Industry Roundup

Netflix ups rates: DVD rental firm Netflix Inc. will boost its monthly fees by 10.2%, effective mid-June. The news caused a 16.9% drop in the value of Netflix stock, which closed Friday April 16 at $30.75/share. The Los Gatos, CA–based operation reported a loss for the first fiscal quarter ended March 31 due to expensive TV advertising.

New monthly rates for Netflix will be $21.99. The average Netflix subscriber receives seven DVDs per month, a sharp increase from the six per month average in 2003. The increased rate is a burden on the company, whose service is based on a flat fee regardless of the number of movies rented.

Comcast VOD goes live: Comcast Corporation has made good on its promise to deliver video-on-demand to its subscribers in New England. As of April 16, the company's two million customers in the Northeast can access round-the-clock VOD programming from New England Cable News, WCVB-TV, WGBH, NESN, and CN8. The combined feeds amount to more than 1800 hours of programming, according to a Comcast press release.

DirecTV piracy campaign goes awry: The satellite TV service's efforts to eradicate signal theft have backfired, at least in the case of one former investigator. Former police officer John Fisher, who worked for DirecTV uncovering signal theft through the use of unauthorized "smart cards," has sued the company in Los Angeles County Court saying the anti-piracy campaign was little more than an "extortion scheme."

Using customer records from electronics stores, DirecTV investigators would confront suspected pirates in person or by mail and demand payments, usually around $3500, and sometimes without proof, Fisher charged. He's "seeking unspecified damages, and an end to the campaign," according to an April 16 report by Kevin Poulsen in Security Focus. Fisher said the work made him nothing but "a bag man for the mob," adding that DirecTV investigators "were required to coerce people into paying money for stealing services when we had no proof whether they had done so or not." The satellite service has filed more than 9000 lawsuits against suspected signal thieves.

DISH upgrade: EchoStar has announced an upgrade to a hard-drive-equipped DISH Player-DVR 510 for $79. The deal was made available to DISH Network subscribers on April 15. The DVR 510 has 100-hour programming capacity. For customers who sign up for the upgrade, EchoStar is also offering a low-cost installation service.

Samsung surges: Riding the flat panel television wave, Samsung reported a 19% rise in sales for its consumer electronics products for the year's first fiscal quarter. CE revenue was $1.9 billion, up from $1.6 billion for the same period the previous year. Paradoxically, the company's digital media division, which includes computers, digital televisions and DVD players, dropped to 15% of Samsung's overall sales, compared to 20% in the first quarter of 2003. Samsung is a world leader in mobile telephones, where it claims 35% of the world market. The company also claims 12% of the global market in digital television, according to a mid-April report.