Archives For TV Shows

Ranting on A-La-Carte

Mari Silbey —  May 13, 2009

There continues to be a perception that we’re inevitably moving to an all-a-la-carte TV model… and that somehow that’s a good thing. I was reminded of this assumption in a keynote session this morning at Streaming Media East with Boxee founder Avner Ronen. Obviously Ronen believes in the premise given that Boxee is all about accessing individual programs online and on-demand. However, I believe it’s short-sighted. Yes, I want lots of a-la-carte, on-demand content available. I want Netflix, and Hulu, and iTunes. But I want a lot more than that. I want a business model that supports good programming with high production values, and niche video that realistically often has to be supported by popular, mass-market TV shows like American Idol.

Let me reprise some points I made back in 2007. My opinion hasn’t changed.

  1. I watch shows on a number of different cable channels now (FX, TNT, SciFi, ESPN and more), which makes the bundle useful to me. Additionally, in an a-la-carte world, those channels would probably end up being as expensive on their own as they are when part of a bundle. (See this breakdown of the economics.)
  2. I like browsing. I don’t have the time or energy to pick out everything I want to watch ahead of time. Sometimes it’s nice just to flip through channels until something looks good.
  3. I’m willing to subsidize programming that might or might not end up being successful, and that costs a bit more to make than Survivor Timbuktu. That’s how new, good programming is born.

If you ask the big content owners, they’ll argue that the only content on YouTube has either been stolen from them or is a lame cat video uploaded by your crazy neighbor. Unfortunately, in my seemingly endless quest to collect and document the best cat videos on YouTube, I keep getting distracted by some pretty amazing independent content producers. Here are ten who’ve recently impressed me.

Wicked Awesome Films Kevin & Bobby create movie trailers of pop culture events. Whether they are remaking the latest films, riffing on popular internet memes or teaching underaged kids how to get alcohol, their quick 2 minute clips will keep you entertained and laughing. They tend to be a little over the top and crude at times, but that’s a big part of their charm. They are usually not safe for work (NSFW), so consider yourself forewarned. But if you enjoy listening to shock jocks on the radio, you’ll love their videos.

Jack the Danger BunnyFilmed in a style that is part documentary, part sitcom, and pure genius, Cait and Dan share moments of their dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the YouTube community. If their relationship in real life is anything like the show, I’m not sure how long the series will be around, but take advantage why you can because their silly antics make for some of the best videos on Youtube.

The Big Time ShowGabe and Dave moved to Hollywood with a dream to make it big. Along the way, they’ve been documenting their progress towards trying to break into the world of show business. They’ve got the looks, are willing to work hard, sell themselves out and have no shortage of motivation. The only problem is that they seem to be lacking talent. Filmed as a reality TV show, their videos take a satirical look at the movie business and features a wacky cast of characters including their sleeze ball agent, a clueless photographer and a student director who isn’t even willing to cast these guys in a student project unless they’re willing to pay him. If you’ve ever wondered how bad b-movies end up making it to the big screen, this mockumentary provides all of the answers. Spinal Tap fans will especially love this series.

Continue Reading…


I realize not everyone shares my opinion that Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but then again, clearly there are a lot of people in the world with no taste in television. (Um, Deal or No Deal? Really?) What’s interesting is that the demographic of people who are watching and enjoying Dollhouse may contribute to its demise. Numbers show that Dollhouse gets one of the highest percentages of DVR viewers among network shows and has been a major hit on iTunes. Unfortunately, DVR and online audiences don’t count for much with advertisers. The show would rake in a lot more money if we all watched it live.

The lost cash comes from the fact that DVRs enable ad skipping, and online video audiences and CPMs are tiny compared to broadcast TV. As Dan Rayburn has also pointed out, it takes money to distribute video online – encoding, storage, management, and actual delivery – which makes short work of the dollars online advertising and download fees do bring in.

So what does this mean? New TV technology may be contributing to the types of shows that succeed or fail. So much for enabling the long tail of television. Programs still need large audiences of live viewers to survive.


In a trip over to Comcast’s Flash Drive building a while back, I noticed the “coming soon” sign on a space designed for a new Sony Style store. I thought it a bit curious to have an unrelated CE store housed in Comcast’s headquarters so I took a quick photo. Turns out Comcast and Sony are teaming up. Sounds like the store will be part commerce site and part Comcast showcase, with the operator showing off 100-Mbps broadband connections and tru2way TVs.

Interesting move for Comcast. It certainly makes sense to have a showcase in the Philly building. The question is: how far into retail will Comcast dabble beyond that? At the moment the operator bundles services with modems in places like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, but is it now looking to follow the Verizon Experience store model? Stay tuned.

The new Comcast/Sony store opens March 17th.

Tech On TV: Ghost Whisperer

Dave Zatz —  February 9, 2009

Once again, I’m swiping inspired by Engadget’s Screen Grabs series to cover an interesting mix of tech on TV. I’ve never seen Ghost Whisperer and don’t know what it’s about beyond the title. However, I was on a call with the television playing in the background when the relatively ancient XM SkyFi and boombox (upper left) caught my eye. Also, I was surprised to see a MacBook Pro in this scene… with a sticker hiding Apple’s iconic logo. On the other end of Jennifer Love Hewitt‘s flip phone conversation appears to be a Palm Treo 750 (Windows Mobile) – which was my primary handset for about 6 months in 2007.

The Superbowl Ad Aftermath

Dave Zatz —  February 2, 2009

Ah, the day after the Super Bowl. Time to reflect on the advertising hits and misses. But how do you quantify success? (Or failure.) USA Today provided about 300 select viewers in Oregon and Virginia “ad meters” for rating commercials in real time. Of course, we also saw  a wide variety of web-based polls open to all. Annually, TiVo takes the unique approach of analyzing ad success based on a sampling of DVR interaction – pauses, replays, etc. In addition to providing a top ten list of commercials, they’ve identified the top five moments per half:

Click to enlarge

After speaking with TiVo today, I’ve gotten a bit more insight into their second-by-second analysis from Todd Juenger, VP of the Audience Research and Measurement unit. The line above charts viewership in TiVo terms, and is cumulative based on how many times video is watched – taking into account those rewinds, on top of straight up viewing. The spikes clearly indicate areas of interest and total viewership seemed to have increased as the game progressed. We surprised Todd by actually focusing on the football towards the end as Cards staged a comeback: “Historically, the commercials always get highest viewership spikes, from rewinding and multiple views. The fact that the 5 highest viewership moments in the 2nd half were all game related, not commercials, is remarkable.” So, was the game that good or were the commercials that lame?

Me, I can’t say I loved any of the commercials. However, the pair I immediately recalled today, beyond the movie trailers, were the Doritos and Cheetos spots. I’ve been known to consume more than my fair share of junk food, although both ads were memorable for other reasons. The Cheetos ad was both amusing and somewhat creepy – think the Burger King. Not to mention I haven’t seen Chester the Cheetah in over a decade. (“It’s not easy being cheesy.”) And who doesn’t want to smash things at work? Which is why I found the Doritos Crystal Ball ad entertaining. As it turns out, the commercial wasn’t even developed by a pricey advertising firm. As far as misfires, the Sobe Lizard football ballet was a nonsensical disaster. And there’s probably a large contingent of television owners that Vizio didn’t connect with utilizing a condescending ‘you spent to much’ pitch.

In the recycling of tech category, DreamWork’s Monsters vs Aliens commercial and Sobe’s ballet were both presented in 3D. We don’t feel like we got much of a return on investment, given the time spent tracking down glasses and then cutting them out. In fact, while the movie looks cute, I’d rather catch it unencumbered by cardboard glasses and 3D effects that really didn’t seem to add much to our enjoyment. For compelling 3-D experiences, I’ll continue to stick with the Orlando theme parks. Continue Reading…

While catching up on Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and inspired by Engadget’s periodic Screen Grabs column, a few bits of tech caught my eye last night. Season 2 is just getting started (in the US, anyway), and the first thing that struck me is the opening sequence resembling the (former?) Zune desktop software – colors and swirls. Episode 2 also pretty prominently features a Nokia phone and a Macbook Air.

Along with Engadget, I caught the OQO mini notebook on Lie to Me this week. However, with all spottings like these, it’s safe to assume a certain percent are paid placements of one sort or another. For example, we know OQO has worked with television and film marketing firm Eclipse in the past to get their wares on TV. (This is the kind of advertising I can tolerate!)

All pics can be enlarged: