streaming – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bad Blood: “Taylor Swift” vs. Spotify Mon, 03 Nov 2014 18:15:27 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.09.21 PMAs the number of release windows for media continues to expand, the “windowing” of a given media text has shifted accordingly. Although windowing has typically been a term reserved for motion pictures, in which a film goes through theatrical, home video, cable, and network distribution windows in roughly that order, the advent of streaming media has created similar patterns in television—where some Hulu series have week-long exclusivity for cable subscribers—and music, creating a broader “crisis” in distribution that the industry is working to solve.

Within music, where no such windowing has existed, streaming services like Spotify and Rdio have created a distribution problem that a number of labels have been pushing against. Whereas in film we see the challenging of existing windows through day-and-date streaming releases, with Spotify we see artists—such as Beyoncé and Coldplay—actively withholding their albums at release to force users (including those who subscribe to these services rather than streaming music for free) to acquire them through legal—or, depending on the user, illegal—means, creating selective windowing.

Spotify has value for artists and labels: on demand streaming has become a metric within the Billboard Hot 100 charts, for example, and the service’s 40 million users represent a cross-section of listeners that may not buy music now but could buy music in the future, making it a valuable promotional platform. However, the issue is that the infinitesimally small royalties paid by Spotify and other streaming services—which have drawn criticism from artists and labels—limit this value. Accordingly, while having your music on Spotify has promotional value, the remuneration is significantly less than if artists sell albums or singles on iTunes, or convince you to go out to a store to buy a deluxe version of the album featuring exclusive material.

Big Machine Records and Taylor Swift have been at the center of this conflict for some time. Swift’s album Red, which debuted in October 2012, was an early example of a label withholding a marquee album from streaming services—while each single from the album became available near its release, the full album was not made available for streaming until the summer of 2013. At the time, Billboard reported Big Marchine founder Scott Borchetta framing streaming as a “struggle,” arguing that “it doesn’t make sense to a small record company” compared to a larger conglomerate with thousands of albums to sell to Spotify.

The decision was controversial at the time, although there was no evidence that Spotify was fighting against it—the service simply did not have Red available, which Big Machine hoped would push users to go purchase the album. However, earlier this year Spotify went on the offensive, creating pages for albums that are being withheld from the service—including the latest albums from Coldplay and Beyoncé—that inform listeners that “the artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify. We are working on it and hope they will change their mind soon.”

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Such a page has been in place for Swift’s 1989 since the album’s release last week, although as of this morning it is notably the only album page on Swift’s Spotify page. As widely reported, Big Machine has pulled all of Swift’s music—including “Shake It Off,” which had been the most streamed song on the service—in the midst of negotiations with Spotify, the most public move yet in the service’s battle with labels. In return, Spotify has begun using social media—including a blog post entitled “On Taylor Swift’s Decision to Remove Her Music form Spotify”—to call out Swift’s decision and incite her to “Stay Stay Stay,” a reference to a song from the now unavailable Red.

Spotify’s rhetoric is nearly identical to that of cable channels in the midst of carriage disputes—just last night, AMC used The Walking Dead to inform DirecTV subscribers that the channel’s contract with the satellite service is up soon, and that their provider is failing to negotiate in good faith. It’s a call to action, mirroring AMC’s conflict with Dish by asking the show’s large fanbase to become engaged in a public campaign to influence negotiations in their favor. In Spotify’s case, they are using social media to rally their 40 million users to spread the word using the #JustSayYes hashtag (itself taken from her song “Love Story”), and sharing a playlist of “What to Play While Taylor’s Away.”

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In part due to this messaging, most major news reports regarding the decision are framed in these terms: TIME suggests “Taylor Swift Just Removed Her Music From Spotify,” while Mashable—one of the first to report on the story, and who had reported on 1989’s absence from the service last week—implies that “Taylor Swift removes all music from Spotify after ‘1989’ bickering.” However, to frame this as Swift’s decision obscures the presence of the label, who Billboard reports—citing sources beyond conjecture and Spotify’s social media postings—is behind this decision as Big Machine asserts itself in the midst of an attempted sale. There is no evidence that Swift herself is behind this decision—while TIME cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed where Swift herself expresses concern regarding the streaming service, neither she nor Big Machine Records has made a public statement, meaning that any narrative has been created by Spotify to better position the company within ongoing negotiations.

Spotify’s choice to make this about the artist—never once acknowledging the existence of a label—highlights the challenge of getting users to invest in the full dimensions of why albums are held from Spotify. This is by all accounts not primarily a conflict with an artist whose principles are in opposition to streaming music, but rather a case where a label is leveraging the sales power of their biggest artist to challenge the economics of a still nascent, controversial distribution method, and where that artist—despite her ubiquity—is subject to their business decisions. But whereas Spotify vs. Scott Borchetta is a story for the trades, Spotify vs. Taylor Swift is a story for the masses, one Spotify hopes will create fewer blank spaces in their library.


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Pre-Prime: HBO’s Off-Channel Revenue Legacy Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:50:07 +0000 TheWire_Complete_intIt makes sense we would focus on the future. HBO’s streaming deal with Amazon Prime is clearly an effort to prepare for a streaming future, enabling HBO to have both a branding presence and a revenue stream tied to an increasing amount of viewers who stream their television instead of subscribing to cable or satellite services.

There is plenty to talk about regarding that future. Will audiences who currently subscribe to HBO be more likely to cut the cord if they could access (only select) HBO programming three years later than if they subscribed to the service? Probably not. Will existing—particularly young—cordcutters become more likely to subscribe to HBO in the future when they’re in a financial position to do so if they’re more engaged with the channel’s library? Maybe. Will HBO ever make current flagship series Game of Thrones available on Amazon Prime while it’s still airing? Doubtful.

As interesting as those questions are, I want to consider how this deal reflects the history of HBO embracing new forms of distribution in the interest of connecting with audiences unable to afford or unwilling to pay for HBO subscriptions. Although often marginalized within these conversations in the contemporary moment, both syndication and home video were once similar points of outreach for HBO and other cable channels, and they are implicitly a significant factor in HBO’s current streaming strategy even if they go unnamed in official press releases.

HBO’s decision may be primarily focused on the streaming future, but it is predicated on the home video past. In an age before streaming, DVD sets were how you caught up with a show like The Wire, and even in the wake of HBO GO it was how you caught up with The Wire without having to subscribe to cable (at least if you weren’t borrowing someone else’s HBO GO password). With premium price tags and elaborate packaging, sets for series like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Rome, and Deadwood were a key space where HBO could package their prestige programming for a different audience.

If that DVD market were still healthy, one imagines HBO might have been more resistant to signing streaming deals that will further limit the appeal of those library titles: although DVD/Blu-Rays of current series will retain value (both for collectors and those unwilling to wait three years for them to arrive to Amazon), I would be interested to see if the company’s print runs on legacy DVD sets begin to shrink even further. Without knowing the financial details behind the Amazon deal, it seems safe to say that HBO ran the numbers of how this might affect their DVD business, and that their decision to embrace off-channel streaming is a tacit acknowledgement that the TV on DVD bubble burst some time ago.

image11-350x205If the Amazon deal signals HBO moving past its legacy DVD business, however, it simultaneously signals their inability to completely move past its limited foray into syndication. Notably absent from the deal are three comedy series that were sold into both basic cable and broadcast syndication: Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Sex and the City. Although the first two were quickly pulled from broadcast syndication after heavy editing gutted their appeal, edited episodes of Sex and the City had a stronger run on broadcast, a banner run on TBS, and currently air on E!, while both Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage retain cable syndication deals on TV Land and Comedy Central, respectively.

Although all three are offered as part of HBO GO, they are absent from the Amazon announcement, implying that the nature of HBO’s contracts prohibits their sale of that content to streaming services while existing syndication deals are in place. In the case of Sex and the City, which entered into syndication before streaming was even a thing that existed, its most recent deals have been explicit about the role of streaming: reporting about its current deal with E! suggests online rights were included in the deal. While streaming deals and syndication deals may function somewhat differently, more recent syndication deals would appear to have offered streaming as part of the package, which seemingly makes it impossible for HBO to re-license that content to a third party in any capacity while existing deals are in place.

Premium cable’s relationship with streaming has always been complicated: Showtime and Starz each ended content deals with Netflix in order to build greater value into their own subscription streaming services, with Showtime only recently returning to Netflix with Dexter following the series’ conclusion. None have jumped in head first because they run on business models that require careful cultivation of value centered on subscriptions but relying on these sources of ancillary revenue (and exposure). The delay in HBO’s case is tied to both their efforts to translate their library into a subscription incentive through HBO GO—which were clearly not so successful that HBO could refuse Amazon’s likely rich financial offer—and the fact that they remain linked to previous equivalents to streaming’s ability to extend their content beyond the premium cable paywall.

HBO’s deal with Amazon signals their willingness to move past one of those models, and their inability to move past another, at least until the current syndication deals run out. When that happens, though, we will gain greater insight into how these two forms of value compare. If cable channels remain willing to pay a premium for edited versions of Sex and the City, are Amazon’s terms lucrative enough to compete? While our focus on the future makes the choice of streaming seem like common sense, HBO’s focus on the bottom line could make a different decision with streaming than it did with its legacy DVD business when the time comes.


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What Are You Missing? March 17-March 30 Sun, 31 Mar 2013 13:00:25 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1) The Supreme Court has been busy (and not just with DOMA). The High Court handed down multiple rulings with major impact for the entertainment industries. First, the Court extended the “first sale” doctrine to content purchased overseas but resold in the US, in a case brought by Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai-born student sued for copyright infringement by Wiley & Sons when he resold textbooks purchased in Taiwan. The ruling has already spurred some in Congress to call for revisions to copyright law, with testimony from the U.S. Register of Copyrights calling for the “next great copyright act” involving clarifications and revisions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act enacted 15 years ago.

2) While the industry may have lost that case, they did come out ahead in another, as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Comcast in an antitrust suit filed by Philadelphia-area subscribers claiming they were being overcharged. This could extend beyond the realm of television/cable providers, as the ruling impacts the ways cases can be pursued by a class group.

3) As regular WAYM readers might recall, last week News Corp and Disney were both considering buying the other out for control of Hulu. Now, reports show both sides are considering selling to a third party. Potential buyers being tossed around are investment firm Guggenheim Partners, Yahoo, and Amazon, tough no official comments have been made. So at this point, anything (or nothing) could happen.

4) In other streaming news, HBO GO, the online streaming service from HBO that is currently only available to those with a cable subscription (with the extra HBO fee), may ‘go’ broader, with HBO CEO Richard Plepler mentioning interest in teaming up directly through broadband providers. This would make HBO the “first premium cable network to bypass cable” and go directly to its Internet-based audience. This could be a big step, and a tacit admission of new competition in the form streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon.

5) This past week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report detailing the results of an “undercover shopper survey” on the enforcement of entertainment industry ratings. In an age where video games are often singled out for their impact on children, the FTC found the ESRB’s rating system and video game retailers the best, noting an 87% success rate of underage children being denied buying M-rated games. All areas found marked success, however, as box office, DVD sales, and CDs all showed improvement over the past years (See graph/report for more details).

6) The Game Developers Conference (GDC), the “world’s largest and longest-running professionals-only game industry event,” took place this past week, featuring booths, panels, and demos of the latest and greatest out of the video game industry. Although events like PAX and E3 draw larger audiences and media coverage, GDC has become another site for industry outsiders, like Disney and Warner Bros., to become more involved. Highlights include Activision’s uncanny valley-crossing graphics demo and independent game Journey taking home several awards including being the first independent to win Game of the Year.

7) Upfront season is really heating up, starting with News Corps cable network FX announcing the launch of a new sister channel, FXX (The extra X is for… I don’t know). FXX (launching in September) will specifically target a younger demographic, 18-34, and will be bolstered by moving current FX comedies It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, as well as new comedy programming and reruns of popular shows like Sports Night and Arrested Development. Back on the FX front, network president John Landgraf also announced the acquisition of a 10-episode adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, a bid they hope puts them in competition with more premiere cable fare like HBO and AMC.

8) More from the upfront front, Participant Media announced the creation of ‘pivot’ (stylized in lower-case), a new cable network formed from their purchase of the Documentary Channel. The new channel will mostly be filled with non-fiction programming aimed at Millenials, with shows from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Meghan McCain already lined up. Participant Media is exploring options for offering the channel via broadband, trying to hook this young generation with both relevant technology and content.

9) A new report out this week from UCLA and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) revealed women and minorities are still underrepresented on television writing staffs as well as in producer roles. UCLA sociologist and the report’s author Darnell Hunt revealed that while some progress was made, it was at such a slow rate, the effects are marginal or nearly nonexistent.

10) Variety isn’t gone, but it won’t be the same. The 80-year-old Hollywood daily trade magazine published its last print edition on March 19. Variety will live on, both online in its revamped (paywall-free) website and in a new weekly magazine that debuted March 26.

And we return to The Silly Side, looking at the inherent weirdness that comes from entertainment industries:


House of Cards Has No Advertising Thu, 14 Feb 2013 14:00:51 +0000 House of Cards carries no advertising, no commercial breaks. Without advertising, there is less need to spread episodes out over time. Without advertising, there is less pressure to regularize audience attention.

Netflix’s simultaneous release of all the episodes of House of Cards has generated commentary on binge viewing, social TV, the definition of “hit” TV (and here), and business models (and here).  Netflix is disregarding conventional audience management strategies, particularly the sequential release of one episode per week. For the past 80 years of commercial broadcasting, the weekly release of episodes served at least two purposes: to fill airtime economically by spreading narratives out over time, and, most important, to secure audience attention for advertisers on a regular basis.

Netflix has the freedom to release all episodes at once because Netflix is not in the business of organizing audience attention for advertising messages. That means Netflix does not have to regularize that attention through scheduling or measure that attention through ratings.  Linear commercial television manages “audience flow” with scheduling strategies designed to deliver certain targeted audiences to certain advertisers, as measured by ratings services. Viewers may believe television networks serve them; however, television networks’ primary customers are advertisers, and programs are a means of delivering audiences to those advertisers. Netflix’s customers, on the other hand, are not advertisers, but viewers. What advertisers prefer, a regular schedule that guarantees the weekly exposure of their products, need not shape the preferences of such viewers.

Why doesn’t Netflix schedule like HBO, then? HBO, a commercial-free premium subscription service, creates artificial scarcity by withholding already produced episodes, doling them out week by week. HBO began as a linear service designed to attract subscribers to cable services; its strategies are thus designed to build subscriber loyalty to itself and to cable operators; its announcements of audience ratings serve only to market its brand, not to measure audiences delivered to advertisers. Many observers assume that Netflix is evolving like HBO, shifting from a program buyer to program producer to ensure subscriber loyalty. However, Netflix offers something HBO cannot: asynchronous viewing of a deep catalog of programming. Although HBO offers HBO Go, that service is limited to cable subscribers and to HBO programming. Since asynchronous viewing is what Netflix can offer more cheaply and efficiently than HBO, Netflix needs to distinguish itself from HBO precisely on that basis to attract and retain subscribers. Hence, rather than weekly releases, episode by episode, Netflix has always offered audiences total control over their viewing schedule.

Some find it difficult to grasp how the seriality of House of Cards can work if all episodes are available at once. Seriality as a narrative strategy has been around at least since the Odyssey followed the Iliad, but in the modern era it has also functioned to ensure the maintenance of a revenue stream. Serialized novels enticed readers to buy the next issue of a magazine; serialized films tempted viewers to buy another ticket the next week; and serialized comic strips encouraged readers to buy a newspaper daily. By the early 1930s serialized radio dramas helped ensure that audiences would tune in daily to their “soap opera” and the soap advertisers’ messages.  More recently, serials such as The Sopranos helped build HBO subscribers’ loyalty.

Why, then, create House of Cards as a serial at all, if Netflix does not need to tempt audiences into repeated scheduled viewings? Probably because open-ended episode structure is still one of the best ways to encourage viewing of more than one episode. Increased viewership overall would help amortize the show’s high production cost–not because Netflix earns revenue on how many viewers see each episode but because viewer engagement will likely lead to more subscriptions to the service.

Netflix’s willingness to give the audience control over serial viewing challenges assumptions that the best way to control program costs is to eke out episodes over time, measuring demand, and then raising and lowering prices in response. Netflix will track viewership, not to adjust airtime prices for advertisers but to measure subscriber demand and, it hopes, an increase of subscribers. Like HBO’s move into original programming, Netflix’s strategy is risky, but it is designed to attract subscribers to its streaming service–not necessarily to a particular program. No doubt audience control of the pace of narrative consumption will affect social media conversations. But this strategy also challenges the necessity of synchronous viewing as a business model, a model based on the limitations of legacy technologies rather than on some inherent quality of seriality.

Netflix’s current business model also depends on the survival of advertising-supported networks, which are selling programming to Netflix as a new aftermarket. Thus, Netflix is not aiming to destroy linear ad-supported programming. Advertising revenue subsidizes far more programming than Netflix can currently plan to produce on its own. Instead, by offering a new profitable aftermarket for programming initially financed through advertising revenue, Netflix may become commercial television’s white knight. Netflix’s ability to expand offerings of commercial television programming will depend in part on its ability to keep attracting new subscribers. Offering viewers the option to binge, or watch multiple episodes in a sitting, or watch them over a longer time frame, may be Netflix’s best bet for attracting new subscribers.

The full significance of House of Cards, as an indicator of new business models and evolving cultural forms, is yet to be determined. Is it too much to hope that Netflix’s simultaneous release of a season’s worth of premiere episodes is a harbinger of unprecedented audience leverage in an industry too long accustomed to bottleneck control over audiences?


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What Are You Missing? January 6-19 Sun, 20 Jan 2013 15:27:41 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently.

1. China had a big box office year in 2012, though a good chunk of the revenue came from American studio imports, like Life of Pi. The Hangover-esque Chinese comedy Lost in Thailand has become the country’s biggest domestic hit ever, though, and some expect the rise of China to global number one movie market status to come courtesy of shallow blockbusters.

2. Hollywood studios are turning to outside funding to support its films that aren’t shallow blockbusters, while Disney is looking at budget cuts for everything. DreamWorks is still a great place to work, though. Video game makers want greater control over the films Hollywood makes from their properties, while Disney is meshing together gaming and its movies with the upcoming Disney Infinity game.

3. We’re getting more info about Redbox Instant, which is expected to launch in March, because a group of users have gotten to beta test it. We know that it will be focused on movies, not TV shows, and Redbox’s CEO also says the company won’t abandon DVDs. But Austin Carr isn’t impressed with the service.

4. Home video revenue finally rose a bit last year, halting a seven-year skid, with streaming getting most of the credit for the uptick. UltraViolet also continues to grow, and Walmart’s “disc to digital” cloud service has been improved. Don’t expect Amazon to extend its “Amazon-purchased CD to digital” plan to movies, though.

5. Amazon has also launched a new mp3 store targeted toward iPhone/iPod users, offering a shot across iTunes’ bow. iTunes now has a partnership with Rolling Stone, whose iPad magazine will have links to Apple’s music store. The blog Asymco has graphed the iTunes economy.

6. 2012 music sales indicate the CD’s impending demise and the digital single’s growth. Other trends revealed from the figures are that big hits take up an increasing share of download sales; rock and pop music dominated, though country music sales rose compared to 2011; and indie labels grabbed one-third of album sales.

7. The number of children reading books on digital devices is rising, though over half of kids still have never read an e-book. Libraries are also said to be losing their influence among children, but maybe video games at libraries can help. There’s also a plan in the works in Texas for a bookless, all-digital library.

8. The Wii U is bringing in more revenue than the original Wii did in early sales, but that’s only because it costs more. Nintendo’s president says sales of the Wii U are “not bad,” given the competitive landscape, and Nintendo is merging its console and handheld divisions to better deal with that landscape. Xbox 360 has finished its second year as the best-selling console, and Microsoft says that the next Xbox system will fill your living room with images to immerse you in games. And we can now say goodbye to the dominant console of the past, the Playstation 2, which will no longer be made.

9. Pingdom offers a slew of stats on how we used the internet around the world in 2012, from search to mobile to email, while Mashable has an infographic specifically on social media use in 2012. The FCC is looking to expand Wi-Fi spectrum space so we can do even more online in 2013, like look at video ads.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Anger Management Returns, CNN-SI Change, OWN Hopes, Double Your FX, TCA & Twitter, The Killing Will Return, Dish & CBS Battle Ropes in CNET, Corrie Coming to Hulu, Five-0 Ending, Time-Shifted Viewing, Soap Revivals, Video Sharing Passed, Netflix & Ratings, Al Jazeera America, PBS at TCA, The CW at TCA, CBS & Showtime at TCA, Arrested Development at TCA, ABC at TCA, FX at TCA, Fox at TCA, NBC at TCA.


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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? 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? Sept 2-15 Sun, 16 Sep 2012 13:44:59 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Twitter has Facebook beat on mobile ad dollars, but Mark Zuckerberg plans to change that. Facebook is also developing new strategies for web ads, including sponsored search results. And in an effort to maintain the integrity of perceived value, Facebook is cracking down on fake “likes.”

2. USA Today has completed a web-inspired redesign, but newspapers are still mired in a world where they’re getting only $1 in digital ad revenue for every $25 they lose in print ad revenue. The Village Voice seems in dire shape, and entertainment industry trades are fighting to stay relevant. Maybe they all need to look at Reddit.

3. The most interesting conversations in the wake of Amazon unveiling its new Kindles involve debates about Amazon’s stated strategy to go for slim profit margins on hardware and reap bigger rewards on the digital goods people purchase to use on that hardware, which is counter to the Apple model. Though early reviews of the new Kindles don’t indicate that it’s an iPad killer, some think Google should at least be worried.

4. The new Wii U console will be available in the US on November 18 (though don’t bother checking Amazon for a pre-order), in Europe a few weeks later, and in Japan in early December. Its price has proved to be controversial, though a price cut will likely come later, and we may even be treated to a console price war over the holidays.

5. Even with the profitability of music streaming still in question, Nokia has launched a free streaming music service for smartphones, and Apple has a streaming radio service in the works that would use your iTunes history to select songs. This would pose a challenge Pandora, which saw its stock plunge on the news. Meanwhile, Spotify is making some changes, with a browser-based version coming soon.

6. After 20 months of investigating and over a million warning letters sent, a French anti-piracy agency now has a conviction to point to under its “three strikes and you’re fined” law: $200 is the price to be paid for two pirated Rihanna songs. In the US, a music-sharer has seen her fine reimposed: $220,000 for 24 songs. And Pirate Bay’s co-founder has been arrested; the penalty he faces is a little bigger.

7. Film (as a format) is dying, with Fuji as the latest abandoner, and studios are trying to adapt, with Warner Bros. especially devoting considerable attention to developing digital media options. Warners hopes that its Flixster and UltraViolet combo will encourage people to buy movies rather than rent, and Fox has similar motivation behind its plans to release digital versions of films before disc versions. A new digital storefront could help UltraViolet, while Amazon Prime Instant Video has gotten a boost from a film deal with Epix.

8. The Telluride Film Festival  marked the start of Oscar bait season, and Ben Affleck’s Argo and the documentary The Gatekeepers left with the most buzz. Meanwhile, the frenzied Toronto International Film Festival saw very active sales, with Lionsgate being an especially aggressive buyer, while Sony Pictures Classics, The Gatekeepers’ distributor, was busy showing off its wares, and documentaries grabbed a lot of attention.

9. The acquisition of AMC theaters by Chinese mogul Dalian Wanda is officially complete, and Wanda is now eyeing other US entertainment purchases. Back in China, the film industry is booming, but tensions with Hollywood are increasing due to import restrictions. China at least wants some Hollywood imports, though, especially those films they’ve got product placements in.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: CBS Threatens Dish, Hurry-Up Problems, NBC is NBCU’s Priority, CBS Adjusts Schedule, Over-the-Top Increases, Netflix Good & Bad, Breaking Bad Story Sync, Colbert & Religion, No New Apple TV Products, Gilligan Interviews, Fall Schedule.


Stranded on the TV Battleground: Hulu’s Invisible Original Mon, 07 May 2012 14:00:52 +0000 The post-network era has raised serious questions about what constitutes television, with an entire conference recently devoted to the question “What is TV?” Streaming media lies at the heart of many of these conversations, with original series debuting on Netflix and Hulu among those forms of media that challenge our traditional understanding of what constitutes a television show.

In the case of a series like Netflix’s Lilyhammer, the traditional television distribution model is largely absent: while still episodic, therefore taking the form we most commonly associated with television, the Norwegian co-production was released as a complete season on the streaming service, and streams without commercial interruption.

However, in the case of Hulu’s Battleground the similarities with television outweigh the differences. Debuting in February, a new episode of the show has been released each week, with each episode supported by ad breaks built into the program. The show is a half-hour comedy series, working with the mockumentary format commonly associated with series like The Office, and features an extended ensemble cast. In the buildup to the series premiere, Hulu held a panel at the annual Television Critics’ Association Press Tour in January, allowing creator JD Walsh and the cast to speak about the show to gathered panelists. It was also, unlike Lilyhammer, not a co-production, created exclusively to stream on Hulu.

Regardless of these factors, Battleground has languished in relative television obscurity despite delivering what I would categorize as a solid first season (which concludes with the finale, premiering tomorrow on Hulu). The show, which follows a fictional senate race in Wisconsin, has grown from its pilot based on a strong lead performance by Jay Hayden, some compelling work by the supporting cast (including a guest turn from Ray Wise), and a solid use of the emotional swings of political campaigns to drive its narrative. Additionally, the show has shown a willingness to experiment: its tenth episode told a flashback story from the perspective of an MTV Real Life-esque documentary, a bold aesthetic decision that proved inconsistent in its execution but suggested a formal complexity one might not expect from a half-hour comedy. Also, the decision to film on location in Madison is both incredibly entertaining as a resident of the city and intriguing as someone who is studying the strategic use of location shooting to highlight categories of place – the use of the local ABC affiliate (WKOW) for news coverage, in particular, demonstrates a level of verisimilitude someone outside of Madison might not recognize.

However, as Cory Barker, Wes Ambrecht, and Andrew Rabin pointed out in a recent roundtable discussion, no one is talking about any of this. While it’s unclear how many people are watching Battleground (although Hulu’s website shows it ranked in as 78th most popular series on Hulu over the past month), the absence of any conversation within critical circles has proven particularly damning. Hulu might have held a panel at TCA, but the panel was reportedly poorly attended; while multiple outlets reviewed Battleground when it first premiered (including The New York Times and The A.V. Club), none of the critics or sites which focus on weekly episodic criticism chose to continue reviewing it week-to-week (despite at least The A.V. Club having precedent with their coverage of U.K. import Misfits based on its Hulu distribution cycle), and the New York Times review is focused more on the novelty of Hulu and Netflix creating original content than on the content itself. The show was so low on the radar that it doesn’t even have a Metacritic page, unlike Lilyhammer which at least garnered enough reviews to merit a page and a score.

The reasons for this are not something we could prove scientifically, as most outlets make subjective decisions on what they do and do not cover. On the one hand, the show’s low viewership would create less financial imperative for a site like The A.V. Club to hire a writer to cover the series week-to-week; however, in other instances where staff critics like HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall have greater editorial control, the decision may have simply come down to a lack of time (understandable during a busy midseason dominated by shows such as Justified, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones, and cited by Sepinwall as his reason for skipping the premiere) or a lack of interest (which is, of course, a matter of opinion).

These are the same challenges that face any show classified as a sleeper hit – or the “best show you’re not watching” as the above roundtable refers to it – but in many ways one would expect it to be easier for Battleground to gain traction: with all back episodes available to stream for free, word of mouth should more easily translate into viewers (including critics) catching up. However, streaming also presents barriers: Sepinwall notes he prefers to avoid reviewing streaming material on a laptop, and I’ll admit that my own efforts to catch up would have been far more pleasant if I hadn’t been tied to my computer.

While Hulu has made no official statement about the show’s future, the show’s lack of traction raises a number of challenges for the network’s move into original programming. Does the network need to be more active in reaching out to critics by mailing them DVD screeners to review? Or do they perhaps need to be more bullish in promoting the series, buying airspace during network broadcasts of similar series (like The Office, for example, in the case of Battleground) or actually using their minimal social media presence more strategically? Or is this simply a lesson that shows featuring no stars and limited industrial pedigree are doomed to fail when airing in a marginalized streaming environment against a broad range of broadcast and cable competition, pushing Hulu towards more star-oriented programming like Netflix’s acquisition of new episodes of Arrested Development?

I’d hate to see this final lesson be the takeaway here, but original streaming programming, like love, appears to be a battlefield.


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To XFinity and Beyond… The Missing Smart Living Room TV Interface Sat, 10 Mar 2012 20:58:56 +0000

As a Comcast subscriber, I greeted the recent announcement of the Streampix service with some curiosity. I have not joined the Netflix nation and, since my monthly Comcast bill just went up $20, felt some added value appropriate. I began to thumb through the new offerings last night, simultaneously pleased, befuddled, but increasingly irate.

I demand a moratorium on breathless distribution announcements from cable companies until they upgrade the user interface. We all know the technology exists. It was all on display at the Cable Show last June. The BBC iPlayer has been in homes for years now.



But when I go looking for content on my supposedly most-high end Comcast HD DVR, I get this.

Select Xfinity Streampix and get this.

Select TV, get a choice of alphabetical suboptions that I’ll spare you, but select O-S and get this.

I select Scrubs and get this.

I do acknowledge that if I choose to watch Streampix on an iPad tablet, the interface looks more like this. (and that is where the top pic was intended).

Hmm. I’ve always thought it would be great to watch all the episodes of Scrubs in alphabetical order, that way any ongoing storyline would make absolutely no sense. Even better, include absolutely no episode numbers so that I could at least sort them out myself since this is apparently too giant a leap for your technological interface. Come on. Yeah, I’m frustrated, maybe even angry.

And that is cool, but I watch TV at home. And when I do, I want to watch on the ridiculously large and beautiful screen that adorns my TV cave, where I can sit on my fantastically comfortable and unstylish reclining sofa. I’m not alone. New numbers from Nielsen on the “State of Media: U.S. Digital Consumer Report” (Q3-4 2011) tell us video consumption on PC or mobile phones (not sure where tablets figure) is a whopping 4 minutes per user per MONTH, which pales some to the 146:45 minutes spent on “television.”

While I’m obviously not suggesting this number won’t continue to grow and that such screens will be an important part of the television future, I am astounded by the lack of attention cable companies have afforded to the interface of the primary screen. It is this frustr-anger of the experience of the above screens that explains why I (and likely others) continue to dream of the potential that the new Apple TV might bring, even though I know full well that the arrangements with content providers that would be necessary for Apple TV to be a game changer remain most unlikely. Why are industry analysts and trade journalists endlessly willing to speculate on the tiniest bit of news regarding Apple TV, Netflix, or Google TV? Because these companies have figured out that it doesn’t matter if you have content if you have the most ridiculous, cumbersome, and counter-intuitive way to sort through it.

Comcast Streampix is a good idea and clearly indicative of the further disruption of economic models and distribution that will continue over the next decade. But this array of offerings will be meaningless unless it rolls out an interface for the living room screen that is as good as the one for tablets/phones/PCs. The first company to have both content (with a sustainable economic model) and an interface might just win this. Quantity of industry press, tweets, and blogging to the contrary, this is still the Comcasts-of-the-world’s battle to lose, but its willingness to bring Streampix to the market without a new cable box interface suggests they just might manage to do so.


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