The Perils of Democratizing Media

29 09 2007

At every conference I’ve been to, speakers assume that information and media should be democratized.  YouTube and Metacafe may prove them wrong.  Check it out.

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Apple Upgrades and Downgrades

28 09 2007

Now that I have my MacBook Pro back, I can tell you what happened.

One day two weeks ago, I started up my new (bought in April) laptop and saw the screen completely tricked out in pink, with wavy lines. It was almost impossible to view for more than ten minutes without my eyes going buggy and the top of my head exploding.

This happened the evening before I was going on a business trip so, needless to say, I was Not Happy.

I brought it into the Mac Store (there’s one five minutes from my house, thank God) and the geniuses at the Genius Bar told me that it was probably the logic board and they’d be happy to take my laptop from me fro 5 to 10 business days to send it out for repair.

Of course, I didn’t do that I took it to Albuquerque and just toughed it out. I had to keep putting the top of my head back on, periodically, but at least I had connectivity.

When I got back, I brought it back into the store and watched them pack it away.

In the meantime, my wife’s ancient iBook went kerfloooey. The Geniuses told her that it was the logic board and would cost $400 to replace. They advised we grab the hard drive out of the puppy and use the rest of the iBook as a giant skipping stone at the park (or a reef, along with the hundreds of other retired iBooks).

We were suffering from logic board nightmares.

We haven’t dealt with her problem yet, but I got mine back yesterday in great shape and much faster than ten business days. Total time without laptop — six days, including Saturday and Sunday. The ticket packed in with the repaired Mac said that they got it in on Monday and fixed it the same day. It was shipped back out and — voila — life is good.

Interestingly, when I read further in the ticket I noticed that there was no mention of a replaced logic board. In fact, they replaced the screen and my hard drive!!

Luckily, I had Super Dupered my content, so it was easy to get it up and running again except for one thing — my PC partition had completely disappeared. And that was where I had my Avid application. So, right now, no Avid. I’ve got FCP back (along with the rest of the suite) but no Avid.

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The Middle East GETS It

21 09 2007

The Middle East International Film Festival is running from October 14-19th in Abu Dhabi and I wish I could go, but (alas) that simply won’t be possible/affordable this year.

However, there is a really interesting sidebar festival going on, called the Hayah Film Competition. It is designed, according to the site, to “encourage innovation and creativity from filmmakers throughout the UAE and Middle East region.”

Here’s what’s cool about it, according to a note on the MEIFF’s site:

Filmmakers will submit projects, less than 5 minutes in length that will be viewed on iPods and on the Festival website throughout the world.

There are three categories — students, professional, amateur. (For more information, go to the Hayah website right here)

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of films that people can view on their iPods right now (the new iPhone/iPod with YouTube connection guarantees that). But I’m excited that a film festival is creating an integrated event honoring them.  I’m excited but not too surprised that it’s happening in the Middle East.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the Middle East, teaching film in Jordan. Though I haven’t traveled extensively outside of Jordan, the film scene there struck me as incredibly vibrant and at the beginning stages. (The first feature created by Jordanians and shot, CAPTAIN ABU RAED, isn’t out of editing yet but the early cut that I saw is absolutely stunning in its storytelling and filmmaking abilities). It is an incredibly exciting time to be in the area, filmmaking-wise (one of my workshop students, has posted pictures of him shooting a film in Iraq,) and every single one of the filmmakers I met there was incredibly aware of the power of the growing Internet presence.

it bodes really well for film’s future and I’m thrilled to be even the tiniest part of the rebirth.

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Movie Trailers

19 09 2007

Chris Thilk, in a column in BRANDWEEK, discusses why movie trailers are effective and wonders why more movie studies aren’t putting them online in places like YouTube. He makes mention, at the end, about NBC’s attempt to wrest control of their content from Apple and put it on their own site,

NBC and Fox are correct in their thinking behind People do want professionally produced content online. But where they start to be wrong is when they think they can define where that content lives. Users want to find it where they are, not where they’re told to be.

He is absolutely correct in his postulate that users can’t be dragooned into a site which isn’t comprehensive. It’s all about where people congregate. Unless you’re supplying a particular niche, users like to go to an iTunes or a YouTube or a Facebook where they can pick and choose among a wide variety of files. It’s like Walmart. It’s easier to go there for six different items, all other things being equal, than to shop at six stores for them. Why would I want to go to hulu for NBC and Fox content, and another site for ABC, and a third for CBS (who, by the way, announced that they’re very happy with iTunes, thank you very much).

Interestingly, NBC announced today that they would be making their own shows available on yet another website — their own — for one week after they air. The downloadable files, which won’t be available for the Mac initially, would time expire after seven days of air, and have embedded ads which could not be skipped.

Ironically, when this venture fails, it won’t be because it is PC only. It will be for two main reasons the biggest of which is that users will download a show one day and go to watch it a week later and it will be gone. This is not something that happens on iTunes or on our PVRs like Tivo. The other is that, except for must watch shows like HEROES and THE OFFICE, no one is going to be shovelling around on NBC for shows they don’t know about. It’s much more satisfying to do that on a place that has content from more than one provider. The analogy to television doesn’t work guys. You don’t have my allegiance unequivocally. In a world in which I’m no longer sure what channel or time slot my shows are one (thanks to my PVR’s search and record functions), why should I remember to go to NBC?

About the only hopeful innovation in the announcement is the auto-download feature. Like iTunes full-season function, or Tivo’s Season Pass (or, even more accurately, a podcast’s RSS function), you’ll be able to schedule a show’s download for the future.

Which all circles around back to the BRANDWEEK column. Film distribution companies need to go where the viewers are, even when they don’t know where that location is. To seed a trailer or other promo piece in a place where viewers can download it or send it along virally to their friends will help send the message to a lot more people than if the studio held onto the distribution themselves.

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Why It Would Be Good To Own Stock In Mobile Content Companies

18 09 2007

There’s a study that I just stumbled across, thanks to Frank W. Baker’s web site on Media Literacy, that was compiled by really really small cell phoneThe National Center On Health Statistics which includes an interesting factoid. It’s called “Wireless Substitution” and it charts and analyzes the growing movement towards cell phones away from traditional land lines.

I haven’t jumped into that pool myself for one simple reason — cell phone service is still so far inferior to cell phone service that I can’t rely on it. My joke is that when I was in Jordan I could get cell service in the middle of the desert. Back home, I couldn’t get it in my living room. In fact, I’m convinced that the reason AT&T could claim (in an ad campaign that they have recently dropped) that they had “fewest dropped calls” was because they had the fewest connected calls to begin with.

But it’s clear that we are becoming an increasingly wireless world. On my last several business trips, Internet service in my hotels was all wireless. No more lugging Ethernet cables around.

Anyway… the survey claims that nearly 12% of all people no longer have landlines and have moved completely over to cell service. The survey further claims that there is virtually no difference between adults and children in this regard (11.8% for adults, 11.6% for children, though the results definitely skew towards the under-30 crowd).

This is good news for those of us in the media creation business. Unlike the advent of home video (VHS and DVDs) no one is going to easily take pre-existing media and shove it onto cell phones (even if they are bigger than the one shown here). I don’t see millions of viewers wanting to watch TRANSFORMERS 2 on their Nokia or iPhone instruments (assuming there are millions who want to see it at all) (end of cheap shot). But many people will, clearly, want to use their cell phones for more than making and receiving phone calls. A look at the growth of smartphones, as well as the thriving (for now) ringtone market proves that.

The future is really going to be with the people who either create media specifically for this new distribution channel or who can specifically adapt old media for the new market. Fox tried it a few years ago with mobisodes of 24, to greater or lesser degrees of success. But people are already doing it themselves, and the explosion of the easy-to-use DV Tools market is only going to make it easier to do it.

Once again, the determining factor is going to be distribution — access to eyeballs. Companies like KBS (The Korean Broadcasting System), who are trying to partner with content creators for distribution to the sophisticated Korean market, will be the early winners (if they can keep the arrows out of their early adopter backs). But, if we’re nimble, the real winners will be the people who supply the KBSes of the world. Verizon will, very very soon, have their heads out of the sand, and be buying and creating content. It won’t surprise me if American companies choose to partner with television networks and major content companies, since that is a tried and true method. But, at least at first, there will be plenty of room for creative people to have their own wares seen by millions of people who no longer have a landline.

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Observed While In New Mexico

16 09 2007

There’s a local real estate company, owned by the Al Unser family, down in Albuquerque. I was down there this weekend doing some consulting and got stuck behind one of their trucks for a bit.

Incredibly amusing fact is that their slogan, which is plastered in huge letters on the back of their truck is:

We’re not the worst. We’re not the best. We’re a cut above the rest.

Pretty awesome, eh? It’s actually hard to believe that this is an advertising slogan.  Remind me not to hire that ad agency.

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Visually Strolling The Web

13 09 2007

I love walk2web.

It’s a visual representation of the links among web sites that you’re interested in. Very Web 2.0-ey.

You choose a web site and click on the “walk” button (yes, of course it’s in lower case). It shows you the site in a reduced size window, but also shows you a blue ball for the URLs that that site links to. Then you can click on those links and get to see each of those pages. In addition, it reads out some information about each selected page. If it’s an RSS feed, it also scrolls to show you the openings of each of the feed items.

Totally cool. Somewhat visual. It brings me back to the original web, when the phrase “surf the web” meant something.

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Media Literacy

13 09 2007

Two of the complaints that I constantly hear from my fellow oldsters is that “kids just don’t read anymore,” and “They just aren’t literate.”

Well, it depends what you mean by literacy.

We swim in a world of multimedia. We thrive in a world of visual and aural stimuli, delivered through digital processes as well as the traditional analog sensory ones. As Elizabeth Daley, Dean of the School of Cinema at USC, has said:

No longer can students be considered truly educated by mastering reading and writing alone. The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio with video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student.

In an interview in the LA Times she further explains:

We’re not attacking the text. We really like texts. It’s just that with multimedia, you’re penetrating things at so many layers and levels that you can’t with just text.

This means that not only will the educated student in any discipline need to be able to create media (whether it is uploading a video, writing a blog, or creating a film/Powerpoint for their non-media work), but they must be able to understand when they are being manipulated by someone else’s media, and how.

These thoughts come up because I am in Albuquerque for a few days where I am a “Key Mentor” for a conference entitled “Cinematic Arts and Literacy: Solutions for a Changing World” (how come all academic books and conferences need to have a phrase, after the colon, explaining what the title was before the colon??). One interesting thing that comes up in any debate on media literacy is how much it overlaps with the acquisition of information. Years ago that meant “book learning” or, in broader terms, the acquisition of information using printed and aural input. Today, that is increasingly an outmoded way of looking at things. Yet the goals are still the same. Here is a quote from the organization ETS, about their iSkills Assessment Tool:

In today’s information-driven academic environment, students need to know how to find, use, manage, evaluate, and convey information efficiently and effectively. As a comprehensive test of Information and Communication Technology proficiency, [the iSkills test] presents real-time, scenario-based tasks to assess the cognitive and technical skills required of today’s higher education students. The assessment provides support for institutional ICT literacy initiatives, guides curricula innovations, informs articulation and progress standings, and assesses individual student proficiency.

Perhaps a bit self-serving, and definitely full of jargon. But it is (I think) a great indicator of what is interesting about working in film education today. It’s no longer just about teaching filmmakers. It has grown into a position which is about teaching everyone how film and other moving media influences everything they do.

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Still Stumbling Towards Nirvana

12 09 2007

Wired Magazine reports today that Universal Music Group is contemplating a service (called TotalMusic) allowing ISPs and mobile phone companies to blanket license their music and allow music swapping between members of any particular service. Thus, users of (let’s say) Verizon Wireless could trade music with any other member of Verizon Wireless for a flat monthly fee (Wired quotes $15 per month).

While this, on the surface, seems like a step in the right direction, it’s really an incredibly ham-fisted attempt to make scads of money on an old business model.

The problems with this approach are, myriad, but they basically revolve around the fact that every single person on the entire service would have to opt-in to this service and pay the monthly fee, whether they use the music or not.

Tell me how that isn’t a non-starter. I cannot imagine my Mom agreeing to increase her cel phone bill by any amount at all, in order so she could listen to and swap copies of Jay-Z’s latest album. And, apparently, if she doesn’t agree to do it, everything goes belly up.

Wired also notes that:

a forced opt-in organization like SoundExchange would have to administer the
system for all artists and labels; otherwise rights holders and ISPs
would need to negotiate a near infinite number of deals in order to
offer the 100% catalog coverage consumers would demand for their monthly fee.

Wired thinks, however, that this shows that Universal is moving out of the 20th century. I don’t completely disagree, but it also sounds like they are still insisting on creating a total lock on a radio-style service. That doesn’t sound very forward-thinking.

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Sarah Silverman is the new Dorothy Parker

9 09 2007

Years ago, Dorothy Parker spoke disparingly of an actress, saying that “She runs the gamut from A to B”

Tonight, on the MTV VMA Music Awards Sarah Silverman followed up Britney Spears’ performance thusly (as quoted in the New York Times):

Sure enough, when it was over, Sarah Silverman, the host, smiled cruelly and said, “She is amazing! I mean, she is 25 years old and she’s already accomplished … everything she’s going to accomplish in life.”

Welcome Sarah to the Algonquin.

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