03 December, 2011



Facebook buys location service Gowalla

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 05:41 PM PST

Facebook has acquired the location-sharing service Gowalla for an undisclosed sum, according to a report.

Facebook and Gowalla have not confirmed the deal yet, which was reported by CNNMoney, citing an unnamed source. According to the story, founder Josh Williams and all of Gowalla’s employees will moved to Facebook’s offices in Palo Alto, Calif.

The team will be assigned to work on Facebook’s Timeline feature, which launched at Facebook’s F8 conference. Timeline allows users to document their lives and see all of their most important photos, events, and other memories all in a single vertical page.

Austin, Texas-based Gowalla was in a head-to-head battle with rival check-in service Foursquare and it  lost in terms of user adoption. Gowalla shifted directions and recast itself as a travel guide. The company had raised $10 million including the Founders Fund, Greylock Partners and angel investors. Some Gowalla employees will stay in Austin and work out of Facebook’s local office. It isn’t clear if Facebook will keep Gowalla’s app alive.

Other Facebook acquisitions include Beluga, Hot Potato, Drop.io, Snaput, and Digital Staircase. In most instances, the company is buying the companies not for their apps or technology, but to get access to talented engineers.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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YouTube users ticked at channel-focused redesign

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 05:32 PM PST


YouTube redesigned its home page yesterday to add emphasis on “channels,” but the site’s users are up in arms about the changes.

The popular video site added “channels” in a left column that can be selected to show videos in a wide middle column. Google+ and Facebook are integrated as channel feed options, as well as other users you have subscribed to previously. The right column on the home page shows recommended videos.

Most likely, the site is doing this because it will integrate its own professional channels as options to follow, as it tries to get more regular TV viewers to frequent the site. Back in October, it was reported that Google had allocated $100 million for original programming channels, and the site is also working with celebs like Jay-Z and Ashton Kutcher on content.

Some choice comments on the official video introducing the changes, titled “Get More Into YouTube,” show how users are reacting. Most users are angry, with the intro video collecting 9,644 dislikes and 3,044 likes by mid-day Friday.

Davve941018 wrote: “Have you fired the pathetic excuse of a web designer that came up with this abomination of a design yet?” wrote .

KriegKadaver wrote: “They’re turning YT into TV, pretty soon there will be no interaction, and you will not be able to find any actual useful vids at all, only the crap that partners paid YouYube to shove into your homepage.”

Screwbacca556 wrote: “Next year, the site will just be a picture of a middle finger.”

Although, user CrashWhiz might have summed up the attitudes to the changes best by saying:

“Whenever YouTube does something new, people claim to hate it, and they wish for the old layout. But in the end, everyone gets used to it and completely forgets how it was before. So, the next time they change the layout, everyone will be praising this one.”

What do you think of the site’s changes?

Filed under: media

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Punching above your weight: Tips for small startups taking on the big guys

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 04:33 PM PST

Boxing, mixed martial arts and wrestling employ weight classes to ensure the competition is fair and you’re tested on skill, not size. In business, weight classes don’t exist, so if your company is a young, skinny 95-pounder, while your industry is filled with 300lb giants, you’re going to need to tighten up your laces and punch way above your weight. If you want to survive these mis-matched fights in today’s saturated marketplace, you need to get comfortable.

Here are tips to help you, the little guy, use your small size and agility to your advantage.


Your competition is juggling thousands of employees, sweating quarterly shareholder expectations, and managing disconnected systems from acquisitions. They are simultaneously watching out for the challengers next to them, in front of them, and behind them. They are moving at a slower speed.

All you need to worry about is building a product or service that drives revenue.

To be fast, and to stay agile as you grow, you have to hire great people and then get out of their way. When we’re hiring new employees I respect experience, but it’s one of the least important traits on our list. Our hiring priorities are, in order: person (character and enthusiasm), skills, and then experience. This isn't an industry-specific mantra, it can be successful in all types of companies. In his famous book Setting the Table, restaurateur Danny Myer explains how he went from opening one little cafĂ© in New York City in the 80s (with little previous restaurant experience) to becoming one of the best-known entrepreneurs in the industry. His secret? Hire great people.

After reading a competitors' quarterly shareholder update recently, I noticed that they hired 400 people in three months. It’s not hard to imagine that their priorities are in the exact opposite order as ours, making their beefiness a lot less scary. Your heavyweight competition is hiring at a scale to “fill seats.” If you attempt to follow them and hire only for experience, a whole multitude of potential issues will arise, like silo’d thinking and an entitled work ethic, which result in higher turnover.

The larger your competitor is, the more red tape and "processes" they have, and the slower they move. Here's where your pace can work a little to your benefit. Because you’re hiring on a much smaller scale, every single person on your team can really move the needle up and down and affect the company. Take the extra time during the interview process to find people who fit, not just people with skill-sets that fit. Then get the heck out of their way.  A great example of an enterprise that has grown smart and avoided this common pitfall is Zappo's. Why? It's a people-centric business.

Hire well and empower your team to get in the fight, then they'll move as fast as you need them to in order to get the job done. They won't be hamstrung by reviews, memos, and layers upon layers of approvals. While you're competitors are going through the motions, your people are throwing punches at them they didn't expect and are too slow to block.


There’s an immense amount of material on how the Internet and social media have brought the "share of voice" cost down to pennies on the dollar. Meaning, a small company can captivate an audience just as well as a goliath when it comes to the social sphere. Regardless of what it costs to be heard in the market, what’s important is what happens when once you get prospects off of your Twitter page and onto your website, or better, in a room with you.

Social media hype has companies hyper-focused on being heard, but they are disregarding the importance of when they're seen. Positioning is the single most important aspect to your company's success. In other words, your power lies very heavily in your brand.

Presumably, if you're fighting in a class above your weight you've taken the steps to properly identify your market, and this has to be crystal clear to your audience.

For example, the hosting market is highly competitive. We have so many rivals, including several very large companies, that our market is safely what one would call "saturated.” When FireHost entered the hosting market, we offered security and secure hosting in many forms. As we continued to grow, we recognized that cloud hosting was the next important step and security was the biggest issue within the cloud. We decided to invest and focus tighter on security and offer only cloud hosting.

This required us to shed all of our other hosting offerings (dedicated servers, email hosting, file backup, etc.). We then re-built our technology stack and systems from the ground up around this sole focus. Our choice to position against our rivals on one strong, focused, and specific type of hosting has left them vulnerable.

Our company lives and breathes Secure Cloud Hosting. When we are head to head on a deal against the competition, our product offering is deeper on cloud, our sales staff is better educated on security, and our prospects can see this. Our close rate is over 50 percent.

Your bigger competition is likely fighting with the power of a multitude of product offerings. They have to in order to stay big. If you focus on one front with a strong core (service or product) and give it everything you've got, you can beat them by simply exposing a vulnerability.


Your competition quite possibly has weekly marketing budgets that exceed your yearly revenue, but they’re advertising in areas you don’t need to be in. As a smaller company you cannot afford to educate everyone that your category is needed and important. Your competition is spending millions a week educating the market already – let them.

Spend your marketing dollars on differentiating your offering to the buyers your competition educated. This has tremendous effects on your customer acquisition costs because your marketing team’s energy is focused on tighter campaigns and your sales staff is engaged with educated buyers. While competitors are burning a huge amount of energy just to keep the lights on, you'll be burning it slow and steady and have energy to spare. It won't take a whole lot to give your small company a burst of extra stamina when you need it (cash), but it takes a lot more juice for a heavyweight just to maintain a certain level of energy.

Once your core includes great talent who can quickly innovate (speed), a focused position in the market (power) and an attractive customer acquisition cost (stamina); you will be ready to head into the ring with a winning fighter. With this package, a small burst of stamina could position you for a knock out. There are plenty of companies out there that will place bets and invest in you for the long haul once you've proven you're a worthy opponent. You know what they say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight…

Chris Drake is CEO and founder of FireHost, Inc., a Dallas, TX-basedsecure cloud hosting company. FireHost is the go-to resource for companies that need premium security, speed, and performance for their websites and applications.

Image: Valerio Agolino via Shutterstock.com

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Nintendo to release fan favorite Japanese video game Xenoblade Chronicles in America

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 02:51 PM PST

Xenoblade ChroniclesNintendo today announced that it is finally bringing critically-acclaimed Japanese role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles to American gamers after fans campaigned online for its release.

Xenoblade Chronicles is an open world RPG from developer Monolith Soft. It features a wide array of character customization options, a sophisticated combat system, a unique relationship-building system called Affinity, and more. The game launched in Japan and Europe earlier this year to unanimously positive reviews. Its Metacritic score currently stands at 92 out of 100, with many critics praising it as a landmark title for the flagging Japanese RPG genre.

Despite Xenoblade Chronicles’ success overseas, Nintendo said it had no plans on releasing the game in America. An online campaign was started by fans called “Operation Rainfall” to convince the company to release the game, along with two other critically-acclaimed Japanese RPGs, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. Members of Operation Rainfall started written and verbal petitions to Nintendo encouraging executives to see that there is a potential market for RPGs, niche titles and “core” games on the Wii console.

But the company ignored their pleas, saying in a statement, “Thank you for your enthusiasm. We promised an update, so here it is. We never say 'never,' but we can confirm that there are no plans to bring these three games to the Americas at this time. Thanks so much for your passion, and for being such great fans!"

Although Nintendo now plans to bring Xenoblade Chronicles to the U.S., it will only be available through retailer GameStop and Nintendo’s official website. It will cost $49.99 and is scheduled to be released in April 2012.

Filed under: games

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Verizon ponies up $3.6B for cable co’s wireless spectrum

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 01:50 PM PST

Verizon crowdIn a bid to shore up its 4G wireless network, Verizon has agreed to buy 122 wireless services licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the company announced today.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks initially set up a wireless venture called SpectrumCo in 2007. But because the venture didn’t turn into anything substantial, the companies are cutting their loses and selling the assets to Verizon. The deal stipulates that Comcast will receive $2.3 billion, Time Warner Cable will get $1.1 billion and Bright House Networks will bank $189 million, based on how much ownership each company had in SpectrumCo. The SpectrumCo companies actually bid $2.4 billion for the spectrum in 2006, so Verizon is paying a $1.2 billion premium for it.

If U.S. regulators approve the move, Verizon will own much more spectrum, as the assets cover 259 million Americans. The goal would be to give more Verizon customers across the country its 4G LTE service, which is already the largest next-gen 4G network. The U.S. Government plans to open more of its wireless spectrum to mobile operators at an auction, but Verizon is preemptively moving ahead of that to secure itself spectrum.

“Americans deserve excellence from a wireless service provider, and innovative wireless companies plan ahead in order to deliver on that expectation,” Dan Mead, President and CEO of Verizon Wireless, said in a statement. “Spectrum is the raw material on which wireless networks are built, and buying the AWS spectrum now solidifies our network leadership into the future, and will enable us to bring even better 4G LTE products and services to our customers.”

The deal, pending approval from a highly regulatory FCC and DOJ, would put a ton of pressure on AT&T, which already is behind Verizon in building out a true 4G network. Verizon offers 4G LTE in more than 150 U.S. markets. AT&T (and T-Mobile) mostly offer up HSPA+ as its version of 4G, which delivers faster speeds on already established 3G networks. That said, AT&T now has LTE live in nine markets in the U.S. and plans on steadily adding more.

AT&T is also struggling right now because it is looking less likely that its proposed buyout of T-Mobile will happen. The FCC has blasted the potential AT&T-T-Mobile merger in a 157-page report that ultimately concluded that the merger would ultimately hurt U.S. consumers. AT&T and T-Mobile-parent Deutsche Telekom have actually withdrawn their FCC application for the merger, so the company’s may also be planning to lose this fight.

Your move, AT&T.

Filed under: mobile

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Android commands half of the U.S. smartphone platform market

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 01:48 PM PST

Google’s Android operating system is kicking ass and taking names in the mobile software market, and Apple’s iPhone is on the rise in the hardware category, according to newly released data from comScore.

One in ten mobile subscribers are iPhone owners (10.8 percent), according to comScore which surveyed 30,000 U.S. mobile subscribers. The iPhone nabbed more than a percent share of the phone manufacturers market form July to October, but still trails Samsung (25.5 percent), LG (20.6 percent) and Motorola (23.6 percent) when it comes to mobile handsets.

Google has no skin in the hardware game, but no matter. Android once again ranked number one in the smartphone platform market share category, and now commands almost half — 46.3 percent to be exact — of the entire market. Apple’s iOS is a distant second with 28.1 percent share, up 1 percent from July. RIM, meanwhile, continues to slide backward; it dropped from 21.7 to 17.2 percent share between July and October. And Windows Phone, which fell from 5.7 to 5.4 percent of the OS market, is not exactly a hit just yet.

Also, according to comScore, a larger percentage of mobile subscribers are texting (71.8 percent), using the browser (44 percent), downloading apps (43.6 percent) and accessing social networking sites (32.3 percent) on their devices.

[Image via svet/Flickr]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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How Zynga’s IPO went from a $20B valuation to $8.9B in five months

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 01:14 PM PST

When credible reports about Zynga’s upcoming IPO filing started flying this July, expectations for the social gaming giant’s value were running $15 billion to $20 billion. Now, with Zynga detailing the offering ahead of trading set to start December 15th, the actual offering price could value the company anywhere from $5.9 billion to around $11 billion (depending on the precise stock price and whether options and cash on hand are included).

With options included, Zynga’s value will be $7.6 billion to $8.9 billion. That’s bigger than Electronic Arts’ $7.7 billion, but far short of just five months ago. One of the consequences is that some of the investors who invested in February are underwater. Those pre-IPO investors such as Fidelity Investments put money in at $14 per share.

What could have caused such a precipitous change in fortunes in just a matter of months? Here are a few possible explanations:

  • Financial Timing: Over the summer, a cautiously optimistic consensus was growing around the idea that the world economy was clawing its way towards recovery and would avoid a double-dip recession. Today, daily news of cascading troubles in Europe is stoking fears of another massive financial panic and a possible collapse of the Euro, leading to massive stock volatility and worries about a prolonged economic depression. Hardly the best environment to be making a massive new stock offering.
  • Sliding User and Profit Numbers: Zynga’s games currently show about 215 million monthly players between them on AppData, down from 232 million in July. Meanwhile, the company’s latest financial disclosures showed its profits are actually declining despite significantly increasing revenues, a trend some industry watchers attribute to increased costs for user acquisition and retention in today’s more competitive social gaming market. It’s these kinds of numbers that have led some, including Take Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, to doubt a Zynga business model that requires new players to constantly replace departing ones and allows 97 percent of users to play without paying a cent.
  • Departures: Nothing saps investor confidence like major players leaving a company before an IPO, and while the recent departure of Zynga chief business officer Own Van Natta may have been expected, it’s hard to spin it as a good sign for the company. While Van Natta, a former MySpace executive, will remain on Zynga’s board and continue to provide strategic advice, investors may be more likely to put their faith in a company that shows continuity at the top of the org chart during the crucial pre-IPO period.
  • Competition: There’s been one massive change in the social gaming environment since Zynga’s IPO plans were first announced, and it goes by the name The Sims Social. Launched August 9th, EA’s biggest push yet into the social gaming market is maintaining over 30 million active monthly players, according to AppData, rivaling Zynga stalwarts like FarmVille and possibly taking millions of players from Zynga games in general. While Zynga might still be the largest social game maker by a good margin, their position no longer seems quite as invincible as it did in the pre-Sims-Socialworld.
  • Bad Press:  While Zynga has been forced by the SEC to endure a “quiet period” before its first stock issuance, that hasn’t stopped the press from dripping negative stories on the company. The most damaging may have been a recent New York Times piece that cited multiple anonymous sources in and around the company in painting a picture of harsh working conditions and disaffected employees ready to cash out the first chance they get. That report also included word that Zynga failed in high profile acquisition bids for casual and mobile game leaders Popcap and Rovio, despite massive cash offers of up to ten figures. After being presented with this kind of image from the press, it’s not hard to see why the average investor might be less bullish on Zynga than initially expected.
  • It was never worth $20 billion in the first place: At a $20 billion market cap, Zynga would have been among the top 200 most valuable companies traded on Wall Street, at roughly the same lofty level as food giant Kellogg. That valuation would have come in around 46 times the company’s summer earnings, much higher than other game industry titans like Activision (6X multiple), Electronic Arts (11X multiple) and Take-Two (8X multiple). The lower valuation is more in line with the idea that Zynga is a worthy investment but not a historically strong, once-in-a-lifetime, market-busting one.

Filed under: games

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Chrome passes Firefox in popularity, but Internet Explorer is still number one

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 12:55 PM PST

Don’t start sniggering into your sleeves over your puerile “number two” jokes, but Chrome is now the second most popular Web browser in the world.

According to data from StatCounter, as of November, Chrome claims a 25.7 percent share of the global browser market, while Firefox has a 25.2 percent share.

Chrome has grown massively since its launch in December 2008. In its first full year as a stable, public product, Chrome earned 4.7 of the global market. At the same time (November 2009), Firefox sat at a 32.2 percent share.

Earlier this year, Google revealed Chrome’s user base sat at around 160 million users — a number that had more than doubled year over year — and continued to grow rapidly.

However, one of the bigger shifts in the so-called browser wars has been Internet Explorer’s slide from a position of unquestionable dominance to one of possible vulnerability. While IE has seen impressive improvements over the past year in particular, Microsoft’s once ubiquitous browser now grabs just 40 percent of the global market as of November 2011. Two years ago, IE claimed 56.6 percent.

Still, Internet Explorer is by far the top dog in this contest.

Chrome has been on track to supplant Firefox since at least this past September. At that time, Chrome's global share was 23.6 percent, while Firefox accounted for 26.8 percent and Internet Explorer nabbed 41.7 percent.

However, other reports from rival web-stats companies, such as Net Applications, tend to show larger disparities between Chrome and Firefox and still currently show Firefox as the number two browser. Still, the important news to take away from this isn’t the specific numbers, but the trend: If Chrome maintains its breakneck pace of growth, it will surpass Firefox in users by anyone’s counting within a few months.

The more interesting question is whether Chrome will ever pass Internet Explorer itself.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Toca Boca releases two new apps focused on the imagination of children (exclusive)

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 12:47 PM PST

Toca Boca SantaToca Boca, maker of children’s iOS applications, is releasing two new apps aimed at sparking kids’ imaginations. The first app comes out today.

Many parents are concerned that children spend too much time indoors, playing video games and not stretching their creative right brain. Toca Boca’s applications require children to create a game. Apps such as “playing grocery store check out” act as only one element in the bigger picture of going to the store, picking out your food and then checking out. The apps also allow for dual play.

“Every time you take it out, your imagination takes you to something new, it creates longevity,” said Bjorn Jeffery, chief executive of Toca Boca, in an interview with VentureBeat.

Today’s release is a play on the company’s most popular app, Hair Salon. Instead of the traditional characters, children will be able to comb, cut, color and style Santa’s hair and a Christmas Tree’s limbs. The app is available on both the iPhone and iPad and is free for the holidays. The second app is a completely new game called Toca Kitchen. In this app, children can choose a character, what food she will eat, and prepare the food. It’s an extension to playing house, or restaurant and will be released on December 15.

In order to determine whether an app will be a success, Toca Boca tests apps out up to five times on child focus groups. The company asks what is fun about the app, sees if children can interact with others using the app, and other tests. The focus groups are made up of children who are “iPad power users,” children regularly exposed to the iPad, those who are not technology-savvy, and the equilibrium to see how the app affects each group.

“Lately its domestic scenes that have some sort of procedure,” said Jeffery. “[We're] picking up things in kids environment that they all know about, but can’t participate in.”

Toca Boca is a Swedish based company founded in 2010, and launched its first app in March 2011. Thus far the company has seen nearly 2.7 million downloads of its app suite.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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U.S. government green-lights Google’s $400M acquisition of Admeld

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 11:45 AM PST

The U.S. Department of Justice today put its stamp of approval on Google’s acquisition of Admeld, an online ad startup.

The $400 million deal was under some scrutiny to determine whether or not it posed antitrust issues.

However, as the DOJ’s Antitrust Division has found nothing objectionable in the deal, the acquisition will go through as planned.

“After a thorough review of the evidence, the division concluded that the transaction is not likely to substantially lessen competition in the sale of display advertising," a representative noted in a statement issued by the division today.

The deal had been on hold at least since June 2011, when Google first officially confirmed it had entered into a contractual agreement to acquire Admeld.

At that time, Google Vice President of Display Advertising Neal Mohan stated, "The Admeld team is an example of the huge strides the industry is making — it has quickly developed a great service that is helping many major publishers manage their ad space more efficiently and profitably."

Specifically, the startup’s service lets publishers to grab data about advertising performance from hundreds of ad networks, ad exchanges and other sources. This data allows the publishers to determine which ads are most and least effective — an area in which Google's own services lag despite the search giant’s best efforts.

Admeld will work with Google's display ad network and also with the Google-owned DoubleClick's ad exchange. However, Google has stated that Admeld will also continue to work with ad exchanges owned and run by other companies, too, including rivals Yahoo and Google.

“For now, it's business as usual,” Mohan wrote today on the company blog.

“Admeld's products will operate separately to Google's existing solutions (such as DoubleClick for Publishers and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange). But over time, there are opportunities to bring the best of both businesses together in a variety of ways; and to develop entirely new solutions, too.”

Admeld has taken a total of $30 million in funding since it raised its first round in 2008.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Facebook to open New York engineering office in early 2012

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 11:42 AM PST

Facebook will open an engineering office in New York City in early 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg jointly announced Friday.

“For us, this isn’t a satellite office,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, said. The office will be core to Facebook’s engineering stack, he added.

The new office is part of a calculated effort by the social network to expand its presence in New York and recruit top engineering talent outside of Silicon Valley. Facebook currently employs engineers only in its Palo Alto, California office and a small Seattle office it opened last year. It is also planning to build an office in Menlo Park, California, as part of its planned expansion to 9,000 employees. The company currently employs about 2,000 people, mostly in Palo Alto.

Facebook’s engineering manager Serkan Piantino will lead the new office. Piantino previously led the engineering team that created News Feed and Timeline.

Facebook first kicked off its aggressive New York City takeover when it leased two floors at 335 Madison Avenue one year ago. Facebook already has 100 employees working out of that office, and will hire as much talent as required but it does not have specific goals in mind, Sandberg said.

“We’re going to grow as quickly as we can in New York,” Sandberg said. “We’ve had a great presence in New York for a long time. New York has been a really important home for us.”

Filed under: dev, social, VentureBeat

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New York Times is eyeing new tech companies to acquire

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 11:27 AM PST

The New York Times Company is looking around for new acquisition targets. Any businesses the company buys will be its first acquisitions in more than three years.

In a Bloomberg interview, the company’s CEO, Janet Robinson, said The New York Times Co. is particularly looking toward technology companies as it prepares for these acquisition deals.

As the parent company for a large group of print newspapers — and as a company still feeling its way to new digital revenues — it behooves the Times Co. to use acquisitions as one way to strengthen its online offerings, gain a stronger foothold in mobile and tablet form factors and improve its overall suite of digital tools.

While Robinson didn’t name specific companies The New York Times Co. might be considering, she did say, “We are in a position to invest organically or inorganically."

That is, while Robinson expects that the Times Company is financially prepared to grow its own revenues and customer base, it is also looking externally toward mergers and acquisitions and has the capital and debt ratio to do so.

The company’s experiments with new digital revenue sources, particularly the hotly contested New York Times online paywall, have apparently paid off. "It's working from a revenue perspective," said Robinson.

When the Gray Lady’s paywall first launched in earnest earlier this year, VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar called it “both too expensive and too confusing to take off,” noting that initial reactions around the web about the paywall were overwhelmingly negative.

However, Robinson said the system is now working so well that the company is planning to apply the same model to other papers it owns, such as the Boston Globe, which introduced pay-to-play pricing in October this year.

In addition to the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe, the company owns 15 daily newspapers in a range of markets and more than 50 websites, including such properties as Boston.com and About.com, which it bought in 2005 for $410 million.

The New York Times Company has not made an acquisition since 2008, when it bought a newspaper in Florida.

Filed under: deals, media

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RIM to take a $485M hit on dismal BlackBerry PlayBook, lowers guidance

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 11:03 AM PST

sad-blackberry-playbookResearch in Motion will write off an astounding $485 million from lowering the price of its underperforming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, the company revealed today.

RIM has greatly struggled to keep up with its mobile device peers, especially Apple and Google's various Android manufacturing partners like Samsung and HTC. The company has said repeatedly that its PlayBook tablet and a new smartphone OS, called BBX, would help lead the company to a new phase of innovation, but the PlayBook is a sales flop and the company’s latest critical software update to the tablet was delayed by several months. RIM lowered the price of the PlayBook to $199 in mid-November to spur more demand.

On top of taking a $485 charge on the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM said it would fall short of its forecasted revenues in the third quarter and miss guidance for the year. The company will lose a lot of cash in selling its PlayBook tablets for less and will need to spend more to promote the units if it wants to drive sales.

RIM is still finalizing its fourth quarter guidance, but the company expects unit shipments across the board will be lower in the fourth quarter. The company said it also no longer thinks it will meet its full-year adjusted earnings guidance of $5.25 to $6 per share.

In response to the news, the Canadian phone-maker’s share price has plummeted today. As of mid-day Friday, RIM’s share price is down about 9 percent to $16.90. That’s a far, far cry from the stock’s 52-week high $70.54. With no immediate good news on the horizon, it’s no surprise the company’s investors are running away quickly.

Filed under: mobile

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Hulu lands exclusive digital syndication rights to TV comedy ‘Community’

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 10:28 AM PST

Hulu and Netflix are embroiled in a melee over digital content rights to the most popular TV shows. Friday, Hulu landed a blow by announcing that it is now the exclusive digital syndication partner for the Emmy award-winning television comedy series Community.

Hulu already carried Community, and Netflix didn’t. The exclusivity deal means that Netflix and other streaming-video rivals are now frozen out of this show.

Community is a B-list get for Hulu, and it’s certainly not going to bump up the site’s Hulu Plus subscription numbers. The subtext of the announcement, however, is important.

Essentially, Hulu is telling the industry that it can still obtain critical content deals and differentiate itself from the competition — which is, of course, Netflix. On the gradeschool playground, today’s news blurb would be akin to Hulu sticking out its tongue at Netflix and saying “neener-neener-neener.”

But a get is a get, especially when you consider Hulu’s new deal with the CW and the service’s new availability on Nintendo Wii and 3DS.

Hulu, which recently abandoned a quest for a buyer, is giving Hulu Plus subscribers next-day access to current season episodes, along with the entire back library of Community spanning all three seasons. Non-paying Hulu watchers can stream the five most recent episodes, as usual.

[Image via IMDb]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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CarrierIQ clicktracking scandal pulls Samsung and HTC into class action suit

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 10:27 AM PST

Two new victims have been sucked into the growing CarrierIQ click tracking scandal. Handset manufacturers Samsung and HTC have been named in a class action suit along with CarrierIQ, alleging that the company is in violation of federal wiretapping guidelines for illegally intercepting communications from people’s phones.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago yesterday seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on behalf of all U.S. residents who own handsets running the software. Erin Janek owns an HTC phone and is the plaintiff in the suit, which alleges that her data was being surreptitiously monitored when it was not publicly available. The suit further claims that she did not grant authorization to CarrierIQ, or HTC to access her information.

CarrierIQ software is designed to track performance of cell phones and is used by wireless carriers to provide better service to their customers. CarrierIQ software is deployed on more than 140 million handsets worldwide.

The suit alleges that CarrierIQ and handset makers whose devices run the software are violating the Federal Wiretap Act, a law that prohibits unauthorized interception of “oral, wire or electronic communications.” Law enforcement agencies must have a warrant to intercept phone calls and other forms of digital communications from suspected criminals. The law provides relief of $100 per day for every violation that takes place, should the defendant be found guilty.

The click-tracking flap erupted when a security specialist posted a video (see below) purporting to show that phones running CarrierIQ software were logging the contents of private text messages, and other phone usage without the owner’s knowledge or consent.

Apple says it won’t support CarrierIQ software anymore and is removing it completely from future updates. In a statement released yesterday the company wrote about how the allegations against CarrierIQ diverge from its standard practice:

With any diagnostic data sent to Apple, customers must actively opt-in to share this information, and if they do, the data is sent in an anonymous and encrypted form and does not include any personal information. We never recorded keystrokes, messages or any other personal information for diagnostic data and have no plans to ever do so.

Image via mia judkins

Filed under: mobile

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Minecraft creator steps down as game’s lead developer

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 10:20 AM PST

The man behind indie PC mega-hit Minecraft, Markus “Notch” Persson, will no longer lead development on the game as he continues to guide indie developer Mojang on other projects.

Persson announced on his personal blog that he’s handed control of Minecraft‘s continuing development to Jens Bergensten, with whom he’s been working on the game for the last year. With less responsibility for Minecraft‘s design decisions, Persson writes he’ll take a much needed opportunity to rest and work on an undisclosed new project.

Minecraft wasn’t officially released until November 18th, but in-development versions of the game have been on sale since May of 2009. In that time, the blocky 3D exploration, building and survival game has sold over 4 million units, generating an estimated $50 million in revenue and becoming one of the most wildly successful independent PC games ever released.

The success of Minecraft has led Persson’s Stockholm-based game development company, Mojang, to expand from just himself to a staff of 13 employees. The company is currently developing collectible-card-game-meets-board-game Scrolls, but is embroiled in a legal controversy over that game’s naming similarities to Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series.

Mojang has also organized Minecraft fans into an annual Minecon gathering, the latest of which drew 4,5000 attendees who paid $99 to watch speeches, participate in contests and classes, and view the game’s official live launch from Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay casino.

Filed under: games

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