Thursday, June 14, 2007
Fast feed nation
We not only live in a time where there is a ravenous appetite for media, with audiences salivating over the ever-increasing choices on a menu. We're also living in a time when audiences want their media faster.

In a morning panel on the final day of Digital Hollywood, the discussion turned towards the speed with which these seemingly endless options get to the audiences.

Issues with broadband and high-speed Internet connectivity remain at the center of a lot of these discussions.

Having the option to order from the menus of 40 different restaurants is a great thing, but if you can't get that food delivered hot and fresh to your door, what's the point? (Yes, that's an an overly simplified argument, but the concept is the same.)

Consider this: Throughout the conference, I met with companies who were eager to show me demos of their product online. With the vast number of vendors on site, you can just imagine how much traffic there was on the hotel's wi-fi connection. Too many signals competing for access ... and suddenly nobody has access and your extremely cool demo has gone cold.

Everyone is trying to figure out where the next great Internet video or music story is going to come from, but how they're going to watch that show or download that song depends so heavily on how easily the audience connects to it.

All video, all the time, is a great thing for people to look forward to -- just as long as you can get access to the network to actually see it.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
A better virtual mousetrap
During my first morning at the Digital Hollywood conference, I'm struck by how often the terms "social networking," "MySpace" and "YouTube" are slipped into the conversation -- particularly the latter two. Even developers on the bleeding edge of technology are trying to figure out how to move beyond the shadow of these two "Web 2.0" giants.

There is no shortage of bright, enthusiastic software developers attending this conference who are trying to best these virtual beasts by building ... well, a better beast. Or at least one a similar one. And therein lies one of the problems.

One of the reasons that sites such as MySpace and YouTube have become so successful lies simply in the fact that they were incredibly easy to use. Duplicating that kind of success much more complex. While everyone is scrambling to be the "next" MySpace or YouTube, there is a tendency to forget the idea that nobody is asking for the "next" version of either of these sites. Now, if a developer were to create a product that vastly IMPROVED on that experience for users, they might have something.

Instead, what you find is a lot of companies creating the tools for companies with Web sites who want to be like MySpace -- who want to take advantage of the "community" aspects of social networking and put them to use as a means of promoting their own content. The problem is, if the content you are trying to create a community around isn't compelling, your social network will be anything but.

Social networking sites such as MySpace work because their users drive the conversation. Some would argue that site has suffered since News Corporation took over its operation and made that conversation more commercial. Still, at its core, the user is the focus -- and it's the user's choice of content that makes the conversation interesting.

The key to the "next" MySpace is realizing that we don't need "another" MySpace. But we might be interested in something better.
How do you want your entertainment?
From CNN Entertainment Producer Matt West:

Lights. Camera. Confusion.

The weeklong Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica, Califonia, is an exploration of what could be next in terms of digital delivery of entertainment. Software and network developers have gathered together to display their wares in an attempt to offer solutions to the distribution questions nagging at the entertainment business. The industry wants to expand and improve the way it offers movies, music and shows to you, and these developers are trying to present ideas.

But I say "could be next" because, while the developers are claiming to have the answer, nobody is really certain of what the question is.

While everyone -- both studios and software developers and sites -- agree on the importance of digital distribution, none of the players are really sure just how best to serve their consumers.

During a panel discussion focused on film and TV distribution, one of the key topics was user expectations. Panel members pointed to the success of Internet-driven businesses such as Netflix, which are able to offer nearly any film imaginable within 24 hours, versus some of the purely digital distributors such as CinemaNow, which have a much smaller inventory of titles.

And while these sites all have relationships with the various studios, that relationship is tentative at best -- and clearly favors the studio's desires, not necessarily the desires of the consumers.

Consumers want what they want. They don't really care about the software tools that help them get that movie or TV show. If users go to a site to find a particular title and can't find it, they will simply go and search for it elsewhere. If they find that particular title but it only works on their PCs but not on their iPods, again -- they'll inevitably find another way to get that content.

So what's the answer? It depends on what the question is ...

-- Matt West
Moore takes 'Sicko' to the politicians
Love him or hate him, Michael Moore knows how to draw a crowd.

The controversial and issue-driven filmmaker was met enthusiastically on the steps of California's State Capitol Tuesday with chants of "hey, hey, ho, ho, insurance greed has got to go." (Watch Moore's active role)

One thousand nurses from around the country joined Moore in Sacramento to talk (and chant) about health-care reform. They all want the same thing: guaranteed health care for all and the elimination of for-profit insurance companies. Moore even testified at a legislative briefing in support of a bill proposing universal health care for California residents.

After the rally on the Capitol steps in which Moore urged Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to "Do the right thing!" by signing the bill (which is unlikely as the governor has vetoed similar legislation in the past), Moore and the nurses marched four blocks to a special screening of "Sicko."

As I made my way to the front of the march to interview Moore, I was elbowed, pushed, and shoved (not by the nurses, but by an unidentified "handler"). Moore seemed to appreciate my efforts and answered all my questions. He told me he has been concerned the U.S. government might confiscate footage from the film.

Moore is currently under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department. It is reviewing whether his trip to Cuba for the movie this past in March violated the trade embargo against that country. Moore told me he is keeping a master copy of the film in Canada for safekeeping.

While Moore certainly has his critics, in Sacramento he received nothing but love and support from politicians and the nurses, all hoping for a serious overhaul of the health care system.

By the way, if you think "Sicko" is just another indictment of the Bush administration like "Fahrenheit 9/11," think again. It's really equal-opportunity bashing of politicians, including Hillary Clinton. He takes her to task for, he claims, accepting money from health-care lobbyists.

Moore is attempting to bring some focus to health care as a whole -- an issue in which political party lines are certainly blurred.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Justice for Paris -- and everybody
Look. I'm not one to pile on. Usually. But I'm sorry. My sympathy level for Paris Hilton is so low that you could truck in a "Sympathy Detector" created by the world's most brilliant scientists, flip the switch, aim it right at me, and the needle would not even twitch. Go ahead. Try me.

Here's the deal -- one that we should not lose sight of because, if we lose that sight, then justice would indeed be blind.

I hear from some, "Well, it really doesn't make sense to put all this effort into someone who was simply caught driving with a suspended license." On "Showbiz Tonight" on CNN Headline News, famed defense attorney Roy Black said, "We're supposed to treat people equally, regardless of who they are. She's being singled out."

Hold on there. Let's roll out the Paris Timeline to put this into context. It was not the end (getting caught driving with a suspended license) that led to Paris being punished, it was all the window dressing of self-consumed privilege and holier-than-thou, above-the-law attitude that greased the skids.

This all began with Paris's DUI arrest on January 9, another pimple on a rash of celebrity DUI transgressions so pervasive these days, they oughta create a foundation to look for a cure. And despite having her license suspended, Paris was stopped a total of three, count 'em, three times for driving -- two times actually being cited by cops, and one time, on January 15, she even had the presence of mind (an oxymoron, to be sure) to sign a document acknowledging she is not supposed to drive.

On January 22, Paris pleaded no contest to the DUI charge and Judge Michael Sauer, who sent her back to lockup last week, ordered her to attend a MANDATORY alcohol education class, something Paris apparently thought herself above doing because she NEVER attended. Never. As in never. Best I can tell the only additional alcohol education she got was when she kept on partying at the clubs.

When the Paris push finally came to shove on May 4 and she was hauled back into court to deal with this whole suspended license thing, she had the nerve to arrive 15 minutes late to the hearing -- as if it were some Hollywood premiere she was attending and the paparazzi could just cool their flashes. In court, she claimed she didn't know her license was suspended, despite signing the document acknowledging it! And in the weeks that followed, she was sent to jail, released after three days and sent home to "mansion arrest" DESPITE the judge's specific order that NOT happen.

So is all this a threat to mankind as we know it? Of course not. But Paris has become a symbolic representation of the perception that there are two tiers of justice in this country. Even Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards weighed in on this, saying "without regard to Paris Hilton, we have two Americas and I think what's important is, it's obvious that the problem exists."

Sure does. And in this case it meant locking up Paris to show that "liberty and justice for all" meant she had to lose her her liberty to make the point that there is, indeed, justice.
Hangin' on to the end
The theme of "Seinfeld," right to the bitter end, was "no hugging, no learning."

The same could be said of "The Sopranos" -- and thank goodness.

The final episode is getting slammed, including in comments on this blog. "That's it?" people are asking angrily. Fade to black? No sudden deaths? No resolution?

But think about it. This IS "The Sopranos." The Soprano family (Tony, Carmela, Meadow and AJ) have lived in a fantasy world, effectively blocking out reality when it's convenient. Dad's not really a "waste management consultant"? All that wealth and security -- I use the word advisedly -- hasn't come honestly? Better to ignore all that. Otherwise there will REALLY be some things to be depressed and nihilistic about.

So Tony, who begins the episode paranoid, ends it paranoid as well. Carmela, who just wants her family together (ignoring the price), gets her family together (ignoring the price). AJ starts the show with no beliefs and ends it the same way. And Meadow, who could be the conscience of the clan, will probably sell out whatever morals she has when she takes that cushy $170K-a-year lawyer job. Of course, she's sold out, too, already.

Maybe the guy who went into the bathroom will come out and blow everyone away. And maybe he won't, the Sopranos will finish their dinner, and Tony will just get deeper into his mental prison, learning nothing ... just as he did at the very beginning, the first time he walked into Dr. Melfi's office. (To paraphrase the old joke, the light bulb has to want to change -- and Tony never did.)

In a novel, David Chase probably could have tied things up with some nice "boats against the current" prose. In a TV show, he has to go with cutting off Journey (symbolic, no?) in the middle of a chorus.

Only the cat gets to enjoy his nine lives.

My only question for Chase is this: Why didn't you use the original studio version of Vanilla Fudge's "You Keep Me Hangin' On"? The version that played throughout the show was obviously a remake of some sort.
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