Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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The Hollywood Reporter: "More Theaters Sign Up for Paramount's Daring VOD Plan" ►

The Hollywood Reporter might be misusing the word “daring”, but Paramount does have a unique plan to reduce the window between theatrical release and on-demand release. The agreement only covers some films (right now, it’s two horror films), and there’s still a small window of theater time. When the number of screens showing a movie drops below a threshold (300) then Paramount can release it through video on demand services in as little as 17 days. The theater chains receive a share of the profits.

“This is all about changing the definition of theatrical windows. Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends,” Paramount vice chair Rob Moore told The Hollywood Reporter when the deal with AMC and Cineplex was struck.

Big movies, like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation aren’t part of this. People are willing to go see those kinds of summer blockbusters, and everyone would love to protect the profits in that window.

Contrast that with Netflix’s day-and-date approach where none of the major chains will screen their films.

This could be a way to make more mid-budget pictures in the future, if they can be quickly moved to digital, on-demand markets, and out of the high-stakes opening-weekend races.

2015-07-30 16:00:00

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Rumor: "Apple Will Debut New Apple TV In September" ►

Well, well, well. Guess what’s back? It’s Apple TV rumors! John Paczkowski wrote that BuzzFeed’s sources tell them that the new TV box will be unveiled at a September event. The next iPhones are also rumored to be announced at the same event.

John recaps:

The device itself is pretty much as we described it to you in March, sources say, but “more polished” after some additional tweaks. Expect a refreshed and slimmer chassis and new innards; Apple’s A8 system on chip; a new remote that sources say has been “drastically improved” by a touch-pad input; an increase in on-board storage; and an improved operating system that will support Siri voice control. Crucially, the new Apple TV will debut alongside a long-awaited App Store and the software development kit developers need to populate it.

Maybe Apple’s just trolling everyone at this point?

It’s not like I care, or anything.

Curiously, John’s sources say that the OTT service will not be unveiled at the same time.

When rumors of the rumored unveiling were last destroyed via a leak to The New York Times, the blame for it was placed on the content partners not cooperating on the OTT service. (Specifically, trying to get local broadcast stations onboard, not just national networks, and studios.) As I’ve repeatedly argued, there is plenty of justification for upgrading the device even without the OTT service.

Obviously, if this rumor is true, and the device ships without an OTT service, it can only mean that Apple Executives love reading my blog. No other conclusion, really.

2015-07-30 14:15:00

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Radar Followup

Yesterday morning I typed up a little post agreeing with Marco Arment about many of his feelings regarding Apple Music. Specifically, the lack of specificity about what was setting off those feelings. It’s not really required that people cite every little annoyance they’ve had with Apple software in order to express their displeasure.

One part of it concerned someone telling me to file a Radar (Apple’s bug tracker). I did, but I whined about how I don’t really feel like that’s called for when it comes to end users (me) picking up release software Apple ships and promotes for public consumption (Apple Music). The Radar process itself is odd, go poke around if you’ve never filed one before, and you don’t really have any idea if you’ve filed it correctly, or if anyone will check it out. Someone may check it out in six months and close it. It’s opaque.

Jason Snell saw my post and replied.

Things escalated quickly with an ensuing conversation involving many people, including Michael Jurewitz, who works at Apple and is certainly in a capacity to speak about the process.

There were many others that saw what Snell and Jurewitz were talking about and weighed in on it.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s any clearer what will happen with the Radar I filed, or any future Radars I might file, but I do feel a little better knowing that it’s not completely futile if I elect to do so. It does seem that there’s a general agreement that it’s not a requirement for end users to file one in order to express unhappiness, or disappointment. Which is probably good, since that’s all I really bring to the table.

Anyway, here’s a pug filled with ennui:

Cody

2015-07-28 08:15:00

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Critiquing Fish

I read Marco Arment’s opinion of the current state of Apple Music, and he’s certainly not being koi about how fishy he thinks the service, app, and iTunes integration are.

That place is great. Nice staff, casual atmosphere, good food.

You didn’t like it? Really? Why? It’s great.

Oh, you got the fish? Rookie mistake. Don’t order the fish, it’s terrible. But everything else there is good!

Marco’s frustrations are broad, and far-reaching. He’s not articulating a specific problem he’s had, but he’s been burned by various things, and most importantly, knows other people burned by things.

On the one hand, my immediate reaction is to agree with what he’s saying. Then my second reaction is to wonder if it’s too harsh because it’s not a specific account of an issue. Then I’m back to where I started because it doesn’t matter if it’s a specific account of an issue, because that’s not how people function. He’s very correct in his restaurant analogy. Bloggers might be one-star-Yelp reviewing Apple Music, and iTunes, but that’s life.

The other day, I mentioned on Twitter that I stumbled across a problem with my music library after the Apple Music transition.

Someone replied to it with “radar ticket”.

For those unfamiliar, Apple has a bug tracker called Radar. It’s mainly for developers, and people participating in betas to use. It’s not for real humans to use. You can tell, because it still has pinstripes on the page, and shaded iOS pre-iOS 7 widgets. It’s not linked to the apps, you go find it, log in, and write a report.

I am no stranger to bugs, and bug-tracking, as I’ve had plenty of experience with a ticketing system Imageworks uses to internally track software bugs. A problem with these ticketing systems is that most people (myself included) can’t fill out the perfect ticket, or their ticket might be a duplicate issue. No one has a perfect ticketing system.

The closest analog a restaurant has to this is a comment card, but it’s a comment card customers aren’t supposed to know about, so that doesn’t really work. It’s not like calling the manager over, that seems to require a very public declaration.

While I did file a Radar, I wouldn’t really fault myself for not filing one. Nor would I fault others for simply deciding not to come back to the restaurant to order 🐟.

The allure of this particular restaurant is that it’s supposed to be a no-hassle experience.

2015-07-27 08:45:00

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Apple Music: Share Testing

I already outlined the problems I’m having with Apple Music’s “…” and share buttons in a previous post and in an episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. Not to Beats One a dead horse, but the problems with consistency in the UI persist. Here’s a little story in pictures I shared on Twitter last night.

Also, Pat Carrol singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is amazing, so don’t judge.

I got the following reply from Ezekiel Elin about changes in iOS 9.

These reduce the number of text buttons but don’t seem to add much clarity. And what is up with the inconsistent white space around borderless tap targets?

Isn’t it also a little weird that there are different versions of the Apple Music interface being maintained for iOS 8.4 and iOS 9 when they’re basically rolling out changes to both? Poor people must be burning the candle at both ends to do all this work.

2015-07-26 22:45:00

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New Patent Group Threatens to Derail 4K HEVC Video Streaming ►

Gather round boys and girls and listen to Ars tell the tale about how the companies fought each other over patents and licensing!

A new industry group called HEVC Advance is threatening to demand royalties for the new HEVC video codec that could halve the bandwidth required for streaming online video, or offer higher resolutions with the same bandwidth usage. The organization is promising to demand a royalty of 0.5 percent of revenue from any broadcaster that uses the codec. This move could re-ignite the arguments surrounding video codecs on the Web, and may well jeopardize services such as Netflix’s year old 4K streaming service.

Maybe if we all get really lucky they’ll just keep this Sword of Damocles hanging over UHD streaming, and whatever the next format happens to be?

This fragile situation is now jeopardized by HEVC Advance. MPEG LA has no authority over the patents—it doesn’t own them, it simply has a non-exclusive right to sell licenses to them—and companies with HEVC-relevant patents are under no obligation to join MPEG LA. If those companies are unhappy with MPEG LA’s terms, they don’t have to participate

They should have gone with Pied Piper. It has a higher Weissman Score than HVEC.

2015-07-23 23:00:00

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Variety: Digital Star Popularity Grows Versus Mainstream Celebrities ►

Variety wrote about a survey conducted with 1,500 people aged 15-17 comparing traditional media celebrities to YouTube celebrities. (Sample size could have been bigger and also compared different age groups, but whatever.)

On the surface, this is eye-roll-inducing. For someone my age, this seems trite, but this isn’t about me. It’s where about where ad money will go in a few years.

In other survey findings: Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars.

Again, even though that sounds like the soulless drivel that content marketers bathe in, it’s important to consider how shifting advertising money shapes content and services we all use.

We’re already being influenced by those advertising dollars starting to move. For example: Shaun McBride’s native advertising for Snapchat.

2015-07-23 12:30:00

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Defocused Live! ►

Dan and I are going to be doing the same thing we do every Wednesday night, at 9 PM Pacific Standard Time, trying to take over the world discussing a movie, but we’ve started to broadcast the recording sessions. If you’re familiar with other podcasts, like Accidental Tech Podcast, or podcast networks like Relay FM, The Incomparable, and 5by5 then you know how it works.

For those unfamiliar: A piece of really old-looking Mac software broadcasts the tenuous Skype conversation as a stream that you can listen to in your internet browser of choice. There’s an optional, IRC chatroom, where people listening to the stream can react to all the terrible things being said. There’s also, typically, a chatroom bot (referred to as a “showbot” (not a GoBot) which accepts any IRC message beginning with “!s ” as a title suggestion for the episode.

Unfortunately, both Dan and I kind of skipped the last part, so suggest titles, and Dan will use magical regex to get a list of the suggestions from the chatroom. (Dan’s not a GoBot either.)

This all worked pretty well last week when we tested with our “Maybe this will fall on its face” trial run.

We announced on Monday that we’ll be discussing Jupiter Ascending. If you haven’t seen the movie, then consider whether you would like to before tuning in. There will 🐝 spoilers. Keep tabs on the show’s Twitter account for announcements about recording times, and movies, we’ll continue to provide advanced notice there.

If you can’t tune in to listen, or you haven’t seen what we’re discussing (and you actually want to), then have no fear because we’ll still be releasing this thing called a “podcast” where audio is recorded and downloaded over the internet.

2015-07-22 08:30:00

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The Verge's Mobile Web Sucks

Nilay Patel typed an opinion piece titled “The mobile web sucks” with “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” tucked in under it. He’s doing his article a disservice though by speaking so broadly, it should really be titled, “We can’t make our web site run well on Safari and still make money”.

He occasionally mentions Google, but it is very clear that this piece is about taking Apple to task. I’m no stranger to writing long, rambling rants about Apple, but I would like to think that my writing doesn’t suffer from the cognitive dissonance that Nilay’s piece does.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Peppered throughout Nilay’s complaints about mobile Safari are statements about how publishers have bloated web pages, but it’s up to Apple to make the bloat run.

And yes, most commercial web pages are overstuffed with extremely complex ad tech, but it’s a two-sided argument: we should expect browser vendors to look at the state of the web and push their browsers to perform better, just as we should expect web developers to look at browser performance and trim the fat. But right now, the conversation appears to be going in just one direction.

SPOILER ALERT: Apple, and Google, have been intensely focused on increasing the performance of JavaScript for years. They frequently boast about different benchmarks for compiling JavaScript, execution, and different tricks to increase the performance of repetitious code with just-in-time compiling tricks.

JavaScript isn’t even very good, it’s just ubiquitous, and no one has a solid way to replace it on the desktop, or on mobile. That’s the open web at work, pros and cons.

And that’s troubling. Taken together, Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles are the saddest refutation of the open web revolution possible: they are incompatible proprietary publishing systems entirely under the control of huge corporations, neither of which particularly understands publishing or media. Earlier this year, I called Facebook the new AOL; Instant Articles comes from the same instinct as AOL trying to bring Time Warner’s media content into its app just before the web totally kicked its ass.

LOLWUT, bro?

AOL could not compete with the open web because the open web was better. Web sites, limited as they were even then, offered diverse content, from a variety of sources, that AOL could not directly compete with inside of its walled garden.

Newsflash: This is still how it works! If your site is good, and people like going to it, guess what the fuck happens? People go there! No way!

Safari isn’t being deprecated for Apple News, publishers can even omit their site from Apple News. Facebook doesn’t have a wealth of content in their Instant Articles system either. It’s a negotiation here, not ownership. People don’t like junky sites, and they turn to not-junky experiences. It is up to publishers to compete since they are the ones in charge of the experience.

The part Nilay should take Apple to task for is how Apple’s own tools for accessing Apple News are web-based but do not function on iOS devices. It’s an iCloud “app” that consists of web forms. A missed oppurtunity for him.

He has a section where he compares his perceived experience (no measurements) on old MacBooks with the iPhone 6. He doesn’t actually check out what was loaded, or compare browsers. It’s a good thing he isn’t burdened with running a technology site because he might see some problems with this testing methodology. Namely, non-Retina, desktop devices will load different images and ads from his site. Also that he compared it to Chrome, which isn’t exactly an Apples to Apples comparison.

You don’t see much complaining about Chrome’s performance on Android, because Nilay doesn’t care to test it to see if mobile Safari and Android’s Chrome are competitive. He says it isn’t great, and that while other browser vendors can compete, they don’t offer competitive products. So … ? Apple’s fault?

Nilay abdicates responsibility for the performance, and quality of his site. Buried paragraphs down (and three ads down) in his rant:

Now, I happen to work at a media company, and I happen to run a website that can be bloated and slow. Some of this is our fault: The Verge is ultra-complicated, we have huge images, and we serve ads from our own direct sales and a variety of programmatic networks. Our video player is annoying. (I swear a better one is coming, for real this time.) We could do a lot of things to make our site load faster, and we’re doing them. We’re also launch partners with Apple News, and will eventually deliver Facebook Instant Articles. We have to do all these things; the reality of the broken mobile web is the reality in which we live.

“Ultra-complicated, bro. Guess we’ll just do all those things I was complaining about.”

I am disappointed he spilled so much ink only to wind up holding these inconsistent thoughts together like two negative ends of magnets. His site is not remotely streamlined. This rant is 10 MB, kilobytes of which are the actual article, and it’s crammed full of JavaScript and iframes.

The Verge is supported by advertising, and venture capital money investing in what advertising money can be made in the future. Large, obtrusive ads suck up the whole screen as you scroll through in mobile Safari. As you scroll you also bounce horizontally because there is bad styling on the page (presumably a problem from an ad that loaded).

This is not Apple’s fault. This is literally The Verge’s domain.

Hoisting the performance, and experience of using their own site on Apple is a dereliction of Nilay’s duty to his readers. This should have been a fiery rebuke of walled gardens with the announcement of genuine effort to improve his site. Instead, it’s a petulant, poorly researched exploration of anxiety. There isn’t anything inherently wrong about that, as long as you aren’t running a site worth millions.

2015-07-21 09:00:00

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Snapchat has Become a Wild West of Sponsored Content ►

Russell Brandom and Ryan Manning wrote an interesting piece for The Verge this morning. Readers of the site will know that I don’t often discuss the Snapchat because I don’t enjoy the service, and can’t even bring myself to be academically interested in their efforts to monetize entertainment content through their Discover service. Perhaps the most interesting part is the generally creepiness of sponsoring people with followers to promote products in a way that crosses the line from entertainment into advertising. Sure, there’s product placement in entertainment (often with really clunky dialog about using a product or service) but there’s something about the way a singular person promoting a product that has a disgusting feel to it. As if this personal blog would start to talk about the virtues of Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch Berry Delights™.

That time I wrote about the Starbucks app? Because I wanted to, not because I was compensated to do so. That would never be my default assumption when reading someone’s personal blog, but what about in a few years? Will I look at someone else’s writing, or their videos, and distrust their reporting because I’m suspicious of compensation that isn’t clearly spelled out? That’s not even a foreign notion, with it occasionally happening on websites. It’s not like I’m a reporter, nor is Shaun McBride. Shaun knows that the disclaimers can make people avoid sponsored content:

“As a society, we’ve kind of learned to tune out advertisements on TV,” McBride says. “With Snapchat, we’re not used to it. When you advertise on Snapchat, if you do it in a fun and creative way that adds value; they don’t see it as an annoying ad. They actually enjoy it.”

Shaun fails to understand that this is fundamentally deceptive. Even if he does an amazing job at constructing his videos in a way that communicates that money is changing hands (probably not, bro!) that doesn’t mean that everyone is. After all, it is the very act of making it seem like it isn’t an ad that gets people to pay attention to it.

As all the grownups know, there’s a good reason to regulate this. The Verge cites a Cole Haan case on Pintrest where the FTC fined Cole Haan. However, as Russell and Brandom note, that’s very different for Snapchat, or Periscope, or anything else where the content expires.

But Snapchat’s self-destructing nature makes it hard for regulators to keep up. The FTC isn’t an investigative agency and most of its targets come from consumer referrals. But if a video disappears as soon as you watch it, it can’t be sent to regulators, and recording and hosting a Snapchat Story is still out of reach for most consumers. Advertisers on broadcast channels face even stronger restrictions, spurred by concerned parent groups, but there’s no equivalent for social media, and the ephemeral nature of Snapchat means there’s little concerned parents can point to.

Not to highlight an unfinished writing project, but blurring the lines between advertising and personal lives is the sort of dystopian future that speaks to me.

2015-07-15 08:30:00

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