RealGames Rebrands As GameHouse, Launches Social Gaming Platform

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RealNetworks’ GameHouse is launching a new social gaming platform designed to transform single-player games into connected experiences—and to make it easier for developers to publish games across gaming portals and devices. It’s supposed to be able to “massively” scale for hundreds of millions of players. The first example of GameHouse Fusion is on Facebook, where the GameHouse app provides free access to more than 1,000 games. Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA), MySpace (NYSE: NWS), Qualcomm (NSDQ: QCOM), Mattel and PopCap Games already support it, according to Real.

The GameHouse Fusion SDK is supposed to allow game developers to publish once for distribution to PC gaming portals and major social sites. SDKs are planned later this year for iPhone; Android; Brew and Brew MP; internet-connected TVs; and other devices.

Branding: And, yes, you read that right: the unit formerly known as RealGames is now officially rebranded GameHouse. The brand has been in use for GameHouse Studios and Real’s casual gaming portal/network; this past year the company has been rolling up more U.S. services under the brand and confirmed to paidContent that it has replaced Real Games as the business unit. GameHouse will stick with regional brands where it makes more sense, like in Europe.

The company had announced plans to spin off RealGames but put that on the back burner when the economy got iffy. For now. it’s being operated as a distinct unit. A spokeswoman told paidContent Game House will be the name going forward and “when separated.” (Real acquired Seattle-based game developer GameHouse in 2004 for cash and stock worth about $35.6 million.)

If This Is Age of Web Video, Who’s Buying All Those TVs?

Pundits keep telling us that the Web generation is happy to watch TV on a laptop. So who keeps buying all those TV sets?

Check out this chart from Nielsen (click to enlarge), which tells us that the average American household has nearly three televisions. In 1990, the average was two sets per home.

What gives? Mark Cuban, who has been consistently bearish on Web video–except for the part where he convinced Yahoo (YHOO) to buy for billions–says the answer is easy: “Consumers have made their choice to spend money on new HDTVs. Why? Because they want to watch TV.

And it’s probably good to remind the early-adopter set–like people who read this site–that sating all your video needs with computers and “over the top” solutions is going to be a niche behavior for a long time.

But! There is a cake-and-eat-it answer here too: It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that most people will watch TV on their HDTVs. And then, when it makes sense, they’ll watch some video delivered over the Web on those same sets.

That’s already happening in real numbers. Netflix (NFLX) says nearly eight million people are watching TV and movies via its streaming video service, and not all of them are watching on small screens.

Nintendo, for instance, says one million of its customers are using the Netflix service. And by definition, none of them are watching on a PC or laptop; if you’re using a Nintendo Wii, you’re using a TV.

These numbers will increase as more Americans walk out of Best Buy (BBY) and Walmart (WMT) with an Internet-connected TV, whether they planned to buy one or not.

Over the next few years, it will become increasingly hard to buy a set that doesn’t have an ethernet connection, just as you have to go out of your way today not to buy an HD set. And that’s when things are going to get really interesting.

Popcorn Time Again: YouTube’s Content Comes Back To Syabas’ Set Top Boxes

YouTube taketh away, YouTube giveth back: Settop box-maker Syabas says Google’s video unit has reversed a decision it made last fall, and is letting the company access YouTube’s clips again.

Syabas makes two lines of settop boxes — “Popcorn Hour” and “Popbox” — designed to make it easy to move Web video to your TV. For reasons that were never entirely clear (to me, at least), Syabas lost the ability to import YouTube’s stream of videos to its boxes last fall. But now that’s changed, says Syabas COO Alex Limberis.

What happened? It’s still not entirely clear (to me, at least). Limberis says Google (GOOG)’s video unit has changed its terms of service again, though he’s not sure if his products will be able to get everything YouTube offers. For instance, YouTube now offers movie rentals, and he’s not sure whether those will be available through his boxes.

OK. But why tack back and forth in the first place? Limberis shrugs: “I think the marketplace is very dynamic, and they’re going back and forth as they try to figure out business models.”

I’ve asked Google for comment.

YouTube Rents Movies You’ve Heard Of. Did You Know YouTube Rents Movies?

Last month, YouTube quietly expanded its movie rental program to include titles you’ve actually heard of before — from “Precious” to “Saw”. But perhaps they’ve been too quiet about it: Movie fans seem to be unaware they can rent flicks from Google’s video unit. Or maybe they’re just uninterested.

YouTube’s rental store now includes movies from Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF), which has a pretty significant catalog. That’s a big step up from YouTube’s first move, which featured Sundance indies you’ve never heard of before.

But the new movies don’t seem to be flying off the digital shelves, at least according to numbers procured by NewTeeVee: The ten most popular films in the store generated 6,200 rentals in the first week.

“Precious”, which took home a couple of Oscars this year and is getting some marketing push from YouTube on the site, was the best performer — and generated a total of 1,421 rentals. “3:10 to Yuma”, which is a pretty good modern day Western that’s well worth your time IMHO, generated 53 views.

I’ve asked YouTube to comment on the numbers, but don’t assume  I’ll hear much from them. And as NewTeeVee’s readers note, it’s hard to put those results in context unless you compare performance for the same titles at online venues like Amazon (AMZN) and Apple’s iTunes (AAPL).

So who knows? Perhaps those are decent results, particularly since Google’s marketing of the movies seems limited to some in-site ads.

But I will say that my attempt to try out the store underscored one big hurdle Google  (GOOG) will have to deal with if its video store is going to work: Unlike Amazon and Apple, Google doesn’t have my billing information.

At one point a few years ago, it seemed inevitable that Google would end up with my credit card numbers, and yours too. But Google’s Checkout program doesn’t seem to have taken the world by storm, and their most recent move into e-commerce — the Nexus One — doesn’t seem to be moving quickly either.

So until Google gives us a compelling reason to buy anything from them, it may not matter how good that catalog is.

Apple Shutting Lala: Subscription iTunes Soon?

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Five months after buying the web-based music service, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is now shutting Lala, in what is likely preparation for a web- or subscription-centric upgrade to its own iTunes Store.

The site has stopped accepting new sign-ups and will shut to existing users on May 31, says a message on Lala.

Since launching in 2003, iTunes Store, to the labels, has been a welcome bulwark against what would have otherwise been even more chronic decline. It now contributes over a quarter of U.S. music sales. But, in a North American music market that’s now shrinking faster than anywhere in the world, digital income has now basically flatlined, growing just 1.1 percent in 2009, says the industry’s IFPI.

Web-based streamers and new subscription models, offering unlimited music access, offer the industry promise of another shot in the arm. Spun-off Rhapsody now looks in shape to arrest the decline that’s brought it to 675,000 subscribers, Spotify’s excellent client has 320,000 premium subscribers out of seven million users but still has not launched in the U.S.

Against both the web and subscription rise, iTunes’ a la carte reliance looks archaic and one-dimensional, tooled for a market that’s plateaued.

But Apple has already moved closer to a web-based iTunes by displaying iTunes Store listings on a series of iTunes Preview pages. Reports, at the time of the acquisition, that Apple fancied Lala’s “payment and fulfillment systems”, suggest it’s also interested in subscriptions. It’s not clear whether it will launch a web-based service, a subscription offering or a combination of both, though a few industry sources I’ve spoken with speculate it will launch an underwhelming “locker”-type service, to house already-bought tracks in the cloud, before going all-out on subscriptions proper.

iTunes’ flatlining has created an opportunity for new services to race to a legal music gold rush, in a space partly created by a growing number of anti-piracy moves by international governments. The labels can’t wait. “The subscription models that we are promoting will create much more value over time than the per-play or per-purchase models,” Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG) CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr said in February. “The number of potential subscribers dwarves the number of people purchasing music on iTunes.”

Maybe so. But, depending on what Apple does with Lala, rivals should be very concerned. Rhapsody and Spotify may be looming, may have an attractively-priced service and is on the horizon. But none has iTunes Store’s existing heft and leverage…

The store has over 125 million user accounts with credit card numbers - convincing just some of its music lovers to subscription will be very easy, and flipping them from occasional, one-off payments to recurring debits of, say, $9.99 a month, could create yet another massive new income stream for Apple, which has already introduced recurring subscriptions to its mobile apps. Whatever it does will likely have more impact than Lala, which has never launched outside the U.S..

“There is a short window of opportunity for Rhapsody and others to lock in some of that growth for themselves before Spotify launches Stateside or Apple launches its own version, thus changing the competitive environment,” wrote Forrester analyst Sonal Ghandi this week.

OMG + HP + SATC = Yahoo’s Big New Ad

How does dowdy Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) attract the short-attention-span gossip-seekers who visit Yahoo’s OMG site? With a giant ad that links Sex and the City and some shiny laptops, of course.

HP has taken over the gossip site’s home page for the day with an ad that manages to mash up the upcoming SATC film with some sort-of blingy laptops.

Home page takeovers are standard practice for the Web, but Yahoo is particularly proud of this one, because it’s the first time it’s rolled out this particular ad unit, which it built in-house.

Visitors to the site will notice some messaging for HP and SATC (oh – and Windows 7, too) at the top of the screen and in one of the 15 headline boxes that dominate the page, but they won’t see the full-page ad unless they click through.

Yahoo (YHOO) won’t say what it’s charging for its prime real estate, which attracts around 20 million uniques a month. But a good bet would be something in the $80,000 range for the day.

Here’s what OMG visitors will see when the page loads the first time:

And what they’ll see with the ad turned on:

The execution is a little confusing: If you click on most parts of the square, the ad will open up a new window in your browser that takes you to this HP-hosted page. If you want to stay on OMG and see the ad, you’d have to make sure you clicked on the “engage” button.

I’m also not sure how many OMG readers will be enticed to click on any part of the square, period. But Yahoo says that future iterations of the unit will offer advertisers the option to take over the screen for a few seconds without any prompting from users, like some other ads already do.

And repetition is the real point of this exercise: Yahoo is trying to create ad units that seem novel and fresh for visitors (and ad buyers), but are designed to be stamped out over and over again. Interesting to see if this one works.