ON JANUARY 27, 2006, WESTERN UNION SUSPENDED TELEGRAM SERVICE. STOP. FOREVER. STOP. THE REVOLUTIONARY NINETEENTH CENTURY COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY LASTS UNTIL EARLY TWENTY-FIRST. STOP. WESTERN UNION CITES MASSIVE EXPENSE IN CONTINUING TO DELIVER VIAGRA, HOODIA AND PENNY STOCK TIP ‘SPAMGRAMS’. STOP. PR PERSON SAYS ‘THE COST ALONE OF DELIVERING THE ONGOING FLOOD OF TELEGRAMS FROM NIGERIA WAS ‘PROHIBITIVE.’ STOP. TELEGRAMS WILL LIVE ON IN OLD MOVIES, FOREVER PROVIDING A MOMENT FOR A OLDER PERSON TO EXPLAIN TO A YOUNGER PERSON JUST WHAT THEY WERE. STOP.
I know a Netflix user or two — they’re a bit like evangelists: try it, you’ll be hooked. They deliver videos and you watch ’em. Then you return them. Sure, that seems simple enough, until I calculate the actual number of DVDs I slip into the player on a regular basis. Let’s just say I’m more likely to borrow from friends who don’t mind* that it could be weeks or months before I find the time to watch, much less return, their DVDs.
I would not be a good Netflix customer. Of course, being a loyal customer isn’t always what it seems. Customers defined as “frequent” renters are discovering that avid movie-watching habits are pushing them to the back of the line. Major movie watching by customers isn’t profitable for Netflix (though the company acknowledges that this is a relatively small number of its customers). The money is made on those who only watch a few movies — because everyone pays the same price.
“In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service,” Netflix’s revised policy now reads. The statement specifically warns that heavy renters are more likely to encounter shipping delays and less likely to immediately be sent their top choices.
The problem for Netflix, of course, is that despite the policy change, the perception received by customers is “unlimited”. And as the service grows, demand will increase for certain films. I’m already hearing “I’ve been waiting forever to get it from Netflix” grumbles from friends. These aren’t complaints, per se, but resignatio. And that can turn to discontent if more customers realize that they’re being penalized.
Since the numbers are currently on the small side, it doesn’t seem to be in Netflix’s best interest to penalize fast renters, especially since there’s been a lawsuit and major press on the issue. It seem to me that these are the customers most likely to walk if they can get a better deal — like direct downloads.
* – Or at least pretend not to mind
- Viewers look at options as TV rates rise – Back to the antenna? That’s fine until 2009, but then what? It’s either cable and satellite or putting out the $$ for an HD tuner.
- Show may be a go, but its network isn’t – What happens when you know your network is going away and your show hasn’t even aired yet? Some producers shrug their shoulders because that’s just how TV works. At the end of the day, all I care about is whether or not Veronica Mars and The Gilmore Girls make the cut.
- Microsoft, partners to challenge Apple iPod – Bill Gates refuses to concede the digital player market to Apple, but he currently lacks any device to actually challenge them with.
- The curious case of the sanitized kids’ films – You can be sure they won’t be selling any T-shirts with Curious George passed out from sniffing ether.
- Video, podcasts and blogs track Olympic Games – Just in case you aren’t ignoring the Winter Olympics.
Normally, I am against music downloading services that don’t allow you to easily transfer music from one device to another — hello Napster 2.0! — because if I paid for it, I want to own it. However, there is a service called Ruckus, which is targeting college campuses with what I think is a win-win concept. After a school signs up for this service, students can download a player and access a library of songs for free. The only catch is that the songs aren’t portable. You can’t copy them to your iPod or burn them to a CD. Normally, that’s a sticking point for me, but not this time, and here are a couple of reasons why:
First of all, the songs are free and legal, meaning that students can experiment and discover new artists and songs without financial and legal risk.
Secondly, if a student wants to pay for a song to which they have full copy & burn right, they have that option, right there from Ruckus. Clearly, the thinking is that the easy access to experimentation can and will easily transmogrify into fully portable and paid-for downloads in the future. Especially after the students discover the music that will affect them for the rest of their lives. As someone who has been hunting new music all of his life and is more than willing to pay for the things that I’ve come to love, this makes complete and utter sense.
This week, Sony announced that the wholesale price points for DVDs in their new High-Definition Blu-Ray format will be between $18-$24. This is in line with the price points for the new High-Definition HD DVD titles from Warner Home Video. That’s the only good news for consumers in this whole Hi-Def DVD war: the fact that the prices for these higher-quality discs will be much lower than they otherwise would have charged.
Sigh. 20 years later, and nobody has learned a goddammed thing: two competing video formats, sponsored by warring big-moneyed camps, and — if history repeats itself and one format reigns supreme in the marketplace — the big loser will be the film buff who stocks up on that eventual losing format. So bollocks to all of them: this film buff — who already has hundreds of DVDs and would be a natural and even eager target audience for High Def DVD — is staying far away from all of it. And I’m guessing that I won’t be the only one.
The costs of print publications continue to rise, so it’s no surprise that Time Warner has rethought its entry into the crowded “lad mag” market (someone please remind me: where in the United States do men call themselves lads?). Why not go directly online?
THE long-awaited on line ‘zine for lads that has been under development at Time Inc. for a year, Officepirates.com, is slated to debut on Feb. 22, Media Ink has learned.
The project, which was envisioned as a weekly magazine but scrapped, is being edited by former Maxim and Details Editor Mark Golin. It will be online only and will debut with advertisements from beer, automakers and fashion advertisers.
- Time Inc. Lad Mag Heads For Small Screen (Please Note: If you click through to the article, you will undergo some of the more onerous, odious, irritating registration ever. And that’s before you have to deal with the inevitable pop-ups.)
While the programming starts moving online and producers start seeing increasing value in creating made-for-internet product, the FCC continues to struggle with the idea of a la carte cable programming. While the arguments on both sides of the a la carte issue have merit, the recent statement by the FCC has such political motivation that the numbers and conclusions don’t feel right:
able and satellite television bills could fall by as much as 13 percent if consumers could choose only the channels they wanted to watch, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday, reversing its earlier conclusions.
The core issue is that this will allow consumers to prevent programming that they don’t want children to watch. Rather than suggesting that parents do more turning off of televisions (which will prevent the youngsters from viewing unsavory programming), the plan is to revamp the whole system. Of course, the Federal government won’t foot the bill for the work forced upon the (well-to-do) cable industry.
Rumors are swirling about a new video iPod that may or may not be announced on Apple’s 30th anniversary (April 1st). Think Secret is reporting that the new device will feature a 3.5 inch screen that will take up the entire front of the player. The mechanical click wheel will be dropped entirely in favor of a virtual click wheel that appears when the user touches the screen. The long rumored wireless support will apparently not be built into the new device (you gotta save something for the next iteration after all).
If these rumors are true, the choice of a touch screen interface is particularly interesting considering the grief Apple has gotten over how easily the Nano’s screen scratches. Presumably the new iPod screens will be made out of some super secret scratch resistant material. Perhaps clear titanium.
Here’s the complicated part about all of this speculation. It’s not clear whether this will be the 6th generation iPod or the 5th generation iPod. One line of thinking is that the current 5th generation video iPod is actually just a modified 4th generation iPod. As this line of thinking goes, the current video iPod is not the real deal. The apparently soon to be released video iPod is the true video iPod. Maybe.
Funny piece in Slate about current pop-culture depictions of the evilness (evilosity?) (eviltude?) of cell phones. Both the current #1 New York Times best seller, Steven King’s Cell and the current #1 movie When a Stranger Calls, have cell phones smack dab in the middle of How It All Goes Wrong. Scary!
While a cynic might point out that a new Stephen King novel and a remake of a movie that contributed one of the most-loved movie quotes ever (“The call . . . it’s coming from inside the house!!) might debut at #1 anyways, that misses at least part of the point: a cutural uneasiness that we are possibly becoming a little bit too connected.
On the other hand, the cell phone doesn’t get a total bad rap in all of pop culture: how else could Jack Bauer save the world every single year with out his magic cell phone that allows him to yell “Do it! Now!” for 24 hours straight without ever losing its charge? Now that’s a service plan that I could get behind.
I am a sucker for radical concepts mixed with a dose of paranoia. Hmm, I wonder why? The Times Online has published an article with a great central thesis (the kind of central thesis that requires ending the paragraph early because I want to let this idea stand alone before getting into what might be the bigger topic):
First, we stop publishing books that needn’t be books. People who don’t really read don’t really need books so let them have Jordan and Becks in lots of other ways. Audio, animated-audio, that is, audio with pictures is just about right for most celebrity publications.
Publishers, someday, you are going to look back at those words and see the beginning of the beginning. Why do all books have to be in printed, bound format? Especially those books designed to capture the pop personality of the moment? These are not books designed to sit on shelves, to be picked up, reread, passed between friends, shared among generations. There are many books that are the literary equivalent of paper napkins. I say start with the genre known as celebrity autobiographies (and I use the prefix “auto” advisedly).
You’re starting to see publishers playing with the traditional book format more and more (see: McSweeney’s Wholphin). Why not take it further — clear the shelves of books that will be remaindered almost before they’re unboxed. You will feel better for it.
Almost immediately after her call to arms, Jeanette Winterson sees the dark cloud, the downside of digitizing rather than printing (I did promise you paranoia):
There are whole teams of bearded computer nerds advertising their services to retrieve ancient pieces of work filed in the 1970s. The discs and machines are obsolete. This will go on being the case. It will be easy for governments to control thought by controlling access to information. Anyone can pick up a book — the 1970s already need specialist knowledge and equipment — so bad luck if you left the key to the universe on a floppy disc the size of a 78rpm record.
This is why Kirk, when he reads this, will argue for the need for open standards when it comes to digitizing the past and the future. Locks and keys and proprietary formats will only make the future more expensive — I’d rather spend my money on new shoes than decrypting the manual that will save the world.