Wal-Mart Plans to Reduce Space for Electronics in Stores

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world's biggest retailer, plans to cut back on space for electronics as sales in that category have declined, contributing to the company's two-year U.S. sales slump. The company, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, will reduce the floor space devoted to items like flat-screen televisions and give some of that space to apparel, according to Rosalind Brewer, who runs the Wal-Mart East division. Brewer spoke at a retail conference in Atlanta today. The reduction is a reversal of Wal-Mart's 2009 move to allocate 21 percent more floor space to entertainment gadgets and comes after electronics contributed to a 1.8 percent decline in sales at U.S. stores open at least a year in the fourth quarter, its seventh consecutive drop. "It's something Wal-Mart has needed to do for a year," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a New Canaan, Connecticut-based consulting firm, in an interview. "You don't need as much space in that area with products shrinking and purchases going online, and electronics has narrow profit margins. Floor space is a scarce commodity."

Have a piece of string? Test your 3-D vision

To perform the test, all you need is one piece of string that measures about the length of your arm. Tie a knot in the middle, and then a knot two to four inches from each end. Hold the string up to your nose with the closest knot about two inches away from your nose. Make sure your finger isn't obscuring your line of sight. Now you're ready to go. First, check to see how many knots you see as you look at the knot in the center. You should see only one. If you see two, you may have double vision, or diplopia, and should consult your optometrist. Next, check to see how many strings you see as you focus on the center knot. You should see two, crossing at the knot in the middle. If you don't see two strings, you don't see 3-D. I found that the strings kept popping in and out, so I definitely have issues with 3-D perception. If you see two strings, the next step is to determine where the strings cross. If they cross at the center knot, your eyes probably work well together and you can see 3-D. If they cross in front of the center knot, your eyes are pointing in too much and you have "convergence excess." And if the strings cross in back of the center knot, your eyes aren't pointing in enough and you have "convergence insufficiency."

Surprise! Online TV is billion-dollar biz

As broadcasters and television networks try to figure out their Internet strategy, the TV content that actually is online is generating quite a pretty penny. Online TV brought in $1.6 billion last year, up 34% from 2009, according to a data analysis by IHS. The largest contributor to that growth was a 65% rise in Internet TV advertising, which reached $719 million in 2010. That's surprising, since Big Media has often beenreluctant to throw its content online, thinking it would jeopardize their lucrative deals with cable providers. And the number of online television streams with ads rose by a measly 10% last year. But some analysts say that the big players in online TV are actually making out pretty well. "Even in this conflicted market, revenue was up, thanks to the proactive attitude of a handful of players, including Hulu and the CW Television Network, which have managed to expand revenue even as consumption growth has leveled out," said Dan Cryan, head broadband media analyst at IHS.

YouTube launches Live service for events

YouTube has started its new service "YouTube Live" to offer live streaming videos of concerts, sports and interviews to users. Consumers can use the new service, launched online at youtube.com/live, to watch shows or events streamed by the Google-owned operation's partners, who will be able to access the YouTube Live streaming platform to begin broadcasting content. The launch started with a "Digitour" performance by YouTube musicians. It is not the first time the online video company is showing live videos. The new Live platform would make live-streaming a standard practice. The company said that the new service is intended to be a platform for its partners to show live content to users. YouTube product manager Joshua Siegel and product marketing manager Christopher Hamilton said in a blog, "The goal is to provide thousands of partners with the capability to live stream from their channels in the months ahead."

Hulu Set for $500M in Revenue, 1M Hulu-Plus Subscribers

Hulu is doing well if you ask Jason Kilar, the CEO, who reported the Q1 stats for the online video service in a blog post on Monday. From the sounds of the post everything is unicorns and cotton candy over there in the rose-colored world of Huludise. Lots of good stats to show how healthy the company is and illustrate the jump up from the $263M they did last year which could spell I…P…O… Kilar stated the company is, "on pace to approach half a billion dollars in revenue in 2011." He also cited a 90% revenue growth in Q1 year-over-year. That's some pretty stiff growth. Considering how the company has been bouncing around on the comScore Top Ten video properties lists it's good to see they're on the up and up in the revenue department. They grew some 50% in regards to the number of advertisers they served. A stat I am frankly not all that impressed with. They do load up on ads already so I don't want them to think that's the continued way to go. No ads for Hulu Plus is going to be key to their continued success I think because they will continue to push ads on the subscribers to the point where people stop paying, and why wouldn't they when they can possibly get a lot of that Plus content that has ads for free elsewhere.

Toshiba promises Glasses free 3D TV within 12 months

Toshiba just unveiled a new line of 3D panel televisions that will – for the first time – be available outside of Japan. And here's the real kicker: They're promising that at least one of these models will be completely glasses-free. You hear that, 3D fans? Nothing weighing down your face. Just good ol', unencumbered TV watching plus an extra dimension. Details at this point are scant, but Toshiba didn't shy from talking up their other projects, notably a new line of Regza VL passive 3D TVs. Each one is said to come standard with four ReaID 3D glasses, and will be available in 42- and 47-inch sizes. No word on pricing yet. In Japan, 12- and 20-inch glasses-free 3D TVs are already available. The catch is they can only be watched from nine very specific angles, which--let's face it--is far from ideal, especially at such tiny sizes. But if Toshiba lives up to its promise and delivers a full-sized 3D TV the entire family can enjoy sans shades (they're saying April 2012, so cross your fingers), it may change the game enough to give 3D a fighting chance.

Dish Network acquiring Blockbuster for $228M

Dish Network Corp. said Wednesday that it won the auction for Blockbuster Inc. with a bid valued at $228 million in cash. As of Tuesday, the satellite TV company, billionaire investor Carl Icahn and a group of debt holders were the three remaining bidders for the Dallas movie-rental chain, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September. Dish's bid was for $320 million, but the value decreases to $228 million after adjusting for available cash and inventory. "Blockbuster will complement our existing video offerings while presenting cross-marketing and service extension opportunities for Dish Network," said Tom Cullen, executive vice president of sales, marketing and programming for Dish Network, in a statement. Blockbuster is already a shadow of its former self. When the chain filed for bankruptcy protection, it was down to 3,000 stores, less than a third of the peak of 9,100 in 2004. There are about 2,400 currently open with plans to close about 700 more by mid-April. Blockbuster used to dominate the U.S. movie rental business. But it lost money for years as that business declined because customers shifted to Netflix Inc., video on demand and DVD rental kiosks. Dish, based in Englewood, Colo., expects to close the deal during the second quarter. The transaction needs bankruptcy court approval.

Netflix, Hulu Drive Big Jump in Over-the-top Media Server Market

Market research firm Infonetics Research earlier this month released its fourth quarter 2010 (4Q10) Cable, Satellite, IPTV, and OTT Set-Top Boxes and Subscribers market share and forecast report, now led by analyst Teresa Mastrangelo. ALYST NOTE "In the fourth quarter of 2010, we witnessed the dramatic growth of over-the-top services, as service providers and equipment vendors hit the 'sweet spot' for pricing. However, these services continue to complement pay TV rather than replace it. On a global basis, demand for set-top boxes continues to increase as more countries transition from analog to digital and more operators offer enhanced services such as high definition and DVR. We also are seeing increasing demand for hybrid set-top boxes, which leverage the existing broadcast infrastructure, but utilize the broadband connection to incorporate OTT content and increase interactivity and on-demand services," notes Teresa Mastrangelo, directing analyst for video (cable, satellite, IPTV video) at Infonetics Research.

Best Buy Beefing Up Web, Downsizing Stores

Best Buy is rebalancing its channel strategy to address market share gains by online retailers, including Amazon.com. In the process, the company is dramatically expanding its online-only assortment, is promising to price those products aggressively, and has begun shrinking the footprint of some of its big-box stores as they come off lease. The chain has also not ruled out the possibility of closing some of its larger locations outright. In a fourth-quarter earnings call last month, co-Americas president Mike Vitelli said Best Buy will offer "very aggressive" pricing on a much broader online-only assortment to improve its price perception with customers. The move is designed to help counter mobile price-comparison technologies, which can put in-store stock at a disadvantage because price checks don't reflect value-added promotions like extended financing, loyalty program discounts and bundled offers, he said. The low web pricing will be achieved through a combination of supplier fulfillment, two-step distribution and Best Buy-owned inventory, he said. Still, CEO Brian Dunn stressed the importance of maintaining a brick-and-mortar presence to differentiate Best Buy from online-only competitors. Stores allow in-person consultations, provide a convenient pickup option for ecommerce orders, and will give the company a competitive advantage should tax policy favoring e-tail-only merchants change.

Roku Boxes To Hit Best Buy Shelves

After selling its streaming media players primarily online for the last three years, Roku will now start selling its set-top boxes in Best Buy stores. This is Roku's largest retail partnership; it also sells its models through smaller chains BJ's Wholesale Club, Fry's Electronics and RadioShack. The deal demonstrates the growing interest among consumers in bridging online video and TV, and perhaps down the road, cutting their cable cords. Roku XD player will start appearing in Best Buy stores nationwide and on the retailer's website. The player has a list price of $79.99. In a statement, Anthony Wood, Roku's founder and CEO, claims that the company has already sold one million boxes via online retailers.

Amazon Cloud Player puts your music on the Web

The so-called celestial jukebox that digital-music dreamers talked about in the 1990s looks a little closer. Early Tuesday morning, Amazon launched a Web-based music service that lets you listen to your songs from Internet-connected computers and Android smartphones. Called Cloud Player, it lets Amazon's "Cloud Drive" servers take the place of a computer's hard drive or a phone's flash storage--provided either device has a sufficiently fast connection to the Internet and a user whose Amazon account includes a valid U.S. billing address. The Seattle retailer provides 5 gigabytes of storage for free; buying an MP3 album from its store upgrades that quota to 20 GB. You can sync new Amazon purchases to your Cloud Drive automatically. But you can also upload other songs from a Mac or Windows computer using Amazon's MP3 Uploader. Contrary to what that name suggests, it will also upload AAC files bought from iTunes, provided they're not older purchases locked with the "digital-rights-management" system Apple retired in April of 2009.

XpanD 3D, Panasonic Team For New 3D Standard

XpanD 3D began licensing today a new active-shutter 3D standard developed with Panasonic, called M-3DI, that is intended to bring about compatibility among 3DTVs, computers, home projectors and cinema projection. XpanD chief strategy officer Ami Dror told TWICE the first licensor of the M-3DI standard is founding partner Panasonic, soon to be joined by other founding partners including Changhong, Funai, Hisense, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Philips, Sanyo, Seiko Epson, Sim2 and Viewsonic. "The idea is to allow you as a user to buy a pair of glasses for a Philips TV, for example, and take them to an XpanD cinema, or use them to watch 3D on a friend's Panasonic TV, etc." said Dror. The standard uses two-way technology to allow communication between glasses and components. Once a user puts the glasses on, the glasses will recognize which brand and model component the user is viewing and will allow the user to adjust certain parameters, such as rate of transition time and dark time, to address user issues such as ghosting and brightness. The parameters can be adjusted using a PC or through an XpanD app on a handheld device.

Starz to Delay Release of Shows on Netflix

Starz, the pay cable channel, is about to be more restrictive about what it allows Netflix to stream to customers’ computers and television sets. The channel has been one of Netflix’s closest partners, but it backed off a bit from that partnership on Thursday, when it announced a three-month delay between the time Starz plays new TV episodes and when those episodes will be available on Netflix. Starz also said that it would impose a similar delay for movies sometime in the future, though Netflix said any such delay of movies would violate the contract between the two companies. The policy shift by Starz, a unit of Liberty Media, reflects an attitude change toward Netflix by many in Hollywood. Though Netflix, which has more than 20 million subscribers, has been embraced by media companies as a new buyer of library content, it is perceived by some of those companies as a competitive threat. Starz, after all, relies on subscriber revenue just as Netflix does. Showtime, a unit of the CBS Corporation, is also expected to place new restrictions on the shows it streams through Netflix later this year. Last week, Netflix said it would enter the original programming business by buying the rights to two seasons of “House of Cards,” a new political thriller. The show will have its premiere exclusively on Netflix late next year.

Restructuring, poor sales hurt Best Buy profits

Best Buy Co.'s shares were fluctuating in heavy trading Thursday after the giant electronics retailer reported a dip in fourth-quarter sales and profits, even while it beat earnings estimates. The Richfield-based company said its profits fell to $651 million, or $1.62 per share, for the three-month period ended Feb. 26 - that included a $222 million charge related to a restructuring of its international business, with store closings in China. Earnings for the fourth quarter last year were $779 million, or $1.82 per share. Without the charge, earnings in the most recent quarter would have been $1.98 per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of $1.85 per share on sales of $16.3 billion. Such estimates typically exclude one-time charges. Best Buy reported fourth-quarter sales of $16.26 billion, down less than 2 percent from $16.55 billion a year earlier. Same-store sales, a key retail metric, dropped 4.6percent.

Apple Is Said to Consider Expanding AirPlay for Streaming Video

Apple Inc. is weighing an expansion of its AirPlay audio service to include streaming video from an iPhone or iPad to television sets, according to two people familiar with the project. Under the plan, Apple would license its AirPlay software to consumer-electronics makers that could use it in devices for streaming movies, TV shows and other video content, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans haven’t been made public. Apple now only licenses AirPlay for streaming audio. Devices that could be used for video may be available this year, one of the people said. An expanded AirPlay would let users stream programming wirelessly from an Apple mobile device to a TV that carries the technology. That may spur wider use of Apple’s services and devices in consumers’ living rooms. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has had limited success selling Apple TV, a set-top box introduced in 2007, and as recently as September still called the product a “hobby.”

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