Oct 232009

I despise commercials. On TV, the radio, or some other format, I resent their existence. Some of them are amusing the first time you see them, but they quickly become overplayed and obnoxious. More than just the individual commercial, I especially despise commercial breaks, when we’re subjected to five, six, or more of these tedious ads in rapid succession. I mute the TV, leave the room to get a drink, or do some other activity to avoid watching them. In other words, their objective—selling me something—is not being achieved.

TV shows live and die by their ratings, compiled by Nielsen Media Research (“the Nielsens”). These numbers boil down to a certain number of viewers for a given show, and also what percentage of all viewers in that time slot were watching that particular show. For networks (and shows), higher Nielsens are good, because it means more people are watching the advertisements, more advertisers will have their products seen, and thus will continue financially supporting the show.

This, to me, has always been a stupid business model. It places shows at the mercy of advertiser’s whims. Technically speaking, cable TV is completely unregulated. They can show whatever they want: horrid vivisection, full-on nudity, copious vulgar language. But they don’t. Why? ’cause they don’t want to turn away advertisers reluctant to support a show containing those elements.

So, in short, we have an entertainment system funded and censored by people with no creative interest in the product, and who achieve their support by annoying viewers.

Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?

I think we should do show-based subscriptions. You only get the content you subscribe to, you only pay for that content, and there are no ads. The money goes directly to the “bank account” of that particular show to fund future endeavors. There are no “networks” in this world. There are no advertisers. There’s you, the cable company (which holds the repository of shows), and the creators. (Promotion of new shows would be a potential issue under this system; not a problem I’ve thought through.)

Let’s use the example of Firefly, the series beloved by many but ultimately canceled because the network (FOX) continually shuffled its timeslot, preempted it for baseball, ran the series out of order, and so forth. I can’t find a list of the ratings for each episode that aired, but I do know that the first episode had a 4.1/8 rating, meaning 4.1 million viewers watched it. Suppose the subscription cost for a show was $1.99 (the cost of a song on iTunes) per episode and further assume that the cable company gets the change portion. That’s $4.1 million in the bank for the show, or basically enough to pay for that one episode. (This is technically true, but not practically true. The pilot episode cost $10 million; the first aired episode, however, was not the pilot, and cost $3-$4 million.)

This is using dirt-simple, ultra-basic hypothetical numbers. I’m sure television accountants could cook up a better, more-sustainable number. Crank up the cost for shows with higher viewership, until they stop watching (American Idol, anyone?) and allow the actual viewership revenue to dictate how much money a show can spend.

The downside to losing both networks and ad revenue is that you need start-up capital from somewhere. I imagine this is where something like product-placement enters the picture. For shows where this is impractical, perhaps a small, static, and soundless ad in the bottom right of the screen every so often (much like networks now emblazon their logo on the screen at all times).

(This entire rant was prompted, rather paradoxically, by the news that Hulu is switching to subscriber-only model in 2010.)

Sep 232009
  • Hooked on Veronica Mars.  First season is incredibly smart and engaging.  Tina Majorino (“Mac”) is adorable.  Started watching season two.  Have heard that seasons two and three are not as good as the first, with the third even breaking with the format of the previous two seasons.  Will stick with it as long as it remains interesting.
  • Glad to be back to the regular TV season with the debuts of House, How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, and Castle on Monday.  House, in particular, was interesting for breaking its traditional format.  Only regular cast member (other than Hugh Laurie) to appear was Robert Sean Leonard, and only for a few moments.  Awesome appearances by Franka Potente (Bourne Identity) and André Braugher.
  • Lots of work to be done in the kitchen, with a hard “due” date of Saturday evening, when we’re hosting a birthday bash.  The list includes sanding the walls, washing them, taping off the edges of areas we don’t want to get paint, priming, and painting.  I’m hoping to hit the first three items tonight.  We shall see.
  • Started watching Defying Gravity at the suggestion of a friend.  Excellent show thus far (two episodes in).  It’s amazing to see a hard sci-fi TV show (with the exception of that one thing, which I won’t mention for those of you who haven’t seen the show yet).  “Alive” by Edwin was in the first episode. I haven’t heard the song in years, and recognized it at once (though I mis-identified it as Bon Jovi at first).  I love that song.
  • Started reading Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds last night.  Been meaning to read this for a while.

Great Big Sea

 Posted by at 11:13  No Responses »
Aug 212009

Until last night, I had never attended a professional concert. I had seen high school/college bands play, but never a pro, touring band. That all changed yesterday, when I popped my concert cherry with my favorite band, Great Big Sea. I could not have asked for better.

They played at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, which is essentially a bunch of food kiosks surrounding a large circus tent with a stage in the middle. We had amazing seats, not 10 feet from the stage. The show opened with another Canadian musician, Chris Velan. Cody and I were both surprised by Velan; he was an excellent musician, and did some great stuff using a recording/playback box controlled by his feet. He’d use it to drum on his guitar, keep that drum beat going throughout the song, and then mix in guitar licks. The effect was five or six musicians’ worth of music, all played by one guy with an acoustic guitar.

After a 20 minute intermission, Great Big Sea took the stage with Donkey Riding, and followed with a playlist that included several songs I hadn’t yet heard (and which I have yet to identify), as well as: A Boat Like Gideon Brown (also new to me), Beat the Drum (also new to me, and a new favorite), Captain Kidd, Consequence Free, Everything Shines, General Taylor, I’m a Rover, Jack Hinks, Mari-Mac, The Night Pat Murphy Died, Ordinary Day, and When I’m Up.

They modified the chorus for Pat Murphy from “Some of the girls got loaded drunk, and they ain’t been sober yet” to “The Massachusetts girls got loaded drunk, but what can you expect?” At one point, Sean—whose hair is getting longer—randomly broke into My Way, as well. After they left the stage, the crowd started chanting “Great Big Sea!” and they encored (surely pre-planned) with The Old Black Rum.

There were a couple of really young girls there (couldn’t have been more than 5 years old) and throughout the show, Alan—now sporting a mighty beard, presumably from his role as Allan A’Dayle in Ridley Scott‘s upcoming Robin Hood film, starring Russell Crowe—would give them guitar picks. It was very cute. They bantered quite a bit, much to the entertainment of the audience. Alan lamented that they were the only band to have played at the South Shore Music Circus that hadn’t been on Letterman, which prompted much of the audience to shout that Conan was better anyway. At one point, Sean noticed that his beater finger (Alan: “Is that a euphemism I should know about?”) had a blister since it had been so long since they’d last played. An audience member supplied him with a band-aid, which he made a great show of putting on. He then held out the now-bandaged middle finger to Alan, demanding that he kiss it.  He also claimed that the lozenges(?) he was eating throughout the show were pure methamphetamine.

Later, Alan and Sean were discussing in what direction the band would go next, raising the possibility of folk music. They didn’t know how to define folk music, though, so they asked Bob, who responded, “I play folk music.” We were in the section closest to Bob, and it was fantastic watching him play the accordion and fiddle. The man is a master. During one song, while Sean was singing, Alan came over to our section and asked everyone in the first few rows “Are you having fun? Are you having fun?” It’s great how much they really care that their audience has a good time.

All in all, they played for close to two hours, without a break (except the pre-encore interlude of perhaps two minutes). Absolutely phenomenal.