Television, Addiction and Netflix

8 03 2013

I am always super suspicious when professional pundits draw sweeping conclusions based on their own personal experiences. I’ve heard tons of podcasts in which the panelists assume that their children’s Internet habits are those of every teenager, or that the way they navigate their web pages is the way that everyone does.

I doubt it. I truly truly doubt it. (Even though, truth be told, my blog posting will often fall into that trap)

The latest “We Know Eveything” topic is “binge viewing.”

House of Cards

Those of you who don’t have an addictive bone in your body might have missed out on the discussion about Netflix’s distribution of “House of Cards” – the 13-part series, based on the English drama about scheming politicians. Aside from the merits of the series (and there are many) the biggest news about the series is that Netflix released all of the episodes at one time, so you could theoretically have watched the entire series in one day.

And that’s what “binge viewing” is all about. (Even the New York Times has leapt into the fray, so you know that it’s official).

But, if I may be so two-faced as to make my own broad generalization, the focus on binge viewing misses the larger point.

As I’ve said before, many of us are in the process of creating our own networks — we don’t know when our television shows air because we watch them when we want to, either through DVRs or online. We aren’t as aware of what network they aired on because of syndication at search menus.

The point with Netflix isn’t so much that they made it possible to watch all of “House of Cards” in one day but that made it possible for us to choose to watch it in one day if we want to. My wife and I watched two episodes a night for a week. Others watched it all in a weekend. Still others watched it one a night over several weeks. It’s our choice. NBC can kiss their “Thursday evening comedy block” goodbye, because large segments of their audience don’t watch it on Thursday. We used to define “appointment tv” as shows that were so good that we made it our business to be in front of the television to watch them. Now it means something different — the shows make it their business to be in front of us when we want to watch them. The entire fallacy of the present network/advertiser model is that it’s based on grabbing eyeballs at defined times (which is why movie distributors used to run their ads on THursday nights, before Friday openings).

Sure, plenty of people still watch television that way, but an increasing number are creating their own personal networks, without regard to original network programming decisions.

So, the value of a Netflix/Hulu/etc. model is that it puts more options in our hands. Distribution models, like those of Roku, YouTube, and Apple TV, are acknowledging the trend lines established by DVRs. We want ubiquitous libraries of materials available when we want to view them, not doled out by intermediaries like the networks.

The true revolution isn’t going to be figuring out how to produce series that we will watch whenever and wherever we want. It’s going to be in figuring out how to pay for them, and at what level. It will be in discovering how to create shows that may be watched out of order, or over enormous spans of time. It will be in shaping stories that cannot count on the viewer spending six months waiting for a new season — with all of the attendant anticipation and fan activity.

In short, it’s about how those of us who produce and distribute entertainment can adapt to those of who watch it. Regardless of how my daughter watches it.

Why Jobs’ Intro of the new Apple TV is Bull

8 09 2010

Sue Huang USC Presentation conclusion

I’m not saying that the Apple TV is bull, mind you. I’m talking about one or two of the points in the presentation.

But let me backtrack for a second. You’re going to have to bear with me for several paragraphs here, as I meander to my point.

It all started earlier tonight when I was down at USC (the University of Southern  California, for those of you who aren’t sure) watching a fascinating presentation by artist Sue Huang of the collective knifeandfork, which is doing some really fascinating interactive installation pieces which are site and audience specific.

Huang was showing samples of her work and discussing her influences using a PowerPoint (nope, not Keynote, but what are you going  to do?) presentation.  At the end, running out of time, she quickly put up a number of slides which discussed the various roles that different factors played in their work. One of them, at the left, was the “Role of the Audience” which was fascinating and very dense.  I reached for my iPhone (I was taking notes on it) and snapped the picture you see.

Now that I’m back home I can check out what I didn’t have time to read then.

Pretty obvious, right?  Pretty easy, right?

Well, then, why was the woman four people to my left frantically typing away on her iPad, taking the notes so she could read them at home?  My guess is because the freakin’ iPad doesn’t have a camera in it! I’m sure that some day that God-like device will have a camera in it — and then I’ll buy one — but for now, it’s one of the many things that it doesn’t have. Why? Because Apple decided that the public didn’t want a camera on this sleek, incredible, God-given device.

Uh, right. It would  look stupid, holding an iPad up to take pictures of Mom, Dad and your dog. Correct?

So, let’s leap back a few days. Last week, Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple TV (see this MacRumors report, one of about eight zillion stories written about it) by saying that they had listened to what their customers had said they wanted and they didn’t want. They wanted “Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them.” — check!  Makes sense. They wanted “everything in HD” — uh,  okay.  Check, maybe.  My Mom still can’t tell the difference between SD and HD, but let’s give this one to Steve since given a choice, everyone wants something better quality, so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

What else?  “They like to pay lower prices for content.” – check!  Makes sense.  Cheap is better than expensive.  So, score another one for the Steverino.

Next two? “They don’t want a computer on their TV.” and “They don’t want to manage storage.” — check.  We don’t like things that are complex. I get that. (though one could argue that people do rather well managing their music storage on something called iTunes, which Jobs managed to introduce a new version of just twenty minutes earlier). So what did Apple do?  They took out the hard drive and made the device completely streaming. Check!  Makes sense .. uh no. Wait a minute.

Wait a minute.

I get the “no hard drive” part. It makes it too much like a computer. And people don’t want that, right?

Maybe. But let’s phrase the question differently. Would you like to watch anything that you have on your hard drive, whenever you want to? I’ll bet you do. And you’d  like to watch things that might not be available from the few partners that Apple has lined up for the Apple TV, right?  You might like to watch something from the Net that isn’t on YouTube or Netflix, wouldn’t you? I bet you would.  But Steve Jobs doesn’t think so. If it ain’t on Netflix, YouTube, your MobileMe account (hah!) or Flickr, then you’d better stream it over their own proprietary Airplay connection from your computer.

Wait a minute!  Your computer!?  The one with a hard drive in it? Doesn’t that make it hard?

So, what’s my point here?  It’s easy to knock any shipping product for what it doesn’t have.  Almost every product has things missing that would be on your “Must Have” list.  That’s  simply a reality of the design process. You need to compromise. But the desire to dress up these missing items in a ball gown and call them God’s gift to Prince Charming is  laughable.

In fact, it’s almost as laughable as filmmakers that I’ve seen look out at an audience that fails to laugh at a joke that has been planted in a film, and chalk it up to audience stupidity. Just as it’s easy to tell everybody that they should run out and see CATS AND DOGS IV because it’s in 3D!! Because you really really want 3D, don’t you?

It’s very easy in our business (as well as technology, I suppose) to get caught up in our thoughts, reactions and desires and ascribe them to everybody. If we feel that something is necessary, than everybody must feel that way, right?

One of the greatest talents that a filmmaker can possess is the ability to step outside of his or her own reality and question themselves. It’s hard, and it’s rare as a result.

“They don’t want to sync to a computer.”

Collaboration, The Sequel — And A Contest

23 08 2009

Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute

Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute

Seems like just yesterday that I finished writing about collaboration (it wasn’t, it was actually two days ago) and I’ve just watched Daisy Whitney’s latest episode of New Media Minute which is all about collaboration.  (Daisy is one of the most informed, entertaining, correspondents on the media area, hosting This Week In Media as well as writing for a slew of magazines and web sites.). She talks about new technology which is enabling people to collaborate across great distances including Wiredrive, web conference software Adobe ConnectNow and sites like video hiring hall Spidvid and online collaborative amateur site Pixorial.

Along the way, Daisy also mentions a project that I was involved in earlier this year — Mass Animation’s “Live Music”.  This was a Facebook application in which animators from across the globe were able to download a trial copy of Maya, and use it to create individual shots in an animated short that is going to be released at the top of Sony’s fall film PLANET 51. There were weekly contests, polls and judged competitions. I was one of a panel of judges that looked at individual sections of the films, gave feedback to the worldwide animators, and awarded badges to the shots we judged the best. It was a fantastic experience and created a much better film than it would have been without that diverse input.

Daisy also announced a contest for web videomakers that I want you all to know about. To dovetail with the publication of a friend’s book (Alison Winscott’s “The Time of My Life”) she has asked animators to create and post a short 10-15 second video based on the idea of “The Time of My Life”. Send her the link and, after judging, the winner will run on her popular show along with a featured interview. Sounds worth it to me. Also, a good chance to learn more about yourself.

The contest (read more details about it on Daisy’s blog for New Media Minute) has no announced final date but, as usual in life, earlier is better. So get those videos shot, edited and in.

What Twitter is Absolutely No Good For

29 07 2009

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

An article in today’s Ars Technica gives some details about a lawsuit that property management company Horizon Group Management is filing against former Twitter user Amanda Bonnen who tweeted to a friend that her apartment was moldy:

You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

Now, it’s secret that companies are monitoring every mention of themselves on Twitter (Horizon would have to have done — Amanda had only 20 followers according to the article). UPS, a few airlines and, in my own space, companies like Avid Technologies not only have their own presence but are monitoring the temper of their clients.

And here’s where Horizon went so flamingly absolutely out-of-control wrong.

The coolest thing about Twitter, for companies like these, is the direct access to their customers at an exceedingly low cost per contact point. If the management company had simply responded to her tweet with a considerate “what we can do together to solve this” they have scored tons of Twitter brownie points, not just for her 20 followers (assuming they read it) but to all of Horizon’s followers and anyone of their’s who read retweets.

This means that Horizon’s job is to get lots of followers and then to use the tool in an intelligent way. Which is absolutely not what they’ve done.

I have no idea what the actual situation is here.  Perhaps Amanda’s building is completely spotless except for her space, and that would say bad things about her. But it’s not the actual battle here that is important, it’s the perception of the company’s personality. In the old days, they used to call it “Corporate Presence.” An awareness of that is what would have kept Amazon from looking like a Nazi-like company for pulling copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle last week. Outbound communication is crucially important in a viral world that we live in.

So, while Twitter is fantastically good for people and companies who have messages to broadcast (such as Amanda, in this case) it is absolutely a disaster for people and companies who want to keep those messages secret (such as Horizon, here, or Sarah Lacy and Mark Zuckerberg at SxSW in 2008). Companies that want to succeed in 2010 will do well to pay attention to this tempest in a teapot, because it shows just what the power of social media really is.


The further down in the article you read, the more complex this story becomes, so it’s worth a read. It’s not really Black Hats vs. White Hats the way I’ve portrayed it.  My point isn’t who is right, but what it says about Horizon’s understanding of social media.

Measuring Viral Videos and Making Use of the Web

15 06 2008

So, do you know that seeding videos on the web can give you amazing brand recognition? Do you know that the Numa Numa video, for instance, as had over 19,000,000 views? Now, if only you could trap that magic, you could make some real money from it, eh? (or at least, according to the recent South Park episode, some Imaginary Dollars).

[Moving out of Heavy Irony Mode now.]

Well, not so fast. The real problem with monetizing all of that web activity is that you can’t reliably measure it yet. It’s easy to get clicks, sure. And it’s easy, if you are controlling things, to measure how many people are watching your video, how far they watched, and other data.

The problem is aggregating that data. As Ken Rutkowski is fond of saying, there are 3 M’s to web success — Move (that is, bringing people to your site), Measure and Monetize.

Well, Viral Video Chart, is a web site that is trying to do something about that.

From Viral Video ChartThis site is designed to monitor occurrences and viewings of videos on YouTube. At present it doesn’t check the other web sites, meaning that Viacom’s products won’t show up that much.

But what it does do so far is pretty interesting. For one thing it tracks the shape of viewer interest. So, for instance, on the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal HD trailer page, you can see that viewing of the trailer peaked on May 21st, the day before the film opened (the chart to the left links to a blowup of that chart — I know that it’s hard to read here). By the following weekend, it had dropped to virtually nothing, and has been bouncing around on the low end of the scale since then — not too different from its box office numbers.

This data is not dissimilar to the numbers that Moviefone collects and sells, pegging potential box office to the number of people who call to get information on showtimes and people who do searches on the films on its website.

The possibilities are huge here, if you’re interested in making money. On today’s main page for Viral Video, you can see that three of the top four performers are I’m Voting Republican, Barack Obama’s Speech on Father’s Day and John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush which certainly speaks to the way in which the public is getting information on the Presidential race today. It’s no secret that one of the reasons for Obama’s success this year has been his use of the Internet. This information just backs that up.

And that is the main point here. We are getting more and more sophisticated at turning the wild wild west of the web into something graspable, something marketable, and something comprehensible. Sure, it’s still possible to lose an entire morning going from one link to another. But social networking companies like StumbleUpon are attempting to bring some order to this. What good does it do to have a zillion videos on YouTube if you can’t find the one you want? How good is the web for research if you need to rely solely on Google to find information?

There will be some — myself included — who will mourn the disappearance of that wild web experience. But there will some — myself included — who will be happy to see just what we’re doing with it, when and how. That’s what measurement is going to do. And it’s only beginning.

Marshall Herskovitz talks about “Quarterlife”

12 06 2008

For those of you who’ve been watching Big Time Movies instead, let me explain what Quarterlife is/was. Producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick created an Internet-only, self-referential series about a group of twenty-somethings who hang out and get crazy when one of them starts keeping a video blog on a website called “quarterlife.”

The series did well enough on YouTube that NBC phoned up the two producers. They knew their phone number because they had previously teamed on such mainstream television shows as “thirtysomething,” and “My So-Called Life.” So they weren’t exactly unknowns. Anyway, the show went on. They called it “Quarterlife” (no sense in screwing up a good thing, right?) and it lasted exactly one episode. And now Herskovitz talks about the process and what he’s learned in a long interview on Debra Kaufman’s new but increasingly valuable blog (As an aside, Debra is a journalist with years of experience in publications like The Hollywood Reporter, TV Week, Film & Video, Editor’s Guild
Magazine, Wired,
The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and American Cinematographer.)

When the show tanked there were tons of think pieces about how Internet content couldn’t move into mainstream media. Which, to me, sorta missed the point. Nobody ever said that Internet entertainment was the equivalent of mainstream entertainment. The translation from one to another isn’t just as simple as adding 19 minutes of running time. There is no real equivalent to the Numa Numa guy on network television, and there’s no real equivalent to the complexity of “Lost” on the Internet. There are some mobisode series that are interesting and plot-detailed, but the very nature of watching for three to five minutes and then going away for a week or two or three makes the type of twisted plot and timelines very hard to do. Lost actually has a pretty interesting web presence but it comes from doing added and different types of content, rather than trying to replicate their winning television formula.

And that’s the real thing that Quarterlife teaches us. Translation isn’t what new media platforms are all about. Addition is what makes sense. There are a lot of different types of screens out there. We need to take advantage of each in their own ways.

Panel This Saturday

3 06 2008

USC’s film school has an extraordinary group of students attending. One group, the Women In Cinematic Arts, is holding a great conference this Saturday that is open to the public. It’s called the “WCA Industry Forum 2008: Making Your Vision A Reality.” It’s an all-day event and pretty cheap, even if you’re not a member. It will have panels on:

  • Creating and Delivering a Television Series
  • Navigating the Studio System
  • Independent Filmmaking
  • Preparing your Film for Film Festivals
  • Increasing Production Opportunities for Women, and
  • Trends in Alternative Media

I will be moderating the last panel, which is subtitled “From Your Cutting Room to YouTube” at 2:45. It’s going to be really interesting with these great panelists:

Kim Moses – Director: The Ghost Whisperer and principal in Sander/Moses Productions.
Fonda Berosini – Participant Media
Ken Rutkowski – KenRadio
Jesse Albert – Agent: New Media & Branded Entertainment, ICM

We’re going to be rambling over a range of topics from “What the hell is alternative media anyway?” to “How do I break into new media?” to “How can I get online distribution for my shorts?” It should be an interesting hour, and the rest of the day looks fabulous.

You can find more details about the program, and registration, at the Women In Cinematic Arts site.

Intellectual Property – Carrot and Stick

21 04 2008

Chacocanyon imageA recent article in The Scotsman, entitled “Those Who Can, Create. Those Who Can’t, Copy,” celebrates this Saturday’s World Intellectual Property Day by noting the recent lawsuits filed by J.K. Rowling, against the writer of a Harry Potter encyclopedia written by a fan, a UK ad for Berocca Vitamins which borrows rather heavily from the famous video by Ok Go for “Here It Goes Again,” and a host of other instances of overly zealous “homage”.

Nobody is overly surprised by this, not in a world where YouTube video responses are just as popular as the original videos that inspired them (check out this response, for instance, to the above Ok Go video). When you’ve got Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Steven Ambrose doing the same over in the literary world, it takes a lot to get people to notice videos which rip off fun bands from the early 21st century. Still, when people start losing money over this sort of thing, you can expect the courts to get involved. In this case, there were apparently discussion (according to the article) with Ok Go about using their work but, when they weren’t successful, the ad agency making the Berocca commercial went ahead with their own version of it.

Another case, involving Guiness and the filmmaker Medhi Norowzian, is also discussed:

Norowzian had previously submitted a showreel to [advertising agency] Arks that included the short film “Joy,” which showed a man performing an exuberant dance on a rooftop. Arks submitted a script and storyboard based upon the film to Guinness and Norowzian was approached to direct. Unwilling to “commercialise” an existing idea, he refused and a new director was instructed to create something “with an atmosphere broadly similar to that portrayed in Joy”.

Norowzian lost his appeal against a High Court decision dismissing his copyright infringement claim, because the court decided that the film, not the dance, was the original work and Anticipation’s jump-cut editing made it substantially different.

“The important distinction,” explains Colin Hulme, a partner in the intellectual property and technology team of law firm Burness LLP, “is that copyright only protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself.

But the really interesting example they give is with Apple. English Mac fan Nick Haley created a short commercial on his own for the iPod Touch, which Apple liked. Rather than follow its normal practice of suing the pants off of Haley, Apple actually offered to buy his idea, which they proceeded to reshoot professionally with Haley’s involvement (a New York Times article about the commercial can be found here). Haley describes the logic of that this way:

“That’s the whole point of advertising; it needs to get to the user,” Mr. Haley said. “If you get the user to make the ads, who better?”

[As an aside, the differences between Haley’s and Apple’s versions of the ad are actually very instructive in terms of the concerns of a big corporation trying to sell its products and itself at the same time.]

Those of us who create media (intellectual property, content, whatever) have a love/hate relationship with copyright laws. Sometimes it makes it harder for us to do our work, but we certainly benefit when someone want to use or abuse our own work. Apple’s admission that not all derivative works are evil seems shockingly enlightened and, to me, the way in which media creators need to work in the new world. Creative Commons, in which content creators can create various levels of allowed public usages) strikes me as a great direction as done Moby’s offer of selected free music for “independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.”

Not everything needs to be free or open for copying, but allowing the artist to determine the fate of his or her own art strikes me as a great acknowledgment of the power of 21st century technology, while also realizing the need of artists to control the fate and the income from their own work.

YouTube And The News

23 02 2008

Map of KosovoFor those of you who haven’t been following it, following the secession of Kosovo, there’s been rioting in the streets of Belgrade.

A cinematographer named “gvantanamo” shot two young girls looting at a store in Slavija Square. As he puts it in his “About This Video” section, he “was astonished by their persistence on getting new clothes on a 100% off sale.”

He posted the video on YouTube and it is now a sensation. You can check it out by clicking here.

Now, this isn’t a political entry.  I studiously avoid doing those.  No, this is one of a series of entries that I’ve posted about the changing face of distribution.  The YouTube distribution of this poorly shot, but horrifyingly effective, video could never be run on your evening news.  It’s just not polished enough.  But, up there in the poor quality Flash environment of YouTube, it not only is extremely noticeable, but it’s extremely popular.  It’s not “news” in that “fair and balanced” sort of way (HA! I’d say, but I’m studiously avoiding political commentary), but it certainly fills in the gaps that the news does present.

[Map courtesy of]

Newspapers Struggle To Survive and YouTube

14 02 2008

Reuters reports that the Los Angeles Times today named Russ Stanton as its new editor. The interesting thing about this is that Stanton is presently the paper’s digital news chief.

What is even more interesting are the candidates who Stanton beat out for the job — Jim Newton, the Times editorial page editor, and Managing Editor John Arthur.

Stanton, who grew up in California, has served as the Times’ innovation editor, overseeing its digital news service, since February 2007. He joined the paper in 1997 and has also been its business editor.

In the olden days of, say, three years ago, it would have been natural to hire either of those other two people. When they didn’t come from the the family of previous editors and publishers, newspaper editors came from the ranks of the hard news gatherers and opinion makers. And the editorial pages and managing editors used to fit the bill quite nicely.

In the new days of, say, last week, everyone on the publisher side of print publishing is trying to figure out a way to make money when people are leaving general circulation newspapers and magazines in droves. And, with that exit, goes the advertisers. Newspapers are also being hampered by the emergence of eBay and Craig’s List, as viable alternatives to their previously lucrative classified ads sections.

In short, the Internet was stealing everything from them that television hadn’t already made off with. It is debatable whether they were doing a better job than newspapers did, but that didn’t seem to matter.

So, in a fit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join’em” newspapers have been designing better web sites and looking towards UGC (User Generated Content — think YouTube but on the site of your local newspaper) as a means of sucking people in. Last year I gave a presentation to a number of editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer in which we ended up talking about exactly that — in a world in which newspapers can’t afford local beat reporters, how can you get local news reported on by the newspaper. Blogs, UGC, Wikis, social networking sites — all of this came up for discussion.

And now, the Los Angeles Times, which has been around since 1881 and might be considered venerable by some, has broken with their tradition and acknowledged that someone from the digital news side of their business might actually have something to say about presenting news to people.

It’s a welcome break from venerable tradition.