Is Apple Finally Worried About Amazon’s Music Store?

Amazon’s MP3 store hasn’t done much to weaken Apple’s grip on the digital music business. But that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t paying attention.

Big music label folks say Apple (AAPL) has long complained about their involvement with Amazon (AMZN). But recently, Billboard reports, those complaints have become more specific. The trade magazine says Apple is asking the labels not to push new releases via Amazon’s “Daily Deal” promotion, which offers new records at cut-rate prices.

Warning! There’s some salty music-label-executive language in this excerpt:

In exchange for a Daily Deal promotion on a new album, Amazon has been asking labels to provide it with a one-day exclusive before street date and such digital marketing support as a banner ad on an artist’s MySpace page and messages on label and artist Web sites and social network feeds.

“When that happened,” [a major-label head of sales] says, “iTunes said, ‘Enough of that shit.’”

Sources say that iTunes representatives have been urging labels to rethink their participation in the Amazon promotion and that they have backed up those warnings by withdrawing marketing support for certain releases featured as Daily Deals.

In response, label executives at Capitol, Capitol Nashville and Jive recently opted against participating in Daily Deal promotions they had been considering for Corinne Bailey Rae’s “The Sea,” Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” and Ke$ha’s “Animal,” sources say.

Billboard notes that the labels are still working with Amazon on Daily Deal promotions. But it says they are pulling back on prereleases and exclusives for big records and pushing smaller artists that Apple isn’t likely to shower with promotional support.

Today’s Deal: $3.99 for Sony artist Raheem Devaughn’s new album, which doesn’t appear in iTunes “New and Noteworthy” section.

I’ve asked Amazon, Apple and all four of the big labels–Universal, Sony (SNE), EMI and Warner (WMG)–for comment, but I’m not holding my breath.

But assuming that Billboard is right here–and reporter Ed Christman has been covering music retail forever–it’s interesting to note that Apple is pushing back a bit more forcefully at Amazon. (Industry trade Hits DailyDouble reported something very similar in January).

If I’m Jeff Bezos, I’d take that as a compliment. And then I’d go back to worrying about Steve Jobs’s entry into the e-book market.

Sony Buys Developer Of Hit Game LittleBigPlanet

Littlebigplanet

Sony (NYSE: SNE) is buying up the developer of LittleBigPlanet, a top seller on its PlayStation3 and PSP. Sony says in a blog post that the deal to acquire parent Media Molecule will “enhance (its) talent pool, protect past and current investment and ensure a solid base for future investment.” And, indeed, by picking up the company Sony will ensure that it retains LittleBigPlanet as an exclusive on its consoles.

The deal also gives Sony a game which has been a major hit on its online PlayStationNetwork. LittleBigPlanet players contribute their own content, including levels, to the game—and as of last month more than two million levels had been built, according to Sony.

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Russian Hulu Lookalike, Ivi.ru, Opens For Business

ivi.ru

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And, with Hulu yet to launch services outside its home market of the U.S., it’s no surprise, perhaps, that there are some sites bearing an uncanny resemblance to Hulu launching in other markets.

The latest is ivi.ru, a Russian portal that launched at the end of February with 9,000 hours of video content including films and television series, all ad-supported and free to view. Oleg Tumanov, the head of owners Digital Access Holding, even says the site was intentionally created as an “analogue” of Hulu, according to Vedomosti. (via Ria Novosti).

Digital Access is a music portal that used to be owned by Warner Music and Sony (NYSE: SNE) Music, among others, which was sold to ru-net II, a division of the investment firm ru-net Holdings, in February 2009. Digital Access also sells the ads on the site.

The site also streams content from the Russian broadcasts of networks like TNT and MTV. Vedomosti notes that 100 content owners have signed up to the service so far.

Looking at the similarities between Hulu and ivi.ru, it’s surprising to think there haven’t been more companies litigating to protect their web site designs as extensions of their own brands, particularly those companies that ultimately have international ambitions.

Russia has track record…
—The main page for the search engine Yandex, of which ru-net is also a shareholder, owes a lot to Google’s minimalist approach.
Rutube, on the other hand, doesn’t look like YouTube, but certainly rhymes with it. (The site, owned by the media division of the energy giant Gazprom, is also a video uploading portal).

Maybe it’s hard to win copy-cat cases across international boundaries. Facebook lost a case against StudiVZ in Germany last year, in which it claimed that the site ripped off its look and some of its code. Meanwhile, Groovle.com, a Canadian site that lets users customise their search pages, won a case brought against it by Google (NSDQ: GOOG), when the search giant said Groovle’s domain name was too similar to its own.


THQ Dissolves Smartphone Games Studio In Finland

THQ's Universomo Finland Mobile Games Studio

THQ (NSDQ: THQI) has confirmed that its mobile game studio in Finland has entered into liquidation, putting an end to a decision made a year ago to make the Universomo office the hub of its smartphone game development.

In January 2009, THQ conducted a significant restructuring that included focusing on building games for smartphone platforms, closing its San Diego, UK and Germany offices, and designating Universomo as the center of its wireless business. However, today, a THQ spokesperson confirmed to ME that the Finland office is in liquidation, and that going forward, it will tap into a global network of external developers to make mobile-game titles.

The news was first reported by Pelaaja, a Finnish games magazine. The spokesperson said they still plan to release 15 mobile games this year despite the closure. “We are very excited about digital gaming and have increased our investment in this area.”

Last month, when THQ released its fourth-quarter earnings, it said it was realigning several of its studios to emphasize its digital operations. It said two of its eight studios will now focus on developing digital titles based on “THQ’s core game brands and new original intellectual properties,” as well as “the implementation of a portfolio-wide community platform to connect consumers to all of THQ’s core games.”

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Vancouver 2010: NBCOlympics.com By The Numbers

Hockey on NBCOlympics.com

The data is starting to roll in for the full Vancouver Olympics. NBC hasn’t been to provide some of the stats we’ve asked for—the number of video streams served the night the first USA-CAN hockey match aired on MSNBC against ice dancing, among them. But the numbers we do have tell any number of stories, as you can see in the accompanying chart. For instance, NBC’s press release compares Vancouver’s mobile stats to those from Beijing in 2008 and the online stats to those from the last Winter Olympics, Torino 2006. Granted, the Torino mobile comps would be close to meaningless given the tremendous shifts in the landscape while the Beijing comparison shows a significant sequential change.

If you compare the online stats, however, the trajectory turns down. The number of video hours served for Vancouver is just about a third of the 9.9 million hours delivered for Beijing—and the number of streams is off by 30 million. Compare it to Torino and Vancouver shows massive gains: 45 million video streams served compared to 8.4 million, 46 million uniques over 13.3 million. It’s not a sleight of hand; the Summer Games traditionally draw a bigger crowd across media and online is no exception.

Plus, NBC only streamed two sports live from Vancouver (curling and hockey) for roughly 400 hours, compared with 2,200 hours of live events from Beijing. Even adding in the 1,100 additional hours of highlights and full-event replay/VOD doesn’t match the amount of video available two years ago. As was the case for 2008, access to live coverage and VOD was limited to pay TV subscribers whose providers made a deal with NBC Sports; this time, NBC said its potential reach covered 95 percent of pay TV households.

NBC could have throttled the numbers up any time it chose by lowering the wall. When access was opened for the USA-SUI match last Wednesday, NBCOlympics.com delivered more than a half-million streams.

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Disney and Cablevision Leave the Web Out of Their Fee Fight

Why does this week’s Disney-Cablevision fight feel familiar? Because it is: “Cable Fee Fight” is TV’s most annoying show, but it never goes off the air.

The characters change, but the script is always the same. A programmer wants more money from a cable provider and threatens to pull its shows. See: Viacom (VIA) versus Time Warner Cable (TWC), News Corp. (NWS) versus Time Warner Cable, Cablevision versus Scripps Networks (SNI), Etc. Etc.

Spoiler Alert! The conclusion is always the same too: Both sides compromise, and cable subscribers get to watch their shows–in exchange for paying ever-increasing fees.

My interest here is whether either side wants to use the Web as a weapon in the fight given that the Internet is an increasingly plausible alternative for TV watchers who don’t want to pay for cable. Last year, for instance, Time Warner Cable showed its customers how to get Fox shows–and everything else–onto their TVs via the Internet (you can still see those instructions here).

The problem, of course, is that by highlighting the Web option, both sides run the risk of undermining their market power in the long run. If couch potatoes really do get used to the idea of consuming their shows using their PCs, it makes it easier for them to tell both programmers and the cable guys to pound sand.

For now, though, both sides are leaving the Web alone while they rattle their swords.

Disney (DIS) reminds Cablevision’s three million New York-area viewers that they’ll still be able to get ABC shows via an old-fashioned TV antenna. But the network doesn’t mention ABC.com or Hulu, its joint venture with Fox and GE’s (GE) NBC. And Cablevision (CVC), at least so far, hasn’t brought up the Web either.

Both sides are clearly betting this gets resolved before Sunday night when ABC is set to broadcast the Oscars–not coincidentally, one of the only programs you really have to watch live.

Here’s Disney’s opening salvo:

[Image credit: Alexindigo]