Re-Styling the Washington Post

I’ve been reading the Washington Post via their web site for almost as long as I’ve lived in DC. While the Post’s site has never been known for its beautiful design, the recent updates are nothing short of awful. In particular, the home page now consists almost entirely of bold-face text. To my eyes, all the bold just makes the whole thing look like a giant advertisement.
So, I finally broke down and decided to see what I could do about it. I wrote some CSS modifications that cleaned the front page up nicely. Observe:

WaPo - Before


WaPo - After


It’s not a huge change, but I find it much more readable. If you like the way it looks, please feel free to use the CSS yourself.  I’m using a Safari extension called User CSS to apply the CSS to all pages on I’m sure there are similar extensions available for Firefox and Chrome. I set the domain to: http://**

Here’s the CSS:

body {background-color: #eee !important;}
h1, h2, a {font-weight: normal !important;}
#content a {color: #057EC2 !important;}
#content a:hover {color: #66aad1 !important;}
ul.normal li {margin-bottom: 4px !important;}
p.heading1, p.heading2 {font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif !important;}

99¢ TV Rentals from NBC

AppleInsider reported yesterday that NBC strongly opposes Apple’s 99¢ price point for TV show rentals. Though NBC offers shows for purchase on iTunes for $1.99 ($2.99 for an HD version), NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker was quoted as saying 99¢ rentals “would devalue our content.” Putting aside the reasonableness of this position, NBC’s credibility on the issue is pretty weak. Why? They’ve caved on iTunes pricing before.
Think back to late summer 2007, when NBC pulled all of its content from iTunes after Apple refused to increase the per-episode price to $4.99. At the time, NBC shows accounted for 30% of TV show sales on iTunes. A year later, NBC was back on iTunes at the same price point, along with HD versions for $2.99. Apple held their ground on pricing, and NBC backed down. Apple doesn’t need NBC shows. People will still buy iPods and iPhones, and even Apple TVs, without 99¢ TV rentals from NBC. Might Apple sell more devices if they had NBC on board? Sure. But something tells me they aren’t wetting their pants about waiting NBC out on this one.

Boxee Box vs. Apple TV

I’ve been thinking about buying some kind of Internet-connected TV set-top box, for movies and TV shows, for quite a while now, but I recently took the plunge and pre-ordered the new Apple TV. I’ve avoided buying a Blu-ray player, because I don’t want to buy a whole new set of (more expensive) discs when it seems like a fully disc-less future is right around the corner. Both Apple TV, shipping in the next 2-4 weeks, and the Boxee Box, which entered pre-orders today, seem to fit into the new no-disc world I’m looking for.
Conceptually, the two share a basic idea: stream content from the Internet or, in the case of Apple TV, other devices, to your TV. They’re both pretty small boxes that sit unobtrusively on a shelf. Originally, I thought I might go for the Boxee Box, which just entered pre-orders, but in the end, I thought Apple TV was a better fit. Here’s why:

Content I Want
Apple TV gets most of its content from iTunes. You can rent and stream movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, and they’ve got a decent selection to choose from. My guess (and Apple’s) is that the catalog of TV shows available to rent at $0.99 per episode will expand over time. That’s certainly been the case with the library of music and movies. You can also stream movies and TV shows from other Macs and iOS devices in your home. (More on that in a minute.) Finally, Apple TV can play movies available for instant watching from Netflix. I can already do that with my TiVo, but it’s a nice perk to have it integrated with the Apple TV as well.

Boxee, on the other hand, streams content from online video sources. It sports and impressive library of TV shows available to stream instantly. However, most of those shows come directly from ad-supported sites run by the networks that produced the show – NBC, TBS, etc. I don’t mind ads all the time, but I want the option of paying for content without them. Moreover, Boxee doesn’t seem to offer a movie library at all, although like Apple TV, it does integrate with Netflix and allows you to play videos from your computer.

Sadly though, those movies and TV shows from iTunes won’t play on the Boxee Box – they’re protected by Apple’s copyright protection. Nobody loves DRM, but it seems it’s a necessary evil for now, and if I have to buy copyright protected-content from somewhere, it’ll probably be from iTunes. I also keep my music and movies in iTunes, and I want a box that connects seamlessly to iTunes running on my computer. That means Apple TV.

Other Devices
Both Apple TV and Boxee Box can play music and videos stored on your computer. However, Apple as taken things one step further. Starting with the release of iOS 4.2 for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, you’ll be able to stream video from your mobile devices to your Apple TV. That means I can
download or rent a movie on my phone and play it on the big screen with my Apple TV. More enticingly, anecdotal reports suggest that streaming from iOS to Apple TV isn’t limited to iTunes content, suggesting the possibility of streaming all sorts of video content, from YouTube to live MLB games from the MLB app.

The new Apple TV is $99, while the Boxee Box is $199.
I could buy or rent a lot of movies and TV shows on iTunes with the $100 difference — and none of them would have ads.

Say it ain’t so, HBO!

Bloomberg reported yesterday that HBO has rejected Netflix’s offers to stream content through the Netflix video on demand service. Instead, HBO plans to concentrate on their HBO Go service, for which they plan an iPad app in addition to offering video on demand through some cable systems. Responding to questions about HBO’s desire to go it alone, president Eric Kessler responded, “There is value in exclusivity.”
Perhaps there is, but sadly, HBO is leaving some of that value on the table, because HBO Go is only available to current subscribers to their cable channel. I watch a couple of HBO shows, but not enough that I’m willing to subscribe to their premium cable channel. In fact, I’d really like to get rid of my cable subscription altogether, a goal that’s getting more realistic by the day with services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and iTunes. But HBO apparently isn’t interested in customers like me. If  don’t have cable TV service, HBO won’t allow me to buy a subscription to HBO Go, even if I were willing to pay the full price of their premium cable channel.

Now, in my ideal world, HBO would offer episodes for sale a la carte through iTunes, the way most other TV shows (and some of HBO’s back catalog) are sold. But I can imagine how their subscription model, in which you have to buy the whole package, makes sense for them and provides some guaranteed income. The problem is, the subscription model doesn’t need to rely on cable TV. Just saying “we have an iPad app” isn’t going to help very much when those iPad users start deciding that they no longer want to pay Comcast $50/month for shoddy service. iPad owners likely to be the first ones to ditch their cable subscriptions. Why not let them pay for the content, even if it’s on a subscription basis, regardless of whether they have cable?