Academy Awards – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Exploring True/False Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:41:57 +0000 True/False Festival Artwork Each winter, as February becomes March, Columbia, Missouri transforms itself into a grand stage for the True/False film fest, a four-day international nonfiction film festival. The fest has grown enormously since it began in 2004, gaining support from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and building a strong reputation that draws filmmakers and audiences from around the world. This year, Indiewire called True/False “one of the most vital festivals in America;” the A/V Club insisted, “True/False is really one of the great American film festivals, coming close to the platonic ideal of what that term should imply;” and the Dissolve heralded T/F as, “one of the world’s more innovative, well-curated documentary festivals.” The 2014 fest screened 40 films in 8 venues over four days and sold 42,500 tickets. Many of us who reside in Columbia live for T/F weekend: it’s an emotionally-exhausting experience to watch multiple documentaries a day for four days, but you’re guaranteed to leave the fest thinking more deeply about what is true, how cultures evolve, and the strength of the human spirit. A few weeks after this year’s T/F experience, I’m still ruminating about a few films that engaged my curiosity about media influence and impact.

Still from Captivated

See a short interview with the director of Captivated here.

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart was the first film I saw this year. Directed by Jeremiah Zagar and produced by Lori Cheatle, the film blends archived news footage, court room video, a juror’s audio recordings, and contemporary interviews to tell the story of the media fanfare surrounding the 1990 murder of Greggory Smart, and the 1991 trial of his wife, Pamela. The Smarts had only been married for one year when Greggory was murdered; Pamela, 22 at the time, was a media coordinator at the Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire. The investigation of Greggory’s death revealed that he had been killed by three boys from the high school, one of whom Pamela had been sleeping with. The documentary is less about Pamela’s guilt or innocence (she is serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole for being an accomplice to first-degree murder and for conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering) than it is about her trial’s media coverage.

The story was eagerly covered by local news reporter Bill Spencer (WMUR), who fed off of (and likely abused) Pamela’s enthusiasm for being in the media spotlight. The twists and turns in the case also drew regular national media attention, which evolved into the made-for-TV-movie Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story (1991), starring Helen Hunt and Chad Allen, and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995), starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. As Captivated’s title suggests, the film explores how the nation’s fascination with this case contributed to the growth of reality television, and Court TV specifically. Overall, Captivated is an engaging examination of an important TV moment. The documentary will air on HBO later this year.

still from happy valleyHappy Valley, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, echoed a number of Captivated’s themes through a contemporary case with which many Antenna readers are familiar. While the general public may have had its fill of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal (especially given Dottie Sandusky’s recent appearance on the Today Show), this documentary does not rehash all of the gruesome and disturbing details of the allegations against Sandusky, but focuses instead on how the football culture in College Park, rooted in the cultural icon of Joe Paterno, influenced the way Sandusky’s crimes were understood by Penn State fans. The film builds its story with interviews with Paterno’s sons and widow; an interview with Sandusky’s adopted son, Matt; news footage of the student riot that ensued after Paterno was fired; footage of fans at Joe Paterno’s bronze campus statue, a famous College Park mural, and Paterno’s home; and an interview with a die-hard Penn State fan who chose to transfer to another school after the NCAA imposed unprecedented sanctions against Penn State. Happy Valley takes Sandusky’s guilt as fact, but raises questions about how Penn State’s football culture both enabled Sandusky to continue to abuse young men years after he was reported to Penn State administrators and emboldened fans to support Paterno (“JoePa”) despite his own complicity with Sandusky’s terrible actions. The film ultimately paints a complex portrait of fan culture in the aftermath of a crisis.

I could continue describing the other fabulous films I saw at True/False this year (if only their was space to discuss Cynthia Hill’s Private Violence, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s Rich Hill, Kitty Green’s Ukraine is Not a Brothel, and Errol Morris’ Unknown Known!), but suffice it to say that each year, the film fest’s offerings, like the great tradition of documentary film-making, question, provoke, disturb, and transform its audiences—and keep us coming back for more. Although you may be unable to travel to Columbia to participate in True/False, you can still seek out the documentaries screened each year. All but one of this year’s nominees in the Academy’s “Best Documentary Feature” category were screened at T/F in 2013 (including the winner), and this year’s offerings are destined to be just as impactful–and, of course, next year’s films are still to come!


What Are You Missing? Feb 17-March 2 Sun, 03 Mar 2013 15:25:22 +0000 Dual-Shock-4_contentfullwidthTen (or more) media news items you might have missed recently:

1) Over 6 years after their last console release, Sony announced their latest gaming console, the PlayStation 4. While they did not reveal what it would look like, they did detail its functioning, new controller, hardware specs, and user interface. The system will include iOS and android apps to enhance the gaming experience.

2) The Academy Awards, or rather the Oscars, took place on February 24th. Six of the films nominated for Best Picture had earned over $100 million at the box office, making it the most commercially successful group of nominees to date. In the documentary short category, Inocente became the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Oscar. The big news of the night became Seth MacFarlane’s hosting, which elicited a lot of criticism and sparked discussions about Hollywood’s potential sexism and racism. The Academy stood behind MacFarlane’s performance, and in fact this year’s Oscar ceremony showed increased viewership, especially in key younger audiences (which had been a concern for the producers). MacFarlane was not the only one in trouble on Oscar night, as The Onion faced an intense reaction towards a tweet, for which they offered a rare apology (And for anyone who is wondering how Ted came to life at the Oscars, here’s how!). The Independent Spirit Awards, which honor independent films, also took place last weekend.  Silver Linings Playbook came away the big winner, irking some people because the film’s $21-million budget technically put it outside of the classification for “indie film.”

3) Although they won an Oscar for visual effects for their work on Life of Pi, Rhythm & Hues filed for bankruptcy last week. They were cut off from discussing the plight of the industry in their acceptance speech, which upset many visual effects workers. Visual effects artists are protesting the layoffs and bankruptcies their industry is facing using any outlet they can, including social media and open letters (including a second one to Ang Lee).

4) New copyright alert system is launched by the film, TV, and music industries. The warning system gives people six strikes before they begin enforcing consequencesSony has also developed a patent that would be able to distinguish between piracy activities and legal downloads. Internationally, France is also looking at increasing their (already very strict) anti-piracy laws. Thinking of piracy, how much does “free” music actually cost to artists involved?

5) For the first time in 12 years, music sales grow a small but symbolically important amount. In other music news, Billboard is beginning to include YouTube plays of a song in their formulation of their “Hot 100 List.” This change will allow YouTube hits like “Harlem Shake” to boost their stats. Most of YouTube’s top channels are music-based, suggesting the importance of this connection. Google is considering getting into the streaming music business. Pandora has put a limit on free listening, citing increased royalty fees as the reason, and Spotify is meeting with the record industry to ask for price breaks on royalties.

6) The 2013 box office totals are off to a slow start, 13% behind last year, and Jack the Giant Slayer opened to a disappointing $20-30 million. After taking a big loss on Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks is forced to lay off 350 employees. The news is not all bad though, as Oz the Great and Powerful debuted with $75 million and The Hobbit closes in on $1 billion worldwide. In other movie news, Hollywood plans to cut back on sex and violence? And Regal Entertainment gets even bigger by buying Hollywood theaters.

7) In the publishing world, New York Times plans to sell Boston Globe. Variety announced they are making big changes–dropping their daily print editions, eliminating their paywall, and adding three new editors in chiefTim O’Brien, The Huffington Post‘s executive editor, has decided to leave.  Reader’s Digest files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And are digital book signings the way of the future?

8) Numerous companies are reporting hackers entering their systems, including Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest,, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook (no user data was taken; but if it is compromised in the future, how would Facebook recover?).

9) In TV news, it’s pilot season! ABC is developing a miniseries How to Survive a Plague, based on the Academy Award-nominated documentary about the continuing AIDS crisis. A&E hit a record number of viewers for their reality series Duck Dynasty. Nielsen ratings are changing to reflect the new ways that people access television. Kaley Cuoco of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory tweets positively about Dish Network’s Hopper, though CBS is in the process of suing them. AMC fought with Dish about licensing fees, and AMC’s fourth quarter profits took a hit as a result. The FCC is being pushed to modify the current standards of TV product disclosure to create more transparency with regard to show sponsorship. Cablevision, with the support of Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Viacom, claiming that they practice illegal block booking of stations (an accusation that Viacom leveled at John Malone 20 years ago).  The lawsuit could lead to people being able to more selectively sign up for channels, only paying for the ones they want.

10) In other miscellaneous news: Clive Davis comes out as bisexual. Girls Gone Wild files for bankruptcy. And future technologies–the iWatch? Transparent Smartphones? A computer that never crashes? Or what about touchscreen T-shirts?


“We Saw Your Misogyny”: The Oscars & Seth MacFarlane Wed, 27 Feb 2013 14:00:40 +0000 MacFarlane at the 2013 OscarsIt’s the moment I wait for every semester–when something happens in popular culture and opens up an opportunity to reaffirm with my students, friends, and family why the work that media scholars do matters.  This semester, it arose courtesy of 2013 Oscars host Seth MacFarlane.

I’ll be honest: I watched the Oscars live on Sunday, and though I found MacFarlane spectacularly unfunny, didn’t find a whole lot to be offended over.  So imagine my surprise upon waking up to a Facebook news feed full of proclamations that the host was not only unfunny, but misogynist and racist, to boot (In my defense, I appear to have missed several of the most egregious displays of sexism and racism while chatting with fellow partygoers and/or noshing).  There’s a lot of excellent reporting and analysis out there, so I won’t spend my space here recapping it (Two of my favorite pieces include this one from The New Yorker, and this from The Atlantic).  Throughout the day, I not only learned about the moments I’d missed, but entered into online discussions with folks far and wide about the controversy, and by mid-afternoon, came across several instances of backlash in which people defended MacFarlane’s right to make the jokes he wants to make, and accusations that those upset by the ordeal were overreacting.

For my money, Margaret Lyons’ Vulture piece offers the best response to this particular counter-critique:

Jeez, the song was a joke! Can’t you take a joke? Yes, I can take a joke. I can take a bunch! A thousand, 10,000, maybe even more! But after 30 or so years, this stuff doesn’t feel like joking. It’s dehumanizing and humiliating, and as if every single one of those jokes is an ostensibly gentler way of saying, “I don’t think you belong here.” All those little instances add up, grain of sand by grain of sand until I’m stranded in a desert of every “tits or GTFO” joke I’ve ever tried to ignore.

Lyons’ argument offers the jumping-off point for this post.  I’m not here to make any grand claims about whether MacFarlane was funny or within his rights as a comedian.  I’m not even here to argue that his jokes were sexist or racist, appropriate or inappropriate (Though I welcome thoughtful arguments on all sides in the comments, or as another Antenna post entirely!).  I’m here to make a plea that before we each go to our separate corners, carefully guarding and maintaining our own position on the controversy, we open ourselves up to the opportunity to interrogate what happened and consider what it reveals about comedy, about Hollywood, about society.  I would argue that MacFarlane is not so much the problem as a symptom. There’s a lot that’s problematic about Hollywood’s treatment of women, and it neither begins nor ends with MacFarlane OR the Oscars.  But if we stop identifying the symptoms, we stop thinking about the problem.  So let’s seize the moment and have conversations about these issues.  They’re incredibly complex, but absolutely worth taking seriously and unpacking.

Hegemony is pernicious because it relies on invisibility.  The system can only be maintained by convincing everyone that the way things are is the way they should be–that our beliefs, our existing social structures structures, our interactions are normal, and thus not worth interrogating.  Even for those of us personally and professionally committed to challenging ideological structures, normalization proves a difficult force to escape.  I confess that at the party I attended, a colleague said, “Man!  Does he think that by telling all the women how nice they look, he can get away with murder?” and I failed to see the brilliant critique that comment articulated.  Most of the time, most of us walk around without seeing the ideologies which guide our lives as constructed.

And that’s why moments when the machinations of hegemony are laid bare are so powerful.  For a few days after MacFarlane’s hosting gig, discourse has opened up around questions of patriarchy and the media’s role in perpetuating misogyny.  These moments when some of us are thinking, “Wait a minute…there’s something wrong here” and some are saying, “Oh come on.  It’s fine.  It’s normal” provide us with an opportunity to have conversations about the things we take for granted.  Take to Facebook, to Twitter, to the classroom, to coffee klatsches and have the conversation.

I admit that I didn’t necessarily expect this semester’s opportunity to unpack the relationship between media and ideology to come in the form of an awards show.  But I am spectacularly grateful that it did, and for the chance to open essential dialogue about these issues with my students, colleagues, friends, and family.  (And you!  Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!)


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“Depiction is not Endorsement”: Representing Torture in Zero Dark Thirty Tue, 22 Jan 2013 15:00:24 +0000 Zero Dark Thirty has ignited a virtual powder keg of controversy regarding its depictions of the use of torture as a means of getting information during the ten-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Despite complaints that it justifies the use and effectiveness of torture, the film cannot be dismissed so easily.]]> Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty has ignited a virtual powder keg of controversy regarding its depictions of the use of torture as a means of getting information during the ten-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Like Bigelow’s previous, Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty has been received as an important document in helping to provide a popular history of the war on terrorism. In fact, at least one critic has suggested that Zero Dark Thirty “will be the film that defines a decade,” and, judging by box office numbers, audiences appear curious about the film and what it says about this cultural moment.

In making sense of Zero Dark Thirty, it’s worth noting that Bigelow chooses a very narrow frame for telling the story of the bin Laden manhunt. The film opens with a black background while audio from the September 11th attacks plays, a technique that reinforces the film’s authenticity and directly precedes a sequence in which Dan (Jason Clarke) roughly interrogates a suspect, punching him and eventually humiliating him sexually. For the next two hours, the movie focuses almost exclusively on the work of a small group of CIA operatives, particularly Maya (Jessica Chastain), who is introduced to the manhunt during one particularly brutal interrogation scene and who then devotes virtually all of her time and energy to the pursuit of bin Laden. When asked later by the CIA director, Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini), what else she’s done since joining the organization, Maya quickly replies, “Nothing. I’ve done nothing else.” Thus, rather than viewing the war on terrorism through the lens of policy or through its effects in the battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, we get what is essentially a procedural narrative, in which Maya pursues the clues leading to bin Laden.

The debate over the film began weeks before its early January national release when political commentator Glenn Greenwald condemned it (without having seen the film), in large part on the basis of Frank Bruni’s New York Times column. Greenwald worried that the film seemed to assert that coercive techniques such as waterboarding were “crucial, even indispensable” in pursuing bin Laden, when most accounts suggest differently – that these enhanced interrogation techniques often produced incorrect information, an argument that Alex Gibney, director of the investigative documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, makes in his extended analysis of the film. And under a relatively straightforward cause-effect analysis of the film’s narrative, it’s not too difficult to reach this conclusion. Dan roughly interrogates suspects. Eventually, Maya suggests more subtle forms of coercion. Through these techniques, they get the name of bin Laden’s courier, which eventually allows them to find bin Laden’s compound. Matt Taibbi makes a similar argument, going as far as saying that the film’s genre as a political thriller actually reinforces the justification for torture, suggeting that our expectations of capturing “the big treasure”  lead us to accept the actions of Maya, Dan, and others in the CIA. This affirmative account is, perhaps, reinforced by source bias. Bigelow and Boal were given unusual access to the CIA operatives involved in the case, and the film was made with the material support of the US military (as Chastain mentioned in an interview with Jon Stewart).

Eventually, Bigelow was forced to defend Zero Dark Thirty against many of these complaints, writing an editorial in the Los Angeles Times where she defended the film by stating flatly that “depiction is not endorsement.” In other words, her decision to show the use of torture is not meant to be understood as advocating for it, either morally or strategically. What Bigelow’s argument overlooks, however, is the fact that depiction is, in fact, endorsement, at least to the extent that her film endorses one specific truth about what led to the capture of bin Laden. As Taibbi observes, all of the narrative choices that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal made involve framing how the story is told and are, therefore, endorsing a way of thinking about the bin Laden manhunt. In this sense, Zero Dark Thirty seems to claim authenticity not only through its set design and handheld camera techniques – which tend to augment the film’s documentary “feel” – or through its use of expert testimony, but also narratively, through the storytelling techniques that frame our interpretation of the events leading to bin Laden’s death.

Yet, despite these complaints, Zero Dark Thirty cannot be dismissed so easily. First, due to the film’s extreme focus on the experiences of Maya, many of the popular (or official) narratives about the war on terror are effaced. Elected officials only appear fleetingly on TV sets, their comments often remote from the daily business of the CIA. The triumphant image of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton, and others watching from the White House as Seal Team Six completes its mission is absent. The only image of celebration is a brief shot of Maya, and even this image seems to be coded as part of the procedural narrative associated with completing the job. Instead, these scenes seem almost somber in tone. In fact, there is very little sense of resolution at the end of the film. I don’t think the depictions of torture can be ignored, and Bigelow’s defense of the film seems hollow at best. No one is questioning her right to show brutal violence, just the implication that the use of torture produced intelligence that led to bin Laden’s capture. But given that Maya’s pursuit is filled with false starts and failed leads – recall that one prisoner continues to make up false information despite being repeatedly waterboarded – it also resists simply affirming a celebratory narrative about bin Laden’s death. The critiques that label the film as “propaganda” overlook or ignore this complexity and underestimate the interpretive skills of audiences who seek to engage with the film. Thus, rather than dismiss the film, we should instead engage with it and make sense of how it both reflects and challenges dominant discourses about the war on terrorism.


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What Are You Missing? Nov 25 – Dec 8 Sun, 09 Dec 2012 14:53:00 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. The MPAA is touting findings that the shutdown of Megaupload was a huge blow to piracy while battling against research claims that box office revenues have been negatively impacted by Megaupload’s disappearance. Such anti-piracy rhetoric will step up a notch in January, thanks to a new initiative with internet service providers, and MPAA head Chris Dodd is turning to Silicon Valley for more help along those lines.

2. While plenty of Oscar bait is still coming down the pike, we now have the shortlists for live-action shorts and documentary nominations. Of the shortlisted docs, Searching for Sugar Man is gaining some early awards momentum. Among scripted films, Beasts of the Southern Wild impressed in Indie Spirit Award noms, Zero Dark Thirty turned on the National Board of Review, and the Gotham Awards rewarded Moonrise Kingdom.

3. Tax credits are again in the news, with New York job numbers showing a boost from production tax breaks and one small Georgia town experiencing revitalization thanks to production credits. However, one Michigan city is now on the ropes due to banking on tax incentives that the state subsequently eliminated. Back in Hollywood, LA production might be slowly on the rise.

4. Disney preceded its big Netflix deal with the announcement that it is shuttering its online movie service, offering a blow to transactional VOD prospects. It does seem like subscription streaming is coming to dominate, and along those lines, details are emerging about Verizon and Redbox’s upcoming Instant service, though we won’t see it until next year. Meanwhile, good old Blockbuster will now start selling mobile phones, because it has just about nothing else going on.

5. Internet ad spending will soon surpass ad spending in all newspapers and magazines, and a striking chart shows that the decline of newspaper ad revenue has outpaced the growth of Google’s ad revenues. That would be why the New York Times is trimming staff, as not even a paywall is making up the difference. A UK study says journalists are keeping their chins up, though.

6. With the death of The Daily, it’s clear that magazine apps are struggling. Will Richmond sees video as key for the future of magazines, while Jeff John Roberts thinks BuzzFeed might point the way toward a viable business model, with BuzzFeed’s CEO touting the value of social advertising over banner ads and hoping that branded content experiments will work.

7. YouTube is aiming for professional standards in everything from its new production facilities to its interface redesign, which enhances the focus on channels, along with funding channel marketing efforts and expanding onto airplanes and into Japan. This is working well enough that big media companies are seeking ways to get on board. (And pardon the plug, but some of us wrote here on Antenna recently about the new YouTube production facility.)

8. MySpace is planning to relaunch (again) and take on Spotify; well, it has to do something, right? iTunes just continues to expand, now reaching into 56 new countries (a Coalition of the Willing?). And Google just bought access to a mother lode of European music to boost its international Google Play and better compete with Apple and Amazon.

9. Nielsen has released a big state of social media report, which offers more data showing that people love to hang out on Facebook, while Pinterest has quickly become one to keep an eye on. And while it’s fashionable to make fun of Google+, it’s actually growing just fine. What’s sad is how Google derailed Reader while building Google+.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Funding Gender Analysis, Freaks & Geeks Oral History, Netflix-Disney Deal, DVR That Watches You, Ownership Vote Delayed, TV is Exhausting, Twitter & TV Growth, TWC Threat, Walking Dead Ratings, CBS Research View, Spanish-Language Rebranding, Plot & Character in Homeland, Sports CostsZucker Reaction, NBC Signs Fellowes, Local Time Shifting Soaring.


What Are You Missing? October 7-20 Sun, 21 Oct 2012 14:51:50 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. YouTube is ramping up its investment in branded channels to make itself more like TV. There’s a danger, though, in alienating the amateurs that YouTube initially capitalized on to distinguish it from TV. More favorably, YouTube is trying to help out nonprofit campaigns, and it has tweaked its search algorithm to better favor videos that viewers truly engage with.

2. Some big numbers in the news this past fortnight: There are now six billion cell phones worldwide (though that still leaves one billion without one), and there are one billion smartphones out there. Internet advertising reached $17 billion for the first half of 2012. American mobile devices ate up 1.1 trillion megabytes of data across 12 months, and US high speed broadband connections are up 76% over last year. The biggest number in the news? A French woman received a mobile phone bill for $15 quadrillion.

3. Amazon is going to take advantage of all the consumer data it gathers by working more closely with advertisers and ad agencies to place ads on Amazon sites. The Do Not Track movement is trying to limit what consumer data advertisers can obtain from our web browsers, much to advertisers’ chagrin. Adding more chagrin is a study highlighting how frequently mobile ad clicks are merely accidental.

4. The newspaper audience is shrinking — or maybe it’s not — but either way, Britain’s Guardian is the latest to look at ending its print edition. In the US, the Chicago Tribune is shifting to a paywall strategy online, which sounds like a bad move if you buy the idea that print outlets should be following what The Atlantic is doing. Newspapers in Brazil don’t like what Google is doing, and they’re now going to have to deal with the New York Times encroaching on their turf in an effort to expand its global audience.

5. A new study finds that young people commonly copy and share music among family and friends, but it was also determined that file-sharers buy more music than non-file-sharers, lending some food for thought to the music industry, which will see peer-to-peer users warned about illegal sharing activities soon. Unfortunately, the musicians’ cut of digital music income remains paltry, but Pandora insists the money is there.

6. As the compact disc turns 30, Neil Young is pushing for a new digital format, one superior in sound quality to mp3s. Meanwhile, music streaming marches onward, with Xbox now joining the fray and the BBC starting its own service, while Spotify looks to expand in new areas, such as in Japan and on smart TVs.

7. 20th Century Fox professes to be very excited about new technologies, while one of the most pervasive of Hollywood’s recent technological efforts, 3D, is supposedly on the decline (again). Given recent studio turmoil, it’s unclear who exactly will lead Hollywood through this next stage of technological production, but it’s seeming likely there won’t be as many unpaid interns working for them as before.

8. The new documentary nomination rules that Michael Moore helped the Academy usher in for this year’s Oscars have apparently only caused new problems, so now Moore is proposing new solutions, including getting rid of the old solutions. Much of this revolves around issues of distribution, and the story behind Detropia illustrates how challenging distribution of docs has gotten today.

9. The gaming company Zynga is experiencing all sorts of turmoil, from declining stock to rumors of employee revolts to lawsuits against an ex-employee being portrayed as a threat to current employees. But at least there’s FarmVille 2, now with 50 million players. Of course, it’s no Angry Birds, now with 200 million players.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Community Art, Ratings Takes, Scrambling Ban Eliminated, Cord Cutting Boxes, Connie Britton’s Hair, New Moonves Contract, New Local Ratings System, Real PBS Issues, DVR Boosts, Variety Sold, House of Cards Scheduled.


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What Are You Missing? Sept 16-29 Sun, 30 Sep 2012 14:31:47 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. In-flight airline entertainment is at a crossroads, as airlines decide between spending on wifi upgrades to let people use their own devices and on airplane entertainment technology like seat-back systems. JetBlue is going for the wifi option, and Boeing is upgrading wifi systems on their planes, while a few international airlines are passing out pre-loaded iPads to keep passengers entertained. In addition to the ever-rising costs to access in-flight wifi, there’s also the matter of it inevitably being slow.

2. Netflix has new competition to keep an eye on: Sky made a deal in the UK with Warner Bros., the new Redbox-Verizon service plans a Christmas debut, there’s word Disney could jump into the fray soon, UltraViolet might finally make some noise, and cable VOD stands to encroach further on Netflix’s territory.

3. Predictions are starting for the Foreign Language Oscar race, but you can take Iran off the table for the back-to-back win because it will boycott the Oscars due to outrage over Innocence of Muslims. Or at least that’s the reasononing Iran’s culture minister claims. Alyssa Rosenberg thinks there might be more to it. Either way, Iran won’t be thrilled to hear that more film projects about Muhammad are in the works.

4. Theaters continue to struggle, with the iconic Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco and the Roxy Theater in Philadelphia darkening for good. A pair of designers believe new design thinking can help turn theaters around. Theater owners might also follow the branding advice of AMC Theaters’ Shane Adams, who impressed many on Twitter last week. At least AMC and other theaters can continue to charge whatever high prices they want for snacks, thanks to a lawsuit dismissal.

5. There was a huge deal in the music business, as Universal Music Group finalized the acquisition of EMI Music’s recorded music unit following European Union and US approval, which was contingent upon the new combo selling off some assets, including the contracts of some prominent artists. Even after that, Universal will end up with control of about 40% of the US and European music market and immense power over the future direction of the industry.

6. Alyssa Oursler insists that Pandora and other music services have nothing to worry about from the Universal deal, and Pandora’s attention is elsewhere right now anyway, specifically on supporting a proposed bill called The Internet Radio Fairness Act that would lower streaming service royalty fees to put them par with what satellite radio and cable companies pay. Independent stations also support the bill.

7. There’s a redesigned PlayStation 3 coming out, but don’t expect to get a cheaper deal on a previous model. You can expect more mobile options from Sony, and Electronic Arts is also trying to take advantage of multi-platform gaming. You’ll be able to play multiple Hobbit games on multiple platforms, and Sesame Street is also pointing the way toward the future of gaming.

8. Wal-mart won’t be selling Kindles anymore. The stated reason why is somewhat vague, and it could just have to do with frustration with Amazon. Some readers are getting frustrated with higher e-book prices from Amazon, while Amazon will try to hook more with Kindle Serials. Amazon will have a new competitor thanks to a new e-book venture formed by Barry Diller and Scott Rudin.

9. Conditions at China’s Foxconn factory, which makes the iPhone 5, got even worse, with a riot temporarily shutting down production. This has come at a tenuous time for China’s corporate environment and raises larger questions about Chinese manufacturing, while Foxconn’s owner is looking to expand his business efforts beyond the country. Apple insists it is improving foreign factory conditions.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Cheers Oral History, Live TV Controversy, Auction Plans, The CW Signs With Nielsen Online, Dish Talking Internet TV, Changing Households, Variety Buyer, Cable Battles Consoles, Emmys Coverage, Female Employment, Netflix & A&E, Measuring Social Buzz, Tweeting Isn’t Watching, Microsoft Hire, New BBC


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What Are You Missing? Apr 29-May 12 Sun, 13 May 2012 15:17:17 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Happy Mother’s Day! Nielsen reports that among American moms, half have smartphones, and they love Facebook and Pinterest (Twitter, not so much). For the general US population, mobile data access is a big area of growth, while check-in apps are still mostly niche. In India, women use their phones more for talking and texting, whereas men do more web browsing.

2. “More video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the 3 major US networks created in 60 years,” tweets a YouTube exec, with 60 hours of video uploaded every minute. Now there’s word that YouTube could add a premium subscription service. But with YouTube getting so vast, some are finding smaller competitors offer a better platform, especially for mobile sharing.

3. Ebay and Wal-Mart are looking to develop their own search engines to battle against Google’s dominance, right as a Google report insists that search engines have First Amendment rights, which would mean Google could pick and choose which content and in what order to load up for a search reply. But Google isn’t allowed to violate internet privacy the way it apparently did by hacking into Safari to track users. Microsoft might also be cheating by making Internet Explorer the only browser that will work right on the upcoming Windows RT system.

4. While the documentary has a storied history in Canada, filmmakers are having a hard time finding funding for documentaries today thanks to federal cuts. If they can dig up an extra $20,000 or so from someplace, those filmmakers can get their films into the DocuWeeks program, which will still be a conduit to Oscar nominations, over Michael Moore’s objections.

5. News out of the National Association of Theatre Owners CinemaCon convention included 20th Century Fox planning to end 35mm film distribution next year, which will have complex consequences. Plus all manner of new theatrical magic is on its way, including lasers. A few theater chains are reporting a surge in attendance right now, while the AMC chain might be looking to sell to China.

6. Overall home entertainment spending is up for the first time in awhile, though that’s mostly thanks to digital streaming and Blu-ray, and not DVDs and rental stores, of course. Blu-ray might decline too once people realize they’ll now have to sit through two government warnings before getting to the movie.

7. Microsoft has invested in the Nook, which is now worth more than Barnes & Noble itself. B&N is trying to find ways to reconcile physical and online book sales without killing off the former, as possibilities for survival and the future design of physical books are up for speculation.

8. April was a bad month for video game sales, and while EA did well last year, investors didn’t like its weak outlook for this year. EA has big development plans, though its big investment in social gaming company Playfish hasn’t paid off yet, as a CityVille competitor has flopped.

9. Rovio had a huge year in 2011, thanks of course to Angry Birds and its one billion downloads, and the company is hoping to replicate that success with the new Amazing Alex. Zynga is also trying to recapture magic with a Farmville sequel. Zynga’s acquisition of Draw Something’s company doesn’t seem to be working out, but its cloud technology is apparently to be envied.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Renewals/Cancellations/ Pickups, Request for Family Programming, Dish Ad Skipper, Aereo Warning, HBO No, TV Everywhere Trademark Fight, Dish Dropping AMC?, Just Cancel, Kutcher Ad Pulled, Online & TV Ad Buys, Nielsen on Viewing, Bloomberg Wins, Hulu Authentication Coming?, BSkyB Defending Itself, Murdoch Criticism, TV & Diversity.


What Are You Missing? March 4-17 Sun, 18 Mar 2012 13:45:26 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. The fight over the R rating given to the Weinstein Co.’s Bully is intensifying, and as many rally around the film, it’s looking like it will be released without a rating. Getting slightly less attention, as any non-shirtlessness story tied to Matthew McConaughey will, is the NC-17 rating given to Killer Joe for violence and sexuality. Meanwhile, Lionsgate UK (ding!) trimmed seven seconds from The Hunger Games to drop the restricted age limit from 15 to 12.

2. Iran cancelled a planned celebration of Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, with no indication why, but Farhadi still says he loves Iran and will never leave. Well, except maybe to make films, and he thought Paris looked like a good place for that. He might notice while he’s there how France has celebrated Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin.

3. The Guardian’s David Cox says Hollywood is courting older viewers now who don’t want special effects-laden blockbusters (ah, so that’s why John Carter bombed…or did it?). But theaters are still courting youth and their ever-present mobile phones, and Hollywood is offering any number of ways to watch movies on handheld devices, including wristwatches. (Somehow I don’t think a movie-viewing wristwatch is something I should get grandpa for his birthday this year.)

4. Wal-mart announced its “disc to digital” service for Ultraviolet, which could be make-or-break for UltraViolet, but Peter Kafka thinks it will be a tough sell given the various restrictions and inconveniences that come with it. But as a recent ruling against DVD-ripping technology Kaleidescape indicates, restrictions and inconveniences are the rule right now.

5. Nielsen stats say over half of US households have current gaming consoles in the home and gaming on mobile and tablet platforms is on the rise, and it looks like we’ll also have a new Xbox as an option by 2013. If we end up unhappy with our Xbox games, apparently we can sue the FTC over them, as gamers frustrated with the ending of Mass Effect 3 have done, though the game’s executive producer defends the ending and other perceived failings of the game.

6. More interesting stats courtesy of Nielsen: More women than men are blogging, and just over half of bloggers are parents with under-18 kids in the house. That might be related to why so many are impatient with slow-loading websites. But just imagine how tough it is to be a blogger in one of the Internet Enemies countries.

7. We’re not quite sure yet if tablets are hurting e-reader sales, and we’re not quite sure yet about how Kindle Singles are selling or how much money authors can make from them exactly, and we’re not quite sure yet if the Department of Justice has a case to make against publishers for colluding with Apple, and against Amazon, on e-books prices or even what e-books should cost. But we’re getting there.

8. A UK college student is being extradited to the US to face copyright infringement charges for hosting links to pirated media on his website. This is leading to a larger conversation in the UK over extradition laws, reaching all the way to the highest offices in each land.

9. Yahoo is suing Facebook over patents. Facebook says it’s disappointed and plans to fight back, though some expect Facebook to eventually settle or outright buy some of Yahoo’s patents.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Luck Cancelled, Community Ratings, 2011 Ad Revenue Down, BBC Downloads, CW Shortens Delay, Return of The Killing, Amazon-Discovery Deal, Viacom Blog, Aereo Countersues, Netflix Branding, Mad Men & Weiner, Pay-As-You-Go Service, Teens Watching More, New UK Channel, Netflix & Apple, Ownership Rule Countered, Death of Cable.


What Are You Missing? January 15-28 Sun, 29 Jan 2012 14:56:41 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. One analyst is telling the Hollywood studios to defy exhibitor objections and make early video-on-demand releases of theatrical films happen. Funny or Die likes that idea so much, it’s making Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie available online even before it hits theaters. One theater chain has boycotted One for the Money not because of distribution objections; they’re mad that Lionsgate made a Groupon deal for tickets. (Just when you thought Lionsgate might not make an appearance in WAYM for once, boom, there it is.)

2. Distribution deals at Sundance have been modest but steady, as buyers forge on despite few of last year’s deals paying off. A partnership between a digital exhibitor, Cinedigm, and a veteran distributor, New Video, looks to make possible multi-platform deals for indie films, and there’s even now an automated way to submit indie films for distribution consideration. (Bonus link: Sundance awards were handed out last night.)

3. Independent films snagged 60 Oscar nominations (though you’ll see in the comments section of that article a debate over what qualifies as independent), but the French indie film Declaration of War got snubbed. Given Fox International’s new strategy of investing in foreign films made for their local markets, it seems the major studios could horn in on the foreign language film category someday soon. Once again, there won’t be many women at the Oscars for producing, directing and writing awards, as 2011 was a dismal year for female employment behind the camera. The imbalance is even worse in trailer voiceovers.

4. Tablet and e-reader sales are soaring, and about one-third of Americans own some form of e-reader now. And while e-book sales growth has been slower than many predicted, e-book lending is surging. While this seems to spell death for bookstores, some indie bookstores are growing, and African-American independent bookstores in particular illustrate that relationships with the local community are crucial to survival.

5. Musicians are increasingly objecting to streaming services carrying their music, though a Sony exec insists they don’t hurt download sales. Either way, we may end up seeing distribution windowing of music soon, and it will also be interesting to see where the RIAA’s lawsuit against ReDigi will go, as ReDigi insists it’s legal to buy and sell pre-owned iTunes music files.

6. Nintendo’s got some challenges ahead: Wii-related sales are plunging, the 3DS isn’t selling, and no one seems to know what the Wii U even is, plus the next Xbox will well surpass the Wii U in performance. Meanwhile, Microsoft managed to make a whole theme park out of the Kinect.

7. McDonald’s’ attempt to encourage #McDStories on Twitter went awry, but the #littlestories campaign has apparently gone smoother. More profoundly, an homophobic hate group’s anti-gay hashtag got brilliantly hijacked. Soon, the power of hashtag trending and hijacking will be available to right-to-left language users.

8. Comcast is tops in broadband speed, but has given up on the wireless business, while telecom companies are dumping DSL. A “Super Wi-Fi” network now exists in North Carolina using old analog TV spectrum (thus it’s technically not wi-fi) to send signals across a further range, but its future prospects are in question thanks to the spectrum bill in Congress.

9. Google seems determined to violate its traditional “don’t be evil” standards lately: the company has been accused of poaching Apple employees, conspiring with Apple and other companies to keep wages low, facilitating illegal pharmaceutical websites, misrepresenting its privacy policy and trampling on privacy rights, and detrimentally limiting access to the Google Maps platform.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past two weeks: Social Growth, NAB Criticizes TWC, Stealing Downton Abbey, Leno Complaint, Netflix News, More Netflix News, Defending Episodic Viewing, Live & Streaming Audiences Diverge, TV Nudity Clause, Modern Family Placement, Fans Affect Revenge, TV Everywhere Revenue, Piracy Fight, Prime-Time GH, Letterman Booker Fired, NBC’s Flaws, New TV Analysis Site.