Want to understand just how tone deaf and clueless the legacy entertainment industry players are these days? It appears that network TV execs have just discovered the brilliant idea of using the internet to pre-release TV shows in an effort to build up buzz and an audience who will watch the full series. The stunning thing here is that these are the very same companies who go absolutely ballistic if their works get "leaked" early online -- and insist that criminal penalties are needed to stop this kind of action. It's really quite amazing how these execs are coming to the same conclusion that pretty much every internet user came to years ago: just make the damn stuff available. Instead, they're acting like it's some big revelation:
The networks have embraced the idea — originally hatched by cable networks — of introducing initial episodes of their shows through other distribution outlets like YouTube before they have their premiere on their own schedules.
Yes, the same YouTube that Viacom is still trying to sue out of existence. The same YouTube that supporters of PIPA and SOPA still insist is really a den of "piracy" from which Google unfairly profits.
So, here's a simple question: How much are these networks paying YouTube/Google for the use of YouTube's software, bandwidth and audience? Nothing? Damn those TV networks... just wanting all that stuff for free. But, more to the point, if laws like PIPA and SOPA were put in place a few years ago, the networks wouldn't even have a YouTube to do this. This is what's most stunning about all of this. They seem to think that they've come up with something brilliant and new here, when this is all that "pirates" were doing earlier: putting stuff online to make it accessible. When "pirates" do it, it's theft? And when companies do it, it's some brilliant marketing scheme? How's that work?
To hear some people tell it, "cyber bullying" is some huge and awful problem where "something" needs to be done. It's a classic moral panic situation, but usually seems to involve parents totally overreacting. We've pointed out in the past that kids don't view it as bullying and now some new research from the folks at Pew have pointed out that online bullying and general "meanness" really isn't all that common. Yes, it does happen. And it sucks for those who are the target of such bullying. But that's no reason to overreact and need to pass crazy legislation to wipe out the First Amendment in some quixotic effort to outlaw being mean.
We recently noted that the attempt by Hulu's owners to sell Hulu wasn't going well, mainly because those same owners had made it clear that they hoped to kill Hulu, by limiting how much it could compete with their lucrative legacy business of cable TV. No one was willing to offer more than $2 billion -- significantly less than what Hulu's owners wanted -- other than Google. But Google would only do it if the TV companies agreed to certain conditions (i.e., not killing off Hulu by limiting content, requiring a paywall, etc.)
So it comes as little surprise that Hulu has now announced that its owners are no longer trying to sell the company off. Instead, they'll focus on suffocating it from within. Well, that part wasn't mentioned, but watch what happens to Hulu execs over the next few months. I think it's likely that we're going to start seeing some departures of key people. Hulu was an amazingly well executed offering with a really capable team... but as we predicted, the fact that the only way it could really succeed was to cannibalize the business of its owners, almost certainly meant that Hulu would never be allowed to execute on the strategy it needed to become a massive player.
Of course, what the big TV companies still fail to recognize is that killing off Hulu doesn't stop the move to an a la cart, online driven world. It just means that when it comes, they will be even less relevant, and less able to capitalize on it.
We've talked about how the entertainment industry is really good at killing the golden goose every chance it gets. Any time some new online service actually gets people to move away from infringement, the industry freaks out and complains that they're not making enough money from the service and then tries to kill it. For example, the TV folks have made it clear that they'd like to kill Hulueven though they own it. They're so worried about "cannibalizing" the old revenue streams, that they're killing off the new ones as well. We predicted this would happen a few years ago, and it's amusing to see it happening in real time.
But the bidders all figured out pretty quickly that the TV companies who own Hulu now want to phase out free ad-supported content completely. So as soon as the current set of Hulu contracts expire in a couple of years, it would be back to the negotiating table.
Because of that, no one was willing to bid over $2 billion -- and the TV guys (of course) think it's worth a lot more than that, even as they're trying to kill it. Well, one exception: apparently Google was willing to pay closer to $4 billion... but it would only do that under certain conditions (which likely involve getting the TV guys to renew/guarantee future deals). So congrats, backwards looking TV guys, not only are you killing Hulu, you're killing the goodwill you build up via the company so you can't even cash out on that.
We've written a few times in the past about various attempts to outlaw "being a jerk" online. These efforts are often well meaning, but pretty dangerous from the standpoint of any sort of belief in free speech. Being a jerk is silly and obnoxious, but it shouldn't be illegal. However, as a whole bunch of you have sent in, over in the UK, they feel differently. An internet troll who mocked a variety of dead people to their grieving friends and families has been sentenced to jail for "sending malicious communications." He got 18 weeks as the judge said, "You have caused untold distress to already grieving friends and family."
This is troubling on any number of levels. Most specifically, it's exceptionally worrisome when you base punishment on how someone responds to speech made by someone else. Yes, the comments were obnoxious and totally classless and uncalled for. But, whether or not they cause "distress" should not be the basis for judging whether or not they're legal. There are lots of things that someone can say that would cause distress, but that shouldn't make it illegal to say them. This certainly opens up a can of worms over just what kind of speech is so distressing that it gets you jail time. Either way, if you're from the UK, be careful what you post in our comments going forward. It apparently could get you jail time.
With Google announcing that it's now offering 3,000 movies for "rental" via both YouTube and Android, it's worth asking a simple question:
Why does Hollywood insist on making online movies so damn annoying?
If you look at pretty much all of the online rental options (with the exception of Netflix), the deal terms are almost always identical. Prices range a bit, but for big name movies they're $3.99. The rental term is 30 days from when you pay... but once you start watching, you only have 24 hours to watch. This particular limitation is particularly annoying to those of us who don't always watch movies in a single sitting or a single day (it's amazing how your movie watching gets fragmented once you have little kids).
Obviously, this has become the standard set of terms that the Hollywood studios are demanding, but these limitations are annoying and make no sense. Why put artificial limitations on offerings like this, making them less valuable and a lot less interesting? It also means that there's little innovation in the space. Basically, every offering in the space (again, with the exception of Netflix, who got grandfathered in with its unlimited model) is basically the same. The only innovation is around the device or the very front end of the service. There's no innovation in the actual model, which is a shame, because this "standardized" offering is really quite annoying and not at all compelling.
We've talked numerous times about the movie industry's love affair with release windows, where they basically try to get people to pay for things multiple times by releasing them in different formats at different times. The first window, normally, is the theatrical release -- and the theaters go absolutely livid if anyone suggests shortening the theatrical release window. Heaven forbid anyone go so far as to suggest something as "radical" as a so-called day and date release, where it's released in all formats at the same time, and watch the theaters go ballistic and boycott the film, as a startling admission that they don't think they can compete with home theaters.
So, it's quite interesting to see that the Freakonomics movie that's coming out in the fall is apparently going to flip the windows over. Sheri Candler points us to the news, as seen at the end of the movie's trailer, that it's going to be released via iTunes on September 3rd, and in theaters October 1st:
Yes, it's being released online before it's released in the theaters. This isn't exactly the first time this has been tried. Magnolia Films, who produced the Freakonomics film is trying something similar right now with the film Centurion, which was released via On Demand cable systems a few weeks back, and is about to come to theaters. Still, this is pretty big news. In mentioning this reversed window, Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner mentions that there's also another "wrinkle to the release schedule," but he's not revealing what it is just yet.
I'm curious about this, because what the Freakonomics duo are famous for is exposing how "the common wisdom" is wrong on a variety of things. I don't always agree with their analysis, but it would be fascinating to see if they're exposing that the common wisdom on movie release windows is -- as we've suggested for years -- totally screwed up. I am curious, however, to see how the theaters handle this. As mentioned, in the past, they've boycotted day-and-date releases, and even boycotted movies that they thought were coming to DVD too soon after the theatrical release (in that case, 12 weeks). So, will theaters be boycotting the Freakonomics film? I really don't know enough about how the film is being positioned, so if it's only in indie/art house-type theaters, perhaps it's not as big an issue. Still, I can't see any of the big theaters too happy about these "wrinkles," even if they actually prove that theaters can get more business with simultaneous releases.
Sport, like music and mainstream media beforehand, has a stark choice before its governing bodies. If they remain resolute in their determination to follow old-school methods of disseminating their product, they will quickly drown under the deluge of fraudsters and pirates all too eager to capitalise on their mistakes. On the other hand, if they realise that they have to adapt to financially survive, they need to move fast to prevent a potentially catastrophic loss of income.
He notes that at least some leagues have figured this out:
The Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket games are broadcast live and free via YouTube, effectively heading off at the pass any rogue broadcasters seeking to steal their feed for themselves. The IPL authorities have a guaranteed income from their YouTube deal and, with a dedicated millions-strong audience subscribing to their feed, advertisers know how many people they can reach via the stream and how much each commercial slot is worth.
But, of course, others have not:
Yet with all the signs pointing to a brave new world of online broadcasting, the industry dinosaurs continue plodding along the road to extinction. Premier League enforcers boast of their success in shutting down a handful of illegal feeds, but most online sports piracy goes unpunished. With mobile phones providing yet another alternative to television in the race for audiences, there is even more pressure on rights owners to be proactive rather than simply shut the stable door behind the bolting horse.
In the end, it's difficult to see how any sports league thinks it makes sense to spend all this effort trying to fight against giving people what they want, when there are plenty of easy and lucrative ways to monetize such demand directly. It's too bad that so many leagues are slow to realize this.
Rob Pegoraro has a column up about the latest in the very long line of back and forth attempts of companies making browsers for television sets to get around silly blocks from Hulu. Despite the fact that these systems are really just browsers legitimately connecting to a webpage, Hulu's corporate parents freaked out and ordered them blocked for no good reason. Of course, the workaround is easy: just spoof the type of browser, so that Hulu doesn't know that it's a browser on a TV. However, Hulu keeps trying to block these, which leads Pegoraro to ask a good question at the end:
But when does Hulu get tired of playing this silly game? How do Hulu's own developers feel about working to ensure that their site stays broken for the "wrong" users? Do they not have one of the most degrading coding jobs in America? And to what end--so short-sighted suits can find new ways to annoy their customers?
While it may seem like a random question, it could actually be a big deal. When Hulu first came out, one of the points that people made was that it really was put together by folks who understood the power of the internet. That is, they were "internet people" rather than "Hollywood people," which is what allowed the service to work well for many (definitely better than most expected). But, with the corporate bosses continually trying to limit what the site can do, you'd have to imagine that the developers working at the company must be getting annoyed. What kind of developer wants to focus on limiting what users can do with technology, rather than allowing something great? At some point, Hulu is destined to lose its best developers who just get sick of spending all their time breaking their product, rather than building something cool, useful and innovative.
We're somewhat skeptical of the various "cyberharassment" laws out there, as they leave themselves wide open to interpretation (often in dangerous ways). In April, we wrote about one case involving a son who sued his mother for harassment after she used his Facebook account (she went to the computer and he had not logged out) to post angry messages on his wall, pretending to be him, and then changed his password and locked him out of the account. (As a quick aside: I just checked, and as with most online services, Facebook appears to require you to type in your old password before you can enter a new one -- so I'm wondering how she had access to his existing password...).
Either way, Rose M. Welch alerts us to the news that the mother has been found guilty, told to pay $435, given a 30-day suspended jail sentence, and ordered to take both anger management and parenting classes. Clearly, what she did was wrong, though I do wonder if it really reaches the level of harassment. Some of the judge's reasoning also is a bit suspect. Part of the reasoning for the guilty ruling was that the mother had left messages on her son's voicemail that included curse words. The son is 17, so it's not like he hasn't heard those words before -- and the mother insisted that this was part of their normal joking banter. The judge, however, declared it "totally, completely inappropriate." Now, I'm not going to say that leaving voicemail messages to your children with curse words is a good parenting technique, but it still seems a bit extreme to use that as evidence of harassment.