Lots of recent sabre-rattling directed at YouTube, who have come out of nowhere to be the one of the most-trafficked video web sites. In the past couple of weeks, they’ve been hit with a pair of high-profile “get that thing off of your site” letters from uptight copyright holders, making people wonder if they can avoid being tagged the “Video Napster.”
The L.A Times has an article today pointing out that TV execs are having a devil of a time convincing people that when they download a television show from, say, BitTorrent, that they are stealing that show. In a weird way, it’s a problem that the TV industry created itself: for over a half-century, we’ve been told that, unlike a song, or a film, or a book, or a videogame — that show you are watching is free.
You the consumer aren’t paying for it, but rather the advertiser(s) who sponsoring that show, hoping to get you to purchase their product(s). My guess is that this is a model that is rapidly becoming outdated, and we are lurching toward a totally new era, where how we consume TV will be more like how we consume other media products.
Just a few scant weeks after Steven Soderbergh’s “Bubble” was available simultaneously to theatres, cable and video, here comes another major test for what they are calling the “day and date” strategy of multi-platform releasing. IFC and Comcast have announced a deal to release several indie films this year to both their theatres and cable on-demand services on the same day.
“Bubble” could have been written-off as an anomaly, a confluence of a maverick director and a maverick eccentric billionaire (Mark Cuban), but this, my friend, this is a trend.
And it will work because indie film people who live in areas who that don’t have a lot of theatres that show indie film, but happen to have Comcast cable (like, say, in Fresno, California) can watch the first-run movies that they’ve been reading about on various film sites and not have to wait months for the DVD to show up.
This could be the same boon to indie film that iTunes and eMusic are to indie rock.
I guess I should have known that something was up when the cable guy almost immediately started apologizing for the fact that there was no way I could have “the moxie.” At first, I thought that he was making aspersions on my personality, but I soon realized that he meant the “moxi,” a media center that did more than just cable that they just didn’t have, and anyways, weren’t able to support until the summer anyways.
And I didn’t care — a critical mass of cable channels had been hit, and I was going to converge two technologies that I had been using seperately for at least four years: the DVR and the HDTV. How could I possibly complain about a dual-tuner Scientifc Atlantic DVR that played shows back in gorgeous Hi-Def?
And indeed, there is nothing wrong with the output: it looks sharp and clear and strong. However, the input — the user interface — is another thing entirely. It totally sucks.
Remember blipverts?Ã‚ They were the insidious form of advertising in Max Headroom that compressed entire marketing messages into the space of a few seconds.Ã‚ Quite a timesaver, that, except for the small problem of making people’s heads explode.
Well, it’s now 20 years into the future, and those of us have DVRs are now using those devices to zip through commercials at 20x speed and greater.Ã‚ Ã‚ We’re compressing 60-second commercials into three seconds, which means we are essentially blipverting ourselves.Ã‚ (And of course, always zipping into, like, the first 30 or so seconds of the next scene of the show, earning that look from our spouses.)
The advertisers hate this, of course, and are always looking for ways to combat it, reading to a rash of product placement that turns entire episodes of shows like Smallville into glorified car ads. Recently, KFC has come up with a novelÃ‚ idea — they’ve stuck free food in the middle of one of their ads.Ã‚ Well, not the actual food, because not even Google has figured out a way to do that yet, but a way to give viewers a coupon for the free food.Ã‚ Even better (or worse, depending on your viewpoint), you actually have to play the ad in slow motion to figure out how to redeem the coupon.Ã‚
It’s the polar opposite ofÃ‚ a blipvert — it’s a covert!
Now, of course, this might seem like some to harken back to the old scary “subliminal messages” that really only exist on Led Zeppelin records, but how subliminal can these coverts be when they are accompanied by press releases announcing exactly what they are doing?
While I probably won’t be participating — it’s going to take more of my time than it’s worth to get the free food — I wonder ifÃ‚ these new coverts are a harbinger of things to come in the advertising worldÃ‚ or just a, er, blip on the dradis?
I also wonder if Max Headroom is ever going to be released on DVD.
A while back, in this very space, Kassia discussed the impact of the formation of the CW on her life with the rhetorical question “Does the World Really Need a Fifth Network?” Her follow-up question was what could a fifth broadcast network possibly offer that the other networks, and all of the cable outlets don’t already offer?
Well, a scant 30 (or so) days later, here comes the answers, from Rupert Murdoch, no less. The answer to her first question was “Yes, not only does the world need a fifth network, it actually still needs a sixth network. Duh!” And the answer to her second question was two-fold: “We can offer an even a worse name than ‘The CW,’ and, for original programming English language versions of telenovelas. So there.”
Wow. This is so weird on so many levels, it’s actually pretty cool. Not only does it solves the question of what in the world the Fox-owned UPN TV stations were going to program in the fall; I think that this actually has a chance of some success.
First off, if story-arc-centric shows like 24 or Lost have shown us anything is that in the age of TiVo; multiple showings of first-run episodes; next-day downloads and less licit means of acquiring content, people will sign on for shows that don’t wrap things up neatly in each episode. Secondly, by all accounts, the telenovelas — the Spanish-language nighttime soaps –are crazy popular just about everywhere they are shown, and have a pretty rich history, to boot. With the right amount of sex, violence and good writing, one of these shows could catch a buzz and take off. And if Fox uses the multiple distribution means — showings on F/X, a weeks work of downloads for $1.99 on iTunes, cellphone highlights — that take-off could get pretty serious. Finally, Fox has a history of counter-intuitive moves — a prime-time animated show; a glorified karaoke contest; a right-wing news network — that have paid off handsomely.
So my guess is that this will be pretty successful in the markets that they can get into, and the question will be whether they can make that success national.
I heard a new Guns n’ Roses song on KROQ this morning. It was the lead single from the 15-years-in-the-making Chinese Democracy. The hosannas at whichever evil-multinational major label that swallowed up Geffen records must have been deafening when Axl finally stumbled in — bleary-eyed from a 72-hour meth-fueled final mixdown — and said in no uncertain terms: “Release this, motherfuckers!”
Yeah, not so much. The song I heard this morning was one of three tracks that have been leaked (or is it “leaked”) to the Internet, and the official release date of Chinese Democracy remains a mystery, or as the joke goes — sometime after actual democracy in China. What’s so extraordinary about this is how unextraordinary it is anymore. The only thing surprising is how long it took for any of this music to actually hit the Net. Axl must sleep with his laptop under his pillow.
We all know the drill: big artists like Radiohead get their tracks stolen (or is it “stolen”?) and posted on some rogue website or newsgroup; the word spreads at netspeed; and pretty soon everybody who wants to has dug up the songs, which might even get played on the radio. Then, the lawyers send their threatening letters and the band pleads with their fans to please not listen to what are always described as unfinished demos or rough mixes. The fans, as always don’t care: they’d rather spend hours on forums discussing the virtually indistinguishable differences between the rough mixes and the finished product, which they rushed out and purchased or downloaded the day it came out, just like they were going to. (Unless the leaked tracks sucked total ass, in which case the artist and record companies had no right to try and charge for them anyway!)
Meanwhile, smaller bands like Arctic Monkeys or Drive-by Truckers use the internet as an organic part of their marketing strategy, actively posting tracks on their websites or MySpace long before they are supposed to be released, knowing that hardcore fans are going to spread the word if the music’s any good.
So in the case of these Guns n’ Roses songs — “There Was a Time,” “I.R.S.” (the one I heard on KROQ) and “Better” — which was it? My guess is that they were a trial balloon, leaked on purpose to see if there was any interest, and if people thought that they were any good. (It’s not really within the purview of Medialoper to do music criticism, but this particular ‘Loper always thought that it was Izzy’s songwriting and Slash’s guitar were what made Axl’s terminal assholishness so great back in the day, and they are both long gone. So, interesting song, but not necessarily caring.) Considering that there is no doubt that people are still interested in this music, it might actually signal that an album is due. I’m sure that Axlologists are debating that point right this very second.
Either that, or Tommy Stinson leaked them. That would be OK, too.
A recent study has predicted that DVRs are finally going to become commonplace by the year 2010, and the big winners will be the that make the boxes for the cable and satellite providers. TiVo may just have to be satisfied with staying the verb, and my beloved Replay will no doubt fall off of the map for good.
The tipping point seems to be the widespread offering of DVRs by cable and satellite companies as souped-up cable boxes as opposed to being replacements for VHS machines. The VHS machine served a dual purpose — recording TV and playing movies, and people seemingly didn’t want to have to shell out for two machines to replace their analog tape machine.
The cable and satellite companies have been using the free razor/expensive blades strategy for the devices — charging little or nothing for the box and installation making it up on the back end with increased monthly fees. The strategy is, of course, that people will be so amazed with the awesome power of the DVR they’ve been granted by their provider that they won’t switch over from cable to satellite (or vice versa).
For example, in my household — where we have been happy Replay users for six years — the killer app that made us break down and try the Charter-provided DVR was the fact that it could record two HDTV shows at one time. Since nearly all of our favorite shows (except for Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica) were now offered on HD channels by Charter, we couldn’t resist. However, the box — by Scientific Atlanta — is so feature-poor in all other aspects (a full review is coming this weekend) that there was talk for awhile of switching to Direct TV, which offers the HD recording from TiVo that TiVo won’t offer on its standalone boxes.
Product placement is nothing new, of course: since the earliest days of film, advertisers have always wanted to work their brands into the context of the entertainment people were enjoying. So in today’s world where a significant demographic isn’t watching a film or TV, but pursuing other entertainment options, it’s no surprise that the latest frontier for the product placement is the videogame.
What is surprising, however, is that it has only really taken off in the last year or so. Naturally, the rise of online games means that placements don’t have to be embedded in take-home boxes, only to become immediately anachronistic, but things such as movie advertisments on billboards or marquees can change as new films come out.
It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure, before they start trying to target ads to other information they have gleaned from a particular player’s profile. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before a savvy game maker has an online user choose, for example, their background music from various bands, and then having that music come out of, say, a Prism Durosport.
What happens when you are at least partially responsible for creating huge buzz for a show that hasn’t had huge buzz in years? You Tube and the “Lazy Sunday” video, you get a Cease and Desist letter from NBC. Back in late December, I was one of god-knows-how-many bloggers who, after seeing this either on Saturday Night Live or from email or a blog, posted a link to YouTube.
It seemed to be one of those win-win-win situations: the video itself was funny as frack and perfectly pitched; NBC originally posted it for free in iTunes a couple of days later (they charge for it now, and that’s OK, too); and SNL got a shitload of goodwill like they haven’t had in years. So yay! Until now.
NBC, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. Section 512 as amended by Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “Act”), reserves the right, but not the obligation, to terminate your license to use the Service if it determines in its sole and absolute discretion that you are involved in infringing activity, including alleged acts of first-time or repeat infringement, regardless of whether the material or activity is ultimately determined to be infringing.
So everybody, let’s act in good faith, send them their video back, and promise never ever to do it again.