as well.

Facebook’s Places feature is almost a complete copy of Foursquare. At one point, Facebook tried to buy the company but Foursquare CEO Jack Crowley turned down the offer. Foursquare is backed by $21.4 million in funding from some notable investors including Ron Conway, Kevin Rose, Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures, to name a few.

Foursquare has more than one million “check-ins” every day and Crowley said the company is nearing three million users. But with Facebook boasting a user-base of more than 500 million people, some wonder if the new Places feature will kill the growing startup.

Facebook invited Foursquare and competitor Gowalla to the launch of Places and Facebook said it’s been working on the project for nearly eight months.

That said, it seems as though Foursquare didn’t have early access to the feature and Crowley told VentureBeat he wants to “mess around with it for a week or two” before the company determines how it will integrate with Facebook.

To take a tour of Facebook Places, visit the site here.