Hey Canadians: No Daily Show for you

If you like satire and you don’t mind staying up late, you’re probably a fan of The Daily Show, that great showcase for the satirical jabs of Jon Stewart. If that’s the case, you might have been overjoyed to hear that Comedy Central (which is part of MTV, which in turn is part of Viacom) recently launched a website with 13,000 or so clips from the show, including some of the most-loved episodes.

Finally, you may have thought to yourself — after months of fighting with YouTube over clips from the show (which routinely appear and then are quickly removed), Viacom has decided that giving viewers what they want over the Internet is the right way to go. Bravo.

The only problem with that rosy little scenario is that Viacom’s largesse — like every other U.S. TV network that has decided to stream popular shows from their website — is completely unavailable to Canadian viewers (and to viewers in other countries as well). You can go to the website and click on a video, but you don’t get anything. To add insult to injury, the pre-roll advertising spot that Viacom has sold for the clip plays just fine, but is followed by a black screen — a screen that might as well say “Hey non-U.S. viewers — look at all the stuff you can’t watch.”

Why can’t you watch The Daily Show clips? The same reason you can’t watch an episode of Heroes on the website the day after it plays on TV, and the same reason you can’t download TV episodes from iTunes: Canadian networks like Global and CTV have paid for the right to broadcast those shows, and would no doubt raise a hue and cry if they were suddenly available for free on the Internet. That might destabilize the entire Canadian broadcasting business model, which relies on access to U.S. hits.

Update: On a more recent visit to The Daily Show website, I was automatically redirected to thecomedynetwork.ca, which carries episodes of the Comedy Central show in Canada (after a pseudo-friendly message popped up saying how “some jerk blocked ComedyCentral.com” and that this was a “load of crap,” but that clicking on the link would take you to The Comedy Network for all your favourites “and a whole whack of homegrown hilarity”).

You can watch some recent episodes of The Daily Show at the Canadian site, but there is only a small selection, in contrast to the complete show archive that is available at the U.S. site. I guess it’s better than a blank screen, but not by much.

More bags of money for Zuckerberg

Owen van Natta, the head of business development for Facebook, was pretty cagey on the Microsoft conference call when he was asked about other potential investors in the current round of funding — so it’s not really a surprise to see that two hedge funds have reportedly also invested in the social network at the same head-spinning valuation of $15-billion.

And while this news comes to us from Fake Steve Jobs, we all know by now that FSJ is really Daniel Lyons of Forbes — and as Silicon Alley Insider points out, the same word has also come from FSJ’s real-world colleague Elizabeth Corcoran, who wrote about it on her blog. It still falls under the heading of “rumour,” but at least it’s not just Fake Steve trying to pull one over on us.

In any case, it’s completely believable that two hedge funds would put in $250-million each, despite the high valuation placed on Facebook. After all, the whole sub-prime thing is a goner now, and we know that hedge funds will invest in just about anything. When a Canadian bank invests in Facebook, then you’ll know the bubble is really starting to get over-inflated.

Bubble alert: Amazon over-inflated?

Facebook isn’t the only company to be raising questions (in my mind at least) about some of the valuations that are out there. It wasn’t until I looked at Amazon’s stock chart that I realized the shares closed above $100 on Tuesday — touching a level they haven’t seen since the latter days of the tech bubble in 2000, just as things were about to pop. Not long after they hit that price, they began a free-fall that didn’t stop until they got below $20.

blowing-bubbles1.jpgMaybe that’s part of the reason why Amazon’s shares slumped on Wednesday, despite a strong quarter in which profit more than quadrupled and revenue rose by more than 40 per cent. Amazon’s business has grown substantially since 2000, and there’s no question that the company has had a good year — but the share price has more than doubled in the past six months and tripled in the past year. And if you look at some of the stats, the shares are trading at some eye-popping multiples.

For example, the online retailer’s stock is selling at 122 times “trailing” earnings (profit over the past 12-month period) and more than 60 times projected profit for next year. And Google? The Web giant is selling for just 52 times its trailing profit and 32 times projected profit for next year. Amazon’s stock price is 75 times its equity per share or “book value.” Google? 10 times.

Apparently unfazed by any of this — including the fact that Amazon’s operating-profit margins are just 4 per cent, compared with Google’s 32 per cent — several analysts have boosted their price targets for the shares. Banc of America jacked up its target to $115, just two weeks after raising it to $105 from $90. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of air being pumped into something.

Facebook: Conference call notes

I was going to post some of my notes from the Microsoft/Facebook conference call, and then I decided to search the blogosphere first, and decided that my notes aren’t really going to bring anything to the table. I already knew that Allen Stern of Centernetworks was live-blogging, because I saw his Twitter updates — which he wanted to post to his blog but couldn’t — and then later I came across Mike Arrington’s live notes from the call as well.

On top of that, there are some pretty good notes at the Seattle Times, at PaidContent and by Adam Ostrow at Mashable, and my pal Om Malik did some as well. It seems as though any competitive advantage that listening to conference calls might once have provided is pretty much gone now 🙂 I would echo the points made by Rafat and others: the call contained virtually nothing of any substance, and in fact no direct answers whatsoever. Lots of “win-win-win”-type talk from Kevin Johnson of Microsoft though, who really needs to stop yelling.

Facebook: Why Microsoft’s buy makes sense

Forget about the $15-billion valuation for a moment — which I admit is difficult to do, since it amounts to about 100 times the company’s estimated annual revenue, a bubblicious multiple by almost any definition (Google is currently trading at about 14 times sales). Why wouldn’t Microsoft take a stake in a fast-growing social network?

  • 1. It gets to keep Google out, so that’s good.
  • 2. It gets to serve ads to those millions of devoted users who check their Facebook every five minutes.
  • 3. It has effectively bought a call option on the future of the company.

It’s not like Microsoft has to come up with the $15-billion. All it has to do is structure a deal that is worth $250-million or so, complete with performance clauses and so forth, and it gets a piece of something that could be worth substantially more at some point (nice to see that Jon Fine of BusinessWeek agrees with me). Not to hype the Google comparison, since they are completely different animals, but wouldn’t you have bought a small percentage of Google if you had had the chance, regardless of the implied valuation?

Anyway, the bottom line is that it’s only a 1.6-per-cent stake. And it looks like this face really is worth $15-billion after all. So anyone want to take bets on how long it will be until Mark Zuckerberg decides to buy a jumbo-jet party plane just like the Google boys? I guess it’s a good thing Mark turned down Yahoo’s $1-billion takeover last year.

Further reading:

— Mike Arrington has been live-blogging the conference call.
— Silicon Alley Insider did too, by way of writer Peter Kafka.
Some analysis from Ashkan Karbasfrooshan at WatchMojo.
— John Paczkowski at All Things D leads with the Ballmer quote about Facebook being, well… no big deal.
— Rafat at PaidContent says there’s still room for others to invest.
— Erick Schonfeld says Facebook took the path of least resistance.
— Rob Enderle tells the NYT “this was almost personal.”

Google uses the PageRank hammer

It’s Google’s Web — we’re just living in it. That seems to be the message coming from the latest update to its PageRank algorithm, which has pushed some websites several rungs down the ladder due to the use of paid links. If nothing else, this kind of move reminds people that Google is not some kind of benevolent father figure that exists to make our lives easier — it is a corporation with its own interests at heart, and while PageRank is a tool, in some cases it is a hammer.

Andy Beard says that Google has slapped some of its biggest fans, meaning those who use a variety of tactics to boost their profile in the Google index — but those “fans” also include some marketing types who use what (to Google at least) are shady methods of conferring high PageRank on sites that don’t deserve it, such as the notorious link-farms we all come across now and then. Some self-promoters, like John Chow, have been removed from the Google index completely.

One no-no is the selling of links through things such as Text Link Ads (disclosure: I use Text Link Ads here, as an experiment, and it appears my PageRank has fallen as a result), because Google seems to want to maintain the “purity” of the linking experience, and not get people all confused about what’s an ad and what isn’t. That’s the charitable view. And the uncharitable one? If you want to sell links, Google would much rather that you use AdWords. And as Adam Ostrow notes at Mashable, Google makes a fair bit of money from link-farms itself.

Steve D. at TechVat has more on the PageRank issue, including a list of sites that have seen their rank decrease — and it’s a list that includes some well-known sites, including the Washington Post, Forbes and Engadget. And there’s some commentary at ProBlogger and Digital Inspiration. This is also an issue that Search Engine Land has covered before, including a well-timed piece by Danny Sullivan about the risks of selling links.

How the Web is reporting the news

It’s a classic small-town newspaper story: the big fire, with all the pumpers and ladder-trucks on the scene, the volunteer firefighters helping out, maybe even a building or two evacuated. Makes for great journalism of the old-fashioned kind (remind me to tell you about the time I spent two hours trying to find the small grass fire in London, Ont. caused by a downed airplane — good times). The California fires are much bigger than that, of course, but essentially the same type of story: Man against Nature.

Now, however, the Web is doing much of the legwork, as Danny notes in his roundup of fire coverage and Allan Stern notes as well. The best thing a news outlet could do in a situation like this one — apart from maybe sending one of its reporters down to command central — is to pull together the threads that are out there: the Google Maps mashups (like the LA Times has put together), the eyewitness photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube.

In addition to that, someone could aggregate all the different fire reports, the details of what is burning and where, the evacuation centres and their locations, photos of the key spots, and facts about the spread of previous fires. Oops — someone is already doing that. It’s a little place called Wikipedia, which is rapidly becoming a key place to go for news about such events.


My friend Paul Kedrosky wonders if this is the first Web 2.0 disaster — which it might be, but the fact that it occurred so close to the heart of Silicon Valley probably helps — and notes that one paper is using a blog to keep readers updated. And in my comments, Holly points to a post by Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins at Mashable, in which he has lots of links to Twittered news and other sources (and just for the record, I remember Nando and Angelfire too, Mark)

Video: Never pictured Dylan in an Escalade

I know this probably makes me naieve (not to mention old) but I just never figured Dylan would be shilling for Cadillac, driving a gigantic, gas-guzzling Escalade. The rest of the video fits — the dusty prairie, the gnarled trees and scrub brush, the rundown buildings. But Dylan driving a giant SUV just doesn’t work for me somehow.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRT7EFoWpZ4&rel=0&border=0&w=425&h=366]

(via The Listenerd)

Is StumbleUpon better than Google?

StumbleUpon — the social app that lets you randomly click your way through the Web, or through a particular subject area, and then vote for the sites you hit — has launched an expansion of its SearchReviews feature, which has actually been around for awhile. As a dedicated user of StumbleUpon (and not just because Garett Camp and his co-founders are Canadian), I’ve been seeing it for some time: when I search in Google, certain links have StumbleUpon logos beside them and a ranking expressed as a number of stars.

There’s more detail on the announcement at TechCrunch, as well as Search Engine Journal and GigaOm, but the post that got me thinking was by Paul Glazowski at Profy. Paul’s point is a good one: When you search, the new StumbleUpon feature gives you the top-ranked sites as voted on by the clicks and rankings of its 3.7 million or so users. In other words, it gives you what the “crowd” thinks is the best site. But doesn’t Google already do this? Isn’t Google’s PageRank algorithm just a similar kind of crowdsourcing model?

If that’s the case, then what’s the benefit of StumbleUpon? I think one significant benefit is that StumbleUpon’s “social search” involves sites that are ranked by people, not by an algorithm; and it sorts them based on the actual votes of actual people, not based on manufactured link-farms that are designed by black-hat SEO artists. In other words, the spam level is virtually zero.

Not that I think Google should be scared of someone like StumbleUpon piggybacking on its results and trying to add value to them. But Jason Calacanis and Mahalo.com might be a little nervous, since people-powered search is their game. Incidentally, as I have mentioned before and others have noticed as well, StumbleUpon routinely drives more traffic than Digg.com.