Why video pre-rolls are a bad idea.

Pre-rolls — the short 10-15 second commercials that some video sites often make you watch before you get to the actual content you want to watch — are a bad idea. Here’s why: When you’re flipping the channels on the TV and you come to a channel with a commercial, do you stop and wait for it to play out, just so you can see what’s coming next? No, if you’re like the vast majority of people I’ve ever watched TV with, you keep flipping.

Now imagine you’ve just clicked on a video link. The first thing you see is an ad. NEXT.

I don’t have statistics on this but I’d bet video sites with prerolls lose an enormous number of viewers in those first 10 or 15 seconds — even if you’re clever enough, like Cnet TV, to include a countdown timer so people at least know how long they have to remain in purgatory. (Disclosure: The magazine I work for, PC Magazine, uses prerolls in its online videos.)

Much more clever is a short advertisement at the end of the video (aka a “post-roll”). You can even make this, as Revver does, a highly unobtrusive still image or a simple flash animation. That way you get people in a happy state, after they’ve just watched your funny 2-minute video, and at the very least you’re not pissing them off or making them wait.

Nevertheless, I predict that pre-rolls will not go away. In fact, they’ll abound on video sites for years to come, and you’ll probably see even more of them in 2007, for the same reason that popups and pop-unders still haven’t gone away: They sell.

Why video pre-rolls are a bad idea.

Networking Vendors Will Invade Your Living Room at CES

Networking vendors are lusting after the lucrative consumer electronics market, and at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they’ll highlight the latest enticements they’ve concocted in order to draw home users into an ever-more networked world.

Key to that strategy for many vendors is the emerging home media and entertainment market – what PC vendors used to call “convergence” devices. In this new world, the PC is being reborn as a media server, hosting high definition video, photos, music, and games that you’ll view and enjoy on a home theater system or large-screen HDTV.

But what if your data is in one room and the screen you want to watch it on is in another? At CES, many companies will be showing home networking products – both wired and wireless – designed to solve that problem and related issues.

Leading the pack wll be a host of routers and adapters designed to capitalize on (and improve upon) the draft 802.11n standard. Although the IEEE (the standards body responsible for the family of wireless standards known as Wi-Fi) has said that it won’t finalize 802.11n until July 2007, many vendors have been shipping routers based on the draft standard for more than a year. That’s because 802.11n delivers data rates as high as 540 Mbits/s at peak (and 200 Mbits/s sustained), which is ten times that of the current high-speed standard, 802.11g. With that much speed, vendors are betting that consumers are willing to take a flyer on the technology, even if the standard isn’t fully cooked yet.

What’s more, the multiple-antenna configurations of most 802.11n routers will help increase the range of these networks, up to about 150 feet indoors. At CES, look for vendors such as ZyXEL and Ruckus Wireless to bring out new pre-N and draft-N gear with improved speed, range, and reliability. Ruckus, for instance, has a “smart Wi-Fi subsystem” that promises to increase the reliability of wireless transmissions enough to support multiple streams of compressed HD video data.

Many companies will also be touting the emerging Wireless USB standard, based on Ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless. (UWB will also be used by the next generation of Bluetooth transceivers as well as a planned wireless version of IEEE 1394, or FireWire.) UWB is capable of delivering 480 Mbits/s at short ranges – up to about 10 feet – although interference and the protocol overhead involved with carrying USB data over UWB reduces the effective throughput to 100 or 200 Mbits/s.

Look for a wave of Wireless USB hubs and dongles (adapters for wirelessly connecting USB devices to the USB ports of your computer) at CES, along with promises of Wireless USB integrated into notebooks and other devices to come later in 2007.

A third area of networking activity at CES will center on home powerline networking products. Long the neglected stepchild of other, more mainstream technologies, powerline networking has finally come into its own with the rise of Homeplug AV, a standard that enables 100Mbps data transmission rates over ordinary powerlines. At that speed, powerline networking is comparable to Ethernet and has plenty of capacity for streaming media applications.

Finally, many networking and storage vendors at CES will be pinning their hopes on the relatively new Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology. DLNA-compatible devices are able to share media with one another over a home network without lots of configuration hassles. The promise is that you’ll be able to plug a DLNA storage device into your network and instantly be able to access the MP3 files on it through your home stereo’s DLNA-compatible media player, for instance.

With such a standard in place, vendors are hoping that network attached storage (NAS) devices will become much more attractive to consumer’s as central repositories for a family’s burgeoning collection of digital media files. Accordingly, look for plenty of DLNA-compatible NAS devices to be announced at CES.

PCMag.com will have the lowdown on specific announcements in these and other networking topics starting the first week of January, so stay tuned. Got CES networking news we should know about? Write to Dylan Tweney at dylan_tweney@ziffdavis.com and let him know what’s new!

Link: Networking Vendors Will Invade Your Living Room at CES

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Networking Vendors Will Invade Your Living Room at CES

Skype’s tricky move.

Skype logo with dollar sign SLast week EBay’s Skype announced a new “unlimited calling” plan. Starting in January, the company will charge $30 for a year of unlimited SkypeOut calls to any phone numbers in the U.S. and Canada. (They’re offering an introductory rate of $15 if you sign up before the end of January.)

This brings an end to about 8 months of free SkypeOut calling to all numbers in North America, and it’s not a surprise — since last May, Skype has said that these calls would only be free through the end of 2006. So no one should be shocked that Skype is starting to charge again.

Users don’t have to pony up the $30 upfront either, since it appears that pay-as-you-go SkypeOut rates, which charge users by the minute, will still be available for calls to the U.S. and internationally.

But Skype’s move is still very risky. Traditionally, letting customers get used to a free service and then suddenly charging them to access it is a losing maneuver. Britannica killed its customer base in 2001 by shutting off free access, Napster users deserted the service in droves when it switched to a paid model in 2001, and more recently Textamerica came in for withering criticism when it switched to a paid model earlier this year.

Even though Skype has said all along that free calls to North America were a temporary thing, you can bet that many users have forgotten that. These users, when they suddenly find they can’t call Mom in Ohio or Grandma in Toronto, are going to look for alternatives before they pony up $30 or even $15. That spells a big opportunity for competitive Internet phone services, from Yahoo Voice to Jajah to MSN Messenger: Offer free calls to landlines starting in January, and then scoop up the customers as they flee from Skype.

Skype can cover some of the risk by keeping the pay-by-the-minute scheme in place. Many users already have some SkypeOut credit stored up. If they don’t, the minimum purchase for credit is just $10. So even if paying by the minute is ultimately less economical than the unlimited plan, the perceived risk is much lower, and this may encourage people to stick with Skype.

Still, the overall impression is that Skype is going from free to paid. That perception could wind up being very costly.

Skype’s tricky move.

Taxonomies gone wild.

I’m amused by this author “bio” on Harpers.org, which was clearly created by a computer geek in love with taxonomic classifications:

This is Ford, Paul, an author and a human being. He is part of Authors, which is part of Human Beings, which is part of Connections, which is part of Harpers.org.

Reading it, I was surprised to discover that human beings are part of “Connections,” whatever that is, which in turn is a subcategory of Harpers.org. I consider myself to be a human being, which I suppose means then that I, too, am subsumed in the plentitude of Harpers.org — clearly some very high order of metaphysical being.

Ford, Paul (Harpers.org)

BTW, it appears that “Ford, Paul” of Harpers.org is the same as “Paul Ford” of Ftrain.com, a site that has long puzzled and fascinated me for its mix of eloquent, lyrical writing and a kind of in-media-res intimacy that gives all of its posts a weird decontextualized bizarreness. I wonder if that taxonomy is one of Paul Ford’s little jokes.

Taxonomies gone wild.