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Three Breakout Tech Trends Changing Work and Play


The prime-time Web. Game consoles for grownups. The Internet security freak-out. They've all hit the mainstream, finally.

Some ideas have to simmer for a long time before they're ready for mass consumption. All three of these have been around for a long time now, but there are signs that 2013 is their time to shine.

1. World Premieres on the Web

Last weekend, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) entered the original entertainment programming business with House of Cards, a made-for-streaming-video series starring Kevin Spacey as a deliciously villainous politician.

In a cool quirk that reflects its Web-centric world, Netflix made all 13 one-hour episodes of the first season available at once to its subscribers.

According to Variety, "extreme binge viewing" has ensued.

The New Yorker declared that House of Cards is "in the same league as the best shows" on cable, not to mention "about five times better than the average Hollywood film."

It had better be. Netflix reportedly paid $100 million for two seasons of the show.

Meanwhile, Netflix's extremely deep-pocketed competitor Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) just won exclusive rights to stream the popular PBS costume soap opera Downton Abbey, all the way through season five, if it happens. According to a company statement, Amazon is selling the first three British seasons as a package now-meaning Americans can get the final three episodes of the current season before they air on US television.

That's one in the eye for Netflix, which has only got season one of Downton Abbey, and even that is expected to be yanked soon, thanks to the Amazon deal.

This battle for subscriber share is going to get very expensive for Netflix and Amazon, and very entertaining for consumers.

The clear losers are the cable television service companies. If consumers were already thinking of cutting the cord to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) or Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), the knowledge that some of the best stuff is available only in their Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions could push them over the edge.

2. Game Consoles for Grown-Ups

The invitation from Sony (NYSE:SNE) to its next "press event" is cryptic, but it sounds an awful lot like the company is going to launch a new and more powerful version of the PlayStation home game console on Feb. 20 in New York.

Industry watchers tell Bloomberg News that the new Playstation 4 will have hyper-realistic images, allowing for much uglier monsters to be blown to smithereens in many more creative ways.

Sony's Feb. 20 event gets in ahead of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which is expected to introduce an updated version of its Xbox 360 game console in June at a video game conference in Los Angeles. The Xbox, and its Xbox Live online gaming service, have for years been the lone bright spots of sales growth and critical raves for Microsoft.

Oddly, the Xbox has for years contained powers that have gone unrecognized by anyone past adolescence. It is capable of serving as an "entertainment hub" for delivering television programming, movies, music, and more.

Sony's new Playstation is expected to come packed with its own latest take on that "entertainment hub" notion.

The problem is, the console makers have utterly failed to get across the message that the annoying device attached to their adolescents may be of use to them.

As Sony and Microsoft fall all over each other competing for market share for their new machines, they will try once more to deliver that message.

The industry leader in this space, Nintendo (PINK:NTDOY), seems to be losing its mojo. Last week, it cut its sales forecasts for its new Wii U console and the games made for it. Forbes writer Dave Thier notes that there is a new source of pressure on sales of game consoles: game apps made for smartphones are way cheaper and just as much fun, especially for young children.

3. The Internet Security Freak-Out

Oh boy, has Internet security been in the news lately, and not in a good way. Hackers grabbed personal data on 250,000 Twitter users, while the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal revealed that their internal systems had been the victims of malicious cyber-attacks.

And that was just last week.

It's called "spear-phishing," and it appears to be among the most difficult Internet security attacks to repel. The perpetrators target internal email addresses with messages that, when opened, plant malware or link to it.

Spear-phishers may be looking for corporate or military secrets, or market-sensitive information. They may be trawling for lists of email addresses to target with spam. Some are conducting political investigations on enemies lists, like Watergate burglars for a new age. And some may just be up to pure mischief.

The Times fingered Chinese hackers as the source of its own ordeal, which lasted for four months. But experts warn that it's easy to make an attack look like it came from China. It could just as well have come from Topeka, or your no-good nephew.

The Times also pointed out that its security software, from industry leader Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), managed to detect only one of the 45 pieces of malware planted by the hackers.

That's the kind of press any company can do without, but experts in Internet security have been quick to defend Symantec. They note that security firms constantly tweak their products to defend against the latest viruses, but since the hackers are constantly inventing new ones, it's a defense game.

That's Symantec's line, too. Or, as a company spokesman put it, "anybody running the latest security software… will be in a better position to protect themselves" than if they don't have it.

Other layers of Internet security may get a lot more attention from corporate IT departments in light of the recent attacks. One is the SIEM, or Security Information and Event Management system, which is designed to capture and analyze abnormal activity in the corporate world. The leading SIEM products, according to a 2012 analysis by Gartner Group, include Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE:HPQ) ArcSight, EMC's (NYSE:EMC) RSA, and KEYW Holding's (NASDAQ:KEYW) SenSage, as well as products from Symantec and privately-held companies LogLogic, Q1 Labs, and Novell.

[Next Week: The Mobile Wallet; The Share Economy; and The Second Screen.]

Also see:

Facebook Has Maxed Out Among PC Users

14 Cloud Stocks: Who Will Rule, Who Will Fade Away?

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