King and Corporation – Illuminations Media

On Wednesday night BBC Two broadcast Rupert Goold’s film of King Charles III with a script by Mike Bartlett. It is on BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks, and if you watch nothing else in that time, make time for this. It’s a wonderful 90 minutes of beautifully achieved, bold, provocative, innovative, smartly subversive television, with a glorious performance from the late Tim Pigott-Smith at its heart. The plaudits have poured in, as I have little doubt they will continue to, and among the thoughtful press responses perhaps the most thoughtful is that by Mark Lawson for the Guardian. (Perhaps the most bizarre is ‘The BBC’s King Charles III inevitably contained plenty of howlers’ for — surprise! — the Mail, although treating the fantasy as a docu-drama is some kind of compliment.) Apart from expressing close-to-boundless enthusiasm for the film, I want here just to add a couple of thoughts about its status as television.

I watched this last night, and it’s the best thing I’ve seen on television in a long time. It’s a 90-minute adaptation of a play about when the current queen dies and Charles becomes king. It’s full of Shakespearean intrigue, and the language is a nod to Shakespeare, with blank verse, iambic pentameter, and some odd word order at times. But interestingly, it took me a while to notice the language; I think many viewers won’t even spot it, they’ll just think it’s a bit weird. (You know, the royals speaking funny…)

This article, by John Wyver, who produces films and filmed theater productions, examines how subversive this production is. And when you think about it, he’s right; there are many layers around this film, from the subject matter to the language, to the context of it being produced and broadcast on the BBC.

If you’re in the UK, watch this: it’s on the iPlayer for a few weeks.

Source: King and Corporation – Illuminations Media

Netflix is testing a button for skipping the opening credits – The Verge

Netflix is testing a button that lets you skip the opening credits on some television shows, the company said. This week some Twitter users spotted a “skip intro” button that appears when you hover over the title sequence for shows including Netflix originals House of Cards and Iron Fist, and Mad Men and The Office (third-party shows). The button works both with shows that begin with the title sequence and those that include one after a cold open.

Yes, please. I’m astounded at how long opening credits can be for some shows. Between the “previously” and credits on a show like Homeland, there’s around three minutes of wastage (though some people may want to see the previously segment). But these long opening credits are just a narcissistic element for some producers. In addition, some shows actually have spoilers in their credits. Again, with Homeland, there are videos in the background which show some elements that haven’t happened yet.

I’d also like to see a way to skip all the production company logos before movies, and long opening credits in movies as well.

Credits are essential; everyone who works on a movie or TV series deserves having their name visible. But put them at the end, where you can see them if you care. Most people outside the industry don’t.

Source: Netflix is testing a button for skipping the opening credits – The Verge

Apple’s TV Shows: What’s Their Long Game?

Apple is investing in original content TV shows, such as Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke. These shows will be viewable via Apple Music, and only available to subscribers of that service.

This is an odd way to distribute TV content however; after all, it’s Apple Music, not Apple Music and TV. (Kind of like how iTunes is about so much more than “tunes.”)

So what’s their long game? Are they investing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in loss leaders for Apple Music? Apple knows that, while they can become a big streaming service, they’re late to the party, and companies like Spotify and Pandora have faithful users. They can’t hope to get people to subscribe to two such services, and it’s not a tired reality-show concept or a humorous singalong that will sell people on switching.

In some ways, I can understand that Apple wants to dip its feet in the TV area. On the other hand, neither of these two shows are very compelling; neither will get people switching to Apple Music. If they had a show like House of Cards, or Homeland, or Game of Thrones, that could be a tipping point for potential switchers, but is that really what Apple should be doing?

Again, it seems that spending large sums of money to get people to subscribe to a streaming music service is the wrong approach. Unless Apple’s long game is to start slow with a few shows, then build up and split them off from Apple Music. Or add an additional monthly fee to access TV shows. But they’d need a lot of content to make that worthwhile.

Is This the Best Apple Can Do with “Original TV Content?”

MacRumors discusses Apple’s plans for its first “original content” TV series, Planet of the Apps.

The format of the show is similar to that of fellow talent-based reality shows The Voice and Shark Tank. Aspiring app developers descend down an escalator while pitching four judges on their idea. By the time they get to the bottom, the judges must swipe left or right to demonstrate whether they’re interested. If multiple judges swipe right on a contestant, the contestant gets to choose who they want to pair with. Once paired, the developer goes through an incubator period, getting advise from developers at big companies like Uber, until it’s ready enough to pitch to Lightspeed Venture Partners for funding.

Is this really the best they can do? Can’t they do more than a lowest-common denominator talent show? Sure, it’s about apps, and that links it to Apple, but this seems like they’re targeting a pretty low level of viewers.

With a reality TV star president, I think the time is right to pull back on these cheap, sensational shows. I’ve never watched reality shows, and, while I admit some may actually have merits – The Great British Bake-Off, for example – this is just mindless entertainment for the masses. I think this type of TV content sets the bar very low for Apple.

According to MacRumors, Eddy Cue said that:

Apple only wants to make shows that are unique and “create culture.”

A reality show isn’t creating culture, it’s copying a format that is tired. Reality TV is the Android phone of TV shows, and Apple could surely do better.

Samsung is adding new obtrusive ads to your old smart TV – The Verge

If you’re Samsung and you want to wring additional cash out of your television business, what do you do? Add annoying advertisements to TVs that people already have in their homes, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung is readying the European expansion of an initiative it started in the United States last June: adding interactive advertisements to the menu bars of its high-end smart TVs. The impact isn’t going to be limited just to customers buying new Samsung televisions, either, as the company reportedly plans to use software updates to retroactively bring the ads to older models that people already have in their homes.

I’ve been considering buying a new TV, but I read stuff like this, and it turns me off. Not to mention the fact that buying a TV these days is more complicated than buying a computer…

Source: Samsung is adding new obtrusive ads to your old smart TV | The Verge

Study: Netflix is a major reason people don’t watch network TV

There is a growing chasm between people who watch broadcast TV and those who watch streaming shows. Consider that in 2015, Netflix subscribers watched CBS shows 42 percent less than non-subscribers. That means nearly half of Netflix subscribers have just stopped watching CBS. Netflix subscribers also watched Fox 35 percent less, ABC 32 percent less, and NBC 27 percent less.

Two reasons: no commercials, and the ability to watch whenever you want. The entire TV landscape will slowly shift to that model eventually. It’s just a question of who can unite all the stakeholders to bring an across-the-board streaming service. Apple seems well positioned, but the TV and film industries won’t let Apple do to TV and movies what they did to music.

I wish the iTunes Store rented TV episodes, like it did for about a year, from 2010 to 2011. A buck an episode; make them cheap and easy to watch, and people will flock to the iTunes Store. When Apple tried this, they priced the rentals at $2 – $3, which is too expensive for something you watch just once.

Source: Study: Netflix is a major reason people don’t watch network TV | Ars Technica

Do I need to upgrade to Ultra HD Blu-ray?

With both a lack of players and a lack of disks, there’s no real reason to jump into the 4KBD fray just yet. However, Ultra HD Blu-ray will, for the most part, look better than streaming and Blu-ray. How much better they look is going to depend on the original movie’s picture quality and medium, and how well it was transferred (or remastered) to 4KBD. This was true of Blu-ray and DVD as well.

Will there be 4KBDs that look no better than regular BD? Probably. Will there be some that look no better than streaming? Doubtful.

Interesting discussion of whether 4K Blu-Rays will be any better than current media quality. Executive summary: a lot of 4K Blu-Rays will be upsampled from lower resolutions.

This is quite a messy technological change. I will quote something from one of the comments that highlights how complex all this is:

One fact that was left out but important is the evolution of HDMI to v2.0a and HDCP v2.2. This is the new requirement for native UHD 4K sources and its not forward compatible with older versions of HDMI, meaning you cannot plug a new UHD 4K Blu-ray player into your AVR or PrePro unless the player offers dual HDMI outputs, one for the new video resolution and one that still meets v1.3 or v1.4 HDMI spec. Be sure you have the new HDMI v2.0a, its the only one with HDR, Dolby Atmos, and true native 4K pass through.

Your average TV viewer won’t understand any of what is in that paragraph above. TVs have become more complex than computers, and this is a Very Bad Thing for the TV industry, and for all of us who own TVs. The number of technologies that need to be compatible is much more complex than those needed to transfer files from Windows to a Mac. (Remember how hard that used to be?) 3D TV is pretty much a failure, probably, in part, because it’s too complicated (and the stupid glasses). I can’t see these new technologies hitting critical mass for quite some time, as long as it’s so complex to make sure that all your hardware (especially if you have a home theater system or AV amplifier) is compatible. And, of course, one of the main reasons for all these complications is DRM…

(Via Do I need to upgrade to Ultra HD Blu-ray?.)

Dr. Dre Filming Apple’s First Scripted Television Series

Apple is making its first original television show. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that the technology giant is backing a top-secret scripted series starring one of its own executives, Beats co-founder and rap legend Dr. Dre.


…it is described as a dark drama with no shortage of violence and sex. In fact, an episode filming Monday and Tuesday this week featured an extended orgy scene.

Dunno, but something about this makes me wonder WTF is going on in the minds of people over at Apple. With all that Apple does to hone its image, making their first self-produced TV series something like this just doesn’t fit. Apparently this Mr Dre has a lot of sway over in Cupertino…

(Via Hollywood Reporter.)

Amazon Will Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices – Bloomberg Business Inc. is flexing its e-commerce muscles to gain an edge on competitors in the video-streaming market by ending the sale of devices from Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

The Seattle-based Web retailer sent an e-mail to its marketplace sellers that it will stop selling Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast. No new listings for the products will be allowed and posting of existing inventory will be removed Oct. 29, Amazon said. Amazon’s streaming video service, called Prime Video, doesn’t run easily on rival’s devices.

Hmm… While this sounds like an abuse of dominant position on Amazon’s part, I would really like to see a Prime Video app on the Apple TV.

With the new Apple TV coming out in November, and offering an app store, I would assume this will be possible. Apple doesn’t prevent Amazon from having its apps in the iOS App Store, and would probably not be allowed to do so on the Apple TV App Store. If this is the case, is Amazon just doing this to attack Google?

Source: Amazon Will Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices – Bloomberg Business

The Problem with Bonus Culture

Browsing the news today, I came across an article entitled, “The Story Behind …” (… being the name of a movie.) Look around, and you’ll see all sorts of articles telling you how something was made, giving you back story, often about a movie or TV series. TV showrunners have become stars, sitting on panels at ComicCon, now the mecca of “making of” promotional backstory. (And to think that, a few years ago, those outside the industry had never heard of showrunners.)

We’re very familiar with this on DVDs and Blu-Rays. It’s rare these days to find a DVD or Blu-Ray that doesn’t have bonus content. This includes short films containing interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes, information about costumes, music, sets, and technical information about filming.

Sometimes this can be interesting. If you’re a fan of a specific TV series, for example, you may want to know more about the creative choices that were made, or how the actors saw their characters. But we’ve gotten to the point where, for movies at least, the bonus content is often longer than the movie itself.

If you’re in the film industry, this content is invaluable. But for the rest of us, what’s the point? Bonus content is nothing more than a lagniappe designed to get people to buy the product. Back in the day, when we still bought movies on video tapes, DVDs had extra content, and this was probably designed to get people to buy movies on this new medium and give up on their VCRs. But now, it’s everywhere. It’s on DVDs and Blu-ray’s; it’s even on some classical CDs. I’ve seen “documentaries” on classical CDs showing the performers in the recording studio, or with interviews of them explaining the work. While the explanations can be interesting, do we really need to see the musicians recording in the studio?

Interestingly, it is still rare to see this in books. Occasionally, I come across a novel which has some extra “book club questions” at the back. Sometimes, I see an interview with an author at the back of a book. But I have yet to see a making-of documentary, or any discussion of the techniques used to write a book: which type of computer, Mac or PC; which software; or, if the author actually wrote the book in longhand, which pen or pencil they used.

I find this distracting. There are few movies for which I really care to watch interviews or making-of documentaries. I watched much of the bonus content that was on the Lord of the Rings DVDs, back when they were released. And I’ve watched extra features about some TV series that I really like. But I’ve only ever listened to a director’s commentary once (Almost Famous), and I really don’t care about seeing how costumes and makeup were done.

Why do we need to have this extra content for every movie? It’s starting to make its way into music, and books won’t be far behind. Why can’t people be satisfied with the creative work on its own? If you watch a two-hour movie, do you really need to see another four hours of “bonus features?” Why not just watch the movie again if you like it that much?

I will admit, that, as far as literature is concerned, I do like to dig deeper. I read biographies of my favorite authors, and I have letters and journals of some of the writers I appreciate the most. This is more because I find the creative life interesting, not so much to learn how a particular novel was written. With literature, technique is never discussed, except, of course, in books about technique.

All of this is just another form of marketing; it’s little more than advertorials. The article I saw today, looking at the making of a new movie, is nothing more than a teaser to get people to go to the cinema and pay to see the movie. It’s a movie adapted from a popular novel, and plenty of people who have read the book will already be attracted to the movie. But will this article about how the movie was made attract more people? Wouldn’t it be better if people just went to the movie, and ignored all of the dross? Blame the news outlets, of course; they’re using this filler to get page views.