In the competition for customers between cable and satellite providers, one of the key selling points is HD. Who has more high-def channels? Whose HD programming looks the best? A Comcast ad campaign touting its HD picture as superior to DirecTV's led to a federal lawsuit last May; that suit has now been settled amicably.
The ad campaign in question was launched last spring. It cited a survey commissioned by Comcast in March in which two-thirds of the respondents said that Comcast's HD picture looked better. As the advertisements read, "Two-thirds of satellite customers expressing a preference between Comcast and DirecTV and between Comcast and Dish Network said Comcast delivered a better HD image."
DirecTV took issue with the ads, saying that the survey did not support Comcast's claims. "Comcast's advertising and promotional claims, including the aforementioned, are literally false," argued the satellite provider in its complaint. Comcast, in turn, cited the opinions of consulting firm Accenture and law firm Loeb & Loeb validating the survey and testing process.
Both companies say that they're "pleased" with the settlement, which is confidential. Comcast will be able to continue citing the survey results in future advertising, however, so it's unclear if DirecTV gained anything aside from a heap of legal bills.
The settlement with Comcast wraps up the last legal tiff between DirecTV and its cable competition. Last August, a lawsuit filed by Time Warner Cable accusing DirecTV of false advertising was settled. Time Warner took issue with DirecTV commercials starring Jessica Simpson and William Shatner that claimed "For an HD picture that can't be beat, get DirecTV." DirecTV was barred from running some of its advertising, while other ads were green-lighted. DirecTV had also sued Cox Communications for citing the Comcast study in its advertising; that case was settled last week.
A trial featuring experts testifying about the overall quality of each provider's HD picture may have been edifying, but for the majority of viewers, the HD picture from either satellite or cable will be more than adequate. For some customers, the number of HD channels may prove to be the deciding factor. It matters to me, anyway—our DirecTV HD TiVo just got demoted to the basement (SD) set in favor of a new DirecTV-branded DVR so that I could the full DirecTV HD lineup.
Right now, the satellite companies have the lead in terms of raw numbers of HD channels. That equation will change as cable providers begin using technologies like switched digital video and IPTV to deliver programming.
The NCAA this week released a new set of rules for bloggers at collegiate sports playoffs and championship events, and the new rules are already inviting both criticism and ridicule. While they may or may not turn out to be short-sighted, they're actually a step forward for the NCAA, which previously had a policy toward blogging that can only be described as "medieval." And not the cathedral-building, monk-beer-brewing, Aristotle-philosophizing "medieval," either; think Black Death and Fourth Crusade "medieval."
Back in June, the NCAA stirred up some negative press for each ejecting a Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) sports reporter from an NCAA super-regional baseball game. Staffer Brian Bennett had been blogging to the paper's web site as the game was in progress, despite an NCAA memo circulated in advance of the game that warned against blogging "between the first pitch and the final out of each game."
Bennett's press credential was revoked and he was kicked out of the press box. The newspaper's attorney later railed against the NCAA, saying, "Once a player hits a home run, that's a fact. It's on TV. Everybody sees it. [The NCAA] can't copyright that fact. The blog wasn't a simulcast or a recreation of the game. It was an analysis."
Six months after that incident, the NCAA has adopted an official "blogging policy" (PDF) for its championship events that allows every credentialed reporter to have the "privilege" of blogging during games. A number of minor conditions are imposed, but the most limiting one concerns the number of posts that can be made during a particular event.
Covering fencing, skiing, or rifle? You can blog a maximum of 10 times per event. Lacrosse? Three posts per quarter, with another allowed at halftime. Basketball gets five posts per half and another at halftime, while football (Division I-FCS and lower only; bowl games are run by the NCAA) gets three per quarter and one at halftime.
This all seems a bit silly; after all, who's going to sit around refreshing a blog in place of watching or listening to the game through an outlet that has paid the NCAA money for broadcast rights? (The NCAA wants to guarantee the value of its broadcast licenses, and it wants to keep control over the way such events are disseminated.)
But on the other hand, the limits seem pretty reasonable. If someone is blogging more than 11 times during a single basketball game (and they're free to post whatever they want both before and after the action), then it's at least within the realm of possibility that the sheer amount of material coming out of the game could be enough to keep some fans from tuning into other, paying media outlets.
Two other notes: this applies only to NCAA-sponsored tournaments, and it applies only to credentialed members of the press.
Blogging about NCAA sports shows passion for the events, and can help foster a community around certain sports. Marquee events like football, basketball, and baseball may derive little benefit from live-blogging, but the smaller events like fencing, rowing, and bowling certain could. The NCAA should be encouraging its bloggers, who aren't charging the NCAA a penny for promoting its offerings, not limiting them, especially for sports that still truly are the preserve of amateur scholar-athletes.
Our Child's Play drive has already been an amazing success. To get you up to speed on the effort, you can take a peek at the prize packages, as well as the classic RPG collection we're giving away. Chrono Trigger, Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy III and the rest… that's a pretty good package. That's literally days and days of classic RPGs right there. I'm not sure how we can top that, really.
Oh wait. Nevermind. Let's throw in Secret of Mana.
One very generous reader liked our drive and decided to donate his cartridge of Secret of Mana to make the big prize even tastier. I just received the game in the mail, and I thought that Christmas Eve would be the perfect time to make sure everyone knew that the biggest prize has become even bigger. I also want to let you know about our new goal.
We began not knowing how big this would get, and then after the first round of donations we set $5,000 as a goal. As of this writing we're up to a mind-blowing $8,248, making us a Gold Sponsor of the charity and far exceeding all of our expectations for the drive. Now, with this new prize added to the big collection it's time for one more big push: let's see if we can get this up to $10,000.
Everyone has already been amazing, and reading your e-mails talking about what the charity means to you and how you chose what games to give has been incredibly moving. I feel very honored to be part of such a community, and by how big of a success everyone has made our first drive.
You know the rules. Go donate. Send your receipt to [email protected] Hope to win a package that contains Final Fantasy III, Ogre Battle, Breath of Fire, Illusion of Gaia, Chrono Trigger, and now Secret of Mana. Even if you don't win, know that you've helped sick kids have it a little easier in a bad situation.
This has been an amazing experience guys, and I'm very thankful at the support that has been pouring in. Let's bring it in for the big finish.
Back in July, we covered the appearance of a sophisticated malware generator named Pinch Pro. Although not a trojan itself, Pinch Pro provided a framework for malware authors to create and design their own worms and trojans, each of which could be specifically tailored to report certain data, zombify the PC, or kill certain commands/files. Imagine something like Build-A-Bear, but designed for malware rather than fuzzy bear creation, and you've got the right idea.
Pinch became popular in Russia, which meant is also became something of a headache for IT services generally and government services in particular. In effect, the malware-builder proved a bit too popular for its own good, and ultimately attracted the attention of Russian authorities. According to Kaspersky Lab, the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) has identified the two authors of the program, Ermishkin and Farkhutdinov, and will soon take expose them to the cheery Russian legal system.
While the arrest and prosecution of the program's authors is important, it won't do much to solve the underlying problem Pinch has created. The program's source code has been released into the wild—the authors only charged for customized software and support. As such, we can expect to see more variants of the malware creator program appear in the future. Kaspersky Lab has already identified over 4,000 variations of Pinch-created Trojans.
The customizations available to a Pinch designer speak to the tool's features—with the click of a button, the designer can specify his creation to perform a number of specific tasks, including:
SPY: Allows trojan to act as a keylogger, takes screenshots, capture IE data, and can search for certain files.NET:
Turns the PC into a botnet zombie, and allows for the opening of
specific ports, downloads and runs files, and can turn the system into
a proxy.BD: Opens a backdoor on the infected system.KILL: Deactivates certain services or processes.
The more serious threat that Pinch Pro is only a visible symptom of, however, is the ongoing commercialization of malware. Using malware to collect system information or harvest e-mail addresses has always had some inherent value, but the creation of the infectious program itself wasn't necessarily seen as a dependable profit source. Now apps like Pinch Pro, as well as open marketplaces for malware, are bringing the business side of trojans and viruses to the fore.