Take your keyboard to warp

This LCARS keyboard appeals to me for so many reasons!

Giving audiences what they want, when they want it

Big screen audiences

I’m slowly going through my growing “Watch Later” list on YouTube. I finally watched Kevin Spacey’s speech at the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture in 2013 and it is well worth watching.

Kevin Spacey is one of my favourite actors and has been since The Usual Suspects. He spoke to the audience at the Edinburgh Television Festival about the overwhelming importance of creative professionals in the entertainment industry and about giving TV audiences what they want.

Give audiences what they want, how they want it

He highlighted a theme that has seemed so sensible to me for years and that seems to escape entertainment industry executives. This theme applies equally to music as it does to TV and movies:

The warp-speed of technological advancement – the Internet, streaming, multi-platforming – happens to have coincided with the recognition of TV as an art form. So you have this incredible confluence of a medium coming into its own JUST AS the technology for that medium is drastically shifting. Studios and networks who ignore either shift – whether the increasing sophistication of story telling, or the constantly shifting sands of technological advancement – will be left behind. And if they fail to hear these warnings, audiences will evolve faster than they will. They will seek the stories and content-providers who give them what they demand – complex, smart stories available whenever they want, on whatever device they want, wherever they want. Netflix and other similar services have succeeded because they have married good content with a forward-thinking approach to viewing habits and appetites.

While we are accustomed to distinctions between movies, TV and online video, these distinctions are largely irrelevant to younger generations. Our kids certainly don’t see much of a distinction between TV series they watch on Netflix and the channels they watch on YouTube.

Movies are distinctive primarily because watching big ticket items involves a trip to the local movie theatre and having that big screen experience. At the same time, we have a pretty decent HD TV and surround sound at home and we routinely watch movies on weekend afternoons with our kids there too.

The distinctions between formats and devices are blurring all the time:

If you are watching a film on your television, is it no longer a film because you’re not watching it in the theater? If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless – except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals. For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It’s all CONTENT. It’s all STORY.

While I understand that regional broadcasters have deals with studios and publishers that probably block global distribution of movies and TV series, this approach to distribution doesn’t serve audiences. It only benefits the broadcasters who lack the will and imagination they need to take advantage of new opportunities.

The sooner entertainment industry executives come to terms with the fact that audiences want those stories on their terms, the sooner the market as a whole will benefit. Again, as Spacey pointed out:

And the audience has spoken: they want stories. They’re dying for them. They are rooting for us to give them the right thing. And they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus and to the hairdresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook, make fan pages, silly Jifs (sic) and god knows what else about it, engage with it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of. All we have to do is give it to them. The prize fruit is right there. Shinier and juicier than it has ever been before. So it will be all the more shame on each and every one of us if we don’t reach out and seize it.

You can read Kevin Spacey’s full speech here.

Netflix wants to take on movie distributors and theaters

Netflix’s Reed Hastings recently spoke at recode’s 2017 Code Conference.

One of the tidbits that emerged from his interview is the possibility that Netflix is doing to do for movies what it did for TV. What could well happen if Netflix’s approach gains traction is that those trips to a movie theatre to watch a new movie may become less prevalent.

Just as Netflix releases its own movies directly to audiences through Netflix streaming, we could start seeing other major movies being released to streaming long before they are currently.

There is still a lot to be said for the big screen experience, for sure. At the same time, that may be a generational thing and our home theatre experiences may be happy substitutes.

Losing battle

Whether it is TV, movies or music, industry executives are fighting losing battles. Audiences want this content on their terms and if the industry doesn’t come to the party, people will find ways around their limitations.

This may mean people downloading the stuff they want instead of paying for it or simply opting out of more mainstream content.

The industry isn’t going to shrivel up and die anytime soon but imagine what the industry could achieve if it thought differently?

Image credit: Jake Hills

My favourite Super Bowl ads (I can’t help myself)

I don’t have much interest in the Super Bowl itself but I love watching Super Bowl ads. Here are some of my favourites. I’ll add more as I come across them:

Avocados from Mexico – Secret Society

This is a subtle dig at Trump and his policies, I suspect, but it’s a fun ad!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

This movie just looks better with each trailer. I am looking forward to seeing this.

Old Spice – Jungle Hero

Old Spice produces awesome ads. Self-deprecating and really funny. I haven’t seen this actor in their ads before. He is terrific.

Logan – Grace

This next Wolverine movie looks like it is going to be a huge departure from the X-Men movies we are accustomed to. I doubt this will be kid-friendly but I am pretty sure it will be really good.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are real Big Screen spectacles and this next movie will be no exception. The effects already look incredible. I can’t wait to see it.

Honorary mention for Heinz – Smunday

Heinz took a different approach this year. Rather than run a super expensive Super Bowl ad, it launched a campaign to make the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday with this YouTube ad. They’re calling it #Smunday. Love the idea (thanks to my lovely wife for pointing it out to me).


If you want to watch other ads that I don’t include in this post, check out the YouTube Ad Blitz channel:

Image credit: Pixabay

Genius – The story of Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, official 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics photograph.

National Geographic has produced a scripted series about Albert Einstein titled “Genius” that starts in April 2017. I just watched the trailer and I definitely want to watch this.

From Executive Producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, the premiere season of National Geographic’s first scripted anthology series, GENIUS, will focus on Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein. Based on Walter Isaacson’s critically acclaimed and best-selling book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, and adapted by writer Noah Pink, GENIUS follows the brilliant scientist through the ups and downs of his life, from failing to get his doctorate to developing the general theory of relativity.

In the meantime, I have slowly been reading Walter Isaacson’s book that became the basis for this series. I think it’s time to return to the book and finish it. Here is the trailer for the series. It looks terrific!

There is so much good stuff available from National Geographic lately. I really want to figure out how to gain access to the channel at home. Our TV supports terrestrial TV but we haven’t connected it to either an antenna or to some sort of cable or satellite service. We basically watch whatever we can on YouTube or Netflix through our Chromecast.

If you’re interested, the Internet Archive has a collection of works about and by him that is worth exploring. One of my favourite photos featuring him and a collection of other top scientists of the time is this colourised version of a group photo taken at the 1927 Solvay Conference.

One of the coolest Star Trek-reality crossovers ever

STS-54

I came across this photo in the NASA on The Commons profile on Flickr and it is awesome. Here is the caption for the photo that explains what is happening here:

The STS-54 crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (OV-105) in their official “gag” photo costumed as the bridge crew of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets Star Ship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) as depicted in the movie “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan”. The photo was taken on the Star Trek Adventure set of Universal Studios California theme park in Los Angeles, California while the crew was on a west coast training/public relations swing to TRW Corporation in Redondo Beach, CA during the Summer of 1992. TRW was the manufacturer of the STS-54 mission’s primary payload, a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-F or TDRS 6). From Left to right: Greg Harbaugh (MS2/Engineering Officer), Mario “Spock” Runco Jr. (MS1/1st Officer/Science Officer), John Casper (CDR/Captain), Susan Helms (MS3/Communications Officer), Don McMonagle (PLT/Navigation-Helm Officer).

I love that Commander Mario Runco Jr actually looks like a Vulcan. He is even a scientist.

Chromecast sold me on Apple TV but it’s complicated

My big excitement in the last two weeks was our HD TV purchase which brought my hope for an Apple TV a little closer.

We are like those families who hung on to cabled VHS machines when everyone had moved on to DVD players. This is our first step into the modern TV era. Having bought a really nice (dumb) LG HD TV, I finally had a screen I could connect my first generation Chromecast to and see what it could really do.

I almost immediately fell in love with my Chromecast. It updated itself and I set the background to switch between photos sourced from some beautiful online collections and a couple of my Google Photos albums.

We primarily watch YouTube and Netflix with our Chromecast. They are just about the only apps we have that support Chromecast on our iOS devices. We have been Netflix fans for a while so that mostly works out just fine for us.

Yes, I prefer to pay for our entertainment

I am a bit proponent of paying for my TV series and movies so I buy just about all our movies and TV series from the iTunes store. Unfortunately the Israeli iTunes store doesn’t have as much of a movie collection as the US store and doesn’t have any TV series. This means I’m not using the Israeli iTunes store which is problematic in itself.

I am also an Apple Music fan and have been a subscriber since the service launched.

Given how invested we are in Apple-supplied content, I have my eyes on an Apple TV for our home so I can access all our content in much the same way I do with our Chromecast. I can use my laptop to access our movies and TV series but my Chromecast has spoiled me with the ability to easily watch stuff on our TV without needing to plug my laptop in and mess with displays and stuff.

Compared to the Chromecast, the Apple TV is expensive and part of my justification to my wife for buying one is that we could also use it as a gaming console and save us the cost of an X-Box or Sony Playstation (my son wants an X-Box because he can play Minecraft – I told him Minecraft is coming to the Apple TV too). She may be convinced (decision pending).

Joseph Rosensteel published an article titled “Apple’s October TV Surprise” (I linked to it from Matt Mullenweg’s post titled “Apple TV’s Struggles“) which raises more than a few questions about whether the Apple TV is worth buying. It has certainly given me reason to thinking a little more about my planned purchase.

There is no way to justify spending $150 to enter Apple’s TV ecosystem in the fall of 2016 on hardware alone. When Google is making a streaming UHD HDR player that costs LESS than a replacement Siri Remote, there is a problem with the hardware Apple is selling.

But I don’t have many paid content options

I would be pretty comfortable switching our movies and TV series across to the Google Play Store and just using the Chromecast as our primary media streaming device. Unfortunately, movies and TV series are simply not available from the Google Play Store here in Israel. Even the iTunes store offers some movies and music here!

These are the countries in which you can buy movies from the Google Play Store. Movies are available in Ivory Coast, Mali and Tajikistan but not Israel?

Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Namibia, Netherlands, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe

TV shows
Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States

Another effect of limiting (or opening up) the availability of this sort of content is that it influences which device ecosystem you buy into and stick with. I’ve considered switching to Android on and off but remain with my iOS devices because I rely on certain iOS apps fairly heavily. I also have all of my music and, of course, my movies and TV series in Appleland too.

That largely locks me into the macOS/iOS ecosystem. Buying an Apple TV would only entrench me further in the ecosystem. Given that this is the best source of much of my entertainment and my apps, it is practically inevitable.

The absurd content availability model

This fragmented content availability confounds me. It is the 21st century. Israel has pretty good, cheap broadband and a population that is really tech savvy. Why can we not pay our hard earned Shekels for the content we want?

That is a rhetorical question. The answer is likely that the studios and publishers have deals with local distributors and those deals block availability of the content here.

What happens is that almost everyone I know simply torrents the stuff they want to watch. Our friends look at me like I am crazy when I tell them I prefer to buy our movies and TV series. They explain to me (slowly and loudly) that all I need is Kodi or some streamer and it’s all free!

Israel also has what seems to be a substantial Android user-base so extending Google’s content offerings to Israel would seem to make a lot of sense. Unfortunately the people who could change the current situation don’t seem to agree.

Opening the Google Play Store to more countries opens the door for more people also makes switching to the Google ecosystem feasible. Surely that is desirable to Google too?

So that leaves me with my current plan to invest in an Apple TV at some point in the near future. Hopefully it will be worth the cost but given where we have most of our content, it remains a compelling option. Still, it’s complicated and it needn’t be.

Featured image credit: Stocksnap

You have to be a Firefly fan to appreciate this

My wife tagged me in this on Facebook. It will only make sense if you are a real Firefly fan (if it doesn’t, go watch the TV series and then the movie):

Swooning over Louis CK content licensing

Louis CK has a new show which I have started watching, “Horace and Pete”. I love his licensing model for the show. You can stream it or download episodes once you have paid for them. HD or SD, your choice. He has a very simple license:

You can download the video here. Once you’ve got it, it’s yours to do with as you like: sync it to your Zune, stream it over wi-fi to your spouse, burn it to DVD, etc.

Sure, there is copyright law involved here with its presumptions but this is how content should be released. People should be able to pay a reasonable amount of money for content they want to watch or listen to. Then, once they have paid, they should be able to watch or listen to it on whichever device they want.

The only restriction should be not to re-sell or re-share it (well, unless the content creator decides to embrace Creative Commons licensing or something similarly permissive – which works too).

Instead the Entertainment Industry opted for a business model that just about discourages people from buying its products by using stupid geographical and format restrictions. Imagine if the industry gave everyone an easy option to buy and download whatever they wanted to watch or listen to and consume that on whichever device they wanted? Boy, if they did that, the industry may just thrive.

In the meantime, I’m a big fan of people like Louis CK who actively works to make it easier for people to buy their content.

Image credit: Pixabay