November 21, 2003

Wrapping up swing through LA

I just finished a second interview in the offices of Warren Lieberfarb, the father of the DVD. He had some fascinating and provocative things to say about the culture of the big media entertainment conglomerates, and about the future of the hard-copy DVD vs. online on-demand media. Also had a terific interview with Benjamin Feingold, the president of Sony’s Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, and with Victor LaCour, creative director of USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center, who showed me some blow-you-away possibilities about the future of entertainment over the Internet.

All in all, it’s been a great trip, though I’ll be glad to return home tonight to see Mary and Bobby. I actually drove to Santa Barbara on Wednesday night when it was the Center of the Media Universe, with helicopters hovering above Santa Barbara Airport in anticipation of Michael Jackson surrendering. Which, it goes without saying, is the Big Story of our time. I missed connecting with Doc Searls by a few hours, given that he returned from Apachecon on Thursday afternoon. Also had hoped to meet Kevin Roderick of LA Observed, but returned from Rancho Cucamonga too late to hook up. (A special tip of the hat to the officer who, for one reason or another, directed me into the heart of South-Central Los Angeles, in the exact opposite direction of my hotel in Bel-Air.) Hope to spend more time down here in the Southland on my next trip. Now, after a few minutes surfing and posting via a free wifi connection here at the wondrous Coral Tree Cafe in Brentwood, it’s on to the part of the book-writing process I loathe the most: transcribing notes. (I’d pay a small fortune for software that would reliably convert speech into text; the technology’s not yet close.)

November 19, 2003

Blogging from LA’s Coral Tree

I just got out of a two-hour interview with Warren Lieberfarb, the departed Warner Home Video president who, by all accounts, is the father of the DVD. A remarkable (and remarkably nice) man, who now is a consultant for Microsoft (contractual and legal issues prevent him from being an executive there, at least for now).

Down the street I stumbled upon one of the best cafes I’ve ever been to — the Coral Tree, a hip, year-old coffeehouse/eatery on San Vicente in the Brentwood section of LA (warning, don’t type Brentwood into your Mapquest route finder or you’ll find yourself transported 400 miles north of here). But I digress. Organic foods (just ordered a panini), coffee drinks, an ethnically mixed crowd of college age students, jobless tech workers, entertainment industry workers, a funky, hip decor, a spacious interior surrounded on two sides by 15-foot vertical windows, and a very cool outdoor patio complete with a comfy couch.

A couple of folks are inside, with their PCs tethered to a wall phone connection, but I’m outside soaking up a beautiful day (sunny and about 68 degrees, I’d guess). I asked about the wifi, and they apologized for not having it. I said, “But you do!” and showed a waiter today’s There’s a wifi connection called ctc, which I’m guessing stands for Coral Tree Cafe. The spread of free wifi is just a wonder to behold.

In a few minutes I’m meeting with Ben Feingold, president of Sony Home Entertainment. Later, dining with Jim Griffin of Cherry Hill Digital, the founder of pho. And tonight, driving up to Santa Barbara. Considering I got up at 5:30 to fly to LAX, I suspect I’ll be wiped for the rest of this trip.

November 14, 2003

Valenti to step down in January?

Just finished a lengthy interview with Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. An interesting, eloquent and extremely likable man.

Valenti mentioned the bill introduced by Dianne Feinstein yesterday to make camcording in movie theaters a felony and subject to five years in prison. I hadn’t heard about that, but SFGate has the story here:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California moved Thursday to protect increasingly beleaguered movie and music producers and artists by proposing a new federal crackdown on pirates, especially those who use the Internet to distribute their goods.

The proposal, which Feinstein introduced at a Capitol press conference with fellow Judiciary Committee member Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, zeroes in on two issues: the illegal recording of movies in theaters to make bootleg versions and distributing pirated recordings and films even before they go out on the market. …

Today is also the day the Motion Picture Association of America promised to decide whether groups besides Oscar voters will be allowed to receive “for your consideration” award screeners this year. The screener ban remains in place for such groups as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and critics organizations.

From my conversation with Valenti, my guess is: It won’t happen. He remains steadfast in holding on to his policy of curbing Internet movie piracy by clamping down on leaks from screeners.

If I were running the show, I think it would be fairly easy to arrange dozens of private screenings of eligible films over the Internet by using technology the studios already have in place with Movielink.

Meantime, the Los Angeles Times is reporting this today:

Jack Valenti, Hollywood’s voice in Washington for nearly 38 years, most likely will step down in early January as chief of the Motion Picture Assn. of America while retaining the chairman’s title and continuing to oversee the movie ratings system he fathered, sources said Thursday.

People familiar with the matter said Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) remained the clear front-runner to replace the 82-year-old Valenti, who last summer disclosed he was planning for succession but left the timing vague. …

And finally, this bit of news: I didn’t know Jack Valenti owns a TiVo!

November 10, 2003

A business model for citizen journalism?

Steve Outing writes in E-Media Tidbits today:

The concept of “citizen journalism” is getting a lot of people excited. Proponents of it, such as’s Jeff Jarvis, have suggested that citizen journalism is a huge business poised to take off. One of the first companies to try to make a buck from this is, which has established a network of news websites for communities large, medium, and small across the U.S. The company has developed a web publishing infrastructure that can be used by interested local-news entrepreneurs. As GetLocalNews founders Ari Soglin and Ed Schlenker explain it, “People expressing interest in becoming community publishers have ranged from the local gadflies who want to offer their take on city hall to trained journalists interested in running an online version of the local paper.” …

It’s certainly possible that there may be a central hub through which local communities get their news, and that there may be a profitable business in this. But I suspect that ultimately the vast majority of citizen journalism will remain independent and take place at the grassroots level. When I go to GetLocalNews’s site for my community, for instance, all I get are summaries and links to papers that I already get, such as the Pleasanton Weekly or San Francisco Chron. Where’s the value add in that?

November 10, 2003

Ebooks not ready for prime time

As if we needed more evidence that ebooks aren’t ready for prime time, Jim of Georgetown University writes on Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list:

Dave, a comical experience. I tried to buy some e-books from Amazon that require the use of Microsoft Reader to access them. The following steps occurred:

— order, pay for books
— get instructions how to download
— following instructions, get interposed page that says that I must download, install, and activate Reader first and that this requires me to use Passport. I had an activated copy of Reader on the machine in question, but I went through the whole rigamarole, twice.
— continue to get unable-to-download messages
— wrangle Amazon support through several frustrating cycles (the kind of tech support that doesn’t listen to what you say, so they tell you repeatedly to do what you’ve already told them repeatedly you’ve done)
— so finally the guy says, well you may be accessing the net through a firewall or a proxy server — you have to turn all that off

Well, that didn’t work either, and after complaining for days, Amazon finally refunded my money (all of $18). But what I thought funny and instructive is that in order to protect Microsoft’s intellectual property, which it is against the law for me to do anything to undermine, disable, reverse engineer, *they* require me voluntarily to disable the security devices on *my* system (including any firewall designed to protect me against damage arising out of weaknesses in Microsoft operating systems).