Archive for Television

Saturday Links: Marker, Pop-Up Cinemas, Digital Delivery

We’re starting slowly this morning as we wait for the edges of Hurricane Irene to pass through North Carolina. For those who have asked, we’re experiencing some moderately strong winds and light rains, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for those of you living further up the coast. I’ve been pretty distracted this week with early semester business, but here are a few of the things I’ve been reading and watching over the last few days:

Representing Rebellion: Like many people, I’ve been paying attention to the discussions of the recent protests in London and watching as pundits seek to make sense of the underlying causes that have led to looting and other forms of destruction. Now, Chris Marker (a director I admire quite a bit) has made a short film, Overnight, and posted it to YouTube. It’s a powerful little film that shows several businesses before and after they were damaged during the protests. This before-and-after approach leaves us to imagine ourselves the riots and protests, which are rendered invisible, in much the same way that the protests themselves (and the anger they expressed) continue to be largely ignored by the larger political culture. Thanks to the cinetrix for the link.

Media Mobility: The cinetrix also led me to this very cool article on “Pop-Up Cinemas,” improvised theaters built in pubs, disused gas stations, with impromptu screens sometimes assembled from discarded refrigerators. These improvised screenings aren’t an entirely new concept, of course, but the Guardian article offers a nice overview of how they are becoming a more visible part of an informal movie culture.

Digital Delivery: As usual, media industry journalists have quite a bit to say about the ongoing shift toward digital delivery. Will Richmond makes the point that revenues from digital downloads and purchases remain “anemic.” Others continue to argue that we are migrating away from cable in favor of streaming. Meanwhile, New Tee Vee points out that Netflix’s growth in the United States is likely to slow down soon and that they will have to come up with new services (including their long-planned family accounts) to sustain their momentum. Finally, Focus Features, part of Comcast/NBC/Universal,  has joined a number of other independent companies in creating a video-on-demand distribution platform, Focus World.

On-Time Piracy: As many readers may know, Fox has altered the release window for TV shows on Hulu. Instead of posting TV episodes on the website immediately after they air, Fox now is requiring that Hulu wait eight days before posting an episode. As a result, fans who want to remain caught up with their favorite shows are now increasingly turning to pirate sources to watch those shows. Torrent Freak has some interesting statistics on this shift. Via Tama Leaver.


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.


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.


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.


Tuesday Links: Hulu, Arcade Fire, UltraViolet

More digital delivery news stories as I slowly settle back in to book writing mode:

  • While I don’t always (or, maybe, ever) agree with the political views over at Big Hollywood, John Nolte is asking some of the right questions about UltraViolet, the new digital distribution initiative put together by the major studios. One assertion he gets wrong, sort of, is the idea that Hollywood isn’t making “good” movies anymore, but that’s kind of beside the point here. Nolte is responding to a recent article by Brent Lang in The Wrap discussing UltraViolet’s upcoming launch, which raises the even more crucial point that Apple, which controls 60% of the digital download market still hasn’t signed on with UltraViolet.
  • New Tee Vee reports that Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze’s short film, Scenes from the Suburbs, which was set to premiere this week on, has been geo-blocked in the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada. The short film was intended to serve as a promotion for a limited edition copy of the Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs. One reviewer who caught the film before it was geo-blocked came away impressed, and the trailer itself looks engaging, but the band’s manager chose to make the film unavailable until the August 4 release of the album/DVD.
  • On a related note, Jason Mittell discusses his attempts to plan how he will continue to consume American media, even while spending a year in Germany.
  • New Tee Vee also discusses MoviePass, which would allow people to pay up to $50 a month to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters. A second pass for $30 a month would allow people to see up to four movies per month. Given that many frequent moviegoers are teens who tend to plan spontaneously, I’m a little skeptical about this idea. Also, unless you’re seeing 3D movies exclusively, you’d probably have to see five or six movies a month to make the $50 pass worthwhile, something that seems like a stretch for anyone other than a theater employee or a movie critic.
  • New Blockbuster President Michael Kelly tries to make the case that physical media, such as DVDs, continue to have advantages over digital delivery and kiosk services such as Redbox. Oddest moment: Kelly emphasizes that you can watch DVDs in your car.
  • Peter Kafka explores some of the changes Hulu may make in the near future.
  • Finally (via The Valve), just for fun, Nina Paley’s anti-plagiarism video, “The Attribution Song.”


Monday Links

Here’s what I read or watched over my second cup of coffee this morning:

  • Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, not content to release his latest installment of the Spy Kids franchise in 3D, is going into the fourth dimension….with what he calls “Aromascope.” Basically, moviegoers will be provided with a series of numbered scratch-and-sniff cards that correspond with specific scenes in the movie. Of course, incorporating scent with movies isn’t entirely new, with Smell-O-Vision dating back to 1960 and John Waters using Odorama for Polyester. The Los Angeles Times has a brief interview with Rodriguez in which he tries to argue that Aromascope will enhance the moviegoing experience.
  • TV set-top boxes are huge energy hogs, according to the New York Times, mostly because many of these boxes are powered on 24/7, even when people aren’t watching.
  • The streaming rental service Zediva continues to test the limits of copyright law. Citing the First Sale Doctrine, Zediva has argued that once they purchase a copy of a DVD, they have the right to rent it out, in their case, renting it via streaming video. The First Sale Doctrine is what permits rental services such as Blockbuster, Netflix, and Redbox to rent physical copies of a DVD or video, but streaming quite obviously blurs this line, given that Zediva’s customers never actually take physical possession of the video being “rented.” Will be interesting to see how this case plays out.
  • Something to keep an eye on: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been added to the board of directors for Facebook.
  • With Hulu up for sale, there has been quite a bit of discussion about potential changes to the service. New Tee Vee (citing the LA Times) reports that Hulu may soon be expected to verify that users of the free service are cable subscribers before they can watch recent episodes of current TV shows. David Poland suspects that Hulu will be a difficult sell. Amanda Natividad offers a useful timeline of the history of Hulu.


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.


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 Ask her to veto the bill that would kill community broadband networks.


Time Travel Theory of History

I’m rushing to post this before I catch a plane to the Media in Transition conference, but I just learned about Mike Huckabee’s new “Learn Our History” animated series via TPM, and I can’t resist a quick post (hopefully I’ll be able to edit this later). The series features a group of plucky teenagers who travel through time to learn about history as it “really” happened. The website’s FAQs emphasize that our history books teach students to “blame America first” and that (as a result), history is no longer fun.

As you might imagine, Ronald Reagan plays a key role, and the kids travel to hear an animated Reagan repeat several of his most famous soundbites (“government is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem”), with the kids nodding in agreement. But the videos themselves seem so earnest and unambiguous that they almost seem like self-parodies, as if one of Stephen Colbert’s writers was moonlighting for Fox News. Take a look:

There are two other videos that TPM spotted, and all three are worth a quick look. One narrates the history of World War II in two minutes and celebrated America coming together to defeat the godless Nazis. Two odd notes here: one is that we hear Reagan invoking God at the beginning of one video and then hear Hitler doing the same thing in the very next video. Second is the “you go girl” girl-powerism cited by one of the female teenagers when she spots a Rosie the Riveter poster. The other is a more detailed version of the Reagan video, complete with rioting inner city criminals (mostly black, of course).

I get the impulse here, and there is a long history of complaints about history being “too liberal,” but I find the mode of communicating this history here incredibly odd. By being so transparently conservative, it’s reductive to the point of self-parody, and the attempt to make the teens hip (does anyone still say “you go girl” without some degree of irony?) is equally off-key. Now it’s time for someone with editing skills to make the remix.

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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.”


The Speed of Speculation

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed. Unlike the people dancing in the streets, many of whom were documented in a Rachel Maddow blog post, in front of the White House, near Ground Zero, and in Times Square, I have a hard time seeing this as a moment of pure jubilation. Not so much because I mourn bin Laden, but because of what we have all lost over the last decade, thanks to the terror war. The chanting and cheering seems grounded in an anger that I still find unsettling. I’m not in a position to reflect on what this means for the war on terror. There are countless others who are already doing that, including Nicholas Kristof, who offers a pretty good place to start. But I have been intrigued by the discussions of how the bin Laden story broke, especially the distinctions between how the story was covered on TV and how people responded online. More than anything, I think that it’s worth reflecting on how social media help to restructure the way that news stories of this magnitude are reported and how viewers respond to them.

Although I was home alone when the speculation began, around 10 PM, I wasn’t paying that much attention to Facebook or Twitter for a change. I had been grading for most of the evening and was kind of surfing aimlessly while listening idly to the Phillies-Mets game on ESPN (much like Tom Watson, whose reflections on last night’s news are worth reading) when the broadcasters abruptly mentioned that Osama bin Laden may have been killed and that President Obama would have a major announcement. I immediately flipped over to CNN and began digging around my “most recent” Facebook feed. As I saw quickly, the news had been building gradually for half an hour or so. The earliest mention–from a reporter friend–simply mentioned speculation that bin Laden was dead. My guess is that, like me, many people were driven to watch TV or listen on the radio because of something they saw on Facebook or Twitter, suggesting that it would be reductive to suggest that people saw social media as a substitute for televised news.

Like many, I’d imagine that I began following this story during this brief window between the first reports that bin Laden was dead and Obama’s official announcement, a period that Myles McNutt has powerfully described as a “space of speculation.” McNutt observes that people were speculating about the news on Twitter, well before official reports were confirmed. To be sure, such speculation can often follow false paths, but I think that McNutt is correct to suggest that our memories of an event of such dramatic proportions are shaped not only by what we learn, but how we learn about it. Significantly, this speculation begins to create its own archive, as we seek to re-create what happened. One example of this would be the tweets by Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual), who lives in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was captured. Although his tweets were likely overlooked when they were first posted, they now serve as a tool for reconstructing what happened:

As you can see from looking at the image, Athar heard the explosions and the helicopter crash and, along with others in his Twitter feed, began assembling a sense of what was happening in real time. Alongside of this speculation, the “traditional” media was also seeking to put together what happened. Brian Stelter has a couple of interesting posts about this work (here and here), but again, the speculation was especially intense online, where (as Stelter reports), Twitter saw nearly 4,000 posts every second at the peak of activity. Certainly my Facebook page hummed with activity, as we sought to make sense of what had happened and what it meant.

Within minutes, of course, people were already teasing out the implications and coincidences: that the story broke during an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, that this was the eighth anniversary of Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech, that it was also the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death. It didn’t take long for the event to fit into various internet memes. An LOL Cats post showing a triumphant Obama mocking the birthers hit within minutes of the announcement, linking the story to the increasing complaints about Donald Trump’s posturing. And as I discovered while reading David Poland’s blog this morning, someone has already revived the Downfall meme, redoing the subtitles yet again to show Hitler reacting to the news that bin Laden was killed. The language is often caught in the jubilation of the moment (Osama’s compound was “owned”) and often quite silly (Hitler comments in this version that he was looking forward to watching the American Idol finale with bin Laden), but the timeline for the video suggests that it was posted before midnight on May 1, which means the creator must have worked incredibly quickly.

Again, I write this in the midst of a sense of profound ambivalence. It’s clear that this is a moment of historical significance, one that has been shaped in the media, old and new, that helped to shape it. But I’m skeptical of the unfettered triumphalism that has led people to compare bin Laden’s death to VE Day (to name one example). Now, I feel like we’ve moved from one mode of speculation to the next. Rather than trying to anticipate the content of Obama’s announcement, we all have to sit, watch, and wait to see what happens next.

Update: Worth noting, Media Bistro has an intriguing post in which they discuss the fact that the New York Times literally had to stop the presses to reflect the late-breaking news. Eileen Murphy of the New York Times estimates that the last time that happened was during the first Gulf War in 1991, which shows just how rare it is.

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Premium VOD Reactions

There has been a lot of discussion of the studio push toward premium video on demand (VOD) lately. A small number of studios have made plans to experiment with releasing films on VOD at $30, just two months after their theatrical premiere, essentially creating another window where studios can seek to profit from controlled access to their films. This approach was given its initial test run this week when Sony released the Adam Sandler comedy, Just Go with It (an oddly appropriate title, given the circumstances), despite significant complaints from theater owners, who feared that premium VOD would cut into their profits.

Now that Just Go With It has been out on premium VOD for one weekend, we have a small baseline for thinking about how this might work. As Daniel Frankel at The Wrap points out, Sandler’s film grossed about $200,000 this weekend on 265 screens, a 26% drop from last week’s gross. Of course, such a comparison tells us little. Given that the film debuted before the new VOD window was announced, audiences couldn’t have predicted how quickly it would be available for home viewing, and once it was known when it would be available, it’s unclear how many people delayed seeing it so they could view it at home. Matt Dentler suggests in his reading of the numbers that the impact was “non-existent,” but I think that reading relies too closely on looking at one small set of numbers. I think we need to see how audiences respond once they become conditioned to the new windows structure before we make any real conclusions about the potential impact.

Further, as David Poland observes, this is likely only the first stage of experimentation with price points and windows for premium VOD. Noting that DirecTV did little to promote the premium release of Just Go With It, Poland predicts that the $30 price point will decrease, while the window between theatrical and premium VOD will shorten, as well. Thus, it seems significant that MPAA head Chris Dodd is reaching out to theater owners regarding the conflict over premium VOD, stating that the industry doesn’t make movies for “the small screen,” not so much because Dodd said anything of substance, but because it’s an acknowledgement that our perceptions of film as a medium continue to evolve to the point that we may have little reason to refer to those giant boxes out by the mall.

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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.


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.