Another milestone for Google today as its Chrome browser has officially been released as beta for Mac users! I have a feeling this will quickly become one of the main browsers of choice for when I'm forced to use a Mac at work. Take a look at this screenshot of the main interface (click image for higher resolution):
A full review and comparisons with the Windows version coming soon...
With a forthcoming EP on the cards, recent events could prove to be another masterstroke of marketing genius from Radiohead - or at the very least, a nod to the darknet release scene which has been around since the days of BBSes. Either way, one band is once again making waves across the Internet...
It hasn't escaped many people's attention that a new Radiohead single, "These Are My Twisted Words", was leaked onto the web on the 14th of August. One of the first places for it to crop up was on the private BitTorrent trackers; What.CD's entry for the track currently has over 2,400 discrete downloads of the .torrent.
The filename of the track itself? "01-radiohead-these_are_my_twisted_words-(advance)-2009-woi.mp3". "woi" stands for WallOfIce, as detailed in the release's accompanying nfofile. (update: what appears to be vaguely official artwork can be seen on @Yussavoice's twitter profile background...)
Of course, the band has remained staunchly silent on this development - and the silence to some has been a deafening confirmation that they're behind the whole thing. Of course, almost immediately after the track's leak, the release was analysed and dissected by RH fans all over the world. The article on GreenPlastic documents just how many people picked over it with a fine toothcomb, as well as the original author putting forward some of his own theories as to what exactly this 'release' means in terms of marketing and advance notice of a full-blown release.
Radiohead have stated in the past that they won't be doing more full albums for a while, as mentioned by AtEase. York himself said;
“None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with “In Rainbows” because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”
Although some have dismissed the EP launch as mere hyperbole from AtEase, I believe it could be quite the opposite. Personally, I'm in agreement with the consensus that this is actually a legitimate 'leak' by the band, as the facts are stacked in favour of this once they are examined closely. Why? Well, let's examine the facts:
- The release is tagged with a "-woi" groupname, but no prior evidence of this group's existence is available across the Internet, even when using the pre search engines
- Using EncSpot, the encoder is shown to be a VERY old encoder called GoGo (a variant of Lame, and not pure Lame itself which the scene rules mandate), as well as having an ID3v1 Genre tag of "Blues"
- The domain WallOfIce.com conveniently points to the W.A.S.T.E. store (more below)
The metaphor is strong with this one: not only does this leak coincide with a rumoured EP launch next week, the name "Wall Of Ice" has been interpreted by some to be a veiled xkcd reference, where the cartoon strongly mirrors the band's apparent own sentiments towards the record industry:
If this isn't enough for you, the domain WallOfIce.com (which redirects to the W.A.S.T.E. store) was created on the 14th of August - the same day as the track's leak - and has the registrant's whois information clearly visible:
Contact: Reshad Bashir () +31.0645252730
Address: Raaigras 271, Leeuwarden, 8935 GD, NL
Reshad Bashir is a sysadmin for Versio, so he (or his company) has registered this domain on behalf of someone and his details have been put in there. Stereogum's already discussed this at length. No scene group member would be stupid enough to put personally-identifying details into a public whois record. Radiohead haven't registered the domain name directly, but it would make sense not to do so in order to stir up a bit more discussion and controversy over what it exactly means. Of course, this may all just be coincidence - someone registering the domain *after* the leak was made available on the Internet, and not done by the band - but it seems somewhat unlikely.
For the record, the most recent Radiohead scene release from an official group is a webrip of their Harry Patch tribute single: "Radiohead-Harry_Patch_(In_Memory_Of)-(Web)-2009-SiREx".
Summing up, these events can almost certainly be taken as proof once again that Radiohead are: 1) masters of drumming up Internet buzz, 2) completely in touch with their inner nerd, and 3) they 'get' the Internet a little more than some might think. They've always been in touch with their online presence; waste.uk.com was registered in 1998, nine months before even I had my own web site. Since then, they've overcome their signing to EMI, they've rapidly embraced the Internet and they've even conquered the question of variable pricing by just forging ahead and doing it off their own backs.
Now they're mimicking the release scene... Perhaps we'll see more future Radiohead releases leaked in the same way? They're certainly not the first band to leak their music via the Web, but it's quite clever of them to do it in such a way that it'll almost certainly fool those who aren't completely familiar with the usual behaviour of the MP3 release scene. Really, you can only commend the band for trying something new - this is guerilla digital marketing, and there's no telling just how much coverage they'll get from this once the mainstream media picks up on this. Personally I'll be very surprised if we don't see an EP release next week.
An aside: I have one problem with Radiohead's digital releases - if they're still using GoGo-no-coda, which is based on a version of LAME dating back to 2004, the sonic quality of their MP3s (even at 320kbps) is going to be vastly inferior compared to if they were encoded using the very latest stable builds of LAME. For this reason alone, I'll keep on buying CDs and ripping them myself (usually to FLAC).
(PS: if Thom / whoever encodes the MP3s for sale: drop GoGo! It's obsolete and the version of LAME it uses has been superceded. Get Frontah, drop in the v3.98 stable build of lame.exe into the Frontah working directory, and if you don't want 320kbps files, use the encoding paramters "-V1 --vbr-new" to encode your audio to transparent VBR files. Mmmm, sounding tasty!)
Update, 16/08/2009: someone at The Guardian has written a woefully mistake-ridden article on the same thing - and stupidly linked to the torrent on the private tracker what.cd as well. Read and enjoy: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/aug/14/new-radiohead-song
Today marks the birthday of Hans Christian Ørsted, the man who discovered that electricity affected magnetic fields. Or, in other words, the principles on which great things were built and which now (literally) power our civilisation.
The Guardian's article, 'Hans Christian Ørsted gets Google Doodled', is a great read if you knew nothing about him.
Here's a taster snippet:
Right. Who's got 232 candles for the birthday cake?
Probably not even the physics geeks remember much about Hans Christian Ørsted, although Google's Doodle logo illustrates his key discovery. That is, if you run a current through a wire – in this case, from the battery at the front – then the electricity creates a magnetic field, which will deflect a compass needle.
Thus the study of electromagentism was born, and it's the basis of a lot of modern life: it led to the development of electricity generators and transformers. Remember that next time you flick a light switch.
What better way to celebrate ITU's 100th post than with a comic strip - featuring Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (also the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron), inventor of the original computer no less?
Well, if you've not caught 2DGoggles' cartoon series featuring Charles Babbage and Lovelace (Ada, Countess of) then your first encounter with the couple might be the BBC's Techlab feature strip, which made its way onto their web site on Thursday.
It's strongly suggested to read the strip in full (click on the link above), then read the strip again with Sydney's extra foot- and bootnotes on his web site. And after you've done that, go back to his first comic and read them all! It's my new favourite comic strip alongside longtime geek favourites xkcd and pennyarcade - and what's great about Sydney's web site is that she also has little featurettes and behind-the-scenes explanations of how she puts her comics together alongside the finished strips.
And with comics featuring cells like this:
You really do owe it to yourself to take the time to read through the lot... Right after you roll into work on Monday morning (I won't be held responsible if your work Internet privileges are rescinded ;)
Have a good weekend all!
Apple's made the stream of their Keynote presentation from the start of WWDC 2009 available to all and sundry. To stream it, just click on the link from this page on the Apple site.
For those who want the quick rundown, here's the key points:
- New MacBook Pro details and pricing
- Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.5.7) details, pricing and sneak peek
- New iPhone details, pricing and sneak peek (plus $99 iPhone 3G announcement)
- Plus a few goofs too! (It's always comforting to see that The Mighty Fruit's not immune to Sod's Law)
Quite a few other media outlets covered the Keynote (in some cases, even did a live show streaming over the web). The RDF was in full effect too, as per usual. Even if you're not a rabid Apple fan (like myself), you still have to acknowledge that sometimes they bring innovations to the table that push other developers and manufacturers to up their own game in response. What's really going to be interesting is how Palm do with their Pré announcement and first week sales now that the new iPhone details have been released.
Something I thought was a little arrogant was when Phil Schiller took a sly dig at Palm, the grandaddy of all portable mobile devices. When describing a table showing the amount of available apps on the iTunes App Store versus RIM, Nokia's Ovi and Palm's stores, he cheekily commented that he couldn't... "read the name of that last one... It's really small." In fairness, Palm only had about 1,000 apps versus Apple's 50,000, but I have a feeling the Pré will really shake things up once the device really builds up a head of steam in the dev community.
Nevertheless, all geeks and tech junkies should absorb the contents of the WWDC Keynote and make mental notes of the important stuff, because no doubt the contents will be talking points for a while to come yet. No sign of His Jobsiness either... Could this be the beginning of Steve Jobs' move away from the helm of the good ship Apple? We can only wait and see - there still remains the possibility that he'll make a surprise appearance at the end of the WWDC convention, so don't count your chickens just yet.
The US Military has taken it upon themselves to defend their national computing infrastructure on the grounds that it's a "national strategic asset". Perhaps that means they'll actually put passwords on their machines now? (...or perhaps the latest series of 24 got them thinking?)
A snippet of the press release, via the AF's web site:
Good luck with that Mr. O!
5/29/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The nation's computer network infrastructure will be defended as a national strategic asset, President Barack Obama said here May 29.
In a White House announcement, President Obama said he will appoint a cyber security coordinator for the critical infrastructure that all Americans depend on. "We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient," he said. "We will deter, prevent, detect and defend against attacks, and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage."
Personnel in the cyber security office will orchestrate and integrate all cyber security policies for the government, the president said. They will work closely with Office of Management and Budget officials to ensure agency budgets reflect those priorities, and, in the event of major cyber incident or attack, will coordinate government response. The cyber security coordinator will be a member of the national security staff and will serve on the president's national economic council.
"To ensure that policies keep faith with our fundamental values, this office will also include an official with a portfolio specifically dedicated to safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people," President Obama said. "Clear milestones and performance metrics will measure progress."
WordPress just announced their new video hosting service, VideoPress. (Primary URL at wordpress.tv, announcement and details currently on videopress.com). They've been working on this for a while, and initially announced this on the 11th with a post to their main blog.
'So,' you're thinking, 'WordPress are good at the text business, but what about video?' Well, if you're a content creator who has 1) more money than sense or 2) just can't be bothered to manage your own media hosting, this could be an ideal solution for you. Here's their announcement and introduction video (turn on HD in the top-right corner if you can afford the bandwidth and CPU cycles:
While it's shaping up to be really quite costly for the early adopters, they could be on to a good thing early here. How so? Well, they can leverage their existing grid computing setup to serve multimedia content and keep a tight rein on how it's delivered. Hopefully they can wrangle the carriage and peering costs down to manageable levels as the service scales. You also have the good karma that comes from having all of your multimedia hosted in the same place - so if you like easy, click-click-done solutions, it's a safe bet.
To add the VideoPress service, you just log into your WordPress.com account, go to your WP blog's dashboard, and add the service from the Upgrades category in the left-hand menu... And that's just about it.
Ok, so it's snappy to setup. What else? What about the technical features and costs? Let's dig a little deeper. While this is evidently an important first step for WP as they branch out and upgrade their service portfolio, there's room for improvement. They've developed most aspects very well, but there are a few caveats. Initial impressions are good; there's no framerate conversion of uploaded content, you can embed and enable HD playback if your content is high enough resolution - right from the embedded player - and they also support filesizes >1Gb, so yes, you can upload your 720p masterpiece if you really want to.
WP say it's quite simple to get going:
- Get a blog on WordPress.com
- Go to your upgrades page
- PayPal your way to happiness.
- Blip.tv (great quality, an intuitive interface and a personal favourite)
- Vimeo (one of the prettiest, and has a great community spirit)
- DailyMotion (just plain ubiquitous and home to metric tons of content) and
- the photographer-oriented SmugMug.
Also, don't discount Blip's and Vimeo's respective free services. Blip's basic package only encodes to FLV, and overlays small text ads in the video window. Vimeo places ads on the page under the main video window, but the videos themselves remain untouched.
Vimeo's free service is also a great way to dip your toes in the water; you get 500Mb of storage, 1 HD video upload a week and all the other good stuff (minus HD embedding, reserved for their Plus customers), and it's a cinch to upgrade.
YouTube finally joined the 21st century late last year, with first HQ (I fondly refer to it as RQ, Regular Quality) and then proper HD - 1280x720 H.264 video making its formal debut earlier this year, after the softlaunch. (remember all that &fmt=18 nonsense?) Of course, YouTube has to be THE Number One video sharing web site, but Google is pumping money into it and still not turning a profit. Aside from the mass popularity (and huge amount of pisspoor quality content), you may decide that you'd like a little more panache, a little more style, for your multimedia content hosting.
Of course, there's nothing to stop you putting your content on every service around - and there are even some analytics companies who'll do that legwork for you, and also let you gather some useful viewer statistics for pretty good rates if you're planning on producing the next hit web video series.
Having weighed up the pros and cons of WordPress hosting, I'd say that it's a welcome progression from the WP team. They've obviously worked on this tech behind the scenes for a while, using their experience with their larger corporate clients to work the kinks out of the system before going public. However, I still personally prefer Vimeo and Blip.tv - they're better value for money and you can do just as much with them.
VideoPress has some nice automation (such as playlist generation for iTunes, Miro et al, and up to three definitions of video automatically prepared) but this is nothing standout on its own. Also, you pay a hefty premium for storage. Obviously Vimeo and the others are overselling to an extent, but given the sheer size of HD content, you'd be better off doing one of two things if you produce a lot of HD:
- Buy a Vimeo Plus account and get 5Gb a week for your uploads
- Buy your own web hosting, use one of the many free video encoder apps and stream your content with one of the several popular embedded Flash players
- ... Download the VideoPress opensource framework, install it on your own server, and use that!
Yes, you read me right - the source code for VideoPress is open-source and freely available. However, there are caveats. WP themselves make it plain that "this plugin is different from other plugins because it cannot be used 'out of the box.' It is intended for self-hosted large scale WordPress MU sites that want to develop their own customized video solutions." Aside from that, it also requires one fileserver and one dedicated video transcoder, and 'considerable amounts of PHP coding and system admin skills (skillz?) to implement and deploy.'
Well, don't let that put you off. Where there's a will there's a way, and I suspect that before long, an ad-supported service using the VP framework might just surface and offer some of the VideoPress Premium features for gratis. Who knows?
I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow comparison of all the other mentioned HD video hosting services, because people with far more time and resources have already done just that. However, VideoPress aside, they all cost nothing to try out - and I strongly suggest you try each of them to see which one fits your needs. They all have premium services, and they all have their pros and cons. But when you see such achingly gorgeous design as can be found on the Vimeo web site (even their login page is a work of art), you'd have to be made of stone to not appreciate the work which has gone into that site.
I would always suggest trying out Vimeo as one of your first candidates, and its ability to offer one HD upload a week is the ideal way for most content producers to demo the service. However, for the person who desires full and seamless integration and consolidation above all else (including value for money at the moment), VideoPress might be just what they've been waiting for.
While digital sales are continuing in their year-on-year upward trend, it seems that customers still need a gentle push to buy digital music. Even one of the largest digital music retailers, Amazon.com, is having to effectively subsidise purchases with their latest promotion. I saw it sneak onto the web site for some items yesterday; the skinny's on their web site but here's the 10 second summary:
There are some other T&Cs, but that's about the gist of it. The promotion's only valid on certain marked items (for example this DVD-Audio release of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), but it seems to apply to a good proportion of Universal's featured Motown releases as well as other popular stuff from other labels (the promo was also present on the SACD version of Dark Side Of The Moon).
Add at least one qualifying CD, vinyl, cassette or DVD music item offered in the Amazon.com Music store to your Shopping Cart and complete the purchase or complete the purchase through 1-Click ordering. The music items that qualify are CD, vinyl, cassette and DVD music items offered in the Amazon.com Music store that display the offer message on their product information pages. Amazon MP3 music downloads and other music items not displaying the offer message, and all other types of items, fail to qualify for this promotional offer.
After completing your purchase, you will receive an email indicating that a $1 credit for Amazon MP3 music downloads has been applied to your account automatically.
So, maybe an excuse to do some shopping?
Innocent Londoner Ian Tomlinson assaulted, knocked to ground by Met Police during G20 protests; dies shortly after0 comments at Tuesday, April 07, 2009
It seems that the Police may not have learnt anything after all from the Jean Charles de Menezes debacle. On the 1st of April, at around roughly 7pm, a local newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, was viciously assaulted and knocked to the ground by a member of the Metropolitan Police. After being struck twice in the leg with a baton by a riot officer, he was then pushed with a great deal of force to the ground by the same officer. He had his hands in his pockets and therefore had no protection (or warning) prior to the assault.
The last image of Ian Tomlinson before his collapse and death
from a heart attack, shortly after his assault by riot police
Mr. Tomlinson was given no assistance from the riot officers, and received only cursory medical attention - he was subsequently helped up by bystanders, and The Guardian reports witnesses as saying that he stumbled away, "looking glazed." Mr. Tomlinson collapsed and died from a heart attack several minutes later.
(It seems that throughout the G20, the police's tactics usually defaulted to aggressiveness - see this Guardian article highlighting (with eye-witness videos) just how aggressive the police were against demonstrators, mostly peaceful ones at that. Very poignant viewing.)
The Met Police subsequently issued disingenuous press releases, falsely stating things such as how protesters prevented medics from giving Mr. Tomlinson medical attention. The Telegraph reports that,
"...the Metropolitan Police had released a statement last week after the death in which they said only that officers were pelted with bottles and other debris by protesters when they formed a circle as colleagues attempted to revive Mr Tomlinson.
"The IPCC said on Monday that Mr Tomlinson was blocked from passing through a police cordon as he attempted to walk home from work helping a newspaper vendor at Monument station."
In other circumstances, it is likely that not much attention would have been paid to this story. However, a New York fund manager who witnessed the events happened to videotape them as they unfolfed, almost entirely by chance (as well as a couple of photographers who captured the moments immediately after the assault).
The video clearly shows an unprovoked and vicious assault on an unarmed, non-threatening individual - who had his back turned to the riot officers and dog units, and was walking away from them. It also wholly discredits some of the misinformation the Police subsequently issued after news of the assault first came to light. (A local blogger, Hagley Road to Ladywood, has some comment and more insight into the events.)
The Guardian was supplied a videotape of the events, which it forwarded on to the IPCC - it has made both the footage and stills available on their web site. Please watch it, as the full force of the assault is not evident until you view the events in realtime (it really is quite astonishing). In a bit of cruel irony, on the Telegraph's web page detailing the Mr. Tomlinson's assault, there's a banner advert advertising the Home Office's "Justice Seen Justice Done" campaign. I'm not sure I want justice to be done if it results in innocent bystanders being assaulted.
Several witnesses, including a woman who was forcibly pushed away from Mr. Tomlinson after beginning to provide him with first aid, have spoken to IndyMedia and given detailed statements. Read them in full here: http://london.indymedia.org.uk/articles/1019. Peter Apps, a witness, had this to say:
Another demonstrator had already called 999 and was getting medical advice from the ambulance dispatcher. "Four police with two police medics came. They told her [the first aider] to 'move along'.", said Peter Apps.In the IPCC's latest press release, the IPCC Commissioner for London, Deborah Glass, has this to say:
"Then they pushed her forcibly away from him. They refused to listen to her [the first aider] when she tried to explain his condition."The first aider, who did not wish to be named, said "The police surrounded the collapsed man. I was standing with the person who'd called 999. The ambulance dispatcher wanted to talk to the police, the phone was being held out to them, but the police refused."
“Initially we had accounts from independent witnesses who were on Cornhill, who told us that there had been no contact between the police and Mr Tomlinson when he collapsed. However, other witnesses who saw him in the Royal Exchange area have since told us that Mr Tomlinson did have contact with police officers. This would have been a few minutes before he collapsed. It is important that we are able to establish as far as possible whether that contact had anything to do with his death.”The press release continues;
Unfortunately, the IPCC has launched a "managed investigation" into the events, which some have likened to, "a pissing stage managed investigation to protect the thug cops and satisfy the sheep." I am a cautiously more optimistic about how the investigation will pan out, but I am deeply saddened by the conduct and impropriety of the police to this point. It is very worrying that it only took the media 24 hours to receive word of Mr. Tomlinson's death - but it's taken more than a week for accurate facts surrounding his assault to be released.
Just after 7pm on 1 April, Mr Tomlinson can be seen on CCTV walking up King William Street and approaching a police cordon opposite the Bank of England. It is believed he wanted to get through the cordon to continue his walk home from work. Police officers refused to let him through.
A short time later, Mr Tomlinson can be seen on CCTV walking around the corner into Royal Exchange Passage. A number of witnesses have described seeing him there, getting caught up in a crowd and being pushed back by police officers. This is the aspect of the incident that the IPCC is now investigating.
Minutes later he is seen on CCTV walking back onto Cornhill from Royal Exchange Passage. Mr Tomlinson walks for about three more minutes, before collapsing on Cornhill. The CCTV shows that Mr Tomlinson was not trapped inside a police cordon at any stage. Several members of the public state that they tried to help Mr Tomlinson. Others reported the incident to nearby police officers.
CCTV shows police officers forming a cordon around him near a group of protesters so that the police medics could give first aid. They then carried Mr Tomlinson on a stretcher through the Cornhill / Birchin Lane cordon and continued first aid. An ambulance then arrived and he was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Jenny Jones MP, a member of the Green Party, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Assembly, has spoken out against the actions of the police involved in this assault, not long after criticising the actions of the police as a whole during the G20 protests. Another Green Party member was an eye-witness to the events, and she was quoted in the Green Party's statement surrounding the events:
Meanwhile reports have continued to come in to the Green Party's central office from party members who were at the demonstration - including a report from a Manchester Green who watched as Ian Tomlinson died.
Gayle O'Donovan said today: "The behaviour of the police was the worst I have seen on any demonstration. Late in the evening we got a call from a friend trapped in the police cordon outside the Bank of England. He had been there for several hours in the heat with no water after receiving a head injury. We were concerned for our friend and others trapped in these conditions. We wanted to bring them water but the police, for reasons best known to themselves, would not allow us to give it out.
"A few minutes later we crossed the road and saw several medics begin CPR on a man lying on the ground. We later found out this to be Mr Tomlinson, the man who died. I certainly didn't see any of the paramedics being pelted with bottles or stones, as was reported by the police. "It was later divulged that Mr Tomlinson was on his way home from work and probably not a protester.
I believe he most likely became trapped due to police tactics on the day. The police were indiscriminate about who they corraled. They shut off an area trapping everyone inside. Parents and children, the elderly and passers-by can often get caught up."
Ms O'Donovan concluded, "The tactic's known as 'kettling' because of the effect it has on those enclosed - basically it raises the temperature and makes an outbreak of anger far more likely. It is a dangerous tactic that I think must now be investigated."
Personally, I cannot decide whether to let apoplexy take over or whether I should focus my anger on making as many people aware of these events as possible. I am deeply concerned by what has happened, as it appears to be an example of fundamental failures on behalf of the police, who we as a nation entrust with our protection and security. I originally considered the de Menezes events to be a tragic but accidental occurrence. However, taking into account the contradictory reports issued by the police after the death of Ian Tomlinson, and the manner in which they behaved during the assault, I am inclined to reconsider my opinion of both this and the de Menezes shooting. We do not live in a police state - why should someone like Mr. Tomlinson be treated with such indignity?
As reasonable, law-abiding citizens, we expect in return to all be treated with the same basic human rights - which includes not being aggressively assaulted from behind by a riot police officer for no apparent reason. Is this just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of a long downward spiral towards ever-increasingly aggressive police tactics? I am extremely worried. The officer in question, their Force, and indeed the very people at the top at both ACPO and the Home Office deserve to be brought in front of a court of law and held responsible for their endemic failures of procedure.
Please tell everyone you can about this to raise public awareness. Retweet, repeat, forward emails, write blog articles. Contact your MP. I hope that in time, a concerted effort can bring more key witnesses forward to help further clarify the events surrounding Mr. Tomlinson's assault and death - and hopefully to blame for these events will be held responsible to the fullest extent of all relevant laws.
PM Brown Announces the Permanent High Office of Hacking and Tinkering in the Chancellory of the ExchequerFor more, see the full EFF article. Don't forget to place tongue firmly in cheek beforehand.
EFF, April 1:
What with all the hubbub over President Barack Obama's DVD box set naff gift to Prime Minister Gordon Brown being region-coded and locked-out, Her Majesty's Government has responded with the announcement of the Permanent High Office of Hacking and Tinkering in the Chancellory of the Exchequer (hereby known as PHOHTCE). Brown warned that this was an urgent matter to be resolved by Thursday, at which time the G-20 movie night will take place, adding emphatically "and there's no need to bish bash bosh about it."
The controversy made the papers when it was revealed that "King Ralph," one of the classic American films included in the set, was not available in a Region 2 coded DVD, since none of the discs were readable with the UK DVD players available at 10 Downing Street. To avoid diplomatic embarrassment as transatlantic relations grew tense over differences in approach to economic stimulus, the Prime Minister's office simply purchased new UK copies of all the DVDs. Her Majesty the Queen's office, who had similarly inquired about the availability of the movie in British format when she was offered it as a gift from President George W. Bush in 2004, had subsequently received a VHS copy complementary from the London offices of the Motion Picture Association (MPA).
Concerned about criticism over the narrow focus of the new office, Prime Minister Brown reminded the press corps that both Afghanistan and Iraq will be implementing anti-circumvention provisions in their copyright laws in the coming year as a priority of the United States Trade Representative for the region. "This is the time for the new generation to continue the heroic work of Bletchley Park," referring to the World War II British codebreakers.
As this article is proving to be one of the most popular on ITU, and it's REALLY long, I thought I'd add a quick menu to allow you to jump to the key sections.
2: What's in an album?
How much does it actually cost to press an album? Well, here's an accurate breakdown of the usual costs, plus a comparison with a digital release for comparison.
Image credit: Musicadium
Here in the UK, Tesco is arguably the most aggressive major retailer. They have fingers in many pies; after running rampant through the usual grocery and non-food sectors through their chain of supermarkets, they rapidly expanded into many other sectors. In no particular order, these include "non-food" items sold in supermarkets (washing machines, toasters, kettles etc), online grocery ordering delivered to customers' doorsteps, followed by direct-to-home sales, again delivered to customers' doorsteps.
This is just the tip of the red and blue iceberg - go to their web site and explore a little to see just how many projects they now run. Tesco isn't the only major supermarket chain trying to make inroads though - Asda also has a fairly formidable online presence, followed closely by Waitrose, The Co-Op and Sainsbury's. However, if you come to the UK, the Tesco brand is fairly ubiquitous given their market dominance throughout the mid-90s right into this decade.
Enter Tesco... Image credit: Building
A couple of years ago, Tesco began to sell digital music via Tesco Digital. To begin with, their service solely offered DRMed Windows Media format - today they sell MP3s and DRMed WMAs for many albums, along with a selection of TV and films in DRMed WMV format. According to Tunetuzer Tesco Digital's bitrates are 192kbps for WMA, so logically their MP3s will be the same.
Now, while Tesco is a massive force to be reckoned with in regular retail, they have to largely play by the rulebook when retailing digital media, due to the requirements to pay mechanicals and whatever other royalties mandated through their arrangement with the various labels. According to the MCPS' current ratecard, the rate for downloaded audio (JOL) is 12%. Tesco Digital sells their tracks at 77p per track - when you consider the cost of an iTunes purchase was (until very recently) 79p, with iTunes Plus coming in at 99p/track, this doesn't leave much scope for profit by anyone's measure.
So, what really perplexed me was when Tesco decided to sell the new U2 album. They must have figured that it'd make a good loss leader, because in the opening week of sales, No Line On The Horizon went on sale for a measly £3.97 - if you purchased the whole album in one transaction. Individual tracks were, and still are, on sale for 77p each. Over the course of the next few days, they lowered the price even more - to just £2.78! However, it's currently on sale for £5.46, which equates to a shade over 49.5p per track when purchased as one album.
Quips about the true value of U2's music aside (personally I think it's worthless), this is very interesting. A major retailer prepared to experiment with some radical price cuts in order to drum up business? Is the demand that low for digital music? We continue to hear proclamations of year-on-year increases in digital music sales; heck, in 2005 the IFPI reported sales of $1.1bn, three times that of the year before, with The Register remarking that actual profits from those sales was probably closer to $280m given the apportionment of royalties. By 2008, the 2007 sales estimates were around $2.9bn, and in January this year sales figures were up once again to $3.7bn; "internationally... a sixth year of expansion."
I am all in favour of the music industry making money through legitimate retail, and through reasonable levying of royalties on those sales and performances. However, impressive statistics from industry bodies aside, there remain some important - crucially important - considerations for consumers with regards to the perceived value of digital music. Is the 80p mark for a digital audio track still too high? I began to wonder whether Tesco were experimenting with seeing if customers purchased tracks if the offer was appealing enough, based on their own perceived value of the music on offer.
I will readily admit that I am not your 'garden variety' consumer when it comes to digital media. I am well aware of the alternatives available, both legitimate and 'grey area', and in the past I've usually relied on the latter for music discovery - I have, in my many years of digital media consumption, only ever purchased one digital download (a charity single for Pirate Day last year, from the DRM-free indiestore.com).
However, I still buy many CDs (and a shedload of vinyl), and I do all my own ripping, encoding and transfer to my customised DAP (which is not an iPod - it's an iRiver H340, running Rockbox). While this puts me in a smaller camp of people who are a little more 'exacting' with where they obtain their digital media, I like to think I still have a solid grasp on the purchase habits of the majority of music fans, both ardent and casual. There is no denying that the ubiquity of iTunes+iPod is a strong market force, but Amazon's digital music service has a killer triple threat: massive brand awareness, higher audio bitrates (256kbps) and total platform agnosticism. Every digital audio player available today, including iPods, will happily play MP3s.
That said, iTunes has recently rolled out a store-wide upgrade of all audio to iTunes Plus (which also removes the layer of DRM from the audio, but increases the price). However, the quality is not that much higher - 256kbps AAC, which is on a par with Amazon's offering, but not playable on many players other than Apple's (but Apple's closed loop of iPod+iTunes is at once their biggest strength and their greatest weakness). There are other digital retailers in the UK marketplace, including some on par or competing with iTunes, AmazonMP3 et al (Play, 7digital and TuneTribe spring to mind), but today the market is saturated with hundreds of legal online retailers.
Now some of the avenues for legal digital music have been discussed, I can move on to the key point of this discussion - the true cost of digital music. What follows is a case study based on my own empirical research and first-hand experience, and is a fairly accurate representation of the costs a label faces when retailing music online. But first, let's break down the cost of a CD...
With CDs, the biggest profits have always come from economies of scale. Once your CD is mastered and sent for pressing, the manufacturer can just as easily press 1,000 units as they can 10,000. If we take a scenario which I'm sure many smaller/indie labels are faced with when they produce a new CD, the costs will most likely be similar to these...
- Barcode: ~£10 (although many labels will have blanket arrangements with the de facto provider for barcodes in the UK, GS1)
- Artwork design: negotiable, sometimes done in-house
- Artwork print planning: I've been told estimates of £300 for smaller runs (runs of <1,000)
- Cost per CD: usually between 0.15p and 0.25p (1/4 of a penny, not 25p). Prices can be as low as 0.11p, but only for multiple million unit pressings.
- Booklet: depending on page count and complexity of artwork and page arrangement, for 12 page booklet can vary between 0.20p and 25p for the first 1,000, roughly half for 2,000 or more.
- 8 page booklet: price decreases by ~1/3
- 4 page booklet: price decreases by ~2/3
- Slip case / O-card: between 0.20p and 0.30p per unit, loose or shrinkwrapping is between 0.01 and 0.04 per unit (NB: most shops will not stock items if they are not shrinkwrapped)
Delivery costs: negotiable depending on arrangement with pressing company, often between £30 and £50 per 1,000 unit run. 500 units not much cheaper - CDs weigh an absolute ton when they're boxed 20 to a carton with 20 or more cartons in a box!
Doing some quick sums, just pressing a 1,000 album might well cost around the £450-470 mark for a label, which is a good wedge of cash by anyone's measure. Then there are distribution costs, promo costs, and other costs (especially if an artist has an advance as part of their contract).
Another important thing to consider are the MCPS costs (the mechanicals) - a mechanical must be paid for every CD produced, and this is arranged by way of an AP1/AP2 licence from MCPS. If the label doesn't have one of these arrangements, they are falling foul of copyright law. Smaller labels have an AP2 or an AP2a - the difference between those being the payment terms (AP2a deals allow a label longer to pay the royalties, which can be crucial for small runs or albums which sell a steady amount but over a longer period of time). The royalty to pay is around 20% based on the net price - not the Recommended Retail Price the customer sees, but the lowest price. Net Realised Price is a term commonly used to describe this amount. NRP itself is based on the PPD (or dealer price), which is what the retailers pay to buy the stock.
There are also often 'file discounts' - the major labels will generally have smaller file discounts than the indie labels because for indie labels, the balance of power is firmly in the retailer's court (so the label has to effectively sacrifice more profit to get their stock purchased and sold in the shops).
Returns have to be taken into consideration as well - if many units of stock do not sell, the label has to ensure that they have enough money in the pot to refund the distributor or retailer after the returns are completed. This can often take several months, causing major complications and frustrating periods of little income for artists who are signed to smaller labels (because if the artist was paid by the label based on every single unit of their CD being sold, but half of the stock was actually returned by the retailers, the artist ends up owing the label money!)
I may have missed some aspects out, but they are the main things to consider for physical releases. Now, compare all that to considerations for digital releases of the same material:
- Banking charges when money from sales is passed on to labels
- MCPS mechanicals (yes, you have to pay a 'mechanical' royalty on every digital sale! This is usually incorporated into the cut the retailer takes from each sale)
- Other digital store fees (most stores will take a cut of each sale, in late 2008 iTunes was paying about $0.70 of each track sold to the label but this can and does change)
... and that's it. No production costs other than the artwork (which probably already exists if the album was simultaneously released on CD), a bit of promotion and the usual promo costs if the label engages in promotion.
The cost-benefit calculation
Digital versus physical, sound quality and the eternal value for money discussion...
Yet, although digital sales are relatively uncomplicated by comparison, how come they still cost so much? With CDs you get the original quality audio which you can encode yourself really quickly with iTunes/Windows Media Player/your software of choice (I use EAC & Lame for top quality). You also get artwork you can hold in your hand, liner notes, and a nice case to put on your shelf. You really do get what you pay for - whereas with iTunes or just about any other digital music store, you still get far less for paying about the same amount as the same music on CD. There are only very few digital music stores selling audio in lossless format - and aside from Beatport and Bleep (and a few other boutique retailers), all of the lossless digital music stores focus on classical and jazz; Passionato and Linn Records are two notable examples offering exceptional quality music (which itself is stunning) in a variety of formats to suit the listener.
Why aren't more labels and retailers pushing for this progress to be made? Who knows; maybe the mentality of "every downloader is going to steal and share their music if they buy it" is still prevalent - but people have shared music for decades! How else do other people hear about new music? And also, the attitude of music listeners being treated as 'consumers' as opposed to 'customers' is still worryingly present in the music industry. People do not treat music like they treat groceries - therefore it is inaccurate to classify music fans as 'consumers' when they are nothing of the sort.
Returning to the issue of sound quality - classical and jazz fans are regarded as appreciating high quality sound more than regular music fans, but that is not an excuse for all mainstream digital music stores to offer poorer quality audio. The BBC is currently implementing AAC+ online streams for its radio stations - you can already listen to songs on Radio 1 or Radio 2 in higher quality than you can by paying for them and downloading them, and amazing services like Spotify already offer high quality VBR MP3 tracks available to stream immediately for no cost to the listener - again, the quality of these is usually higher than the quality of the same tracks from many music stores. Services like Spotify, now launched in the UK, should be highlighting the need for the industry to step up its game and offer something to the customer which is a true deal-breaker - lossless audio would do that for me. The quality of the audio file, and the assumption of DRM schemes that you will infringe copyright (as opposed to the trust model which has worked for CDs for years) are my main reasons for still not buying digital music.
The fact that the music industry and the incumbent digital music retailers have not already pushed through parallel offerings of the same music in a lossless format to me is nothing more than legalised theft by another name. Lossy files (such as found on iTunes, TuneTribe, Tesco Digital and many other major players) should be priced even cheaper than they are now, particularly if they are DRMed - and the lossless files should be sold at the original price. Why? Well, with lossless audio, if you burn it to CD, you have an exact replica of the original audio, not a poor imitation of the original audio. Even iTunes Plus is an awful bitrate - 256kbps AAC? Not good enough. Apple already have Apple Lossless in their arsenal, but they're not using it - and there's also the popular FLAC, Shorten and Monkey's Audio codecs for lossless music. Sure, the files are larger - but you can burn them to CD to archive them, and encode MP3s, WMA or AAC files for your portable device from the originals after you purchase them. Heck, these days, with the cost of storage going down all the time, it's ridiculous to not have less than 500Gb of storage in your computer. Who cares how big the files are?
In my mind, if I'm paying as much as I would pay for a physical copy of the album, I want to get exactly what I would get sound quality-wise as if I was buying the original CD. Lossless digital files allow me to at least burn them to a CDR and enjoy the music at the same quality as if I was listening to a store-bought CD; as more and more people get familiar with the poor quality of downloaded music, they are beginning to realise that there is a big gap in quality between digital downloads and the same tracks on CDs.
With digital distribution, the costs to labels and distributors are far lower, so where are the profit margins being eaten up? I still believe an album purchased in digital format should cost far less than it currently does. Some in the industry would then argue that by pricing music any lower than it currently is, it devalues the creative output of artists to the point where it effectively becomes little more than a commodity. I would counter that for years, the music industry itself has itself done just that to music without any help from us - just look at the output of the major labels; there is the occasional gem but most of it is repetitive drivel which quickly gets forgotten about.
To sum up, do I think the price of £4 for U2's latest album in digital format is a fair and accurate price for the actual value of what you're getting? Yes, yes I do. However, the costs that the label and the retailer currently have to either pay or absorb (resulting in them selling at a loss) are still far too high. The structure of royalties and compensation for digital sales needs to drastically change before any real progress is made in digital retail - and while this is waiting to happen, people will continue to download music from the web in much higher quality without paying for it at all. Once the happy medium is found, most people will move away from buying CDs altogether - and there will be more profits for everybody. It feels to me like all the major labels are waiting for somebody else to make the bold move and give it a go - and in that kind of Catch 22 situation, we are never going to make any progress.
Will people disagree with what I've said here? I'm sure some will. I am approaching this from the perspective of a consumer who still feels like they're not getting their money's worth, not from the stance of someone working in the music industry trying to earn a crust. (It is not the framework of label + artist which is faulty, the entire system is outdated and needs a rapid kick up the backside to get it updated for the 21st century.)
The irony of all this is that if the U2 album was offered in lossless format for 99p a track, you would actually be getting your money's worth because once you have that lossless audio you effectively have your own copy of the original audio CD. The distribution and production costs are far less for everybody involved - so there's still savings to be had. You are also effectively future-proofed as a customer; when a newer audio format becomes the most popular one out there, you can just reencode your audio into that format without having to pay for it all over again. Everybody who has their music collection on CDs already does this, but everybody who buys from locked in platforms like iTunes is effectively screwed. As an insightful person wrote, quite pertinently;
If a digital music store doesn't give you a lossless copy, then it should provide you the ability to upgrade to a higher quality lossy format at any time.... And I could not agree more.
The alternative is that they haven't sold you right to listen to the music; just a scratched version thereof.
I hope this article has given you something to think about, and has maybe even persuaded you to reconsider your stance towards digital music and CD albums. I will keep on buying CDs (and vinyl) in shops until the day lossless audio is available to buy for an equivalent price in the format of my choice. What I really want to know is why labels and stores have been dragging their feet for such a long time about this - and why people are still tolerating this inadequate level of quality from digital music retailers. We're in 2009, not 1999.
In the meantime, there's just one thing I encourage everybody to do: demand lossless music from your music label or retailer! Only by asking these questions again and again and raising awareness of this whole issue will we as customers get what we want (and don't forget, the customer is always right). The music industry should be beholden to its customers, rather than the other way round - and it's about time we force the industry to rethink some of the rules to ensure we continue to get a fair deal. After all, when nobody pays for music...
In case you haven't already seen the video, the BBC decided to do a little investigation into how easy it was to acquire, use and deploy a small botnet against a particular web site for a segment on their tech show Click.
Here's what they uncovered:
So, the Click investigators managed to DDoS a honeypot web site with just sixty-odd computers' worth of traffic. (Botnet owners must be loving all these new DSL packages with high-speed upload.) Before self-destructing the network, they also (very sensibly, in my opinion) changed the background image of all infected botnet hosts. The image contained had a detailed description of how that machine was compromised, along with a link to a special page on the BBC Click web site which explained how to go about securing the system.
Personally, I think they did the Internet a service - unfortunately this comes at a time when everybody is scrutinising everything the Beeb is doing, and they've been in the spotlight a little too much recently. Some are harping on about how this was a breach of the law (and with a rigid interpretation of the Computer Misuse Act, it most definitely was); we have people like Graham Cluley, the regular Sophos spokesperson, offering the anti-virus manufacturer's slightly condescending take on events. Others are also debating the legality - Click's producers have claimed that as there was no malicious intent behind their actions, they didn't breach the Law, some are pointing out that technically, the Law has been broken irrespective of intent. Struan Roberrtson from Pinsent Masons pointed out that;
"The Act requires that a computer has been made to perform a function with intent to secure access to any program or data on the computer," he said. "Using the botnet to send an email is likely to satisfy that requirement. It also requires that the access is unauthorized — which the BBC appears to acknowledge.
"It does not matter that the BBC’s intent was not criminal or that someone else created the botnet in the first place." Still, Robertson said prosecution was unlikely because the exercise apparently did no harm and "probably did prompt many people to improve their security." The BBC responded that there was 'a powerful public interest in demonstrating the ease with which such malware can be obtained and used,' and that the network "has strict editorial guidelines for this type of investigation, which were followed to the letter."
I fall in line with the latter way of thinking on this - the BBC mention that they consulted their own lawyers before conducting this experiment so they must feel they have a fairly solid case for avoiding penalty. I suspect their culpability is limited as many thousands of the machines were most likely situated outside of the United Kingdom, bringing the scope and geographical constraints of our lovely British law into question. (Without extraditing the entire upper management of the BBC, I suspect there's little way the Corporation could be tried in a court of law for what they have done overseas).
More importantly, are the rest of us justified, as responsible netizens (as many of us claim to be, or would at least like to believe), in the belief that we can criticise the BBC's actions and call them out for dirty tricks here? For some of their past actions, maybe; this time: no. Personally, I think they've done the Internet a service. Not only have they taken a (small) botnet out of action, but they've helped illustrate just how easy it is to acquire a pool of compromised resources and hammer a web site into submission.
As a few more clueful people have observed, what Click unfortunately didn't spend enough time highlighting (probably due to time constraints) is the ease with which the true malicious users seem to be able to avoid getting caught when buying and selling access to these botnets. There must be a large amount of shady transactions taking place for unnamed or suspect items - and Internet payment services are effectively allowing these to happen. Why can't e-money services like PayPal watch for, and flag, transactions which might be related to payment for these kinds of nefarious darknet services?
Update: the BBC responded shortly after with a press release, along with a feature from Mark Perrow which fleshes out their reasoning and underlying motivation for the investigation on their Editors' Blog. The short statement is as follows:
"There is a powerful public interest in demonstrating the ease with which such malware can be obtained and used; how it can be deployed on thousands of PCs without the owners even knowing it is there; and its power to send spam email or attack other websites undetected. This will help computer users realise the importance and value of using basic security techniques to defend their PCs from such attacks.
The BBC has strict editorial guidelines for this type of investigation which were followed to the letter. At no stage was any other data other than the IP address used. We believe that as a result of the investigation, computer users around the world are now better informed of the importance and value of using basic security techniques to defend their PCs from attacks."
I still think this was a well-considered and justified insight into the underbelly of the interwebs, and if it raised peoples' awareness (and helped a few thousand people secure their machines) then surely the BBC has done the world a small favour? This invokes consideration of the classic White Hat / Grey Hat / Black Hat issue... Would you do something borderline (or completely) illegal if it was morally or ethically justified - or in the interest of the common good - in the long run? I'm not sure if I would (but then again, I can't hide behind a Corporation!)
I'd like to issue a full and categorical denial of this. We've never had any request for such data by anyone, and if we did we wouldn't consent to it.
Of course we work with the major labels and provide them with broad statistics, as we would with any other label, but we'd never personally identify our users to a third party - that goes against everything we stand for.
As far as I'm concerned Techcrunch have made this whole story up.
A response from Russ, an employee at Last.fm, over allegations made by TechCrunch recently that Last.fm had essentially handed over massive chunks of private user data to the RIAA so they could find out who was listening to (and therefore, most probably sharing and/or downloading) prerelease leaks of the new U2 album.
Who's telling the truth? As long as no British laws were broken, I don't really care, and I'm sure we'll find out soon enough anyway once the FUD has dissipated. (I'm sure the RIAA and U2's manager are conveniently forgiving Universal Australia for 'accidentally' making U2's latest album available for digital download via their web site a few weeks before its official launch... One rule for them, another for us, just as usual.
To be honest, I'm far more interested at the moment in an announcement from Indian scientists who say they've developed a method of using enzymes to take carbon dioxide emissions and convert them into things like cement and other useful building materials. How cool is that!
Much love to the fabulously geeky xkcd, as always. Buy some of their stuff and support Randall, the merch is as witty (and enduring) as his comics. :) (If you like, buy some for me!)
So good, even I want one! And I hate Macs!
The CNN/Facebook collaboration was a remarkable look into the way that people are moving from regular, directed TV to more 'raw' news consumption - and readily commenting as it happens.
The CNN.com Live with Facebook page, which is offering the Flash stream of CNN with a Facebook 'representative sample' of realtime status comments from other viewers, looked like this a little earlier after you loaded it:
However, a little earlier, the "Connect or Sign Up for Facebook to discuss this historic inauguration" text changed to this rather more amusing version:
... 'i love my little elf boy'? Sounds like someone's found a back door to Facebook's infrastructure ;) What worries me is whether this is a merely cosmetic hack or whether this also indicates that deeper, more important sections of Facebook's infrastructure are theoretically available to view by more unscrupulous individuals. Are my personal details still safe, having logged into Facebook via that (authentic) CNN page earlier? Is it as simple (but still worrying) as an admin's details been compromised?
People need to watch their Facebook accounts for the next few days, juuuust in case.
On a lighter note, this day was certainly one for record breaking - not only does the USA have its first African-American President, but Mashable reports the statistics announced by CNN earlier:
I'll say! And, in traditional British manner, our BBC live stream handily broke down just after Obama's inaugural address - and only began to work again (with a low-key announcement on the BBC News inauguration coverage page) at around quarter past six UK time. Never mind, Blitz Spirit and all that!
"The stats released, as of noon ET:
- There were 200,000+ status
updates through the Facebook integration on CNN.com
- At that time, 3,000 people commented on the Facebook CNN feed per minute
- Obama’s Facebook Fan Page has more than 4 million fans and in
excess of 500,000 wall posts
As of 11.45am, CNN:
- had served 13.9 million live video streams globally since 6am
- had broken its all time total daily streaming record (from Election Day) of 5.3 million live streams
Impressive numbers indeed."
If you have kids who always sit on your laptop while you're trying to work, you'll appreciate the distraction value of being able to shuffle them over to another PC and put the official CBeebies web stream on. (my old boss suffered from this 'affliction', but his daughter is quite, quite happy about the whole thing.)
However, many others bemoaned the lack of the main BBC channels, as first BBC Three, then Four, were first rolled out as a trial after BBC News' move to Flash streaming (followed by CBeebies and a couple of other channels). However, on New Years' Eve, they finally made BBC One and BBC Two's web streams public - with a bbc.co.uk front page promo for the New Year's Eve and Jools Holland's Hootenanny shows, finally available as online streams. Woohoo. The quality's not spectacular, being pipped by TVCatchup - but the fact that it's being run by the BBC means that its future is almost certainly secured, and no doubt the quality will increase, mirroring the subsequent "High Quality" stream introduction for iPlayer on-demand programming.
However, given things like the ISPs' unwillingness to have to cough up for all this sudden upsurge in Internet usage, combined with Anthony Rose's recent, somewhat misguided suggestion that ISPs should consider options such as charging an extra monthly fee for high quality stream access... Well, it doesn't exactly inspire unbridled hope, but there's still scope for change.
(A little aside by way of explanation: Mr. Rose's suggestion to ISPs was that they consider charging an extra fee, maybe upwards of £10 a month on top of the customer's existing service charge, in order to offset the cost of all the bandwidth consumed by viewing iPlayer - and other online video - content. However, vocal opponents of this idea have argued that customers are already paying for access to iPlayer, both in the form of their TV Licence and their standard monthly charge. If ISPs begin to charge extra for access to the High Quality streams, it's effectively a two-tiered Internet via the back door, and the end of net neutrality while we're at it as well. Rather grim, and I'm completely against the concept of charging extra for something we should already have full access to. Happily, I'm with Be* once again for my broadband, after moving to Virgin Media last year from Be* (due to my old house's awful phone line - the main problem for ADSL2+ customers - before VM introduced the doubled speeds, STM and P2P throttling... And unlike Virgin up-shit-creek Media, Be* aren't frustratingly backward with tiered access or restrictive bandwidth caps.
Back on point now...)
Anyway, my point of view in a nutshell: if ISPs can't afford to offer the bandwidth customers are paying for as part of their package, they should price their packages more realistically or lower the allowances. Surely they've learnt something from the mistakes the Banking sector have made over the past decade?
That aside, official online streaming of all the main channels is a welcome step in the right direction, as people like me (who've paid for a TV Licence but don't have a TV at the moment) can finally watch all the BBC channels without having to rely on grey-area platforms like the reinvented TVCatchup (which is still albeit slightly better quality, although I'm not sure how long it'll last) or Zattoo (which is so-so in terms of quality, but has some other interesting channels). The fact that it's Flash streaming means that it's not fully accessible yet across every single OS, and is not available to watch on all devices - but hopefully MP4 or H.264 streaming in a regular MKV or MP4 wrapper will be available once they sort out the rights issues (I believe they're still forced to use Flash due to DRM and geolocation restrictions). Anyway, if you want to check out the streams for yourself (UK viewers only, unfortunately), here are some links I'm sure you'll enjoy:
BBC One: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone/watchlive/
BBC Two: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctwo/watchlive/
BBC Three: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/livearena/ (from 7pm daily)
BBC Four: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/watchlive/
CBBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/watch/cbbclive/ (7am to 7pm daily)
CBeebies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/watch/cbeebieslive.shtml (6am to 7pm daily)
BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7459669.stm
BBC Parliament: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/playlive/bbc_parliament/
Now, the interesting thing to note is that BBC Parliament streams from the /iplayer site. So, I decided to delve a bit - if you substitute bbc_parliament for bbc_one ... You get the BBC One stream... except those streams don't work at the moment. The same goes for "bbc_two", "bbc_three", "bbc_four", but "cbeebies" and "cbbc" do work. "bbc_news24" gives you the BBC News channel - finally, an easier to remember link than that stupidly long news.bbc.co.uk link! And, although "bbc_one" doesn't work, "bbc_one_england" does, and the same goes for "bbc_two_england". Do you smell forthcoming regional variations? All the channels' streaming pages also show the Now and Next information (and this goes for the channels' respective iPlayer live stream pages and their Watch Live pages on their respective minisites). Very handy.
Oh, and BBC Alba's also available to watch online - but as I can't understand it (it's for the Scots), I don't really care. ;)
Direct links to all of the available live streams in the /iplayer style (which I vastly prefer over the minisite-designed pages) are available via the "Watch LIVE" links at the top right of each page once you click onto the main channels. To do this, go to bbc.co.uk/iplayer and click on one of the TV channels' names in the "TV" pane - or click on TV Channels at the top of the page then click on the channel's name. Once you're there, and the channel is currently streaming, you can click the 'Watch LIVE' link. Simplicity itself (although I'd prefer a single click from the front /iplayer page to get to it, but never mind).
This is a far cry from the first public implementation of iPlayer, isn't it? Whilst not every single programme is available to view online (again, due to rights restrictions - mostly films and older programmes I would expect are not available to simulcast online, as the CBeebies "information for adults" page cryptically explains). Who would've thought that we'd still be watching Flash streams in 2009? I thought we would've been at H.264 inside an MP4 wrapper which I could stream in VLC, Media Player Classic or (shock horror) Windows Media Player, but we'll get there eventually. Hell, even a WMP stream which I could stream over my smartphone's 3G connection would be a better option, but hopefully that's in the pipeline. For the moment, Flash streams are a good warm-up for the next development :) (which hopefully should be with us soon, fingers and toes crossed on that one everybody).
Oh, and welcome to 2009 everyone! May your tech and gadget purchases be many and wonderful and without buyer's remorse.