- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hulu Plus, the $10-per-month online TV subscription service, will soon be available for users of Roku Inc. set-top boxes and TiVo Inc. subscribers who purchase its newest Premiere digital video recorders.

Hulu Plus, which launched as an invitation-only service in June, lets people watch current and back episodes from more than 45 shows from ABC, NBC and Fox, including “Modern Family,” “Glee,” and “30 Rock.” Hulu Plus episodes, like the more limited selection available from the free Hulu website, are interrupted by short commercials.

The for-pay Hulu service will be available later this fall on all three of Roku’s Internet video players. The devices, which start at $60, connect to a home network using Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable. Roku says it expects to have sold 1 million set-top boxes by the end of the year.

Hulu Plus will also be available to TiVo Premiere DVR subscribers in the coming months. TiVo customers pay an extra $12.95-a-month fee for updated TV listings and services or $399 for a lifetime subscription. Hulu Plus will only be available to buyers of the Premiere DVR for $299 or Premiere XL for $499. The company said it had 2.4 million subscribers at the end of July, down from 3.1 million a year earlier, but it did not disclose how many were users of Premiere models.

The subscription version of Hulu was developed in part to boost profits for its media company parents: News Corp., General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners. The free version of Hulu generated more than $100 million in 2009 from advertising revenue, and it expected to post a third consecutive profitable quarter for the April through June period.

Hulu Plus is already available on certain Samsung Electronics Co. TVs and Blu-ray players, Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 and Apple Inc.’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The service is expected to launch on Sony and Vizio Inc. TVs and Blu-ray players this year and on Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 early next year.

_ Ryan Nakashima, AP Business Writer

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Google gives Gmail users more control over inboxes

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Google Inc. is addressing one of the biggest complaints about its free e-mail service by giving people more control over how their inboxes are organized.

The new option announced Wednesday will allow Gmail users to choose whether they prefer their incoming messages stacked in chronological order, instead of having them threaded together as part of the same electronic conversation.

Gmail has been automatically grouping messages by topic or senders since Google rolled out the service six years ago.

But this so-called “conversation view” confused or frustrated many Gmail users who had grown accustomed to seeing all their newest messages at the top of the inbox followed by the older correspondence. After all, that’s how most other e-mail programs work.

The complaints grew loud enough to persuade Google to revise the Gmail settings so users can turn off conversation view and unravel their messages.

“We really hoped everyone would learn to love conversation view, but we came to realize that it’s just not right for some people,” Google software engineer Doug Chen wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

The aversion to conversation view doesn’t seem to be widespread. Gmail ended July with nearly 186 million worldwide users, a 22 percent increase from the same time a year ago, according to the research firm comScore Inc. Both Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail (nearly 346 million users) and Yahoo’s e-mail (303 million users) are larger, but aren’t growing nearly as rapidly as Gmail.

_ Michael Liedtke, AP Technology Writer

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IMDb turns 20 with a refreshed, video-full website

LOS ANGELES (AP) IMDb.com, the website you go to in order to find out who acted in what film, no matter how obscure, turns 20 next month. In addition to its extensive and unmatched database, the site was overhauled this week to emphasize video clips and help fans find what they’d like to see next.

The goal of the relaunch is to “help people make viewing decisions” and “emphasize the visual nature of film and TV,” said Col Needham, the site’s 43-year-old British founder and chief executive. Trailers and ticket information are now much more prominent.

The service started out quite differently. On Oct. 17, 1990, the Internet Movie Database was born as Needham posted what was literally a database program that people had to install on their computers. Users could sift through the published credits for all the movies he and a bunch of friends had seen. It was decidedly low-tech, and definitely not commercial.

“We ran as a group of people who just were passionate about film and TV and were sharing that love and knowledge of film and TV with people throughout the world,” he said. “Actually we predate the Web itself.”

Needham sold the site to Amazon.com Inc. in April 1998, right around the time Amazon.com began selling movies.

Today, the site is one of the largest movie sites in the U.S., with 25.6 million unique visitors in August, according to comScore Inc. That ranked it No.1 above Yahoo with 24.3 million and Fandango with 13.4 million. Needham said the site has 100 million monthly visitors worldwide. He still runs it from Bristol, England, but flies to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle once a month.

IMDb.com is populated with ads and links to buy and rent movies from Amazon.com and Blockbuster.com. It also sells a premium subscription called IMDbPro that gets industry insiders contact information, for example, with the agents of the actual stars.

The site is touting a round of original interviews with A-list stars, mobile device applications and social networking functions to “get the next 100 million” users, Needham said.

_ Ryan Nakashima, AP Business Writer

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Microsoft ditches Live Spaces for WordPress.com

SEATTLE (AP) Microsoft Corp. is giving up on its own blog network and, in a new partnership, will start sending new Windows Live users to a competing platform instead.

Microsoft said Monday that people who sign up for a Windows Live account necessary to use the free Hotmail e-mail system, the Xbox Live site and other services can get a free blog from WordPress.com.

They’ll no longer be given a “space” on Microsoft’s own blogging system, Windows Live Spaces.

Current Windows Live Spaces bloggers can use the existing system until the end of the year. If they want to update their blog after that, they have until March 2011 to switch to WordPress. They can also download the content from their existing blog to their PCs.

Microsoft said it will make sure existing text, photos, videos, comments and links transfer over to the new blog.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft added MSN Spaces, later renamed Windows Live Spaces, to its array of free online services in 2004. For several years, the software maker seemed committed to the idea of building its own version of competitors’ products, from online photo management and event invitation to blogging and social-networking software.

Microsoft has since shifted its strategy, providing tools and services that mesh better with competitors’ programs. For example, people can use the Windows Live Photo Gallery program to publish pictures to Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr site, or connect feeds from social networks Facebook and LinkedIn with Messenger accounts and Windows Live profile pages.

In a blog post, Microsoft said giving its customers access to WordPress.com was a better move than continuing to invest in its own service. That may be because Windows Live Spaces gets a fraction of the traffic its competitors do, at least in the U.S.

Microsoft says Windows Live Spaces has 30 million “active” users, or people who logged in within the last month.

In the U.S., Windows Live Spaces was visited by about 2.3 million people in August, according to research group comScore Inc. Google Inc.’s Blogger drew 56.9 million people, WordPress.com attracted 26.1 million people and sites from Six Apart, which operates the TypePad and Moveable Type blog platforms, attracted 19.3 million unique visitors.

_ Jessica Mintz, AP Technology Writer

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Online:

Microsoft’s blog post on the switch:

http://bit.ly/bhTA5D

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