Jeff Zucker tries the “Sam Zell” gambit

According to an interview with NBC supremo Jeff Zucker — as reported by Variety magazine on its website today — the TV network hasn’t been happy with its iTunes deal for a number of reasons, including the fact that Apple wouldn’t let it experiment with differential pricing. But the real howler in the piece comes when Zucker huffs that the computer company refused the network’s request for a cut of Apple’s hardware sales:

“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware.”

This, of course, is known as the “Sam Zell” strategy, in honour of the real-estate billionaire who attempted to argue that Google should pay newspaper’s a cut of its revenue because Google News carries excerpts from newspaper stories. Could Jeff Zucker seriously believe that Apple owes NBC a cut of hardware sales because iTunes carries some NBC shows?

He might as well argue that Google deserves a cut of the PC revenue that Hewlett-Packard and Dell generate, because so many people use their computers to go to Google’s website. What a maroon.


Not content with whining about Apple not paying a portion of its hardware revenue to NBC, Zucker also apparently said that the computer maker “destroyed the music business” in terms of pricing and threatens to do the same with video. Translation: Man, I wish we could get away with charging $40 for a DVD full of “deleted scenes” from Facts of Life.

It’s Hulu vs. Brightcove, not YouTube

So Hulu, the joint venture between NBC and News Corp. that some thought would be a YouTube competitor, has sort of launched — or at least it has given some of the chosen few in Silicon Valley a look at the service. As far as I can tell from most descriptions of it, it sounds like a video-distribution network that will compete more with Brightcove and other similar video services than it will with YouTube.

In other words, it has nothing to do with “user-generated content” or people uploading video — it’s all about network content from NBC and News Corp., distributed through a Flash player that can be embedded on other sites and will be white-labeled to partners such as AOL and MySpace. Still, the early impressions seem positive; even Kara Swisher seems to like it, and so does MG Siegler at ParisLemon.

To the extent that NBC and News Corp. are getting the idea that distributing your content by any means available is a good thing, I think Hulu is a positive step. But as Mark Hendrickson points out at TechCrunch, this is still very much a TV-centric model — that is, shows and content appear and disappear based on the TV schedule. It may be flashy and well-designed, but I wonder whether it will be compelling enough to really draw people in.

Further reading:

Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider has a nice rundown of the things that make Hulu less thrilling than it appears, and one of those things is the restrictions on the content that Hulu distributes. And Liz Gannes has more on that angle as well — as she puts it:

“Hulu can’t avoid the trappings of big media. The company is tied up in a contradictory situation, where it’s chartered to have web-wide distribution while trying to maintain tight control over the user experience wherever it goes.”

PaidContent has a nice overview of the launch as well, including the $100-million investment by Providence Partners.

iPhone in Canada for Christmas?

The Boy Genius, who has a pretty good reputation so far for getting his rumours right, spotted an ad for the Canuck version of the iPhone, which is supposedly going to be here by December 7. But will it? Some have pointed out that the ad looks a little Photoshopped, and that the price — $499 even with a three-year contract — is a little usurious, even for Rogers.

Whatever the truth of the rumour, there’s no question that Rogers and Apple are being very coy about the timing of the blessed event, despite the fact that everyone knows the iPhone has to be on Rogers’ network because it’s the only one that does GSM. Just the other day there was a story in the Globe about a Molson contest letting the cat out of the bag about an iPhone launch in January, but both Rogers and Molson quickly backpedaled on that one and said it was a mistake, they haven’t got a deal yet, etc.

Why so coy? One reason could be that — as one of the commenters on the Boy Genius report and Engadget have noted — there is still the small matter of a trademark on the name iPhone, which in Canada is held by Comwave. Can they get a deal signed to everyone’s liking in the next month or so? Let’s hope so, or there will be a dark Christmas for many Apple fans.

Mozilla Prism: Don’t really get it

So like the beta-whore I am, I downloaded the demo of Mozilla’s new web-desktop hybrid thing — which used to be called Webrunner and is now called Prism — and I installed it and created a desktop icon for Google Mail without too much trouble. But I have to confess that I still don’t really get it. I mean, it’s cool and everything, but well… I don’t get it.

So I can click on a desktop icon and open a Gmail window, which is great — but it’s really just a browser window with all of the browser bits (like the address bar and the back and forward buttons) taken off, as Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped points out. It can be added to the Start menu on Windows, but you know… ho-hum. I seem to remember that Internet Exploder’s “Active Desktop” setting could do something similar, but no one really cared and so no one used it.

I realize that this is still an early demo, and there are no doubt all sorts of great things ahead for Prism, some of which Phil mentions in his post, and others of which are described by Ryan Stewart at ZDNet and the Wired blog. And there’s no question that the blend of desktop app and Web app is something that holds a lot of promise. So maybe I should give Prism more time to become amazing. As it stands, I’m underwhelmed.

Microsoft: Still a fair bit of juice left

Gobsmacked. That’s what the Brits call it when something jaw-dropping happens and you can’t think of anything to say. Microsoft’s blockbuster quarterly results kind of fall into that territory for me. I have to admit that I’m one of those skeptics who has been talking about the gigantic software maker as yesterday’s company: slow-growing, boring, etc.

Don’t get me wrong — I still think that Microsoft is most of those things, except maybe for the “slow growing” part. Who knew that the company had a quarter like that in it? Profit up 23 per cent to $4.3-billion, revenue up 27 per cent to $13.8-billion. To put that in perspective, Microsoft made almost $50-million in profit a day during the quarter, which means it took less than a week to pay for its recent Facebook investment.

Apparently the skepticism about Vista (which I have also shared) has been more or less misplaced (although it is important to remember that the 88 million copies sold are to retailers, not to consumers), and a strong Halo 3 launch also boosted the software behemoth’s bottom line by a substantial amount. And yes, all you Microsoft critics can rest easy — I know that a lot of those Vista sales and Office sales are a result of Microsoft’s virtual monopoly.

The only issue for Microsoft now is the curse of inflated expectations: can the company produce a quarter like this one every time? Unlikely. And if there’s one thing the company likes to do, it’s to talk down expectations and then outperform. That could be a little harder to do now than it has been in the past.