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Will Redbox streaming spell the end for Netflix?

We’ve written about Netflix a few times on this blog. Beginning in July 2011 with their poor execution in communicating a major pricing structure change, it seems this former media darling has been on a downward spiral in the news ever since. And their stock performance certainly reflects this.

But while Netflix’s saving grace has historically been their unique product offering, that differentiation is growing smaller by the day. Amazon and Hulu have been nipping at their heels for a while now in the streaming category, and just today, Redbox announced its beta streaming service will go live later this month and will also include a disc/streaming combo package, not unlike Netflix’s.

In the absence of a proprietary service or unique product, brands must rely on price or reputation to differentiate themselves. Unfortunately for Netflix, at this point the company is neither winning the pricing game or the popularity vote. Had the company handled its initial pricing change better – and its subsequent reaction to the public’s disapproval, they may very well have remained heads above their competitors in the public eye. When consumers are satisfied with a product or service, they have little reason to seek out alternatives. But by alienating their customers, brand loyalty dwindled and Netflix opened the door for their competitors to swoop in with similar offerings.

It will be interesting to see how Netflix will be affected by Redbox’s entrance into the streaming world, considering the latter is already well-known and liked. What do you think? Is Redbox poised to surpass Netflix, or will Netflix find a way to redeem itself in the public eye to keep its customers? Is Amazon still a contender? Or is there a dark horse in the form of another company that we should be watching for? Do you think it will all come down to who offers the most content?

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

Image via CNN Money.

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Your Personal Data – As Transparent as a Cloud

It seems like everywhere we turn, someone, somewhere, is getting hacked. Never mind the entire LinkedIn password debacle that occurred long enough ago that it’s fallen off the world’s collective e-memory, usurped by the latest and hottest hacking. Yahoo, eHarmony, Billabong, FormSpring… the list goes on and on. Just today, the game developer Activision Blizzard – the developer of the oh-so-popular World of Warcraft –  announced that someone managed to hack into its systems and steal contact and password information from many of the game’s players.

Every minute, we’re changing passwords, entering illegible CAPTCHAs, coming up with random security questions, all in the hopes that these steps will secure our online worlds of bank accounts, credit card numbers, and personal Amazon choices that unwittingly get shared on Google+ accounts (which is okay, since no one ever uses Google+ anyway).

All these cloud-based services, from iCloud to Gmail to Amazon and beyond, have become household names for anyone who uses a computer nowadays.  Is it ironic – or maybe a tad bit scary – that what has been designed to make life more efficient is actually putting us at higher risk?

Wired author Mat Honan’s article “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking,” details how his “entire digital life was destroyed” because hackers accessed his Apple ID account, which allowed them to access and delete his Google account, compromise his Twitter account and remotely erase all of the data from his iPhone, iPad and MacBook. His article has led to security-policy rethinking in Apple and Amazon, and has brought cloud-security issues to the forefront of conversation. In response to his hacking, Apple put a 24-hour suspension on over-the-phone password resets while the company scrambled to identify new security policies, and Amazon restricted people’s ability to call in and change account settings. Unfortunately these changes came after Honan lost more than a year’s worth of photographs of his daughter and documents and emails he hadn’t stored in other locations than his computer.

So what can one do to avoid a future debacle? As Honan says, cloud-based systems need security measures above and beyond the old password-based ones, which can be relatively easily compromised. But until Apple and Amazon and the like get going on patching up these security holes, there are some steps that you, as a consumer of cloud services, can take to lessen the chances of being hacked:

  • Back-up your data. This is the best way to ensure there is an easy way of ensuring you have it if your hard drive crashes, your computer is stolen or there’s an unexpected system failure. Right now, there may not be much faith in general-purpose cloud services offered by Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. But if you do need to store your data via the cloud, the best way to store your data is on different services. And with the security breaches that seem to be sweeping the cloud services, there will most likely be a resurgence of interest in offline backup, such as USB hard drives.
  • Use secure passwords. A no-brainer, of course, but for your 80-year-old grandmother, “password123” is not a secure one. Use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Be careful with what accounts you link together. Honan daisy-chained two of his main accounts – his Google and his iCloud accounts – which allowed the hackers even more access to more of his data.
  • Create an email address for password recovery that is used for that sole purpose – and nothing else. Make sure that it’s not used for any other services, like banking or correspondence.
  • When services offer extra security measures – USE THEM. Don’t put them off; take the time to go through the steps you need to in order to activate them. It might take some time and it might be a pain, but you’ll be glad when the world around you falls prey to hackers. Google, for instance, has offered a two-step verification process that reduces the chance of hackers accessing your Google account.
  • Basic awareness in your Internet habits is key. Be aware of what computers you log in to, how secure your connection is, and whether a browser is storing your passwords. Be careful of who you give personal information to – if you’re shopping with a new online retailer, make sure they are legitimate.

Unfortunately, the cozy sense of security doesn’t come without some effort. As my colleague, Dave and I struggled to make sense of Gmail’s new two-step verification process, we realized that maybe our accounts were safe because, after all, if we couldn’t figure out how to sign into our own accounts, then maybe hackers would be just as befuddled, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go pour myself a strong drink while I change my myriad passwords, unlink some of my accounts, and dream of the days when clouds referred to “visible [masses] of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere.” This definition of “cloud,” by the way, has come up second in my Google search. Can you guess the first?

Jennifer Kincaid can be reached at jkincaid@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennlkincaid

Image from FastCompany.com

 

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The Future of Holiday Shopping

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, Daily Comparison Shopping.

Technology has changed the way consumers approach the holidays. For years now, media and analysts have pointed to Cyber Monday as the prime example of this.

In the next few years, mobile applications could very well outpace the Cyber Monday (and even Black Friday) hubbub.

No, really.

There have been a number of barcode-scanning applications, including RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Barcode Scanner (Android only) for some time now, and last week, Amazon delivered a one-day discount using their “Price Check” application, which uses barcode-scanning technology. This discount encouraged consumers to go into a local store and scan an item. Consumers could then buy the product from Amazon, who would discount the product accordingly.

For most consumers, this was likely seen as an exciting offer. Many merchants, particularly local ones, found this practice extremely angering. Why? Amazon was ostensibly using their storefronts as showrooms, taking advantage of these “brick and mortar” locations to sell their wares.

To look at it another way, while technology may be making things easier for the consumer with these savvy applications, they could also very easily be creating a serious reputation problem for Amazon.

Think of it as the “Wal-Mart-ization” of the massive online retailer.

Amazon has historically had a wonderful reputation: a good place to work, great customer service, high-quality products and fast shipping. But with tactics such as this, they risk being seen as the “big kid on the block,” bullying the little guys and potentially putting them out of business.

Fifteen years ago, Barnes & Noble and Borders muscled their way into markets across the country and were largely blamed for the death of local bookstores. Today, Borders is gone and B&N is gasping for air. Amazon is seen as the reason for their struggling businesses.

Most consumers, however, don’t have emotional attachments or a vested interest in making sure these large companies stay afloat, the way they do for small, locally-run stores.

By encouraging consumers to take advantage of these storefronts (as nicely highlighted in this San Jose Mercury News article) Amazon is playing a dangerous and, possibly ill-advised chance with their corporate citizen reputation.

It may be wise for them to think through the possible negative results of their actions before they do damage that can’t be easily undone.

Devin Davis can be reached at ddavis@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @DevinDavis.

Kawika

What Is the Media Predicting for 2012?

Panelists at the PRSA Media Predicts 2012 event

"Media Predicts: 2012" Photo by Marie Domingo

It takes a brave soul to sit in front of a room of people and predict the future. Wednesday’s Media Predicts: 2012 event sponsored by the PRSA Silicon Valley gathered a constellation of stars in tech reporting to find out what Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others may have in store for the masses next year.

The panelists making their predictions included:

Here’s a quick rundown of predictions from most of the panelists, broken into categories.

Executives:

  • Meg Whitman faces a tough decision regarding WebOS (now expected in less than two weeks).
  • Unfortunately, few panelists had any conviction that Whitman was the leader to deliver a stellar product that captured the imagination of consumers.
  • Female executives at IBM, Xerox, and other large tech firms are coming into their own. 2012 may prove to be the year that their gender is no longer the news hook.
  • Bill Gates may have to step back into the company. Windows 8 is a radical departure from previous versions of the Microsoft operating system and needs a better leader, though several panelists thought Gates would never return.

Devices:

  • An ecosystem of devices will form to remember who we are, and save our preferences.
  • A new category of devices may appear that uses sensors everywhere.
  • Panelists were split on whether an Apple television would make an appearance in 2012.
  • Tablets with Windows 7 will be a huge competitor to Apple.
  • We will see an Amazon phone.
  • The Kindle Fire will be popular — maybe more so than the iPad — because of the price.
  • However, if Microsoft succeeds at positioning Windows 8 as an OS for computers and tablets, Apple will become the number-one computer manufacturer in the world, topping HP, when iPads are counted in the stats.

Operating Systems:

  • 2012 will be the year of voice. Apple’s Siri will lead the way while Google will push more aggressively into voice space.
  • Siri comes to the iPad.
  • Windows phone will take a distant third to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in mobile operating systems.
  • Android will “come apart at the seams” in 2012. (The Carrier IQ tracking scandal may be evidence of that now.) “Android is a mess” and companies such as Amazon are going to fragment development further.
  • Android won’t be the only vulnerable mobile operating system. Apple’s iOS will be hacked.
  • Google’s Chrome OS will die.

Acquisitions:

  • Juniper Networks will be acquired.
  • Apple will buy a small enterprise company.
  • Oracle will buy HP.
  • More foreign companies will buy US-based companies.

Companies to Watch:

  • Apple, Amazon.com, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft — as usual — probably in that order.
  • Square and Zynga will experience major re-evaluations in the market.
  • Nintendo will explode (in a good way).
  • Companies who felt pressured to integrate Facebook and Twitter will start feeling the repercussions of tying their fortunes to the social networks.
  • And there didn’t seem to be a panelist who wasn’t severely impressed with the learning thermostat Nest. The company and product seemed to represent a compilation of several predictions, including:
    • an Internet of things,
    • the spillover of Apple’s design philosophy (how the product works, not just how it looks) into new industries hitherto deprived of elegance,
    • predictive software, and
    • green technologies that actually matter to consumers.

What are your thoughts on these predictions? Any predictions of your own? Sound off in the comments or feel free to contact me via email or Twitter.

Kawika Holbrook can be reached at kholbrook@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @kawika.

Marianne

Mason’s Folly?

Re-reading a recent NYT interview about Groupon's founder walking away from Google's $6B offer, I was struck by how much this situation reminds me of the Yahoo!/Microsoft melodrama we witnessed in early 2008. Andrew Mason, like Jerry Yang, walked away from the negotiating table and is being coy about it.

Before saying "no" to Google, Andrew, I hope you took a good hard look at how well Yahoo's go-it-alone decision has worked out, both for its shareholders ($16.72/share on Dec .23, 2010 vs. the $33/share offered by Microsoft in 2008) and for its employees. I'm sure you see yourself as more akin to Mark Zuckerberg than Jerry Yang; for your investors' and employees' sakes, I sincerely hope you're right.

Even so, I'm betting that Amazon's recent $183M investment in #2 LivingSocial is going to make your life much more interesting in 2011. After all, Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos know a thing or two about creating loyal customers in markets that have no barriers to entry.

Let the games begin!

 

 

 

Kawika

All I want for Christmas…is Apple’s new tablet

Apple has done it once again; piqued my interest before the new product is on the market. No, I don't know exactly when to expect it or even what it will cost, but, darn it, I want one. Yes, we have a Kindle 2 in our house and it even gets lots of regular use and sits proudly on the nightstand in the master bedroom. My guess, however, is that our Kindle 2 will be transferred to my parents shortly after the Apple tablet arrives on the scene. Time to get busy writing my letter to Santa, I guess.