Sunday, July 23, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 480: THE COMING DISRUPTION



One of the odd realities of life is that those who are supposed to have a handle on what's coming usually don't. History is littered with great leaders who didn't really believe their enemies could defeat them, or the peasants would one day have had enough and rise up with their torches and pitchforks.

The whale oil industry didn't think much would come from the discovery of petroleum. Record executives didn't believe file sharing would be a challenge after they got rid of Napster and nobody in the film business believed a low budget movie about a war in space would revolutionize what kind of movies fill up the multiplex in Summer.

And now the Canadian TV industry and many of the Guilds employed therein are convinced we can continue making television as we have for the past couple of decades. No matter how many Cassandras at film markets and symposia for the last years have preached that "content is king", touted the future of streaming or implied there is no longer such a thing as a protected territory -- they thought they knew better.

They didn't recognize the disruptors as legitimate competitors or realize how quickly they could become too big to fail.

This week a new player arrived in Canada. Dazn -- which bills itself as the "Netflix of Sports", offers to stream to any and all of your devices for $20 a month the same all-inclusive NFL package Bell or Rogers will sell you for $50 -- while also providing you with pretty much as much other sports programming as you can fit into your day -- instead of endless panels of ex-athletes and poker.

Meanwhile, Netflix released numbers indicating that, despite the number of movie channels Shaw, Telus, Bell and Rogers are willing to package for you at ever increasing prices, 5 million more people in the last year have chosen to subscribe to their service instead.

The one thing you can be sure of in life is that change will come. Make that two things -- the pundits will not see it coming. And -- okay three things -- it'll all happen quicker than anybody thought.

For a complete explanation of how all that works -- so you can do your best to prepare yourself, spend a few minutes with Tony Seba, a guy who studies disruption.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 479: LISTEN TO ME



For about a year I hosted a television show that included interviews. Neither of my co-hosts nor I had any experience doing that. We'd mostly been hired because we were perky and charming.

So, the way the show worked was an actual, experienced journalist would conduct the interviews and I'd sit in front of a green screen on which the interview subject appeared looking for all the world like they were answering my questions via some remote or satellite hook-up.

Since that shot could quickly become boring, the interviews were intercut with close-ups of me listening intently, nodding, laughing at jokes, or whatever reaction was required.

Now, having been an actor for a decade or so by then, I'd learned the number one rule of playing a scene -- "Acting is reacting". Maintain the reality of paying attention to whoever you're talking to and you're pretty much home free.

Following that gig, I got called a lot to do interviews for real and always begged off because carrying on an informative as well as entertaining interview is a very special skill.

I wish I'd been aware back then of the skills NPR host Celeste Headlee shares in the video below. But I more ardently wish the people in my social media streams would listen to what she has to say.

As online debates get coarser, angrier and more insulting, with friends unable to talk civilly to friends (either their own or mine) without just pissing all over their opinions and listening barely, if at all, to what's being shared in return, learning how to talk to one another is becoming a lost art.

And we all need to get a handle on that.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 478: The Protectors


Everywhere you look these days, somebody seems to be releasing new content or new devices on which to experience Virtual Reality.

Now anybody from the owners of a PS4 to a cheap android phone with an onboard gyroscope can put themselves inside thousands of titles, from rollercoaster rides to special segments from films like the Canadian producer Minds Eye Entertainment's upcoming release "The Recall".

For me, story telling onscreen has always been about directing the viewer's attention in a particular direction, doling out what I want them to see instead of what they might notice from turning away to look around at what or who else might be in the playing space.

The economic restrictions placed on shooting a 360 degree environment also need to be considered. Where do you hide the crew and equipment? How much extra time and money does it cost to dress an entire room instead of the corner where most of the action takes place?

That's not to say entire VR dramas and comedies aren't on the horizon, I'm just suspecting that like 3D in the 1950's, it might be a passing fad until the surrounding technologies or our understanding of their potentials improve.

No doubt porn and horror will find a place. They always do. But I'm thinking that the real power of VR lies in news, sports and documentary.

News could have put you in the middle of the Hamburg G20 Riots this week to get a fuller perspective on that. Sports would have let me experience my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders new stadium amid their rabid thousands known collectively as the "13th Man".

But for controlled story telling that fully takes you into a world, VR might really boost interest in documentaries the most.

Recently, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow put together a team of VR veterans and transported them to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to shoot a National Geographic doc on the 100 Rangers who protect elephants in Garamba National Park from ivory poachers.

It's an astonishing piece of work which should do a lot to help you understand our future as well as...

Enjoy your Sunday...



Monday, July 03, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 477: Let The Games Begin


Okay, I'm going to beat this "Television-is-dead" horse once last time. But the stick we're using this week has nothing to do with comedy or drama -- and everything to do with why most people subscribe to cable packages in the first place.

Much as we creative types want to believe we're the be and end all to televised entertainment, we're not. Yes, there's a lot of that on the tube and there are a ton of specialty channels that continue to regurgitate the hit shows from every era of television ad nauseum. Play your cards right and you can even catch the same episode of almost anything you once loved several times a night.

While the bent of many current services may lead you to believe that genres like bachelorettes, cooking contests, fishing for crabs and big rig crashes on busy highways have a shitload of followers, the truth is most people keep forking over money to cable companies for two things -- news and sports -- with the latter being the gold standard for raking in big ad buys and humongous audiences.

And while you've all heard of the ridiculous prices big brands will pay to be associated with the Superbowl, it's the money from sports in general that keeps many networks or their corporate overlords in the black -- and therefore capable of producing million dollar episodes of your favorite doctor - lawyer - whatever series.

Imagine what would become of neighborhood sports bars if there wasn't a 100 inch television on every wall and you might see what will happen to most television stations or the broadcast conglomerates they're part of if big league sports aren't on the menu.

And that day is not far off.

At the moment, Canada's various film and TV creative guilds are lobbying government to save the thousands of jobs the CRTC threatened by downgrading the required contribution of local cable companies to program funding.

Now ask yourself how much sense that makes, when jobs are rapidly disappearing among journalists in the news divisions and just about everybody who works in televised sports.

A couple of months ago, the leading Sports network South of the border laid off 300 behind the camera staffers. A month ago they cut loose 100 of the familiar faces who've graced the screen.

The reason for that is simple. ESPN's overall subscriptions are down 13% while the fees the professional leagues are demanding for access to their product continue to rise.

The economics are unsustainable. And they're about to get worse.

Beginning this fall, Amazon will be offering their Prime subscribers the National Football League's Thursday night games. Games that will also be carried (as they have for generations) by CBS and NBC. Except....

Due to the complete lack of interest in signing up for cable among young people in particular, the advertiser coveted 18-35 demographic will disproportionately be watching online. Meaning CBS and NBC will no longer be able to charge the ad rates that have up to now kept pace with the NFL's licensing fees.

To make matters worse, Facebook is experimenting with college basketball games and several other services are making pretty much any game anywhere available. There's a whole list of those places here.

And very soon, that will begin to impact the amount of money all the traditional networks have available to spend on prime time drama.


A few days ago "Hawaii Five-O" cast members Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim departed the series because producers would not increase their salaries. And while some might spin that in a different direction like, say, racism -- it might just be simple economics.

First corners get cut. Then the number of new shows in development get cut. Then the number of series episodes or shows in general get cut.

Does that remind anybody of the last few years of Canadian TV?

Comedy and Drama do not exist in some kind of bubble, safe, separate and apart from the rest of the program schedule. Sports, News, Daytime Programming, Prime Time -- they all depend on each other. And when one becomes a sinkhole, the rest go down with it.

To quote an ESPN Sportscaster who in doing a baseball injury report, once appended the usual so-and-so is day to day by adding "But then, aren't we all". 

Instead of trying to save a few jobs in one segment of the industry, we better all start thinking about how we're going to continue to do the jobs we've all been trained for in the coming online world.

Television as we know it is gone. Let the Games begin...