Archive for the ‘Mainstream Media’ Category

Netflix And The Return Of The Dark Torrents Of The Internet

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

The rise of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and the online streaming services looks to be driving a growth in BitTorrent usage and media piracy.

When consumers are given easy and almost friction free access to the media (even if it’s a £10/month fee) they’re going to stay there, rather than explore the darker corners of the internet. While there are still questions over revenue distribution (especially with streaming music services) this is still a better option for creators than having everyone pirate the latest album or TV series.

The problem is that the myriad of services, all with their own monthly membership fees marketed with a rising number of exclusive series, coupled with contractual limitations and limited surprisingly limited back catalogues means that the legal landscape is, frankly, a bit of a mess.

I’d quite like to watch Season 3 of ‘The Expanse’… and yes that’s an understatement. It aired in April this year in America, but Netflix UK only carried the first two seasons. Presumably Amazon UK will have it at some point before Season 4, but it’s difficult to search for news without risking spoilers.

The Good Place‘ does very well in this respect, with the UK release happening shortly after the US release. But because of ‘The Good Place’ I’m ready to dip into ‘Cheers’ again. Nowhere to be streamed.

There are two straightforward answers to this. The first is to go find some DVDs (oh look, region locks). The second is to do what we did before the explosion in video streaming sites… head to the dark corners of the internet and let the online community solve the acquisition problem.

Yes, BitTorrent is once more on the rise. Motherboard’s Karl Bode lays it out:

The content industry spent years trying to battle piracy via all manner of heavy handed-tactics and lawsuits, only to realize that offering users inexpensive, quality, legitimate services was the best solution. Many users flocked to these services because they provided a less-expensive, more flexible alternative to traditional cable.

Now, if the industry isn’t careful, it could lose a sizeable chunk of this newfound audience back to piracy by making it overly expensive and cumbersome to access the content subscribers are looking for.

If you make the legal solution easier than the alternatives, the legal solution will win. But the internet was designed to route round obstacles. While that might have been to offer some resilience in the case of nuclear war, it’s also about seeing the latest episode of someone’s favourite TV show.

Hollywood Is Ready To Blame Rotten Tomatoes For Everything

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Most people have a good idea how good or bad the summer blockbuster movie season was, and I think most people could agree that the quality was not as high as earlier years. For every ‘Baby Driver‘ there was a ‘Baywatch‘ or ‘King Arthur‘. The big game of Hollywood has always been to not be apportioned blame when the music stops.

So the industry has decided to blame Rotten Tomatoes. Brooke Barnes reports on the scapegoating in the New York Times; from how it averages review scores, how it decides Fresh or Rotten, and how it looks outside the handful of traditional old-school white male reviewers in a handful of national titles:

Some filmmakers complain bitterly that Rotten Tomatoes casts too wide a critical net. The site says it works with some 3,000 critics worldwide, including bloggers and YouTube-based pundits. But should reviewers from Screen Junkies and Punch Drunk Critics really be treated as the equals of those from The Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker?

Should they be treated as equals by Rotten Tomatoes? Yes.

Should their views be treated as equal by the public? Probably not, and they probably never have, but now there are more than a handful ofvoices to choose from. Movie fans will grow to love the reviewers they love, understand their quirks and hates, and will be able to decide accordingly. The ability of one person to influence or be influenced is diminished. Once more the internet is subverting the ‘one voice to many listeners’ to ‘many voices for many listeners’ as everyone finds their own tribe.

Attacked by Rotten Tomatoes.

Thriller’s Missing Millions

Friday, September 8th, 2017

It’s accepted that Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ sold over one hundred million copies. But do the numbers add up? A fascinating look at sampling, rounding up, sales tracking, and hype from Bill Wyman at The New Yorker.

Did Jackson sell a billion records, or even seven hundred and fifty million? Sure, “Thriller” sold a lot of copies, but Jackson recorded infrequently, and his later albums sold nowhere near what “Thriller” did. We know from SoundScan figures that Jackson was selling, on average, roughly a million albums a year in the nineteen-nineties and the aughts in the U.S.—and that includes greatest-hits albums, like the four-million-selling “Number Ones.” That’s not nothing, but it’s not the sort of thing that adds up to a billion records over time.

Did Thriller Really Sell A Hundred Million Copies.

I’ll Be Hosting Overnight General Election Results Coverage

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

When the snap General Election was called in May, I wrote at the time that my first thought was about the result. Or at least how to cover the result. It was this.

I need to get behind a microphone to do the results show from 10pm on June 8th.

Since then I’ve been working on how to do just that, from finding studio facilities, co-hosts, guests, statisticians, the odd politician or two, and some broadcast partners. I’m delighted to announce that I will be hosting a General Election Results show on Thursday night… not only will you be able to listen in on lie, you’ll be able to watch as well.

Broadcast Details

Radio Six International (www.radiosix.com) will handle the radio and audio side of things, offering seven hours of coverage to stations across the UK and further afield (get in touch if you are interested in picking up the coverage). You’ll be able to listen to the stream direct from the Radio Six International website, and we go on air at 10pm UK time (2100 GMT).

The National newspaper is providing studio facilities through the night in their Glasgow newsroom, which will allow us to stay on top of the results as they come in through the night. We’ll also be talking to The National’s reporters who will be at the Glasgow and Edinburgh counts for immediate reactions and interviews. Our studio is going to be wired up not just for audio, but also for video, so you can watch the Facebook Live stream which will be shared from its Facebook Page.

During The Show

There’s no way to fully script out seven hours of live broadcasting in such a fluid environment as the results of a General Election. What we do have are a number of elements that we can call on through the night to keep the show going along. It is a UK Election and the first Scottish seat isn’t due up till around 2am, so while our primary story will be about Scotland, it’s not the only story and we will be looking across all of the UK.

Like any good election show we have our spreadsheets, swingometers, fancy graphics and maps to make predictions and help us try to make sense of what is going on. Once more Steve Griffin is dealing with the numbers through the night. The livestream also means we need something visual to show off.

What’s an election show without lots of voices and opinions? Leading our ‘Pundits Corner’ will be Benjamin Howarth bringing different viewpoints and discussion points from all corners of the political spectrum from a hopefully packed sofa of guests through the night.

The National’s Stephen Paton will be watching social media for reactions from the public, and by the nature of Facebook Live, we’ll be able to ask questions of our audience around the world.

The key thing for me in all of this is that we tell the story of the night, and through that we re-tell the story running up to the vote, and where the story is going. After previous overnight Election shows and various Edinburgh Fringe broadcasts, Dan Lentell will be in the co-host chair to keep the focus on the story, with Ross Middleton floor managing all of the different elements.

Get In Touch

It’s still not too late if you want to get involved as part of the show, and of course you can drop me a line (mail me at ewanspence@gmail.com).

And now, back to reading lots of background material….

Planning A New Kind Of UK General Election Results Show – Can You Help?

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Tuesday’s announcement of a General Election in the UK for June 8th caught me a little by surprise and set off a riot of emotions. I tend not to talk about politics too much online, so many of the thoughts I had yesterday are mine, or for friends and family.

But I’ll happily tell you my very first thought, because it’s one you can all help with.

I need to get behind a microphone to do the results show from 10pm on June 8th.”

I’ve anchored a number of overnight election shows on community radio here in Edinburgh since 2010. These have been broadcast out to the capital but also syndicated to other radio stations and streamed online for those in the UK (and beyond) looking for something a bit more rock and roll in their election night coverage.

I am confident I’ll be running an election night show this year. Now I need to get to that point, get a team together, sort out logistics, and all the other little bits and pieces in the way. Time is tight.

Putting The Team Together

The Election Results Show will be a collaborative effort, so I’m looking for people to be involved in the broadcast. The rough plan is have a core hosting team of two or three people working through the night, an ‘experts and pundits panel’ to discuss the results and keep the sparks flying, someone to stay on top of the constituency results and trends, another to watch over social media for a more interactive show, and a tech or two to keep the video and audio streams running.

If one of those roles sounds like something you want to do, get in touch – ewanspence@gmail.com is probably the best way to do so.

Finding Our Temporary Studio

The first order of business – and one that really needs sorting out before the end of April – is the venue. Short of finding a radio studio suite, the show will need a decent sized space for up to 15 people, with tables and chairs, good lighting, and a rock solid internet connection (preferably with a mix of wi-fi and wired access).

My initial thought is that the show will be Edinburgh-based, but as the broadcast will be streamed online I’m open to other locations around the UK, including London.

Other Ways To Support The Show

Obviously there are some costs involved in the show, so I am very much open to partnerships. That could be co-working spaces, start-ups in a ‘broadcast’ space, publishers or other media organisations, sugary energy drink manufacturers, and so on. Again get in touch if this sounds like a contribution you can help with (ewanspence@gmail.com).

At the very least I would love to cover volunteer expenses and potentially the venue hire.

What About A Name?

The Election Results Show’ is functional but not incredibly descriptive. ‘Rock and Roll Results’ suggests musical content, and that’s unlikely to happen. There’ll be a good name that talks about the open nature of the show, the slightly rough at the edges feel, the move away from mainstream media coverage, and the online nature of the show. Right now I can’t think of it. Once more, suggestions welcome.

Over To You

I could do this alone, but it’s going to much more fun with a big group of people. Join me?

The one lesson I learned that The Nightly Show needs to understand

Monday, March 13th, 2017

After the first year of hosting my daily chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe (which is still running thirteen years later), Brian Luff gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have had in my broadcast career. It went something like this:

“I listened to the Fringe podcasts, but now I’ve met you I have to ask… why is the ‘you’ that I see in front of me not in the podcast? I want to spend time with that person.”

You can have the latest names, the greatest guests, and the biggest world-changing ideas, but these will only get people to engage with a show once. If they are going to engage a second time, or become regular viewers, they will only come back if there is something consistent that they want to spend time with. I took Brian’s advice, and came up with a rule that I have relied on ever since…

People come once for a guest, but they stay for the host.

Tonight, ITV will launch the third version of ’The Nightly Show’. The first version launched two weeks ago with David Walliams hosting. The second version launched next week with John Bishop. Tonight’s version belongs to Davina McCall. Next week will be the fourth version with Dermot O’Leary.

There is nothing consistent week to week. The second a viewer starts to get comfortable with a host’s style and decides that they’re happy to spend time with them late at night, the host changes. You can’t start building up a reputation for guests, for games, or for viral videos until the foundation is in place. Choose a host and give them a long run to build a relationship with the audience.

That’s why the US late-night shows are as powerful as they are. Every host has been given the time to settle in to find their own footing and their own audience. Stephen Colbert has taken close to a year to understand ’The Late Show’, Trevor Noah is slowly moving out from under the shadow of Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’, James Cordon’s routine has evolved over time on ‘Late-Late‘…

I don’t buy the argument that ITV can’t do a daily chat show, but it needs to understand the unique demands of the format does not always line up with the ‘celebrity guest’ culture that has developed in the UK scene over the last two decades. Find a host, find a team, and let them work through the problems for at least a six-month run.

And if you need proof that a long-term commitment will slowly grow into a daily success story… look at ‘The One Show’.

I thought M*A*S*H answered the laughter-track question in the Eighties?

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Apart from the curious fact that Lucille Ball’s mother is the ‘Wilhelm Scream’ of chuckles on US TV’s canned laughter track, it still surprises me that the debate about whether a laughter track is a good idea continues to this day in America. Anthony Crupi on AdAge is the latest voice:

There’s actually very little research to justify the practice. The last comprehensive study to suggest that a laugh track could precipitate genuine peals of merriment was published in 1974, or a good three years before DeDe Ball chortled her last. A far more recent inquiry into the matter arrived at a different conclusion; a 2011 study of British and Norwegian subjects found that contemporary viewers have all but built up an immunity to laugh tracks, characterizing them as “cheesy” and “manipulative.”

I think there’s much less debate about this in the United Kingdom, and that’s down to BBC 2 airing M*A*S*H in the eighties. As far as I can remember, it was a fixture at 9pm every Wednesday. Someone was smart enough to decide that the audience didn’t need to be told when to laugh and the BBC leaned on Fox to strike new prints with clean audio for the UK audience.

Except one week. One week there was a technical hiccup and it aired in the laughter-fuelled American format. With no Twitter to channel the anger, the only outlet was the weekly ‘Points of View’ show that aired at 8.50pm every Wednesday on BBC 1. That week there was nothing but indignation…

The BBC never aired M*A*S*H with a laughter track again.

‘The Touch’ becomes ‘Warrior’

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Stan Bush’s career shows the power of a single hit song. Since ‘The Touch’ in 1986 pushed him into pop culture and the hearts of millions of fans, he’s re-iterated the same song style over and over… and over again. And why not? Part of being a creative is realising  when you are in the  middle of ‘a good thing’ and it’s not getting any better.

Because it’s really hard to listen to his latest track ‘Warrior‘ without thinking of his classic.

When Lego Batman beats Superman V Batman

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Scott Mendelson reviews ‘Batman V Superman’ for Forbes:

The best moments of Dawn of Justice resemble nothing less than a feature length adaptation of a series of Alex Ross paintings in all their naturalistic glory. But amid the visual treats is an utter mess of thinly sketched characters, haphazard plotting, surprisingly jumbled action, and “cut your nose to spite your face” world building. It’s not a success either as a stand-alone Man of Steel sequel or a would-be kick-off to the DC Extended Universe, and attempts to insert Batman and his Super Friends do real damage to the story and thus the film. And, my word, this movie is almost a self-parody on “grimdark.”

Which is pretty much in line with every other reviewer I trust. So in a flurry of weak publicity, I find it very curious that Warner Bros release the trailer for ‘The Lego Batman Movie

Did anything exciting happen today?

Yes, computer. Yes, it did. Ben Affleck got pwned by Will Arnett.

Michael Mann’s Heat, twenty years (and two months) later…

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Jennifer Wood’s extensive look at Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ has been sitting in my ‘must read pile’ for a few weeks now, but I’ve finally got around to it. It’s fascinating, and Heath is a film that I appreciate more every time I watch it. It’s far more than a heist movie, even if it remains one of the best heist movies of all time. Rather than usually grab an ‘oooh that’s nice‘ paragraph I’ll stick to Wood’s opening:

After one false start as the 1989 television pilot-turned-movie L.A. Takedown, Mann eventually realized that he had the ending of the movie all wrong. Once he figured out how to solve his last-act problem, he says it took “probably three weeks for me to get the screenplay in shape.” A green-light from Warner Bros. quickly followed, and the end result turned into one of the most elegant heist films ever crafted, in addition to giving stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino the single greatest alpha-male exchange in a diner ever. On the occasion of Heat’s anniversary, Rolling Stone asked the director to take us back to the scene of the crime and share the experience of pairing two great screen-acting powerhouses.

Don’t wait as long as I did.

Let’s play ‘Spot the Edit’ with OK Go

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

The fun thing (okay, one of many fun things) about OK Go’s latest video is that it’s a three minute long video filmed in zero-go thanks to an aircraft flying in a parabola. Which gives you thirty or forty seconds of zero-g at most.

That means there must be at least four ‘edit points’ in the video of ‘Upside Down & Inside Out‘ to take out the thirty seconds of extra-g. Everyone will need to be sitting, securely holding on, or masked by a suitcase. The caption is right, it’s all real, but there’s some old fashioned editing at work (just like in The Spice Girls ‘Wannabe‘ and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman‘).

Oh and it’s a damn fine idea and I wish I could have been with the band while they filmed it.

Blackstar album art available under Creative Commons licence

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

The start artwork for David Bowie’s towering album ‘Blackstar’ is now available under a Creative Commons licence for personal and non-commercial purposes. Designer Jonathan Barnbrook:

So in the spirit of openness and in remembrance of David we are releasing the artwork elements of his last album ? (Blackstar) to download here free under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. That means you can make t-shirts for yourself, use them for tattoos, put them up in your house to remember David by and adapt them too, but we would ask that you do not in any way create or sell commercial products with them or based on them.

Bowie leaves (inspires?) another gift to the world… I’m happily stunned.  Pitchfork has more.

The internet, the news industry, and the art of the obituary

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

With January taking its toll on the list of famous people that many people love, Dave Lee’s look at the heady mix of celebrity death and how the internet changes the reporting of notable deaths is very much relevant (even if it was posted late last year):

Most conventions in journalism have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. Many an old-timer’s heart has been broken when traffic analysis shows that a three-month long investigation (3,000 words) has been completely overlooked by readers in favour of a numbered list of something far less important. The trick, of course, is to present the investigation in way that suits the new way of reading. That attitude change is happening, slowly.

Obits are next.

I’m not suggesting we reduce lives to “9 Times Nelson Mandela Totally Saved The Day” or such-like, but instead we reassess how to create, quickly, modern-day obituaries that cover death in a way that doesn’t leave readers fatigued and fed-up.

Famous People Just Keep On Dying.

What was the first practical use of AR?

Monday, February 1st, 2016

There’s a strong argument that the first piece of AR in live television was the yellow ‘must reach here’ line in American Football. With four goes to move the ball at least ten years, the yellow line on the screen showed where the ball had to reach… even if the camera was moving, and of course it couldn’t obscure the players.

A digital line, on the ground, and everyone able to stand on top of it. Sports Illustrated looks at the line:

Everything started with a simple yellow line. On September 27, 1998, Sportvision debuted its yellow first down marker on the ESPN broadcast of the Week 4 game between the Ravens and Bengals. For the first time fans watching at home could see the exact moment the ball crossed the plane.

Sixteen years later, Sportvision can now weave almost anything into a football broadcast, from down and distance arrows to virtual video screens; it can even reveal the yard lines completely obscured by snow during winter games.

There’s going to be a lot more graphics on the AR field this weekend at the Superbowl, but it’s still Sportsvision leading the AR charge!

Ninety minutes with Doctor Who’s new show runner Chris Chibnall

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

The announcement of Chris Chibnall as the exec behind Doctor Who after Steven Moffat leaves has left many feeling dazed and confused… mostly because everyone remembers the Torchwood rush-job that was Cyberwoman, and forgets that he also wrote Adrift…. and launched Law and Order UK… and did Broadchurch…

So if you’re at all curious about what he could bring to Doctor Who, may I suggest this in-depth interview with him from Danny Stack’s ‘Scriptwriters in the UK’ podcast. Recorded in May last year it talks about his approach to writing, TV production, and show-running… Listen carefully and you can pull out themes and emotions that Chibnall likes to explore, and I suspect that offers a clue to what ‘his’ Doctor Who will be like.

I’m much more excited for NuWho after listening.