5 Questions With… Rovi’s Richard Bullwinkle

Even Thanksgiving can’t keep the Five Questions from coming! In the hot seat this week is Rovi Chief Evangelist Richard Bullwinkle, who previously held that title at Mediabolic and TiVo, and whose duties include defining the direction of Rovi’s products and technology solutions. Below, he discusses the importance of recommendation engines for consumers, his frustration with the influence of big companies over the marketplace and whether or not the feud between apps and browsers in the connected TV space is for real.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

My biggest frustration in digital entertainment is with big companies who use their position to stifle innovation. Large brick-and-mortar retailers threaten not to carry DVDs of movies that are released the same day for digital download. Cable companies threaten not to carry content that is available online. Internet providers threaten not to carry the digital bits from companies that offer competing media. If a traditional method of distribution is feeling new competition, figure out a way to make the old one more valuable to the consumer or how to shift your business towards the new consumer demand. Don’t stifle innovation in hopes of maintaining archaic business models. It’s fat-cat syndrome — the failure to look over your shoulder and see that competition is always coming. You can either innovate or get passed by.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

Cord-cutting. [Ed. note: Ouch.] Traditional cable is just one way to get content, just like antennas were before that. It doesn’t matter if consumers use cable, satellite, internet or any of the other methods for transmitting data. They still want quality entertainment, good service and a fair value. Sure, some might move from cable to Internet-streamed content; others might move from cable to satellite or a telco provider.  Only the people who have lost interest in television or have had significant financial setbacks are truly cutting the cord.  Competition is a good thing, and the value of a consumer has only gone up over the years.  We must find ways to hold or increase the value of a consumer’s eyes, no matter where they get their entertainment.  

I do think that over time we’ll see Internet connectivity become more of a utility than a service. Just like the power lines in your house, the more Internet you use the more you’ll pay.  But the idea that the internet companies might have a say as to what you plug into that internet connection seems as ludicrous to me as the thought that the power company might specify which appliances I plug in inside my home.  In that light, the internet is probably the best way to deliver entertainment to a consumer in the future. Media companies who offer the best choices of content and the best service will thrive, no matter what the delivery method is.

3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)

I wouldn’t give any company $50 million.  The coolest startups with the best ideas could get a significant boost from $1 million.  That said, I’d love to see Slacker offer a tiered service including their current custom radio solution, but for a higher subscription cost include on-demand songs and song cashing.  Why Slacker?  They have a deep library and a pretty good recommendation engine.  Great recommendation for instant play-listing in music is the Holy Grail.  Combine that with the ability to listen to any song any time, and you’ve got a darn-near perfect service.  

Really, any of the good music services could offer something like this: Pandora, Mog, Rdio… Last FM. But subscription music is going to change how we consume music completely, much like Netflix has done for movie rentals. I think it’s going to take a long time for TV to get there with online subscription.  No subscription service for television has a large enough content offering yet.  

In the earliest startup phases, I get excited when I see innovations in recommendation.  The biggest problem I see in the shifting entertainment landscape is the fact that consumers don’t know how to find content, and more importantly, they don’t want to.  Content should find them.  Great recommendation engines will foster that. I also get pretty excited when I see companies who try to solve the problem of attaching good meta data to the ever growing user-generated content library.  No recommendation engines work without good metadata.

4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?

I regularly recommend Ted Talks to people — almost any one of them will inspire you to think about things in a new way.

Also, my 12-year-old daughter Sarah and her friend Samantha made and edited a video last month with their cell phones that made me want to give her the money to go make a full feature.

The technology of capturing and editing has gotten so amazing and intuitive that any creative mind can create a piece that might change the world.

5. WILD-CARD: Rovi’s shown a new commitment to the TV app space recently; in the battle between apps and browsers in the connected TV space, why do you feel apps are a superior approach? And is it possible for both sides to co-exist?

Don’t confuse Rovi’s desire to compete in every entertainment space as a shift towards apps. In fact, we have great debates at Rovi about the value of apps to the consumer. Apps have a tendency to compartmentalize entertainment. If I’m in an app for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, as a fan I can get deep information about the show. But in that app, I probably can’t discover all the other shows that are similar, or the other shows the stars of Boardwalk Empire have been in. Consumers want to discover across networks, across genres and across providers. Comcast’s Xfinity app is very good, but doesn’t allow me to find great stuff on YouTube. Showtime’s Dexter app is very cool, but doesn’t allow me to discover other exciting thrillers like Silence of the Lambs.

Several of Rovi’s partners have created very nice apps-based televisions, and we want our software to be available on those televisions. We created apps. Other partners use embedded guide software, and we created powerful embedded guides for them. And yes, other partners are looking at delivering services through browser technology, on the fly and as consumers demand it.

There is no doubt that once the industry can deliver a user experience that is fast and rich that it will be superior. Rendering user interface in the cloud and delivering it the moment the consumer requests it gives us great power to make sure the search results and recommendations are perfectly up to date, and allows the TV manufacturers to keep the memory and resource requirements on their hardware at a minimum. We see cloud-based services delivered to browsers on the television as a great enabler of exciting services in the next few years.

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Dr. Laura Heads To Satellite Radio

Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s departure from radio–set for the end of the year–won’t last long, as she’s reportedly cut a deal to take her advice show to Sirius XM Radio in January.

Dr. Laura apologized in August for an n-word laden rant while speaking to a black caller who sought advice on handling racial tensions with the friends of her white husband. The host using the offensive word eleven times and ultimately telling the caller that if she doesn’t “have a sense of humor,” she should not “marry out of your race.”

Hear the call here.

The host later announced she’d leave her show when her contracted ended December 31. “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart, and what I think is helpful and useful, without somebody getting angry–some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and sponsors,” she said at the time.

The new multi-year deal taking the Dr. Laura show to Sirius XM calls for the show to debut sometime in January. How much Dr. Laura will be making was not revealed.

Black Friday Poll: What Are You Buying Today?

Let the shopping madness begin! Black Friday has started, and some of you might be reading these lines while camped out in front of your local Best Buy, Apple store or Toys R Us (Hanna Montana TVs, anyone?), while others are getting ready to reload Amazon.com every few minutes.

We’ve compiled our own list of Black Friday deals for cord cutters, but we also want to know: What are you buying this time around? Blu-ray players, complete with Netflix and Hulu Plus?  Bigger hard drives for all those video files? Tablets to watch clips on the go? Or maybe even a new TV to finally enjoy web video on a nice 50” screen?

Let us know with the poll below, and feel free to elaborate in the comments!

Image courtesy of Flickr user jardenberg.

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Black Friday Deals for Cord Cutters

Oh, alright, we admit it: We try to resist the lure of Black Friday every year — but come Thanksgiving, we get all jittery, browsing countless catalogs and reloading Engadget non-stop.

Of course, the big challenge is to find the good stuff buried between all those Kindles and Zunes and washing machines, which is why we decided to come up with our own selective little Black Friday shopping guide for practicing and prospective cord cutters:

VOD deals

Media streamers

  • Roku offers 20 percent off a Roku XD when bought via www.roku.com. The deal starts Friday morning at 12:00 AM PST and it will run through the weekend.
  • Neuros has its 320 GB Neuros Link Phantom for sale for $249.99.

Flip cameras

  • The Flip UltraHD U260 will sell for $99 at Walmart and Best Buy.

OTA antennas

Blu-ray players

  • Sony’s Google TV Blu-ray player will go for $299 at Best Buy and SonyStyle.
  • The LG BD550, which comes with Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, CinemaNow, Pandora & more, sells for $94 at Walmart.
  • The Sony BDP-S370, which supports Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Blip.tv and more, sells for $99 at Target.
  • The Magnavox MBP5130 Wireless LAN Blu-ray Player sells for $69 at Walmart ($10 Vudu credit included).

We will update this list with more deals as they come to our attention. Please add your own finds to the comments!

Image courtesy of Flickr user djLicious.

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How to (and How Not to) Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily have to be a complicated holiday: Once you figure out where and with whom you’re eating, the menu can be pretty traditional. When it comes to cooking your turkey, though, things can go very, very good or very, very bad.

For tips on classic American cuisine, it’s hard to go wrong with Martha Stewart — especially when she gets Russell Crowe to help out with prepping the bird.

But for a more low-fi approach to your turkey (as well as some incredibly tasty-looking side dishes), here’s Working Class Foodies’ fail-proof Thanksgiving dinner:

Now, for the don’ts: When it comes to the best way to not ruin your family’s Thanksgiving and/or house, one thing is pretty clear: Play it safe; don’t deep fry it. That’s what the below PSA strongly encourages.

This point is made explicitly clear by Tampa Bay’s MJ Morning Show, which did a demonstration of what might happen if you were to deep-fry your turkey in the home.

Whether deep-fried or not, the important thing is that we hope you enjoy whatever you end up eating today — and that you have a happy Thanksgiving.

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Vid-Biz: Comcast-NBCU, Sony’s Qriocity, Fox-Hulu Ads

Comcast, NBC Argue Against Sharing With Internet TV; Comcast and NBCU execs met with FCC officials this week, urging the agency against conditions to their proposed merger that would require the new company to provide shows and movies to Internet video distributors. (Washington Post)

Sony Switches On Qriocity Movie Rentals In Europe, But Not On PS3; Sony’s new movie service is now available in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, but it is still missing from PlayStation 3. (paidContent:UK)

Fox to Use Hulu Inventory for Advertiser ‘Make-Goods’; Fox has secured agreements with about a dozen advertisers to supply them with inventory from online-video site Hulu to make up for ratings shortfalls on its broadcast network. (AdAge)

Flash vs. HTML5: Don’t Hate the Player; the battle between HTML5 and Flash to be the dominant means for video playback on the Web is nothing less than epic. (Variety)

Why MTV Must Acquire Vevo Before It’s Too Late; oh, wait: It’s already too late. (AdAge)

Second Part Of Cable’s Movies On Demand Campaign Takes Flight; the cable industry is running new ads for VOD services, this time touting The Expendables and Eat Pray Love. (Multichannel News)

Why Check In to TV Shows? Miso’s New Answer: For the Deals; social TV startup Miso has unveiled a new reason to check in to TV shows: a promotional deal with home shopping company QVC. (VentureBeat)

Pre-Black Friday Thoughts; total average TV prices fell 8 percent in 2008 and 22 percent in 2009, but due to a rise in component prices, retail prices are down only 6 percent year-over-year through the first three quarters of 2010. (DisplaySearch Blog)

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