Pay Up: The Wall Street Journal Tries Charging Web Subscribers for Mobile Access

rupert-murdochHow on earth does The Wall Street Journal expect its subscribers to pay an additional fee to read the newspaper on a mobile phone?

It doesn’t. Except when it does.

Contrary to News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch’s comments earlier in the week, Dow Jones will not be charging customers who subscribe to both its Web and print versions a weekly fee to read the paper on its iPhone or BlackBerry apps.

But if you’re only subscribing to one version? That’ll be a buck a week, starting Oct. 24. The Journal will also start charging mobile-only users $2 a week, which is essentially the same price as a Web-only subscription.

That second charge makes some sense to me. The Journal has always said that it would start charging for the apps it makes for Apple’s (AAPL) and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) handsets. Right now these apps are gratis, which means you can either pay the Journal to read it in print or on the Web, or read it on your iPhone and pay zilch. That had to change at some point.

But while I have to be a tiny bit delicate here–Dow Jones owns this Web site, and I still have some aversion to insulting my employers in public–I don’t see how dunking paying customers a second time makes sense.

I do understand some of the impulse. Publishers of all stripes seem to think that while charging for content on the Web is tough, people are happy to pay for something delivered wirelessly. I think that many publishers are going to be very disappointed when they try this out in practice, but that’s another story.

And I also know that News Corp. has steadily been pushing Dow Jones to raise its subscription prices for the WSJ since it acquired the company, and this strategy sort of dovetails with that.

But seems to me that if I am paying for information, I will expect to consume it wherever I am, at the same price. And you’re starting to hear some publishers say the same thing–see Variety’s comments about subscription plans today in PaidContent.

I don’t actually pay for my WSJ subscription; my employers, who, I should stress, are truly excellent people, have hooked me up–so maybe I’ve got this wrong. Or maybe it’s merely a marketing issue: If you jack up my WSJ subscription and tell me you’re throwing in access to the mobile app for free, I might be okay with it.

But tell me you’re charging me an additional fee to read it on the go and it will stick in my craw. Let’s see if the paper’s paying subscribers feel the same way.

Twitter Goes for Broke, if Broke Means “A Lot of Money”: New Funding Round at $1 Billion Valuation

twitter williams and stoneIs Twitter a billion-dollar company? It is now, according to its investors. People familiar with the company tell me it has raised around $50 million in a funding round that values the start-up, which has no real revenue to speak of, at about $1 billion.

TechCrunch, which first reported the funding, says CEO Evan Williams informed his employees about the new deal at a recent companywide meeting. I’m told the round is all but finished: “If the money isn’t in the bank yet, it will be soon,” a source tells me.

No word on who has invested in the company in this go-round, but it’s almost certain Twitter was able to entice new backers to join its existing investors: Silicon Valley logic dictates that each successive funding round should attract new money.

In February, Twitter raised approximately $35 million in a round led by Benchmark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners that valued it at $250 million.

And just to spell this out–Twitter’s new investors, along with older investors who have reupped, believe the company will ultimately be worth much more than $1 billion. In order to get a return on their money, they will expect it to hit $3 billion or more.

Feel free to debate the merits of Twitter’s growth prospects, and its chances of creating a real business out of all of those 140 character messages its users create.

But in retrospect, this funding round seems obvious: Twitter’s founders have insisted that they want to build the company on their own instead of selling it to the likes of a Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT), and they’ve already turned down Facebook. And if they weren’t going to sell, raising yet more money to give the company time and resources to build out a real business is the logical choice.

Here are Williams and co-founder Biz Stone talking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D: All Things Digital conference in May. Discussion of the company’s future as a standalone business kicks in around the 31-minute mark.

Another AOL Org Chart Shuffle: COO Partoll, Search Boss Kannapell Out

kim partollThis isn’t the long-rumored round of mass layoffs, but AOL boss Tim Armstrong did let go of two executives today: COO Kim Partoll is out, as is John Kannapell, SVP of search and local media.

Armstrong, who took over the Time Warner (TWX) unit earlier this year and is prepping it for a spinoff that’s supposed to happen by the end of 2009, doesn’t plan on replacing either executive, say people familiar with the matter. Instead, their work will be divvied up among other Armstrong lieutenants.

Partoll’s mobile responsibilities, for instance, will be given to new hire and former Yahoo (YHOO) exec Brad Garlinghouse, while Kannapell’s responsibilities will be handed to newish hire and former Google (GOOG) exec Jeff Levick. Armstrong himself will handle international duties, previously assigned to Partoll.

Kannapell’s departure isn’t a total shock, since he was listed as “acting head” of local during a reorg that Armstrong oversaw in June. But Partoll is a head-scratcher, since she was promoted to her new/old position during that same exec shuffle.

And what about those layoffs? Armstrong is almost certain to make some cuts at some point–and has told employees as much. But people familiar with the company say he hasn’t been focused on cost structure (i.e., cuts) until recently.

With MediaFLO Disappointing, Qualcomm Wants to Become a Mobile CDN

Qualcomm’s MediaFLO mobile television network hasn’t met the chipmaker’s expectations, according to COO Len Lauer, who spoke with me at the Mobilize 09 event last week in San Francisco. He said of Qualcomm’s FLO network for broadcasting mobile television, “We’re not where we need to be. We’re not meeting our expectations.”

He blamed the lack of success so far on the few  FLO-enabled devices available and the long wait for a nationwide network. While he was optimistic that FLO would be on more devices and noted that as of the DTV transition, Qualcomm had a nationwide network, he was also quick to portray the FLO network as more than a television delivery network. Yes, boys and girls, it’s a platform.

If mobile TV isn’t the right use for the separate network that Qualcomm has built at a cost of more than $800 million, Lauer thinks it might be used by carriers to help offload demand for video on the 3G and 4G networks, something I’ve mentioned as a possible strategy on how carriers can keep profiting on their mobile networks (GigaOM Pro, subscription required). “The reason we built this, and we’re starting to get more and more interest from network operators, is for network offload,” Lauer said. He said data usage on carrier networks is up by about 400 percent, more than half of which is streaming video, such as content from YouTube. Lauer said that they can help carriers use the FLO network to deliver broadcast or commonly accessed content to the handset and then cache parts of regularly accessed web sites on the device.

However, the FLO network may not be the only game in town for network offload. With this use case in mind, the GSM Association last week endorsed Integrated Mobile Broadband or IMB as one that might also work for offloading video, and one that’s likely to win more favor among carriers, according to telecommunications analyst Chetan Sharma. That’s because it uses spectrum the carriers already own and makes more efficient use of that spectrum for delivering video, as opposed to the FLO network, which is a completely different network operating on Qualcomm’s spectrum. IMB was also developed in conjunction with several carriers such as Vodafone, Telstra, T-Mobile, Orange and SingTel.


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mSpot Broadens Mobile Movie Service Beyond Sprint

Mobile entertainment company mSpot announced today at the GigaOM Mobilize 09 conference that it’s expanding its streaming movie service this fall beyond Sprint to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and will be available on more than 30 handsets.

mSpot allows users to stream full-length feature films (among other kinds of entertainment) across Wi-Fi, 3G or EDGE networks. We spoke with mSpot CEO and Co-founder Darren Tsui, who told us a little more about his service and gave us a little demo of it in action.

Cool Video Apps Abound in the Android Market

I had high hopes when I started scouring the Android Market for cool mobile video apps. After all, Android is known for being one of the most (if not the most) cutting-edge mobile platforms available today. And I was not disappointed — here’s what I found:

vlc remoteVLC Remote

This app, which is available in the Android Market as a free beta, is also available in both paid ($2.99) and free versions in the iPhone’s App Store. It lets you control the VLC Media Player software running on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer from your Android phone as if it were a remote control. (And, by the way, if you’re not using VLC for video playback on your computer, you should be. It’s one of the best media players around.) You just install the app on your phone and then download the setup utility, which allows the mobile software to talk to your computer’s desktop software. VLC Remote automatically finds VLC players on your home network for you and establishes the connection over your Wi-Fi network.

Qik

Qik seems to be turning into a staple in mobile video software. This free app, which I mentioned in my recent roundup of video apps in Nokia’s Ovi Store, is also available for the iPhone. Qik lets you stream live video from your Android-based phone to the web. I haven’t fully tested Qik’s Android version yet, but it was updated in August in order to iron out some of the bugs (such as inconsistent video performance) that were reported in the first iteration, an alpha released in June. 

Gmote

gmote_logoGmote is another app that allows you to use your Android-based phone as a remote control for your Windows, Mac or Linux-based computer. (At this rate, I may never get off my couch again.) You install the free app on your phone, then install the Gmote software on your computer. Like VLC Remote, it connects to your computer over your Wi-Fi network, and can also be configured to connect via your cellular data network if Wi-Fi is unavailable.) From your phone, you can browse a list of all the music and video files on your computer, and launch them remotely. Gmote worked almost instantly in my tests; one tap on the screen of my Android phone, and by the time I looked at my Vista-based laptop, my videos were playing. A beta feature allows you to play the files on your phone, too, but this seemed rather buggy to me, as it frequently told me that my Android phone did not have a player capable of playing back most of my video files. 

SPB TV

spb_tvSPB TV has plenty of promise, but one big drawback: You have to pay to get any of the features worth using. This mobile TV application offers access to an interesting mix of more than 100 TV channels, including C-SPAN, ABC News Now and Weather Plus; and a mix of local news stations, such as KNBC 4 Los Angeles, Fox 12 Oregon, Access Sarasota 12 and others from across the country; plus international stations from 17 more countries. You get an easy-to-read program guide, and a simple — if small — video player. Unfortunately, the free (or “Lite”) version offers the channel list and program guide only; if you want to watch any content, you have to pony up $10 for the full-featured application. I understand the need to charge for content, but with such an eclectic mix of stations (not to mention a teeny-tiny viewing window), I’m not sure I’m willing to pay.

These are just a few of the video apps available in the Android Market, which is growing quickly. That means we can expect more cool video tools added, and soon.

WordPress Mobile Edition Plugin is Pretty Slick

We were a bit behind in updating our blog to the latest version of Wordpress, so we spent some time today getting caught up.  As part of the upgrade we installed the Wordpress Mobile Edition plugin, which automatically creates a mobile version of your blog that is displayed to users visiting your site from smart phones and PDAs.  While I haven’t tested it on all devices, the plugin works quite well on my iPhone (screen shots below).  The plugin is worth a look.

Homepage on iPhone

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Post View Page on iPhone

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