Giving audiences what they want, when they want it

Kevin Spacey spoke about the importance of changing with the times and giving audiences the stories they crave in the formats they want and on the devices they have in 2013. We can see the industry changing a fair amount lately and Netflix's Reed Hasting's comments at the recent Code Conference reflect this. The big question is whether the industry is paying enough attention?

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

“Meanwhile on Stargate, 95% of planets are Canada”

I wanted to share a quote that made me laugh because it is so true: "Meanwhile on Stargate, 95% of planets are Canada."

Martin Rezny has written an interesting article titled “The Expanse – A Milestone in Sci-Fi Television” about the appeal of “hard” sci-fi shows like the TV adaptation of the Expanse books by James S. A. Corey. I started reading the book series and I’m enjoying it.

View story at Medium.com

I won’t rehash Rezny’s article, it’s worth reading it in its entirety, but his basic premise is that hard sci-fi (more realistic sci-fi) can be so much more interesting and entertaining than the usual sci-fi we are accustomed to. The main reason why I mentioned this article is because I wanted to share a quote that made me laugh because it is so true:

Meanwhile on Stargate, 95% of planets are Canada.

That said, my wife and I watched every episode of every Stargate series (except the animated one) and loved them.

Image credit: Liftoff of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from NASA on the Commons, released into the public domain.

The Flatley chronicles

I have been listening to music from Lord of the Dance and pulled up a video of one of the scenes, Cry of the Celts. It reminded me about a performance on Britain’s Got Talent 2009 which was a brilliant parody of the original. Take a little time and watch these two, they are both brilliant for different reasons.

Here is the original performance:

The parody, Stavros Flatley, is available here (embedded isn’t available for this version).

Supernatural season 7 teaser

We’ve been watching Supernatural religiously (excuse the pun) and we realized that season 6 is coming to an end on TV. Almost in despair, I went to IMDB and discovered that season 7 kicks off in the US in September and here is a teaser from Comic-Con:

Phew!

If you want to watch the Royal Wedding online

In the off-chance you are stuck at work or otherwise not in front of a TV and desperately want to watch the Royal Wedding tomorrow, you can stream it from YouTube on the Royal Channel which looks a bit like this (there are a couple bogus channels up and you are really going to want the right one):

YouTube Royal Channel

I believe the wedding begins around 11am South African time.

Don’t say I don’t do stuff for you.

Don't underestimate the power of Thor

This great little video from Marvel takes on the Volkswagen Star Wars ad (also brilliant):

Music to make food by

Kitchen Radio

We have an unwritten and evolving list of things we would like to do ay home. I am sure most people do. One of the things I would love to do is install some sort of system where we can play great sounding music in every room of the house and be able to pick the music for whichever room we are in (I’m not sure what is available but I noticed that Sonos does something like this).

My wife and I were making supper together last night (something we don’t do often and, at the same time, probably should) and I had some Fleetwood Mac (one of my all-time favourite bands – mostly love songs and daddy issues with a couple miscellaneous themes thrown in) playing on my iPhone while we were preparing/cooking. It changed the kitchen’s atmosphere and made supper’s preparation fun and not just something to get through as quickly as possible.

I remember when I still lived with my parents in their previous house my Dad used to turn the hifi on to some radio station on weekends, especially when we had people over for a braai or something. The lounge opened onto a veranda of sorts which led to the garden. It was a terrific layout and the top 40 in the background filled the space. I also like the experience of moving from outside where you are in a sort of social context with friends and family around a braai, pool or something, through this music in the lounge and into the kitchen for whatever reason and back out again. Its almost like the music connects the food with the social and provides a memorable background soundtrack for the memories.


Image credit: Kitchen radio by lurw, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

iOS apps to share what you watch on TV

We don’t watch as much TV as we used to. Having children tends to cut back on your available TV watching time. When we do watch, we have our regular shows we watch almost religiously. It’s not surprising, then, that I found two iOS apps, in particular, really interesting: Tunerfish and IntoNow.

Tunerfish page

Tunerfish is a simply Twitter-style app where you publish the show you are watching and can share it on Twitter and Facebook. This is what it looks like when you share what you are watching on Facebook:

Tunerfish

Tunerfish is available for the iPhone, iPad and Android and is pretty simple to use and it also includes a stream of your friends’ viewing choices so you can see what they are watching. The one thing that bugs me a little about Tunerfish is I can’t figure out how to search my social networks to see who else is using it. Its also a little like Foursquare in that you can also obtain badges when you do certain things. We watch CSI and a couple similarly themed shows and I have badges relating to those themes.

IntoNow page

IntoNow seems similar except for one big difference. The IntoNow app (iOS only at the moment, I believe) works a little like Shazam but for TV. It will listen to what you are watching and try find the specific episode so you can share it. The technology is called “SoundPrint“:

SoundPrint is what’s known as a “fingerprinting” technology. We’ve developed a series of algorithms that can quickly identify a show based on the audio from that program. And because we can do it so quickly—even for shows that are airing for the first time ever—the end result is something like magic.

I have tried this once, last night while we were watching a Mentalist episode, and it worked really well:

IntoNow

It is a lot easier for me to search my social networks for other connections or friends who use IntoNow but there aren’t too many at the moment.

Between the two, I like IntoNow a little more. I like being able to share what I am watching at an episode level. Doing that avoids the inevitable follow up question: “Oh, I love that show, which episode are you watching?”. Tunerfish only seems to work at a series level and while it works fairly well, it seems a little more limited than IntoNow.