A New Hope and how entertainment has changed…

I can still remember the first time I ever saw Star Wars Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back. I’d been invited to a school friends birthday party at which they brought out a film projector. Just to further date things, it involved a reel of film rather than HDMI and USB connectors.

Today I sat with my son and spent 30 happy minutes watching Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope together. For the non-geeks, that’s the original Star Wars with Luke Skywalker escaping a desert with Alec Guinness, and rescuing Leia. The time was cut short when I had a heartfelt request that he’d rather be playing Lego Star Wars than watching a film.

He wanted to be part of the action, not sitting and simply watching it. And viewing it through his eyes, I suddenly realised how slow the film actually moves compared to some of the things he loves – like Pixar’s output. Even then, he provides a Director-style commentary about what’s on the screen, what’s about to happen, and anything else that pops into his somewhat random mind.

It’s a feeling I often get when I attempt to watch television. As much as I can still love a slow-moving, atmospheric film, the examples of something which draws me in on television are few and far between, so I usually manage about 5 minutes before I feel like I’d rather be playing a game and actually achieving something for myself. Or writing, blogging, or doing other work.

It’s tempting to say every TV show should include as much interactivity as possible, but given the fact that I’d rather poke my eyes out than suffer the hugely successful talent shows which take this approach, it’s not the only solution.

The solution for TV and movies for me is that we get an ever increasing range of niche channels and programming which allow me to watch something over than the same episodes of the Big Bang Theory for the umpteenth time, just because it’s the least irritating option available.

Give me a custom channel of motorsport, Swedish crime television and technology/sci-fi and I’m happy – which is almost possible when I pull together about 20 different services myself, but it’s not quite as effortless as it should be by now. Why can’t there be a central hub for all channels from which I can pull what I want, and pay in aggregate, and why should so much be hampered by copyright after being shown years ago in the U.S? I’m happy to pay for legal access or put up with advertising to be able to watch, but so much is simply not available…

For once, I can’t conclude with a simple solution, but it’s definitely an indication to me that despite the brilliant rise of Youtube, iPlayer, Lovefilm etc, there’s still a long way to go before we reach the perfect entertainment solution.

BBC reminds me of two elements of consumer satisfaction

I’m a big fan of much of the work the BBC does online, and in general it does a very good job of providing a massive amount of content in a fairly logical manner.

But using the site as a consumer with a couple of urgent needs highlighted a couple of things which I think are good lessons for any website:

Multi-channel delivery:

I’m a huge fan of the BBC iPlayer, and the fact it allows me to watch good quality online and on-demand television. So on Sunday morning, I rushed to watch Match of the Day, having missed it on Saturday night (and with the Absolute Radio Fantasy Football game meaning I need to pay extra attention to every team this year!).

But the listing was greyed out – and with no reason given, I had to presume it was down to the licensing rights for the Premier League.

So it was a bit weird to be looking for something else a bit later, and stumble across it in the sport section! (Flaw here was attempting to browse my way to it, rather than using the site or Google search.)

The lesson: If you’re putting out content through two difference channels for whatever reason, then link between them! And always try to explain why someone can’t access something if they might logically think they should.

Reassurance:

The BBC carries a lot of event coverage, particularly in areas such as music, and especially sport. For example, it’s great to be able to watch the MotoGP series via the BBC, and also great to be able to see the full list of races (125 and 250cc) online, as my TV set-up seems to struggle with the Red Button Freeview channels.

But although it’s nice to see everything go live at the same time, as if a single switch somewhere brings everything to life, unless you’ve got Freeview and the website running at the same time, it isn’t that impressive. And the fact the online feed wasn’t listed from the MotoGP page of the Sport section until the video went live two minutes after the listed time meant that I probably wasn’t the only one frantically refreshing the page to see if it would appear or if there was a problem.

The lesson: If you’re covering an event that starts at a specific time, why not have a page and link ready and live in advance, which can provide a bit of reassurance for internet users? That way, we can relax knowing that everything will go live at noon, for example, rather than worrying that there’s a technical fault with 1 minute to go. Whatever happens afterwards, we’re already stressed and less likely to enjoy and appreciate your hard work!

 

I’m still a huge fan of the BBC, and there are hundreds of sites which could have been used for the same points – the reason it stood out for me was that I was a completely powerless consumer. Reinforcing the final lesson – always look at your website as a consumer trying to achieve something.

How TV companies 2.0 can make money

This all came from two articles by two of my Twitter connections, starting with Charles Arthur writing on the Guardian website about the need for television companies to come to terms with filesharing. In it, he suggested TV media firms could make low quality versions of their shows available as they are broadcast as a way to encourage people to download a high resolution version.

Peeebeee (Peter Bowyer) examined the link Charles had made between music and TV companies and the effect downloads are having, and suggested that the way the music industry can monetise is not necessarily applicable (low quality freebie for driving high quality purchases), mainly because music will be replayed over and over.. .

It’s taken me a while to respond because I wanted to add something to the conversation, and try to hypothesize how I’d monetise online television. (If you think it’s taking me a while, try asking Google about Youtube!) And although I don’t work in television (Aside from the sadly discontinued MCN Daily…*shudders*), my day job consists of working out how it can be possible to fund a large magazine and website company from engaging community.

My theory is that the answer is more obvious than you’d think, because it’s something that film companies have already done, when they sold us on DVDs. Aside from allowing us to posture about the quality on our widescreen television, and pause without burning through a tape, DVDs convinced many people to part with money for the value of the extras which were included – even for films they might already own on video.

So expand the same theory to online. I may already be able to watch a film or TV programme via filesharing or a legitimate streaming channel, but what could be added to a package which would make it worth parting with a small amount of money? Could you include DVD-style extras and outtakes? Could you also include background information? How about putting complete series together online, or the works of a particular writer, director or actor. Which could then be sold on DVD, and as a complete download?

And what about also including all the related links, reading material, and even User Created Content?

Now I could find a lot of this via a fair bit of web searching, but that takes time and effort – and increasingly the exponential growth of material online means people are looking for ways to filter content, and aggregate it efficiently, and are willing to pay for it. As Steve Jobs once pointed out, finding a copy of a song via filesharing can translate into working for less than minimum wage – fine for time-rich teenagers, but not for anyone feeling time-starved.

And providing best-of reading material for certain content would be a incredibly useful for information rich shows. Ironically, while my partner has been watching Hollywood films on DVD over the last two weekends, I’ve had the time to watch the inspirational Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams’ by Randy Pausch, and also ‘An anthropological introduction to Youtube‘ by Michael Wesch.

Both times the Youtube video was an hour or more long, which is fine for me, but would be better in DVD format for the non ‘digital natives’ I’d love to shave them with. They both refer to people, places, and reference works which might be useful to have in digital and print form. Both lecturers have previous work which would be useful to have included (not just videos, but written articles and academic works etc). And neither of those works is likely to even appear on a mainstream (Say Freeview for the sake of argument) TV channel in the UK, where we have to make do with a short internet show once a week on the BBC, and the occasional programme discussing the risks of online networks.

Essentially, any content which doesn’t require high budgets and production values is already legally uploaded and available on Youtube. Anything that does incur a huge cost is losing part of it’s audience to filesharing, or is being served online in ways that can be frustrating (You can’t watch a show on BBC iPlayer after seven days, and that’s about the best of the bunch). None of it is giving me a reason to pay a couple of pounds to get extra value, as opposed to the imported DVD boxsets I own, signed by the director, and containing material I wouldn’t have otherwise seen at the time without a lot of hunting around.

It’s not about criminalizing fans who fileshare and promote your product. It’s about making use of the advantages of being large scale content creators and giving those fans reasons why it makes sense for them to spend an amount to invest. iTunes isn’t the best music store in the history of the world, but if you’ve got an iPod it’s easy to go there and spend a few pounds/dollars, rather than sorting out filesharing software and downloads. Despite access to films online, and the Xbox film service permanently attached to my HDTV, I still subscribe to Lovefilm, because it’s easier to get films delivered than order them online legally, due to the shocking state of broadband speeds outside major cities in the UK. And that’s what has cut my DVD purchasing, way more than availability online.

Give me a reason to pay for TV and film which justifies itself in terms of making my life easier, and giving me more than enough value to justify it to myself, and it won’t just be me who will be tempted…

NB: And actually, artists are already pioneering this in the music industry. Just look at the $1619420 Trent Reznor made from the recent Ghosts album.

The disapointment of broadcast news

Since the birth of my son and the routine of morning feeding, I’ve started watching breakfast television news for the first time in about 18 months. There’s really not a lot else on at 6am, but I’m already finding reasons to look forward to avoiding it in the future.

For starters, it appears that either there is only enough news happening each day to fill exactly an hour – or that’s the average time that people watch breakfast news before heading off to work. Sadly, as I’m up for two hours looking after my son, I spot the exact time that the hour rolls round, and stories are repeated.

And there’s no escape by swapping channels, as not only do both shows feature the same news stories, but they use the same film clips, and even ask the same questions! Having watched an interview on one channel, I switched over to see the same person, same location, with the same questions. I guess no-one wants to be different to their main competitor! Obviously none of them are looking for their Purple Cow.

By comparison, any news story online can be supported by personal reactions on Twitter and blogs, by a variety of local and national sources, and with video ranging from camera phones at the scene to broadcast quality filming.

So I either look forward to the day I can stop watching an endless repetitive loop – or I get myself a cable, connect my laptop to the TV, and set up 2-3 hours of relevant and interesting things to watch every morning.

Time to buy the cable!