Author Archives: Frank Capria

Aereo is not a Betamax moment

But pro wrestling could give us one

vcr-displayAll eyes were on the US Supreme Court this week when arguments were heard in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.  While an interesting legal exercise, it’s hard to imagine any outcome that would upend the broadcast television industry as we know it is highly unlikely. The court that gave us the Citizen’s United ruling is not predisposed to ruling against large business interests. The justices’ questions hinted they were looking for a way to rule against Aereo without affecting other cloud business models, and they appeared to find it. Don’t expect the vote will be close. It might even be unanimous.

In the unlikely event the court were to rule in favor of Aereo, the broadcasters have threatened to power down their transmitters and morph into cable networks. Virtually no one watches television over the air these days, so few prime time viewers would notice. David Carr of the New York Times explains the numbers and the disruption to local broadcasters’ business models. For viewers tuning in to local broadcasters for news, weather, and sports, the TV world will look very different. But no one seems to be concerned about that right now, though they should. Do we really want the large swaths of the populace being informed solely by cable news outlets?

Even assuming Aereo goes away, for broadcast and cable television the status quo remains untenable. The sea change has begun. “Cord cutting” and “binge viewing” are now part of the vernacular. Netflix and Amazon Prime are established players already going at it for top spot in the post cable universe, but unless each becomes a content owner in its own right, they are fighting today’s war with yesterday’s weapons. You either own the content or the infrastructure that delivers it to the end consumer, or you are relegated to a shrinking role.  This is because content owners like Major League Baseball (MLB.tv) and the WWE Network (soon to be launched)  have decided to cut out the middle man and go directly to customer.

After seriously considering launching its own cable network, WWE changed course.

From Forbes April 14, 2014:

[WWE CEO Vince McMahon] roostered onto the stage at Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show in January to announce a bold new venture: the WWE Network. McMahon told the cheering audience that the WWE Network would not be broadcast on cable television, where Monday Night RAW has consistently been a top-rated program each week, nor would it be another pay-per-view (PPV) play. Rather, the WWE network will stream content 24/7 directly to viewers on the Internet or what’s known in the entertainment industry as going over the top. It’s a move that directly endangers both WWE’s PPV revenues ($82.5 million) and its potential new TV deals, a huge gamble that according to some estimates could double the size of the WWE’s business in two years–or fall flat on its face…

WWE estimates it needs a million subscribers at $10/month to reach breakeven. Considering that watching all 12 WWE pay-per-view events each year costs over $600, another $120 per year for the complete WWE archive will seem like a bargain to its rabid fanbase.

An over the top, a la carte future is what consumers have been pining for. Content owners salivate over the opportunity to sell directly to customer, letting the customer pick up the tab for a good portion of the delivery costs through wireless and broadband access fees. What’s not to like? Well, for both the content owner and the consumer it can start with the FCC’s decision to abandon the concept of net neutrality. With so many Americans receiving broadband services from the cable providers, the cable providers will have the pricing power to keep themselves in the game for a while to come. If they have to pony up for access to the Internet’s express lane, the barrier to entry into the new over the top world will be prohibitive to all but the largest content owners. Plus ça change…

For the film industry, is the glass half full or half empty?

beer2It all depends on who you ask. Just before I left for NAB I’d read two takes on the future of the motion picture industry. Though fast moving, the industry hasn’t had any tectonic shifts since early April, so these are still timely reads. The nature of a community so dependent on wildly creative storytelling is that hyperbole is the norm, so Lynda Obst‘s Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business ought be taken with a grain of salt. Salon ran an excerpt here. Obst explains why we keep seeing the same Spiderman movie every ten years or so, and also explains why movies have been so blatantly dumbed down. It’s good context, but it doesn’t present much of a path forward. A lot of the standard culprits stand accused, piracy, the decline of DVD sales, and, of course, those dreaded, fast-growing international markets.

A pleasant counterweight to Obst’s state of the industry is presented in Brooks Barnes’ March 29 New York Times profile of Kevin Tsujihara, the CEO of Warner Brothers. Rather than fear Hollywood’s new rivals, Tshujihara embraces them. The Lego Movie was produced after Warner acquired the Lego video game maker. He’s increased Warner Bros. investment in reality television. And he’s emphasizing digital sales of movies to consumers – a business that could be far more profitable than the DVD business, which was largely based on the rental market. Sell the DVD once and Netflix mails it out dozens of times. Sell the digital version to all the end users, and the rental companies are disintermediated. It’s not a slam dunk, customers might just as well prefer streaming to owning, but there is an opportunity.

Tsujihara’s Warner Bros. is doubling down on the movie business. It’s releasing three more features this summer than it did last year, and only one, Godzilla is based on an existing franchise. Even when going with herd, Warner Bros. seems willing to buck trends. The theatrical release of the partially Kickstrater-funded Veronica Mars film in March coincided with on-demand release. It took a little bit of creativity to stay within the theater chains’ 90-day exclusivity window, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

I’m no better a prognosticator than a monkey with a handful of darts, but I have a hunch that things aren’t as bleak as Obst would have us believe.

Looking back on 2013

Facebook and Google+ bots each took a stab at defining my year in pictures and posts. Though they identified what got my friends and circles talking, they missed a lot of the good stuff. So I thought I’d give it a try.

Claudia graduates HS and heads to college

We knew going in that 2013 was going to be The Year of Claudia the way 2011 was The Year of Frank. The acceptance letters, scholarship offers, and awards came in fast and furious.

Claudia graduates

Frank wins MAC Athlete of the Week… Twice

It was hard to imagine Frank would top his Most Valuable Player award, but he found a way. A few sweeps of all his events got the conference’s attention.

Frank swimming

Claudia gets her own MVP

Since Claudia isn’t swimming in college, the MVP award for her undefeated swim team was a great way to end her athletic career.

Claudia and mom with awards

Willie comes to live with us

With Claudia heading off to college, she worried her beloved corgi Carson would be lonely. After much cajoling, we convinced mom to get Carson a companion. Meet Willie. Every bit as sweet as he looks.

Willie

I got to go to the All Star Game

For Father’s Day Frank bought us tickets to the All Star Game at Citi Field. It was an incredible day from the parade to the final pitch. Just awesome.

All_Star_Game

Where everybody knows your name

Totally the year of Sapporo for me and She Who Must Be Obeyed. It became our regular after-gym watering hole, and in the process became an ongoing joke with many of our Facebook friends who thought we were there just a little too often. Friends from as far as Montreal came to see what all the fuss was about.

Sapporo

Grumpy Cat

We acknowledge it’s not terribly cool to get fired up over an Internet meme, but Grumpy Cat is the one bit of pop culture She Who Must Be Obeyed and I both love. My love of Grumpy Cat has gotten me Grumpy Cat themed Christmas presents. Once I found this image on my whiteboard upon returning to the office after a trip.

Grumpy_Cat

The Red Sox are World Champions!

And I even got to go to the first game of the postseason. I told everyone at work I was going home sick to catch the afternoon game. Not such a good idea. I got a text message in the middle of the game from a colleague. “Don’t make any stupid faces. You’re on TV… a lot.” Shout out to my friend Nick for taking me to so many games.

Red_Sox

Business travel

Lots of it. Dubai (pictured), Amsterdam (twice), London (three times), Germany, Montreal, LA (lost count), San Jose, NYC (lost count), Las Vegas, and I’m sure I missed a few. I hate airports.

Dubai

Christmas by the Sea

We used to take the kids to this annual event in Camden, Maine nearly every year until high school swim season forced us to stop. This year She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had no high school swim meets, so we made the trip up. Just as great as I remembered it.

Christmas

Light reading September 29, 2013

Articles of interests to techs, geeks, and capitalists.

It appears Android has overtaken iOS in unit numbers of, but declarations of the iOS demise would be premature. If Apple spun out its iPhone business it alone would be ranked 10th based on revenue in the S&P 500. Bloomberg has compiled a slew of other iPhone fun facts.

This would be humorous if it wasn’t so creepy. The NSA can scan our social network, phone, email, and travel itineraries, but a federal judge allows a class action suit against Google to proceed because Gmail’s ad serving technology might violate federal wiretapping laws.

As baseball’s regular season winds down, Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times asks why such a wildly successful enterprise like Major League Baseball feels so irrelevant. Could it be that TV killed baseball? Is the Game Over?

And finally, the obligatory Breaking Bad reference. This Economist column favorably compares the lessons learned from Walter White to a Harvard B-school MBA.

In Praise of Kitchy

Way back in the early days of non-linear editing, one could sit in front of the television and figure out the model and version of NLE used to cut the program. Each time a new effect was introduced it was quickly overused. Editors could play drinking games. Versions of After Effects and popular plug-ins were as easily identifiable. It wasn’t that editors were less creative or took more shortcuts 20 years ago. It was the novelty of being able to do something previously difficult or expensive. Eventually the novelty passed.

Manhattan from Times Square

Shot with an iPhone 4S using Hipstamatic

Today technology has advanced to the point that consumers fall prey to the same creative tendencies editors and designers did two decades ago. Instagram, Hipstamatic, and a bevy of other mobile photo apps allow users to apply all sorts of retro filters to give their snapshots an air of sentimentality with a twist of grunge. Professional photographers and videographers cringe. It’s artificial. It degrades the image. The same effect can be achieved more authentically in Photoshop.

But the fact is that few are going master Photoshop or After Effects. Few editors took up After Effects. Good enough is good enough for most.

Rather than turn our professional noses up at these apps, let’s give them their due. They make image creation and sharing fun. In doing so they encourage some to take visual design to the next level. Even more gain a greater appreciation for photography. Many looked over their reading glasses and down their noses at Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but educators loved the books. Anything to get kids reading.

We should embrace Cinemagram and Flickr filters. Not because they help create high art, but because they help people develop their eye. I love to send students out with Hipstamatic. It teaches them to look at a scene critically and determine in real-time what lens and film combination will accentuate the emotions they want to elicit from the viewer. They don’t get to fix it in post. Like acid washed jeans and Oasis, these apps and their kitchy effects won’t have a great shelf life. But we should enjoy them while they last.

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