March 4, 2008

Online Piracy – or smart promotion?

Posted in Character, Movies, Music at 9:59 am by loolar

http://www.baen.com/library/

Stumbled on this link awhile ago and forgot to share it.  Great post about the new “digital” model being basically an extension of the library and free promotion model.  In my experience, people who really like things will ultimately want to own them; and giving your product away to build word of mouth can be much more successful than spending tons on advertising.  But this guy says it better…

December 29, 2007

Time Warner Cable Internet and Sneaky Price Increase

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Life in Los Angeles, Movies, Music at 5:06 pm by loolar

Time Warner, without so much as an insert to the bill, raised my internet access monthly bill from $34.95 to $44.95.

Most of my bills are on autopay, and most of them are flat fees per month, meaning I only open the statements when I’ve got two or three; I quickly make sure they’re charging what they should, then file them.

So imagine my shock when I opened this month’s statement from Time Warner Cable and found the price increase. No new line item, no notation, not even an insert explaining the 30% increase – let alone a phone call. I quickly checked the last two months; nothing in there either. Were they just hoping I wouldn’t notice?

Naturally, I immediately called them. After an acceptable wait time (about 3-4 minutes), I got a human being. Male, heavily accented, didn’t offer his name. He called up my account and told me I have been “under a promotion” for the last year, and now that the year is up, the promotion has expired, and my service is reverting to the original price.

Understandably, I told him to put the “promotion” back. He said the only promotions they have are for more services, like digital phone (of course!). So I asked to speak to a supervisor.

At this point, it got surreal. He put me on hold, then came back to say, “No supervisors are available. Besides, they won’t change the pricing, what I’ve told you is how it works.” I insisted he let me speak to a supervisor, at which point he added that they were, “busy doing other things.” He could not elaborate. The best he could offer was that I should, “call back later.” When they’re finished doing other things? “Why should I call back later,” I asked, “if I don’t know what they’re doing, and therefore, if they’ll be finished?”

Never mind the gigantic, crushingly obvious question of just what in the Grinch’s goiter is more important than talking to your customers?

I insisted he try again; I was on hold for less than 20 seconds before he came back with the same scripted line, that, “no supervisors are available.” And continued to insist that they couldn’t help me anyway, he’d already given me the answer they would.

So it seems that companies, in a continuing effort to anally abuse their customers while taking our money without any responsibility for actually servicing them, have escalated the fight. They now have realized that most of us understand the poor minimum wage lackey front line customer service phone drone – assuming, of course, that they’re not some fungible galley slave from a sweatshop in another country – is useless.

They know that we the customers are no longer satisfied with scripted platitudes – horror of horrors, we actually want results! I want to be treated with common sense and character. Not companies that suddenly change the deal because it’s not in their favor anymore.

The most frustrating thing, however is this – what can I do about it? Cable companies are still monopolies; I can’t decide to leave this company in favor of another. So assuming I still like high speed internet, all I can do is shut up and keep paying. Hell, they could double the price, and it would still be cheaper than me putting in a land line to get DSL, the only viable alternative.

Oh for when satellite internet comes around. Time Warner, I am now counting the days until I can tell you where to shove your promotion. In the mean time, at least I can hurl stones at Goliath thanks to my David – the blog.

Oh, and I can also resolve to stop paying for Time Warner products. In fact, with the extra $120 a year they’re getting from me, I’m sure they’ll completely understand if I obtain a commensurate amount of TV, movie and musical entertainment “free of charge,” courtesy of this expensive internet connection.

I’ll just tell them that me paying for that stuff was a “promotion” which has now expired.

November 12, 2007

The Death of the Entertainment “Industry”

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Movies, Music, World of Warcrack at 11:57 am by loolar

Thanks to Adam Shostack who forwarded this wonderful and simple breakdown (intentional word choice by me) of the current status of the demise of the Entertainment Industry, and it’s hastening by the current Writer’s Strike, as written by Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Netscape and inventor of the graphical web browser – you’re using one right now).

Those who know me know that I have been predicting, since I worked at MGM years ago (left the company in 2000), that this would all come to pass. I just never stated it as elegantly as Andreessen. My argument went something like this:

In the beginning, the studios controlled everything; actors, writers, directors, labor, etc. Actors were brought in and trained in song, dance, elocution, you name it; same with the others. It was an apprenticeship-based model where the studios acted as sponsors; in return, your loyalty was expected and given.

The actors were the first to defect, when big-name stars wanted to go make movies with other stars on projects they cared about, but which happened to be “under contract” at other studios. The actors unionized first, and seeing actors no longer as the “flagship brands” of certain studios became commonplace in the 50s.

The directors were next, heightened by the auter movement of the 60s, and the influx of foreign films. Suddenly directors were acknowledged as being more than glorified cameramen, and they were in demand for the unique perspective and vision they brought to a project. They unionized, and likewise were no longer beholden to certain studios.

The writers followed next in the 60s and 70s. Gone were the sweatshop-style typewriter farms churning out episodic, made-to-order serials and shows.

Finally, the producers got into the gig, separating themselves from the studio architecture to become “independent” producers; this was the birth of “indie” cinema in the 80s.

So what did Studios still provide?

Well, the talent was all independent, but someone still had to foot the bill. Studios provided production financing, insurance, post-production financing, marketing and distribution.

But the indie producers eroded the first three in the 80s. Soon venture capital and bank money was available from stodgy book keepers who wanted the sexiest investment you could find – making movies. Which left marketing and distribution.

When I joined MGM in the late 90s, that was all that was left. And once I got a look at the financing models (I worked in Budgets and Forecasts), I was stunned and appalled. Without exception, the amount of money spent to market a film was at least equal to half the production costs (and in most cases, more). So if we spent $60 million making a movie, we were spending at least $30 million to market it. That business model can’t survive for long (and for MGM, it didn’t). Studios quickly began to co-finance films in the mid-90s to share the burden and the risk. Most big pictures nowadays are co-productions, except for the “surefire” hits with built-in audiences, like SPIDER-MAN.

In fact, the only thing keeping the studios afloat was the DVD revolution. I know this. I was directly working with the numbers of a major studio every day. Without the DVD library, we were tits-up in a year. It’s no mystery that two years ago, once consumers had finished replacing their VHS library, MGM ran out of gas.

So I said, with only marketing and distribution keeping the studios relevant, how long is it before the distribution takes over (the movie theaters), and begins creating their own content? But the internet got there first.

Now, in 1999, most of the internet ventures failed. Broadband wasn’t available to enough of the market, and most desktop computers were barely up to the task. Additionally, content creators didn’t understand the new model, and just tried to create 1/2 hour shows like TV. But it was just a matter of time.

Enter YouTube. The user-creators have figured out that a short needs to be no longer than ten minutes, and most try to clock in at three minutes, just like a top 40 hit on the radio. So that’s the distribution. And the marketing? The best kind – viral, or “word of mouth”; or, email by forwarding, as the reality has shown.

The studios are already extinct; they just don’t know it yet.

They can repeat the mistakes of the now entirely irrelevant music business, or they can embrace the change, as Andreessen so elegantly outlines it. My guess is they will embrace nothing, and will sink like the bloated carcasses they are. Studios are no longer lean, mean vanity operations of a single creative executive such as Jack Warner or Daryl Zanuck in the 40s and 50s; they’re corporations, with boards and shareholders and entirely too many bureaucrats whose sole interest is in preserving the status quo. Moreover, since the various studios work together to create what the industry is, the motivation to innovate and break from the herd is even lower.

And so I predict they will continue to spend $150 million on movies that fewer people come to watch, spending in excess of the budget in vain efforts to reach someone, anyone, to convince them to come see. But they won’t be watching – they’ll be on the internet, playing World of Warcraft, watching YouTube, texting pictures and videos to friends, and finally, making their own entertainment, with cheap cameras, video game clips (the new “machinima” genre), and with their own friends and family as stars.

Good. Welcome back to the populist storyteller model. It’s been a few centuries.

April 12, 2007

Is it plagiarism if you rip yourself off? No, just absolutely weak.

Posted in Music at 9:38 am by loolar

Just got this little chestnut from Wordman:

Nickleback

Apparently the enterprising lads over at The Webshite have noticed that the hit band Nickelback has utterly rehashed and recycled one of their singles, bothering only to change the words and vocal melodies – but leaving everything, from the chords, the verse breaks, the chorus, the bridge – I mean, everything else – intact.

The site plays the first hit through your left speaker, and the more recent through the right speaker. The only changes are a few drum fills and the aforementioned vocals. The progressions of the songs are carbon copies.

This is music today, kids. Gone are the days when a band might break through the nether and reach you. Now record companies spend millions to promote a single – and just the singles they have tested well to cloistered focus groups. Which means plenty of amazing bands, such as Dada, Ednaswap, The Verve Pipe, and King’s X, get utterly ignored so tripe like this Nickelback single can reach all the white suburban hoodlums in their gigantically lifted pickup trucks. Hey, who can blame them? Those kids have parents that give them money instead of attention. Mmm, disposable income.

At any rate, once you’ve spent millions to promote a single, how can you guarantee a hit followup? Apparently Nickelback and their label have taken the ordeal of trying to craft a “similarly catchy” sophomore effort and just given it a miss, and just plain copied and pasted the first one.

Utterly, absolutely, weak.

I’m also fascinated by how the Nickelback frontman appears to be Sam Rockwell. “Confessions of an Insipid Mind,” this time around.

I’m hopeful for the return of FM radio-styled mavericks, thanks to podcasting and internet radio – personalities who uncover the gems that the suits won’t bother to try to introduce you to, when they’ve got the next putrid Gwen Stefani single guaranteed to sell a million to a bunch of pre-pubescent teen girls whose parents have no clue what a warning label means.

Thanks to Wordman who has insured I will never, ever listen to a Nickelback song again.

March 20, 2007

iTunes and copywrite protection

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Music at 2:05 pm by loolar

Mike Torres talks about this in much greater depth and with much more authority than I can muster (here is just one example).

So I am a fan of a now defunct band Ednaswap. One of their more recent incarnations is the band AnneTenna (read about them here and on wikipedia). At any rate, back when I could find it, I was able to download their album for free (for whatever reasons, Capitol Records has shelved it).

Last weekend, one of the other 13 surviving Ednaswap fans and I got together to do a road trip to Santa Barbara. He was keenly interested in hearing the album, and lacks the computer that could have obtained it when such a thing was possible. So we loaded up the iPod to the monster FM transmitter cord, dialed up the band, and – wait a minute. Where is it?

Not there.

The album has never synced to my iPod. I just tried manually. Nope. Won’t take it. No explanation, nothing. I can only assume some arcane copywrite protection software gremlin is in the works, cackling with glee and rubbing its hands.

Why? Let’s leave aside the obvious complaint – that the album was available for free, so who on earth cares if you share it with reckless abandon? Oh my god, people might actually discover the band.
But what about law-abiding, regular folks? The arcane method through which you have authorize machines, and the limited number of authorizations – what does it really accomplish, besides ill-will and annoyance aimed at recording companies (although hey, they deserve all they can get), artists, and computer companies (in this case, Apple)?

Copywrite protection is like gun control – it works wonderfully if your goal is to annoy the people that are already obeying the law. I am a high school teacher, and very one of my Title I (government assistance), inner-city students has the computer savvy of Matthew Broderick in WARGAMES. Do you really think stuff like this stops them? Nope, but it annoys the hell out of me.

Understand, I love my Mac (have an iBook and an iMac) and my iPod. But stuff like this – like most idiocy in the world – is politically motivated.

It’s time to switch to a Canadian style system – a subsidy to recording companies is included as a tariff on any device or media that may be used to copy and distribute copywritten material. They understand that people may decide to use that blank CD and computer to – gasp – burn music. So give the recording companies their pound of flesh up front, and be done with it. Don’t create a system that demotivates consumers and requires involuntary consumer participation. It will never work. It doesn’t work.