Gaming Report: NPD December and 2008 Retail Sales

The video game industry isn’t recession proof.  Weaker than expected results in August and September confirmed that.  Comments from NPD’s Michael Klotch at a game summit at SMU’s law school validated it further yesterday.  But, with the official 2008, and December, results now tallied – there’s plenty for companies to be happy with.  Growth hasn’t stopped, it’s simply slowed. It’s more measured,  but monthly, and annually, the results are still trending positively for the industry (even as some individual companies struggle). One out four dollars spent on entertainment in the U.S. goes to gaming, NPD’s Klotch says.

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Blockbuster and Sonic Solutions Buddy Up for On Demand Movies

blockbuster on demandMovielink and CinemaNow were among the early entrants to pace digital movie delivery.  Investors ponied up tens of millions to the promise: movies beamed on demand straight to viewers over the Internet.  Movielink and CinemaNow both burned out; ideas ahead of the market opportunity.

Blockbuster and Sonic Solutions stepped in in each case to opportunistically take advantage of the early birds’ failures; each buying up the assets and content libraries for pennies on the dollar.  Blockbuster bought Movielink for $6.6m in 2007.   Sonic Solutions grabbed CinemaNow last month for about half of that.

Now, in a new alliance, Blockbuster and Sonic will pool their resources and strengths in a joint venture positioned to try and carry them both forward into the eventual digital delivery transition.

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Breaking News: Steve Jobs Taking Medical Leave of Absense

jobs logo portrait metueEven as he denies it himself, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has often been billed as Steve Jobs eventual successor.  When Jobs was recuperating from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Cook ably took the helm.  Now, it seems, on another interim basis (albeit without a change of title) he’s being tasked to try on the role again.

Today, in a surprise announcement delivered by email to Apple staff (full text of the message along with Jobs 2004 treatment related email are reprinted below), Jobs said he is taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

While Jobs’ health is a personal matter, it has been the subject of recurring rumor and speculation since a June conference where he appeared noticeably gaunt and underweight.  Initially, the intensely private executive deferred most questions saying his health was a not a public concern.   That sparked many debates over the ethics and disclosure obligations that go with his obvious, and substantial, contribution to the company’s fortunes.

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Yahoo Hires: Carol Bartz to Become CEO

yahoo hiredThe presidential inauguration is scheduled for January 20th.   Yahoo anointed its own new leader a week earlier. Confirming earlier reports, the company announced Tuesday that Carol Bartz, the former CEO of Autodesk, accepted an offer for the position.

Bartz emerged in recent weeks as a surprise front runner for the slot abdicated by Jerry Yang in November.  Beating out established insiders, and a host of high profile names linked to the position, she’s expected to bring a deft hand; one many hope capable of restoring the company’s luster (historical stock charts show running the company was a difficult task for her predecessors).  The expectations, and challenges, she’ll face will both be significant.

In a statement, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock expressed the company’s excitement over completing the process.  “[Carol Bartz] is the exact combination of seasoned technology executive and savvy leader the Board was looking for and we are thrilled to have attracted such a world class talent,” he said.

yahoo bartz drawing smallSince 2006, Bartz has been Executive Chairman of Autodesk.  Prior to that, she led the company as its CEO for fourteen years.  Revenues during that period grew by a factor of more than five times to a result of $1.523 billion in Fiscal 2006.  Before Autodesk Bartz held a number of positions at Sun Microsystems over a ten year period, finishing as VP of Worldwide Field Operations.  She’s also worked at Digital Equipment Corp. and 3M.  Among her professional accolades, she’s been named to such esteemed lists as Barron’s 30 Most Respected CEO’s (2005) and Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business (2005).

 Coinciding with Bartz hiring, Sue Decker, Yahoo’s current president, tendered her resignation.  Passed over for the leadership opportunity, Decker’s  apparently decided to seek new challenges and the prospect of the top executive position elsewhere.  She will stay on for a transition period.

Sentiment about the choices, both Bartz hiring and Decker’s departure seems to be mixed.  Click to Read More

Touching the Interface: Microsoft and others Back N-Trig

touch interfaceA year ago, Bill Gates took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show to deliver his final keynote address.  As always, he talked about Microsoft’s achievements and he spoke of his vision for the future. One of the touch-points emphasized was changes to user interfaces on the horizon.  Building on the “Surface” initiative Microsoft launched months earlier, Gates said we were overdue for evolution in computer controls.  In the future, he said, we’ll migrate away from solitary dependence on keyboards and mice.  Whether in kitchen electronics (talked about a year ago and now becoming available), or traditional computing environments, touch, voice and more “natural” interfaces, he predicted, would become more common; not replacements, per say, but alternate choices suited for some applications.  The increasing ubiquity of computing – whether through the “cloud” or converging devices – would pave the way.

2008 rolled forward with steps taken in that direction.  Touch enabled cell phones crossed unquestionably to the mainstream. The Wii, in gaming, continued to dominate competition thanks to its inventive motion controls.  Multiple touch and gesture controls appeared around the computing industries.   The table, it seemed, was being set.

Starting off 2009, Microsoft is making another push in the direction of Gates’ vision.  At the Consumer Electronics Show this past week, the company demonstrated an early version of the next Windows O.S. (Windows 7). In the trade show booth, as seen in the video footage at the end of this article (also available here), the touch controls were featured prominently.  Today, adding to that, the company confirmed more investment into the space.

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CES: Palm Pre Gets the Spotlight

palm pre metue smallA year and a half ago, Palm bet its future on its new operating system and the phones that go with it.  After an extended development period, today in Vegas, the company finally, showed its hand.

To a boisterous CES crowd mixed with people harboring both high expectations and some, expectations of failure, the company revealed webOS and the Pré handset.

The 8GB phone comes loaded with GPS and WiFi.  It has 3.1inch screen and a 3 megapixel camera  The user interface is fully touch enabled, working with gestures and point contact. It also hosts a slide out QWERTY keyboard.

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Yahoo in Play Again? Rumor says maybe, reality says not likely

yahoo rumorsMark Twain famously quipped,”The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Executives at Yahoo may be ready to say the same thing about their company. No matter how much time passes, takeover rumors just won’t seem to go away; even ideas conceived way outside the box seem fair game.

Last month it was Velocity Interactive dubbed the suitor.  The VC firm’s internal fundraising efforts were incorrectly re-imagined as a search for financiers to back a Yahoo buyout.  This month, according to a new Tech Crunch report, it’s a group of unnamed Silicon Valley executives and bankers circling.

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