Gorgeous to gimmicky – new tech at Berlin’s IFA show

Technicians mount a new generation of OLED TV screen on the Samsung exhibition stand at the Internationale Funkaustellung consumer electronics fair in BerlinThe genuinely gorgeous and the jaw-droppingly gimmicky are rare sights on the floors of TVs and tumble dryers on show in in Berlin at IFA, which claims to be the world’s largest consumer electronics fair, but this year Sony takes the dubious accolade of having both on show within a few metres of each other.

First the sublime: Sony’s XEL-1 TV, based on OLED technology, will go on sale in Europe for the Christmas season for around 3,000 euros after being available in Japan for almost a year. With just an 11 inch diagonal, you don’t get much screen size for your money, but you do get a TV that’s just three millimetres thick and has strikingly more vivid picture than conventional LCD technology.

Of course, Sony isn’t going to be alone with OLED televisions for long. Samsung also has an impressive array to go on sale next year, though theirs will be pricy too — product executive Noh Young Joong told Reuters they would likely cost two to three times as much as equivalent-sized LCD units.

Turn round the corner at Sony’s stand, though, and things rapidly go downhill. Remember those artificial flowers from the 1980s, which gyrated around when you played music? Possibly not, but their spirit lives on and seems to  have possessed ‘Rolly‘. Rolly is egg-shaped, about the size of a hand grenade and plays tinny music. It rolls around (dances even) and flips lids covering its speakers. You can stream music from your mobile phone via a Bluetooth wireless network, or store several hundred songs on board. If you have time on your hands, you can even program its dance moves using a laptop.

You may be wondering what the point of it is, though seemingly not the design experts who gave it a prestigious Red Dot award. Rolly goes on sale for 350 euros in October:  roughly the cost of one of Sony’s Playstation 3 video games consoles.

For your video viewing pleasure…

buffy.jpgGood news for fans of guilty pleasure shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Felicity” or “Dawson’s Creek” - is about to be up and running. With those shows and others, the website hopes to bring in those 18-34 year-olds so loved by advertisers.

Thing is, the website exists even though the television network doesn’t. Recall the WB was folded into UPN a couple of years ago to create the CW.  (Warner Brothers, however, is still one of the major TV studios).

Given that, it’s sort of strange that Craig Erwich, EVP of Warner Horizon Television which oversees, tells Silicon Alley Insider in  an interview that the thing separating, from other websites it – well, the name.

Does the video games industry offer anything distinctively European?

Visitors play at an exhibition stand at the Games Convention 2008 fair in the eastern German city of Leipzig    At Europe’s biggest video games convention in Leipzig last week, evidence of a distinctive European flavour was largely absent, apart from in karaoke-style titles such as Activision’s Guitar Hero or Sony’s SingStar and sports games.
    Music from local bands and singers is a necessity for these titles, and the new World Tour edition of Guitar Hero delivered it in the form of artists such as Germany’s emo-lite Tokio Hotel, Swedish rockers Kent and Spanish 80s classic Radio Futura.
    Sony offered a more unusual twist with a Turkish Party edition of SingStar for release in Germany in November, to capitalise on the country’s large Turkish population as well as nostalgic holidaymakers.
    In the case of sports games, a title such the next annual revamp of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer is understandably expected to sell better in Europe than the United States.
    But outside these two genres, industry executives struggled to pin down differences. Konami’s head of Europe, Kunio Neo, noted that Europeans did not take to games with manga-style graphics as readily as gamers in the company’s Japanese homeland. Konami also said it expected one game in development, Lords of Shadow, to appeal particularly to European sensibilities — early artwork leans heavily on director Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth, which was set in Spain.
    Neo’s counterpart at Electronic Arts, Jens Uwe Intat, made similar claims for Mirror’s Edge, which he said had a high-end aesthetic which he hoped would be particularly successful in Europe.
    But Intat in general saw little difference between what made a hit game in Europe compared to the United States.
    “With the exception of American football all franchises that work in the U.S. work in Europe too — though as in the movie industry you see slightly different top tens,” he told Reuters just before the start of the Leipzig event.
    Yet critics can easily point to distinctive traditions of French, Italian and British film alongside Hollywood and Japanese movies, which has no equivalent in video games. Why do you think this is? Does it bother you?

Video games industry appeals to core gamers at Leipzig convention


    The rise of casual video gaming may have grabbed the headlines over the past couple of years, but the more hardcore end of the market dominated at Europe’s biggest gaming convention in Leipzig last week.
    Apart from new iterations of popular karaoke-style games such as Activision‘s Guitar Hero, Electronic ArtsRockBand and Sony‘s SingStar, which arguably kick-started the trend of easy-to-play casual fare, the world’s biggest games publishers focused on products for their core audience.
    Upcoming release Command and Conquer Red Alert 3 was a case in point. Not only does the game involve sending dozens of types of futuristic military unit across apocalyptic landscapes, but EA was marketing it in part on the basis that one of the
actresses in it, Jenny McCarthy, is a former Playboy playmate of the year.
    Most publishers were playing it safe, focusing on sequels such as a new version of The Sims – the virtual doll’s house franchise which has sold over 100 million copies since launch in 200? — or movie tie-ins such as a game based on new James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
    True innovation was thin on the ground, at least on a whistle-stop tour view of the main publishers’ offerings. Ubisoft demoed a game in the same genre as Command and Conquer which could be fully voice-controlled — apparently a first for consoles — while Sony previewed LittleBigPlanet. This marries the hot theme of user-designed content (think YouTube or MySpace) to an age-old platforming mechanic, the basics of which that would be familiar to anyone who had played Nintendo‘s Mario games.
    Cute sack-doll characters jump over flames and on to rising platforms, but the novelty is that most of the game, from the characters’ outfits and personalities to the landscapes over which they clamber can be modified by players and shared online.
    But for two of the other most hotly awaited games of the season, there was no news, albeit for opposite reasons. EA’s Spore, in which players guide a lifeform in the Darwinian struggle from primaeval soup to interplanetary conflict, is due out on Sept. 4 and had already been presented in near-final form at other events, so did not get a spot in EA’s main presentation.
    World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, the next installment of the online role-playing game that has over 10 million subscribers — was available to play in an early form, but it remained unclear when the final version would be on sale. A spokesman for Activision unit Blizzard could not even confirm it would definitely be out before Christmas.

    * Where do you think gaming is going in the run-up to this year’s holiday season? Were you at the Leipzig Games Convention? Tell us what you think below.

Sony buys out Bertelsmann’s stake in Sony BMG

Beyonce and Justin Timberlake(Updates earlier post to clarify deal terms)

After four years of recriminations and in-fighting between executives from Sony Music and executives from BMG Music Entertainment, Tokyo-based Sony Corp has decided to end the mutual pain of a controversial merger and take full control of Sony BMG.

Artists like Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake will now record under a new banner: Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

The FT had reported in June that Bertelsmann was looking for $1.2 billion-$1.5 billion for its 50 percent stake in Sony BMG, but it looks like the German media company settled for $600 million-$900 million — the exact sum depends on how you do the math.

At long last, Sirius and XM complete their deal

xmsr.jpgHear that? It’s the sound of sighs. Sirius Satellite Radio has finally completed the purchase of rival XM Satellite Radio.

“The completion comes after a marathon period of government scrutiny that ended late last week when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the deal, which was first announced 17 months ago,” Reuters reports.

Now that the deal is done, it’ll be interesting to see whether it was worth the wait. Neither company has posted a profit on its own, and, in fact, they have posted huge losses along the way as they’ve paid to build up subscribers.

Sun Valley at the bar


Camping out at the Sun Valley Lodge bar on day 2 of Allen & Co’s annual Sun Valley mogul fest — a time honored tradition — is kind of like Disneyland for folks like us.

Slightly to extremely inebriated tycoons of the media and tech industry wander the lobby huddled in small groups chatting about stuff that few will remember in a few hours, while reporters try to keep pace with the liquor consumption and the conversation.

A quick snapshot:

    Google co-founder Sergey Brin on Yahoo: “Good company, good partner. A lot of excitement going on. For recent events, talk to the CEO.” We think he meant Yahoo’s Yang, who has yet to show up. Brin then realizes that standing next to him is Sony Executive Deputy President Katsumi Ihara. Ihara to Brin: “We called you last year about something and we never heard from you!” Brin to Ihara: “I have something for your TVs.” Out of nowhere, Sony CFO Rob Wiesenthal jumps in to rescue Ihara. Fun’s over. While I was chatting up Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg jumped in: “If he offered cable service in New York City, I’d switch in a second!” Brian fires back: “Let me tell you. Here’s the next President of the United States.” (We think he meant the next next President) Winner of high wattage table of the night:  Google co-founder Larry Page, Legg Mason’s Bill Miller (Yahoo investor), former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, Yahoo President Sue Decker, Davis Advisors’s Christopher Davis, Sergey Brin. In response to a question about what everyone talked about, Brin tells the AP reporter Jeremy Herron that he learned about money markets. 

(Photo: Reuters/Rick Wilking / (l to r) Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sergey Brin, Allen & Co.’s Nancy Peretsman at Sun Valley 2007)

Buying on the rumor; selling the rest of the time

nasdaq.jpgYahoo’s stock price was rescued (yet again) by rumors that Microsoft is getting ready to bid for the web company’s search business (yet again).

The shares had looked set to fall below $19.18 on Wednesday — the level they stood at on January 31 before Microsoft first announced a takeover bid for Yahoo. But thanks to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo shares jumped about 6 percent in electronic trading early in the morning.

If this reversal of fortune sounds familiar, it should. These days, Yahoo’s stock seems more likely to rise on speculation about possible deals than anything having to do with its actual business. Check back on a MediaFile posting from June 24 that points out Yahoo shares jumped 15 percent after TechCrunch reported that it was back in takeover talks with Microsoft.

The clock is ticking in Hollywood

hollywood.jpgTick, tock, tick, tock.

The countdown is underway in Hollywood, with just hours to go before the contract covering 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild expires. What happens next is anybody’s guess, though it would be some time before actors walked off the job.

Indeed, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said in a statement that it had “taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote” and that any speculation was “simply a distraction.”

The Hollywood Reporter writes that several options are left for the guild and the studios. “They could negotiate a contract extension, which could be by day, week or month, and keep talking; the studios could lock out the actors; or SAG could seek a strike-authorization vote from its membership, which will be at least a two-week process as the negotiating committee must vote on whether to bring a strike.”

Yahoo: We’ve got announcements!

yahoo-night.jpgWhy announce one deal when you can do four?

Just a day after billionaire investor Carl Icahn called for the removal of Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, the company blasted out of the gate Wednesday morning, trumpeting deals with CBS,, Havas Digital and the newspaper consortium.

With CBS, Yahoo will carry some of its shows as the broadcaster continues to proliferate the Web with them through other partners AOL, Microsoft, and Google. For, Yahoo will be the primary marketing and sales channel for the retailer’s web site. Yahoo also said an additional 41 U.S. newspapers have joined its newspaper consortium, which lets them use Yahoo’s paid search system as well as have their stories carried over Yahoo properties.

Yahoo also inked a deal with Havas Digital to develop a proprietary media trading platform.