Archive for technology

The Daily Show on Bookstores

Via Tech Crunch, a sketch from The Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart and John Hodgman discuss the closure of Borders Bookstores, which they attribute to internet distributors such as Amazon and e-readers such as the Kindle.

There’s even a joke toward the end in which Stewart suggests turning Borders into a historical tourist attraction (as in the Onion video about Blockbuster from a few years ago). This one isn’t as funny as the old Onion video, but I think it taps into ongoing perceptions about the decline of physical media and, in this case, about a decline in print literacy as well. There’s also the implication that bookstores are inconvenient and that people would rather stay at home (Hodgman’s suggestion that Borders could transform itself into a bunch of living-room-like pods).

It’s odd to watch the video because I don’t really see myself in the characterization they create in the video–I like going to bookstores and I’ve been holding out on getting a Kindle because I really like physical copies of books, for a lot of reasons–but at the same time, I’ve probably been in a Borders once in the last six months, and I can’t remember the last time I bought a book in a bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think Borders was solely a victim of the shift away from physical media, but their closure certainly reinforces the narratives that are being presented in this vido.

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Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D

There really isn’t much to say about the narrative of the latest installment of the Spy Kids franchise. It’s an incoherent, garbled mess, one that seems to have written pretty much on auto-pilot. The jokes and sight gags were equally tedious, making it difficult for me to grasp how the franchise had managed to last this long. There is a basic message about spending time with family, one that is reflected in the film’s time-travel plot, but even that seemed utterly cynical. Of course, All the Time in the World has been promoted almost entirely on the basis of its use of “Aroma-Scope,” the scratch-and-sniff cards that incorporate smell into several of the film’s scenes. But as Maryann Johanson observed in her review, these 4-D elements seemed to expose the limits of the New Gimmick Cinema.

Like Johanson, I found that the film worked to hard to make it appear that the incorporation of scent was seamless. During the opening sequence, a robotic dog, voiced by Ricky Gervais, explains that when a number appears on screen, viewers are suposed to scratch the corresponding number on a card they were given upon entering theaters. Simple enough, of course, but given that you are fumbling with a card in a darkened theater (one that is even darker thanks to the darkened lenses on your 3D glasses), you have to glance down away from the screen and feel around a little for the appropriate number.

Even worse, the scents were almost too mild for me to smell. Johanson also complains that most of the scents actually resembled “cardboard,” while other critics noted that pretty much all of the smells recalled “fruity gumball.” The faint smell actually became even more of a distraction since I wasn’t sure whether I was just missing the smell or whether I needed a key or coin to scratch off the surface of the card.  So, I spent one or two minutes fumbling with the card without any real payoff from the movie. In addition, even walking to the theater while carrying 3D glasses, the card, my ticket, my phone, and a book meant that my hands were full. While entering the theater, I almost felt as if I needed an equipment check.

That being said, it was interesting to observe when Rodriguez incorporated smell into the movie and how the movie teased viewers with references to various scents. For the most part, the smells were introduced during scenes with little dramatic significance. In one scene, the two kids were exiled to a lounge in the spy headquarters building soon after a big action sequence. The kids stumble into the kitchen and dive into the snacks they find there, unleashing three different smells in succession, most of them of the synthetic fruit variety. To some extent, this choice seems to acknowledge that viewers might find Aroma-Scope distracting.

I’ve been struggling against the impulse to create an opposition between immersion and distraction when describing Spy Kids 4D. The film, to a great extent, is not meant to be an immersive narrative but instead offers a spectacle (broadly defined). Spectacle isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the most part, the execution in this film came across as relatively lazy, as if Aroma-Scope was enough to drag us off our couches and back into theaters. But when my biggest memory of the film is of fumbling in the dark to find the right number to scratch, something isn’t working.

Update: Last night’s comments were admittedly somewhat impressionistic and written when I was pretty much exhausted. I’ve mentioned in some other places that I saw the movie in a completely empty theater, so that may have made the movie more difficult to enjoy, but crowdsourced grades on Box Office Mojo and other sites suggest that Spy Kids 4D hasn’t really connected with audiences. The more crucial question for me continues to be how these forms of augmented cinema fit within current trends. It’s hard for me to imagine too many other films using “Aroma-Scope” or any other variation of the scratch-and-sniff cards, although some might.

Rodriguez has tapped into various forms of kitsch quite a bit in his previous work, and many of his Spy Kids films use what might be called a form of juvenile kitsch meant to entertain younger audiences, even while amusing their parents (Pixar does this quite well, of course). As I was writing about the film this morning on Facebook (and this comparison crossed my mind last night), I found myself comparing Sky Kids 4D to Speed Racer, another critically maligned movie that deployed a similar presentational, rather than immersive, aesthetic. Both films knew we were watching a movie and frequently winked at us, and Rodriguez’s movie focused more on staging the stunts and scents while playing to our sense of anticipation of experiencing the smells. But it felt more like I was at Universal Studios on a movie ride rather than simply watching a movie.

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Friday Links: Big Ideas, Amazon, Mobile Consumption

In the spirit of the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Week in Review posts (one of which I’ll discuss in more detail below), I’m thinking about doing something similar, a weekly blog post that highlights some of the stories I’ve been following. It probably wouldn’t be that much different than the periodic links posts I’ve been doing for several years, but I’d like to formalize it just a little. I’m anticipating a busy semester–I have some big publication deadlines, some potentially demanding committee work, and all of the usual teaching obligations–so a weekly links roundup might be the best way to stay engaged online. Classes at Fayetteville State started yesterday, and while I’m quite excited about my new crop of students, starting a new semester (especially one where you are moving to a new office) has taken quite a bit of energy.

Thinking about Big Ideas: With that in mind, I’ll start by highlighting some of the other responses to Neal Gabler’s recent NYT column, in which he argued that social media is contributing to the waning of Big Ideas. as the Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out, there were a number of insightful responses to Gabler, and one of the strongest came from Megan Garber who argues that Gabler’s concept of Big Ideas is complicit with a more traditional idea of Big Media. But I think her more crucial point is that Gabler overlooks a number of Big Ideas that have been taken for granted or naturalized into our daily lives, such as Google and Wikipedia (whether we like these changes or not, there is little doubt that our concepts of information, research, and knowledge have been utterly transformed by these resources). Related: Wikipedia is also an example of the practices of crowdsourcing that complicate the notions of individual authors stumbling upon Big Ideas through “eureka” moments. Instead, many of our transformative ideas are the result of collective activity. Also god on Gabler: Stephen Baker and Mike Masnick.

Digital Delivery News: There has been some discussion of the Amazon has announced that they now have more streaming titles available than Netflix (over 100,000, in fact), which is, of course, a notable achievement. New Tee Vee warns that we shouldn’t get caught up in mere numbers, given that having a large number of titles is no guarantee of quality. However, it is a clear indication that multiple digital delivery systems (Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, Mubi) will likely be able to coexist for some time. Matt Burns, however, argues that Amazon may be positioned to challenge Netflix’s “dominance” when it comes to digital delivery.

Curating Audiences: New Tee Vee also discusses some of the ways in which Facebook may begin to function as a means for the media industries to track TV and movie viewing habits more effectively. As online advertising becomes increasingly viable, the ability to “curate audiences,” to find and target precisely who is watching a specific show, will become increasingly important. With that in mind, New Tee Vee alerts us to the launch of Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings, which can match individualized demographic data with online ad viewing.

Curating Audiences II: Also worth noting: Briabe Mobile has done some interesting research tracking the ways in which Hispanic audiences use mobile media to engage with movies. Their research seems to confirm some recent research by Pew that suggests that Hispanic and African-American groups tend to be particularly active users of mobile technologies.

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Engaging the Post-Cinematic

I’ve been mulling over Steven Shaviro’s fascinating blog post, in which he seeks to define the concept of the “post-cinematic.” The post serves as a response to a conversation between Steven, Therese Grisham, Julia Leyda, and Nicholas Rombes about the first two Paranormal Activity films, and their exchange will be published in the online film journal, La Furia Umana. But given its widespread implications in offering a map (however tentative) of our current media moment, it has truly challenged me to think more carefully about my own attempts to work through what is happening to the concept of cinema, much less the practical changes to the movie industry in a time of rapid media change.

Steven starts by asking what happens when cinema is displaced by digital and computer-based media as a “cultural dominant” (to use Frederic Jameson’s term). Steven is careful to complicate the idea that cinema has been surpassed by digital media, but as he notes cinema’s dominance has faded, even while mass audiences continue attend Hollywood movies in theaters or watch them on a variety of smaller screens, whether a big-screen TV set, a computer, or even a cell phone. He goes on to note that this declining dominance functions economically–TV is watched by more people than cinema–and arguably in terms of prestige, as TV shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and more recently Mad Men and (maybe) Breaking Bad have begun to receive acclaim normally reserved for films. I’ve used the term “cinema” rather loosely here to refer to the institutions of movie production, under the assumption that “film,” especially in the material sense of celluloid passing in front of a lens, no longer describes most of the movies we see, either at the level of production or at the level of projection, a shift that has only been reinforced by the enforced popularization of 3D. But the more crucial point here is that movies appear to no longer have their dominant role within media culture, even if some movies, such as Avatar, are capable of attracting enormous levels of attention.

But I’m most interested in thinking about Steven’s arguments about the changing place of movies and television “in the wake of a whole series of electronic, and later digital, innovations,” starting with tools that are now taken for granted (or even apparently obsolete) such as VCRs, remote controls, and more recently, DVD players, iPads, and even distribution platforms such as Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. As Steven notes, movies and TV shows are now (apparently, at least) available in a wider range of platforms and contexts than ever before, although this distribution process remains uneven and often quite perplexing, especially outside the the United States. I’m told, for example, that renting a video from a Blockbuster in Italy costs approximately ten euros. And certainly Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox have only recently begun to move beyond U.S. borders, complicating any claims to media ubiquity (unless, of course, you go to pirate websites). So, one of the questions that has come up for me as I write is how to engage with this mythology of digital plenitude, especially when issues of digital rights management and geo-blocking arise.

Steven’s comments also helped to frame some of my recent reflections on the implications of digital production, delivery, and exhibition for social, economic, and political developments. As he points out, digital delivery can be linked to the processes of “flexible accumulation” (David Harvey’s term), while also making media labor more precarious, and enforcing more intrusive forms of surveillance (think of the elaborate terms of service agreements that many of us sign when joining social networks). In my own work, Steven’s discussion of the “precarization” of media labor seems especially acute in the independent film sector. No matter what, as Steven points out, our experience of movies changes considerably, as the cinema increasingly becomes available to us at home, on our computers, or even on our phones.

In my own work, I’ve been thinking about this in the space-time vocabulary cited by Steven (he mentions the work of David Harvey and Manuel Castells, in particular), specifically, for me, the concept of mobility. Texts, screens, and people now appear to be increasingly mobile. We are always “on-the-go” to use a phrase common to contemporary advertising discourse. We can watch anywhere; we can start a movie on one device and finish it on another; we can also gain temporal flexibility, watching a TV show on our own schedule. There are a number of factors impinging on this mobility: geoblocking, digital rights issues, some networks limiting access to their shows on Hulu until a week after they originally aired.

On a related note, media are more personalized, with all of the resulting implications. With all of the personalized screens in our household, my wife, stepchildren, and our exchange student could all theoretically watch something different while ostensibly being together. This combination of personalized mobility is often portrayed in terms of the specter of the iPad-watching commuters on the subway, alone together, but this fragmentation often takes place within the home, and in some cases feeds into more effective forms of target marketing. Personalized Netflix queues, for example, might make it easier to sell to the different tastes of multiple family members within the same household. To be sure, this personalized media mobility is often depicted as empowering (Charles Acland has a wonderful essay about this in The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry), although in reality, it is far more complicated than that.

There is, of course, a massive bibliography of boks and essays that have sought to make sense of this new mode of media consumption, many of which have tried to come up with terms that unite the combined experiences encompassed by the idea of the user, viewer, spectator, consumer, something I’ve been struggling with in the current draft of my book. In short, we need a better vocabulary for thinking about the idea of media mobility, one that accounts for this combination of textual, platform, and personal mobility and that acknowledges the range of viewing practices that encompass film and television culture today. We need to think about this not just in terms of the possibilities for interactivity and movement but also in terms of surveillance and marketing. Texts and screens have always been mobile, but our current moment offers an intensification of this process, and it is well worth engaging with the discourses of personalized mobility.

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Streaming Independents

A few days ago, to celebrate their 15th anniversary, indieWire held a symposium on the state of independent film distribution at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. The panel included a number of heavy hitters from the world of indie film including Richard Abramowitz from Abramorama, Amy Heller from Milestone, Bingham Ray (SnagFilms and FSLC), Ira Deutchman (Emerging Pictures), Bob and Jeanne Berney from FilmDistrict, Mark Urman (Paladin) and Arianna Bocco (IFC Films/Sundance Selects). And for those of us who live outside the New York metropolitan area, indieWire was kind enough to post a video of the entire panel (which runs for over an hour). For those of you who are interested in the changing models of film distribution, it’s well worth watching and helped me to develop a slightly better framing for some of my own research on digital delivery. Some quick highlights:

  • Urman and Deutchman, in particular, emphasized that the “speed” of distribution has changed considerably in the last decade. Indie films fifteen years ago could often expect to be in theaters for up to a year, whereas now, even a successful film might be in and out of theaters in 90-120 days, meaning that “everything has to be done at an accelerated pace,” as Urman put it.
  • On a related note, Deutchman observed that new delivery models work against the “sense of urgency” formerly associated with moviegoing. Given the accelerated distribution process, moviegoers can now anticipate that a film they want to see will be on VOD or DVD just a few weeks after its theatrical debut, making it more difficult to sell viewers on seeing movies in theaters (or on any other platform for that matter).
  • The “speed” of audience response has also changed, with one panelist noting that his daughter texted him within ten minutes of the start of a movie to complain about how bad it is.
  • There was some interesting debate about how Netflix was affecting the indie film industry, in particular. For most of the panelists, Netflix seemed to be a virtual monopsony, the only significant buyer of streaming/DVD content (“the only game in town”), which would result in driving down prices. Others were more sanguine, suggesting that Netflix could put indies on an even keel with other studios.
  • Most of the panelists seemed to agree that Netflix was working hard to get out of the DVD business as quickly as possible, a desire that is likely a major (though not the only) motivation for their recent price hike.
  • Deutchman (I believe) also noted that Netflix and HBO were becoming more alike, especially given Netflix’s move toward distributing original content, such as the U.S. remake of the British mini-series, House of Cards, while HBO was increasingly turning toward on-demand distribution.
  • Bocco and Urman discussed the problems of VOD interfaces and the difficulty of crating massive amounts of content. Bocco, if I remember correctly, acknowledged that the alphabetical listing of titles might even bias browsing consumers toward titles beginning with letters earlier in the alphabet. One panelist also mentioned that a VOD description of Shutter Island failed to mention that Leonard DiCaprio was in the movie, suggesting that descriptions of VOD films are often horribly incomplete, making it difficult for people to find movies they’d want to see.
  • Dana Harris, the host of the event, pointed out the lack of data on VOD purchases, especially compared to theatrical box office and even DVD sales, an issue that I’ve been confronting in my own research. Bingham Ray confirmed that there has been much great transparency regarding DVD sales and rentals than VOD rentals. Bocco (who works for IFC, a significant VOD player) pointed out, however, that it is a little more difficult to interpret VOD numbers.
  • Amy Heller raised some important concerns about foreign language films, noting that the viewing conditions for DVDs and especially for streaming video may not be beneficial for international films, especially for multitasking viewers who may be doing chores or surfing the net while they watch a movie, making it more difficult to follow subtitles, asking rhetorically, “Am I going to read subtitles on my phone?”
  • There was some discussion of the role of piracy, with Bocco asserting that “young people don’t want to pay to watch.”
  • Finally, there was quite a bit of discussion of “eventizing” the moviegoing experience in order to get people to attend film screenings. A number of directors, including Robert Greenwald, Franny Armstrong, and Gary Hustwit (and, in a different way, Kevin Smith), have been very successful at creating events around film screenings, but it’s far from easy to create and sustain these kinds of experiences.

It’s difficult to summarize all of the details of such a wide-ranging event, especially given the occasional lack of consensus from the panelists, but one of the strengths of the discussion was the historical memory of the participants, the recognition of how things have changed over the last decade or so. There’s lots to think about here, especially given the fact that the digital delivery models are still being developed.

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Tuesday Links

Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching over the last couple of days:

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Tuesday Links

I’ve been caught up with some big summer projects, but I am hoping to get back in the blogging habit soon. Here are some media industry stories worth following:

  • I’ve been loosely following the news that Netflix has plans to expand their streaming service into Latin America. Ryan Lawler reports that the streaming service may function as an effective competitor with cable television, in part due to growing broadband penetration in South and Central America.
  • The Pew Internet and American Life Project has some great research on smartphone adoption rates.
  • IMDb has launched its new app for Android tablets.
  • Two different LA Times articles report that DirecTV’s premium VOD plans–in which movies would be available for viewing 60 days after their theatrical debut for $30–has been less than successful. Patrick Goldstein concludes that this is further evidence that “home” consumers are now renters, not buyers. Ben Fritz implies that the studios were unhappy with DirecTV’s approach to promoting premium VOD and that they are looking to rework the business model. Fritz also points out that theater owners are happy to see premium VOD go.
  • Jeff Rice has some interesting thoughts about what Google+ says about our commitment to privacy (or lack thereof) when it comes to social media (by the way, I’m on Google+, if you want to find and/or follow me there).
  • Steven Zeitchik, drawing from an article by Ben Fritz, has an interesting discussion of the recent run of successful R-rated comedies. On a related note, I saw Horrible Bosses last weekend and was a little disappointed. There were some nice narrative flourishes, but the depiction of gender roles pretty much made me want to cringe throughout the entire movie.
  • Hulu and Facebook have resolved their problems and are now integrated, so you can watch your favorite TV shows from your favorite social network (thanks to Chris Becker, whose News for TV Majors is back to running ful steam ahead, for the link).
  • On a related note, here is some interesting demographic data on how people are using internet-connected TVs.
  • This Variety article is a little unclear on the implications, but apparently the British government now has plans to oppose News Corp.’s plans to purchase BSkyB.

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Make it a Blockbuster Night

To celebrate the end of an unexpectedly long blogging hiatus, here is a collection of Blockbuster Video advertisements from what I assume to be the early to mid-1980s. As Matt Dentler points out, today’s world of streaming video, DVD-by-mail, and video-on-demand must look like science-fiction from this particular vantage point. I’d forgotten that Blockbuster had cassettes with just previews on them so that you could make more informed movie selections, but it’s fascinating to see how VHS rentals looked when they were relatively new. Here is the video:

By the way, in the days since my last blog entry, I got married here, went on a honeymoon to Costa Rica, and then spent the last few days revising and proofreading several articles, which all magically had the same deadlines (most of them should be coming out soon).

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Friday Links

Huge collection of links since I haven’t blogged in a while, thanks to wedding, writing, and other forms of busy-ness:

  • Girish has a contribution to the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Project: New Cinephilia, a roundtable discussion of the new forms of cinephilia inspired by the web. The whole discussion is worth reading, and it’s an engaging example of how festivals can be extended to the web.
  • David Poland expands on his recent arguments that the 3D bubble has burst. The National Organization of Theater Owners, citing an article by Scott Mendelson, would beg to differ. Anne Thompson, pointing to a New York Times article, echoes Poland’s argument that 3D has been overused.
  • Poland also looks at the digital future of inexpensive downloads and concludes that theatrical will becoming increasingly important.
  • Anthony Kaufman considers whether the crowdfunding service Kickstarter has revolutionized the indie film business
  • A new indie film service Flicklaunch is using Facebook as a platform to distribute independent films
  • Roger Ebert has an article bemoaning the latest “attraction” in some theaters: D-Box, a device, in which seats move, rock, and heave viewers. So far, according to Dan Craft’s Pantagraph.com article, only 80 theaters are equipped with D-Box devices, and viewers can shut the devices off if they don’t enjoy the ride (note: I may revisit this story soon).
  • Netflix CEO Reed Hastings discuses the future of TV in an interesting New Tee Vee article.
  • In other news, Hastings reports that Netflix is “finally beating” piracy site Bit Torrent. Hastings adds that Netflix has become instrumental in helping some shows find a (paying) audience, offering the examples of Firefly and Dexter.
  • In big news for video mashup creators, YouTube has adopted Creative Commons licenses, making it easier for users to find content they can remix or repurpose.
  • Matt Dentler also has some good news for people who consume streaming video, especially in Canada and the UK. On a related note, Hulu (following their acquisition of Criterion rights) has purchased streaming rights to Miramax’s catalog.

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Thursday Links

Expect light blogging for the next few weeks, due to a couple of big upcoming events, including a trip to Costa Rica, where the Best Fiancee Ever and I will be recharging our batteries for a few days. I’ve also been working on a new book, which tends to pull me away from the blog. Even so, here are a few links:

  • The new Muppets movie has been using parody trailers as a form of promotion. Viewers in theaters are presented with what appears to be a trailer for a romantic comedy called Green With Envy, featuring Jason Segal and Amy Adams, with the Muppets showing up halfway through. It’s a pretty creative parody of rom-coms and shows the Muppets at their playful, often slyly subversive, best. The Muppet Hangover 2 parody, “The Fuzzy Pack,” is also very funny.
  • New Tee Vee has a cool infographic illustrating the almost exponential growth of video uploads to YouTube. In 2007, YouTubers were uploading eight hours per minute. By 2011, that number has increased to 48 hours per minute. If my back of the envelope math is correct, that means that it would take nearly 3,000 days to watch all of the video posted to the site every day. I’d argue that it also makes it difficult to make broad generalizations about user practices.
  • Roger Ebert seizes on an article by Boston Globe writer Ty Burr to argue that 3D films are now negatively affecting the projection of 2D films. Ebert and Burr both note that 3D projectors are often used to show 2D films, and when the polarizing lens (which creates the 3D effect) is left in the projector, it makes the image dark and murky. While I suspect that they are both right, I find it interesting that Burr’s “informal survey” of moviegoers showed that most of them were indifferent or unaware of the difference in quality.
  • Home Media Magazine more or less confirms what seems to be conventional wisdom: most movie consumers now prefer to rent videos (in whatever format) rather than buying them.
  • Disney is joining the retro-3D party with their plans to rerelease their 1994 animated hit, The Lion King, in 3D in September of this year. This means that Disney will beat out the re-release of Titanic by several months. Given recent reports about a 3D backlash (see below), I’ll be interested to see how these 3D re-releases are received.
  • David Poland crunches the numbers for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and concludes that moviegoers last week offered a “clear rejection” of the 3D format, with ticket sales for the 2D version vastly outpacing the 3D.
  • Canadian cable provider, Shaw, has increased its bandwidth caps, which is good news for Netflix and other streaming video sites that depend heavily on the higher caps. Netflix had already been providing Canadian subscribers with a lower quality streaming image in order to help customers avoid fees for exceeding their monthly bandwidth allotment.

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Sunday Links

Here’s what I’ve been reading over my post-rapture Sunday morning cup of coffee:

  • Via Chris Becker, a link to a Nielsen study that traces how tablet devices are being used in conjunction with television consumption.
  • Chris is also writing about her media experiences in London. In one of her first reports, she discusses differences between U.S. and British television scheduling. One notable feature: she reflects on her own consumption of American season finales and notes that British TV–which tends to follow a year-round schedule–doesn’t have a similar intensive month of season finales.
  • David Poland discusses the weekly box office totals, specifically looking at unexpectedly low numbers for the most recent Pirates movie. I try not to obsess too much over box office totals, but Poland’s speculation that 3-D (in particular the 3-D ticket prices) may actually be having a negative effect on movie attendance is worth considering.
  • Here is some indication of how Dish TV will be their purchase of Blockbuster Video: they are offering a free three-month subscription to Blockbuster’s DVD by mail service as an enticement to subscribe to Dish’s satellite service.
  • Stacey Higginbotham traces out some of the contradictions embodied in the advertisements for mobile devices offering high-definition service and the bandwidth required to actually deliver true HD. As she explains it, “The physics of the spectrum don’t support it, and from an economic perspective, the current pricing plans offered for cellular data make it expensive for consumers. Since I don’t see that pricing going down anytime soon, I’m puzzled.” The article offers some helpful links to resources on the technological and political issues shaping mobile video.
  • Higginbotham’s complaints echo an earlier lament from Jeff Belk regarding a number of Verizon ads that are promising faster mobile video. But given my recent obsession with promotional discourse, I’m linking to this one, mostly because of the Verizon ad that seems to directly evoke the old idea of the Radio Boys, the technological hobbyists who built their own radio sets in the 1920s (see Alison Powell for a quick overview of the concept).
  • Also from Nielsen, a quick overview of online video consumption broken down by ethnicity. As New Tee Vee points out, African Americans and Hispanics watch far more video online than white viewers (and as they also note we should be reluctant to use this demographic data to come to any conclusions that would reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes). Still, Nielsen’s New Digital American Family Report seems to offer quite a bit of information that will be interesting to media scholars and others interested in U.S. media consumption habits.
  • Tech President has a discussion of a North Carolina bill that would limit the ability of community broadband services to compete with media conglomerates such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Lawrence Lessig is urging people to contact Governor Bev Perdue (D) and to encourage her to veto the bill. I’ve put Perdue’s contact information below. If you live in North Carolina, please consider sending a message that you support community broadband
  • Finally, it’s subscription only (free registration for temporary access), but this New Scientist article on the use of “text mining” to predict future events is a little unsettling. As the article puts it: “We are all part of a vast market research project, whether we like it or not.”

North Carolina friends, please call Governor Bev Perdue at (800) 662-7952 or send her an email at governor.office@nc.gov. Ask her to veto the bill that would kill community broadband networks.

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Tuesday Links

Grades are in, and the meetings are over. Summer is (unofficially) here, and so are some links:

  • A fascinating article about the Raleigh-based company behind the Mohu leaf, a TV antenna that picks up free over-the-air TV HD signals. The antenna itself sounds very cool, but I’m even more intrigued by the tone of the article, which depicts the company as a cros between a Silicon Valley upstart and an old-fashioned Radio Boys-style discussion of gadgetry.
  • It’s old news by now, but Warner has purchased Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes and is now planning its own video on demand service. There has been some discussion of the fact that it could be a conflict of interest for a movie company to own a website that aggregates movie reviews. But Warner’s continued move toward their “Digital Everywhere” initiative is probably the bigger issue here.
  • On a related note, Netflix may soon begin offering its streaming service in some Latin American countries, most likely Mexico and Brazil.
  • There is also an interesting discussion of the possibility that Netflix might cut deals with television networks to help to support struggling TV shows, such as the deal between NBC and DirecTV last year to keep Friday Night Lights going.
  • Matt Dentler discusses an article by Brian Stelter reporting that TV ownership has declined (very slightly) for the first time in over twenty years, as measured by the percentage of households owning sets, with a drop from 98.9% households with sets down to 96.7%. Stelter spells out some of the causes: with the transition to digital signals, many lower-income families may have been unable to afford the newer, more expensive sets, plus many younger consumers have likely decided to consume TV on their laptops and mobile devices, with Matt succinctly concluding that “at the end of the day, a monitor is a monitor, no matter if it transmits television broadcasts or a broadband connection.”

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“Make Any Room Your TV Room”

This weekend I will be attending MIT’s 7th Media in Transition conference. This year’s theme, “Unstable Platforms,” fits my current research interests almost perfectly, and I’m looking forward to hearing a number of smart presentations. My talk is titled, “‘Make any Room Your TV Room:’ Media Mobility, Digital Delivery, and Family Harmony,” and is available for you to read on the conference’s website. The paper–and my talk in general–develops some of my current research on “platform mobility,” the ability for video content to move video content seamlessly between multiple platforms. In particular, I’m interested in how advertisements and interfaces for tools like the Time Warner iPad app promote those technologies using images of both family harmony and individualized consumption.

If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a very cool conference, so check it out. If not, the conference website has posted many of the participants’ papers online for your reading pleasure. Thanks to Catherine Grant of Film Studies for Free for posting links to several of the participants’ papers.

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Friday Links

I’m putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Media in Transition conference at MIT (which, I’m hoping, will also quickly turn into a journal article). I had a great experience at MIT 5, and I’m looking forward to going back. This year’s theme, “Unstable Platforms: The Promise and Peril of Transition,” is perfectly aligned with some of the research I’ve been doing, which should make the event even more productive. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how mobile TV and movie platforms are being marketed and the implications of those promotional techniques. For now, here are some links:

  • Via Chris at News for TV Majors, TV Guide’s discussion of the decision by many TV stations to place show-specific Twitter hashtags in a bottom corner of the TV screen to encourage live viewing (and discussion) of the shows.  The TV Guide article states that the first channel to display a Twitter hashtag during its programming was Comedy Central during the Donald Trump roast.
  • Nielsen has an interesting report on trends in media viewing. One aspect that surprised me was that TV viewing among African-Americans is significantly higher than any other ethnic group. Other surprising details: spending on TV advertising actually increased by 8% over the last year.
  • Hulu is expanding into Australia, and the Sydney Morning Herald anticipates that it will “shake up” TV viewing practices in that country.
  • Both New Tee Vee and Home Video Magazine discuss a recent report by Google researchers, “A Window into Film,”  which argues that interest in viewing movies on Netflix has increased dramatically, while searches for pirated movies have actually declined. Without seeing the report myself, it’s hard to know what the data reveal, but both articles offer similar conclusions that interest in owning DVD copies of movies has declined considerably.

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Wednesday Links: Magnolia, HBO apps, and Future TV

I’ve been caught up in Full Frame and several end of the semester and end of the year activities, but as usual, there is plenty to tak about in the world of film and TV distribution:

  • One of the bigger stories, from my perspective, is the fact that Mark Cuban has put up Magnolia Picture and Landmark Cinemas, both significant participants in the current world of indie film distribution, up for sale. In Reinventing Cinema, I credit Cuban with being an early champion of day-and-date and other practices that are now commonplace, not only for independents but even major studios. If the properties are sold, it could alter the landscape of indie film in significant ways. Anne Thompson (in the link above) states that there may be a buyer for Landmark. David Poland also speculates about Cuban’s motivations.
  • Inside Redbox cites a study that indicates that Netflix’s content costs could approach or exceed $2 billion next year, suggesting that the costs of streaming rights may exceed the expenses associated with Netflix’s typically efficient DVD-by-mail system.
  • On a related note, Netflix is looking into creating “family plans” that would allow two or more users associated with a specific account to watch content at the same time. According to the NewTeeVee article, they are also trying to come up with plans for integrating Netflix with social media sites such as Facebook to create more interactive viewing experiences.
  • NewTeeVee also discusses DishTV’s plans for Blockbuster, suggesting that it is more interested in owning the company’s rights to digital content than it is in the struggling bricks-and-mortar stores. Blockbuster is now down to 600 or so stores compared to its peak of more than 4,000.
  • HBO is also launching its iPad app, which will also work on Android systems. As NewTeeVee speculates, this provides HBO with a new way to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and other subscription services.
  • Michael Stroud discusses some of the recent predictions about the “future” of television, which likely includes more a la carte programming and limited use of 3-D. I’m still skeptical about 3-D TV, even for spectacular programming such as live sports.
  • Poland offers further assessment of why he thinks premium VOD won’t work, pointing out, in part, that only a tiny fraction of movie consumers watch movies this way and that currently, only about 1% of revenue from Hollywood films comes from VOD (I’d imagine that the percentage for indies is probably higher, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).
  • Finally Poland provides an extended video interview with Bill Mechanic about many of the issues related to the digital delivery of movies.

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