Niagara Gazette

December 12, 2008

TECHNOLOGY: TechBits package 12/10/2008


TechBits package

By The Associated Press



The advertising market is gloomy, and radio is in a particular funk. But Doug Perlson still feels pretty good.

Perlson heads TargetSpot Inc., which acquired a rival in October to create the largest seller of Internet radio ads. New York-based TargetSpot will handle online ads for more than 1,000 stations, including those owned by terrestrial broadcasters such as CBS Radio, which is an investor in TargetSpot, and Internet-only radio sites such as those on AOL and Live 365.

Partly because this market is nascent, "our business has a good shot at more than doubling in 2009," Perlson said. His company does not disclose sales figures.

TargetSpot sells 15-, 30- and 60-second audio ads for online radio stations, with companion visual ads, that can be targeted to people in specific geographic areas, based on the Internet address of a listener's computer, among other factors.

Advertisers can also track whether an ad is effective, because listeners can, for instance, click on a link to be routed to a certain Web site.

TargetSpot began two years ago with ads from local businesses. But Perlson said major advertisers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Macy's Inc. have signed up.

If TargetSpot can help Internet radio stations make more money, the timing couldn't be better. Radio stations are under the gun to raise online ad revenue because of the higher royalties they could have to pay to stream music over the Internet.

Last year, the Library of Congress' Copyright Royalty Board raised the fees that Internet radio stations pay artists to play their music online through 2010. Online radio stations said the increases were cost-prohibitive and threatened their survival. The prospect led Yahoo Inc. last week to meld its online radio operations with those of CBS Corp.

Congress has passed a bill that would give government backing to deals negotiated on more favorable terms, but there are no guarantees, said Jake Ward, a spokesman for SaveNetRadio, a coalition of online radio stations.

That's where TargetSpot could come in. For now, it is the only independent company exclusively specializing in online radio ads. While the size of the Internet radio ad market is debatable because the largest radio networks do not break out figures for these ads, the most common estimate used is around $500 million, according to eMarketer, a research firm.

—Deborah Yao, AP Business Writer.

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Google updates search index with old magazines

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google has added a magazine rack to its Internet search engine.

As part of its quest to corral more content published on paper, Google Inc. has made digital copies of more than 1 million articles from magazines that hit the newsstands decades ago.

For now, the old magazine articles can be found only through Google's search service for finding digital copies of books. But the Mountain View, Calif.-based company plans to eventually include magazine articles in its general search results.

Users who want to restrict the scope of their inquiries to magazines can choose that option through the book search's "advanced" function.

Dozens of magazine publishers have agreed to let Google index their archives. The incentive: Google will link to the Web site of a participating magazine publisher and share some of the revenue that is expected to be generated from ads shown alongside the old articles.

The list of old magazines already available through Google include past issues of New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Ebony.

Google has been trying to reel in more content from non-Internet sources for the past four years. The crusade began with agreements to copy books sitting on the shelves of several major libraries — an ambitious project that triggered a copyright battle with publishers and authors that was finally settled in October.

Besides books and magazine articles, Google also provides a digital gateway to the archives of several newspapers and millions of old photos from Life magazine.

—Michael Liedtke, AP Technology Writer.

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Massive World War II collection debuts online

NEW YORK (AP) — An online collection of World War II documents, billed as the world's largest, debuted last week. Footnote.com, which archives historical documents on the Web, developed the collection with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The collection starts with 9 million "hero pages" profiling individual U.S. veterans of World War II with data taken from Army enlistment records. Veterans and their families and friends can add further information and photos.

The project also includes an online reproduction of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which is inscribed with the names of more than 1,100 crewmen who died when the battleship was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941. Visitors to the Web site can search for the names of the victims.

Other highlights of the collection include the personnel rolls of Pearl Harbor, reports of missing air crews, submarine patrol reports and naval press clippings. Also included are extensive analyses of the Allied bombing strategy against Japan, including target photographs.

Footnote.com Chief Executive and President Russ Wilding says the collection will mark the debut of 50,000 photos exclusive to the site.

"Our hope is to engage people to share their stories about relatives and friends who served in World War II," he says. "Many of the veterans have passed away, and the number of living World War II veterans continues to shrink. We're trying to facilitate the capturing of stories before they're lost forever."

—Dan Scheraga, AP Business Writer.

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Web site charts shortcuts through voice menus

NEW YORK (AP) — In Dante's epic poem "Inferno," the main character has a guide, the Roman poet Virgil, to show him through the nine circles of hell. Seven centuries later, a Web site wants to be our Virgil, guiding us through the torments of automated phone menus.

Fonolo, a Toronto-based startup, has mapped the phone menus of more than 300 companies in the U.S. and Canada and presents them on its Web site. Then the site also does the job of getting you through the menus.

Web surfers can click on the option they want to access in a voice menu system, like "Change Mailing Address." The Web site then calls the company and sends sound signals that mimic the user's button presses. When it reaches the right place in the system, it calls up the user and connects him or her to the system.

For instance, if you want to reach an agent at The New York Times who can handle a one-time payment, you can click that box on the Web site. Fonolo calls up the newspaper, then enters a three, a two and a one at the prompts. When it reaches the agent, it rings you up.

Fonolo announced Wednesday that it has opened a free "beta" version of its site to the public. Next year it plans to introduce paid subscription memberships with expanded features, said Shai Berger, the company's founder and chief executive.

The Web site has two big limitations for now. The number of companies charted is relatively small. And it also doesn't go deep into the phone systems, because it doesn't yet allow users to pre-enter their account information so the Web site can get past such prompts.

Berger said the company is working on addressing both issues.

—Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer.

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Gadget sales fell on Black Friday, analysts say

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in at least seven years, consumer electronics sales fell from the previous year at the start of the holiday shopping season, analysts said, dashing hopes that the category would hold up despite the weak economy.

In dollar terms, sales were down 8.4 percent for the week ending the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the NPD Group reported this week. The traditional start of the holiday shopping season is "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving.

The drop makes the consumer electronics category appear to be a loser compared to the overall market. Total sales in all categories of products rose 0.8 percent for the week, according to another research firm, ShopperTrak RCT.

Electronics sales weren't a complete rout. Flat-panel LCD TVs and laptop computers were the strongest categories, with sales up 8 percent in each, NPD said. About the same number of units were sold as last year. Beyond that, however, there wasn't much to cheer about for manufacturers and retailers.

"Televisions and notebook computers really did bring all the dollars in, and once we got beyond those categories there just weren't a lot of dollars available for the rest of marketplace," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD. The firm tracks shipments from manufacturers and sales at retailers.

NPD doesn't specifically look at profits, but noted that retailers resisted the temptation to slash prices to the bone.

"We didn't see enormous door-busters at pricing that we haven't seen before," Baker said. More aggressive price cuts might have let retailers sell more units, but probably wouldn't have boosted overall revenues, he believes.

"Consumers were just not spending this holiday," Baker said.

Categories that thrived last year failed to repeat the performance. Sales of GPS navigation units fell by 14 percent. Digital picture frames, which have been heavily advertised, fell 1.1 percent from last year, after more than doubling their sales the year before.

"We don't really seem to have a hot new product," Baker said.

Players for Blu-ray discs, the high-definition successor to the DVD, did relatively well, since the prices are now below $200. Retailers sold 147,000 units, excluding Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 consoles, which can also play the discs. But the older format is still king: Three times as many DVD players were sold.

—Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer.



Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.