Category Archives: Movies, TV & Viewing Entertainment

It’s an exciting time to be a graduate… Steve Blank’s commencement speech

When I graduated college, I don’t even recall there was a commencement speech. Presumably there was. But I don’t recall a single nanosecond of it. Nothing was said to kick me into the world, all fired up and ready to change it when I got there. So, not having anything better planned and no better offers, I left London for America, and ended up in Silicon Valley in the mid 1980s, working on software for the newly launched Apple Macintosh.

Lucky me.

Steve Blank’s commencement speech to ESADE speaks to global business leaders of tomorrow, but could just as well be spoken to anyone starting out in the world today.  To those who don’t have the wherewithal, or the courage (yet) to start their own company. Or to those who are joining companies that are started by those who do have that wherewithal and courage. Or to those who are working inside the stodgy organizations of yesterday and wondering why they feel so unempowered. Or even to those who just don’t know where they are going next.

The message is the same: be an optimist. There’s opportunity absolutely everywhere.

When the taxicab or hotel business lobbyists run to the politicians to get laws passed that will save their business, you know Uber and AirBNB are onto something. It’s sad when a local bookstore closes down, but exciting when you can borrow any book at any time from your library on your Kindle, because Mr Bezos figured out something before anyone else.

These technology innovations are changing the rules of businesses that have for decades enjoyed market dominance. And there are many more begging for change. Because as consumers, we are becoming more demanding, and we won’t settle for the status quo any more. And we’re not afraid of change.

I asked someone yesterday “when was the last time you browsed live TV channels?” His response? “Probably about five years ago.” Same for me — apart from occasional, miserable experiments with “I’m bored, what’s on?…” that last maybe 10 minutes before the TV goes off and Amazon or Netflix goes on. Because live TV pisses me off.  The absolute unadulterated rubbish, interspersed by absolutely ghastly advertisements, on 500 channels that I don’t want to ever see. Ever. Ever. No love lost for me there.

The last time I went into the AT&T store to sort out my complicated mobile phone bill for a family of five, I came out thinking that I was being shafted at every turn. Every possible dime was being squeezed out of me for things I don’t think I need or know about. No love lost for me there either.

After both experiences, I know that the moment I can switch to a new, disruptive technology to replace my TV and my mobile phone, I will. Cable, AT&T and Comcast? You’re next.

It’s a truly exciting time to be a newly minted graduate.

Lucky you.

I’m starting to get TV on my own terms

Back in 2009, I wrote about how I wanted ‘movies on my own terms.’ I came across that blog recently.  I was pleased that things have got better, but I realize that we still have a way to go.

An update on the ‘hardware’ sitch… I still have TiVo and Amazon hooked up together. But now, purchasing is vastly improved, and I can instantly download from my Amazon account to the TiVo and have it appear in the list of shows to watch. Check.

I still have a Mac Mini attached to my TV via a video cable. I control that Mac Mini through screen share.  Yes, I realize I could buy AppleTV to do this, but actually having a ‘full’ Macintosh available is cool. I can stream photo slideshows in a screensaver while listening to Spotify music.  I can easily play DVDs of old family videos. It’s fun.

I used to have a Logitech Universal Remote that controlled the whole shebang, but that collapsed, mysteriously, right around the time they launched a new remote. But the price tag was just too steep — around $250.  I can get up off the sofa for a bit longer.

But here’s where we have a long way to go: global entertainment.

I am one of many members of a diaspora. I still love to watch English TV, news, even weather. (Especially weather!) I remain as massively disappointed in the dreck that passes for programming on BBC America as I was back in March 2009.  I can’t be the only one. In fact I know I’m not.  Almost anyone living in the States from anywhere else in the world still wants to stay in touch with entertainment and news from back home.

So why filter it? Why make us jump through hoops to get it unfiltered? Just give it to us. Unchanged. Just like we’re there. That’s what we want. Not filtered through the lens of some American programming team that thinks we want endless episodes of that idiot cook who says ‘fuck’ a lot… whose name I refuse to even remember at this moment.

Which brings me onto Netflix.

Last September, while out in my garden, I was listening to podcasts of the BBC show “Front Row.” The wonderful Mark Lawson talked to Ted Sarandos, head of content for the video on demand service, about the change in how we consume entertainment. The moment the show ended I bought (just a little bit– wish I’d bought more) of Netflix stock.  Here was someone (Ted Sarandos) who talked about the world as an audience for content. Good content. I got the hint (just a hint mind you) that Netflix had its eye on original programming that would work for audiences all over the world. Bring it on.

Indeed in Netflix’s recent earnings reports, Hastings specifically stated:

We haven’t been specific about what country or countries we’re going to expand to. So there’s a number of players in all the major markets and in the smaller markets. They’re all doing good work. I think what we’ve seen with our success in the UK is that there can be very strong players like the BBC iPlayer and LOVEFiLM and Sky and we can still build a very successful business. And so I think the key is having unique content, a great reputation, a good value proposition. And we can succeed and in many cases the competitors can also. So we mostly focus on finding good markets that love content and that will steadily expand in Europe.

Global programming with good content. Yes, the company has made some dumb moves. (Remember Qwikster?) But like Amazon, they’re willing to experiment. And they’re brave.  I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

I miss my vinyl albums

I was reading this article from Digital Music News today “Recording Industry In 2009: Albums Down 12.7 Percent, Digital Still Gaining” that reports vinyl LP sales in 2009 were up 33% to 2.5 million.

What’s that? Vinyl LP sales? Really?

It got me thinking. You know what’s missing in listening to music today? That tactile experience of opening an album and placing the LP carefully on the turntable, being cautious only to hold it by the outside edge. Maybe cleaning first. Maybe blowing the dust off the needle. Then after that first crackle and hiss, sitting on the sofa, having a ciggie and a cup of tea (I am English after all), and studying the liner notes. It was all such a ceremony.

We worshiped listening to music back then. It was such an effort that you had to stop and listen carefully. Today it’s just too instant and easy.

Sorting out my digital viewing

With all these tasty announcements from CES of my future TV viewing toys, I amuse myself by looking at the utter muddle of my own TV viewing life. Let’s see I have;

* A Netflix account; they love me at Netflix. I lose so many DVDs (which I always pay for) and then forget to return said DVDs for weeks on end.

* A 58″ Samsung TV in my family room with all the toys (widgets and so forth) with utterly crappy YouTube videos, hooked up to a TiVo. But most TV channels are such abysmal quality (both content and resolution) that I can’t bear to watch any of it. Only a few are HD, and I can never figure out the numbers of those channels.

* Another 58″ Samsung TV to watch in our playroom, where my treadmill resides, hooked up to Comcast’s DVR. What is going on with that device’s user experience? I feel like I’m in the DOS of the 80s. Absolutely, utterly dreadful. Beyond dreadful.

* A nice “little” 30-something inch TV in my bedroom with a Boxee experiment managed by my dearest partner. This experiment involves a MacMini, a breadboard with a mouse on it, and a keyboard, both tucked into the sock drawer underneath the TV. I haven’t used this Boxee yet to do anything meaningful. Every time I try to play something back on it, I have to wait for it to load and I get bored. I’m never in the room long enough. Also, it makes strange noises in the middle of the night and wakes me up. I’m not liking this. My dearest partner feels that I’ll want to watch re-ruins of Kojak on it (which he has kindly prepared for me in advance.) Er no. Weird time warp.

* An account at my local Blockbuster where I regularly owe tens of dollars in late fees.

* A mysterious method of downloading the latest BBC content, which incidentally I would willingly and gladly pay for if the BBC would let me have the iPlayer.

* An online Netflix account that my children use to watch no doubt unsuitable things on their laptops. Note to self. Change the password.

* An online Amazon Unbox account that I almost never use, because the choices are terrible and again, the user experiences worse than bad.

So. This needs cleaning up. The digital home is a dream yet to come in my house. And we’re uber nerds. We buy all the latest stuff. It’s just that none of it works ideally.

Please, please, BBC and Google…. make it so

Read this on the Telegraph today: BBC and Google in talks to launch international iPlayer site.

Please say it’s so. The BBC has the best content ever, and we could all benefit from it. Once again, the BBC leads the way. They were one of the first, serious, grown-up news organizations to adopt RSS. They really do get it.

See my post in March “I want my BBC.” Do you think they’re listening?!

Need a seriously good belly laugh?

I just love podcasts. And the BBC, I think, has some of the best out there. A new one I just ‘discovered’ is Friday Night Comedy Night. You can discover it here:

Do yourself a favor and subscribe. You may miss some of the jokes in America, due to the references to such delightful political clowns as Boris Johnson and (better known) Gordon Brown. But nonetheless, it’s worth it. It’s the kind of show that the creakingly un-funny “Wait, wait … don’t tell me” on NPR tries to be, and fails hopelessly.

Last night as I drove home down 280, I seriously needed cheering up. I listened to the latest show and was actually roaring with laughter. Thank you Sandi Toksvig.

I want my BBC!

I grew up with the BBC. I love the BBC. I have family members and good friends who work there, or who have worked there. I feel about the BBC as I do a kindly Uncle or a well-loved, well-read book. It’s comforting and brings back all kinds of good memories.

That sounds rather saccharine, doesn’t it? It’s not meant to be. I honestly have a genuine and deep admiration for the BBC’s high ground and high standards, albeit with lapses.

When I moved to the United States way too many years ago to kindly count, I missed the following things most fervently: real tea and the BBC. I could mail order my tea, but not my BBC.

Thank heavens the BBC embraced the podcast revolution from the get-go. Search for BBC on iTunes. You’ll find many of my favorites. In particular, “In Our Time” led by the wonderfully clever and boffin-ish Melvyn Bragg (definitely on my “people I’d like to have to dinner” list). My iPod is full of BBC radio programs that I love. More on them later.

But what about TV? The BBC has the most enormous repository of wonderful content. I grew up with Sir David Attenborough (“oh no, not another episode about the sex life of a blow fly” my Mother used to groan when we all tuned in excitedly to his weekly show). Today my whole family rocks with laughter to Top Gear and the delightfully wicked Graham Norton.

But where’s the rest of it?

BBC America is pathetic. Endless, endless re-runs of “How Clean Is Your House?” I don’t want to look at other people’s dirty corners and filthy kitchens. Yuck. And nor do I want to see people dusting off their Victoriana around the clock in “Cash in the Attic.” Stop it! Give me something intelligent.

Come on, BBC, give us some of the good stuff. Work a deal with whoever is stopping you. You can do it! You’re the BBC for heaven’s sake!

And if I can’t get it through my cable provider, allow me to pay you for the BBC iPlayer! Or do both! These days, my computer is hooked up to my TV regularly. My credit card is waiting right here. I’d pay for a subscription today.

I realize this is simplistic. I am sure there are all kinds of rights issues. But there must be something you can give me out here on the Left Coast that is half way intelligent.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep listening to my delightful podcasts from “Front Row” or “The Best of Today.” And hope that I get more of what I want. Soon.

I want my movies on my own terms

So these days, I have my Netflix account connected to my TiVo.

I have my Amazon account connected to my TiVo.

I have my iTunes connected to my TV via a video cable.

So when it comes to deciding where to get my movies, and what to watch, it’s a muddle. Is it in my Amazon queue, my Netflix “watch instantly” list, or in my iTunes?

Worse still, is that the selection of movies and TV shows on Netflix watch instantly, Amazon Unbox and iTunes is simply not good enough. The really good stuff is only available if I have my act much more together than I actually do. I can never find the Netflix envelopes, I keep losing the DVDs, or I find them covered in jam and dog hair under the sofa.

This shouldn’t be so hard. What I want is simple. One “watch instantly” list on my TiVo, managed on my computer. I should be able to plan Friday night Movie Night an hour or two beforehand, and have a nice queue of good movies waiting for me when I get home.

I don’t much care if I buy / rent the movies from Amazon, iTunes or Netflix. Just give me instant access, a good selection and one place to go. I’ll pay for it. Happily.