Amazon, Netflix And YouTube are Changing Everything You Know About TV


The speed of change in the TV business is mind boggling. The pie continues to be sliced in smaller and smaller pieces. Traditional TV networks have been under siege for years. Now cable networks, especially pay cable networks, are being attacked.

YouTube, Netflix and Amazon are all looking to be players in this new world. Their business model of the future adds producer to their traditional role as distributor.

Netflix will release 15 new episodes of “Arrested Development” Memorial Day weekend. It will be an exclusive made-for-Netflix production. There is a lot at stake.

Amazon has established Amazon Studios. There’s a lot at stake here too.

Amazon Studios is developing feature films and episodic series in a new way, one that’s open to great ideas from creators—and audiences—around the world. There are two distinctive characteristics of our process:

  1. We have an open door for creators. There are a lot of great ideas in Hollywood, but not everyone can be there or get their work into the right hands. Amazon Studios is open to ideas from around the world. We are proud to have recognized talented writers and filmmakers in the US, Canada, the UK, China, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Great ideas are out there.
  2. We invite the audience in early. Amazon Studios seeks feedback about projects and ideas, even in their earliest stages. And to reach the most people, we try to shape stories into a form that is short, or visual, or both. We will test premises, storyboards, posters, trailers, test movies, pilots, promos, and other formats to see what people think. Scripts are critically important in development, but they are just not accessible to most audiences.

I sampled one of Amazon’s 14 pilots last night. “Alpha House,” is about four fictitious Republican senators who share a Washington townhouse. Created and written by Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury, Pulitzer Prize, Yale, etc.) and starring John Goodman with Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos, this is no ‘little’ production!

Even Bill Murray did a very brief, very funny, guest stint.

Alpha House was shot entirely in New York using union actors and crew. I’m not sure how it could be made more expensively! Maybe that’s a statement more than a business plan.

What I’m getting at is Amazon, Netflix and YouTube seem ready to invest heavily to stake out their territory quickly. They are going after HBO and Showtime directly and other networks which feature scripted programs peripherally. Cable companies, which will be relegated to passive transmitters and cut out of the direct revenue stream can’t be happy either.

I liked Alpha House. The characters, though slightly over-the-top, were real. The dialog was witty. The acting excellent. The dynamic between the principals was established in a nearly effortless manner. In other words, this show was written to have legs.

What I watched was a pilot, but I’ll be back for more IF it becomes available. Pilots are tests. Not all pass.

The game changer here is this totally new method of distribution where everything is online, on-demand and first run. Dribbling out shows once-per-week is no longer necessary. Nearly everything has changed!

What 377,444 YouTube Views Taught Me

Have you seen my time lapse video from this weekend’s blizzard? I pressed a tiny GoPro camera up against a windowed door looking at the deck and took a shot every minute until the lens was blocked by snow. As I type this, YouTube says it’s passed 377,444 hits!

Are you serious? 377k! That’s viral, right?

Maybe viral videos ‘happen’, but this one was given a little push. Saturday night it was retweeted by the Wall Street Journal’s weather reporter and Weather Underground. Both have large followings of weather weenies, the perfect audience for this type of video.

From there it was off to the races. It had nearly 100,000 views Saturday, 87,000 Sunday, 60,000 Monday and another 100,000 Tuesday. The more people watched the more they told their friends.

Phase two began Sunday at 6:50 AM when Good Morning America called. They had seen the video somehow and wanted to use it on the portion of the show not seen in Connecticut. In their defense they didn’t know that.

How the hell did they get my number?

By the end of the weekend my time lapse had run on CNN, Fox News, CBS, NBC and The Weather Channel. Local affiliates were running the video which was now on their feeds. That’s Univision on the left.

I’m told it ran on Channel 8. Shocker, they didn’t mention my name.

I answered an email giving permission to APTN in London who passed it to their subscribers. I made friends with Alex who wanted to run it on the German equivalent of the Weather Channel. Ditto for the French Canadian version.

The more hits I got the more requests I got. My video was posted on the website for Paris Match and the Australian and NineMSN in Sydney. posted a link in Ireland as did websites across the rest of Europe and South America. Even my beloved NY Times linked to the video on their site.

This was pretty heady stuff, but not everything went swimmingly. I got an email from Jeff Hertrick at National Geographic.

Hi Geoff:
In scanning for interesting snow videos, I found a dude ripping off your video:

Thought you’d like to know. Hope you can make him cease and desist. We deal with Pirates constantly here at Nat Geo.

Jeff is one of the Internet’s good guys.

I sent a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice to YouTube. It took three days for them to act. That video’s gone as are 50,000 or so views that went to someone other than me.

Other sites pulled the video from YouTube then ran it in their own player, taking away traffic and notoriety from me. Gawker–I’m talking about you (and others).

Oh, National Geographic’s site linked to the video too.

The comments on YouTube were great the first few days, but by Tuesday spammers had also entered the picture. Faux commenters were using my traffic to publicize their websites–usually porn. I played whack-a-mole as best I could. I think they’re gone now.

Over the next few days the traffic will die down. A blizzard is only hot so long. I’m curious to see how the traffic will play out over the long run.

Very cool.

2011 So Far

By filling out a simple form you allow YouTube to capture Google search results.

Last night while scanning Google+ I noticed a posting from Ann Nyberg. She had taken advantage of a Google/YouTube feature I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s called Search Stories, it’s pretty cool and you can do it too!

By filling out a simple form you allow YouTube to capture Google search results. You tell your story and let the kids in Mountain View whip something up.

Here’s a look back at my 2011 so far!

Why Is An Apology A Rarity?

At home Helaine and I have talked about this a lot. Should I have said anything? Most forecasters said nothing or tried to spin their way out. Maybe they’re the smart ones?

Last night as we began our news I came on to talk about the weather ahead. Before I did I paused to apologize for what was a busted forecast. Our webguy, Jeff Bailey, posted the apology to our blog. Someone else picked it up and put it on Youtube. A TV insider website, FTVLive, splashed it across their front page.

ftvlive screencap.jpg

Rarity…. Weatherman Takes Blame for Bad Forecast

Here’s a switch! Weatherman says he was wrong and sorry for bad forecast…

Apology lead the news. We have the video….

Talk about breathless prose! I didn’t cure cancer. I just told people how badly I felt for a forecast that went wrong and adversely affect their day.

This afternoon the editor of the New Haven Register asked me to write something for their front page. It will be in the paper in the morning.

At home Helaine and I have talked about this a lot. Should I have said anything? Most forecasters said nothing or tried to spin their way out. Maybe they’re the smart ones?

“Everyone was wrong.” I’ve heard that a lot. The problem is I don’t want to be an interchangeable forecaster. I’d like people to think I have something extra to offer.

Hopefully viewers will see this for what it is. When they give me their trust I take it seriously. That’s the bottom line.

One More Thing: Arnold Stang And Top Cat

What really surprised and depressed me was the writing. It was horrendous.

top cat cast.jpgWe live in amazing times. Arnold Stang dies (well, that’s not amazing) and I immediately go on a treasure hunt via the net to relive some of his work I enjoyed as a child.

Youtube is loaded with Top Cat cartoons. I chose Sergeant Top Cat (Part 1).

If this urge should come to you, don’t do it. Please. Let your memories remain memories. Don’t refresh them. Top Cat is not as good as I remembered!

This wasn’t a Saturday morning kiddie show. Top Cat ran in prime time on ABC, then mired deep in third place among the three networks.

I smiled right away because I recognized most of the voices. Of course Arnold Stang starred as Top Cat. Maurice Gosfield, who was Doberman on Sergeant Bilko played the same role here. Marvin Kaplan was also on as part of TC’s gang.

Marvin Kaplan is a guy whose name you won’t recognize but who’s been in dozens of TV shows and movies, always playing the same whiny, chubby, socially awkward guy. Trust me–to see him is to know him.

This cartoon was violent. Shots were fired indiscriminately. Bullets flew everywhere. The idea of suicide was used as the punchline to a joke! And the theme said Top Cat was the “indisputable leader of the gang.”

You’ve got to judge it by its era. Those things weren’t unusual at all in cartoons. It was a less enlightened time. It was still jarring to see today.

Top Cat was a prime time comedy with a laugh track! Isn’t a laugh track used to convince the home audience a studio audience was laughing as they saw the characters perform live? Hello? That worked? This was a cartoon! Were we that naive?

As with many made-for-TV cartoons Top Cat was minimally drawn with few ‘moving parts’ in any given frame. All colors were solid–no shading.

What really surprised and depressed me was the writing. It was horrendous. There was neither fun nor spark. The dialog and plotlne were insipid. This episode was so bad it’s tough to even describe!

Back in the 60s I though this was pretty good. Yeah, I was a pre-teenager when Top Cat premiered… still. I thought my taste was better than this.

Video Editing Magic On My iPhone

It resides on the iPhone, so you edit with your fingers!

reeldirector-screen.jpgOK, this is very cool. No, more than cool it’s groundbreaking. The video attached to this entry is astounding for the mere fact it’s here–shot and edited on my iPhone. This isn’t a small incremental technological step–it’s a leap!

First let’s talk camera. The iPhone will never be confused for my DSLR, but it’s capable of photos meant to be used as Internet illustrators. The still and video camera performance is very good, especially when you consider the size.

Apple wisely put a wide angle lens on the iPhone. It is nearly the perfect focal length for a tiny camera because it allows you to be close while capturing a wide field. A wide angle lens also reduces shake.

Lots of phones have cameras. No need to be impressed yet.

The amazing part is an app I bought for $4.99. It is a video editor called ReelDirector. This is a simple editor with transitions and a font generator for titles. It resides on the iPhone, so you edit with your fingers!

One of our photographers at work said, “Ok, you can shoot and edit video on your phone…virtually putting me out of work!!”

It has not been easy to trim the source video. Whether that’s an acquired trait remains to be seen. It can be done.

This editor doesn’t support b-roll, so no covering long sound bites. It also won’t pull music from your iPod library–a missing feature the developer blames on Apple and their iron fisted control over the entire iPhone experience.

The titling feature is only available for opening and closing credits. You can’t “font” someone speaking on-camera.

I can’t believe I’m finding fault because this app is magical. No one has ever considered so daunting a task in so small a box. Video editing is usually a sophisticated challenge with some software suites running many hundreds of dollars per copy and demanding “heavy iron” computers.

This video is hosted on Youtube, meaning the quality has been reduced a little. You can see a higher quality Youtube version here. It’s still not too bad. See for yourself.

On The Occasion Of Rocky And Bullwinkle’s 50th Anniversary

As animation goes Rocky and Bullwinkle was déclassé. This was no Disney romp with full foreground and background movement.

Fifty years ago today Rocket J. Squirrel took flight for the first time from Frostbite Falls, MN (before Minnesota was even abbreviated MN) launched by his buddy Bullwinkle Moose. As a kid I watched this show religiously. It was always funny, always sharp.

As animation goes Rocky and Bullwinkle was déclassé. This was no Disney romp with full foreground and background movement. The characters was sketched. The backgrounds were static. There are 30 frames per second on TV. There’s no way there were 30 drawings per second on this cartoon.

Rocky and Bullwinkle lived and died on the strength of writing and acting. The pen and ink skill was far behind in importance.

Here is what’s probably my all time favorite YouTube clip: A medley of Boris Badenov, featuring June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Ward and William Conrad.

Confessions From An iPhone App Slut

They do a lot, but I suspect they would do more if there wasn’t such a stringent approval process from Apple–the controlling psychotic girlfriend of computing.

apple-iphone-3g.jpgAfter a few weeks with my new toy cellphone I am an iPhone app slut. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open now.

Apps are the little plug-in programs that extend the functionality of the iPhone. They do a lot, but I suspect they would do more if there wasn’t such a stringent approval process from Apple–the controlling psychotic girlfriend of computing.

Most paid apps cost $.99, though they do go higher. There are thousands of free apps too. In my role as an app slut I hardly ever pay. Of the dozens I’ve installed my total expenditure is still around $5.

Many of the apps take websites and customize their content for the phone’s smaller screen. We’ve got one (a very good one–no BS) at the TV station. The Times, Huffington and lots of other publishers have them too. I also have a few for weather data.

Oh–speaking of that the iPhone has no Flash or Java plug-in. That’s a major deal. There are a few weather applications I use daily which need Java&#185. I am suspicious this too has a lot to do with Apple’s control freak mentality.

Apple also prevents apps from running in the background. That means a GPS logger only logs when it’s the only thing running! Answer a call or look at an email and you have to restart the app. Maybe there’s a technical reason for this, but we’ve all come to expect multitasking and Verizon is heavily promoting it’s Droid’s ability to do that.

When the Google Map product just announced for Verizon’s Droid phone gets ported to the iPhone it will surely need to be downloaded as an app. This will happen. It probably won’t happen until the Droid has received the full benefit of its exclusivity and coolness.

I was playing with using the iPhone as a radio in the car, bringing in the NPR shows I like without the static I now get. My idea was flawed because NPR’s app is horrendously flawed (after using it a minute or two the buttons become extremely unresponsive) and Internet reception can sometimes be spotty.

Even if you lose the signal for just a second or two the NPR stations’ software sees this as a new connection and gives you a pre-recorded underwriting spiel before restarting the program. Sheesh!

On the other hand I’ve taken photos with the iPhone’s reasonably good camera (using an app called Tripod to steady the shot in low light) and had them posted on Facebook (using its app) seconds later. Very cool.

I downloaded the Joost app last night. It’s a video service claiming 46,000+ videos.

Don’t let the numbers fool you–that’s not a lot.

I watched a black and white Lone Ranger episode I’d watched as a kid. Even then I recognized very distinctive rock formations that amazingly showed up in every town the Ranger and Tonto visited. They were there last night! Now, with the Internet, I understand most of the episodes were shot in LA’s Griffith Park.

Joost suffers from what every video site suffers from–bad search. There’s just no good way to search video yet. That’s not an iPhone specific problem. Netflix and Hulu and, to a lesser extent, Youtube haven’t figured this one out.

The iPhone is a very good video player. It’s large enough, with a display dense enough, to make viewing a full show a reasonably enjoyable experience.

My secret friend from the San Fernando Valley said last night, “It’s the best toy I’ve ever had.” That’s a defensible position. This is a lot of fun and a lot of function.

I’m curious if Verizon/Motorola/Google’s entry into the market will force Apple to loosen up a little? I believe there’s a lot of potential being held under wraps, because even though I’m an app slut, Apple isn’t!

&#185 – Java is not javascript nor are they similar (One upper case, the other lowercase). The iPhone does javascript.

Danny Moves Your Fanny

It’s unlikely we’ll get hit directly by Danny, but how much impact will there be? The line between some and none is tough to find.

danny-thurs-afternoon-plot.gifBack in Buffalo fabled morning disk jockey (and all around good guy) Dan Nevereth had a jingle (and ad campaign) which said, “Danny moves your fanny in the morning.&#185” My question is whether that will be true Saturday morning as Tropical Storm or possibly Hurricane Danny bears down on New England?

I keep looking at the data on Danny hoping to find a morsel which will give me a little relief. Nothing. It’s unlikely we’ll get hit directly, but how much impact will there be? The line between some and none is tough to find.

Added to this a planned weekend trip out-of-town. I fly out and back in not much more than 24 hours! If conditions warrant my trip is canceled. That’s not even under discussion. My first obligation is here in Connecticut.

When do I make my decision? I always tell viewers to wait until the very last moment. I’ll follow my own advice. A decision to “eat the ticket” won’t be made until Saturday morning.

No matter what Danny doesn’t look like it’s going to be a powerhouse. That’s good. The romance of a hurricane is that only in the abstract. I’ve never met anyone who felt the same way after a few days without electricity.

&#185 – Video of this commercial is not on Youtube! It’s probably the only commercial in America not online. I’d love to see a copy if you have one.

Damn Weather

I created a flying animation to show where the danger was and labeled it as we normally do with a 2-line banner.

Just before air time tonight came word of a large water release from one dam in New London County (Southeastern Connecticut) and the overtopping of another. This is bad news. Any time a dam doesn’t do its job there’s a price to pay.

I created a flying animation to show where the danger was and labeled it as we normally do with a 2-line banner.



I came within around 90 seconds of not noticing and putting that faux pas on-the-air!

Phew–no YouTube tonight!

Maybe I Should Have Stayed In Bed?

When station managers are forced to make cuts, hefty anchor salaries are a tempting target.

I came back to work today. Maybe I should have stayed in bed?

Yesterday, Miles O’Brien (a nice guy I know… but barely) was let go at CNN after nearly 20 years. Today NBC-Universal announced 500 layoffs–about 3% of the company. A note from a union rep says Boston TV stations are offering contract renewals with 20-25% salary cuts!

The union that represents our photographers and technicians began contract negotiations today and has already called an emergency meeting for tonight. That can’t be good news. Anything’s possible when your company’s stock, once in the twenties, closed today at $1.31.

All this comes on top of Brian Stelter’s sobering story in Sunday’s Times.

“Across the country, longtime local TV anchors are a dying breed. Facing an economic slump and a severe advertising downturn, many stations have cut costs drastically in the last year, and veteran anchors, with their expensive contracts, seem to be shouldering a disproportionate share of the cutbacks. When station managers are forced to make cuts, hefty anchor salaries are a tempting target.”

We’re not alone. Our lead story today was layoffs at AT&T. Pratt & Whitney laid off a slew of employees earlier this week.

Certainly the financial meltdown our country… no… the world is suffering is a major cause. But TV in particular and all media in general are being killed by the Internet! Though few Internet media endeavors are making money they are still undercutting old media.

Craigslist and Yelp are a print publisher’s worst nightmare. Journal-Register, which publishes the New Haven Register and a few other Connecticut dailies saw its stock close at 3/5&#162. I could buy the entire company with what’s in my 401-K if I were also willing to also take on about $650 million in debt.

Hundreds–maybe thousands of jobs in old media will be lost to companies that employ handfuls.

Any time you watch YouTube or get the forecast somewhere online you’re not watching TV. I get it. It’s tough not to be a Luddite under these circumstances. As the Times article says,

“On the Web, users can assemble their own newscast from an around-the-clock buffet of options, making anchors seem somewhat superfluous, especially to younger viewers.”

Like I said–maybe I should have stayed in bed.

Great Movies Or Faulty Memories?

Another “good old days” favorite knocked off by modern cinematic technique. Crap–it’s true. This seminal scene from “North by Northwest” is only astounding if you judge it by 1959 standards.

Intern Jacob put James Bond up against Jason Bourne in his blog earlier today. Which secret agent is cooler?

This started us on a conversation where he touted the newest Bond movie (which I’d had no desire to see until our conversation). Jacob says there’s a an aerial dogfight scene in the Bond movie. He was impressed.

I wasn’t having any of his late-to-the-party airplane talk so I opened Youtube and found the crop duster scene from Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” This is one of the finest action movies ever made… except this frenetic scene seems so tame by today’s standards. Youtube posted a 9:00 clip. The first five minutes was a yawner. The actual swooping crop duster wasn’t much better. I’m not sure it’s even up to the standards of 21st Century episodic TV.

This is so frustrating. Another “good old days” favorite knocked off by modern cinematic technique. Crap–it’s true. This seminal scene from “North by Northwest” is only astounding if you judge it by 1959 standards.

I remember hearing my parents talk about radio theater when I was growing up. I smiled and let them have their say knowing radio was never as good as what we then had. When they were listening in the 30s and 40s they couldn’t compare it to things that didn’t yet exist. By the time TV had come along they’d forgotten the specifics of the radio shows and only remembered how good they were in the abstract.

I had a similar conversation with my secretive friend in the San Fernando Valley this weekend. A new “Little Rascals” retrospective has been issued. Every movie Spankie and Alfalfa ever made on DVD in their original gritty black and white.

“Boring,” he said. “We watched it because that’s all that was on.”

Between my friend’s read on the Rascals and this crushing viewing of “North by Northwest,” I have become my parents. I hate when that happens.

Privacy At Peril, Again

I have nothing to hide, but that’s beside the point. I want my privacy preserved.

Viacom has sued Youtube (owned by Google). The issue is copyright infringement. That’s between Viacom and Youtube. Unfortunately, you and I have been dragged into this case in a way that makes me uncomfortable..

From Daily Tech: As part of its $1 billion lawsuit against user-video site YouTube, Viacom will receive a complete log of all users’ activities, which will include a list of usernames, IP addresses, and videos that each account has viewed in the past.

Whoa! I don’t want Viacom, or anyone, knowing where I go and what I look at on the Internet. I have nothing to hide, but that’s beside the point. I want my privacy preserved.

I am not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding Viacom couldn’t get at this info if I was watching rented DVDs or videocassettes and not streamed video from Youtube.

This decision will be appealed, no doubt. Right now, it’s just another example of America’s diminishing respect for privacy.

Stef And The Dinosaur

I don’t know which is scarier, that they’re sold as pet replacements or the they might actually be used as pet replacements!

My daughter is 21. You would think by now I could predict her response in nearly any situation. I can’t! It’s a little frustrating, but I deal with it.

Stef will often ask, “Did you bring home a pony,” when she sees me. It’s possible she thinks I’ll surprise her with one some day. Then, last week, as a joke, I asked if she wanted one of these… and showed her a Pleo (pictured – left).

“Pleo’s natural disposition is alert and inquisitive. He ambles about with a bright eye, swaying tail, and leisurely pace, content to explore the sights, sounds, shapes, and textures of his world—and that, of course, includes you.” – Pleoworld website

Yeah, they’re implying this little scaly dino-roboto acts if it were real. I don’t know which is scarier, that they’re sold as pet replacements or that they might actually be used as pet replacements!

Now Stef has become obsessed. “Let me show you this,” she said this late evening as she quickly entered a Youtube search. Within a few seconds we were in Sea World with a Pleo.

She’s seen a bunch of Pleo videos (and even more videos of puppies). Youtube is an enabler to the chronically obsessed. No matter what your weakness… your weird fetish, Youtube has more videos than you’ll ever want to see.

I hope it keeps her happy.

Cable’s On-Demand Weakness

On-demand is a good idea. This execution of it is not.

When this entry was written, I didn’t know about DirecTV’s on-demand service. A few friends have written to say it’s pretty good. As is my policy, I’m not going to change the original text. Obviously, when I said on-demand isn’t available except on cable, I was wrong.

I am a Comcast subscriber&#185. Along with High Speed Internet and the usual broadcast channels, we have a Comcast DVR and their ‘basic’ digital package. That means we also get their on-demand offerings.

Comcast advertises this mainly free service all the time. It’s something satellite can’t offer.

In the abstract, on-demand should be a good thing. On-demand means I can see what I want when I want it. The problem is, Comcast’s on-demand is so difficult and cumbersome to operate, it might as well not be there.

There are probably thousands of individual clips or programs available. To find them, you need a well organized system. That’s not what’s there. Some of the menu classifications are meaningless. Some of the offerings are buried two or three clicks deep!

On the Internet, if I have a bookmark to a Youtube clip, I can go directly there. Not so with Comcast. I still have to wend my way through the menus. On top of that, clicking doesn’t bring an immediate response. It’s click and wait.

Finally, after you’ve played a clip, you’re basically where you started. So, two karaoke songs or two autos for sale or two anythings means a trip back to the menu tree. It’s frustrating.

Comcast, and the vendors they use to package their clips, throw logos and animations on the front of what you’re viewing. How many do I really need to see? If I’m watching two of something, must I see this tribute to navel gazing?

On-demand is a good idea. This execution of it is not.

What Comcast offers is much less friendly than Youtube or other websites with video on-demand. They can promote the service ’til the cows come home, but one run-in with it was enough for me.

Except in cases where Comcast has exclusive content, like some movies, I’ll be on-demanding of others. I’m sure that doesn’t make Comcast happy. Maybe it will make them re-evaluate their user experience…. maybe.

&#185 – I am also a Comcast stockholder. It’s a very small amount which is part of my retirement fund.